Who Hijacked Our Country

Friday, December 29, 2006

2006: Biggest Stories of the Year?

This is the time of year when we get swamped with those end-of-the-year, retrospective, what-does-it-all-mean kinds of stories. But with the split-screen schizophrenic nature of America’s news coverage, it’s a question of which news items we think are the most important.

Is it the stories which have been repeated endlessly on magazine covers and the TV news? Rumsfeld, Brangelina, McCain, Mel Gibson, Mark Foley, Britney, Obama, Tom and Katy, Hillary, Iraqmire, threats from Iran and North Korea…

Or maybe some of the lesser-known stories are actually more important and far-reaching. How about the close relationship between Big Oil and Ecuador’s military forces? Or the Bush Administration’s plan to eliminate research funding in 2007 for the Environmental Protection Agency. Or the indigenous tribes in Peru whose way of life is being decimated by an oil pipeline being forced through their land. And don't forget the global water crisis which is getting more deadly all the time with no solution in sight.

These stories didn’t appear in any newspaper headlines, but does that make them less important than missing hikers or Mel Gibson’s latest blubberings?

The issue of Net Neutrality is probably the most glaring example of the gap between that staggering reeling Brontosaurus known as the Mainstream Media, and the real news coverage provided by thousands of online news sources and bloggers.

If you read political blogs and/or receive political e-mails, you’ve probably seen the words “Net Neutrality” enough times to make your head spin. Millions of people have signed online petitions and sent e-mails to Congress (and to telecom executives) asking them to preserve Net Neutrality. And yet I’ve never seen those two words appear in a daily newspaper; never heard them mentioned on a TV newscast.

Are we on the same planet? It’s like two different worlds living side by side. This will probably get worse before it gets better (if it ever does). There seems to be a smaller and smaller minority who’s well informed and duly alarmed by what’s going on in the world and inside our own government. Meanwhile the steadily increasing majority is being happily mesmerized by the endless parade of celebrity gossip and corporate-controlled “news” headlines.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Tom DeLay: He’s Baaack.

Or maybe he just never left. He might soon be reincarnating as a lobbyist for the American Conservative Union.

DeLay has announced that he’s planning some “new career moves” but denied that being a lobbyist was one of the possibilities. Two board members of the American Conservative Union have threatened to resign if DeLay is hired as their lobbyist.

But another board member, Morton Blackwell, said “virtually every conservative cause has benefited greatly from the devotion and skill of Tom DeLay. He fights our battles beside us. We owe him our strongest support now.”

In March of 2005, Blackwell wrote an “open letter to conservatives,” asking for help to do “something effective against the leftist organizations and liberal media who have launched truly vicious attacks on U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay.”

The American Conservative Union rates members of Congress every year on how well they follow Conservative principles. In 2004 DeLay received a 100% rating. In 2005 his rating plummeted to 88%.

Monday, December 25, 2006

James Brown

There have already been a lot of posts about James Brown’s death, but this is just too much of a milestone. He was always one of those larger-than-life personalities that you just can’t imagine not being on the music charts or in the headlines.

I haven’t listened to much of his music during the past few decades, but he had some dynamite songs in the mid-’60s. If I had to pick any favorite songs of his, they’d be “Ain’t That A Groove” and “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World.” He had much bigger hits than that, but those two songs really struck a chord.

No matter what kind of music you listen to (unless it’s country, bluegrass or polka), it was influenced by James Brown. Sly Stone is often credited with pioneering the funk/soul/rock sounds of the late ’60s/early ‘70s, but he was influenced by James Brown. He also paved the way for a lot of jazz-fusion albums from the ‘70s (Miles Davis, Weather Report).

Even if you’ve never listened to anything by James Brown, you’ve heard his music sampled by everyone from Public Enemy to Nine Inch Nails.


Friday, December 22, 2006

Exxon Verdict: Cruel and Unusual Punishment?

Conservatives have once again benefited from that thing they claim to hate: a bleeding-heart soft-headed judge. The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals (one of the Far Right’s favorite punching bags) has ruled that the $5 billion verdict against Exxon for their 1989 oil spill amounts to “cruel and unusual punishment.”

In 1994 an Anchorage jury ordered Exxon to pay $5 billion for their oil spill which devastated 1,500 miles of Alaskan coastline and ruined the livelihoods of 34,000 Alaska residents. Under the Appeals Court ruling, Exxon only has to pay roughly half of that original $5 billion verdict.

Here’s a little perspective: Exxon “earned” $36.1 billion last year. That was the highest earnings ever by any American corporation.

Exxon still might appeal this decision. Their lawyer called the oil spill “a tragic accident that Exxon Mobil deeply regrets.” He said “In our opinion, the facts of this case do not warrant an award this size.”

The oil spill occurred because the pilot of the Exxon Valdez was drunk. Exxon was aware of his ongoing drinking problem but continued to leave him in command of their oil tankers.

There’s no sense in learning from your mistakes when it’s so much easier to just purchase the legal system.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

FBI: “OK, John Lennon Wasn’t Really a Communist or a Terrorist”

Twenty-six years after John Lennon’s murder, the FBI has finally grasped what most Americans already knew: John Lennon was not a member of the Communist Party, he wasn’t conspiring with “foreign agents” and he did not seek the violent overthrow of the United States government. Can we move on now?

Historian Jon Wiener started writing a book about John Lennon in 1981, just a few months after Lennon’s murder. His book was to include information about the relentless surveillance and harassment Lennon was subjected to during the 1970s. The FBI refused to release this information on the grounds of “National Security.” (Gee, where have we heard that before?)

Wiener’s 25-year battle with the FBI is finally over. They’ve been ordered by a federal judge to release their final surveillance reports on John Lennon. The FBI had argued against releasing this information because “an unnamed foreign government secretly provided the information, and releasing the documents could lead to diplomatic, political or economic retaliation against the United States.”

Wiener responded to this psycho FBI claim with “I doubt that Tony Blair’s government will launch a military strike on the U.S. in retaliation for the release of these documents. Today, we can see that the national security claims that the FBI has been making for 25 years were absurd from the beginning.”

The most shocking information from the FBI’s surveillance was....... ::drumroll:: be sure you're sitting down when you read this — two prominent British leftists wanted John Lennon to provide funding for “a left-wing bookshop and reading room in London,” but Lennon didn’t give them any money.

Richard Nixon’s administration hounded and persecuted John Lennon mercilessly for the “crime” of opposing the Vietnam war.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Save The Internet

Don’t rest easy just because the Democrats have taken control of Congress. Net Neutrality — the idea that everyone has equal access to the Internet — is still in jeopardy.

Comcast, Verizon, AT&T and a few other robber barons are still trying to hijack the Internet and divide it into the Fast Lane for their “preferred customers” and the Slow Lane for everybody else. Don’t let this happen!

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Barack Obama: What He Represents

Why is the entire country swooning over a 45-year-old freshman senator who’s less than two years into his first term? Is it something he said? A promise he made? His overwhelming charisma?

Or does he represent something, an archetype of some sort? He comes across as a real person — something almost unheard of in this endless parade of blow-dried cardboard-cutout politicians whose every word is scripted and orchestrated.

This columnist — Ron Fournier — thinks America’s mass swooning is not about Obama himself. Instead, it’s about “the public’s desire for a change from the polarization and paralyzation of American politics.”

Obama himself said “I think to some degree I’ve become a short-hand or a symbol or a stand-in, for now, of a spirit that the last election in New Hampshire represents. It’s a spirit that says we are looking for different. We want something new.”

An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll shows how cynical and jaded the American public has become. 60% think the country is on the wrong track. 70% think there’ll be little or no change in the country’s direction even with the Democratic victories last month. 72% think partisanship will continue or get even worse during the next two years.

The government’s paralyzed helpless response to Hurricane Katrina demonstrated that government incompetence and unaccountability can have fatal results. Iraqmire has caused a nationwide sinking feeling.

The electorate is yearning for — demanding — something different in 2008 and beyond. A Republican strategist said there is a big opening for a “can-do centrist” in 2008. “If there is a person who can not be from the left or the right, who has a track record of solving problems and making things work, he or she would have a huge market for a third-party bid.”

A Democratic strategist said “I definitely think that we need to think literally about who might run outside of politics and the traditional spheres, someone with a sense of leadership and public service.”

Another possible outside-the-box candidate is New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg. In a 3-way poll with Bloomberg, Hillary Clinton and John McCain, 10% chose Bloomberg. And most people haven’t even heard of him.

Ron Fournier says “Even mouthy sports figures like former NBA player Charles Barkley are capable of connecting with voters better than most politicians.” Barkley is considering running for governor of Alabama in 2010. He once said “You get two rich guys arguing over who’s conservative and who’s liberal and … they just argue for an hour, and nothing gets solved.”

Fournier says “Obama, if not the next president, is a living example of the voters’ desires; people are projecting in him the values they want in their next president.”

A Democratic strategist said “They’re looking for someone who is a uniter. They’re looking for somebody who has their best interests at heart. They’re looking for somebody who is accountable, authentic and relevant. The reason they are excited about Obama, is they’re looking for somebody to inspire them, to make them feel good.”

This strategist was asked whether the excitement was about Obama himself or just a sign of the times. She answered “It’s the times. It could be somebody else. But, right now, he’s filling the gap.”

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Harry Potter: Indoctrinating Our Children With DEVIL-WORSHIP!!

While most people are quibbling over homeland security and Iraqmire, a Georgia housewife knows the REAL danger that’s facing America. Harry Potter! He’s EVIL and he wants America’s children to worship SATAN!!

Laura Mallory tried to get her local school district to take this wicked menace off their library shelves. They refused. Mallory might take the school district to court in her ongoing quest for decency.

She said “It’s mainstreaming witchcraft in a subtle and deceptive manner, in a children-friendly format.” School officials reminded her that if they banned all books that refer to witchcraft, they’d also have to get rid of Cinderella and Macbeth.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Human Rights: No More Foxes Guarding the Henhouse

Senator Patrick Leahy — who got cussed out on the Senate floor by Dick “I Got Five Draft Deferments Because I’m Sooo Important” Cheney — will be Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee next January.

Bush will no longer have a rubber stamp every time he tries to delete another section of the Constitution. Edicts from The King Bush’s famous “signing statements” might also come to an end. Leahy said Congress could “dissuade” Bush from issuing more signing statements by withholding funding and/or blocking nominations.

Look! Up on Capitol Hill! It’s a Spine!!!

Leahy said his upcoming Chairmanship would be a period of “restoration, repair and renewal” after six years of unchecked power. He also said “Americans’ privacy is a price the Bush administration is willing to pay for the cavalier way it is spawning new databanks. We are way overdue in catching up to the erosion of privacy, and the Judiciary Committee now will help to bring this picture into focus.”

A new subcommittee on human rights will be chaired by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), one of the Far Right’s favorite punching bags. Get ready for a mass hissyfit among rightwing bloggers.

Leahy has also introduced a bill to crack down on war profiteering. This bill would prohibit profiteering or fraud by contractors in connection with any war, relief or reconstruction efforts. It’ll be interesting to see who votes against it.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Two Ways to Rile a Chickenhawk

1. Ask “Which branch of the military did you serve in?” And/or, when the person goes on and on about “we need to invade Iran/Syria/North Korea/Venezuela,” ask “who’s we? Oh, you mean you’re gonna enlist? Hey, that’s great.”

2. Mention the Iraq Study Group’s report. Chickenhawks are reacting to this report the way a bull reacts to a red cape. The Wall Street Journal, National Review, talk radio hosts, rightwing think tanks — all the usual suspects are having a hissyfit.

One of the Study Group’s recommendations is dialogue with Syria and Iran. A rightwing thinktanker said “It’s preposterous, period. Talking to them is not going to bring anything but a perception of American weakness.”

Richard Perle, one of America’s favorite wackos, said “The report is a monumental disappointment, for all the hype. The recommendations are either wrong or of no consequence. There is no magic bullet, but in their desire to find something, they found the wrong things.”

The New York Post had a headline calling the Iraq Study Group “surrender monkeys.”

Now, wanna hear a pin drop? Ask these self-described experts to describe their own first-hand experience with military combat. Ah, the sounds of silence…

Saturday, December 09, 2006

More Attack Ads in 2008

Looks like John McCain will be slinging some mud in his 2008 presidential campaign. There are far worse people that could occupy the White House (oh God why didn’t he get the nomination in 2000?), but this seems like quite a change. What ever happened to the Straight Talk Express?

Part of McCain’s appeal was always his bluntness and candor. He shot from the hip; if you didn’t like it, there’s the door. In 2000 his straight-forwardness was a refreshing contrast to Bush’s Stay-On-Message style, where every twitch was choreographed.

McCain was slimed and slandered by Bush/Rove in 2000. It’s too bad he’s decided to start using the Swiftboat method himself. He’s hired the same hit squad that came up with the “Harold, Call Me” ad that sank the senate campaign of Harold Ford.

Terry Nelson was one of the creators of the racist campaign against Harold Ford. He was also involved in a scheme to jam Democratic phone lines during the 2002 election. Nelson also worked on Wal-Mart’s phony “grass roots” campaign called Working Families for Wal-Mart. (LOL. Sounds like a Saturday Night Live skit.)

And that’s not all: Terry Nelson also played a role in some of Tom DeLay’s money-laundering scandals.

Come on, John, are these the kind of sleazebags you want to be involved with? Bring back the Straight Talk Express.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Some Species Are Endangered, and Some…

Good news for the Florida Panther. This species almost went extinct, but it’s now starting to make a comeback. There are about a hundred of them in the Southwestern edge of the Florida Everglades.

Now the bad news: These few remaining Florida Panthers might not survive if they keep losing their habitat. They could be driven to extinction by encroaching hordes of Suburbus Douchebagus, which unfortunately is NOT an endangered species.

The Florida Panther’s habitat is being surrounded by some of the fastest-growing cities and suburbs in the country. This means more encounters between people and panthers. A U.S. Fish and Wildlife biologist says “The way we’re building, we’re going to push the panthers out. My big concern is the panther will become a zoo relic. If we build out even half the potential of what the state says we can, forget about the panthers.”

We’ve all heard about self-absorbed assholes who move next door to a farm and then complain about noises and odors. Now it seems some of their twisted relatives are moving to the edge of a wilderness and then being furious that they might have an encounter with …..drum roll…..a wild animal. DUUUHHH!!!

Newcomers have been warned not to let children and pets outside at twilight. But if the world revolves around you, then that’s not what you want to hear. Barbara Jean Powell, a local “property rights” advocate, said “I personally want humans to stay on top of the food chain.” Let’s see now…six billion people, a hundred panthers — guess who’s on top of the food chain, you stupid shit.

She also said “It’s an assault on rural America to say ‘Don’t let your kids outside at night.’ It’s got no place being here. It’s a dangerous animal.” OK, we’ll just let an endangered species go extinct so you won’t have to suffer any inconvenience. Fuckin’ Pusbucket!! Like the bumpersticker says, “You! Out of the Gene Pool!”

Another local resident came face to face with a panther while she was INSIDE the wildlife refuge. (Did she think she was visiting a theme park???) It came up behind her while she was sitting at a picnic table. She jumped up and waved her arms and it just sauntered off; not scared, not aggressive. But she was shaken up, and she said “We don’t need them here. This animal does not need to be protected anymore.” Or you could just move to an urban environment and get away from all those icky wild animals. Asshole.

Unfortunately the douchebags will probably end up having their way. A local biologist doesn’t have much hope for the panthers’ ultimate survival. “We’ve hit the slippery slope and we’re closing in on the bottom. We’re all getting frustrated with congestion and high cost of housing, but we’ve got to achieve a balance. We simply cannot afford to take over every square foot of Florida and put a house on it.”

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Conservation: Not Just for Treehuggers Any More

The Rocky Mountain West has always had the reputation of resenting environmentalists and any other “outsiders” who tell them what to do with their land. In the 2000 election, Republicans did a brilliant job of harnessing Western populist anger at Big Government and outside agitators. It didn’t matter that most of these “populists” were wealthy ranchers and the owners of timber and mining companies.

But as usual, Conservatives overplayed their hand. For six years, exploiters have been trying to rip open every last canyon and forest in their quest for more oil, gas and minerals. And last month there was a backlash.

There were six state ballot measures that would have required the government to compensate landowners whose “property rights” were diminished by land-use regulations. Five of the six measures were defeated (it passed in Arizona). And all over the West, hunters and environmentalists are uniting in their efforts to prevent drilling in wildlife areas.

When Clinton was president, some of his environmental goals (i.e. prohibiting road-building in national forests) went over like a lead balloon. Now, after six years of Bush, most Western governors are in favor of keeping roads out of national forests. The Republican governor of Idaho said “Idahoans care about how these roadless areas are managed. These are places where they hunt, fish and hike.”

The executive director of the Idaho Conservation League said “It used to be that the West was big enough that you could pretty much do anything you wanted. The natural surroundings are now being lost, and we sit in traffic like everyone else. We want to protect what’s left. We just don’t like Washington, D.C., telling us how to do it.”

Jon Tester, the Democratic senator-elect from Montana, said “Folks don’t want a whole lot of government, but they want things like clean water, and they want us to be careful.”

And in the happiest omen of last month’s election, Richard Pombo — the worst anti-environmental nutcase of all time — got voted out. He never met an endangered species he didn’t want to slaughter, spindle and mutilate, and now he won’t be darkening Congress’ doorway any more. Buh bye.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Turning A Corner in the War On Drugs

As braindead and useless as the American government has become, it's still an expert at two things: 1. Capturing the Number Two Man in al Qaeda, and 2. Turning another corner in the War On Drugs. And we sure have been turning corners in the War On (Some) Drugs. If we turned these corners any faster we’d get dizzy and start keeling over.

Assuming you haven’t been living on Pluto for the past few weeks, you’re probably aware of the most recent police massacre by the NYPD. A bachelor party at a bar in Queens ended up with the death of the groom-to-be and the serious wounding of two of his companions. Their party had somehow “clashed” with an ongoing police undercover operation at that particular bar.

We don't know all the facts yet since the ongoing “investigation” hasn’t been completed yet. But this bar was a strip club, so an ongoing undercover police investigation probably had something to do with prostitution, drugs or some other “crime” which has no victims. And now a groom is dead, one or both of his companions is in critical condition and his bride-to-be is a widow even before she had a chance to marry him. Are we feeling more righteous and sanctimonious now?

And this is the “corner” our government keeps “turning” in its effort to rid America of “crimes” that offend the public taste. Have we made any progress since the Puritan days when women were publicly dunked (or worse) for gossiping?

And our War On Drugs keeps getting better all the time. The government is getting further and further into debt (that’s YOUR tax money, people), and more and more non-violent/non-threatening people are getting locked up and having their lives ruined by a felony conviction. As a famous talk-show host says, “how’s that working for you?”

From the 1960s until sometime in the 1990s, the high price of Heroin was blamed for gazillions of burglaries, robberies and muggings. Then at some point in the early ‘90s (maybe earlier, I’m not sure exactly when) the price of heroin dropped. Plummeted. And the crime rate dropped. But no silver lining was ever exclaimed about.

Overnight, the headlines went from “the price of heroin is sooo high, junkies have to commit several robberies a day just to stay high” to “Oh My God, heroin is sooo cheap, everybody can afford it now. The disease is spreading!” Boy, no silver linings anywhere. The darkest hour is just before everything goes completely black. The light at the end of the tunnel is an oncoming train. Etc.

And in the last few years the latest drug scourge is methamphetamine. But what’s the root of the problem here? The harm caused by speed? (Yes it turns you into a toothless maniac. So DON’T USE IT ASSHOLE!!!)

Or does the biggest problem seem to be caused by the laws against it? Billions of dollars’ worth of law enforcement is diverted to (previously) low-crime rural areas to fight “the drug problem.” Is this a good thing?

Rural areas always used to be the easiest police assignment. Disputes between farmers, a broken fence — big deal. Now a much higher proportion of police officers are killed on duty in rural areas. The problem — Meth. Again: is speed itself the cause of these problems? Or are the problems caused by our drug laws? Our society needs to be absolutely certain that nobody anywhere will ever be offended by somebody else’s private behavior. And the results are all around us.

Now that our government is crippled by a record deficit and every state/local government is broke, it’s time — now more than ever — to prioritize our spending. Do we want to keep spending hundreds of billions of dollars to control the personal behavior of 300 million American citizens? And do we want to spend ADDITIONAL hundreds of billions for the incarceration of millions of Americans because their private behavior might offend somebody?

If your answer is yes, please explain your reasoning in the Comment Section.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Too Many Focus Groups?

This column by Anna Quindlen is still more evidence that the recent election wasn’t about Left or Right, Democrat or Republican. She says “Call it realignment, or moderation. Just don’t call it liberal or conservative…Those labels don’t really apply. That’s how it was possible for voters to both reject both an abortion ban in South Dakota and affirmative action in Michigan …Both results are at least partly fear of government gone too far.”

She also says “Ultimately the Republicans lost the confidence of even some of their own because the stranglehold of the radical religious right changed them from the party of Lincoln to the party of Leviticus.” This is a warning to the new Democratic Congress not to make the same mistake by overplaying their hand.

Quindlen also makes the point that politicians have relied too much on focus groups and micro-targeting. The everyday conversations you overhear — at the bus stop, the supermarket, anywhere — might not be a scientific sampling, but they’re a strong indication of what America is thinking. Politicians used to have their ear to the ground and have a finger on the public pulse. Maybe there’ll be a partial return to that and a little less reliance on political labels, market research and political consultants.

When Nixon and Agnew were running for the White House in 1968, somebody described Agnew’s rhetoric (not that I agreed with it) as “the kind of things people are saying over coffee, over backyard fences.”

Just a few days after the 2004 election, we were sitting in a coffee shop in a little redneck town in Oregon. The group at the next booth all seemed to agree with each other that they didn’t like Bush, they were just voting against Kerry.

Quindlen says “Outside the D.C. bubble are fast-food joints, school parking lots, health clubs, corner taverns and millions and millions of living rooms in which citizens, who every two years are known affectionately as voters, gather to talk about what they are thinking. If the guys in the GOP, particularly the guys in the White House, had had eavesdroppers out there in the last six months, they would have known that they were going down the tubes.”