Archive for the 'politics' Tag  

Confessions of an Economic Hitman

July 14th, 2007

Filed under: Life and Everything Else


From Dave on Fire‘s new blog of videos, Throw Away Your Telescreen, I came across this great address John Perkins gave to the Veterans for Peace convention. Perkins is a self-described “Economic Hitman”, an ‘independent’ consultant recruited by the NSA who’s job for three decades was to provide the ‘carrot’ and threat of a ‘stick’ pressure to third world governments to force them to provide multinational corporations with favorable access to their resources. Perkins describes how he offered the leader of Panama, Omar Torrijos, vast wealth for he and his family if he would back down on his promise to return the Panama Canal to the people of Panama. Torrijos did not take the bait and died in a plane explosion two weeks later.

While this address is fascinating on its own, one thing I find interesting is that Noam Chomsky has for years be describing the US-led overthrow of third-world democracies that clash with American corporate interests. Critics have often derided Chomsky saying “he’s a linguist, not an economist” or otherwise attaching Chomsky for not having the ability “to really know what is going on”. Now we have John Perkins, a man who was at the bargaining tables and behind the scenes telling basically the same story.

Anyway, here is Perkins’ address (broken into three clips for some reason):

Part one:

Part two:

Part three – Questions:

Our Health Care Crisis

July 13th, 2007

Filed under: Life and Everything Else

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If you are an American and haven’t seen Sicko yet, it is something that you absolutely must do. You have no idea how royally you are being screwed. In case you need a little extra prodding, if you see Sicko and aren’t moved to tears and anger, I promise to refund your movie ticket*. Here’s the trailer:


Having seen the movie, the most important next step is to make your voice heard so that we can rid ourselves of the parasite that is our current for-profit health care system. Luckily legislation that would do this has already been introduced, it just needs to be passed.

In 2003 John Conyers and 25 other representatives introduced a bill “to provide for comprehensive health insurance coverage for all United States residents, and for other purposes.” This bill, H.R. 676 – “United States National Health Insurance Act”, would provide universal health care for all residents of the United States with no premiums, deductibles, or enrollment exclusions. Everyone is covered for all of their health care needs. All providers of health care must be publicly owned or not-for profit. I highly recommend reading the text of this bill, it is only 25 pages and very straight-forward. It even has a provision to retrain the clerical and administrative staff of all of the HMOs that would be put out of business.

The letter I’ve sent to my senators, representative, and local newspaper:

Senators Leahy, Sanders, and Congressman Welch,

As a citizen of the State of Vermont and the United States of America, I urge you to do everything in your power to pass H.R. 676, “The United States National Health Insurance Act”. It is imperative to the continued prosperity of our state and nation that free universal health care be provided to all residents of our country.

Our current for-profit health care system not only fails to provide needed care to thousands of people and saddles us all with huge costs, but it has other failings as well: With health care provided as a benefit of employment, workers are forced to do the will of their employer as termination not only removes a paycheck, but also access to health care. Small and large businesses often cannot give full-time, stable jobs to willing workers due to the cost of providing them with health care in addition to a salary.

Sirs, please do your part to make universal, single-payer health care a reality in the United States of America.

Adam Franco

From the Sicko website you can find out more information and send letters to your congress-critters.

'What can I do?' - SiCKO
Please see the movie, contact your congress[wo]men, and help us provide ourselves and our countrymen lives without fear of impoverishment due to medical costs.

* Sorry world, I can only keep this promise to personal friends and family.

Money As Debt

May 30th, 2007

Filed under: Life and Everything Else


On his great geopolitical blog, Complex System of Pipes, “Dave on Fire” points out the great animated video [watch below] by Paul Grignon that describes how our monetary system works and where our money comes from — hint, its not the mint or even government fiat.

The video is 47 minutes long but engagingly flies through the history and future of our monetary policy in a way that doesn’t drag at all. While the video makes a few policy recommendations it doesn’t seem to do too much editorializing. If the description in the video of our monetary system is accurate, then the implications both for how we view our world and where we are headed in the future are immense.

If you find this sort of thing interesting, I recommend reading more of Complex System of Pipes. Dave on Fire does a great job of teasing apart many of the complex interrelationships between global politics and global economics.

Finally a way to prevent identity theft

May 10th, 2007

Filed under: Life and Everything Else

Tags: , , ,

3As identity theft has grown to staggering proportions in the United States over the past 10 years or more I have been horrified at the willful corporate negligence that allows this to happen at all. Why does identity theft exist? One simple reason:

Lenders are willing to grant a line of credit based solely on one’s ability to recite (or print) a name, address, and matching public number.

Why they are willing to is a more complex issue, but comes down to the fact that creditors don’t pay the brunt of the costs of identity theft, ordinary people and retailers do. For a short while when I was getting myself situated as a post-college adult I tried to not give out my SSN to anyone for whom it wasn’t properly needed. The government needs it for tax purposes — its original intent — and the bank needs it for car loans, but Verizon sure as heck doesn’t need it to sell me a cell phone, or the cable company to sell me internet service, etc., etc. After fighting for a while I gave up, but with ever more worry about my chances of identity theft.

Most uses of a person’s SSN are actually perfectly good uses of the number. The SSN is [and only is] a unique identifying number that all citizens have. Using a unique identifier in university, employer, and customer databases is a very good way to prevent setting up multiple accounts for the same person. No one should have to worry about giving out their SSN to any and everyone who wants it. The big problem however is that lenders seem to stick their heads in the sand and pretend that the SSN is some kind of privately known password. It never was and was never intended to be a password.

So now in our current day anyone can sign up for a credit card in my name provided that they know my name, address, and public number [SSN]. That person can then run up the balance on this card and then I get stuck with years of fighting to clear my record of someone else’s abuses while being denied legitimate credit and/or forced to pay high premiums due to a tarnished credit rating. All of this because lenders refuse to more strongly check who someone is before opening a line of credit.

Until recently what could you do to prevent identity theft? Nothing substantial. You could shred credit card offers, try not to give your SSN to too many people, but there was no way to prevent it from happening. The three credit reporting agencies Equifax, Experian, and Trans Union are all happy to sell you a “credit monitoring” service for $6-$12 per month, but this doesn’t actually prevent anyone from opening an account in your name, it will only tell you after the fact that it happened.

As noted in this this Washington Post article, finally — and in the face of enormous lobbying from the credit reporting industry — 33 states and the District of Columbia have passed laws requiring that the credit reporting agencies allow people to “freeze” their credit reports, preventing lenders from opening lines of credit in that person’s name (1). In return, you are given a pin number (a weak, but real password) (2) that can allow you to temporarily “thaw” your credit report to allow access to certain businesses that you wish to open a line of credit with. The credit reporting industry has tried hard to fight these changes and have been most successful by trying to keep the fees for this “service” high and the delays in temporary thawing long. I don’t believe that there should be any fees for this as they are essentially blackmailing us with our credit score, but I digress.

What I see an ideal implementation of this idea is that a person places a freeze on their credit report and is returned a [more than 4-digit] password. When that person does want get a credit card, mortgage, or Verizon phone they fill out a web-form or call the credit reporting agency and supply their password and the name of the company that needs to access it. 15 minutes later that company only can pull your credit report and maybe can do so for the next week as needed. If you loose your password you would then need to contact the credit reporting agency and answer a heavily detailed questionnaire — with things like what month/year did you buy your first house, when did you open your first credit card, when did you close that account, who is your mortgage with, how long have you been with your current employer, etc — as well a provide several forms of identification, valid drivers license numbers, valid passport numbers, etc. The total of passing all of that would be a very good indicator of your identity and allow you to get a new “thawing” password.

In my home state of Vermont, while we were one of the first to pass a law requiring the ability to freeze credit reports, the credit reporting lobby was successful in forcing a $10 charge for the freeze (unknown cost to thaw) and requiring that all freeze-thaw requests go through certified mail, adding another $4 to each. This brings the initial freeze cost to $42 since each reporting company must be addressed separately. The reporting companies then must add the freeze within 5 days of receiving the request. This is still a large cost and hassle, but at least we can now at least do something to help prevent the theft of our identities. I will be contacting my state representatives to urge them to amend our legislation to reduce the costs and ease the thawing hassle with a system like that of Delaware and NJ.

By the way, if you didn’t read the Washington Post article, it is very in-depth and informative. Here are some other helpful links:


  1. Government agencies, companies who you currently have accounts with, and a few other special cases would be able to access your frozen report. Also, a limited amount of information — such as just your overall score — is available to allow lenders to know if they want to market their services to you, but not enough for them to open an account.
  2. This pin number is only specified in the laws of some states, NJ in particular. Laws in other states may vary.

Edit: I incorrectly quoted the certified mail charge as $10 per letter. It is as of this writing $2.63 + regular postage.

Nevada Voting

November 4th, 2004

Filed under: Life and Everything Else

Tags: ,

By Margaret Aleks – Law student, UC Hastings; Poll monitor, Election Protection
November 3, 2004
San Francisco California

Tell me we’re back in the fifties, the sixties, some other time; but 2004? Please, tell me the country hasn’t gone this far.

Earlier last week, my constitutional law professor begged students to miss his class. Typically, you’re lambasted if you miss his class; now, he was requesting, perhaps recruiting, students to miss his class. He stated he never thought the country would again reach this point: when law students had to help fellow Americans vote. Not since the middle of the last century with the enactment of the Civil Rights Act were law students needed to help others do their civic duty.

And so I went: to Nevada. I never expected Reno, Nevada, in the middle of the desert, would have voting problems. It wasn’t the south; it wasn’t Ohio; it wasn’t Florida. It was Reno, the biggest little city in the world. And so, two buses of law students from the Bay Area traveled to Reno for what we expected to be a relatively calm election.

At six in the morning, we coalesced at the headquarters for Election Protection. Pairing law students with lawyers and English-speakers with Spanish speakers, I met my team for the day, and the four of us went to an elementary school to help individuals vote. Immediately, we learned things may not go as expected: while Election Protection stationed students outside of the poll, the lawyer was to be inside to answer questions of those who either had problems voting or couldn’t vote at all. Brooke, ‘our lawyer,’ stationed herself inside the poll, while Nick, Jason, and I set up camp outside on the grass. Approximately, five minutes later, Brooke joined us. The Poll Manager had booted her, as she was not a registered Nevada voter. Despite her attempts to show him the Nevada statute permitting her presence in the poll; the manager would not allow it. We called the command center.

The commander center brought backup ‘ a Nevada lawyer, just incase its representatives could not persuade the poll workers whose legal authority was a newspaper, rather than a statute, that Brooke’s presence in the poll was legally protected. To no avail, again, the poll worker would not budge. Not wanting to cause a scene to further delay individuals’ chances to vote, Brooke joined us for good on the front lawn.

Voter after voter, we asked whether he/she was able to vote. While most said yes, claiming the electronic machines worked wonderfully, other voters said no, they didn’t vote. We asked them if they filled out a provisional ballot at least. ‘A provisional ballot? What’s that?’

Apparently, the polling monitors weren’t informing (select?) voters of their right, at the very least, to cast a provisional ballot. While these ballots weren’t ideal, for they were only for the federal candidates, voting for SOMETHING was better than voting for nothing. And so, from this point, we either directed voters to their correct precincts or told them to return and demand a provisional ballot. (Of course, not being Nevada registered voters, we couldn’t go inside to help them.) A pattern emerged for those not able to vote and who were also not informed of the provisional ballot system; they either spoke Spanish, identified as a minority, appeared to be lower class, or were young. Spanish-speakers, minorities, lower class individuals, and young voters: for whom do you think their vote would go? Each time this happened, we took their information and called the command center.

This seemingly blatant discrimination proved not to be the only voting irregularity. Throughout the day, police officers made their presence known. Pulling up in squad cars, fully uniformed and armed, cops entered the polling place (they must have been registered Nevada voters). While we, of course, were not, we were unable to discern or investigate what the cops did while inside ‘ maybe they chatted with the polling manager? Maybe they walked the voting line? Who knows ‘ but having cops inside an elementary school (where the students were on vacation) likely constituted some kind of voter incrimination. In response, we called the command center.

Around 5pm, a Nevada court issued a ruling saying that anyone who came to the polls with a voter registration receipt had the right to a ‘real’ ballot, not a provisional one. While this ruling likely helped many voters who thought they registered, only to have their ballots torn by the individuals who ‘registered’ them on the basis of political party affiliation, I wondered how many people had (in the 10 hours the polls had already been open) already either cast provisional ballots or been turned away.

As the day continued, we saved votes, helped voters, and maintained a nonpartisan presence. We weren’t identified with any political party ‘ all we worked toward was the right for every American to cast a vote.

The polls closed; we returned to the headquarters. There I learned of others’ experiences. What I experienced seemed standard fare: voters not being allowed to use (or even informed of) the provisional ballot process. It seemed others had observed the same trend: this group of voters was identified as Spanish-speaking, minority, lower income, or younger. What a surprise’

Other students reported atrocities including INS agents showing up at a polling place. Today, fellow law students requested, ‘Why? Doesn’t everyone who votes have to be a citizen?’ Well, yes; they do. Everyone at a polling place theoretically had a valid right to vote. If they didn’t (and were trying to commit voter fraud), they would have had to cast a provisional ballot anyway. Upon further investigation of the provisional ballot (they’re not secret ballots, like the rest of America is supposedly afforded), their ballot would be discarded. So, why the INS presence? I don’t know. There should have been no one to intimidate. But, to the recently naturalized voter whose family members may not yet be naturalized (or even illegal) or whose country has a history of military officials standing by to coerce their vote to conform to the state-selected candidate (think of Iraq: they used to have ‘democratic’ elections; Saddam Hussein would win by 99.96 percent of the ‘vote’; and yes, that’s an actual statistic from a Political Science textbook), what effect would the INS’s presence have? To those of you for whom this analogy doesn’t work, consider a Criminal Procedure example. Miranda warnings are given so people will not incriminate themselves. Abstractly, who would incriminate herself/himself? But, given the coercive nature of being cuffed and taken into custody and interrogated where the situation is, perhaps 5 cops versus you and you’re possibly deprived of sleep, water, food, access to a bathroom, wouldn’t you maybe ‘voluntarily’ confess about a crime you didn’t commit? The INS presence probably functioned the same way.

Still, others reported being at the polling place of college students. There, it took from 7am (when the polls opened) until 2pm for the polling workers to allow first time student voters to vote. The problem: students’ voter registration card addresses didn’t match the addresses on their photo IDs. Now think about this: is it really that unusual for a college student to have an address at which they live while in school and to have a second address that is their permanent one (i.e. their parents’)? Is that such a novel concept? Well, apparently, even these REGISTERED, first-time voters had problems. And so voters at that precinct, like those at precincts all over the rest of Nevada and the country, waited for over 4 hours to vote.

Finally, before we started our drive back to the oasis that is the Bay Area, an individual threw a rock through the window of one of our buses, shattering it. We should have foreseen it as shattered dreams of Kerry winning (I’m done being non-partisan). But here, for no good reason, some individual felt it necessary to come to the Reno headquarters of Election Protection, New Voters’ Project, the ACLU, and other progressive organizations, to throw a rock through a window. Even the police officer who reported to the scene professed problems with early voting and was thankful for our work. We were trying to ensure democracy and what is the outcome?

While our efforts, unfortunately, didn’t result in Kerry winning the election, I was happy to have ensured that individuals had the right to vote. While it may have not made a difference, and while they may feel more disenfranchised in the future because of the election’s outcome, at least they had the right to vote.

I returned home at 1:30am and checked my e-mail. Eighteen leftist, progressive organizations had emailed me reminders to vote. (This was in addition to those I had already received in the week preceding the election.) Not only did these emails remind me why I’m on the government’s watch list (yes, I have already emailed the White House today, thanks to NARAL action alerts, and I have already spoken with a member at the ACLU’s Northern California office about what I observed in Nevada), but the results of this election reminded me why I’m in law school. Although I’ll be in law school for the next year and a half, I will have 2.5 more years of the Bush administration to fight as a progressive, ‘radical’ liberal, to ensure our civil liberties, and to use the court systems to attempt to achieve whatever version of justice our courts supposedly provide. And then, I will have a lifetime as a lawyer to fight to undo whatever happens in these next four years.

And so, this is the state of our democracy: individuals are turned away, unable to vote. Although I can’t report statistics with any empirical certainty, these individuals who are turned away seem to share demographic characteristics. Further, voters are intimidated at the polls by state and federal officials.

And, a law student questions the conditions under which she will practice law. When we can’t even vote in this democracy and the government usurps our constitutionally granted civil liberties, what consequences will standing up for my First Amendment, Fourth Amendment, and Fourteenth Amendment rights (among others) have? As my mom reminded me, the Patriot Act has already taken away many of those rights. And, if someone who esteems ‘moral values’ can throw a rock into the window of a bus in Reno ‘ a fairly white, republican city, predicted to go to Bush by all polls anyway ‘ what other acts in the name of ‘moral values’ will I endure to protect my Constitutional rights?

“cuz if you’re not trying to make something better, as far as i can tell you’re just in the way”
– ani difranco

How Neoconservatives Conquered Washington and Launched a War

The Misunderestimated Man: How Bush chose stupidity.

Time Magazine in 1984 [no, today]

November 16th, 2003

Filed under: Life and Everything Else

Tags: ,

In lovely news this week, the Memory Hole has noticed that Time magazine has pulled an article by Bush, Sr. on why it was a bad idea to try and overthrow Saddam:

I just love how things like this “happen to dissapear” soon after they start to be referenced. Last week I read an editorial that referenced the Bush aritcle, and now one week later, its gone. I'm so glad that MiniTru is looking out for our well being.