Monday, April 30, 2007

Social Conservatism As a Coercive Tool Of The State

By Bruce Wilson
Posted on April 29, 2007

James Veverka's writing transcends categories and typologies, and he runs his analysis back over a thousand years:

"Uncomfortable as it makes people to compare religion with dictatorships, the most dangerous dictatorships of the 20th century were also radically socially conservative in regards to family values and sexuality. Whether it was the Motherland, the Fatherland or the Christian Nation, the same rigid moral message of intolerance runs through them.

Like religious conservatives throughout history and indeed, in the present, they used the state as a coercive tool to force their version of a conscience upon the rest of people. While only one-third of people generally tend to be socially conservative, this does not make a difference to those possessed with the compulsion to force their morality upon all others for their own good. This is not to say fundamentalists and other religious extremists are Nazis or Stalinists, but that they hold very similar views on these 'family values' and sexuality subjects and employ similar language in their positions and propaganda. They represent similar dangers to free societies as they always have throughout all of western history.

Ververka continues:

"It is for the same reasons, and rather ironically, that many conservatives have coined the word "Islamafascists" to describe religious fundamentalists of Islam. But both religions have a fundamentalist wing that continually attacks modernity and secularism. Radical Islamists want to fight off the same forces of western modernity that Christian extremists do. At the UN, we see Islamic nations, the Catholic Church and Protestant fundamentalists on the same side in the matters of science and society, modernity and secularism.

It may surprise many that hardline communists were also hardline social conservatives on the matters of family and sexuality. It is the nature of extremism to incorporate far out views on these matters into state policy. The answers to this perverse mix of despotism and family values lies in the natures of religion and nationalism. It is not about left versus right because social conservatism can be found in both as tools of the state. Social conservatism, both religious and secular, when wed to nationalism and embraced as state policy, has almost always turned into an enemy of tolerance and liberty. In fact, social conservatives in the USA, led by Christian conservatives, have fought or disagreed with religious diversity, religious equality, abolition of slavery, Suffrage, desegregation, integrating the armed forces, Brown v Board of Education, mixed race marriages, respect and equality for Jews (not in MY country club!), the Civil Rights Act of 1965, gender equality laws, women in authority, working women, reproductive education, family planning, contraception, condoms, gay rights and a host of others. It was humanists, both religious and secular that banded together to win the rights movements of the past. Such is the case presently with regards to gay, lesbian and family planning rights.

"Such people are sinning against God and will lead to the ultimate destruction of the family and our nation. I am unalterably opposed to such things, and will do everything I can to restrict the freedom of these people to spread their contagious infection to the youth of this nation." . . . "If the widespread practice of homosexuality will bring about the destruction of your nation, if it will bring about terrorist bombs, if it'll bring about earthquakes, tornadoes and possibly a meteor, it isn't necessarily something we ought to open our arms to."

In an Interview with Molly Ivins on September 14, 1993 (Fort Worth Star-Telegram), Pat Robertson added to his history of bigotry and ignorance when he said:

"Just like what Nazi Germany did to the Jews, so liberal America is now doing to the evangelical Christians."

Because of popular cultural myths and the religious right's propaganda, both misinformed and dishonest, most people don't realize that Nazi Germany and Stalin were on the same page as religious conservatives regarding homosexuals. The anti-gay propaganda of both the religious conservatives and the Nazis is nearly identical. One is religious, the other secular, but the message is the same. The views are the same. The doctrines are the same. The blind hatred is the same. Both embrace rigid patriarchal family views that see women as men-helpers and baby-makers. Both consider their views "virtues". Both are the moral crusaders to save the family in a nation that is supposedly threatened by decadence (Weimar Germany then and counterculture now). The sky is falling; civilization will crumble if the family isn't saved. Both are extreme right wing ideologies that embrace a state enforced social conservatism. Both are blends of extreme nationalism and extreme obsessions with law and order and the moral fiber of the nation. Both loudly proclaim their so-called family values as the salvation of the nation. Without them, civilization will collapse. [ read more ]

Bruce Wilson writes for Talk To Action, a blog specializing in faith and politics.

© 2007 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
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Report: federal contractors owe billions in unpaid taxes

By Joshua Holland
Posted on April 30, 2007


... a recent GAO inquiry reveals that about 113,800 contractors working for a variety of federal agencies, including the Pentagon and the General Services Administration, have built up $7.7 billion in unpaid taxes. This matches untidily with a March GAO report saying that more than 21,000 doctors, health professionals or medical suppliers, collecting billions in federal Medicare dollars, simultaneously owed more than $1 billion in federal income taxes.

According to another new report, when it comes to contracts for rebuilding Iraq, those patriotic contractors are still doing a heckuva job ...

The U.S. project to rebuild Iraq remains far short of its targets, leaving the country plagued by power outages, inadequate oil production and shortages of clean water and health care, according to a report to be issued today by a U.S. government oversight agency.

The 232-page quarterly review by the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction presents a sobering picture of the challenges of reconstruction in a war zone.

The inspector general's report lays out how even successful endeavors -- for example, the completion of more than 800 school projects and training for thousands of teachers -- haven't realized their potential because of security risks. During a four-year-old insurgency and sectarian fighting, less than a third of Iraq's 3.5 million students attend class, according to the report, which cited Iraqi Education Ministry statistics.

The report found that almost all of the nearly $20 billion in reconstruction funds appropriated by Congress in 2003 has been allocated. More than half of the projects to be undertaken with that money have been completed, and many more are underway. In the medical field, for example, only 15 of 141 primary health-care centers have been completed -- and only eight of those are open to the public -- but 126 projects are slated to be finished by the end of the year.

As in past reports, the inspector general's office found some of the most significant reconstruction shortfalls were in electricity production. "Electricity has the longest way to go," special inspector general Stuart W. Bowen Jr. said in an interview Friday.

Before the U.S.-led invasion, Iraq's power system produced 4,500 megawatts a day with an aging infrastructure in which 85 percent of power plants were at least 20 years old, the report said. Reconstruction officials initially hoped to increase daily output to 6,750 megawatts by the summer of 2004, a target later lowered to 6,000 megawatts. But in the most recent quarter, Iraq generated only 3,832 megawatts a day.

The shortage was particularly acute in Baghdad. Before the war, the city received an average of 16 to 24 hours of power a day. Last spring, Baghdad averaged eight hours of electricity a day. This year, during the last week of March, the city received only 6.5 hours a day. The rest of the country, however, received an average of 14 hours of power a day.

Slightly more than three-quarters of the $4.2 billion in reconstruction funds allocated by Congress for electricity have been spent, and 402 of 537 electricity projects have been completed.

Joshua Holland is an editor and senior writer at AlterNet.
© 2007 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
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Cannabis 'disrupts brain centre'

Scientists have shown how cannabis may trigger psychotic illnesses such as schizophrenia.

This is an example of viral, anti-herb propaganda. We are supposed to believe that after decades of scientists publishing studies of the benign nature of cannabis, as well as its medicinal properties, that now it is a precursor of psychosis. I, for one, am going to follow the money in search of the sponsors of this study.--Pete

A King's College London team gave healthy volunteers the active ingredient tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).

They then recorded reduced activity in an area of the brain which keeps inappropriate thoughts at bay.

THC levels are thought to have doubled in street cannabis in recent years - at the expense of other ingredients which may have a beneficial effect.

If something has an active effect in inducing the symptoms of psychosis after one dose, then it would not be at all surprising if repeated use induced the chronic condition
Professor Robin Murray
Institute of Psychiatry

A separate study has shown that one of these ingredients - cannabidiol (CBD) - has the potential to dampen down psychotic symptoms, and could form the basis of new treatments.

The research will be discussed at a conference on the impact of cannabis use to be held at the Institute of Psychiatry at King's College this week.


Although figures are not kept, it is estimated that as many as 500,000 people in the UK may be dependent on cannabis.

Increasing numbers of people are seeking help for cannabis problems at specialist clinics. In 2005, only heroin users accounted for a greater proportion of patients.

Experts are concerned that street cannabis is becoming increasingly potent. It is thought that average THC content has risen from 6% to 12% in recent years.

The Institute of Psychiatry study gave THC, CBD or placebo capsules to adult male volunteers who had not abused cannabis.

They then carried out brain scans, and a battery of tests, and found that those who took THC showed reduced activity in an area of the brain called the inferior frontal cortex, which keeps inappropriate thoughts and behaviour, such as swearing and paranoia in check.

The effects were short-lived, but some people appeared more vulnerable than others.

In a second study, a team from Yale University administered THC intravenously.

Even at relatively low doses, they found 50% of healthy volunteers began to show symptoms of psychosis.

Volunteers who already had a history of psychotic symptoms appeared to be particularly vulnerable.

Side effects

A third study, by the University of Cologne, compared the effect of CBD and a commonly used anti-psychotic medicine, Amisulpride, on 42 patients with a history of schizophrenia.

After four weeks both groups showed a reduction in psychotic symptoms, but the CBD group were less prone to side effects, such as muscle stiffness and weight gain.

We strongly urge the government to heed the growing evidence and take urgent action to warn young people that some of them are risking lifelong mental illness
Marjorie Wallace

The researchers warned that THC and CBD compete with each other biochemically, so a rise in THC levels would blunt any positive impact of CBD.

Professor Robin Murray, a consultant psychiatrist at the Institute of Psychiatry, said the research provided the strongest evidence that cannabis had a significant impact on the brain.

He said proving a long-term effect was extremely difficult, as it was not ethical or feasible to stimulate long-term psychosis in volunteers.

However, he said: "If something has an active effect in inducing the symptoms of psychosis after one dose, then it would not be at all surprising if repeated use induced the chronic condition."

Professor Murray also warned that the high potency cannabis now widely available was likely to pose a much bigger risk to health than the significantly weaker formulations of previous years.

"It is similar to comparing the effect of drinking a glass of wine at the weekend with drinking a bottle of vodka every day."

Marjorie Wallace, of the mental health charity Sane, called the research a "significant contribution" to the understanding of the dangers of cannabis.

"Sane has been saying for years that there is a link between psychosis and the drug, particularly in its more potent forms.

"We strongly urge the government to heed the growing evidence and take urgent action to warn young people that some of them are risking lifelong mental illness - that they are playing Russian roulette with their minds."

Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2007/04/30 12:05:13 GMT


Saturday, April 28, 2007

U.S. excluding car-bomb deaths to show ‘surge’ progress

US officials who say there has been a dramatic drop in sectarian violence in Iraq since Pres. Bush began sending more American troops into Baghdad aren't counting one of the main killers of Iraqi civilians. While the number of “sectarian murders” not involving bombs has decreased, the number of people killed in explosive attacks is rising: up from 323 in March to 365 just through April 24. Bush told Charlie Rose that counting those bombings would be handing their perpetrators “victory.” (Boy, is this guy a genius or what?--Pete)

Experts who have studied car bombings say it's no surprise that US officials would want to exclude their victims from any measure of success. Car bombs are almost impossible to detect and stop, particularly in a traffic-jammed city such as Baghdad. US officials in Baghdad concede that while they've found scores of car bomb factories in Iraq, they've made only a small dent in the manufacturing of these weapons.


Friday, April 27, 2007


THE FIVE JUSTICES who voted to restrict abortions were all Catholic men.

Study: Marijuana halts growth of lung cancer tumors

in research on mice, active ingredient in pot shrank growths by half, reduced cancer lesions
By Angela Zimm
Bloomberg News
April 22, 2007
Article Here...

Giving marijuana to mice with cancer shrank their lung tumors by half and slowed the spread of the disease, findings that may one day expand legal use of the drug as a treatment, researchers said.

The research is the first to show that marijuana's active ingredient, tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, blocks a known cancer-related protein that's already the target of drugs such as ImClone System's Erbitux and Amgen's Vectibix.

The findings, presented this past week at the American Association for Cancer Research meeting in Los Angeles, add to evidence that marijuana may have anti-tumor properties and its potential should be probed further, researchers said.

Scientists speculate THC may activate biological pathways that halt cancer cell division or block development of blood vessels that feed tumors.

"THC can have a potential therapeutic role," said Anju Preet, the study's lead author and a researcher at Harvard University's division of experimental medicine. "Maybe THC is killing cells. The preliminary studies are promising."

Tumor cells dosed with THC also showed a reduction in epidermal growth factor receptor, or EGFR, which means the substance may be acting in ways similar to Erbitux and Vectibix, which block the protein, Preet said.

The group includes Erbitux, which treats colon and head and neck cancers; Vectibix, which treats colon cancer; Genentech's Tarceva, approved for lung and pancreatic cancer; and AstraZeneca's Iressa, which treats lung cancer.

Lung cancer cells with high levels of EGFR are generally very aggressive and treatment resistant, researchers said.

THC activates "cannabinoid receptors," which are proteins found in the brain and other parts of the body that are involved in a number of biological functions, including inflammation and pain. Researchers set out to see if they could inhibit tumor growth by targeting these receptors in human lung tumor samples and in mice.
In addition to reducing tumor size by half, THC was associated with a 60 percent reduction in cancer lesions in the lungs of mice.

The Black Panthers: a guaranteed cure for right-wing gun mania

By Guest Blogger
Posted on April 27, 2007, Printed on April 27, 2007

Editor's note: this is a guest post from Roy at Alicublog

Gosh, the Perfesser sure is laying it on thick with the gun posts, isn't he? Columbine in the New River Valley really put the zap on his head.

Clearly the poor man is suffering from Posse-Comitatus-itis, a disorder characterized by itchy trigger fingers. As long as the fit is on him, we will never hear the end of his plaintive cries for universal gun ownership -- by force if necessary.

Fortunately I know the cure:


Bring back the Black Panthers! In the 60s there was no more outspoken group of gun-rights enthusiasts. The Panthers marched in state capitols, bravely brandishing their firearms in defiance of those that would take away their Second Amendment rights.

No swifter cure for Posse-Comitatus-itis has been found! Soon open-carry laws were shutting down all over the place -- including California, where the sight of black folk with firearms worked so effectively on Governor Ronald Reagan's Posse-Comitatus-itis that he signed the Mulford Act.

Displays of armed negritude will work like lightning on the Perfesser's condition, and on the cracker community he serves.

Then we'll only have to think of ways to get him to shut up about everything else.

© 2007 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
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Russia to pull out of arms treaty, says Putin

For years our government's military arm has been surrounding Russia with military bases, while Putin has been forced to capitulate and accept due to a standoff - the U.S. offensive machine operates unopposed in might. Our best and brightest have once again shot themselves in the foot. The nuclear race is on! Again! Oh, good!--Pete

By Adrian Blomfield in Moscow
Last Updated: 5:51am BST 27/04/2007

Russia is to withdraw from Europe's key arms control treaty in response to United States plans to install missile defence systems in Eastern Europe, Vladimir Putin announced yesterday.

The Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty, which was signed in the dying months of the Cold War, is regarded as the cornerstone of stability in Europe. It places limits on the number of conventional weapons and foreign forces that can be deployed among member nations.

In his annual state of the nation address, the Russian president accused the United States of a plot to build up its military forces on Russia's western borders.

"Our partners are conducting themselves incorrectly to say the least, gaining one-sided advances," he said.

"They are using the complicated situation to expand military bases near our borders. Moreover they plan to locate elements of a missile defence system in the Czech Republic and Poland."

Already strained relations between the two Cold War superpowers deteriorated markedly when the Pentagon announced plans to place 10 interceptor missiles in Poland and a radar system in the Czech Republic.

Moscow has rejected Washington's pleas that the shield was meant to defend Europe from a rogue missile attack by Iran, claiming that Russia's nuclear arsenal was the target.

American attempts to mollify the Kremlin by inviting Russia to inspect the proposed sites and co-operate in the project have been rebuffed.

In the first indication that the United States was losing patience with Moscow's intransigence on the issue, Condoleezza Rice, the secretary of state, yesterday described Russia's fears as "ludicrous".

"The Russians have thousands of warheads," she told a press conference in Oslo prior to a Nato meeting.

"The idea that somehow you can stop the Russian strategic nuclear deterrent with a few interceptors just doesn't make sense."

Mr Putin said he had decided to declare a moratorium on an updated version of the treaty because Nato powers had failed to ratify it. The United States and its Nato allies have said they would not ratify the treaty until Russia withdrew its troops from Moscow-backed breakaway republics in Georgia and Moldova - an argument the Kremlin dismisses as a pretext to allow Washington to boost its military presence in eastern Europe.

Yesterday, Miss Rice urged Russia to live up to its commitments. "These are treaty obligations and everyone is expected to live up to treaty obligations," Miss Rice said.

It is unclear what Moscow would gain by withdrawing from the treaty beyond being freed to move additional troops into western Russia, or possibly into Belarus, which shares a border with the European Union.

Analysts suggested that there was a certain amount of posturing on Mr Putin's part. Already regarded as an energy superpower, Russia is desperate to be taken seriously as a military power too.

Defence spending has quadrupled under Mr Putin and an ambitious strategy to modernise the military was announced last year, including plans for a new generation of ballistic missiles capable of breaching US defences.

With these grandiose plans under his belt, Mr Putin is aggrieved that he is not being given the respect he feels he deserves by the United States, analysts say.

Washington has dragged its feet on Russian proposals for a new bilateral treaty on reducing nuclear weapons, similar to those signed during the Cold War, which would give Mr Putin enormous domestic prestige.

With a presidential election due early next year, Mr Putin's protests may also have a domestic dimension. By teaching Russians that the United States is again a military threat, they are less likely to vote for the liberal opposition, which, Mr Putin claimed in his speech, was being funded by western governments.

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Thursday, April 26, 2007

The Property Cops: Homeowner Associations Ban Eco-Friendly Practices

By Stan Cox, AlterNet
Posted on April 26, 2007

The house Heather and Joseph Sarachek were building in Scarsdale, N.Y., was to be a model of green efficiency, complete with geothermal heating and cooling. Even the electricity to run the system would be clean, coming from solar panels on their roof -- but when the time came to install the panels last fall, construction came to an abrupt halt.

A local Board of Architectural Review refused to issue the Saracheks a permit for the solar apparatus, having received a letter from at least 15 neighbors -- among them doctors, lawyers and other presumably well-educated people -- arguing that the panels "would clearly be an eyesore in our lovely Quaker Ridge neighborhood."

This March -- four months, $20,000 in extra construction and legal costs, and 107 petition signatures later, and after agreeing to plant a screen of trees to hide their "eyesore" -- the Saracheks finally got the board's decision reversed. On a 4-3 vote, the victory was a squeaker. But it meant that the prosperous Village of Scarsdale, where the average house is valued at $834,000, would see its first solar panels ever.

HOAs: blocking the green path

On April 14, in more than 1,400 locations from coast to coast, Americans rallied around the goal of reducing carbon emissions by 80 percent within the next four decades. On April 22, the San Francisco Chronicle's Earth Day editorial spoke for millions of us when it urged, "The whole planet, with billions of people and scores of governments, must work together on the same page. It's the only way to curb the global threats of rising temperatures, dirty air and polluted and life-depleted oceans. One day in late April isn't enough."

But too many cities, counties, towns and subdivisions are still working off the wrong "page" by banning ecologically sound practices and even mandating consumption and waste. Rooted in outdated aesthetics and plain old snobbery, those regulations make less sense than ever on a planet in peril.

The Saracheks and other Scarsdale residents live under citywide architectural restrictions, but 57 million Americans -- approaching one person out of five -- live in homes regulated by homeowner associations (HOAs). These private groups hold sway not only in gated havens of the rich but in many more modest neighborhoods as well.

HOA boards of directors are usually elected by residents, but their architectural review committees often are not. They have sweeping powers to enforce so-called restrictive covenants, which can control almost any aspect of the property, from the size of the house or garage down to details like changes in paint color or placement of basketball hoops. When a house is sold, the covenant goes with it.

The Community Associations Institute cites polls showing that 78 percent of homeowners belonging to HOAs believe the rules they live under "protect and enhance" property values. And when it comes to enforcing neighborhood behavior, it's what people believe that counts.

Many homeowners' associations post their covenants on their websites for the convenience of members. Doing some simple searches, I recently found and read a few dozen such documents. They are often highly detailed in describing what is allowed, what is not and what happens if you don't do what you're supposed to do or fail to do what they require.

I was looking for rules that affect a home's environmental footprint, and there were plenty. The most common restrictions were ones that prohibit drying clothes outdoors (effectively forcing the use of electric or gas dryers), forbid or restrict the placement of solar devices, dictate industrial-style lawn and landscape care or set a minimum square footage of floor space. Most also ban political signs, which itself can be an important environmental issue.

HOA documents are littered with those and a host of other bans on earth-friendly practices. Here are excerpts, taken directly from HOA covenants, that illustrate the kinds of prohibitions being enforced across the country:

Westerley subdivision in Sterling, Va.: "Solar panels and solar collectors are prohibited."

Camelot in Cottleville, Mo.: "Exterior solar collection systems, wind generator systems or other similar appliances are prohibited."

Peach Creek in Lisle, Ill.: "Compost piles may not be created on any properties ... A window fan is never allowed to be placed in the front windows of a home."

Quail Cove in Tucson, Ariz.: "Outdoor clotheslines are not permitted." (in a region where the great outdoors is like the inside of a clothes dryer!)

Crest Mountain in Asheville, N.C.: "The following are precluded: Outside clotheslines or clothes drying ... window air conditioning units ... vegetable gardens ..."

Tavistock Farms in Leesburg, Va.: "Vegetable gardens must not exceed 64 square feet." (With no more than 8 feet by 8 feet for growing vegetables, should they really be calling this place "farms"?)

Sun Valley in Waldorf, Md.: "No awnings in the front of the house will be allowed."

Suppression of clotheslines has probably received more attention over the past few years than any other type of anti-green restriction. Despite renewed interest in "solar drying," highlighted each April 19 by National Hanging Out Day, HOAs across the country are retaining their laundry-line prohibitions -- reflecting, say critics, their deep-seated prudishness and class bias.

People rarely confront HOAs directly over clothesline rules; most either conform or covertly disobey. Alice (not her real name) lives in the Lakeside Estates subdivision of Austin, Texas. Because her HOA bans outdoor clothes drying, Alice told me by email, she slips out to her back yard on summer mornings with one of those expanding "umbrella"-style clotheslines, puts it up, and hangs her laundry: "I put things out and try to get them in as soon as I can. I don't leave my clothesline out when it isn't in use."

Alice has received no warnings from her HOA -- yet. But you wouldn't expect such guerilla-style energy conservation to be necessary in laid-back Austin. Alice says, "Yeah, usually people think of Austin and they think of relaxed attitudes. But I think since the housing market boomed, it has made people a lot less relaxed."

Evidence to back up her theory can be found just across town, beyond the northwest corner of Austin's city limits in the middle-class suburb of Hunter's Chase. There, Jason and Lisa Spangler have been maintaining a garden of native wildflowers and other plants in their front yard for years. But they almost lost their native plantings in August 2002, when they received a violation notice on behalf of their HOA.

Jason told me, "Someone came by on a 'random inspection,' taking pictures, and thought it was some sort of grass and weeds." The Spanglers faced legal action if they didn't mow it all down.

They stood their ground, and the showdown came at a meeting of the municipal utility district that enforces the rules in Hunter's Chase. At the meeting, characterized by Spangler as "very unpleasant," he and Lisa were asked how they could have something "so ugly" in their front yard. No one seemed impressed that they used no herbicides, insecticides or fertilizers on their wildflower garden. "One board member said she had an art degree," said Jason, "and she could see that 'texture' of our yard just didn't look right."

To the board's chagrin, the Spanglers had backed up their claims with extensive documentation from the Native Plant Society of Texas. Lisa says board members resented what they saw as an intrusion by out-of-towners: "They asked, 'How much did you pay these people?'" But, said Jason, the evidence was overwhelming, and "they had no choice but to approve the garden."

Mandating consumption

West of Austin, in more drought-prone parts of the American West, lawns remain the rule. Although xeriscaping -- water-conserving landscape design -- is becoming more common, one developer recently told the Colorado Springs Gazette that for the most part, "There's no question. People want green, nice, good-looking sod."

Even if they don't want it, their HOA might well force it on them. And environmentally questionable rules can intrude well beyond the front lawn. For example, by mandating minimum square footages, many associations are helping pump up the already-bloated American home.

A 2005 articlein the Journal of Industrial Ecology showed that a very well-insulated 3,000-square-foot house consumes more energy than a poorly insulated 1,500-square-footer. And building a 25 percent smaller house saves more trees than are saved by using advanced wood-efficient construction techniques.

The average U.S. house in the 1970s had 1,500 square feet; by 2006, the typical house was heating and air conditioning almost 2,500 square feet, despite having fewer people living in it. The average home today has three times as much living space per person as in the 1950s . Many HOAs want to keep those numbers going up.

Here are some more typical passages from covenants imposed by HOAs in several states, each mandating some kind of stepped-up resource consumption or pollution:

Piedmont community in Pine Mountain, Ga.: "Size and square footage of heated and conditioned space: A minimum 2,750 square feet."

Cobblestone in Wichita, Kan.: "Minimum living area excluding the basement: Single level -- 1,800 square feet. Two level -- 2,000 square feet [with] central heating and air conditioning ... Seeded or sodded grass lawn on entire lot." Also "minimum of two car garage -- concrete driveway" (no cobblestone driveways in Cobblestone!)

Van Zandt Farms in Haslet, Texas: "Sprinklers shall be installed in the front yard of each residence."

Eagle Point Golf Community near Medford, Ore.: "Lawns shall be watered, fertilized and sprayed for weeds and/or insects and diseases as needed to keep them healthy and green. They shall be mowed on a regular basis."

Applewood Park in Tigard, Ore.: "... a mowed lawn that is regularly fertilized and is free of weeds and debris, ... including clover and dandelions." (This is followed by a helpful hint: "There is a product called 'Bayer' that works well for removing clover.")

Covington Estates in Fishers, Ind.: "Each lot shall maintain at least two continuous dusk-to-dawn lights ..."

Franklin Green in Franklin, Tenn.: "Each residence shall include an attached garage for a minimum of two cars and a maximum of three cars."

Bent Tree West in Dallas, Texas: "Any garages, servants' quarters, storage rooms, or carports erected or placed on any portion of said lot must be attached to the main structure ... garages shall provide a space for a minimum of two conventional automobiles." (servants' quarters?)

Penalties for breaking such rules can range from small fines to foreclosure and loss of the home. Anti-HOA activists maintain lengthy lists of cases in which families have been foreclosed upon -- like the Orlando, Fla., woman whose house was put up for sale because she hadn't paid $108 in association dues.

The Peach Creek Homeowners Association guidelines, which say they "exist for the benefit of our community to help maintain property values," are typical, stating that a homeowner who commits a fifth offense and owes $200 or more in fines is subject to "legal action and/or forcible entry and eviction."

In an apparent attempt to provide some reassurance, the document speaks in the voice of Big Brother: "If a homeowner is found in violation of a rule, regulation or guideline and fined, remember this action is taken because the majority of homeowners in Peach Creek consider it to be just and proper."

Some states crack down

State legislatures are starting to rein in HOAs that try to ban environmentally responsible practices. At least 12 states have adopted laws that guarantee the right to erect solar equipment, although most of them permit HOAs to enforce "reasonable" conditions.

Hawaii, for example, passed a law in 2005 that ensures a right to solar energy. The legislation grew out of experiences like that of Matthew Calloni of 'Ewa Beach, who fought a yearlong legal battle with his HOA to put a solar water heater on his townhouse. And a bill was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives in March that, if passed, will protect homeowners nationwide from HOA solar bans.

Many HOAs rules forbid panels anywhere but on the rear of the house, flat against the roof. If the rear part of your roof doesn't face south or is in the shade, that's tough. Now before the Arizona legislature is a bill, HB 2593, that would prevent HOAs from requiring solar panels to be positioned inefficiently or in expensive locations.

Florida is one of the more progressive states in curbing HOA abuses, with legislation guaranteeing citizens the right to have solar panels, use clotheslines, and plant non-grass front yards, overruling any neighborhood policies to the contrary. Joanne Oliver of Ponce Inlet, Fla., was a highly successful realtor in Miami for 15 years. I asked her to imagine that she were showing a house in one of the upscale communities where she had handled properties and that the house next door sported solar equipment on the roof, a line full of laundry in the rear, and a front yard covered with tall native plants. Would that affect the price of the neighboring house she's trying to sell?

"Solar panels," she told me, "would not be a negative these days. And a different kind of front yard, yes, I think people might tend to go for that. That could catch on. But clotheslines!" -- here, she couldn't stop laughing -- "I can't remember the last time I saw a clothesline in Miami. That just doesn't happen. Wait, I have seen one clothesline recently -- behind my mother's house in Ohio!"

Local control, bad and good

The simplest way to stay out of trouble with HOA property cops, of course, is to live in a neighborhood that doesn't have private covenants. My city of Salina, Kan., is like many communites in having some restrictive subdivisions but a much larger territory that remains free.

Our house is in the covenant-free zone. We wake up each morning to the crowing of roosters that belong to neighbors across the alley. (The birds aren't quite legal, but nobody complains.) A couple of streets over, other neighbors have painted the entire front of their house as an American flag. Protruding from the south side of our own house is a solar water-heating apparatus that would almost certainly give those meddlesome Scarsdale aesthetes a case of the hives.

In much of America, this live-and-let-live attitude is still the rule. Lisa and Jason Spangler told me they'd never had neighbors complain about their non-lawn in Austin. In fact, said Jason, "Neighbors walking by often stop and compliment our prairie flowers." It was an overzealous HOA bureaucracy, not the community itself, that tried to kill their garden.

University of Arizona associate professor Paul Robbins says that the key point of his book "Lawn People," expected out in June, is to show that the economy and the culture cannot be meaningfully separated and that "it is this blurring that so marks contemporary capitalist urban ecologies."

As he put it to me, his work shows that "distinctions between the meaning of our lives and the values of our properties are often intermingled and difficult to distinguish. There are clear tensions between our many contradictory desires; we want to be good citizens, good consumers, and good environmental stewards -- a triumvirate that may simply be materially unachievable."

Even homeowners who put being a "good consumer" a distant third among those three desires will find that consumption remains the housing industry's No. 1 concern. When real estate values are considered as crucial as they are in the America of 2007, it doesn't matter what real people in real neighborhoods prefer. Players who have a big stake in the game have little tolerance for anything that smacks of green frugality.

Anti-environmental HOA restrictions are part of a larger problem: the growing power of such "private governments" to control people's use of their own property. But if the tide of ecological destruction's going to be turned, then flag-waving, don't-tread-on-me appeals to property rights, while helpful in some cases, will turn out to be a big hindrance in others.

If a neighborhood wants to outlaw four-car garages or ban daily lawn sprinkling during a water shortage, only the most fanatical property-rights crusaders are likely to object. But what if a more farsighted HOA decides to ban all toxic lawn chemicals or silence the shriek of leaf blowers in the fall (or maybe declare its streets off-limits to Hummers!)?

I'd want to live under regulations like those, and you might also, but there are plenty of people who'd fight hard for their right to blow leaves and spray weeds, just as hard as you or I would fight for the right to put a "Let's Get Out of Iraq" sign in the front yard.

A struggle to defend private property is always sure to draw broad support from across the political spectrum; however, resistance by environmentally minded homeowners will have to be mounted collectively and on the merits of the issues themselves, not just as a fight for property rights.

Meanwhile, here are suggestions for those living under the rule of HOAs: Resistance to clothesline bans is being led by Project Laundry List. There is a highly informative guide [PDF] to dealing with restrictions on solar equipment; some information on green landscaping, including how to deal with restrictions; or how about an edible front yard?

Stan Cox is a plant breeder and writer in Salina, Kan.
© 2007 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
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Middle East Conflict Intensifies As Blah Blah Blah, Etc. Etc.

April 26, 2007 | Issue 43•17

MIDDLE EAST—With the Iraq war in its fifth year, the war in Afghanistan in its sixth, and conflict between Israel and the rest of the region continuing unabated for more than half a century, intelligence sources are warning that a new wave of violence in the Middle East may soon blah blah blah, etc. etc., you know the rest.

Middle East

Yet another act of violence in response to something else terrible that occurred in, oh, let's say Basra.

"Tensions in the region are extremely high," said U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker, who added the same old same old while answering reporters' questions. "We're disappointed by the events of the last few months, but we're confident that we're about to [yakety yakety yak]."

The U.N. has issued a strongly worded whatever denouncing someone or something presumably having to do with the vicious explosive things that raged across this, or shattered the predawn calm of that, or ripped suddenly through the other, killing umpteen innocent civilians in a Jerusalem bus or Beirut discotheque or Fallujah mosque or whatever it was this time.

Middle East jump

Either a car bomb killed people or a car hit a roadside bomb, killing people.

In the aftermath of a whole series of incidents, there have also been troubling reports of just fill in the blanks. Middle East experts say the still somehow worsening situation has inflamed age-old sectarian tensions between the Sunnis, Shiites, Semites, Kurds, Turks, Saudis, Persians, Wahhabis, radicals, extremists, Baathists, mullahs, clerics, et al, which is likely to lead to more gurgle-gurgle over the coming weeks and months.

A certain number of U.S. troops were also killed somewhere in some tragic fashion, while a much greater number were wounded. Meanwhile, impoverished or oppressed supporters of whichever faction carried out the attack or ambush probably celebrated, angering an angry U.S. public that is already angry. Locals are calling for an investigation into excessive force or outright corruption by military or political officials on one of the 15 sides of the various conflicts, although the implicated party has categorically denied wrongdoing, just like they always do, without fail, every time this happens, which is daily, it seems.

And in Afghanistan, the Taliban.

In Israel, Palestinians and Israelis escalated tensions and so on and so on ad infinitum, ad eternum, and some say, ad absurdum, and although Hamas released a statement condemning Israeli forces for the resulting civilian deaths, Israeli officials say the teens were armed with rocket launchers, though it doesn't really matter.

Also, Ahmadinejad, Iran's nuclear program, bin Laden at large, Moqtada al-Sadr, Moqtada al-Sadr's militia, Fallujah, renegade mullahs, embedded and/or beheaded journalists, oil revenues, stockpiles of former Soviet armaments, freedom, racism, Halliburton, women's role in Islamic society, the Quran, withdrawing troops, economic disparities, Sikhs, Pakistanis, oil, rebuilding, stories of hope, the Saudi royal family, the Holy Land, insurgents, and the tragedy of Sept. 11th.

In an attempt to increase public support of whatever the fuck it is he thinks he's doing, President Bush trotted out the same old whoop-de-do you've heard over and over at a solemn-yet-resolute speech attended by soldiers, or religious leaders, or firemen, or some mix of ethnic-looking people from one of those countries.

"We have to give this plan time to wop bop a loo bop, a wop bam boom, ah ah ting tang walla walla bing bang," President Bush may as well have said. "May God [help/bless/save] the United States of America."

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Greenwashing Fears Raised by Berkeley-BP Initiative

by Michelle Chen, The NewStandard

Apr. 24 – Fresh ties are budding between public universities and a leading oil company, seeding fears that industry is profiting from climate-change research at the expense of scientific integrity.

Expanding a pattern of university and corporate linkages, the University of California–Berkeley has sparked debate on campus and off by entering a proposed $500 million arrangement with petrol giant BP. The 10-year initiative, which also involves Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, will establish an institute that would host research by both university and industry personnel on "economically viable solutions to global energy challenges."

The Energy Biosciences Institute (EBI) would be the largest of several climate-change research deals recently cut between industry and academia. Stanford University launched a similar program in 2002 with funding from ExxonMobil, General Electric and Toyota. Iowa State sealed a $22.5 million biofuels-development initiative with Conoco-Phillips this month.

Although industry-funded academic research is widespread, students, faculty and public-interest groups have challenged the EBI and similar partnerships as scientifically shortsighted "greenwashing" – public image management aimed at papering over a long history of environmental crimes.

Ignacio Chapela, a Berkeley environmental-science professor and longtime critic of the university's corporate collaborations, predicts the EBI will push the future of climate change further into the grasp of business interests. "It's the same people," he told The NewStandard, "with the same ideas, with the same approaches – simply giving a new techno-fix to problems that they created themselves."
Corporate campus

The primary mission put forth in the current EBI proposal is to enhance the biofuels industry – specifically, to "ensure that EBI makes core discoveries in the field and secures corresponding patent positions." A few of the Institute's initiatives would also probe new fossil-fuel extraction and processing technologies.

Under the proposal, a joint panel of academic and corporate representatives would govern the program and approve research proposals. Though the university could hold sole or joint patent rights on findings it helped produce, BP could negotiate exclusive licenses for the initial marketing of products, including reserving a time period to "evaluate the commercial potential of a given technology."

Maren Poitras, a student-organizer with the campus-based Stop-BP-Berkeley campaign, said the proposal has been crafted to "create the greatest profit for BP through control of the patents and technology of the 'alternative' biofuel market."

The campaign is especially concerned about the planned deployment of up to fifty of BP's own "investigators" on campus to conduct research in "leased" space next to but separate from academic labs. BP personnel could also move freely between the corporate and university spaces, collaborating with academic researchers. And BP could claim intellectual-property rights on discoveries associated with its "proprietary" space, from which non-BP researchers would "be excluded entirely... in the performance of their university activities."

Critics point out that while BP investigators could participate in and draw from Berkeley-based research, university scientists would not have reciprocal access to proprietary work.

"I think it would be fine if we equivalently had ecology research units embedded within corporate BP hierarchy," said Berkeley biology professor Robert Dudley, who sits on the Committee on Academic Freedom of the Academic Senate, the university's faculty governing body. The proposed arrangement, he continued, "certainly gives the potential implication that the university is for sale to the highest bidder to do what they want."

Consumer advocates also demand more public input and transparency in the management of the EBI. John M. Simpson of the California-based Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights said the agreement must ensure that for any useful discovery, "all companies and other research institutions should have equal access to it and be able to use it, because it's research done in a public university."

Berkeley spokesperson Robert Sanders told TNS the EBI deal would follow the publicly funded UC system's principles on "agreements with external parties," including "a commitment to make the fruits of its research widely available."

When company and university personnel have collaborated under previous research partnerships, Sanders added, "it's a bonus for everybody that industry researchers are actually interacting with our researchers and students. It gives you a good grounding in the real world."

BP spokesperson Valerie Corr said, "We respect the right of students and faculty to freely voice their opinions." But she declined to comment in detail on specific provisions of the contract, as it is not yet finalized.

Berkeley's alignment with the world of corporate-led science has divided the faculty between those eager for EBI funds and those wishing to distance the university from industry interests.

At an Academic Senate meeting last week, opponents of the EBI proposal pushed resolutions calling for stronger oversight, including the creation of an independent committee to monitor corporate research ties. Pro-EBI faculty voted down the initiative and passed far weaker oversight measures, stating that interference in research "based solely on the source of funds" would violate "academic freedom."
Greener oil?

Some in the environmental and scientific communities view university-industry partnerships like the EBI with skepticism – particularly since leading oil corporations until recently denied the environmental threat of global warming altogether. But they also say such deals may be necessary for addressing climate change on a wide scale.

"It's a source of revenue for both [parties], and it's a source of a certain degree of prestige for industry," said Mark S. Frankel, director of the Scientific Freedom, Responsibility and Law Program of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Such alliances, he cautioned, should be judged by whether they ultimately succeed in "moving things from the bench in the lab into the marketplace, without creating conflicts of interest that impair the public mission of our universities."

Deron Lovaas, vehicles-campaign director for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said oil companies' current power over energy markets means society has no choice but to rely on corporations like BP to advance alternative fuel sources.

"They're the ones that ultimately will decide how big a role this is going to play in our energy future," Lovaas told TNS. "That's just the reality, in terms of who owns the infrastructure."

But Professor Chapela said there is a precedent for public financing of crucial research. If the industry were genuinely concerned about the environmental consequences of its actions, he said, it would simply hand funding to a public agency less burdened by corporate influence. BP could follow the model of the federally chartered National Science Foundation and "put this money into a fund for the legislature to actually distribute to the places where it's necessary."

Opponents of the partnership say BP's history of "greenwashing" its damaging practices – from intense oil drilling in northern Alaska to last year's massive spill at Prudhoe Bay – should be reason enough to reject the deal. BP's track record has doubly outraged environmentalists, as it has overlapped with its "Beyond Petroleum" media campaign, touting supposedly eco-friendly corporate initiatives.

Some critics of oil corporations say that for all the hype surrounding university partnerships, the industry has shown little interest in seriously investing in research. The five major oil companies devoted less than 2 percent of total cash flows to research and development activities in 2004, according to an analysis commissioned by the American Petroleum Institute.

Merrill Goozner, director of the Integrity in Science Project at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, said corporations with a financial stake in research could act as gatekeepers instead of stewards for the alternative-energy sector.

"These are oil companies; they get the vast majority of their revenue from oil," he said. "And as a result, they're not all that interested in seeing their existing assets depleted unnecessarily by rapid shifts to alternative technologies. So if they're the ones doing the investment and controlling intellectual property, you have to wonder, isn't that kind of a conflict of interest? How interested are they going to be in rapidly bringing that to market?"
Scientific and political crossroads

Even if the EBI initiative succeeds in promoting biofuels, skeptics question the fixation on producing energy through agriculture.

Some scientists argue that an explosion in biofuel crops like sugar and palm oil could upset the ecological balance in countries considered prime fodder for the industry, such as Brazil and Indonesia. Berkeley geoengineering professor Tad Patzek said intensive expansion of biofuel agriculture could lead to "the absolute destruction of the tropical ecosystems" and exacerbate global-warming problems.

Berkeley ecologist Chapela warned that the EBI's approach could "simply shove the problem over again to future generations and to places in the world where people cannot protect themselves." Rather than seeking a single, technocratic energy solution, he said, scientists should explore more-nuanced research paths: measures like building ecologically efficient urban infrastructures, or empowering individual communities to develop localized strategies for curbing gas emissions that lead to climate change.

"The only way we can get there," he said, "is if we have a place where diversity of research and opinion, and the freedom to research, [are] protected against things like BP."

© 2007 The NewStandard. All rights reserved. The NewStandard is a non-profit publisher that encourages noncommercial reproduction of its content. Reprints must prominently attribute the author and The NewStandard, hyperlink to (online) or display (print), and carry this notice.

House committee subpoenas Rice on Iraq

Wed Apr 25, 2007 7:44PM EDT

By Thomas Ferraro, Reuters
Reuters Article Here

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Democratic lawmakers on Wednesday subpoenaed Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to testify about a central and later refuted administration justification for the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

But the administration said it might fight the subpoena, citing a legal doctrine that can shield a president and his aides from having to answer questions from Congress.

"Those matters are covered by executive privilege," said State Department spokesman Sean McCormack, moving toward a possible legal showdown with the Democratic-led Congress.

On a party-line vote of 21-10, the House of Representatives' Oversight and Government Reform Committee approved a subpoena for Rice, which was quickly issued.

It directs her to answer questions from the panel next month about the administration's claim -- later proven false -- that Iraq had sought uranium from Niger for nuclear arms.

"There was one person in the White House who had primary responsibility to get the intelligence about Iraq right -- and that was Secretary Rice who was then President George W. Bush's national security adviser," said committee Chairman Henry Waxman, a California Democrat.

"The American public was misled about the threat posed by Iraq, and this committee is going to do its part to find out why," Waxman said.

The claim about Niger was a major factor in the administration's case for war, and critics later accused the White House of having twisted intelligence to build support. The administration denies it.

Rep. Tom Davis of Virginia, ranking Republican on Waxman's committee, accused Democrats of going on a "fishing expedition."

Davis noted that a number of previous investigations had concluded that the claim about Niger "reflected the broadly supported state of knowledge at that time."


Waxman said there had been investigations about mistakes within the intelligence community, but he wanted to determine "what went wrong inside the White House."

The subpoena for Rice was part of a flurry of action on Wednesday in the stepped-up congressional oversight of how the Bush administration operates. Since Democrats took control of Congress from Bush's Republicans in January, there have been more than 400 oversight hearings.

"There is a difference between oversight and over-reaching," said White House spokeswoman Dana Perino.

The House Judiciary Committee voted to authorize a subpoena of Monica Goodling, a former Justice Department official, and seek a court order of immunity for her in its probe of the firing last year of eight of the 93 U.S. attorneys.

"Taking this step will compel her to testify, under penalty of contempt," said Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers, a Michigan Democrat seeking to determine if the dismissals were politically motivated.

Goodling had earlier invoked her right against self-incrimination in refusing to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The Senate Judiciary Committee, which grilled Attorney General Alberto Gonzales last week about the ousted prosecutors, authorized a subpoena for Sara Taylor of the White House office of political affairs.

Bush has vowed to oppose any attempt to compel sworn congressional testimony from White House aides in the investigation of the ousted prosecutors. Gonzales contends that the firings were justified, but mishandled.

(Additional reporting by Susan Pleming, Toby Zakaria and Arshad Mohammed)
© Reuters 2006. All rights reserved. Republication or redistribution of Reuters content, including by caching, framing or similar means, is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Reuters. Reuters and the Reuters sphere logo are registered trademarks and trademarks of the Reuters group of companies around the world.

Bush Poised to Veto Long-Sought Labor Reform

By Joshua Holland, AlterNet
Posted on April 23, 2007, Printed on April 25, 2007

One of the most important bills for working Americans of the last 10 years is likely to go down in defeat, even though Democrats control Congress. The Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) is an anti-union-busting measure that would restore the right to form unions, a right working people have enjoyed mostly on paper since the "Reagan revolution" stacked the deck against workers trying to organize. The House passed the bill last month, but it's widely expected to be defeated in the Senate, and if it does survive, it will almost certainly fall to George Bush's veto pen.

If EFCA is defeated, it will carry little or no political cost, largely because America's corporatocracy has done a bang-up job of framing the debate. A coalition of big business groups conducted a wildly misleading poll, one that gave respondents the (false) idea that the bill will diminish rather than protect workers' rights -- specifically, their right to a fair vote about whether to unionize. They've taken that spin and synchronized it across the whole of the conservative communications infrastructure -- from business-funded think tanks to right-wing blogs, to the Wall Street Journal editorial page to lawmakers walking the halls of Congress.

But while the right's rhetoric has been in perfect lockstep, the bill's been pushed almost exclusively by organized labor, with too little outreach to the broader progressive movement and little in the way of a coordinated and effective message. As a result, the media's characterized it as a "union bill" -- which plays to the idea that it's driven by "special interests" -- and it's likely to die a quiet death with little notice among the general public.

Given the Democratic control of Congress and the debilitated state of working America, this is a tragedy. The need for reform is urgent. Union busting has reached a high art form in the United States. Companies no longer need thugs and gun-toting Pinkertons to keep workers from exercising their legal rights to organize; now they have high-priced, Armani-wearing lawyers, who simply brainwash workers into silence.

The tactics are as subtle as they are insidious. A study by Cornell University labor scholar Kate Bronfenbrenner found that: nine in 10 employers facing a union campaign force employees to attend closed-door meetings to hear anti-union propaganda; 80 percent train supervisors on how to attack unions and require them to deliver anti-union messages to workers they oversee; half of employers threaten to shut down the plant if workers organize; and three out of four hire outside consultants to run anti-union campaigns, "often based on mass psychology and distorting the law."

Increasingly, cunning forms of intimidation are often enough to produce a "no" vote. If organizers manage to get and win a vote among workers to unionize, management is able to dispute the outcome, and the case can drag on, often for years. While it's pending, pro-union workers lose their jobs: A study published this year (PDF) by economists John Schmitt and Ben Zipperer found that "almost one in five union organizers or activists can expect to be fired as a result of their activities in a union election campaign."

That's illegal -- workers are guaranteed the right to organize -- but since the Reagan administration gutted U.S. labor protections, companies that cross the line pay modest penalties that can be written off as part of the cost of remaining union-free.

The result has been predictable: Between 1975 and 2004, the rate of union workers in the private sector fell by almost two thirds (PDF). In 2000, only one in seven American employees were covered by a collective bargaining agreement, while two-thirds of all workers in the rest of world's highly advanced economies enjoyed that protection.

The decline in union membership can account, at least in part, for exploding income and wealth inequality. As economist Dean Baker writes in his new book, "The United States Since 1980," in the 20 years following the election of Ronald Reagan, "the share of national income that went to the richest 5 percent of families rose by more than one-third … [while] the share of income going to the poorest 20 percent of the population fell by more than 25 percent."

A stronger labor movement would go a long way towards reversing that trend. Unionized workers earn 15 percent more than their non-union counterparts, have more vacation time and are more likely to have employer-funded pensions and health insurance (PDF).

A strong labor movement isn't only vital for union members; labor's decline over the past three decades is at least partially to blame for American workers' loss of benefits and job security, for a dysfunctional immigration system, for the near absence of family and medical leave and for the easy passage of NAFTA-style corporate investment deals, despite Americans' widespread unhappiness with their outcomes.

Healthy unions lift up all working people; economists have long discussed the "union threat effect" -- that employers offer higher pay and better benefits to workers who don't belong to a union in order to keep them from joining one.

The Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) is simple: It beefs up penalties for employers who violate workers' rights under the law, creates a mediation and arbitration system for disputes, and allows workers to form a union if a majority simply sign a card saying they want representation (a summary of the measure can be found here). This bill alone won't reverse the long decline of American labor -- union organizers say more is needed to create a truly level playing field -- but it would be a huge step in the right direction.

EFCA is an enormous threat to the leisure class -- in 2004, the share of national income going to workers was the lowest since they started tracking the data in 1929, while corporate profits were at an all-time high -- and the campaign they've mounted to kill the measure shows that, regardless of how much George W. Bush's presidency damaged the conservative movement, the Right still has significant advantages in steering the debate.

According to "RollCall," "Deep-pocketed corporate lobbying groups have joined together [to kill EFCA], today announcing the launch of a new coalition to coordinate their activities." The industry group, called the Coalition for a Democratic Workplace, "has the backing of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers and the National Federation of Independent Business, among others." The group sponsored a series of ads attacking lawmakers who supported the measure in key House districts and is expected to ratchet up the campaign in the Senate.

The coalition's spin makes no mention of beefing up penalties for violating workers' rights or creating new dispute-settlement procedures; instead, they seized on a compelling talking point tailored to America's political culture: That the "card-check" provision of the EFCA does away with the secret ballots that Americans have come to expect when casting their votes.

Big Business commissioned a Zogby poll that's dangerously close to the political "push-polls" of campaign infamy. The questions were remarkably dishonest, and the results were what the pollsters and their clients were looking for.

Please tell me whether you agree or disagree with the following statement: "Every worker should continue to have the right to a federally supervised secret ballot election when deciding whether to organize a union."

Nine out of ten respondents agreed, including 87 percent of Democrats. That's to be expected; the strategy is to depict management's assault on the ability to organize as protecting "workers' rights." Seven out of ten respondents said they'd be less likely to vote for a member of Congress "who voted in favor of taking away a worker's right to have a federally supervised secret ballot election to decide whether to organize a union."

Armed with their push-poll, the right's noise machine has been typically disciplined; all corners of the conservative movement are on message: Big Labor wants to do away with secret ballots, and it's pulling the Democrats' strings to make it happen.

Perhaps EFCA will defy expectations and become law (you can help out here). If it doesn't, it will be, in part, because progressive institutions -- the blogosphere, labor, liberal Democrats -- haven't yet developed the kind of close coordination the Right can still muster. Missing is a nice, easy-to-understand alternative narrative -- something like: "End the Stalinist election process," or "the Soviets also had secret ballots" -- and the infrastructure needed to repeat that message over and over again.

Joshua Holland is an AlterNet staff writer.
© 2007 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
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Tuesday, April 24, 2007

The Daily Show Does Wolfowitz and Paramour

C'mon, ya know ya wanna see it.

Tomgram: Brown, The Virginia Tech Massacre in Global Context

This post can be found at

Last January 16th, a car bomb blew up near an entrance to Mustansiriya University in Baghdad -- and then, as rescuers approached, a suicide bomber blew himself up in the crowd. In all, at least 60 Iraqis, mostly female students leaving campus for home, were killed and more than 100 wounded. Founded in 1232 by the Abbasid Caliph al-Mustansir, it was, Juan Cole informs us, "one of the world's early universities." And this wasn't the first time it had seen trouble. "It was disrupted by the Mongol invasion of 1258."

Just six weeks later, on February 25, again according to Cole, "A suicide bomber with a bomb belt got into the lobby of the School of Administration and Economy of Mustansiriya University in Baghdad and managed to set it off despite being spotted at the last minute by university security guards. The blast killed 41 and wounded a similar number according to late reports, with body parts everywhere and big pools of blood in the foyer as students were shredded by the high explosives." The bomber in this case was a woman.

In terms of body count, those two mass slaughters added up to more than three Virginia Techs; and, on each of those days, countless other Iraqis died including, on the January date, at least thirteen in a blast involving a motorcycle-bomb and then a suicide car-bomber at a used motorcycle market in the Iraqi capital. Needless to say, these stories passed in a flash on our TV news and, in our newspapers, were generally simply incorporated into run-of-bad-news-and-destruction summary pieces from Iraq the following day. No rites, no ceremonies, no special presidential statements, no Mustansiriya T-shirts. No attempt to psychoanalyze the probably young Sunni jihadis who carried out these mad acts, mainly against young Shiite students. No healing ceremonies, no offers to fly in psychological counselors for the traumatized students of Mustansiriya University or the daily traumatized inhabitants of Baghdad -- those who haven't died or fled.

We are only now emerging from more than a week in the nearly 24/7 bubble world the American media creates for all-American versions of such moments of horror, elevating them to heights of visibility that no one on Earth can avoid contemplating. Really, we have no sense of how strange these media moments of collective, penny-ante therapy are, moments when, as Todd Gitlin wrote recently, killers turn "into broadcasters." Like Cho Seung-Hui, they go into "the communication business," making the media effectively (and usually willingly enough) "accessories after the fact" in what are little short of pornographic displays of American victimization.

Finally, articles are beginning to appear that place the horrific, strangely meaningless, bizarrely mesmerizing slaughter/suicide at Blacksburg -- the killing field of a terrorist without even a terror program -- in some larger context. Washington Post on-line columnist Dan Froomkin caught something of our moment in his mordant observation that, at the White House Correspondents Association Dinner the other evening, with the massed media and the President (as well as Karl Rove) well gathered, "the tragic Virginia Tech massacre required solemn observation and expressions of great respect, while the seemingly endless war that often claims as many victims in a day deserved virtually no mention at all." Los Angeles Times columnist Rosa Brooks took a hard-eyed look at the urge of all Americans to become "victims" and of a President who won't attend the funeral of a soldier killed in Iraq to make hay off the moment. ("It's a good strategy. People busy holding candlelight vigils for the deaths in Blacksburg don't have much time left over to protest the war in Iraq."); and Boston Globe columnist James Carroll offered his normal incisive comments, this time on "expressive" and "instrumental" violence in Iraq and the U.S. in his latest column. He concluded: "Iraqi violence of various stripes still aims for power, control, or, at minimum, revenge. Iraqi violence is purposeful. Last week puts its hard question to Americans: What is the purpose of ours?"

Sometimes, in moments like this, it's actually useful to take a step or two out of the American biosphere and try to imagine these all-day-across-every-channel obsessional events of ours as others might see them; to consider how we, who are so used to being the eyes of the world, might actually look to others. In this case, John Brown, a former U.S. diplomat, one of three State Department employees to resign in protest against the onrushing war in Iraq in 2003, considers some of the eerie parallels between Cho's world and George's. Tom

The Cho in the White House

An Ex-Diplomat Considers the World and Virginia Tech
By John Brown

Americans rushed to unite in horror and mourning in response to the mass killings in Blacksburg in a way we haven't seen since, perhaps, the attacks of 9/11. Where I live, in Washington, D.C., residents are already sporting their Virginia Tech ribbons and sweatshirts, the way so many Americans once donned those "I [heart] New York" caps and T-shirts. While media coverage has been 24/7 and fast-paced, if not downright hysterical -- as is now the norm on all such American-gothic occasions from OJ's car chase on -- the framing and contextualizing of the massacre/suicide at Virginia Tech has been narrow indeed.

As a former diplomat, educated to see the world through others' eyes, I couldn't help thinking about how the rest of our small planet might be taking in the Blacksburg tragedy. Despite the negligible coverage of overseas opinion about this event in the mainstream media, there did appear one comprehensive overview of how foreigners reacted to the killings -- a Molly Moore piece in the Washington Post.

"Nowhere, perhaps," Moore wrote, "were foreign reactions to the Virginia shooting more impassioned than in Iraq, where many residents blame the United States for the daily killings in their schools, streets and markets. 'It is a little incident if we compare it with the disasters that have happened in Iraq,' said Ranya Riyad, 19, a college student in Baghdad. ‘We are dying every day.'"

Given my own twenty-plus years in the Foreign Service, on occasions like this I find myself looking at my own country from a non-American perspective. I must confess that, when I first saw psychopathic mass murderer Cho Seung-Hui's photographs of himself savagely pointing a gun at the camera, I was reminded not only of the violent images in our popular culture, but also of George W. Bush and his wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, not to speak of the thrust of his whole foreign policy.

Indeed, for others on our globe, mass murder in Iraq, scenes of degradation from Abu Ghraib, CIA extraordinary rendition expeditions, and our prison at Guantanamo have already become synonymous with the U.S. government and the President; so, it would not be surprising if Cho's actions and Bush's foreign policy were linked in the minds of people outside the United States. I see several reasons why, for non-Americans, a mad student and our commander- in-chief could appear to be two sides of the same all-American coin.

First, as his own writings and evidence from his Virginia Tech classmates attest, Cho felt unloved. A thread running through his psychological profile is that he believed the world was after him. Many abroad will remember how, in the wake of the Twin Towers tragedy, the Bush administration immediately began obsessing about "why they hate us" (whoever "they" might specifically be). Despite the sympathy the President, as the representative of the American people, received from every corner of the Earth -- similar in some ways to the fruitless support efforts teachers and doctors gave Cho for his mental problems -- Bush, responding only to the hate he saw under every nook and cranny, chose to react with what many overseas considered disproportionate violence.

To begin with, there was the invasion of Afghanistan. Foreigners (and perhaps some Americans) might think of it as comparable, though on a far larger scale, to Cho's first foray into killing, his early morning murder of two people, a girl he apparently felt had slighted him and a young man who evidently happened on the scene. In each case, there was then a pause while elaborate propaganda was mustered, organized, and sent off to the public to justify the acts to come. In Cho's case, what followed was his final rampage when the deranged English major killed 30 people in cold blood; in the President's, what followed, of course, was the invasion of Iraq where the casualty figures, high as they are, are not yet fully in.

The Bush propaganda campaign of 2002-2003 to convince the American people that the Butcher of Baghdad was a WMD demon reached its apotheosis in a made-for FOX News "shock and awe" spectacular over Baghdad (which was, to say the least, not well received abroad). This brutal sound-and-light show -- meant to give Americans the sense of getting back at those who "hated" the U.S. by hitting them hard and mercilessly -- seems, when I put on my overseas eyeglasses, eerily reminiscent of Cho's videos of himself as a mean twenty-first century gunslinger, ready to shoot all those whom he dreamt did him wrong.

As someone who lived and served outside my own beloved country for so many years, a second link between Cho's actions and George W. Bush's policies appeared quite evident to me. The Blacksburg murders caused enormous grief and sadness throughout a community Cho felt had never accepted him. Distraught students have been offered counseling by the university, so shaken are some by what they experienced. The results of Bush's preemptive military strikes have been no less disruptive and unnerving, but of course on a regional, if not global stage. Tens or hundreds of thousands of innocent people have lost their lives due to his rash wars -- and his administration has shown little pity for refugees from this destruction seeking shelter as best they could elsewhere. (Iraqi refugees have essentially been all but barred from the United States.)

As Cho disrupted a small, defenseless college town in Virginia that welcomed him, Bush has dislocated a whole society that was not threatening the United States. Seen from an overseas perspective, there is, as with Cho and his "enemy," something megalomaniacal as well as delusional about the President's identification of a vast Soviet-style Islamofascist foe that the U.S. Armed Forces are supposed to face down in the Global War on Terror.

Consider as well a third disturbing analogy that may not come immediately to most American minds. Like Virginia Tech, Iraq could be considered a repository of culture and knowledge. Indeed, Saddam Hussein may have been a cruel despot, but Mesopotamia, as every American high school student should know, is widely considered by historians "the cradle of civilization," the first "university" of humankind, if you will.

George W. Bush, reflecting an attitude not unlike Cho's toward a center of learning, showed not the slightest concern or respect for the traditions of a country whose achievements have so enriched the history of humankind. Indeed, when the Baghdad National Museum was pillaged (along with the National Library and the Library of Korans) soon after the American troops took the capital, the American "liberators" simply stood by; while the Secretary of Defense, reflecting on the catastrophe, offered the now-infamous comment, "Stuff happens."

Finally, Cho's suicidal assault on a college community might bring to mind the thought that Bush's assault on Iraq has been no less suicidal -- not for himself personally but for the United States as a whole. Bush's militarism and "bring 'em on" mentality helped create an atmosphere conducive to violence that Americans inflict not only on others, but also upon themselves, leading to what might be seen abroad as a kind of perpetual national suicidal condition, examples of which appear all too frequently, including in Blacksburg, Virginia.

Bluntly put, overseas the U.S. government (and, by association, the country as well) -- thanks in large part to Bush and his foreign policy -- is now widely considered the Cho of our world, despite the often risible efforts of Karen Hughes, the administration's Image Czarina, to improve America's international standing through what she calls the diplomacy of deeds. The fact of the matter is that the President's deeds have led other countries to see our government, in its aggressive unilateralism, as unreliable, if not deranged; obsessed beyond all reason with putative enemies and globe-spanning organizations of terrorists that despise us; ready to respond with unjustified violence to any perceived slight; unwilling to listen to, or accept, advice; and unconcerned with the consequences of what it does, even when this results in widespread death and destruction in one of the birthplaces of civilization, where Bush and his top officials now pride themselves on their latest accomplishment, a military "surge" that only seems to further encourage mass murder.

Regrettably, I fear that, after more than six years of George W. Bush, Baghdad and Blacksburg are, to many on our planet, not that far apart. Woe to the diplomat who has to explain us to the world today.

John Brown, a former Foreign Service officer, served in London, Prague, Krakow, Kiev, Belgrade and Moscow. He left the Foreign Service in March 2003 to express his opposition to President Bush's war plans for Iraq. He now compiles the "Public Diplomacy Press and Blog Review," available free by requesting it at johnhbrown30@

Copyright 2007 John Brown

The "Silent" Ninth Amendment Gives Americans Rights They Don't Know They Have

By Daniel A. Farber, Basic Books
Posted on April 23, 2007, Printed on April 24, 2007

The following is an excerpt from Daniel A. Farber's forthcoming "Retained by the People: The 'Silent' Ninth Amendment and the Constitutional Rights Americans Don't Know They Have" (Perseus Books, 2007), available April 30.

The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people. --The Ninth Amendment

Everyone knows about the First Amendment right of free speech and the Fifth Amendment right to avoid self-incrimination. Even the once-forgotten Second Amendment, with its "right to bear arms," has reemerged in public debate. But few people know about the Ninth Amendment, which reaffirms in broad terms rights "retained by the people." Indeed, the Ninth flies so far under the radar that it has rarely been mentioned even by the Supreme Court.

What a pity. Even more, what a terrible oversight: the Ninth Amendment bears directly on such modern-day constitutional issues as abortion, the right to die, and gay rights.

The Ninth Amendment is key to understanding how the Founding Fathers thought about the liberties they expected Americans to enjoy under the Constitution. They did not believe that they were creating these liberties in the Bill of Rights. Instead, they were merely acknowledging some of the rights that no government could properly deny.

The history of the Constitution reveals the purpose of the Ninth and the Founders' intent: to protect what constitutional lawyers call unenumerated rights -- those rights the Founder assumed and felt no need to specify in the Bill of Rights. Unenumerated rights include, for example, the right to privacy. In the America of today, unenumerated rights account for freedoms like a woman's right to abortion. ...

The truth is that anyone interested in the political and legal issues of the day can and should look to the Ninth Amendment for guidance.

The Ninth Amendment is paired with an almost equally forgotten provision, the Privileges or Immunities Clause (P or I Clause) of the Fourteenth Amendment, which draws from the same intellectual roots. The Ninth Amendment is like the rest of the original Bill of Rights: it speaks only to limits on federal power rather than to the powers of state governments. Limitations on state governments came along later, with the post-Civil War Fourteenth Amendment. Thus, the Ninth Amendment addresses the federal government; the Fourteenth addresses the states.

The human rights vision that survived the Civil War and was confirmed by the Fourteenth Amendment consciously complements that of the Founders. Confronting what these provisions really mean has the potential to reshape the way we think about the Constitution.

In particular, a look at this history helps us address the very controversial question of Supreme Court reliance on foreign law. The Framers thought that fundamental rights were embedded in what they called "the law of nations," and we should follow their lead in seeking inspiration abroad. However, their openness to foreign law is not universally shared today. When Justice Kennedy referred to foreign law in two judicial opinions on the issues of homosexuality and the death penalty, he was subject to an onslaught of criticism from legal commentators. Many of those same commentators question whether the United States is bound by international human rights laws, such as the Geneva Convention's prohibitions on mistreatment of prisoners. ...

The Ninth Amendment and the debate over fundamental rights

Standing alone, the Ninth Amendment does not make any specific law unconstitutional. It is an explanation, not a command -- like the FAQs found on many Web sites. In this case, the Frequently Asked Question is: "The Bill of Rights provides a list of specific rights that are protected from invasion by the federal government. Does this mean that the federal government can violate other rights if they aren't on the list?" The Ninth answers, "No. The Bill of Rights is not complete. Other rights exist, and the federal government must respect them." Indeed, as a supporter of the Constitution pointed out at the Pennsylvania ratification convention, "Our rights are not yet all known," so an enumeration was impossible. While it is true that history often fails to provide clear proof of what the Framers believed, there are exceptions. The Ninth Amendment is one of them.

How is all this playing out on our most vital constitutional front, the Supreme Court, today? The Court is sharply divided over whether the Constitution provides broad protection for human rights and just what those rights are. On one side have been those Justices who believe that the Constitution does give such broad protection--not just to those freedoms explicitly listed in the Bill of Rights but to other fundamental aspects of liberty. In honoring not merely the Framers' text but the intent behind it, these Justices have supported, for example, the right to abortion, the right of gays to have sexual relationships, and the right to die. More generally, these Justices have proclaimed: "At the heart of liberty is the right to define one's own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life."

These Justices also honor the Framers' intent by looking beyond our national borders to seek the parameters of liberty. For example, in striking down a Texas law against homosexual conduct, the Court found it significant that the right to engage in homosexual relationships has "been accepted as an integral part of human freedom in many other countries." On today's bench, Justice Stevens has been a leading advocate of this view. However, its most influential voice is that of the more conservative Justice, Anthony Kennedy. Kennedy, a Reagan appointee, has become the bĂȘte noire of movement conservatives because he has so firmly defended basic rights and linked those rights to international law.

The opposing side is led by Justice Antonin Scalia, another Reagan appointee. As a former law professor at the University of Chicago and the University of Virginia, and now as a judge, Scalia has spent years working out an elaborate constitutional theory of originalism. He has consistently dissented from the entire line of human rights cases, arguing that abortion, gay rights, and end-of-life decisions should all be left entirely to the political process. This is a view that has powerful backing outside the Supreme Court. President Bush has renewed calls for strict construction of the Constitution (by which he means strict limits on individual rights, but apparently not strict construction of the powers of the Presidency!).

More extremist views, replete with threats of impeachment or other unprecedented actions to rein in judges, can be found in Congress and among the Right's cultural leadership. Nothing is more anathema to these critics than the Court's reliance on foreign judicial precedents as a source of guidance in interpreting the Constitution. Justice Scalia warned of the Court's "dangerous" references to foreign law, adding that "this Court ... should not impose foreign moods, fads, or fashions on Americans." He and his fellow critics see no connection between broader conceptions of human rights and constitutional law. They refuse to look seriously at what the Framers believed, how they saw the world.

Some conservatives also seemingly misunderstand the very idea of constitutional rights. Are basic rights like free speech or privacy created by the U.S. Constitution? For many conservatives, these rights are merely the historical product of particular language adopted a century or two in the past; they have no broader roots or implications. If so, Justice Kennedy was surely wrong in the Texas sodomy case when he examined a much broader range of sources, including how states interpret their own constitutions, the actions taken by state legislatures to decriminalize sodomy, and the rulings of international tribunals. These sources are relevant only if we ask a broader question: "Are there good grounds for considering this to be a basic human right?" If that is the question, then actions by state legislatures, state judges, and international human rights tribunals are all persuasive authorities. The Founders certainly understood the law of nations and basic liberty in this way.

Rephrasing the question in these terms also rebuts another powerful argument against providing constitutional protection for human rights. Justice Scalia and others have argued that going beyond the specifics of the Bill of Rights would give the Supreme Court unlimited discretion to decide what parts of liberty are fundamental. This was the real concern that led Judge Bork to call the Ninth Amendment an inkblot: the fear that if we paid any attention to the Ninth Amendment at all, we would be mesmerized into giving the federal judiciary a blank check. This is much less problematic if the courts are guided by a broader community of opinion, including our own state decision makers as well as international authorities.

To see what is at stake, consider a 1927 Supreme Court case that upheld compulsory sterilization. The Virginia statute involved in the case established a procedure for sterilizing people with mental retardation who lived in state institutions, based on the idea that mental disability was inherited. The statute was challenged by a woman who was about to be sterilized. As later historical research revealed, she actually did not have a mental disability at all; she simply had been sent to an institution by her foster parents because she had become pregnant. In any event, the Supreme Court could not see any problem with the Virginia statute: "It is better for all the world, if instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime, or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind. ... Three generations of imbeciles are enough." By 1935, over twenty thousand forced sterilizations had been performed in the United States as a result of this decision.

If mainstream conservatives like Bork and Scalia are right, there is no constitutional barrier to these laws, because the Framers failed to predict this abuse and explicitly ban it. This is exactly the kind of reasoning that the Ninth Amendment was designed to guard against. A better understanding of the Ninth Amendment can do a great deal to clarify the current debate over fundamental rights, laying a firm foundation for the views of Justice Kennedy and other leading judges. Correspondingly, a true understanding of the Ninth Amendment is deadly to Justice Scalia's position.

Libertarians, who dislike government regulation of all kinds, agree with part of my argument, and I have found much of their historical research useful. They, too, would find the Amendment to be a source of real legal guidance. But they swing too far in the opposite direction from conservatives like Scalia. While Scalia wants the Ninth Amendment to protect nothing, the libertarians want it to protect virtually everything. They see in it the basis of a revolutionary return to the small government ideas of the early nineteenth century. But this is a gross overreading of the Amendment. It was meant to protect fundamental human rights, not just the right to do whatever you want whenever you want.

...[H]ere are some of the things I believe are among the unenumerated rights protected by the Constitution under the Ninth Amendment, backed up by the Fourteenth:

• The right to engage in private sexual acts between consenting adults. The Supreme Court was completely correct to strike down state sodomy laws.

• The right of reproductive autonomy, including the use of contraceptives and access to abortion as well as freedom from forced sterilization. Abortion is not an absolute right. The state can regulate to protect potential life, particularly later in pregnancy, so long as the burden placed on the pregnant woman is not too severe.

• The right to an adequate basic education. The Supreme Court has explicitly rejected this as a fundamental constitutional right, but many state courts have interpreted their state constitutions to protect this right. The Supreme Court would do well to follow their lead.

• The right to travel within the United States and to enter and leave the country freely (subject to clearly demonstrated national security needs).

• The right to government protection from private violence: when the government knows of the violence and has the resources to deal with the problem, it cannot simply sit on its hands. The Supreme Court has ruled that the state has every right to sit by while a Libertarians, who dislike government regulation of all kinds, small boy is beaten into a permanent coma by his father, even though the state knows all about what is going on. I would overturn that decision.

• The right to refuse unwanted medical treatment, including the right of terminally ill patients to reject life support.

But not everything is protected as a fundamental right. Here are some things that are not:

• The right of a terminally ill patient to prescribed medication with which to commit suicide.

• The right of businesses to be free from government regulation of their contracts with employees and customers.

• The right of individuals to use their property however they want, without regard to the public interest.

Daniel A. Farber is Sho Sato Professor of Law and Director of the Environmental Law Program at California University at Berkeley and author of many books, including most recently, Retained by the People: The 'Silent' Ninth Amendment and the Constitutional Rights Americans Don't Know They Have" (Perseus Books, 2007).

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