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Don't Click on This Ad

The Nation website has been running an ad recently urging readers to "say no to government regulation of the internet." Please don't click on it. It's a deceptive campaign created by high-priced consultants and paid for by the cable and phone industries to build opposition to the net neutrality bill. Companies like AT&T, Verizon, BellSouth and their trade associations are spending millions every week to mislead and misinform the American public through tricky ad campaigns such as these.

As the invaluable group Free Press reports, their latest attempt to hoodwink Internet users is a cutesy cartoon at www.dontregulate.org -- a clever piece of industry propaganda that is riddled with half-truths and conveys a fake populist message that sounds plausible, while undermining the work of genuine public and consumer advocates.

Why, you may ask, is The Nation running the ad? The short answer is that we take ads because we're a business that runs, in part, on advertising revenue, not because we agree with the advertiser. It's the same answer we gave to outraged readers when we took full-page magazine ads from Fox News. (Click here to read The Nation's advertising policy.) My goal here isn't to defend the policy--though I do find it legitimate and unobjectionable--but rather to try to highlight this particular ad's devious and misleading opposition to "net neutrality"--something that The Nation magazine fully supports. (Network neutrality is simply the principle that Internet users should be able to access any web content they choose, without restrictions or limitations imposed by their Internet service provider.)

The ad, with faux populist oratory, asks readers whether they want the government regulating the internet. The answer: Of course! Without government intervention, the corporate sector will slice and dice the internet based on nothing other than maximixing profits. In practice, this would mean that a service provider could make it faster and easier to reach some websites over others, or even refuse to connect to some websites altogether. (Check out video and text dissections of the ad campaign.)

As digital democracy expert Jeff Chester wrote on The Nation's site, "The nation's largest telephone and cable companies are crafting an alarming set of strategies that would transform the free, open and nondiscriminatory Internet of today to a privately run and branded service that would charge a fee for virtually everything we do online."

The Net Neutrality bill, introduced by Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon and supported by many leading Democrats as well as Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and other Internet giants, will help prevent that from happening. Click here to ask your reps to support the bill and check out a wide range of related resources from Save the Internet.com, where you can sign a petition (now with over 600,000 names), write to Congress, learn more about the issues at stake, and forward messages to help thwart the big Telecoms from turning the Internet into little more than a big profit center.

Equal Opportunity Hating

Since my last post bashed Republican presidential hopeful John McCain, let me indulge in a little Hillary-bashing today. If you're angry at Hillary and all she represents -- i.e., the total non-opposition of the supposed opposition party -- help discredit her with the party's liberal base so that she won't become the Democratic nominee in 2008. I suggest getting involved with Jonathan Tasini's upstart campaign. Tasini -- a longtime labor activist and writer -- is challenging Hillary for the Senate. (Full disclosure: Jonathan and I were debate partners in a smackdown sponsored by The Nation and The Economist magazines, on the question "Is Wal-Mart Good for America?") Jonathan is, by his own admission, unlikely to unseat Hillary. But this is not really about the Senate; it's public education for 2008. Jonathan is calling attention to Hillary's dismal pro-war record, and her failure to stand up for working people (not only has she served on the board of Wal-Mart, she voted for the bankruptcy "reform" bill, paid for -- and authored -- by the credit card industry).

Speaking of trying to stop bad people from becoming president -- an admittedly quixotic endeavor -- I just saw an excellent documentary called "Giuliani Time." Like most political documentaries it drags on a bit, but the film is illuminating and even shocking, even for someone like me who lived in New York City during that horrible era.

Pelosi's Stumble

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-California, inspired a lot of enthusiasm among progressives when she moved into a leadership position among Congressional Democrats three years ago. She was a solid liberal who had voted against authorizing President Bush to attack Iraq in 2002 and seemed to get the point that Democrats needed to become an opposition party. As minority leader, however, she's stumbled repeatedly on the issues and generally failed to function as a leader.

Pelosi is personally progressive on many issues. But she has not done much to develop a progressive image -- or message -- for Congressional Democrats. Rather, she has embraced the same caution that has undermined the party's appeal in the past two election cycles.

Pelosi was all over the place with regard to Representative John Murtha's call the development of an Iraq exit strategy. Even now, she's sort of for the Pennsylvania Democrat's proposal, but she's not moving the caucus in a coherent direction with regard to the war in particular or foreign policy in general.

And just watch Pelosi scramble away from discussions about presidential accountability because of her misread of public sentiment regarding censure and impeachment initiatives and you can tell that she is still buying into the discredited theory that Democrats will achieve meaningful power without standing for much of anything.

Sure, Bush's poll numbers are poor, and more than a few House Republicans are being fitted for prison uniforms. But if Pelosi thinks that the GOP grip on the House is going to be released without a fight, she is headed for a November result that parallels those of 2002 and 2004.

While many national Democrats continue to see something of value in Pelosi's leadership, her hometown paper, the San Francisco Bay Guardian, has lost faith.

The Guardian, one of the most progressive of the country's alternative weekly newspapers, issued it influential endorsements for California's June 6 primaries this week.

The widely-circulated paper gave warm endorsements to a number of House Democrats seeking reelection in Bay Area districts -- including Barbara Lee, Lynn Woolsey and Pete Stark, all outspoken foes of the war and cosponsors of John Conyers' bill seeking to establish a select committee to make recommendations regarding impeachment. [Nine members of the California delegation are cosponsors of the Conyers resolution, but Pelosi has gone out of her way to distance herself from the proposal.]

The minority leader did not get any support, however.

Even though Pelosi does not face a primary challenge, the Bay Guardian's editors pointedly refused to endorse the minority leader.

Here's what they wrote:

Congress, District 8

Democrat

NO ENDORSEMENT

If the Democrats retake the House, Rep. Nancy Pelosi will almost certainly become the first female Speaker, and that's something noteworthy. (And she'd be a far better Speaker than the incumbent.) Pelosi, however, has tried so hard to promote her own career that she's ignored her constituents and become too much of a moderate Democrat, late in opposing the war, weak on same-sex marriage, and obsessed with raising money. She's also responsible for privatizing the Presidio. Whatever happens this year, she needs a challenger next time around.

It's the War, Stupid

Yesterday I spoke to a brilliant group of kids studying AP government at Washington's Eleanor Roosevelt High School. One student asked me, "Are politicians in Congress supporting, opposing or ignoring the Iraq war?"

Good question. "Mostly ignoring," I answered.

Listening to Congress, you'd barely know there's a war on, let alone one that's already passed the three year mark. Most Republicans won't dare go after the President on his signature issue. Many Democrats aren't willing to undermine their timid leadership. Thus serious discussion of the war rarely occurs inside the corridors of power.

The American people, on the other hand, remain acutely aware of the unfolding disaster on the ground. The latest ABC News/Washington Post poll further illustrates how Iraq is driving Bush's approval rating downward. The Post writes:

Public dissatisfaction with Bush has grown in lock step with opposition to the conflict in Iraq. Not quite a third -- 32 percent -- said they approve of the way Bush is handling Iraq, down five points in the past month and a new low in Post-ABC polling. Fewer than four in 10 -- 37 percent -- say Iraq has been worth the cost, the lowest level of support recorded in Post-ABC polls. Nearly two in three Americans believe the war has not been worth it -- a view shared by eight in 10 Democrats, seven in 10 independents and a third of all Republicans.

The clearest sign of how Iraq dominates the public mood came in answer to another question, which asked those who disapprove of Bush's performance to cite a reason. Nearly half, 46 percent, said Iraq -- easily the most frequently mentioned reason. In equal proportions, Republicans as well as Democrats who disapprove of Bush cite his performance in Iraq as the principal reason.

The findings buttress comments Monday by White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove, who said Iraq "looms over everything."

Not everyone, to be sure, has remained passive. Today marks the six-month anniversary of Rep. Jack Murtha's courageous call for a swift end to the war. The public is with him, even though the policy is not.

Spreading the McPheever

I confess. I watch American Idol. At the end of a long Tuesday or Wednesday at The Nation, I don't reach for Le Monde Diplomatique or New Left Review. I reach for my remote. And I enjoy the critical powers of American Idol Judge Simon Cowell.

(In the latest issue of The New Republic, newly anointed editor Franklin Foer has a terrific and snarkily insightful analysis of Simon's judicial "pistol-whippings"--replete with comparisons to the power of other arbiters of American critical taste such as Edmund Wilson, Lionel Trilling, and Clement Greenberg.)

Since early Spring, I've had a running bet with one of America's leading religious thinkers as to who will be America's next Idol. In late March, she bet on Elliott Yamin. But after last night's performances--and I've been trying to reach her this evening without success--I'll bet she's changed her bet. It's now a showdown between the two other finalists--Alabama's Taylor Hicks and Los Angeles' Katharine McPhee. Yes, Alabama vs. Los Angeles. (The show's red-blue dynamic was brought alive tonight with highlights of Alabama's Bob Riley celebrating Hicks and LA's (Mayor) Antonio Villaraigosa welcoming McPhee.)

Taylor is your sort of blowsy, don't worry/be happy, cut-above-the-average wedding singer. He reminds me of an apolitical, young Clinton. (I keep waiting for him to bite his lip in that semi-rueful way.) No question that Taylor did well in tonight's make-it-or-break-it round--singing Springsteen's "Dancing in the Dark" and Joe Cocker... and closing out with the inimitable Otis Reding's "Try a Little Tenderness." But McPhee, who's been ragged on for her lack of soul by that arbiter of soul, taste and culture, The New York Post, blew people away with her rendition of "Over the Rainbow." (Even Snarky Simon, who selected the song for her, said it was the performance of the entire program.)

So where's this leave us Idol addicts? Well, first, wishing Idol wasn't heading into its final rounds. But, putting that aside, I really want to see Simon's smirky certainties tested. After all, as TNR's Foer points out, "for the past three seasons, [Simon] has championed the contest's eventual winner..." And he's sealed quite a few fates by proving how right he was.

Monday night, Simon told Jay Leno that Taylor was "the favorite" to be the next Idol. But after last night's round, the delightfully mean-spirited Simon has to recognize he made a mistake. It's time he understand that even his conventional wisdom is almost always wrong, and that these are times which cry out for a woman Idol. After all, with a latter day Wizard of Oz running this country, we need a savvy, sharp LA woman belting out "Over the Rainbow" at every possible opportunity.

End of The Hummer?

The good news out of Detroit is that the largest version of the Hummer – the 10,000 pound, less than 10 mpg, $150,000 Hummer H1 – is being scrapped by General Motors due to lagging sales.

But, on the flip side, sales for the entire Hummer fleet – including the H2 and H3 models which boast whopping 13 mpg and 16 mpg fuel efficiencies, respectively – TRIPLED nationally between March 2005 and March 2006. According to The Wall Street Journal "people are buying Hummers precisely because of high gas prices – buyers want the world to know they can afford the gas." (If you were wondering who the 29 percent of Americans are who still support George Bush, look no further!).

And, despite recent election year grandstanding, the Bush administration is doing nothing of significance to push for improvements in the fuel efficiency of the gas-guzzling, light trucks category (SUV's, minivans, and pick-ups).

Last week, Bush – who recently "pleaded" with Congress for the "authority" to strengthen fuel efficiency standards (authority which he has had from "the day he stepped into office," according to Daniel Lashoff, Science Director for the Natural Resources Defense Council's Climate Center) – submitted legislation that would set fuel standards based on a new "marginal cost/marginal benefit analysis," instead of the current "best technology" approach.

The "cost/benefit" analysis – the method of choice employed by corporations protecting their bottom lines – invariably overstates the costs of implementing new technologies while understating the difficult to quantify benefits of things like independence from foreign oil, reduced global warming and cleaner air. Furthermore, the Bush proposal would allow manufacturers to accumulate credits for surpassing automobile mileage standards, which they could then use if they fail to meet mileage standards set for light trucks.

According to Lashoff, "The Administration's proposal is a Trojan Horse that they are trying to sell to consumers but really is a gift to GM."

Any more tricks like these and Bush might soon see gas prices exceed his approval rating. In the meantime, an angry electorate should let its representatives know that this Bush proposal isn't worth the paper it's printed on – literally, when one considers the energy cost to manufacture and recycle the paper.

Big Brother's Little Brother

Six months ago, The Nation published The Dictionary of Republicanisms, a guide to the Orwellian phrases the Republicans have introduced into American politics. And it seems like every week since then they keep adding new ones. This week's winner is The Terrorist Surveillance Act. Last week's was trolling.

Yes, last Thursday the country experienced an uncomfortable moment when the President of the United States reassured us that the government was not "trolling through the personal lives of millions of innocent Americans." Apparently W's speech writing staff doesn't know that trolling is slang for an older gay man cruising for anonymous sex with younger men.

The White House defense for the so-called Terrorist Surveillance Act, its defense for coercing the phone companies into giving up millions of Americans phone records is that they are trolling the "logs," not listening to the content. If you believe that I suggest you pepper your telephone conversations with the Arabic phrase for "Allah is great" and see how you're treated at airport security.

The Senate has the opportunity to rebuke the president for this warrantless wiretapping by rejecting the man who oversaw the program, General Michael Hayden. If they do not, they will see how much luck they have trolling for votes next November.

To read excerpts from The Dictionary of Republicanisms click here, here, and here.

Cheney's Oily Interests

Wondering why Vice-President Dick Cheney recently played footsie with Kazakhstan's autocratic leader--an oil-rich president with an awful human rights record whose recent re-election was fraudulent? (Hey, sounds sort of familiar.) No, it wasn't because Cheney wanted to mimic his boss, who recently received another oil-rich autocrat--the president of Azerbaijan--in the White House. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that Cheney used to occupy a cushy seat on Kazakh's Oil Advisory Board? (Did anyone see this in coverage of the Vice-President's trip?) As reported by Mark Ames in the June 2003 issue of The Exile, Cheney was a member of that board in 2001 and advised Bush to "deepen [our] commercial dialogue with Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and other Caspian states." On this trip, he pronounced himself to be "delighted" to be a guest of the Kazakh president, adding that the United States "is proud to be your strategic partner" and looks forward "to continued friendship between us."

Speak for yourself and your oily interests, Mr Cheney, not for the millions of Americans who still seek a moral compass in our politics.

FBI Said to Seek Phone Records of Reporters

On an evening when every politician in the Washington was trooping in front of the television cameras to add their commentary to the slurry of blather that is the immigration "debate," and most Washington reporters were trying to figure out whether White House political czar Karl Rove will be indicted this week, little attention went to what could turn out to be the most significant story of the day.

But as journalists wake up to the fact that they have apparently become the latest targets of the Bush-Cheney administration's abusive eavesdropping, that should change.

According to ABC News, the Federal Bureau of Investigation has been quietly going after the phone records of news reporters as part of its investigations of leaks of information of government employees.

An entry posted Monday evening on The Blotter, an ABC News blog, by investigative reporters Brian Ross and Richard Esposito, reports that, "The FBI acknowledged late Monday that it is increasingly seeking reporters' phone records in leak investigations. 'It used to be very hard and complicated to do this, but it no longer is in the Bush administration,' said a senior federal official."

The report by Ross and Esposito, respected journalists with solid sources in the law enforcement community, continued:

FBI officials did not deny that phone records of ABC News, the New York Times and the Washington Post had been sought as part of a investigation of leaks at the CIA.

In a statement, the FBI press office said its leak investigations begin with the examination of government phone records.

"The FBI will take logical investigative steps to determine if a criminal act was committed by a government employee by the unauthorized release of classified information," the statement said.

Officials say that means that phone records of reporters will be sought if government records are not sufficient.

Officials say the FBI makes extensive use of a new provision of the Patriot Act which allows agents to seek information with what are called National Security Letters (NSL).

The NSLs are a version of an administrative subpoena and are not signed by a judge. Under the law, a phone company receiving a NSL for phone records must provide them and may not divulge to the customer that the records have been given to the government.

Monday evening's report from Ross and Esposito followed their revelation earlier in the day that they had been told by "a senior federal law enforcement official" that the government is monitoring phone calls they and other journalists are making in order to identify confidential sources.

Ross and Esposito wrote in their mid-day Monday entry on the ABC News blog that:

A senior federal law enforcement official tells ABC News the government is tracking the phone numbers we (Brian Ross and Richard Esposito) call in an effort to root out confidential sources.

"It's time for you to get some new cell phones, quick," the source told us in an in-person conversation.

ABC News does not know how the government determined who we are calling, or whether our phone records were provided to the government as part of the recently-disclosed NSA collection of domestic phone calls.

Other sources have told us that phone calls and contacts by reporters for ABC News, along with the New York Times and the Washington Post, are being examined as part of a widespread CIA leak investigation.

If these reports are accurate -- and Ross and Esposito have a solid record of getting things right -- it does not require much of an imagination to determine what has transpired.

Any serious discussion will turn, for reasons hardly unreasonable considering recent revelations regarding this White House's disregard for the rule of law, to the question of whether a frustrated Bush-Cheney administration is seeking the phone records of journalists not merely to identify leakers but to thwart the sort of whistle blowing that has embarrassed the president and vice president by linking them to warrantless wiretapping, rendition of prisoners, the defense of torture, the distribution of classified information in order to punish political critics and other abuses of power.

If the administration has begun reviewing the telephone calls of reporters not to catch lawbreakers but to prevent revelations of its own lawlessness, then this White House has strayed onto dangerous political turf.

To be sure, the Bush-Cheney administration would not be the first to go after journalists in order to protect itself from challenges to its authority. President John Adams actually jailed editorial critics in the early days of the Republic, provoking the crisis that would make him the first president to be defeated for reelection. President Richard Nixon produced an "enemies list" that included the names of prominent journalists such as Daniel Schorr.

This could mark a turning point for the usually pliant Washington press corps, however.

White House reporters are by any measure a docile lot, and there is no question that the Bush-Cheney administration has benefited tremendously from the frequently stenographic reporting of even its most outlandish spin by unquestioning national correspondents -- two words: "Judith Miller." But it is difficult to imagine, especially with the approval ratings for the president and vice president dipping to depths previously explored only by Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew in their darkest days of their diminishing power, that Washington reporters will take kindly to being spied on by an administration bent to shutting up confidential sources.

It is, of course, true that members of the White House press corps should not need a threat to their own privacy -- not to mention their most vital sources of honest information -- to be inspired to practice their craft as the founders intended. But the track record of the past several years indicates that a jolt of some kind was needed. Let's just hope that the reporters who cover Bush and Cheney will prove to be self-serving enough to now begin taking on an administration that appears to be bent on silencing the whistleblowers who are so necessary to the telling of the full story of what this White House is doing in our name but without our informed consent.

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John Nichols is the co-author, with Robert W. McChesney, of Tragedy & Farce: How the American Media Sell Wars, Spin Elections and Destroy Democracy (The New Press).