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Financial Services Committee Hearing: Whistleblowers Likened To Bounty Hunters

2:43 pm in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

A hearing titled, “Legislative Proposals to Address the Negative Consequences of the Dodd-Frank Whistleblower Provisions,” was held today. Focused on proposed legislation from Rep. Michael Grimm (R-NY), the hearing looked at how to “improve” the Dodd-Frank Act by “preserving” the internal reporting mechanisms or processes that companies have setup for whistleblowers (e.g. hotlines).

Rep. Grimm, who is likely cozying up to securities and investments companies which might fund his re-election campaign, essentially argued that the changes in Dodd-Frank make it highly likely the “floodgate” will open. Frivolous claims and costly penalties will arise from the fact that whistleblowers are now allowed to go to the SEC before reporting fraud or corruption through a company’s internal reporting system.

Marcia Narine, a witness appearing before the committee on behalf of the US Chamber of Commerce, suggested Dodd-Frank provisions aim to treat all companies like criminals and assume if employees bring a tip documents will begin to be shredded to cover up corruption or fraud. She found this to be unfair and argued that companies are being penalized for not doing their job, for not paying attention to a whistleblower that had information on Bernie Madoff and was ignored.

Kenneth Daly of the National Association of Corporate Directors (NACD) asserted that the provisions in Dodd-Frank change the “emphasis from problem solving to getting paid for problem identification.” What developed later in the hearing was this conventional wisdom that whistleblowers could now be rewarded for malfeasance.

Professor Geoffrey Rapp, author of Beyond Protection: Invigorating Incentives for Sarbanes-Oxley Corporate and Securities Fraud Whistleblower indicated that whistleblowers are only able to collect a “bounty” if information they provide to the SEC leads to enforcement action, which reach a certain dollar amount threshold. He also indicated that in cases where securities fraud and tax fraud has been reported whistleblowers have been given very low amounts of money so there is little reason to suggest they will now run to the SEC to collect in what GOP representatives seem to think is some kind of newly established lottery.

Two representatives rightfully addressed the concerns this hearing’s organization raised. Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-NY) defended whistleblowers saying, “I don’t think we should reduce whistleblowers to the status of bounty hunters,” and asking, “Who are we trying to protect: corporate interests or are we trying to protect the system and innocent people?”

Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) appeared to be visibly pissed at the premise of the hearing. She stated, “My colleagues on the other side of the aisle seem to think now that Dodd-Frank is law employees will be racing to the SEC to collect bounties.”

Throughout, one would have been forgiven for thinking the GOP leaders and three of the four witnesses thought corporate employees might as a result of Dodd-Frank transform into people who took after Boba Fett. Representatives on the committee even suggested the employees might try to see if they could get company executives to pay them more money than the SEC so they would stay quiet. Essentially, a suggestion that they might engage in extortion.

Right in the last moments of the hearing, Rep. Waters exposed the hypocrisy and absurdity underlining the hearing. She asked Rep. Scott Garrett (R-NJ) why there was language on the Financial Services Committee site urging whistleblowers to submit information on waste, fraud and abuse.


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US Businesses in Libya Made Certain They Could Operate in the Rogue State

8:06 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

The only people more terrified of the foreign mercenaries or anti-aircraft missiles or the fighter jets deployed to shell protesters than Libyans are the businessmen working for oil and gas companies in Libya. In fact, this whole democracy thing is a nightmare for companies in Libya that fought just over two years ago to ensure the market in Libya would not be restricted by an amendment that aimed to prevent companies from doing business with rogue states designated as state sponsors of terrorism.

Financial Times reports escalating violence in Libya has kept oil prices at two and a half year highs. Many of the oil ports and refineries are now shut down. International oil companies are evacuating their staff from the “world’s 12th largest oil exporter.”

All the violence, protest and political tension in Libya and the wider Middle East and North Africa seems to have led the US-Libya Business Association to make a cold calculated decision to disappear from the Internet for the time being until calm returns to Libya. RAW STORY reported on February 21 that the website of the US-Libya Business Association (USLBA) went down.

The group, which incorporated in 2005, describes itself as “the only US trade association” focused on the US and Libya.

Most recently, US-Libya Business Association Honorary Chairman Ambassador David Mack and Executive Director Charles Dittrich participated in a Middle East Institute-sponsored discussion in Washington, DC, titled, “US-Libya Relations: Surviving the WikiLeaks Controversy?” The two, who visited Libya for five days and met Libyan government officials in mid-December were scheduled to discuss their “impressions regarding the political and economic climate in Libya and the implications for both overall US-Libyan relations and the prospects for American business interests.”

A cache of the USLBA website reveals the companies affiliated with the association. Founding members include Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Hess Corporation, Marathon Oil Corporation, and Occidental Petroleum. General members include Dow Chemical, Fluor, Halliburton, Midrex Technologies, Motorola, Raytheon, Shell, United Gulf Construction, Valmont, and White & Case LLP.

Cables released by WikiLeaks on Libya so far do not explicitly name the USLBA. The cables do specifically deal with some of the member companies. They reveal that one of the chief objectives of diplomats in Libya over the past years have been to improve and ensure that the energy sector is able to have maximum commercial opportunities. This led the USLBA, the National Foreign Trade Council, the National Association of Manufacturers and the US Chamber of Commerce to urge Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to “pursue waiver authority for Section 1083 for countries that have been removed from the list of state sponsors of terrorism” on February 28, 2008.

Section 1083 of the 2008 National Defense Authorization Act (also known as the “Lautenberg Amendment”) made it easier for “plaintiffs in terrorism-related lawsuits to seize foreign government-owned assets to satisfy US court judgments.” It caused concern among US firms, especially those in the oil & gas sector, because the Libyan National Oil Corporation (NOC) informed American oil companies that this was “their problem” to be solved.

Big Oil Companies Face Possibility of Seized Assets

Libya, which had terror claims lawsuits pending, worried this could impact business. The NOC wanted to cut business altogether to avoid any problems.

A little over two weeks before the USLBA and other organizations launched their pursuit of a waiver in February, a cable was filed explicitly dealing with Section 1083 on behalf of US businesses that were to be impacted. The author of 08TRIPOLI113 explicitly addresses the risks to oil & energy companies as a result of Section 1083:

OIL PRODUCING & OIL SERVICES COMPANIES AT GREATEST RISK

-2. (SBU) U.S. companies participating in joint venture partnerships with Libyan national oil companies assess themselves as being at greatest risk under section 1083 of the National Defense Authorization Act. This list includes Occidental, ConocoPhillips, Marathon and Amerada Hess. These companies are involved in jointly developing Libyan oilfields and in extracting and lifting crude oil. The three U.S. partners in the Oasis Group (Marathon, ConocoPhillips and Amerada Hess, who are partnered with Libyan state firm Waha) pay $2 million/month to the GOL in operating fees, and $100 million/month in taxes and royalties. Company reps assess that these payments — as well as jointly-held facilities and equipment — would be exposed to court-ordered attachment and seizure under section 1083. U.S. oil service companies, such as Halliburton, may also be exposed, according to local company reps, and most service companies have frozen further expansion until the risks are clarified. Company reps have expressed concern to us that their GOL partner companies would view any U.S. court-ordered attachments of payments or equipment as a breach of contract, potentially leading to termination of their work in Libya.

3.(SBU) U.S. companies engaged exclusively in the exploration (as distinct from production), such as Chevron and ExxonMobil, assess themselves to be subject to less risk for the moment, since they make no regular payments to the GOL that would be subject to attachment (the signing bonuses agreed in connection with winning their Exploration and Production Sharing (EPSA) agreements have already been paid to the GOL, and day-to-day exploration work is contracted out to largely non-GOL entities). Nevertheless, company reps say that they are concerned about the longer-term impact of this legislation on their future plans in Libya.

Shukri Ghanem, Libya’s NOC Chairman, reacts swiftly to the recent legislation and instructs “all international partner companies to cease conducting transactions in U.S. dollars.” Through contacts with US oil companies, US officials find out that NOC would like to “reduce its exposure to U.S. courts, since dollar transactions are routed through the U.S. financial system.” Furthermore, the cable shows that US companies believe the legislation could “find” the companies “in breach of their contractual obligations if US courts disrupt their montly payment of operational fees to the NOC.”

Leader and Guide of the Revolution Threatens Retaliation

08TRIPOLI214 , a cable filed on March 12, 2008, features Leader Gaddafi giving oil companies a “browbeating” for the fact that the passage of Section 1083 is coinciding with litigation over a settlement to compensate victims of the UTA Flight 772 bombing.

U.S. OIL COMPANIES TREATED TO BROWBEATING 2.(C) ConocoPhillips CEO Jim Mulva was summoned to Sirte for a half-hour “browbeating” by Leader Muammar al-Qadhafi during his visit to Libya on/about February 24. Country manager Page Maxson told P/E Chief that the entire conversation focused on al-Qadhafi’s “personal ire” about the so-called “Lautenberg Amendment” (section 1083 of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2008) and the USD 6 billion award against Libya in the UTA bombing case, and al-Qadhafi’s view that Libya had not been sufficiently compensated for its decision to give up WMD and renounce terrorism. Al-Qadhafi passed a copy of his recent letter to the President on the subject (ref B) to Mulva. Telling Mulva that he and his fellow U.S. oil company CEOs needed to engage members of the U.S. Congress and the Administration on the matter, al-Qadhafi threatened to dramatically reduce Libya’s oil production and/or expel out U.S. oil and gas companies. Al-Qadhafi claimed Libya would rather “keep its oil in the ground” and wait for a more favorable overseas investment climate than continue high levels of production in an environment in which sizeable portions of its oil-related assets could be seized.

3.(C) In a related development, Exxon-Mobil Country Manager Phil Goss told P/E Chief that Shukri Ghanem, Chairman of Libya’s National Oil Corporation, had chastised him during a meeting on February 25 for nearly an hour on the “dire political signal” represented by the Lautenberg Amendment and the UTA judgment. Ghanem told Goss that U.S. oil and gas companies should “tell Washington” that Libya was serious in its threat to “significantly curtail” its oil production as a means to “penalize the U.S.” for Lautenberg and UTA. According to Goss, Ghanem — a U.S.-educated former Prime Minister — was emotional in insisting that Libya “would not tolerate” Lautenberg and UTA without taking some retaliatory measures. Privately, Goss questioned whether the GOL could really afford to significantly curb oil output at a time when it is making massive investments in infrastructure as part of the run-up to the 40th anniversary of the military coup that brought al-Qadhafi to power on September 1, 2009. Stressing the erratic nature of decisionmaking in the GOL, Goss was careful not to rule out the possibility that Libya could choose “to do something stupid”.

Days later, a discussion to focus on three major outstanding claims cases in US venues: Pan Am 103, LaBelle, and UTA is urged. Plans to settle and use the high-profile case to “find a mechanism to mitigate the effects of Section 1083″ are made by Libya and US officials. This indicates that the US was likely seeking to use the power of Section 1083 to force a pay out from the Libya government before finding a loophole for US-Libya business relations to return to normal.

New Freedom to Establish Position in a Lucrative Market

By August, the two countries managed to come to an agreement over Section 1083 and the outstanding claims cases in US courts. The reaction to the agreement was favorable. 08TRIPOLI666 summarizes:

Reaction among ordinary Libyans and well-informed contacts to news that the U.S. and Libya finalized a comprehensive claims settlement agreement has been enthusiastic. Coverage in state-owned media has been positive but limited, in part to minimize questions about the parameters of the compensation package and potential criticism from old guard elements. Some informed contacts have characterized the agreement as a “grand opening” in U.S.-Libyan bilateral relations, as compared to the “soft opening” between the re-establishment of diplomatic ties in 2004 and the signing of the claims agreement in 2008. There are high expectations in some quarters that the U.S. will seek to capitalize on the new tenor of the relationship to press Muammar al-Qadhafi to open further political space – particularly with respect to respect for human rights, freedom of the press and an expanded role for civil society – in what remains a tightly-controlled society.

Additionally, the diplomat who authored this cable comments, “There is also the belief that expanded political and economic engagement with the U.S. and the West, which is expected to accelerate with the lifting of the Lautenberg Amendment and potential asset seizure, will help solidify internal Libyan reforms undertaken in recent years. Many Libyans hope that expanded engagement with the U.S. will include U.S. advocacy for political reform and greater respect for human rights. A key challenge for al-Qadhafi will be to temper expectations that fully normalized relations with the U.S. will prompt an immediate shift in the nature of the regime and its reluctance to move quickly on political reform.”

Sec. of State Rice Travels to Libya to Seal the Deal

On September 5, 2008, Secretary of State Rice traveled to Libya. One of her key objectives was to help come up with a solution to this Lautenberg Amendment kerfuffle. A “scenesetter” was prepared for Rice so she could be prepared to help mediate this conflict over US company operations in Libya. It reads:

10. (C) Libya’s economy is almost entirely dependent on oil and gas. Libya has the largest proven oil reserves (43.6 billion barrels) and the third largest proven natural gas reserves (1.5 billion cubic meters) on the African continent. Libya currently produces about 1.7 million barrels/day of oil; only Angola and Nigeria produce more in Africa. Oil and gas infrastructure suffered during the sanctions period. The lifting of sanctions has opened the way for new exploration and improved production. New technology and refined management techniques introduced by international oil companies (IOC’s) are a key part of Libya’s plan to increase oil production to 3.0 million barrels/day by 2013. Most of Libya’s oil and natural gas are exported to Europe – Italy, Germany, Spain and France are key customers. Major U.S. energy companies active in Libya include Amerada Hess, ConocoPhillips, Marathon, Chevron, ExxonMobil and Occidental. Joint ventures involving U.S. companies currently account for about 510,000 barrels/day of Libya’s 1.7 million barrels/day production. A large number of small to mid-sized U.S. oil and gas services companies are also working in Libya.

11. (C) After years of isolation under sanctions and limited spending by the GOL, Libya is currently in the midst of an economic boom, partly driven by a desire to complete large-scale infrastructure projects as tangible symbols of the regime’s achievements in advance of the 40th anniversary of al-Qadhafi’s revolution on September 1, 2009. High oil prices have helped fuel the outlays. Western companies, eager to establish a position in what is expected to be a lucrative market, are arriving in sizeable numbers. A temporary pause prompted by adoption of the Lautenberg Amendment in January 2008 and concern about asset seizure is coming to an end on news of the comprehensive claims agreement. XXXXXXXXXXXX Despite great promise, Libya remains a challenging business and investment environment. Contradictory regulations, inefficient government bureaucracy, limited human capacity and rampant corruption (in 2007, Transparency International ranked Libya 133rd out of 180 countries in terms of being most corrupt) are significant challenges that could hamper greater investment.

The Washington Consensus think tank, the Council on Foreign Relations, notes Libya was designated a state sponsor of terrorism in the early 1970s after “Gaddafi established terrorist training camps on Libyan soil, provided terrorist groups with arms, and offered safe haven to terrorists” from groups like the Irish Republican Army, Spain’s ETA, Italy’s Red Brigades, and Palestinian groups such as the Palestine Liberation Organization.

The Pan Am Flight 103 bombing in 1988, the bombing of a French passenger jet over Niger in 1989, and the Libya-sponsored bombing of a Berlin disco that killed two US soldiers all helped keep Libya on the list. The Libya government was also believed to be in pursuit of WMDs.

In the late 1990s, the Gaddafi regime began to take steps that led the US to alter the designation. It began to offer to surrender its WMD programs and cut ties to terror groups. It finally agreed to compensate victims of the Pan Am 103 bombing and also sent a letter to the UN Security Council taking responsibility for the attack.

Most importantly, the past ten years have seen the world close in on peak oil (if that point has not been passed already). Libya, in the past few years, has begun to privatize and open up its resources to development and exploitation by foreign companies. US companies that are a part of USLBA have greatly benefited from measures, which US diplomats have been keen to advocate for in meetings with Libyan government officials.

The last thing USLBA companies want right now is to see revolutionary change that leads Libya to no longer be opened for business .

Photo from the NY Daily News

Democrats, Obama Cave to Corporations Unwilling to Close Tax Loophole to Fund 9/11 Responders’ Healthcare

10:29 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola


The first responders and families of those who were first to act show support for the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act. by TalkMediaNews


Add healthcare for 9/11 responders to a long list of concessions or outright capitulation to corporations that has taken place as a result of Democrats and President Obama being unwilling to take a stand against Republicans fronting for corporate executives and the top 2% in America.

The Associated Press reports the pay mechanism for funding health care for 9/11 responders has been changed to appease Republicans, who branded the original bill for 9/11 responders as something that included a “corporate tax increase.” Instead of closing a tax loophole, the bill will now use fees on “foreign firms that get U.S. government procurement contracts,” “fees on certain firms that rely on H-1B and L-1 visas,” and “fees on travelers who don’t present visa travel documents at U.S. airports,” to finance the bill.

It was too much for President Obama or Democrats to come out and boldly defend a bill that would have “required multinational companies incorporated in tax havens to pay taxes on income earned in the U.S.” It was too much to take this issue and say that corporations should be willing to honor the sacrifices made by 9/11 responders by paying for this bill by closing a tax loophole.

Jon Stewart has artfully skewered Republicans on their traitorous abandonment of 9/11 responders. He has demonstrated through several segments how Republicans should no longer be allowed to exploit 9/11. Their failure to defend 9/11 responders here means they will no longer be credible at all when they call for something to be done in the name of 9/11. But, he hasn’t really pointed out the lack of push from President Obama or Democrats on this (except for in a remark to Mike Huckabee, who appeared on the show right after 9/11 responders appeared on Thursday, December 16th).

Since August this year, President Obama has been, for the most part, silent on healthcare for 9/11 responders. When the bill passed the House, he could have held a press conference like he did when he was moving the recent tax cut deal through Congress. But, he did not use the power of the pulpit he has as president to make a speech calling on the Senate to support the bill for health care for 9/11 responders in its current form.

Only recently did he agree to halt the delay of funding for a research study that would end doubt amongst officials and the media on whether 9/11 responders are actually being diagnosed with cancer, heart disease, and other diseases or disorders because of their service in the aftermath of 9/11. The New York Daily News reported in October, “President Obama has quietly forked over millions to study what’s killing 9/11   responders   – after refusing to pay up earlier this year. City officials had expected to get the cash last spring for an ongoing $12 million program, which includes tracking people in the 9/11 health registry and studying the alarming rates of cancer in Ground Zero workers. Federal bean counters initially held up funding for this year’s $4.9 million outlay, saying they were auditing the effort.

Except for Democrats from New York and other states nearby like New Jersey, there has been little leadership from the Democratic Party on this issue. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi finally got a bill to give health care to 9/11 responders passed in the last week of September. Senator Harry Reid has done very little, it seems, to get the bill passed. It could have been brought to a vote every day, and, each time it failed, statements could have been made by Democrats to show how Republicans were betraying the 9/11 responders.

Media coverage, as Stewart pointed out on his show, has been largely non-existent. In contrast to the “Ground Zero Mosque” story earlier this year, there has been no interest in this story whipped up by media pundits on Fox News or other cable/network news outlets. That does not mean coverage of the 9/11 responders hasn’t briefly taken place on news shows. It means this issue has not been turned into something that echoes around the country until elected officials step up and address the needs of 9/11 responders.

Why might this be? Does this have anything to do with the working or lower class backgrounds of the 9/11 responders seeking assistance?

Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson spotlight “unrepresentative democracy” in their recent book, Winner Take-All Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer–And Turned Its Back on the Middle Class. They cite a study by two professors who worked separately at Princeton University, Larry Bartels and Martin Gilens. Bartels and Gilens studied the “correspondence between what politicians do and what their constituents of differing economic backgrounds say they want them to do in opinion polls.”

Bartels’ study found that “wealthier Americans” are more likely to earn responses on issues from politicians in Washington than “less affluent” Americans. Bartels looked “at how closely aligned with voters U.S. senators were on key votes in the late 1980s and early 1990s.” He found a “pretty high degree of congruence between senators’ positions and the opinions of their constituents–at least when those constituents” were in the “top third of the income distribution.” (The study by Bartels also found that when the poorest people supported a policy senators were actually less likely to vote for it.)

Gilens took the investigation to another level and collected “survey questions fielded since the 1980s” that asked people “whether they wanted government policy to change.” He broke the population down into “income groups” and found that when policy changes had a good chance of becoming law, there was a huge amount of support for that change from those at the top. Hacker and Pierson write of the study, “When the opinions of the poor diverged from those of the well-off, the opinions of the poor ceased to have any apparent influence.”

There are virtually no opinion polls in circulation on whether 9/11 responders should get healthcare or not, but one can imagine only a small, small percentage being opposed to such a measure.

What makes this hard for the wealthy or top 2% to support is how it would be paid for. Since the 1970s, business has worked together to protect the interests of all businesses in America and the tax loophole, if closed, would have significantly harmed business (at least if you ask lobbyists for business interests in America).

Would Americans vote “yes” in a poll asking if the closing of a tax loophole for corporations should be used to fund healthcare for 9/11 responders? That would likely show a key division in American society, with forty to sixty percent saying corporations have a duty to American society that would be fulfilled through helping 9/11 responders by closing the loophole or with forty to sixty percent saying political leaders should not play politics with this bill and try to fund it by pushing for a “controversial” end to a loophole for corporations.

As corporations and the rich continue to accrue more subsidies or handouts and more policy change victories from government, there will be less and less funding available for measures, which the majority of Americans would support. At some point, corporations and the rich have to be put in a position where they pay for the freedom, services, and environment they enjoy in America. Otherwise, the lower classes will be asked to make sacrifices to fund measures like this and will be badgered into giving certain “causes” funding out of “charity” and “support.”

The ones who should have been badgered and coerced into funding those whom they privately if not publicly have celebrated are corporate executives, business interests or the top 2%, which pushed Republicans to oppose this bill and who are most capable of sparing some change for 9/11 responders.

The bill will likely pass now that it no longer requires a tax loophole be closed. It wasn’t enough for those at the top to get breaks in the tax cut deal. They had to protect a break they’ve been getting from being taken away because men and women, who responded after 9/11, are dying of cancer and other diseases. And, as with the tax cut deal, those at the top will continue to take and keep what they think they should be able to keep and not give up so long as Democrats especially liberals take minimal action to resist concessions to corporate power.

CA Gubernatorial Candidate Arrested at Debate: So Much for Open, Free and Fair Elections

8:09 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola


Candidate for CA Governor, Laura Wells, is arrested Tuesday night after trying to attend a debate she was excluded from. by Polidoc Productions

* Babette Hogan of Polidoc Productions contributed to this report.

A candidate for governor gets arrested for disorderly conduct for disrupting a debate from which he had been excluded. Candidates for the Senate organize a protest outside an event organized by a taxpayer funded organization that refused to allow them to participate. Candidates for the House aiming to pressure an incumbent to agree to debate them face to face go on a hunger strike. And, paid operatives go throughout the country filing lawsuits to intentionally bankrupt candidates’ campaigns and keep them off the ballot. Sound like stories from a Third World country America is trying to teach democracy?

These are all incidents, which have taken place during election cycles in the past decade, and they all happened in America. These incidents involved candidates, who in a democracy should have had the right to run in an open, free and fair election, but certain players conspired to keep these candidates from participating freely.

Despite a recent Gallup poll indicating that fifty-eight percent of Americans think a "third party is needed in this country," a Midterm Election Poll done by the The Hill this month that indicated fifty-four percent would like "an alternative to the Democrats and Republicans" and a CNN poll conducted in February that showed sixty-four percent of all Americans "like the idea of a third party that would run against the Democrats and Republicans," incidents against candidates running in the 2010 midterm election continue to persist. One of the most recent incidents is the arrest of California gubernatorial candidate Laura Wells.

CA Gubernatorial Debate Protest Ends in Arrest of Green Party Candidate | A Report from Polidoc Productions on Vimeo.

Running for election on the Green Party ticket, Wells was excluded from a gubernatorial debate, which only Democratic candidate Jerry Brown and Republican candidate Meg Whitman were allowed to participate in. Libertarian Party candidate Dale Ogden, American Independent Party candidate Chelene Nightingale, and Carlos Alvarez of the Peace and Freedom Party were also excluded.

Debate organizers asserted, as most organizers of private debates tend to do, that Wells was excluded because she was not polling 10% or more. This would be an acceptable standard to set if it weren’t for the fact that other states, as Green Party Watch points out, have allowed Greens to debate without double-digit percentages in push polls. Arizona has allowed Green candidate for the Senate Jerry Joslyn to debate John McCain, Massachusetts has let Green gubernatorial candidate Jill Stein and two other candidates debate Governor Deval Patrick, and New York has chosen to include Green candidate Howie Hawkins in an upcoming gubernatorial debate that will take place on October 18th.

The San Jose Mercury News reported that Wells "attempted to enter Dominican University’s Angelico Hall at 5:20 p.m. when she presented a ticket that police said was not issued to her." They reported, "Wells refused to cooperate with campus security when they requested she surrender [her] ticket" and "became argumentative and refused to leave the area"even after she was warned that if she persisted she would be subject to a citizen’s arrest because she was on private property." Wells was placed under "citizen’s arrest" by private security until San Rafael police officers arrived to escort her away from the scene.

Contrary to what private security and police said, spokesman for Wells, Marnie Glickman, told the San Francisco Chronicle, "the two had tickets to the debate and were entering Angelico Hall, when they were pulled aside by authorities" and "were told that they could not enter because" Wells was a candidate running for governor in California.

Wells was contacted and said she believes she was excluded because she would talk about how "the richest of the rich mega-corporations and individuals are not paying taxes while the rest of [Californians] are" and because she supports the creation of a State Bank in California "to reduce the influence of Wall Street." And, she also said the debate organizers "know the public is disgusted with the two Titanic Parties" so they have chosen to keep the doors shut as tightly as they can.

A statement from Wells posted on her campaign site Tuesday night after her arrest asserted:

"…The polls are a fraud against the voters. I received a letter that congratulated me on my primary win and invited me to the debate, if I received 10% support among California likely voters. They didn’t tell me what the survey question was. If it were, "Do you want debates with only the Republican and Democratic candidates?" a huge majority of voters, especially this year, would say, "No!" But a couple of my supporters were surveyed and they told me the survey question: they were asked whether they preferred Jerry Brown or Meg Whitman. Not even other. And then when the pollsters report the results, they still didn’t say other, they say undecided. As if the only choices were Pepsi and Coke, not something we might like that’s healthy, like crystal clear water, or juice, smoothies or red wine!…" [emphasis not added]

When contacted and asked about how the government and other organizations make it harder for candidates to run who are not Democrats or Republicans, Wells explained that a " media subsidy of free media is given to the Titanics, as well as the Tea Partiers, and not to the independent political parties like the Green Party." She singled this out as a "key ingredient" for why candidates are kept out and how people continue to be disempowered and discouraged.

Charged with "trespassing," Wells must now appear in court on November 2nd, Election Day, which makes the bipartisan sham being perpetrated on California voters seem even more deliberate.

Standard operating procedure for Democrats and Republicans usually involves doing everything to make sure independents or candidates from other parties do not turn into a non-factor. As Independent Political Report has covered:

• In April an Independent candidate for governor of Vermont was arrested for disorderly conduct for disrupting a debate from which he had been excluded.

• In June, Libertarian candidate for US Senate in Florida, Alex Snitker, crashed an event from which he had been excluded by the Florida Press Association.

• Earlier this month, supporters of Arkansas Senate candidates John Gray of the Green Party and Independent Trevor Drown protested outside an event organized by a taxpayer funded organization which refused to allow them to participate.

• This week, the Socialist and Constitution Party candidates for US Senate in Ohio launched a petition drive to ensure that debates and forums will be open and inclusive.

• Finally, the Democratic and Libertarian candidates for US House in CA-52 recently ended a hunger strike aiming to pressure the incumbent Republican to agree to debate his rivals face to face.

And, Rich Whitney, a Green Party candidate for governor in Illinois, is not only battling exclusion from an ABC-TV televised debate sponsored by the League of Women Voters and the Illinois Broadcasters Association, but also the painful reality that his name is misspelled "Rich Whitey" on electronic-voting machines in "nearly two dozen wards–about half in predominantly African-American areas." There is no indication that this misspelling is some dirty trick, but what makes it worse is the fact that the Chicago Board of Elections contends the problem is something that cannot be corrected by Election Day.

In spite of attempts to handicap candidates from campaigning as easily as Democrats and Republicans, there remain signs of hope for third party or Independent candidates hoping to do well in this election.

Arkansas Green candidate John Gray, running for the U.S. Senate, appeared in the first televised debate for a statewide office in Arkansas that includes a Green nominee on October 13th. Jill Stein, Green-Rainbow Party candidate was included in a gubernatorial debate in Massachusetts. And, the Chicago Tribune, a well-established newspaper, endorsed Jeremy Karpen, a Green Party candidate for state representative in Illinois.

Jesse Johnson, a Mountain Party candidate for governor in West Virginia who has been endorsed by veteran Democrat Ken Hechler, is doing so well that he might end up preventing Democratic Governor Joe Manchin from winning a seat in the U.S. Senate, which he hopes to snag so he can take on Obama and fire holes with his rifle through climate change legislation

LeAlan Jones, a Green Party candidate in an increasingly toxic race between Democratic candidate Alexi Giannoulias and Republican candidate Mark Kirk, may end up earning enough votes to give Kirk a win. Independent candidate for governor in Massachusetts, Tim Cahill, a former Democrat, may end up tipping the election negatively for incumbent Governor Deval Patrick. And, perhaps best of all, Green Party candidate for the Senate in South Carolina, Tom Clements, is polling better than deadbeat and possible GOP-plant Democrat Alvin Greene in a race against incumbent Republican Senator Jim Demint.

Of course, no candidate is entitled to votes. Every candidate has to win votes in order to win elections. Spoiling only happens if the two most prominent parties fail to capture the interest of one hundred percent of the electorate, which given recent polls demonstrating public interest in third party candidates is highly unlikely.

If any candidate "spoils" an election, it will not be because he or she recklessly chose to run in an election but rather because America is plagued by winner-take-all elections, which make it precarious and impractical for Americans to truly support more choice and more voices in elections.

More and more Americans are sympathetic to remarks like this one made by former Independent Governor of Minnesota Jesse Ventura recently:

"…I don’t distinguish between the two [parties] because [politics is] very much like pro wrestling. You [give] interviews on TV like you hate each other, to draw crowds and attention and make money. But behind closed doors, you’ll go out to dinner with each other. Well, the Democrats and Republicans are the same way. They’re not adversaries; they just make believe they are to the American public."

The differences get smaller. Cynicism among voters escalates. The people’s tolerance for political shenanigans, which limit democracy, decrease.

As one user commented in response to Wells’ arrest, "I guess I will play spoiler and vote for Laura Wells for Governor. If she cannot debate or even attend the debate the whole concept of this being a democracy is a farce."

*Additional Note: Independent Political Report reports the problem with Rich Whitney’s misspelled name will be corrected after all. Please note, had this been an issue with a Democratic or Republican candidate there would have been zero hesitation on the part of the Board of Elections. But, since Whitney is a Green Party candidate, the Board thought it could get away with having voters see his name appear as "Rich Whitey" on Election Day.

Movement to End Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining Raises Hell in D.C.

10:38 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola


Hundred activists sit in front of the White House demanding the practice of mountaintop removal coal mining be abolished. by Kevin Gosztola

*See end of article for video montage of events.

Over a thousand Appalachian residents and activists participated in a rally and march in Washington, D.C. on Monday, September 27th. The action was the culmination of a multi-day convergence that had been put together by a coalition known as Appalachia Rising, which organized the activity to advance the movement to abolish mountaintop removal coal mining in the United States.

Those organizing understood in order to wage comprehensive action to end mountaintop removal all the players involved had to be sent a message. Plans were made to visit regulators, corporations making the practice possible, and President Obama, who has the power to end this practice once and for all.

Just before the rally, a number of activists staged an action at the Army Corps of Engineers building (the Army Corps of Engineers has the power to give permits for mountaintop removal projects). Nine young people went into the Department of Interior Office building and issued a series of demands for Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar. They refused to leave and staged a sit-in. And, at PNC’s flagship location in D.C., Reverend Billy and the Life After Shopping Choir, Earth Quakers, and RAN Chicago all had activists inside who engaged in a sit-in inside the branch.

As the march made it’s way to the White House, it stopped at the EPA building and at the PNC branch, where activists were still sitting in. Those marching chanted, "EPA do your job," and outside the bank, which is now the top funder of mountaintop removal projects, "PNC, you’re killing our communities." One man, who presumably works for the EPA, laughed at those who had paid the agency he works for a visit. And, at the PNC location, bank managers and security detail expressed frustration that police could only arrest 4 people inside the building because they had to take care of the major action that was about to take place in front of the White House.

Led by key leaders of the movement like Teri Blanton and Larry Gibson, the march entered Lafayette Park and congregated and then took off across Pennsylvania Avenue to line up on the sidewalk outside the fence surrounding the White House. One group of Appalachians went to the White House gate and attempted to deliver a letter. Another group went in the opposite direction. And then, the two joined each other in front of the White House.

In rainy weather, one hundred people sat down on the wet sidewalk and were cheered. They began to chant and sing as they waited for police to give their three warnings and then begin the arrests.

A bus that read, "This Bus is Running on Clean Natural Gas," menacingly sat ready for taking away those who were about to engage in civil disobedience and indicated just how important it is to, as the director of Gasland, Josh Fox, told filmmakers and activists at the convergence, merge the movements against mountaintop removal and natural gas drilling. Police vans were also brought to take the activists away.

The police were slow, arresting people one by one. This was likely because they wanted the hundreds of people who were standing behind police caution tape to leave and thought by prolonging the arrests support for those who were making them do extra work would dwindle. However, many remained and, in fact, walked under the caution tape multiple times giving food and water to anyone who was making a small sacrifice for the people of Appalachia.

Monday’s actions started on Freedom Plaza with a rally that featured outspoken Appalachian residents from the movement and others.

Maria Gunnoe, an organizer from West Virginia who has earned awards for opposing the practice of mountaintop removal in Appalachia, declares that Appalachians will not back down. She delivered a message that the destructive practice is stealing our country’s homeland security.

Gunnoe explained, "The youth is so knowledgeable of mountaintop removal and its impacts on their water and their land. Now, we have a government that thinks that they can regulate blowing up mountains. You cannot regulate destruction." And, she talked about being interviewed by people from other countries who don’t get how the government in West Virginia expects Appalachians to blow up their mountains so they can have jobs.

Hansen said, "We’re gathered here today to draw attention to the failure of our government to protect the rights of the people and the failure to provide equal protections of the laws. People have suffered a long train of abuses invariably with the same objective: to enrich the few at the expense of the many." And, he added, "Our government allows and contributes to a great hoax perpetrated on the public by monied interests aimed at confusing the public about the reality of climate change. We are in danger of becoming the land for the rich and the home of the bribe."

Ken Hechler, the ninety-seven year old principal architect of the Coal Mine and Health Safety Act of 1969 and a man who ran against Governor Joe Manchin in the special election to fill the late Senator Robert Byrd’s seat because he wanted to draw attention to the devastating impact of mountaintop removal mining in West Virginia, sent a letter to be read at the rally. Mari-Lynn Evans, executive producer of the documentary film Coal Country, read the letter.

 Hechler’s letter explained, "I have been a fighter my entire life. I fought a world war. I disposed the very Nazis who I faced in that theater of war. I’ve advised presidents. I’ve served in the U.S. Congress and I marched with Martin Luther King for the rights of oppressed citizens. In my ninety-seven years, I’ve seen people sacrifice and be sacrificed. We together take up the fight for our history, one that would be and has been endangered by historical revisionists armed now with heavy equipment called the coal industry. 

He called upon the second battle of Blair Mountain to be a "focal point of the movement" and drew attention to the history of Blair Mountain as a key example of how the coal industry wishes to obliterate any symbols from labor history that might energize people against mountaintop removal. He called himself a hellraiser and then he asked the audience to "get political" and endorsed a candidate running in the special election to fill Byrd’s seat:

"Ask yourself to step up and don the mantle that I wear hell raiser. If you believe in this struggle, then it is time to double your efforts. If you don’t like to get political, then it’s time to understand that the very circumstances of your life is political. So, do it now. Get political. You must realize the power to change is not only within your grasp but it is to your responsibility to your generation and the one to follow

To exert this power and citizenship, I have chosen to ignore my own political party and I’ve endorsed a fighter, Jesse Johnson, whose running for Senate in West Virginia. Jesse is a fighter, he too is a hellraiser, and he is the one to carry this baton. I have deemed him the ultimate solution in this fight."

Johnson, of the Mountain Party in West Virginia, came up on the stage and, after leading people in a song, declared, "They want to erase the history of labor in this nation. And, they want to remove it for a little bit of coal and then another mountain and then another mountain and then another mountain." He added, "They take the miners out of the mines. They are killing the jobs. They are poisoning our waters at their very source."

During the march, Lorelei Scarbro, an activist born and raised in the Coal River Valley, declared while standing on the steps of the EPA building, "We have asked over and over and over for Lisa Jackson [head of the EPA] to get out of her comfy little office up here in this building and fly to Appalachia and see what’s going on. [We have asked her to] knock on the doors of the people in our communities, listen to their stories, look in their eyes when you can tell that they’re drinking poison water and they are dying and then after you do all that then you have to believe us and when you believe us you’re gonna have to change it."

Many marching wanted to believe that the Obama Administration would listen to them. They chanted, "Yes you can! Yes you can!" and talked about wanting change they could believe in today, which means friends and family who are suffering and dying would stop suffering illness and death because of what the coal industry and political leaders failure to treat Appalachians like the human beings they are.

Hansen, who was arrested during the action, indicated how this action and future actions might help finally end mountaintop removal. He suggested those arrested not beg the courts to forgive them for violating the law and instead ask the courts "to order the government to present plans to phase down fossil-fuel emissions at a pace dictated by the science, a pace stabilizing climate, preserving nature and a future for young people, providing young people equal protections of the laws."

Appalachians face some of the worst symptoms of capitalism in America. In states like West Virginia, the economy is a mono-economy, which means everything is defined by one industry–coal.

Residents are treated like sub-humans. The coal industry fights them as they try to tell their stories. The political leaders refuse to listen or take seriously the destruction Appalachians face. They, instead, are whores for the industry, taking donations from coal and so-called "friends of coal" to help them get elected and re-elected. And, regulators have not the fortitude or courage to act in defense of the humans suffering from weapons of mass destruction in Appalachia. They choose to instead send patsies to share coal industry-produced pseudo-science with students in high schools and tell students that sludge ponds from mining are not really toxic and that certain elements polluting the air, water and environment are not to be worried about because they are on the Periodic Table of Elements.

The system refuses to respond to Appalachians so, therefore, it is up to Applachians and others to stand up and fight. Just like people stood up to fight for women’s suffrage and civil rights for African-Americans, the people of America must fight.

The following is a video montage of Monday’s action:

A Failure to Bring Hope and Change Will Create an Enthusiasm Gap Every Time

9:44 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

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A not very happy looking crowd of Tea Party protesters listening to a Member of Congress. Tea Party protest, March 21, 2010, U.S. House of Representatives. By theqspeaks]

The media’s legitimization of fringe lunatic Terry Jones last week, the man with a history of actions only people sympathetic to the Westboro Baptist Church would support, had one effect that Democrats can be thankful for: it pushed aside talk of an "enthusiasm gap" between the Republican base and the Democratic base, which many think will produce big wins for the GOP in November. At least, that’s the conventional wisdom or meme the media is promoting.

Talk of an "enthusiasm gap" has returned. One recent example from TPM: "The Enthusiasm Gap: How Dispassionate Dems and Fired-Up GOPers Are Defining 2010."

On September 7th, Rachel Maddow said on her show, "The most important national dynamic heading into this year’s elections is the economy. The most important political dynamic is the yawning chasm that is the enthusiasm gap between the Republican base — they’re highly motivated — and the Democratic base, which hasn’t really been motivated at all." Joan Walsh of Salon.com said on "The Ed Show" that same day, there’s "this huge enthusiasm gap" and referenced a Public Policy Polling poll that found in five battleground states, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida, Illinois, Missouri, the Democrats "would be either way ahead or roughly tied if Democrats were turning out in the numbers that they did in 2008. But as of right now, they are not."

The day before, Democratic strategist and CNN contributor Donna Brazile said on "The Situation Room," Democrats "have a large enthusiasm gap," but the base consists of people who come to the party, sit around, look, get a drink, and then move. In other words, Brazile contends Democrats have consciously chosen to be inert while Republicans are on the move. That’s a convenient argument for avoiding any discussion on the reality that much of the base is fed up with how failure or, in some cases, refusal to take on corporate and special interests has become a Democratic Party ritual over the past years.

Here’s an incomplete list that reinforces the idea that the Obama Administration and the Democratic Party have failed miserably and should not be surprised their base is unexcited: initially failing to organize against Republicans looking to obstruct extensions of unemployment benefits, appointing Petraeus to replace McChrystal in Afghanistan and continuing a war in a country often regarded as "the graveyard of empires," committing to a permanent troop presence in Iraq, contributing to culture which led to the BP oil disaster by indicating renewed support for offshore drilling one month before the disaster, keeping the option of a national public-financed healthcare system off the table as Republicans cried foul about a socialist takeover of healthcare and talked death panels, refusing to advance the minor reform that labor unions have desired, the Employee Free Choice Act (pretty much the only real demand they have had for Obama), continuing the use of rendition, military commissions, or, in some cases, the denial of habeas corpus rights to detainees, refusing to investigate torture or release photos of the abuse that soldiers inflicted on detainees, failing to close Guantanamo, putting the Consumer Financial Protection Agency under the administration of the Federal Reserve and stalling on the appointment of Elizabeth Warren.

De facto Birther Newt Gingrich and other political leaders would like Americans to believe "the radicalism of the Obama team and Pelosi and Reid has, in a strange way, depressed [Democrats] and truly aroused both independents and Republicans in a way that [one] couldn’t have predicted two years ago." But, that ignores the way that the base, which has traditionally given the Democratic Party the energy it needs to win, works.

See, unlike Tea Partiers, who promote a neutered brand of white nationalism ("We’re taking our country back!"), the majority of the Democratic Party’s base lives in what one could call the reality-based world. They normally do not fail to remember that they need to rely on what they see, hear, smell, taste and touch in order to make logical decisions about what to do in the world that surrounds them. They, unlike many, can see a document like a birth certificate posted on the Internet, and lay to rest all notions that the first African-American president of the United States is a Kenyan. On the other hand, Tea Partiers, who are responsible for creating the enthusiasm gap between Republicans and Democrats, do not need their senses. They only need their gut instincts (you know, what George W. Bush relied on to assert Saddam Hussein had WMDs), prejudices and cosmic or religious ideas, which human beings can never really prove or disprove because they are abstract.

Americans who fill the National Mall for "Restoring Honor" or 9/12 Project rallies, those that pay $225 for a meet-and-greet event with Glenn Beck, will explicitly argue Sharia Law is creeping into America and Obama, a Muslim or weak Christian, is helping to make this possible. They will argue a communist or socialist takeover has been unfolding since Obama’s election. Again, these are abstract and especially toxic notions that the Republican Party is lucky to be able to trot out as the 2010 Election approaches. They are pseudo-notions or sociopathic ideas that people who think and read for themselves and pause before speaking will never find reasonable.

The Democratic Party, except for perhaps the ideas that the Democratic Party is responsive to public pressure and in governance Democrats are more than slightly different from Republicans, don’t have celestial or preposterous ideas they can roll out to whip their base into a frenzy. They do, however, have actual facts that prove Republicans are preposterous and harmful to the future of this country. That fear can never match the fear of a Manchurian Muslim President engineering a communist/socialist/fascist takeover that is restarting American civilization at Year Zero, but it can motivate Democratic voters to participate in get out the vote (GOTV) activities that will help produce Democratic Party wins in November.

The problem is the Democratic Party is gradually losing its power to enslave people with their logic that the Republicans are much more evil than them. That idea can only work for so long before people abandon ideals on collective society that push them to vote Democrat and decide to revert to a troglodyte state of mind and vote Republican. It can only work for so long before people resign themselves to the fact that they will try to survive on their own and hope they can perhaps get lower taxes and further remove themselves from feeding the system.

Also, more and more Americans do not want to play the game at all. Politicians are seeing more and more people leave the Democratic Party and even the Republican Party. They are designating themselves as "independents." The media and politicians can attempt to define the politics of "independents," but the most one can say is they are no longer interested in being Democrats or Republicans but still recognize they should vote in elections.

The number of people willing to "dump Obama" is swelling. But, that animosity will likely fail to translate into any meaningful movement (for right now). A combination of messages like, "Give Obama a Chance," "Republicans are way worse," "Progressives willing to sell out the many to have their way right now are no better than Republicans," "Obama was given a catastrophe, now we have half a catastrophe," "Corporate Democrats aren’t generally as evil as Republicans," "Women, non-Christians, minorities, the poor, the sick, and the unemployed will be in for a world of hurt over the next two years if Democrats don’t turn out," and more prevent the organization of a real movement that could produce an alternative to the broken two-party electoral system that continues to fail people especially those in the lower and middle classes.

There’s also this message from Democrats: "Vote for your third party or sit on your hands on Election Day in protest. Then, be sure to acknowledge your share of the responsibility when what we have of health care reform is repealed, taking the leash off of the thieves in the insurance industry." That’s a thinking progressive’s way of giving those who genuinely want a way out of this mess the finger and hoping those whom they likely believe spoiled the election for Al Gore in 2000 will sit down and shut up.

It’s reasonable to doubt whether this "enthusiasm gap" will have the impact pundits, columnists, political strategists and Republican political leaders are suggesting. Although the lack of enthusiasm means less people involved in working directly for candidates to get them elected, members of the Democratic base will ultimately fulfill their contractual obligation as unapologetic Democratic voters and believers in the small bloc of political leaders in Congress who continue to fail to make a real difference in advancing an agenda for hope and change in this country.

This term "enthusiasm gap" will haunt Democrats from now until November. And, they largely deserve to be haunted. The failure of Democrats to argue in favor of taking this country in a decisive and new direction nullified the historic election of Barack Obama. The failure of President Obama to be a truly transformative leader and take on the corporations and special interests ensured the midterm election would be hellacious for Democrats. And, the failure to steadfastly take on the conservative media echo chamber which has won the scalps of former members of the Obama Administration like Van Jones, Shirley Sherrod, and others has helped seal the Party’s fate in November.

What should those who believed in Obama and Democrats in 2008 do? For starters, remember how Democrats in Congress failed to fulfill their mandate and end the Iraq War after winning big in 2006. And then, do some thinking. If you find you are cornered and there’s no way of getting out without a fight, good. You’re one step closer to understanding why Democrats don’t need to give their base anything, really, in order to win elections.

A Roar of Anger Against the Coal Industry That Cannot Be Ignored or Silenced

9:52 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

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The anger and courage of Americans who have been expressing opposition to the coal industry and expending energy to chip away at the power coal companies have to destroy America’s environment is paying off.

A federal judge
recently "ordered Patriot Coal Corp. to spend millions of dollars to clean up selenium pollution at two surface coal mines in West Virginia," an order that environmental groups said was the "first time a court has demanded restrictions on selenium, a trace mineral commonly discharged from Appalachian surface mines, where the tops of mountains are blown away to expose coal."

Activists especially those affiliated with Appalachia Rising are building up support for the abolition of surface coal mining in America. Applachia Rising plans to confront the Obama Administration and other politicians for their failure to halt this devastating mining practice on September 27th just after they have a two-day conference at Georgetown University on September 25th and 26th.

While most activism against the coal industry in America is focused on ending the practice of mountaintop removal in Appalachia, there is a movement of solidarity building in this country against coal. The dirty practices of the coal industry are all around us. If you consider the fact that Patriot Coal has operations in Illinois and other parts of the Midwest, it is not hard to see why citizens in cities like Chicago are taking on the coal industry and demanding the industry cleans up its practices.

Clean Power Chicago
, a grassroots coalition of organizations in Chicago working to clean up two coal-fired power plants and build a clean energy future for Chicago, in the past month achieved a huge victory: Alderman Ricardo Muñoz signed on as a co-sponsor to the Clean Power Ordinance, which organizers in the coalition hope will pass and help reduce emissions from Midwest Generation’s Fisk and Crawford coal plants in Chicago.

Alderman Muñoz is the alderman for the ward where the Crawford plant is located. His sponsorship, which was the product of lobbying by a grassroots organization known as the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization (LVEJO) and ward residents, sent a huge signal to other aldermen in the city of Chicago and increases the likelihood that other aldermen will support the ordinance.

I spent some time interviewing three leaders who are playing key roles in the movement toward a clean energy future in Chicago. They spoke to me about how this initiative has earned the support of national environmental organizations like Greenpeace and the Sierra Club and how it could be a model for other cities with residents who want to organize their community to advance clean energy agendas.

Dorian Breuer, a member of the Chicago environmental all-volunteer group in the Pilsen neighborhood called the Pilsen Environmental Rights and Reform Organization (PERRO), explained this is "a case where we are acting locally to affect our local health that will have "global effects." According to Breuer, the coal plants in Chicago are "the largest single source of carbon emissions in the city of Chicago."

Addressing the reality that this is the second time Chicago residents have mounted an effort to clean up the plants (an attempt was made in 2002), Brewer suggested more and more residents "recognize the pollution [from] these coal plants [does] not stay in a small band around this coal plant, which are in the communities we live in.

"The health effects go citywide and they know the statistics of not just these coal plants but all the pollution from coal plants affecting the outside air in Chicago," explained Breuer.

Christine Nannicelli, an associate field organizer with Sierra Club, explained, "Our asthma rates here in the city are staggering and they are some of the highest in the nation."

Clean Power Chicago’s website lists the following facts from the EPA and other experts: on average, 1 out of 7 school-aged children has asthma; in a number of Chicago-area neighbors upwards to 1 out of 3 children suffer from asthma; 13 million school days are missed each year due to asthma; asthma is the third-ranking cause of hospitalization among children under 15 and nearly 2 million emergency department visits each year are asthma related; and it is estimated that the number of people with asthma will grow by more than 100 million by 2025.

Coalition organizers said the public health aspect of this really resonates with Chicagoans and plays a key role in convincing Chicagoans to take action.

In relation to the public health aspect of the issue, Edyta Sitko, an organizer with Greenpeace in Chicago, explained people want to "move away from fossil fuels that are not only contributing to global warming but having dire health effects on our city." And, she contended, "There are a lot of cities looking toward Chicago being a leader and cleaning up the coal plants in Chicago."

On top of that, organizers view this as a "justice issue." Breuer described the communities around these coal plants as having the following characteristics: lower income, lots of minorities, lower education levels, higher rates of unemployment, lower quality schools, and higher number of students per teacher ratios."

Affirming Breuer’s description, Nannicelli said, "The two neighborhoods, Little Village and Pilsen, where these two coal plants are located and the predominantly lower income Hispanic neighborhoods around these plants" are really moved to action because of the social justice aspect of this issue.

The campaign has placed a focus on aldermen as the key to success. Sitko described how the grassroots are convincing aldermen to support the ordinance:

"About a month and a half ago, we launched an organizing effort in Alderwoman Leslie A. Hairston’s ward specifically around asking her to sign on to the Clean Power Ordinance. There was an organizer in Hyde Park that had been working with constituents there–getting sign up letters, getting phone calls into Alderwomen Hairston’s office–letting her know she needed to support the ordinance. Before a press conference on Thursday, [on Wednesday night] we called a community meeting in Hyde Park. A few hours before we found out that Hairston had signed on."

Much of the effort owes a lot of its success to Alderman Joe Moore, who represents the 49th Ward, which includes Rogers Park, West Ridge, and Edgewater, making it one of the most diverse and vibrant communities in Chicago.

Midwest Generation, the owner of the plants, asserted, according to Chicago News Cooperative journalist Kari Lydersen, "the city lack[s] the authority to regulate the coal plants" and "only the state and federal government could do so." The corporation further asserts, "If the Moore proposal passes, the company will challenge Chicago’s regulatory authority in court."

Breuer said of Midwest Generation’s disregard for its pollution of Chicago’s climate, "The reality is thanks to relaxed campaign finance and lobbying laws the company has a lot of power. We found that over the last ten years, when we looked at state of Illinois records, it donated 100,000 dollars just to local aldermen in the city of Chicago and that’s a huge amount."

Breuer contended Midwest Generation has "an interest" in not spending "a lot of money to clean up their plants" and that is "absolutely impacting public space." But, he concluded Midwest Generation always says they are "following the law and the public in theory has created the law" so they can’t be faulted for doing any wrong.

"Most of what they do is fully within the law. And that’s why this campaign is targeting the law," said Breuer. "That law operates in favor of coal plants and against the local residents and all the residents anywhere near coal plants."

Now that Alderman Muñoz has signed on, the coalition hopes to earn the support of Danny Solis, who is the alderman for the ward where the Fisk coal plant is located They hope Muñoz’s leadership and example will compel him to take similar action and sign on in support of the ordinance.

The ordinance has 13 co-sponsors: Alderman Toni Preckwinkle, Alderman Leslie Hairston, Alderman Freddrenna Lyle, Alderman Sandi Jackson, Alderman Toni Foulkes, Alderman Joanne Thompson, Alderman Ricardo Munoz, Alderman Sharon Dixon, Alderman Ed Smith, Alderman Scott Waguespack, Alderman Rey Colon, Alderman Eugene Schulter, Alderman Mary Ann Smith.

The story of this Clean Power Ordinance Coalition is just one example of how Americans can take personal responsibility for the health of their community and the environmental future of America. Thousands are tuned in to the impact of the coal industry and no matter what the coal industry does these Americans are not going to back down in the face of their corporate power and influence over public policy and the wider American population.

How Private Prison Corporations Hope Arizona’s SB1070 Will Lead to Internment Camps for Illegals

1:03 pm in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

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Reverend Billy Talent and the Church of Life After Shopping protest the Correction Centers of America building, a commercial immigrant detention center (privately-owned prison) | Photo by Reverend Billy and the Church of Life After Shopping

Reports reveal that private prison corporations with interests and operations in Arizona stand to benefit and profit greatly as a result of immigration laws like SB1070. And, that isn’t altogether surprising because these same reports are indicating these corporations played a role in influencing the law, which is proof that border politics and the private prison businesses are tied.

Progressive news magazine, In These Times, reported on State Sen. Russell Pearce’s (R-Mesa) involvement in the passage of the Arizona immigration law and his ties to private prison corporations. The report explains how Pearce submitted a version of the legislation to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)," an organization which he and 35 other Arizona legislators belong," a "full month and a half before SB1070 was introduced to the Arizona Senate and nearly two months before its counterpart was first read in the House."

A 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, ALEC bills itself as "the nation’s largest bipartisan, individual membership association of state legislators" and as a public-private legislative partnership. As such, ALEC claims as members more than 2,000 state lawmakers (one-third of the nation’s total legislators) and more than 200 corporations and special-interest groups.

The organization’s current corporate roster includes the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA, the nation’s largest private jailer), the Geo Group (the nation’s second largest private jailer), Sodexho Marriott (the nation’s leading food services provider to private correctional institutions), the Koch Foundation, Exxon Mobil, Blue Cross and Blue Shield, Boeing, Wal-Mart and Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, to name just a few.

Rachel Maddow covered ties between private prison corporations in Arizona and Arizona’s lawmakers on her show Thursday night:

"Last year, Arizona state officials moved legislation to try to privatize the whole state prison system. Arizona planned to "seek bids from private companies for nine of the state’s 10 prison complexes." It was the first effort by a state to put its entire prison system under private control.

Great news for the private prison companies, right? Great news, in particular, for Corrections Corporation of America, which is the single largest private prison company in the country. CCA already runs six detention facilities in Arizona. They hold prisoners from other states at their facilities in Arizona. They also hold the federal contract to hold federal detainees in the state.

So, you know what would be awesome for a company like that? You know what would be awesome? What would be really awesome for the shareholders and everybody if the state of Arizona started producing a whole lot more federal detainees — people detain on federal issues, federal issues like, I don’t know, say, immigration violations.

Imagine the boon to the private for-profit prison company that has the contract to house federal detainees in Arizona, if Arizona came up with a whacky plan to arrest a lot more people for suspected immigration violations. Imagine how awesome a law like S.B. 1070 would be for an industry like the for-profit private prison industry in Arizona. Sure, it’s an industry with an incredibly awful record in Arizona, but there is money to be made here — and it turns out that that industry, particularly, Corrections Corporation of America, which stands to benefit the most, that industry and that company in Arizona, they’re really well connected""

Just as one might say there’s no racial profiling in the Arizona immigration law, CCA is maintaining they have no plans to "house" any illegal immigrants in Arizona. Morgan Loew, a reporter with CBS’s local Phoenix affiliate, KPHO, whose reporting was a source in Maddow’s report, addressed this claim:

"Maricopa County, the Phoenix Police Department, we don’t deport illegal immigrants. When someone’s picked up on the side of the road or for a crime, they’re taken to the jail. At that point, their immigration status is determined. If they’re an illegal immigrant, they’re reported to Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Then their taken to one of these private prisons, Corrections Corporation of America.

So, you’d have to do the math. But if you increased the number of people who are picked up, illegal immigrants, increase the number that are sent over to ICE, you’re likely going to increase the number that companies like Corrections Corporation of America are going to be housing.

Right now, they’re — I think they’re charging ICE here in Arizona about $11 million a month to have about a 5 percent vacancy rate that they keep sort of for big busts or that kind of thing. So, obviously, that number would go up and they would have to make extra accommodations to handle more illegal immigrants."

A watchdog report by Philip Mattera and Mafruza Khan of the Corporate Research Project of Good Jobs First and Stephen Nathan of Prison Privatisation Report International, showed CCA’s dependence on federal contracts tied to the incarceration of immigrants:

CCA got its first contract from the federal government and has continued to depend on its friends in Washington, DC. In 2002 the three federal agencies with correctional and detention responsibilitiesthe Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), the United States Marshals Service (USMS) and the Immigration and Naturalization Service (now a branch of the Department of Homeland Security and known as Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE)accounted for about 32 percent of CCA’s total revenues"

"the explosion of the so-called "criminal alien" population in the wake of the 1996 Immigration Reform Act. The federal government’s campaign to lock up non-citizens for a wide range of crimes, including relatively minor ones such as attempting to re-enter the country without proper documents, generated a huge new demand for prison beds. The BOP addressed the problem by calling on private contractors to help meet its "criminal alien requirements," or CAR. As a result of the CAR-I solicitation process, CCA got two contracts in 2000 that allowed it to fill its long-empty speculatively built prison in California City, California, and its Cibola

County Correctional Center in New Mexico. Together, these deals are estimated to be worth $760 million to CCA over ten years. In 2002 CCA was rewarded again with a $103 million CAR contract to fill its struggling McRae Correctional Facility in Georgia. Analyst Judith Greene has referred to these CAR contracts as a "virtual bailout" for CCA.

The same watchdog report hints at the sentiment that may be shared by many in CCA thanks to the Arizona immigration law. A 10-K filing from CCA from nearly a decade ago reads:

"We believe that recently proposed initiatives by the federal government in connection with homeland security should cause the demand for prison beds, including privately managed beds, to increase. The proposed funding [for homeland security] is intended to support the agencies’ efforts to prevent illegal entry into the United States and target persons that are a threat to homeland security. We believe that these efforts will likely result in more incarceration and detention, particularly of illegal immigrants, and increased supervision of persons on probation and parole

Those who hear Marg Baker talk about supporting Japanese internment camps for illegal immigrants should not think she is that crazy. She is merely expressing the solution to the sentiment of fear that the businessmen working in the private prison industry in Arizona wish to implement.

Her notion is totalitarian but so is the notion that you can incarcerate and control a prison population and make money. And the people of Arizona should fear the existence of an industry that depends on "criminals" to succeed because if crime isn’t high then the industry will always work to find a way to "criminalize" a population for profit.

Comcast-NBC Merger: Media Consolidation In the Name of Diversity

8:27 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

Photo from Free Press, which is pushing people to attend a public hearing in Chicago on July 13th on the Comcast-NBC merger and is opposed to the merger.

 

Congressman Bobby Rush (D-IL) put together a hearing on the possible merger of Comcast and NBC Universal on July 8th, which was held in Chicago at the Everett Dirksen Federal Building (the same building holding the US v. Blagojevich proceedings). The hearing, held by the Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet (a subcommittee of the Committee on Energy & Commerce in the House of Representatives), invited "witnesses" to testify and provide insight into who might benefit from the merge if it went through.

 

The hearing held was not open to public comments. However, Rep. Rush, Rep. Rick Boucher (D-VA), Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) and Rep. Steve Buyer (R-IN) asked questions of all the invited witnesses after an hour of opening statements.

 

The witnesses present included: Samuel R. DeSimone, Jr., General Counsel, Earthlink, Inc; Will Griffin, President and Chief Executive Officer, Hip Hop on Demand, Jonathan Jackson, National Spokesman, Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, Inc.; Paula Madison, Executive Vice President, Chief Diversity Officer, NBC Universal; Joseph W. Waz, Jr., Senior Vice President, External Affairs and Public Policy Counsel, Comcast Corporation. (Ms. Shirley Franklin, Senior Adviser for the Alliance for Digital Equality was invited but did not attend the hearing).

 

Initially, it appeared the merger would be framed as a debate about how it would impact consumers. The opening statements from representatives at the hearing highlighted how the merger could eliminate competition and limit choices in the marketplace. The statements made note of the fact that Comcast is "the nation’s largest video programming distributor, the largest residential broadband provider, and the third-largest home telephone service provider" as well as the fact that, "as measured by annual revenue, NBC is the fourth-largest media and entertainment company." The opportunity for a discussion of media consolidation presented itself.

 

But, Rep. Buyer seemingly headed off a real discussion on consolidation and said people needed to be careful to define what we think this merger will look like and get it wrong. He said there was a need to be careful because this is a dynamic industry. Rep. Buyer’s remark, if translated from marketspeak possibly meant worrying about what it could do to the marketplace of entertainment, news, technology and ideas is beside the point. (*Rep. Buyer may have been using talking points from the Competitive Enterprise Institute.)

 

So, instead of discussion on media consolidation, what emerged as the core of discussion and the wrapping that this merger would be packaged in so policy makers, industry representatives, concerned citizens and others would accept it was diversity. This was how it was framed and it became increasingly clear that Comcast and NBC Universal had been asked to make commitments to diversity by representatives if they wanted to get a merger deal and if they wanted representatives in Congress to work with them and make this merger happen without FCC or Department of Justice interference.

 

Griffin of Hip Hop on Demand [full statement] became the example of the type of media entrepreneur or mogul that representatives thought the merger could help produce more of. Griffin detailed his past, which included working at Time Warner during its post-merger integration with Turner, joining News Corp’s Strategy and Marketing group for a brief period of time, being advised by former Motown Chairman Clarence Avant, having a faculty advisor in law school who was Dennis Hightower, the first African-American President of Walt Disney Television, producing film with Reuben Cannon and Bishop TD Jakes, and partnering with Russell Simmons and Stan Lathan to create an launch Hip Hop on Demand on Comcast.

 

Griffin’s statement in support of the merger highlighted two reasons: "1) Comcast has the best Infrastructure of Inclusion to build upon in the media industry, and 2) African-American consumers and policy-makers have more potential leverage over Comcast than any other media company."

 

Griffin highlighted how Viacom’s UP and Time Warner’s The WB merged and "the first casualties were African-American shows" (Girlfriends, All of Us, Everybody Hates Chris). He attributed this to the fact that "advertisers have only been willing to pay for a limited amount of African-American impressions and will not pay for every African-American view generated." He further summarized, "The root of the problem is this: advertisers’ unwillingness to allocate minority marketing budgets in proportion to viewership ratings."

 

Convinced that Comcast would correct this problem, Griffin added that "some of the very systems at the core of the Comcast media empire were birthed by African-American media owners" and how "thousands of minorities in leadership positions at Comcast have been invaluable" to him as an owner of African-American Media.

 

This all became a point of debate during the question period as Rep. Buyer singled out suggestions that minority ownership would relate to minority programming. Rep. Buyer thought this claim defied economic principles, that total audience must be enough to cover production. But, it was maintained by Griffin that, while advertisers may have paid for all 10 million viewers of Seinfeld, a show with a predominantly African-American audience would maybe pay only 8 million of its 10 million viewers because advertisers have traditionally had a limited budget for minorities and have built this "defect into the market."

 

Rainbow/PUSH spokesman Jackson’s testimony [full statement] contrasted Griffin’s faith in the merger to correct the landscape for minorities. Jackson put the merger in the "context of economic emancipation" and wondered what "Comcast’s Return on Investment (ROI) in assisting in the economic empowerment of African American and underserved communities" would be and asked why it would be "good business for Comcast to address two of the nation’s most important challenges: creating jobs and helping to connect every American, especially people of color, to vitally needed news information and broadband internet services."

 

Jackson’s statement commented on media ownership:

There are three minority owners in the market, controlling a total of three stations, or less than 5 percent of all the commercial radio stations in Chicago: WJOB-AM 1230, controlled by Hammond, Indiana-based Vasquez Development, a Latino- female-owned company; WLTH-AM 1370, controlled by WLTH Radio, an African- American-owned company; and WVON-AM 1690, controlled by Chicago-based and African-American-owned Midway Broadcasting. Vasquez Development, WLTH Radio and Midway Broadcasting each own just a single station.

Media ownership in Chicago doesn’t reflect the diversity of its population. Racial and ethnic minorities are 37 percent of the population in the Chicago TV market; 38 percent of population in the Chicago radio market; and nearly two-thirds of the population in the city of Chicago. However, racial and ethnic minorities own less than 4 percent of Chicago’s full-power commercial radio and television stations. Women own just 6 percent of Chicago’s full-power commercial radio and television stations, despite comprising over half the population.

We want to make sure that independently owned and controlled minority cable networks don’t find it harder to gain carriage if this deal happens.

Back in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the civil rights community held out great hope that the emerging cable industry would be reflective of communities of color in programming, ownership and staffing. Our community hoped to not only own cable networks but cable franchises as well. But this simply hasn’t happened.

 

Jackson noted the need for corporate titans like Comcast or NBC who have the power to shape images and cultures to be held accountable for what they do or fail to do.

 

The witnesses for Comcast and NBC Universal, for the most part, detailed what they would do to build support for the merger. Madison of NBC Universal [full statement] said four diversity councils were being established and the geographic footprint of Telemundo would be expanded. Waz of Comcast [full statement] detailed commitment to continuing investment in broadcasting (which many communities of color depend upon) and announced that 10 new independently operated and controlled channels would be launched with a focus on ensuring minorities would end up as operators and controllers of this channel.

 

Rep. Boucher asked both witnesses for Comcast and NBC to specifically state that their increase in minority ownership and focus on diversity would actually result in diverse programming. Neither could commit. Madison, instead, took this opportunity to explain the industry had long way to go in order to be more diverse and inclusive but noted that shows like Undercovers, The Event and Outlaw (starring Jimmy Smits) would be coming on with minority characters.

 

It was Rep. Waters who put an end to this charade all in the name of diversity. She pointed out that the merger had flown under the radar until she requested an extension of the comment period. She said neither Comcast nor NBC had made any commitments to diversity but now that hearings were happening they were coming forward with ideas, many which were offered in the past week (the plan for creating 10 independent channels was offered days ago). She demonstrated that the corporations were only making concessions for diversity and consumers because there now existed a huge opportunity for both corporations to benefit.

 

Rep. Waters stated, "You don’t have diverse companies," and explained they need help to become more diverse. She called them out for not really answering Rep. Boucher’s question about minority ownership leading to minority programming. She went through a list of MSNBC and NBC news shows emphasizing the lack of diversity. She noted that if this goes through and there is no way to force the resulting entity to maintain certain commitments to diversity and the wider public, certain threats to democracy could present themselves. And, she closed by saying, "I want you to know you have failed miserably."

 

In conclusion, the hearing put on display the tactics Comcast and NBC Universal are using to get the merger through. First, they are already behaving as if they have merged. Two, they are selling it under the guise of increasing diversity and minority ownership.

 

Simply taking television genres with a predominantly white cast and changing the leads to people of color doesn’t necessarily mean a correction of past failures occurs. Cultures, audiences, opportunities, concerns, and interests could still be left out; the storylines could still be ones that do not speak to the people who have gained a level of representation. Also, it does matter if predominantly white people are reporting news and people of color are not and Comcast and NBC Universal should be made to address this reality publicly.

 

The resulting power of the merger is relevant, despite what representatives like Rep. Buyer claim. It will not only shape entertainment but will gain even greater lobbying power to advance free market initiatives in Congress that oppose Internet freedom (net neutrality) and create opportunities for increased profit. And, it will be able to absorb and co-opt alternative/independent news and programming and play a role in deciding who gets to access this news and programming.

 

*For more, read the briefing memo or talking points that were discussed at the hearing.

 

**The following videos show Rep. Maxine Waters in a video produced by Free Press questioning NBC’s Jeff Zucker on diversity and Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) asking questions about the Comcast-NBC merger.

 

Decision Forces Filmmaker to Turn Over 600 Hours of Footage to Chevron

9:13 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

Judge Lewis A. Kaplan of the Federal District Court in New York granted Chevron’s request for a subpoena, which demands access to over 600 hours of footage from "Crude," a documentary that chronicles a legal battle being supported by 30,000 Amazonian settlers hoping to hold Texaco (now owned by Chevron) responsible for environmental devastation in Ecuador.

Joseph Berlinger, the filmmaker behind "Crude," claimed he was protected by "journalistic privilege," but, according to the New York Times, he qualified for the privilege but "the conditions for overcoming that privilege had been met" by Chevron.

Berlinger plans to ask the judge to "stay the subpoena" so the decision can be appealed.

Many in the documentary filmmaking community have indicated that they will support Berlinger’s effort to appeal and resist this decision. Filmmakers understand what this decision could mean for the future of documentary filmmaking.

Gordon Quinn, artistic director and founder of Kartemquin Films in Chicago, said, "My experience is that the ‘outs’ of a film usually show the big and the powerful to be worse than they are portrayed in our films, but if we have to turn over footage and spend time in court and defend ourselves for expressing our First Amendment rights it can be an overwhelming burden for a small organization like ours."

Quinn added, "It has the feel of intimidation and using the legal process to let us know don’ttake onthe big guys or they can drive you crazy and drain your resources by tying you up in court."

Documentary instructor at Columbia College Chicago and director of "The Return of Navajo Boy," a film that touched upon the impact of uranium mining on the Navajo, Jeff Spitz, had not heard about it. He noted from his experience making "Navajo Boy, "The extraction industries have absolutely no interest in the safety and/or benefits of their work for indigenous people. Indigenous people pay the hidden price of our energy."

An Associate Professor at Columbia College Chicago with forty years of documentary filmmaking experience, Russell Porter, reacted, "The reported federal judgment that filmmaker Joe Berlinger must turn over his outtakes to Chevron’s defense lawyers strikes me as an arbitrary and dangerous interpretation of the First Amendment."

"The role of independent documentary filmmakers has almost totally replaced what was historically the function of investigative journalism," said Porterin fact there is no difference between the methodology and social/political function of filmmakers like Berlinger and that of – say – Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward during the Watergate scandal."

New York Times writer for the ArtsBeat Blog diligently followed this story conducting interviews with filmmakers Michael Moore and Ric Burns (the director of "Andy Warhol" and PBS’ "New York") on Thursday.

Burns reacted, Chevron is "really saying ‘O.K., pal, drop your drawers, and with it, 600 hours of film.’" And added, "That’s insane. That’s a weapon so blunt that it’s impossible not to feel that Judge Kaplan doesn’t care about the impression that is conveyed."

Burns added this "contributes to a general culture of contempt for investigative journalism" and next time someone goes to make a "Crude" the group that provides information on the subject will be a "much leerier group of informants."

Michael Moore had "never heard of such a ruling." Moore told the ArtsBeat Blog he never had to deal with any corporation suing him to find out how he gathered his information.

"Obviously the ramifications of this go far beyond documentary films, if corporations are allowed to pry into a reporter’s notebook or into a television station’s newsroom," said Moore.

Moore hoped the decision would be overturned on appeal and, if not, Berlinger should "resist the subpoena." He also said that "hundreds of filmmakers" would support Berlinger’s fight to not turn over his footage to Chevron.

Documentary as Journalism?

The New York Times put together an article that suggested this decision re-ignites a debate over whether a documentary filmmaker should have journalistic privileges or not.

In his interview with ArtsBeat Blog, Moore said, "Documentaries are a form of journalism."

The lawyer for Chevron, Randy M. Mastro, according to the New York Times, firmly believes that "Crude" should not be considered journalism. And, Mastro claimed that this decision is not about "the First Amendment" or journalistic privilege.

Mastro said, "This is about a plaintiffs’ lawyer who decided he wanted to star in a movie and gave a sympathetic filmmaker extraordinary access to the plaintiffs’ case and strategy."

Porter said of this statement, "The cynical dismissal of the film "Crude" as ‘…a case of a lawyer who decided he wanted to be a movie star’ would be laughable if it were not so obviously disingenuous, self-serving and untrue."

A key problem is the fact that documentary filmmakers are expected to have subjects sign releases that they agree to appear in the film. With "Crude," pact agreements were actually formed between the filmmaker and the settlers and those agreements would clearly be violated if Chevron was able to use the footage for their own agenda.

What are documentary filmmakers supposed to do in the future if this stands? What will filmmakers need to look out for and do to protect themselves? What additional amount of self-censorship will filmmakers have to engage in?

Will filmmakers have to begin to destroy all of their footage that they have left over once their film is complete? How are filmmakers going to handle a reality where corporations can force filmmakers to compromise their sources and turn over unused footage to them?

At a time where BP is responsible for the leaking of oil in the Gulf of Mexico, what should those documenting the destruction be weary of if a precedent is set that corporations like Chevron can subpoena unused footage to take down plaintiffs who are challenging business practices and suggesting corporations should be held responsible or accountable for their actions?

There are many more questions about the ramifications of this decision on filmmaking. The issue of journalistic privilege and documentary should be the subject of conversation for the next months especially if filmmakers unite and mount a visible effort in support of Berlinger’s right to not hand over the footage to Chevron.

———————————————————————————————

The following is Associate Professor of Columbia College Chicago and documentary filmmaker Russell Porter’s full response to the decision.

I am an Associate Professor at Columbia College Chicago with almost forty years experience as a documentary filmmaker, journalist and teacher on five continents. I have extensive experience of working with indigenous people and their struggles to maintain their traditional ways of life in the face of ever more destructive encroachment by extractive and environmentally damaging industries.

I first visited the upper Amazon region of Ecuador in 1969-70 when I lived and traveled through the then pristine Amazon regions bordering the Napo River, and was privileged to visit several indigenous communities (including the Huaorani/ Waorani and Achuar people).

I returned to the region on a research trip in 1999 to see for myself how this unique world had changed during my lifetime. I was appalled buy what my Huaorani hosts showed me as a result of the impact of oil exploration and extraction on their health and environment. I traveled with them to several sites that were at least as damaged by oil spills and dumps (in "piscinas") like those shown in the film "Crude" – which, in my my view, if anything understates the impact on the culture, environment and the ecosystems that have sustained these communities for millennia.

The Huaorani community I visited (in the remote Shiripuni region) had been forced to relocate there since their traditional homeland had become unsustainable as a result of the massive intrusion of oil industry machinery and associated contamination and deforestation. I also visited the regions around Lago Agrio featured in the film, and witnessed the total transformation that the oil industry has cause to the environment integrity, health and well-being of traditional indigenous people there, with the associated often violent social destruction of their way of life.

The reported federal judgment that filmmaker Joe Berlinger must turn over his outtakes to Chevron’s defense lawyers strikes me as an arbitrary and dangerous interpretation of the First Amendment. The role of independent documentary filmmakers has almost totally replaced what was historically the function of investigative journalism – in fact there is no difference between the methodology and social/political function of filmmakers like Berlinger and that of – say – Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward during the Watergate scandal.

Without such scrutiny, It is my opinion that the ever-increasing corporate malfeasance would go unchecked, to the detriment of society as a whole. It is an intrinsic facet of our democratic system that such independent scrutiny is allowed the full protection of the law.

The cynical dismissal of the film "Crude" as "…a case of a lawyer who decided he wanted to be a movie star" would be laughable if it were not so obviously disingenuous, self-serving and untrue.

Documentary filmmakers of course have the right to include, structure and interpret their raw material in any way they chose – just as a journalist will draw on his or her research notes to compile a coherent narrative story. Film material is edited in just this way, and for whatever reason some footage may be left out, it remains the intellectual property of the filmmaker and he or she is under no obligation to hand it over to anyone. It is a right – just as that held by journalists – protected under the First Amendment. Whatever the legality of the case against Chevron, the principle is unchanged.