Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Profiles in Cowardice

The Treason of the Senate

Bill Moyers explains who really owns America

America was lost, stolen and sold. All at the same time. And right out from under us.

It was lost when we diverted our attention to the nonsensical; abortion, illegal immigrants, same-sex marriage. It was stolen by our politicians. Who, in turn, sold it to Corporate America. And then we got fat on grease and sugar and drugs. And sleepy. And so we went to sleep.

But then we woke to discover that we were slaves.

We are their slaves, the corporations. And our masters have shackled us by creating a false vision of freedom in exchange for our souls. And we've gleefully followed. We held out our hands and laughed as they hacked them off. Smiling politicians and screaming pundits on radio and television have sold us a steady assembly line of distractions as the real rulers of America raped and pillaged a nation.

Our masters have cut our wages, adopted longer and longer work days, bled our pensions dry, kept us dizzy with media, gadgets, trends, and exhaustion as they showered Washington with cash. As they bought the very people we elected to represent the best for us. They've convinced us that unions are the real villains. They tell us it's the poor who's at fault; they are lazy and shiftless and harming our country, so we fight to destroy entities like ACORN. We happily take part in dismantling our own neighborhoods.

We get our plasma in Hi-Def and our iPhone and our Lexus and then shun the ones who don't. We squabble and demonize each other as our masters pull the strings.

Our masters are the ones that run America. Our masters use the media to speak for them. Our masters are the ones who have destroyed America.

And there is no going back.

Change We Can Taste (And Smell)

cheerios.jpgNot, in fact, "clinically proven."

by Tim Fernholz

The Washington Post observes that after years of seat-filling Republican appointees at major consumer regulatory agencies, the Obama administration's officials are actually enforcing the law:

In their first few months on the job, FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg and deputy Joshua M. Sharfstein -- both with backgrounds running public health agencies -- notified General Mills that it was violating the law with its two-year-old marketing campaign that said Cheerios can lower cholesterol by 4 percent. The FDA said the company was essentially making a drug claim, which would require clinical studies and agency approval before a product is put on the market. The food giant has removed that claim from its Web site and a spokeswoman said it is in discussions with the FDA.

While the FDA began looking into Cheerios before Obama's election, several lawyers who represent food and drugmakers said they think the agency under Bush would never have taken action against General Mills.

In the grand scheme of things, unproven claims about a cereal's magic powers aren't the end of the world -- although you can imagine people not seeking proper cholesterol treatment if they think Cheerios will solve that problem -- but you have to be struck by the frank admission that the previous administration would let corporations claim essentially anything without any sanction. It gets more serious:

That same month, the FDA warned consumers to stop using popular cold medicines, Zicam Cold Remedy nasal gel and Zicam Cold Remedy swab products, citing evidence that some consumers could lose their sense of smell. The agency had known about the problem for years but had not addressed it.

That, in a nut shell, is the kind of governance you get when you appoint federal officials who don't believe the law should be enforced. Sure, people are losing their sense of smell, but they just couldn't bear to intervene in the economy. No doubt they expected the market would sort that one out.

More broadly, though, even as progressives go after the Obama administration on all the big stuff it's getting wrong or not quite right enough, it's important to appreciate the smaller changes happening in the everyday administration of government duties.

Marijuana activist showing signs of improvement after heart attack

By Anne Saker, The Oregonian

Jack Herer, a leader in the modern marijuana legalization movement, has been discharged from a Portland hospital nearly a month after a Sept. 12 heart attack, and his family has moved him to a Eugene nursing facility.

Herer, 70, of Lower Lake, Calif., had just delivered what for him was a typical barn-burner of a speech promoting hemp at Portland's Hempstalk  festival when he collapsed. He was airlifted to Legacy Emanuel Medical Center  and was in critical but stable condition for more than three weeks.

Herer had improved enough to be released from Emanuel and moved, said Paul Stanford,  a longtime friend who is executive director of The Hemp and Cannabis Foundation  in Portland.

"He is waking up and gazing appropriately when someone's talking," Stanford said Monday, "but he's not really communicating in any way."

The heavy-set Herer suffered a stroke in 2000, and for several years after, he struggled to regain his speech and locomotion. Stanford said that before Herer addressed the Sept. 12 festival at Portland's Kelley Point Park,  "Jack was telling everyone that he never felt better."

Herer wrote the 1985 book "The Emperor Wears No Clothes,"  a history of hemp that he self-published and distributed underground on his constant speaking trips across the United States, mainly to college campuses. The book is in its 11th printing and is considered the founding document of the legalization movement in the Just Say No era.

Gingrich named Porn Fan of the Year

Last month, we reported on how Newt Gingrich's organization, American Solutions for Winning the Future, had named Allison Vivas, president of a porn superstore, a 2009 Entrepreneur of the Year and invited her to a private dinner "in recognition of the risks you take to create jobs and stimulate the economy". But they must not have wanted to stimulate the economy that much; they quickly backpedaled and took back the award after it hit the press.

In return, Vivas' company has created a special award for Gingrich, naming him the "Family Values Porn Fan of the Year, 2009″. They even created a plaque for him.

Porn AwardThere is no doubt that Gingrich deserves the award, considering his "family values" (as reported by Washington Monthly):

The most notorious of them all is undoubtedly Gingrich, who ran for Congress in 1978 on the slogan, "Let Our Family Represent Your Family." (He was reportedly cheating on his first wife at the time). In 1995, an alleged mistress from that period, Anne Manning, told Vanity Fair's Gail Sheehy: "We had oral sex. He prefers that modus operandi because then he can say, 'I never slept with her.'" Gingrich obtained his first divorce in 1981, after forcing his wife, who had helped put him through graduate school, to haggle over the terms while in the hospital, as she recovered from uterine cancer surgery. In 1999, he was disgraced again, having been caught in an affair with a 33-year-old congressional aide while spearheading the impeachment proceedings against President Clinton.

But the best part is that Vivas plans on sending a followup letter rescinding the award, and offering the explanation that this particular honor was not intended for fans of their "Wife Switch" DVD series.

Why we need universal health insurance

Democratic Blood Money and Senator Feinstein’s War Profiteering

by Joshua Frank

Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein of California silently resigned from her post on the Military Construction Appropriations subcommittee (MILCON) late last week as her ethical limbo with war contracts began to surface in the media, including an excellent investigative report written by Peter Byrne for Metro in January. MILCON has supervised the appropriations of billions of dollars in reconstruction contracts since the Bush wars began.

Feinstein, who served as chairperson and ranking member for the committee from 2001-2005, came under fire early last year in these pages for profiting by way of her husband Richard Blum who, until 2005, held large stakes in two defense contracting companies. Both businesses, URS and Perini, have scored lucrative contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan in the last four years, and Blum has personally pocketed tens of millions of dollars off the deals his wife, along with her colleagues, so graciously approved.

Here's a brief rundown of the Feinstein family's blatant war profiteering. In April 2003, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers gave $500 million to Perini to provide services for Iraq's Central Command. A month earlier in March 2003, Perini was awarded $25 million to design and construct a facility to support the Afghan National Army near Kabul. And in March 2004, Perini was awarded a hefty contract worth up to $500 million for "electrical power distribution and transmission" in southern Iraq.

But it is not just Perini that has made Feinstein and Blum wealthy. Blum also held over 111,000 shares of stock in URS Corporation, which is now one of the top defense contractors in the United States. Blum was an acting director of URS, which bought EG&G, a leading provider of technical services and management to the U.S. military, from the neocon packed Carlyle Group back in 2002.

"As part of EG&G's sale price," reports the San Francisco Chronicle, "Carlyle acquired a 21.74 percent stake in URS – second only to the 23.7 percent of shares controlled by Blum Capital."

URS and Blum have since banked on the war in Iraq, attaining a $600 million contract through EG&G, which Sen. Feinstein permitted. As a result, URS has seen its stock price more than triple since the war began in March of 2003. Blum has cashed in over $2 million on this venture alone and another $100 million for his investment firm.

And it is not just the Feinstein family that has benefited from the war – so too has the Democratic Party. Since 2000, the Democrats' Daddy Warbucks has donated over $100,000 to the Democratic Senatorial Committee including leading Democrats including John Kerry, Robert Byrd, Ted Kennedy, and even Barbara Boxer.

Feinstein's resignation from MILCON was the least the senator could do to atone for profiting off the spoils of war. But Feinstein wasn't trying to atone, she seems to have been trying to cover her tracks instead by distancing herself from her post.

New GOP website says party hasn’t had any accomplishments since 2004

By Stephen C. Webster

The Republican Party launched a redesigned website Tuesday with a heavy emphasis on the social media tools that Democrat Barack Obama used so effectively to win the last presidential election.

Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele said, which stands for "Grand Old Party," the party's nickname, will "help Republicans compete in any race, in any state, at any time."

However, the new Web portal is not without its share of problems.

"Flying around Twitter this morning is a link to the new site's 'Future GOP leaders' page," Talking Points Memo noted. "Instead of fresh faces, it the page lists '404 Error: This page could not be found.'"

A placeholder page that went up after the site's launch called for users to send an e-mail nominating future leaders.

One of the site's key features includes a list of so-called Republican heroes. "But the GOP may have muddled is message by including individuals who would scoff at today's Republican Party," Huffington Post reporter Sam Stein opined.

"As pointed out by a Democratic source, the inclusion of baseball star Jackie Robinson on the list seems particularly egregious," Stein continued. "The former Dodger, who broke baseball's color barrier, was far from a die-in-the-wool conservative. Robinson's ties to the GOP seemed more driven by a personal admiration for Nelson Rockefeller -- the New Yorker who would end up being vice president under Gerald Ford -- then it was core ideological convictions. In his biography, Robinson said that as the Republican Party leadership tilted towards Barry Goldwater conservatives, he began to have 'a better understanding of how it must have felt to be a Jew in Hitler's Germany.'"

Another one of the GOP "heroes" the site lists is Hiram Rhodes Revels, a black man who in 1870 became a Republican U.S. Senator from Mississippi. However, the new neglects to add Revels' last name, simply labeling him "Hiram Rhodes."

"Even when the GOP tries to do something relatively docile, they can't help but screw it up," scoffed the Florida Progressive blog, which caught the error. "They're not just the 'Party of No,' they're the Party of No Competence."

Further processing

Bills to lift Cuba travel ban gaining momentum in Congress

By Juan O. Tamayo

A powerful campaign to allow all Americans to travel to Cuba is rumbling through Congress, with both backers and opponents predicting eventual victory and a Cuban-American Senator holding a key vote.

Approval of the measures would have a profound impact on U.S.-Cuba relations, unleashing an estimated one million American tourists to visit the island and undermining White House control of policy toward Havana.

"There would be an explosion of contacts between Americans and Cubans . . . that would almost overshadow what the two governments are doing," said Phil Peters, a Cuba expert with the Lexington Institute think thank in suburban Washington.

Proponents say the measures still have not received active support from the White House and the Democratic leadership in both chambers.

Cuban officials have told recent U.S. visitors that while President Barack Obama's policy changes so far have been too timid to require a Havana reply, ending the U.S. travel ban would be significant enough to require some sort of Havana concession.

Maurice Sendak tells parents to go to hell

The poignant 10-sentence book about an angry boy who is sent to bed without supper and sails to a magical land overrun by wild creatures has been made into a full-length feature film with a script by director Spike Jonze (recently interviewed by the Chronicle) and local boy Dave Eggers.

Ever since the media got word of the film, reporters have hounded Sendak, Eggers, and Jonze. One of the main questions reporters are asking is, Will this film based on one of the best children's books of all-time be appropriate for children?

The creative minds behind this film have seemed to dance around this question in most interviews, but Sendak freely spoke his mind for a Newsweek story, appearing in the October 19 magazine. Sendak, Jonze, and Eggers were all interviewed for the story.

Reporter: "What do you say to parents who think the Wild Things film may be too scary?"

Sendak: "I would tell them to go to hell. That's a question I will not tolerate."

Reporter: "Because kids can handle it?"

Sendak: "If they can't handle it, go home. Or wet your pants. Do whatever you like. But it's not a question that can be answered."

Jonze: "Dave, you want to field that one?"

Eggers: "The part about kids wetting their pants? Should kids wear diapers when they go to the movies? I think adults should wear diapers going to it, too. I think everyone should be prepared for any eventuality."

Don't ask.

Goldman Sachs 2009 bonuses to double 2008’s; $23 billion could send 460,000 to Harvard, buy insurance for 1.7 million families


By John Byrne 

Yesterday, we brought you the insurance company that wouldn't insure a 17-pound infant because he was too heavy. Today, we bring you the investment bank that manages to double its bonuses during the worst recession since the Great Depression.

On Thursday, Goldman Sachs will announce the firm's bonus payments for 2009. Analysts expect the bonus pool to mushroom to $23 billion -- double the bonus pool paid to employees in 2008. Earlier this year, Goldman Sachs said that it had put aside $11.4 billion for bonuses during the first half of the year.

"The absolute size of compensation payouts will rise significantly," Keith Horowitz, an analyst at Citigroup, wrote in a note to clients two weeks ago, highlighted by Andrew Sorkin in The New York Times' dealbook column Tuesday.

How much is $23,000,000,000?

For one thing, it's enough to send 460,000 full paying students to Harvard University for one year, or 115,000 for four years.

It's enough to pay the health insurance premium for the average American family ($13,375) 1.7 million times.

It's enough to upgrade 191 million computers to Windows 7 operating system (priced at $119.99), or to buy 115 million iPhones at $199.99 (provided the recipient was willing to sign a two-year contract).

Or, apparently, it's enough to reward the employees of Goldman Sachs for a bonanza trading year, at a firm where average employee compensation was recently $622,000 -- and likely to be greater this year.

The menace of the public option

Of all the current assaults on our noble republic, perhaps none is more dangerous than the public option - specifically, the public library option.

For far too long, this menace has undermined the very foundations of our economy. While companies like Amazon and Barnes & Noble struggle valiantly each day to sell books, these communistic cabals known as libraries undercut the hard work of good corporate citizens by letting people read their books for free. How is the private sector supposed to compete with free? And just what does this public option give us? People can spend hours and hours in these dens of socialism without having to buy so much as a cappuccino. Furthermore, not only can anyone read books for free in the library, they can take them home, too. They get a simple card that can be used at any library in town. No checking on the previous condition of books they've read. No literacy test. Nothing. Yet, do these libertines of literature let you choose any book you want, anytime you want it? No. Have you ever tried to get the latest best-seller at a public library? They put you on a waiting list for that, my friend. And if you do ask these government apparatchiks a question about a book, they start talking your ear off, and pretty soon they're telling you what to read.

Of course, if you break one of their petty rules and return a book late, you have to pay fines that mount grotesquely each day. Even if you die, your overdue fees keep piling up. Is that not a death tax? How long must the elderly live in fear of burdening their children with these unfair sanctions on their estates?

Don't be fooled for a minute. Somebody has to pay for these "free" libraries, and I'll tell you who it is, pal. Those good ol' suckers, the American taxpayers, that's who.

Fantastic Adventures