FREE THE AD FILES! In April, the Federal Communications Commission took a significant step toward modernizing political ad disclosure by requiring television broadcasters to post their public inspection files to a central database on the FCC’s website. These files—previously available only on paper, and obtainable only by visiting local stations—contain detailed information about political ad buys, including who is purchasing them, how much they cost and when the spots are set to run, offering the public a rare window into the void of dark money in politics. But when the FCC database went live on August 2, the files were not “machine readable,” making it impossible to search by candidate or group to get a picture of who is spending how much and where.
With your help, two campaigns aim to remedy this situation. ProPublica’s Free the Files project has launched a crowd-sourced effort to review ad files from thirty-three swing markets nationwide. According to senior engagement editor Amanda Zamora, nearly 350 volunteers “freed” some 2,500 files detailing more than $160 million in spending in the project’s first week, all of which are now searchable on ProPublica’s website.
For now, the FCC requires only affiliates of the top four national broadcasters in the top fifty markets to upload files, and even they are required to include only those ad requests and purchases made since the rule took effect. To fill the coverage gap, the Political Ad Sleuth campaign, led by the Sunlight Foundation and Free Press, is mobilizing volunteers to add and analyze station files from every market to create a searchable database of its own.
Visit propublica.org/freethefiles and politicaladsleuth.com for details on how you can help shine some light on dark money in politics. JEFF ERNSTHAUSEN
A REPRIEVE FOR JUVENILE LIFERS: On September 30, California Governor Jerry Brown signed the Fair Sentencing for Youth Act, which will give a second chance to prisoners serving life without parole for crimes they committed as teenagers. There are some 2,500 such prisoners in the United States, 300 in California alone. Introduced by State Senator Leland Yee, who has fought for years on behalf of juvenile lifers, the law gives these people a chance to seek parole twenty-five years into their sentence.
Partly inspired by the case of Sara Kruzan, now 34, who was sentenced to life without parole after killing her abusive pimp at age 16, the law comes months after the Supreme Court struck down mandatory life sentences for kids in Miller v. Alabama. California, which did not have such a statute on its books, is following a national trend toward a more humane way of dealing with young offenders. LILIANA SEGURA
MODEST PROPOSALS: “Several months ago I was contacted by the staff of a very wealthy man I refer to here as Thurston H,” writes Kurt Opprecht at the start of his new e-book, The Billionaires’ Manifesto. “They told me Mr. H. was looking for an unaffiliated writer to help him ‘galvanize his prosperous comrades into action to reclaim what has always been theirs.’”
Opprecht, an executive board member of Billionaires for Bush, a street theater group that organized flash mobs in which activists dressed like socialites at events for George W. Bush, is ostensibly purveying the ideas of the wealthy Mr. H, who promises the return of the class structure, elimination of the minimum wage, criminalization of collective bargaining and new “manpower markets” (i.e., “sanctioned slavery”). “They think we want them to be poor, but we only want them to earn what they are actually worth in the global marketplace,” Thurston writes of the 99 percent. “They think we are rich because we are focused on money, but in fact we are rich because we understand power.”
Inspired by Occupy Wall Street, “this book was going to be a snippy, satirical handbook for the 1 percent, with tips for keeping in the good graces of the 99 percent during the little populist dust-up,” Opprecht explains. But it eventually evolved into “a darker, more serious message.”
“I mean for it to speak not for the agenda of any particular billionaire, of course, but to give voice to the ethos behind a class structure that still is supported by many more than the 1 percent,” he says. Even so, one can’t help noticing how, after compensating for satiric exaggeration, Thurston H’s language eerily anticipates Mitt Romney’s.
To purchase The Billionaires’ Manifesto, go to Smashwords.com. RICHARD LINGEMAN
PETE SEEGER, NOBEL LAUREATE? To everything, there is a season, according to Pete Seeger’s “Turn, Turn, Turn,” drawn from the Book of Ecclesiastes. And this is the season to honor Seeger. Now 93, he has devoted his life to teaching about music, peace, social justice, the environment and our common humanity. The songs he’s written or popularized (“This Land Is Your Land,” “If I Had a Hammer”) have sent a powerful message: the hopes that unite us are greater than the fears that divide us.
Born in Manhattan, the World War II veteran has been on the front lines of every major social justice crusade during his lifetime: labor unions and migrant workers in the 1930s and ’40s, the banning of nuclear weapons and opposition to the cold war in the ’50s, civil rights and the antiwar movement in the ’60s, opposition to South African apartheid in the ’70s and, always, human rights throughout the world. Upon moving to Beacon, New York, he also founded the Clearwater Project, dedicated to cleaning up the Hudson River.
Pete has been widely honored and even inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but New York has yet to honor him in a manner befitting his influence. Bruce Springsteen, who devoted a great album, The Seeger Sessions, to his music, could use his celebrity to nominate Pete for the Nobel Peace Prize. And a “Seeger School” in New York would honor his legacy as an educator. PETER DREIER
THE LONGEST WAR TURNS 12: As the war in Afghanistan entered its twelfth year on October 7, two Special Forces soldiers were killed in Wardak Province, bringing the US death toll in that country to 257 so far in 2012. More than 2,000 US soldiers have been killed since the war began.
In an interview with Bill Moyers conducted last year but which is more timely than ever, Laura Flanders quotes from a prescient 1961 speech from former FCC head Newton Minnow and asks Moyers, “How do we ever make change if our media are so intimately invested in our pay-to-play political system?”