Index of Posts for September 2008

Poet and critic Hayden Carruth dies at 87

Photo by Ted Rosenberg of Hayden Carruth from his obituary at the Washington Post. His page at the American Academy of Poets is here.

Prepare for Joe-Anne McLaughlin Carruth

"Why don't you write me a poem that will prepare me for your
death?" you said.
It was a rare day here in our climate, bright and sunny. I didn't feel like
dying that day.
I didn't even want to think about it -- my lovely knees and bold
shoulders broken open,
Crawling with maggots. Good Christ! I stood at the window and I saw
a strange dog
Running in the field with its nose down, sniffing the snow, zigging and
And whose dog is that? I asked myself. As if I didn't know. The limbs
of the apple trees
Were lined with snow, making a bright calligraphy against the world,
messages to me
From an enigmatic source in an obscure language. Tell me, how shall I
decipher them?
And a jay slanted down to the feeder and looked at me behind my glass
and squawked.
Prepare, prepare. Fuck you, I said, come back tomorrow. And here he
is in this new gray and gloomy morning.
We're back to our normal weather. Death in the air, the idea of death
settling around us like mist,
And I am thinking again in despair, in desperation, how will it happen?
Will you wake up
Some morning and find me lying stiff and cold beside you in our bed?
How atrocious!
Or will I fall asleep in the car, as I nearly did a couple of weeks ago,
and drive off the road
Into a tree? The possibilities are endless and not at all fascinating,
except that I can't stop
Thinking about them, can't stop envisioning that moment of hideous
Hideous and indescribable as well, because it won't happen until it's
over. But not for you
For you it will go on and on, thirty years or more, since that's the
distance between us
In our ages. The loss will be a great chasm with no bridge across it
(for we both know
Our life together, so unexpected, is entirely loving and rare). Living
on your own --
Where will you go? what will you do? And the continuing sense of
From what we've had in this little house, our refuge on our green or
Hill. Life is not easy and you will be alive. Experience reduces itself to
platitudes always,
Including the one which says that I'll be with you forever in your
memories and dreams.
I will. And also in hundreds of keepsakes, such as this scrap of a poem
you are reading now.

--from Scrambled Eggs and Whiskey: Poems 1991-1995, Copper Canyon Press.

The Cows at Night

(According Betty Smith-Mastaler in her tribute on Vermont Public Radio, Carruth told the audience at a reading in 2002 that this was as good a poem as he had ever written when he was in "his bucolic mood.")

The moon was like a full cup tonight,
too heavy, and sank in the mist
soon after dark, leaving for light

faint stars and the silver leaves
of milkweed beside the road,
gleaming before my car.

Yet I like driving at night
in summer and in Vermont:
the brown road through the mist

of mountain-dark, among farms
so quiet, and the roadside willows
opening out where I saw

the cows. Always a shock
to remember them there, those
great breathings close in the dark.

I stopped, taking my flashlight
to the pasture fence. They turned
to me where they lay, sad

and beautiful faces in the dark,
and I counted them - forty
near and far in the pasture,

turning to me, sad and beautiful
like girls very long ago
who were innocent, and sad

because they were innocent,
and beautiful because they were
sad. I switched off my light.

But I did not want to go,
not yet, nor knew what to do
if I should stay, for how

in that great darkness could I explain
anything, anything at all.
I stood by the fence. And then

very gently it began to rain.


While most people know the story of poets turning down an invitation from Laura Bush because of their opposition to the war, Carruth turned down the Clintons in 1998, writing,
This is to acknowledge your invitation to attend a "Millennium Evening" at the White House in celebration of American poetry on April 22nd. Thank you for thinking of me. However, it would seem the greatest hypocrisy for an honest American poet to be present on such an occasion at the seat of the power which has not only neglected but abused the interests of poets and their readers continually, to say nothing of many other administratively dispensable segments of the population. Consequently, I must decline.


President Bush on the Economy: He's no FDR

"Bailout Bonanza" by Nat Beeler in the September 26 Washington Examiner.

Given his behavior after 9-11, I cannot imagine Bush saying, as FDR did in his inaugural address on March4, 1933, that we have nothing to fear but fear itself. But look, too, at FDR's rhetoric of concerning the financial sector in that speech:
Only a foolish optimist can deny the dark realities of the moment....Practices of the unscrupulous money changers stand indicted in the court of public opinion, rejected by the hearts and minds of men....This nation is asking for action, and action now....There must be a strict supervision of all banking and credits and investments. There must be an end to speculation with other people’s money. And there must be provision for an adequate but sound currency.

Then look at President Bush's speech this morning on the bail-out plan for the financial sector, the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act. He sought to assure Americans that there is nothing wrong with business as usual and that
over time, much -- if not all -- of the tax dollars we invest will be paid back.
I have learned to supect such promises from this administration. Remember when Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz testified before Congress on March 27, 2003 regarding Iraq,
There's a lot of money to pay for this. It doesn't have to be U.S. taxpayer money. We are dealing with a country that can really finance its own reconstruction, and relatively soon....oil revenues of Iraq could bring between $50 and $100 billion over the course of the next two or three years…We're dealing with a country that can really finance its own reconstruction, and relatively soon.


O v. McC: The Debate

"The First Debate" which Nate Beeler says had to draw for the Sunday Washington Examiner before the debate even took place.

Obama's September 26 debate with McCain reminded me of a therapy session, as moderator Jim Leher told the men to
talk to each other about it. We've got five minutes. We can negotiate a deal right here.
And then to Obama,
...Do you have something directly to say, Senator Obama, to Senator McCain about what he just said?

...Say it directly to him.

...Say it directly to him.

...I'm just determined to get you all to talk to each other. I'm going to try.

Robert Dreyfuss, who writes for The Nation, was not impressed with Obama, especially with regard to foreign policy, writing that

he utterly blew a chance to draw a stark contrast with John McCain on America's approach to the world.


Paul Newman Gone to Cancer

Paul Newman is one of my favorite actors and I imagine I would have liked him, were I to have met him (he and his widow Joanne Woodward shared a home in the same CT town where my cousins grew up.)

I don't write much about film stars, but I think he was something more, a mensch, and I thought I'd post some photos from his career as a leading man who was really a character actor and thus aged gracefully on screen because he was not afraid to show his years.  Above is Newman in his last screen role, as the irascible reprobate Max Roby, in Empire Falls, a 2005 HBO movie based on Richard Russo's novel (Photo by Demmie Todd)

Photo of Newman as the Irish gangster John Rooney in Road to Perdition (2002), based on the graphic novel by Max Allan Collins and Richard Piers Rayner.

Newman on the poster for Sometimes a Great Notion (1971), which he directed, based on Ken Kesey's novel.  This was one of my favorite books and I didn't know about the film until I ran across it late one night on tv.

Amidst concerns about his failing health, Vanity Fair published actress and biographer Patricia Boswoth's "The Newman Chronicles" in its September issue, lauding the achievements of his life beyond mere stardom.

UPDATE: I love this story that Victor Navasky writes on October 1, for the October 20, 2008 issue of The Nation, of approaching Newman for financial help for the magazine...

It all started in 1994, when Arthur Carter, who for eight years had subsidized and published The Nation, which was losing about $500,000 a year, turned the magazine over to me.

 Since I didn't have $500,000 to lose--that year or any other year--I came up with a four-year plan. My idea was to find three shareholders who would put up $1 million each. That way we would have enough money to cover our losses, pay Carter off and invest in our future until the magic moment of self-sufficiency arrived (or so we hoped).

I called my friend E.L. Doctorow, who was also a friend of The Nation and, perhaps most important, a friend, or at least an acquaintance, of Paul Newman, who had returned from World War II to Kenyon College as a senior when Doctorow was a freshman. Could he arrange a meeting?

Two and a half months later, I found myself at dinner at a small Italian restaurant in the East Eighties with Doctorow, Newman and Joanne Woodward. Normally, I would have been thrilled to have dinner with Newman and Woodward, but my fundraising experience told me that when a "mark" (in the spirit of The Sting, let's think of Newman as a mark here) brings his wife along, all too often no funds get raised. So, much as I admired Woodward, I worried about her presence.

Dinner began with Newman and Doctorow reminiscing about Kenyon. Doctorow reminded Newman that he had been a patron of the small laundry business Newman had started in competition with the college. He had made a deal with a local laundry that he'd collect student laundry and get paid. So he opened a store in opposition to the campus laundry. Then he got the bright idea of putting a keg of beer in the store window; any student who came in with laundry got a free beer. College authorities began to wonder why their laundry business was going down. When they found out, that was the end of Newman's promising career in laundry--but not, as his all-natural food company, Newman's Own, was later to make clear, his entrepreneurial instincts.

Then Newman turned to me and said, "So, Professor, what's the damage? What can I do for you?"

When I told him what I had in mind, he said, "That's very rich."

At which point Woodward piped up and observed, "You're very rich."

"So are you," said Newman.

"Not as rich as you, dear."

I shouldn't have worried.


Tell No One

Volunteering at the Lyric tonight, where I am looking forward to seeing, Tell No One," a 2006 French film directed by Guillaume Canet, based on a novel by Harlan Coben, a writer of thrillers whose work I admire.


Gore calls for Civil Disobedience while Bush Supends Posse

Al Gore today at the Clinton Global Initiative:
I believe we have reached the stage where it is time for civil disobedience to prevent the construction of new coal plants that do not have carbon capture and

Meanwhile, Radley Balko, a senior editor of the libertarian Reason Magazine alerted readers today in a blog post to an item in the Army Times, "Posse Comiwhatus?" By staff writer Gina Cavallaro, the editors benignly titled it "Brigade homeland tours start Oct. 1: 3rd Infantry’s 1st BCT trains for a new dwell-time mission. Helping ‘people at home’ may become a permanent part of the active Army."

Of course, Army Times was reporting the actual deployment. A previous April 2008 piece in Stars in Stripes provided the outlines of upcoming plans.

It once was the case that Republicans used the term "martial law" metaphorically to refer to the de-democratization of the legislative process. But the Defense Authorization Act of 2006, passed on Sept. 30, gave Bush literal martial law powers, as noted in Congressional Quarterly. The American Conservative questioned such power in April 2007 . And back on August 8, 2005, WaPo staff writer Bradley Graham wrote a front page story, " War Plans Drafted To Counter Terror Attacks in U.S.: Domestic Effort Is Big Shift for Military. The military officials quoted in the article didn't seem to envision the type of deployment we are now reading about.

The war plans represent a historic shift for the Pentagon, which has been reluctant to become involved in domestic operations and is legally constrained from engaging in law enforcement. Indeed, defense officials continue to stress that they intend for the troops to play largely a supporting role in homeland emergencies, bolstering police, firefighters and other civilian response groups.

For background, see the former a FEMA director's opinion that the Posse Comitatus rule allows the President and Congress to order the military to police domestically. Contrast this with an article from llrx on the historic interpretation of the Act. You can find another article at Antiwar.com which questions what's going on.


Lissa Schneckenburger House Concert at Mark's

Photo from Lissa's website.

Looking forward to Green Drinks tomorrow at Mark's an a house concert by Vermonters Lissa Schneckenburger(email) on fiddle and vocals, Corey Dimario on double bass and Owen Marshall on guitar.

Photo of Corey Dimario from Lissa's website.

Photo of Owen Marshall from his MySpace Page.


Mother Jones reports on McCain staff ties to financial lobbyists

At a Town Hall in Green Bay, WI September 18, according to the WaPo,

McCain accused Sen. Barack Obama of "cheerleading" the gloomy financial news, urged the ouster of the chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, and said that Obama's running mate believes raising taxes is "patriotic."
But while McCain excoriates the financial industry, it's interesting to remember that he started touting ethics after being involved with the Keating scandal and that that his chief financial guru was for so long former Senator Phil Gramm who helped deregulated the industry.

Now, the Democratic National Committee, using publicly available records, has identified 177 lobbyists working for the McCain campaign as either aides, policy advisers, or fundraisers. And in a post on September 19, Mother Jones named 83 of the 177 lobbyists,

have in recent years lobbied for the financial industry McCain now attacks.


Pentagon Threatens States over Environmental Cleanup of Bases

The Washington Post's Lyndsey Layton reported on September 19 in "States Accuse Pentagon Of Threats, Retaliation:Allegations Arise in Base Cleanup Hearing" that the previous day, the Environmental Council of States testified that when environmental officials from California, Colorado, Alabama, Ohio and about a dozen other states tried to force to clean up polluted military sites, the Defense Department retaliated by reducing or withholding federal oversight dollars due them.

The disclosures came during a Senate hearing yesterday on the Pentagon's refusal to follow final orders from the Environmental Protection Agency to clean up three military bases: Fort Meade in Maryland, Fort McGuire in New Jersey and Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida.

Congress gives the Pentagon about $30 million annually to dispense to states with contaminated military bases, to help pay the states' costs to oversee cleanup of those sites.

But in 2006, the Pentagon began telling some states they would no longer receive money for various oversight activities and would lose all of the money if they took enforcement action.


Solidarity Divided

Cover art from Solidarity Divided: The Crisis in Organized Labor and a New Path toward Social Justice by Bill Fletcher, Jr. and Fernando Gapasin (University of California Press, 2008, 978-0-520-25525-8).

Solidarity Divided examines organized labor's current decline and provides suggestions for the way forward, offering history and analysis. The authors consider the influences of globalization, the environment, and fallout from the 2000 and 2004 elections.

Bill Fletcher, Jr. (email) is Director of Field Services and Education for the American Federation of Government Employees, Executive Editor of BlackCommentator.com and co-founder the Center for Labor Renewal, He served as President of TransAfrica Forum and was formerly the Education Director and then Assistant to the President of the AFL-CIO.

Fernando Gapasin is President for the Central Oregon Labor Council and currently teaches at the University of Oregon.

Democracy Now featured Fletcher on September 19 talking about what the Wall Street meltdown means for the American worker.

Preface: Revelations in South Africa
Introduction: Change to Win and the Split in the AFL-CIO

1. Dukin' It Out: Building the Labor Movement
2. The New Deal
3. The Cold War on Labor
4. The Civil Rights Movements, the Left, and Labor

5. Whose Welfare Matters, Anyway?
6. What's Left for Us?
7. Organizing to Organize the Unorganized

8. The New Voice Coalition Takes Office
9. Developing Strategy in Times of Change
10. Globalization: The Biggest Strategic Challenge
11. Could'a, Would'a, Should'a: Central Labor Councils and Missed Opportunities
12. International Affairs, Globalization, and 9/11

13. Restlessness in the Ranks
14. Change to Win: A Return to Gompers?
15. Anger, Compromise, and the Paralysis of the Sweeney Coalition
16. Left Behind

17. The Need for Social Justice Unionism
18. The Need for a Global Outlook
19. Realizing Social Justice Unionism: Strategies for Transformation

Appendix A. A Process for Addressing the Future of U.S. Organized Labor
Appendix B. Using Race, Class, and Gender Analysis to Transform Local Unions: A Case Study
About the Authors


The Psychology of Torture

Last year, The American Psychological Association called on the U.S. government to ban at

least 19 specific abusive interrogation techniques, including waterboarding, that are regarded as torture by international standards. The 2007 resolution also recognized that “torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment can result not only from the behavior of individuals, but also from the conditions of confinement,” and expressed “grave concern over settings in which detainees are deprived of adequate protection of their human rights.”
This year, according to a September 17 release, the APA passed a petition resolution stating that
psychologists may not work in settings where “persons are held outside of, or in violation of, either International Law (e.g., the UN Convention Against Torture and the Geneva Conventions) or the US Constitution (where appropriate), unless they are working directly for the persons being detained or for an independent third party working to protect human rights”

The final vote was 8,792 voting in favor of the resolution; 6,157 voting against the resolution. It will not take effect until August 2009; however, Psychologists for an Ethical APA, which sponsored the resolution and others, such as Withhold APA Dues, have pressed for a quicker implementation. The


Lose your house, lose your vote?

September 10, the Michigan Messenger reported on its telephone interview with Macomb County Republican party chairman James Carabelli regarding "election challengers."
We will have a list of foreclosed homes and will make sure people aren’t voting from those addresses.

Today Democracy now has an interview with Jefferson Morley, National Editorial Director of the Center for Independent Media, which sponsors the Messenger.


New Film on Katrina: Trouble the Water

Photo from Trouble the Water of Kimberly Rivers Roberts and Scott Roberts.

Co-directed and co-producers by Tia Lessin and Carl Deal, the film won the Sundance Festival's grand jury prize for best documentary. In a 9/15/08 interview on Democracy Now, Lessin tells how the filmakers, who also produced Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 and Bowling for Columbine, came to cover the story by following the couple from New Orleans’ Ninth Ward, as they return home two weeks after the hurricane.
Carl and I went to central Louisiana about ten days after the storm. You know, Bush, two days ago, was commending the Louisiana National Guardsmen for their work rescuing—well, they were actually in Iraq at the time of the storm. And Carl and I went down to central Louisiana to tape their homecomings about ten days after the storm. And at one point, the National Guard shut us down, because we had found out that the high-water vehicles were in Iraq, along with the National Guard, and they didn’t like the questions we were asking. Carl wandered over to the Red Cross shelter, and Kimberly wandered right up into our frame and started to tell her story on camera.
The 9/15/08 review from The New Yorker describes the home video included in the film shot by Kimberly Roberts as the storm started:
The soundtrack is like the roar of an express train racing through a tunnel; the footage, while chaotic, is a terrifyingly expressive struggle to record what’s going on without dying. The camera flies wildly from one hand to the next, with glimpses out the window as the water rises to the second floor of the house—on the street, we can see a stop sign at the top of a long pole, and it’s nearly submerged.
Mike Scott of the Times Picayune gave it four stars, saying the film is as important as it is moving.


David Foster Wallace, 1962-2008

Photo of David Foster Wallace from a 2006 reading by Steve Rhodes.
Twenty years after my own graduation, I have come gradually to understand that the liberal arts cliché about teaching you how to think is actually shorthand for a much deeper, more serious idea: learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed.
David Foster Wallace's 2005 commencement address at Kenyon College, like much of his writing, combined sagacity with the colloquial. And now the novelist, short story writer, generous teacher and gonzo journalist is gone. He hanged himself on September 12.

In a 2003 interview with The Believer he described his writing process,

My basic MO is that I tend to start and/or work on a whole lot of different things at the same time, and at a certain point they either come alive (to me) or they don’t. Well over half of them do not, and I lack the discipline/fortitude to work for very long on something that feels dead, so they get abandoned, or put in a trunk, or stripped for parts for other things. It’s all rather chaotic, or feels that way to me. What anybody else ever gets to see of mine, writing-wise, is the product of a kind of Darwinian struggle in which only things that are emphatically alive to me are worth finishing, fixing, editing, copyediting, page-proof-tinkering, etc.

In 2000, he had written an essay on the presidential race for Rolling Stone, "The Weasel, Twelve Monkeys And The Shrub: Seven Days In The Life Of The Late, Great John McCain," which caused Slate political reporter Christopher Beam (email) to ponder August 14 in his blog The Trailhead, "What Would David Foster Wallace Make of McCain 2008?" It's a really nice reprise of the article and has a postscript which answers the question in the title, citing a a May 31, 2008 email interview with Christopher John Farley in the WSJ:
The essay quite specifically concerns a couple weeks in February, 2000, and the situation of both McCain [and] national politics in those couple weeks. It is heavily context-dependent. And that context now seems a long, long, long time ago. McCain himself has obviously changed; his flipperoos and weaselings on Roe v. Wade, campaign finance, the toxicity of lobbyists, Iraq timetables, etc. are just some of what make him a less interesting, more depressing political figure now—for me, at least. It's all understandable, of course—he's the GOP nominee now, not an insurgent maverick. Understandable, but depressing. As part of the essay talks about, there's an enormous difference between running an insurgent Hail-Mary-type longshot campaign and being a viable candidate (it was right around New Hampshire in 2000 that McCain began to change from the former to the latter), and there are some deep, really rather troubling questions about whether serious honor and candor and principle remain possible for someone who wants to really maybe win. I wouldn't take back anything that got said in that essay, but I'd want a reader to keep the time and context very much in mind on every page.
DFW also wrote about 9-11 for the October 25, 2001 Rolling Stone in "The View from Mrs. Thompson's" and would write about politics again in his introduction to the Best American Essays of 2007 explaining his selections,
Here is an overt premise. There is just no way that 2004’s reelection could have taken place — not to mention extraordinary renditions, legalized torture, FISA-flouting, or the passage of the Military Commissions Act — if we had been paying attention and handling information in a competent grown-up way. ‘We’ meaning as a polity and culture. The premise does not entail specific blame — or rather the problems here are too entangled and systemic for good old-fashioned finger-pointing. It is, for one example, simplistic and wrong to blame the for-profit media for somehow failing to make clear to us the moral and practical hazards of trashing the Geneva Conventions. The for-profit media is highly attuned to what we want and the amount of detail we’ll sit still for. And a ninety-second news piece on the question of whether and how the Geneva Conventions ought to apply in an era of asymmetrical warfare is not going to explain anything; the relevant questions are too numerous and complicated, too fraught with contexts in everything from civil law and military history to ethics and game theory. One could spend a hard month just learning the history of the Conventions’ translation into actual codes of conduct for the U.S. military . . . and that’s not counting the dramatic changes in those codes since 2002, or the question of just what new practices violate (or don’t) just which Geneva provisions, and according to whom. Or let’s not even mention the amount of research, background, cross-checking, corroboration, and rhetorical parsing required to understand the cataclysm of Iraq, the collapse of congressional oversight, the ideology of neoconservatism, the legal status of presidential signing statements, the political marriage of evangelical Protestantism and corporatist laissez-faire . . . There’s no way. You’d simply drown. We all would. It’s amazing to me that no one much talks about this — about the fact that whatever our founders and framers thought of as a literate, informed citizenry can no longer exist, at least not without a whole new modern degree of subcontracting and dependence packed into what we mean by ‘informed.’
Here are some of his stories from the New Yorker:
From Gourmet:
From The Atlantic:
From Esquire:
And from Harper's:
And here are some fans who have shared uncollected DFT:


Alexander McCall Smith's online novel starts at The Telegraph

Photo of the author from his website. The homepage for the novel, Corduroy Mansions, is here.


Big Oil lobbies to keep tax incentives

"America, A Brief Parable" by Tom Tomorrow, 11.28.05.

Open Secrets reports that the oil and gas industries spent over $83,000,000 lobbying in 2008 and this year, they thus far have spent more than in 2006.

The Apollo Alliance, a coalition of business, labor, environmental, and community leaders working for clean energy in the U.S. has a new campaign to write Congress, asking that it
ensure that the proposed energy bill invests tax dollars in clean energy technologies like wind, solar, and geothermal and in good jobs for American workers. Meanwhile the oil companies would like to keep the status quo.
The stranglehold on incentives by petrochemicals goes on and on. For instance, look at this NYT financial story from 2005 which talks about "high" prices when crude was at $60 a barrel and opined the $40 would keep investors happy and added that

IF energy producers are not raking in enough cash from record-setting crude oil prices, they can always look forward to the tax breaks packed into a bill that President Bush signed into law earlier this month to promote new production. Such an embarrassment of riches has been luring investors into the sector...
And this from The Hill from 11-14-2007, when the American Petroleum Institute (API) paid for a study by CRA International which claimed that
the combination of the most contentious elements in the Senate and House bills would diminish the purchasing power for the average American by $1,700 by 2030.
In an interesting analysis, the blog New Energy News termed this "fuzzy economics" and asked,

Pending energy legislation would require better gas mileage from US automakers’ car and light truck fleets. Did the study consider Detroit’s increased sales of better vehicles or only the reductions in fuel consumption? Did it consider the increases in Detroit jobs from the industry resurgence building plug-in hybrid cars would bring?

Pending energy legislation would require utilities to obtain electricity from renewable sources. Did the study balance the cost of the hypothetical decrease in jobs (though most studies report New Energy would boost jobs) with the lower societal health costs as a result of moving from coal- and oil-polluted air to air unaffected by wind and sun?

Pending energy legislation would require a whole new level of efficiency from buildings. Did the study consider the jobs that will come with retrofitting? Those aren’t energy industry jobs, those are jobs in building. Think some coal miners’ sons and daughters could be trained for that kind of work, even though it’s not in the energy industry?

Pending energy legislation anticipates a whole new era when fossil fuel producers will be required to PAY for the harm they do to the air, the water and the atmosphere. Does the study consider the coming loss of jobs in the fossil fuel industries from the impacts of climate change?


WSJ: Ohio Republican Election Tacts: "Nothing is off the table."

On September 5, the current Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner, Democrat, issued a directive that undeliverable mail was not sufficient to remove voters from the rolls saying she considered the 2006 law unconstitutional and also that every challenged voter must be notified and given a chance to attend a hearing before Election Day.

Kevin DeWine, a Republican in the Ohio State House of Representatives had authored the law requiring that a piece of registered mail with election information be sent to every registered voter in the state--with those whose mail is returned required to show id or vote on a provisional ballot. Voting rights groups say the practice amounts to “vote caging” in which legitimate voters are removed from election rolls because their residency is questioned.

According to Politico, while Republicans are complaining, they have not yet decided to file suit. DeWine, deputy chairman of the Ohio Republican Party, told the Wall Street Journal's Amy Merrick (email) for her story today
"nothing is off the table" in terms of election tactics, but he declined to be more specific.

Merrick outlines what happened in the 2004 election in Ohio, when election proactices were controlled by Republican Ohio Secretary of State Blackwell:

the state Republican party used returned mail to challenge the registrations of 35,000 new voters, most of whom lived in urban, heavily Democratic areas.

Not many voters were successfully removed, because "there was so much litigation and public backlash," said Teresa James, a lawyer in Ohio for Project Vote, a nonprofit voter-registration group. But she said some voters likely were intimidated by the challenges and stayed home.


Flow: for Love of Water

Photo from film.

Democracy Now has an interview today with Irena Salina on her new film, Flow, which will be at the Lyric in October. The documentary covers the global water crisis, examining how corporations took control of global water supplies and how we are quickly running out of water, asking the question "Can Anyone Really Own Water?" Here is the link for IMDB, as well as a link for a February 19 interview with Media Rights.


Chafee on Palin: A "cocky wacko"

The assessment came, according to CNN today, when former Senator Lincoln Chafee (R-RI) was at the New America Foundation on September 9 to discuss (video) his book, Against the Tide: How a Compliant Congress Empowered a Reckless President.


Charlie Savage: Sex, Drugs and Graft at Interior

The NYT's Charlie Savage writes today three reports delivered to Congress by Interior's Inspector General Earl E. Devaney, which find

wrongdoing by a dozen current and former employees of the Minerals Management Service, which collects about $10 billion in royalties annually and is one of the government’s largest sources of revenue other than taxes.


Drill, baby, drill?

Photo an offshore oil rig near Grand Isle, LA by Greg Lovett, Palm Beach Post.

According to The Hill today, the Dems are set to provide an energy bill that allows more drilling. It seems that they are giving into the shift in public opinion to favor drilling after Republicans falsely linked the lack thereof to high gas prices. Although Bush espoused this cause June 18, Bryan Walsh noted in Time that date that
there's a flaw in that logic: even if tomorrow we opened up every square mile of the outer continental shelf to offshore rigs, even if we drilled the entire state of Alaska and pulled new refineries out of thin air, the impact on gas prices would be minimal and delayed at best. A 2004 study by the government's Energy Information Administration (EIA) found that drilling in ANWR would trim the price of gas by 3.5 cents a gallon by 2027. (If oil prices continue to skyrocket, the savings would be greater, but not by much.) Opening up offshore areas to oil exploration — currently all coastal areas save a section of the Gulf of Mexico are off-limits, thanks to a congressional ban enacted in 1982 and supplemented by an executive order from the first President Bush — might cut the price of gas by 3 to 4 cents a gallon at most, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council. And the relief at the pump, such as it is, wouldn't be immediate — it would take several years, at least, for the oil to begin to flow, which is time enough for increased demand from China, India and the rest of the world to outpace those relatively meager savings. "Right now the price of oil is set on the global market," says Kevin Lindemer, executive managing director of the energy markets group for the research firm Global Insight. President Bush's move "would not have an impact."



Balancing Safety and Freedom

Cover of Louis Fisher's booking coming out this month, The Constitution and 9/11 from the University Press of Kansas (ISBN 978-0-7006-1600-8)

He writes,
The announced purpose of U.S. antiterrorist policies after 9/11 was to bring democracy and the rule of law to the Middle East. At home, those values were regularly threatened by illegal, unconstitutional, secret, and unaccountable programs. The Bush administration claimed that terrorists hate America for its freedoms, yet its actions jeopardized those freedoms and brought the reputation of the United States lower in the eyes of the world.
On October 17, 2008, those of you in VT or nearby states might want to be over at the Chase Community Center of the Vermont Law School in South Royalton to attend the Vermont Law Review Symposium: Examining Our Priorities: Balancing National Security With Other Fundamental Values, where Fisher will be the keynote speaker.

He's a constitutional law scholar with the Library of Congress, whom I got to hear speak in DC, along with Charlie Savage. Panel topics will include immigration, environmental law, protecting library records, and the right to dissent. Another speaker will be reporter Will Potter on "The Threat of Unpopular Ideas,” including domestic “eco-terrorism” and “domestic terrorism” laws like the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act.


Renewable energy

Cartoon by Mike Keefe (email, website) of the Denver Post. See also.


While Rome Burns...

Cartoon by Mike Keefe from the Denver Post appeared 10/1/08, almost a month after the announcement of yet another takeover...

Happy birthday to me. After guaranteeing the takeover of Bear Stearns for J.P. Morgan, we taxpayers are going to pay for a direct underwriting of mortgage backers Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. See today's NYT for an analysis.


Andrew Sullivan on Sarah Palin

Here's a transcript of Sarah Palin's speech at the Republican Convention from September 3. Now Rasmussen finds that Palin is more popular than either McCain or Obama. After linking to an an analysis by Mark Blumenthal, The Atlantic's Andrew Sulllivan opines today over at his blog, the Daily Dish:
My view is that the GOP is now like Wile E Coyote about half a mile off the cliff suspended in mid-air. Yes, the speech was a great moment: a former sportscaster knows how to deliver a speech written for her. But we have two months to get to know her, if she's still on the ticket in November.
I think she'll still be on the ticket, but it will be interesting to see if her popularity holds up, or if Troopergate and her polarizing tactics become a drag on McCain's efforts to win the White House.


New FBI Guidelines: More COINTELPRO?

Photograph via Glenn Greenwald of Monica Bicking (r.) and her friend Eryn Trimmer. Both were arrested at the Food Not Bombs communal house in St. Paul prior to the Republican convention's start, perhaps because they were volunteering at the RNC Welcoming Committee which had opened a convergence space for locals and visitors who wanted to protest at the RNC. Their preemptive arrests and others came as part of a joint operation between the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Department, the Minneapolis Police Department, and the FBI. Afterwards, in a news conference, Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher told Minnesota Public Radio and others, in reference to the the ironically named Welcoming Committee
We had sources working inside this organization.

Citizen surveillance: To expose, disrupt and otherwise neutralize?

The post-Watergate Church Committee documented citizen surveillance by the Central Intelligence Agency, National Security Agency, Internal Revenue Service and Federal Bureau of Investigation. COINTELPRO, the FBI's domestic surveillance program, had agents infiltrating protest and civil rights groups, among others, "to expose, disrupt and otherwise neutralize" them.

On April 30, 2001 , historian Howard Zinn (email) wrote attorney Dennis Cunningham (contact form) that based on his studies,
the FBI tactics, violating constitutional rights, described in the committee report,...[were] not confined to those years, [as] is clear from what...[the FBI] was doing before 1956 and after 1971.
More than seven years later, the FBI may continue to engage in its efforts "to expose, disrupt and otherwise neutralize," abetted by the mindset of the Bush administration's war on terror after the events of September 11, 2001.

While no one wants a repeat of such events, there is a legitimate debate about the balance between safety and civil liberties. As Senator Pat Leahy (D-VT), Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee said on July 9 in introducing Attorney General Michael Mukasey,
On issue after issue...this administration makes the Watergate era look like child’s play.
And yet, Mukasey testified statement, webcast in RAM) that he was looking at consolidating the guidelines to grant more leeway in domestic surveillance.

Even before Mukasey's proposed new guidelines, Bobby Scott (D-VA) had introduced H. Res. 1211 on 5/20/2008, express the sense of the House that the current guidelines
should be rescinded and replaced by the former Guidelines ('Levi guidelines') to protect Americans from domestic Federal Bureau of Investigation spying in the absence of suspected criminal activity.
Scott's measure had no co-sponsors and has gone nowhere other than to be referred on to subcommittee. It appears to be facing the same dead end as H. Res. 1026, Cynthia McKinney's (D-GA) 2006 call to reinstate the Church Committee.

When will they ever learn?

In "History lessons never learned,"Geoffrey R. Stone (email, webpage), Edward H. Levi Distinguished Service Professor at the University of Chicago Law School, wrote in the August 29, 2007 Chicago Tribune that Mukasey's predecessor, Alberto Gonzalez, might have profited from the example of Edward Levi, who, in the wake of the Church Committee revelations issued the first Attorney General Investigative Guidelines in 1976 which
reiterated and reaffirmed the rights of all Americans by clearly and carefully circumscribing the investigative authority of the FBI...[and] expressly prohibited the FBI from investigating, discrediting or disrupting any group or individual on the basis of protected 1st Amendment activity.
So, look Mukasey's proposed guidelines in context of
  • his promotion of retroactive telecom immunity for warrantless surveillance, as enacted in the new FISA law
  • the rule revision proposed July 31 to liberalize police intelligence-gathering by state and local police agencies; and
  • the potential problems already spotlighted by the Electronic Privacy Information Center regarding state "fusion centers," which share surveillance information between the FBI, state and local agencies and others (for an example, see the Memorandum of Understanding between the FBI and Virginia State Police.)
these factors, raise the question in my mind of whether Mukasey, too, has failed to learn the lessons of history.

It's not as if the current guidelines constrain citizen surveillance

John Ashcroft's Attorney General's Guidelines on General Crimes, Racketeering Enterprise and Terrorism Enterprise Investigations, which Scott wants rescinded, specify that
Mere speculation that force or violence might occur during the course of an otherwise peaceable demonstration is not sufficient grounds for initiation of an investigation...but where facts or circumstances reasonably indicate that a group or enterprise has engaged or aims to engage in activities involving force or violence or other criminal conduct...in a demonstration, an investigation may be initiated...(my emphasis added)
That's a lot of wiggle room. The FBI's "October Plan," described on September 17, 2004, by CBS Correspondent Jim Stewart used
aggressive - even obvious - surveillance" techniques...people suspected of being terrorist sympathizers, but who have not committed a crime. Other "persons of interest," including their family members, may also be brought in for questioning.
There's also a lot of wiggle room, if you believe the account "Moles Wanted," in the May 21, 2008 City Paper. Matt Snyders (contact form) writes that an U. of Minnesota policeman and an FBI agent attempted to recruit a student who had turned himself in for spray painting an elevator
to show up at “vegan potlucks” throughout the Twin Cities and rub shoulders with RNC protesters, schmoozing his way into their inner circles, then reporting back to the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force, a partnership between multiple federal agencies and state and local law enforcement.
You can read about a sweep of several houses prior to the RNC in Glenn Greenwald's accounts or in more detail in a variety of articles, videos and photographs at The Minnesota Independent, a project of the non-profit Center for Independent Media. You can also read Monica Bicking's brother Ian's thoughtful take on the actual meaning of his sister's use of the term "anarchism." Also of interest is Pioneer Press reporter Mara H. Gottfried's (email) account of journalist Amy Goodman (email) questioning her arrest and that of other journalists at a news conference with St.Paul police chief John Harrington. And, after this was submitted to NewsTrust, I had a review from Jeanne Roberts, who wrote this essay. She's a journalist who lives in Minneapolis and emailed me to say that she knows a couple of those arrested through her sons.
It's a terrible thing.... The Twin Cities are... primarily [a] ... community of Scandinavian/German heritage, meaning the people are calm, reasonable and thoughtful. Our diversity, mostly toward the inner cities, is as great as New York's, though on a smaller scale. This kind of thing doesn't happen here. We adults expect that kids will cut up (protest, riot, complain, cut classes and get mixed up with a few unsavory types in the process), and we take it with a grain of salt. The police have overreacted, and we are not pleased...
What sticks out in my mind in reading all of these articles and also the local mainstream media coverage is the possible conflation of crime and dissent and the curtailment of free speech. The police entered private homes with guns drawn with warrants for items like paint, bottles, and rags--labeling them as "the ingredients for making Molotov cocktails,"-- supposed evidence of planned violence. Violence perhaps diametrically opposed the arrestees' beliefs. For instance, neighbors describe Monica Bicking as a committed, admirable activist, not a terrorist. (I will link, as soon as I can find the source again.)

As Bicking's attorney Bruce Nestor said,

If they have evidence of a criminal act, then they should charge them...And if they can charge [my client, Monica Bicking] with a complaint, then we will go defend that in court. But right now they are just holding them. You can’t just hold [Bicking] to prevent her from exercising her free speech.
Problems, of course, weren't limited to St. Paul. In Denver, complaints about police spying on the Quakers and other non-violent activists date back to at least 2002. Prior to the Democratic convention this year, the police asked first responders to report "stockpiling" of materials that could be used for violent protests including bicycles, maps and "FRS devices" (a type of walkie talkie.) At the convention, police drew the ACLU's attention for their August 27 arrest of ABC News producerAsa Eslocker, who was investigating the role of lobbyists and big donors at the convention, as well as for denying legal representation to protesters and bystanders arrested en masse on August 25. There was report of at least one pre-emptive arrest at the DNC as well.

And remember the NYT report from 2007 that teams of undercover New York City police officers traveled to cities across the country, Canada and Europe to conduct covert observations prior to the 2004 RNC?

The proposed Attorney General Investigative Guidelines

Lara Jakes Jordan (email) covers the Justice Department for Associated Press. For a July 2 story, she interviewed
[m]ore than a half-dozen senior FBI, Justice Department and other U.S. intelligence officials familiar with the new policy [who] agreed to discuss it only on condition of anonymity...
and reported that while
[c]urrently, FBI agents need specific reasons — like evidence or allegations that a law probably has been violated — to investigate U.S. citizens and legal residents
the new guidelines would
let agents open preliminary terrorism investigations after mining public records and intelligence to build a profile of traits that, taken together, were deemed suspicious.
On August 13, Mukasey delivered remarks in Portland to the Oregon Anti-Terrorism Conference and Training saying he hoped to have his new guidelines for FBI's intelligence activities within the United States
implemented and made public within the next few weeks...to eliminate distinctions in the existing rules that make it, in practice, harder to gather information about threats to the national security than it is to conduct "ordinary" criminal investigations.
He gave examples such as eliminating limits on how agents use information from informants, conduct surveillance based on tips and search databases. But, as whistleblower Michael German, an FBI agent for 16 years now at the ACLU, told Marisa Taylor (email, story archive) McClatchy's reported covering the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security,
I'm concerned with the way the attorney general frames the problem. He talks about arbitrary or irrelevant differences" between criminal and national security investigations, but these were corrections originally designed to prevent the type of overreach the FBI engaged in for years.
Asked about the guidelines in light of the FBI seeking personal records of Americans by relying on national security letters, rather than seeking FISA court orders and the FBI secretly obtaining reporters' phone records through exigent letters without following proper procedures, German said Mukasey needed to strengthen the guidelines, not "water them down."
Nobody's complaining about the FBI collecting domestic intelligence when it's appropriate and authorized under the law....What the attorney general is doing is expanding the bureau's intelligence collection without addressing the mismanagement within the FBI. If you have an agency collecting more with less oversight, it's only going to get worse.
Congress reacts

On August 18, Leahy and Ranking Member Arlen Specter (R-PA) wrote Mukasey, asking that he postpone approval of his proposed guidelines.

On August 20, Senators Russ Feingold (D-WI), Ted Kennedy (D-MA), Richard Durbin (D-IL), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) also raised their concerns, writing the Attorney General, asking that he delay signing the still-secret guidelines until "members of Congress, experts in the relevant fields, and affected communities have had a full opportunity to provide detailed input to the Department of Justice." They note that the guidelines were made available to congressional staff for
only a few hours at a time over the course of a week and a half – during the August congressional recess when many staff and members are out of town – does not constitute the kind of meaningful and robust consultation that we believe is called for, and that might help improve the guidelines. (my emphasis added)
So, why are folks concerned about the guidelines? The Senators wrote that (again, my emphasis added):
  • The guidelines permit the FBI to use a variety of intrusive investigative techniques to conduct “assessments” of possible criminal activity, national security threats or foreign intelligence collection – without any initial factual predication. We are concerned about the extent to which such authority might, for example, permit the FBI to conduct long-term physical surveillance of an innocent American citizen; interview such an individual’s neighbors and professional colleagues, including based on a “pretext” or misrepresentation; recruit human sources to provide information on that individual; or conduct commercial database searches on that individual – all without any basis for suspicion. Moreover, the mechanisms that the FBI intends to use for approval and oversight of these new investigative tools have not been shared with Congress and yet are critical to understanding how these tools could be employed....the draft guidelines might permit an innocent American to be subjected to such intrusive surveillance based in part on race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, or on protected First Amendment activities.
  • The guidelines permit the collection of foreign intelligence information inside the United States, through both “assessments” and predicated “full investigations,” with little explicit protection for information gathered about United States persons. The definition of “foreign intelligence” is broad, and covers any information relating to the activities of a foreign government, organization or person. We are concerned about the extent to which the FBI may be permitted to gather or use information about Americans under the rubric of foreign intelligence gathering when there is no suspicion of a crime, threat to national security, or any other wrongdoing.
  • The draft guidelines include broad information-sharing provisions with few constraints ...[regarding] U.S. persons who are under no suspicion of wrongdoing.
The Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave?

Privacy International's (PI) studies national policies on constitutional protection, privacy enforcement and other factors, then scores countries along a scale from "consistently upholds human right standards" to "endemic surveillance societies." In its 2007 report, PI ranked the United States with Russia and China as being among the worst.

In the absence of the publication of Mukasey's guidelines, it's hard for members of the public to evaluate the concerns raised by our Senators, but I find the further blurring of the lines between criminal actions and the First Amendment right to dissent chilling. As Glenn Greenwald wrote,
Those who are simply assuming that they probably got what they deserved -- and who are, more generally, defending the Police here simply because some actual criminals engaged in destructive behavior -- are no different than those who justify anything and everything the Government does because there are some Terrorists out there and they're really violent.
As Caroline Fredrickson, director of the ACLU’s Washington Legislative Office, said in 2006 when hiring Michael German, its "a time when it’s hard to tell the difference between the morning paper and a George Orwell novel."

And as Reagan-era Justice Department official Bruce Fein told Congress that same year,
This is a defining moment in the constitutional history of the United States, and on this issue I think we're all republicans and we're all democrats, to borrow from Thomas Jefferson's inaugural, because the issues that we confront with regard to checks and balances are indispensable to the liberty of those living and those yet to be born.
At 9:30 a.m. on September 17, the Senate Judiciary Committee will be hearing from Robert S. Mueller, III, Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation in the wake of complaints. I wait, wondering, what, if anything, will come out of this hearing--how much further will we erode our Constitution and how much further will we descend from our proclamation in our national anthem that we live in the "Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave."