The American Evolution begins in 2004; what will your role be?

Regardless of the outcome of the presidential election next month, the United States is on the brink of radical change and a conflict between the reality-based community and those who favor ideology over reality. If George Bush wins, to echo Republican Bruce Bartlett in the New York Times, a civil war will break out in the Republican party, but the conflict will reach much further.

Having won a “mandate,” the neocons will begin the consolidation of their power and the final destruction of American liberalism that dates all the way back to Republican Theodore Roosevelt.

If the John Kerry wins the White House, the evolution will pick up steam, as well, as moderate and liberal Republicans and Democrats find themselves in an intellectual struggle with the quarter of the population that sincerely believes that their faith should be the guiding principle for the nation. Having seen the destructive strategies the far right religious fundamentalists used throughout the 1990s to sidetrack every initiative of the U.S. government that transcended their ideological limits, we can expect this to be as fierce a contest as the one with the Bush neocons if they win.

Either way, Republican or Democrat, the United States has a serious choice to make, whether it will be part of the 21st century community of nations or remain clinging to a 20th century geopolitical dream bolstered by fundamentalist Christian doctrine based in 19th century revivalism. That battle will take place in the press, in the media (from CNN to Howard Stern’s satellite radio program to the blogosphere) and in the classrooms, on the streets, in the offices and legislative venues across the country.

It will require a citizenry of dedicated participants, people who pick their fields and become expert so that they can argue the fine points of policy-making as it is hashed out in Congress, at the White House and in the field. We need to pick our battles and focus on them, in order to turn back the ideologues who ignore the realities of the world that we must understand and address in order to make meaningful changes in the course of history without plunging into a dark age of Christian versus Islamic fundamentalism, not to mention American fundamentalism versus European and Asian realism.

In Extreme Democracy, the book Jon Lebkowsky and I are putting together, we tried to get one simple point across—though I think we have long way to go before the book is published next year—that democracy today is a series of projects that small groups can undertake to have substantial impact on public discourse. If anything, the neocon/fundamentalist takeover of American politics proves this argument; the challenge now is for the rest of American society to join the battle. You can pick an area you care about, a subject you know or are willing to learn and have a tremendous impact because of the availability of tools for amplifying your voice in society.

Democracy hasn’t changed because of the Internet. It has become more intense, but it is still a contest for the hearts and minds of your fellow citizens. The battle for the future of the United States will begin on the day the election is resolved (let’s hope it takes a month less than in 2000), what are you going to do?

For my part, I’ll be dedicating a large part of my efforts here to documenting reality, digging into federal law and policy enforcement based on my having done that kind of reporting for a living over the years. Look for changes in the layout and organization of this blog as we head into the beginning of the American Evolution of 2004-2008.

Flu vaccine: Bush’s failure to protect ordinary people

The Bush administration loves it defense contractors and pharmaceutical companies. Despite years of warnings, it did nothing to expand the production of vaccine beyond the two companies to which it grants a virtual monopoly on flu vaccine production. As the New York Times points out, Britain—a much smaller country—has five vaccine producers. It is the Bush Administration’s preference for big pharma that exacerbated this problem, bringing it to a head this year with the flu vaccine shortage.

During the debates, President Bush blamed “a British company,” but in actuality Chiron Corp. is not based in Great Britain, it is based in Emeryville, Calif. In fact, it was action by the British regulatory agency, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, that forced the shutdown of the Chiron production facility in Liverpool.

Bush has had four years to solve these problems. Since the flu vaccine is exactly the kind of resource that will be needed in the event of a bioattack, which is one of the Bushies’ great bogeys in the War on Terror, this is a patent failure of its homeland security strategy, as well. There should be an open and broad-based production process for such medicines and, based on companies’ ability to deliver safe product, the federal funds for these medicines should be paid to many more firms than today in order to create the redundancy needed in a complex system like healthcare.

Brilliant Jon Stewart Crossfire appearance

If you can find a rerun of Jon Stewart’s appearance on CNN’s Crossfire today, watch it. The discussion culminated in Tucker Carlson’s expression of disappointment that Stewart was a serious commentator on the media when he said “You’re funnier on your show” and Stewart retorted “You know what is interesting? You’re as big a dick on your show as you are on any show.”

Stewart implored Carlson to take seriously his request to remove the political vaudeville from Crossfire and actually encourage thoughtful debate. Unfortunately, the hosts, particularly Carlson, thought they were doing him a favor by having him on to flog his book. Stewart clearly didn’t care about selling his book, America: A Citizen’s Guide to Democracy Inaction, but took the opportunity to confront Crossfire‘s hosts with their insincerity. Carlson responded by treating Stewart like he was an ingrate (Paul Begala just sat there, a little ashamed I think).

It was a beautiful moment of honesty meeting hypocrisy, with hypocrisy failing to communicate. Here’s a little bit of the interview, but you should find the whole thing and watch.

UPDATE: Pkj points to this complete version of the interview at indymedia.com and Jack points to this complete version at ifilm.com.

Do you want a marketer inside your hard drive?

Google’s been getting a lot of press for its broad attack on competitors in recent weeks. It has introduced SMS messaging, a book search system and, most recently, a desktop hard drive search utility that plugs into its browser-based search services to integrate results from the files and applications on the user’s system with those generated by Google’s Web search.

Back in 1990 Lotus Development Corp. announced plans to release Marketplace, a comprehensive database of household demographic information that described 120 million American households, which was promptly attacked from every degree of the political spectrum as a serious intrusion on privacy. Lotus backed down, pulling the product before it ever reached the market. Eventually, after Marketplace was sold off, it did make it to market. That’s the nature of the erosion of privacy; it is worn away by repeated efforts to take away small parts of the personal space that surrounds us.

What a long way we’ve come, accepting with many of the steps along the information highway a dilution of personal privacy in exchange for convenience. Some of those trade-offs have been worthwhile. For example, I don’t think that the geolocation information available from my mobile phone, which allows me to dial 911 and have my location available to emergency services, is a serious loss of privacy, especially since I could leave my phone behind if I wanted to keep my location a secret, I’d just leave my phone behind.

I think Google’s desktop search, because it uses search terms to place contextual advertising around the results (see the screen shot, in which desktop and Web results are blended, above), is one of those huge chisels that is going to take a key chunk of our privacy away without any consideration by the public. According to the Google Desktop privacy policy:

What does Google Desktop Search do with the information on my computer?

So that you can easily search your computer, the Google Desktop Search application indexes and stores versions of your files and other computer activity, such as email, chats, and web history. These versions may also be mixed with your Web search results to produce results pages for you that integrate relevant content from your computer and information from the Web.

Your computer’s content is not made accessible to Google or anyone else without your explicit permission.

What information does Google receive?

By default, Google Desktop Search collects a limited amount of non-personal information from your computer and sends it to Google. This includes summary information, such as the number of searches you do and the time it takes for you to see your results, and application reports we’ll use to make the program better. You can opt out of sending this information during the installation process or from the application preferences at any time.

Personally identifying information, such as your name or address, will not be sent to Google without your explicit permission.

How we use unique application numbers, cookies and related information.

Your copy of Google Desktop Search includes a unique application number. When you install Google Desktop Search, this number and a message indicating whether the installation succeeded is sent back to Google so that we can make the software work better. Additionally, when Google Desktop Search automatically checks to see if a new version is available, the current version number and the unique application number are sent to Google. If you choose to send us non-personal information about your use of Google Desktop Search, the unique application number with this non-personal information also helps us understand how you use Google Desktop Search so that we can make it work better. The unique application number is required for Google Desktop Search to work and cannot be disabled.

Google Desktop Search uses the same cookie as Google.com and other Google services. If you send us non-personal information about your Google Desktop Search use, we may be able to make Google services work better by associating this information with other Google services you use and vice versa. You can opt out of sending such non-personal information to Google during the installation process or from the application preferences at any time.

While this seems to say that the content of your searches will not be transferred to Google, the terms you use are, by default, transmitted to the company—otherwise Google would not be able to place links in context to those results. Certainly, the content of your files will not be transmitted to Google, but the number of hits on your hard drive appear to be within the scope of the summary information collected by the company, or could be within that scope, because it appears to be written vaguely.

I’d suggest you take a look at Google’s Orkut privacy policy, which is far more explicit about what you are sharing with the company and its customers:

We may share both personally identifiable information about you and aggregate usage information that we collect with Google Inc. and agents of orkut in accordance to the terms and conditions of this Privacy Policy. We will never rent, sell, or share your personal information with any third party for marketing purposes without your express permission.

You understand and agree that orkut.com may access, preserve, and disclose your personal information and the contents of your account if required to do so by law or in a good faith belief that such access preservation or disclosure is reasonably necessary to comply with legal process, such as a search warrant, subpoena, statute, or court order, or to protect the rights and property of orkut.com, its affiliates or the public.

We use the non-personally identifiable information and certain technical information about your computer in order to operate, maintain and manage orkut.com.

Google’s goal with all its services, from GMail to Orkut and Desktop Search, is to gather more information about our individual interests. This allows Google to place ads in context wherever you go that Google AdWords-based ads are displayed. Today, those ads usually have something to do with the content of the page you are looking at, but in the future, Google wants to be able to target you personally with ads for the things you may be talking about on GMail or in Orkut. If Google can find out that you are searching for particular terms on your hard drive it gives the company another way to see inside your interests in order to target ads based on your most pressing needs.

It’s a profound vision, for sure, but one that offers such deep insight into our personal preferences that we should be discussing more completely what it means to our privacy. Google’s constant claim that it is “not evil” seems designed to prevent people from considering the implications of the company’s access to personal information. But unbridled power has a vast potential to corrupt.

Before this business model becomes too entrenched, people should be thinking about what they are getting in return for their valuable personal information. Some cheap software isn’t worth opening a door on your life to a marketing organization. Maybe Google should be paying us to use this software. Maybe we shouldn’t be using this software at all. None of these are questions to take lightly.

Another Republican for Kerry

Robert George, an editorialist for the conservative New York Post writes in The New Republic that George W. Bush has betrayed conservative values:

[W]hat are conservative values? Two of the core principles at the heart of modern conservatism are a belief in the virtue of smaller government and a conviction that government must be accountable to the public…. the Bush administration’s free-spending fiscal record only hints at its larger rejection of conservative principles. The more fundamental betrayal arises from the administration’s central focus: an ill-defined “war on terror” that has no determinable endpoint and that is used to justify an unprecedented expansion of executive power. To make matters worse, this administration shows little inclination to demand accountability from those who serve within it.

No, a Kerry administration would not be any conservative’s ideal. But, on limited government, a Democratic president would, arguably, force a Republican Congress to act like a Republican Congress. The last such combination produced some form of fiscal sanity. And, when it comes to accountability, one could hardly do worse. Of course, a conservative can still cast a libertarian vote on principle. 

At crucial points before and after the Iraq war, Bush’s middle managers have failed him, and the “brand” called America has suffered in the world market. In any other corporate structure plagued by this level of incompetence, the CEO would have a choice: Fire his middle managers or be held personally accountable by his shareholders. Because of his own misguided sense of “loyalty,” Bush won’t dismiss anyone. That leaves the country’s shareholders little choice.

My whopper is only this big

President Bush describes the magnitude of his ex-aggerations with a simple visual demonstration.

Or, maybe he was describing the source of his blustering ego, a sure sign of raging insecurity.

In any case, the President told us a few things that weren’t true today. First, let’s examine his defense of the Bush record on Pell Grants.

See what the President had to say: More Pell Grants?

Ironically, it was Senator Edward Kennedy (the conservative Democratic senator from Massachussetts) who clawed back funding for the Pell Grants when President Bush was pushing through his massive tax cuts in 2003. Here’s the story and here’s the key passage that explains Bush did not actually expand the program:

The Federal Pell grant, unlike a loan, does not have to be repaid. The grant is usually awarded to undergraduate students who have yet to complete their bachelor’s or professional degree. President George W. Bush’s proposed budget for 2004 increased funding for the Pell grant in order to take care of a bookkeeping shortfall, but it did not increase actual grants awarded to students.

The Kennedy amendment will increase the individual student Pell grants for the first time in three years. In 1999-00, about 30 percent of nearly 16.5 million undergraduates enrolled full-time for the full year at one institution received a federal Pell grant, averaging $2,314 according to the National Center for Education Statistics. The Kennedy amendment will allow 200,000 more students to receive a Pell grant.

The bookkeeping shortfall was created by the Pell Grant program’s existing provisions, which resulted in an increased pool of eligible students because of the economic downturn. So, most of the “million more students” who got Pell Grants did so because the law required the Bush Administration to do it, not because President Bush decided to expand the program. In fact, President Bush has held the maximum Pell Grant level at the 2000 level every year since he took office even as the cost of a year’s tuition at a four-year private college rose six percent in just the last year and public university tuition rose 14.1 percent. The share of educational costs covered by the government has been shrinking, not rising.

If you look over the maximum and average amounts granted under the Pell program, you can see that the only periods of increase since the first President Bush took office were in the Clinton era.

This is no education president.

Then, there’s Mr. Bush’s biggest lie of the night, the statement that most of the tax cuts have gone to the middle class If you didn’t take a look at the video clip, here is what President Bush said: “Most of the tax cuts went to low and middle income Americans.”

Not according to United for a Fair Economy:

Half of all Americans will receive less than $100 from the tax cut in 2003, according to Citizens for Tax Justice. But Americans making $1 million or more will receive $93,500 from the tax cut, according the Tax Policy Center.

Over the next four years, the bottom 60 percent of taxpayers will receive just 9 percent of all the tax cuts, while just the top one percent receives 39 percent of the tax cuts. The tax cut benefits flowing to the top 1% far outpace the 23% share of federal taxes they now pay.

The distribution of tax cuts do not get better with age. The tax cuts targeted at middle- and low-income families sunset, or disappear, after 2004. As a result, in 2006, 52 percent of the Bush tax cut goes to the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans.

Or consider these figures from the Brookings Institution Tax Policy Center, which shows the top 20 percent of Americans by income pay 68.6 percent of federal taxes, not the 80 percent President Bush said during the debate.

Let’s take a look at that ex-aggeration for a moment, because it tells us a lot about President Bush’s view of the world. He was off by about 11.4 percent of the share of federal taxes paid by the richest 20 percent. In 2004, when federal receipts are estimated to be about $1.79 trillion, that misstatement translates into a $204.9 billion gap between reality and President Bush’s understanding of federal revenues—enough to pay for a war in Iraq, among other things.

Meanwhile, tax revenues have fallen to only 16.3 percent of the GDP of the United States, “the smallest share at any time in the past 40 years.”

Rich Americans just aren’t carrying that large a burden these days, so the President’s imprecations to accept that ordinary Americans have to make sacrifices rings hollow.

Any way you cut it, most of the tax cuts, in dollars and as a percentage of the total reduction in taxes, went to the wealthiest Americans. It simply isn’t honest to say that the tax cuts were stimulating to the economy because they put more money in lower and middle class pocket—the Bush tax cuts were designed to trickle down to the rest of us from the very pinnacle of American capital.

If the President were to describe his tax cuts this way, honestly, and said “hey, it’s just going to take more time for the rest of you to see the results,” then he would be talking honestly with the American people and they could decide if they will accept this kind of fiscal policy making. My bet is they would show President Bush the door before the election, but the President lies to us about his tax cuts.

Finally, let’s go back to the argument about Pell Grants. The President makes the case that he is investing in America’s future, but he has not done so in any sense of the word “investment” that most folks understand. Taxes can be a more efficient way to gather the resources for education than having families try to do it on shrinking incomes—any middle class family knows this. President Bush doesn’t want to share the burden of educating our children, wrapping his policies in arguments about choice while simultaneously reducing the resources—personal and as a share of government expenditure—available to the families that depend on public education. An investor understands that an efficient system for turning out smart working people is a path to future prosperity and invests accordingly.

President Bush only talks about education as a prop, because he’s interested in protecting fortunes that exist today. But real capitalism is built on the uncertainty of fortunes, they can be lost if they are not shepherded carefully. America’s future fortunes will come in large part from today’s privileged families. President Bush is trying to preserve those fortunes at the expense of the rest of us.

If you can’t steal the votes, mislead would-be voters

A Las Vegas firm that recruited new voters in the city has been throwing away the registration forms filled out by Democrats.

This dirty trick will have people showing up at the polls on election day will find they have not been registered. This is unconscionable. Notice was not given to people filling out the registration forms that if they indicated they were going to vote Democrat their effort would be wasted, or that they should have gone to a legitimate registrar that would not abuse their trust.

Fortunately, former employees of the company, which has disappeared after failing to pay its rent, reported the scam:

Two former workers say they personally witnessed company supervisors rip up and trash registration forms signed by Democrats.

“We caught her taking Democrats out of my pile, handed them to her assistant and he ripped them up right in front of us. I grabbed some of them out of the garbage and she tells her assisatnt to get those from me,” said Eric Russell, former Voters Outreach employee.

Eric Russell managed to retrieve a pile of shredded paperwork including signed voter registration forms, all from Democrats. We took them to the Clark County Election Department and confirmed that they had not, in fact, been filed with the county as required by law.

After enduring abuse from right-wing nuts all day for daring to question Sinclair Broadcasting’s right to broadcast whatever it wants because I am a “hateful liberal,” this just reinforces for me that the neocons will stop at nothing to retain power.

Boycott Sinclair Broadcasting

I caught an interview with an executive of Sinclair Broadcasting on CNN this morning. He justified the company’s decision not to air the ABC Nightline reading of the names of the dead in Iraq because it was a political statement and then justified Sinclair’s decision to air an anti-Kerry film in the week before the election as a business decision. He said, in effect that “These prisoners of war [the producers] more than anyone” had earned a right to be heard and John Kerry could put this to rest by meeting with them—by advocating for this group, Sinclair is acting politically, too. It is holding the public airwaves hostage to force Kerry into a meeting that would be choreographed to hurt his campaign.

See the Sinclair statement for yourself.

Sinclair has every right to take this risk as a business and, as users of the public airwaves that the company borrows Americans have every right to punish the company for its decision.

Stop watching Sinclair channels, they are using a public resource to conduct a political attack without offering the subject of its attack the opportunity to respond on his own terms. An invitation “to participate” in the program is not the same as being given an equal opportunity to present a case to the American people. There was a time when something called the “Fairness Doctrine” would have required Sinclair offer equal time to the Kerry campaign, but that was gutted by the Reagan Administration.

In other words, it used to be that if the broadcaster provided free air time to one political view it had to match that with free air time to other views. If Sinclair sincerely believes it is acting fairly, which its contradictory statements about the motivations for its recent censorship of ABC Nightline and the airing of the anti-Kerry film belie, then it should not be dictating the terms of Kerry’s participation or holding the public attention hostage in order to force Kerry to meet with a group dedicated to his political destruction.

So, let’s make Sinclair’s decision hurt. Let’s put them out of business or teach them a humbling lesson in fairness based on our ability to withhold our attention to the company’s television stations.

Here’s a list of the stations Sinclair Broadcasting owns. Turn them off.

WLOS 13, Asheville, N.C.
WBFF 45, Baltimore, Md.
WTTO 21, Birmingham, Ala.
WUTV 29, Grand Island, N.Y.
WNYO 49, Grand Island, N.Y.
KGAN 88, Cedar Rapids, Ia.
WICD 15, Champaign, Ill.
WICS 20, Springfield, Ill.
WMMP 36, Charleston, S.C.
WCHS 8, Charleston, W. Va.
WSTR 64, Cincinnati, Ohio
WSYX 6, Columbus, Ohio
WKEF 22, Dayton, Ohio
KDSM 17, Des Moines, Ia.
WSMH 66, Flint, Mich.
WXLV 45, Winston-Salem, N.C.
KSMO 31, Kansas City, Kan.
KVWB 21, Las Vegas
KFBT 33, Las Vegas
WDKY 56, Lexington, Ken.
WMSN 47, Madison, Wis.
WCGV 24, Milwaukee, Wis.
WVTV 18, Milwaukee, Wis.
KMWB 23, Minneapolis, Minn.
WEAR 3, Pensacola, Fla.
WFGX 35, Pensacola, Fla.
WZTV 17, Nashville, Tenn.
WUXP 30, Nashville, Tenn.
WTVZ 33, Norfolk, Va.
KOCB 34, Oklahoma City, Ok.
KOKH 24, Oklahoma City, Ok.
KBSI 23, Cape Girardeau, Mo.
WYZZ 43, Bloomington, Ill.
WPGH 53, Pittsburgh, Penn.
WCWB 22, Pittsburgh, Penn.
WGME 13, Portland, Maine
WLFL 22, Raleigh, N.C.
WRDC 28, Raleigh, N.C.
WRLH 35, Richmond, Va.
WUHF 31, Rochester, N.Y.
KOVR 13, West Sacramento, Calif.
KABB 29, San Antonio, Calif.
KRRT 35, San Antonio, Calif.
WGGB 40, Springfield, Mass.
KDNL 30, St. Louis, Mo.
WSYT 68, Syracuse, N.Y.
WTWC 40, Tallahassee, Fla.
WEMT 39, Johnson City, Tenn.

Follow up: For information about the individual advertisers that can be called to exert influence on Sinclair, see this site. Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo adds sagely: I get the strong impression that the real point of vulnerability are the local advertisers. So if you live in or really anywhere near a Sinclair market that’s definitely where to focus.

The truth is as scary as the spin

I almost used the original photo without the doll today, because it conveys the same creepiness as the doll…. Apparently Mr. Bush has no respect for personal space or the sanitary requirements of food preparation. See the reporter’s notebook sitting on the counter? The President is leaning over someone else’s sandwich as it is being wrapped. Ewww, Bush cooties.