Saturday, February 23, 2008

The Election Files

The newest dvd from BBC Journalist Greg Palast check out his stories and buy the dvd that brings together his reports on the stolen elections at www.GregPalast.com

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Nigga Technology

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Woman arrested for DWI, beat by police off camera

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Monday, February 18, 2008

THE U.S., ALL U.S. Banks, Corporations, and most U.S Wealthy profited and still are profiting from Slavery


OBM: What do you call a person who steals a large sum of money and with it starts successful businesses, continues his education, and produces products that earn him uncountable wealth? He also starts banks to manage his wealth as well as create new wealth for him. Then is exposed red handed for his crime and never apologies for it but instead, very slowly and in very small amounts gives money to the people whence he stole it form. I call him the lying thieving U.S. Country, U.S. Banks, and most U.S. Corporations. What do you call this person’s children who exploit and profit from this stolen wealth who say “It’s my father’s crime and money…I did not do it or steal it so I am not required to give it back.” I call them Accessories, Accomplishes and Co-conspirators.

Slavery and the American Economy
By Waldron H. Giles, Ph.D.

Slavery raises a host of negative images for Black people; so much so, they fail to realize the tremendous economic contributions they made, albeit forced, to the development of the United States into a world power. This lack of realization stems from the national shame of slavery and the concomitant national denial, which in reality has become a weak defense mechanism. To a large degree Blacks and whites have bought into this denial, albeit for different reasons. In spite of this contribution Blacks continue to vie for respect and acceptance by the very country that they practically own via a down payment with their own blood, sweat, and tears. Through the shame of slavery African Americans continue to increase the “Debt” they are owed instead of steadfastly demanding payment.

The resulting hypothesis of this economic analysis of slavery is that the current “Debt” is too large to foster healthy discussions with whites and continued avoidance of such discussions has been and will continue to be disguised under a variety of racist manipulations. The purpose of this economic analysis is to enlighten African Americans and end the impotence produced by this shame and to undo those stereotypical images of laziness, ignorance, criminal behavior, and incompetence.

The form of superiority imposed by self-pity continues to defeat the positive self-images and hinders the increased racial creativity and accomplishments that African Americans need in today’s jingoistic climate. Whether African descendants will be justly compensated for their sacrifices is not the principle issue, here. The paramount issue is that African Americans appreciate their contributions and constantly remind their heirs of the trillions of unpaid dollars earned by their ancestors. They and they alone made the largest national loan in history and financed the world’s greatest power. Most of that “loaned” money is still in circulation today and the “Debt” is still alive and real!

The first African slaves hit the shores of the United States in 1619 and were constantly imported into the US until 1860 even though importation had been outlawed in 1808. Over those intervening 246 years they contributed more than 605 billion hours of free labor, which funded the Industrial Revolution, financed most of the fortune 500 companies, helped finance two World Wars, and left a negative sociological impact on an entire race of people.

Slaves born in the US since slave importation started decreasing in 1810 supplied most of the labor. Importation as a source of free labor was replaced by forced breeding because it was a lot more profitable. However, the profits obtained from slave importation were phenomenal since slaves could be purchased in Africa for less than $40 and sold in the US for between $500 and $1,000. Profits obtained from a single ship traversing the golden triangle passage averaged greater than $175,000 even though as many as one in three of the slaves died during the middle passage. Commodities (cotton, tobacco, Bibles, and guns) were the cargoes on the other two legs of the triangle.

To determine the economic value of slavery, the population of slaves in the US was obtained from the US Census Bureau. It was assumed that, on average, slaves worked some 60 hours per week for 51 weeks during the years with the average pay rate over the 164 years at $.10 per hour. All of these assumptions are conservative since underreporting was a common practice since state and local taxes had to be paid on the number of slaves. This practice was offset since congressional representation counted slaves as 3/5 of a person.

The results of the economic value of this free labor are, when inflated conservatively at 3% to 2006 dollars, a staggering value of 20.3 trillion dollars or to put this number in a more visual perspective; it amounts to $563,450 per African American currently living in the US. This amount is low since slave labor was counted from the year 1700 instead of 1619 and, as mentioned previously, the census data, in all likelihood, is low for various taxing demands and for those members of the Black race that were able to pass for white or elude the census. The undercounting of Blacks still is a major problem for adequate representation, particularly in the South.

The 19.7 trillion dollar slave contribution is still within the US economy since the dollar has constantly inflated in value, and money like matter in never destroyed; it can be wasted but not destroyed, in an inflationary economy. This slave-induced contribution is still working and funding new ventures, within the US economy as we speak. Those who made this contribution, albeit forced, have been largely denied access to the very capital and business accouterments they developed.

Following the thread of these dollars would be another interesting aspect of black economic research since even without detailed research it is known that Aetna Insurance Co., E.I. Dupont, and J.P. Morgan, Brown University, to name a very, very few, reaped substantial benefits from the grim business of slavery. For example, Pierre Bauduy purchased 4 out of the original 16 shares issued for the E.I. DuPont Company for $8,000. Pierre Bauduy obtained his money from the profits of a Haitian plantation which he was forced to vacate during the Haitian revolution.

The manufacturers of slave ships and cotton merchants heavily financed Brown University in its early beginnings. Aetna Insurance Co. sold insurance policies on slaves to protect slave owners from the losses of run away slaves. The original capital for J.P. Morgan was derived from its cotton trading company in the South. So much fortune was amassed off the backs of the cotton, tobacco, and rice-picking slaves that J.P. Morgan loaned money to the US government during the Civil War.

Another way to view the economic contribution of slavery to the US economy would be to assume that only 5% of the value of the slave labor was invested in the stock market in the year the labor was accrued. Five percent was chosen since this is the most common bottom line that is found in Fortune 500 income statements. Using market growth data provided by the Rittenhouse Trust data and the moneys are accumulated from 1700 through 1830 (the beginning of the Rittenhouse data), yields a value of $6.42 trillion current dollars. The subsequent moneys are invested at the time they accrued yields an additional $1.44 trillion.

Combining these values leads to a staggering $7.86 quadrillion in 2006 dollars! With these staggering capital gains, we begin to gain insight into the US national avoidance on the subject of slave labor, reparations, and why African Americans are constantly being placed on the defensive around their monumental economic contribution. When one reflects on the magnitude of this capital, denial becomes a pitiful and yet effective excuse for continued domination of the people and nations that have been exploited.

Whereas, only four major institutions and corporations have been mentioned here, considering the vast sums of money most, if not all, major corporations have benefited in varying degrees from the $7,860 trillion of profits accrued from slavery. Major endowments to universities that have reluctantly, at best, supported Affirmative Action are another major financial thread yet to be unwound. Education and the business of education are another twist of irony for those who have struggled long and hard to escape the yoke and stigma of slavery.

The economic yields from slavery presented herein are for the United States only and covers only the period from 1700 through 1865. One must keep in mind that the first slaves came to North America almost 100 years prior to the time period of this economic evaluation. The majority of the slaves were imported to the Caribbean, Brazil, Columbia, the Guyanas, and other parts of South America, which more than doubles the economic figures, presented here when viewed on a global scale. Brazil alone has close to 100 million descendants of African slaves!

The capital gained from slavery in the Americas was invested in colonialism, which further compounded the current economic enslavement of the African descendants on both sides of the Atlantic. The problem was further compounded considering some 20 to 25 million young souls (mostly male) were taken from the continent of Africa, leaving that continent devoid of military protection and agricultural productivity. This human capital deficit from slavery and its evil offspring, colonialism, is still being felt in all African countries and the Diaspora.

On a global scale the magnitude of the total “Debt” is so huge as to possibly destabilize capitalism as opposed to the continued economic exploitation of Africa. Under the enormity of this “Debt,” reparations, which in the future may be the cheapest way out, will be vigorously resisted by the former colonial powers. Continuing demands for a return on investment of $7.86 quadrillion will force African nations (ironically, the original unwilling investors) further into debt leading to deeper poverty, depravation, political instability and exploitation of their natural resources.

The tragic irony of African national debts is that they were the original investors who should be seeking compensation for the egregious crimes of slavery instead of merely seeking debt relief. The sheer increasing weight of this global “Debt” is the force that must be reckoned with and surely will change world history in this the 21st century. The repayment will be extracted in one way or the other. As the saying goes, “What goes around, comes around!”

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Charles Barkley call conservatives fake christians

Sir Charles gives his views on conservatives by calling them fake christians.

OBM: While I only agree with one of his reasons, I still am given him a little credit for saying it. Also while I hold conservitive views on some issues I can think of several additional reasons most conservatives are fake christians: a lot of them are Racist, Fascist, Sinfully Greedy, Thieves, Sadistically Ignorant, Destructively Selfish, Control Freaks, and Racial/Class Supremacist to name a few.

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Thursday, February 14, 2008

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Wheelchair Bound Man is Tossed on the Floor by Cop

Tampa Tribune
Wednesday February 13, 2008

TAMPA - A deputy roughly dumps a man out of a wheelchair, and he tumbles to the floor.

Brian Sterner lands on his ribs, then rolls over and lies on his back while Hillsborough County Detention Deputy Charlette Marshall-Jones checks his pockets before she and another deputy put him back in the chair.

These moments were recorded Jan. 29 by cameras in Orient Road Jail. The video has repulsed many and resulted in the suspension of Marshall-Jones, a 44-year-old deputy with 22 years on the job, and her supervisors.

Sterner, 32, can drive a car, but he hasn't been able to walk for 14 years.

He said he told Marshall-Jones as much when he was booked into jail on a traffic-related charge.

She didn't believe him, he said.

Sheriff David Gee said he was at a loss for words after viewing the video.

"This was not a training issue," Gee said late Tuesday. "It's a human decency issue. I can't imagine any explanation she might have.

"It's like being a blackjack dealer in Vegas," the sheriff said of the surveillance system. "I put those cameras in there for a reason. They're to protect the deputies as much as the suspects who are brought in."

Deputies arrested Sterner, 32, on a warrant from Tampa police at his home in Riverview. He posted bail and was freed Feb. 3.

Gee said he was told by his staff that Marshall-Jones has a good record and there have been no similar complaints against her.

The sheriff is in Jacksonville at a Florida Sheriff's Association meeting, leaving Chief Deputy Jose Docobo in command.

After watching the tape Monday, Docobo ordered Marshall-Jones to be immediately suspended without pay, he said. Three of her supervisors who were visible on the tape were suspended with pay.

'Indefensible, At Every Level'

"The actions are indefensible, at every level," Docobo said. "Based on what I saw, anything short of dismissal would be inappropriate."

Sterner's attorney, John Trevena, said he wants Marshall-Jones charged with felony battery and wants her supervisors to be disciplined and to undergo mandatory retraining so that this kind of incident is not repeated.

Gee said he spoke to Trevena early Tuesday evening and conveyed his feelings on the matter.

"I'm embarrassed, professionally and personally," the sheriff said. "I can't offer an explanation."

An internal affairs investigation is reviewing the actions by Marshall-Jones and the three supervisors: Cpl. Decondra Williams, 36; Cpl. Steve Dickey, 45; and Sgt. Gary Hinson, 51. Investigators had not interviewed the deputy or her supervisors, Docobo said.

No reports were filed about the incident, so investigators are trying to determine what the supervisors knew, Docobo said. Each of the three appears at various times on the video, but none intervenes with Marshall-Jones. Dickey walks into the frame from the side and appears to smile as he walks away.

"That none of the supervisors acted upon what they saw is of great concern," Docobo said. "This is not the norm at the sheriff's office. It's an aberration."

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Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Woman Calls Police for Help, Gets Violently Strip Searched

Part 2

Hope Steffey's night started with a call to police for help. It ended with her face down, naked, and sobbing on a jail cell floor. Now, the sheriff's deputies from Stark County, Ohio who allegedly used excessive force during a strip search 15 months ago face a federal lawsuit, and recently released video won't help their case.

According to the policy of the sheriff's office, strip searches conducted must be with officers of the same sex as the person arrested. In Steffey's case, both men and women ripped her pants down.

Steffey's ordeal with the Stark County sheriff's deputies began after her cousin called 9-1-1 claiming Steffey had been assaulted by another one of their cousins. When a Stark County police officer arrived, he asked to see Steffey's driver's license. But instead of handing over her own ID, she mistakenly turned over her dead sister's license, which she contends she keeps in her wallet as a memento. That's when the situation became complicated.

...Eventually, Steffey was arrested and taken to the Stark County Jail, charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. But once in custody, her attorney says seven jail workers, male and female, forcibly removed Steffey of all her clothes, including her undergarments, while she lay face down in handcuffs. Local news footage shows Steffey wailing, asking "What are you doing?!?"

And you have to ask yourself, what was the purpose of the strip search?" said Steffey's lawyer. "What was the necessity of it? This was a disorderly conduct claim."

The lawsuit says that Steffey remained in the cell for six hours and wrapped herself in toilet paper to stay warm. During that time, she was not allowed to use a phone or seek medical assistance for injuries she accrued that night, including a cracked tooth, bulging disc, and bruises.

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Egomaniac Thug Cop Assaults 14 Year Old Kid

On the video, the officer, Salvatore Rivieri, puts the boy in a headlock, pushes him to the ground, questions his upbringing, threatens to "smack" him and repeatedly accuses the youngster of showing disrespect because the youth refers to the officer as "man" and "dude." reports the Baltimore Sun. This video was posted on YouTube on Saturday but probably was made late last summer, according to the Police Department. Rivieri, who has been suspended pending review, has refused to comment.

OBM: Are this cops actions ok or to far????? I say way to far...

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Saturday, February 09, 2008

The FDIC Has Begun its Death Watch

"I just saw a picture Bernanke stripped to the waist in the boiler-room shoveling greenbacks into the furnace." Rob Dawg, Calculated Risk blog-site

On January 14, 2008 the FDIC web site began posting the rules for reimbursing depositors in the event of a bank failure. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) is required to “determine the
It's All Downhill From Here

by Mike Whitney
total insured amount for each depositor....as of the day of the failure” and return their money as quickly as possible. The agency is “modernizing its current business processes and procedures for determining deposit insurance coverage in the event of a failure of one of the largest insured depository institutions.” Source

The implication is clear, the FDIC has begun the “death watch” on the many banks which are currently drowning in their own red ink. The problem for the FDIC is that it has never supervised a bank failure which exceeded 175,000 accounts. So the impending financial tsunami is likely to be a crash-course in crisis management. Today some of the larger banks have more than 50 million depositors, which will make the FDIC's job nearly impossible.

Good luck.

It's worth noting that, due to a rule change by Congress in 1991, the FDIC is now required to use “the least costly transaction when dealing with a troubled bank. The FDIC won't reimburse uninsured depositors if it means increasing the loss to the deposit insurance fund....As a result, uninsured depositors are protected only if a bank acquiring the failed bank will pay more for all of the deposits than it would for insured deposits only.” (MarketWatch)

Great. That's reassuring. And there's more, too. FDIC Chairman Shiela Bair warned that “as of Sept. 30, there were 65 institutions with assets of $18.5 billion on its list of "problem" institutions;” although she wouldn't give names.

So, what does it all mean?

It means there's going to be an unprecedented wave of bank closures in the US and that people who want to hold on to their life savings are going have to be extra vigilant as the situation continues to deteriorate. And it is deteriorating very quickly.

Right now, many of the country's largest investment banks are holding $500 billion in mortgage-backed securities and other structured investments that are steadily depreciating in value. As these assets wear-away the banks' capital, the likelihood of default becomes greater. This week, Fitch Ratings announced that it will (probably) cut ratings on the 5 main bond insurers (Ambac, MBIA, FGIC, CIFG,SCA) “regardless of their capital levels”. This seemingly innocuous statement has roiled markets and put Wall Street in a panic. If the bond insurers lose their AAA rating (on an estimated $2.4 trillion of bonds) then the banks could lose another $70 billion in downgraded assets. That would increase their losses from the credit crunch--which began in August 2007---to $200 billion with no end in sight. It would also impair their ability to issue loans to even credit worthy customers which will further dampen growth in the larger economy. Structured investments have been the banks' “cash cow” for nearly a decade, but, suddenly, the trend has shifted into reverse. Revenue streams have dried up and capital is being destroyed at an accelerating pace. The $2 trillion market for collateralized debt obligations (CDOs) is virtually frozen leaving horrendous debts that will have to be written-down leaving the banks' either deeply scarred or insolvent. It's a mess.

There were some interesting developments in a case involving Merrill Lynch last week which sheds a bit of light on the true “market value” of these complex debt-pools called CDOs. The Massachusetts Secretary of State has charged Merrill with “fraud and misrepresentation” for selling them a CDO that was "highly risky and esoteric" and "unsuitable for the City of Springfield.” (Most cities are required by law to only purchase Triple A rated bonds) The city of Springfield bought the CDO less than a year ago for $13.9 million. It is presently valued at $1.2 million---MORE THAN A 90% LOSS IN LESS THAN A YEAR.

Merrill has quietly settled out of court for the full amount and seems genuinely confused by the Massachusetts Secretary of State's apparent anger. A Merrill spokesman said blandly, “We are puzzled by this suit. We have been cooperating with the Secretary of State Galvin's office throughout this inquiry.”

Is it really that hard to understand why people don't like getting ripped of?

This anecdote shows that these exotic mortgage-backed securities are real stinkers. They're worthless. The market for structured debt-instruments has evaporated overnight leaving a massive hole in the banks' balance sheets. The likely outcome will be a rash of defaults followed by greater consolidation of the major players. (re: banking monopolies) The Fed's multi-billion bailout plan; the “Temporary Auction Facility” (TAF) is a quick-fix, but not a permanent solution. The real problem is insolvency, not liquidity.

The smaller banks are dire straights, too. They're bogged down with commercial and residential loans that are defaulting faster than any time since the Great Depression. The Comptroller of the Currency,John Dugan--who is presently investigating commercial real estate loans---discovered that commercial banks “wrote off $524 million in construction and development loans in the third quarter of 2007, almost nine times the amount of 2006”. The commercial real estate market is following residential real estate off a cliff and will undoubtedly be the next shoe to drop.

Dugan found out that, “More than 60% of Florida banks have commercial real estate loans worth more than 300% of their capital, a level that automatically attracts more attention from examiners.” (Wall Street Journal) He said that his office was prepared to intervene if banks with large real estate exposure maintained unreasonably low reserves for bad loans. Dugan is forecasting a steep “increase in bank failures.”

According to Reuters: “Dozens of U.S. banks will fail in the next two years as losses from soured loans mount and regulators crack down on lenders that take too much risk, especially in real estate and construction," predicts Gerard Cassidy, RBC Capital Markets analyst. Apart from the growing losses in commercial and residential real estate, the banks are carrying over $150 billion of “unsyndidated” debt connected to leveraged buyout deals (LBOs) which are presently stuck in the mud. Like CDOs, there's no market for these sketchy transactions which require billions in cheap, easily available credit. They've just become another anvil dragging the banks under.

On January 31, Bloomberg News reported: “Losses from securities linked to subprime mortgages may exceed $265 billion as regional U.S. banks, credit unions and overseas financial institutions write down the value of their holdings.” Standard and Poor's added that “it may cut or reduce ratings of $534 billion of subprime-mortgage securities and CDOs as default rates rise.” Another blow to the banks withering balance sheets. Is it any wonder why the "new loans" spigot has been turned off?

Surprisingly, there's an even bigger threat to the financial system than these staggering losses at the banks. A default by one of the big bond insurers could trigger a meltdown in the credit-default swaps market, which could lead to the implosion of trillions of dollars in derivatives bets. The inability of the under-capitalized monolines (bond insurers) to “make good” on their coverage is likely to set the first domino in motion by increasing the number of downgrades on bond issues and intensifying the credit-paralysis which already is spreading throughout the system.

MSN Money's financial analyst Jim Jubak summed it up like this:

"Actually, I'm worried not so much about the junk-bond market itself as the huge market for a derivative called a credit-default swap, or CDS, built on top of that junk-bond market. Credit-default swaps are a kind of insurance against default, arranged between two parties. One party, the seller, agrees to pay the face value of the policy in case of a default by a specific company. The buyer pays a premium, a fee, to the seller for that protection.

This has grown to be a huge market: The total value of all CDS contracts is something like $450 trillion..... Some studies have put the real credit risk at just 6% of the total, or about $27 trillion. That puts the CDS market at somewhere between two and six times the size of the U.S. economy.

All it will take in the CDS market is enough buyers and sellers deciding they can't rely on this insurance anymore for junk-bond prices to tumble and for companies to find it very expensive or impossible to raise money in this market." (Jim Jubak's Journal; "The Next Banking Crisis is on the Way", MSN Money)

Jubak really nails it here. In fact, this is what Wall Street is really worried about. $450 trillion in cyber-credit has been created through various off balance sheets operations which neither the Fed nor any other regulatory body can control. No one even knows how these abstruse, credit-inventions will perform in a falling market. But, so far, it doesn't look good.

The enormity of the derivatives market ($450 trillion) is the direct result of Greenspan's easy-credit monetary policies as well as the reconfiguring of the markets according to the “structured finance” model. The new model allows banks to run off-balance sheets operations that, in effect, create money out of thin air. Similarly, “synthetic” securitization, in the form of credit default swaps (CDS) has turned out to be another scam to avoid maintaining sufficient capital to cover a sudden rash of defaults. The bottom line is that the banks and non-bank institutions wanted to maximize their profits by keeping all their capital in play rather than maintaining the reserves they'd need in the event of a market downturn.

In a deregulated market, the Federal Reserve cannot control the creation of credit by non-bank institutions. As the massive derivatives bubble unwinds, it is likely to have real and disastrous effects on the underlying-productive economy. That's why Jubak and many other market analysts are so concerned. The persistent rise in home foreclosures, means that the derivatives which were levered on the original assets (sometimes exceeding 25-times their value) will vanish down a black hole. As trillions of dollars in virtual-capital are extinguished by a click of the mouse; the prospects of a downward deflationary spiral become more likely.

As economist Nouriel Roubini said:

“One has to realize that there is now a rising probability of a 'catastrophic' financial and economic outcome, i.e. a vicious circle where a deep recession makes the financial losses more severe and where, in turn, large and growing financial losses and a financial meltdown make the recession even more severe. That is why the Fed has thrown caution to the wind and taken a very aggressive approach to risk management.” (Nouriel Roubini EconoMonitor)

"In the fourth quarter of 2007, new foreclosures averaged 2,939 a day, double the pace of a year earlier." (RealtyTrac Inc.) The banks are presently cutting back on home equity loans which provided an additional $600 billion to homeowners last year for personal consumption. Bush's $150 billion “stimulus package” will barely cover a quarter of the amount that is lost. As consumer spending slows and the banks become more constrained in their lending; businesses will face overproduction problems and will have to limit their expansion and lay off workers. This is the downside of “low interest” bubble-making; a painful descent into deflation.

Capital is now being destroyed at a faster pace than it is being created. That's why the Fed is looking for solutions beyond mere rate cuts. Bernanke wants direct government action that will provide immediate stimulus. But that takes political consensus and there's still debate about the gravity of the upcoming recession. The pace of the economic contraction is breathtaking. This week's release of the Institute for Supply Management's Non-Manufacturing Index (ISM) was a shocker. It showed steep declines in all areas of the nation's service sector---including banks, travel companies, contractors, retail stores etc—The Business Activity Index, the New Orders Index, the Employment Index, and the Supplier Delivery Index have all contracted at a “historic” pace. Everyone took a hit.

“The numbers are so terrible, it's beyond belief,” said Scott Anderson, senior economist at Wells Fargo & Co.

The $2 trillion that has been wiped out from falling home prices, the slowdown in lending activity at the banks, the loss $600 billion in home equity loans, and the faltering stock market have all contributed to a noticeable change in the public's attitudes towards spending. Traffic to the shopping malls has slowed to a crawl. Retail shops had their worst January on record. Homeowners are hoarding their earnings to cover basic expenses and to make up for their lack of personal savings. The spending-spigot has been turned off. America's consumer culture is in full-retreat. The slowdown is here. It is now. We are likely to see the sharpest decline in consumer spending in US history. Bush's $150 billion will be too little too late.

America's place in the world has been guaranteed not by what it produces but by what it consumes. The American consumer has been the locomotive that drives the global economy. Now that engine has been derailed by the reckless monetary policies of the Fed and by shortsighted financial innovation. When equity bubbles collapse; everybody pays. Demand for goods and services diminishes, unemployment soars, banks fold, and the economy stalls. That's when governments have to step in and provide programs and resources that keep people working and sustain business activity. Otherwise there will be anarchy. Middle class people are ill-suited for life under a freeway overpass. They need a helping hand from government. Big government. Good-bye, Reagan. Hello, F.D.R.

The Bush stimulus plan is a drop in the bucket. It'll take much, much more. And, we're not holding our breath for a New Deal from George Walker Bush

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The FBI Deputizes Business

By Matthew Rothschild, February 7, 2008

Today, more than 23,000 representatives of private industry are working quietly with the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security. The members of this rapidly growing group, called InfraGard, receive secret warnings of terrorist threats before the public does—and, at least on one occasion, before elected officials. In return, they provide information to the government, which alarms the ACLU. But there may be more to it than that. One business executive, who showed me his InfraGard card, told me they have permission to “shoot to kill” in the event of martial law.
InfraGard is “a child of the FBI,” says Michael Hershman, the chairman of the advisory board of the InfraGard National Members Alliance and CEO of the Fairfax Group, an international consulting firm.

InfraGard started in Cleveland back in 1996, when the private sector there cooperated with the FBI to investigate cyber threats.

“Then the FBI cloned it,” says Phyllis Schneck, chairman of the board of directors of the InfraGard National Members Alliance, and the prime mover behind the growth of InfraGard over the last several years.

InfraGard itself is still an FBI operation, with FBI agents in each state overseeing the local InfraGard chapters. (There are now eighty-six of them.) The alliance is a nonprofit organization of private sector InfraGard members.

“We are the owners, operators, and experts of our critical infrastructure, from the CEO of a large company in agriculture or high finance to the guy who turns the valve at the water utility,” says Schneck, who by day is the vice president of research integration at Secure Computing.

“At its most basic level, InfraGard is a partnership between the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the private sector,” the InfraGard website states. “InfraGard chapters are geographically linked with FBI Field Office territories.”

In November 2001, InfraGard had around 1,700 members. As of late January, InfraGard had 23,682 members, according to its website, www.infragard.net, which adds that “350 of our nation’s Fortune 500 have a representative in InfraGard.”

To join, each person must be sponsored by “an existing InfraGard member, chapter, or partner organization.” The FBI then vets the applicant. On the application form, prospective members are asked which aspect of the critical infrastructure their organization deals with. These include: agriculture, banking and finance, the chemical industry, defense, energy, food, information and telecommunications, law enforcement, public health, and transportation.

FBI Director Robert Mueller addressed an InfraGard convention on August 9, 2005. At that time, the group had less than half as many members as it does today. “To date, there are more than 11,000 members of InfraGard,” he said. “From our perspective that amounts to 11,000 contacts . . . and 11,000 partners in our mission to protect America.” He added a little later, “Those of you in the private sector are the first line of defense.”

He urged InfraGard members to contact the FBI if they “note suspicious activity or an unusual event.” And he said they could sic the FBI on “disgruntled employees who will use knowledge gained on the job against their employers.”

In an interview with InfraGard after the conference, which is featured prominently on the InfraGard members’ website, Mueller says: “It’s a great program.”

The ACLU is not so sanguine.

“There is evidence that InfraGard may be closer to a corporate TIPS program, turning private-sector corporations—some of which may be in a position to observe the activities of millions of individual customers—into surrogate eyes and ears for the FBI,” the ACLU warned in its August 2004 report The Surveillance-Industrial Complex: How the American Government Is Conscripting Businesses and Individuals in the Construction of a Surveillance Society.

InfraGard is not readily accessible to the general public. Its communications with the FBI and Homeland Security are beyond the reach of the Freedom of Information Act under the “trade secrets” exemption, its website says. And any conversation with the public or the media is supposed to be carefully rehearsed.

“The interests of InfraGard must be protected whenever presented to non-InfraGard members,” the website states. “During interviews with members of the press, controlling the image of InfraGard being presented can be difficult. Proper preparation for the interview will minimize the risk of embarrassment. . . . The InfraGard leadership and the local FBI representative should review the submitted questions, agree on the predilection of the answers, and identify the appropriate interviewee. . . . Tailor answers to the expected audience. . . . Questions concerning sensitive information should be avoided.”

One of the advantages of InfraGard, according to its leading members, is that the FBI gives them a heads-up on a secure portal about any threatening information related to infrastructure disruption or terrorism.

The InfraGard website advertises this. In its list of benefits of joining InfraGard, it states: “Gain access to an FBI secure communication network complete with VPN encrypted website, webmail, listservs, message boards, and much more.”

InfraGard members receive “almost daily updates” on threats “emanating from both domestic sources and overseas,” Hershman says.

“We get very easy access to secure information that only goes to InfraGard members,” Schneck says. “People are happy to be in the know.”

On November 1, 2001, the FBI had information about a potential threat to the bridges of California. The alert went out to the InfraGard membership. Enron was notified, and so, too, was Barry Davis, who worked for Morgan Stanley. He notified his brother Gray, the governor of California.

“He said his brother talked to him before the FBI,” recalls Steve Maviglio, who was Davis’s press secretary at the time. “And the governor got a lot of grief for releasing the information. In his defense, he said, ‘I was on the phone with my brother, who is an investment banker. And if he knows, why shouldn’t the public know?’ ”

Maviglio still sounds perturbed about this: “You’d think an elected official would be the first to know, not the last.”

In return for being in the know, InfraGard members cooperate with the FBI and Homeland Security. “InfraGard members have contributed to about 100 FBI cases,” Schneck says. “What InfraGard brings you is reach into the regional and local communities. We are a 22,000-member vetted body of subject-matter experts that reaches across seventeen matrixes. All the different stovepipes can connect with InfraGard.”

Schneck is proud of the relationships the InfraGard Members Alliance has built with the FBI. “If you had to call 1-800-FBI, you probably wouldn’t bother,” she says. “But if you knew Joe from a local meeting you had with him over a donut, you might call them. Either to give or to get. We want everyone to have a little black book.”

This black book may come in handy in times of an emergency. “On the back of each membership card,” Schneck says, “we have all the numbers you’d need: for Homeland Security, for the FBI, for the cyber center. And by calling up as an InfraGard member, you will be listened to.” She also says that members would have an easier time obtaining a “special telecommunications card that will enable your call to go through when others will not.”

This special status concerns the ACLU.

“The FBI should not be creating a privileged class of Americans who get special treatment,” says Jay Stanley, public education director of the ACLU’s technology and liberty program. “There’s no ‘business class’ in law enforcement. If there’s information the FBI can share with 22,000 corporate bigwigs, why don’t they just share it with the public? That’s who their real ‘special relationship’ is supposed to be with. Secrecy is not a party favor to be given out to friends. . . . This bears a disturbing resemblance to the FBI’s handing out ‘goodies’ to corporations in return for folding them into its domestic surveillance machinery.”

When the government raises its alert levels, InfraGard is in the loop. For instance, in a press release on February 7, 2003, the Secretary of Homeland Security and the Attorney General announced that the national alert level was being raised from yellow to orange. They then listed “additional steps” that agencies were taking to “increase their protective measures.” One of those steps was to “provide alert information to InfraGard program.”

“They’re very much looped into our readiness capability,” says Amy Kudwa, spokeswoman for the Department of Homeland Security. “We provide speakers, as well as do joint presentations [with the FBI]. We also train alongside them, and they have participated in readiness exercises.”

On May 9, 2007, George Bush issued National Security Presidential Directive 51 entitled “National Continuity Policy.” In it, he instructed the Secretary of Homeland Security to coordinate with “private sector owners and operators of critical infrastructure, as appropriate, in order to provide for the delivery of essential services during an emergency.”

Asked if the InfraGard National Members Alliance was involved with these plans, Schneck said it was “not directly participating at this point.” Hershman, chairman of the group’s advisory board, however, said that it was.

InfraGard members, sometimes hundreds at a time, have been used in “national emergency preparation drills,” Schneck acknowledges.

“In case something happens, everybody is ready,” says Norm Arendt, the head of the Madison, Wisconsin, chapter of InfraGard, and the safety director for the consulting firm Short Elliott Hendrickson, Inc. “There’s been lots of discussions about what happens under an emergency.”

One business owner in the United States tells me that InfraGard members are being advised on how to prepare for a martial law situation—and what their role might be. He showed me his InfraGard card, with his name and e-mail address on the front, along with the InfraGard logo and its slogan, “Partnership for Protection.” On the back of the card were the emergency numbers that Schneck mentioned.

This business owner says he attended a small InfraGard meeting where agents of the FBI and Homeland Security discussed in astonishing detail what InfraGard members may be called upon to do.

“The meeting started off innocuously enough, with the speakers talking about corporate espionage,” he says. “From there, it just progressed. All of a sudden we were knee deep in what was expected of us when martial law is declared. We were expected to share all our resources, but in return we’d be given specific benefits.” These included, he says, the ability to travel in restricted areas and to get people out.
But that’s not all.

“Then they said when—not if—martial law is declared, it was our responsibility to protect our portion of the infrastructure, and if we had to use deadly force to protect it, we couldn’t be prosecuted,” he says.

I was able to confirm that the meeting took place where he said it had, and that the FBI and Homeland Security did make presentations there. One InfraGard member who attended that meeting denies that the subject of lethal force came up. But the whistleblower is 100 percent certain of it. “I have nothing to gain by telling you this, and everything to lose,” he adds. “I’m so nervous about this, and I’m not someone who gets nervous.”

Though Schneck says that FBI and Homeland Security agents do make presentations to InfraGard, she denies that InfraGard members would have any civil patrol or law enforcement functions. “I have never heard of InfraGard members being told to use lethal force anywhere,” Schneck says.

The FBI adamantly denies it, also. “That’s ridiculous,” says Catherine Milhoan, an FBI spokesperson. “If you want to quote a businessperson saying that, knock yourself out. If that’s what you want to print, fine.”

But one other InfraGard member corroborated the whistleblower’s account, and another would not deny it.

Christine Moerke is a business continuity consultant for Alliant Energy in Madison, Wisconsin. She says she’s an InfraGard member, and she confirms that she has attended InfraGard meetings that went into the details about what kind of civil patrol function—including engaging in lethal force—that InfraGard members may be called upon to perform.

“There have been discussions like that, that I’ve heard of and participated in,” she says.

Curt Haugen is CEO of S’Curo Group, a company that does “strategic planning, business continuity planning and disaster recovery, physical and IT security, policy development, internal control, personnel selection, and travel safety,” according to its website. Haugen tells me he is a former FBI agent and that he has been an InfraGard member for many years. He is a huge booster. “It’s the only true organization where there is the public-private partnership,” he says. “It’s all who knows who. You know a face, you trust a face. That’s what makes it work.”

He says InfraGard “absolutely” does emergency preparedness exercises. When I ask about discussions the FBI and Homeland Security have had with InfraGard members about their use of lethal force, he says: “That much I cannot comment on. But as a private citizen, you have the right to use force if you feel threatened.”

“We were assured that if we were forced to kill someone to protect our infrastructure, there would be no repercussions,” the whistleblower says. “It gave me goose bumps. It chilled me to the bone.”

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5 Of 9 Jiffy Lubes Caught Over-Charging

We talked about this back in May, but now there's an excellent YouTube compilation of all four of the NBC4 LA's hidden camera investigation into Jiffy Lube.

5 out of 9 places they had their car serviced at scammed them. When confronted, the mechanics say they don't know why they did it and refer NBC to their district manager. When NBC finds the DM, he denies his identity and says he's just a customer. Jiffy Lube corporate confirms in an email that the man was in fact the DM and said they are taking steps to make sure it never happens again.

Moral of the story: learn how to change your own oil.

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Wednesday, February 06, 2008

NEA Kids Book List of 100 Titles About African American Heritage

NEA List
A celebration of heritage, tradition, and achievement
Timed to coincide with Black History Month, the National Education Association (NEA) has released a comprehensive reading list of 100 titles that celebrate African American heritage, tradition, and achievement. NEA President Reg Weaver says, "Taken together, these titles provide an overview of the civil rights movement and its leaders, as well as the trials, triumphs, and traditions of a heritage that has played -- and continues to play -- a vital role in our nation's history."

A. Philip Randolph: Union Leader and Civil Rights Crusader (African-American Biographies) by Catherine Reef. (Grades 5-8)

The Adventures of Midnight Son by Denise Lewis Patrick. (Grades 4-8)

All Night, All Day: A Child's First Book of African American Spirituals by Ashley Bryan (All grades)

Almost to Freedom by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson (Grades 1-4)

Arthur Ashe by Caroline Evensen Lazo (Grades 5-8)

Aunt Clara Brown, Official Pioneer by Linda Lowery (Grades 2-4)

One More Valley, One More Hill: The Story of Aunt Clara Brown by Linda Lowery (Grades 6 and up)

Aunt Flossie's Hats (and Crab Cakes Later) by James Ransome (Grades K-3)

Bigmama's by Donald Crews (Grades PreK-2)

The Black Cowboys by Gina De Angelis (Grades 5-8)

The Black Snowman by Phil Mendez (Grades 3-5)

Black Wheels by Michael Halperin (Grades 8 and up)

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison (Grades 11 and up)

Booker T. Washington: A Modern Moses by Lois P. Nicholson (Grades 4-7)

Born in Sin by Evelyn Coleman (Grades 7 and up)

Brown Honey in Broomwheat Tea by Joyce Carol Thomas (All grades)

Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis (Grades 4-7)

Carter G. Woodson: The Man Who Put "Black" in American History by James Haskins (Grades 4-6)

Carver: A Life in Poems by Marilyn Nelson (Grades 6 and up)

Cassie's Word Quilt Faith Ringgold (Grades PreK-K)

Champion: The Story of Muhammad Ali by James Haskins (Grades 3-6)

The Color Purple by Alice Walker (Grades 10 and up)

Conjure Times: Black Magicians in America by James Haskins and Kathleen Benson (Grades 6 and up)

Don't Say Ain't by Irene Smalls (Grades 2-4)

Ellington Was Not a Street by Ntozake Shange (All grades)

Escape from Slavery: The True Story of My Ten Years in Captivity and My Journey to Freedom in America by Francis Bok (Grades 8 and up)

Especially Heroes by Virginia L. Kroll (Grades 3-5)

The Fire Next Time by James A. Baldwin (Grades 10 and up)

Fishing Day by Andrea Davis Pinkney (Grades K-3).

Forty Acres and Maybe a Mule by Harriett Gillem Robinet (Grades 4-7)

Frederick Douglass: Leader against Slavery Patricia and Fredrick McKissack (Grades 1-4)

Freedom River by Doreen Rappaport (Grades 2-5)

Freedom Roads: Searching for the Underground Railroad Joyce Hansen and Gary McGowan (Grades 5-9)

Goin' Someplace Special by Pat McKissack (Grades 2-5)

Hold Fast to Dreams by Andrea Davis Pinkney (Grades 5 and up)

Hush by Jacqueline Woodson (Grades 7 and up)

I Dream of Trains by Angela Johnson (Grades PreK-2)

I Love My Hair by Natasha Anastasia Tarpley (Grades PreK-2)

Ida B. Wells: Mother of the Civil Rights Movement by Dennis Brindell Fradin and Judith Bloom Fradin (Grades 5 and up)

In Daddy's Arms I Am Tall: African Americans Celebrating Fathers illustrated by Javaka Steptoe (Grades 3 and up)

In My Momma's Kitchen by Jerdine Nolan (Grades K-3)

In the Land of Words: New and Selected Poems by Eloise Greenfield (Grades 2-6)

Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison (Grades 11 and up)

Juneteenth: A Celebration of Freedom by Charles A. Taylor (Grades 4-7)

Kings and Queens of West Africa by Sylviane Anna Diouf (Grades 4-7)

The Land by Mildred D. Taylor (Grades 6 and up)

A Lesson for Martin Luther King Jr. by Denise Lewis Patrick (Grades K-2)

Like Sisters on the Homefront Rita Williams-Garcia (Grades 8 and up)

Lookin' for Bird in the Big City by Robert Burleigh (Grades 1-3)

Makes Me Wanna Holler: A Young Black Man in America by Nathan McCall (Grades 10 and up)

Malcolm X: By Any Means Necessary by Walter Dean Myers (Grades 5 and up)

Mansa Musa by Khephra Burns (Grades 3-6)

Martin's Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by Doreen Rappaport (Grades PreK-3)

Masai and I by Virginia Kroll (Grades 2-4)

Me and Uncle Romie: A Story Inspired by the Life and Art of Romare Bearden by Claire Hartfield. (Grades 1-4)

The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter G. Woodson (Grades 11 and up)

Money Hungry by Sharon G. Flake (Grades 7-9)

More than Anything Else by Marie Bradby (Grades K-3)

Native Son by Richard Wright (Grades 11 and up)

A Negro Explorer at the North Pole by Matthew A. Henson (Grades 8 and up)

Night Golf by William Miller (Grades 2-4)

Oh Lord, I Wish I Was a Buzzard by Polly Greenberg (Grades PreK-K)

Only Passing Through: The Story of Sojourner Truth by Anne Rockwell (Grades 2-5)

Papa's Mark by Gwendolyn Battle-Lavert (Grades 1-3)

Pass it on: African-American Poetry for Children edited by Wade Hudson (Grades K-5)

The People Could Fly: American Black Folktales by Virginia Hamilton (All grades)

Phenomenal Woman: Four Poems Celebrating Women by Maya Angelou (Grades 8 and up)

Pictures for Miss Josie by Sandra Belton (Grades K-4)

Rap a Tap Tap: Here's Bojangles-Think of That by Leo and Diane Dillon.(Grades PreK-2)

The Return of Gabriel by John Armistead (Grades 5-8)

Richard Wright and the Library Card by William Miller (Grades 2-5)

Rock of Ages : A Tribute to the Black Church by Tonya Bolden (Grades K-3)

Roots: The Saga of an American Family by Alex Haley (Grades 11 and up)

Separate but Not Equal: The Dream and the Struggle by James Haskins (Grades 7 and up)

Seven Spools of Thread: A Kwanzaa Story by Angela Shelf Medearis (Grades 2-5)

Something Beautiful by Sharon Dennis Wyeth (Grades 2-4)

The Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B. DuBois (Grades 10 and up)

Sounder by William H. Armstrong (Grades 4-7)

Stealing Freedom by Elisa Carbone (Grades 6-10)

A Strong Right Arm: The Story of Mamie "Peanut" Johnson by Michelle Y. Green (Grades 4-7)

Sukey and the Mermaid by Robert D. San Souci (Grades K-3)

Summer Snow: Reflections from a Black Daughter of the South by Trudier Harris (Grades 11 and up)

Sunday Week by Dinah Johnson. Henry Holt, 1999 (Grades PreK-2)

Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt by Deborah Hopkinson (Grades K-3)

Taking Liberty: The Story of Oney Judge, George Washington's Runaway Slave by Ann Rinaldi (Grades 6 and up)

Talkin' About Bessie by Nikki Grimes (Grades 3-6)

Talking With Tebé: Clementine Hunter, Memory Artist by Mary E. Lyons (Grades 5 and up)

Tambourine Moon by Joy Jones (Grades K-2)

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston (Grades 11 and up)

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe (Grades 10 and up)

Through My Eyes: The Autobiography of Ruby Bridges by Ruby Bridges (Grades 4 and up)

To Be a Slave by Julius Lester (Grades 5 and up)

Tree of Hope by Amy Littlesugar (Grades K-3)

Twelve Travelers, Twenty Horses by Harriette Gillem Robinet (Grades 5-7)

Uncle Jed's Barbershop by Margaree King Mitchell (Grades PreK-3)

Virgie Goes to School With Us Boys by Elizabeth Fitzgerald Howard (Grades 2-5)

Vision of Beauty: the Story of Sarah Breedlove Walker by Kathryn Lasky (Grades 3-6)

Visiting Langston by Willie Perdomo (Grades 2-4)

The Watsons Go To Birmingham- 1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis (Grades 4-7)

When Marian Sang: The True Recital of Marian Anderson by Pam Munoz Ryan (Grades K-3)

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Friday, February 01, 2008

Keith Olbermann Special Comment FISA

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Getting Duped: How the Media Messes with Your Mind

Statements made in the media can surreptitiously plant distortions in the minds of millions. Learning to recognize two commonly used fallacies can help you separate fact from fiction.

By Yvonne Raley and Robert Talisse

In 2003 nearly half of all Americans falsely assumed that the U.S. government had found solid evidence for a link between Iraq and al Qaeda. What is more, almost a quarter of us believed that investigators had all but confirmed the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, according to a 2003 report by the University of Maryland’s Program on International Policy Attitudes and Knowledge Networks, a polling and market research firm. How did the true situation in Iraq become so grossly distorted in American minds?

Many people have attributed such misconceptions to a politically motivated disinformation campaign to engender support for the armed struggle in Iraq. We do not think the deceptions were premeditated, however. Instead they are most likely the result of common types of reasoning errors, which appear frequently in discussions in the news media and which can easily fool an unsuspecting public.

News shows often have an implicit bias that may motivate the portrayal of facts and opinions in misleading ways, even if the information presented is largely accurate. Nevertheless, by becoming familiar with how spokespeople can create false impressions, media consumers can learn to ignore certain claims and thereby avoid getting duped. We have detected two general types of fallacies—one of them well known and the other newly identified—that have permeated discussion of the Iraq War and that are generally ubiquitous in political debates and other discourse.

Spinning Straw into Fool’s Gold
One common method of spinning information is the so-called straw man argument. In this tactic, a person summarizes the opposition’s position inaccurately so as to weaken it and then refutes that inaccurate rendition. In a November 2005 speech, for example, President George W. Bush responded to questions about pulling troops out of Iraq by saying, “We’ve heard some people say, pull them out right now. That’s a huge mistake. It’d be a terrible mistake. It sends a bad message to our troops, and it sends a bad message to our enemy, and it sends a bad message to the Iraqis.” The statement that unnamed “people” are advocating a troop withdrawal from Iraq “right now” is a straw man, because it exaggerates the opposing viewpoint. Not even the most stalwart Bush adversaries backed an immediate troop withdrawal. Most proposed that the soldiers be sent home over several months, a more reasonable and persuasive plan that Bush undercut with his straw man.

The straw man is used in countless other contexts as well. In his acceptance speech at the 1996 Democratic Convention, for instance, Bill Clinton opined: “… with all respect [to Bob Dole], we do not need to build a bridge to the past. We need to build a bridge to the future.” Dole did discuss restoring the values of an earlier America, but Clinton falsely implied that Dole was only looking backward (whereas Clinton was looking forward). People may use a straw man to discredit theories to which they do not subscribe. Characterizing evolution, for example, as “all random chance” is a straw man argument; it misrepresents a complex theory that only partly rests on the randomness of mutations that may lead to better chances of survival.

Recently, in a 2006 paper co-authored with Scott F. Aikin, one of us (Talisse) documented a twist on the straw man tactic. In what Talisse dubs a weak man argument, a person sets up the opposition’s weakest (or one of its weakest) arguments or proponents for attack, as opposed to misstating a rival’s position as the straw man argument does. In a July 2007 edition of Talking Points, Bill O’Reilly took on a claim by the New York Times that we had lost the war in Iraq by saying that “the New York Times declared defeat in Iraq Sunday on its editorial page, and there’s no question the antiwar movement has momentum.” (The editorial actually said that “some opponents of the Iraq war are toying with the idea of American defeat,” but let us assume that O’Reilly’s characterization was correct.)

O’Reilly then offered a weak man explanation for the purported defeat: “The truth is the Iraqi government and many of its citizens are simply not doing enough to defeat the terrorists and corruption. The U.S.A. can’t control that country. No nation could.... Unfortunately, the Iraqi failure to help themselves has come true.” Although Iraq’s failure to aid in fighting terrorism and corruption could be why we are losing the war, the troubles in Iraq could also stem from a host of logistical reasons, some of which may shed a negative light on the current administration. O’Reilly, however, kept any discussion of these reasons offstage, suppressing the various other possible—and possibly more likely—reasons for “defeat” in Iraq. Meanwhile his claims that the “U.S.A. can’t control that country” and that “no nation could” deflected blame from the U.S. government.

Weak man arguments are pervasive. In a 2005 editorial in Denver’s Rocky Mountain News, conservative writer and activist David Horowitz picked on ethnic studies scholar Ward Churchill, formerly at the University of Colorado at Boulder, whose views he described as “hateful and ignorant.” Horowitz then went on to claim that Churchill’s radical “hate America” convictions “represent” those of a “substantial seg­ment of the academic community.” Thus, he used the example of Churchill (the weak man) to argue that “tenured radicals” have made universities into leftist political institutions and subverted the academic enterprise, thereby failing to acknowledge the presence of more highly regarded and politically mainstream scholars in academia.

Trolling for Truth
Weak man tactics are harder to detect than those of the straw man variety. Because straw man arguments are closely related to an opponent’s true position, a clever listener might be able to spot the truth amid the hyperbole, understatement or other corrupted version of that view. A weak man argument, however, is more opaque because it contains a grain of truth and often bears little similarity to the stronger arguments that should also be presented. Therefore, a listener has to know a lot more about the situation to imagine the information that a speaker or writer has cleverly disregarded.

Nevertheless, an astute consumer of the news can catch many straw man and weak man fallacies by knowing how they work. Another strategy is to always consider a speaker’s or writer’s motivation or agenda and be especially alert for skewed statements of fact in editorials, television opinion shows, and the like. It is also wise to obtain news from more balanced news sources. An alternative approach is to try to construct, in your own mind, the best argument against what you have heard before accepting it as true. Or simply ask yourself: Why should I not believe this?

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