Media Consortium

The GOP Hates Jobs

Through inaction and timid legislative negotiations, Congress just keeps letting the U.S. sink deeper and deeper into the economic abyss. Last week, Congress denied relief to the jobless and is currently poised to undercut a proposal that would rein in predatory lending. With unemployment out of control and banks pillaging citizens’ pocketbooks at every turn, the economy is in dire need of serious financial reform and a major jobs package.

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Is Sotomayor an Enigma on Abortion?

Yesterday, Sonia Sotomayor became the first Latina and the third woman ever nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court. She is currently a federal judge on New York’s 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals. Born to Puerto Rican immigrant parents and raised by her mother in the housing projects of the South Bronx, Sotomayor went on to attend college at Princeton and law school at Yale. George H.W. Bush appointed her to the U.S. District Court in 1991 and Bill Clinton “promoted� her to the 2nd Circuit in 1998.

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Why Women are Central to the Immigration Story

Celebrated stories of early American pioneers, explorers, and immigrants typically center around men of fortitude and bravery. Depictions of modern-day migrants are still very male-centric, and this cultural lens is a default in most cases. But women play a central and overlooked role in today's immigration story. Even when not directly highlighted, women often bear the weight of keeping families together and helping them grow stronger.

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On the Importance of Fighting the H1N1 Hype

This week’s Wire focuses on the opportunities for change that crisis can introduce. From the H1N1 “Swine” flu’s declining fervor to 2009’s May Day marches for worker rights and immigrant solidarity; from the tragic killing of Luis Ramirez to legislative movement on immigration, these are tumultuous times. But it is precisely such conflict and challenge that provides the best opportunities to make lasting change.

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Swine Flu Is Infecting the Immigration Debate

It’s no shock that those long-opposed to All Things Immigrant are using the Swine Flu outbreak—which has mostly affected Mexicans at this point—to ratchet anti-immigrant rhetoric up to an irresponsible level. It’s disappointing though, especially because the last few weeks saw more rational dialogue emerging in media coverage. This week’s Wire examines the voices talking about immigration both in the media and on the ground, from those recycling age-old “eliminationist” rhetoric to those who put their own bodies on the line to fight for inclusive justice.

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The Importance of Building Towards Change

As the U.S. moves closer and closer to enacting immigration reform, the situation on the ground is evolving as well. Nothing is static for an issue that touches so many people across so many communities. This week’s wire follows up on trends observed last week: holding mainstream media accountable, enforcement tactics, and immigration’s positive effect on the economy.

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It Is Damn Well Time to Shake Off the Bank Lobby

While the national economy struggles under the weight of a massive bank bailout effort, the banking lobby’s ability to influence public policy is more problematic than ever. The too-big-to-fail bankers may be dependent on U.S. taxpayers for their survival, but corporate lobbyists still have members of Congress, the Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve asking the banks’ permission to bring the Big Finance behemoths under control. The relationship between Wall Street and the government is so out of whack that it’s difficult to distinguish the political players from the panhandlers.

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Why the Stem Cell Reversal Is Not a Total Victory

This week, President Obama made headlines by reversing George W. Bush’s executive order barring researchers who receive federal funds from researching all but a handful of stem cell lines created before 2001.

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Will Obama Pull the Plug on His Own Health Czar Position?

The Obama administration may be about to pull the plug on the health czar. The position has gone unfilled since Obama’s appointee-apparent, former Sen. Tom Daschle, withdrew his name from consideration for both czar and Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) in early February. Several serious candidates are emerging in the unofficial race to lead HHS, but there’s no corresponding shortlist for health czar.

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Immigration Detention Industry Surges in Economic Crisis

The nation’s eyes are fixed upon a trembling economy. It affects our ability to survive, to thrive, and even think rationally. Today’s economic crisis is also impacting the lives of immigrants and immigration reform on multiple levels, be it through provisions to the economic stimulus bill, individual lawmen exceeding the bounds of their office, or a scrambling Pentagon viewing immigrants as easy recruits.

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Your Weekly Immigration Newsladder

It was immediately obvious this week that the Mumbai attacks would be the source of much loss and pain in India. As the US is a land of immigrants, it is always worth remembering how connected to any world event some segment of our population will be in these moments. So is the case now, and Rupa Dev of New America Media presents us with insights gleaned from interviews with a collection of young South Asian Americans in Mumbai Attacks Hit Home For Young South Asian Americans.

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What Do Mike Huckabee and a Progressive Think Tank Have in Common? Music

It was one of those adorable, bipartisan, even international moments: a Democratic congressman from Queens and a Republican former governor from Arkansas in musical collaboration, celebrating the virtues of a 17-year-old girl in a song penned by two Brits. Yesterday, at the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank, former Gov. Mike Huckabee (bass) and Rep. Joe Crowley (guitar and vocal) rocked the tank with their version of the Beatles' "I Saw Her Standing There" to promote the Music National Service Initiative, a new national service project that uses music as the means of transforming society.

Huckabee, embracing a position that seems designed to rile his fellow social conservatives, has long been a proponent of music and arts education in the public schools. During his term as governor, Huckabee pushed through the Arkansas legislature a bill that mandated music education for every student in the state's public schools. It's a cure he prescribes for all of the states.

"Now, it's going to be rare that you hear a Republican talk about mandates," Huckabee said, "but if we don't force it, we don't fund it, because there's too many competing interests. My experience was, once we mandated that music education take place with certified teachers, we started funding it -- because we had to."

While the appearance of the Republican presidential also-ran and Baptist preacher on the stage of a liberal institution may seem a head-scratcher, CPA President John Podesta told of how he and Huckabee got to know each other during a stressful patch of a humanitarian mission to Rwanda. "It's amazing, I think, Mike," Podesta said, "how being in a plane on a tarmac in Kigali with an engine that's blowing out on takeoff can quickly cause two men to put policy differences aside, partisan differences aside, and become fast friends."

Huckabee was quick to explain that his advocacy for music education sprang not from some sweet impulse to beautify the culture. It's about the economy, stupid, he explained (without the stupid part).

"We've got to start helping people to understand that there is a direct correlation between the power of our own economy -- the power of our own future survival -- and the power of stimulating creativity," Huckabee explained. "Because where will we find energy independence? It will be in the creativity that comes from students who will, who maybe, were first artists -- because most of the great thinkers and inventors and scientists of the world were first musicians and artists."

As evidence, he cited Richard Florida's trendsetting book, The Rise of the Creative Class (Basic 2002). Interesting, as Huckabee, hardly a friend to gay people, is touting a book that cites, as a major geographical indicator of creative-class economies, the number of LGBT residents.

Huckabee has a bone to pick with the "No Child Left Behind" bill passed by Congress in 2001, but it's not the common complaint about the law's incentive to make educators teach math and science "to the test" rather than in creative ways. Huckabee noted that while No Child Left Behind was often blamed for the collapse of music and arts programs in poorer school districts, the problem was not with the bill, but with local administrators. The law actually mandates arts education, Huckabee said, but "schools and school districts were not held accountable for the results of music and music education and arts; many schools said, '... If we're only going to be held accountable for math and science and reading, that's the only thing we'll put money into.'" (Perhaps that's why a music teacher friend of mine in Washington, D.C., calls the bill "No Child Left a Dime.")

Founded by Kiff Gallagher, a singer-songwriter "who served on the White house legislative team that created AmeriCorps," according to his bio, MNSI has won the support of Huckabee and Crowley, especially for the nonprofit organization's MusicianCorps, described by Gallagher as "a musical Peace Corps" designed to bring music education to areas and school districts where access to music lessons is not available.

Crowley, who will co-chair a Congressional Musicians' Caucus designed to support MusicianCorps, is embracing the program for more prosaic reasons, he said. "You never hear of anyone going to war over music," he explained. "The worst of it is the battle of the bands."

While Crowley went all peace, love and understanding, Huckabee couldn't resist getting in a dig. "Republicans do like the arts," he said, "and some of us believe that Republicans can rock, too -- not just Democrats -- even though when we play the music, sometimes the musicians get all mad about it and demand we quit. My band played a Boston tune; Tom Schultz went berserk and demanded that we quit, and we reminded him, 'Tom, you sold the music; we paid a license fee; get over it.'" Last week, Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart demanded that the McCain campaign stop using their hit "Barracuda" to promote Sarah Palin at campaign rallies.

What Will the Green Economy Look Like?

In Denver, Colo., Tom Plant, director of the Governor's Energy Office, is practically giddy. It's just days before the Democratic National Convention kicks off in Colorado's biggest city, and a long-sought goal in Gov. Bill Ritter's New Energy Economy program has just been met: Vestas, the Danish wind-turbine manufacturer, has announced its plan to open a new manufacturing plant just outside the city limits -- its second in the state.

Plant reels off some numbers: 1,350 new jobs at the new Vestas plant; 650 employees already employed at another the Vesta plant that opened last March, and the prospect of an additional 400 workers at a plant expected to open two years from now. Colorado now generates more than a gigawatt of energy through renewable energy sources -- three-quarters of that created in the 18 months since Plant's boss took office.

And how many people does he expect to arrive with the convention?

"About a gazillion, I think," Plant says, laughing. "Maybe two gazillion."

A cleaner, greener future has long occupied the dreams of progressives. With an historic "change" election upon us and a crisis in fuel pricing and climate change, the moment appears at hand for the public to accept profound changes in our way of life and the very structure of our economy.

Economists and philosophers, community organizers and labor negotiators, all see in the current crisis an opportunity to create change that reaches beyond the immediate boon of a cleaner environment. Some look through the green crystal ball and see new opportunities for industry or a revitalized labor movement. Others see a new role for government as a change-maker, and still others see a quantum leap in the evolution of the human soul. As goals, they're not necessarily mutually exclusive. But the paths imagined by green advocates don't always converge. Already the sound of dissonance is audible between those who envision a completely new economic model, and those who seek to work with and clean up the old one.

Democratic Party officials surely had the "change" theme of this year's presidential campaign in mind when they chose Colorado to host their convention. The Colorado legislature swung from its traditional red to blue when Ritter, the state's first Democratic governor in 50 years to enjoy a legislative majority, rode into office in 2006, promising a new and vibrant state economy that capitalized on the crisis of global climate change.

Ritter's New Energy Economy plan got a jump start before he was even elected, with the passage of a ballot measure in 2004 that called for the state's utilities to bring the level of renewable energy sources in their portfolios up to 10 percent by the year 2015. Executives at Xcel Energy, the state's largest utility, protested loudly, then went on to meet the standard eight years ahead of schedule. This year, Xcel's lobbyists urged a doubling of the standard.

While Colorado's mandate for renewable sources from its energy providers may have caught the attention of Vestas and other green technology companies, Plant sees something much bigger in their expansion. "When a company like Vestas locates 2,500 jobs in Colorado, it's not to feed an entirely Colorado demand; I mean, they're looking at the entire country," Plant says.

Plant isn't alone in seeing an opportunity to improve the economic fortunes of everyday Americans in the climate crisis.

Carla Din, Western field director of the Apollo Alliance, doesn't think she's asking for much: all she wants is a raft of green energy projects in California that build partnerships between organized labor, developers, environmentalists, social justice advocates and government. The Apollo Alliance seeks to build coalitions among interests that often conflict -- such as labor and business -- with a focus on meeting the needs of a green economy.

"We're talking about retooling existing structures, but also about utilizing the workforce that has been in these areas ... forever," Din says."For instance, the sheet metal workers, the plumbers and pipe-fitters... A lot of these workers are working in targeted industries that will need to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions for compliance with climate change laws."

Legislatures in 25 states have passed laws like Colorado's that require utilities to meet new standards for a minimum percentage of renewable energy sources in their portfolios. (California has the most comprehensive law, designed to reduce greenhouse emissions by 30 percent over the next 12 years.) The Apollo Alliance also advocates legislation that sets efficiency standards for the energy used by state government facilities and weds those requirements to fair labor standards for the workers who will do the required construction.

Asked if the labor movement will need to reshape the industrial-era structure of its trades sector, characterized by individual unions for distinct specialties, Din bristles a bit. "I don't necessarily think things have to be restructured; I think things have to be done strategically and efficiently with a lot of cross-pollination."

But a revolution on the scale required to reshape the economy and save the planet just won't happen without a fundamental change in the way people regard their place in the world, says Oakleigh Thorne II of the Thorne Ecological Institute, an education center he founded more than 50 years ago in Boulder, Colo. Applying the old economic principle of unbridled growth to green industries just won't do, he says. Thorne argues that the same principles that govern ecological systems control economic systems, as well. "If you violate ecological principles you might be able to make a fast buck on the short term," he says, "but long-term, you'll have an economic disaster."

Van Jones, president of Green For All in Oakland, Calif., wants nothing less from a new green economy than the alleviation of poverty -- and a few other things. Voicing a more urgent imperative in the threat of global climate change, Jones, who will be featured as a panelist at The Media Consortium's Live From Main Street program in Denver on Sunday, sees a world of possibilities in an economy gone green.

The revitalization of urban America could reach into the city's core, says Jones, with green-collar jobs for those who today struggle to find good-paying work -- not to mention the health benefits for residents who today choke with asthma on fumes and city soot. While Green For All advocates legislative remedies, that's just where its efforts begin. If the kind of change he's talking about is to be made, Jones says, the current economy will need some radical adjustments.

Models used by today's economists, Jones explains, are based on notions developed in the 19th century. "Whether left or right," Jones says, "[these models] had one almost unspoken assumption, which is that you're going to have an awful lot of nature and very few people. So you find these weird terms, like 'inexhaustible resources'... Now you're living in a world where you have an awful lot of people and shockingly little nature left."

You can't tinker with the equation to fix the flaw in that model, he says. "If you ... have to break up with oil and coal, you may as well break up with poverty and a bunch of other stuff, anyway," insists Jones, whose book, The Green-Collar Economy, is due from HarperCollins in October.

Economist James Galbraith is frustrated by the lack of attention to the climate crisis by his colleagues. "Where is the economic school of thought that addresses the impact of climate change?" he asks. Except for the work of one or two economists, he says, "it doesn't exist." Galbraith, a professor at University of Texas (Austin), says solving the crisis will require a complete reordering of universities to foster collaboration across disciplines.

In his recently released book, The Predator State, Galbraith pleads a case for Democrats to abandon the so-called free market system, since Republicans have clearly done so over the last eight years, as demonstrated by a series of bailouts, manipulations and deficit spending. Galbraith suggests, the challenge of heading off the perils of global climate change offers a jumping-off point from which to launch a new, more beneficial economic system. "It's a sensible application," he says. That new system will feature of hybrid of government planning, regulated markets and institutions that foster innovation.

Like Jones, Galbraith sees in the current economic and ecological crises the potential to reinvent decaying societal structures and create entirely new ones. But when asked if it is time for a new New Deal, Galbraith offers a caution against "reaching back to a glorious moment and calling for the revival of an old solution." One thing the next president and Congress should do, Galbraith says, is to create national-level institutions on the order of our great national laboratories, like the National Institutes of Health or NASA, designed to address the climate crisis.

Nothing less than the sort of effort the U.S. mounted when mobilizing for World War II will create the enterprise needed to address climate change and energy independence in ways that will restructure the economy for the better, Galbraith adds. Folded into that enterprise, he says, should be a goal for universal broadband access ("It's carbon-neutral") and a national infrastructure project that does not simply repair decaying structures, but completely redesigns roads, bridges and transportation in ways that are energy-efficient and create sustainable communities.

For his part, Jones sees more creative energy for reinventing the economy coming from the human heart and mind -- what he calls "the revolution within" -- than from existing institutions. "Why be stuck with these little single-issue not-for-profits and broken-up academic departments trying to solve this thing from inside of it?" he asks. Thinking about this crisis needs to be simplified, not made more complex, he explains. "You know, the reason that Green For All has the name it has is 'cause it's what a child would say... You gotta get back to the complete innocence of childhood."

Where Jones calls for a return to innocence, Thorne calls for simplification of our lives, a goal Galbraith also seeks through his economist's lens, noting, for instance, the efficiency of shortening the food chain.

But Thorne's philosophy, the "deep ecology" first proposed by the Norwegian philosopher Arne Naess, hangs on more than simplicity; it urges humility in human interaction with the rest of creation. "This integral consciousness is the next step... Out of the consciousness will come the cultural change. Consciousness is always ahead of culture."

Yet even within the green economy movement, consciousness has its limits. Where thinkers like Jones and Galbraith see a sort of creative destruction in allowing the structures of yesterday fall away to make room for the new, pragmatists like Din and Plant have high hopes for greening the industrial model. Conflicts inherent in these two visions could be the next big test of the progressive movement.

Dems Lead in Counterattack to Stop Iran Conflict

In the past month, President Bush and his allies in the Congress have set Washington once again buzzing with speculation about the administration's end game for Iran -- having accused the Iranians of stoking a third world war and dubbed the Revolutionary Guard Corps a terrorist organization. But as everyone from antiwar activists to military insiders wring their hands over the White House's intentions, a lonely handful of Democratic legislators are working to wedge Congress between the administration and Tehran.

Massachusetts Rep. John Tierney and Virginia Sen. Jim Webb have emerged as early leaders. With a few exceptions, their efforts have drawn tepid support from their colleagues, in both parties. But Tierney points to hopeful signs of a groundswell -- and sources say influential Democratic donors have begun demanding that party leaders match Bush's saber rattling with an equally vocal chorus of caution.

In 1998, during a politically fraught moment in United States history, the Congress passed, and President Bill Clinton signed into law, the Iraq Liberation Act, which made ending Saddam Hussein's regime an official U.S. policy goal. The legislation said as much explicitly: "It should be the policy of the United States to support efforts to remove the regime headed by Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq."

Nine years later, Sens. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., and Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., introduced an eerily similar amendment to the 2008 Department of Defense spending bill, which passed with overwhelming support and will soon be U.S. law. "It should be the policy of the United States," the Kyl-Lieberman amendment reads, "to combat, contain, and roll back the violent activities and destabilizing influence inside Iraq of the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran, its foreign facilitators such as Lebanese Hezbollah, and its indigenous Iraqi proxies." This should be accomplished, according to the language, with the "use of all instruments of United States national power in Iraq, including diplomatic, economic, intelligence, and military instruments."

Two, in this case, doesn't make a coincidence. It makes a pattern. But one of the key differences between 1998 and 2007 is that some on Capitol Hill -- including senators who voted against Kyl-Lieberman, and members who have opposed similar measures in the House -- see the writing on the wall. And unlike those who have been through this before -- people like Rep. Barbara Lee of California and Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin -- today's voices of caution can point to their Iraq war predecessors, who spoke out against the invasion before it was popular to do so, and were ignored.

"It was the escalating rhetoric from the Bush administration," Tierney told me on Thursday when I asked him about his new focus; a fear that "the administration may be more concerned with regime change than with behavioral changes from the Iranian government."

Tierney sits on the House Select Committee on Intelligence and chairs a National Security and Foreign Affairs subcommittee, beneath the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. Two weeks ago, he initiated a series of subcommittee hearings, inviting experts to teach the Congress about Iran -- what the Iranian people support, how their government works, how they can be engaged diplomatically, and what the costs of military action against Iran would be. At Thursday's hearing, the second in the series, five former diplomats and national security experts -- four of whom sat in staunch opposition to military action -- placed the chances of an American strike against Iran at between 20 and 50 percent over the next nine months.

After the hearing, I asked Tierney which of his congressional colleagues were most concerned about the situation and most interested in participating in an effort to prevent the administration's rhetorical volleys from being supplanted with bombs. He noted members‚ heightened engagement at both hearings. But Tierney demurred on the question of naming allies -- members of a potential anti-escalation caucus. That may be because the total numbers are still too low, particularly in the Senate. And therein lies the problem.

Steve Clemons, who directs the American Strategies program at the non-partisan New America Foundation, argues that, in the wake of Kyl-Lieberman, powerful Democrats, even ones who voted for the browbeating amendment, should support Webb's efforts. "Forget about Constitutional questions. Those went out the window with Kyl-Lieberman. What the Senate can do, if it wants to stop an attack or an accidental war, is get Hillary Clinton and more powerful Democrats to get 50 votes for something -- even if it's not binding, even if it's 50 signatures on a letter -- showing that a majority of the Senate opposes a conflict."

Emily Blout, acting legislative director for the National Iranian American Council, echoes Clemons. "First and foremost, in the short term, we need more activity along the lines of what Tierney and Webb are doing," says Blout. "Ultimately we should move to legislation -- to something like Webb's bill." And that's exactly what most activists, experts, and donors would like to see as well. Some propose the possibility of interparliamentary meetings between Iranian politicians and members of the United States Congress.

And that's exactly what many activists and donors would like to see as well. According to Capitol Hill sources who asked not to be named, influential Democratic donors are planning, in the coming days, to push senior Democrats on the Senate Armed Services Committee and in the Senate leadership to invite Admiral William Fallon--the Commander of U.S. Central Command, who has cautioned against military action in Iran and criticized the continued drumbeat--to testify. They believe Fallon's views -- well known, but never attested to before the government -- could snowball Webb's efforts into something more meaningful.

Recently, Webb sent a letter to President Bush emphasizing his belief "that offensive military action should not be taken against Iran without the express consent of Congress." It was signed by 29 other members. But 60 votes would be needed if any binding legislation is to make it to the Oval Office. And with more extreme measures, like closing the purse, off of the Democratic leadership's table, the best shot may be for more of the most respected, influential figures in the country -- who see the threat before them -- to follow the leaders and raise their voices loudly.

Wiretapping at Its Worst

It seemed like shocking news last week when the telecommunications giant Verizon admitted it has readily allowed warrantless national security investigators to browse customer records on thousands of occasions. But given the revolving door between the telecom industry and federal government, no one should be surprised by their cozy relationship.

According to, a website run by the Center for Responsive Politics in Washington, D.C., the worlds are well-connected: There is no shortage of government officials who once worked in the telecommunications industry, and no shortage of telecommunications industry execs who once worked for the government.

Many of the men and women who have hopped the fence -- sometimes more than once -- between government and telecom have done so via predictable channels. It's not uncommon, for instance, for aides and commissioners to the Federal Communications Commission to come from or move on to careers in telecommunications. It's arguably not even that surprising. But there are also the executives -- like those who fill Verizon's ranks -- who have spent years fighting for the government's right to pry into consumer data.

In an Oct. 12 letter to Democratic lawmakers, Randal S. Milch, senior vice president and general counsel to Verizon, admitted that, in tens of thousands of instances over the last two years, his company has provided government officials with subscriber information without court orders. According to the letter, that information has included subscriber names and addresses, local and long-distance telephone connection records, and methods and sources of payment.

Milch serves alongside William P. Barr, who is executive vice president and general counsel to Verizon. In Barr's past life, he was an analyst for the CIA who went on to serve as a domestic policy adviser to President Ronald Reagan and as the attorney general of the United States under President George H.W. Bush. Throughout his esteemed government career, and well after he'd moved into the telecommunications industry, Barr has shown a voracious appetite for government surveillance.

In 1995, after he'd made the switch, he told the House Judiciary Committee that "emergency wiretap authority exists under current law with respect to a range of criminal activity. Existing emergency authority has been sparingly used, and I am not aware of any indication of abuse. It is clearly appropriate that the same emergency authority that applies with respect to Mafia conspiracies also applies to terrorist conspiracies."

He argued that, when conducting surveillance, a single subpoena issued by the government should be sufficient to cover multiple telephones registered to an individual target. "It is impractical to identify a particular phone. This is perfectly in line with constitutional protections. After all, the right to privacy guaranteed under the Fourth Amendment is an individual's right to privacy; it is not an inanimate object's right to privacy. Roving wiretaps targeted at particular suspects rather than specific phones should not cause alarm."

Barr's testimony was cited in the House Report on the Comprehensive Antiterrorism Act of 1995 as justification for an expansion of federal wiretapping authority. The following year, he advocated on behalf of the use of intelligence information in domestic law enforcement proceedings in cases of suspected terrorism.

And that was all before Sept. 11, 2001. After the terrorist attacks, Barr re-emerged on Capitol Hill to lend his support to controversial measures such as beefed up executive privilege, broadened Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act authority, and both the use of military tribunals in specific and the USA PATRIOT Act more broadly.

Barr represents perhaps the most overtly wiretap-friendly liaison between the telecom industry and the government of the United States, but he's far from alone at Verizon. Peter Davidson, Verizon's chief lobbyist, was once a staffer in the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel and served as general counsel to former Texas Rep. Dick Armey when Armey was House majority leader.

Additionally, a former senior vice president at Verizon, Edward Whelan, was from mid 2001 to 2004 the principal deputy assistant attorney general for the Office of Legal Counsel. He clerked as well for Justice Antonin Scalia and, later, wrote an article defending Justice Samuel Alito who, in memos that eerily presage the current FISA debate, argued “an executive branch official who authorized the illegal wiretapping of U.S. citizens without a warrant should be immune from lawsuits,� according to Charlie Savage of the Boston Globe. The Alito memos were written in his Justice Department days, before he was appointed to the Supreme Court.

None of this necessarily means Verizon and other telecom firms can't be trusted to honor our privacy and the law. But it does show that if the executive branch wants access to nominally protected information, or the Congress wants to expand the legal framework in which surveillance is allowed, the doors are wide open and their friends are eagerly waiting.

Oil Companies Are Using a Simple Trick to Bilk Consumers out of Billions

It's probably intuitive to most people that the gasoline in their fuel tank expands in the heat -- just like doorframes and cookware and everything else on the planet. What's probably less intuitive is that, in the United States, this physical phenomenon pumps a nearly $2 billion annual windfall out of consumers' pockets and into oil company coffers, according to numerous calculations, including a recent House of Representatives study.

The North Carolina-based company Gilbarco Veeder-Root manufactures a device -- a temperature-sensitive chamber for fuel -- that, if affixed to gasoline pumps across the country, would return that money to consumers and help relieve some of our storied gas-price pressures. The device -- and others like it -- is simple, functional and, in fact, already in widespread use at gas stations all across Canada. Last month, Democratic presidential hopeful and Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich, chair of the Domestic Policy Subcommittee, held the second in a series of hearings to investigate why the technology has never made it into the American market.

Temperature is just one of the many variables that determine how much energy one tank of gasoline contains, and therefore how many miles it will pull your car. But the effects of temperature change are easier to calculate than, say, ethanol content or petroleum grade -- and are therefore also easy to correct for. Here's how it works.

A gallon of gasoline contains a certain number of molecules, which combust in your car's engine to provide it with energy. If you heat up that gallon of gasoline it will expand, leaving you with a larger volume of gas than the gallon with which you started. But your new volume will contain the same number of combustible molecules and therefore will provide the same amount of energy as it did prior to the heating. That means a tank full of "hot" gas will provide a car with less energy than will the same tank full of "cool" gas, which is why you've probably been advised (correctly) not to buy gasoline when it's hot outside. Simple, right?

It is if you live in Canada, at least. There, gasoline retailers install metering systems in their pumps to determine how much the fuel they sell has cooled or heated from its standardized refinery temperature, and then adjust the price accordingly. If the fuel has become warmer, it also becomes cheaper. If it has cooled, it becomes more expensive. Which is to say that Canadians -- to a greater extent than Americans -- pay for the energy they get out of the gasoline and not for the volume of liquid fuel they purchase.

Of course, on average, Canada is pretty cold and the United States is pretty hot. So it benefits both retailers and oil companies to correct for temperature in Canada, but to price by volume in the United States But the idea of correcting price for temperature has deep roots in the industry: oil companies have done so for gasoline wholesalers for nearly a century. The only ones in the North American energy chain who pay by volume rather than by energy value are U.S. consumers.

Kucinich's hearings were designed to shed light on this and other double standards. Oil company executives, testifying under threat of subpoena, told the subcommittee that gas retailers in the United States don't use heat meters -- known as "automatic temperature compensation" -- because state regs don't let them. "State weights and measures regulations have not adopted temperature correction," said Hugh Cooley, a Shell Oil Company vice president, in answer to Kucinich's inquiries. Ben Soraci, Director of General Sales for ExxonMobil, echoed Cooley, insisting that "across the U.S. a gallon is still defined as 231 cubic inches by law."

But Kucinich offered evidence to the contrary. His subcommittee asked the National Institutes of Standards and Technology to survey all 50 states and the District of Columbia about their weights and measures rules. "Most states permit the use of temperature compensation at both the wholesale and retail level," Kucinich said the survey found. "In fact, NIST could find that automatic temperature compensation is only expressly prohibited in nine states for retail."

Further, Kucinich found that Gilbarco Veeder-Root sought certification for its automatic temperature compensation equipment in California. Gilbarco was responding to what it has said was the stated interest of California gas retailers, but it found no buyers when the state gave its product the OK.

Cooley and Soraci say that's unsurprising because the cost for implementing devices like Gilbarco's, an investment estimated to be about $2,500 per unit, would be borne by retailers -- the majority of which are affiliated only loosely with big oil companies -- and then ultimately passed on to the consumer. The oil execs' contention is true as far as it goes, but belies the fact that oil companies maintain funds -- called "image" and "development" funds -- meant to help so-called arms-length retailers pay for modifications and improvements to their gas stations. The money is there to extend to consumers the same fair deal wholesalers get, but the companies don't particularly want to spend it.

Kucinich's subcommittee is now also investigating whether that's the reason California retailers balked when given the chance to use Gilbarco Veeder-Root's system, and whether states should be encouraged to mandate pricing by amount of energy bought rather than volume of gas sold.

Miers and Bolten Facing Contempt Charge

The House Judiciary Committee yesterday voted 22-17 along party lines to refer to the full chamber a report that recommends holding former White House Counsel Harriet Miers and White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten in statutory contempt of Congress. Citing the Bush administration's assertion of executive privilege, Miers and Bolten have ignored House subpoenas concerning their role in the firing of nine U.S. Attorneys last December.

Laying the groundwork for Wednesday's action has been a long and complicated process for House Democratic leaders. To avoid a possible loss in the courts as well as charges of partisanship, they have spent weeks establishing a pattern of White House obstructionism, built a detailed legal argument against the assertions of executive privilege on this issue, and structured a narrow case based upon the flouting of committee subpoenas. If the contempt charge passes the House, the case will be referred to Jeff Taylor, the U.S. Attorney for Washington, D.C., who was appointed by Bush.

On Tuesday, Chairman John Conyers (D-MI) circulated a 52-page memo to all members of the House Judiciary Committee. Intended to serve as a compendium of the offenses that warrant the subpoenas, the memo details just about every facet of the scandal: It includes the apparent motives for the attorney firings, the seemingly false statements White House and Justice Department officials have made about the case, and legal arguments against the executive privilege the president has cited as justification for blocking the investigation from moving forward.

It remains unclear how far Congress can proceed in the long term. A July 25 Associated Press article indicated that the House will likely wait until after Congress' August recess to rule on the contempt citations. If they eventually pass the citations, it would be up to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) to refer the case to Taylor. The administration has insisted that Congress cannot force the U.S. Attorney's office to pursue contempt charges, and Taylor, like all U.S. Attorneys, serves at the pleasure of the president.

But Democrats argue that if they don't pursue contempt proceedings against Bolten and Miers, they'll create a perverse set of incentives for future presidents to block Congressional oversight. Republicans responded that a loss in court might actually make that situation worse. "Our failure is not here," said Rep. Chris Cannon (R-UT) at the hearing. "You have the votes here. If we fail in the courts ... that's when we make the imperial presidency."

Several Democrats responded that a worse incentive is created when the president believes that Congress will not vigorously attend to its oversight duties. "Some may argue that the stakes in this confrontation are so high we cannot afford the risk that we might lose," said Conyers, "I would say to them that if we countenance a process where our subpoenas can be readily ignored, where a witness under a duly authorized subpoena doesn't even bother to show up, where privilege can be asserted on the thinnest of bases and in the broadest possible manner, then we have already lost."

Other Republicans advanced a less technical argument against the citations. Rep. Ric Keller (R-FL) suggested that the Judiciary Committee accept an offer of an off-the-record, closed-door meeting with White House officials in lieu of escalating the Constitutional crisis.

"There has been no attempt to gather this information through alternative means," Keller said. "For example, the White House has made Harriet Miers available to talk about any communications that she had with DOJ officials, members of Congress or outside sources on an informal basis. They've turned down that interview opportunity. Similarly they're seeking the documents for Josh Bolten. Josh Bolten said, 'I will provide you with any documents regarding this situation between the White House and DOJ as well as any documents between the White House and Congress or other third parties.' They've turned down that ... as well."

Though no Democrat at the hearing specifically questioned his assertions on this point, Keller ignored the fact that the president's offer is contingent upon a host of restrictions, including a refusal to provide the committee with any internal White House correspondence and a refusal to participate at all thereafter. Conyers addressed those restrictions in the 52-page memo.

"On March 20, 2007, White House Counsel made a 'take it or leave it' proposal, under which the Committee was offered limited availability to some documents and limited access to witnesses, but without any transcripts and under severe limitations as to permissible areas for questioning," the memo read. "The White House also insisted that a condition of its proposal was that the Committee commit in advance not to subsequently pursue any additional White House-related information by any other means, regardless of what initial review of documents and informal discussions should reveal."

If the court does not overrule the executive privilege claims and hold Miers and Bolten in contempt -- or if it refuses to hear the citation in the first place -- House Democrats will face some difficult choices. One option would be to pursue citations of inherent -- as opposed to statutory -- contempt of Congress, and try Bolten and Miers before the full House of Representatives. That would require dispatching the House Sergeant-at-Arms to arrest the pair and holding them in jail, an option House aides have suggested Democrats have little appetite for. Failing that, they could begin impeachment proceedings against the president himself, or any Senate-approved appointee involved in the obstruction. Or they could do nothing at all. If that happens, it may well end the congressional inquiry into the U.S. Attorney scandal forever.

Moore and SiCKO Are a Hit at Congress

It's ironic, but outside of hospitals and day care centers, perhaps the best place to acquire some kind of illness on Wednesday in Washington, D.C., was at Michael Moore's press conference on Capitol Hill. The long lines and the sweaty, claustrophobic committee room were emblematic of the enthusiasm that Moore's appearance and SiCKO, his new film on the decrepit state of U.S. health care, have generated both in Washington and around the country.

Behind the podium from which Moore and influential House Democrats spoke and answered questions, an array of sign-wielding activists stood along the back wall. Facing them from the other side of the room, women from the group Code Pink lofted a large, painted sign reading, "Healthcare now, for all." At one point, a security officer approached them about lowering the banner. His face, though, showed a reluctance to scold a group of people who were exercised about a worthy cause. He gave them a thumbs up.

Such was the atmosphere in the committee room, a vibrancy that offset the doleful stories -- about patients dying and insurance companies fleecing -- that were fired off in rapid succession by members of Congress at the podium. It's no surprise that SiCKO features many similar stories -- matched, of course, with the faces of patients themselves, many of whom died for lacking health insurance, and others who died despite it.

The film, characterized by Moore's usual mix of wry humor contrasted sharply with deeply somber personal narratives, traces the health care crisis back to the early 1970s when Richard Nixon, under pressure from Edgar Kaiser, helped launch the Health Maintenance Organization (HMO) system. That system, one of the largest in the world of for-profit medicine, is the prime cause, according to Moore and many others, of phenomena like uninsurance, underinsurance, and adverse selection that have caused our health care standards to topple well below similarly wealthy nations, including France, Germany, and Japan, all of which have government-paid universal health care systems. Today, as Moore noted both on Capitol Hill and in his film, there are four health care lobbyists in Washington for every member of Congress.

Perhaps the greatest, and most awkward, part of yesterday's hearing -- the part that most resembled something from a Michael Moore movie -- occurred when Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), chair of the House Judiciary Committee, spotted Rep. Darryl Issa (R-Calif.) standing quietly in the back of the room. Conyers thanked Issa "for making this a bipartisan issue," and invited him to stand in front of the crowd. Issa gestured in protest, waving his hand back and forth like a cutthroat in front of his neck. It was a losing battle. He was ultimately cowed into standing with Moore and the Democrats anyhow.

When Issa finally spoke, he did so extemporaneously, joking that his scheduler must have somehow forgotten to inform him of this engagement and dodging attempts by Conyers and others to bring him to the D.C. premiere of SiCKO. Though he received a lukewarm welcome, Issa sought the common ground, calling health care a "bipartisan issue," approvingly citing Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's health care plan for California, and suggesting that, while the parties "may differ on the specifics," Congress and the president "must take steps toward universal access."

On those specifics, Issa differs wildly from either Schwarzenegger or most Democrats. Schwarzenegger, one of a small handful of governors to bring his state's health rolls anywhere near universality, recently enacted an individual mandate to buy insurance that will cover almost everybody in California. His policy, however, exists on the long line that connects Conyers' single-payer plan to provide Medicare for all and Issa's 2005 plan, which works much more incrementally. It would provide credits to business owners in states where the minimum wage exceeds the federal minimum to secure health insurance for their employees.

Aside from Moore, the loudest applause of the afternoon went to Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), who beseeched universal health care activists not to "get in bed with the right wing who means us no good." More poignantly, Conyers compared his efforts on his bill -- H.R. 676 -- to his efforts years ago to make Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday a national holiday. Back then, as today, he told the crowd, many of his colleagues said to him "you have a great idea, but you know you can't win."

Neither Conyers nor Moore sees things that way. And Moore, surpassed perhaps only by Al Gore as the most recognizable activist in America, is advancing his cause in a decidedly un-Gore-like way. Yesterday afternoon, he rented out a theater in Washington's Union Station to hold yet another free screening -- food and drink provided -- for anybody in the city who has a career lobbying on behalf of private health care companies. No word yet on how many people attended.

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