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Chernynkaya On March - 28 - 2011

 

 

I apologize for the over-abundance of items—I’m trying to catch up but the news won’t cooperate and slow down.

Please remember that you can access all past editions of The Daily Planet on the green Category bar on the top of each page under the heading PlanetPOV.

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TAKE ACTION


Global Day of Action on Military Spending

From demilitarize.org:

We’re growing quickly! Among many others, we’d like to extend a warm welcome to new partners in Akron, Ohio and Tirana, Albania. Check out our Action Events page for a full listing.

April 12 approaches! Keep an eye out this weekend for a quick list of easy actions that anyone can organize. Let’s keep growing!

 

Tell the E.P.A.: Ban the pesticide that’s killing honey bees

Scientists have been scrambling to understand the crisis — termed Colony Collapse Disorder — but have yet to find a single, definitive cause. There are likely multiple interacting causes, and mounting evidence suggests that one widely used class of pesticides may be a critical factor.

One such chemical, called clothianidin, is produced by the German corporation Bayer CropScience. It is used as a treatment on crop seeds, including corn and canola, and works by expressing itself in the plants’ pollen and nectar. Not coincidentally, these are some of honey bees’ favorite sources of food.

 

Boycott corporations who pay little or no federal income tax.

Pay Up Now is an online effort by US Uncut Chicago members to boycott corporations who pay little or no federal income tax.

See the companies here, note the products or services you need to avoid, and click ‘Send Message’ to tell them to PAY UP NOW

 

Defend Reproductive Health Care on Thursday, APRIL 7

On Thursday, April 7th, thousands will descend on Washington, D.C. to defend women’s health. Why? Anti-choice forces in Congress are determined to roll back women’s access to reproductive health care.

From eliminating the Title X family planning program and funding for Planned Parenthood… to taking away private insurance coverage for abortion … to letting emergency rooms turn their backs on pregnant women who need lifesaving abortions… the attacks have been coming fast and furious.

Stand with the ACLU and dozens of other groups to send a loud and clear message to Capitol Hill: Enough is enough!

Sign up now to learn more and attend our critical April 7th Pro-Choice Lobby Day and Rally!

BUDGET

One Right-Wing Strategy Creates a Thousand Local Battles

Michigan? Ohio? Indiana? In the wake of Republican Governor Scott Walker’s over-the-top attacks on public sector workers in Wisconsin, many people are asking which will be the next state to draw the public spotlight. However, looking at the state-level assaults by these arch-conservatives as individual battles might be the wrong approach. Ultimately, the right-wing maneuvers at the state level are part of a closely coordinated strategy. And together they add up to a national story.

The right-wing’s strategy is to blame complex economic problems on one of three scapegoats: teachers, immigrants, or government employees. The tactic of scapegoating consistently reappears throughout the history of politics for a reason. It offers politicians an easy way out. Instead of having to come up with real substance for their political agendas, they can tell a simple story with a simple villain. At a time when the country is in grave distress, they can pick out a select group and blame all of our problems on them.

While this strategy has become popular in many Republican statehouses, it is more ridiculous today than ever. The economic problems we face are complex ones. We live in a global economy, where national boundaries that previously shielded our industries have been eliminated and markets are affected by economic decisions made throughout the world. Yet, amid this complexity, conservative leaders insist that things are plain: teachers, immigrants, and government employees are at fault for our woes.

[…]

From a distance, the types of measures being pursued in different states look diverse and varied. But if you examine them, these conservative initiatives fall into three basic categories. This three-pronged attack represents a national strategy, and it is what makes the state-level attacks a truly national story.

First, under the guise of targeting “lazy” and “overpaid” teachers, conservatives are working to dismantle public education.

[…]

Second, in the name of balancing state budgets, conservatives are seeking to undermine public sector’s role in providing essential social services.

[…]

Finally, conservatives seek to block the voice of immigrants in American politics. Despite a total absence of evidence that non-citizens have voted illegally in this country, New Hampshire Republicans are advancing a “Voter I.D.” bill. This would create new barriers to voting and discourage people not yet registered from exercising their legal rights. Unfortunately, that state is not alone. Similar efforts are underway in Colorado, Kansas, Massachusetts, Missouri, and Tennessee, among others.

[…]

Therefore, it’s up to us. All of us who are concerned, disgusted, outraged, and revolted must step up. Grassroots campaigns have sprung up across the country, from “Stand Up Ohio” to “Not My Wisconsin.” You can join these campaigns at the local level or get involved with national campaigns like “We Are One,” which is sponsoring a national day of action on April 4.


California budget: Republicans release list of demands

DOCUMENT: Read the complete list

The list includes much-discussed efforts to scale back public pensions, impose stricter limits on state spending and ease regulatory rules.

But other wide-ranging proposals were added, such as ending the seniority system for teachers facing layoffs, moving next year’s presidential primary to March and restoring funding to protect rural lands from development. The document also asks Brown to abandon his push to eliminate redevelopment agencies, rewrite a tax formula favorable to corporations and ax a corporate tax break for businesses hiring workers in blighted areas.

Brown spokesman Gil Duran called the list “a hodgepodge.”

 

Budget Impasse Increasing Risk of U.S. Shutdown

Congressional officials said the budget talks were set back significantly in a meeting Tuesday when the participants feuded over what legislation should serve as the benchmark for the talks — the House-passed spending measure with $61 billion in cuts for this year or an interim budget bill approved by Congress in early March that maintained financing for most programs at their current levels.

Democrats, who believed they had an agreement to work off the stopgap plan, felt blindsided, officials said. Jacob J. Lew, the White House budget director and chief Democratic negotiator, angrily resisted the Republican push to use the House measure as the starting point. The meeting abruptly broke up, with talks resuming haltingly since then.

[…]

Failure to reach agreement without another stopgap measure could cause a number of federal operations to be halted after April 8. Both Senate and House officials said they believed it would be difficult to advance another short-term budget bill after numerous lawmakers said the temporary measure now in place would be the last one they would support before considering a plan to finance the government through Sept. 30.

 

BUSINESS


The Corrections Corporation Of America

Graeme Wood profiles the leading privatized prison, which specializes in holding illegal aliens.

Judy Greene, a criminal justice expert at Justice Strategies, a Brooklyn-based nonprofit research group, says that when contract prisons do save money, they often do so at the expense of their labor.

At the privately operated prisons, she says, “labor is cheap, wages are lower, and benefits are few. And across the board you see the impact of that.” The rate of escapes, violence, and contraband in the private facilities tends to be higher than in their public counterparts, she says. [The Corrections Corporation Of America (CCA)] denies this and says its rates have compared favorably with the public sector. Friedmann tells an anecdote about a CCA guard who requested a 10-foot pole to let him poke into trash cans leaving the prison for the dump, so that he could more easily check whether someone was trying to sneak out in a can. The request for the pole was denied, and a prisoner escaped soon after.

[…]

The private prison system runs parallel to the U.S. prisons and currently accounts for nearly 10 percent of U.S. state and federal inmates, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Those numbers rise and fall in response to specific policies, and CCA has been accused of lobbying for policies that would fill its cells—such as the increase in enforcement of regulations like the one that snagged Cardenas. Tougher policies have been good for CCA. Since the company started winning immigrant detention contracts in 2000, its stock has rebounded from about a dollar to $23.33, attracting investors such as William Ackman’s Pershing Square Capital Management, which is now its largest shareholder.

[…]

As might be expected, other CCA inmates have allegedly suffered much worse fates than being taunted with baked goods. Public prisons are well known for their brutality in this country, but it is rare for a publicly traded company to have to answer for violence and fatalities at its facilities. In the late 1990s in Youngstown, Ohio, CCA housed 1,700 violent offenders in a medium-security facility; within a year, 20 had been stabbed and two murdered. And in CCA facilities for immigrant detention, inmates have become lost—sometimes fatally—in the ICE churn. CCA’s Eloy Detention Facility in Arizona had more deaths than any other immigration jail listed in a congressional report last year. In one case, a 62-year-old Ghanaian barber named Emmanuel Owusu spent two years in a CCA facility contesting his deportation from the U.S., and died there of diabetes-related heart problems. He had lived in the U.S. for 33 years. In internal documents, ICE employees wondered why he ever ended up in an ICE facility to begin with.

ECONOMY


Household wealth down 23% in 2 years – Fed

The average American family’s household net worth declined 23% between 2007 and 2009, the Federal Reserve said Thursday.

[…]

Titled “Surveying the Aftermath of the Storm,” the report offers a broad look at how the financial crisis impacted individual households.

It is widely known that the 2008 financial crisis resulted in the vaporization of trillions of dollars in household wealth. But Federal Reserve officials said Thursday the new report offers a look at exactly how hard the recession hit families, and how they reacted.

The numbers paint a stark picture.

Families that owned stock saw their portfolios drop by more than a third to $12,000 from $18,500, on average. The value of primary real estate holdings decreased by an average of $18,700.

And families took on more debt, pushing median total debt levels to $75,600 from $70,300. They also made less money. Median household income dropped from to $49,800 from $50,100.

 

What 52 Years Of Tax Cuts For The Wealthy Looks Like

To download the full report, click here.

1. The Great Tax Shift: Asking Less from Those With More
2. Undoing the Damage: An Economic Recovery Tax Program
3. Why We Should Pay Our Fair Share: A Statement by Wealth for the Common Good

Executive Summary

Over the last half-century, America’s wealthiest taxpayers have seen their tax outlays, as a share of income, drop enormously, by as much as two-thirds for the highest-income grouping the IRS tracks. Meanwhile, the share of their household income that middle class  Americans pay in federal taxes has increased slightly.

Our nation has borrowed money to pay for the tax cuts that have gone and continue to go to America’s wealthy, a reality that will have future generations of mostly middle income taxpayers footing the bill — with interest — for these tax cuts.

The “Economic Recovery Tax Program” this report proposes would collect $450 billion in new revenue through tax increases only on the very wealthy. This program would also discourage financial speculation, strengthen the overall economy, and introduce greater transparency, fairness, and simplicity to the tax code.

The Key Statistics

Between 1960 to 2004, the top 0.1 percent of U.S. taxpayers — the wealthiest one in one thousand — have seen the share of their income paid in total federal taxes drop from 60 to 33.6 percent.

America’s highest income-earners — the top 400 — have seen the share of their income they pay in federal income tax alone plummet from 51.2 percent in 1955 to 16.6 percent in 2007, the most recent year with top 400 statistics available.

If the top 400 of 2007 paid as much of their incomes in personal income tax as the top 400 of 1955, the federal treasury would have collected $47.7 billion more in revenue from just these 400 taxpayers.

In 2007, if the top 0.1 percent of taxpayers — Americans with incomes that averaged $7,126,395 — had paid total federal taxes at the same rate as the top 0.1 percent paid these taxes in 1960, the federal treasury would have collected an additional $281.2 billion in revenue.

Tax cuts for the wealthy between 2001-2008 cost the U.S. Treasury $700 billion, with all of these billions added directly to the national debt. Retaining these tax cuts will cost $826 billion over the next decade.

In 1960, the middle 20 percent of U.S. taxpayers paid 15.9 percent of their incomes in total federal taxes. That total included not just income taxes, but payroll and other federal taxes as well. These same Americans, according to the most recent figures, are now paying 16.1 percent of their incomes in total federal taxes.

Federal taxes, even after three decades of tax cuts for America’s most affluent, remain somewhat progressive. The higher the income, the higher the tax rate. But state and local taxes remain decidedly regressive.  This offsets, to a significant extent, our residual federal tax progressivity. Taxpayers in America’s middle fifth paid 9.4 percent of their 2007 incomes in total state and local taxes. Top 1 percent taxpayers that year saw only 5.2 percent of their incomes go to state and local taxes.

 

Flooding The Market

Digby:

Earlier this week I said that the current budget debate comes down to two competing messages:
The Republicans need to convince the people that the way boost the economy and create jobs is to eliminate the deficit. The Democrats need to convince people that the way to eliminate the deficit is to create jobs and boost the economy.

It looks like the Republicans have an even more interesting message than I thought. Here’s the standard boilerplate, from Boehner’s office announcing a new paper they say validates their economic strategy:

“JEC’s study provides the facts to back up what the American people know: Washington Democrats’ spending binge has made it harder to create jobs, and cutting spending will reduce uncertainty and encourage the private sector to make investments that will grow our economy,”

Unfortunately, that also sounds like the Democrats who are always going on about how they have to prove to the markets that they are serious by cutting “entitlements”. But the Republican message is far crisper and easier to understand than the Democrats who argue for simultaneous cuts and increases in spending. The Dems need to take a different stand.

This should help:

The paper makes the party’s anti-Keynesian case that fiscal consolidation (read: spending cuts) can spur immediate economic growth and reduce unemployment. But in making that case, the Republicans may also have given Democrats some political ammunition.

For example, the paper predicts that cutting the number of public employees would send highly skilled workers job hunting in the private sector, which in turn would lead to lower labor costs and increased employment. But “lowering labor costs” is economist-speak for lowering wages — does the GOP want to be in the position of advocating for lower wages for voters who work in the private sector?

Personally, I think it goes without saying that they want to lower wages and I don’t know why the Democrats haven’t been pounding them for it relentlessly already. I am, however, surprised that they’d openly attach themselves to it.

*

Update: Looks like Rick Perry’s got Texas out in front on this:

When Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) gave his annual state address, he promised that his plan to fill the Lone Star state’s $27 billion budget gap without raising any new revenue would lead to economic prosperity and job growth. “Balancing our budget without raising taxes will keep us moving forward out of these tough economic times, creating more jobs and opportunity and leaving Texas more competitive than ever,” he said. “As other states flounder about, oppressing their citizens with more taxes and driving away jobs with bad policy, Texas will make the right decisions, and emerge stronger.”

However, the bipartisan Legislative Budget Board found that the budget before the legislature could cause the state to lose 600,000 jobs, including more than 260,000 in the private sector:

Texas could see more than 600,000 jobs disappear if lawmakers adopt the $83.8 billion budget that will go before the state House late next week, according to a state agency. Harsh spending cuts in the budget could cost more than 263,500 private sector jobs and 343,000 government positions over the next two years, according to estimates released Wednesday by the Legislative Budget Board, a bipartisan committee.

Background:

GOP Prescription: Spending Cuts and Lower Wages Equal More Jobs

Here is the GOP economic report distributed by the office House Speaker John Boehner last week. The paper makes the party’s anti-Keynesian case that fiscal consolidation (read: spending cuts) can spur immediate economic growth and reduce unemployment. But in making that case, the Republicans may also have given Democrats some political ammunition.

Ultimately, the argument comes down to what policymakers see as the key problem in the economy. Is growth slow because businesses and consumers fear higher taxes or because businesses don’t have enough demand for their products to expand? Republicans are arguing the former, but many economists — and the bond market — believe the latter is closer to the truth. Moody’s bond-rating agency warned on Thursday that the U.K. is in danger of having its debt downgraded due to worries about slow growth resulting from consolidation.

 

G.E.’s Strategies Let It Avoid Taxes Altogether

General Electric, the nation’s largest corporation, had a very good year in 2010.

The company reported worldwide profits of $14.2 billion, and said $5.1 billion of the total came from its operations in the United States.

Its American tax bill? None. In fact, G.E. claimed a tax benefit of $3.2 billion. In January, President Obama named Jeffrey R. Immelt, General Electric’s chief executive, to head the President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness. “He understands what it takes for America to compete in the global economy,” Mr. Obama said.

 

Murdoch Has 152 Offshores; pays 6% Taxes

Media baron Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation (which owns Fox News, HarperCollins, MySpace and Sun newspapers), for example, uses 152 offshore subsidiaries and so pays an estimated rock bottom six per cent tax rate. Even Bono, writes Shaxson, who “browbeats western taxpayers to boost aid to Africa, shifted his band’s financial empire to the Netherlands [an important European tax haven] in 2006 to cut its tax bill.” Eighty-three of the U.S.’s 100 biggest corporations have subsidiaries in tax havens. The Tax Justice Network, an organization that works to research and raise awareness of the secretive world of offshore finance, discovered that 99 per cent of Europe’s hundred largest companies used offshore subsidiaries, and the largest users of those were banks.

 

Something 81% Of Americans Agree On

And in fact, Rep. Jan Schakowsky’s (D-IL) new bill, the Fairness in Taxation Act, proposes to do just that. Because the richest 1 percent of Americans shouldn’t own 34 percent of the nation’s wealth. The numbers are shocking. Watch the video here:

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vYqde-wtoYM&feature=player_embedded

 

A Choice: State Banks, Not Budget Crises

The logical solution, then, is to restore credit to the local economy. But how? The Federal Reserve could provide the capital and liquidity necessary to create bank credit, in the same way that it provided $12.3 trillion in liquidity and short-term loans to the large money center banks. But Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke declared in January 2011 that the Fed had no intention of doing that—not because it would be too costly (the total deficit of all the states comes to less than two percent of the credit advanced for the bank bailout) but because it is not part of the Fed’s mandate. If Congress wants the Fed to advance credit to local governments, he said, it will have to change the law.

The states are on their own. Policymakers are therefore considering a variety of reforms designed to increase bank lending, particularly to small businesses, the hardest hit by tightening credit standards. One measure that is drawing increasing interest is the creation of a bank modeled on the Bank of North Dakota (BND), currently the only state-owned bank in the country. The BND has a 92-year history of safe, secure and highly profitable banking. North Dakota has the lowest unemployment rate in the country; and in 2009, when other states were floundering, it had the largest budget surplus it had ever had.

Eight states now have bills pending either to form state-owned banks or to do feasibility studies to determine their potential. This year, bills were introduced in the Oregon State legislature on January 11; in Washington State on January 13; in Massachusetts on January 20 (following a 2010 bill that lapsed); and in the Maryland legislature on February 4. They join Illinois, Virginia, Hawaii, and Louisiana, which introduced similar bills in 2010. The Center for State Innovation, based in Madison, Wisconsin, was commissioned to do detailed analyses for Washington and Oregon. Their conclusion was that state-owned banks in those states would have a substantial positive impact on employment, new lending, and state and local government revenue.

State-owned banks could be a win-win for everyone interested in a thriving local economy. Objections are usually based on misconceptions or a lack of information.

More>>>

EDUCATION


“Government-Run Schools”

“Just call them what they are,” Santorum said. “Public schools? That’s a nice way of putting it. These are government-run schools.”

He’s not alone. Reuters reported yesterday that several other Republicans considering presidential runs blasted public schools at a home-schooling rally in Iowa.

Texas Congressman Ron Paul told the crowd government wants “absolute control” of the “indoctrination” of children. Paul spoke along with Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann and Georgia businessman Herman Cain.

“The public school system now is a propaganda machine,” Paul said, prompting applause from the crowd of hundreds of home schooling families. “They start with our kids even in kindergarten, teaching them about family values, sexual education, gun rights, environmentalism — and they condition them to believe in so much which is totally un-American.”

Bachmann said home schooling is the “essence” of freedom and liberty. “It’s about knowing our children better than the state knows our children,” she said.

For his part, Cain said there should be no government involvement in education at any level. He wasn’t kidding.

To be sure, Bachmann, Paul, and Cain are not exactly the top tier of the 2012 GOP field, and strange, borderline-fringe candidates can be expected to take radical positions.

But Santorum is also blasting the existence of public schools, and this talk is picking up in right-wing media. CNSNews’ Terry Jeffrey argued a few weeks ago, “It is time to drive public schools out of business.” Townhall columnist Chuck Norris has begun calling public schools “indoctrination camps.” Townhall columnist Bill Murchison argued last week that the American middle class has pulled its support for public education.

Keep in mind, polls show that the American mainstream considers the public education system one of the nation’s most cherished institutions. When asked what areas of the public sector most deserve budget cuts, schools invariably come in last.

Indeed, Republican pollsters have advised GOP candidates repeatedly in recent years to avoid calling for the end of the federal Department of Education, largely because it gives the appearance of hostility towards public education, which is thought to be an electoral loser for Republicans.

And yet, here we are. Republicans aren’t just criticizing public schools, they’re overtly calling for the institution’s complete elimination. This isn’t something they’re embarrassed about; these GOP voices are stating the goal plainly, as if there’s a genuine appetite among voters to scrap the entirety of the American public education system.

All of this, by the way, comes against the backdrop of Republican governors slashing funds for public schools, and even the reinvigoration of the school voucher movement, which has been largely dormant for years.

This seems like an important opportunity for Democrats — labeling the GOP as the party that’s explicitly hostile towards public schools would hurt Republicans, and it happens to be true.

ENERGY


Group That Beat Back CA Prop 23 Is Reborn

George P. Shultz, the Republican former secretary of state, and Thomas F. Steyer, the Democratic hedge fund billionaire, are reviving the coalition that campaigned last year to defeat Proposition 23, the California ballot measure that would have derailed the state’s’ landmark global warming law.

Their new organization, Californians for Clean Energy and Jobs, will push for greater investment in green technology and the enforcement of the global warming law, known as A.B. 32, according to Mr. Steyer, founder of Farallon Capital Management in San Francisco.

“We’re going to be fighting to make sure it is implemented in a way that not just creates businesses here, but the jobs stay here, and we get the kind of growth that will show the country that this way of thinking is intensely practical and real world,” Mr. Steyer said on Friday at a news conference.

[…]

“The most important thing the federal government can do is to have substantial and sustained support for energy R&D – that’s what’s going to produce the game changers,” Mr. Shultz said.

In a speech last week in San Francisco, Mr. Steyer laid out a national strategy to fight Republican efforts to limit the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. But on Friday, he kept his focus on California, saying that the “No on 23″ campaign had about $1 million left in its coffers that would be used to support the new group’s efforts.

“We’ll do some specific monitoring function so we can follow what’s going on, and then publicize that so people know on a jobs basis how we’re doing in the state,” he said. “And to the extent we think it’s necessary, going out and proactively push if we think things aren’t going well.”

Californians for Clean Energy and Jobs collected pledges of support from the state’s Democratic leadership, including Gov. Jerry Brown. “Clean energy creates jobs and investment, and that’s exactly what we need to help turn our economy around,” Mr. Brown said in a statement. “Californians for Clean Energy and Jobs will be a strong voice to ensure that California leads the nation in sustainable energy technology.”

 

HEALTH CARE


The Vermont House Passes Bill Calling For A Single Payer Health Care System In The State

The “bill outlines a four-year timeline leading to establishment of the statewide, publicly funded system. It begins by setting up the Green Mountain Care Board on July 1 with a budget of $1.2 million to begin planning the new system. It then creates a health insurance marketplace — or ‘exchange,’ of the sort required by last year’s federal health care legislation. And it then calls for converting the exchange to the Green Mountain Care system.”

Now that it has passed the House of Representatives, it will move on to the Senate, where it is expected to pass. A bigger hurdle Vermont faces is obtaining a waiver from the federal health care reform act and finding a way around federal ERISA laws — which “pre-empt states from enacting legislation if it is ‘related to’ employee benefit plans –that insurers could use to sue the state. The health reform law currently offers a waiver to states who meet certain standards by 2017; Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT) has introduced an amendment that would move the waiver date up to 2014 — an idea that President Obama has endorsed.

JUSTICE

U.S. Overhauls Approach To BP Spill Probe

Almost a year after the huge oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the Obama administration is still working to determine who is criminally responsible. Justice Department leaders quietly overhauled their approach earlier this month, creating a special task force and putting a veteran mob prosecutor in charge.

The oil gusher and explosion that killed 11 people in the gulf last April attracted attention in the highest levels of government. President Obama promised a reckoning if any laws had been broken, and the Justice Department rented office space in New Orleans, to serve as a headquarters for investigators.

“This is the most important criminal investigation in the Justice Department today,” said David Uhlmann, formerly the nation’s top prosecutor of environmental crimes. “It’s been nearly a year since the spill began, and the Justice Department has been conducting a criminal investigation for much of that time.

[…]

‘Speed Up The Resolution’

The decision to overhaul the oil spill criminal investigation came from the very top of the Justice Department. Deputy Attorney General Jim Cole, who arrived there earlier this year, has taken a hands-on approach to the case.

In an interview, Cole said he launched the task force to streamline operations. He said he wants to make sure prosecutors have all the resources they need and that they move fast.

“I think the coordination and bringing it all into one single task force is going to speed up the resolution to this case rather than slow it down,” Cole said.

Cole chose John Buretta, a federal prosecutor from Brooklyn, N.Y., with experience prosecuting mob figures and terrorists, to lead the task force. Buretta also has managed complex fraud cases filled with documents.

Analysts said putting criminal prosecutors in charge instead of environmental prosecutors could mean something important for BP and other likely targets.

[…]

Justice Department leaders won’t talk much about the investigation because it’s still under way. But other sources tell NPR that prosecutors have been exploring three main legal theories apart from environmental violations.

First, they are looking at whether BP intentionally played down the size of the spill to investors and regulators. Next, they are going over trading records to see if executives dumped stock after the spill but before people knew just how much oil was leaking. Finally, investigators are asking whether documents may have been hidden or destroyed, which could trigger obstruction of justice laws.

More>>>

 

NSA Security Firm HBGary faces Congressional probe

A subcommittee consisting of 19 members of the U.S. Congress is seeking to launch an investigation into the activities of security firm HBGary Federal following revelations that the company, together with two other security firms, Berico Technologies and Palantir Technologies, may have conspired to sabotage opponents.

In a letter sent to four members of the House of Representatives, the Congressional subcommittee said HBGary and its partners “planned a ‘dirty-tricks’ campaign that included possible illegal actions against citizens engaged in free speech.”

Because HBGary Federal has contracts with the U.S. military and intelligence agencies, the Congressional probe is looking into suspicions that the company may have used tools paid for by U.S. tax dollars to launch private attacks on citizens and groups who foot the bill. They request to see the company’s contracts with the U.S. military and the National Security Agency (NSA).

“We are deeply concerned by evidence that intelligence contractors may have engaged in a criminal conspiracy to target American citizens on behalf of powerful corporate interests,” Congressman Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) said in a statement posted on his website. Johnson penned the letter and serves on the House Armed Services and Judiciary Committees. “We believe a full Congressional investigation is warranted to determine whether laws were broken and whether existing laws are sufficient to protect Americans from high-tech dirty tricks.”

The trouble began last month when HBGary Federal CEO Aaron Barr went public with his research into the hacker group Anonymous. Subsequently, the group claimed that HBGary Federal was preparing to sell a document containing the identities of several Anonymous members to the FBI. The hacker group then defaced the HBGary website, posting a taunting letter on it, and also stealing at least 50,000 emails belonging to the firm and posting them to torrent sites.

In those HBGary emails, the company is seen proposing a plan to law firm Hunton & Williams to discredit whistleblower website WikiLeaks. It was later revealed that other plans called for similar attacks against foes of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, including watchdog group U.S. Chamber Watch, the union-based Change to Win, think tank Center for American Progress, the Service Employees International Union and other organizations.

Specifically, the HBGary plan called for obtaining information on WikiLeaks sources by launching cyberattacks against the site’s servers. It also planned to discredit the organization by planting phony documents on the site and then calling into question its legitimacy. It also sought to intimidate Glenn Greenwald, a reporter for investigative news website Salon, who has been a vocal champion of WikiLeaks.

HBGary Federal CEO Aaron Barr resigned on Feb. 28 following these initial disclosures.

According to the lawmakers, these activities might be illegal, violating mail and fraud, forgery and computer fraud statutes.

More>>>

Background:

Three security companies attempt to make mockery of the First Amendment

But when the hacker group Anonymous recently leaked a stolen slide deck that revealed how three security and intelligence firms (Palantir Technologies, HBGary Federal and Berico Technologies) planned to silence WikiLeaks, and its proponents, including a journalist, in the name of a possible lucrative contract from Bank of America, I was deeply offended and insulted.

One of the slides:

 

Appeal to keep Twitter data from WikiLeaks probe

Internet rights attorneys appealed a US judge’s order that Twitter must hand over data of three users in contact with the controversial website WikiLeaks.

“Except in very rare circumstances, the government should not be permitted to obtain information about individuals’ private Internet communications in secret,” said ACLU staff attorney Aden Fine.

“If the ruling is allowed to stand, our client might never know how many other companies have been ordered to turn over information about her, and she may never be able to challenge the invasive requests.”

 

More On the Miranda Overreaction

From the American Prospect:

Yesterday, The Wall Street Journal reported changes to the FBI’s Miranda policy that have already been long known — FBI agents now delay reading of Miranda in some terror arrests. Charlie Savage has more details:

In most cases, the memorandum said, after public safety questions have been exhausted, interrogators should advise the terrorism suspect of his rights. But in certain “exceptional cases,” agents may continue to ask questions without a Miranda warning “to collect valuable and timely intelligence not related to any immediate threat.”

However, it said, such extended questioning must be approved by supervisors who would weigh “the disadvantages.” A footnote listed precedents ruling that prosecutors could not use self-incriminating statements made by a defendant before a warning.

While their was some consternation on the left and some predictable reactionary glee on the right, the reality is that nothing much has changed, because the FBI does not have the power to amend the Constitution.

Just to reiterate, Miranda doesn’t govern interrogation; it governs admissibility of evidence. That’s why it doesn’t interfere with interrogation, because the only thing it impacts is whether a statement is admissible in court, not whether the FBI can use it as intelligence. The only thing the new policy will do is make it more difficult to convict terror suspects in court, although I suspect that FBI agents will only delay Miranda in cases where the evidence is so overwhelming that it doesn’t matter. As a political gesture, it may convince Republicans that having Defense Secretary Robert Gates rubber-stamp the civilian trial of every jerk caught with a firecracker and a copy of the Qu’ran is a bad idea.

As I noted yesterday, former top FBI Official Phill Mudd has written, “I sat at hundreds of briefing tables for nine years after Sept. 11, 2001, and I can’t remember a time when Miranda impeded a decision on whether to pursue an intelligence interview.” It’s. Irrelevant.

Yesterday, I suggested that changing the rules of admissibility might return us to the pre-Miranda era where cops could easily beat confessions out of their suspects. Robert Chesney explains that the Fifth Amendment still protects individuals against involuntary statements, so that wouldn’t be the case.

The fight over Miranda is a prominent example of culture-war counterterrorism — an area in which Republicans have managed to gin up outrage over a complete fiction that, to someone who spends their Saturday afternoons watching 24 episodes on DVD, sounds like a real national-security issue.

MEDIA

A FOX News station has been sent a notice of a proposed fine for airing fake news in the form of “Video News Releases” (VNR) without disclosing that the “news” segment promoting General Motors that was produced to promote GM’s cars.

As Jonathan Make reports in today’s Communications Daily, the Federal Communications Commission has issued a notice of a proposed fine to FOX’s Minneapolis affiliate for what amounted to a commercial for GM’s convertibles masquerading as news. The VNR had been provided to the station by “FOX News Edge,” which is described as “a news service for broadcast stations affiliated with the FOX Network.”

 

How the Media Enables Republicans

E.J.Dionne:

This is the perverse genius of what the House Republicans are up to: Nobody really thinks that anything like their $57 billion in remaining proposed budget cuts can pass. It’s unlikely that all of their own members are confident about all of the cuts they have voted for. But by taking such a large collection of programs hostage, the GOP can be quite certain to win many more fights than it would if each reduction were considered separately….

But here is where the Republicans’ strategy works so brilliantly. Let’s assume that neither the administration nor Senate Democrats — even the most timid among them — can allow the Head Start or Pell Grant cuts to go through. That still leaves a lot of other truly worthy programs to be defended. By heaping cut upon cut, Republicans get advocates of each particular cause fighting among themselves.

And with so many reductions on the table, voters who would actually oppose most of them if they knew the details don’t get to hear much about any individual item because the media concentrate almost entirely on the partisan drama of the shutdown fight, not the particulars.

 

More than half of US adults use Facebook: study

A report by Edison Research and Arbitron Inc. to be released on April 5 includes the finding that 51 percent of US residents age 12 or older have profiles set up at Facebook.

Facebook terms of service require people to be at least 13 years old to be members of the online community, which boasts more than a half-billion users.

“We have been tracking the growth of Facebook since 2008, and have watched it go from eight percent usage just three years ago, to 51 percent today,” New Jersey-based Edison said in a release.

The market tracking firms based the findings on a January survey of 2,020 people. Study findings presented in a webcast will include the popularity of accessing social networks using mobile phones, according to Edison.

POLITICS

Over a year since Citizens United, FEC still hasn’t issued new rules

A year after the Supreme Court’s landmark decision easing campaign spending restrictions for corporations and interest groups, the Federal Election Commission has yet to issue regulations spelling out the full implications of the decision.

The commission increasingly has been paralyzed by a sometimes bitter standoff between Republicans and Democrats on the evenly divided panel. And although most of the commissioners will soon be serving in expired terms, President Obama and congressional Republicans have not been able to agree on replacements.

The court found in its Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision that the First Amendment allows unfettered spending on campaigns by corporations, nonprofits and unions. Shortly after the January 2010 ruling, the commission said it would no longer enforce regulations that had been directly struck down by the court.

But the effort to write new regulations has been halted by the partisan standoff over how much interest groups must disclose about their financial backers in election spending.

[…]

The disagreement over disclosure mirrors other divisions on the FEC over how vigorously to enforce campaign spending laws generally. The commissioners have found themselves in a partisan standoff significantly more often than their predecessors. According to the watchdog group Public Citizen, the FEC has deadlocked on one out of seven cases during the past 21 / 2 years, compared with one out of 50 cases in the prior five years.

[…]

In a letter to the president last week, eight groups called for new appointments, saying the FEC was “a rogue, non-functioning enforcement agency.” The groups included Common Cause, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, Public Citizen and the League of Women Voters, all of which advocate for increased regulation of money in politics.

“We strongly support enforcement of our campaign finance laws,” said White House spokesman Reid Cherlin, “and we support addressing any weaknesses in the current system.”

By law, the FEC can have no more than three members from one party, and presidents have typically deferred to Senate leadership to pick nominees from the opposing party.

More>>>

RELATED:

Justice-For-Sale Lobbyists Raising ‘Unlimited and Undisclosed’ Donations To Buy WI Supreme Court Seat

Last year, Wisconsin Supreme Court justice and Gov. Scott Walker ally David Prosser cast the key vote in favor of a “justice-for-sale” ethics rule written by two corporate lobbying groups. Thanks to Justice Prosser, his colleagues are not required to recuse themselves from cases involving one of their major campaign donors. Now, Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC), one of the lobbying groups that wrote the rule Prosser made into law, is rewarding him by raising “unlimited and undisclosed” funds to keep Prosser on the state supreme court.

[…]

WMC, whose board of directors includes a high ranking executive with a Koch Industries company, has a record of spending exorbitant sums of money to ensure that the state supreme court is friendly to powerful corporate interest groups. In 2008, WMC spent $1.2 million to replace former Justice Louis Butler with an obscure conservative judge after Butler sided against wealthy interest groups in three court decisions. Butler is now an Obama nominee for a federal trial judgeship.

Moreover, WMC’s efforts to buy up seat after seat on the state supreme court would have been illegal just a few years ago. Wisconsin banned corporations from buying state elections in 1905, but that law effectively ceased to exist when the Supreme Court opened the floodgates of corporate campaign funds in its infamous Citizens United decision.

 

Huck, Newt and Haley Palling Around with Anti-Muslim Extremist

For GOP presidential hopefuls, its become necessary to court the crazy. Earlier today, Tim Murphy told you about Newt Gingrich’s remarks at an American Family Association forum in Iowa, where the former House Speaker—and likely Republican presidential contestant—lavished praise on Islamophobe conspiracy theorist David Barton.

But wait, there’s more: The Iowa Independent reports that Gingrich, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee are scheduled to appear on Bryan Fischer’s radio show today. Fischer, the AFA’s issues director, has long been a leading basher of Muslims and gays and lesbians. He has said that inbreeding causes Muslims to be stupid and violent; he has equated gay sex with domestic terrorism; and he has claimed that Hitler and his stormtroopers were gay. Yesterday on his blog, Fischer wrote that the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of religion does not apply to Islam:

Islam has no fundamental First Amendment claims, for the simple reason that it was not written to protect the religion of Islam. Islam is entitled only to the religious liberty we extend to it out of courtesy. While there certainly ought to be a presumption of religious liberty for non-Christian religious traditions in America, the Founders were not writing a suicide pact when they wrote the First Amendment.

Our government has no obligation to allow a treasonous ideology to receive special protections in America, but this is exactly what the Democrats are trying to do right now with Islam.

[…]

So far, none of the three has indicated that he will heed this call. The GOP presidential aspirants hobnob with Fischer because they believe they need to. After all, it’s an easy way to reach out to the extreme, the misinformed, and/or the bigoted voters who will be part of the Republican primaries.

 

New ad portrays GOP attack on EPA as assault on babies

 

Bachmann campaign ridiculous – but that doesn’t mean it’d be irrelevant

Steve Benen:

It’s probably fair to say that most reasonable political observers, regardless of party or ideology, would agree that Michele Bachmann is stark raving mad. I don’t mean this in a name-calling sense, I mean it objectively — her record of truly insane rants and conspiracy theories makes Bachmann an embarrassment to herself and the institution she serves. There’s just something deeply wrong with this person.

Bachmann’s odds of becoming leader of the free world next year are about as good as mine. But that doesn’t mean her candidacy, if it exists, won’t matter.

For one thing, Bachmann is so boldly ridiculous, she’s bound to generate quite a bit of attention for herself, which could have a real impact on the race. There’s only so much media oxygen available for a sizable presidential field, and if Bachmann’s clownish antics capture reporters’ attention, lesser-known candidates like Pawlenty and Daniels may find themselves struggling to stay in the spotlight.

For another, Bachmann could prove competitive in Iowa, where radically-conservative activists tend to dominate. (Remember, in 1988, radical televangelist Pat Robertson came in second place in the Iowa caucuses, well ahead of the eventual president, George H.W. Bush.)

Ed Kilgore had an item last week explaining that the theocratic religious right — which adores Bachmann — is uniquely powerful in the Iowa caucuses, and Bachmann enjoys a strong alliance with Iowa’s Steve King (R), one of the few members of Congress who’s as crazy as she is.

Kilgore added, “Even if Bachmann doesn’t win a state outright, she could wreak havoc on the field. Given her fanaticism about root-and-branch repeal of ObamaCare, is there any doubt she would make sure every Caucus-goer knows about RomneyCare? Plus, she represents a deadly threat to the ambitions of her fellow Minnesota Republican, Tim Pawlenty, who has been quietly consolidating a position as likely Republican frontrunner: When she was a state legislator, Bachmann once assaulted a Pawlenty proposal for an enterprise zone, saying it represented Marxist principles. She won’t need an oppo research firm to dig up other alleged Pawlenty violations of conservative dogma. And it’s unlikely Pawlenty could survive running behind a fellow Minnesotan in a state so close to his own.”

If Bachmann runs, she’ll be a sad, cringe-worthy sideshow, making a circus of the entire nominating process. But much to her competitors’ chagrin, that’s unlikely to stop her.

 

Proposal: FL Gov. Rick Scott, cabinet able to bypass normal procedure, repeal state agency rules

 

The GOP’s Census problem

When the Census released its reapportionment totals in December, much of the focus was on the new seats in red states, and how it was a good thing for Republicans.

The data released by Census on Thursday, though, shows how those same population shifts are creating new challenges for the GOP.

While much of the shifting population is moving to red states, there is increasing evidence that it’s making those red states bluer, and most of the demographic trends are heading in Democrats’ direction.

Census Bureau director Robert Groves summed it up best Thursday: “We are increasingly metropolitan today, our country is becoming racially and ethnically more diverse over time … and geographically, there are a lot of areas of the country growing in number that have large minority populations.”

All three of those things suggest growing Demcoratic constituencies. Let’s look at each individually:

More>>>

SCIENCE


Satellites Offer New Window Into Documenting, Preventing Genocide (Video)

Transcript from PBS NewsHour:

Satellite Sentinel says it shows a fresh wave of violence in the hotly contested region between South Sudan, which just voted for independence, and the government in the north. Some of these areas are effectively off-limits to journalists, and sometimes the public never sees ground-level footage of what’s happening in places like this.

In this case, however, Satellite Sentinel managed to obtain this video confirming that parts of two villages overflown by the satellite were indeed burned. The hope is that distributing these images might prevent the violence from escalating.

Jonathan Hutson is the communications director for the Enough Project, one of several activist groups supporting Satellite Sentinel.

JONATHAN HUTSON, Enough Project: Well, for the first time outside the national security sector, non-profits are now making use of high-resolution satellite imagery to track the buildup and movements of troops near a border.

We can keep an eye on it and give some early warning to the world, and give people a chance to get involved, to pressure policy-makers, to press for quick and immediate responses.

TOM BEARDEN: Hutson says actor George Clooney came up with the idea to keep an eye on Sudan last year after he toured the southern region while people were voting for independence.

The ongoing fear is that the Sudanese military will try to use force to prevent the separation that voters approved overwhelmingly. Clooney and other Hollywood figures provided $750,000 to operate the surveillance project for the first six months.

Hutson says the Sudanese government has taken notice.

View the slide show/listen.

SCOTUS


Does the Supreme Court care more about free speech for the wealthy than about political corruption? Stay Tuned.

Imagine you want to run for office, say for a seat in the state legislature, and you are deciding whether to opt into a voluntary public financing system: accepting a pot of money from the government in exchange for giving up the right to raise funds from private individuals. If you opt in, you would be free from the burdens of fundraising, and the chances of corruption (or the appearance of corruption) would be minimized because you wouldn’t be dependent on others to fund your campaign. But there’s a danger: What if your opponent, or an outside group, is determined to spend lots of money against you? To deal with this problem, states like Arizona give you additional matching funds, to a point, to make it viable for publicly financed candidates like you to compete.

[Today], the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in McComish v. Bennett, a case from Arizona in which those wealthy opponents and outside groups have complained that this additional spending violates their First Amendment rights. And once again, just a year after the court in Citizens United turned on the corporate-money spigot by allowing unlimited corporate spending in elections (and the FEC allowed corporations to hide much of their donations), the court appears poised to side with the wealthy in a campaign finance case.

[…]

So what could be motivating the five conservative justices—John Roberts, Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and Anthony Kennedy—likely to be in the majority in an opinion striking down the Arizona scheme? The argument is that the matching scheme looks like an unconstitutional attempt on the part of Arizona to “level the electoral playing field.” In the Supreme Court arena, so-called equality arguments in campaign-finance cases are the kiss of death. In 1976, in Buckley v. Valeo the court ruled that “the concept that government may restrict the speech of some elements of our society in order to enhance the relative voice of others is wholly foreign to the First Amendment.” It reached a similar conclusion in striking down the corporate spending limits in Citizens United. An earlier court case had upheld such limits based upon the “corrosive and distorting effect” of corporate spending on the political system. But in Citizens United the court overruled that case on grounds it relied upon an impermissible equality rationale.

Perhaps most on point is a 2008 case, Davis v. Federal Election Commission. In this 5-4 decision, the court declared unconstitutional a provision of the McCain-Feingold law that allowed congressional candidates running against self-financed wealthy opponents to collect campaign contributions larger than would be normally allowed. The court, in an opinion written by Alito, said this law was an impermissible attempt to level the playing field between wealthy and nonwealthy candidates. Challengers in the Arizona case are putting great weight on the Davis precedent, helped by the fact that Alito planted a little “time bomb” for future litigants in his Davis decision: an approving citation to an Eighth Circuit case striking down a public-financing matching scheme on similar equality grounds.

But Davis shouldn’t carry the day here. Arizona did not enact its system to “level the playing field,” and that is not its effect. Instead, Arizona adopted a public financing system to deal with well-publicized corruption scandal, AzScam, and it incorporated matching funds into the system because it is one of the only ways to create a viable campaign finance system. Rational politicians simply won’t opt into public financing if they expect to be vastly outspent by their opponents.

If you are looking for a common thread between the “more speech is better” theory underlying Citizens United and an expected “more speech is unfair” ruling for the challengers in McComish, it is this: Five conservatives justices on the Supreme Court appear to have no problem with the wealthy using their resources to win elections—even if doing so raises the danger of increased corruption of the political system.

UNIONS

 

 

‘Have You No Sense of Decency?’ The Wm. Cronon Story

James Fallows:

(See UPDATE and correction below)

BEIJING, China. I don’t mean to keep butting in and have just a minute to type this out, but I think it’s important to direct attention to a new abuse of power underway in Wisconsin.

William Cronon, whom I know very slightly, is as good as the American academic establishment can now produce. He is president of the American Historical Association; he is the Frederick Jackson Turner professor of history at the University of Wisconsin; his Nature’s Metropolis and Changes in the Land are books any writer would be proud to claim.

Because Cronon dared write an op-ed piece in the New York Times* pointing to Wisconsin’s long tradition of bi-partisan, “good government”-minded support of collective bargaining rights, and criticizing Gov. Scott Walker for his campaign against organized labor and collective bargaining, the Wisconsin Republican Party is launching a legal effort to look through his email archives to see if he has been involved in the recent protests in the state. The putative rationale is that Cronon’s messages were sent on the University of Wisconsin’s email system and therefore are covered by the state’s open-records law.

Cronon gives a very, very detailed description of the case, with an impassioned and, to me, convincing argument about why this should be seen as a flat-out effort at personal intimidation, in the tradition of Wisconsin’s own Sen. Joe McCarthy. I encourage you to read that, and Josh Marshall’s explanation of the case here. I hope to say more about this later.

The reason this strikes me particularly hard at the moment: I am staying in a country where a lot of recent news concerns how far the government is going in electronic monitoring of email and other messages to prevent any group, notably including academics or students, from organizing in order to protest. I don’t like that any better in Madison than I do in Beijing.
____
* UPDATE and correction: In earlier haste I misread Cronon’s chronology. The Republican request to see Cronon’s email records actually came on March 17, before the NYT op-ed but two days after he had made a blog post about the situation in Wisconsin, including the role of a group called the American Legislative Exchange Council in promoting anti-public sector union efforts in several states. That post is here. The attempt to intimidate is the same. But Cronon’s “offense” came a week earlier than I said, and in a far less visible venue, which if anything makes the bullying reaction worse.

And, as several readers have noted, I should have made clear that this kind of intimidation is less acceptable in Madison than it would be in Beijing, since in Wisconsin such concepts as “academic freedom” and “the First Amendment” are supposed to apply.

Related:

The Cronon original article:

Related:

NYTs: Editorial: A Shabby Crusade in Wisconsin

WEDGE ISSUES

At Least Five Babies Have Died Since Nebraska Denied Undocumented Mothers Prenatal Care

I wrote about Gov. Scott Walker’s (R-WI) proposal to deny pregnant undocumented women access to prenatal care assistance. I argued that Walker’s position runs counter to his vehemently “pro-life” crusade. In the post, I also mentioned that when the state of Nebraska debated a similar proposal, anti-choice groups strongly opposed denying undocumented women prenatal care because it put “borders ahead of babies.”

[…]

The elimination one year ago of Medicaid funding for prenatal care for about 1,600 low-income women has had dramatic effects, doctors and health clinic administrators reported Wednesday. At least five babies have died. Women are traveling 155 miles to get prenatal care. Babies have been delivered at clinics, in ambulances and hospital emergency rooms. […]

Andrea Skolkin, chief executive officer of One World Community Health Centers in Omaha, said that in the past year, only about half of uninsured women are receiving any prenatal care. The health center has more premature births to uninsured women, compared to insured women. Uninsured mothers were twice as likely to deliver through cesarean section, which is more expensive. […] Four infants died in utero at the Columbus health center, she said. In the previous seven years, the clinic had never had an in utero death.

Nebraska state Sen. Kathy Campbell (R) has introduced a bill that would reinstate the prenatal care. “We need to be pro-life from cradle to grave, to err on the side of compassion and stay grounded in family values,” stated the Rev. Howard Dotson of Omaha’s Westminster Presbyterian Church who testified in support of the bill.

[…]

Meanwhile, while Nebraska is forcing some women to watch their babies die due to lack of prenatal care assistance, another woman also had to experience the same “torture” because the state would not allow her to terminate her pregnancy even after doctors told her that her child would not live.

 

REALLY BIG Gov’t: Sex outside marriage should be illegal, says Parnell nominee

JUNEAU — Gov. Sean Parnell’s appointee for the panel that nominates state judges testified Wednesday that he would like to see Alaskans prosecuted for having sex outside of marriage.
More>>>

AND IN OTHER NEWS…


A cure for writer’s block

However, the hero of “Limitless,” Eddie Morra, is the only cinematic writer I’m aware of who cures his block pharmaceutically — the booze that so many of the others resort to is more along the lines of drown-your-sorrows self-medication. Essentially, the drug turns Eddie into what a person suffering from a manic episode only thinks he is: a self-confident superman who picks up a new language in an afternoon and finishes a brilliant novel in four days. (See also: cocaine.) It does this by activating the fabled nine-tenths of the brain that the rest of us purportedly don’t use.

What’s especially bizarre about this premise is the notion that writer’s block can be overcome by an increase in intelligence. (More plausibly, Eddie, once he gets really, really smart, decides to bail on writing books entirely.) It would be hard to find a blocked writer who thought that brains were exactly what he or she lacked. In her fascinating 2004 book, “The Midnight Disease: The Drive to Write, Writer’s Block, and the Creative Brain,” neurologist Alice Weaver Flaherty explains that the impulse to create is rooted in the limbic brain, the seat of instinct, not in the cerebral cortex, which performs the analytical activities enhanced by Eddie’s pills.

[…]

Most cases of writer’s block are not, however, the result of a biochemical imbalance. Those not caused by being, as Eddie puts it, “depressed off my ass,” are more likely to be rooted in fear. It’s here that something called the Yerkes-Dodson Law applies. First proposed by two psychologists in 1908, this principle holds that the more “aroused” (i.e., engaged and challenged) a person is by a task, the better he or she performs, up to the point that the arousal becomes anxiety or worry, at which point performance declines.

In other words, beyond a certain point, the more difficult a writing task, and the more you think it matters, the more likely you are to become blocked. This may explain why journalists with, say, two deadlines per week almost never get blocked: no individual story ever has to carry that much weight. (The paycheck helps a lot, too. Not long ago, a woman sitting next to me on a plane asked if I had a trick for getting past writer’s block, and I replied, “Yes. It’s called a mortgage.”)

[…]

“I’ve got a fantastic idea,” they say. “I just need to find the time to write it all down.” Ah yes, there’s the rub. And if they never quite get around to it, they can still identify with someone like Eddie, a guy with a similar gold mine locked inside him who got lucky enough to stumble upon the perfect key. These are the low-arousal low-performers, people who like to fantasize about being an author but who lack the motivation to power themselves through the drudgery of actually writing a book.

The high-arousal low-performers are more desperate cases. They believe that writing the right book (or screenplay) will transform their lives and remake their identities, and with so much riding on the outcome, they choke. All of Hollywood’s blocked writers belong to this category: Their careers, marriages, houses — whatever — always seem to be hanging in the balance.

While overwrought, such scenarios have a subjective truth; the stakes fuel the block. Some of the most famously “blocked” writers, such as Samuel Taylor Coleridge, wrote reams of stuff — just not the stuff they thought they ought to be writing. It’s amazing what you can get done when you believe you’re shirking some other, more important enterprise.

That’s what every blocked writer really needs: something more significant they should be doing instead, an earth-shaking, life-changing project you’re stealing time from to work on this little novel. Or the great novel you ought to be drafting while you knock off your memoir just for fun. Granted, inventing such a decoy project and convincing yourself that you may actually get around to it someday requires a bold and sustained act of imagination. But that’s what writers do, isn’t it — make stuff up?

 

QUOTE OF THE DAY:

Friendship improves happiness and abates misery, by the doubling of our joy and the dividing of our grief.

~ Cicero

Categories: News & Politics

Written by Chernynkaya

I am an artist and have lived in Los Angeles all of my life, except for a brief hippie period when I lived in SF. I am currently (semi-unwillingly) retired, but have had several careers.

5 Responses so far.

Click here to leave a comment
  1. SequimBob2 says:

    Cher: Amazing post today. Isn’t it incredible what you can accomplish once you decide to give up sleep? I appreciate your continuing to drive home the message about the budget caper being pulled off in Congress.

    The debt and deficit has been manufactured to convince Americans that Social Security and Medicare must be cut. This position is being taken as an absolute truth — like the gravitational pull of planets. Well, there is more than one major body in our budget orbit — and while entitlements are part of the equation without a doubt, take a look at the one nobody is talking about…

    [+] Pensions…….$805.6 Billion
    [+] Health Care….$866.1 Billion
    [+] DEFENSE……..$925.2 Billion*

    *Includes foreign military aid, Veterans benefits, foreign economic aid

    The above are from the President’s proposed 2012 budget. Re: http://www.usgovernmentspending.com/united_states_total_spending_pie_chart#usgs302F0

    Corporate tax rates (as a percentage of GDP) have been cut in half. See: http://www.ritholtz.com/blog/2010/08/tax-base-as-of-gdp/

    Restore these tax collection rates and the annual deficit would be sliced by almost half.

    OK, here are my questions (you know I always have questions): (1) Are Dems afraid of the tax argument? There are other alternatives to simply slicing entitlements. We could, for example, reconsider whether we in this country would rather have healthcare — or continue on as the world’s policeman. (2) Why is Defense apparently off the table? (3) Why is there so little messaging coming from the Dems on these issues?

    I feel like a not-too-bright boxer who is getting pummeled in the ring and my manager keeps telling me to lower my guard more ’cause the other guy is getting tired.

    As always, thanks for what you do.

    • KQuark says:

      I think it’s pretty disingenuous to include Veteran’s aid (and allot of other things they added in my opinion) and call it the defense budget. VA benefits help middle class Americans who have served and is not money used to wage war. You would not begrudge pension plans and health benefits for teachers so there is no reason to demonize VA benefits either. This is exactly where the slippery slopes of half truths based on ideology begins.

      • SequimBob2 says:

        KQuark: Disingenuous on whose part? I provided the website, you can drill down in the budget as far as you would like. It goes to twenty-three pages in case you are curious. Here is the first drill-down…

        [+] Military defense 737.5 billion
        [+] Veterans 124.7 billion
        [+] Foreign military aid 14.9 billion
        [+] Foreign economic aid 48.1 billion

        Disingenuous would have been to use the number and NOT disclose that it contained other related costs — such as VA benefits.

        In response to your other points… I don’t begrudge VA benefits to any vet. I am a vet. My wife retired from the VA, so I know a bit about the organization. That said, when the country is being told that we can’t afford Medicare and Social Security, I think it is fair to ask folks to look at the total cost of the military — to include pensions, VA benefits, etc.

        As for ideology, I’m up front with it. I think taxes need to be raised on corporations. I think if we are going to go to war the American people should be asked to pay for it. I think we spend entirely too much on Defense. And, yes, I’m a huge fan of teachers. In short, I have a POV.

        Finally, for you to tell me what I would or would not ‘begrudge’ is presumptuous. For you to allege half-truths is offensive.

        I am entirely capable of being wrong. I make mistakes. When brought to my attention I try and correct them and learn from them. I also try to make a positive contribution to the discussion on this site.

        I also try to treat everyone, and their ideas, on this site with respect. If you believe I’m wrong on a point, so state if you wish, but kindly limit your attacks to my ideas, not my character.


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