Archive for October, 2007

Ban on leaded Gas ‘has cut crime rates around the world’

October 28, 2007

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I wonder if this startling piece of research will have any impact on Giuliani’s campaign.

Remember this is a Republican candidate who loves to remind us that: “I reduced homicides by 67 per cent; I reduced overall crime by 57 per cent.”

Well, recent research appears to suggest that Giuliani, although thinking he is telling the truth, is actually greatly overstating his own achievement and that there is a greater link between banning lead in petrol and a reduction in the crime rate than any law and order action taken by any politician.

Published in the peer-reviewed journal, Environmental Research, the study reports a “very strong association” over more than 50 years between the exposure of young children to the toxic metal and crime rates 20 years later when they are young adults.

And it says the association holds true for a wide variety of countries with differing social conditions, law and order policies.

Rates of violent and other crimes began falling sharply in the US in the early 1990s, and have continued to do so, followed by similar tends elsewhere.

Yet evidence is growing that the banning of lead should take much more of the credit for reducing crime rates. The toxic metal has long been known to damage brains and to lead to criminal and aggressive behaviour.

Research at Pittsburgh University found that adolescents arrested for crime in the city had lead levels four times higher than their law-abiding contemporaries, and a study of 3,000 possible causes of criminality in 1,000 young people by Fordham University, New York, found that high lead levels were the best predictor of delinquent and violent behaviour.

Two studies by leading criminologists, Professor Richard Rosenfeld of the University of Missouri-St Louis and Professor Steven F Messner of the University of Albany, have concluded that Giuliani’s zero tolerance policy was actually only responsible for a tenth of the reduction in crime rates that Giuliani is claiming.

The metal was first added to petrol in the 1920s to boost engine power and its use grew rapidly: levels in blood rose in parallel. It was phased out first in the US, starting in 1974, to be followed by other countries.

Britain – one of the last to get rid of the toxic metal – is one of the latest to enjoy a decline in crime.

So it appears that, twenty years after phasing out lead in petrol, this kind of reduction in crime is commonplace across the world wherever this is done.

Giuliani, the man famous for being New York’s Mayor on the worst day in it’s history, now finds his crime fighting record – of which he is so proud – might have had very little to do with him after all.

must read!  The Secret History of Lead

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Everybody Knows

October 28, 2007

by Leonard_Cohen


Everybody knows that the dice are loaded
Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed
Everybody knows that the war is over
Everybody knows the good guys lost
Everybody knows the fight was fixed
The poor stay poor, the rich get rich
That’s how it goes
Everybody knows

Everybody knows that the boat is leaking
Everybody knows that the captain lied
Everybody got this broken feeling
Like their father or their dog just died

Everybody talking to their pockets
Everybody wants a box of chocolates
And a long stem rose
Everybody knows

Everybody knows that you love me baby
Everybody knows that you really do
Everybody knows that you’ve been faithful
Ah give or take a night or two
Everybody knows you’ve been discreet
But there were so many people you just had to meet
Without your clothes
And everybody knows

Everybody knows, everybody knows
That’s how it goes
Everybody knows

Everybody knows, everybody knows
That’s how it goes
Everybody knows

And everybody knows that it’s now or never
Everybody knows that it’s me or you
And everybody knows that you live forever
Ah when you’ve done a line or two
Everybody knows the deal is rotten
Old Black Joe’s still pickin’ cotton
For your ribbons and bows
And everybody knows

And everybody knows that the Plague is coming
Everybody knows that it’s moving fast
Everybody knows that the naked man and woman
Are just a shining artifact of the past
Everybody knows the scene is dead
But there’s gonna be a meter on your bed
That will disclose
What everybody knows

And everybody knows that you’re in trouble
Everybody knows what you’ve been through
From the bloody cross on top of Calvary
To the beach of Malibu
Everybody knows it’s coming apart
Take one last look at this Sacred Heart
Before it blows
And everybody knows

Everybody knows, everybody knows
That’s how it goes
Everybody knows

Oh everybody knows, everybody knows
That’s how it goes
Everybody knows

Everybody knows

Paul Wellstone

October 27, 2007

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This video made me cry. The right always kills people like this though.

We need more Democrats like Paul Wellstone, not compromised pieces of crap with arms and legs.

Richard Mellon Scaife and His Lawsuit of Treasures

October 25, 2007

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Yesterday The Washington Post ran a long article detailing the marital and legal troubles of Richard Mellon Scaife, publisher of the conservative Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and funder of many right wing causes and media outlets.

The seventy five-year-old Scaife is caught in a messy divorce—with no pre-nup and an estimated $1.3 billion to divvy up, how could it be anything else?—involving an assault charge, a private eye, a prostitution arrest, a mysterious property purchase, dog-napping, and six $300 asparagus tongs.

Not typical CJR fodder. But luckily, our crack team has found not one, not two, but three excuses to bring this sordid tale to your attention!

First off, the story’s gritty details only came to light after someone accidentally posted a slew of relevant documents on a court Web site. A reporter at the Trib-Review’s far-larger rival paper, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, downloaded the documents and wrote a front page, 2,347 word piece. Scaife sued the competition, asking a court to treat the documents as stolen. Less than a week later, the judge ruled against Scaife. (A Post-Gazette write-up of the suit noted that the move was “unusual for the head of a news organization”, especially one that had so recently sought to unseal the estate records of Teresa Heinz-Kerry, who during the 2004 Democratic convention famously told a Trib-Review writer to “shove it.”)

Second, the lawsuit has revealed embarrassing, although not entirely unexpected, financial and circulation numbers at the Tribune-Review. While the Post-Gazette claims 212,075 weekday readers, documents in the case peg the Trib-Review at 52,453. That’s grim. But not as grim as the ledger books, which look so bad that “Ritchie” Scaife, Richard’s soon to be ex-wife, and her lawyers are arguing that the paper looses so much that under tax law, it should be classified as a hobby.

The Washington Post explains:

[T]he Tribune-Review has been a gurgling sinkhole from Day One; Scaife’s lawyers say their client has pumped as much as $312 million into it over the years. And he’s going to have to keep on pumping. The Tribune-Review’s CEO has predicted an annual shortfall of $20 million for years to come.

These figures matter in the divorce because Scaife is arguing that the funds he forwards to the Tribune-Review should be deducted from his aggregate income, putting his annual haul closer to $17 million a year, a long way from the $45 million a year cited by Ritchie’s lawyers. If true, that would of course reduce the monthly alimony check he could owe his wife once there’s a permanent settlement.

Not surprisingly, Ritchie Scaife’s attorneys have a different view. They say that Richard Scaife operates the Tribune-Review with so little concern for profit and loss that it’s more a hobby than a business.

And third, The Washington Post briefly mentioned an old, testy sidewalk-encounter between Scaife and a reporter he’d been trying to avoid. The Post, a family newspaper, wrote that he’d told her “she was ugly and that her mother was ugly, too.” Well, as blogger Jonathan Schwartz (who, it should be said, has admirable knowledge of the CJR archives) points out, that reporter was Karen Rothmyer writing for this magazine in 1981. And there’s a fuller, more colorful version:

At the bottom of the stairs, the following exchange occurred:

“Mr. Scaife, could you explain why you give so much money to the New Right?”

“You fucking Communist cunt, get out of here.”

Well. The rest of the five-minute interview was conducted at a rapid trot down Park Street, during which Scaife tried to hail a taxi. Scaife volunteered two statements of opinion regarding his questioner’s personal appearance – he said she was ugly and that her teeth were “terrible” – and also the comment that she was engaged in “hatchet journalism.” His questioner thanked Scaife for his time. “Don’t look behind you,” Scaife offered by way of a goodbye.

Not quite sure what this remark meant, the reporter suggested that if someone were approaching it was probably her mother, whom she had arranged to meet nearby. “She’s ugly, too,” Scaife said, and strode off.

Classy.

Wiretapping at Its Worst

October 25, 2007

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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 OpenSecrets.org, 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 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 Scalia 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.

– Brian Beutler is the Washington correspondent for the Media Consortium, a network of progressive media organizations.

American Fascism – Time to Speak Out

October 24, 2007

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Silence Dogood, October 22nd, 2007

The Bush administration and today’s extremist-wing of the Republican Party are Nazi-like in many respects and it is absurd for any reasonable person to pretend otherwise. Sorry, but save your feigned rebuttals for someone preferring to have his or her fears soothed by nonsensical rationalizations.

To know what is happening, all one need do is watch a segment of FOX News. Afterwards it won’t take long to realize that the administration and extremist-wing of the Republican Party have a full-blown Goebbels-like propaganda network working overtime to make truths, lies and lies, truths. It is no longer a matter of putting forth political ideas — hence the all-out rebellion by true Conservative Republicans — FOX News and the extremist Republican Radio Network are pitching ideology. Indeed, there are few differences between the administration, today’s extremist-wing of the Republican Party and Hitler’s Nazis. One important difference is that neither Bush nor the GOP has gotten around to stoking the ovens. That isn’t to say, however, that it can’t or won’t happen.

Another difference between the extremist Republicans’ brand of fascism and Hitler’s will be who gets pitched into the detention centers and ovens. The Nazis had the Jews and the extremist Republicans will have the political opposition … the Liberals and the Democratic Party. Excuse me, the “Democrat” Party.

Now, of course, just about anybody can be branded either a “Liberal” or a member of the “Democrat Party,” so the extremist Bush administration-supporting Republicans will be able to make anybody they choose into enemies of the state. For decades the Republican Party and their propagandists have been dehumanizing and making evil the so-called Liberal and now, for good measure, they’ve begun denigrating the Democratic Party. Republicans refuse to speak respectfully and properly about the political opposition in anyway … including referring to them in child-like derogatory fashion. FOX News’ telecasts are becoming more virulent, more violent, and more confrontational by the day. It is all designed to instill a sense of hatred, in their followers and viewers, toward those who disagree with today’s Nazi-like extremist-wing of the Republican Party.

A FOX News telecast has become, in form and function, Orwell’s “Two Minutes of Hate.”

Go ahead if you must – if it makes you sleep better at night, continue pretending there is some grand difference between the Bush administration, today’s extremist-wing of the Republican Party and Hitler’s Nazis. Do whatever makes you feel better. Call us crazy, like many had when we warned of lies being told during the lead-up to war in Iraq and the disaster that was sure to ensue. Attack those who claim the obvious semblance between the rise of Hitler’s Nazi Party and what is happening here in America today … ignore the reality biting at your heels and lay your pretty head down to sleep.

People might rightly wonder, where are these rampant symptoms of the coming fascism? Obviously the symptoms of the fascist plague are everywhere … they imprison American citizens without trial or charge; they enter homes without warrant or warning; they listen to phone conversations without cause or warrant; they read postal mail without reason or court authorization; they make war based on lies; they steal from the working people and give the tax revenues to their crony business pals; and the President had even tried replacing all the District Attorney’s that were investigating either his administration or the Republican Party’s corruption. Finally, they’ve begun handing over all aspects of surveillance and intelligence to the military … all intelligence, both foreign and domestic.

The administration and Republican Party, of course, attack anyone that dares point out their obvious fascist Nazi-like behavior and tendencies. “What,” they mockingly insist, “sort of low-life, scumbag, evil person could possibly compare us to those who had killed six million Jews?” With that simple phrase the administration, extremist wing of the Republican Party, their propagandists, FOX News, and even the corporate-owned and sponsored media pounce, deride, and ridicule the accuser. And just like that … the messenger cowers in silence.

That cowering … that silence must end! It must end, because the only difference between the extremist-wing of the Republican Party and the Nazis having killed six million people is that there is yet time for Americans to speak out against our country’s Nazi-like reality. Only silence allowed Hitler and the Nazis to rise to power. Only silence!

Is a Presidential Coup Under Way?

October 24, 2007

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Where is Congress? It’s way past time for members to stand up. Historic matters are at stake. The Constitution is being trampled, the very form of our government is being perverted, and nothing less than American democracy itself is endangered — a presidential coup is taking place. I think of Barbara Jordan, the late congresswoman from Houston. On July 25, 1974, this powerful thinker and member of the House Judiciary Committee took her turn to speak during the Nixon impeachment inquiry.

“My faith in the Constitution is whole; it is complete; it is total,” she declared in her thundering voice. “And I am not going to sit here and be an idle spectator to the diminution, the subversion, the destruction, of the Constitution.”Where are the likes of Barbara Jordan in today’s Congress? While the BushCheney regime continues to establish a supreme, arrogant, autocratic presidency in flagrant violation of the Constitution, members of Congress largely sit there as idle spectators — or worse, as abettors of Bush’s usurpation of their own congressional authority.

Why it matters

Separation of powers. Rule of law. Checks and balances. These may seem to us moderns to be little more than a set of dry, legal precepts that we had to memorize in high-school history class but need not concern us now. After all, the founders (bless their wigged heads!) established these principles for us back in 17-something-or-other, so we don’t really have to worry about them in 2007. Think again. These are not merely arcane phrases of constitutional law, but the very keystones of our democracy, essential to sustaining our ideal of being a self-governing people, free of tyrants who would govern us on their own whim. The founders knew about tyranny. The monarch of the time, King George III, routinely denied colonists basic liberties, spied on them and entered their homes at will, seized their property, jailed anyone he wanted without charges, rounded up and killed dissidents, and generally ruled with an iron fist. He was both the law and above the law, operating on the twin doctrines of “the divine rule of kings” and “the king can do no wrong.”

(Alert: Ready or not, the following is a high-school refresher course on American government. There will be a test.) At the front of the founders’ minds was the necessity of breaking up the authority of their new government in order to avoid re-creating the autocracy they had just defeated. The genius of their structure was that legislating, administering, and judging were to be done by three separate but coequal branches, each with powers to check the other two, and none able to aggregate all three functions into its own hands (a result that James Madison called the very definition of tyranny). Just as important, to deter government by whim, all members of the three branches were to be subject to the laws of the land (starting with the Constitution and Bill of Rights), with no one above the law. As Thomas Paine said, “The law is king.”

These were not legal niceties but core restraints designed to protect citizens from power grabs by ambitious autocrats. Such restrictions also make our country stronger by vetting policies through three entities rather than one. This balanced authority helps avoid many serious policy mistakes (or at least offers a chance to correct them later), and it is intended to prevent the one mistake that’s fatal to democracy — allowing one branch to seize the power to rule unilaterally.

Of course, sound schemes are oft screwed up by unsound leaders, and we’ve had some horrible hiccups over the years. John Adams went astray early in our democratic experiment by claiming the unilateral authority to imprison his political enemies; Abe Lincoln took it upon himself to suspend habeas corpus during the Civil War; Woodrow Wilson launched his notorious Palmer Raids; FDR rounded up and imprisoned Japanese-Americans; J. Edgar Hoover and the infamous COINTEL program spied on and arrested thousands in the Vietnam War years; and Ronnie Reagan ran his own illegal, secret war out of the White House basement.

In all these cases of executive excess and abuse, however, outrage flowed from the public, courts stood up to the White House, congressional investigations ensued, and the American system regained its balance relatively quickly. As Jefferson put it when he succeeded Adams and repealed the Alien and Sedition Acts, “Should we wander [from the essential principles of our government] in moments of error or alarm, let us hasten to retrace our steps and regain the road which alone leads to peace, liberty, and safety.”

This time is different

Now, however, come two arrogant autocrats like we’ve never seen in the White House. George W and his snarling enabler, Dick Cheney, are making a power grab so unprecedented, so audacious, so broad and deep, so secretive, so stupefying, and so un-American that it has not yet been comprehended by the media, Congress, or the public. The dictionary defines “coup” not just as an armed takeover in some Third World country, but as “a sudden and decisive action in politics, especially one affecting a change of government illegally or by force.”

Constantly waving the bloody flag of 9/11 and swaggering around in commander-in-chief garb, the BushCheney duo are usurping authority from Congress, the courts, and the people, while also asserting arbitrary power that does not belong to the presidency. Their coup is changing our form of government, rewriting the genius of the founders by imposing a supreme executive that functions in secret and insists that it is above the law, unaccountable either to congressional oversight or to judicial review.

As Al Gore pointed out in a powerful speech he gave last year (read it here), the BushCheney push for imperial power is much more dangerous and far-reaching than other presidential excesses for a couple of big reasons. First, the Bushites make no pretension that they want these powers only temporarily, instead contending that a super-powerful presidency is necessary to cope with a terrorist threat that they say will last “for the rest of our lives.” Second, they are not merely pushing executive supremacy as a response to an outside threat, but as an ideological, right-wing theory of what they allege the Constitution actually meant to say.

Called the “unitary executive theory,” this perverse, antidemocratic construct begs us to believe that the president has inherent executive powers that cannot be reviewed, questioned, or altered by the other branches. Bush himself has asserted that his executive power “must be unilateral and unchecked.” Must? Extremist theorists aside, this effectively establishes an executive with arbitrary power over us. It creates the anti-America.

The list of Bushite excesses is long…and growing:

  • Their sweeping, secret program of warrantless spying on Americans — in direct violation of a long-standing federal law intended to forestall such flagrant intrusions into people’s privacy.
  • The usurpation of legislative authority by attaching “signing statements” to laws passed by Congress, openly asserting Bush’s intention to disobey or simply ignore the laws. He has used this artifice to challenge over 1,150laws, even though the Constitution and the founders never conceived of such a dodge (signing statements were concocted by Ed Meese, Reagan’s attorney general, and were pushed at that time by a young Reaganite lawyer who is now ensconced for life on the Supreme Court, Sam Alito).
  • Suspension of habeas corpus for anyone whom Bush deems to be an “enemy combatant”-allowing innocent people to be detained indefinitely in prison without charges or civil trial, subjected to abuse and even torture, and denied access to judicial review of their incarceration (thus usurping the power of the courts). The routine and illegal assertion of “executive privilege” to stonewall Congress’s legitimate efforts to perform its constitutional obligation of executive oversight and to prevent the questioning of top officials engaged in outright violations of American law.
  • The assertion of a “state secrets” doctrine to prevent citizens and judges from pursuing legitimate lawsuits on the spurious grounds that even to have the executive’s actions brought before the court would endanger national security and infringe on executive authority.
  • An ever-expanding grab bag of autocratic actions, including using “national security letters” to sidestep the courts and spy on American political groups and individuals with no connection at all to terrorism; censoring executive-branch employees and government information for political purposes and using federal officials and tax dollars to push the regime’s political agenda; and, of course, outright lying to Congress and the public, including lying for the most despicable purpose of all — putting our troops, our public treasury, and our nation’s good name into a war based on nothing but hubris, oil, and ideological fantasies (including Bush’s latest blatant lie that “progress” in Iraq warrants the killing and maiming of additional thousands of American troops — none of whom comes from his family).

Democratic capitulation

What we have is a lawless presidency. But our problem is not Bush. He is who he is — a bonehead. He won’t change, and why should he? He’s getting away with his power grab! So he has no reason to step back, and every reason to keep pushing and to keep trying to institutionalize his coup.

Rather, our problem is those weaselly, wimpy, feckless members of Congress who have failed to confront the runaway executive, who have sat silent or (astonishingly) cheered and assisted as their own constitutional powers have been taken and their once-proud, coequal branch has been made subservient to the executive.

In the first six years of BushCheney, the Republican Congress operated as no more than a rubber stamp for the accretion of presidential power, shamelessly surrendering its own autonomy in a burst of mindless partisan zeal. Too many Democrats just went along, either buying the lies or being cowed by the unrelenting politics of fear and intimidation whipped up by Bush and Cheney. (The Bushites are still using these bullying tactics, as when they demanded this past summer that Congress legalize their illegal domestic spy program and CIA chief Mike McConnell warned publicly that “Americans are going to die” if Democrats failed to pass it.)

Which brings us to the new Congress run by Democrats. Where are they? Yes, I know they have only slim majorities and that the GOP uses veto threats, filibusters, and demagogic lies to fight them — but, come on, suck it up! At least stop voting for “the diminution, the subversion, the destruction, of the Constitution.” For example, the party now in charge did indeed cave in to Bush’s summer demand that it legalize his warrantless spying on Americans (a Lowdowner sent an email to me saying he hopes Bush gets caught smoking pot, because then the Democrats will immediately legalize it).

The founders would be stunned that Congress has failed to assert itself. They saw checks and balances not as an option but as an obligation, a fundamental responsibility that goes to the very heart of each lawmaker’s oath faithfully to support and defend the Constitution.

It’s important to note that Congress is not a weak institution. It has powerful muscles to flex, including control of the purse, which Congress used in 1973 to tell Nixon, “No, we will not provide money for you to extend the Vietnam War into Laos and Cambodia.” Nixon had to back off. Legislators also have clear constitutional mandates to oversee, probe, and expose presidential actions (remember the extensive Fulbright hearings in the ’60s and the Church investigations of the ’70s, for example). Members of Congress have wide-ranging subpoena power, as well as something called “inherent contempt” power to make their own charges against outlaw executive officials and to hold their own trials. And, of course, they have impeachment power — which the founders saw not only as a way to remove an outlaw president (or veep or cabinet officer), but also as a means to compel a recidivist constitutional violator to come before the bar of Congress and to be held accountable. The process itself, even if it does not lead to conviction in the Senate, is educational and chastening, putting the executive branch back in its place.

None of this is about making a partisan attack on BushCheney. It’s really not about them at all. Rather, Congress must find its backbone because our democracy cannot function without a vigilant legislative branch. Outlaw presidents must finally leave office, but their precedents live beyond them if left unchecked. As historian Arthur Schlesinger wrote of the power-grabbing Nixon administration, “If the Nixon White House escaped the legal consequences of its illegal behavior, why would future presidents not suppose themselves entitled to do [the same]?”

Bang pots and pans

Sam Adams, the organizer of the Boston Tea Party, knew that it is the citizenry itself that ultimately has to do the heavy lifting of democracy building. “If ever a time should come when vain and aspiring men shall possess the highest seats of government,” he declared, “our country will stand in need of its experienced patriots to prevent its ruin.”

That’s us. And now is that time.

What can we do? We can do what millions have been doing-only more of it, more insistently, more loudly, more creatively. Our friend Molly Ivins, just before she died this year, urged us to start “banging pots and pans” to make the bastards hear us. Raise a ruckus through street demonstrations, peace actions, visits (and/or confrontations) with lawmakers, political campaigns, alliances with military families, religious ceremonies, coalitions with constitutional conservatives, outreach to young people, and grassroots media action, including blogs, email blasts, call-in radio, letters to editors, op-eds, bumperstickers, and whatever you’ve got. Make a mighty noise.

Don’t forget our friends in office. Such Democrats as John Conyers, Henry Waxman, Barbara Lee, Lynn Woolsey, Russ Feingold, Pat Leahy, and Dennis Kucinich are all over Bush and Cheney with investigations, subpoenas, censure motions, impeachment bills, and exposes — not only on the war, but most emphatically on constitutional abuses. Thank them, find out what you can do to help them, demand that your own Congress critter join them.

And here’s a creative idea from Garret Keizer. I have no idea who he is, but he wrote a punchy piece in the October issue of Harper’s Magazine (read it here) that I like and that Lowdowners might want to embrace. He’s calling for a general strike. Not by unions, but by us-you and me. As a symbolically appropriate day, he suggests the first Tuesday of November, the traditional date for our elections — this year, Nov. 6. He dubs it “The Feast of the Hanging Chads.”

A general strike means that We The People, as many of us as possible, would disobey the inept, corrupt, undemocratic (add your own adjective here) system by withholding our presence at for least one day. Don’t go to work. Stay home. Better yet, take some political action. Also, don’t go to the mall, the supermarket, or the bank; don’t use your credit card or make any commercial transaction. This would be the ultimate affront to the corporate president who so pathetically told us after 9/11 that our highest patriotic response to the attack was to “go shopping.” So don’t fly, use your cell phone (hard, I know), watch TV, or otherwise participate. Sometimes, silence is the loudest sound of all. As Keizer says, “As long as we’re willing to go on with our business, Bush and Cheney will feel free to go on with their coup.”

On one level, the strike is against the war, against Bush thumbing his nose at the American majority that has already emphatically said — OUT! — and against the Democratic leadership that can’t seem to muster the will to rein in the Bush administration. On another level, however, this is a strike for the Constitution, a strike against the betrayal of the rule of law and our democratic ideals. It’s a strike for the America we thought this was. It’s an affirmation that the people are the only “larger force” that can stop the BushCheney coup and make America whole again.

From “The Hightower Lowdown,” edited by Jim Hightower and Phillip Frazer, October 2007. Jim Hightower is a national radio commentator, writer, public speaker and author of Thieves In High Places: They’ve Stolen Our Country and It’s Time to Take It Back.

Will the GOP election theft machine do it again in 2008?

October 21, 2007

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by Bob Fitrakis and Harvey Wasserman

With record low approval ratings for the Bush/Cheney regime and the albatross of an unpopular war hanging from the GOP’s neck, do you think that a Democratic presidential candidate will win the White House, get us out of Iraq, and end our long national nightmare?

Think again – the mighty election theft machine Karl Rove used to steal the US presidency in 2000 and 2004 may be under attack, but it is still in place for the upcoming 2008 election.

With his usual devious mastery, Rove has seized upon the national outrage sparked by his electoral larceny and used it as smokescreen while he makes the American electoral system even MORE unfair, and even EASIER to rig. Thus the administration has fired federal attorneys when they would not participate in a nationwide campaign to deny minorities and the poor their access to the polls. It has spent millions of taxpayer dollars to install electronic voting machines that can be “flipped” with a few keystrokes. And under the guise of “reforming” our busted electoral system, it is setting us up for another presidential theft in 2008.

Thus it should come as no surprise that our exclusive investigations into the firings of eight federal prosecutors who refused to execute Rove’s plans for massive disenfranchisement of Democratic voters reveal a pattern of illegalities and fraud aimed at reducing the number of minority, poor and young voters at the core of Democratic support. In the wake of major news breaks, two felony convictions have come from the rigging of the illegal Ohio 2004 vote count and recount that gave George W. Bush a second illegitimate term. Stunning new admissions from county election boards that illegally destroyed voter records will almost certainly lead to new convictions. And the multi-million-dollar electronic voting machine scam that made possible the biggest electoral frauds in US history is under massive new attack, with key states moving to scrap the machines altogether in a desperate attempt to restore American democracy – but with the job far from done.

Rove, Ney and the undead

Indeed, the Rovian theft engine is far from dead. The media groundwork has already been laid out for the Republicans to claim that hordes of illegal aliens have registered to vote. The Bush administration has been caught ordering public agencies – possibly in violation of the law – to cease registering voters. In an April, 2006 speech to the Republican National Lawyers Association, Rove openly alluded to the strategy of demanding photo ID and purging voter roles of poor, minority voters just as had been done in 2000 and 2004. And, as always with Bush/Rove, there is much more beneath the surface.

All that has happened to challenge the GOP death grip on the American vote count has been reported in the pages of Hustler and on the internet at freepress.org, bradblog and elsewhere, and is being seized upon by a national grassroots movement determined to restore American democracy next year.

Nowhere has that movement been more in evidence than with the high profile firestorm surrounding Bush administration Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’ firing of eight federal prosecutors without legitimate cause.

Evidence continues to surface from throughout the United States about this blatant Bush abuse of executive power. But we have traced the roots of the firings to an obscure Congressional hearing held at the statehouse in Columbus, Ohio, on March 21, 2005, and to a shadowy GOP operative named Mark F. “Thor” Hearne.

The hearing was conducted by none other than former US Rep. Bob Ney (R-18th OH). The once-powerful Ohio Congressman (who is now behind bars) was the godfather of the Help America Vote Act (HAVA), the national boondoggle that mandated electronic voting machines for the American electoral process.

That the machines would cost taxpayers billions was a big plus for Ney. They would come from Diebold and other companies that poured money into Republican coffers. Thanks largely to the manipulations of disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, these e-voting machine companies would help guarantee the GOP’s ability to steal elections.

Ney’s hearing featured a marquee appearance by J. Kenneth Blackwell, the Secretary of State responsible for delivering Ohio’s decisive 2004 electoral votes to Bush. Blackwell was a key operative for the Bush election campaign in Florida in 2000 and co-chaired the Bush-Cheney 2004 re-election campaign in Ohio.

“Haul butt!”

Congressional protocol required that Ney allow Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D-Cleveland) to question Blackwell. Soon Blackwell and Jones were yelling at each other in a legendary exchange that ended with Jones telling Blackwell to “haul butt” out of the chamber.

Not quite so high profile was the ensuing testimony by Hearne, who identified himself as the head of the American Center for Voting Rights. Hearne is a long-time GOP dirty trickster, with a Rovian rap sheet dating to the 1970s. He did not explain that the ACVR had a post box in a Dallas mall, but no office, few staff, a board stacked with GOP operatives, no grassroots mailing list or much else to confirm the functioning of a real organization. Nor did Ney clarify that Hearne had served as election counsel to the Bush-Cheney campaign, and had founded ACVR the previous month, at the urging of Karl Rove.

While the press corps rushed to report the Jones-Blackwell dust-up, Hearne laid out for Ney and the few of us left listening the essential template for the new GOP strategy for disenfranchising millions of suspected Democrats from voting in future elections. In classic Rovian terms, Hearne bemoaned a litany of “voter fraud” abuses allegedly committed by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the Association for Communities Organizing for Reform Now (ACORN) and other multi-racial coalitions working to register millions of new voters across the United States.

Among other things, Hearne told Ney the voter registration campaigns were using “crack cocaine” as an “incentive” for registering new voters. Adding the AFL-CIO and ACT-Ohio to his list of evil-doers, Hearne warned that millions of “fraudulent” ballots would be cast in future elections unless something was done to curb the ability of ordinary citizens to vote without extensive identification papers.

Hearne’s testimony drew little press. But it has led directly to the national Bush/Rove push for new laws requiring voters to show picture IDs at the polls and other methods of mass disenfranchisement – and the firing of eight US prosecutors who apparently refused to go along.

The cover-up

References to Hearne’s ACVR have now mysteriously disappeared from the internet. But the McClatchy Newspapers have reported that Hearne’s ACVR and the Republican Lawyers Association have actively campaigned – with a war chest of at least $1.5 million – in at least nine battleground states. They stump for voter ID laws and rigid registration restrictions and other tactics aimed at radically reducing the ability of Democrat-leaning organizations to register new voters.

The ACVR agenda embraces the Administration’s illegal demand that public agencies stop registering new, mostly poor voters. And the pressure to rid our democracy of such voters has carried over to the offices of the nation’s federal prosecutors, even in the face of widespread investigations showing the numbers of people illegally trying to register and vote have been miniscule.

Emblematic of the firings is the case of David Iglesias of New Mexico. Iglesias has testified to Congress that Albuquerque lawyer Patrick Rogers pressured him to prosecute alleged vote fraud perpetrators. When he resisted, Iglesias was fired by Gonzales.

Rogers is listed as “secretary” of Thor Hearne’s American Center for Voting Rights, as well as a former general counsel to the New Mexico Republican Party.

Meanwhile, the Bush Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division has reversed its mandate by fighting to narrow rather than broaden the voting rights of minorities, and to prosecute voter registration operations without just cause. An ACVR director, Cameron Quinn, is now the Division’s voting counsel.

A key target has been Project Vote, which registered 1.5 million voters in 2004 and 2006. Five days before the 2006 election, Bush’s interim US attorney in Kansas City issued indictments against four ACORN workers under contract with Project Vote. Prosecutions that close to election day have traditionally been discouraged by the Justice Department. Acorn officials had notified the federal officials when they noticed the doctored forms. But ACVR’s “job was to confuse the public about voter fraud and offer bogus solutions to the problem,” said Michael Slater, the deputy director of Project Vote, They used “deception and faulty research” to help Rove’s GOP.

The common denominator in the firings of the federal attorneys has been an unwillingness to pursue prosecutions on the basis of such research. Iglesias, for example, told Newsweek magazine he “had been repeatedly pushed by New Mexico GOP officials to prosecute workers for ACORN” who were registering voters.

Media missed it again

The media has missed what DID happen when the attorneys complied with the Bush/Rove game plan. Just four days prior to the 2004 vote, Assistant Attorney-General Alex Acosta, the civil rights chief of the Bush Justice Department asked a federal judge in Ohio to sign off on policies that would disenfranchise thousands of black voters. The move almost certainly had a significant impact on Bush’s subsequent victory in the Electoral College. Joseph Rich, a former chief of the Justice Department’s Voting Rights Section, has called the Ohio scheme “vote caging,” which is illegal.

The case arose when Republicans allegedly sent “caging” letters to thousands of registered voters in inner city districts. The letters had “do not forward” stamped on them, with a return receipt requested. When some 23,000 came back as undeliverable, GOP operatives demanded the right to get the names removed from voter rolls. Acosta argued in his letter that restricting such challenges would “undermine” the electoral process.

But an exclusive investigation by freepress.org found that at least 25% of the people being removed from the voter rolls were in fact still living at their registered address. Greg Palast has reported that the GOP deliberately targeted black soldiers still fighting in Iraq.

Acosta says his letter endorsed the GOP challenges as “permissible” as long as they were not racially motivated, and that anyone whose eligibility was challenged could still get a provisional ballot.

But due to the actions of former Ohio Secretary of State Blackwell, more than 16,000 provisional ballots from the 2004 election remain uncounted. Independent observers have testified that thousands more may have been discarded right at the polling stations. (Bush’s official margin of victory in Ohio was less than 119,000 votes.)

Robert Kengle, who served under Acosta at the Justice Department’s Voting Rights Section, says Acosta’s unsolicited letter to the courts was “cheerleading” for the GOP. “It was doubly outrageous,” he said, “because the allegation in the litigation was that these were overwhelmingly African-American voters that were on the challenge list,” precisely those whose right to vote the Justice Department was charged to protect.

Acosta was not among the attorneys fired by Bush. In fact, he is now the federal attorney in Miami.

Eyewitness testimony from throughout the state confirms that scores of GOP activists did challenge voters in numerous inner city polling stations. Many carried Blackberries and used sophisticated lists that may have included those illegally garnered caging rosters. The challenges did lead to numerous voters being turned away, and increased the long delays suffered by inner city voters throughout the state.

Surveys show it took blacks nearly an hour to vote on average in Ohio in 2004, while whites voted in less than fifteen minutes. In the inner city of Columbus, black voters waited between three and seven hours to vote, while in the nearby suburb of Bexley it took just five minutes. The delays in Columbus alone may have cost Kerry up to 60,000 votes.

Similar challenges were also endorsed by White House operative Tim Griffin, who has been widely accused of trying to cage mostly black voters in Florida. Rich says the scheme became public before the election, and the GOP apparently dropped the idea.

But as he was firing the federal attorneys who refused to cage, Bush appointed Griffin to be US attorney for Arkansas. Griffin has since resigned the post under fire. But along with Ohio, the administration used similar tactics in the key swing states of Florida and Pennsylvania, as well as in Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, Texas and Washington. Bush’s Justice Department also supported former California Secretary of State Bruce McPherson’s rejection of 20,000 voter registration forms, a move later reversed in court. And it has helped push photo ID requirements – again rejected in court – devised by Georgia to restrict black and poor voter access.

A 35-year veteran of the Justice Department’s Voting Right Sections, Rich told the McClatchey papers that he quit over political appointees who “skewed aspects of law enforcement in ways that clearly were intended to influence the outcome of the elections.” Thus Thor Hearne’s original blueprint for disenfranchising minorities and the poor is now established administration policy, supported by Bush’s Justice Department, and backed by his firing of federal attorneys – illegal or otherwise – who refuse to go along. Whether the Democrats in Congress do anything about it, and whether the GOP successfully uses these tactics again in 2008, remain to be seen.

New cyber-thuggery

Alongside the Bush/Rove commitment to mass disenfranchisement, the key to the outcome of the 2008 election may be the rise and incomplete fall of electronic voting machines.

Unmonitorable DRE (Direct Record Electronic) voting machines have been center stage at every Bush-era stolen election. In Florida 2000, some 16,000 votes that “disappeared” from Al Gore’s tallies in Volusia County helped turn the tide for Bush at a key election night moment, even though they were later reinstated. In 2002, fraudulent electronic vote counts in Georgia almost certainly deprived Vietnam war hero Max Cleland of his US Senate seat in a race which all credible polls showed him winning by a substantial margin.

The spread of DREs is at the core of the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) pushed through by then-Congressman (now jailbird) Bob Ney. High-powered studies from the likes of the Government Accountability Office, the Brennan Center on Voting Rights, the Carter-Baker Commission on Voting Rights, Princeton University and US Representative John Conyers all conclude that DRE’s can be easily manipulated, with entire elections illicitly shifted by a few keystrokes.

The GOPs HAVA means to put the nation on DREs as thoroughly as possible by 2008. But a public rebellion has slowed that plan. In Ohio, grassroots campaigners stopped Blackwell from giving Diebold an unbid $100 million contract to put virtually the entire state on DREs. Elsewhere, state and local election boards rebelled against the high cost of maintaining the machines, which often must be kept air conditioned around the clock, resulting in huge electric bills. Programming and other costs make administering elections on DREs far more expensive than doing it on paper ballots. The DREs have become infamous because of widespread testimony in Ohio that 2004 voters were pushing John Kerry’s name, only to see George Bush’s name light up, or to have their Kerry vote simply disappear moments later.

In response to nationwide opposition, US Representative Rush Holt (D-NJ) proposed federal legislation that would have forced all electronic voting machines to be fitted with devices that would produce a paper trail. An accredited scientist, Holt also wanted to force manufacturers to make public the software that ran their machines.

Holt’s proposed House Bill 811 divided the election protection movement, much of which saw it as an endorsement of DREs. And as the bill progressed, the GOP gutted it, killing the software transparency requirements and settling for unworkable paper trail provisions.

The governors of Florida and Maryland have already moved to ban DREs in 2008, and to use paper ballots instead. Grassroots confrontations over how to cast and count votes will rage right up to election day.

The need for electronic safeguards has been confirmed to the hilt by an astonishing flood of revelations from Ohio. To report Ohio’s 2004 election-night vote count, Blackwell contracted with the same GOP computer programmer who created the Bush-Cheney web site in 2000. Those GOP-programmed results were then run through servers housed in the basement of a bank in Chattanooga, Tennessee which also housed the servers for the Republican National Committee (through which Karl Rove ran his off-the-record e-mails, now being sought by Congress).

Supervised by Blackwell, those results showed a substantial victory for John Kerry until about 12:20 at night, when reporting inexplicably stopped. When it resumed about 90 minutes later, Ohio’s margin – and the presidency – suddenly switched to Bush.

After the election, a citizen-based federal lawsuit (in which we are attorney and plaintiff) was filed, aimed at preserving all of Ohio’s 2004 election materials for further investigation. Those materials were protected by federal law until September 2, 2006, when Blackwell intended to destroy them. But a week prior, we won a federal court decision barring the counties from destroying any of these materials. Ohio’s new Secretary of State (SOS), Jennifer Brunner, then ordered the boards of election to deliver this evidence to her.

But in July 2007, 56 of Ohio’s 88 county BOEs admitted to illegally destroying all or some of their records. John M. Williams, Director of Elections in Hamilton County (Cincinnati) told Brunner he was “…unable to transfer the unvoted precinct ballots and soiled ballots” essential to an accurate audit because they “…were inadvertently shredded between January 19th and 26th of ’06 in an effort to make room for the new Hart voting system.”

In Clermont County, a key Republican stronghold permeated with election irregularities, Director Mike Keeley told Brunner that “in interviewing the staff, no one could remember the disposition of said ballots,” meaning the actual number of votes cast remains a mystery. In neighboring Butler County, Director Betty L. McGary informed the SOS on May 9, 2007 that they had lost the “ballot pages” thus making it impossible to confirm how votes were counted.

Delaware County, where the last 359 votes cast in one precinct were all counted for Bush, informed Brunner that they had 29 boxes of ballots, but then delivered only 26. The Delaware BOE initially reported 1872 provisional ballots, but the official number is now 1462, feeding suspicions the boxes were stuffed.

Two election officials in Cleveland have thus far been convicted of felonies stemming from rigged recount procedures after 2004. Now a solid majority of Ohio’s election boards face potential federal criminal action. They have made a reliable reconstruction of the true 2004 outcome virtually impossible.

Brunner has pledged to preside over a fair election in Ohio 2008. Like Debra Bowen, California’s new Secretary of State, Brunner is running extensive tests on the state’s electronic voting machines. Most or all of California and Ohio’s DREs could be gone by 2008, possibly to be replaced by paper ballots counted by electronic scanners.

But even those are not immune to fraud. In 2004, Diebold technicians provided inner city precincts with malfunctioning opti-scan machines. Throughout the state, more than 90,000 ballots were never counted because of voting machine malfunctions. At a mostly Democratic precinct in Toledo, poll workers handed out pencils whose marks could not be read by the electronic counters, thus voiding the votes cast there.

Overall, our nation’s history has been filled with stolen elections. Most have been robbed with paper ballots and stuffed ballot boxes. But under Bush/Rove, electronics are at center stage.

High tech Tammany

Bush/Rove stole the 2000 and 2004 elections by intimidation, vote caging, rigged machines, rigged recounts, and much more. Bush’s firing of the eight federal attorneys only underscores the fraud perpetrated by those who weren’t fired.

Whether Congress gets to the bottom of those firings remains to be seen. But there is little doubt the Democrats were able to retake the House and Senate in 2006 only because of the increased vigilance of a national grassroots voter protection movement.

Though Democrats carried Ohio in the off-year elections of 2006, our research indicates that the GOP still stole as much as 12% of the vote, and is still intent on disenfranchising hundreds of thousands of minority, poor and young voters. In a single election in Franklin County in 2006, a magistrate found that more than 83% of all the precincts were miscounted on the DRE machines.

And though DRE machines are under intense attack, their presence in 2008 will still be substantial, and will still subject the election to GOP theft.

The lessons of 2000 and 2004 are in the terror imposed on the registration process and the error perpetrated in the vote count. Only by saying “never again” can Americans hope to see a return to actual democracy.

Farmers sue DEA for right to grow industrial hemp

October 20, 2007

(CNN) — The feds call industrial hemp a controlled substance — the same as pot, heroin, LSD — but advocates say a sober analysis reveals a harmless, renewable cash crop with thousands of applications that are good for the environment.

 

 

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Industrial hemp, left, looks a lot like its cousin in the cannabis family, marijuana.

 

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Two North Dakota farmers are taking that argument to federal court, where a November 14 hearing is scheduled in a lawsuit to determine if the Drug Enforcement Administration is stifling the farmers’ efforts to grow industrial hemp. The DEA says it’s merely enforcing the law.

Marijuana and industrial hemp are members of the Cannabis sativa L. species and have similar characteristics. One major difference: Hemp won’t get you high. Hemp contains only traces of delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the compound that gets pot smokers stoned. However, the Controlled Substances Act makes little distinction, banning the species almost outright.

Marijuana, which has only recreational and limited medical uses, is the shiftless counterpart to the go-getter hemp, which has a centuries-old history of handiness.

The February 1938 issue of Popular Mechanics magazine heralded hemp as the “new billion-dollar crop,” saying it had 25,000 uses. Today, it is a base element for textiles, paper, construction materials, car parts, food and body care products.

It’s not a panacea for health and environmental problems, advocates concede, but it’s not the menace the Controlled Substances Act makes it out to be. Video Watch why a North Dakota official thinks the U.S. should be in the hemp business »

“This is actually an anti-drug. It’s a healthy food,” explained Adam Eidinger of the Washington advocacy group Vote Hemp. “We’re not using this as a statement to end the drug war.”

Rather, Eidinger said, Vote Hemp wants to vindicate a plant that has been falsely accused because of its mischievous cousin.

North Dakota farmers Wayne Hauge and Dave Monson say comparing industrial hemp to marijuana is like comparing pop guns and M-16s. They’ve successfully petitioned the state Legislature

— of which Monson is a member — to authorize the farming of industrial hemp.

They’ve applied for federal permits and submitted a collective $5,733 in nonrefundable fees, to no avail, so they’re suing the DEA.

North Dakota is one of seven states to OK hemp production or research. California would have made eight until Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger last week vetoed the California Industrial Hemp Farming Act, citing the burden on law enforcement which would have to inspect hemp fields to make sure they were marijuana-free.

Administration skeptical of initiatives

The DEA claims the farmers’ lawsuit is misguided because the agency is obligated to enforce the Controlled Substances Act.

“Hemp comes from cannabis. It’s kind of a Catch 22 there,” said DEA spokesman Michael Sanders. “Until Congress does something, we have to enforce the laws.” The difference between marijuana, industrial hemp »

Asked if the DEA opposes the stalled House Resolution 1009, which would nix industrial hemp from the definition of marijuana, Sanders said the Justice Department and President Bush would make that call.

“When it comes to laws, we don’t have a dog in that fight,” he said.

The Justice Department has no position yet on the resolution, said spokesman Erik Ablin. The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, however, is skeptical because of the burden hemp would place on law enforcement resources. Also, hemp advocates are regularly backed — sometimes surreptitiously — by the pro-marijuana movement, the office alleges.

“ONDCP cautions that, historically, the hemp movement has been almost entirely funded by the well-organized and well-funded marijuana legalization lobby,” said spokesman Tom Riley. “All we do is ask people not to be naive about what’s really going on here.”

Often, the hemp movement — like hemp legislation — is inextricably tied to marijuana. Pot advocates like actor Woody Harrelson and activist Jack Herer have double or ulterior agendas when they expound the virtues of hemp.

Not so with Monson, 57. The assistant GOP leader in the state House, who returned to the family farm where he was reared in 1975, said he became interested in hemp in 1993 when scab, or Fusarium head blight, devastated his wheat and barley crops.

 

What Is It Good For?

Hemp’s handiness can be traced back hundreds of years. Here are a few examples of its myriad applications:

Paper — The plant’s long, strong fibers make it an alternative to timber for paper. The Declaration of Independence and first Gutenberg Bibles were drafted on hemp.
Construction — Hemp’s woody core makes a good source of boards for construction materials.
Auto parts — The plant’s fiber can be crafted into a composite that is used for interior automobile parts typically made of fiberglass or other materials.
Textiles — For centuries, hemp fibers have been used for fabrics, both fine and coarse.
Body and health care products — Oil from the seeds is used in lotions, balms and cosmetics.
Food — The seeds and oil are high in protein and essential fatty acids and are used in a variety of edibles.
Ethanol — Though the technology is embryonic at best, hemp’s high cellulose content makes it a good candidate for biofuel production.

Source: Vote Hemp, Hemp Industries Association
Monson grows canola, too, but wants another crop in his rotation. Soybeans are too finicky for the weather and rocky soil. Monson also tried pinto beans, fava beans and buckwheat with no luck.

“None of them seemed to really be a surefire thing,” he said. “We were looking for anything that was potentially able to make us some money.”

Hemp, said the lifelong farmer, seemed an apt fit. It likes the climate, its deep roots irrigate soil, it doesn’t need herbicides because it grows tall quickly and it breaks the disease cycles in other crops, Monson said.

States follow Canada’s lead

About 20 miles north of Monson’s Osnabrock farm lies the Canadian border, the hemp dividing line. Just over the border in Manitoba, farmers have been reaping the benefits of hemp since 1998, when Health Canada reversed a longtime ban.

In a Vote Hemp video, Shaun Crew, president of Hemp Oil Canada Inc., a processing company in Sainte-Agathe, praised Canada’s foresight in differentiating between hemp and marijuana.

While marijuana THC levels can range between 3 and 20 percent, Canada demands its hemp contain no more than 0.3 percent. In some hemp, the THC levels can sink as low as one part per million, Crew said.

“There’s probably more arsenic in your red wine, there’s more mercury in your water and there’s definitely more opiates in the poppy seed bagel you ate this morning,” Crew said on the video.

The North Dakota Legislature is convinced, as are the general assemblies in Hawaii, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Montana and West Virginia.

With his state’s blessing, North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner Roger Johnson is backing the farmers and has proposed modeling North Dakota’s hemp laws after Canada’s strict regulations.

“We weren’t just going to tell the DEA to take a hike,” Johnson said. “We’re serious about this, and we want to do it in concert with the DEA.”

In a March 27 letter to Johnson, Joseph Rannazzisi of the DEA’s Office of Diversion Control, said the permits were denied because the state hadn’t satisfied the agency’s security and logistical requirements.

Security aspects require careful evaluation because “the substance at issue is marijuana — the most widely abused controlled substance in the United States,” Rannazzisi wrote.

“We’ve been terribly brainwashed”

Hemp wasn’t always banned in the U.S. Jamestown Colony required farmers to grow it in 1619. Even after Congress cracked down on marijuana in 1937, farmers were encouraged to grow the crop for rope, sails and parachutes during World War II’s “Hemp for Victory” campaign.

Jake Graves, 81, heeded the call. Graves, whose father grew hemp in both world wars and whose grandfather grew it during the Civil War, was a teen when his father died in 1942. At the time, Graves’ family was growing hemp for the Army.

The Graveses continued growing hemp on their 500-acre Kentucky farm until 1945, when the market dried up after the advent of synthetic fabrics and the post-war reinvigoration of international trade.

 

Don’t Miss

But Graves stands by the crop and its versatility and says that by lumping hemp in with marijuana, lawmakers “threw the baby out with the wash.”

“We’ve been terribly brainwashed as a society,” Graves said. “Man didn’t use it for all those hundreds and hundreds of years without knowing what they were doing.”

In the U.S., tapping hemp’s versatility relies on imports. The DEA clamped down on most hemp imports in 1999 and 2001, but relented after a Canadian company sued, saying the ban violated its rights under the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Though advocates considered it a victory, Johnson said hemp won’t be fully utilized until it can be grown and researched stateside.

“For us to grow it isn’t enough. You have to build that infrastructure,” Johnson said. “None of those uses is really going to develop to any great degree until we’re able to grow this commodity.”

Johnson said the farmers’ Vote Hemp-funded lawsuit has no hidden agenda. It’s aimed solely at allowing farmers to grow hemp — without going to jail because federal law says hemp and marijuana are the same.

“I’ve got a state Legislature saying they aren’t and the entire world saying they aren’t. This is about a crop that is a legitimate crop every place else in the world,” Johnson said. “It’s not a crusade thing. It’s a crop. Let farmers grow it. We don’t want anyone to be growing drugs.”

Mystery: How Wealth Creates Poverty In The World

October 19, 2007

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by Michael Parenti

http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?ItemID=12674

There is a “mystery” we must explain: How is it that as corporate investments and foreign aid and international loans to poor countries have increased dramatically throughout the world over the last half century, so has poverty? The number of people living in poverty is growing at a faster rate than the world’s population. What do we make of this?

Over the last half century, U.S. industries and banks (and other western corporations) have invested heavily in those poorer regions of Asia, Africa, and Latin America known as the “Third World.” The transnationals are attracted by the rich natural resources, the high return that comes from low-paid labor, and the nearly complete absence of taxes, environmental regulations, worker benefits, and occupational safety costs.

The U.S. government has subsidized this flight of capital by granting corporations tax concessions on their overseas investments, and even paying some of their relocation expenses—much to the outrage of labor unions here at home who see their jobs evaporating.

The transnationals push out local businesses in the Third World and preempt their markets. American agribusiness cartels, heavily subsidized by U.S. taxpayers, dump surplus products in other countries at below cost and undersell local farmers. As Christopher Cook describes it in his Diet for a Dead Planet, they expropriate the best land in these countries for cash-crop exports, usually monoculture crops requiring large amounts of pesticides, leaving less and less acreage for the hundreds of varieties of organically grown foods that feed the local populations.

By displacing local populations from their lands and robbing them of their self-sufficiency, corporations create overcrowded labor markets of desperate people who are forced into shanty towns to toil for poverty wages (when they can get work), often in violation of the countries’ own minimum wage laws.

In Haiti, for instance, workers are paid 11 cents an hour by corporate giants such as Disney, Wal-Mart, and J.C. Penny. The United States is one of the few countries that has refused to sign an international convention for the abolition of child labor and forced labor. This position stems from the child labor practices of U.S. corporations throughout the Third World and within the United States itself, where children as young as 12 suffer high rates of injuries and fatalities, and are often paid less than the minimum wage.

The savings that big business reaps from cheap labor abroad are not passed on in lower prices to their customers elsewhere. Corporations do not outsource to far-off regions so that U.S. consumers can save money. They outsource in order to increase their margin of profit. In 1990, shoes made by Indonesian children working twelve-hour days for 13 cents an hour, cost only $2.60 but still sold for $100 or more in the United States.

U.S. foreign aid usually works hand in hand with transnational investment. It subsidizes construction of the infrastructure needed by corporations in the Third World: ports, highways, and refineries.

The aid given to Third World governments comes with strings attached. It often must be spent on U.S. products, and the recipient nation is required to give investment preferences to U.S. companies, shifting consumption away from home produced commodities and foods in favor of imported ones, creating more dependency, hunger, and debt.

A good chunk of the aid money never sees the light of day, going directly into the personal coffers of sticky-fingered officials in the recipient countries.

Aid (of a sort) also comes from other sources. In 1944, the United Nations created the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Voting power in both organizations is determined by a country’s financial contribution. As the largest “donor,” the United States has a dominant voice, followed by Germany, Japan, France, and Great Britain. The IMF operates in secrecy with a select group of bankers and finance ministry staffs drawn mostly from the rich nations.

The World Bank and IMF are supposed to assist nations in their development. What actually happens is another story. A poor country borrows from the World Bank to build up some aspect of its economy. Should it be unable to pay back the heavy interest because of declining export sales or some other reason, it must borrow again, this time from the IMF.

But the IMF imposes a “structural adjustment program” (SAP), requiring debtor countries to grant tax breaks to the transnational corporations, reduce wages, and make no attempt to protect local enterprises from foreign imports and foreign takeovers. The debtor nations are pressured to privatize their economies, selling at scandalously low prices their state-owned mines, railroads, and utilities to private corporations.

They are forced to open their forests to clear-cutting and their lands to strip mining, without regard to the ecological damage done. The debtor nations also must cut back on subsidies for health, education, transportation and food, spending less on their people in order to have more money to meet debt payments. Required to grow cash crops for export earnings, they become even less able to feed their own populations.

So it is that throughout the Third World, real wages have declined, and national debts have soared to the point where debt payments absorb almost all of the poorer countries’ export earnings—which creates further impoverishment as it leaves the debtor country even less able to provide the things its population needs.

Here then we have explained a “mystery.” It is, of course, no mystery at all if you don’t adhere to trickle-down mystification. Why has poverty deepened while foreign aid and loans and investments have grown? Answer: Loans, investments, and most forms of aid are designed not to fight poverty but to augment the wealth of transnational investors at the expense of local populations.

There is no trickle down, only a siphoning up from the toiling many to the moneyed few.

In their perpetual confusion, some liberal critics conclude that foreign aid and IMF and World Bank structural adjustments “do not work”; the end result is less self-sufficiency and more poverty for the recipient nations, they point out. Why then do the rich member states continue to fund the IMF and World Bank? Are their leaders just less intelligent than the critics who keep pointing out to them that their policies are having the opposite effect?

No, it is the critics who are stupid not the western leaders and investors who own so much of the world and enjoy such immense wealth and success. They pursue their aid and foreign loan programs because such programs do work. The question is, work for whom? Cui bono?

The purpose behind their investments, loans, and aid programs is not to uplift the masses in other countries. That is certainly not the business they are in. The purpose is to serve the interests of global capital accumulation, to take over the lands and local economies of Third World peoples, monopolize their markets, depress their wages, indenture their labor with enormous debts, privatize their public service sector, and prevent these nations from emerging as trade competitors by not allowing them a normal development.

In these respects, investments, foreign loans, and structural adjustments work very well indeed.

The real mystery is: why do some people find such an analysis to be so improbable, a “conspiratorial” imagining? Why are they skeptical that U.S. rulers knowingly and deliberately pursue such ruthless policies (suppress wages, rollback environmental protections, eliminate the public sector, cut human services) in the Third World? These rulers are pursuing much the same policies right here in our own country!

Isn’t it time that liberal critics stop thinking that the people who own so much of the world—and want to own it all—are “incompetent” or “misguided” or “failing to see the unintended consequences of their policies”? You are not being very smart when you think your enemies are not as smart as you. They know where their interests lie, and so should we.

Michael Parenti’s recent books include The Assassination of Julius Caesar (New Press), Superpatriotism (City Lights), and The Culture Struggle (Seven Stories Press). For more information visit: www.michaelparenti.org.