AlterNet.org: Daniela Perdomo http://www.alternet.org/authors/daniela-perdomo en Will California Legalize Pot? http://www.alternet.org/story/147568/will_california_legalize_pot <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">With only a few months to go until the election, the campaign to legalize marijuana in California has only $50,000 in cash on hand. The question now is: How can it win?</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p> <meta charset="utf-8" /><meta charset="utf-8" /></p> <p> <meta charset="utf-8" />Today, at least a third of Americans say they've tried smoking weed. Is it possible that after half a century of increasingly mainstreamed pot use the public is ready for marijuana to be legal? We may soon find out. </p> <p>California has long been on the front lines of marijuana policy. In 1996, it became the first state to legalize medical cannabis. This year, the Tax Cannabis initiative -- now officially baptized Proposition 19 -- may very well be the <a href="http://www.alternet.org/drugs/144842/the_best_chance_yet_for_legalizing_marijuana?page=entire" target="_blank">best chance</a> any state has ever had at legalizing the consumption, possession and cultivation of marijuana for anyone over 21.</p> <p>Drug reformers are particularly excited about Prop. 19's prospects because the pot reform stars seem to be as aligned as ever here. Consider the current state of marijuana in California. For one, medical cannabis has normalized the idea of pot as a legitimate industry to many of the state's residents. At least 300,000 and as many as 400,000 Californians are card-carrying medical marijuana patients, and the medical pot industry brings in around $100 million in sales tax revenue each year, according to Americans for Safe Access.</p> <p>Add to this the fact that at least 3.3 million Californians consume cannabis each year, a figure culled from a presumably low-ball <a href="http://oas.samhsa.gov/2k7State/California.htm#Tabs" target="_blank">federal estimate</a>, meaning the actual incidence rate may be much higher. In other words, at <i>least</i> one in 10 Californians uses pot every year. Plus, <a href="http://publicpolicypolling.blogspot.com/2010/07/two-fifths-of-californians-have-tried.html">38 percent</a> of Californians say they have tried pot at least once in their lifetimes.</p> <p>Next, tie the widespread use of this mild substance -- which has proven to be <a href="http://www.alternet.org/drugs/144333/the_secret_to_legal_marijuana_women/" target="_blank">less harmful</a> than alcohol and cigarettes -- to the <a href="http://www.alternet.org/drugs/144842/the_best_chance_yet_for_legalizing_marijuana?page=entire" target="_blank">growing slice</a> of law enforcement resources that are dedicated to fighting non-violent crimes associated with marijuana. Since 2005, marijuana arrests have increased nearly 30 percent, totaling 78,000 in 2008, according to figures from the state's Office of the Attorney General. Of those arrests, four out of five were for simple possession. Not surprisingly, this overzealous drug war <a href="http://www.drugpolicy.org/news/pressroom/pressrelease/pr063010.cfm" target="_blank">disproportionately affects</a> minorities and young people.</p> <p>All of this in the face of the state's massive debt -- <a href="http://www.businessweek.com/news/2010-07-14/california-may-cut-pay-illinois-holds-bills-to-bar-downgrades.html" target="_blank">$19 billion</a> for the month-old fiscal year -- which is closing schools, laying off police officers, and shutting down key public services while cash-strapped taxpayers foot the bill for a failed, senseless drug policy. With little money in state and local municipalities' coffers, criminalizing marijuana seems a senseless waste of the state's <a href="http://norml.org/index.cfm?Group_ID=4525&amp;wtm_view=estimate" target="_blank">largest cash crop</a>. In all, marijuana prohibition is both an economic and a social issue -- and Prop. 19 hopes to convince California voters that Nov. 2 is the time to end it.</p> <p>The midterm elections are just over three months away, and Prop. 19 is seen by many observers as one of the ballot items most likely to galvanize voters. As the people behind Prop. 19 prepare to launch their ground campaign in earnest, it's clear the initiative will be under a magnifying glass every step of the way.</p> <p>The question on everyone's mind is: How do they win? </p> <p>The reality of the matter is that Prop. 19 has the deck stacked against it simply because there is no precedent for a voting public of a state to endorse removing all civil and criminal penalties associated with adult marijuana use. All preceding efforts have met sad ends: A 1972 measure also called Prop. 19 failed in California; more recently, attempts in Alaska, Colorado and Nevada were also rejected. In the face of decades of federal and state prohibition, it is still much easier to vote no than yes, even in the face of convincing arguments to do otherwise.</p> <p>"There is no template available that shows what you need to do to achieve victory," says Paul Armentano, deputy director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. </p> <p><b>Where Prop. 19 stands today<br /><br /></b>For the past few months since qualifying for the ballot, Prop. 19 has focused on building up its online support, fund-raising, staffing the Oakland office, building a coalition, and setting up a network of volunteers throughout the state who will soon power the ground force. Over this time, the mainstream media's coverage of the campaign has mostly focused on poll numbers.<br /><br /> Polls in April and May found support at <a href="http://blogs.alternet.org/speakeasy/2010/04/21/new-poll-56-of-california-voters-want-to-legalize-marijuana/" target="_blank">56 percent</a> and <a href="http://blogs.alternet.org/speakeasy/2010/05/19/new-poll-majority-of-californians-think-taxing-cannabis-may-be-solution-to-states-woes/" target="_blank">51 percent</a>, respectively. A SurveyUSA poll released this month shows support at <a href="http://elections.firedoglake.com/2010/07/12/ca-prop-19-legal-regulated-marijuana-favored-50-40-in-new-poll/" target="_blank">50 percent</a>, 10 points over those against it. A new Public Policy Polling poll found the divide to be even greater, with <a href="http://publicpolicypolling.blogspot.com/2010/07/two-fifths-of-californians-have-tried.html">52 percent</a> supporting and 36 percent nixing it -- and the campaign says these results are more consistent with its internal polling. But another poll also released this month, the <a href="http://field.com/fieldpollonline/subscribers/Rls2342.pdf" target="_blank">Field poll</a>, showed that more people oppose the initiative than support it, at 48 to 44 percent. (This contrasts with the <a href="http://blogs.sfweekly.com/thesnitch/2009/05/groovy_marijana_advocates_feel.php" target="_blank">last Field poll</a>, conducted over a year ago, which found support at 56 percent.) No matter which numbers you're looking at though, 50, 52 or even 56 percent isn't all that comforting. It's one thing to say yes to a pollster, it's quite another thing to get out and vote that way.  </p> <p>"Progressive drug reform on the California ballot needs to be polling in the high 50s or low 60s," says Stephen Gutwillig, the California director at the Drug Policy Alliance. "This is because they generally have nowhere to go but down because of the fear-mongering that usually occurs at the hands of the law enforcement lobby which tends to not need as much money to push their regressive fear-based messages."</p> <p>Mauricio Garzon, the even-tempered campaign coordinator, admits polls could be better but is sure that something even more important is happening. "We're seeing a legitimization of this issue, politically. There was a time when this was impossible," he says. "You reflect on this and you see a shift in public sentiment and this is what this campaign has always been about. Making Americans understand how important this issue is. It's a real issue and the existing framework has been devastating to our society."<br /><br /> Indeed, Tax Cannabis has always been framed as a public education campaign. In this sense, at least, Prop. 19 is really succeeding -- after all, a lot of people are talking about it.<br /><br /> Prop. 19's newly hired field director, James Rigdon, thinks marijuana legalization has a lot more going for it than other issues. "There's something appealing about this for everyone -- helping the economy, incarceration issues, personal freedom ideas, public safety concerns. People from all walks are willing to come out and support us," Rigdon tells me. "Our supporters aren't just Cheech and Chong. They're everyday people who support this because it's good for everybody."<br /><br /> The multi-layered appeal to ending marijuana prohibition even has some expert election observers <a href="http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/print/2010/07/do-marijuana-ballot-initiatives-help-democrats-win/58974/" target="_blank">believing</a> that ballot initiatives legalizing cannabis may be the Democrats' answer to the gay marriage bans that drive Republican voters to the polling places. That theory remains to be tested in November, but what is certain now is that the far-reaching benefits that come with legalizing the marijuana industry in California have attracted a broad coalition of supporters of all stripes.<br /><br /> In addition to all the major players in the drug reform community, groups ranging from the NAACP to the ACLU have also signed up as <a href="http://www.taxcannabis.org/index.php/pages/endorsements" target="_blank">official endorsers</a> of Prop. 19. So, too, have numerous labor unions, faith leaders, law enforcement officers, elected officials, and doctors and physicians. According to Gutwillig, a coalition of organized labor, civil rights organizations, and the drug policy reform movement "has not existed before and could be game-changing."</p> <p>As the coalition of Prop. 19 supporters grows, so does the mainstream media's coverage. Gutwillig believes Prop. 19 has done a "really good job of defining the way the media is covering it; coming up with new and interesting ways of talking about the issue. They are talking about the failures of prohibition without seeming to encourage greater consumption of marijuana. And the argument that is increasingly made is that this is not playing out as criminal justice reform, that this is playing out as a social or cultural or economic issue. The framing is different."</p> <p>Here Gutwillig is referring to the last statewide drug initiative -- Prop. 5 in 2008. That failed measure was framed as a criminal justice issue and sought to emphasize treatment and rehabilitation for drug offenders over harsh criminal consequences. So the Prop. 19 campaign's hope may be to learn from the lesson of Prop. 5 and skew away from criminal justice arguments. But there could be a downside to this approach. </p> <p>"Prop. 19 is talking about this as more of a jobs, revenue issue, which plays well for the mainstream media which likes to play up the fiscal side of it because it ties into larger stories, but a more sinister interpretation may be that it allows the media to talk about marijuana reform without talking about marijuana reform," Gutwillig says. </p> <p>This is tied to another worry Gutwillig observes. "The research and focus groups I've seen see the whole revenue thing as gravy -- it matters to people who've already made up their minds about supporting Prop. 19. But it's not the reason someone is going to come off the fence. [Talking about revenue] doesn't resonate with voters, nor should it," he says. "But what does resonate is the other side of the fiscal coin, which is the opportunity to save and redirect scarce law enforcement resources. That message makes a big difference. People's instincts tell them there is something fundamentally hypocritical about marijuana prohibition."</p> <p>Prop. 19 hopes to appeal to the instincts of Californians who believe the drug war has failed.</p> <p><b>The campaign's strategy</b></p> <p>As Prop. 19 prepares to fan out across California, it has set two very important, realistic goals. The first is that it will not try to change the minds of those who believe marijuana prohibition has been a success. This means that the campaign is out to mobilize those who already support Prop. 19, and make sure they show up to vote; it also means they will focus on convincing those who have some sense that criminalizing pot has done more harm than good that this measure is the right solution to this policy problem. The campaign expects the swing demographics to be comprised mostly of blacks, Latinos, mothers, and young people.</p> <p>In its second key strategic move, the campaign will especially focus on the largest areas of voters most likely to vote in midterm elections -- Los Angeles County, Orange County, the Bay Area, the Inland Empire, and the Central Valley -- rather than spread itself too thin across the entire state.</p> <p>As the campaign prepares to begin its on-the-ground outreach over these next few weeks, the question of financing arises. After all, big dollars are behind most successful campaigns.</p> <p>While Tax Cannabis premiered with a lot of fanfare about its financial backing, the situation is somewhat different now. Richard Lee, the pot entrepreneur and co-proponent of the initiative, injected $1.4 million of his money -- via Oaksterdam University -- to ensure its passage. While fund-raising has continued at a steady clip, the <a href="http://cal-access.ss.ca.gov/Campaign/Committees/Detail.aspx?id=1318272" target="_blank">latest public filings</a> show that most of the larger cash infusions still come from S.K. Seymour, LLC, Lee's umbrella organization that runs Oaksterdam and other cannabis-related businesses. Despite this, Prop. 19 is committed to raising small amounts from many people, and the filings show many small-dollar donations have started to flow in. According to Lee, the campaign has raised $130,000 online and most of these donations were under $250.</p> <p>Yet Lee admits that "everything is on track, except fund-raising." The campaign currently has $50,000 in cash. While the campaign has talked to the major funders of other marijuana measures throughout the country -- people like Peter Louis, George Soros, Bob Wilson, and John Sperling -- none have committed funding yet. All of these men contributed <a href="http://ballotpedia.org/wiki/index.php/California_Proposition_5_(2008)">between $1 million and $2 million each</a> to Prop. 5, the failed 2008 measure that sought to reform sentencing for drug-related offenses. A big question remains unanswered: Why are these Prop. 5 donors not funding Prop. 19?</p> <p>Their non-involvement may be why Garzon says the campaign "can certainly do a lot with a little." Prop. 19 has not yet planned for a mass media campaign, which costs a lot of money. For example, a statewide TV ad buy for a political candidate in California costs about <a href="http://www.mercurynews.com/breaking-news/ci_15121804?nclick_check=1">$1 million per week</a>. That's a daunting figure and so Tax Cannabis will instead be stressing one-to-one public education, which will take the form of door-to-door canvassing, phone banks and town-hall meetings. </p> <p>"We don't think we need [a mass media campaign] to win. It depends on our budget -- if we have room for it, we will," Garzon says. "People are interested enough that we find the person-to-person interaction to be very successful. When you answer their questions, they're very supportive."</p> <p>The Prop. 19 campaign will rely heavily on volunteers. Though the campaign hasn't yet put out an official appeal, 2,600 people have already signed on. Many thousands more are expected to comprise the complete army of volunteers, who will have to learn how to craft talking points that appeal to different kinds of on-the-fence Californians. </p> <p>Already the campaign has some idea of what those talking points will be. A town-hall meeting in Mendocino County gave Garzon an opportunity to see what resonated with voters there. The event was billed as "Life After Legalization," and speakers framed the passing of Prop. 19 as an opportunity to become "the Napa Valley of cannabis," Garzon said. By the end of the meeting, a union man had inspired attendees to chant, "Organize! Organize!"</p> <p>For Jerome Urías-Cantú, a law student at Stanford, the key issue is border safety. In a fund-raising appeal sent out to Prop. 19's mailing list, he wrote about a cousin who lived in Ciudad Juárez, just miles from the California border, who was killed in the escalating drug war in Mexico. "Oscar had nothing to do with the drug trade, but he was shot and killed nonetheless," Urías-Cantú wrote. "That's why I support the reform of California's cannabis laws. The measure will prevent needless deaths by reducing the profitability of the drug trade and putting the violent drug cartels out of business." (The Office of National Drug Control Policy <a href="http://immigration.change.org/petitions/view/legalize_marijuana_stop_violent_mexican_drug_cartels" target="_blank">estimates</a> that Mexican cartels receive 60 percent of their revenue from marijuana sales in the United States.)<br /><br /> Lance Rogers, a volunteer regional director based in San Diego, believes that besides the border issues, people in his area will be interested in economic arguments for Prop. 19. "San Diego -- like the state -- is in a major fiscal crisis. We have an extreme budget deficit due to pension problems," he says.<br /><br /> And as a criminal defense attorney, Rogers has met others like him who "see the effects of an overly punitive criminal justice system on marijuana offenses. I see people go to prison for five or seven years for sales of less than an ounce of marijuana. Granted, these are folks who have prior felonies or other things going on, but the fact is that this person is going to prison for $75,000 a year for doing what Prop. 19 would legalize."<br /><br /> Priscilla A. Pyrk, the regional director for the Inland Empire and the owner of a medical marijuana collective, thinks dispelling stereotypes about cannabis consumers and entrepreneurs will be important, too. "The cannabis industry needs to revamp how people perceive this industry and its users," Pyrk says. "That's why it's great that we have a lot of non-traditional cannabis consumers coming on board. They're coming out of the closet! Doctors, lawyers, businessmen are coming out and standing up for the initiative."</p> <p>Women, who were key in the effort to legalize medical cannabis and have more generally <a href="http://www.alternet.org/drugs/144333/the_secret_to_legal_marijuana_women">helped mainstream pot use</a>, will also be targeted. According to Richard Lee, soccer moms in particular are a big undecided group. "We have to educate them about how Prop. 19 will protect their kids better than the status quo," he says. "The current system draws kids into selling and buying cannabis. If alcohol was illegal, it'd be the same way. There is a forbidden fruit attraction."</p> <p>Stephen Gutwillig agrees: "The campaign must validate moms' instinct that there is something whack about marijuana prohibition. The instinct that marijuana is more like tobacco and alcohol than not, and safer -- which it is -- and that there's no reason that we shouldn't be trying to regulate marijuana. They know we're wasting a lot of law enforcement resources on this futile attempt to enforce these unenforceable laws."<br /><br /> As Prop. 19 works on the ground, it will count on the field support of three organizations. One is NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws; the second is the Courage Campaign, a progressive advocacy group with 800,000 members. Arisha Hatch, the national field director at Courage, estimates that about 500 to 1,000 of its volunteers will be highly involved with the Prop. 19 campaign's get-out-the-vote work, which she sees as "the biggest challenge [Prop. 19] will face. We need to get people to actually speak on message and in a responsible way about what taxing and regulating cannabis will be like.<br /><br /> "Marijuana legalization is the only thing on the ballot that can replicate that turnout. I see it as an extremely important issue for progressives, which is why Courage has made it the initiative we're supporting this cycle," Hatch says.</p> <p>The final group supporting Prop. 19 on the ground is Students for Sensible Drug Policy, which will manage the campus outreach and focus on bringing out the youth vote.</p> <p>Aaron Houston, the executive director of SSDP, says he is committed to proving the conventional wisdom about youth voters and midterm elections wrong: "What we're going to change with this election is demonstrate that marijuana on the ballot motivates young people to turn out and vote. Opportunistic politicians will find out that marijuana increases youth turnout and that speaking out against drug reform is to their peril."<br /><b><br /> Scoping out the opposition<br /><br /></b>Prop. 19's most vocal opposition comes from the top. Gubernatorial candidates Meg Whitman and Jerry Brown don't see eye to eye on much, but they both seem to have decided it's politically expedient to oppose the measure. Senator Dianne Feinstein also recently came out against it.<br /><br /> "I was at a party with doctors who said they used to light up with Jerry Brown," says Garzon. "But you know, the reality is that we know that politicians aren't going to lead on this issue."</p> <p>Feinstein, for her part, <a href="http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/california-politics/2010/07/feinstein-opposes-marijuana-legalization-measure.html?utm_source=twitterfeed&amp;utm_medium=twitter" style="color: rgb(42, 93, 176);" target="_blank">refers</a> to a Rand study released this month to justify the idea that "if Proposition 19 passes, the only thing that would be certain is drug use would go up and the state of California would run afoul of federal law and risk losing federal funding."<br /><br /> But if you read the actual <a href="http://www.rand.org/pubs/occasional_papers/OP315/" style="color: rgb(42, 93, 176);" target="_blank">study</a>, you learn that Rand is still rather conservative in its ability to prognosticate much: "The proposed legislation in California would create a large change in policy. As a result it is uncertain how useful these studies are for making projections about marijuana legalization."</p> <p>Yet even a rather staid study like Rand still sees positives such as tax revenues, which the state has projected could be as high as $1.4 billion annually. As for Feinstein's claim, there is no reason to believe Prop. 5 would affect federal funding (which Feinstein will fight for anyway). As Richard Lee says, similar arguments were used against Prop. 215 but the medical marijuana measure has not resulted in less funding coming to California. And regarding the senator's assertion that drug use will go up, the opposite may be true. Other studies show that marijuana use among youth has actually dropped<i> </i>since medical marijuana was legalized in California. There was a <a href="http://www.mpp.org/assets/pdfs/general/TeenUseReport_0608.pdf" target="_blank">47 percent</a> decline among the state's ninth-graders from 1996 to 2006.</p> <p>"Sen. Feinstein opposed Prop. 215 although she has now come out in favor of medical marijuana. It's political math," Lee says. "With Prop. 215, all the major politicians and statewide candidates were against it but it passed with 56 percent of the vote. So if you look at the polling, the voters don't trust politicians on this."</p> <p>Currently, the No on Prop. 19 movement seems relegated to a few small groups. The most well-funded one is called <a href="http://www.publicsafetyfirst.net/" target="_blank">Public Safety First</a>, which claims endorsements from the California Chamber of Commerce, the California Police Chiefs Association and the California Narcotic Officers' Association. The group is headed by John Lovell, the lobbyist for the police and narcotic officers' unions. Public Safety First has <a href="http://www.facebook.com/pages/Public-Safety-First-Against-the-Legalization-of-Marijuana-in-CA/115912301786846" target="_blank">under 250</a> fans on Facebook -- compared to the over <a href="http://www.facebook.com/pages/Public-Safety-First-Against-the-Legalization-of-Marijuana-in-CA/115912301786846#%21/taxcannabis?ref=ts" target="_blank">120,000</a> Prop. 19 has -- and James Rigdon, the Prop. 19 field director, says at least 20 of them are fans of Prop. 19, too. "Some of them even work here," he laughs.<br /><br /> A couple volunteer opposition groups have cropped up, too. <a href="http://www.calmca.org/" target="_blank">Citizens Against Legalizing Marijuana</a> seems to have little if any money behind it. Another such group, Nip It In The Bud, boasts little more than a <a href="http://www.nipitinthebud2010.org/" target="_blank">Web site</a>, which depicts a skeleton holding a scroll reading: "Fix California with pot??? NOT!"<br /><br /> Prop. 19 seems more concerned with opposition within the movement than without it. </p> <p>"From our own side there has been some fragmentation as there is in all social movements. There's just different people with different ideas," Garzon says. "We're open to criticism but we're trying to do things responsibly. We can't please everybody but we've tried to craft something that makes sense to a mother in Los Angeles, too. This isn't ultimately about the right to smoke, it's about taxes in our communities, a failed system, a public health issue."</p> <p>I told Garzon that a few marijuana activists had written me to say they were upset about the local control aspect of Prop. 19 -- counties can decide whether to legalize the sale of cannabis. One had called the regulatory framework confusing and a bureaucratic disaster waiting to happen.<br /><br /> "We're not instituting a state government aspect, true. But it'll come down to who do you want to give your tax dollars to? Local control is what we need on so many issues but in particular this issue," he said. Local governments can decide "ideologically, culturally, operationally what is right for them. What it does is allows the best of the models to bubble up to the top.Local governments can decide not to pass it this year -- but those who don't pass on the opportunity will take advantage of that extra revenue."<br /><br /> Priscilla A. Pyrk, the Prop. 19 organizer in the Inland Empire, also hopes to assuage some opposition from within the medical cannabis community: "Prop. 19 does not have anything to do with the medical side of cannabis. Prop. 215 stays intact. This can help medical cannabis patients by alleviating any of the judgment that is currently focused on them."</p> <p><strong>Not much time left<br /></strong></p> <p>How do they win? No one can say for sure, but the fund-raising strategy will be of paramount importance so the get-out-the-vote game can succeed. This midterm election cycle, the Prop. 19 campaign has to convince voters that marijuana prohibition hits on many important issues vital to their lives.</p> <p>Going forward, the campaign will be heavily publicizing a <a href="http://www.lao.ca.gov/ballot/2010/19_11_2010.aspx" target="_blank">recently released report</a> from the non-partisan Legislative Analyst's Office which finds that Prop. 19 would put police priorities where they belong, generate hundreds of millions in revenue and protect the public.</p> <p>The campaign needs to hammer in several points to stand a chance. Its messaging has to emphasize how marijuana prohibition has been a costly, senseless disaster. The drug war has strengthened and enriched violent cartels while law enforcement resources have been wasted on arresting non-violent marijuana users, ruining lives and siphoning from key public services that are sorely needed by all Californians. Prop. 19 must also make clear that taxing and regulating pot will make it harder for minors to access pot -- and that medical marijuana has proven that increased regulation decreases use by kids. Finally, the campaign ought to appeal to voters by reminding them that this initiative is their opportunity to take a stand where politicians have been reluctant to act. In other words, the time is now.</p> <p>If the campaign is successful, Californians will wake up on Nov. 3 to find that marijuana prohibition is finally over. If it isn't, at least we will be a step closer to that possibility.</p> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><a href="http://blogs.alternet.org/staff/">Daniela Perdomo</a> is a staff writer and editor at AlterNet. <a href="http://twitter.com/danielaperdomo">Follow Daniela on Twitter</a>. Write her at danielaalternet [at] gmail [dot] com. </div></div></div> Thu, 29 Jul 2010 21:00:01 -0700 Daniela Perdomo, AlterNet 663138 at http://www.alternet.org Drugs Personal Health News & Politics Drugs marijuana california drug reform cannabis prohibition oaksterdam richard lee election2010 tax cannabis prop. 19 We Are In the Midst of the Second Nuclear Age: How Do We End It? http://www.alternet.org/story/147598/we_are_in_the_midst_of_the_second_nuclear_age%3A_how_do_we_end_it <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">New documentary &#039;Countdown to Zero&#039; explores just how much danger we are in.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>It's been a long time since Hiroshima and Nagasaki, yet the horrors of the mushroom cloud still burn starkly in our collective memory. The threat of nuclear war may seem distant; a terrible prospect rendered impossible by the lessons of World War II, but the truth is that nuclear weapons still define much of the global geopolitical landscape.</p> <p>Currently, nine nations possess nuclear capabilities and other states and entities are rushing to join that powerful club. In light of this Second Nuclear Age and the possibility for nuclear terrorism, Participant Media has released a moving, important film titled <a href="http://www.takepart.com/countdowntozero"><em>Countdown to Zero</em></a> -- both a play on the launch countdown and a call for a world with precisely zero nuclear weapons.</p> <p> <meta charset="utf-8" /></p> <p>I recently caught up with Lucy Walker, the film's director, to discuss what it means to live in a world with over 8,000 active nuclear warheads, increasingly easy methods for transporting and producing such weapons, and the chance for human error -- be it total accident or complete misjudgment.</p> <p><strong>Daniela Perdomo: In your film you spoke to a lot of people on the street, which I thought was a very effective way of gauging how regular people feel. But I was struck by how many of them do not think nuclear weapons are a real threat or problem. Why do you think that is?</strong></p> <p>Lucy Walker: Oh my, well, there are studies that said that more Americans thought that aliens could land than a nuclear bomb could go off. And, unfortunately, knowing what I know, that's just not true. I think that complacency has set in since the end of the Cold War, since we've had these things 65 years and nothing "that bad" has happened since 1945. And so I think, yeah, there's this idea that if it hasn't happened so far, why should it happen in the future? You get numb and learn to live with the threat. But unfortunately, I think that the opposite is true, which is that the longer that we have them, ultimately, these low risks actually accumulate and luck might not hold out. There have been some scary near-misses and horrible possibilities averted. Unfortunately just statistically, the risk isn't zero as time goes on.</p> <p> <meta charset="utf-8" /></p> <p><strong>DP: We're talking about how we've grown desensitized to this threat, b</strong><strong>ut there's also the flip side. H</strong><strong>ow can we be aware of the threat and effectively try to address it while not buying into the fear-mongering that, for example, led America into war with Iraq?</strong></p> <p> <meta charset="utf-8" /></p> <p>LW: I grapple with that a lot. And how I chose to proceed in the movie was to really go to the horse's mouth -- go to the most informed, hands-on people on the planet, to the insiders' insiders and the actual world leaders who have their fingers on the button and the actual heads of intelligence for WMD. It wasn't enough for me to say Al-Qaeda terrorism is scary. I wanted to talk to the guys who knew exactly what Al-Qaeda has to do with nuclear weapons. We have an actual nuclear smuggler in the movie, and the foremost experts on centrifuges and the future enrichment of uranium, which is the technology we have to be particularly concerned about.</p> <p>Hopefully the movie doesn't ever fall into the empty threat category. And the movie is scary because the facts are scary. I didn't set out to make a scary movie, but it turned out that the real facts were scary.</p> <p>The conclusion that came back time and time again is that we're in real trouble. The problem is going to get worse. We're at a tipping point now, the time to solve it is now. The only solution moving forward is zero [nuclear weapons], regardless of your position during the Cold War -- whether they were a helpful deterrent or a horrible scourge. And ultimately, that's why I think that across partisan divides around the world, that the course is overwhelmingly to eliminate nuclear weapons, which is actually the policy of the current administration -- President Obama called for a world free of nuclear weapons. And I agree with him.</p> <p><strong>DP: I do want to get back to the concept of zero and Obama but I wanted to first ask about the images that you used throughout your film. It was really interesting to see how in certain countries -- for example, Pakistan -- citizens rejoiced at the fact that their country had become a nuclear power. What does that say about society or about the way our international relations work that you need this ghastly bomb to feel safe or powerful?</strong></p> <p>LW: It's interesting, isn't it? And I think it's important to remember what a technical accomplishment it is to get a nuclear weapon. For [a nation] like Pakistan, there was just the mere fantastic accomplishment to be very proud of. And it certainly gets you a seat at the table. And you can see in North Korea, it's a heck of a bartering chip. So I think that's precisely why it's such a pinpoint now with what's going on with Iran. The movie is coming at such an urgent time in terms of dealing with this issue.</p> <p>The time bomb is really ticking on the possibility of solving this without a catastrophe. My goal is for us to be focused on this issue before something horrible happens so that we don't have to sit around afterward and analyze how we could have ignored this threat or how we could have let these weapons get into the wrong hands. The time is now to make sure that we never have to have that conversation.</p> <p><strong>DP: Your film talks about a coming age of nuclear terrorism. Has the war on terror only aggravated this possibility? Or do you think we would have reached an age of nuclear terrorism regardless?</strong></p> <p>LW: To some extent, what you find in my movie is that this a real non-partisan issue. And it's sort of important actually to keep that united front because it's going to be really hard to eradicate nuclear weapons even though I think that's the stated goal of so many people. It's just not easy to achieve.</p> <p>I think that the more we keep focused on the united desire to do that and less focused on my views on President Bush, for example, probably the better because as you see in the film, many people call for no nuclear weapons: Secretary James Baker, evangelical visionaries, Republicans, Democrats. Indeed, the best thing is that nobody I spoke to could make a sensible counter-argument. I wanted opposition. I wanted an argument. You know, I wanted people to say, "No. They're really what we need for the future." And nobody was saying that. Everyone was saying, "Even if they are used to keep us safe, we're in a lot of trouble moving forward because it's not a choice any longer between a few nation-states having secured arsenals and nobody else in the world having them."</p> <p>A world in which there are a lot of nuclear weapons held by a lot of less-secured states or even non-state actors -- well, that's not a world that I want to live in. I just can't imagine a world filled with more fear and suffering than that world. Even just one nuclear weapon in the wrong hands would scare me so much that I'm not sure I could live in a city again. You know?</p> <p><strong>DP: Definitely.</strong></p> <p>LW: We'd be moving to rural New Zealand. Almost instantly, I would imagine.</p> <p><strong>DP: Right. This is actually a good segue for my next question. In the film, someone suggests that Pakistan is really the most dangerous place in the world right now, given how unstable it is and given that it is a nuclear power. Do you agree?</strong></p> <p>LW: If I had to give you my top 10 nightmare scenarios, Pakistan would be among them. It has a lot of nuclear weapons. It's in a hot war -- not even a cold war, with India. That's a really delicate relationship. It's not even like the U.S. and Russia, where you have a little bit of flight time between them. India and Pakistan share a border and the relations are very tense. We saw the incident in Mumbai last year. There's the instability of the state itself. There's all kinds of issues going on now with the tribal lands and so on. And you've got Al-Qaeda's world headquarters. You have Al-Qaeda actually recruiting members of the nuclear weapons establishment.</p> <p>There are so many things to worry about in terms of that particular arsenal. You've got a [Pakistan-based] proliferation network that traded nuclear secrets with North Korea and with Libya. And Iran, of course -- the centrifuges from Iran actually came from Pakistan. So there's just so much to worry about with regards to Pakistan. And yet it's hard to come up with an answer for [former Pakistani] President Musharraf when he asks in the movie why Pakistan shouldn't have nuclear weapons if other countries are going to claim the need for their security needs. After all, Pakistan lives in a more dangerous neighborhood and has its own need for them. It's really increasingly hard to argue that some countries can have them and some can't.<b><br /></b></p> <p><strong>DP: Let's go back to the idea of zero nuclear weapons. If the only solution is for every country to disable its nuclear weapons, how do we start? Who goes first? Should it be Russia and the United States because they have so many more than anyone else?</strong></p> <p>LW: That's a really good question. One of the sets of info we unfortunately had to leave out of the film was this narrative about these experts who've devoted their careers to figuring exactly how you get these arsenals down safely to zero. And it's not instant. It's not crazy. It's a really specific and sophisticated and scientific and political long-game. But it's doable -- and presumably the biggest nuclear powers should lead.</p> <p><strong>DP: Your film ends rather optimistically. You show Obama and Russian President Medvedev signing a treaty, promising to cut down their nuclear arsenals. And in speaking to you right now, it sounds like you are relatively hopeful about what we can achieve with new leadership.</strong></p> <p>LW<strong>:</strong> Well, I'm really frightened. I mean, I love good leadership, and I think it's really tough to be a leader. But I do think it's a really exciting moment. You know, back in the 1980s, I think Gorbachev actually did turn the arms race around. It's amazing to hear Gorbachev talking [in the film] about how in 1986, he and President Reagan sat down in Reykjavik and proposed all-out disarmament at a time when the populations were marching. Now they didn't manage to pull that one off. But I think that we are closer now, in a time when the president calls for a world free of nuclear weapons. I hope American citizens support him in this.</p> <p><strong>DP: What can regular, everyday people do? </strong></p> <p>LW: We started a campaign at <a href="http://www.takepart.com/countdowntozero">TakePart</a> and there's also <a href="http://www.globalzero.org/">Global Zero.</a> And hopefully, as the shelf life of the movie continues, the action and talking points are going evolve. Right now the START treaty is sort of at the top of the agenda. But as things move forward, hopefully, we'll be able to take steps forward and people are going to become galvanized on this issue. After all, it's just all too likely that a nuclear bomb can go off. In fact, the bomb is ticking and we want to make sure and switch that thing off now before it goes off.</p> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><a href="http://blogs.alternet.org/staff/">Daniela Perdomo</a> is a staff writer and editor at AlterNet. <a href="http://twitter.com/danielaperdomo">Follow Daniela on Twitter</a>. Write her at danielaalternet [at] gmail [dot] com. </div></div></div> Wed, 21 Jul 2010 21:00:01 -0700 Daniela Perdomo, AlterNet 663023 at http://www.alternet.org Media World News & Politics Media nuclear proliferation countdown to zero countdown to zero walker lucy walker lucy walker countdown to countdown to zero sundanc Oliver Stone Tells the Real Story of the Leftist Latin American Leaders Transforming the Continent http://www.alternet.org/story/147493/oliver_stone_tells_the_real_story_of_the_leftist_latin_american_leaders_transforming_the_continent <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Stone&#039;s new film traces the rise of Chávez, Lula, Evo, and others who see participatory democracy and cooperation between Latin American countries as the future.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>After decades of military dictatorships and IMF puppetry in Latin America, the southern cone of the New World is slowly but surely moving toward reformist, left-leaning governance. This all started in 1999, when Hugo Chávez was elected in Venezuela. Today, Chávez has left or left-center allies at the helm of Brazil, Ecuador, Bolivia, Argentina, Paraguay, and preceding him, Cuba.</p> <p>But given the minimal and distorted coverage of political developments in Latin America, most Americans don't know the real story. And when the U.S. corporate media does deign to discuss the region's significant ideological shift, it's usually in a very alarmist way. "Leftist menace," CNN has blared, while Fox News consistently warns of "Rising dictators" when one of these so-called despots wins a democratic election.</p> <p>The good news is that Oliver Stone's new documentary, <a target="_blank" href="http://southoftheborderdoc.com/"><em>South of the Border</em></a>, offers American audiences an alternative version of this continent-wide paradigm shift. The film traces the rise of Chávez, Lula, Evo, and all the other members of a new generation of political leaders who see participatory democracy, socialism, and mutual aid and cooperation between Latin American countries as the future. Neo-liberalism, capitalism and imperialism, they believe, are out -- and they're not going to let the United States push them around anymore. This is a terrific development given that the United States has launched military interventions and political coups in Central and South America an astounding <a href="http://www.alternet.org/world/147336/oliver_stone%3A_the_us_has_launched_military_interventions_and_political_coups_fifty-five_times_in_latin_america">55 times</a>.</p> <p>Part of what makes the film so compelling is that the historical actors tell the story in their own words. Indeed, Stone's legacy as a successful filmmaker known for going against the Hollywood grain -- consistently leftist, anti-war and anti-power -- landed him relatively intimate and uncensored access to each of the heads of state in question.</p> <p>Hugo Chávez comes off as particularly charismatic, which is likely why Stone dedicated nearly the entire first half of the film to him. Multiple scenes depict him driving through Caracas, children running after the car yelling, "Hugo! Hugo!" He shakes many hands and holds many babies during his time with Stone.</p> <p>But you also get a sense of the personality fueling the Bolivarian revolution -- which is "peaceful but armed," he says -- and of his efforts to distribute land for communal ownership by his country's poorest. The film also explains the man behind the dramatic flourishes -- such as <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=binMjEiS8AY">calling Bush a sulphurous devil</a> and making the sign of the cross at the United Nations' General Assembly -- that are so widely disseminated by the American press. In one interview, Chávez admits that the American media's depiction of him hurts -- or at least it did at first. In one of the film's funnier moments, as he and Stone walk to a corn processing plant (pre-Chávez, Venezuela had to import most of its corn) he tells the camera and its eventual American audience, "This is where we're building Iran's atomic bomb."</p> <p>Chávez isn't the only one who scoffs at the U.S. media's depiction of him. Rafael Correa, the young American-educated president of Ecuador, tells Stone he doesn't mind the bad press in the United States: "I'd be worried if the U.S. media was speaking favorably of me."</p> <p>In this vein, one of the strongest points Stone makes is the way the American government and its complicit press corps give consistently negative coverage to, say, Venezuela but refer favorably to Colombia, one of the United States' last malleable allies in the region. Human rights, Stone intones, has become a buzzword void of meaning, employed by the media and the State Department to delineate who we support and who we don't. Although Colombia has a pretty terrible human rights record -- indeed worse than Venezuela's, which is <a href="http://www.fair.org/index.php?page=3699">easily a safer place</a> to vote, unionize and politically organize -- you never hear about it in the editorial pages of the <em>New York Times</em> or in remarks given by our diplomats.</p> <p><em>South of the Border</em> is a biting critique of the American media's coverage of the movement -- sparing no major news outlet. The movie opens with a bumbling, outrageous clip featuring Fox News' Gretchen Carlson essentially accusing Bolivian president Evo Morales of being a cocaine addict (he chews coca leaves, as most Bolivians have for generations, so as to withstand the nation's high altitudes), but Stone also calls out our so-called newspaper of record, the <em>New York Times</em>, for endorsing (and then recanting its endorsement of) the failed 2002 U.S.-backed military coup of Chávez, a democratically elected leader.</p> <p>It is no surprise, then, that the mainstream media has made valiant efforts to pan <em>South of the Border</em>. Larry Rohter wrote a particularly <a target="_blank" href="http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/26/movies/26stone.html">damning article</a> in the <em>Times</em> in which he details what he views as the documentary's "mistakes, misstatements and missing details." (It's curious that the <em>Times</em> let him write the piece in the first place given that Rohter is the newspaper's former longtime South American bureau chief, responsible for penning a 2004 <a target="_blank" href="http://www.nytimes.com/2004/05/09/world/brazilian-leader-s-tippling-becomes-national-concern.html">factually imaginative</a> article which claimed that Lula had a drinking problem that negatively impacted his job as president of Brazil.)</p> <p>Although Stone and co-writer Tariq Ali, the historian and commentator, have handily <a target="_blank" href="http://southoftheborderdoc.com/oliver-stone-responds-to-attack-from-the-new-york-times-larry-rohter/">refuted</a> all of Rohter's qualms with their film, once the movie opens nationwide we can expect more corporate media outlets to spout talking points similar to Rohter's, and of course to repeat the same less sophisticated barbs CNN and Fox News have long been propagating about the move to the left in Latin America.</p> <p>What the media is unlikely to publicize is the fact that <em>South of the Border</em> demonstrates that Latin American leaders have a genuine interest in maintaining good relations with America -- even Raúl Castro of Cuba professes his love for the American people. The presidents Stone meets with speak of their hope in Barack Obama's presidency -- they view his replacing Bush as a tremendous win for the relationship between the United States and their countries. (Things were really bad, after all. Former Argentinian president Nestor Kirchner, now succeeded by his wife Cristina, tells an appalling anecdote about asking Bush for a Marshall Plan for Latin America; Bush reportedly replied that the best way to revitalize an economy is to engage in war.)</p> <p>As positive as these new Latin American heads of state are about Obama's presidency, they are not waiting around for the United States to extend a hand. Already Argentina and Brazil are engaging in trade in their own currencies, having dropped the dollar. Lula envisions an end to IMF (and American) economic control of the region -- Brazil has paid off its foreign debt and boasts a $260 billion surplus -- and a continent-wide effort to strengthen labor unions. Evo has banned all foreign military bases in Bolivia; Correa told the United States it could build a military base in Ecuador only if he could build one in Miami. Fernando Lugo, a former Roman Catholic bishop now president of Paraguay, has revived the liberation theology of the 1960s, which calls for the humanization of socio-economic structures that benefit all -- especially the most destitute. And all of these nations want to help reintegrate Cuba into the global system.</p> <p>There was little about the film I did not find fascinating or compelling. Requisite disclosure: I was raised in Latin America -- mostly Brazil, but also Argentina, Mexico and Guatemala -- and believe that a move to a multi-polar world is a really good thing. As a Latin American, it is awesomely heartening to see not only governors who actually look like the people they govern --  Evo and Lula in particular -- after years of presidents culled only from the lighter-skinned, wealthier classes, but to see that the continent's new leaders are making concerted efforts to address the plague of poverty and ill distribution of opportunities that have long defined the region. In fact, I'd argue that having leaders that come from the same background as the majority of the population is the only way real change is ever going to come to Latin America.</p> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><a href="http://blogs.alternet.org/staff/">Daniela Perdomo</a> is a staff writer and editor at AlterNet. <a href="http://twitter.com/danielaperdomo">Follow Daniela on Twitter</a>. Write her at danielaalternet [at] gmail [dot] com. </div></div></div> Sun, 11 Jul 2010 21:00:01 -0700 Daniela Perdomo, AlterNet 662899 at http://www.alternet.org Media Activism Media Immigration World hugo chavez latin america poverty evo morales bolivarian revolution oliver stone fernando lugo rafael correa lula south of the border liberation theology Is John Stossel More Dangerous Than Glenn Beck? http://www.alternet.org/story/147390/is_john_stossel_more_dangerous_than_glenn_beck <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Fox host Stossel disguises his hate speech behind his polished TV persona and libertarian pose, offering his audience a path to hatred without joining Glenn Beck&#039;s circus.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>In May this year, a prominent commentator on Fox News called for the repeal of the section of the 1964 Civil Rights Act that bans discrimination in places of public accommodation. "Private businesses ought to discriminate... it should be their right to be racist," he said.<br /><br /> Fox News has a longstanding policy of giving race-baiters a soapbox, but the fascinating thing about this particular bit of vile nonsense is that even other figureheads at the channel like Bill O'Reilly, Charles Krauthammer and Steve Brown -- each known for their own ignorant worldviews -- voiced disgust at the suggestion that racial discrimination ought to be a right granted to businesses.<br /><br /> And perhaps most interesting is the fact that this affront to the hard-fought civil rights movement was uttered not by hysterical, completely bonkers Glenn Beck -- from whom we have all come to expect such outrageous statements. Instead, it came from none other than John Stossel, the mustachioed reporter familiar to most TV-viewing Americans, and who recently joined Rupert Murdoch's right-wing propaganda network after leaving ABC News late last year.<br /><br /> Stossel has come a long way from his local consumer reporter days in 1970s New York City. Considered a solid consumer advocate back then, he worked his way to a job at ABC News. But somehow, along the way, during long stints at stalwarts like "Good Morning America" and "20/20", he became much too ideological for a mainstream network like ABC. <br /><br /> His last decade at ABC News even included a relatively rare <a href="http://abcnews.go.com/2020/story?id=448443&amp;page=2">on-air apology</a> for a story he reported on organic produce. Stossel had cited pesticide tests that were never done to debunk the benefits to eating organic foods. "I am deeply sorry I misled you," Stossel said to his viewers, before undermining the apology by stating that his general thesis was still correct.<br /><br /> Stossel now hosts an eponymous show on Fox Business dedicated to spouting his staunchly libertarian ideology, and appears regularly on Fox News' shows as a commentator. He is something of an anomaly for the conservative channel, because while he can make racist statements as well as the rest of them, he couches his particular brand of hate in his passion for libertarianism. So his calls for the "right to be racist" come alongside his support for ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and legalizing all <a href="http://townhall.com/columnists/JohnStossel/2010/06/16/end_the_drug_war/print?showfull=true">drugs</a>, prostitution, abortion and assisted suicide.<br /><br /> Has Fox News identified a new form of fury to monetize? It would appear so; and they picked the right man.<br /><br /> Stossel has become something of a Tea Party hero (he has an <a href="http://www.printthis.clickability.com/pt/cpt?action=cpt&amp;title=John+Stossel+Has+an+Effigy+of+Barney+Frank+Hanging+Above+His+Sofa&amp;expire=&amp;urlID=419986407&amp;fb=Y&amp;url=http%3A%2F%2Fnymag.com%2Fdaily%2Fintel%2F2010%2F02%2Fjohn_stossel_plays_beach_volle.html&amp;partnerID=73272">effigy</a> of Barney Frank hanging above his sofa), has long been one of the most popular speakers on the conservative lecture circuit, and his syndicated column is increasingly popular. According to Rick Newcomb, the CEO of Creators Syndicate, which publishes Michelle Malkin and Chuck Norris, Stossel's column was the most requested to appear in local newspapers by users on Creators' Web site over a period of three months this year.</p> <p>Among the requests Creators received is this note from a woman in Pensacola, Fla.: "[John Stossel] stands up for the average person, the one who is just trying to live a decent life without being frustrated at every turn by endless, overbearing government interference."</p> <p>"I think he hits a nerve," says Newcomb, who self-identifies as a libertarian and suggested the column idea to Stossel.<br /><br /> Indeed, like Creators, Fox has cleverly honed in on an audience cohort that doesn't completely identify with the weepy, conspiratorial entertainment offered by Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck. Fox's two latest hires -- Stossel and fellow-libertarian blowhard Andrew Napolitano, who hosts "Freedom Watch" on Fox Business -- show that the network recognizes the difference between its conservative and libertarian audiences. With the rise of the Tea Party, whose loose framework of ideas is centered around anger at an out-of-control government and its runaway spending, libertarianism stands to rake in money and ratings for Fox.<br /><br /> In Stossel, Fox News and Fox Business have a commentator they <a href="http://www.foxnews.com/entertainment/2009/09/10/john-stossel-joins-fox-news-fox-business-network/">can bill</a> as an "award-winning journalist" -- courtesy of his 19 Emmys -- even though his record as a reporter leaves much to be desired.<br /><br /> The media watchdog group FAIR has a <a href="http://www.fair.org/index.php?page=19&amp;media_outlet_id=19">page</a> tracking Stossel's reporting inaccuracies back to 1994. Joe Strupp, senior editor at Media Matters for America, has been following him more recently. Among Stossel's egregious conflicts of interest is an interview he conducted for ABC last year, where he reported on and moderated three townhall-style meetings on health care reform organized by the conservative group Americans for Prosperity, which opposed reform. And just this April, Stossel -- who has <a href="http://mediamatters.org/research/200607100007">spoken on global warming</a> from a very skeptical (read: unsupported by broad consensus of scientific researchers) standpoint -- was set to keynote a fundraiser for the Institute for Energy Research, a front group for the energy industry.<br /><br /> His dismal track record notwithstanding, Stossel "came out of a very credible news background as he has slowly morphed into this slanted, inaccurate, opinionated person. I think he has the potential to be really dangerous because he has enough experience in the news business to give him the appearance of credibility -- and I stress appearance," says Strupp. "But he is following the same line as Glenn Beck -- this growth of outrage."<br /><br /> It turns out that Stossel's outrage is often greater than that of other Fox News mouthpieces. This June, after President Obama ordered BP to set aside <a href="http://www.alternet.org/story/147325/obama_making_bp_pay_is_good_government%2C_and_that%27s_why_republicans_and_the_corporate_media_are_freaking_out/">$20 billion</a> in reparations for its epic Gulf of Mexico oil disaster, Stossel appeared on Bill O'Reilly's show, <a href="http://mediamatters.org/strupp/201006230016">calling</a> the $20 billion fund a "shakedown" and "thuggish behavior" on Obama's part. O'Reilly ended the debate by telling Stossel he was "wrong again." John Stossel, called "wrong again" by one of the biggest cheerleaders of the disastrous U.S. invasion of Iraq.<br /><br /> Stossel's call for the repeal of the public accommodations portion of the seminal Civil Rights Act was of course another opinion met with disdain by some of his Fox News colleagues. ColorofChange.org, a Web-based grassroots civil rights group, which has an <a href="http://www.alternet.org/action/145708/campaign_to_pull_glenn_beck_off_the_air_gains_momentum,_here_and_abroad">ongoing campaign</a> to pull Glenn Beck off the air, seized on those comments by <a href="http://www.colorofchange.org/stossel/">launching a campaign</a> to pull John Stossel off the air, too. According to James Rucker, executive director of ColorofChange.org, the group has collected nearly 100,000 signatures.<br /><br /> Rucker believes Stossel may be more dangerous than the likes of Glenn Beck merely because he appears to be less insane. <br /><br /> "With Stossel, when he says businesses should be able to discriminate, that would normally be crazy fringe talk, but it's not because Beck is defining crazy fringe," Rucker says. "In Stossel you appeal to people who aren't happy with a black guy in the White House who is trying to figure out how government can support everyday Americans. But these people don't want to be labeled racist. Folks like Stossel make them feel comfortable where they are without having to join the Glenn Beck circus."<br /><br /> There you have it. Racism and closed-mindedness, in the respected figure of a Princeton graduate and decorated journalist, whose soft-spoken yet hate-filled speech is made palatable by his disclaimer that although he believes businesses should have a right to be racist, he personally would boycott such establishments. <br /><br /> This new generation of ignorant hate wants to make us believe that market forces will solve America's racial problems. This is, of course, wrong -- and very dangerous.</p> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><a href="http://blogs.alternet.org/staff/">Daniela Perdomo</a> is a staff writer and editor at AlterNet. <a href="http://twitter.com/danielaperdomo">Follow Daniela on Twitter</a>. Write her at danielaalternet [at] gmail [dot] com. </div></div></div> Thu, 01 Jul 2010 21:00:01 -0700 Daniela Perdomo, AlterNet 662795 at http://www.alternet.org Media News & Politics Media The Right Wing media fox news glenn beck right-wing libertarianism news corp libertarians fox business tea party andrew napolitano john stossel stossel 100,000 Americans Die Each Year from Prescription Drugs, While Pharma Companies Get Rich http://www.alternet.org/story/147318/100%2C000_americans_die_each_year_from_prescription_drugs%2C_while_pharma_companies_get_rich <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Prescription drugs taken as directed kill 100,000 Americans a year. That&#039;s one person every five minutes. How did we get here?</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>How many people do you know who regularly use a prescription medication? If your social group is like most Americans', the answer is most. Sixty-five percent of the country takes a prescription drug these days. In 2005 alone, we spent $250 billion on them.</p> <p>I recently caught up with Melody Petersen, author of <a href="http://www.ourdailymedsthebook.com/"><em>Our Daily Meds</em></a>, an in-depth look at the pharmaceutical companies that have taken the reins of our faltering health care system by cleverly hawking every kind of drug imaginable. We discussed how this powerful industry has our health in its hands.</p> <p><strong>Daniela Perdomo: Your book includes some staggering stats. For example, 100,000 Americans die each year from prescription drugs — that’s 270 per day, or, as you put it, more than twice as many who are killed in car accidents each day. Could you elaborate on this? Are these people abusing their prescription drugs or is this a sign of prescription meds gone bad?</strong><br /><br /> Melody Petersen: The study estimating that 100,000 Americans die each year from their prescriptions looked only at deaths from known side effects. That is, those deaths didn’t happen because the doctor made a mistake and prescribed the wrong drug, or the pharmacist made a mistake in filling the prescription, or the patient accidentally took too much. Unfortunately, thousands of patients die from such mistakes too, but this study looked only at deaths where our present medical system wouldn’t fault anyone. Tens of thousands of people are dying every year from drugs they took just as the doctor directed. This shows you how dangerous medications are. <br /><br /><strong>DP: You write about a growing market for drugs for children. You say we know little about the long-term effects of prescription meds on kids. Let’s talk particularly about depression medications and ADHD meds, which seem to be what kids are mostly prescribed.</strong><br /><br /> MP:<strong>I</strong>n recent years, sales of drugs for children have been the industry’s fastest growing business. Doctors now prescribe pills to children for all kinds of conditions — from high cholesterol to anxiety. The market for ADHD drugs has long been a big opportunity for the industry. More recently, the companies have had their sales reps urge doctors to prescribe antidepressants, antipsychotics and other psychiatric meds to children. The result: our kids take more of those medicines than children in other countries. For example, a study last year found that American children take three times more attention deficit medications and antidepressants than children in Europe. <br />  <br /><strong>DP: Could you tell me how the prescription med industry is in bed with doctors? <br /><br /></strong>MP: The industry spends hundreds of millions of dollars on physicians every year. In one survey, 9 out of 10 doctors said they had recently taken something of value from the drug industry. And some of those doctors take hundreds of thousands of dollars each year from the industry. The drug companies pay doctors to be their so-called consultants. They also pay them to sit on corporate advisory boards and to give lectures to other doctors. They pay for up to 80 percent of the continuing medical education that doctors need to maintain their licenses. If you ask a doctor if this is a problem, they will more than likely tell you no. But the studies show that even a small gift will sway doctors to write a prescription for a certain drug. The truth is that doctors are no longer independent gatekeepers who keep us safe from drugs we don’t need. Far too many of them are financially tied to the industry. They are writing the prescriptions that their financial backers want them to write. <br />  <br /><strong>DP: We are the only developed country that doesn't control prescription drug prices. Could you tell me what that means, practically, for consumers? <br /><br /></strong>MP: It means that the drug companies can charge whatever they want to — even for drugs that don’t work very well. One drug costs $400,000 a year. Some cancer drugs now cost $50,000, even though on average, they give the patient just a few weeks extra to live. It’s clear that the drugs aren’t worth these extreme prices, but the companies are taking advantage of patients who are desperate for a cure. The industry’s unlimited hikes in prices have helped make health insurance unaffordable. This is also why wages of American workers have stagnated. When health premiums rise, employers must get the extra money from somewhere, and employee raises are one of the first things to go. <br /><br /><strong>DP: You write about how companies are more interested in developing 'lifestyle drugs for rich Americans' rather than discovering cures for diseases that affect the majority of the world, like malaria. How many cholesterol drugs do we need? Sex drive meds? Hair loss meds?  <br /><br /></strong>MP: The answer is that we really don’t need many of those kinds of drugs, those lifestyle drugs that don’t save or lengthen lives. But the drug companies have discovered there are billions of dollars to be made by selling pills to Americans who worry about getting old, but are otherwise healthy. It’s so easy to fall for the marketers’ claim that a little pill will enhance our lives and keep us young forever. <br />  <br /><strong>DP: Could you tell me about drugs that are developed for one use but used for another. How often does this happen? <br /><br /></strong>MP: It is a common sales tactic in the industry to have sales reps push doctors to prescribe a drug for many uses and patient conditions. The drug companies do this even though it is illegal to promote a drug for anything other than the condition the FDA has approved it for. I detail in my book how a lackluster drug for epilepsy – a drug called Neurontin -- was sold by a company for just about any condition that affects the brain. The company’s sales representatives pushed doctors to prescribe Neurontin for children with attention problems, for adults with mania, for just about anyone with restless legs. They did this even though they had no scientific evidence that it helped people with these conditions. This is a very dangerous corporate fraud.  <br /><br /><strong>DP: How often are ailments created simply to fit a drug already created?<br /><br /></strong>MP: The industry has proven that it is not beyond creating new diseases when it wants to expand the use of a drug. For example, I wrote in my book about how the company Pharmacia created the disease of overactive bladder to expand sales of a drug for incontinence. We don’t know how often this is done because few companies are willing to tell the public how their marketers work behind the scenes.     <br />  <br /><strong>DP: What do we prescribe drugs for that other countries don’t? In other words, what ailments do Americans suffer from that other nations don’t?<br /><br /></strong>MP: The drug companies have made Americans believe that almost anything should be treated with a pill. Women can ask their doctors for a drug that will diminish their facial hair. Parents can ask for a stimulant to keep their children calm and focused. Even people who are shy are now told they have a disease that needs to be medicated. This is far less prevalent in other countries because the drug companies don’t have as much power elsewhere. The U.S. and New Zealand are the only two developed countries in the world that allow the drug companies to aggressively advertise prescription drugs to consumers. <br /><br /><strong>DP: Why do we rush to prescribe? Have we always been this way or was there a shift at some point?  <br /><br /></strong>MP:<strong></strong>The prescriptions are driven by the promotional efforts of the industry. Today, the companies start promoting a drug years before it even goes to the FDA for approval. Some drugs have promotional campaigns funded by more than a billion dollars. It was around 1980 when the big drug companies learned that they could make far more profit by focusing their efforts on marketing rather than on the truly hard work of scientific research and finding new drugs. <br /><br /><strong>DP: American life expectancy is low compared to other developed nations. What are they doing right? We’re not the only ones with prescription drug companies within our borders. <br /><br /></strong>MP: In America, if you’re lucky enough to have health insurance, you can easily get too much medicine, too much health care. Many Americans don’t understand that all of health care has risks and that too much of it can actually shorten your life. Is this one of the reasons why we’re falling fast in the world rankings on life expectancy? No one knows for sure. But it’s obvious that all that money we spend on prescriptions and doctors is not giving us an advantage.<br /><strong><br /> DP: From a consumer/patient standpoint, are certain drug manufacturers better than others?<br /><br /></strong>MP:<strong></strong>No. There is not an ethically minded shining star. All the companies operate in a similar way. Fraud is rampant in this industry because there is so much money involved.<br /><br /><strong>DP: How will the health care bill affect prescription drug use and the med industry?</strong><br /><br /><strong>MP:</strong> The drug companies and their lobbyists won big under the new health care law. The companies will get millions of new customers. At the same time, Congress agreed with the industry’s lobbyists that there should be no limits on how much they can charge for medicines. We needed to make health insurance available to all Americans, but there should have been stronger cost controls and promotional limits in the law. Now, even more people will be at risk of getting dangerous and expensive drugs that they don’t need. <br /><br /><strong>DP: What do you make of theories that someday very soon we’ll all be on smart drugs. Realistic? Already here? <br /><br /></strong>MP: I recently spoke to a college student who told me he used Adderall, a drug for ADHD, to enhance his studies. He didn’t have a prescription for the drug. He got the pills from friends. He knew this was dangerous and illegal, but he did it anyway. People no longer understand that every drug comes with risks. Adderall, for example, comes with a label warning that using it without a prescription can lead to addiction, and in rare cases, death. The marketers have made us believe that we can do just about anything with the help of a pill. <br /><br /><strong>DP: What is the biggest issue relating to prescription drugs that the mainstream media misses? <br /><br /></strong>MP: Overall, the biggest problem is that the news media is not objective when reporting on medicines. Much of the news coverage on prescription drugs exaggerates their potential benefits and glosses over their risks. Many news stories about new drugs don’t even mention the side effects. People are getting distorted information on prescription drugs. Many of these news stories are little more than press releases that come straight out of the drug companies’ marketing departments.</p> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><a href="http://blogs.alternet.org/staff/">Daniela Perdomo</a> is a staff writer and editor at AlterNet. <a href="http://twitter.com/danielaperdomo">Follow Daniela on Twitter</a>. Write her at danielaalternet [at] gmail [dot] com. </div></div></div> Thu, 24 Jun 2010 21:00:01 -0700 Daniela Perdomo, AlterNet 662723 at http://www.alternet.org Personal Health Personal Health News & Politics health care pharmaceuticals prescription drugs personal health our daily meds melody petersen Big Tobacco's Slimy New Ploy to Trick Smokers Into Thinking There Are "Healthier" Cigarettes http://www.alternet.org/story/147283/big_tobacco%27s_slimy_new_ploy_to_trick_smokers_into_thinking_there_are_%22healthier%22_cigarettes <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Antismoking legislation stands to throw a wrench in tobacco companies&#039; deceptive marketing practices. But the industry is attempting to deceive smokers in new ways.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>June 22 marks the first time in American history that terms like light, ultra-light, low, mild and medium can no longer legally be used in the marketing and sale of cigarettes. The United States will be the 71st country (we're behind, of course) to outlaw the labeling of cigarettes as "light" -- an underhanded ploy promoting the idea that certain cigarettes have lower tar and nicotine content than others.<br /><br /> Given that "light" smokes account for about half the cigarette market, the antismoking legislation, passed last year, stands to throw a wrench in tobacco companies' deceptive marketing practices. But the tobacco industry is revving up to try to deceive smokers and potential smokers in different ways that may circumvent the new law.<br /><br /> Already major light brands are being repackaged with colors associated with, well, lightness. Camel Lights will be Camel Blues. Marlboro Lights and Ultra-Lights will, respectively, be Marlboro Gold and Silver. Pall Malls previously trumpeted as filtered, lights and lights menthol will now come in a rainbow of colors intended to convey tobacco "intensity" -- red, blue and orange.<br /><br /> The brains behind the $13-billion-a-year cigarette marketing industry know that colors and packaging make a difference. Research has shown that <a href="http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/07/090727191910.htm">79 percent</a> of people think that cigarettes packaged in a light blue box contain less tar and are safer than those in a darker hued package. And certain colors -- like blue -- are perceived to be less strong than, say, red.<br /><br /> In other countries where the practice of labeling cigarettes "light" has been banned for a while, marketers have turned to using letters and numbers that similarly skew consumers' perception of the health drawbacks to smoking cigarettes, and ultimately deliver the "same messaging as light or low," says Gregg Haifley of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network.<br /><br /> Big Tobacco goes to all this marketing trouble, of course, because it pays off.</p> <p>The whole concept of light cigarettes was born of the Surgeon General's 1964 report that directly linked cigarettes and smoking to cancer and other diseases. Fearing a drop-off in smokers, the industry spun the story that you should pick light or mild cigarettes as an alternative to quitting. (Around that time, a cigarette brand called True featured a female tennis player saying: "Considering all I'd heard, I decided to either quit or smoke True." The athlete, naturally, picked True.)<br /><br /> Although contemporary cigarette companies officially <a href="http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qn4189/is_20100507//ai_n53573463/">claim only</a> that "light really refers to flavor," they've been more than happy to let consumers reach their own conclusions.<br /><br /> Today, more than half of daily American smokers smoke brands marketed as some variation of light -- including nearly two-thirds of women who smoke. Studies have shown that smokers actually believe these cigarettes reduce health risks associated with original or regular options. <br /><br /> The truth is that people who smoke these products get cancer and other smoking-related diseases at the same rate as those who use regular tobacco products. Lower tar and lower nicotine claims stood up only to tests performed by -- get this -- a machine. "As smoked by humans, none of these cigarettes were less harmful. Smokers smoke more often and take more puffs," says Danny McGoldrick, vice president for research at Tobacco-Free Kids.<br /><br /> The steady stream of misleading information has persuaded millions of people to switch rather than quit. Today, more than 440,000 people die each year from tobacco-related disease in the United States. It is our number-one preventable cause of death. <br /><br /> This is why cancer-stick marketers have to be really good (read: nefarious) at their jobs, and why they focus on kids. After all, as Haifley points out, the "tobacco industry relies on a business model that basically generates generation after generation of addicted smokers because their product is deadly."<br /><br /> Nine out of 10 smokers picked up their first cigarette in their youth; each day, 4,000 more kids try a cigarette for the first time. The judge who ruled in the 2006 civil racketeering lawsuit against the tobacco industry's "light and low" practices noted that the deceptive marketing especially encouraged young people to smoke. Color-coding cigarettes is also expected to particularly affect kids' perceptions of cigarettes. <br /><br /> With lives on the line, last year's legislation finally gives the Food and Drug Administration the authority to keep Big Tobacco in check. Reacting to Marlboro's advertising campaign, "<a href="http://www.fastcompany.com/node/1661585/print">But Your Cigarette Stays the Same</a>," which advised Marlboro Lights customers that they ought to now buy Marlboro Gold, the FDA has opened an investigation into Altria Group, the maker of Marlboro Lights.<br /><br /> Altria has until July 30 to produce all documents relating to the company's market research on consumer perceptions about color coding and health risks. (Before last year's bill passed, Altria would not have been required to produce such information.)<br /><br /> "If the FDA determines that color coding is used to convey reducing harm without meeting the standard for the claims" -- or if color coding is shown to produce the same deceptive messaging as light and low -- "then they can take action and ban that as well," says McGoldrick. The bill in effect "gives the FDA broad authority on dealing with what the industry will inevitably do to get around these restrictions."<br /><br /> The banning of light cigarettes is but one piece of the larger plan intended to curb the masterful marketing of cigarettes to Americans. The tobacco companies will challenge every law that makes it harder for them to sell their deadly products. Already, they are challenging one part of the antismoking legislation that would ban the use of color advertisements in places and publications that cater to youth. Meanwhile, the lawsuit, filed in Kentucky, is ongoing -- as is the deadly consumer fraud aimed at children.</p> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><a href="http://blogs.alternet.org/staff/">Daniela Perdomo</a> is a staff writer and editor at AlterNet. <a href="http://twitter.com/danielaperdomo">Follow Daniela on Twitter</a>. Write her at danielaalternet [at] gmail [dot] com. </div></div></div> Mon, 21 Jun 2010 13:00:01 -0700 Daniela Perdomo, AlterNet 662638 at http://www.alternet.org News & Politics News & Politics Drugs Personal Health cigarettes tobacco tobacco companies After Cutting Little Girls' Clitorises, Ivy League Doctor Tests Handiwork With a Vibrator http://www.alternet.org/story/147254/after_cutting_little_girls%27_clitorises%2C_ivy_league_doctor_tests_handiwork_with_a_vibrator <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Scandal explodes over doctor&#039;s &#039;clitoroplasty.&#039;</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>When most of us think of female genital mutilation, we probably think of faraway places. Well, peel off those blinders. In 1997, our very own Department of Health and Human Services estimated that <a href="http://slog.thestranger.com/slog/archives/2010/05/07/american-academy-of-pediatrics-endorses-a-kinder-gentler-form-of-female-genital-mutilation">168,000 girls and women</a> living in the United States had been or were at risk of being subjected to some form of the abhorrent practice known as female genital mutilation (FGM).<br /><br /> Not only is FGM being practiced relatively widely in the United States, it's happening in the most hallowed halls of American medical science. In fact, the head of the pediatric urology department at Cornell University's New York Presbyterian Hospital -- which is often ranked among the top 10 hospitals in the country -- has been operating on young girls who suffer from what he (and likely the girls' guardians) have decided is "clitorimegaly," or oversized clitorises.<br /><br /> In order to relieve these girls from what seems like little more than a cosmestic issue, <a href="http://www.weillcornell.org/dppoppas/">Dr. Dix P. Poppas</a> cuts out parts of the clitoris' shaft, saving the glans, or tip, for reattachment. Poppas triumphantly calls the procedure -- rebranded a clitoroplasty -- a "nerve sparing" one unlike the FGMs practiced in other countries.<br /><br /> How does the good doctor know that nerves have been spared? Well, Poppas and his nurse practitioner developed a series of sensory followup tests involving Q-tips, their fingernails and vibrators. But don't worry, a family member was always present in the room. As the resulting <a href="http://www.thestranger.com/images/blogimages/2010/06/16/1276740688-yang_felsen_poppas_2007.pdf">journal article</a> notes, management of such situations requires a "compassionate and multidisciplinary approach."<br /><br /> Activists Alice Dreger and Ellen K. Feder, a professor of medical humanities and bioethics and a professor of philosophy, respectively, have been railing against the practice of FGM -- of any kind -- for a decade. They are part of the majority medical view that questions the very basis of clitoroplasties. (The American Academy of Pediatrics disturbingly stated in May that it only had an issue with "all types of female genital cutting that pose risks of physical or psychological harm" -- as if any kind of clitoral mutilation did not necessarily entail such harm. The AAP <a href="http://www.aap.org/advocacy/releases/fgc-may27-2010.htm">recanted</a> the shocking affront to women's physical and mental health only a few weeks later.)<br /><br /> "We still <a href="http://books.google.com/books?id=zBPAxKlVISEC&amp;pg=PA73&amp;lpg=PA73&amp;dq=dreger+intersex+and+human+rights+the+long+view&amp;source=bl&amp;ots=U07ZfrrbGN&amp;sig=LNORrzkqDuNojVLZZc5P0feSpuY&amp;hl=en&amp;ei=M0oWTIiqEcT48Aa07eiNCg&amp;sa=X&amp;oi=book_result&amp;ct=result&amp;resnum=3&amp;ved=0CBsQ6AEwAg#v=onepage&amp;q=dreger%20intersex%20and%20human%20rights%20the%20long%20view&amp;f=false">know</a> of no evidence that a large clitoris increases psychological risk (so is the surgery even necessary?), and we do know of substantial anecdotal evidence that it does not increase risk. Importantly, there also seems to be <a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12699952">evidence</a> that clitoroplasties performed in infancy do increase risk – of harm to physical and sexual functioning, as well as psychosocial <a href="http://www.dukeupress.edu/Catalog/ViewProduct.php?productid=13370">harm</a>," Dreger and Feder <a href="http://www.thehastingscenter.org/Bioethicsforum/Post.aspx?id=4730&amp;blogid=140">wrote in an article</a> lambasting Poppas' study.<br /><br /> These procedures seem motivated mostly by an obsession with having "normal" genitalia -- and normal kids. The fact that cosmetic genital surgery is <a href="http://www.alternet.org/sex/141479/the_%27perfect%27_porn_vulva:_more_women_demanding_cosmetic_genital_surgery/?page=entire">on the rise</a> is one sign of this. And given that only one of every 2,000 infants is born with genital ambiguity, parents faced with an "abnormal" clitoris are not likely to have ever seen one before and may react with trepidation. Will my kid be a lesbian? Will my little girl want to become a boy? We know children are all unique, like snowflakes, but when it comes to vaginas, sexual orientation and gender identity, it seems we'd prefer cookie-cutter, please.<br /><br /> So parents go to Dr. Poppas who mirrors their fears and offers a medical procedure that <a href="http://www.cornellurology.com/uro/cornell/pediatrics/genitoplasty.shtml#treatment">Cornell's Web site</a> recommends "because female patients are able to undergo a more natural psychological and sexual development." What parent would withhold such treatment, recommended by a top-notch pediatrician and hospital?<br /><br /> Poppas cuts off parts of the perfectly healthy, albeit-larger-than-we'd-like clitoris, the only organ in either sex whose only known function is sexual pleasure.<br /><br /> Although Poppas boasts of the "nerve sparing" nature of his procedure, <a href="http://www.psychologytoday.com/print/44129">a study</a> in the <i>Lancet</i> showed some women who underwent other nerve-sparing surgeries "had the worst possible score for orgasm difficulties." Not to mention the fact that simply preserving the glans may not be enough, given that many women find more pleasure is derived from the shaft than the tip, which can be overly sensitive.<br /><br /> The horrors of clitoroplasties aside, Poppas' particular brand of FGM adds an extra layer of psychological damage. When Dreger told Ken Zucker, a child psychologist about how Poppas used a vibrator to test a little girl's clitoral sensation, <a href="http://www.thehastingscenter.org/Bioethicsforum/Post.aspx?id=4730&amp;blogid=140">he said</a>: "Applying a vibrator to a six-year-old girl's surgically feminized clitoris is developmentally inappropriate."<br /><br /> Dreger and Feder write:</p> <blockquote>[The study's authors] describe the girls “sensory tested” as being older than five. They are, therefore, old enough to remember being asked to lie back, be touched with the vibrator, and report on whether they can still feel sensation. They may also be able to remember their emotions and the physical sensations they experienced. Their parents’ participation may also figure in these memories. We think therefore that most reasonable people will agree with Zucker that Poppas’s techniques are “developmentally inappropriate.”<br /></blockquote> <p>Of course it's inappropriate. And lest that is not obvious on its own, transgendered adults have long been vocal about how genital displays in medical exams were among the most traumatic experiences of their entire lives.</p> <p>In this case, as sex columnist Dan Savage <a href="http://slog.thestranger.com/slog/archives/2010/06/16/female-genital-mutilation-at-cornell-university">writes</a>, "These post-op visits with the doctor and his vibrator do the girls no good -- what can the doctor do if a girl reports no sensation? reassemble her clit? -- and retaining sensation isn't proof that these girls will grow up to be healthy, sexually functional adults."</p> <p>The sad irony is that maintaining these girls as healthy, sexually functional, happy adults is the cause of all these problems in the first place. Parents and the doctors who legitimize their fears need to know that reconstructing a clitoris -- or any other ambiguous genitalia -- to meet "normal" standards does nothing to change what may be behind the differences to begin with. You can't "fix" your kid's genetic and hormonal makeup -- you can only cover it up, and such efforts can have tragic psychological and physiological results.</p> <p>The least we can do is give every kid a chance to figure out who he or she is and what he or she wants when he or she is old enough to do make that call -- and to accept them as they are throughout the entire process.</p> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><a href="http://blogs.alternet.org/staff/">Daniela Perdomo</a> is a staff writer and editor at AlterNet. <a href="http://twitter.com/danielaperdomo">Follow Daniela on Twitter</a>. Write her at danielaalternet [at] gmail [dot] com. </div></div></div> Thu, 17 Jun 2010 21:00:01 -0700 Daniela Perdomo, AlterNet 662596 at http://www.alternet.org Gender Sex & Relationships Gender Personal Health News & Politics transgender fgm reproductive justice clitoroplasty dix p. poppas poppas ambiguous genitalia Victory! California Voters Reject Two High-Priced Corporate Attempts to Hijack Democracy http://www.alternet.org/story/147158/victory%21_california_voters_reject_two_high-priced_corporate_attempts_to_hijack_democracy <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Two big corporations poured tens of millions into the airwaves for their rip-off schemes, but get no support from CA voters.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>On Tuesday voters squarely rejected two corporate-backed measures that would have cost ordinary Californians millions of dollars.<br /><br /> Proposition 16, cleverly disguised as the Taxpayers' Right to Vote Act, was placed on the state ballot as a constitutional amendment requiring a two-thirds vote to create public power districts or allow local governments to purchase their own renewable power. In other words, it was a way for electric utility behemoth PG&amp;E to further protect its monopoly. PG&amp;E saw such potential for its bottom-line that it spent $45 million to persuade voters to approve the measure. But 52.5 percent of California voters saw through the language and knocked it down.<br /><br /> Similarly, Proposition 17 was framed as an opportunity for auto insurance companies to overturn a state law that prohibits insurance companies from extending "loyalty discounts" to customers even if they switched insurance providers. While Mercury Insurance, which spent nearly $16 million on the measure, claimed this was a way to lower rates for drivers, consumer advocates were successful in making the case that in turn, existing consumer protections would be weakened and insurance companies would be able to charge drivers as much as double premiums for making late payments. Prop. 17 failed, too, with 52.1 percent of voters nixing it.<br /><br /> The success achieved by the underfunded activists at the opposing campaigns -- <a href="http://noprop16.org/">No on 16</a> and <a href="http://www.stopprop17.org/">Stop Prop 17</a> -- is all the more impressive considering the minuscule amounts of money they spent relative to the corporations that financed the measures. Put simply, the myth-busting worked, even in the face of millions of dollars.<br /><br /> What makes the defeats of Props 16 and 17 especially interesting is that they took place in an election that had an appalling turnout -- about one-third of voters came out -- when corporate money normally has the most sway, says Rick Jacobs, founder and chair of the Courage Campaign, a progressive advocacy group in California with 800,000 active members. "But we saw that people are smart. They looked through the smokescreen these two companies were using and said no," he says.<br /><br /> Jacobs believes the Supreme Court's <em>Citizens United</em> ruling certainly affects voters' views of corporate influence in elections. But he also thinks progressive groups worked to get the vote out in effective ways. His own organization produced a Progressive Voter Guide that was passed around by like-minded groups such as CREDO and MoveOn.org, and was downloaded by at least 100,000 people. (For perspective, Prop. 16 trailed by 185,000 votes; Prop. 17 by 156,000.)<br /><br /> "People actually shared information with each other, and tuned out the expensive ads, and said, 'We're going to trust each other,'" Jacobs says. This shows that "with targeted communication to people who actually vote, you can defeat these things."<br /><br /> But this is only the first fight this year. In November, more moneyed interests will once again attempt to make a mockery of the democratic process in California and trample on progressives' goals.<br />  <br /> The Courage Campaign is already gearing up its fight against a still-unnamed measure that would indefinitely suspend California's beacon Clean Energy law. To date, at least 15 oil companies have contributed $1.6 million to the effort. The three largest funders -- Valero, Occidental Petroleum and Tesoro -- all rank in the Political Economy Research Institute's list of the <a href="http://www.peri.umass.edu/toxic100/">top 100 corporate polluters</a> in the country.<br /><br /> There aren't any other major corporate-backed measures on the November ballot yet, but the budget process isn't yet over in Sacramento, and this makes it likely that a slew of unpleasant initiatives may be added later on.<br /><br /> Activists are looking forward to the <a href="http://www.alternet.org/drugreporter/144842/the_best_chance_yet_for_legalizing_marijuana">Tax Cannabis initiative</a> being on the November ballot. There is hope that it will bring out a whole slew of younger, more progressive-minded voters. In fact, many precincts on Tuesday reported <a href="http://www.kpbs.org/news/2010/jun/08/calif-voters-disappointed-marijuana-wasnt-june-bal/">disappointed voters</a> who had turned out to vote for the marijuana legalization measure.<br /><br /> The general election on Nov. 2 is now just five months away.</p> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><a href="http://blogs.alternet.org/staff/">Daniela Perdomo</a> is a staff writer and editor at AlterNet. <a href="http://twitter.com/danielaperdomo">Follow Daniela on Twitter</a>. Write her at danielaalternet [at] gmail [dot] com. </div></div></div> Wed, 09 Jun 2010 21:00:01 -0700 Daniela Perdomo, AlterNet 662501 at http://www.alternet.org News & Politics News & Politics Economy california carly fiorina citizens united election2010 tax cannabis meg whitman prop 16 prop 17 Strange But True: How Soap Operas Might Save Us From Overpopulation http://www.alternet.org/story/147131/strange_but_true%3A_how_soap_operas_might_save_us_from_overpopulation <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Earth reached its human capacity in the 1980s. Our planet is in crisis, and Bill Ryerson is using media to change behaviors that contribute to global overpopulation.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>Global warming, food and water crises, even international conflict -- you can trace all these societal and environmental problems to overpopulation. Experts believe that Earth reached its population capacity in the 1980s, meaning we now consume natural resources at a rate much higher than they can be replenished. And of course, as we take away natural resources, we're adding a slew of unnatural, toxic matter into the mix that brings about a host of other problems.</p> <p>Currently there are just over 6.8 billion people in the world. By mid-century, we're expected to number 9 billion, roughly the equivalent of one-tenth of all humans who have ever walked the planet. Curbing population growth is a logical goal if the human race wishes to ensure its own sustainability -- and that of the other species with whom we share Earth. (Not to mention Earth itself, too.)</p> <p>Bill Ryerson has dedicated his life to the stabilization of human population numbers at a level that can be sustained by our ecosystem's resources. He is the founder and president of the <a href="http://www.populationmedia.org/">Population Media Center</a>, a non-profit that seeks to improve the well-being of people by using -- believe it! -- melodramatic soap operas on radio and television throughout the developing world (and soon, the U.S.) to teach listeners and viewers important lessons relating to family planning, reproductive health, HIV/AIDS and environmental preservation, as well as a thing or two about women's and children's rights.</p> <p>Ryerson and I met recently in San Francisco to discuss the peril our fragile ecosystem faces as a result of our unsustainable growth -- and how we might save us from ourselves.</p> <p><b>Daniela Perdomo: Before we get started on the specifics of your work, I was wondering if you could give me some understanding of just how many people listen to the radio, how many people watch TV, how many people own their own TVs -- in other words, what is the reach of media among developing-world populations you are trying to reach?</b><br /><br /> Bill Ryerson: Of course it varies from country to country and region to region. The place that has the least media coverage is Africa, particularly with regards to television. An example of that is Ethiopia where 4 percent of the population can afford a TV, but even there well over half have radios and listen to them on a regular basis. So it’s a majority of the world’s population that has access to broadcasting. Outside of Africa, which is still dominated by radio, certainly in Latin America and in Asia, television is the dominant medium and it reaches almost everybody. If you look at Vietnam, for example, an excess of 90 percent of the population is watching TV.  I was in Pakistan last week and that is a TV society with maybe two-thirds of the population watching TV on a regular basis.  <br /><br /><b>DP: Your organization, Population Media Center, uses the Sabido method to reach your target audience. Could you describe for</b><b>the layman</b><b>what the Sabido method is and why you chose this as your driving platform?</b><br /><br /> BR: When I first heard about the idea of using what Americans call soap operas for trying to achieve global sustainability, I thought it sounded ridiculous because I have never been a big fan of soap operas. The Sabido methodology actually refers to the Latin American version of soap operas, which are <i>telenovelas</i>, which are television novels, and they are quite different from American soap operas because they don’t try to go on for 40 years. They are truly novels with a beginning, middle and an end, and they tend to last two to three years. They are the dominant prime-time format in Latin America and they are very, very popular, as you know.<br /><br /><b>DP: Yes, they are far better than American soap operas. They are engrossing.</b><br /><br /> BR: Yes, and they are highly melodramatic -- that is, melodrama as really as the battle of good versus evil. So there are good and bad characters and they are battling it out over some set of issues. Miguel Sabido was a vice president of Mexico’s largest commercial network, Televisa. He oversaw the audience research division and he also was a key producer of some of their prime-time telenovelas. He realized through his research that he was having a huge impact on his audience on things like fashion and so on. He began looking at ways in which he could modify the typical design of the telenovela to systematically provide audiences with information that would improve their lives, while at the same time retaining high ratings. He created a research-based and theory-based approach to the creation of serialized melodramas that has proven over and over again to be highly influential in changing social norms on all kinds of issues.  <br /><br /> One of the theoreticians that he read the writings of is Stanford psychologist Alfred Bandura. He is the world’s authority on role modeling and how role models influence behavior and what makes a parent or a peer of a celebrity more or less influential on the people who are observing them. One of the things Bandura is known for is his work on self-efficacy. Self-efficacy is really the concept that I have the right and the ability to accomplish some task. So if I see an 80-year-old man climbing up a mountain, I may change my own view of whether or not I’m capable of doing that. The role model, if that person is influential and I can look at them and say, yes, I can achieve what that person achieved, can lead me to change my behavior without ever telling me what to do. That is really the concept.  <br /><br /> If you have societies in which, for example, girls are denied education but are instead married off at puberty to older men in polygamous relationships and are not given the right to determine how many children to have and so on, changing the attitudes and behavior of the men as well as the women can be done through this strategy, by creating characters who in addition to the positive and the negative characters who are battling it out, these transitional characters start out in the middle of the road and are representative of segments of the audience. They sort through the conflicting advice they get from the positive and the negative characters and figure out who is right, and they evolve into positive role models for the audience, both demonstrating how to overcome the obstacles to change in that society and showing the benefits of their new behavior.  <br /><br /> In the Sabido methodology, the negative characters always suffer the consequences of their behavior. So in a period of a couple of years the audience learns what they might not otherwise learn in a lifetime through the school of hard knocks. We have gotten thousands and thousands of letters from people thanking us for having addressed various issues in our programs, now in 24 countries around the world, because it helped them to avoid the mistakes that they saw the negative characters falling into -- characters who are so much like people in their society.  <br /><br /><b>DP: Do your shows play in prime-time slots?</b><br /><br /> BR: Yes. <br /><br /><b>DP: So you really do reach a lot of people. Can you give a tangible example of the effect PMC's programming has had?</b><br /><br /> BR: In Brazil, we have a project in Rio that works with the writers at TV Globo [the country's largest television station] that monitors the impact and the content of their programs. So, for example, there was a program we developed called "Páginas da Vida," "Pages of Life," that contained a teenage pregnancy and parenthood storyline. We set up research at the Planned Parenthood affiliate, Benfam, to ask women at the clinics during the time of that telenovela why they were there.  <i>Thirty-six</i> percent of the women at the family planning clinics were there because of that program.  <br /><br /><b>DP: Because they heard about this kind of clinic in the show?</b><br /><br /> BR: Yes, exactly, and they did not want to fall into the trap and the poverty and all the health problems that this teenage mother had fallen into. So they learned from that and they went to family planning.  <br /><br /><b>DP: That's amazing. But here's a question. Is there any danger of romanticizing the kinds of problems presented in a soap opera because it’s so melodramatic and the actors are so good-looking and people want to be like them?  Would people almost <i>want</i> to have the same problems?</b><br /><br /> BR: When people identify with a negative character, we call this the Archie Bunker effect. We actually measure this. It is a very, very small percentage because we are very careful to create the negative characters as extremely horrible. So it’s highly unlikely people would be attracted to emulate them, and they are not attractive as characters. They are pretty evil people.<br /><br /><b>DP: Even if you depict, for example, teenagers having unprotected sex, they’re bad characters? They’re not the heroes of the story?</b><br /><br /> BR: Exactly. Another important thing to recognize, particularly in Africa where we are working, and are doing radio serials -- kind of like the 1930s radio serials in the U.S. You’re not seeing the character, you’re just hearing their voice and learning about their behaviors through the dialogue.</p> <p>Let me give you an example -- a Tanzanian radio serial which was on public broadcasting, it was on Radio Tanzania.  One of the negative characters was an alcoholic truck driver with a girlfriend at every truck stop and a subservient wife waiting at home.  His name is Mkwaju. Tunu, his wife, figured him out during the serial and told him she had heard about the AIDS epidemic -- this was 1993 -- and said that when he was home he was going to have to use condoms. She made that happen.  She went on to become an entrepreneur and found her own business and she became a role model for female empowerment.  <br /><br /> In the meantime, you’ve already figured out that Mkwaju became sick. A huge audience, maybe 50 to 80 percent of the adult population, with more men in the audience than women, found out Mkwaju had made a fatal mistake. Now, the men had been very attracted to Mkwaju because he was having a lot of the good time, but when he started dying from AIDS, which he did during the serial, there was a massive self-reported change in behavior. Of the audience members, 82 percent of them in a survey at the end of the two years said they had changed their behavior to avoid HIV infection. The most common change they said they had made was reduction in the number of sexual partners. The second most common change was condom use. </p> <p>We weren’t able to verify the claims of the numbers of sexual partners, but we got the condom-distribution data broken down by district. In the districts that did not hear the program but got all the other programs about HIV/AIDS, there was a 16 percent increase in condom distribution. While in the broadcast areas of the Sabido-style serial drama, there was a <i>153</i> <i>percent</i> increase in condom distribution. There is a similar differential between family-planning use, a zero percent change in the control area where they didn’t hear the program, a 32 percent increase in the broadcast areas. I got the minister of health to have health-care workers ask new family-planning adopters why they had come in, and 41 percent of them named the program by name.  Just to be sure it wasn’t something else going on with the control area, we then ran the program in its entirety in that region and we in fact then experienced an even bigger increase in family planning adoption there in a place where there had been zero change the previous two years when they didn’t hear the program.  At the ministry of health clinics, 41 percent again named the program as the reason they had come in.  <br /><br /><b>DP: A lot of people are out there trying to affect change in behavior throughout the world. Some things work, some things don’t. Could you tell me a little bit about why you honed in on the Sabido method over other approaches?</b><br /><br /> BR: Oh, yes. But the quick answer to your question is that per capita behavior change this is the most cost-effective approach that I have found anywhere in the world. For example, in the Tanzania project we were just talking about, the cost per person who adopted family planning was 32 cents. The cost per person to change behavior to avoid HIV infection was 8 cents. When you can save lives at 8 cents a person, it is worth doing something. </p> <p>When I have looked at other strategies, at even cheaper programs like public service announcements, health messages, two-episode dramas, 10-episode dramas, they’re not nearly as effective because they haven’t allowed the time to attract an audience, to make them fall in love with the characters, and then to move them with baby steps in a way that doesn’t create backlash. They can’t measure the kinds of dramatic changes that we can over a two-year period, even with repeated efforts at telling people what is in their interest, in part because they are not as entertaining.  <br /><br /> High entertainment value obviously attracts an audience, and if you’re just doing intellectual blah, blah, blah, people don’t remember it as well. But when there is a highly emotional element, when you are emotionally involved in something, you remember it far longer. The reason for this is emotional involvement enhances memory.  It’s kind of crazy that our school systems just do intellectual blah, blah and hope the students will remember it. An emotional program with changes in the life fortune of characters that you are in love with is something that causes audience members to remember the rest of their lives the lessons they have learned from those characters. That is part of the reason why this approach is so effective.<br /><br /><b>DP: Thirty-two cents, 8 cents. That sounds <i>very</i> cost-effective but are you taking into consideration everything that it takes to produce, say, a two-year soap opera in Tanzania?</b> <br /><br /> BR: Yes. Including the research. <br /><br /><b>DP: Does everyone who works on these projects get paid?</b><br /><br /> BR:<b></b>Some of our trainers work pro bono but for the most part when we’re taking people’s time in a developing country setting, we are paying them for their time. In our case we don’t send ex-pats into any country. All of our projects are run by country nationals. We hire the best writers in the country. We get people from the drama department of the university in the capital city or from the national theater. We hire actors who know how to do radio or, in the case of TV, TV acting. We train them with trainers from other developing countries who have used this methodology successfully, including Miguel Sabido who we have had do training in a number of countries.<br /><br /><b>DP: So there is really a lot to be said about the in-culture, in-language approach, as opposed to an American guy coming in telling people in other countries how to plan for their families.</b><br /><br /> BR: Yes. Now, who would I be to go and tell the women of an African country they should try to emulate Gloria Steinem? If I did that, I would be thrown out on my tail. </p> <p>So we and the local writing teams and the ministry of communication, agree on what are the policies of the government and of the UN agreements to which the country is a signatory. If a country is a signatory to some of those, it gives us a policy basis on which to move forward. We choose a focus and the writers then create something to move the audience, not from A to Z, but from A to maybe E, because you’re not going to solve all the problems in, say, the Sudan with one soap opera. You can’t move people a huge distance in a short period of time, but you can measure the change and do so scientifically.</p> <p>For example, in Sudan, we developed a program where the major emphasis had to do with female genital mutilation and ending the practice of FGM. At the baseline, 28 percent of the adult population thought FGM was a bad idea. The majority thought it was just fine. But in the post-broadcast survey, 65 percent of the population thought the practice should be abandoned. So it was clearly a huge shift.  <br /><br /><b>DP: Let's step back and take a look at the bigger picture. Let's talk about population growth.  Why is it the cause you've committed your life to?</b><br /><b><br /></b>BR:<b></b>I’ve been involved in the population field for over 40 years. It is, from the standpoint of most ecologists, one of the key driving issues related to sustainability.  Sustainability is the bottom-line issue, whether you are talking about health or, say, the welfare of other species. Whether the planet is operating in a sustainable way is of critical concern. The warming of the climate and the things we are experiencing now with regard to climate crisis are clear indications that what we have going on is not sustainable. </p> <p>Here in the Bay Area there is an organization called Global Footprint. They have created a way of describing human activity on the planet in terms of sustainability.  What they have determined is our ecological footprint is 40 percent over what is sustainable. Sometime in the 1980s we were at 100 percent of the capacity of the planet to renew resources as we were using then. Now we are using resources at 140 percent of what is possible. It means we are taking resources out of the bank, so to speak, and not replacing them. One of the key resources we are doing this with is water.  The top three grain-producing countries of the world are India, China and the United States. All three are using underground fresh water aquifers for irrigation, as well as using river water for irrigation. </p> <p>In India, the water table is sinking by 10 feet a year because they are pumping out the water at twice the rate of replacement by rain water. That is clearly not sustainable. As water becomes economically more and more difficult to reach or just disappears, large areas of farmland in India are turning into desert. Farmers are giving up farming. So the overuse of water to support the green revolution crops that indeed had brought us 30 years of leeway to try to get population stabilized are now starting to disappear. With the melting of the glaciers in the Himalayas, the regular flow of the rivers in India and China are also threatened. Even now the Yellow River doesn’t reach the ocean two-thirds of the year because China is using it all for irrigation. </p> <p>So it is clear that expanding human numbers and expanding demand for food is something that has its limits. Clearly eating lower down on the food chain, eating more grain and fruit as opposed to eating meat, will make the food go further. But just on the issue of food and water, we have a very serious problem facing us in the immediate future.  <br /><br /> On top of this, Al Bartlett of the University of Colorado at Boulder described modern agriculture as the process of turning oil into food. When you think about it, cheap oil is a key element in fertilizers and pesticides and in planting, harvesting, transportation to market, refrigeration, packaging, distribution to supermarkets and taking it home and serving it -- there are elements of oil or petroleum products in all of those activities. You can calculate the oil component of the price of food.  We witnessed the impact of this when oil reached an all-time peak two years ago.  The price of grain and of both rice and wheat tripled and quadrupled on the world market and there were food riots all over the developing world. </p> <p>Now, because of the recession that may have been partly triggered by that spike in oil prices, the demand for oil and the cost of food rather has come back down.  But we face a very serious threat to global food security if, and I think when, oil starts to go into long-term decline as it has in most other countries in Saudi Arabia. When production goes into decline in the face of expanding demand, economists can tell us the price of oil is going to go way up. If it goes up maybe twice what it was two years ago, the cost of food will be so high that, even if it’s available on the world market, the billion people living on a dollar or less a day may not be able to buy enough food to survive. If we have a billion people starving at once, and if you can’t buy food, starvation occurs within weeks. This is something the World Food Program has never dealt with. They have dealt with a drought here or a famine there, but this kind of event could change the planet in terms of the way we see life unfolding. </p> <p><strong>DP: Perhaps we'll go the way of the dinosaurs?</strong><br /><br /> BR: There are non-linearities that exist in the way in which the environment may treat us as people that it is hosting. Ecologists have been worrying about this for a long time. Perhaps the biggest threat is our continued elimination of biodiversity. If you would have visited this planet three billion years ago you would not have survived probably two minutes because there was no oxygen to breath. There was poisonous water. There was no clean water to drink. There was nothing to eat. It was just a chemical cauldron. </p> <p>Over billions of years life has evolved and we now have a complex web of life. One of the things ecologists can’t tell you is exactly how much we can deplete it before the whole system collapses. But clearly if you are swimming in the Gulf of Mexico right now you would think we have already gone back to a chemical cauldron. That is a reflection of how desperate we are. We have gotten all the easy oil there is to get. Now we are drilling 5,000 feet below the surface of the ocean, high-risk operations trying to get the last bits of oil. That is an indication that we don’t have anything nearly as inexpensive to replace oil in terms of solar and wind. Yes, they are there, and yes if we count the cost of polluting the environment and making the whole Gulf of Mexico uninhabitable, solar is a whole lot cheaper. But in terms of right now what we are paying for oil our whole system is dependent on a lot of cheap oil.  <br /><br /> The increase from one billion to almost seven billion people on the planet has occurred since the discovery of oil. When oil disappears -- and most experts think it will disappear, maybe not disappear but start go into decline, within the next decade -- the international energy association says they think it will start in 2020 and other experts think it will start now or has already started, then our way of life is clearly threatened. But the expanding human numbers and the demand for food has meant that we have continued to cut down wilderness forests, threatened the existence of many, many species. The extinction rate is way, way up from what has been a normal level. At some point this will lead to very serious ramifications. All of these things are driven in part by the number of consumers and driven by the per-capita rates of consumption, which of course vary all over the planet.  <br /><br /><b>DP: Could you speak to overpopulation's effect on conflict issues?</b><br /><br /> BR: I was in Pakistan [in May] when the bombings occurred at two mosques in Lahore. Thankfully I was in Karachi at the time. The people I was meeting with said part of the issue of terrorism is a population-related issue. Why? Because in high-population growth countries people are spending all of their money on food, housing and clothing. They have nothing left over to save. That means there is no capital formation. That means businesses can’t expand. Therefore, there is no growth in employment. So you have a rapid growth in the number of people trying to enter the labor force and no jobs.</p> <p>That means you have in urban centers like Karachi and Islamabad and hundreds and thousands of unemployed men walking around angry and very concerned as to how they are going to survive. Guess what? In a society like that they are great prospects for recruiting into terrorism because they have nothing to lose. In fact studies done by Population Action International have shown that in very youthful, fast-growing population countries, which almost all have very stagnant economies as a result of the high growth, that there are much higher rates of civil and international conflict than in countries that have stopped growing, where the population is aging and where people are able to save money and have strong economies.<br /><br /><b>DP: You're flying to L.A. today, where you're working on a PMC show for a U.S. audience. Could you tell me more about it?</b><br /><b><br /></b>BR: We're developing a project to serve the Hispanic population. Great Hispanic talent are devoting some of their time to helping us do this program. Certainly one strong possibility is it will air on the Internet because there are so many barriers to entry when it comes to getting something on cable or on a network [here in the U.S.], though it is too early in the process to know.  In the meantime we are going to address, among other things, the issues of teenage pregnancy prevention and obesity prevention among Latino populations, and it’s based on research we commissioned a couple of years ago in the Los Angeles area. It will be a program that will be available to anybody worldwide if we do it online.<br /><br /><b>DP: Will it be in English or Spanish?</b><br /><br /> BR: It will be in Spanglish. It will reflect the way in which Latino teens speak to each other. So it will be mostly English with a little Spanish salted in.  <br /><br /><b>DP: Speaking to the audience, as usual.</b>  </p> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><a href="http://blogs.alternet.org/staff/">Daniela Perdomo</a> is a staff writer and editor at AlterNet. <a href="http://twitter.com/danielaperdomo">Follow Daniela on Twitter</a>. Write her at danielaalternet [at] gmail [dot] com. </div></div></div> Tue, 08 Jun 2010 18:00:01 -0700 Daniela Perdomo, AlterNet 662537 at http://www.alternet.org Activism Water Activism Gender Media Food Environment World reproductive health family planning sustainability female genital mutilation hiv/aids developing world population growth vision pmc bill ryerson population media center sabido method Talking to Joe Sestak: Progressive Fighter Who Took out Arlen Specter, and Won't Stop 'Til He Wins the Senate Race http://www.alternet.org/story/147033/talking_to_joe_sestak%3A_progressive_fighter_who_took_out_arlen_specter%2C_and_won%27t_stop_%27til_he_wins_the_senate_race <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">31-year military veteran Sestak: &#039;I learned that militaries may make you safe, but they don&#039;t make you strong.&#039;</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>On May 27, 2009 Joe Sestak announced his intent to challenge Arlen Specter for his Senate seat. Specter had recently switched parties, from Republican to Democrat, ostensibly because he no longer identified with the GOP, but his party jump was best explained by polls which showed he wouldn't sustain a Republican primary challenge. When Sestak, a congressman representing Pennsylvania's seventh district since 2007, declared his senate candidacy, he took the wind out of Specter's opportunistic Democratic sails.</p> <p>Except the Democratic establishment didn't really take heed. Up until voters cast their ballots on May 18, Democratic big-wigs like Vice-President Biden were out gunning for Specter's campaign, which had turned to low-shot ads that questioned Sestak's 31-year military career. (A three-star admiral in the Navy, Sestak is the highest-ranking military veteran to ever serve in Congress.) On the inside, however, it's clear Democrats were worried. Rahm Emanuel -- with Bill Clinton's help -- even offered Sestak a position in the administration if he dropped his challenge to Specter. Sestak stayed in the race.</p> <p>Beating Specter, though, is even better than miscalculating Emanuel could have imagined. In Sestak, Democrats have a candidate who can ride the wave of anti-incumbent fervor which ultimately brought Specter down. And matching up against the Republican candidate in November will be much easier for Sestak than it would have been for Specter. Former congressman Pat Toomey is an ex-derivatives trader who voted to deregulate Wall Street. How can he stand up to the image of a three-star admiral who wants to put Main Street over Wall Street?</p> <p>Sestak will very likely help Democrats keep their slim majority in the Senate, and progressives can take heart, too. He wants to repeal Don't Ask Don't Tell, was against Iraq from the start (though he supports Afghanistan, albeit cautiously), and -- believe it! -- wants to cut down on military spending. I caught up with him recently, fresh from his primary win.</p> <p><strong><b>Daniela Perdomo:</b> During your 31-year military career I've read that you were publicly non-partisan. You're now a Democrat. But you were somewhat written off by the Democratic establishment in your race against Arlen Specter. Were you surprised at the outpouring of support from progressives who clearly had a big impact on your primary win?</strong><br /><b><br /> Rep. Joe Sestak:</b> No, I wasn't. And I think that the strength of my beliefs and convictions in democratic principles, which land me on the progressive wing of the Democratic Party -- I think they felt a kindred soul in that. But I often tell people, that you know, really, if you look at how I ended up where I am it's because of a very pragmatic approach. Think about my 31 years in the military -- everybody has health care. The dividends that accrue to the nation from healthy, productive service-members whose families are also all covered are incredible. And then when you join the military today, we don't even promote you above a certain level unless you've earned at least an associate's degree. We want educated, knowledgeable service-members -- learn a skill. And then we give everyone economic security with a pension afterwards. I say that everybody in the military is a Democrat, they just don't realize it..<br /><br /> Now that I've come back [from the military] I feel the same way about a workforce. Invest in your people. And hold our investments accountable. You'll really have the working families as the engine for the economy, not Wall Street. Because I learned that militaries may make you safe, but they don't make you strong. What makes you strong is investment in health care, education, and economic security with an accountable approach to that.<br /><br /><b>DP: I do want to ask you about jobs, but before we go there, I wanted to ask you what you're hoping for now as you go into your race against Republican Pat Toomey, in terms of grassroots support. Where do you expect most of that support to come from?</b><br /><br /><b>JS:</b> Oh, I'd like to come from all across the spectrum. But I hope to build upon the support I got in the progressive movement because there are many, many across Pennsylvania that are strong supporters of President Obama and, you know, the President had to make a decision and I don't begrudge him [endorsing Specter], but some people were nevertheless for me. And they weren't for me so much as they were for what I stood for -- for my principles which are about standing up for American families. I think that's going to help us in the long-term running against Congressman Toomey. <br /><br /> As John F. Kennedy said, sometimes a party asks too much and when it does, I'll stand up for the good of the working families.<br /><br /><b>DP</b><b>: Speaking of Toomey, what are the best issues to run on against him?</b><br /><br /><b>JS:</b> Well, I think it's accountability. Accountability for one's actions, which I learned in the military. Look, Congressman Toomey, who was a congressman for much longer than I [have been], actually voted to deregulate Wall Street, where he had once worked as a derivatives trader. He voted to effectively remove the referee from the football field. The gambling that was done up there was not gambling with anything really other than what's most precious -- the savings of young couples so their children can go to college, and the homes of seniors where they're ready to retire. <br /><br /> The lack of accountability for [Toomey's] extreme views, where he still believes today there should be no regulation of Wall Street or a flat tax where we would all pay a $3,000 increase in taxes to pay for a tax cut for all the multi-millionaires because he believes in trickle-down economics -- in fact, he believes in privatizing Social Security. That's an ideology.<br /><br /> A very pragmatic approach, centered on job creation, education, help for small businesses, and health care is where we need to go. So that's the difference. He'll stand with Wall Street, I'll stand with the working families of Pennsylvania.<br /><br /><b>DP</b><b>: That's a fantastic segue to my next question. What will you do about the jobs crisis?</b><br /><br /><b>JS:</b>Well, we need to make sure we get out of this recession -- and we are out of it, but we haven't recovered from it yet -- as rapidly as possible. And I think the government should focus its policies upon small businesses. 'Business' isn't a bad word particularly with 'small' in front of it. And so if you actually gave a 15 percent tax credit for every new payroll job that a small business creates, you would soak up 5 million of the 8.5 million unemployed within two years. Because small businesses create 80 percent of all the jobs. That's what tax incentives need to do.<br /><br /> Second, access to capital for small businesses. We literally have our community banks not lending today to small businesses -- it's pretty tough, they're risk-averse. If we guarantee those loans to credit-worthy small businesses and create job creation tax incentives -- just doing those two alone, after having watched the Bush administration with Congressman Toomey supporting it slash the Small Business Administration in half, you would start to get the generator of 80 percent of all new jobs going again.<br /><br /> That's where the focus needs to be.<br /><br /><b>DP</b><b>: Let's talk a little bit about government spending. You support the war in Afghanistan. How would you define success there? And how can we get out?</b><br /><br /><b>JS:</b>Great question, that's what I wrote to the President about. I said, I can support this for one reason -- Pakistan. Not Afghanistan, which is too far downward to salvage, and I wouldn't rely on Karzai. For me it's merely the extra troops there and Secretary Gates said in a closed hearing that it would be about sealing the border with Pakistan, so that Pakistan -- as they go against the Taliban in Pakistan, to go against Al-Qaeda that are protected by the Taliban -- will not see these enemies flow across the border into Afghanistan. If we can convince Pakistan we're a partner, we need them to go against the Al-Qaeda safe-haven that literally can plan against us.<br /><br /> How do you measure it? I asked the President, in a letter, which did get responded to, for an exit strategy, which are benchmarks that measure success and failure. And if the benchmarks aren't being met, and the failure is too costly, you then exit to an alternative strategy. The response was, quite frankly, not adequate.<br /><br /> And unless I get that, I cannot commit to continue to support an open-ended commitment. So the benchmarks should be, I think, issues that the public can understand like how well are we decimating the Al-Qaeda safe-haven? Without benchmarks, I don't think you can ask [that of a] public that's already poured so much national treasure into Iraq -- that dismal failure that I absolutely opposed -- and is also continuing to support Afghanistan. And so I think the benchmarks are about Pakistan and the effort there to eradicate the safe-haven. <br /><br /> I would then depart because the cost to resurrect Afghanistan is too great unfortunately, due to the tragedy in Iraq.<br /><br /><b>DP</b><b>: What do you make of the huge amount of money we spend in Afghanistan and on the military? Over here at AlterNet, we've been pretty excited about Alan Grayson's "The War is Making Us Poor" bill. Would you support that?</b><br /><br /><b>JS:</b> I haven't been through the bill yet. But I do support this -- and frankly, it's part of what I did as a three-star admiral, where I said the Navy does not need nor can it afford 315 ships which was its goal. I said, about 250 are correct. And if you go to my years of three-star admiral in charge of the warfare development program, you'll see that we submitted that as a budget alternative to Congress. The next year, after I departed, it was changed to 315. <br /><br /> So my take is we're still measuring our military in quantity rather than capability. Imagine if we knew where Bin-Laden was. Imagine if we'd known when Saddam might have been going into Kuwait in the early 90s. Knowledge is what it's most about in the future, not how many -- you need enough! We just can't afford what people thought would be a continuing increase. We would have a more efficient, effective military. I advocated for this in Congress and supported Secretary Gates -- probably the only congressman who stood up -- and said his proposal to shut the F-22 down was correct because even though two plants in my district build parts for them it's the right thing to do because we are building something that's not needed and second, taking away money from other higher priorities.<br /><br /><b>DP</b><b>: Speaking of priorities and spending, it seems like we're gearing up for a fight over Social Security this year. Would you support cutting Social Security to reduce the deficit?</b><br /><b><br /> JS:</b> No, I would not support changing the benefits because 22 percent of all seniors -- and this was before the recession -- who are non-institutionalized live in poverty. That would be 44 percent, and I believe now over 50 percent. So I think you can fix this without impacting benefits.<br /><br /> Look, let me give you one example. If the top one-percenters, basically the millionaires, were to pay the same tax rate that they did during the Clinton years when 22 million jobs were created -- but then during the Bush years we created zero jobs and lowered their tax rate -- if you just went back to that rate, that's the exact amount of money needed to keep Social Security completely solvent for 77 years.<br /><br /> So we can do this without cutting benefits. I also think we have to change the basket of goods by which we measure the cost of living for seniors. Right now it's based upon an urban family's basket of goods, instead of the major things seniors spend on which are energy, housing, food, and health care. We need to change that and I have a bill to do that.<br /><br /><b>DP</b><b>: All of America's attention is captured right now by the BP oil spill. What can we do about corporations like BP? How do we stop these kinds of disasters which are rooted in both corporate malfeasance and neglect as well as regulatory capture?</b><br /><br /> JS: Well, I think a lot of it goes to the executive branch, the lack of oversight. As you have been reading, in the [Interior Department] there have been scientists, and scientists from other offices, saying don't be comfortable with it, slow down. But we had in that office an office that was getting royalties as well as bonuses for giving more leases. About a year or two ago you had lavish parties being thrown by the oil companies. You had lack of accountability. It was set up wrong.<br /><br /> It's quite frankly why I didn't support the additional drilling that you know, I said, look they already have thousands of acres that they have leased and they're not using even using those! So let's make sure we do this right before we go off on it.<br /><br /> I see the same thing in Pennsylvania today. The Marcellus Shale will fuel the energy needs of America for the next 15 years according to one study. And it's going to cut the carbon emissions in half but because of a loophole, called the Halliburton Loophole, the EPA has no oversight at the federal level over the drilling, called fracking, done for natural gas. It's even forbidden for them to know what chemicals are being put in the ground! We've had seven counties contaminated for natural gas -- we're at the beginning of another natural disaster.<br /><br /> My voting, as you probably know, environmentally, is 100 percent. My thinking is you can have the right balance between business and the environment, particularly as we go to alternative energies, so hold on and slow down. We have $80 billion of loopholes for oil companies when they're making record profits, but only $13 billion for alternative energy outside of corn ethanol. Do you know what I mean? And so something is wrong and that's the kind of lack of accountability we've had in the Senate.<br /><br /> I think people have to stand up to these special interests even at the cost of contributions, and say, this is wrong.<br /><br /><b>DP</b><b>: Back to the race against Toomey. Will you be asking Obama, who had been a big Specter supporter, to come to Pennsylvania to campaign for you?</b><br /><br /><b>JS:</b>I'd be honored, and we talked about it when he called me to congratulate me. We've already put in a request. He's the President of the United States, I'd like to be his strongest ally when I agree with his policies. I won't be a yes-man obviously but I think John F. Kennedy's wonderful saying, where he said one man can make a difference but every man should try, isn't 100 percent right. Wait a minute, in Washington, D.C. it takes a number of men and women to try and I want to be one of those who helps turn things around, in an accountable way. <br /><br /> I'll stand up to the party when it's wrong for Pennsylvania's people, but I think we have to grab these issues, like immigration and cap-and-trade early before they become crises like it did on this immigration issue when you have Arizona passing a bad law because the Senate and the House don't grab these issues. They need to do this even at the risk of losing their jobs -- need to solve it for America so we don't have a crisis occur.<br /><br /><b>DP</b><b>: What do you foresee being the challenges in moving from the House to the Senate?</b><br /><br /><b>JS:</b> I think there's going to be an even greater depth of responsibility because one vote out of 100 means a lot more than one out of 435. But I'll have an expanded staff to help me and I have a wonderful staff. And I think that if you understand that, look, we're in a war here at home -- this economic crisis -- and two overseas, and this is the moment in time to be in public office, to be in public service.<br /><br /> And it's also a moment when the gravest ill, I would argue, isn't just the two wars and the war at home, it's literally regaining the trust of Americans. They've really lost it. It's why I didn't run simultaneously for my congressional seat. This isn't about my job -- it's about yours. And I really hope that the legacy I'd like to be a part of, is to regain the trust and the faith of people in the institutions. I don't think people expect to always agree with me -- but they expect that I'll tell them where I am, and that the next day I'll be there, and I won't be changing because my finger's in the wind over a poll.<br /><br /> That kind of courage and conviction is what we need today because there is no room for error with India and China.<br /><br /><b>DP</b><b>: What would you say is the most unique perspective you'll bring to the Senate?</b><br /><br /><b>JS:</b> I think it's a sense of accountability. I mean, that's what I learned in the military -- that you're accountable for your actions. Who's standing up and saying, I was accountable for deregulating Wall Street and the chickens came to roost many years later? Where's the accountability for what one does and works towards? That is what I want to bring most to the Senate. That's what I think people see has been missing. <br /><br /> In the military, I was accountable for lives and now I want to be accountable for livelihoods. <br /><br /><b>DP</b><b>: The military is a very different place from the Senate, will it be an uphill climb?</b><br /><br /><b>JS:</b> No. People are people and people look at the military as black and white. Look, whether you're the captain of a ship or a congressman or senator, you have to say where you stand, what you're going to do, how you're going to fight for it. You have to work with others in a principled, compromised way. We did it in the military all the time -- we didn't just say yes sir, no sir. We came together with a shared sense of mission -- but not a compromise of principle. <br /><br /> What's missing in the Senate is accountability -- and I want to bring that back.</p> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><a href="http://blogs.alternet.org/staff/">Daniela Perdomo</a> is a staff writer and editor at AlterNet. <a href="http://twitter.com/danielaperdomo">Follow Daniela on Twitter</a>. Write her at danielaalternet [at] gmail [dot] com. </div></div></div> Thu, 03 Jun 2010 21:00:01 -0700 Daniela Perdomo, AlterNet 662446 at http://www.alternet.org News & Politics News & Politics Economy iraq military afghanistan wall street corporate accountability jobs social security bp unemployment arlen specter government spending joe sestak 10 Things You Need (But Don't Want) To Know About the BP Oil Spill http://www.alternet.org/story/147014/10_things_you_need_%28but_don%27t_want%29_to_know_about_the_bp_oil_spill <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">How the owner of the exploded oil rig has made $270 million off the disaster, and nine other shocking, depressing facts about the oil spill.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>It's been 37 days since BP's offshore oil rig,<i> Deepwater Horizon</i>, exploded in the Gulf of Mexico. Since then, crude oil has been hemorrhaging into ocean waters and wreaking unknown havoc on our ecosystem -- unknown because there is no accurate estimate of how many barrels of oil are contaminating the Gulf. <br /><br /> Though BP officially admits to only a few thousand barrels spilled each day, expert estimates peg the damage at <a href="http://www.alternet.org/environment/146753/bp%27s_oil_disaster%3A_the_numbers_will_shock_you">60,000 barrels</a> or over 2.5 million gallons daily. (Perhaps we'd know more if BP hadn't <a href="http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/africa/jan-june10/dudley_05-25.html">barred</a> independent engineers from inspecting the breach.) Measures to quell the gusher have proved lackluster at best, and unlike the country's last big oil spill -- <i>Exxon-Valdez</i> in 1989 -- the oil is coming from the ground, not a tanker, so we have no idea how much more oil could continue to pollute the Gulf's waters.<br /><br /> The<i> Deepwater Horizon</i> disaster reminds us what can happen -- and will continue to happen -- when corporate malfeasance and neglect meet governmental regulatory failure. <br /><br /> The corporate media is tracking the disaster with front-page articles and nightly news headlines every day (if it bleeds, or spills, it leads!), but the under-reported aspects to this nightmarish tale paint the most chilling picture of the actors and actions behind the catastrophe. <span dir="ltr" id=":v6">In no particular order, here are 10 things about the BP spill you may not know and may not want to know -- but you should.</span><br /><br /><b>1. Oil rig owner has made $270 million off the oil leak</b><br /><br /> Transocean Ltd., the owner of the<i> Deepwater Horizon</i> rig leased by BP, has been flying under the radar in the mainstream blame game. The world's largest offshore drilling contractor, the company is conveniently headquartered in corporate-friendly Switzerland, and it's no stranger to oil disasters. In 1979, an oil well it was drilling in the very same Gulf of Mexico ignited, sending the drill platform into the sea and causing one of the largest oil spills by the time it was capped... nine months later.<br /><br /> This experience undoubtedly influenced Transocean's decision to insure the <i>Deepwater Horizon</i> rig for about twice what it was worth. In a conference call to analysts earlier this month, <a href="http://www.marketwatch.com/story/story/print?guid=EF0F09AA-49E8-439B-AE84-0DC827C93262">Transocean reported</a> making a $270 million profit from insurance payouts after the disaster. It's not hard to bet on failure when you know it's somewhat assured.<br /><br /><b>2. BP has a terrible safety record</b><br /><br /> BP has a long record of oil-related disasters in the United States. In 2005, BP's Texas City refinery <a href="http://www.commondreams.org/print/55705">exploded</a>, killing 15 workers and injuring another 170. The next year, one of its Alaska pipelines leaked 200,000 gallons of crude oil. According to Public Citizen, BP has paid <a href="http://publiccitizenenergy.org/2010/05/05/cost-of-doing-business-bps-550-million-in-fines-2-criminal-convictions/">$550 million</a> in fines. BP seems to particularly enjoy violating the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts, and has paid the two largest fines in the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's history. (Is it any surprise that BP <a href="http://www.democracynow.org/2010/5/26/bp_played_central_role_in_botched">played a central</a>, though greatly under-reported, role in the failure to contain the <i>Exxon-Valdez</i> spill years earlier?)<br /><br /> With <em>Deepwater Horizon</em>, BP didn't break its dismal trend. In addition to choosing a <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/27/us/27rig.html?hp">cheaper</a> -- and less safe -- casing to outfit the well that eventually burst, the company <a href="http://seizebp.org/">chose not to</a> equip <em>Deepwater Horizon</em> with an acoustic trigger, a last-resort option that could have shut down the well even if it was damaged badly, and which is required in most developed countries that allow offshore drilling. In fact, BP employs these devices in its rigs located near England, but because the United States recommends rather than requires them, BP had no incentive to buy one -- even though they only cost $500,000. <br /><br /> SeizeBP.org estimates that BP makes $500,000 in under eight minutes.<br /><br /><b>3. Oil spills are just a cost of doing business for BP</b><br /><br /> According to the Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies, approximately <a href="http://www.harteresearchinstitute.org/index.php?option=com_content&amp;view=article&amp;id=129:hri-researchers-contribute-expertise-on-oil-spill&amp;catid=21:frontpage-news">$1.6 billion</a> in annual economic activity and services are at risk as a result of the <i>Deepwater Horizon</i> disaster. Compare this number -- which doesn't include the immeasurable environmental damages -- to the current cap on BP's liability for economic damages like lost wages and tourist dollars, which is $75 million. And compare that further to the first-quarter profits BP posted just one week after the explosion: <a href="http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5gBmz_mYPQxmvGJhJ5ViAYlglbXyQD9FFKS781">$6 billion</a>.<br /><br /> BP's chief executive, Tony Hayward, has solemnly promised that the company will cover more than the required $75 million. On May 10, BP announced it had already spent $350 million. How fantastically generous of a company valued at $152.6 billion, and which makes $93 million each day.<br /><br /> The reality of the matter is that BP will not be deterred by the liability cap and pity payments doled out to a handful of victims of this disaster because they pale in comparison to its ghastly profits. Indeed, oil spills are just a <a href="http://www.alternet.org/economy/146999/the_corporate_stranglehold%3A_how_bp_will_make_out_like_bandits_from_its_massive%2C_still_gushing_oil_disaster/">cost of doing business</a> for BP.<br /><br /> This is especially evident in a recent Citigroup analyst report prepared for BP investors: "Reaction to the Gulf of Mexico oil leak is a buying opportunity."<br /><br /><b>4. The Interior Department was at best, neglectful, and at worst, complicit</b><br /><br /> It's no surprise BP is always looking out for its bottom line -- but it's at least slightly more surprising that the Interior Department, the executive department charged with regulating the oil industry, has done such a shoddy job of preventing this from happening.<br /><br /> Ten years ago, there were <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/gwire/2010/05/04/04greenwire-warnings-on-backup-systems-for-oil-rigs-sounde-30452.html?pagewanted=print">already warnings</a> that the backup systems on oil rigs that failed on <i> Deepwater Horizon</i> would be a problem. The Interior Department issued a "safety alert" but then left it up to oil companies to decide what kind of backup system to use. And in 2007, a government regulator from the same department <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/05/03/gulf-oil-spill-government_n_561646.html?view=print">downplayed</a> the chances and impact of a spill like the one that occurred last month: "[B]lowouts are rare events and of short duration, potential impact to marine water quality are not expected to be significant."<br /><br /> The Interior Department's Louisiana branch may have been particularly confused because it appears it was closely fraternizing with the oil industry. The Minerals Management Service, the agency within the department that oversees offshore drilling, routinely accepted gifts from oil companies and even considered itself a part of the oil industry, rather than part of a governmental regulatory agency. Flying on oil executives' private planes was not rare for MMS inspectors in Louisiana, a <a href="http://www.eenews.net/public/25/15844/features/documents/2010/05/25/document_gw_02.pdf">federal report</a> released Tuesday says. "Skeet-shooting contests, hunting and fishing trips, golf tournaments, crawfish boils, and Christmas parties" were also common.<br /><br /> Is it any wonder that <em>Deepwater Horizon</em> was given a regulatory exclusion by MMS?<br /><br /> It gets worse. Since April 20, when the <em>Deepwater Horizon</em> oil rig exploded, the Interior Department has <a href="http://blogs.alternet.org/speakeasy/2010/05/10/outrageous-govt-gives-bp-more-off-shore-drilling-regulatory-exemptions/">approved</a> <strong style="font-weight: normal;">27 new</strong> permits for offshore drilling sites. Here's the kicker: Two of these permits are for BP. <br /><br /> But it gets better still: 26 of the 27 new drilling sites have been granted regulatory exemptions, including those issued to BP.<br /><br /><b>5. Clean-up prospects are dismal<br /><br /></b>The media makes a lot of noise about all the different methods BP is using to clean up the oil spill. Massive steel containment domes were popular a few weeks ago. Now everyone is touting the "top kill" method, which involves injecting heavy drilling fluids into the damaged well. <br /><br /> But here's the reality. Even if BP eventually finds a method that works, <a href="http://www.csmonitor.com/layout/set/print/content/view/print/298421">experts say</a> the <i>best</i> cleanup scenario is to recover 20 percent of the spilled oil. And let's be realistic: only 8 percent of the crude oil deposited in the ocean and coastlines off Alaska was recovered in the <em>Exxon-Valdez</em> cleanup.<br /><br /> Millions of gallons of oil will remain in the ocean, ravaging the underwater ecosystem, and 100 miles of Louisiana coastline will never be the same.<br /><br /><b>6. BP has no real cleanup plan</b><br /><br /> Perhaps because it knows the possibility of remedying the situation is practically impossible, BP has made publicly available its <a href="http://www.grist.org/article/2010-05-25-the-7-dumbest-things-in-bps-spill-response-plan/PALL/print">laughable "Oil Spill Response Plan"</a> which is, in fact, no plan at all.<br /><br /> Most emblematic of this farcical plan, BP mentions protecting Arctic wildlife like sea lions, otters and walruses (perhaps executives simply lifted the language from Exxon's plan for its oil spill off the coast of Alaska?). The plan does not include any disease-preventing measures, oceanic or meteorological data, and is comprised mostly of phone numbers and blank forms. Most importantly, it includes no directions for how to deal with a deep-water explosion such as the one that took place last month.<br /><br /> The whole thing totals 600 pages -- a waste of paper that only adds insult to the environmental injury BP is inflicting upon the world with <i>Deepwater Horizon</i>.<br /><br /><b>7. Both Transocean and BP are trying to take away survivors' right to sue</b><br /><br /> With each hour, the economic damage caused by <em>Deepwater Horizon</em> continues to grow. And BP knows this.<br /><br /> So while it outwardly is putting on a nice face, even <a href="http://blogs.alternet.org/speakeasy/2010/05/24/bp-is-legally-bound-to-do-no-more-for-the-gulf-than-the-law-requires/">pledging $500 million</a> to assess the impacts of the spill, it has all the while been trying to ensure that it won't be held liable for those same impacts.<br /><br /> Just after the <i>Deepwater</i> explosion, surviving employees were held in <a href="http://news.yahoo.com/s/ynews/20100521/sc_ynews/ynews_sc2191">solitary confinement,</a> while Transocean flacks made them waive their rights to sue. BP then did the same with fishermen it contracted to help clean up the spill though the company now says that was nothing more than a <a href="http://www.palmbeachpost.com/news/bp-voids-fishermens-cleanup-contracts-in-la-cites-660372.html">legal mix-up</a>.<br /><br /> If there's anything to learn from this disaster, it's that companies like BP don't make mistakes at the expense of others. They are exceedingly deliberate.<br /><br /><b>8. BP bets on risk to employees to save money -- and doesn't care if they get sick</b><br /><br /> When BP unleashed its "Beyond Petroleum" re-branding/greenwashing campaign, the snazzy ads featured smiley oil rig workers. But the truth of the matter is that BP consistently and knowingly puts its employees at risk.<br /><br /> An internal BP document shows that just before the prior fatal disaster -- the 2005 Texas City explosion that killed 15 workers and injured 170 -- when BP had to choose between cost-savings and greater safety, it went with its bottom line.<br /><br /> A <a href="http://www.thedailybeast.com/blogs-and-stories/2010-05-25/shocking-bp-memo-and-the-oil-spill-in-the-gulf/p/">BP Risk Management memo</a> showed that although steel trailers would be safer in the case of an explosion, the company went with less expensive options that offered protection but were not "blast resistant." In the Texas City blast, all of the fatalities and most of the injuries occurred in or around these trailers.<br /><br /> Although BP has responded to this memo by saying the company culture has changed since Texas City, 11 people died on the <em>Deepwater Horizon</em> when it blew up. Perhaps a similar memo went out regarding safety and cost-cutting measures?<br /><br /><a href="http://blogs.alternet.org/speakeasy/2010/05/26/fishermen-hired-by-bp-for-oil-clean-up-weren%E2%80%99t-provided-protective-equipment-have-now-fallen-ill/">Reports</a> this week stated that fishermen hired by BP for oil cleanup weren't provided protective equipment and have now fallen ill. Hopefully they didn't sign waivers.<br /><br /><b>9. Environmental damage could even include a climatological catastrophe</b><br /><br /> It's hard to know where to start discussing the environmental damage caused by <i>Deepwater Horizon</i>. Each day will give us a clearer picture of the short-term ecological destruction<span style="font-style: italic;">,</span> but environmental experts believe the damage to the Gulf of Mexico will be long-term.<br /><br /> In the short-term, environmentalists are <a href="http://www.alternet.org/module/printversion/146931">up in arms</a> about the dispersants being used to clean up the oil slick in the Gulf. Apparently, the types BP is using aren't all that effective in dispersing oil, and are pretty high in toxicity to marine fauna such as fish and shrimp. The fear is that what BP may be using to clean up the mess could, in the long-term, make it worse.<br /><br /> On the longer-term side of things, <a href="http://www.alternet.org/water/146926/could_the_largest_oil_drilling_catastrophe_also_end_up_the_largest_natural_gas_and_climate_disaster_in_recent_history">there are signs</a> that this largest oil drilling catastrophe could also become the worst natural gas and climate disaster. The explosion has released tremendous amounts of methane from deep in the ocean, and research shows that methane, when mixed with air, is the most powerful (read: terrible) greenhouse gas -- 26 times worse than carbon-dioxide.<br /><br /> Our warming planet just got a lot hotter.<br /><br /><b>10. No one knows what to do</b> <b>and it <i>will</i> happen again</b><br /><br /> The very worst part about the <i>Deepwater Horizon</i> calamity is that nobody knows what to do. We don't know how bad it really is because we can't measure what's going on. We don't know how to stop it -- and once we do, we won't know how to clean it up. <br /><br /> BP is at the helm of the recovery process, but given its corporate track record, its efforts will only go so far -- it has a board of directors and shareholders to answer to, after all. The U.S. government, the only other entity that could take over is currently content to let BP hack away at the problem. Why? Because it probably has no idea what to do either.<br /><br /> Here's the reality of the matter -- for as long as offshore drilling is legal, oil spills will happen. Coastlines will be decimated, oceans destroyed, economies ruined, lives lost. Oil companies have little to no incentive to prevent such disasters from happening, and they use their money to buy government regulators' integrity.<br /><br /><i>Deepwater Horizon</i> is not an anomaly -- it's the norm.</p> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><a href="http://blogs.alternet.org/staff/">Daniela Perdomo</a> is a staff writer and editor at AlterNet. <a href="http://twitter.com/danielaperdomo">Follow Daniela on Twitter</a>. Write her at danielaalternet [at] gmail [dot] com. </div></div></div> Wed, 26 May 2010 21:00:01 -0700 Daniela Perdomo, AlterNet 662429 at http://www.alternet.org Environment Water News & Politics Environment obama bp oil spill water pollution exxon valdez gulf of mexico british petroleum deepwater horizon interior department Big Soda Wants to Keep America Fat: Here's How to Fight Back http://www.alternet.org/story/146947/big_soda_wants_to_keep_america_fat%3A_here%27s_how_to_fight_back <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Sodas have fueled our obesity epidemic. An elegant solution -- soda taxes -- would cut our addiction, but the sugary drink industry is gearing up to make sure that can&#039;t happen.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>Scouring lobbyist filings is akin to looking into a public-policy crystal ball. What Big Business is spending on lobbying today will give you a good idea of what the next big policy fight will hinge upon.<br /><br /> Here's an example. In the first quarter of this year, a trade group representing the interests of non-alcoholic drink-makers called the American Beverage Association upped its lobbying expenditures by a whopping 3,785 percent over the last quarter of 2009. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the ABA went from spending a paltry $140,000 to <a target="_blank" href="http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=126511372">shelling out</a> $5.4 million.<br /><br /> What are non-alcoholic beverage producers so afraid of? Two words: soda taxes.<br /><br /> Last year, Congress seriously discussed including a tax on sodas and other calorie-laden beverages like energy and sports drinks (diet sodas were to be exempted) in the forthcoming health care overhaul in order to help cover costs for what was then supposed to be a universal health care plan. At the time, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that the proposed nationwide 3-cent tax on sodas would generate $24 billion over four years.<br /><br /> The ABA and affiliated moneyed interests successfully flexed their lobbying muscles and produced a $10 million nationwide ad campaign in order to extinguish talk of a federal soda tax. Such language never made it into the bill Congress eventually passed.<br /><br /> But the $110 billion-a-year sugary drink industry knows their fight isn't up yet. They surely have been spooked by President Obama <a target="_blank" href="http://www.menshealth.com/men/health/doctors-hospitals/sweet-on-a-soda-tax/article/cf2237c26ab93210VgnVCM10000030281eac">saying</a> that soda taxes are an "idea that we should be exploring." And the hawkers of sugary drinks are also aware that although they managed to derail a national tax -- for now -- local and state governments are taking up the battle Congress dropped.<br /><br /> The fight for our waistlines and purse strings is just heating up.<br /><br /><b>The American soda problem</b> <br /><br /> It's hard to know where to begin discussion of how bad sodas are for you, given the myriad reasons and statistics, but <a target="_blank" href="http://blogs.alternet.org/speakeasy/author/marionnestle/">Marion Nestle</a>, a public health nutritionist and professor at New York University, has been writing about this public health nuisance for so long she does a pretty good job of it. <br /><br /> "They have no redeeming nutritional value and just add unnecessary calories to diets that already have too many," she told AlterNet.<br /><br /> Indeed, drinks like Coke, Gatorade, and curiously named drinks like Vitamin Water are essentially part sugar and part water, leading sweetened beverages to account for half of all sugar intake in the average contemporary American's diet. Sugar-infused drinks have long been a stalwart of U.S. culture -- Coca-Cola was born in 1886 -- but Americans drink them much more than ever before. And it's not hard to see there is a definite correlation between the obesity epidemic -- which costs us <a target="_blank" href="http://www.cspinet.org/new/200909301.html">$147 billion a year</a> -- and the explosion in soft drink consumption.<br /><br /> While the soda problem is apparent among Americans of all ages, youth are the most affected. After all, they've grown up on campaigns extolling "<a target="_blank" href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=po0jY4WvCIc">the Pepsi Generation</a>." Studies show that beverages now account for 10 to 15 percent of all calories consumed by children and teens -- and for each extra can or glass of sugared beverage consumed per day, the chances of a child's becoming obese increases by a staggering <a target="_blank" href="http://content.nejm.org/cgi/content/full/360/18/1805">60 percent</a>. The average 18-year-old today is less than an inch taller than the average 18-year-old back then, but is <a target="_blank" href="http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/ad/ad347.pdf">15 pounds</a> heavier. <br /><br /> Yet the immense marketing budgets behind Coca-Cola and PepsiCo aren't the only reason more and more people are drinking more of this stuff. The biggest problem is that soda has become outrageously affordable. A staggering analysis by the Bureau of Labor Statistics <a target="_blank" href="http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2010/05/18/business/economy/leonhardt-soda-price-chart.html">shows</a> that the price of carbonated drinks has fallen 34 percent since the late 1970s, while healthy foods like fruits and vegetables cost over 30 percent more than they did before.<br /><br /> Lest you think you don't have a "soda problem," Gail Woodward-Lopez of the Center for Weight and Health at Berkeley has news for you. She <a target="_blank" href="http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=126511372">says</a> we shouldn't drink more than one -- yes, <i>one</i> -- sweetened beverage per week.<br /><br /> The damage these drinks do to your system is leading people to compare the beverage business to the tobacco industry. Of course the ABA is loathe to accept such analogies. In a recent <a target="_blank" href="http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=126511372">NPR interview</a>, the person in charge of the group's science policy said sweetened drinks are completely unlike cigarettes.<br /><br /> "Smoking kills people. There is no safe level of consumption. And soft drinks are an enjoyable, safe product that people have been enjoying for generations," Maureen Storey said, before blaming American obesity on our failure to exercise.<br /><br /> To be fair, soda didn't make us fat all on its own -- and we do need to exercise a lot more. But given how much we drink these beverages, and how much of the nutritionally void sugar we ingest is derived from them, soda has become a problem we're only now in hindsight realizing has damaged the health of an entire generation. Kind of like cigarettes.<br /><br /><b>How to tax it</b><br /><br /> The average state tax on a pack of cigarettes sold in the United States is $1.42; there is also a $1.01 federal tax. These extra costs have led to a <a href="http://www.tobaccofreekids.org/reports/prices/">decrease</a> in cigarette consumption, particularly by price-sensitive demographics like young people, and brought millions in revenue to every state. Given the success of these measures, it's little wonder that a sin tax on sodas is so appealing to health advocates.<br /><br /> A <em>New England Journal of Medicine</em> study from last year, which made the public-policy case for soda taxes, opened with a quote from Adam Smith's 1776 <i>Wealth of Nations</i>: "Sugar, rum, and tobacco are commodities which are nowhere necessaries of life, which are [sic] become objects of almost universal consumption, and which are therefore extremely proper subjects of taxation."<br /><br /> So to say the least, the idea of taxing sodas isn't really new. Currently, 33 states have a sales tax on soft drinks sold at grocery stores and in vending machines, with rates ranging from 1.3 percent in Montana to 7 percent in Rhode Island and Mississippi. Six other states have a sales tax on those sold in vending machines only. And finally, six states have instituted an excise tax in addition to the sales tax. Examples would be Rhode Island, which charges 4 cents per each case of beverage, and Arkansas, which taxes 21 cents per gallon and $2 per gallon of syrup.<br /><br /> The problem here, according to soda tax supporters like Julie Greenstein of the <a href="http://www.cspinet.org/">Center for Science in the Public Interest</a>, is that the sales and excise taxes out there are too small to affect consumption rates -- and the revenues coming in from these taxes are not being directed to programs that would help prevent and treat obesity. (Half of the money we spend on obesity is paid for by taxpayers via Medicaid and Medicare.)<br /><br /> Greenstein's organization is pushing for a tax of <a href="http://www.cspinet.org/new/200909301.html">7 cents</a> per 12-ounce can of soda, which is estimated to bring in $10 billion per year. An April study published in the <em>Archives of Internal Medicine</em> says that if the price of sweetened beverages increased by <a href="http://www.usatoday.com/news/health/weightloss/2010-03-09-cutsodaandcalories09_ST_N.htm?POE=click-refer">18 percent</a>, people would consume an average of 56 fewer calories a day and lose about five pounds a year.<br /><br /> But some want to go even further, levying a tax of <a href="http://yaleruddcenter.org/sodatax.aspx">1 cent per ounce</a>. If this was done nationally, the revenue would be $14.9 billion in the first year alone.<br /><br /> There is a measure on the table in Washington, D.C. that would charge a penny per ounce, raising the price of a typical 12-pack of cans by 30 percent. The revenue would be used to pay for the newly passed Health Schools Act, which would improve the quality of lunches in the area's public schools. The D.C. city council will vote on this on May 25, but observers aren't sure it will pass.<br /><br /><b>Current and past efforts</b><br /><br /> In addition to the foiled federal tax last year, the industry has been aggressive in pushing back efforts elsewhere. The governor of New York proposed an 18 percent tax on sugar-rich drinks, and was beat down by the state legislature last year, but on Thursday <a href="http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE64J6T220100520?type=domesticNews">announced</a> a new -- and less stringent -- proposal to raise $815 million in annual soda taxes. The industry was also successful in influencing a vote in Philadelphia, although debate continues. A measure has been introduced in the California state senate, but prospects look slim there, too. Unfortunately, absolutely no moves are being made on the federal level right now.<br /><br /> "The industry is spending millions and millions of dollars. Every time you turn on the radio, there's a Big Soda ad against these proposals," Greenstein says. "They're lobbying hard. They're outspending us."<br /><br /> Perhaps you remember a <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sxIwwrO2JYg&amp;feature=player_embedded">striking ad</a> by Americans Against Food Taxes last year -- at the height of the federal soda tax debate -- which showed a mother unloading groceries from her car. Proponents "say it's only pennies. Well, those pennies ad up when you're trying to feed a family," we're told. Of course, the visceral ad doesn't ask whether poor people who are struggling to feed their families should really be spending money on incredibly unhealthy food that will rack up medical bills, but then again why would it? Americans Against Food Taxes is a front group funded by the beverage industry.<br /><br /> More recently, as the New York City Health Department has unfurled a graphic campaign against sodas taglined "<a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/ny_local/galleries/dont_drink_yourself_fat_new_nyc_health_dept_ads/dont_drink_yourself_fat_new_nyc_health_dept_ads.html">Don't Drink Yourself Fat</a>," the Center for Consumer Freedom -- front group number-two -- has plastered the city with <a href="http://www.foodpolitics.com/2009/10/the-soft-drink-industry-strikes-back/">ads</a> that ask: "Big Apple or Big Brother?"<br /><br /> While Greenstein would have to hope against hope that any of the current efforts to pass effective soda taxes will be successful, she is actually buoyed by the industry's response. "The fact that they're spending so much is proof that if these proposals passed, they would be effective," she says. "They wouldn't be out here lobbying so hard against them otherwise. We'll keep pushing and if it's not this year then we'll be back again the next."<br /><br /><b>The fight will be framed (and reframed)</b><br /><br /> To be sure, the tremendous spike in dollars being spent by the beverage industry in order to counteract the bad press and to de-legitimize the arguments for soda taxes is proof-positive that the makers of these unhealthy drinks know these measures would be quite effective in reducing consumption and changing habits.<br /><br /> Last year, Coca-Cola trotted out its chief executive, Muhtar Kent, to pen an <a href="http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703298004574455464120581696.html"> editorial</a> for the <em>Wall Street Journal</em> defensively titled "Coke Didn't Make America Fat," in which he argued that exercise was the solution to our fat problems. This argument is easily trumped by pointing to seatbelt legislation. Not wearing a seatbelt doesn't solve all the risks related to driving in a car, but it can greatly diminish them. In the same way, cutting a nutritionally void drink out of our lives will aid us in the general path of a healthy life -- along with increased exercise.<br /><br /> The ABA constantly trumpets the idea that soda taxes are regressive, because they would disproportionately affect poor people. But this is handily disputed. Sugar-sweetened drinks have no nutritional value and healthy alternatives like, say, water are free or much cheaper. So a tax that shifted consumption from soda and other sugary beverages to water would not only improve health and lower costs for cash-strapped families, it would also raise revenue for programs that promote healthy eating, obesity prevention and health care for those most in need.<br /><br /> The industry will also keep on saying that these taxes won't actually affect consumption, they'd simply be ineffective from the get-go. But this is true, as a recently released RAND <a href="http://www.rand.org/news/press/2010/04/01/">study</a> shows, only when the taxes are small -- and Big Soda knows it. A trade publication, <em>Beverage Digest</em>, ran a report in 2008 showing that if soft drink prices rose 6.8 percent, sales dropped 7.8 percent; and more specifically: if Coca-Cola prices increased by 12 percent, sales would drop by 14.6 percent.<br /><br /> While money and power may be on the sugar-pushing beverage industry's side for now, the momentum is ultimately with the proponents of soda taxes. Support for food taxes continues to rise -- especially when people are told revenues would go to obesity prevention -- and growing public awareness about nutrition and health is fueling the attempts to pass truly effective soda taxes throughout the country.<br /><br /> In the meantime, get off the Internet, reach for a glass of water and go for a run.</p> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><a href="http://blogs.alternet.org/staff/">Daniela Perdomo</a> is a staff writer and editor at AlterNet. <a href="http://twitter.com/danielaperdomo">Follow Daniela on Twitter</a>. Write her at danielaalternet [at] gmail [dot] com. </div></div></div> Thu, 20 May 2010 11:00:01 -0700 Daniela Perdomo, AlterNet 662301 at http://www.alternet.org Personal Health Personal Health Food food coca-cola soda obesity lobbying pepsi pop beverage industry drinks excise tax personal health soda taxes big soda moneyed interests The 21st Century Soldier: Supports Gay Rights, Clean Energy and Is Often Progressive http://www.alternet.org/story/146882/the_21st_century_soldier%3A_supports_gay_rights%2C_clean_energy_and_is_often_progressive <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">VoteVets is making waves educating the public about a very different kind of soldier.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>There are two ads out on national cable networks these days that you may have seen.<br /><br /> One <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-ZnzxuT_sZA" target="_blank">depicts</a> a U.S. military truck exploding as it winds its way down a dirt road, presumably somewhere in Iraq or Afghanistan. The cause? An explosively formed projectile, hailing from Iran and specially designed to destroy American military vehicles, we're told. The image of the always-creepy Mahmoud Ahmadinejad flashes on the screen and the word "enemies" is oft-repeated.</p> <p>The second ad also <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RbyWiFpDNXM" target="_blank">invokes</a> Iran as America's foe, while a narrator tells us that nation makes $100 million every day "selling oil around the world and peddling hate."<br /><br /> Sounds like visceral kindling designed for the right-wing propaganda machine, doesn't it? Not quite. Fox News rejected these ads, calling them too confusing. Yet there is nothing perplexing about the ads -- in fact, they are very clear, and much easier to follow than Glenn Beck's conspiratorial <a href="http://www.newscorpse.com/Pix/Caps/evangelist-beck.jpg" target="_blank">chicken-scratch</a>. <br /><br /> The ads' messages are anchored around clean energy legislation, currently being debated in Congress. A very precise line is drawn, connecting America's oil addiction to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and related national security problems. As soon as the doom and gloom images evoking the "war on terror" subside, the clouds part to reveal landscapes of wind turbines spinning against blue skies. Passing the clean energy bill, the ads say, will cut our oil dependence in half and cut oil profits for "hostile nations" like Iran.<br /><br /> Both ads are the brainchild of <a href="http://votevets.org/" target="_blank">VoteVets.org</a>, a pro-military organization founded by young vets of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and which seeks to be the voice of what it calls the "21st-century soldier." Its action fund is focused on educating the public on military issues, the wars, and holding politicians accountable, while its political action committee seeks to bolster the campaigns of politicians -- especially veterans of the ongoing Persian Gulf wars -- who will represent today's service-members and veterans.<br /><br /> Founded in 2006, the organization has grown to count 100,000 people from all 50 states as members. Its sizable coffers -- $2 million have gone into sending those two clean energy ads onto national airwaves alone -- have lent VoteVets.org serious Beltway clout.<br /><br /> But perhaps the most interesting thing about VoteVets.org is how much it differs from other pro-military, pro-veterans groups. Indeed, it spends its money and energy promoting liberal policy issues (and candidates who support them). Its list of legislative priorities includes closing Guantanamo, repealing Don't Ask Don't Tell, and, of course, passing the clean energy bill.<br /><br /> In its role as a center-left organization appealing to -- and being one with -- the pro-military crowd, VoteVets.org is uniquely positioned to appeal to conservatives and moderates who might otherwise turn a deaf ear to progressive issues.<br /><br /><b>From war to activism</b><br /><br /> VoteVets.org was founded by two young Iraq war veterans, Jon Soltz and Jeremy Broussard. Both came back disillusioned with the prospects of success in Iraq, and their experiences have informed the organization's position that Iraq was never the right war. (Afghanistan, on the other hand, is the right fight though VoteVets.org disagrees with how both this administration and the prior one have focused on a counter-insurgency strategy as opposed to a counter-terrorist strategy which would require sending fewer troops into combat less often.)<br /><br /> Peter Granato, 31, who served for 14 months in Iraq in 2003 and 2004 and today is VoteVet.org's vice-chairman says, "A lot of people, myself included, were not very politically active prior to Iraq. We didn't really ask a lot of questions. But being in Iraq all the time made me -- made us -- wonder, why are we here?"<br /><br /> He remembers watching the Democratic primary debates from his base in Iraq, as candidates spoke about the need for a change of course in the relatively nascent war. When Granato came back, he met Soltz as they both worked to get John Kerry elected. Granato's first official involvement with VoteVets.org involved starring in the group's very first <a href="http://votevets.org/video/?id=0010" target="_blank">ad</a>, which targeted politicians for voting against a bill that would have given service-members more expensive but much more effective body armor.<br /><br /> Ever since VoteVets.org's inception, the organization has worked to influence opinion about the war in Iraq, running ads throughout the country <a href="http://votevets.org/video/?id=0007" target="_blank">featuring</a> Iraq veterans demanding that then-President George W. Bush to stop the escalation in Iraq. It also ran a striking campaign calling on the former president -- and by extension, his supporters -- to choose "country over politics" when it came to Iraq.<br /><br /> Robin Eckstein, 33, an Iraq vet from Appleton, Wis., says she joined VoteVets.org in order to extend her service to her country. "One of the problems since I've been out of the military is to find something as rewarding. Even though I took off my uniform in 2007, I'd like to think my service to the country hasn't ended," she says.<br /><br /> Eckstein appeared in the anti-escalation ad that ran around the 2006 mid-term elections and through VoteVets.org went to D.C. to lobby for the Post-9/11 G.I. bill and to take a media training course. She says VoteVets.org is committed to grooming young veterans for politics, "whether you want to be a candidate or whether you want to speak out on issues that matter to you."<br /><br /> To be sure, VoteVets.org stands out among other veterans organizations not only because it appeals to a liberally minded contingent, but also because it has placed special emphasis on recruiting Iraq and Afghanistan vets. Unlike older institutions like Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion, VoteVets.org is promoting the values of today's young veterans -- not yesterday's.<br /><br /><b>The 21st-century soldier</b><br /><br /> VoteVets.org officially defines the 21st-century soldier as someone who has served in the armed forces during the war on terror era, when the U.S. military finds itself facing off with nebulous terrorist organizations rather than nation-states. But the evocative term may also be used to describe a new generation of American soldier who can be progressively inclined even as he or she serves in the largest military in the world.<br /><br /> In a military comprised of rural whites, inner-city minorities, immigrant Latinos (including some undocumented, called "green card soldiers"), and everything in between, there's a need among at least a portion of the demographic for a group that represents the more left-leaning among them, says Eckstein. As a VoteVets.org member she does volunteer outreach to young veterans like herself, telling them, "There is an outlet for you and your military service even if you're progressive."<br /><br /> In other words, as a veteran, there's a place for you to be proud of your military service and still call out the military, Congress, and even your former commander-in-chief for unfair and wrong practices that negatively affect service-members, vets and national security.<br /><br /> Just as other veterans groups, VoteVets.org is a big supporter of legislation and policies that will protect service-members and vets. It was a strong voice in support of the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill, which passed in 2008, and provides service-members who served 90 days or more since 9/11 tremendous education benefits. The group also wants to fully fund the VA, extend benefits to all currently ineligible veterans and improve substance abuse counseling and treatment.<br /><br /> But VoteVets.org distinguishes itself by its promotion of issues ordinarily untouched by pro-military groups -- issues you might call 21st-century concerns. Among such priorities, VoteVets.org wants to extend benefits to allow unmarried service-members to allocate their benefits to whomever they choose (including, say, gay partners). It also wants to change the regulations dictating that women cannot be in or around front lines (especially because so many already are), and it wants to make sure the VA will improve health services for women veterans (the VA is so unused to treating women, one female vet <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/paul-rieckhoff/gao-va-failing-to-serve-w_b_237057.html" target="_blank">said</a> she was consistently called "mister").<br /><br /> The current clean energy campaign is of course another 21st-century priority. Earlier this month, VoteVets.org released a poll showing that 79 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan vets believe ending America's dependence on foreign oil is important to national security -- but they don't think off-shore drilling is the answer, cutting against moves by President Obama and "drill, baby, drill" proclamations by the Sarah Palin cohort. Instead, a VoteVets.org poll shows that 73 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan vets support the clean energy climate legislation in Congress as the solution to this national security (and environmental and economic) problem.<br /><br /> When it comes to Don't Ask Don't Tell, VoteVets.org is also ahead of the game. Its affiliated Vet Voice Foundation, a non-profit that shares the same leadership, released a poll in March showing that 73 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans believe it would be acceptable for gay and lesbian people to openly serve in the military.<br /><br /> Peter Granato, the organization's vice-chairman, says he isn't all that surprised that a decisive majority of new veterans feel that way. "This has become a non-issue," he says. "In the 'coalition of the willing,' every one of those militaries we work with already has an integrated military as far as that goes. If we've been able to serve with them readily, all the arguments against repealing DADT fall flat."<br /><br /> The American public may be more surprised than Granato to hear the military is so open to repealing DADT given that conservative politicians and talking heads often spout talking points about how allowing homosexuals to openly serve in the military would ruin morale and compromise national security.<br /><br /> Pro-ban advocates like Elaine Donnelly, president of the Center for Military Readiness, a right-wing pro-military think-tank, testified to Congress "about roving gangs of lesbians. It's just kind of crazy," says Granato. "There's no real credible arguments -- the vets who sign [pro-DADT] petitions are like 90 years old and have been out of the military for 40 years. The service-members of today and young vets feel very differently."<br /><br /> Joe Sestak, the congressman from Pennsylvania challenging Arlen Specter for his longtime Senate seat in a Democratic primary on Tuesday, was non-partisan during his 31 years in the military. As a vet, he found his voice as an avowed progressive. <br /><br /> "When people are somewhat surprised that the highest ranking vet in Congress is a Democrat, I like to joke that everyone in the military is a Democrat. After all, the military gives you good health care, great educational opportunities and a secure retirement," says Sestak, who is both a member of VoteVets.org and a recipient of the group's money since he first ran for Congress in 2006.<br /><br /> And this is precisely how VoteVets.org's can most make a difference -- by peeling away at the stereotypical image of a Republican-leaning, conservative service-member and representing the interests of a new generation of veterans.<br /><br /><b>Sending a message to Washington</b><br /><br /> Being a strong political voice for the 21st-century soldier requires a combination of bottom-up and top-down approaches.<br /><br /> In the 2006 mid-term elections the group's PAC supported all the Iraq and Afghanistan veterans running for Congress, save one -- the lone Republican. In 2008, they supported another group of young vets, including a few who hadn't served in the current wars but had been in service sometime in the past decade. That year, VoteVets.org publicly opposed John McCain's presidential run despite his decorated veteran status, and was vocal about its support for Barack Obama's plan for Iraq.<br /><br /> As campaigns gear up for the November mid-term elections this year, VoteVets.org is supporting another group of all-Democratic candidates running for Congress.<br /><br /> Granato believes it's important to have younger combat veterans in Congress because there are too many "chicken-hawks" making calls on sending troops to war or passing bills that seriously affect the health and safety of military members. Young veterans "know what the sacrifices are. They will think about that as they make these decisions -- whether it's about escalation or funding programs that will help military families," he says.<br /><br /> Aside from supporting like-minded politicians, VoteVets.org also tries to hold those it doesn't agree with accountable for their actions.<br /><br /> During the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill debate, the group ran an <a href="http://votevets.org/campaigns/ads?id=0006">ad</a> targeting John McCain and asking why he -- a man who makes a big deal of his military service -- opposed it. It ran an <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ghTfBpKGZkY">ad</a> accusing General Petraeus, the military commander in Iraq, and President Obama of failing the military in the way they've chosen to proceed in combat. During this election season, VoteVets produced a campaign defending Rep. Sestak from untruthful smears regarding his military career by Sen. Specter's campaign. <br /><b><br /> Speaking to right-wingers</b><br /><br /> Conservatives make a big ado about being at the pro-military end of the political spectrum -- VoteVets.org is proof that is not necessarily the case. <br /><br /> The clean energy campaign shows best what the group can achieve in terms of changing minds and making a difference in Washington. The climate change clean energy bill is currently locked in a push-and-shove battle between Democrats and Republicans, with the latter having successfully convinced a not-insignificant number of its voters of some or all of the following -- that climate change is not real, that clean energy isn't going to make a big difference, that it'll be a huge money suck (and will raise taxes!), that it's simply a way for Al Gore and other environmentalists to get rich, and, finally, that clean energy has nothing to do with national security.<br /><br /> This last argument -- national security -- is where VoteVets.org can really speak the language. <br /><br /> Take it from Robin Eckstein: "Being a veteran in Iraq, driving a truck, I got to see first-hand how our energy policy affects our troops. The main things we hauled was fuel and water. And if we couldn't get to these various outposts" -- say, if these truck convoys were blown up as shown in VoteVets.org's ad -- "then they couldn't function, and couldn't complete the mission."<br /><br /> "It's ridiculous that the military has to rely on these slow-moving targets, it doesn't make any sense," she says.<br /><br /> This is the story VoteVets.org seeks to tell. "Everybody knows the environmentalists' arguments for clean energy, but our argument hits a different person. We correlate national security and clean energy, and reach a more conservative or moderate-leaning person," says Granato.<br /><br /> This is not to say the group isn't interested in the merits of the environmental or economic arguments for clean energy legislation -- but it wants to reach the folks who haven't been moved by those rationalizations.<br /><br /> And if it takes some demonizing of Ahmadinejad, graphic explosions of trucks carrying American soldiers, and a we-must-do-this-or-else narrative to drum up support from those who are otherwise reticent to support clean energy legislation, well, so be it.<br />  </p> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><a href="http://blogs.alternet.org/staff/">Daniela Perdomo</a> is a staff writer and editor at AlterNet. <a href="http://twitter.com/danielaperdomo">Follow Daniela on Twitter</a>. Write her at danielaalternet [at] gmail [dot] com. </div></div></div> Sun, 16 May 2010 21:00:01 -0700 Daniela Perdomo, AlterNet 662281 at http://www.alternet.org News & Politics World News & Politics Media iraq military afghanistan veterans vets va clean energy dadt arlen specter election2010 joe sestak vetvotes.org service-members BP's Oil Disaster: The Numbers Will Shock You http://www.alternet.org/story/146753/bp%27s_oil_disaster%3A_the_numbers_will_shock_you <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">At best 20% of the oil spill may be recoverable. Though we don&#039;t yet know the full extent of the disaster, one thing is for sure: regulatory failures paved the way.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>When it comes to British Petroleum's <i>Deepwater Horizon</i> oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, questions about the extent of the damage -- and how to quell it -- are spreading <a href="http://www.nasa.gov/topics/earth/features/oil-creep.html">as quickly</a> as the oil slick. <br /><br /> No one is quite sure just how many gallons of crude oil have been flowing freely into the Gulf since April 20, when the <i>Deepwater Horizon</i> oil rig exploded, killing 11 workers and allowing for an entirely indefinite amount of oil to gush from a damaged well as well as from the rig itself. (Is it any wonder that Halliburton was <a href="http://tpmmuckraker.talkingpointsmemo.com/2010/05/halliburtons_role_in_the_bp_oil_spill.php?utm_source=feedburner&amp;utm_medium=feed&amp;utm_campaign=Feed%3A+TPMmuckraker+%28TPMmuckraker%29&amp;utm_content=Google+Reader">involved</a>?) <br /><br /> BP has publicly admitted that 5,000 barrels are likely being injected into ocean waters each day -- but at a closed-doors congressional hearing on Tuesday, executives admitted that as many as <a href="http://www.democracynow.org/2010/5/5/group_bp_has_one_of_the"><em>60,000 barrels</em></a> may be contaminating the Gulf daily. <b>I</b>f the last big spill -- <i>Exxon Valdez</i> in 1989 -- is any indication, <a href="http://www.csmonitor.com/layout/set/print/content/view/print/298421">experts say</a> the best clean-up scenario is to recover 20 percent of the spilled oil. (Only 8 percent of the crude oil deposited in the ocean and coastlines off Alaska were recovered in the 1989 spill clean-up.)<br /><br /> On Wednesday afternoon, BP <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/05/05/AR2010050501587_pf.html">touted</a> its having capped one of the three leaks in the pipe from the mangled oil well as a great success. But a Coast Guard spokesman told the <i>Washington Post</i> that having stopped that leak would not reduce the rate of oil spillage, it would merely make the oil come out stronger from the other two. <br /><br /> BP is also <a href="http://news.yahoo.com/s/afp/20100504/ts_alt_afp/usblastoilenergypollution_20100504112708/print">hyping up</a> three giant steel containment domes that will be used to collect oil streaming into the Gulf and transfer it to a waiting tanker. But the domes <a href="http://www.good.is/post/this-is-what-they-re-going-to-try-to-put-on-the-oil-leak/?utm_source=feedburner&amp;utm_medium=feed&amp;utm_campaign=Feed%3A+good%2Flbvp+%28GOOD+Main+RSS+Feed%29&amp;utm_content=Google+Reader">look rather flimsy</a> in the face of what may very well end up being the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history. And then there's the question of whether the domes could make things worse -- some experts fear that they may further damage the underwater oil pipes.<br /><br /> Tyson Slocum, the energy program director at Public Citizen, is worried about the chemicals being used to try and remedy the damage. "We're injecting a whole suite of chemical mixtures in an effort to neutralize the oil spill," he says. "This has the potential to make an ecological disaster worse."<br /><br /> Environmentally speaking, the worst effects of the BP spill have yet to be felt. Most of the known damage wreaked by <i>Exxon Valdez</i> came when the spill contaminated 1,300 miles of shoreline. But the extent of the damage it caused to marine life is not totally known, even 20 years out. Indeed, each day will give us a clearer picture of what short-term ecological destruction<i> Deepwater Horizon</i> has wrought -- on- and off-shore -- but environmental experts believe the damage made to the Gulf of Mexico will be very long-term.<br /><br /> On the economic side of things, estimated damages are slightly easier to tally. According to the Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies, approximately <a href="http://www.harteresearchinstitute.org/index.php?option=com_content&amp;view=article&amp;id=129:hri-researchers-contribute-expertise-on-oil-spill&amp;catid=21:frontpage-news">$1.6 billion</a> in annual economic activity and services are at risk. Compare this number to the current cap on BP's liability for economic damages like lost wages and tourist dollars, which is $75 million. And compare that further to the first-quarter profit BP posted just one week after the explosion: <a href="http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5gBmz_mYPQxmvGJhJ5ViAYlglbXyQD9FFKS781">$6 billion</a>.<br /><br /><b>BP: Unregulated billionaire perpetrator</b><br /><br /> BP has a long record of oil-related disasters in the United States. In 2005, BP's Texas City refinery <a href="http://www.commondreams.org/print/55705">exploded</a>, killing 15 workers and injuring another 170. The next year, one of its Alaska pipelines leaked 200,000 gallons of crude oil. According to Slocum of Public Citizen, BP has paid <a href="http://publiccitizenenergy.org/2010/05/05/cost-of-doing-business-bps-550-million-in-fines-2-criminal-convictions/">$550 million</a> in fines. BP seems to particularly enjoy violating the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts, and has paid the two largest fines in the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's history.<br /><br /> Fines are the primary mechanism for punishing corporations found of violating laws in our country, Slocum says. "The problem is that that the amount of the fine is generally miniscule when compared to the profitability [of breaking the law]." In other words: "A felony becomes a cost of doing business."<br /><br /> Undeterred by fines that pale in comparison to its ghastly profits, BP has also learned to avoid stringent regulation of its business practices.<br /><br /> A recent <a href="http://blog.sunlightfoundation.com/2010/05/04/connections-in-congress-may-aid-bp-lobby-effort/">Center for Responsive Politics study</a> shows that BP is one of the top donors to political campaigns over the last two decades -- having shelled out $6 million to fund congressional and presidential campaigns. Naturally, a good amount of their targeted lobbying has been directed at the House Committee on Energy &amp; Commerce, the very legislative group slated to begin hearings on <i>Deepwater Horizon</i> this week. <br /><br /> That same study also shows that President Obama is actually the <a href="http://dyn.politico.com/printstory.cfm?uuid=6584A5A0-18FE-70B2-A838E6437FBEC75D">biggest recipient</a> of BP money. (Interestingly, Obama is also the largest recipient of <a href="http://www.opensecrets.org/orgs/toprecips.php?id=D000000085&amp;type=P&amp;sort=A&amp;cycle=2008">dollars from Goldman Sachs</a>, another under-regulated behemoth.)<br /><br /> Though Obama may have been specially targeted, BP has made sure to spread its money all over Capitol Hill, donating just as much money to Democrats as to Republicans in the 2008 election cycle. Through what is essentially legalized bribery, they have a lot of influence, which explains a lot of the reports of special passes on regulation that have begun to surface since <i>Deepwater Horizon</i> exploded.<br /><br /> The most striking one involves the Interior Department's Minerals Management Service giving <i>Deepwater Horizon</i> a "<a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/05/04/AR2010050404118_pf.html">categorical exclusion</a>" from the National Environmental Policy Act, almost exactly a year before it exploded. <br /><br /> This doesn't mean no one was watching, though. This January, Reps. Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Bart Stupak (D-MI) <a href="http://www.propublica.org/documents/item/congressional-committee-letter-to-bp">wrote a letter</a>to BP that raised concerns that the company's efforts to cut costs could imperil the safety of BP operations. As Abrahm Lustgarten <a href="http://www.propublica.org/article/congressmen-raised-concerns-about-bp-safety-in-months-before-gulf-spill">notes</a> at <i>ProPublica</i>, this indicates that policy-makers were concerned about the safety of BP's facilities as recently as January, just a few months before the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico left 11 people dead.<br /><br /><b>Trying to reverse governmental failure</b><br /><br /> While BP has certainly spent a lot of money so as to exert influence on decision-makers in Washington, it's clear the regulatory system had a few holes of its own.<br /><br /> Ten years ago, there were <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/gwire/2010/05/04/04greenwire-warnings-on-backup-systems-for-oil-rigs-sounde-30452.html?pagewanted=print">already warnings</a> that the backup systems on oil rigs that failed on Deepwater Horizon would be a problem. The Interior Department issued a "safety alert" but then left it up to oil companies to decide what kind of backup system to use. And in 2007, a government regulator from the same department <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/05/03/gulf-oil-spill-government_n_561646.html?view=print">downplayed</a> the chances and impact of a spill like the one that occurred last month: "[B]lowouts are rare events and of short duration, potential impact to marine water quality are not expected to be significant." <br /><br /> The White House is trying hard to fend off accusations of inefficacy and comparisons to the last disaster in the Gulf -- Hurricane Katrina. On Wednesday, the administration released a <a href="http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2010/05/05/ongoing-administration-wide-response-deepwater-bp-oil-spill">7,000-word document</a> detailing the government's response to the BP oil spill, and Obama has publicly stated that all the clean-up costs would be covered by BP, which is estimated to be spending $6 million a day on those efforts.<br /><br /> But there's still the issue of the $75 million cap on BP's liability for economic damages. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) has <a href="http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5i2r8dGOhEqNaj8NEcZEIwSEseRWAD9FGA7QG3">introduced a bill</a> that would raise the liability limit to $10 billion, and he wants to make it retroactive so that it will apply to the April 20 spill. The measure has the White House's support.<br /><br /> And then there's the pressing question of how to prevent this from happening again. There seem to be two good options.<br /><br /> One is to ban off-shore drilling, an environmentally invasive and hazardous practice long despised by environmental activists. Earlier this year, Obama reversed his campaign position on off-shore drilling and <a href="http://www.alternet.org/environment/146257/obama_expands_offshore_drilling_far_beyond_bush">called for expanding such drilling</a> far beyond the levels of even George W. Bush. (Take a look at these <a href="http://www.greenpeace.org/usa/news/gulf-oil-spill">terrifying maps</a> that show what the Gulf oil spill would look like in parts of the country Obama opened to off-shore drilling.)<br /><br /> But this week Robert Gibbs, Obama's press secretary, said it was "<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/05/03/gibbs-premature-for-obama_n_561313.html?view=print">premature</a>" to change positions on off-shore drilling. (Ominously, the same Interior Department that failed so completely on regulating <em>Deepwater Horizon</em> will be preparing a report on this question, Gibbs said.)<br /><br /> The other option is to hit corporations like BP where it hurts, because fines obviously haven't made much of a difference.<br /><br /> "Habitual violators like BP must be hit with something that really gets at the value of the company," says Slocum. "We should revoke BP's existing leases or even revoke its corporate charter and kick it out of the United States. We do that for people -- our laws for individuals are much more strict than those for corporations. They've been found guilty of crimes that have resulted in death."<br /><br /> And if the Supreme Court's shameful <a href="http://www.alternet.org/story/145322/supreme_court%27s_%27radical_and_destructive%27_decision_hands_over_democracy_to_the_corporations/">Citizens United ruling</a> established corporate personhood, then it follows that we ought to start punishing corporations like people, too.</p> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><a href="http://blogs.alternet.org/staff/">Daniela Perdomo</a> is a staff writer and editor at AlterNet. <a href="http://twitter.com/danielaperdomo">Follow Daniela on Twitter</a>. Write her at danielaalternet [at] gmail [dot] com. </div></div></div> Wed, 05 May 2010 11:00:01 -0700 Daniela Perdomo, AlterNet 662118 at http://www.alternet.org Environment Water News & Politics Environment obama bp oil spill water pollution exxon valdez gulf of mexico british petroleum deepwater horizon How Does Sarah Palin Make Millions While Saying Some of the Dumbest Things Imaginable? http://www.alternet.org/story/146713/how_does_sarah_palin_make_millions_while_saying_some_of_the_dumbest_things_imaginable <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">As the oil spill grows, Palin extols off-shore drilling. Is she a performance artist, a shrewd businesswoman or just incredibly dense and lucky? Likely all of the above.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>You've got to hand it to Sarah Palin. She is nothing if not devoted to spouting her tired, nutty talking points. Indeed, it doesn't matter what's happening in the world, Palin will deliver what the right-wing masses want to hear, especially if they're paying big bucks for it -- which they usually are.<br /><br /> In her latest gig, the Tea Party darling has truly outdone herself. On Saturday, in a speech to a Republican crowd gathered in Kansas City, Palin <a href="http://www.kansascity.com/2010/05/01/v-print/1916939/key-to-us-prosperity-is-energy.html">declared</a> that off-shore drilling will be the linchpin in the United States' efforts to achieve energy security and overall prosperity.<br /><br /> Talk about bad timing. <br /><br /> Since April 20, British Petroleum's <i>Deepwater Horizon</i> oil rig has been spilling oil into the Gulf Coast at a rate of 5,000 barrels a day. Already, the spill is about <a href="http://www.alternet.org/environment/146704/oil_disaster_5x_worse_than_estimated%2C_%27churning_slick%27_now_the_size_of_puerto_rico">the size</a> of Puerto Rico. This environmental disaster is <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/gwire/2010/05/03/03greenwire-bps-oil-spill-bill-could-dwarf-exxons-ivaldezi-91298.html">expected</a> to ultimately be much worse than the last big oil spill, caused by <i>Exxon Valdez</i> in 1989 off the coast of Alaska, Palin's very own home state.<br /><br /> You almost want to hope against hope that Palin hadn't heard of <i>Deepwater Horizon</i> yet before she started harping about off-shore drilling as the solution to our nation's problems this weekend, but she actually referred to it -- calling it "very tragic" before adding: "I want our country to be able to trust the oil industry." Fantastic.<br /><br /> Ladies and gentlemen, is Sarah Palin a performance artist, an incredibly shrewd businesswoman or just very dense and lucky? Signs points to all of the above. <br /><br /> Her commitment to saying exactly what right-wingers want to hear -- reality is always extraneous -- has made her a very wealthy woman. Palin has become a business and brand unto herself, even as what she says almost always defies logic or is merely a less-elegant regurgitation of the talking points available nightly on Fox News or on the crazy end of the AM radio dial.<br /><br /> Ever since she appeared on the national stage as John McCain's <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vbg6hF0nShQ">disastrous</a> but <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z75QSExE0jU&amp;feature=player_embedded">highly-entertaining</a> running mate, Palin's special ilk of folksiness and unlearnedness has resonated deeply with many Americans. And when she saw the White House slip away, going back to her lame job as governor of Alaska didn't seem good enough. Moreover, when she got back to Wasilla, she faced $500,000 in bills from the "<a href="http://www.alternet.org/tags/troopergate/">Troopergate</a>" scandal, something her $125,000 job wasn't going to cover.<br /><br /> According to <a href="http://nymag.com/news/politics/65628/">Palin observers</a>, since quitting her job in Juneau she has gone on to amass a $12 million fortune. And then you have to add in the stupefying success of her auto-biographical book, which sold 2.2 million copies and has earned her a second book deal with HarperCollins. Palin also made $1 million when she signed a three-year contributor deal with Fox News this January, and she'll be making another $250,000 for each of the eight episodes of her TLC show, which to environmentalists' chagrin will focus on Alaska's unrivaled wilderness.<br /><br /> Although her first foray into television, "Real American Stories" on Fox News, was <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/04/02/sarah-palin-show-reviews_n_523224.html">universally panned</a> and <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/04/02/sarah-palins-fox-news-spe_n_524026.html">didn't attract</a> all that many viewers, Palin hasn't painted herself into the television corner. In fact, she's one of the highest-paid speakers on the lecture circuit. Earlier this year, she made headlines when it was <a href="http://blogs.alternet.org/speakeasy/2010/02/01/tea-party-convention-will-broadcast-palin-speech-leader-says-he-was-just-keeping-his-power-dry-until-there-was-something-to-shoot-at/print/">revealed</a> that the Tea Party had paid her $100,000 to speak at their first convention in Nashville. That's only $50,000 less than George W. Bush <a href="http://tpmlivewire.talkingpointsmemo.com/2009/10/bush-headlining-motivational-mega-show-with-inspirational-firepower.php">commands</a> for "motivational" seminars these days -- and he actually <i>got</i> to the White House.<br /><br /> While Palin has not outright declared an intent to run for president in 2012, she has flirted with the idea, <a href="http://thinkprogress.org/2010/04/08/palin-bachmann-2012/">joking</a> with Sean Hannity that a Sarah Palin-Michelle Bachmann ticket "sounds kind of cool." But her career choices don't seem to be aimed at running for office likely because that's not the way to get rich. And so while other Republican hopefuls like Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty are seriously gearing up to challenge Obama in a couple years, Palin is going after stardom, having learned that politics -- particularly right-wing politics -- can be monetized.<br /><br /> After all, being President of the United States can be kind of lame, what with all that work. Plus, it pays only $400,000 a year.</p> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><a href="http://blogs.alternet.org/staff/">Daniela Perdomo</a> is a staff writer and editor at AlterNet. <a href="http://twitter.com/danielaperdomo">Follow Daniela on Twitter</a>. Write her at danielaalternet [at] gmail [dot] com. </div></div></div> Mon, 03 May 2010 10:00:01 -0700 Daniela Perdomo, AlterNet 662099 at http://www.alternet.org News & Politics News & Politics Media fox news oil spill sarah palin off-shore drilling tea party deepwater horizon Shocking Law: Doctors Now Allowed to Keep Information About Birth Defects from Women in Order to Stop Abortions http://www.alternet.org/story/146662/shocking_law%3A_doctors_now_allowed_to_keep_information_about_birth_defects_from_women_in_order_to_stop_abortions <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">In addition to a law that requires women view ultrasounds before their abortions, Oklahoma now shields doctors who hide information about birth defects from malpractice suits.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>Oklahoma is not a hospitable place for a woman seeking to assert her reproductive rights. There are only three licensed abortion providers in the whole state, and local legislators appear fixated on narrowing residents' already-limited abortion options by passing one restrictive, demeaning, and almost certainly unconstitutional law after another.</p> <p>On Tuesday, the Oklahoma state legislature overrode the governor's vetoes on two such bills and made them law. One requires that a woman seeking an abortion must look at her ultrasound -- the screen must be in her line of sight (she has the option of covering her eyes) -- as the health care provider narrates the state of the fetus. The other law prevents a woman from suing her doctor for withholding information about potential birth defects.</p> <p>Within hours of the new laws' passage, the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) <a href="http://reproductiverights.org/en/press-room/center-for-reproductive-rights-files-lawsuit-against-oklahoma%E2%80%99s-ultrasound-requirement" target="_blank">went to court</a> to challenge the bills as unconstitutional. Unfortunately, it's not the first time the abortion rights group has taken on the conservative-dominated Oklahoma legislature. In 2008, when these same statutes were passed and made law -- after legislators once again overturned vetoes by Gov. Brad Henry, a Democrat -- CRR filed suit and successfully had the measures struck down.</p> <p>The Supreme Court has called the passage of such anti-choice laws "a continued failure to abide by the Oklahoma constitution." The state's own highest court has called such legislative attempts "a waste of time for the Legislature and the Court, and a waste of taxpayers' money."</p> <p>The Republican-dominated legislature's antics are growing quite tiresome -- and offensive. Just a week ago, an Oklahoma district court <a href="http://www.rhrealitycheck.org/blog/2010/03/03/oklahoma-antichoice-legislators-waste-payer-money-over-over-again" target="_blank">ruled unconstitutional</a> a 2009 law that <a href="http://www.rhrealitycheck.org/blog/2009/10/08/oklahoma-law-requires-details-every-abortion-performed-published-online">created</a> a public Web site where doctors would have to publish personal information, including names, about women who had legally terminated their pregnancies in the state.</p> <p>Keri Parks, spokesperson for Planned Parenthood of Central Oklahoma, said this most recent onslaught makes the whole abortion process "more devastating for women who are already making a devastating decision."</p> <p>Parks believes most of the anti-choice bills being crafted and rammed through the state legislature are part of a concerted effort to win pro-life votes in the upcoming midterm elections. Stephanie Toti, staff attorney for CRR, is sure the motivation is <em>not</em> to protect or promote women's health or to promote informed decision-making by pregnant women.</p> <p>"The effect of these laws is to manipulate the flow of information about options. It's an attempt to coerce a woman to choose the option that the state thinks is best," Toti says. "These laws threaten women's health by reducing access to safe abortion care. They really humiliate women who are seeking abortion and fail to accord them the dignity that they ought be accorded by law."</p> <p>The new Oklahoma ultrasound requirement is the most extreme and restrictive of all such anti-choice measures in the country. Currently 21 other states have some sort of ultrasound requirement -- but none of these states requires an abortion provider to place the ultrasound monitor in the patient's line of sight and then make her listen to a description of the fetus. No exceptions are made for rape and incest victims, as the health care provider gives a detailed tour of the fetus' limbs, heart and other organs.</p> <p>The second new law, which bars women from suing their health care provider for withholding information about potential birth defects, is an affront to the doctor-patient relationship. Gov. Henry, when vetoing the bills, <a href="http://www.rhrealitycheck.org/blog/2010/04/23/common-sense-prevails-oklahoma-least-today" target="_blank">said</a>: "It is unconscionable to grant a physician legal protection to mislead or misinform a pregnant woman in an effort to impose his or her personal beliefs on the patient."</p> <p> </p> <p>The moves in Oklahoma mirror other extremist measures in other states. Earlier this month, Nebraska passed a bill outlawing abortions at 20 weeks, based on the theory that fetuses begin to feel pain at that stage. That state's governor <a href="http://www.salon.com/print.html?URL=/mwt/broadsheet/2010/04/13/nebraska_abortion_restrictions">signed that law</a> alongside an outrageous one which requires that women pass a mental health screening before being allowed to terminate a pregnancy. And in Utah, land of plentiful Mormon fertility and dogma, a measure being called the "<a href="http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/186436.php">feticide law</a>" will charge women with murder for arranging an illegal abortion.</p> <p>CRR's Toti believes this is the result of a 2007 Supreme Court ruling in <a href="http://www.oyez.org/cases/2000-2009/2006/2006_05_380"><i>Gonzales v. Carhart</i></a> that "signaled a willingness on the Court's part to weaken protections" to the federal right to an abortion. (Many point to Sandra Day O'Connor's retirement and replacement by ultra-conservative Samuel Alito as the beginning of the shift of the Supreme Court's jurisprudence toward a restriction of abortion rights.)</p> <p><em>Gonzales v. Carhart</em> "seems to have turned open the floodgates for conservative legislatures across the country to enact increasingly restrictive measures concerning abortions," Toti says.</p> <p>With the Supreme Court as conservative as it has been since 1973, when <i>Roe v. Wade</i> guaranteed all American women the right to choose, more and more state-level politicians are looking to pass anti-choice bills that will be deemed constitutionally unsound. This way, they can take their fight all the way to the highest court in the land, where pro-life justices may look favorably upon their case. (A group in Georgia has <a href="http://www.ajc.com/news/georgia-politics-elections/exclusive-ralston-scraps-special-499723.html">openly admitted</a> this is its goal as it tries to jam an anti-choice bill through that state's legislature.)</p> <p>Meanwhile, in places like Oklahoma, where abortion already carries a stigma, politicians will continue to push through a litany of bills designed to shame women away from abortion and steer health care providers away from offering such services. What legislators like those in Oklahoma and elsewhere refuse to recognize is that by making access to legal abortion services so prohibitive, they will only push more and more women to unsafe pregnancy-termination options.</p> <p>As Parks, of the Planned Parenthood agency in Oklahoma says, "When women make up their minds -- that's it."</p> <p>These measures won't be a deterrent to abortion; they will merely make the whole practice more inhumane, and how is that "pro-life"?</p> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><a href="http://blogs.alternet.org/staff/">Daniela Perdomo</a> is a staff writer and editor at AlterNet. <a href="http://twitter.com/danielaperdomo">Follow Daniela on Twitter</a>. Write her at danielaalternet [at] gmail [dot] com. </div></div></div> Wed, 28 Apr 2010 16:00:01 -0700 Daniela Perdomo, AlterNet 662065 at http://www.alternet.org Gender Sex & Relationships Gender Personal Health News & Politics Civil Liberties abortion pro-choice reproductive rights oklahoma reproductive justice personal health ppfa crr Protesters Launch Showdown With Monster Banks, Demand Wells Fargo End Predatory Lending http://www.alternet.org/story/146645/protesters_launch_showdown_with_monster_banks%2C_demand_wells_fargo_end_predatory_lending <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Crowds in San Francisco chant, &#039;Hey, big banks, where&#039;s our dough? Working families have a right to know!&#039;</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>"We are many and they are few -- and today they have to deal with us!" yelled an organizer at a San Francisco march and rally on Tuesday afternoon aimed at calling out Wells Fargo for its predatory lending practices. A crowd of a few hundred pissed-off consumers responded boisterously by repeating a catchy chant: "Hey, big banks, where's our dough? Working families have a right to know!"</p> <p>The San Francisco showdown at Wells Fargo was the first of a <a href="http://www.alternet.org/story/146571/huge_protests_planned_for_showdown_on_wall_st._and_at_banks_across_the_u.s._to_demand_financial_reform/">series of events</a> to be held throughout the country this week, bearing down at the big banks' annual shareholder meetings to demand action on everything from foreclosure prevention, job creation and an end to predatory consumer practices. Added together, these protests will bring together the largest number of people yet in the fight against the too-big-to-fail banks that foisted the recession on consumers while reaping bailout money and facing little to no consequences for their misdeeds.</p> <p>The big banks are on the ropes these days. Despite the <a href="http://littlesis.org/list/39/Government_Officials_with_Ties_to_Goldman_Sachs#members">near-collusion</a> of the Treasury Department and Goldman Sachs, last week the SEC <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/28/business/28goldman.html?hp">indicted</a> the previously untouchable investment bank with fraud. The <a href="http://blogs.alternet.org/speakeasy/2010/04/27/liveblogging-the-goldman-sachs-hearing/">hearings</a> began on Tuesday. There's no telling yet which way things will go but it's obvious the financial industry feels fire beneath its feet.</p> <p>As it should. Financial reform is the next big thing on the congressional agenda, and while the industry's political enablers <a href="http://blogs.alternet.org/speakeasy/2010/04/27/republicans-filibuster-our-economic-future/">managed to filibuster</a> the first version of the financial regulation bill on Monday, suits both in Congress and on Wall Street are finally starting to realize just how angry the people are. <a href="http://voices.washingtonpost.com/behind-the-numbers/2010/04/most_back_stricter_financial_r.html">Two-thirds</a> of Americans support more strict financial reform, which means, among other things, much more stringent regulation of the so-called "complex financial instruments" the biggest banks employed as they crashed our economy in 2008.</p> <p>Wall Street is so worried about the prospect of real reform that for over a year now, it's handily spent <a href="http://ourfinancialsecurity.org/2010/03/as-senate-begins-financial-reform-debate-industry-spends-tens-of-millions-to-influence-debate/#">$1.4 million daily</a> in lobbying and campaign contributions, attempting to buy out policy-makers and prevent substantive financial reform from passing.</p> <p>The financiers who've captured the American economy are about to get more worried, however, as a broad coalition of community and labor groups have launched a series of rallies and marches calling for bank accountability.</p> <p>"The big banks and Wall Street got what they paid for [Monday]" -- with the filibuster -- "but this week of actions and the ones that follow will show Congress that the American people are paying attention, have had enough, and will not allow their democracy to be hijacked," says Liz Ryan Murray, senior policy analyst at National People's Action, which together with SEIU, AFL-CIO, <a href="http://www.piconetwork.org/news-media/coverage?id=0410" target="_blank">PICO National Network</a>, and others is coordinating the demonstrations, which will culminate with the "<a href="http://www.npa-us.org/index.php?option=com_content&amp;task=view&amp;id=272&amp;Itemid=1" target="_blank">Showdown on Wall Street!</a>" protest in New York on Thursday.</p> <p>Zephyr Teachout, activist and professor at Fordham Law School, believes the mobilizations can have a huge impact on how strong the financial reform bill will be. "These are the greenshoots of public anger, and they probably don't even represent the much steeper depth of public anger," she told AlterNet. "The financial industry had been counting on the public -- and Congress -- being intimidated by the complex nature of the reforms we need, but if the public gets involved there's the opportunity for extraordinary New Deal-level reordering of our system that makes it much more fair, reliable and stable."</p> <p>In other words, people power can make the difference between a financial reform bill that is symbolic and ineffective, and one that really changes the system for the better.</p> <p>As the crowd of union members, community activists and angry bank consumers weaved its way from the Embarcadero up Market and California streets in downtown San Francisco, bankers in dark suits watched curiously as sidewalks that are normally financial arteries started to pulse with populist anger. The protesters followed an empty horse-led stagecoach, a real-life representation of the Wells Fargo logo. It was empty in order to symbolize the bankrupt morality of the bank, organizers said.</p> <p>An AFSCME union member blew on a conch shell, startling a group of men on their lunch break outside Nomura, a Japanese investment bank. A Chase customer stopped the group in front of his bank's branch to tell his foreclosure story. He concluded with a rallying cry: "This is criminal and needs to stop."</p> <p>Protesters' signs read: "Stop Corporate Greed," "Make Wall Street Pay," "Neighbors United Can Stop Foreclosures." The most resonating rallying cry called for "Justice, now!" A few onlookers joined the march as the loud, angry group made its way to Wells Fargo's global headquarters, where across the street, on the 15th floor of the Merchants Exchange Building, the bank was hosting its annual stockholders meeting.</p> <p>Wells Fargo is one of the so-called Big Four banks, alongside Citigroup, JPMorganChase and Bank of America. To give a sense of its reach, by late 2008, Wells Fargo held nearly <a href="http://img149.imageshack.us/img149/6631/d55c4a1006c0f369dc26f6a.gif">9 percent</a> of the nation's deposits and likely an even larger percentage of the country's bank assets.</p> <p>The bank was a significant player in the subprime mortgage crisis that sent our economy and many families to the brink -- and onto the street. In 2006, Wells Fargo issued <a href="http://www.showdowninamerica.org/">$74.2 billion</a> worth of subprime loans, making it one of the largest subprime lenders in the country. According to the Treasury Department, the bank has only permanently modified 7.9 percent of its estimated 378,480 eligible loans in the Making Home Affordable program.</p> <p>Wells also stands accused of being racist -- in 2008, it was <a href="http://calreinvest.org/">three times more likely</a> to deny loans to neighborhoods of color than to white neighborhoods in Oakland and San Diego. (One protester, David Ramirez, spoke of being denied a loan when he applied as a Latino. He resubmitted his application, ticking off the "White" box, and was accepted for what turned out to be a subprime mortgage.)</p> <p>In addition to being a predatory mortgage lender, Wells has long been in cahoots with the payday loan industry, which takes advantage of cash-strapped working families by offering them short-term, high-cost loans. The bank provides credit to six of the seven major payday lenders, while it charges its own customers a 240 percent annual interest rate on payday loans from Wells' ATMs.</p> <p>Al Marshall, a city employee from Oakland, told the assembled crowd his sad story. He, his wife, and six children lost their home of 12 years after Wells Fargo refused to modify their mortgage. They asked for the modification without ever having missed a payment. "Wells Fargo laughed at me -- well, you won't laugh today," Marshall said, pointing to his fellow protesters.</p> <p>Fifteen stories up, the Wells Fargo executive board told shareholders of their plans to up compensation now that the bailout restrictions no longer applied to them. John G. Stumpf, the bank's chairman, president and CEO received a total compensation package of over $21 million in 2009, up from $9 million in 2008, according to the meeting's agenda, obtained by AlterNet. The document showed that Mark C. Oman, the man in charge of Wells Fargo's home and consumer finance division made almost $13 million in 2009, up from $4 million in 2008.</p> <p>Meanwhile, Wells Fargo customers continued to speak of the misery they'd experienced at the bank's hands. There was consensus that it was impossible to get straight answers around loan modifications -- they were given false names, directed to phone numbers that were never answered, and, of course, were outright lied to. "Close your account! Close your account!" became a rousing cry, as Wells Fargo employees looked out the windows of their corporate fort.</p> <p>Preschool teacher Marilyn Reynolds had been a 30-year customer of Wachovia, which merged with Wells Fargo during the financial meltdown. Reynolds had successfully paid off a mortgage on a home, and used Wachovia again in 2007 when she bought a home for her daughter. The house, then valued at $225,000, is now worth $95,000. For the past year, Reynolds has been asking for a loan modification.</p> <p>"There's always a different answer for why I can't get a loan modification," Reynolds said. "I had perfect credit and they took good customers and made us bad ones. So many people in our community, especially African Americans and Hispanic people, are victims of this. We thought if we didn't buy now we'd never get the American dream. Now millions of us are ruined, foreclosed on, or on the street."</p> <p>Though her situation is unfair, Reynolds is relatively lucky. She owes monthly payments than are much higher than is reasonable, given the value of the home, but she and her daughter's family can actually pay them. She said she was at the rally not only to protest her unfair payments but to fight for all those who can barely make ends meet. "Right is right and wrong is wrong -- and Wells Fargo is wrong," Reynolds said. She has removed all money from her Wells accounts, and keeps the account open only because she is tied to the mortgage.</p> <p>Edelmira Chavez, a housecleaner in Oakland, said she had stopped buying clothes and other basic necessities in order to make the $2,200 monthly mortgage payments to Wells Fargo. She only makes $2,500 per month now -- she used to make more before the economy crashed -- leaving only $300 to feed and care for herself and her 12-year-old daughter, Bianca. She's been asking for a loan modification for seven months. "They keep asking for paperwork to pass time," Chavez said in Spanish. Somehow, she's not yet been late making a payment on the house that is now worth half of what it was a few years ago -- but she doesn't know how much longer she can last.</p> <p>Late into the rally, as the rain started coming down, news came that the coalition's representatives had been shut down on every demand made to Wells' board. The bankers had rejected the request for a moratorium on foreclosures and said they did enough to help keep families in their homes. They denied that they engaged in predatory lending, and the CEO said he would not resign from the <a href="http://www.alternet.org/economy/145996/the_business_roundtable:_the_most_powerful_corporate_business_club_most_americans_have_never_heard_of">Business Roundtable</a>, the pro-business lobbying group that has been spending so much money to fight financial reform.</p> <p>Adding insult to injury, Stumpf said he would not meet with coalition members to hear consumers' concerns.</p> <p>Perhaps the best news came from a text message sent to rally organizers from within the shareholder meeting. It let everyone know that despite the rejection of all of the coalition's demands, the shouts and anger on the street could be heard quite well, even 15 stories up. The people want to forgo Wells Fargo, and now the bank knows it.</p> <p><em><strong>Read more: <a href="http://blogs.alternet.org/speakeasy/files/2010/04/KonczalSixElementsApr22.pdf">Six Critical Elements of Financial Reform</a></strong></em> <em><strong>(pdf)</strong></em></p> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><a href="http://blogs.alternet.org/staff/">Daniela Perdomo</a> is a staff writer and editor at AlterNet. <a href="http://twitter.com/danielaperdomo">Follow Daniela on Twitter</a>. Write her at danielaalternet [at] gmail [dot] com. </div></div></div> Tue, 27 Apr 2010 15:00:01 -0700 Daniela Perdomo, AlterNet 662019 at http://www.alternet.org Economy Take Action News & Politics Economy wells fargo npa bank showdown pico Is It Possible to Be Elitist in a Good Way? The Organizers of TED Would Like You to Think So http://www.alternet.org/story/146344/is_it_possible_to_be_elitist_in_a_good_way_the_organizers_of_ted_would_like_you_to_think_so <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">With a $6,000 price tag, TED caters to an exclusive group of tastemakers and moguls ... is it enough that anyone can watch videos from the conference for free?</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>Is it possible to be elitist "in a good way"? That's the defense that TED, the $6,000 annual VIP gathering, offers as a prebuttal to potential critics on its Web site's FAQ <a href="http://www.ted.com/pages/view/id/185">page</a>.</p> <p>TED was founded in 1984 as a yearly invitation-only gathering in Monterey, Calif. to celebrate the latest and greatest in technology, entertainment and design (hence the acronym). Since Chris Anderson acquired the conference in 2001, TED has maintained a focus on tech and design in particular, while it has expanded to include lectures or performances from Jane Goodall to Billy Graham.</p> <p>Fans (and attendees) like billionaire and media mogul Rupert Murdoch <a target="_blank" href="http://www.ted.com/pages/view/id/122">call</a> TED "stimulating." The mainstream media is fawning, too. The<i> New York</i> <i>Times Magazine</i> <a target="_blank" href="http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/25/magazine/25wwln-medium-t.html?_r=1&amp;ref=technology">says</a> each "talk starts with a bang and keeps banging till it explodes in fireworks." The <i>Wall Street</i> <i>Journal</i> (owned by Murdoch) <a target="_blank" href="http://online.wsj.com/article/SB123413741814261521.html">writes</a> that it's a "tech antidote to our current pessimism."</p> <p>The elite love to gather at conferences where they are free to fraternize with other rich and powerful people, with no need to fend off the common folk. The Clinton Global Initiative's annual meeting is one such place, which you can only get to if you shell out for a $20,000 annual membership. And certainly the most exclusive is Davos. Only after paying an annual fee of about $39,000 are you eligible for an invite to the Swiss conference, which costs an additional $20,000. (Chauffeured limos and five-star hotels not included.)</p> <p>For the vast majority of Americans, shelling out $6,000 to attend a five-day conference is just as impossible as spending $59,000. The price ensures an exclusive social setting, made possible by organizers who put attendees through a rigorous application and invitation process. In recent years, TED has become an object of much fascination and curiosity to people who've never attended because while going to a TED conference is being part of an exclusive group, most of the content is available online, giving the ideas a viral nature that reaches far beyond the room where the talks are given.</p> <p>Through different initiatives, TED now reaches a global audience, many of whom are curious about the TED club. The talks have been translated into over 70 languages. There is TEDGLOBAL for a more international audience and last year, TED starting licensing independently organized events called TEDx, conferences that follow the same platform as the official TED summits. Already 1,000 TEDx events in over 70 countries have either been hosted or are slated to be hosted. The TED platform has caught on unofficially, too -- an "unconference" called BIL functions as a much more egalitarian satellite event that runs alongside TED's biggest meetings. Like TED, BIL attracts techie, futurist types who believe technology holds the potential to address society's most pressing problems</p> <p>Yet it is this tech-worship that elicits some observers' criticisms of TED. One such critic is Jeff Chester, executive director of the nonprofit <a target="_blank" href="http://www.democraticmedia.org/">Center for Digital Democracy</a>. TED, in exalting technology and catering to the wealthiest among us, loses significance, Chester says, adding: "It's kind of a non-virtuous circle where they're convincing themselves that they're changing the world, but it's really about the status quo."<br /><br /> You need only look at the sponsors to see who is financing the visions presented at TED, Chester says. TED2010's sponsors <a target="_blank" href="http://conferences.ted.com/TED2010/sponsors.php">included</a> Walmart, Target, GE, Shell, AT&amp;T, and unsurprisingly, Google (whose two founders sit on TED's "<a target="_blank" href="http://www.ted.com/pages/view/id/41">Brain Trust</a>").</p> <p>In Chester's view, "TED is a big cheerleading contest for the technology industry, though one can't accuse TED alone of being the sole occurrence of self-congratulatory narrow-minded thinking when it comes to issues relating to the Internet or tech."</p> <p><b>TED for the elite few</b><br /><br /> TED's tagline is "Ideas worth spreading." And while TED has made significant strides in widening the reach of the ideas it gives a platform to at its exclusive events, any analysis of the impact made by ideas presented at TED must necessarily include discussion of the conferences that continue to define the TED brand.</p> <p>According to June Cohen, the executive producer of TED media and co-producer of the conference, attendees are "still skewed toward technology. With that comes that they skew white, male, and little bit older. Our community has been evolving, but we continue to welcome that core community."</p> <p>It's not easy to find someone who has been to a TED conference who won't say anything but glowing things about it. Robert Scoble, a tech journalist in Silicon Valley, was among the few members of the media who was invited to TED2010 in Long Beach. He got a free ticket and doubts he'll ever get one again. "It's like driving a Maserati. I can't afford one but do I want to drive one for a few minutes? Yes!" Scoble exclaimed.</p> <p>Despite his own success as an influential tech blogger, Scoble was floored by the power in the room with him. "Bill Gates is there. Larry Page is there. Arianna Huffington, Meg Ryan, the guy who started Crate &amp; Barrel," he said. "It's a pretty exclusive place and that's what makes it so cool. You can talk to these people, and everyone there has done something interesting. It's maybe the one place where I don't mind elitism."</p> <p>The elite nature of the conferences also doesn't bother Aubrey de Grey, who heads the SENS Foundation, which focuses on defeating human aging. He has spoken at TED events multiple times and believes the exclusivity has had a huge impact on his life's work. De Grey wrote in an e-mail that his 2005 talk at TEDGLOBAL, in particular, "probably attracted more people to the anti-aging cause than via all my other talks combined, of which there are probably about 300 now! So it's pretty hard to beat that." And this was before TED talks were available online.<br /><br /> Although attendees and speakers may feel that exclusivity helps TED -- making it "an <a target="_blank" href="http://news.cnet.com/8301-11386_3-10156869-76.html">intellectual Mardi Gras</a>," according to a CBS employee who received a media pass; and leading Bill Gates to <a target="_blank" href="http://www.ted.com/pages/view/id/122">assert</a> that the "combined IQ of the attendees is incredible" -- it hasn't stopped outsiders from claiming otherwise. Tech writer Sarah Lacy <a target="_blank" href="http://www.businessweek.com/print/technology/content/feb2008/tc20080229_565550.htm">wrote</a> for <i>Newsweek</i> in 2008 (after failing to get a ticket to TED), "I question whether even the loftiest ideas lose some relevance when they're aired in so rarefied an arena." This year, she <a target="_blank" href="http://techcrunch.com/2010/02/09/ted-now-with-more-elitism/">wrote</a> that TED still felt like an "invitation to rub shoulders with celebrities and talk about how compassionate of a millionaire you <i>really </i>are."</p> <p>"The curation of the audience is important," Cohen says. "But there is an application process, it's not an invitation-only event." She estimates that the acceptance rate through the public application process is about 25 percent, though it varies from year to year. A "handful" of people don't need to apply, she says, adding that most people come through the application process.<br /><br /> Cohen assures TED doesn't want "all billionaires, venture capitalists, CEOs, celebrities," adding: "I don't think landed gentry describes TED attendees well." Scoble, however, feels that accurately describes the majority of the people he met at TED. "The rank-and-file attendees are people who have money," he says.</p> <p>The mainstay of TED is still the original TED conference, which has expanded to host 1,500 people and is now hosted annually in Long Beach, Calif. The vast majority pays the full $6,000 cost. About 20 people each year from the public, education and nonprofit sectors apply and are granted a discounted $2,000 rate -- a price that is still rather exclusionary. A dozen or so people who have volunteered for TED -- say, as translators or as organizers of TED events -- are invited to attend at a lower cost as well. And another 30 to 40 who have been nominated and accepted as TED Fellows attend for free, all expenses covered. This means that of the 1,500 attendees, only about 3 percent of the audience attends at a discount or for free -- and only if they pass the application screening process. Put another way, TED is arguably 97 percent wildly elitist and 3 percent less so.</p> <p>There is also TEDActive, a simulcast event in Palm Springs, where attendees pay $3,750 for the honor of watching the Long Beach conference on a huge screen with a few hundred others. (Even this second-tier event -- which does include a few live speakers -- <a href="http://www.ted.com/registration/ted2011">sells out</a>.) As TED tries to evolve outward from technology and tech-industry types, it has organized other conferences. The other annual event is TEDGLOBAL, which is held in Oxford and costs $4,500. That audience is more international and diverse in terms of race, gender and age, Cohen says. TED also held a conference in Africa in 2008, and one in India in 2009; at each event 100 TED Fellows were invited to participate for free.</p> <p>In order to extend the impact of TED, the conference offers a yearly <a target="_blank" href="http://www.tedprize.org/">TED Prize</a>, which grants recipients a $100,000 wish deemed "big enough to change the world." Past recipients have included Bill Clinton and Bono (who are likely not itching for grants), as well as the eminent biologist E.O. Wilson, who <a target="_blank" href="http://www.ted.com/talks/e_o_wilson_on_saving_life_on_earth.html">wished</a> to establish a <a target="_blank" href="http://www.eol.org/index">networked encyclopedia</a> of all the world's knowledge about life, and Neil Turok, a South African mathematical physicist who <a target="_blank" href="http://www.ted.com/pages/view/id/160">used</a> the money to found the <a target="_blank" href="http://www.aims.ac.za/">African Institute for Mathematical Sciences</a>.</p> <p>This year's recipient was TV chef Jamie Oliver, who put the money toward his wish to create a grassroots movement to end junk food culture in America and teach families and children about healthy, sustainable eating. (A recent AlterNet story <a target="_blank" href="http://www.alternet.org/food/146354/how_tv_superchef_jamie_oliver%27s_%27food_revolution%27_flunked_out">revealed</a> the shortcomings of Oliver's media-hyped project, raising questions about the lack of debate at TED. It seems as though one can communicate whatever one wants, as long as the message has style and aplomb.)</p> <p><b>TED for the rest of us</b><br /><br /> In 2004, TED started exploring how it could more effectively fulfill its mission of spreading ideas beyond the room of attendees at each TED conference. By 2006, it started making the best of its TED talks available online for free. (And during each conference, people can pay to livestream the event at $995 per location.) In 2007, it launched an open translation project that relies on volunteer translations and has resulted in TED lectures now being available online in 70 different languages.<br /><br /> According to TED, its free videos are viewed 15 million times each month across all platforms. Its own site boasts 8 million visitors a month, of which 5 million are unique.<br /><br /> "It's turned our organization inside-out," says Cohen. "We've gone from focusing on small, elite, expensive events to really focusing on this large, expensive, democratized audience and that's where all the energy in the organization goes."</p> <p>TED has certainly pioneered a new vehicle of communication that reaches many people. The videos have made TED a tremendous tastemaker, and an alluring way for people to get their ideas and information out to a relatively incomparable market. But the democratization of its broadcast hasn't really democratized debate or taken into account criticisms of TED.</p> <p>Though TED could not immediately confirm what percentage of the organization's revenues or grants go into TED.com and other such democratizing efforts, the latest publicly available tax return for the Sapling Foundation (which runs TED), from 2008, shows that conference-related costs ran up to nearly $14 million, while the organization's total expenses and disbursements in 2008 came in at just under $23 million.<br /><br /> The move to what Cohen calls "radical openness" isn't just relegated to the online realm -- last year, TED started to allow less exclusive versions of its conferences to sprout up. Perhaps this trend was partly inspired by the success and interest in <a target="_blank" href="http://bilconference.com/">BIL</a>, an entirely unofficial, more egalitarian version of TED. Founded in 2007, BIL is touted as an "unconference for people changing the world in big ways," and it runs alongside TED, attracting up to 800 of its own attendees, each of whom are asked to pay a suggested $20 donation or volunteer to help run the $5,000 event. BIL -- whose tagline is "Minds set free" -- even shares some of TED's speakers, and 10 percent of those who attend BIL are also TED attendees. Finally, like TED, BIL offers its content online.<br /><br /> Bill Erickson, 23, one of BIL's founders, says: "BIL is an experiment in a bottom-up structure; TED is talk-down. BIL is for people who are going to change the world; TED is for people who might already change the world."<br /><br /> Erickson's assessment may be true of the official TED conferences, but not of TEDx, which was launched in 2009 to oversee independently run, licensed events. No money is exchanged between TED and TEDx organizers, and the latter must commit to not turning a profit -- all ticket sales and sponsorships are used to cover event costs. TED approves the venue, date, name and size but does not necessarily approve the speakers. (Example: <a href="http://www.buzzmachine.com/2010/04/18/this-is-bullshit-my-tedxnyed-talk/?utm_source=feedburner&amp;utm_medium=feed&amp;utm_campaign=Feed%3A+buzzmachine+%28BuzzMachine%29">this TEDxNYED speaker</a> spoke about how lectures are an outdated form of education and news.) Lectures must be filmed -- some videos even make it to TED.com -- and in order to ensure quality, 20 percent of each TEDx program must be recorded talks from the official TED conferences. Just as with TED, there is an application process for each TEDx, and while it is not as rigorous as the one for the official TED events, Erickson actually found himself at at party for TEDx Austin rejects.<br /><br /> There have been 500 TEDx events to date, with more than 500 planned. TEDx events range from 1,000-people conferences to a two-hour gathering <a target="_blank" href="http://blog.ted.com/2009/08/tedxkibera.php">hosted last August</a> in Kibera, a massive shantytown in Kenya. It was open to anyone in the slum and a white sheet was strung up in order to project TED's videos. <a target="_blank" href="http://wmworia.wordpress.com/2009/08/16/the-most-unique-ted-stage-ever/">According</a> to an organizer, the event avoided issues that are commonly discussed in Kibera, like HIV/AIDS and poverty, and instead included talks about art and other inspiring topics.<br /><br /><b>What are TED's ideas?</b><br /><br /> The mix of ideas at TED fall into six broad categories. An analysis of the content available on <a target="_blank" href="http://ted.com/">TED's Web site</a> indicates that technology is the most highly represented lecture area, followed by science, global issues and design, which are all relatively equally represented. Entertainment and business follow, in that order. (About 30 percent of lecturers are culled from recommendations made by TED.com users.)</p> <p>Talks can be risqué (Cindy Gallop might be the first TED speaker to use the phrase "Cum on my face" in her <a target="_blank" href="http://blog.ted.com/2009/12/cindy_gallop_ma.php">discussion</a> of how porn has distorted younger generations' views of sex), but not too risqué. The comedian Sarah Silverman was panned this year by even Chris Anderson who <a target="_blank" href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/02/15/sarah-silverman-in-twitte_n_462769.html">publicly</a> voiced his displeasure. Her raunchy routine, which is not available online, involved repeated use of the word "retarded" in an attempt to satirize Sarah Palin and politically correct culture, as well as a song about penises. (TED2010 attendees report that only about half the audience in the room "got it" -- the half that missed Silverman's point booed or withheld applause.)<br /><br /> In any case, these kinds of talks are the exception, not the rule, as tech continues to dominate. Because the conference has placed a historical emphasis on technology, and because tech continues to be the most lectured-about topic, critics say the preeminence of technology may be TED's weakest link.<br /><br /> David Morris, vice-president of the <a target="_blank" href="http://www.ilsr.org/">Institute for Local Self-Reliance</a>, is among these. "There's a presumption in TED that technology is almost always going to improve our lives and that is a presumption over which there has been much debate over the past thousands of years," Morris says. "There could be serious shortcomings in assuming technology will improve the world."<br /><br /> June Cohen says that while TED strives to stay at the forefront of what's happening in technology, and gives a platform to intriguing technological solutions to societal issues, it does not subscribe to the idea that technology can solve the world's problems. "We're actually champions of innovative, bottom-up solutions across the board," Cohen says.<br /><br /> While there are certainly examples of TED talks that extol low-tech, low-cost solutions to many world problems, such as <a target="_blank" href="http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/anupam_mishra_the_ancient_ingenuity_of_water_harvesting.html">Anupam Mishra's lecture</a> on the socio-economic and environmental virtues of ancient water harvesting techniques, they are overshadowed by the numerous lectures that are more of the gee-whiz variety -- and the ones most likely to go viral -- like <a target="_blank" href="http://www.ted.com/talks/jane_mcgonigal_gaming_can_make_a_better_world.html">Jane McGonigal's lecture</a> on how gaming can save the world. (Seriously: McGonigal argues that "reality is broken" and we have to make it function more like World of Warcraft.)<br /><br /> It would be interesting, Morris says, if TED hosted lectures that asked some of the harder questions about technological advancement. Such as: Who will benefit and who will control? And what is the impact of previous technologies?</p> <p>But these questions have yet to be asked. Politics are also off the table, according to TED. Those ideas, it seems, are not worth spreading.</p> <p><em>An earlier version of this article misidentified TED's curator, Chris Anderson, as the media entrepreneur. They are two different men.</em></p> <!--Session data--> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><a href="http://blogs.alternet.org/staff/">Daniela Perdomo</a> is a staff writer and editor at AlterNet. <a href="http://twitter.com/danielaperdomo">Follow Daniela on Twitter</a>. Write her at danielaalternet [at] gmail [dot] com. </div></div></div> Thu, 22 Apr 2010 21:00:01 -0700 Daniela Perdomo, AlterNet 661953 at http://www.alternet.org Media Media elitism ted conference ted chris anderson june cohen Judge Nixes 'National Prayer Day' But Obama Administration Will Fight to Protect Christian Right http://www.alternet.org/story/146570/judge_nixes_%27national_prayer_day%27_but_obama_administration_will_fight_to_protect_christian_right <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">A federal judge ruled that National Prayer Day&#039;s &#039;sole purpose is to encourage citizens to engage in prayer, an inherently religious exercise.&#039;</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p><em><strong>Editor's Note:</strong> This story has been updated to reflect breaking news.</em></p> <p>On Tax Day last week, a federal judge in Wisconsin overturned a 58-year infringement on Americans' constitutional rights. In her ruling, Judge Barbara B. Crabb wrote that the National Day of Prayer Proclamation violates the First Amendment.<br /><br /> The case, <i>Freedom From Religion Foundation v Barack Obama &amp; Robert Gibbs</i>, was originally filed against George W. Bush in 2008. In the judgment, Crabb wrote that the National Day of Prayer "goes beyond mere 'acknowledgment' of religion because its sole purpose is to encourage citizens to engage in prayer, an inherently religious exercise that serves no secular function in this context. In this instance, the government has taken sides on a matter that must be left to individual conscience." She continued by quoting a legal precedent: "When the government associates one set of religious beliefs with the state and identifies nonadherents as outsiders, it encroaches upon the individual's decision about whether and how to worship."<br /><br /> Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the <a href="http://www.ffrf.org/">Freedom from Religion Foundation</a> (FFRF), said she was very happy with the judge's decision. According to Gaylor, the FFRF -- a Madison-based organization that promotes the separation between church and state and educates on atheism, agnosticism and nontheism -- decided to file the suit because it was a "good way to show the entanglement between private religion and government." <br /><br /> The National Day of Prayer has been rather entangled with private religion since its official roots in 1952, when the Rev. Billy Graham suggested it as the only way to bring Americans back to God. Members of Congress introduced a joint resolution for an annual prayer day, with one senator <a href="http://pluralism.org/reports/view/66">calling</a> it a measure against "the corrosive forces of communism which seek simultaneously to destroy our democratic way of life and the faith in Almighty God on which it is based."<br /><br /> Until 1988, each president picked a date for the National Day of Prayer, but that year, Ronald Reagan amended the law so that it would be held each year on the first Thursday in May. While <a href="http://www.reagan.utexas.edu/archives/speeches/1988/020388d.htm">Reagan's proclamation</a> made the prayer day seem universal and inclusive, saying all could pray in "his or her own manner" and including meditation alongside prayer, it also included a quote from Leviticus in the Christian Bible and references "God," indicating monotheism.<br /><br /> Though the prayer day is touted by supporters as a way for all Americans of all faiths to come together, critics believe it is nothing more than a Christian National Day of Prayer. It started with Billy Graham, moved onto Reagan and the culture warriors, and today it is managed mostly by the National Day of Prayer Task Force, an organization whose name makes it sound governmental, but which is actually entirely housed within Focus on the Family, <span id="summary_full" style="display: inline;">a major actor in the Christian right's efforts to influence public policy.<br /><br /> According to Gaylor, the FFRF's research showed that in 2008, 30 state governors used the exact wording, Scripture verse or some version of the press release provided by the Task Force in their official proclamations. That same year, President Bush used the Task Force's language as his own National Day of Prayer Proclamation.<br /><br /> Judge Crabb, in her ruling, referenced the </span>National Day of Prayer Task Force<span id="summary_full" style="display: inline;">'s open exclusion of non-Christian groups, particularly Muslims, at its events. And, like the FFRF, the judge saw that the National Day of Prayer generally seemed to exclude non-Christian, non-Abrahamic, non-messianic religions -- not to mention all other belief systems and worldviews, including atheism.<br /><br /> This led Crabb to rule that the National Day of Prayer violates the First Amendment</span>, which states that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."<br /><span id="summary_full" style="display: inline;"><br /></span>Since the ruling went public, the Christian right has been up in arms. Sarah Palin denounced it and <a href="http://newsweek.washingtonpost.com/onfaith/undergod/2010/04/palins_christian_nation.html">called</a> the United States "a Christian nation." Fox News <a href="http://video.foxnews.com/v/4154439/national-prayer-day-ruled-unconstitutional/?playlist_id=87937">found</a> a so-called constitutional law scholar to say the ruling was tantamount to refusing individual Americans the right to perform a prayer day ritual on their own. <br /><br /> On Thursday, the Justice Department <a href="http://www.mainjustice.com/2010/04/22/doj-to-appeal-in-national-day-of-prayer-case/">decided to appeal the decision</a> -- an unsurprising move given that the Obama administration's lawyers used historical revisionism similar to Palin's. In one example, the government's lawyers said all presidents since 1775 had been for prayer proclamations, though the historical record shows that, at the very least, Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson and James Madison were strongly against them. In another, they argued that George Washington had prayed at Valley Forge, a statement that does not stand up to history either.<br /><br /> Lost among the furor, though, is recognition, Gaylor says, that the ruling is a "very tactful" one that "in no way is a value judgment on prayer or on a private day of prayer." Indeed, Crabb's ruling read: "No one can doubt the important role that prayer plays in the spiritual life of a believer. In the best of times, people may pray as a way of expressing joy and thanks; during times of grief, many find that prayer provides comfort. Others may pray to give praise, seek forgiveness, ask for guidance or find the truth."<br /><br /> Recognizing how important prayer is to people, however, does not mean that the government can enact a statute that calls for it "any more than the government may encourage citizens to fast during the month of Ramadan, attend a synagogue, purify themselves in a sweat lodge or practice rune magic," Crabb wrote.<br /><br /> Last week's ruling does not say praying is unconstitutional -- instead, it simply bars government endorsement of this particular religious ritual over any other.<br /><br /> Austin Dacey, author of <a href="http://www.austindacey.com/books.html"><i>The Secular Conscience: Why Belief Belongs in Public Life</i></a>, is not surprised at the misunderstanding and anger directed at FFRF, Judge Crabb and secularist supporters of the ruling. In this case, secularists are putting themselves in the position of taking away a historical privilege, albeit an unconstitutional one, Dacey says.<br /><br /> This makes the "secularist appear to be self-interested and anti-American. So I think strategically, secularists need to think about how to position themselves and portray themselves as they truly are -- as friends of freedom and equality," Dacey said. "They have to be clear that this is being done as much for the benefit of the religious as the non-religious."<br /><br /> Both Dacey and Gaylor feel that National Day of Prayer's worst affront is that it calls on "all" Americans to pray.<br /><br /> In Gaylor's view, "this excludes [all non-Christians] as Americans, it disenfranchises us. It does the insidious thing of equating piety with good citizenship. Or being an American." Dacey agrees: the prayer day "says that some Americans are preferred members of the political community."<br /><br /> Meanwhile, the White House has said it will <a href="http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5gd8532foDasi_HtAzi9JolkMVlqQD9F3QF7O0">press forward</a> with this year's National Day of Prayer, slated for May 6. And the Christian right's National Day of Prayer Task Force is already using the loss in court as a way to raise more money. The FFRF has received only $400 in unsolicited donations since news of the win last week.<br /><br /> Supporters of the separation between church and state "need to put their money where their mouth is," says Gaylor. "We can't let the religious right cash in on our victory."<br /><br /> Not many Christian leaders have yet voiced public support for the ruling. But one, a pastor in Cedarsburg, Wisconsin did not mince words.<br /><br /> "I find it both troubling and dangerous that so many zealous believers in any religion want to legislate their particular understanding of faith and God for everyone else," the Rev. Dr. Janis J. Kinens of Advent Lutheran Church <a href="http://www.jsonline.com/features/religion/91002169.html">told</a> the <i>Milwaukee Journal Sentinel</i>. "We don't need to look too far to see the horrific and devastating results of a theocracy form of government."<br /><br /> Where are the other Christians whose own freedom of religion has been won by the United States' secularism?</p> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><a href="http://blogs.alternet.org/staff/">Daniela Perdomo</a> is a staff writer and editor at AlterNet. <a href="http://twitter.com/danielaperdomo">Follow Daniela on Twitter</a>. Write her at danielaalternet [at] gmail [dot] com. </div></div></div> Wed, 21 Apr 2010 21:00:01 -0700 Daniela Perdomo, AlterNet 661937 at http://www.alternet.org Belief News & Politics Civil Liberties Belief focus on the family secularism obama administration national day of prayer ffrf national prayer day How the FCC Can Protect the Internet from Pro-Corporate Judges and Greedy Telecoms http://www.alternet.org/story/146454/how_the_fcc_can_protect_the_internet_from_pro-corporate_judges_and_greedy_telecoms <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Net neutrality ensures a fair Internet. The telecom industry has the money and power to make sure that doesn&#039;t happen -- but the people (and the FCC) can fight back.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>Depending on whom you ask, the Internet is either set to replace or already has replaced the telephone as the most important medium of communication. As more and more people log on, the goal of regulating the industry so that the web remains a place where everyone can access all content without obstacles set up by online providers is of paramount importance.<br /><br /> The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has long regulated industries such as telephone, radio, and television, but commissioners learned last week that they can't really regulate the companies that sell us Internet access. The D.C. Circuit Court's <a target="_blank" href="http://pacer.cadc.uscourts.gov/common/opinions/201004/08-1291-1238302.pdf">3-0 ruling</a> concluded that the congressionally-appointed telecommunications regulator had overstepped its authority in demanding net neutrality from Comcast, a major internet service provider (ISP) Net neutrality is the principle that all Internet content must be treated equally by internet service providers, where no content is given preferential treatment by ISPs.<br /><br /> There is a viable path for the FCC to circumvent the pro-corporate ruling; the commission has the power to change the way it classifies internet access services. So far two of the five FCC commissioners are on board; net neutrality only needs one more -- and a petition campaign fueled by <a href="http://www.change.org/alternet/petitions/view/motivate_the_fcc_to_exercise_its_power_to_protect_net_neutrality">people power</a> has been launched to push the commission to support what is so clearly in the public interest.</p> <p><br /><i><b>Comcast v. F.C.C.</b></i></p> <p>The D.C. Circuit Court's case stems from the FCC's discovery in 2007 that Comcast had been <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/10/19/AR2007101900842.html">slowing down</a> some of its high-speed Internet consumers' traffic to peer-to-peer file-sharing applications like BitTorrent. In effect, Comcast had been placing some sites on a traffic "fast lane," and others on a "slow lane." The agency demanded that Comcast stop on the grounds that ISPs cannot discriminate against specific types of web data. Though Comcast first denied they had interfered with the network speed to peer-to-peer sites, they later agreed to end the undisclosed interference. The next year, the FCC  issued an order finding Comcast in violation of federal Internet policy.<br /><br /> In turn, <a href="http://www.multichannel.com/article/134579-Comcast_Sues_FCC_Over_Network_Management_Finding.php">Comcast sued</a> the public commission, saying it did not have the power to enforce net neutrality. On April 6, the federal appeals court threw out the FCC's order. The FCC's lawyer on the case, Marvin Ammori, <a href="http://ammori.org/2010/04/07/how-i-lost-the-big-one-bigtime/">wrote</a> on his blog: "It means, essentially, that the largest phone and cable companies can secretly block dozens of technologies used by large corporations, nonprofits, and individuals to speak and organize, and the FCC can do nothing to protect us."<br /><br /> The FCC, in enforcing net neutrality, was trying to ensure the Internet remains a level playing field, where no sites are on a "fast lane," and no sites are on a "slow lane." ISPs like Comcast have argued that controlling certain sites' load times will prevent high-bandwidth users -- like file-sharers -- from clogging the web for everyone else. But it's a slippery slope.<br /><br /> "ISPs want to be able to charge for prioritized Internet access," says Chris Riley, policy counsel for <a href="http://www.freepress.net/">Free Press</a>, a media reform non-profit that supported the FCC during the case. "Essentially AT&amp;T can go to Google and sell them prioritized channels for their content. Or NBC merges with Comcast" -- this is actually <a href="http://techdailydose.nationaljournal.com/2010/04/fcc-urged-to-extend-comcastnbc.php">in the works</a> -- "and no one can buy a fast lane."</p> <p>But even if fast lanes are sold at the same price to everyone, small players may still be priced out, Riley says.<br /><br /> "Right now the beauty of the Internet is that everyone has the same opportunity. That's why the Internet has been the vehicle for innovation that it has been," Riley says. "We want all players, small or large, independent, individual or incumbent, to have the same opportunities."<br /><br /> Beyond preventing the FCC from enforcing equal load times for all websites, the court's ruling could hamper the FCC's ability to ensure that internet policy providers comply with digital privacy laws. Further, it could adversely impact the <a href="http://www.broadband.gov/">White House's efforts</a> to increase Americans' access to high-speed Internet networks. Currently the United States <a href="http://www.thenewstribune.com/2010/03/19/1115490/us-cant-stay-in-the-broadband.html">lags far behind</a> other developed nations in broadband speed and reach.<br /><br /><b>Net neutrality's best chance</b><br /><br /> The good news is that the D.C. court's ruling hinges on <a href="http://www.acslaw.org/node/15776">something of a technicality</a>. Currently, the FCC classifies internet access as information services rather than as a telecommunications network. Because of this, the court wrote, the FCC doesn't have authority under the current regulatory framework to enact basic consumer protections for Internet users.<br /><br /> Fortunately, because the ruling was written so narrowly, there is good reason to believe that if the FCC's commissioners were to reclassify internet access services as a telecommmunications network, it would have the power to regulate the web the way it does phone service. (Riley's interpretation of the court's ruling is that there is "very, very little" the FCC can do as long as the <br /><br /> According to Riley, this is net neutrality's best chance. The other two options -- appealing the ruling and trying to pass a bill through Congress -- would take way too long and "we're in a sufficient regulatory limbo that we need something to fill the gap."<br /><br /> Reclassifying web service as a telecommunications network would not only allow the FCC to regulate the Internet industry -- it also makes sense. The FCC designated the internet access networks as information providers -- under which most software is classified -- back in the age of AOL, when buying internet service also involved receiving a personal website, an e-mail address, and sometimes even a branded web browser. ISPs still provide some of these services, but now most people use free browser-based email and other essential (and inessential) web services from companies other than their network providers. Indeed, most of what we do online today involves communicating with other people, not just using web software.<br /><br /> Back then, the FCC naively didn't predict that the Internet was going to become a telecommunications network, which the commission has always defined as a two-way service that transmits information back and forth -- like phones. Today that describes the Internet perfectly, making it a legitimate interpretation of the <a href="http://www.fcc.gov/telecom.html">Telecommunications Act</a> as Congress wrote it, which will help it stand up against potential legal challenges, says Riley.<br /><br /> The best thing about reclassification -- besides the fact that it bypasses the bureaucracy that defines the court appeals and congressional processes -- is that it requires support from a simple majority of the FCC's commissioners. Already <a href="http://www.cedmagazine.com/News-FCC-split-reclassification-court-loss-040710.aspx">two of the five</a> commissioners have voiced support for reclassification. Two others have said the court's ruling should not be used as a pretext for classification, while the fifth, Chairman Julius Genachowski, has not yet issued a personal opinion.<br /><br /> But we do know something about his views. Genachowski is an old friend of President Obama's, and he's <a href="http://www.pcworld.com/article/156990/obama_names_fcc_chair.html">credited</a> as a contributor to the president-elect's technology platform, which included net neutrality, greater media diversity, and increased broadband access. He could be reclassification's third vote.<br /><br /><b>There will be a fight</b><br /><br /> While the FCC has not yet decided to go down the reclassification route, it's clear that's the path most likely to preserve the integrity of an egalitarian Internet. The appeals process can take years as can going through Congress, especially when so many elected representatives are <a href="http://www.pcworld.com/article/174280/surprise_mccain_biggest_beneficiary_of_telcoisp_lobby_money.html">calculatedly targeted</a> by telecommunications lobbyists.<br /><br /> Although major ISPs -- like Comcast and Verizon -- say they are committed to a fair Internet, past actions indicate otherwise. And their official line against FCC regulation over their industry is something of a red herring. "They say that any form of regulation, net neutrality or otherwise, will discourage their investment in building out faster, better networks," Riley says. "Really what they mean is any form of regulation will increase competition and reduce their profit margins and will force them to invest in building better pipes. This isn't about turning these guys into utilities, it's about placing limits on what they can do, and not allowing them to discriminate."<br /><br /> The big ISPs are prepared to fight tooth and nail for their dubious claims. In February, when talks of reclassification had begun to surface, the biggest telecom companies and their lobbyists sent the FCC chair a rather <a href="http://thehill.com/blogs/hillicon-valley/technology/82759-telcos-urge-fcc-not-to-reclassify-internet-services-in-latest-net-neutrality-skirmish">colorful letter</a> which reminds one of the Red Scare years. In it, they call reclassification a "Pandora's Box" and make sure to quote an interview a net neutrality supporter -- and co-founder of Free Press, Riley's group -- gave to the <i>Socialist Project</i> about his "radical agenda."<br /><br /> Such a scare tactic is so disingenuous, one would hope it is unlikely to sway the head of the FCC. But net neutrality opponents have a whole big fear squad behind them, influencing public opinion.<br /><br /> Night after night, Glenn Beck cries on FOX News about net neutrality, calling it an <a href="http://mediamatters.org/research/200910210026">Obama-fueled Marxist takeover</a> of the Internet. And a whole slew of <a href="http://www.savetheinternet.com/blog/09/09/03/will-%E2%80%98astroturf%E2%80%99-groups-block-net-neutrality-reform">astroturf groups</a>, financed by Big Telecom and framed as pro-consumer grassroots movements, are capitalizing on this and are out there spewing anti-net neutrality myths. (One group, Americans for Prosperity, has so perfected its front it earned placement in the <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/07/technology/07net.html"><i>New York Times</i>' coverage</a> of last week's ruling.)<br /><br /><b>Take action now</b><br /><br /> Telecommunications giants will continue to throw <a href="http://www.freepress.net/node/62059">millions of dollars</a> at preserving a deregulated industry which has led to <a href="http://www.savetheinternet.com/blog/10/03/17/man-plan-problem-internet">96 percent</a> of the country having only two choices for broadband providers. <br /><br /> These companies know that reclassification is the most effective and expedient way of opening up their industry to much-needed regulation. <br /><br /> And it's of course not just about net neutrality -- it's also about net equality. If the FCC reclassifies the Internet as a telecommunications network, it will also free up <a href="http://www.fcc.gov/wcb/tapd/universal_service/">Universal Service Funds</a> currently used to expand phone access to under-served populations so they can also be used to give all Americans access to the Internet, a tool which can undoubtedly serve to empower and educate so many.</p> <p>The move would also tighten privacy regulations as well as address public safety issues relating to the Internet, for which there is increasing need as wireless data networks grow in popularity.<br /><br /> Neither the FCC nor the White House have officially commented on what the plan is after last week's loss in court, which indicates that next steps have yet to be officially charted. In the meantime, we, as internet consumers and supporters of a democratic Internet, have an obligation to make our voice heard on this issue, which could define the entire nature of our society's most important communications tool.<br /><br /><a href="http://www.change.org/alternet/petitions/view/motivate_the_fcc_to_exercise_its_power_to_protect_net_neutrality"><b>Sign AlterNet's petition pushing the FCC to exercise its power to enforce net neutrality.</b></a><br /><b><br /><a href="https://secure.freepress.net/site/Advocacy?cmd=display&amp;page=UserAction&amp;id=356">Sign Free Press' petition to save the Internet by making net neutrality law.</a></b></p> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><a href="http://blogs.alternet.org/staff/">Daniela Perdomo</a> is a staff writer and editor at AlterNet. <a href="http://twitter.com/danielaperdomo">Follow Daniela on Twitter</a>. Write her at danielaalternet [at] gmail [dot] com. </div></div></div> Wed, 14 Apr 2010 21:00:01 -0700 Daniela Perdomo, AlterNet 661849 at http://www.alternet.org Civil Liberties News & Politics Media Civil Liberties Take Action lobbyists net neutrality telecommunications fcc at&t verizon comcast free press telco Catholic Church Tries to Quiet Pedophilia Scandal with New Policy, While Atheists Push for Pope's Arrest in the UK http://www.alternet.org/story/146419/catholic_church_tries_to_quiet_pedophilia_scandal_with_new_policy%2C_while_atheists_push_for_pope%27s_arrest_in_the_uk <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">The church drops its defense posture, edits its guidelines to read that church leaders should report clerical sex abuse to civil authorities.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>For the first time in canonical history, the Vatican has made clear in public guidelines that bishops and other church leaders should report clerical sex abuse to local authorities if required by law.<br /><br /> The move is a departure from recent church statements, which claimed the sex abuse accusations were part of a conspiratorial effort to undermine the pope and the Roman Catholic Church.<br /><br /> As a steady stream of church sex abuse cases come to light, Pope Benedict XVI's handling of confirmed molesters before he became pope in 2005 has been severely questioned. Just this weekend, a <a href="http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/vaticancityandholysee/7573321/Text-of-1985-letter-from-future-Pope-Benedict-on-California-sex-abuse.html">1985 letter</a> bearing his signature confirmed many critics' allegations. In that letter, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, as he was then known, resisted calls to defrock a known pedophile priest in Northern California.</p> <p>Ratzinger wrote, on behalf of the Catholic Church's doctrinal office, which he headed: "This court, although it regards the arguments presented in favour of removal in this case to be of grave significance, nevertheless deems it necessary to consider the good of the Universal Church." He then suggested that the priest in question be provided with "as much paternal care as possible."<br /><br /> Criticism of the pope's role in the mishandling of cases involving priestly abuse have been mostly concentrated in Europe and the United States, ranging from a case in Munich, Germany to another in Wisconsin. And even more sex abuse victims are set to break the silence. A Canadian organization, <a href="http://victimesdepretres.org/">Victimesdepretres.org</a>, says it has gathered more than <a href="http://www.montrealgazette.com/story_print.html?id=2788543&amp;sponsor=">400 testimonies</a> from men and women who say they were also molested by priests.<br /><br /> The change in guidelines relating to reporting sex abuse was made available on the <a href="http://www.vatican.va/resources/resources_guide-CDF-procedures_en.html">Vatican's website</a> on Monday. Fashioned as a layman's guide to understanding the church's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith's procedures concerning sexual abuse allegations. <br /><br /> The new line reads, "Civil law concerning reporting of crimes to the appropriate authorities should always be followed."<br /><br /> Incredibly, as obvious as that line reads, nothing like it has ever been included in the Vatican's previously known and public procedures for managing investigations and trials of suspected abuse.<br /><br /> But victims are not assuaged by that single line edit -- nor are they sure that it really indicates a policy change, perhaps particularly because the Vatican has made no official statements regarding the reason for the change.<br /><br /> "Let's keep this in perspective: it's one sentence and it's virtually nothing unless and until we see tangible signs that bishops are responding. One sentence can't immediately reverse centuries of self-serving secrecy," Joelle Casteix, a regional director of <a href="http://www.snapnetwork.org/">SNAP</a>, the Survivors Network for Those Abused by Priests, <a href="http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20100412/ap_on_re_eu/eu_church_abuse/print">told the AP</a>. She says it would be more effective to fire or demote church leaders who have "enabled abuse and hid crimes, than to add one sentence to a policy that is rarely followed with consistency."<br /><br /> According to the Vatican's U.S. counsel, a 1965 document contained an implicit understanding of the need to follow civil laws. A Vatican spokesman says the civil reporting requirement has been the internal policy of the CDF since 2003. And U.S. bishops made reporting a requirement a year earlier, after flare-up in sex abuse cases in 2002.<br /><br /> The single line addition to the public guidelines this week represents the first time the universal church has made cooperation with civil law enforcement church policy. And the edit comes at the heels of Benedict having told Irish bishops in March that such reporting and cooperation is necessary.<br /><br /> Meanwhile, anger continues to build up. Atheist luminaries Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens are among those <a href="http://richarddawkins.net/articleComments,5415,Richard-Dawkins-I-will-arrest-Pope-Benedict-XVI,Marc-Horne----TimesOnline,page2#478580">calling to arrest the pope</a> for "crimes against humanity" during his scheduled September visit to Britain. International law allows an arrest for crimes against humanity outside a person's own country. (This same legal principle was used to arrest Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet during a 1998 medical visit to the U.K.)<br /><br /> "The institutionalized concealment of child rape is a crime under any law," Hitchens <a href="http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/news/2928120/Pope-arrest-plot.html?print=yes">said</a> of the arrest efforts.<br /><br /> In the face of so many critics and victims, today's Vatican policy change sounds a lot like damage control. Already the church is trying to turn the page.<br /><br /> Today, the official Vatican newspaper <a href="http://network.nationalpost.com/NP/blogs/holy-post/archive/2010/04/12/vatican-praised-for-exemplary-handling-of-sex-abuse-scandal.aspx">published an editorial</a> that praised the church for being "the only institution to address this problem that concerns all of society in an exemplary manner."</p> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><a href="http://blogs.alternet.org/staff/">Daniela Perdomo</a> is a staff writer and editor at AlterNet. <a href="http://twitter.com/danielaperdomo">Follow Daniela on Twitter</a>. Write her at danielaalternet [at] gmail [dot] com. </div></div></div> Mon, 12 Apr 2010 11:00:01 -0700 Daniela Perdomo, AlterNet 661801 at http://www.alternet.org Belief News & Politics Belief priests catholic church vatican benedict sex abuse cdf 10 Visionary Ideas for Progressives http://www.alternet.org/story/146399/10_visionary_ideas_for_progressives <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">AlterNet&#039;s Vision coverage offers creative, innovative ways of rethinking and tackling our society&#039;s most pressing problems. Here are 10 of our recent best stories.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>It's been a tough time for progressives. Health care passed, but it came at the <a href="http://www.alternet.org/news/146117/%22this_is_what_change_looks_like%22:_congress_passes_health-care_reform">cost</a> of the public option and women's reproductive rights. Don't Ask Don't Tell remains in place -- as does Guantanamo -- and the White House continues to shy away from progressive ideas for fear of Tea Party-type retaliation. No wonder a <a href="http://www.alternet.org/news/144529/are_americans_a_broken_people_why_we%27ve_stopped_fighting_back_against_the_forces_of_oppression?page=entire">story</a> asking whether Americans are a broken people resonated so deeply with so many AlterNet readers.</p> <p>Indeed, a lot of the stories we publish on AlterNet tell you about the often dismal state of affairs in the country (and world), but a couple weeks ago -- as the result of feedback from many of you -- we made a <a href="http://www.alternet.org/vision/146169/have_you_heard_the_one_about_the_optimist_and_the_pessimist">commitment</a> to our readers to offer constructive, solution-driven pieces to balance out the muckraking and critical writing you deserve.</p> <p>We've always published these kinds of stories, but with the launch of the <a href="http://www.alternet.org/vision/">Vision</a> section we are committed to publishing at least one article a day that will provide progressives with creative, innovative ways of rethinking and tackling our society's most pressing problems. The solutions and ideas in these stories range from changes suggested on the societal level to those you can implement in your daily life -- right now.</p> <p>Here are 10 of the best stories (in no particular order) that we've run in Vision since we launched. We hope the ideas contained therein and the debate and discussion that may result from them will provide progressives with the creative thinking and, yes, vision to press on and fight back.<font><font family="Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif"><a href="http://www.alternet.org/vision/146286/what_you%27re_eating_could_make_or_break_our_planet_--_7_principles_of_a_climate-friendly_diet"><br /></a></font></font></p> <ul><li><a href="http://www.alternet.org/vision/146142/we_are_in_the_middle_of_transformational_change%3A_it%27s_time_the_debate_matches_up_with_the_huge_challenges_ahead_of_us">We Are in the Middle of Transformational Change: It's Time the Debate Matches Up With the Huge Challenges Ahead of Us</a> (Frank Joyce): Our methods of solving problems for the past 200-300 years are not adequate for the issues we face. The current reality requires much more. We must begin anew.</li> <li><a href="http://www.alternet.org/vision/146123/the_growing_movement_for_publicly_owned_banks">The Growing Movement for Publicly Owned Banks</a> (Ellen Brown): We the people have given away our sovereign money-creating power to private, for-profit lending institutions Some states are moving to take that power back. </li> <li><a href="http://www.alternet.org/vision/146211/generation_mixed%3A_breaking_the_race_barrier">Generation Mixed: Breaking the Race Barrier</a> (Adrienne Maree Brown): We can only transform and love ourselves if we accept both the honorable and shameful aspects of our history and our humanity.</li> <li><a href="http://www.alternet.org/vision/146145/3_steps_americans_must_take_to_prevent_another_economic_meltdown">3 Steps Americans Must Take to Prevent Another Economic Meltdown</a> (Matthew Bishop &amp; Michael Green): We are not going to build a more sustainable, healthier capitalism unless we tackle problems like financial illiteracy and greedy myopia.</li> <li><a href="http://www.alternet.org/vision/146296/fighting_school_failure_isn%27t_rocket_science_--_we_know_what_works">Fighting School Failure Isn't Rocket Science -- We Know What Works</a> (Colin Greer): In the U.S., 30% of youth fail high school every year, and the vast majority come from poor communities and populations of color. We must solve this problem.</li> <li><a href="http://www.alternet.org/vision/146290/%22the_only_way_to_survive_is_by_taking_care_of_one_another%22_--_legendary_activist%2C_philosopher_grace_lee_boggs">"The Only Way to Survive Is By Taking Care of Each Other" -- Legendary Activist, Philosopher Grace Lee Boggs</a> (Amy Goodman): Do we really want to be equal with the people who ripped us off?</li> <li><a href="http://www.alternet.org/vision/146374/seven_food_and_resources_crises_on_the_horizon%2C_and_what_you_can_do_about_it">7 Food and Resource Crises on the Horizon and What You Can Do About It</a> (Roberta Cruger): There are big problems facing the food industry and agriculture -- a look at what's on the horizon.</li> <li><a href="http://www.alternet.org/vision/146143/why_are_we_afraid_of_saying_%22socialism%22">Why Are We Afraid to Say "Socialism"?</a> (Frances Moore Lappé): Knee-jerk reactions to words like "socialism" and "capitalism" get us nowhere. We need to first define the terms.</li> <li><a href="http://www.alternet.org/vision/146196/are_we_selfish_individuals_or_an_empathic_society_the_answer_could_determine_whether_we_have_a_future">Are We Selfish Individuals or an Empathic Society? The Answer Could Determine Whether We Have a Future</a> (Jeremy Rifkin): The industrial age built on and propelled by fossil fuels is coming to an end. What replaces it is at the center of our fight for survival.</li> <li><a href="http://www.alternet.org/vision/146286/what_you%27re_eating_could_make_or_break_our_planet_--_7_principles_of_a_climate-friendly_diet">What You're Eating Could Make or Break Our Planet -- 7 Principles of a Climate-Friendly Diet</a> (Jill Richardson): Anna Lappe talks about her new book "Diet for a Hot Planet" and explains how to change our diet so it becomes part of the solution, not the problem.</li> </ul><p> </p> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><a href="http://blogs.alternet.org/staff/">Daniela Perdomo</a> is a staff writer and Vision editor at AlterNet. <a href="http://twitter.com/danielaperdomo">Follow Daniela on Twitter</a>. Write her at danielaalternet [at] gmail [dot] com. </div></div></div> Fri, 09 Apr 2010 21:00:01 -0700 Daniela Perdomo, AlterNet 661790 at http://www.alternet.org Activism Activism vision Rare Reversal Against Government Spying -- Judge Rules Feds Illegally Wiretapped Islamic Charity http://www.alternet.org/story/146265/rare_reversal_against_government_spying_--_judge_rules_feds_illegally_wiretapped_islamic_charity <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">The National Security Agency broke the law when it wiretapped Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation&#039;s phones, the U.S. District Court ruled Wednesday.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>A district court judge in San Francisco ruled on Wednesday that government investigators illegally wiretapped the phone conversations between an Islamic charity and its two American lawyers, in a rare reversal of the growing trend of federal warrantless surveillance practices. The National Security Agency (NSA) broke the law when it wiretapped Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation's phones, U.S. District Court Judge Vaughn Walker ruled, because it did so without a search warrant.</p> <p>The government has not yet indicated whether it will appeal the decision in the four-year-old case, which touches upon a variety of tenuous legal subjects including "state secrets privilege" and questions of how the Bush administration's controversial Terrorist Surveillance Program functioned -- and how iterations of it may still operate today under the Obama administration. <br /><br /> For quite some time now, Justice Department lawyers argued that Al-Haramain and its lawyers could not prove it had been spied upon using unclassified information. And it refused to provide the court classified evidence, citing "state secrets privilege." <br /><br /> Government lawyers invoked the executive privilege -- for the first time since Obama has been in office -- by arguing that sharing classified information would compromise national security. This is particularly ironic because government officials accidentally gave the plaintiffs classified information that proved the existence of warrantless spying.</p> <p>The plaintiffs' lawyers were able to prove the spying despite being unable to use the classified documents. And because the government refused to provide proof to the court that there was a warrant, the judge assumed there was never a warrant to speak of, despite what the court <a href="http://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2010/03/court-rules-warrantless-wiretapping-illegal">described</a> as the government's "impressive display of argumentative acrobatics."<br /><br /> According to Kevin Bankston, a senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), there are two major wins to be gleaned from Wednesday's ruling.<br /><br /> The first is that warrantless wiretapping violates the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which requires investigators to seek a warrant from a special court convened behind closed doors. In other words, not even the president and commander-in-chief can disregard FISA.<br /><br /> The second, Bankston says, is that "The decision is a strong rebuke to the Obama administration's position -- which it has disappointingly adopted from the Bush administration -- that any aspects of the NSA's terrorist surveillance were so secret that their legality couldn't even be debated in court."<br /><br /> Indeed, the protracted fight is a reminder that the current administration has not only not fulfilled Obama's campaign promises of reforming the PATRIOT Act's surveillance provisions, but it has also done virtually nothing to rein in NSA spying.<br /><br /> "So far the Obama administration's record on surveillance issues is just as poor as the Bush administration's, despite the fact that we were promised a new era of accountability and transparency," Bankston says.<br /><br /> In fact, many anti-surveillance advocates like Bankston believe that notwithstanding the Bush administration's public pronouncements that the Terrorist Surveillance Program ended in early 2007, many aspects of the program are still in effect.<br /><br /> The EFF has <a href="http://www.eff.org/cases/hepting">two</a> cases <a href="http://www.eff.org/cases/jewel">pending</a> in appeals court alleging that with the help of telecommunications companies, the NSA has been illegally collecting millions of Americans' e-mails and phone conversations, which now reside in NSA databases and in <a href="http://www.wired.com/science/discoveries/news/2006/04/70619">spy rooms</a> at companies like AT&amp;T.<br /><br /> "This dragnet surveillance scenario is still occurring," says Bankston. "When they say the Terrorist Surveillance Program is no longer operative, they're engaged in word games. The TSP was only ever what President Bush admitted -- the interception of international communications by people linked to terrorist organizations. We think TSP included that but the government also started to illegally intercept everyone's communications."<br /><br /> Three years after EFF brought its cases to court, the <i>New York</i> <i>Times</i> <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/16/us/16nsa.html">reported</a> last year that the NSA was engaging in systemic "overcollection" of Americans' private e-mails and phone messages.<br /><br /> Despite Judge Walker's ruling this week, he is also responsible for a troubling ruling in one of the EFF cases now in appeals purgatory. <br /><br /> "He dismissed our <a href="http://www.eff.org/cases/jewel">suit</a> that alleged that so many people had been surveilled because we hadn't alleged a particular grievance," Bankston says. "Which essentially leads the court to say that so long as the government illegally spies on everybody" -- rather than on a specific few -- "the court can never rule on whether it is in fact illegal."<br /><br /> This isn't just change we can't believe in -- it's change we're not supposed to see.</p> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><a href="http://blogs.alternet.org/staff/">Daniela Perdomo</a> is a staff writer and editor at AlterNet. <a href="http://twitter.com/danielaperdomo">Follow Daniela on Twitter</a>. Write her at danielaalternet [at] gmail [dot] com. </div></div></div> Wed, 31 Mar 2010 21:00:01 -0700 Daniela Perdomo, AlterNet 661647 at http://www.alternet.org Civil Liberties News & Politics Civil Liberties wiretapping fisa nsa eff at&t justice department government surveillance tsp al-haramain warrantless George Lakoff's 14 Words That Could Fix California http://www.alternet.org/story/146153/george_lakoff%27s_14_words_that_could_fix_california <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">The minority rules in the California Legislature, and they&#039;re responsible for the state&#039;s budget logjam -- linguist George Lakoff has an elegant solution to fix it.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>Here's the little-known truth about California: Since 1978, the state has been subject to what is essentially minority rule. Proposition 13 -- mostly packaged as a property tax law change -- was passed that year, altering the state constitution to read that a two-thirds super-majority is needed in the state legislature to pass any revenue increases. But what this has turned out to really mean is that one-third plus one vote, or 34 percent, of the state legislature can control all legislative decisions.<br /><br /> You thought filibustering on Capitol Hill was bad? This is worse. And California is the only state with such a rule in place, now or ever.<br /><br /> As the state faces a growing budget deficit -- now estimated to be $20 billion -- the tyranny of the minority has grown more apparent to voters who have hardly noticed the two-thirds requirement all these years, but who now see public programs and schools being shut down or underfunded left and right in order to close the widening budgetary gap.<br /><br /> "This is an issue about democracy and most people don't know it," says renowned Berkeley linguist and Democratic consultant <a href="http://www.alternet.org/authors/5699/">George Lakoff</a>. "That is the reason we have a budget crisis, which in the end is really a crisis of democracy."<br /><br /> Lakoff and a few other groups have their eyes set on reforming the two-thirds budget trainwreck via the November midterm elections. Let the majority of voters decide whether a minority should rule Sacramento.<br /><br /><b>The state of the Golden State<br /><br /></b>Californians are proud of the fact that the state's economy, when compared to entire nations' GDPs, is the <a href="http://econpost.com/californiaeconomy/california-economy-ranking-among-world-economies">eighth largest</a> in the world, eclipsing rising global powers like Brazil, Russia and India. Though when you're up that high, you have a long way to fall, as evidenced by the world's largest economy -- the United States.<br /><br /> Solving the massive budget problem in Sacramento has seemed even more politically impossible than the situation in Washington. And many think the two-thirds requirement is to blame.</p> <p>Currently about 63 percent of the state legislature, comprised of the State Senate and State Assembly, is Democratic. Ordinarily, this would allow Democrats to pass a state budget easily, but the two-thirds rule lets Republicans control the game, by holding the budget hostage until they get what they want. <br /><br /> Indeed, most GOP legislators in California have taken the <span class="description">Taxpayer Protection Pledge, championed by Grover Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform</span>. Those who sign the pledge "solemnly bind themselves to oppose any and all tax increases." Thirty-four percent of California's assembly members <a href="http://www.atr.org/userfiles/State%20Taxpayer%20Protection%20Pledge%20List%289%29.pdf">have signed on</a>, as have 30 percent of state senators.<br /><br /> So while two-thirds of voters say they <a href="http://www.ppic.org/main/pressrelease.asp?p=990">support paying higher taxes</a> to fund K-12 education, and 50 percent support higher taxes to pay for higher education and health and human services, their elected representatives cannot act, due to the one-third minority who won't vote for any bill that involves raising revenue.<br /><br /> It's little wonder that <a href="http://www.gqrr.com/index.php?ID=2414">a majority of Californians</a> report feeling anxiety or disappointment when asked to describe the emotions elicited by their state legislature; or that a whopping <a href="http://www.ppic.org/content/pubs/other/DirectionState0110.pdf">74 percent</a> of them believe California is headed in the wrong direction. <br /><br /><b>The measures</b><br /><br /> The groups working to get their proposed initiatives on the November state ballot share at least one thing in common -- they know the state's budget problems will only get worse if the two-thirds budget vote threshold stays in place.<br /><br /> Perhaps the measure to receive the most press, if not money, is the <a href="http://www.californiansfordemocracy.com/">California Democracy Act</a>, composed of 14 simple words: "All legislative actions on revenue and budget must be determined by a majority vote."<br /><br /> Written by George Lakoff, who has long consulted for Democratic campaigns, it goes straight to the point, by simply substituting "two-thirds" for "majority," while the measure's title frames the issue around democracy. Lakoff, who as a linguist and political activist has for years urged Democrats to use their own language in politics rather than succumb to using Republican framing, took great care in writing his initiative.<br /><br /> "People vote according to the framing," Lakoff says, "and so I wanted the shortest, easiest way to understand the issue. And I wanted 'democracy' in the name."<br /><br /> Contrast Lakoff's measure with the one put forth by the On-Time Budget Act. Led by a coalition of nurse and firefighter groups, among others, it allows a simple majority to pass a budget, but does not change the two-thirds requirement for raising taxes, which is of course a huge part of the current problem. The "on-time" portion is a punitive clause that requires legislators to forfeit their pay in years when they have failed to pass a budget in a timely fashion. The delay in passing a budget has been covered heavily by media in California, upsetting many voters, but the soap opera-length delays were due to the logjam allowed by the two-thirds rule, not because the sensible majority wanted to delay a budget vote.<br /><br /> And then there's the <a href="http://www.lao.ca.gov/laoapp/ballot_source/BalDetails.aspx?id=814">Best Practices Budget Accountability Act</a>, sponsored by the centrist group California Forward. Like the On-Time Act, this measure allows 50 percent to pass a budget, but retains the two-thirds rule for raising taxes. It also has a punitive clause, forcing state legislators to forfeit pay for every day the budget is late. And it places many constraints on spending, including the need for a two-year budget plus a five-year budget forecast, which would complicate flexibility such as emergency spending, or easy reallocation of funds as necessary. <br /><br /> The Best Practices measure is trying to make it on the ballot by working it through the Legislature, says Ryan Rauzon, a campaign consultant. The irony, though, is that legislators can only put it on the ballot with a two-thirds vote.<br /><br /> The On-Time Act is the only measure awash in money. Campaign manager Andrew Acosta says it has received over $1 million from labor groups and others, which makes it "the only initiative that's actually out there on the street in full-force."<br /><br /> It also has the unofficial support of the California Democratic Party, which has sent out a couple of e-mail blasts to its members on the Act's behalf. Acosta believes they are "well on [their] way" to achieving the nearly 700,000 signatures necessary to make it on the ballot by May 10.<br /><br /> Lakoff's measure does not have the party's support despite the fact that the 300 executive board members unanimously voted to endorse his measure. A California Democratic Party spokesman told AlterNet the party will only officially endorse a measure, if any, at its Los Angeles statewide convention in mid-April. The spokesman could not, however, immediately explain why the party was chaperoning e-mails for the On-Time Act over the California Democracy Act.<br /><br /> The political activist in Lakoff believes it's a matter of political calculations. The linguist in him thinks it's also about framing.<br /><br /><b>Taxes and the gubernatorial race</b><br /><br /> The California Democracy Act has an impressive roster of endorsers. The Board of Education, the State Treasurer, a plethora of academics, local city councils and Democratic clubs, individual union locals, Democratic legislators in Sacramento and Washington, and even San Francisco mayor and lieutenant-governor candidate Gavin Newsom are all on board.<br /><br /> But the organizations with the money -- namely labor unions and the state Democratic Party -- haven't offered support. As a result, Lakoff's unfunded efforts to meet the signature-gathering deadline by April 12 are characterized by a steep uphill climb. <br /><br /> A lot of this may have to do with the fact that polls seem to show Californians aren't interested in fully removing minority rule, as Lakoff's measure proposes to do. A <a href="http://www.gqrr.com/index.php?ID=2414">November poll</a> asked, "Do you think that you should need a fifty-percent majority to approve tax increases in the state legislature, or a two-thirds, sixty-six percent supermajority?"<br /><br /> Only 28 percent opted for the simple majority, while 66 percent chose the two-thirds rule.<br /><br /> This is surprising given the gridlock that the two-thirds requirement has caused. The lack of support for changing the status quo may be due in great part to people's lack of familiarity with the legislative process in Sacramento, but Lakoff believes the framing of the question makes the most difference.<br /><br /> "For the last 15 years, I've been pointing out that Democrats use Republican language all over the place including in polls," he said, referring to both private and public polls, many commissioned by Democrats. "They did polls on this issue where they spoke about raising taxes or not, but they didn't speak about democracy and talked about taxes, which is irrelevant for most because the tax raises would focus on plugging the tax loopholes for corporations and oil companies -- not on lower- and middle-class people."<br /><br /> That's why, Lakoff says, his measure speaks of revenue rather than taxes. And <a href="https://salsa.wiredforchange.com/o/6110//p/salsa/web/common/public/content?content_item_KEY=3318">investigative polling</a> commissioned by Lakoff and conducted by David Binder Research shows he may well be right.<br /><br /> When the 14 words in Lakoff's measure were presented to likely Californian voters, an astounding 73 percent supported it. When pollsters asked voters whether they supported the rewording of Lakoff's measure which was prepared by the Attorney General's office, and which refers to raising taxes, only 38 percent of likely voters supported it. That's a 69-percent difference.<br /><br /> "If you ask Republican questions, you get Republican answers. You're activating a Republican worldview in people's minds," Lakoff says. "Democrats take Republican language and assume it's neutral. They think telling people the truth will get people to make the right conclusion. They think framing is manipulating but in fact framing is the way people normally think. You can't think of thought without framing."<br /><br /> Unfortunately for Lakoff, even if his measure were to qualify, his text and title will only be seen in the literature that accompanies the ballot, which lists arguments for and against each initiative. The actual ballot will only include the Attorney General's title and summary.<br /><br /> It is not lost on Lakoff that the state's Attorney General just happens to be Jerry Brown, the Democratic candidate for governor. Brown was also governor when Proposition 13 passed in 1978.<br /><br /> "I don't know if Brown rewrote the initiative or if someone in his office did," Lakoff says. "But I'm sure he doesn't want taxes to be mentioned at all because Republicans will use that against him in the governor's race."<br /><br /><b>'This is politics'</b><br /><br /> Although George Lakoff has consulted on many political campaigns, this is the first time he has been so directly involved as the leader of a campaign. When asked if he saw irony in the fact that this campaign may ultimately fail due to bad framing, which he has fought against for so long, he admitted, "It might be a little uncanny."<br /><br /> "But this is politics and it's not the least bit surprising," Lakoff said. "If the Democratic Party and its coalition supporters think they are asking the right question" -- using taxes rather than revenue and democracy -- "and they think this would drag down their candidate, then it's perfectly rational for them to ignore us. I'm not angry, I'm sad."<br /><br /> Despite Lakoff's disappointment, he's gleaned a positive note from all of this: "The leadership is the problem because they get scared, and ask the wrong Republican questions and don't know how to market their ideas," he says. "But I've learned that it's not all Democrats who are screwing up. There are plenty of wonderful people out there in the grassroots and middle-range of the party who are doing just fine and who are open to learning new ideas. Maybe there's a new generation of party leaders, who in five or ten years will change everything."<br /><br /> In the meantime, California's Democratic leaders are gunning for their gubernatorial candidate. The two-thirds budget impasse may not only not be solved, it could potentially be worsened or further complicated by alternative fixes. What public programs will California cut next?</p> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><a href="http://blogs.alternet.org/staff/">Daniela Perdomo</a> is a staff writer and editor at AlterNet. <a href="http://twitter.com/danielaperdomo">Follow Daniela on Twitter</a>. Write her at danielaalternet [at] gmail [dot] com. </div></div></div> Wed, 24 Mar 2010 21:00:01 -0700 Daniela Perdomo, AlterNet 661534 at http://www.alternet.org News & Politics News & Politics Economy california framing lakoff jerry brown california democratic par proposition 13 The FBI Could Be Watching You on Facebook http://www.alternet.org/story/146077/the_fbi_could_be_watching_you_on_facebook <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Social-networking sites have driven a seemingly insatiable need to share all sorts of information about ourselves in a very public way -- and law enforcement has caught on.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>At the dawn of the Internet, people used coded user names and cartoon avatars to represent themselves online. Today, most users post their real names and literally upload all their personal data and make it publicly available -- photos, videos, notes, even random thoughts now called "status updates." </p> <p>No doubt about it, Internet 2.0 is a freer, more open place -- a place where people feel quite at ease as they share their lives on the Web with their entire social networks: best friends, family, people they hardly know, and even folks they've never even met.<br /><br /> Social-networking sites have driven this seemingly insatiable need to share, share, and share some more. But because it's all done online and not "in real life" (or IRL, in Web-speak), there remains a sense of anonymity even as we interact on the Internet, a very public place open to anyone with a computer. <br /><br /> But as social-networking grows (Facebook <a href="http://techcrunch.com/2010/03/15/hitwise-says-facebook-most-popular-u-s-site/">overtook</a> Google in U.S. traffic for the first time ever last week) so do the ways law enforcement agencies use the information we voluntarily share with the online world.<br /><br /> Hardly any popular culture observer can forget the now-defunct but forever-notorious NBC show "To Catch a Predator," which featured law enforcement agents posing as children in order to catch online pedophiles. Policing chat-rooms and message boards catering to pedophiles hardly ruffled anyone's feathers (though broadcasting their misery on network television certainly did), but what if all the sites you used everyday were being closely observed by law enforcement agencies? What if people who weren't suspected of any illegal activity were being watched?<br /><br /> Internal documents <a href="http://www.eff.org/foia/social-network-monitoring">released</a> this week by the FBI, Dept. of Justice and the IRS -- all as a result of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) suit brought by the <a href="http://eff.org/">Electronic Frontier Foundation</a> (EFF) -- show they are among the likely many other law enforcement agencies that have taken to using the personal data people freely share on social-networking sites to monitor location, investigate social circles and otherwise gather intelligence on individuals of interest. (The Dept. of Defense, CIA, Dept. of Homeland Security, Dept. of Treasury -- which includes the IRS -- and the Director of National Intelligence have not yet responded to EFF's FOIA.) <br /><br /> Investigators at these federal agencies even create false personas online in order to deceive social-networking users to consent to sharing personal data online -- a convenient way of circumventing legal process that would ordinarily have to involve proven probable cause and a warrant.<br /><br /> As law enforcement agents increasingly find reasons to use social-networking sites, questions regarding crime-fighting and privacy arise. The bad news is there are no real good answers regarding what users' rights really are, what social-networking companies are required to do (and not to do), and what regulations ought to  govern the use of these sites in investigative law enforcement work given that there isn't really a legal system designed to supervise social-networking sites. It's a real legal gray area.<br /><br /> According to Mike German, policy counsel on national security, immigration and privacy at the ACLU, while you might expect the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) to outline these issues, the law does not cover many of the services social-networking sites offer and the resulting data they store. A lot of this has to do with the fact that ECPA was written in 1986. It's been amended since then -- especially to accommodate the PATRIOT Act -- but it doesn't include references to a lot of the data people now upload onto social-networking sites, like videos, photos, public chats or "walls," and the like. (One social-networking service that is covered by ECPA is direct-messaging or personal messages, which under the law function a lot like e-mail.)<br /><br /> So while you would expect that the same laws that govern, say, another mode of conversation like your cell phone would apply to your use of Twitter or LinkedIn, the truth is they don't. And although most of these sites' terms of service (TOS) say that users must represent themselves accurately, or that your information is for-your-eyes-only, law enforcement agents work their way around this.<br /><br /> After all, says Nate Cardozo, an attorney at EFF, the TOS "don’t protect you. They protect Facebook or MySpace or whatever. It’s a violation of Facebook’s terms of service to do what the FBI is doing" -- deceiving users into sharing information with them by pretending to be someone else -- "but you as a user have no enforceable rights. There’s no indication that Facebook would go after the FBI for doing this. You’re not protected by the terms of service; the terms of service only protects the site."<br /><br /> If an FBI or IRS agent manages to trick you into sharing your profile and other personal data, it's legally viewed as consent on your part, says Cardozo. No warrant needed.<br /><br /> An internal PowerPoint presentation prepared by the Dept. of Justice, titled <a href="http://www.eff.org/files/filenode/social_network/20100303__crim_socialnetworking.pdf">"Obtaining and Using Evidence from Social Networking Sites"</a> further shows that major social-networking sites have ways of working with law enforcement agencies, allowing them to circumvent legal process (read: warrants) in other ways. <br /><br /> According to the presentation, Facebook is "often cooperative with emergency requests." What this means is that if a law enforcement agency sends Facebook a request for information and claims the data is needed urgently, the company may very well provide what the agency asks for, despite there being no legal proof of probable cause. <br /><br /> This especially concerns Mike German, the ACLU policy counsel, given certain agencies' track record in using emergency disclosure loopholes. "For example, the Attorney General's disclosures of FBI audits regarding the PATRIOT Act shows that the FBI has falsely claimed emergencies through letters to obtain information from telecommunications companies that are covered by ECPA," he said. "With that historical loophole abuse in mind, I'm worried by how the FBI is using emergency disclosure requests placed to social-networking sites."<br /><br /> The ECPA law states that complying with emergency information requests from law enforcement is voluntary. But because social-networking sites aren't covered by the law, there is no transparency on how government and these companies cooperate, German says. Agencies could be using the murky legal structure to simply monitor and obtain data on people who are not suspected of any crime -- as they have done in the past, he says. In other words: a real slippery slope in terms of privacy.<br /><br /> Besides Facebook, the Dept. of Justice presentation noted that MySpace required warrants for all information over six months old while the "bad news" is that Twitter required official warrants for just about any request. (The "good news" is that most data on Twitter is public anyway, the presentation adds.)<br /><br /> Additionally disturbing to German is the fact that the presentation lists social-networking sites as a way to investigate defense witnesses. "Normally, undercover operations are typically covered by undercover guidelines -- a fairly rigorous process," he says."But it's unclear when it’s online undercover activity. Particularly when they’re not actually investigating the crime but investigating witnesses to the crime. There's an intimidation factor there that seems a bit worrisome."<br /><br /> Cardozo, of the EFF, a non-profit digital rights advocacy group, says his organization sued these agencies in order to "make it clear to the public that law enforcement engages in these activities." He adds: "We were comforted to see that there were guidelines of some kind but shocked to see how pervasive these practices are."<br /><br /> And as German notes, with the exponential growth of social media, "it’s past time to clear up what our privacy rights are. The opportunity for abuse [by law enforcement] is great."<br /><br /> According to German, there is a movement brewing for ECPA reform, but there is also a need for greater transparency from the social-networking service providers -- and the government -- in how law enforcement requests are handled. And Cardozo says the EFF is pushing for law enforcement to maintain some sort of legal process.<br /><br /> But because oversight of these agencies requires monumental change, perhaps the most important thing to do in the short-term is be aware. "Most of what you put online is a lot more traceable to you than you think it is," says Cardozo.<br /><br /> Given that loopholes are very likely being used to collect information on even law-abiding citizens, everyone should give further consideration to the information they choose to share online. As IRL, on the Web, law enforcement abuse is real.<br /><br /><i><b>Resources:</b>Electronic Frontier Foundation's <a href="http://www.eff.org/foia/social-network-monitoring">social-networking FOIA case</a>; ACLU's dotRIGHTS campaign's <a href="http://dotrights.org/social-networking">social-networking tips and take action center</a></i></p> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><a href="http://blogs.alternet.org/staff/">Daniela Perdomo</a> is a staff writer and editor at AlterNet. <a href="http://twitter.com/danielaperdomo">Follow Daniela on Twitter</a>. Write her at danielaalternet [at] gmail [dot] com. </div></div></div> Wed, 17 Mar 2010 21:00:01 -0700 Daniela Perdomo, AlterNet 661399 at http://www.alternet.org Civil Liberties Media Civil Liberties fbi myspace eff aclu doj irs twitter facebook linkedin dotrights online surveillance Unhappy With Your Birth Control? 10 Methods You May Want to Try http://www.alternet.org/story/145999/unhappy_with_your_birth_control_10_methods_you_may_want_to_try <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Birth control can be a pain, but in this day and age every woman should love her method. Here are 10 you ought to consider.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>Of all the relationships in my life, the one with my birth control has been one of the most tumultuous. Over the years I've tried five different kinds, and while I am happy to report that I've finally found one that works for me, it was a bumpy path getting here.<br /><br /> My most devastating birth control experiment was one of my first, which lasted nearly four years. It wasn't until I was off that particular method that I realized I'd just stepped out of a four-year haze that had been characterized by angry, irrational outbursts book-ended by episodes of equally irrational, very weepy sadness. (Apologies to my incredibly supportive college boyfriend.) Indeed, it wasn't until I was off that birth control that I elatedly discovered I wasn't the terrifying ball of fury and tears I thought I'd become. It was the birth control.<br /><br /> It sounds silly now, but not once in those years did I consider that perhaps the little pill I took every day had changed my personality. After all, the doctor who'd prescribed it to me told me it was low on hormones and just generally low on negative side-effects. And she'd kind of scared me away from every other option I'd read about.<br /><br /> Today I have found peace with my IUD, or intrauterine device. I couldn't be happier; we've been together for nearly three years. But when I was considering the IUD, some friends told me scary stories, and different doctors told me I'd be barren if I tried it. Fortunately I did my research and found a health-care provider who dispelled the many myths, but the process got me thinking about all the misinformation out there about birth control.<br /><br /> Sex educators know this all too well. Heather Corinna, who founded <a href="http://scarleteen.com/">Scarleteen.com</a>, a sex-ed site for teens, and runs a sex-ed program in Seattle, has heard all kinds of far-fetched stories about birth control methods. A lot of this could have to do with the fact that many women get their contraceptive care from general practitioners rather than ob/gyns, she says, some -- not all -- who may have less specialized training. Indeed, both GPs and gynecologists may not have up-to-date training in contraception, which may be why many of them tend to avoid the "newfangled" methods now available.<br /><br /> And of course there's the whole issue of our for-profit health care system. "Some of these methods -- most but not all of them -- are for-profit ventures, so a lot of times you'll get offered methods that have more marketing dollars attached to them," says Corinna. "For example, cervical barriers have no marketing, basically. There's no big profit margin there because you buy one and have it for five years or more. Compare that to pills, which guarantee a constant influx of cash."<br /><br /> No kidding. Then there's the fact that many, if not most, women put a lot of stock in others' anecdotal information. "Since people don't have conversations with hundreds of women, the information they receive isn't really representative," Corinna points out.<br /><br /> So you hear one person say she got pregnant on method X and you're turned off X, despite the fact that no birth control method out there is 100 percent effective even with perfect use. You may be similarly swayed by someone like me, now an IUD evangelist, who has no complaints, only praise to offer. Ask someone else and you may hear something very different.<br /><br /> We also often forget that birth control methods, like all medication, have inherent risks. My gynecologist assures me that as long as your provider pays attention to your needs and concerns, and has a good understanding of your medical history, most of the scarier risks are avoidable.<br /><br /> Recent class-action lawsuits -- mostly aimed at the newer methods -- have also caused people to stay away from less-established forms of birth control. But Corinna dismisses these lawsuits as "ambulance-chasers 2.0." After all, she says, "even Advil has a lot of fine-print side-effects." And yet most people use Advil regularly, with little to no side-effects.<br /><br /> Every woman should love her birth control. And finding the one that's right for you is -- as with human sexual partners -- a matter of weeding through, doing research, and trying out a few, before you eventually find your perfect match. In the spirit of greater transparency, and armed with the belief that no woman need rue the day she started protecting herself against unplanned pregnancy, here are 10 birth control methods you may not have heard of. Read through the pros and cons, and learn what your doctor will -- and won't -- tell you about them.<br /><b><br /> 1. Cervical barriers<br /><br /></b>When people think of barrier methods, they often think of the male condom. But they're leaving out a whole slew of barriers contained entirely within the vagina. Cervical barriers include the diaphragm and the cervical cap. (As well as <a target="_blank" href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Sponge">Elaine Benes' favorite</a>, the contraceptive sponge.)</p> <p style="text-align: left;"><img style="cursor: -moz-zoom-in; width: 235px; height: 175px;" alt="http://www.cervicalbarriers.org/downloads/Images/CBs_with_cases.jpg" src="http://www.cervicalbarriers.org/downloads/Images/CBs_with_cases.jpg" /><br /><b><br /> How they work:</b>There are several kinds but let's delve into two of the most common. The cervical cap is the smallest among cervical barriers. Most of these use suction to stay in place, be it on the cervix or on your vaginal walls. And of course there's the diaphragm, which sits behind the pubic bone and has a firm but malleable ring that  allows it to press against the vaginal walls and do its thing. Almost all cervical barriers have to be fitted by your health-care provider and must always be supplemented with spermicide.<br /><b><br /> Pros:</b>You can put in your cervical barrier of choice up to two hours before intercourse, so you don't have to stop foreplay to worry about insertion. They are cost-effective because they are washable and reusable -- you can get away with using one for a few years! If you want to have sex while you're on your period, this is a relatively easy way to reduce the chances of a bloody stain on your sheets.<b><br /><br /> Cons:</b>It can take a bit of practice to put in (not unlike the first time you used a tampon or a menstrual cup), and you need to leave the cervical barrier in your vagina for six to eight hours after intercourse.<b></b>There may be an increased risk of bladder and urinary tract infections. Some male partners report feeling the cervical barriers during use.<br /><b><br /> What you should know:</b><span style="background-color: rgb(255, 255, 255);">Some doctors will just figure these are really old-school and most people would prefer something hormonal or that doesn't require insertion upon each use.</span> And some doctors may not be trained to fit a cervical cap or diaphragm -- but that doesn't mean one may not be right for you.<b><br /><br /> 2. Female condom<br /><br /></b>Get ready to hear a lot more about this one. Another barrier method, female condoms (or FCs) have been underused for a long time, but they just received a <a target="_blank" href="http://www.ringonit.org/">full-on makeover</a>. A smoother, softer, more affordable ringed version was recently approved for the market by the FDA.</p> <p style="text-align: left;"><img style="width: 175px; height: 172px;" alt="http://plagueyears.files.wordpress.com/2008/12/fc_condom_hres.jpg" src="http://plagueyears.files.wordpress.com/2008/12/fc_condom_hres.jpg" /><br /><b><br /> How it works:</b>Just insert into your vagina (or anus) and you're ready to go. The female condom is lubricated, and shaped like an open-ended tube, with a removable inner ring and an attached outer ring. The inner ring stays in the back of your vagina. When used for anal sex, the inner ring can be left in, or taken out, depending on your preference. The outer ring then covers the surface area around the vaginal or anal opening, providing increased protection against STIs that are spread by skin-to-skin contact.<br /><br /><b>Pros:</b>First off, this is the only condom controlled by the receptive partner -- the woman. Unlike male condoms, it is unlikely to come out during intercourse. It's hypo-allergenic which is great for those who can't use latex. FCs also adjust to body temperature so you and your partner both feel the heat. You can put it in hours before having vaginal sex, which means you don't need to interrupt foreplay. FCs don't require an erect penis, and you can use it for both vaginal and anal intercourse. Not only will this method prevent unwanted pregnancies, it also blocks out STIs and HIV.<br /><b><br /> Cons:</b>They're more expensive than male condoms and can be tougher to find, though this may change as the new FCs grow more popular.</p> <p style="text-align: left;"><b>What you should know:</b><b></b>A lot of doctors don't even bring up the FC when birth control methods are being discussed. Further, they might remember the older sandwich-bag version of the female condom, so they may not look kindly on the new, improved version.<br /><b><br /> 3. The Patch<br /><br /></b>We've all heard of the nicotine patch, which helps cigarette addicts wean themselves off their fix, while still providing them the nicotine they need. The contraceptive patch works much the same way, slowly applying the anticonceptive dose you need through your skin.</p> <p style="text-align: left;"><img style="width: 212px; height: 136px;" alt="http://www.bbc.co.uk/health/images/300/contraceptive_patch.jpg" src="http://www.bbc.co.uk/health/images/300/contraceptive_patch.jpg" /><br /><b><br /> How it works:</b>Much like a band-aid, you stick the adhesive patch somewhere on your body -- arms, hips, bums are most popular; anywhere but the breasts works -- and you receive ovulation-suppressing hormones transdermally. Every week for three weeks you switch your patch out for a new one; on the fourth one, you take a break. The hormones in the Patch match most of those in the Pill.<br /><b><br /> Pros:</b>Lots of women have lighter periods, less cramping and diminished PMS symptoms.<b><br /><br /> Cons:</b>Use is contraindicated for smokers and women over 35. Diabetics, breast-feeders and those who suffer high blood pressure ought to avoid the Patch. And some not-so-great side-effects include vaginal dryness, yeast infections, breast tenderness, and possible weight gain. The Patch does fall off more than advertised, particularly if you use a lot of body lotion. It is slightly more expensive than the Pill, averaging $35-50 per month. It does not protect against STIs.<br /><b><br /></b><b>What you should know:</b><b></b><span style="background-color: rgb(51, 204, 0);"><span style="background-color: rgb(255, 255, 255);">There's slightly more estrogen than in other birth control methods. This is good to know, especially if a woman is particularly concerned with hormonal side-effects.</span></span><br /><b><br /> 4. The Ring<br /><br /></b>Here's one way to think of your birth control method only once a month. Put a ring on it, ladies!</p> <p style="text-align: left;"><br /><img style="width: 141px; height: 167px;" alt="http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_Ymg9VAvJo3E/SN2WMNdJeyI/AAAAAAAAF2A/ihEe_B4zQEw/s320/nuvaring-hand.jpg" src="http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_Ymg9VAvJo3E/SN2WMNdJeyI/AAAAAAAAF2A/ihEe_B4zQEw/s320/nuvaring-hand.jpg" /><br /><b></b></p> <p style="text-align: left;"><b>How it works:</b>It's a plastic ring that you put inside your vagina (as far up as you can manually manage) that releases hormones that prevent pregnancy. You replace it once every three weeks, and go one week without. After that last week, you put a new ring in.<br /><b><br /> Pros:</b>The Ring delivers a lower dose of estrogen than both the Pill and the Patch. Most people don't feel the Ring during intercourse, but if you do, you can take it out for up to three hours for some unencumbered fun before replacing it. Shorter, lighter periods; less cramping and PMS. Oh, and of course: you only have to think about it once a month!<b><br /><br /> Cons:</b>Some women report increased vaginal irritation, odor, imbalances, lubrication or infections. If you don't put it in right, it can fall out, though this usually happens only to newbies. Women who are over 35, have high blood pressure or cholesterol, are breast-feeding, suffer from depression, have migraines, and/or are smokers should avoid the Ring. This method does not protect against STIs.<br /><br /><b>W</b><b>hat you should know:</b><b></b>Doctors may gloss over the fact that it is indeed OK to take it out during sex -- because they worry you'll forget to put it in within three hours of taking it out. You might expect to add more lube than you've ever used before, too.<br /><b><br /> 5. The Shot<br /></b><b><br /></b>If once a month isn't good enough for you, try once every three months. Leave your birth control in your health-care provider's hands, with this hormonal birth control delivered much like the vaccines you've been getting your whole life.</p> <p style="text-align: left;"><img style="width: 232px; height: 175px;" alt="http://www.pregostories.com/images/psdepoprovera.jpg" src="http://www.pregostories.com/images/psdepoprovera.jpg" /><br /><b><br /> How it works:</b>The Shot is a progestin-only form of birth control, meaning it contains no estrogen, which some women prefer. Just go to your health-care provider once every three months for a shot, and you're protected from unintended pregnancy 24/7.<br /><b><br /> Pros:</b>Proper use isn't really an issue here, as long as you keep your appointments with your health-care provider, which makes the Shot one of the most effective birth control methods. Further, the Shot may decrease cramping and menstrual bleeding and rarely negatively interacts with other medications. It's great for women who haven't enjoyed estrogen-based birth control side-effects.<br /><b><br /> Cons:</b>May cause bone loss over a long period of time, which means you shouldn't use the Shot for very long-term use. Most report weight gain; and those who already suffered depression say those symptoms can be aggravated by the Shot. Irregular bleeding or light spotting is possible. Women who are breast-feeding shouldn't use this method.<b></b>The Shot does not protect against STIs.<br /><b><br /> W</b><b>hat you should know:</b><b></b>If you try the Shot once and never get a second injection, the effects may be with you for up to six months or longer. If you want to do the Shot but have never tried a progestin-only birth control method, try the "minipill" first, so you can make sure to avoid bad side-effects for such a long time. And if you care about this sort of thing, the average weight gain here is serious: 11 pounds. Finally, it's suggested you take a break from the Shot every three years.<br /><b><br /> 6. Continuous Birth Control<br /><br /></b>For eons, women have had their periods about once a month. For just as long, women have wished that could change. With continuous birth control, monthly periods can be a thing of the past.</p> <p style="text-align: left;"><img style="width: 225px; height: 149px;" alt="http://www.thenextgreatgeneration.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/02/birth-control.jpg" src="http://www.thenextgreatgeneration.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/02/birth-control.jpg" /><br /><b><br /> How it works:</b>First some background: when women have periods on the Pill (and other forms of synthetic hormone-based birth control methods), they're not actually periods, they're withdrawal bleeds. So with continuous birth control you're skipping the placebo period that would usually create the bleeding. You can achieve continuous birth control either by skipping the placebo week with regular birth control methods such as the Pill, or you can use pills expressly designed for continuous use and period suppression, which may give you a period only four times or even just once a year.<br /><b><br /> Pros:</b>For women with particularly heavy or lengthy periods, or lifestyles greatly complicated by regular periods, continuous birth control can be a game-changer. Some <a target="_blank" href="http://www.deannazandt.com/2006/05/23/missing-your-period/">research even suggests</a> that women weren't designed to have periods for as long as we do these days, given how long we live -- so cutting down on your menstrual cycles could cut down on the stress placed on your reproductive system, reducing the risk of ovarian and other cancers.<br /><b><br /> Cons:</b>If you're the kind who gets nervous when you don't get your period, even if you've been diligently applying your birth control method, this method may stress you out. Bleeding suppression pills don't work for everyone -- some women still go ahead and have periods anyway. More common is some spotting, which won't be predictable. Finally, cutting against the research cited in "pros," is <a href="http://menstruationresearch.org/position-statements/menstrual-supression-2007/">different research</a> that questions the long-term effects of cycle-suppressing contraception. This method does not protect against STIs.<br /><b><br /> W</b><b>hat you should know:</b><b></b>Your doctor should warn you of the possibility that you may not skip your periods 100 percent of the time; continuous birth control affects women differently. We still don't have studies for this conducted on women under 18, even though some doctors may prescribe it to teens. And current studies have only analyzed a test period of two years, so we don't yet have a good idea of what long-term effects of continuous birth control use will be.<br /><b><br /> 7. Intrauterine devices (IUDs)<br /><br /></b>What if you never, ever had to think about birth control -- until the day you either decide to get pregnant, hit menopause or give up on contraception? Then an IUD is for you.</p> <p style="text-align: left;"><img style="width: 124px; height: 222px;" alt="http://images.usatoday.com/tech/_photos/2006/08/21/tadafil.jpg" src="http://images.usatoday.com/tech/_photos/2006/08/21/tadafil.jpg" /><br /><b><br /> How they work:</b>An IUD -- a tiny T-shaped device -- is inserted into your uterus by your health-care provider (it's not something you can do yourself). There are two popular kinds of IUDs -- one is hormonal and the other is made of copper, which acts as a natural spermicide.<br /><b><br /> Pros:</b>One of the most -- if not the most -- effective birth control methods out there, mostly because there is little room for error on your part. Once it's in, it's in and you don't have to think about it. Neither you nor your partner will ever feel it. You can keep it in for many, many years -- up to and beyond 10 years, if you pick the copper version. The day you want it out, just schedule an appointment to have it removed. If hormonal birth control hasn't worked for you in the past, the copper IUD could be your ticket out of hormone-land. But the hormonal IUD can decrease your period.<b><br /><br /> Cons:</b>Insertion is a minor but still surgical procedure. (You can ask for a local anesthetic.) While in the long-term an IUD is likely one of the cheapest birth control methods out there, the one-time up-front cost can be daunting (up to $600), particularly because most insurance plans don't cover it. With the copper IUD, most women get heavier and/or longer periods and report increased discharge and cramping. With the hormonal IUD, your period may become so irregular it can make some women nervous. Women who have a history of STIs or vaginal infections should avoid IUDs. And of course, IUDs do not protect against STIs.<b><br /><br /> W</b><b>hat you should know:</b><b></b>Your doctor is likely to say that if you've never been pregnant and given birth you should avoid an IUD, because it could lead to infertility, but there is no data to back this up. Indeed, it's more likely doctors may be misremembering and speaking of an IUD from the 1970s -- the Dalkon Shield -- that killed women and doesn't resemble today's IUDs in any way other than they were both inserted in the uterus. Doctors may also say you should only use an IUD if you're married or longtime monogamous, since they're trying to account for the risk of STIs -- although this doesn't consider the fact that many single people have a lot of safe sex and a lot of married folks don't. <br /><b><br /> 8. The Implant<br /><br /></b>The contraceptive implant has a bad name in the United States because a now-discontinued version drew lots of complaints from its users. But the new version of the implant has been popular throughout the world since 1998, and now it's making a splash among many American women.</p> <p style="text-align: left;"><img style="width: 230px; height: 152px;" alt="http://www.cmdrc.com/Data/Images/Implanon%204.jpg" src="http://www.cmdrc.com/Data/Images/Implanon%204.jpg" /><br /><b><br /> How it works:</b>Your health-care provider inserts a tiny, soft plastic rod in the layer of fat under the skin of your non-dominant arm. Good for three years, the Implant emits low doses of the hormone progestin, which prevents pregnancy.<br /><b><br /> Pros:</b>Like many of the other birth control methods that require little-to-no thinking on the user's part, after insertion you don't have to think about birth control for three years! This is a particularly good method for women who suffer heavy or painful periods, because the Implant may lighten your menstrual cycle.<br /><b><br /> Cons:</b>Irregular spotting or bleeding may occur -- for some women, this could be daily -- mostly because your period may become very light. Like other hormonal methods, your sex drive and vaginal lubrication may become affected. Epileptics, depressives and diabetics should avoid the Implant. Insertion and removal may be painful -- but doctors usually use lidocaine to numb your arm. This method does not protect against STIs.<br /><b><br /></b><b>W</b><b>hat you should know:</b><b></b>Not all doctors are trained to do this yet, so yours might not even offer it as an option. Your provider should also warn you that the implant is a lot more visible in the first weeks before it settles in -- this is normal.</p> <p style="text-align: left;"><b>9. Emergency contraceptives<br /><br /></b>As careful as you may be, no birth control method is 100 percent fail-safe. That's why it's a good thing we now have morning-after pills.</p> <p style="text-align: left;"><img style="width: 224px; height: 105px;" alt="http://ec.princeton.edu/images/planb.jpg" src="http://ec.princeton.edu/images/planb.jpg" /><br /><b><br /> How they work:</b>These over-the-counter pills are not to be confused with pills that induce a medical abortion. Emergency contraceptive pills cannot be used to end an existing pregnancy, but they can prevent one, especially if taken within 24 hours of intercourse (though it works for up to five days, less effectively each day). These pills usually work by preventing ovulation and/or making the vagina a less hospitable place for sperm. <b><br /><br /> Pros:</b>In the U.S., anyone 17 and over can get one of these pills without a prescription. The main thing the emergency contraceptive pill has going for it is that it's a fantastic second measure to take if a condom tore or you run into any other problems with your current birth control method.<b><br /><br /> Cons:</b>Emergency contraceptives have high progestin levels -- close to six days' worth of birth control pills taken over a two-day period -- which will likely cause an out-of-cycle period soon after taking one of these pills. Headaches and nausea are also likely. Emergency contraceptives cannot be used as a regular birth control method -- "emergency" is the keyword here. Of course, this method does not protect against STIs.<b><br /><br /></b><b>W</b><b>hat you should know:</b><b></b>A lot of people don't know you can buy emergency contraception for others -- men can even get it for their partners. Good to know is that you can get a prescription from your doctor in advance just in case -- because some pharmacies won't sell it without a prescription. (<span style="color: rgb(0, 0, 0); background-color: rgb(255, 255, 255);">The ACLU is <a href="http://www.aclu.org/reproductive-freedom_womens-rights/ensuring-access-emergency-contraception-after-rape">working to change</a> this.</span><span style="background-color: rgb(255, 255, 255);">)</span> Also worth knowing is that you can actually use a copper IUD as an emergency contraceptive. The window of effectiveness there is increased to about eight days after intercourse. The added bonus is you not only prevent pregnancy in an emergency situation, you also have a long-term birth control method from there on out.<br /><b><br /> 10. Tubal ligations &amp; vasectomies<br /><br /></b>You may have noticed that many of the birth control methods discussed here are not appropriate for women over 35. Also, many of you might never want to become pregnant, so even a 10-year method like an IUD isn't good enough for you. For you we have tubal ligations and vasectomies!</p> <p style="text-align: left;"><img style="width: 231px; height: 150px;" alt="http://www.singaporemotherhood.com/forumboard/messages/976106/1262624.jpg" src="http://www.singaporemotherhood.com/forumboard/messages/976106/1262624.jpg" /><br /><b><br /> How they work:</b>Both surgical procedures, tubal ligation is a form of female sterilization in which the fallopian tubes are severed and sealed or pinched shut to prevent fertilization. And lest we forget that men have a role here too, vasectomies are the male version of tubals. In a vasectomy, a man's "tubes" -- or vas deferens -- are similarly severed and sealed to prevent sperm from entering the ejaculate.<br /><b><br /> Pros:</b>Vasectomies are far less invasive and expensive than tubals. Both are great options for people who've already had kids and don't want any more, or those who are sure they don't want children, ever.<br /><b><br /> Cons:</b>Both vasectomies and tubals should be considered irreversible, though some chances of reversal are possible. <br /><br /><b>W</b><b>hat you should know:</b> Many doctors will say this is a non-option for younger people or those who haven't yet had children, in the belief they may change their minds down the line and want kids after all. But if you've done all your research, don't give up. You'll find a doctor who understands that you're making an informed physical and emotional decision.</p> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><a href="http://blogs.alternet.org/staff/">Daniela Perdomo</a> is a staff writer and editor at AlterNet. <a href="http://twitter.com/danielaperdomo">Follow Daniela on Twitter</a>. Write her at danielaalternet [at] gmail [dot] com. </div></div></div> Fri, 12 Mar 2010 21:00:01 -0800 Daniela Perdomo, AlterNet 661350 at http://www.alternet.org Sex & Relationships Sex & Relationships Gender Personal Health birth control the pill tubal ligation female condom plan b reprodcutive health the patch iud cervical barriers nuvaring continuous birth control depo-provera contraceptive implant Pentagon Shooting Yet Another Sign of Boiling Anti-Government Sentiment http://www.alternet.org/story/145928/pentagon_shooting_yet_another_sign_of_boiling_anti-government_sentiment <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">The media are trying to find political affiliations for the Pentagon shooter, but they&#039;re missing the big picture.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>Another day, another violent anti-government kamikaze act. As the feds recover from Joseph Stack flying his airplane into an IRS building in Austin on Feb. 18 -- leaving one dead and 13 injured -- the media and government have another dead man to worry about.<br /><br /><a target="_blank" href="http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5g8-DEMtAE9q4i4ySQ0eV_qZefmRQD9E8KQJO2">Thursday night</a>, after having driven cross-country from California to Washington, John Patrick Bedell walked up to a screening area at the Pentagon and starting firing his two semiautomatic weapons. In less than a minute, he'd wounded two police offers and received gunshot injuries that would later kill him.<br /><br /> Like Stack, Bedell was well-educated and left behind comprehensive material that outlined his longtime anger at the U.S. government. But his grievances are different from Stack's.<br /><br /> While the deeply <a target="_blank" href="http://www.alternet.org/story/145745/">tortured manifesto</a> Stack wrote detailed his frustrations with the tax system, it also centered around his concerns that the current economic recession was caused by an economic elite that gets away with financial crimes -- even financial murder -- every day. "Now when the wealthy fuck up, the poor get to die for the mistakes," he wrote.<br /><br /> The videos, writings and audio Bedell left for investigators' and the eager media's discovery, on the other hand, show <a target="_blank" href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/03/05/AR2010030500957.html?hpid=topnews">he believed</a> the United States had been run by a secret cabal ever since President Kennedy's assassination in 1963. He claimed this "coup regime" was responsible for the 9/11 attacks and the wars in the Middle East. Bedell was further angered by the war on drugs -- he had run into trouble with the law on issues relating to marijuana.<br /><br /> As with Stack last month, the media is rushing to politicize the event, offering all kinds of interpretations for Bedell's actions.<br /><br /> A few <a href="http://trueslant.com/michaelshermer/2010/03/05/what%E2%80%99s-the-harm-answer-pentagon-gunman-was-a-911-truther/">label Bedell</a> as a <a href="http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/35716821/ns/us_news-crime_and_courts/">9/11 conspiracy nut</a>. (Truthers themselves <a href="http://www.prisonplanet.com/as-predicted-pentagon-shooting-blamed-on-911-truth.html">say</a> the baiting of one of their own is an effort by the powers-that-be to more closely justify the monitoring of 9/11 conspiracists and further obscure the truth of the 2001 attacks.)<br /><br /> The <i>Christian Science Monitor</i> <a href="http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/2010/0305/John-Patrick-Bedell-Did-right-wing-extremism-lead-to-shooting">suggests</a> Bedell is a product of "right-wing extremism." A few bloggers find <a href="http://dotcommonsense.blog-city.com/j_patrick_bedell_video_shows_his_teaparty_leanings.htm">Tea Party tendencies</a> in Bedell's rants, while right-winger Michelle Malkin <a href="http://michellemalkin.com/2010/03/05/about-the-pentagon-shooter/">tells the media</a> to "stop playing games" and points out that Bedell was a registered Democrat.<br /><br /> Patterico, another conservative blogger, <a href="http://patterico.com/2010/03/04/pentagon-shooter-anti-bush-nut-case-and-911-truther/">says</a> Bedell was mostly motivated by anti-Bush tendencies. A conservative legal scholar <a href="http://legalinsurrection.blogspot.com/2010/03/anti-tea-party-crowd-disappointed-again.html">expounds</a> on this, calling Bedell a sufferer of "Bush Derangement Syndrome" and pointing to a <a href="http://www.rasmussenreports.com/public_content/politics/current_events/bush_administration/22_believe_bush_knew_about_9_11_attacks_in_advance">2007 poll</a> that showed 35 percent of Democrats believed the Bush administration had prior knowledge of the 9/11 attacks.<br /><br /> Adding to the hodgepodge are <a href="http://thinkprogress.org/2010/03/05/pentagon-shooter/">those who say</a> Bedell at least once used a personal e-mail address that included the domain name "mises.com," possibly a tribute to the libertarian thinker, Ludwig Von Mises.<br /><br /> Finally, Bedell's anger at criminal prosecution of cannabis cultivation have made <a href="http://abcnews.go.com/WN/Politics/alleged-pentagon-shooter-john-patrick-bedell-troubled-past/story?id=10020408">marijuana the focus</a> of many <a href="http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703915204575103131123111518.html?mod=rss_Today%27s_Most_Popular">other analyses</a> of his character and motives.<br /><br /> The erratic nature of all this dissection indicates what many may not yet realize; mainly, that Bedell acted alone, was clearly very troubled, and had conflicting political and conspiratorial leanings that cannot be easily characterized as left- or right-fringe.<br /><br /> The larger picture may be (as <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/28/opinion/28rich.html">Frank Rich warned</a> after Stack) that events like the one in Austin last month and in the capital this week may be a dark harbinger, an opening salvo of what is yet to come. The country is angry -- for all sorts of legitimate and crazed reasons -- and a very small minority of individuals may continue to take out their frustrations in overwrought, violent ways.</p> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><a href="http://blogs.alternet.org/staff/">Daniela Perdomo</a> is a staff writer and editor at AlterNet. <a href="http://twitter.com/danielaperdomo">Follow Daniela on Twitter</a>. Write her at danielaalternet [at] gmail [dot] com. </div></div></div> Fri, 05 Mar 2010 10:00:01 -0800 Daniela Perdomo, AlterNet 661256 at http://www.alternet.org News & Politics News & Politics Media conspiracy theories anti-government 9/11 truthers joseph stack joe stack john patrick bedell john bedell Controversy Grows over Study Claiming Liberals and Atheists Are Smarter http://www.alternet.org/story/145903/controversy_grows_over_study_claiming_liberals_and_atheists_are_smarter <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">The author of a study claiming liberals and atheists are smarter than conservatives and believers is called &#039;great idiot of social science&#039; by prominent evolutionary biologist.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>There's a lot of buzz over a controversial study released in the journal <em>Social Psychology Quarterly</em>, titled "Why Liberals and Atheists Are More Intelligent," that compares IQ levels among liberals and conservatives, atheists and religious believers.<br /><br /> The <a href="http://personal.lse.ac.uk/Kanazawa/pdfs/SPQ2010OnlineFirst.pdf">widely circulated study</a> (pdf)<i> </i>claims that "more intelligent individuals may be more likely to acquire and espouse evolutionarily novel values and preferences (such as liberalism and atheism...) than less intelligent individuals."</p> <p>The study was written by Satoshi Kanazawa, a social scientist at the London School of Economics, who employs evolutionary psychology to analyze the social sciences, such as economics and politics, and who has a history of attracting ire over his studies and opinions.</p> <p>But before drawing any conclusions about Kanazawa's latest study, it's worth expanding on the data he bases his claims on. First of all, quantifying intelligence on a societal level -- and even from person to person -- is incredibly tricky, if not impossible. As an evolutionary psychologist, Kanazawa likely recognizes this and that may be why he decided to limit his intelligence measures to IQ points, a convenient and notoriously narrow way of assessing cognitive abilities. <br /><br /> The first problem in the study comes with Kanazawa's use of IQ as an accurate measure of intelligence. PZ Myers, a leader in the field of evolutionary developmental biology (and an avowed atheist and progressive), is not surprised. He calls Kanazawa the "great idiot of social science" and points to a <a href="http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2006/nov/05/highereducation.research">2006 paper</a> in which Kanazawa took the mean IQ of various countries and used those to draw conclusions on their dedication to health care. <br /><br /> For example: Ethiopia has a mean IQ of 63. This low IQ explains why Ethiopia's health care system is awful, according to Kanazawa.</p> <p>Talk about simplistic. Not only does this ignore the fact that IQ might better measure cognitive capabilities in the developed world, where it was designed, but it completely tunes out the fact that Ethiopia has been embroiled in wars for many years, which would appear to be a better explanation for why the health care system there hasn't developed to western levels yet.<br /><br /> "Intelligence is such a complex phenomenon -- there are multiple parameters," Myers says. "And IQ is extremely sensitive to social conditions. Kanazawa wants to reverse it and say that IQ is causing problematic social conditions."<br /><br /> In this more recent study, not only does Kanazawa wax over structural inequalities that may lead to varying IQ levels in American society, even the disparities he finds in this imperfect measure of intelligence are relatively miniscule. For the most part, he is not speaking of a difference of more than six IQ points between liberals and conservatives, atheists and believers -- a negligible difference one would never notice in real person-to-person interactions.</p> <p>Kanazawa isn't the first to study the intelligence-religiosity nexus. <a href="http://www.sciencedirect.com/science?_ob=ArticleURL&amp;_udi=B6W4M-4TFV93D-1&amp;_user=10&amp;_rdoc=1&amp;_fmt=&amp;_orig=search&amp;_sort=d&amp;view=c&amp;_acct=C000050221&amp;_version=1&amp;_urlVersion=0&amp;_userid=10&amp;md5=db2ee09bae0195cc1ecbd026da77245c">Other studies</a> <a href="http://www.sciencedirect.com/science?_ob=ArticleURL&amp;_udi=B6W4M-4TFV93D-1&amp;_user=10&amp;_rdoc=1&amp;_fmt=&amp;_orig=search&amp;_sort=d&amp;view=c&amp;_acct=C000050221&amp;_version=1&amp;_urlVersion=0&amp;_userid=10&amp;md5=db2ee09bae0195cc1ecbd026da77245c">have also found</a> a three- to six-point IQ difference between atheists and religious believers, in the atheists' favor. But those studies didn't claim that atheists were more evolved, as Kanazawa presumes, and merely conclude that they are more skeptical due to a certain kind of schooling and cultural exposure (which might also account for why some people perform well on IQ tests), leaving room to account for why so many people -- say, like William F. Buckley, Jr., the late conservative public intellectual -- can be so religious and conservative and yet quite intelligent.</p> <p>Then there's the issue of Kanazawa's definition of liberalism, which he writes is the "contemporary American" denotation: "the genuine concern for the welfare of genetically unrelated others and the willingness to contribute larger proportions of private resources for the welfare of such others." Practically speaking, this means Kanazawa's "liberalism" is defined as a willingness to pay a higher tax rate and donate money to charity.<br /><br /> This definition of liberalism, says Ilya Somin, a legal scholar whose expertise includes popular political participation, does not actually distinguish it from, say, conservatism or libertarianism. <br /><br /><a href="http://volokh.com/2010/02/27/are-more-intelligent-people-more-likely-to-be-liberal/">Somin writes</a>, "a libertarian who believes that free market policies best promote the welfare of 'genetically unrelated others' and contributes a great deal of his money to charities promoting libertarian causes counts as a liberal under this definition. The same goes for a Religious Right conservative who believes that everyone will be better off under socially conservative policies and contributes lots of money to church charities."<br /><br /> On this last point, it should be noted that <a href="http://www.arthurbrooks.net/whoreallycares/excerpt.html">recent research</a> shows American political conservatives actually give more money to charity (and donate more blood) than their political liberal counterparts.<br /><br /> The problem inherent in Kanazawa's vague definition of liberalism is further compounded by the fact that he gleans his data on intelligence and attitudes toward topics of religion, politics and charity from two massive national surveys -- the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health and the General Social Survey.<br /><br /> These huge studies are greatly compromised by self-reporting. Most Americans don't even really know where they fall on the left-right political continuum. <a href="http://www.gallup.com/poll/125579/Asian-Americans-Lean-Left-Politically.aspx">Polling shows</a>, for example, that more African Americans self-identify as conservative than liberal, but when it comes to actual votes, data indicates that blacks overwhelmingly vote for traditionally defined liberal causes and candidates. <br /><br /> And libertarians -- estimated to be about <a href="https://www.cato.org/pub_display.php?pub_id=6735">15 percent</a> of the U.S. population -- don't neatly identify as liberals or conservatives, or even centrists, depending on whether they more closely identify as economic conservatives or social liberals. Even progressives shy away from identifying as liberals, a term that carries a negative connotation for many of them.<br /><br /> A particularly problematic idea presented by the study is how Kanazawa defines certain values and preferences as "evolutionarily novel." While he does not come out and say being atheist is a sign of having evolved more than those who are religious, he does infer this, not only by referring to the slightly higher mean IQ levels of American atheists, but also by pointing out that atheism goes against the grain of general human history. (Kanazawa doesn't even touch upon the idea that beliefs are more likely colored by one's cultural background than one's genetics.)</p> <p>In the end, Kanazawa's study reinforces long-standing prejudices against conservatives and religious believers. To think that conservatives or religious people "are dumber than you and me," says Myers, "fosters this tribalism that we're out to replace people rather than to educate and inform them." And that's not very smart.</p> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><a href="http://blogs.alternet.org/staff/">Daniela Perdomo</a> is a staff writer and editor at AlterNet. <a href="http://twitter.com/danielaperdomo">Follow Daniela on Twitter</a>. Write her at danielaalternet [at] gmail [dot] com. </div></div></div> Thu, 04 Mar 2010 21:00:01 -0800 Daniela Perdomo, AlterNet 661250 at http://www.alternet.org Belief News & Politics Belief religion atheism belief libertarians left-right Why Growing Numbers of Baby Boomers and the Elderly Are Smoking Pot http://www.alternet.org/story/145808/why_growing_numbers_of_baby_boomers_and_the_elderly_are_smoking_pot <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">More and more of the nation&#039;s 78 million boomers are discovering they&#039;d rather smoke marijuana than reach for a pharmaceutical.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>Conventional wisdom dictates that as younger generations slowly replace the old, conservative social traditions are jettisoned.</p> <p>This may be true for issues such as gay marriage, where there are clear divisions among younger and older voters, but when it comes to marijuana reform, the evidence indicates that simplistic divisions of opinion along age lines don't apply for pot.</p> <p>Earlier this week, an <a href="http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20100222/ap_on_re_us/us_seniors_marijuana/print">AP wire article</a> picked up a lot of buzz in the news-cycle, with a title and premise meant to shock the mainstream: "Marijuana Use by Seniors Goes up as Boomers Age."<br /><br /> The AP article was pegged to a December <a href="http://www.oas.samhsa.gov/2k9/168/168OlderAdults.htm" target="_blank">report</a> released by the Federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). It revealed that the number of Americans over 50 who reported consuming cannabis in the year prior to the study had gone up from 1.9 percent to 2.9 percent in the period from 2002 to 2008. <br /><br /> This is supported by earlier polling results. In February 2009, <a href="http://norml.org/index.cfm?Group_ID=7806" target="_blank">a Zogby poll</a> found that voters aged 50 to 64 were almost equally divided in their support for marijuana legalization at 48 percent. In that same poll, young voters aged 18 to 29 were the cohort who most enthusiastically supported legalization, at 55 percent. But overall support among all ages came in at 44 percent. <br /><br /> So who brought the average down? Don't lay the blame on the elderly. In fact, as early as 2004, an AARP poll found that <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2004/12/19/national/19marijuana.html" target="_blank">72 percent</a> of its members (all 50-plus, with the lion's share over 65) supported marijuana for medical purposes, indicating their understanding of the benefits of legal cannabis availability.</p> <p>Some expert observers in the marijuana reform movement believe the bulk of marijuana detractors are made up of 30- and 40-somethings -- adults of parenting age. And as more of the 65-and-over crowd is populated by baby boomers, it appears that in the not-too-distant future every age demographic including the elderly will approve of marijuana reform more than Americans in their 30s and 40s.<br /><br /> "These are people who have had children, and whether they used marijuana in the past or not, they've become very concerned that young children will have access to it," says Paul Armentano, deputy national director of National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). "They've been swayed by prohibition and are leery of the option to end it, even though controlling and regulating marijuana would provide less access to children."</p> <p>In the breakdown of the 2009 Zogby poll, which NORML allowed AlterNet to review, 38.7 percent of respondents 65 and older approved of taxing and regulating marijuana for adults. A low number, but compare it to the group aged 30 to 49, who approved it at 38.2 percent. Nearly the same, but still lower. And it ought to be noted that in an earlier Zogby poll, commissioned by NORML in 2006, 30- to 49-year-olds stood out even more starkly, opposing marijuana legalization at 58 percent, while the 65-plus crowd opposed it at 52 percent; approximately two-thirds of the young adult and boomer cohorts approved.</p> <p>And just as children are the reason many younger parents are against marijuana reform, offspring (or the lack of them) may also be behind why greater numbers of aging boomers are embracing marijuana -- most or all of their kids have left the nest.<br /><br /> This makes sense to George Rohrbacher, a 61-year-old cattle rancher in Eastern Washington state who smokes weed every day. When his kids -- now 25 to 35 -- were growing up, marijuana was something he had to keep a secret.<br /><br /> "Children under 18 don't need to be high on anything other than life," Rohrbacher says. His wife Ann espouses the same belief and quit marijuana just before 1976, when they had their first child. She later became a school superintendent.<br /><br /> Although Rohrbacher didn't give up the herb except for small stretches of time (such as when he served in the Washington state senate), it wasn't something he shared with his kids. "I didn't want them to have to defend me in the DARE program at school," he says. "But when my youngest son was 19 and off to college, I went from completely undercover to the opposite of that."<br /><br /> Today an <a href="http://www.alternet.org/story/88210/a_grandfather_looks_back_on_40_years_of_happy_pot_smoking/" target="_blank">advocate</a> for marijuana legalization, Rohrbacher speaks to many baby boomers who, like his wife, gave up pot. "Due to career choices, family-raising choices, they've not imbibed in years and they tell me they can't wait until they get to that spot in their career or family lives when they can go back to smoking pot," he says.<br /><br /> SAMHSA's study showed that past year marijuana use among those aged 55 to 59 tripled from 1.6 percent in 2002 to 5.1 percent in 2008. Nearly 9 percent of men aged 50 to 54 admitted to using marijuana in the past year, bringing that demographic's level of cannabis use to nearly the same 10 percent rate that the general U.S. population is estimated to consume pot. While SAMHSA has jumped to the alarm on this trend, suggesting that "by the year 2020, the number of persons needing treatment for a substance abuse disorder will double among persons aged 50 or older," the reality of the matter is that SAMHSA's dire prognosis may more realistically apply to aging Americans who use harder drugs like cocaine or meth -- not cannabis consumers.</p> <p>Boomers' enthusiasm for weed is likely due to their being the first generation to experience widespread marijuana use in their youth. Nearly everyone smoked it or knew someone who did. If what Rohrbacher has observed is true, many of them gave it up not because they didn't like it anymore, but because they felt it might interfere in their efforts to raise families and maintain jobs where drug testing is a concern. After all, legal and salary ramifications are much more significant once you have a family to raise and support.<br /><br /> As the nation's 78 million boomers go grayer, they will also return to pot to soften the pains of aging. "I played a lot of sports when I was younger and I have aches now -- plain old aches from sleeping wrong or doing something wrong -- and those aches are as bad as various moments on the football field years ago," Rohrbacher said. "And I'd rather smoke marijuana than reach for a pharmaceutical."<br /><br /> Rohrbacher isn't alone. Though pharmaceuticals are marketed heavily to aging Americans, among all adults over 50 who admitted to using some kind of illegal substance in the previous year -- 4.3 million adults, or 5.7 percent of adults in that age range -- 44.9 percent admitted to using marijuana, compared to 33.4 percent who'd used prescription drugs for non-medical use.<br /><br /> And in addition to lessening the pain brought on by common ailments like joint pain and menopause, one study found that cannabis might <a href="http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/scotland/article6795336.ece" target="_blank">prevent osteoporosis</a> in the elderly. (Interestingly, it may weaken bones in younger people<span style="font-weight: bold;">.)</span><br /><br /> Americans, as a whole, are trending toward marijuana legalization. By mid-last year, <a href="http://www.gallup.com/poll/123728/u.s.-support-legalizing-marijuana-reaches-new-high.aspx" target="_blank">a few polls</a> showed that the taxing and regulating of cannabis had support from a majority of Americans for the first time ever. The majorities are slim, but they're majorities nonetheless.<br /><br /> And with an enormous aging population that is more accepting of pot legalization and more clearly understands its benefits and the downsides to its prohibition, that majority may grow to be a decisive one in the public debate, even if today's -- and tomorrow's -- parents might be the last ones to be dragged on board.</p> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><a href="http://blogs.alternet.org/staff/">Daniela Perdomo</a> is a staff writer and editor at AlterNet. Once a community organizer, she was also a staff writer for the Los Angeles Times. Her writing has appeared in Newsweek, Reuters, and the Associated Press, among others.<a href="http://twitter.com/danielaperdomo">Follow Daniela on Twitter</a>. Write her at danielaalternet [at] gmail [dot] com. </div></div></div> Thu, 25 Feb 2010 21:00:01 -0800 Daniela Perdomo, AlterNet 661178 at http://www.alternet.org Drugs Drugs drug reform drug war boomers marijuana reform norml cannabis reform sahmsa Outraged Citizens Campaign Forces History Channel to Rethink Miniseries About the Kennedys http://www.alternet.org/story/145742/outraged_citizens_campaign_forces_history_channel_to_rethink_miniseries_about_the_kennedys <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Robert Greenwald launches growing campaign that calls historically revisionist series backed by a producer with ties to Roger Ailes, &quot;right-wing character assassination.&quot;</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>Media observers are abuzz with talk of a History Channel mini-series called "The Kennedys." While the scripts for the eight-part show, slated to air in 2011, are still unfinished, that hasn't stopped <a href="http://stopkennedysmears.com/">40,000 people</a> from signing a petition calling the series "right-wing character assassination" and "politically motivated fiction."<br /><br /> The populist rage stems from two roots. The first is that the History Channel gave the green light -- and $30 million -- to Joel Surnow, a producer with significant ties to right-wing media. Known for producing "24," the hit terrorist-fighting series that has normalized torture techniques for many Americans, Surnow is tight with Rush Limbaugh and Roger Ailes, the president of Fox News. His ties with the channel extend beyond the personal, as he also executive produced its now-defunct "1/2 Hour News Hour."<br /><br /> "The History Channel made a major mistake by turning this project over to a man with a publicly right-wing agenda," says Robert Greenwald, the progressive filmmaker who heads Brave New Films and has produced such documentaries as <em>Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism</em>. "Would you want <i>me</i> to be doing a Bush mini-series?" he asked. (Disclosure: Greenwald sits on AlterNet's board.)</p> <p>Perhaps not if the intent is to be politically unbiased. <br /><br /> Greenwald himself is behind the second reason fueling the campaign to quash the mini-series. A leaked script for "The Kennedys" found its way into his showbiz-connected hands, which he shared with prominent Kennedy historians who have since gone on the record <a href="http://stopkennedysmears.com/">calling</a> the script everything from distorted and nonsensical to propaganda.<br /><br /> "I've read the script," writes Greenwald in a letter directing supporters to the campaign's site, <a href="http://stopkennedysmears.com/">StopKennedySmears.com</a>. "It's ridiculous, sexually exploitative, revolting stuff -- everything you'd expect from a conservative re-writing of history... this garbage, coming so soon after Ted Kennedy's death, makes the worst commercial schlock look Oscar-worthy."<br /><br /> The script Greenwald has circulated includes various factual inaccuracies as well as a multitude of inventions, according to Kennedy experts. One scene in particular shocked Nigel Hamilton, a senior fellow in policy studies at the University of Massachusetts at Boston. In it, John F. Kennedy conceives of the Berlin Wall as a way to secure West Berliners from East Germany. In truth, the Berlin Wall was not a western conception; instead, it was built by East Germany to enforce Eastern Bloc emigration restrictions.<br /><br /> In another scene, JFK is having sex in a pool with a girl named Judy, when a Secret Service agent comes to deliver time-sensitive information from McGeorge Bundy, his security advisor; the president doesn't stop what he's doing as the agent delivers the news. Indeed, sex figures importantly in the leaked script -- JFK tells his father that having sex with strangers helps him run the country better, and he tells his brother Bobby that extramarital relations stave off his migraines. To be sure, Kennedy had many confirmed dalliances with women other than his wife, but the character presented in the advance script is portrayed as a silly heir with no interests other than sex.<br /><br /> "I don't know whether to laugh or cry when I read this," says David Nasaw, professor of American history at the City University of New York, in the campaign's <a href="http://stopkennedysmears.com/">video</a>. "I want to laugh because the portraits are so god-awful stupid. I want to cry because I feel that if they're successful and get this thing on the air, with credible-looking actors, a generation is going to get its history from this nonsense."<br /><br /> Thurston Clarke, historian and author of<i> Ask Not: The Inauguration of John F. Kennedy and the Speech that Changed America</i>, believes Surnow's involvement and the "conscious political hits" he read in the script make it possible that the overly sleazy script is an attempt to derail the upcoming 50th anniversary of JFK's death.<br /><br /> Likely most damaging to the series' reputation is that Ted Sorensen, Kennedy's speechwriter and special adviser, whom the late president called his "intellectual blood bank," has also come out against the script.<br /><br /> According to Sorensen, "not a single scene" in which he appears took place. "Some of that is simply sloppy invention, but most of it is because the script has been distorted by a hatred for the Kennedys," he told AlterNet. "Almost everything is invented or slanted in one way or another against the Kennedys."<br /><br /> One scene Sorensen is not placed in, but which he is convinced is false, depicts Joe Kennedy Sr. ripping a wooden crucifix off a wall and breaking it over his knee in anger. (The family patriarch was a famously devout Catholic.) "I can't believe for one minute that that ever happened. It's a nice slur against [Kennedy's] father, against the Catholic religion, but it's not reality," Sorensen says.<br /><br /> Sorensen muses that if the History Channel were to air the script he read, they had better amp up their legal budget. While he does not feel he was "personally attacked in this script" and his policy "has never been to engage in a spitting contest with a skunk," Sorensen believes many others would certainly file libel lawsuits.<br /><br /> History Channel executives insist the script Greenwald shared with Sorensen and others is just a draft that was written before they had anything to do with the project, and would categorically not be aired on the History Channel. Michael Feeney, a spokesman for A&amp;E Television Networks, which owns the History Channel, says the script Greenwald has is dated May last year, whereas the channel only approved the project in December. "That was a draft of an early script," he says. "The script we bought was different than the one Greenwald has out there. It's not the one the series was green-lit upon."<br /><br /> But Greenwald says the script he has, while dated May on the cover, actually includes more recent revisions inside and is the one being used to shop the show to potential actors. (Among the names he's heard floated are Ben Affleck, John Malkovich and Ed Harris, all of whom purportedly turned down roles.)<br /><br /> In a front-page <em>New York</em><i>Times</i> article Friday morning, History Channel executives and a screenwriter for "The Kennedys" did not mention that the script Greenwald has circulated is a draft.</p> <p>"I'm glad to hear that the History Channel is changing its tune and that it will not run this screenplay," Greenwald said, upon hearing of the statements the History Channel made to AlterNet. "It means that the 40,000 who've signed our petition are really having an impact."<br /><br /> "The important thing is that they take a time-out and fix it. What fixes it is up to them, but I look forward to hearing what they plan to do," says Greenwald.<br /><br /> Feeney says the History Channel has "never had a political agenda," and points to its recent airing of Howard Zinn's "People Speak" series as proof of its balanced coverage. He says Surnow is the right person for this project in spite of his being an avowed conservative and the topic being one of the most celebrated Democratic presidents, because he is a "prolific producer."</p> <p>The spokesman adds that "nothing on the History Channel would run that is not historically accurate." The channel employs three in-house historians who vet all of their programming for historical accuracy, and everything has to be sourced and annotated. <br /><br /> But this isn't the first time the channel has been met with outcry over the accuracy of its historical programming -- it has even been hit on Kennedy-related content before. In 2003, the ninth episode in a series called "The Men Who Killed Kennedy" linked Lyndon B. Johnson, among others, to JFK's assassination. Johnson's widow, journalist Bill Moyers, former presidents Ford and Carter, and the last surviving member of the Warren Commission lodged complaints of libel against the History Channel. A&amp;E responded by assembling a panel of historians who agreed that the documentary was not plausible; the series was no longer aired.<br /><br /> According to Feeney, each episode in the series on the Kennedy assassination focused on different conspiracy theories relating to the event, and the channel erred in not making the theoretical aspect more clear to its audience. He further concedes that "The Kennedys" is uncharted territory for the channel, as it has never produced an original scripted mini-series, though it has aired historical movies and "Band of Brothers," an HBO series set during World War II.</p> <p>Such examples are likely what led Ted Sorensen to say that as a historian, he generally views the History Channel as "interested in ratings a lot more than they are interested in accuracy."<br /><br /> Meanwhile, an official statement prepared by the History Channel as a response to Greenwald's campaign says that its brand "is the gold standard for historical accuracy... ["The Kennedys"] scripts are in early draft form and are currently being annotated by top Kennedy historians, vetted and revised every day. There are no final versions."<br /><br /> This does not explain why the channel bought a script that in any (or every) way resembled the script the StopKennedySmears.com campaign obtained, but all the high-level attention could play a significant role in ensuring that the final product be historically responsible.</p> <p><span style="font-style: italic;">AlterNet blog</span><em>update here (Feb. 25): <a href="http://blogs.alternet.org/speakeasy/2010/02/25/jfk-historian-cited-as-source-for-history-channels-maligned-series-speaks-out/">JFK Historian Cited as Source for History Channel's Maligned Series Speaks Out</a></em></p> <p><br /><strong><i>Sign the petition here:</i></strong><i> <a href="http://stopkennedysmears.com/">StopKennedySmears.com </a></i></p> <p><i><strong>Contact History Channel executives:</strong> Abby Raven (President/CEO) at <a href="mailto:abby.raven@aetn.com">abby.raven@aetn.com</a>; Nancy Dubuc (Executive Vice-President/General Manager) at <a href="mailto:nancy.dubuc@aetn.com">nancy.dubuc@aetn.com</a>, 212-210-9032.</i></p> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><a href="http://blogs.alternet.org/staff/">Daniela Perdomo</a> is a staff writer and editor of the Progressive Wire and Investigations at AlterNet. <a href="http://twitter.com/danielaperdomo">Follow her on Twitter</a>. Write her at danielaalternet [at] gmail [dot] com. </div></div></div> Fri, 19 Feb 2010 14:00:01 -0800 Daniela Perdomo, AlterNet 661154 at http://www.alternet.org Media Take Action Media fox news jfk robert greenwald roger ailes history channel ted sorensen joel surnow 5 Ways Hypocritical Obama and Corporate Media Are Fighting Marijuana Reform http://www.alternet.org/story/145713/5_ways_hypocritical_obama_and_corporate_media_are_fighting_marijuana_reform <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">While marijuana is more mainstream than ever, legalization still faces backlash from the powers that be.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p><a href="http://medicalmarijuana.procon.org/viewresource.asp?resourceID=000881">Fourteen states</a> have legalized marijuana for medicinal purposes; <a href="http://medicalmarijuana.procon.org/viewresource.asp?resourceID=002481">13 more</a> have medical marijuana ballot or legislative measures on the horizon. And medical pot has paved the way for all-out legalization; for the first time ever, polls consistently show that <a href="http://www.alternet.org/blogs/peek/144561/breaking%3A_marijuana_legalization_will_be_on_california%27s_2010_ballot/">a majority</a> of Americans -- albeit a slim one -- believe marijuana should be legalized for adults over 18. <br /><br /> Drug reform observers and activists are excitedly awaiting the results of the Tax Cannabis ballot initiative in California this November. While it is not the first time electorates will vote on marijuana legalization (Nevada and Colorado rejected similar measures in 2006; the city of Breckenridge, Colo. legalized it late last year), experts believe California is the first statewide initiative that stands a fighting chance, as AlterNet has <a href="http://www.alternet.org/drugs/144842/the_best_chance_yet_for_legalizing_marijuana">reported</a>.<br /><br /> Yet in spite of the positive trend, there are some ominous harbingers indicating that common-sense drug reform relating to marijuana still has a ways to go. Here are five signs that pot legalization faces government and corporate backlash (which may affect public opinion as well), in no particular order:<br /><br /><b>1. Federal Government and a Major Corporation Ban Marijuana Literature</b><br /><br /> This past Super Bowl Sunday, a man in Crozet, Va. who has for years made money selling copies of <i>High Times</i> magazine, a cult periodical dedicated to marijuana culture and industry, discovered his sales listings on eBay <a href="http://www.readthehook.com/blog/index.php/2010/02/15/buzz-kill-crozet-man-finds-ebay-yanks-high-times/">had been yanked</a> with no advance warning. The kicker? Fred Carwile, the seller, says two separate eBay customer reps told him his listings were pulled at the request of the federal government.<br /><br /><i>High Times</i> is sold in all sorts of mainstream brick-and-mortar stores throughout the country, including Barnes &amp; Noble, noted an infuriated Carwile, who told his local paper, "The federal government cannot ban books. They’re pressuring a business to ban books."<br /><br /> EBay says it's always been company <a href="http://pages.ebay.com/help/policies/encouraging-illegal-activity.html">policy to prohibit</a> listings that "encourage, promote, facilitate, or instruct others to engage in illegal activities." The auction and marketplace site last made this sort of headline when it prohibited the sale of another genre of items: <a href="http://www.jweekly.com/article/full/15659/jews-applaud-ebay-move-to-ban-nazi-memorabilia/">Nazi memorabilia</a>.<br /><br /><b>2. DEA Raids on Medical Marijuana Facilities Continue</b><br /><br /> Soon after President Obama took office, Attorney General Eric Holder <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/19/us/19holder.html">vowed to end</a> Drug Enforcement Agency raids on legal medical marijuana facilities. The prior administration had a longstanding policy of raiding medical marijuana dispensaries in states where such facilities are legal, so the positive tone from the Attorney General's office was great news to medical marijuana users and the industry that supports them.<br /><br /> But the raids on legal medical marijuana facilities have not ended. The DEA has raided <a href="http://blogs.westword.com/latestword/2010/02/another_dea_lab_application_an.php">at least a couple</a> such locations in Colorado, where medical marijuana has been legal since 2000.<br /><br /> The DEA continues to employ the same justification for the raids as it did during the Bush era -- that federal law supersedes state law. But as some <a href="http://www.aspentimes.com/article/20100217/LETTER/100219824/1020&amp;ParentProfile=1061">have pointed out</a>, this may very well contradict the Tenth Amendment, which states: "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, or prohibited by it to the States, are to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."<br /><br /><b>3. Drug Warrior Holdover Instated as Chief of DEA</b><br /><br /> Unfortunately, the problems with the DEA don't end with the raids. And why would they? The person heading the agency, Michele Leonhardt, is a holdover from the Bush era, when she was the Special Agent in Charge of the Los Angeles Field Division. In that position, she <a href="http://www.opposingviews.com/i/anti-medical-marijuana-michele-leonhart-to-remain-dea-head">effectively enforced</a> the drug warring administration's policy of shutting down medical marijuana entrepreneurs' legal operations and made a habit of arresting medical marijuana patients.<br /><br /> Obama officially nominated her to the DEA chief position this January, signaling that the DEA won't be changing its anti-drug legalization tone during her tenure as head administrator. It also signals that Obama's campaign promises of ending a failed drug war were at best halfhearted.<br /><br /> With drug-fueled violence escalating on the U.S.-Mexico border, we can expect the DEA to remain rigid in its law enforcement tactics there. A clear-cut example of Leonhardt's dogma includes a line she trumpeted last April: drug legalization “would be a failed law enforcement strategy for both the U.S. and Mexico.” Meanwhile, the bloodshed continues, as does our ineffective strategy to quell it.<br /><br /><b>4. Federal Drug Budget Continues to Favor Criminalization Over Treatment and Prevention</b><br /><br /> Further continuation of failed Bush policies is evidenced by the so-called federal drug war budget. At first, the drug reform community was hopeful when President Obama named Gil Kerlikowske as his drug czar. Kerlikowske was known to have pursued an incredibly successful treatment-over-incarceration policy during his tenure as Seattle's police chief.<br /><br /> The day his appointment was announced, Kerlikowske <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/03/11/AR2009031103567.html">said</a>, "The success of our efforts to reduce the flow of drugs is largely dependent on our ability to reduce demand for them. Our nation's drug problem is one of human suffering, and as a police officer but also in my own family, I have experienced the effects that drugs can have." (Kerlikowske's stepson has in the past been arrested on drug charges.)<br /><br /> But we were wrong to be so hopeful. Obama's drug budget looks almost exactly like his predecessor's. Despite official statements that drug use should be treated as a health issue, not a criminal justice issue, the federal budget currently sends almost <a href="http://www.alternet.org/drugs/145659/obama%27s_drug_war_budget_looks_a_lot_like_bush%27s">twice as much money</a> to law enforcement than to treatment and prevention programs.<br /><br /><b>5. Pro-Marijuana Legalization Talk Censored by Mainstream Media</b><br /><br /> In an era when so many Americans -- at least a third -- publicly admit to having smoked weed in their lifetimes, and an even larger number believe pot ought to be legalized, one would think the mainstream media would get on that trend train, as they do with most everything else.<br /><br /><a href="http://www.alternet.org/drugreporter/144333/the_secret_to_legal_marijuana_women">In some ways</a> they have. Showtime's "Weeds" is readying for its sixth-season premiere; ladymag <i>Marieclaire</i> marveled at how high-powered women could smoke pot and remain high-functioning, contributing members of society; and mainstream shows such as NBC's "Today Show" have related to their audience that weed is actually a lot safer than any other mood-altering substance, including legal ones like prescription drugs and alcohol.<br /><br /> But when it comes to actually discussing alternatives to the current policy on marijuana, the corporate media isn't quite on board. Just this month, CBS executives <a href="http://www.alternet.org/drugs/145633/cbs_corporation_bans_ad_calling_for_marijuana_legalization_over_%27morals%27">axed a paid ad</a> by the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) that was to run on CBS' digital billboard in Times Square. The 15-second ad asserts "that taxing and regulating the adult use and sale of marijuana would raise billions of dollars in national revenue."<br /><br /> After working for months on the ad, the media company that manages the billboard for CBS told NORML that CBS would not approve the ad, adding, "If CBS changes their morals we will let you know."<br /><br /> If the mainstream media won't let pro-drug reform organizations get out their message, how can we hope to influence the conversation to the point where large-scale change can be enacted?</p> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><a href="http://blogs.alternet.org/staff/">Daniela Perdomo</a> is a staff writer and editor of the Progressive Wire and Investigations at AlterNet. <a href="http://twitter.com/danielaperdomo">Follow her on Twitter</a>. Write her at danielaalternet [at] gmail [dot] com. </div></div></div> Wed, 17 Feb 2010 21:00:01 -0800 Daniela Perdomo, AlterNet 661073 at http://www.alternet.org Drugs News & Politics Media Drugs marijuana drug reform drug policy pot drug war dea weed election2010 substance use medical cannabis tax cannabis kerlikowske leonhardt Campaign to Pull Glenn Beck Off the Air Gains Momentum, Here and Abroad http://www.alternet.org/story/145708/campaign_to_pull_glenn_beck_off_the_air_gains_momentum%2C_here_and_abroad <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Beck&#039;s Fox News show advertisers are dropping like flies. Will the ad exodus take him off-air, or will Fox continue to foot the bill for its propaganda goals?</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>The movement to pressure Fox News into assessing the financial viability of Glenn Beck's controversial talk show is gaining steam -- particularly overseas. In the United Kingdom, as of Tuesday, Beck's show had run without a single paid advertisement for six days in a row.<br /><br /> Beck, whose popularity and infamy have grown due to his propensity to <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6HWKzobeya4">cry</a> -- literally and figuratively -- for the state of America as he sees it, is the target of a couple of campaigns aimed at connecting the dots for advertisers who pay top dollar (and pounds) for commercials that run during his hourly TV show, which airs every weekday.<br /><br /> On Tuesday it was announced that British advertisers and viewers have resolutely rejected Beck's program, which has become notorious for spewing storylines that have a great deal of traction among right-wing groups. Famously, Beck <a href="http://mediamatters.org/mmtv/200907270046">claimed</a> that Americorps, a federal program which funds community service work, is a covert plot to create a "civilian army" of community organizers -- apparently a terrifying prospect to right-wingers. He also <a href="http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,534643,00.html">called</a> health care reform "Obama brand reparations" for blacks and Native Americans.<br /><br /> For nearly a week now, Sky, a channel partially owned by News Corp. that airs Fox News programs in Britain, has been running local weather updates and news headlines, instead of paid commercials in the ad slots that bookend Beck's show. This likely comes as a direct result of campaigns by both <a href="http://stopbeck.com/">StopBeck.com</a> and <a href="http://colorofchange.org/">ColorofChange.org</a>, which launched in July last year.<br /><br /> The campaigns were launched as a reaction to Beck's on-air <a href="http://www.alternet.org/news/142747/10_horrifying_racist_attacks_on_obama/">claims</a> that President Obama is a racist who "has a deep-seated hatred for white people." While the remarks actually came during a guest appearance on another Fox News program, "Fox &amp; Friends," the two anti-Beck organizations viewed the incident as part of a "larger pattern of race-baiting and fear-mongering" by Beck.<br /><br /> According to StopBeck.com, which organized the <a href="http://stopbeckuk.info/">U.K. campaign</a>, the number of dropped sponsors for the Glenn Beck show is now up to <a href="http://stopbeck.com/dropped-sponsors/">116</a>. ColorofChange.org, a Web-based grassroots civil rights group, says domestic dropped sponsors total 97, though the number is certainly "well over 100" when adding on the dropped British sponsors.<br /><br /> The move to stop Beck mirrors the move last summer to banish Lou Dobbs from his program at CNN. The Basta Dobbs campaign, led by Presente.org, was fueled by widespread anger at Dobbs' relentlessly anti-immigrant rhetoric, which was bolstered by the same racist fears that fuel a lot of Beck's own hateful brand. <a href="http://www.alternet.org/media/143903/relentless_pressure_from_progressive_groups_pushes_hatemonger_lou_dobbs_out_of_cnn/">By November last year</a>, Dobbs had left CNN in what was officially labeled a resignation, but was probably influenced by the populist pressure to oust him.<br /><br /> While CNN <a href="http://edition.cnn.com/2009/OPINION/11/18/rollins.lou.dobbs.departure.cnn/index.html">said</a> Dobbs was leaving to pursue his special form of "advocacy journalism," which was no longer in line with CNN's mission as a news organization, it's not necessarily clear that Fox News cares about putting up a newsy front. After all, as Dani McClain, a campaign manager at ColorofChange.org, points out, "Fox has a lot of gall to position itself as a news organization," particularly when advertisers are bowing out left and right. This shows "Fox is a propaganda machine, not a news outlet."<br /><br /> ColorofChange.org's anti-Beck <a href="http://www.colorofchange.org/beck/hold/">petition</a> has gathered over 285,000 signatures so far. And those numbers have brought results.<br /><br /> Among those who've been moved to drop their sponsorship of Beck's show is Best Western International. "As a global, family-oriented brand with guests of all persuasions and viewpoints, we seek to avoid any controversial programming, regardless of political affiliation," said the hotel chain's spokesman, Troy Rutman, adding that the company doesn't intend to have any additional ad placements during the program.<br /><br /> Other advertisers don't spell out exactly why they've left, instead using euphemisms. One of these is Starkist Co., whose representative Mary Sestric wrote in an e-mail to ColorsofChange.org, "We have chosen to not air our commercial during Glenn Beck's program going forward given a number of alternatives that meet our advertising plan's criteria."<br /><br /> Many who are bowing out claim they simply bought blocks of ad time on Fox News without ever specifying -- or prohibiting -- Beck's program. Nestlé USA spokesperson Cathy Johnson wrote in an e-mail, "Nestlé USA has family friendly programming guidelines in place that are routinely moderated and enforced. However, we are aware of a recent commercial that aired during the Glenn Beck show. Airing the spot on Fox and this program was an error that has been corrected."<br /><br /> "We hope that leadership at Fox will be forced to make a decision due to advertiser exodus," says Dani McClain. "Ideally, we'd like to see Beck at the low end of the AM dial where you hear a lot of people ranting and raving. Either Fox News acknowledges that they aren't a news outlet, or they get rid of Glenn Beck."<br /><br /> So far, it appears Fox News may be opting for the former. Running a one-hour program six days in a row without paid advertising is a money-losing move, but apparently Rupert Murdoch, the stalwart conservative scion who runs News Corp., finds it's worth footing the bill for Beck's time on British airwaves -- for now.<br /><br /> Here in the United States, Glenn Beck's show sports a very different roster of advertisers than it did last year. Ads for Tylenol, Pantene, Toyota-Lexus, Campbell Soup, K-Mart and any other number of household American brands have been replaced by ads for conservative organizations, companies hawking gold and precious metals (which Beck peddles <a href="http://www.alternet.org/blogs/peek/144440/glenn_beck%27s_%22buy_gold%21%22_hucksterism_pisses_off_fox_news/">himself</a>), and direct-response advertisers selling all manner of products with unrecognizable brand names and act-now 1-800 number directives.<br /><br /> Fox News has long been considered an enemy of civil rights organizations, but as right-wing fringe movements such as the Birthers, Tea Partiers and Patriots gain steam, Glenn Beck has proven himself even more frightening than the likes of Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly, the channel's long-time fear-mongers.<br /><br /> "We think [Beck's] language goes beyond the pale -- beyond what the others are saying," McClain said. "We are specifically concerned about the rhetoric he uses around race. He taps into a fear in this time of economic instability, and he's playing on paranoia and fears that do exist in American society and taking advantage of them."<br /><br /> The question now is whether Glenn Beck's <a href="http://stopbeck.com/remaining-sponsors/">remaining advertisers</a> will react to consumer anger about their financial backing of his hate talk -- or if Beck's gold-pushing and Fox's propaganda goals will be enough to keep him on TV.</p> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><a href="http://blogs.alternet.org/staff/">Daniela Perdomo</a> is a staff writer and editor of the Progressive Wire and Investigations at AlterNet. <a href="http://twitter.com/danielaperdomo">Follow her on Twitter</a>. Write her at danielaalternet [at] gmail [dot] com. </div></div></div> Tue, 16 Feb 2010 21:00:01 -0800 Daniela Perdomo, AlterNet 661066 at http://www.alternet.org Media Take Action News & Politics Media fox news glenn beck rupert murdoch lou dobbs news corp basta dobbs stop beck The Right's Inability to Grasp Climate Change May Be Funny, But It's Also Very Dangerous http://www.alternet.org/story/145650/the_right%27s_inability_to_grasp_climate_change_may_be_funny%2C_but_it%27s_also_very_dangerous <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">The so-called Snowpocalypse has brought out the funny bone in the right-wing media, but their inability to correctly draw causal connections is very dangerous.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>Climate change conspiracies are hardly new, but the so-called Snowpocalypse in Washington D.C. has returned them front-and-center to every single right-wing media outlet.<br /><br /> A Fox News anchor smugly <a href="http://dailycaller.com/2010/02/11/fox-news-snowfall-literally-and-figuratively-buries-al-gores-climate-change-theories/">claimed</a> that the record snow had not only buried people's cars -- it was also "burying" global warming theories. In a World Net Daily radio segment, someone <a href="http://live.radioamerica.org/loudwater/player.pl?upload=1746&amp;name=wnd">joked</a> that liberals would soon be claiming the snowfall -- and global warming -- was the Tea Party movement's fault. And the family of Sen. James Inhofe, R-Oklahoma, built a <a href="http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?pid=3601353&amp;id=55018309421">six-foot-tall igloo</a> on Capitol Hill and topped it off with a sign that read, "Al Gore's New Home," before posting it on Facebook to the delight of climate change non-believers across the country. (From a commenter: "What if the D.C. tent cities became IGLOO cities?? The irony!" Bashing global warming <i>and</i> the homeless in one fell swoop -- classy.)<br /><br /> For years since climate change has been accepted fact among the bulk of the international scientific and environmental community, many people have contended that global warming is a farce brought on by a New World Order (often embodied by the relatively powerless United Nations) to construct a world government that will undermine American sovereignty and make us all slaves to Al Gore and his green business cronies, who will be swimming in <i>our </i>green -- our hard-earned cash. Certainly not all global warming deniers fall into this particular conspiracy camp, but it's among the more popular story-lines.<br /><br /> The recent onslaught of freezing temperatures has only further cemented deniers' belief that global warming is simply impossible. Indeed, one segment even points to news of people <a href="http://www.thaindian.com/newsportal/business/killer-cold-claims-over-60-lives-leh-freezes-at-18-roundup_100299404.html">freezing to death</a> in ordinarily balmy parts of India, <a href="http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/jan/04/beijing-south-korea-record-snow">record snowfall</a> in China and Korea, and confirmation that last December was much <a href="http://www.noaanews.noaa.gov/stories2010/20100112_januarystats.html">wetter and colder</a> than is average for the United States, as proof that the world isn't warming at all -- instead, it's <i>cooling</i>.<br /><br /> Of course, this completely ignores evidence that the last decade was the <a href="http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/34944026/ns/us_news-environment">warmest ever</a> on the meteorological record, and that while in the long-run we can expect winter squalls like the one that just ravaged the Beltway to be far more uncommon, in the meantime, all this snow <a href="http://www.alternet.org/environment/145376/could_all_the_freezing_weather_lately_have_anything_to_do_with_climate_change">may very well</a> be the result of warmer air supercharged with moisture that will result in snowstorms rather than in torrential winter rains, as long as the temperature remains below freezing. In fact, precipitation of all kinds is up -- way up. A recent study by the U.S. Global Change Research Program <a href="http://www.democracynow.org/2010/2/12/climate_scientist_record_setting_mid_atlantic">found</a> that levels of very high precipitation from Maine to D.C. rose by 67 percent from 1958 to 2007; the Midwest has seen a 30 percent increase. Global warming holds that weather of all sorts -- warm and cold -- will be extreme, as we trend to an overall hotter planet.<br /><br /> But this logic doesn't sit well with Matt Patterson, a blogger at Pajamas Media, who <a href="http://pajamasmedia.com/blog/2010-dawned-with-record-cold-gripping-the-earth/">accuses</a> the Environmental Protection Agency of fear-mongering by classifying carbon-dioxide -- "literally our very breath" -- as an atmospheric pollutant, and scoffs at "any possible downsides" to the global warming conspiracy: "[O]h my God, I might have to walk over a few feet to keep from drowning." Clearly he hasn't seen a <a href="http://www.treehugger.com/7-most-terrifying-global-warming.jpg">photographic projection</a> of Manhattan submerged under water in the not-too-distant future; nor has he heard of the plight of island nations like the Maldives, which is <a href="http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/howaboutthat/6356036/Maldives-government-holds-underwater-cabinet-meeting.html">expected</a> to be underwater sometime within the century.<br /><br /> While Patterson suggests we are more likely entering an ice age than experiencing global warming, Patrick J. Michaels at the National Review Online, thinks the snowstorms in D.C. were much ado about nothing. "[T]here are those who insist that it snowed more than when they were little," <a href="http://planetgore.nationalreview.com/post/?q=OTY0YjUxMWU4ZmRkZGEzNDgyY2E4YzFiMjU0OWMyNjY">writes</a> Michaels, a former state climatologist for Virginia. "That's partially a matter of physical perspective, as 20 inches of snow on the ground looks a lot bigger to a three-foot child than to a six-foot adult." Cute.<br /><br /> Most right-wingers are in Michaels' camp -- they really do believe nothing is happening. Emblematic of this is a <em>Washington</em> <i>Times</i> editorial titled "Snowmageddon is nigh," which <a href="http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2010/feb/08/snowmageddon-is-nigh/">reads</a>: "Those who value freedom should thank Mother Nature for her sense of humor, undermining the case for global warming one flake at a time. So although we're quite tired of shoveling, we say, 'Bring on the blizzard.'" (Did you catch the "flake" pun?)<br /><br /> Ah yes, freedom. That's what it all comes down to, for many of these folks. Over at Vocal Minority, a blog dedicated to "exposing liberal ignorance," a climate change believer is <a href="http://vocalminority.typepad.com/blog/2010/02/msnbcs-ratigan-record-snowfall-must-be-global-warming.html">considered</a> analogous to "Islamic radicals [that] will put you to death for apostasy." Similarly, the "global warming alarmist punishes her non-believers first with smears, lies, and verbal attacks; then moves on to taxes and surcharges, and ultimately imprisonment."<br /><br /> While Focus on the Family's Tim Tebow Super Bowl anti-abortion plug might have been the ad we were all talking about for weeks in advance, the commercial from this year's game that may most live in infamy is likely Audi's "<a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wq58zS4_jvM">Green Police</a>" ad. An environmental police state is not satire, says the right; that's what evil environmental activists are planning and, in many ways, already doing.</p> <p>Many climate change deniers base their conspiracism in the inconsistencies produced by global warming researchers attempting to distill the latest in climate change discoveries, and unsurprisingly, making missteps as they wade through uncharted scientific territory. <br /><br /> As with all science, consensus and certainty is usually not reached until a hypothesis has been proven as fact -- and in the case of global warming, that could prove disastrous for all of us, even those who today believe it's nothing more than a spurious scare-tactic.<br /><br /> In the meantime, we'll have to deal with global warming deniers who, as Jon Stewart's faux weather correspondents so aptly <a href="http://www.repoweramerica.org/climate-change-causes-severe-weather/">caricatured</a>, believe that snow in certain parts of the globe, or even just in certain parts of the country, handily refutes the entire climate change premise. Their inability to correctly draw causal connections could have tragic ripple effects. Sometime in the next century, island nations like the Maldives could be wiped out entirely. How's that for family values?</p> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><a href="http://blogs.alternet.org/staff/">Daniela Perdomo</a> is a staff writer and editor of the Progressive Wire and Investigations at AlterNet. <a href="http://twitter.com/danielaperdomo">Follow her on Twitter</a>. Write her at danielaalternet [at] gmail [dot] com. </div></div></div> Fri, 12 Feb 2010 10:00:01 -0800 Daniela Perdomo, AlterNet 661019 at http://www.alternet.org Environment News & Politics Media Environment environment global warming fox news climate change right-wing media snowpocalypse freezing weather Ron Paul Helped Inspire the Tea Party Movement, and Now It Could Take Him Down http://www.alternet.org/story/145630/ron_paul_helped_inspire_the_tea_party_movement%2C_and_now_it_could_take_him_down <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Facing three GOP opponents affiliated with the Tea Party movement in the primaries, Paul is concerned that building anti-Washington sentiment could take him out as well.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>Ron Paul, the libertarian congressman from Texas' Gulf Coast, faces three Republican challengers this year -- more than in his six past primaries combined. All three opponents are affiliated with the Tea Party movement. What makes this so fascinating is the fact that the Tea Partiers got their unofficial start through Paul himself.</p> <p>Sarah Palin may be the face of the Tea Party movement today, but it started with Ron Paul in 2007. That December, on the 234th anniversary of the Boston Tea Party, Paul's presidential campaign supporters participated in a "<a href="http://www.boston.com/news/politics/politicalintelligence/2007/12/ron_pauls_tea_p.html">money bomb</a>," a one-day online fundraising blitz that raked in $6 million from 40,000 people nationwide, and drew upon the 1773 protest's anti-tax sentiments.</p> <p>Officially a Republican, Ron Paul was denied a speaking slot at the GOP convention in St. Paul, so he held his own well-attended event across town. While Paul only tallied 41,905 votes on Election Day, his fundraising prowess and widespread appeal among disaffected fiscal conservatives who have grown uncomfortable with the Republican Party's easy reliance on corporate money and gay-bashing base, made political observers across the spectrum take note of the scrappy outsider.</p> <p>In 2009, right-wingers saw the glimmers of a populist movement in the anger directed at President Obama's stimulus spending and identified it as a chance to unify a strong opposition movement that could bite into Democrats' majorities in both houses of Congress by 2010. One group was inspired by Paul's Boston Tea Party metaphor and started organizing Tea Party protests throughout the country, opposing -- as Paul does -- big government and a "runaway" federal budget.</p> <p>Yet today's Tea Party movement bears only a handful of similarities to the so-called Ron Paul Revolution. Both are anti-tax and anti-spending and they have issues with the Federal Reserve. But Ron Paul libertarians, on the whole, are also focused on ending the post-9/11 wars, are proponents of government accountability and transparency, and often are closer to progressives on civil liberties -- especially regarding the war on drugs -- than they are to the average right-winger.</p> <p>Just this week, Paul was a guest on Rachel Maddow's MSNBC show, where <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PFFPHC13uEY&amp;feature=player_embedded">he spoke</a> about the Tea Party crowd. While both he and they are bolstered by anger at our current modes of government, Paul said the Tea Partiers only sometimes represent his own views, and suggested that their "message gets a little bit diluted when a lot of people come in." In particular, Paul said, the Republican Party has tried to insert a "neocon type of influence" into the movement.</p> <p>In fact, many Tea Party adherents -- like neoconversatives -- are pro-war and pro-Homeland Security, whereas Paul has built a reputation on opposing the second Bush administration on everything from the PATRIOT Act to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.</p> <p>Given the few similarities and far greater differences, where does Ron Paul fit in within the growing Tea Party landscape he inadvertently paved the way for?</p> <p>Interestingly, his son Rand Paul, who is running for a Senate seat in Kentucky, has <a href="http://www.randpaul2010.com/2010/02/sarah-palin-endorses/">received the backing</a> of both Sarah Palin and the official Tea Party leadership, a fact the campaign has extensively touted. Rand Paul is running to "fight for liberty and limited government and put an end to the current climate of insider politics, runaway deficits and out-of-control growth of government" -- a message that sounds exactly like his father's has for years.</p> <p>Rand Paul is currently a favorite in Kentucky, holding a double-digit lead in the Republican primary and polling ahead of either Democratic opponent. Like his father, he's showcased fundraising prowess -- his campaign has $1.8 million in the bank.</p> <p>So why are Tea Partiers behind the son and not the father? After all, their views are nearly identical. The answer may simply be that Rand Paul is a new face on the political landscape, whereas Ron Paul -- although on the definite fringe of the GOP -- is nevertheless an incumbent. That anti-incumbent sentiment, added to the Tea Party's set goal of working like a real political party to influence elections, has probably moved Paul's three challengers to start their campaigns.</p> <p>One of Paul's Tea Party opponents, John Gay, a school business administrator, <a href="http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/news/washington/stories/DN-ronpaul_07tex.ART.State.Edition1.4bf50f3.html">told</a> the Dallas <em>Morning News</em>: "The word I keep hearing is 'ineffective.' This district is not really being represented as it could be."</p> <p>Perhaps one way in which Paul may be seen as ineffective by his constituents and opponents is the fact that he votes no on essentially any spending measure, and he is consistent, potentially to a fault. He even went as far as voting against federal disaster recovery aid <a href="http://abclocal.go.com/ktrk/story?section=weather/hurricane&amp;id=6428478">for his own district</a> after Hurricane Ike in 2008.</p> <p>But as Dave Weigel of the <i>Washington</i> <i>Independent</i> <a href="http://washingtonindependent.com/76049/the-tea-party-goes-after-ron-paul">writes</a>, "Almost nothing that Paul does cuts against the rhetoric of the Tea Party movement that is mentioned most in the press....some of it does cut against the priorities of national security conservatives and partisan Republicans."</p> <p>Indeed, it seems as though the Tea Party has recognized the growing appeal of libertarian ideals among right-wing voters, and has co-opted that rhetoric to diffuse its own far more right-wing message. While it may tout libertarian-style beliefs as its rousing cause, the actual unifying theme seems to be anti-Obama, with some anti-immigrant sprinkled in along with the parodoxical meld of anti-unionism <i>and</i> anti-big business.</p> <p>Due to this convoluted platform, the Tea Party continues to be a much more fringe group than the Ron Paul Revolution. Further aiding Paul are not only the advantages of longtime incumbency, but his sustained ability to raise cash. He has more than $1.9 million at the ready, while his opponents don't have more than a few thousand dollars each, according to the <i>Morning News</i>. And because Ron Paul is Ron Paul -- and not Dede Scozzafava -- it's unlikely he'd face a <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/04/nyregion/04district.html">Bill Owens-style ousting</a> such as the one bolstered by Palin and the Tea Party in upstate New York last November, which ultimately helped a Democrat win a historically Republican seat.</p> <p>Even so, because Ron Paul knows a lot about the machinations -- and power -- behind populist movements, he told supporters in <a href="http://www.examiner.com/x-34473-Houston-Conservative-Examiner%7Ey2010m1d20-Tim-Graney--Ron-Paul-admits-reelection-woes-cites-Graney-Campaign">an email last month</a> that he'd have to work hard to ensure that the anti-Washington sentiment, which he calls "a good thing," does not take him out as well.</p> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><a href="http://blogs.alternet.org/staff/">Daniela Perdomo</a> is a staff writer and editor of the Progressive Wire and Investigations at AlterNet. <a href="http://twitter.com/danielaperdomo">Follow her on Twitter</a>. Write her at danielaalternet [at] gmail [dot] com. </div></div></div> Wed, 10 Feb 2010 10:00:01 -0800 Daniela Perdomo, AlterNet 662694 at http://www.alternet.org News & Politics News & Politics The Right Wing neocons texas ron paul sarah palin tea party election2010 liberatarians rand paul Could Your Cell Phone End Up Killing You? http://www.alternet.org/story/145562/could_your_cell_phone_end_up_killing_you <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">A new debate is raging over whether prolonged cell phone use poses serious health side effects.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>In the debate over cell phones, there doesn't appear to be any consensus on what, exactly, the harmful health effects on cell phone users may be. Unfortunately, the scary truth is that no one knows the full extent of problems caused by these must-have consumer electronics, because they've only become ubiquitous in recent years. <br /><br /> Nevertheless, at least one group of people who has been using cell phones longer than the rest of us has started to draw some connections.</p> <p>In an extensive piece on cell phone health hazards in <a href="http://www.gq.com/cars-gear/gear-and-gadgets/201002/warning-cell-phone-radiation?printable=true">this month's issue of <i>GQ</i></a>, a 35-year-old investment banker who five years ago was diagnosed with a brain tumor just behind his right ear -- where he presses his phone -- said that his industry has, "been using cell phones since 1992, back when they were the <a href="http://www.sachsreport.com/Motorola%20DynaTac%208000%20gordon%20gecko%20wallstreet.jpg">Gordon-Gekko-on-the-beach-kind-of-phone</a>." The banker said four or five colleagues at his firm also have similar tumors.<br /><br /> Indeed, health experts say many often miss the fact that it can take anywhere from 10 to 30 years for brain tumors to develop from exposure to all kinds of electromagnetic radiation, including the kind from cell phones.</p> <p>But it doesn't always have to take so long. LeBron James, the 24-year-old star basketball player for the Cleveland Cavaliers had a benign parotid tumor <a href="http://sports.espn.go.com/nba/news/story?id=4226010">removed in June</a> last year. While the cause of his tumor is undefined, radiation is likely to be the culprit -- and cell phone use may be, too.<br /><br /> Both benign and malignant tumors of the parotid, a salivary gland, have <a href="http://www.magdahavas.com/2009/12/30/interphone_parotid_gland_tumors_brain_tumor/">long been linked</a> to ionizing radiation including X-rays and gamma radiation following environmental exposure. (Nagasaki and Hiroshima survivors are one example.) And in <a href="http://en.scientificcommons.org/49972305">a widely cited 2008 study</a>, parotid tumors have been linked to cell phone use.<br /><br /> The report includes some stats that are enough to make even the most ardent addict consider dropping his or her iPhone or Blackberry. If you've used your cell phone regularly for five years, your chance of having a parotid tumor is increased by 34 percent. If you've had more than 5,479 calls in your lifetime, your chances are upped by 58 percent. For folks who live further from big cities, prospects are even dimmer -- your chances of getting a parotid tumor are increased by <i>96 percent</i> if you have a lifetime exposure of more than 1,035 hours. (While you might imagine living in a big city exposes you to more cell phone radiation, in rural areas, cell phone towers are further apart so mobile phones have to emit higher levels of radiation in order to communicate with the nearest antenna.)<br /><br /> Of course, not everyone is on board with the idea that mobile phones are bad for you. The <a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17636416">forthcoming Interphone study</a>, a massive decade-long, 13-country epidemiological study of tumors among users of mobile phones, is expected to be less alarmist than the parotid tumor study. The problem with that study, however, is that its $30-million price tag is being footed by none other than the wireless industry. And the study is getting more expensive as it's been fraught with delays, reportedly caused by the researchers' <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/29/business/worldbusiness/29iht-mobile30.1.14067234.html">inability to reach consensus</a>. <br /><br /> In anticipation of what seems like the study's impending release, the International Electromagnetic Field Collaborative <a href="http://electromagnetichealth.org/pdf/Final-Draft-Citizens-EMF-Announcement.pdf">released a report</a> (PDF) last year criticizing the presumed results of the Interphone study. The methodology is flawed, says the IEFC, because it excludes, among other things, cordless phones, children and young adults (presumed to be among the <a href="http://emf.mercola.com/sites/emf/archive/2010/01/21/US-Senate-Committee-Confirms-Dangers-of-Cell-Phones.aspx">more vulnerable demographics</a>, due to faster cell growth and thinner skulls), certain kinds of tumors and interviews with deceased and too-sick patients.<br /><br /> In the IEFC report, 43 scientists from 13 countries also reviewed evidence linking cell phone use to brain tumors. Among the studies cited was a sobering <a href="http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/mobile-phone-use-raises-childrens-risk-of-brain-cancer-fivefold-937005.html">Swedish one</a> that found a <i>420 percent </i>higher risk of brain cancer among people who had started using cellular or cordless phones as teens. Older analog cell phones, which are now mostly out of use, were found to increase cancer risk by <i>700 percent</i>.<br /><br /> But cell phone risks may not be limited to cancer. The group <a href="http://electromagnetichealth.org/">Electromagnetichealth.org</a>, based at Columbia University, has <a href="http://electromagnetichealth.org/quotes-from-experts/">argued</a> that cell phone use creates cognitive problems, damages DNA and causes infertility in humans. The group's experts, which include physicians, scientists, environmental health experts and epidemiologists across the globe, also say that cell phones cause navigation problems for wildlife, particularly migrating species such as birds and bees.<br /><br /> Faced with damning reports from the scientific community, the <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=npK5HSxukyA&amp;feature=player_embedded">Senate held a hearing</a> on the dangers of cell phone use last September. In San Francisco, forcing cell phone retailers to <a href="http://www.sfexaminer.com/local/Law-would-require-cell-phone-warnings-79284337.html">label their products as hazardous</a> has support from the mayor and health activists. And for over a year now, in France, marketing and designing cell phones for minors under 18 <a href="http://ecochildsplay.com/2009/01/12/french-law-cracks-down-on-cell-phone-use-by-children-bans-advertising-and-phones-designed-for-kids/">has been illegal</a>. (The law was prompted by the aforementioned Swedish study that detailed the heightened risks for youths.) <br /><br /> It's clear that going forward, we'll be hearing a lot more about this issue as a top public health concern. But what's a regular person to do right now? What with electrical appliances, computers, Bluetooth devices, Wi-Fi, GPS receivers and over 2,000 satellites orbiting our planet in outer space -- to mention but a few examples -- electromagnetic pollution surrounds us all the time, even if you live in the middle of nowhere.<br /><br /> The IEFC recommends people use corded landlines whenever possible (a difficulty for those among us who've abandoned their landlines for the convenience of cell phones). They also recommend using cell phones as answering machines -- turning them on to check for messages and returning calls only. Carry your phone in a purse or bag, not on your body. Don't use your cell when you're inside a building or car because your phone will have to emit increased levels of radiation to send out the signal. Relying on text messages and non-wireless hands-free devices may also reduce health risks.<br /><br /> Some or all of these recommendations are not practical for many of us, particularly in a society where we are expected to be wired and easy-to-reach at all times. But the way it's starting to look, cell phones may be the tobacco of today. By the time we finally get the message that we should kick the habit, it may be too late.</p> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><a href="http://blogs.alternet.org/staff/">Daniela Perdomo</a> is a staff writer and editor of the Progressive Wire and Investigations at AlterNet. <a href="http://twitter.com/danielaperdomo">Follow her on Twitter</a>. Write her at danielaalternet [at] gmail [dot] com. </div></div></div> Fri, 05 Feb 2010 09:00:01 -0800 Daniela Perdomo, AlterNet 660929 at http://www.alternet.org Personal Health Personal Health Media Environment cancer public health cell phones environmental health electromagnetic radiation parotid tumors Fury at Wall St. Banks Fuels Public Action for Move Your Money Campaign http://www.alternet.org/story/145541/fury_at_wall_st._banks_fuels_public_action_for_move_your_money_campaign <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">The banking behemoths have used our dollars to destroy our economy. The Move Your Money campaign says we don&#039;t have to wait for financial reform to fight back.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>Since the burst of the financial bubble in 2008, and surely before, millions of Americans have watched as their life savings dwindled to fumes. Unemployment has held steady at 10 percent or above (among minority groups, it will likely <a href="http://www.alternet.org/blogs/peek/145182/surprise%21_white-minority_income_gap_continues_to_widen/" target="_blank">hit the 20s</a> this year) and <a href="http://blogs.alternet.org/speakeasy/2010/01/26/the-u-s-food-crisis-1-in-5-went-hungry-last-year/" target="_blank">one in five</a> Americans went hungry last year. As the human recession has worsened, Congress has been slow to act to quell it, while they've rushed to the aid of too-big-to-fail banks.</p> <p>A new campaign called <a href="http://www.moveyourmoney.info">Move Your Money</a> aims to tackle the frustrations with the Wall Street banks, and the politicians they've bought off, head on. The campaign is based on a simple idea: Americans ought to move their money from the big banks -- that took billions in taxpayer money and continue to foist outrageous interest rates even as they cut lending --  to local financial institutions that actually are a part of their communities. Move the money back home. </p> <p>In the first 48 hours of the campaign, which launched days before the New Year, over 100,000 people responded with inquiries on how to move their money and credit to the nation's 7,600 community banks and 8,000 credit unions. <br /><br /><b>Channeling anger for change</b><br /><br /> The action campaign isn't the first to base itself on widespread anger toward the largest banks in the country. In April last year, that anger was channeled into <a href="http://www.anewwayforward.org/" target="_blank">A New Way Forward</a> (ANWF). The group organized protests across the country that sought to break up the "zombie" banks.<br /><br /> The worst of the bad guys, nearly everyone agrees, are the so-called Big Six: JP Morgan/Chase, Citi, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs. Experts believe the first four alone hold <a href="http://img149.imageshack.us/img149/6631/d55c4a1006c0f369dc26f6a.gif" target="_blank">at least 40 percent</a> of our nation's deposits and half of all bank assets.<br /><br /> But despite ANWF's nationwide rallies -- which remained relatively small, though attended by voters of all political stripes -- breaking up the banks has never been on the legislative table. That may be one reason why Move Your Money has garnered so much excitement. It does not seek to force people on the Hill or in the White House, many of whom are indebted to banking interests, to act.</p> <p>Instead, Move Your Money calls for direct action by regular people who are irate at the overly cautious pace of financial reform.<br /><br /> "Our money has been used to make the system worse -- what if <i>we</i> used it to make the system better?" wrote Arianna Huffington and Rob Johnson -- she of the <i>Huffington Post</i>, he of the Roosevelt Institute -- in their campaign introduction. <a href="http://www.alternet.org/story/144882/" target="_blank">They framed</a> Move Your Money as a New Year's resolution for all (most) Americans who feel abandoned by their massive, bailed-out banks.<br /><br /> The campaign comes at an interesting time for small financial institutions. Since the 1980s, the number of banks with assets of $1 billion or less has fallen by more than half, according to Stacy Mitchell, head of the <a href="http://www.newrules.org/banking/community-banking-initiative">New Rules' Community Banking Initiative</a> at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.<br /><br /> As small banks and credit unions have gone out of business or been eaten up by the big banks, Americans have gotten used to banking at a distance. The banking experience is now usually characterized by automatic tellers, automated phone-trees, and other forms of faceless communication. <br /><br /> Of course, the growth of national banks has increased some conveniences, such as ATMs you can access anywhere in the country, but who cares about saving two dollars on your withdrawals when your bank is perfectly willing to up your credit card rate from 4.99 to 40.99 percent in one fell swoop (<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jamie-chase/measuring-the-move-20-mil_b_442546.html">as Citi did</a> to one man with good credit) for no fathomable reason? You're just as faceless to them as they are to you.<br /><br /> With examples such as these, Move Your Money hopes to dispel longstanding myths that big banks are cheaper -- and nicer -- than smaller ones.<br /><br /><b>A growing movement</b><br /><br /> As of this week, 23,000 -- or about 50 percent -- of all U.S. zip codes have been searched for through Move Your Money's "<a href="http://moveyourmoney.info/find-a-bank">Find a Bank</a>" feature, says Dennis Santiago, whose influential bank-rating firm Institutional Risk Analytics donated the tool.<br /><br /> One community bank with five branches in Northern California recently called Santiago to report it had a $1 million increase in deposits per branch since the start of the campaign, which the bank had not yet caught wind of.<br /><br /> While Move Your Money's search tool only includes community banks, the<em>Credit Union</em><i>Times</i> reports that since the start of the campaign, two of the largest credit union associations have reported <a href="http://www.cutimes.com/News/2010/1/Pages/Volume--Is-Triple-On-CU-Search-Sites-.aspx#">300 percent search increases</a> in their credit union databases since Move Your Money launched.<br /><br /> The <a href="http://www.adrchallenge.org/">American Debt Relief Challenge</a>, which aims to get people to transfer their credit card balances from big banks to credit unions, shows that Americans have saved nearly $20 million by transferring. That's a monthly average of $200 in amortized savings per consumer, says Jamie Chase, a principal at Credit Union Strategic Planning, which is a sponsor of the challenge.<br /><br /> Local governments are jumping on the bandwagon, too. In New Mexico, <a href="http://legis.state.nm.us/Sessions/10%20Regular/bills/house/HB0066.html">a bill's been introduced</a> to move the state's $1.4 billion cash account from Bank of America to local banks. In Oregon, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate, Bill Bradbury, is <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/02/03/bill-bradbury-oregon-gube_n_447404.html?view=print">basing much of his candidacy</a> on moving the state's money to Oregon-only community banks. And Michael Bloomberg, the New York City mayor who built his billionaire empire on financial information services, announced the city <a href="http://www.nyc.gov/portal/site/nycgov/menuitem.c0935b9a57bb4ef3daf2f1c701c789a0/index.jsp?pageID=mayor_press_release&amp;catID=1194&amp;doc_name=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.nyc.gov%2Fhtml%2Fom%2Fhtml%2F2010a%2Fpr001-10.html&amp;cc=unused1978&amp;rc=1194&amp;ndi=1">would move $25 million</a> of its municipal tax dollars to neighborhood credit unions.<br /><br /> Even ANWF, which had based its organizing around breaking up the banks last year, will be waging a similar campaign that launches in a week, says Tiffiniy Cheng, ANWF's national coordinator. Called Break Up With Your Bank, it will ask people to stop using their credit cards and use cash as much as possible. If you must have a credit card, switch to a low-interest card from a local bank, Cheng says.<br /><br /> It's no surprise so many are so into the idea of moving capital into their communities. For starters, with smaller banks, you can kiss all that hollow interaction goodbye. <br /><br /> "Smaller banks can take a closer, personal look. Your loan request won't be decided by a computer model," says Stacy Mitchell. "A loan officer there understands the local market characteristics, sees the borrower as a person with an individual character and history."<br /><br /> The face-to-face service is a plus but Mitchell's research shows even bigger incentives for making the switch. She says community banks and credit unions are very viable and generate real benefits for the communities in which they're located. Among the benefits she cites are more small business lending, lower costs for consumers, better lending practices and the nurturing of social capital on the local level.<br /><br /> Santiago, the bank-rater, agrees with most of these points but says lower costs for consumers can be spotty, depending on the financial institution. <br /><br /> That being said, however: "Right now, there are more good small banks than good big banks. And you should move your money to good banks," he says.<br /><br /><b>The naysayers</b><br /><br /> While there is a great deal of populist excitement behind Move Your Money, it also has a few detractors. <br /><br /> Just this week, Doug Henwood, publisher of the economic affairs newsletter, <i>Left Business Observer</i>, <a href="http://www.leftbusinessobserver.com/Move_your_money.html">wrote</a>: "Money is fungible, protean, and highly mobile even when it looks locally rooted."</p> <p>To illustrate the argument, Henwood used Move Your Money's search tool to find recommended community banks in his area and discovered that one offered wealth management services through Merrill Lynch (now owned by Bank of America) in addition to being a major financier of the gentrification of predominantly black neighborhoods. Another suggested bank had three-quarters of its assets in U.S. Treasury bonds, instead of local loans.<br /><br /> "It's very, very hard to keep your hands clean in the world," Henwood said. "I generally tell people to hold their nose and do the right things with the rest of their lives because you can't really do a lot of good with your money."<br /><br /> Stacy Mitchell, however, points out that the Move Your Money search tool is not all-inclusive, adding: "Small financial institutions are far more oriented toward the needs of their local communities and the productive economy than big banks are. As a group, banks under $1 billion in assets have less than two percent of their assets lent via the federal funds market to other banks. They devote 67 percent of their assets to lending, almost all within their city or region, and more than one-quarter of that goes to small business lending."</p> <p>Moving our money may not be enough on its own, Mitchell says, "but to suggest that the choices we make in the marketplace have absolutely no meaning is absurd."<br /><br /> Even Henwood concedes there are some "pretty great community development" banks worth moving your money to, if you do the research. Indeed, both community banks (which are for-profit) and credit unions (which are non-profit) can qualify for Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) certification, which means they are committed to offering financial services to under-banked markets or populations.<br /><br /> Naturally, there are detractors at the top, too. Last month <i>Politico</i> <a href="http://moveyourmoney.info/archives/867">asked Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner</a> whether he felt the Move Your Money campaign was a good idea. "I don't," he said, before adding that he believes consumers have a right to demand better service from their financial institutions.<br /><br /><b>From the grassroots up</b><br /><br /> The Move Your Money campaign has made many people realize that some elements of financial reform may lie in their own hands. While cynics may point out that populist reforms can only take you so far, one idea behind Move Your Money is that this grassroots take on financial reform -- if it continues to have impact and grow -- may actually increase the possibility of financial reform at the federal level.<br /><br /> The banking behemoths have used our dollars to destroy the economy. We can use those same dollars to fight back.</p> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><a href="http://blogs.alternet.org/staff/">Daniela Perdomo</a> is a staff writer and editor of the Progressive Wire and Investigations at AlterNet. <a href="http://twitter.com/danielaperdomo">Follow her on Twitter</a>. You can write her at danielaalternet [at] gmail [dot] com. </div></div></div> Thu, 04 Feb 2010 21:00:01 -0800 Daniela Perdomo, AlterNet 661492 at http://www.alternet.org Economy Take Action News & Politics Economy Activism populism economic recession financial reform community banks move your money too-big-to-fail banks anwf credit unions Food and Investigations: Feed Your Appetite For Top-Notch Reporting http://www.alternet.org/story/145483/food_and_investigations%3A_feed_your_appetite_for_top-notch_reporting <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">AlterNet&#039;s hottest new sections -- Food and Investigations -- have just launched. Find out how to get the latest stories.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>With <em>AlterNet'</em>s new look comes two new sections we think readers will love to dig into: <a href="http://www.alternet.org/food/">Food</a> and <a href="http://www.alternet.org/investigations/">Investigations</a>. These are two of the hottest topics <em>AlterNet</em> readers have been drawn to in recent months and in addition to new special coverage pages, we're also launching free <a href="http://www.alternet.org/newsletter/subscribe/">weekly e-newsletters</a> for each of them. You can <a href="http://www.alternet.org/newsletter/subscribe/">sign up now</a> and get the top stories from Food or Investigations in your in-box weekly.</p> <p>We've been covering food stories for years, but our new section on Food is in direct response to the massive groundswell of interest in what we eat and where our food comes from. Here's how we see it: Imagine that every meal you eat is like a big kitchen table. Seated around the table are all the people who played a part in getting your food to your fork. Who's sitting on either side of you? Do you know who they are? Right now the health of communities and the environment are at risk because of the industrial food and farming systems that dominate our dinner table. We're seated next to big corporations that have put their profit above all else. But that's about to change.</p> <p>There's a growing movement working to change not just what's for dinner, but who's invited to the table. <em>AlterNet</em>'s <a href="http://www.alternet.org/food/">new food section</a> will provide key support in that effort. By <a href="http://www.alternet.org/newsletter/subscribe/?group=72588">signing up for our newsletter</a>, visiting the Food special coverage page, and participating in our community forum, SoapBox, you can join the conversation with leading writers, bloggers and food experts. We'll be talking about supporting local farmers, increasing awareness about sustainability, working on solutions to food access, promoting healthy choices for people and the planet, and drawing the connections between what we eat and our environmental, health and economic woes.</p> <p>Here's a sampling of our food stories in the last week: renowned food expert Marion Nestle sounds the alarm about <a href="http://www.alternet.org/food/145443/another_salmonella_outbreak%3A_this_time_salami_%28maybe%29">a new <em>Salmonella</em> outbreak</a>; Anneli Rufus ponders the significance of <a href="http://www.alternet.org/food/145367/is_eating_sugar_really_that_bad_for_us">America's sweet tooth</a>; Martha Rosenberg delves into how <a href="http://www.alternet.org/food/145272/the_overuse_of_antibiotics_in_livestock_feed_is_killing_us">antibiotics used in industrial farming</a> are threatening our health; and Brad Reed gives us some <a href="http://www.alternet.org/food/145220/the_4_stupidest_lose-weight-quick_schemes">great information and a few laughs</a> with a look at the newest crazy weight-loss schemes.</p> <p>Some Food stories, such as Jill Richardson's recent piece about the <a href="http://www.alternet.org/investigations/145369/shrimp%27s_dirty_secrets%3A_why_america%27s_favorite_seafood_is_a_health_and_environmental_nightmare">environmental havoc and health menace</a> caused by the shrimp industry, are also part of our <a href="http://www.alternet.org/investigations/">new Investigations special coverage</a>. If you're looking for in-depth coverage of issues, look no further than Investigations, your one-stop shop for the best in investigative journalism, particularly relating to topics of most interest to progressives. AlterNet will gather all of our best original investigative reporting, in addition to amplifying the best investigative voices out there, including Huffington Post's Investigative Fund, ProPublica, the Center for Investigative Reporting, the Project on Government Oversight and more.</p> <p>The Investigations section will emphasize our commitment to exposing government malfeasance, corporate corruption, and other stories that merit more scrutiny. Just two weeks ago an <em>AlterNet</em> <a href="http://www.alternet.org/rights/92374">article by Jessica Pupovac</a> was instrumental in bringing about the release of an innocent man in Chicago who was wrongfully imprisoned for 23 years.</p> <p>Check out some of our excellent current content: Anand Gopal reveals that the U.S. has been <a href="http://www.alternet.org/investigations/145466/under_obama_in_afghanistan%2C_us_conducts_night_raids%2C_runs_hidden_detention_centers">running hidden detention centers</a> in Afghanistan and Kevin Connor is <a href="http://www.alternet.org/investigations/145470/did_louisiana%27s_republican_elite_support_the_landrieu_phone_squad">the first to draw ties</a> between the Louisiana Republican elite and the alleged tampering with Sen. Mary Landrieu's phones.</p> <p>We hope you'll take a swing by our Food and Investigation sections and <a href="http://www.alternet.org/newsletter/subscribe/">sign up for the newsletters</a> so you can stay up to date with the hottest happenings on the Web.</p> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Tara Lohan is a senior editor at AlterNet. Follow her on Twitter @TaraLohan. <a href="http://blogs.alternet.org/staff/">Daniela Perdomo</a> is a staff writer and editor of the Progressive Wire and Investigations at AlterNet. <a href="http://twitter.com/danielaperdomo">Follow her on Twitter</a>. E-mail her at danielaalternet [at] gmail [dot] com. </div></div></div> Fri, 29 Jan 2010 21:00:01 -0800 Tara Lohan, Daniela Perdomo, AlterNet 660851 at http://www.alternet.org Food Investigations Food food investigations Jesse Ventura Takes the Soaring Interest in Conspiracy Theory to TV -- And Viewers Are Flocking to It http://www.alternet.org/story/145452/jesse_ventura_takes_the_soaring_interest_in_conspiracy_theory_to_tv_--_and_viewers_are_flocking_to_it <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Bringing formerly taboo issues to TV, the former Minnesota governor and professional wrestler&#039;s show has caught on. Conspiracy theorists probably aren&#039;t surprised.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>Jesse Ventura has worn many hats over his lifetime. In addition to being a body-slamming professional wrestler and one-term governor of Minnesota, he was a Navy SEAL in Vietnam and a bodyguard for the Rolling Stones. In his latest career move, he is a conspiracy theory investigator.<br /><br /> His television show, "Conspiracy Theory With Jesse Ventura" premiered on TruTV in early December delivering the 17-year-old channel's largest-ever premiere audience -- 1.6 million people -- and maintaining it during subsequent episodes. It held onto high Nielsen ratings despite being panned by critics because the masses love it. TruTV's slogan is "Not Reality. Actuality." This is a baffling mantra, but it's the perfect place for a show like Ventura's.<br /><br /> "We developed it for our audience," one that is "usually fascinated with inside worlds they don't normally have access to," said Darren Campo, senior vice president of programming at the channel. But the show is very much about Ventura's "voice," he adds.<br /><br /> "I'm doing this show to wake people up," Ventura says in a promo. Throughout the first season (which ended Jan. 13 but lives on through YouTube and an upcoming marathon) the former wrestler dons a little gray ponytail and a black leather blazer, expertly fitted to his massive frame, as he sternly yet charismatically commands his team of "investigators," most of whom inexplicably have British accents -- perhaps so they'll more closely recall Agent 007.<br /><br /> In one episode, Ventura investigates global warming, which the trailer-voiced narrator calls "the most convenient scam yet."<br /><br /> The episode sends Ventura and his team across the globe, speaking to all manner of global warming conspiracy theorists, including self-proclaimed investigative journalists and a couple of contrarian climate scientists -- one a physicist at MIT, and the other a blurred-out American living abroad who says he fears for his life.<br /><br /> While Ventura says early on that he personally believes climate change is happening, the overall thesis of the episode is that global warming is being used as an excuse to make money off our carbon footprint fears and move us closer to a global government, known in conspiracy circles as the New World Order. <br /><br /> Al Gore's name is trumpeted endlessly as a key financial benefactor of climate change (though Ventura calls him a "friend"), second only to mentions of the United Nations, which is presented as the shadow entity for a powerful elite that seeks to control the world -- and you.<br /><br /> To climate change believers, the show is hokey at best, but its action-mystery set-up is undeniably entertaining. You can see how a person might convince himself that global warming is fake when some environmentalists are trumpeting cap and trade, which the show's narrator calls pollution "permission slips." It's certainly a contradiction.<br /><br /> TruTV hasn't committed to a second season but "Conspiracy Theory" has found what it most likely needs to survive -- an engaged audience. The first seven episodes have already touched upon many of the most popular conspiracy theories in America today: 9/11, 2012 doomsday, government surveillance, and, of course, climate change.<br /><br /> Though the TruTV executive insists the show is "not political," it's propelled by Ventura's axiom, which he mentions at least twice: "The one thing I learned in government is if you want to find the answer to a question, follow the money."<br /><br /> Asking who benefits is a question most cynical Americans find reasonable and appealing. And a segment of that demographic takes it to an extreme, dedicating most of their waking moments to what the majority among us calls conspiracy theories.<br /><br /><strong>'There's no <em>theory</em> in criminal conspiracy'</strong><b><br /><br /></b>By general definition, a conspiracy theory is a claim that stars secretive yet powerful rogue groups who seek to control or steal from "the people" -- and it usually carries the stigma of untruth. <br /><br /> According to David Coady, a philosopher at the University of Tasmania in Australia, and author of <a target="_blank" href="http://www.amazon.com/Conspiracy-Theories-Philosophical-David-Coady/dp/0754652505"><i>Conspiracy Theories: The Philosophical Debate</i></a>, the term conspiracy theory started to carry negative connotations after the philosopher Karl Popper wrote, during the Third Reich, that conspiracy theories propelled the paranoid ideologies that gave rise to totalitarian regimes such as that of Adolf Hitler.<br /><br /> Since the term has a derogatory slant, few conspiracy theorists self-identify as such. The term is mostly used to suggest that a particular theory is false, or that the person proposing it is unreliable. A reliable means of discrediting a story, it's often used unfairly.</p> <p>As Uri Dowbenko, who runs several popular conspiracy sites, including <a href="http://www.conspiracyplanet.com/">Conspiracy Planet</a>, says: "There's no 'theory' in criminal conspiracy."<br /><br /> Because conspiracy theorists often feel isolated from and demeaned by the rest of us, they search out communities of fellow believers. Scholars believe that American conspiracy theorists tend to be predominantly white and male (no wonder Ventura's show has done well) and rather well-educated, albeit narrowly so.<br /><br /> "As conspiracy theories get more complex, and particularly for people who are more actively engaged in it, it is an intellectual enterprise which requires a good amount of reading and concentration skills," says Mark Fenster, a law professor at the University of Florida and the author of <a target="_blank" href="http://www.powells.com/partner/32513/biblio/9780816654949"><i>Conspiracy Theories: Secrecy and Power in American Culture</i></a>. "You see a lot of people who have received high levels of institutional education. For this reason, conspiracy theorists may well be of somewhat higher than average income level and wealth."<br /><br /> The community aspect is tantamount to a conspiracy theory's survival. With the advent of the digital age, the Internet has become the organizing hub for conspiracy theorists.<br /><br /> While some believe the Web is almost entirely to blame for today's conspiracy theory maelstrom, Fenster says the Internet is simply speeding up a process that would normally happen. He points to the chatter that almost immediately began after JFK's assassination, and grew louder after the Warren Commission Report, as a historical example he finds rather analogous to the conspiracy theories that sprouted from the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and the ensuing 9/11 Commission Report.<br /><br /> What 9/11 "truthers" have today that JFK assassination conspiracy theorists didn't is "the development of a community, and a body of literature and ideas that get circulated very, very quickly," Fenster says. "In the early days of a conspiracy theory, you get a whole lot of crazy theories, but as certain ones become more prevalent, as certain information works better than others, then you get a few competing theories that stabilize into some sort of competition and a community develops around the whole project."<br /><br /> But no conspiracy theory will make it past the fringe of the fringe unless someone's leading the charge.</p> <p><strong>Key figures in the conspiracy theory universe</strong><br /><br /> Ventura is merely the latest in a long line of conspiracy theory personalities. Talk radio is where you'll find several longtime media figures preaching their conspiracy theories to a committed choir.</p> <p>One of these is George Noory. In 2003, he succeeded the legendary Art Bell as the host of the most successful overnight radio program, "Coast to Coast AM." Syndicated on 528 radio stations and on satellite radio, Noory -- as Bell did -- spends four hours every night talking to at least three million rapt listeners about every conspiracy theory out there. He doesn't discriminate -- Big Foot and space-aliens are on equal footing with segments on the dangers of aspartame and the falsity of global warming.<br /><br /> "We want a program that covers all mysteries on this planet," Noory told me, conceding there is an element of entertainment to his show. <br /><br /> Another media figure is Alex Jones, also a popular nationally syndicated radio host and the founder of high-trafficking conspiracy sites such as <a target="_blank" href="http://infowars.com/">Infowars</a> and <a target="_blank" href="http://prisonplanet.com/">Prison Planet</a>. Jones resolutely rejects the conspiracy theorist designation for himself. Unlike Noory, he refuses to engage "fantasy" conspiracies such as Big Foot and does not consider himself an entertainer.<br /><br /> "People confuse silly things like chupacabras with serious questions such as 9/11," said Jones. "I don't touch things I can't prove."<br /><br /> Jones told me he is the founder of the 9/11 truther movement; he is also a major figure among those who believe in the New World Order. (In this latter role, Jones appeared as a "source" to Ventura about the global warming conspiracy.)</p> <p><strong>Distrust of power</strong><br /><br /> But even Noory -- who <em>does</em> dedicate airtime to the most fantastical conspiracy theories  -- is ultimately most motivated by political conspiracies involving elites. Noory says he grew passionate about the theories he discusses on his show after the Bush administration's claim of WMD in Iraq turned out to be false. That made him question government actions more than he had before.<br /><br /> "We have got to get to a point where we have leaders who are there for us instead of representing their manipulative, greedy ways," he told me.<br /><br /> This insight is one most progressives can identify with, and it drives home the fact that people like Jones and Noory are driven to do what they do because they are distrustful of the powers that be.</p> <p>The fear of a government that ignores your constitutional rights or of too-powerful interests controlling the economy is a perfectly legitimate concern. This manifests itself across the political spectrum in the United States. When a Republican is in the White House, conspiracy theories veer to the left; when a Democrat is in power, they veer to the right, says Fenster, the conspiracy theory scholar. <br /><br /> George Noory, who has his finger on the pulse of at least one segment of the American conspiracy theory community, has observed this as well. "What this tells me is that there's an incredible dissatisfaction with the ways government handles issues that affect people. People just seem disillusioned with the government and it's obvious by the way they flip-flop all the time," Noory said. It doesn't matter who's in power, "they just don't trust government."</p> <p>Mike Ruppert, a self-described investigative journalist who is often labeled a conspiracy theorist, and author of <a href="http://www.chelseagreen.com/bookstore/item/confronting_collapse" target="_blank"><i>Confronting Collapse</i></a>, which details connections between money and energy, told me that conspiracy theories not only indicate distrust of power, they also remind you that "this 'system' has no real means to hold bad people accountable. When has Dick Cheney ever been held accountable? Henry Kissinger? George W. Bush?"</p> <p>That's a fair question.<br /><br /><b>There is always doubt</b><br /><br /> Jesse Ventura gets to the heart of the matter when he says that conspiracy theories are so popular "because people leave lots of room for doubt."<br /><br /> That doubt stems from not knowing what happens behind closed doors in government and in the board rooms of the largest, most powerful companies in the country. What we have little doubt about is that power in the United States -- and everywhere, for that matter -- is monopolized by small, associated groups that do not represent the interests of the great majority. That's why there is at least a grain of truth in every bit of conspiracy theory, even the most delusional ones.<br /><br /> The fear of concentrated power is valid and brings up important questions that mainstream culture is often unwilling to ask. Conspiracy theorists ask those questions, though their answers may lead some astray.</p> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Daniela Perdomo is a staff writer and editor of the Progressive Wire and Investigations at AlterNet. <a href="http://twitter.com/danielaperdomo">Follow her on Twitter</a>. You can write her at danielaalternet [at] gmail [dot] com. </div></div></div> Fri, 29 Jan 2010 21:00:01 -0800 Daniela Perdomo, AlterNet 660843 at http://www.alternet.org Media Media conspiracy theories alex jones 9/11 truthers jesse ventura george noory Obama Dominates at Republican Retreat http://www.alternet.org/story/145477/obama_dominates_at_republican_retreat <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Obama engages GOP House leaders in a lively Q&amp;A on their turf -- and wins. If only U.S. politics were always this unscripted.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>Following up on his efforts to rally the crestfallen American public around his presidential agenda via his first State of the Union address on Wednesday, Obama took his show on the road to Baltimore on Friday, where Republican House leaders have gathered for their party's annual retreat.</p> <p>As the GOP lawmakers convened around a weekend dedicated to plotting -- among other things -- their recapture of the White House, the President engaged them in what became a lively sparring match, not unlike the "question time" British prime ministers participate in with Parliament on a weekly basis. Things in London can get loud and testy, but Obama faced a particularly partisan crowd that he blames for deadlocking his legislative agenda.</p> <p>Obama has addressed Republican leaders before, but what made Friday's encounter so unique is that it was almost entirely unscripted, a rarity in presidential politics.</p> <p>Among the gems uttered during the 90-minute question-and-answer session was Obama's complaint to the audience that their party regularly caricatures him as a radical "ideologue" whose health care plan is actually "a Bolshevik plot" to take over America. In turn, GOP leaders told the president that he and other Democrats are wrong to paint Republicans as "The Party of No."</p> <p>In acknowledgment, Obama reiterated what he said in his State of the Union speech -- that he is partly to blame for the highly partisan divisions in Washington.</p> <p>What made the encounter so interesting is that it was televised -- a request made by the White House and which the GOP leadership seems to have grudgingly acquiesced to at the last minute, in order to deflect attacks about transparency and open government. Presidents always address the opposing party at these annual retreats, with a prepared speech broadcast to the entire nation, but the Q&amp;A portion is normally conducted behind closed doors.</p> <p>The rare openness has allowed the mainstream media to coalesce around the idea that Obama was the winner today, rather than writing about a prepared speech like almost any other the president gives. Indicative of this, <a href="http://thecaucus.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/01/29/obama-house-republicans-debate-their-divisions/?hp">the New York <em>Times</em> wrote</a>: </p> <blockquote> <p>Mr. Obama did show a strong command of the issues and deflect some of the Republican criticisms of his handling of them. He pointedly noted that while Republicans have assailed his economic stimulus package, “some of you have been at the ribbon-cuttings for some of these important projects in your communities.”</p></blockquote> <p>Already, GOP members in attendance have voiced concern over the decision to televise the event. Rep. Tom Cole, R-Oklahoma, <a href="http://blogs.alternet.org/speakeasy/2010/01/29/gop-dismayed-by-obama%E2%80%99s-strong-performance-say-it-was-a-mistake-to-let-cameras-roll/">told MSNBC</a> that Obama "scored many points. He did really well." Another Republican said, "It was a mistake that we allowed the cameras to roll like that. We should not have done that."</p> <p>Tucker Carlson's new right-wing portal, The Daily Caller, <a href="http://dailycaller.com/2010/01/29/obama-blasts-house-gop-in-tense-meeting/">ran this headline</a>: "Obama blasts House GOP in tense meeting." Even the<em>Weekly Standard</em>, a bastion of right-wing media <a href="http://weeklystandard.com/blogs/obama-takes-questions-wrap">wrote</a>: </p> <blockquote> <p>I worry about what a tradition such as this one would beget in the standards for future presidential candidates. It would certainly greatly favor a professorial, debate-centric president, perhaps at the expense of other leaderships skills.</p></blockquote> <p>Of course, <a href="http://corner.nationalreview.com/post/?q=MjViMzY4OTYwNzgzZjYyMDUyNDBlZWM2MWJjYTE2MjI=">some right-wingers think</a> the fact that Obama addressed the GOP in such a way is evidence of what's being called the "Scott Brown effect," whereby Obama foresees further disaster for his party in the midterm elections this November, and must make amends with Republicans as soon as possible.</p> <p>Regardless of who came out a victor today -- the GOP or Obama -- there is consensus that the back-and-forth in Baltimore did not bring any consensus to the logjammed issues that have consumed Congress since Obama was sworn into office.</p> <p>Instead, there appear to be glimmers of hope throughout the political spectrum that today's exchange could be a harbinger for a more exciting, engaging mode of political discourse, particularly as the country braces itself for the midterm ballot.</p> <p>Fewer prepared press releases and fewer closed doors -- and more public banter, please.</p> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Daniela Perdomo is a staff writer and editor of both the Progressive Wire and Investigations at AlterNet. <a href="http://twitter.com/danielaperdomo">Follow her on Twitter</a>. </div></div></div> Fri, 29 Jan 2010 12:00:01 -0800 Daniela Perdomo, AlterNet 660842 at http://www.alternet.org News & Politics News & Politics Media gop obama house gop AlterNet Take Action: Throw Out Bernanke! http://www.alternet.org/story/145426/alternet_take_action%3A_throw_out_bernanke%21 <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">It&#039;s up to progressives to take action around Bernanke, Haiti, anti-choice ads, and the corporate take-over of our democracy. Get involved now!</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>We find ourselves in a rather curious political moment. In the 2008 election cycle, Americans kicked the neo-cons out of office and landed Barack Obama in the White House -- with a filibuster-proof Democratic majority in Congress, to boot.<br /><br /> As President Obama prepares for his first State of the Union tomorrow, his address will likely contain many of the hope-and-change flourishes that won him the presidency, but it will also underscore how many of Democratic and independent voters' goals -- particularly those of liberals and progressives -- were not met in this first year. The speech also comes soon after Ted Kennedy's four-decade Senate seat was turned over to a TeaParty-boosted Republican, highlighting the fact that the sweeping reforms we need may be even harder to come by here on out.<br /><br /> Health care reform has not been passed -- and what may one day pass will bear the heavy imprint of lawmakers bought by a health care industry that profits off the status quo. The government bailed out Wall Street while regular Americans on Main Street have seen their savings dwindle and job prospects fade. Corporate interests were further empowered by the Supreme Court's decision to overturn the ban on corporate contributions to political campaigns. Those who voted to end the war in the Middle East have been met with escalation of the war in Afghanistan, and further failures in Iraq. And the year started off with the catastrophic loss of life in Haiti -- how the United States acts there throughout the rebuilding process could be a harbinger for our nation's standing in the world under Obama.<br /><br /> With these examples -- and many more -- in mind, <i>AlterNet</i>'s new site includes a <a target="_blank" href="http://www.alternet.org/takeaction/"><b>Take Action</b></a> page which will regularly connect our readers to actionable steps they can take around the issues they care about most.<br /><br /> And today we're pleased to present to you the five progressive actions we find most exciting and pressing right now. <a href="http://www.alternet.org/takeaction/">Click through</a> to learn more, participate, and make a difference.<br /><br /><b>1. <a href="http://www.alternet.org/takeaction/">Time to Throw Out Ben Bernanke!</a></b><br /><br /> Not since the Great Depression has the financial system been as unsafe, unsound, and unstable as it has been during Ben Bernanke's tenure. The failed Fed chair is up for re-appointment this week. Sign Sen. Bernie Sanders' (I-VT) petition to oust him!<br /><br /><strong>2.</strong> <b><a href="http://www.alternet.org/takeaction/">Stop the Anti-Choice Super Bowl Ad</a></b></p> <div>CBS’s recent decision to air an anti-choice advertisement ad during Super Bowl XLIV was outrageous. Even worse is the network’s about-face from its own policy of rejecting controversial Super Bowl ads. Call on the network to immediately cancel this ad!</div> <p> </p> <div> </div> <div><b>3. <a href="http://www.alternet.org/takeaction/">Save Our Democracy From the Corporatists!</a></b><br /><br /> Corporations, the Supreme Court ruled last week, should enjoy the same First Amendment rights as individuals. Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL) and his progressive colleagues have filed six bills to reverse this assault, the "Save our Democracy" platform. Sign a petition to support these efforts and prevent the sale of our government to the highest bidder.<br /><br /><b>4. <a href="http://www.alternet.org/takeaction/">Help Haiti: Tell Geithner to Cancel Its $1 Billion Debt</a></b><br /><br /> Sign a petition to U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and international financial institutions urging them to do everything possible to achieve immediate debt cancellation for Haiti.<br /><br /><b>5. <a href="http://www.alternet.org/takeaction/">Take the Pledge to Move Your Money!</a></b><br /><br /> People fed up with the nation's biggest banks, whose casino-style investment practices are partly responsible for the financial crisis, are pledging to move their money to small community banks and credit unions. They're taking the power into their own hands and voting with their dollars -- take the pledge to move your money!</div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Daniela Perdomo is a contributing writer &amp; editor at AlterNet. Follow her on <a href="http://twitter.com/danielaperdomo">Twitter</a>. </div></div></div> Mon, 25 Jan 2010 21:00:01 -0800 Daniela Perdomo, AlterNet 660726 at http://www.alternet.org News & Politics Take Action pro-choice reproductive rights supreme court fed bernanke haiti take action united citizens