Friday, December 30, 2011


    Rednecks out to back a witch, two parties running in a ditch
    Yes, it’s strange very strange… Must be the season of the rich
Think back …. corporate theft, natural disasters, dead birds, cultural counter-revolution and a general retreat from reality. It’s the start of 2011 and things are looking grim. Yet still, at the same time, every day, more inconvenient facts are breaking through.
Dead bird in Arkansas
     One new WikiLeaks cable in early January showed, for example, that the US embassy in Paris had advised Washington to start a military-style trade war against any European Union country that opposed genetically modified crops. Seriously, trade war with Europe. Such revelations were becoming a daily occurrence.
    The prison at Guantanamo entered its 10th year of operation, despite Obama's campaign promise to close it. This was one of the most obvious promises that had not been kept, and a prime cause of that growing political disorder – Obama Fatigue.
    For the more paranoid, there was also a theory circulating that the whole course of the leaks controversy actually advanced a long-standing Obama and Bush repression agenda.  After all, the government was already shutting Wikileaks’ server in the US, although no identifiable US law had been broken.
    Need more evidence? Ok, policing the Web was underway before the current leaks scandal; namely, the Cybersecurity Act of 2009 (S.773). And even if that couldn’t get through a girdlocked Congress, the US Department of Homeland Security had already begun to crack down on the Internet, quietly seizing and shutting down web domains without due process, or DHS simply seized domains and posted a "Department of Justice" logo on the site.
    Over 75 websites were seized and shut in one week. Hmm…. but that's another story. Meanwhile, a few highlights from Maverick Chronicles:

January 6: End of the World Department

“On New Year’s Eve, thousands of red-wing blackbirds tumbled from the sky in Arkansas. A few days later a flock of mixed birds died in Louisiana. Then a hundred jackdaws were found dead on a street in Sweden. A little spooky. Maybe they all just got the flu or became confused, right? It’s getting strange out here, like the opening of some apocalyptic thriller that doesn’t work out too well.”
    Also includes: The Lockheed Deal * Recent Wikileaks * Microcredit * Corporate People Campaign * War and Peace in Burlington * Google Words * Rumor: Wikileaks is a CIA plot

    “Last Friday Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke testified before the Senate Budget Committee. He warned that the government must get its budget deficit under control or “the economic and financial effects would be severe.” But how do you get the budget under control when the government, regardless of party or president, is committed to basically running the world? The Congress has just passed the largest military budget in history, and there is no indication that any of America’s wars and occupations are near an end.
    “The financial crisis isn’t over either. More foreclosures and financial sector troubles loom ahead, which will probably lead to more bailouts for those “too big to fail.” The dollar is also in danger. And the Republican prescription? Cut into Social Security and Medicare to pay for the wars and bailouts.
    “So, the question for this week is: Is the empire collapsing? Even if there is a modest recovery, are its days as the leading economic power in the world winding down?”  Complete Episode
    Also includes: Why Lockheed Likes Vermont * Hateful Speech and Violence * Arizona Circles the Wagons * Wikileaks and Digital IDS * Tom Delay Gets Off Too Easy * Rumor: Blackbird Deaths Linked to Phosgene—and Murder

Obama considers future accommodations.
“As President Hu met with Secretary of Defense Gates, China simultaneously tested a new stealth fighter and publicly criticized US arms sales to Taiwan. The basic message – between the lines – is that the days of US dominance may be coming to an end – militarily and economically. Like many people in this country, Chinese leaders have serious doubts that the US economy will fully recover, that the borrowing will stop, or that it can regain its competitive edge.
    “So, the question for this week: Are we seeing a basic power shift? If the US can’t even control its domestic bankers, how does it expect to deal with China? In short, does America, and perhaps the rest of the world, have a new boss? “ Complete Episode
    Also includes: Baby Doc Comes Home * Another Step for Space Tourism * Comcast Gets Its Way (Again) * Wikileaks Founder Speaks Out * Informer Found in Anti-War Group * A Libertarian-Progressive Alliance? * Moving to Amend * Rumor: Lance Armstrong’s Drug Connection * Plus, Signs of the Times

In February I took some time to work on a book about Vermont’s evolution and values. But before turning off the news for a month, I wrote another essay, How Vermont Was Born – based on an earlier look at state history – and went on the air for one more round up with my friends at The Radiator, Burlington’s community radio station. 

    “Four in 10 Americans believe that humans were created by God about 10,000 years ago, while only 16 percent of us think we developed over millions of years without divine assistance. The rest say we’ve been evolving for millions of years – but God certainly helped.
    “Actually it’s not as bad as it sounds. The number of people who accept the “creationist” idea has actually gone down. The high was 47 percent back in the 1990s. As you might suspect, people with less education are more like to be creationists.
    “...So, the question for this week is: What are the chances that the country will someday accept a true radical as its leader? I’m not talking about a leftist, of course, but rather someone who thinks science has a liberal bias and the Bible is a history book? Can it happen here?” Full Episode: Part One
    Also includes: Endangered shellfish * death of a detainee * Tea Party developments * New Orleans demographics & Big Brother in Chicago * an immigration video game

    Also includes: Payback from wayback (Matthew Lyons) * Rumor: Obama is taking over the Internet

During my winter retreat into Vermont’s past, things continued to heat up. Spring began with a series of shocks, from Japan to the US and the Middle East...

BURLINGTON… “A tax increase was recently rejected, but another vote, as well as service cuts, may be on the way. So says Mayor Bob Kiss. Burlington Telecom threatens the city’s economic standing and local residents are unhappy about the mayor’s proposed partnership with military contractor Lockheed Martin. Is the city’s progressive era over?”

NATIONAL… “Evidence is mounting that the Libyan rebels fighting the regime of Muammar Gaddafi are under the direction of US intelligence agencies. Despite repeated claims by Obama officials that the rebels are a largely unknown quantity, it has become clear that key military leaders of the anti-Gaddafi campaign are well known to the US government and have longstanding ties with the CIA.”

GLOBAL… “The operator of Japan's Fukushima nuclear plant said this week that it has found radioactive iodine at 7.5 million times the legal limit in a seawater sample taken near the facility. In response Government officials imposed a new health limit for radioactivity in fish. On Thursday, a pair of 7 plus earthquakes struck off Japan's devastated northeast coast within a minute of each other. Another Tsunami threatened and people were told to move away from the coast.”
    Full Episode  /  Also includes: Disease clusters * Want a Job? Answer this..

    By this time I was beginning to think… "we tend to be impatient. It’s known as hyperbolic discounting and helps explain a lot, everything from addiction to the slow response to climate change. Short-sightedness often undermines our long-term planning. One solution: rethink the question before answering.”   Full Episode
    Also includes: Remembering the Civil War * another Chernobyl * crackdown in Tibet * freaking fracking * inconvenient repression * who are the beautiful people * Webbie nominees.

April 21: HAARPing on the End Times
    ”…when we think about End Times, it isn’t usually about a world without affordable gas but rather one based on much more extreme doomsday visions, many visualized in films. Usually such scenarios, especially those developed for television, show human beings somehow avoiding the worst and surviving. Not so, however, in the Planet of the Apes franchise and Dr. Strangelove. Both dared to actually contemplate the extinction of humanity. Both were also nuclear fantasies; Apes put the button in Charlton Heston’s dead hand while Strangelove said a machine will decide.
     “Here’s a theory just as terrible but more outside the box. For the moment let’s call it the rumor of the month: According to writer and radical theorist Richard K. Moore, a New World Order depopulation conspiracy is using covert technology developed by a defense program known as HAARP to cause earthquakes and tsunamis.” 
   Full Episode / Also includes: Saying no to Jasmine * Good sense at the AZ corral

Entergy Corp has filed a federal lawsuit to prevent the State of Vermont from forcing the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant to shut down in 2012. The corporation claims it "had no other choice" than to go to US District Court to resolve the dispute, which pits the decision of the state's elected officials – and the opinion of most Vermonters – against a federal agency's regulatory authority. It’s a state’s rights showdown of immense importance…”

Full Episode / Also includes:  a popular vote option * Pulitzer watch

    “We’re either gawking like tourists or compulsively peeling the onion, aren’t we? Gawking at celebrities and superfluous royalty, secretly enjoying the pointless gamesmanship that passes for politics in this post-modern house of mirrors, or else we’re pulling back the layers of reality, peeling away anything that keeps us from some ultimate truth. Or both at the same time.
    “In Switzerland, at the Large Hadron Collider, where men in white coats send atoms crashing into one another at enormous speeds, they are definitely looking for something ultimate: The thing that makes everything else possible.  The Higgs boson particle, sometimes known as the God Particle.”

And the year was just getting started….on April 28, the Vermont Legislature passed legislation for a first-in-the-nation universal health care system. Peter Shumlin had campaigned for governor on a promise to create a state level single-payer system that would contain health care costs and guarantee universal access to medical. After the final vote, he celebrated the victory with an appearance on The Rachel Maddow Show.

May 5: “This just in: Donald Trump is now demanding Osama Bin Laden’s long form death certificate. While we’re at it, let’s see some paperwork on the death of Trump’s campaign for president.”

Finally, the bold absurdity of Sideshow Don burst through the media bubble. As Donald Trump fired another has-been on his “reality” show, Obama ran a high-tech hit on the most wanted man in the world. Bin Laden's execution was one way to get a second term as president, and pretty well buried the theory that he is a Muslim. Or a pacifist.     Full episode / Also includes: Rolling Stone on Vermont and the nuclear age * Google’s lawsuit

    “Tunisia, Bahrain, Yemen, Syria, Egypt and even Saudi Arabia. All have seen protests and government repression in recent days. But not one of them has been attacked by the US, France or Britain and none of their “rebels” are receiving military, financial, or moral support from Western powers...
    “Still, Gaddafi's real crime isn’t his support for terrorists and/or freedom fighters, but rather backing the wrong ones, from the US point of view. He didn’t back the Nicaraguan Contras, UNITA in Angola, Cuban exiles in Miami, and the governments of El Salvador and Guatemala – all beneficiaries of generous US backing. There was just one band of “freedom fighters” that both Gaddafi and Reagan supported – bin Laden’s old group, the Moujahedeen in Afghanistan. Twisted minds evidently think alike.”   Full Episode

    “Experts have been predicting the end of the US as the leading power on the planet for some time. It just appears to be happening faster than anyone expected… And what country could overtake it? The smart money is on China, already the second largest economy in the world. In 2001, Goldman Sachs predicted that it would rival Germany by 2011. Mission accomplished. In April, the International Monetary Fund revised the forecast: China’s economy, they now project, will be the world’s largest by 2016. That’s five years from now and it could be sooner.
    “But China’s leaders, despite their pride and ambitions, don’t want to see the US go belly up. It’s more of a symbiotic relationship, competitive but respectful and slowly leaning toward long-term commitment…
    “So, you might say there are two Big Ones now, similar in some ways, two superpower behemoths, both ruled by unlovable elites and desperately clinging to hegemony. It looks like a good match, possibly the early days of a long, intense love-hate relationship. In that case pity the poor planet.”    Full Episode

    This became one of my most popular articles in years, going viral on a variety of websites. Just a taste:
    “…why are millions so fascinated, often even seduced, by people whose behavior actually points to pathology? Perhaps we are wired to be attracted by psychopaths, sociopaths, narcissists, people so focused on their own central role in whatever takes place that the rest of us are sucked into their reality.
    “Think about entering a portal and emerging into the head of Donald Trump. What could that level of self-absorption be like? Begin by imagining a complete lack of empathy, one of the tell-tale signs of the psychopath…”

    Almost as widely ready, but considerably more controversial.  Here is the basic point:
    “…some theories may be distractions or even deliberate deceptions, but others are worth considering, as long as we stipulate that they aren’t necessarily facts and resist exaggeration. The problem is that it’s becoming more difficult to tell the difference in an era when facts have been devalued. There are so many possibilities, the standard of proof appears to be getting lower, and theories tend to evolve, expand and mutate rapidly in unexpected ways as they circulate through cyberspace. As yet, there is little follow up to see whether new facts reinforce or discredit a particular idea or prediction. Corruption of truth meanwhile contributes to social division and civic decay. Yet there are apparently no consequences for stoking paranoia, intentionally confusing speculation with fact, or perpetrating a premeditated hoax.”  
    Hundreds of responses were posted, especially on Alternet and Truthout. Here is my reply.
June: Remembering Gil & No Ron Re-Run
      The revolution will be no re-run brothers;
      The revolution will be live. 
The death of Gil Scott-Heron at the end of May wasn’t much of  a surprise, yet it felt still like a significant loss. In the early 1980s I’d seen Gill perform live in Burlington, one of the best live performances I’d experienced. But his final decades were tough and troubled.
    In the US most people celebrated Memorial Day as usual. But Hondurans experienced a very different historical moment: the return of President Manuel Zelaya, 23 months after being forced into exile at gunpoint. 
   Meanwhile, Vermont officials embarked on implementing health care for all through a single payer system called Green Mountain Care. Key elements would include containing costs by setting reimbursement rates and streamlining administration into a state-managed system. Still, Vermont would need a waiver from the federal government to implement its plan by 2014 – no simple thing. 
   And this…

EXECUTIVE CYBER-ACTION – “Cyber-attacks will soon be considered acts of war, according to the New York Times. In the future, a US president will be able to respond with economic sanctions, cyber-retaliation or a military strike if key US computer systems are attacked. Not only does this look like another step toward an era of Info Wars but one more example of executive power expanding at the expense of democracy and sovereignty.”
    Full Episode / Also Includes: Ousted President Comes Home * Vermont’s Road to Single-Payer * Question: Is a Progressive-Libertarian Alliance Possible?

The 2012 campaign for president was underway. But much of the discussion sounded like an exercise in myth-making, especially when it came to Reagan and his era. It felt like the right time for a recap…

    “Upon the death of Ronald Reagan seven years ago in June, mainstream media created a fake, soft-focus biography of the first celebrity president. Even today it’s common to hear politicians, including President Obama, voice deep respect for his communication skills, overall performance and impact on the country. It’s as if millions of people have been dosed with a drug that makes you forget years of greed, debauchery, and abuse – the political equivalent of Rohypnol.”     Full Story

Includes: Danes in Space * Comedy Central trumps Fox

After looking at psychopaths and conspiracy theories, my investigation of social distemper brought me finally to consider the power of psychiatric drugs and digital technology to influence how we see the world...  

Are They Messing with Our Heads?
    “Brain-altering drugs and digital “indoctrination” – a potent combination. Together, they pose a potential threat not only to the stability of many individuals but of society itself. Seduced by the promise that our brains can be managed and enhanced without serious side-effects, we may be creating a future where psychological dysfunction becomes a post-modern plague and powerful forces use cyberspace to reshape “reality” in their private interest.
    “Do prescription drugs create new mental problems? And if so, how could it be happening? For Whitaker the answer lies in the effects of drugs on neurotransmitters, a process he calls negative feedback. When a drug blocks neurotransmitters or increases the level of serotonin, for instance, neurons initially attempt to counteract the effects. When the drug is used over a long period, however, it can produce “substantial and long-lasting alterations in neural function,” says Steven Hyman, former director of the National Institutes of Mental Health. The brain begins to function differently. Its ability to compensate starts to fail and side effects created by the drug emerge…”  Full Story

MASS. VS. ENTERGY – “Vermont has a new ally in its struggle to close the Vermont Yankee Nuke next March. When Yankee owner Entergy's request for a preliminary injunction against the state is heard in federal court this month, the state will be joined by Massachusetts, which is backing Vermont's position in the case…”

OBAMA & SECRECY – “On March 28 President Obama received a “transparency award” from five open government groups… The presentation took place at a closed, undisclosed meeting in the White House, however, and, as a petition criticizing the award notes, “If the ceremony had been open to the press, it is likely that reporters would have questioned the organizations’ proffered justification for the award…”

LIBYA: THE BLAME GAME – “A rumor has circulated that Libyan soldiers were issued Viagra to help them in raping woman as part of Gaddafi’s war on those opposing his regime. But this has the ring of disinformation, perhaps aimed at making any military response seem reasonable…”

INFOWAR UPDATE –“The International Monetary Fund says it was targeted by a sophisticated cyber attack earlier this year. Officials provided few details but said the attack was "a very major breach." Cyber security officials surmise the hack was designed to install software to create a "digital insider presence." The IMF has sensitive economic data about many countries…”

Full Episode / Also Includes: Getting ready for the First Lady * National Syrup Security

The pace of change was quickening – Greece on the verge, revolt across the Middle East, a titanic struggle for the soul of the US in the presidential race. Mitt Romney had the name recognition and the money. But there was a hitch, beyond his being a member of the 1% and lacking core principles…

“Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman aren’t the first Mormons to seek the presidency. That honor goes to founder Joseph Smith, a Vermonter by birth who struck out for the west in revival days. Check out the story of Smith’s fateful 1844 run, and some thoughts about how things have changed.”  Full Episode
   Also Includes: Bernie Sanders v. the world – Koch Brothers Edition * Interview with Nuclear expert Arnie Gundersen * patriotism and the first lady’s visit * Greece on the verge * the Afghan transition * Rumor of the week.

Gundersen on Nukes  Also includes: Will Yankee Refuel?

Before a late summer break and a turn toward local affairs, I took one more run at exploring whether a working alliance between progressives and libertarians could actually develop. Previous essays during the spring had been distributed by various progressive websites. This one was greeted with almost universal disinterest. So it goes…

    “….Don’t both libertarians and progressives believe that the size and reach of the US military should be cut? Don’t both think that civil liberties are being eroded by executive orders and legislative overreach? Beyond that, they also agree, perhaps more than either has yet acknowledged, about the greed and dysfunction of big institutions, and the need for more transparency and oversight. In this regard, Sanders and Paul are pointing the way. At times libertarian voices are even bolder than their progressive counterparts, especially those who say that the War on Drugs should end and most if not all drugs should be legalized…” Full Story

July 19: Ready or not, we had entered the age of digital publishing. With that in mind I released BIG LIES, a new book available on Kindle, Nook, iPad, iPhone, and so on.  (Hint.) From high crimes to presidential death matches, secret wars and perception management, it's a skeptical look at US history and the first years of the new millennium. Subtitle: How Our Corporate Overlords, Politicians and Media Establishment Warp Reality and Undermine Democracy. 

August 2: In Chicago, 13,000 cops prepared to protect NATO/ G8 leaders from expected protests.   It looked like they were preparing for some kind of war in May 2012. Hmm.

August 6: Michael Moore had it right. The slow death of the US middle class began 30 years earlier with Reagan and Patco.  But now the nature of the conflict was becoming clear. Class warfare was about to become a household word….
It had been a year since I returned to New England from Arizona, ground zero in the debate over immigration and anti-Obama fervor. The mood out west was no surprise, with so many angry white folks retiring there from corporate and military jobs.  But Vermont had also entered a period of tumult and political change, not to mention dealing with major flooding caused by Hurricane Irene.
Shumlin and Sanders
    After almost a decade the state had a Democratic governor, Peter Shumlin, who pledged to usher in single-payer health insurance and usher out Vermont Yankee. Progressives around the country were rallying to the speeches of Bernie Sanders, US Senator and Independent Socialist.  But in the Vermont city where he made his political breakthrough, the financial scandal at Burlington Telecom and a deal made with military contractor Lockheed Martin by Progressive mayor Bob Kiss sparked local outrage.
    I hadn’t expected to start reporting again after so many years. But toward the end of the summer I heard a story that needed to be told – struggle at Burlington College, and at the center of it Jane Sanders, wife of the beloved politician – and  approached VTDigger, a new online news outlet. Beyond that, I noticed that the local press was missing some stories, and also saw the chance to cover Burlington at a key moment in its history. The race for mayor would be hotly contested and potentially change the city’s direction.
Deal Derailed by People Power; Reveals Prog Identity Crisis

    “The problem with fracking (Hydraulic fracturing) is its environmental and human health effects, which appear to include contamination of ground water, risks to air quality, migration of gases and chemicals used in the process to the surface, and the potential mishandling of waste. Let’s also not forget any costs associated with the environmental clean-up processes, loss of land value and impacts on humans and animals.
    A 2010 EPA study "discovered contaminants in drinking water including: arsenic, copper, vanadium, and adamantanes adjacent to drilling operations which can cause illnesses including cancer, kidney failure, anaemia and fertility problems…
    “And hydraulic fracturing isn't just a US problem. Food & Water Watch has brought fracking to the attention of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, which is currently considering a report on the human right to water and sanitation.”  Full Episode 
    Also includes: New Song by Dave Lippman * Poverty Rising * Pacifica Remembers 9/11 * Murdering Journalists * Burlington: The College, the Mayor and Lockheed *  Local Democracy and the Big Question: How Much to Buy Rick Perry?

By early October, from New York to San Francisco, thousands were protesting the growing wealth disparity between the super rich and almost everyone else. The movement had spread to hundreds of US cities and around the world.  In Burlington too, people began to gather, to express their outrage about economic inequality and the excesses of banks and other economic interests.

    In the corridors of City Hall it was hard to ignore the rumblings of an imminent political change... At Fletcher Allen Medical Center, officials said that mentally ill patients from the Vermont State Hospital were putting the hospital and its staff at risk...

    “It’s quite an objective – to occupy parks, colleges, streets, whole cities even – until something real and radical is done about what this nascent movement has defined as economic tyranny. And tyranny is an uncomfortably apt description of the current “world order,” if you can call it orderly except in the capacity to concentrate wealth and power at the top.”
    Also includes: Memories of Mobilizations Past * Will Vermont Be Occupied? *  Burlington Politics: Is this the end of an Era? * From the Vault – vintage audio * The Question: Could the Arab Spring become a counter-revolutionary fall?

The emerging OWS movement gained momentum as unions joined and 99% forces prepared to bring their energy to communities across the country...

    “You don’t see this kind of thing every day: the political establishment caught off-guard, unsure of how to respond to a burgeoning grassroots uprising.  Difficult to define, dangerous to ignore, impossible to predict, even the name raises prickly questions. Occupy.  The Occupy Movement.
    “But occupy what, for how long? Some say everywhere, indefinitely. Meanwhile, some pols and a large swath of the labor movement have signed on – at least until someone goes too far. Is this a Left-wing Tea Party or a US sequel to the Arab Spring, an Internet-enabled popular revolt?”
    Also includes: Tracking the Occupations * Class Struggle in the Company Towns * Cooptation, surveillance and the movement * Manipulating social media.

On October 15 protesters marched in various Vermont communities chanting "We are the 99%." Meanwhile in Burlington, the local election season began and the city came up with a possible solution to one of its BT financial problems -- don't build out to cover the whole city...

    “…let’s focus for just a moment on the relish with which the death of Muammar Gaddafi was greeted last week. Shouldn’t it have made people just a little squeamish?  In TV clips, the ousted dictator was shown bleeding, then dumped in the back of a truck just before being killed. The young executioner was initially hailed as a hero and TV comedians had a field day.
    "The response was similar after Osama bin Laden and Anwar al-Awlak were killed.  Shot in the face? Great! Predator Drone strike? Boo-yah. With that background, it feels like the right time to mention the #3 story on the latest Project Censored list: Obama Authorizes InternationalAssassination Campaign."
    Also includes: Journalists Targeted at Occupy Protests * Blood Lust - American Style * Regime Change in Burlington * a song from the street

At a Democratic debate just two days after publicly declaring his run for Burlington mayor, State Sen. Tim Ashe proposed fusion with Progressives to defeat the Republican challenge. But there were three other candidates and one of them, Miro Weinberger, well-funded and angry about how the City of Burlington had been managed, thought he was the leader to handle it.
    Leaves fell as activists and Occupy supporters geared up the next stage – an ongoing encampment at City Hall Park. The Mayor signaled that he was prepared to go along...
Maverick Chronicles Intro
By November almost everyone was talking about the one percent (or 1%, if you like), the few with most of the wealth – bankers, oil tycoons, hedge fund managers and the rest. But as filmmaker Robert Greenwald pointed out, there was an even smaller elite – the top 0.01 percent, wealthy military contractor CEOs.
    That was just one thing that made the embrace of Sandia Labs and Lockheed Martin by Vermont’s leaders, including Bernie Sanders, especially perplexing. On such projects, otherwise vocal critics of the 1% and military-industrial complex made the same pork barrel arguments as almost every other member of Congress. In some cases – as with the invitations to Lockheed, its F-35s, and Sandia – it went as far as pushing “public-private” partnerships, positive PR, selling out a neighborhood, and marginalizing critics.

    Due to my work as a reporter for VTDigger, my focus turned to Burlington, and specifically to the City Council and the race for mayor. Studying and talking to four Democrats competing in the caucus, I developed a series of profiles, a modest attempt to delve a bit deeper into their experiences and approaches. There too, the buzzword was partnership with businesses in tough economic times. However the candidates disagreed about their qualifications, there was consensus among them about a general loss of direction and the need for some type of change.
    Full Episode / The 1% in Honduras *As the Regime Changes:  a new political soap opera begins (with news story links)

Nationally, the discourse had shifted – from the Tea Party’s anti-government rage to a focus (also angry) on economic inequality and concentration of wealth. Conservatives called the new movement class warfare, but it actually reflected an overdue recovery from a long period of mass amnesia.

“…it certainly feels as if we’re living through tumultuous, even revolutionary times. The pace is rapid, sometimes overwhelming. Six month ago the Middle East erupted in what we now call the Arab Spring. Since September protests against economic inequality have spread to hundreds of cities across the US and far beyond.”

In Burlington, the untimely death of a 35-year-old homeless man in a tent at Occupy Burlington cut short a peaceful local encampment. Things had been going well, in contrast with violent confrontations between police and protesters elsewhere. But an impromptu concert sparked relaxation of some normal restrictions and the next day a number of people in City Hall Park were still intoxicated, including Joshua Pfenning. His death from a self-inflicted gunshot wound was traumatic for the movement, especially for those who knew and tried to help.
    A few days earlier, representatives of Occupy Burlington had attended a City Council meeting, building on their early success and hopeful for official support. It was an unusual Council session, also featuring public comments from local skateboard enthusiasts and a lively council debate over their own democratic rules. New Rules for Democracy
    I also teased out some of what was emerging from my reportage and linked it to both Vermont history and my own past.
    Full Episode / Practicing democracy – from the city council to a park encampment and on to the caucus * Is America over?  * Immigration Problems * Caucus Interruptus and other stories * Financing downtown redevelopment * plus a few rumors

The campaign against economic inequality and corporate personhood that had been building throughout the year took a step forward in Vermont with the November launch of a big push for Town Meeting and legislative action. Move to Amend organizer David Cobb returned to the state to sustain the momentum and, in early December,  Greg Palast helped Toward Freedom celebrate its 60th anniversary with a SRO talk about corporate crimes.

“The amendment resolution introduced in Vermont last year by Sen. Virginia Lyons, the first of its kind in the country, proposes “an amendment to the United States Constitution that provides that corporations are not persons under the laws of the United States.”  

“The vultures get their hands on money that they claim is owed by the poorest nations, usually during a civil war. Then they find loopholes and seize all the wealth.” 

An edited transcript

In the run up to holiday season Burlington’s suspended Democratic caucus concluded with a narrow victory for Miro Weinberger, a newcomer to local politics. Two days later, GOP candidate Kurt Wright launched his campaign. The emerging dynamic pitted an experienced insider against a political neophyte with private sector expertise at a time when the city faces difficult choices. Questions remained: Would the Progressives stand aside? Would Independent Wanda Hines enter the race? Could Vermont’s liberal city actually elect a moderate conservative who proposes selling the electric department to reduce the city’s debt?
    It’s difficult to sum up what has changed since the year began, in Burlington or worldwide.  Even explaining what I’ve observed locally in the last few months is tough. Instead, here are some December stories. Together, they provide a year-end look at the state of the city.

All in all, a remarkable year, a time when the Tea Party’s  no-nothing rejectionism gave way to an international outcry against economic inequality and corporate excess. Personally, I’d call that a start. But we’ll have to wait to see how it works out in 2012. Imagine: a presidential death match for the soul of the empire, millions living in their own realities, but even more hungry and in desperate need, plus all manner of doomsaying. Can’t wait.

                                                                      (last update 12/30/11)

Monday, December 19, 2011

Indefinite Detention: It CAN Happen Here!

The National Defense Authorization Act will allow the President to merely claim a person is a terrorist in order to lock them up and throw away the key – without charge and without trial. Given all the fear and demagoguery surrounding "terrorist" threats, it’s not surprising that the bill passed both the House and the Senate with wide margins.  

The only hope now is a Presidential veto.

By Sue Udry, Defending Dissent

The trauma of Sept. 11, 2001, gave rise to a dangerous myth that, to be safe, America had to give up basic rights and restructure its legal system. The United States was now in a perpetual state of war, the argument went, and the criminal approach to fighting terrorism — and the due process that goes along with it — wasn’t tough enough.

President George W. Bush used this insidious formula to claim that his office had the inherent power to detain anyone he chose, for as long as he chose, without a trial; to authorize the torture of prisoners; and to spy on Americans without a warrant. President Obama came into office pledging his dedication to the rule of law and to reversing the Bush-era policies. He has fallen far short.

Obama refused to entertain any investigation of the abuses of power under his predecessor, and he has been far too willing to adopt Bush’s extravagant claims of national secrets to prevent any courthouse accountability for those abuses. This week, he is poised to sign into law terrible new measures that will make indefinite detention and military trials a permanent part of American law.

The measures, contained in the annual military budget bill, will strip the FBI, federal prosecutors and federal courts of all or most of their power to arrest and prosecute terrorists and hand it off to the military, which has made clear that it doesn’t want the job. The legislation could also give future presidents the authority to throw American citizens into prison for life without charges or a trial. The bill, championed by Republicans in the House and Senate, was attached to the military budget bill to make it harder for Obama to veto it.

Nearly every top American official with knowledge and experience spoke out against the provisions, including the attorney general, the defense secretary, the chief of the FBI, the secretary of state, and the leaders of intelligence agencies. And, for weeks, the White House vowed that Obama would veto the military budget if the provisions were left in. On Wednesday, the White House reversed field, declaring that the bill had been improved enough for the president to sign it now that it had passed the Senate.

This is a complete political cave-in, one that reinforces the impression of a fumbling presidency. To start with, this bill was utterly unnecessary. Civilian prosecutors and federal courts have jailed hundreds of convicted terrorists, while the tribunals have convicted a half-dozen.

And the modifications are nowhere near enough. Obama, his spokesman said, is prepared to sign this law because it allows the executive to grant a waiver for a particular prisoner to be brought to trial in a civilian court. But the legislation’s ban on spending any money for civilian trials for any accused terrorist would make that waiver largely meaningless.

The bill has so many other objectionable aspects that we can’t go into them all. Among the worst: It leaves open the possibility of subjecting American citizens to military detention and trial by a military court. It will make it impossible to shut the prison in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. And it includes an unneeded expansion of the authorization for the use of military force in Afghanistan to include indefinite detention of anyone suspected of being a member of Al Qaeda or an amorphous group of “associated forces” that could cover just about anyone arrested anywhere in the world.

There is no doubt. This bill will make it harder to fight terrorism and do more harm to the country’s international reputation. The White House said that if implementing it jeopardizes the rule of law, it expects Congress to work “quickly and tirelessly” to undo the damage. The White House will have to make that happen. After it abdicated its responsibility this week, we’re not convinced it will.

Sue Udry directs Defending Dissent, a non-profit foundation that has opposed repressive legislation for decades.

It’s too late for petitions. The only way to stop this step toward friendly fascism is to phone the White House and demand a veto of the National Defense Authorization Act. Here’s the number: 202-456-1414

Friday, December 16, 2011

Media & Movements: Blackout to Spin Control

Upset about how the media has handled recent protests around the country? First most of the press ignores Occupy Wall Street (and other places), then they go wall-to-wall for a while. And yet they continually question what it’s all about – as if economic inequality is an obscure notion -- and eventually manage to divert the discussion.   

This is not a new approach to coverage of social movements. Let's take a look back just ten years:

In April 2001, less than five months before 9/11, most media outlets provided a useful lesson in spin control during coverage of an economic summit in Quebec City designed to win support for a so-called Free Trade Area of the Americas, known as the FTAA. After largely ignoring the story in the days immediately preceding the meeting, TV networks went all in as soon as the first protesters began dismantling the security perimeter separating them from the gathered heads of state. 

The images were simply irresistible. 

Less than 24 hours later, however, despite an escalation of police violence in Quebec, large protests throughout the Americas, and serious disagreements among the leaders attending the summit, the coverage shifted again. Footage of the protest was abruptly dropped from the coverage, and a new story emerged. 

The Associated Press led the charge, announcing in a headline that the proposed trade deal had been "ratified." Despite reality – notably the fact that ratification was in serious doubt and years away – the intention was to leave the impression that a deal had been struck and the protest had become irrelevant.

That was Saturday night. By Monday, the official line was in place: Despite protests, announced the wire service, an "accord" had been signed. Newspapers across the country dutifully disseminated the misinformation. In fact, all that they signed was a "communique" – about as binding as a joint press release – that expressed a willingness to keep at it. 

Behind the scenes, all was not well. Even before the meeting, Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso had expressed concerns about the risks posed to vulnerable Latin American economies by the trade agreement.

Venezuela dissented from several points in the communique, saying it wouldn't be able to meet the 2005 deadline for ratification. In response, Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien provided his personal assurance that, despite such equivocation and the leadership of Hugo Chavez, it could stay in the global club anyway -- as long as a referendum could be stage-managed at some point. 

Caught between US pressure and internal opposition to corporate trade deals fueled by the Zapatista rebellion, Mexican President Vicente Fox struggled to find some middle ground. While backing the FTAA, he called for initiatives to promote democracy and reduce poverty, decrying the "whims of market forces." That was carefully excised from US reports.

Doubts were also growing that newly-installed President George W. Bush would succeed in winning "fast track" – recently renamed "trade promotion authority." According to US Sen. Max Baucus, the top Democrat on the Finance Committee at the time, Bush didn’t have the votes “because they've not yet worked out ways to adequately and meaningfully deal with labor and environmental issues."

Without "fast track" legislative authority in the president's hands, the argument was that many Latin American countries would not take US promises seriously, and the FTAA was unlikely to be implemented. Insiders said Bush had less than a year to win that fight. He never did. The FTAA and other trade and investment deals --- not to mention a Bush pledge to "compete in the long term with the Far East and Europe" – faltered in the years that followed.

The corporate press never admitted it, but the Quebec talks failed. No agreement was reached on an FTAA text, which helped explain why a draft document wasn't released. Instead, the "communique" attempted to spin the setback by focusing on an empty promise that future FTAA member countries would have to observe "democratic norms." 

Actually, this allowed the US to rationalize the exclusion of Cuba, the hemisphere's harshest critic of corporate-driven trade rules, and intensify pressure on Haiti, whose President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was again out of favor in Washington. 

A year later, there was an unsuccessful coup attempt in Venezuela. Aristide was forced into exile in early 2004. Both exercises in regime change showed faint US fingerprints.

Casualties of a covert war for globalization? Perhaps. In any case, both stories hit a virtual press blackout, emboldening at least one other coup since then. Think Honduras.

A Brief Recap…

There has been no admission of US involvement in the removal of President Manuel Zelaya, the first successful coup in Central America in about 25 years. But US policy clearly shifted after he decided to improve relations with Venezuela. Even after the UN General Assembly demanded Zelaya’s reinstatement, Obama declined to call it a coup.

The ousted, democratically-elected president agreed to exile in the Dominican Republic. His replacement, Porfirio Lobo Sosa, was a conservative landowner with a business degree from the University of Miami. Brazil, Venezuela and Argentina called his election illegitimate. Secretary of State Clinton backed the new leader.

Manuel Zelaya
Two years later, Zelaya returned. The post-coup government has become a pariah in the region. A State Department cable released by Wikileaks reveals that US leaders knew the coup was illegal. The cable was titled, "Open and Shut: The Case of the Honduran Coup." 

Nevertheless, Amy Goodman was the only US journalist on Zelaya's flight home. He was greeted by tens of thousands of people cheering and waving the black-and-red flag of the movement born after the coup, the National Front of Popular Resistance. In Honduras it’s known simply as "the resistance."

Since the coup, violence has been widespread. Anyone daring to speak out risks intimidation, arrest and possibly murder. At least a dozen journalists have been killed, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Scores of campesinos have also been killed. The UN is concerned that organized crime groups are targeting lawyers.

Back to Quebec….

Playing the "democracy" card during the 2001 Quebec summit underscored the hypocrisy that often characterizes talk about "free" trade. If world leaders were actually concerned about democracy, they might have spoken up about the US-financed war raging in Colombia at the time, or perhaps refused to attend the next World Trade Organization meeting, slated to be held in Qatar, an Arabian Peninsula monarchy where demonstrations are against the law. They didn’t.

Despite the official spin and a media preoccupation with protest tactics, the Quebec Summit was a golden opportunity for the movement against corporate globalization to build global solidarity. In addition to the 70,000 people who took to the streets of Quebec City, thousands more converged across the US, at the Mexican border, and in South America. An emerging independent media network provided effective on-the-spot reporting, countering the corporate line, highlighting state repression, and uniting the opposition. 

Back peddling during the Summit and afterward was a direct response to the protests. But that’s not how it was reported – when it was mentioned at all.

Five months later, when planes crashed into the World Trade Center and Pentagon, a people’s movement -- growing for almost a decade and poised for "revolutionary" impact -- was sidetracked by tragedy and war. 

In the mainstream media, it was all too quickly forgotten.