2006 - %3, September

I Left My Gun In San Francisco

| Fri Sep. 15, 2006 7:43 PM EDT

In 2004, Morgan Quitno Press ranked San Francisco as the ninth safest American city with a population over 500,000, putting it in the top 30%. This apparently did not impress Republican consultant Ed Rollins, who, on Wednesday, declared that House minority leader Nancy Pelosi "comes from San Francisco, one of the bastions of lawlessness in this country."

Rollins' point about Pelosi was that she "is certainly not going to be the one that's going to convince Americans that the Democrats are going to get tough" on issues of national security.

Bad grammar aside, Rollins' comment, made on Lou Dobbs Tonight, is a reliable Republican talking point that has grown even more popular since Americans have indicated that they are fed up with the war in Iraq. There is also a concentrated effort to brand Pelosi as a "San Francisco liberal," a phrase which conjures up such notions as free love, drugs, gay sex and "radical" ideology.

This is an old theme. I remember standing in the Post Office line right after the 2004 election and hearing one of the clerks say to a customer, "Thank God the 'other one' wasn't elected. Can you imagine what would become of us?" I was hoping to wind up at her station so I could say "Yes, a war hero and geo-political expert--that would have made a really scary president." Unfortunately, I didn't get to say it.

Unless the opposition can do an effective job of showing the obvious--that the Bush administration has made America less safe than ever--the "Democrats cannot protect you" theme is guaranteed continued success.

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Whistleblower: FCC Spikes Own Study After It Doesn't Match Ideology

| Fri Sep. 15, 2006 4:39 PM EDT

The Federal Communications Commission was accused today by a whistleblower of discontinuing and concealing a study that showed locally owned TV stations broadcast more local news because the data conflicted with its agenda of media consolidation. Reported today in the Los Angeles Times, the accusation by former FCC attorney Adam Candeub provides some of the strongest evidence to-date that the Bush FCC has become a pawn of big media companies.

"The initial results (of the study) were very compelling, and it was just stopped in its tracks because it was not the way the agency wanted to go," Candeub told the Times. "The order did come down from somewhere in the senior management of the media bureau that this study had to end … and they wanted all the copies collected."

Media conglomerates have in the past disputed that their news coverage is inferior to that provided by independently owned outlets.

The year the FCC spiked the study, the agency was run by Michael K. Powell, son of former Secretary of State Colin Powell and an infamous skeptic of all things regulatory."Losing Signal," a 2001 Mother Jones article by Brendan Koerner, provides ample background on how the FCC under Powell could have become sufficiently ideological to ignore its own research. Koerner reports, for example, that Powell gave a speech on the future of communications in which he declared with almost religious certitude: "The oppressor here is regulation."

Koerner went on to write:

On these and other far-reaching questions, the agency's positions are shaping up to be virtually identical to the ones being drawn up in corporate boardrooms. In April, during a panel discussion conducted by the American Bar Association, Powell dismissed the FCC's historic mandate to evaluate corporate actions based on the public interest. That standard, he said, "is about as empty a vessel as you can accord a regulatory agency." In other comments, Powell has signaled what kind of philosophy he prefers to the outdated concept of public interest: During his first visit to Capitol Hill as chairman, Powell referred to corporations simply as "our clients."

Ney Pleads Guilty, Could Face 2 Years in Jail

| Fri Sep. 15, 2006 4:18 PM EDT

AP:

Ohio Rep. Bob Ney admitted improperly accepting tens of thousands of dollars worth of trips, meals, sports tickets and casino chips while trying to win favors for a disgraced Washington lobbyist and a foreign aviation company run by a gambler known as "the Fat Man."

Ney, a six-term Republican, had defiantly denied any wrongdoing for months, but he reversed course and agreed to plead guilty in court papers filed Friday. Prosecutors will recommend he serve 27 months in prison. Ney was expected to formally plead guilty in court Oct. 13.

"I have made serious mistakes and am sorry for them," Ney, 52, said in a statement. "I am very sorry for the pain I have caused to my family, my constituents in Ohio and my colleagues." His lawyer said he had begun treatment for alcohol dependency.

Ney became the first lawmaker to admit wrongdoing in the election-year congressional corruption probe spawned by disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Ney said he was hopeful "that someday the good I have tried to do will be measured alongside the mistakes I have made."

Fat chance.

Money Can't Buy Happiness. Yes It Can.

| Fri Sep. 15, 2006 1:36 PM EDT

From Germany's Institute for the Study of Labor:

"One of the famous questions in social science is whether money makes people happy. We offer new evidence by using longitudinal data on a random sample of Britons who receive medium-sized lottery wins of between £1000 and £120,000 (that is, up to approximately U.S. $200,000). When compared to two control groups – one with no wins and the other with small wins – these individuals go on eventually to exhibit significantly better psychological health.

Iraq For Sale: The War Profiteers

| Fri Sep. 15, 2006 12:57 PM EDT

New from Link TV, a 7-minute report about the film "Iraq for Sale - The War Profiteers," including an interview with director/ producer Robert Greenwald.

"The film takes you inside the lives of soldiers, truck drivers, widows and children whose lives have been changed forever as a result of profiteering in the reconstruction of Iraq. Iraq for Sale uncovers the connections between private corporations making a killing in Iraq and the decision makers who allow them to do so."

Check it out. Also see motherjones.com/iraq_for_sale for our coverage of post-war contracting shenanigans.

California's Solar Babies

| Fri Sep. 15, 2006 10:59 AM EDT

There are many things not to like about California, and top of my list, right after the state's self-satisfaction, is its political dysfunction—recalls, referendums, propositions, and the perennial standoff between the governor and the state legislature.

However, as this great NYT story (with a lot of multimedia bells and whistles) demonstrates, California's politicians have put their differences aside to create a bold new carrot-and-stick approach to cut carbon dioxide emissions and energy usage.

That's the kind of leadership we wish could come from Congress or the Bush Administration. But if Arnold, democratic assemblywomen, greens, and even anti-regulatory entrepreneur T. J. Rodgers can get together to save the planet (and turn a profit in the process), maybe there's hope.

Points of interest:

California's per-person electricity usage has remained flat since the 1970s, while the national average has risen by 50%.

A quarter of new hybrids are registered in California, where car dealers report that SUVs are no longer selling well.

Car makers and even dealerships have sued the state, saying that its new law requiring them to reduce the average CO2 emissions in cars sold in California by 30 percent by 2009 (light trucks and SUVs have until 2016) amounts to a backdoor way to legislate fuel efficiency—which is, alas, a federal domain.

The Supreme Court will soon hear a case brought by Massachusetts and a dozen other states arguing that the EPA should declare CO2 a pollutant and regulate it, which, but of course, the Bush Administration claims it has no authority to do. (But you're The Decider!)

And Rudy Giuliani's firm is in the business of defending utilities from all this evil regulation:

Scott Segal, a lawyer for Bracewell & Giuliani who represents electric utilities, summarized California's policy as: "All electrons are not created equal. We're going to discriminate against some of them, and create artificial barriers in the marketplace for electricity." California consumers could end up paying more for their energy and struggling to find enough, Mr. Segal said.
Discriminating against electrons! Start the meme watch.

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Soldiers Describe Fighting In Afghanistan

| Thu Sep. 14, 2006 10:38 PM EDT

American soldiers in Helmand Province have described to journalists from The Independent that "We are flattening places we have already flattened, but the attacks have kept coming. We have killed them by the dozens, but more keep coming, either locally or from across the border....We have used B1 bombers, Harriers, F16s and Mirage 2000s. We have dropped 500lb, 1,000lb and even 2,000lb bombs. At one point our Apaches [helicopter gunships] ran out of missiles, they have fired so many."

The soldiers went on to say that they are constantly ambushed, and in need of helicopters, but cannot get any. They have praise for the Afghan army, but say that the Afghan police force does not wish to fight the Taliban either because they are afraid to or because they are Taliban sympahizers.

New British troops have arrived to help, but France, Germany, Italy, and Turkey say they have no troops to spare because of the peacekeeping effort in Lebanon. In the meantime, Pakistani troops have withdrawn from the border, after getting a "promise" from the Taliban not to cross over into Afghanistan and continue to mount attacks.

According to Lt. Gen Richards: "You also have to think that each time we kill one, how many more enemies we are creating. And, of course, the lack of security means hardly any reconstruction is taking place now, so we are not exactly winning hearts and minds."

Tracing the Digital Trails We Leave -- and Government Follows

| Thu Sep. 14, 2006 6:11 PM EDT

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Here's a cool thing from Medill Journalism School -- a Flash presentation showing how your personal data can be used by the federal government or analyzed by intelligence agencies. (Yes, Flash can be annoying, as we've been hearing a lot lately; but there are some things, like this, that it can do very well; so give it a whirl.) It reveals how the government uses data mining and what data, from both public records and private data aggregators, is studied, what the privacy rules are and whether they're followed - and outlines "the digital trails we all leave in our daily lives."

Princeton: Diebold's Newest Voting Machine...Sucks

| Thu Sep. 14, 2006 5:51 PM EDT

Talking of voting hiccups, the Center for Information Technology and Policy got hold of one of Diebold's latest-model voting machine, the AccuVote-TS, and took it for a spin. What they found is not reassuring.

1) Malicious software running on a single voting machine can steal votes with little if any risk of detection. The malicious software can modify all of the records, audit logs, and counters kept by the voting machine, so that even careful forensic examination of these records will find nothing amiss. We have constructed demonstration software that carries out this vote-stealing attack.

2) Anyone who has physical access to a voting machine, or to a memory card that will later be inserted into a machine, can install said malicious software using a simple method that takes as little as one minute. In practice, poll workers and others often have unsupervised access to the machines.

3) AccuVote-TS machines are susceptible to voting-machine viruses — computer viruses that can spread malicious software automatically and invisibly from machine to machine during normal pre- and post-election activity. We have constructed a demonstration virus that spreads in this way, installing our demonstration vote-stealing program on every machine it infects.

4) While some of these problems can be eliminated by improving Diebold's software, others cannot be remedied without replacing the machines' hardware. Changes to election procedures would also be required to ensure security.

In the November 2006 elections, these machines are scheduled to be used in 357 counties representing nearly 10 percent of registered voters.

More on Diebold here and here.

Politicians Cast Opponents as Villains. No, Really.

| Thu Sep. 14, 2006 5:16 PM EDT

Yes, that's right, at least according to AP. Republican candidates "are eager to drop names like Pelosi, Clinton and Kerry [Each of these things is not like the others. Discuss.] in an attempt to associate their opponents with liberals and raise fears about what would happen if Democrats took control of Congress." Other boogeymen include Osama bin Laden, Kim Jong-Il, and, yes, Markos Moulitsas Zuniga, described in a recent RNC briefing as "a partisan nutroot who turned his hate-filled blog Daily Kos into a leadership post in the Democrat Party." (The blog can be way grating, true; but he's always struck me as a smart, thoughtful type unafraid to call BS on lame Democrats, which is an odd way of being "partisan.")

Democrats aren't above using boogeymen in their turn, as in a recent ad "showing a montage of GOP Senate candidates and Bush, followed by images of men sneaking across the border sandwiched between shots of bazooka-toting terrorists, bin Laden and the North Korean president." (Huh?) The ad was quickly withdrawn when Hispanic leaders complained. All of which explains, for the umpteenth time, why politicians are held in such widespread contempt--both because this kind of denigration by association can work and because the puerility and lameness of the strategy is so self-evident.