Wednesday, April 26, 2006

They even sold our History! Smithsonian 's secret deal with Showtime

We all know Satayana's Famous warning about those who forget their history; but I wonder what special damnation waits for those who sell it off to the first megacorporation that cuts a check?

Thanks to a secret, no-bid deal cut in the beginning of this year, the complete terms of which they refuse to release,  The Smithsonian, "the Nation's Attic", has become  Showtime's Candy Store instead.

As part of a near-exclusive deal with Showtime Networks, the Smithsonian Institution is restricting filmmakers' access to its scientists and archives....,  Now most filmmakers will not have in-depth use of Smithsonian materials unless they are creating work for the Smithsonian/Showtime unit.

Which means effectively that $800 million a year in taxpayer funds we spend on the venerable institution has just become another form of corporate welfare:

To understand what an utter outrage this deal is you must first understand the incredible depth and breadth of the institution and its archives.  First, the Smithsonian is not a single museum but 15 separate museums covering almost every imaginable subject from the Famous Air and Space museum  to the National Zoo to the newly opened American Indian Museum.   And even that only scratches the surface of what the Institution  really is. The institute's archives hold millions of historical

documents, and photographs, miles of film ( 8 million feet in the anthropology archive alone), and thousands of hours of recordings that are unique and able to be found nowhere else in the world.  And all of it, every last treasure, was just made off-limits without permission from the Smithsonian's corporate partner Showtime.

Or to quote noted firebrand Documentarian Ken Burns:

"History's just been made for sale to an inside deal," said Ken Burns, the Emmy-winning producer of the documentaries "Baseball" and "The Civil War."

Or to put it even more bluntly:

I was horrified that the Smithsonian would even contemplate a deal that would give a for-profit broadcaster the right of first refusal," said Nina Gilden Seavey, an Emmy-winning filmmaker and director of the Documentary Center at George Washington University. "It is a fire sale of the nation's history."

It is important to understand the contract term "right of first refusal" and what it effectively does to anyone wishing access to the Smithsonian.  .   Effectively it means that from now on anybody who wants to do ANYTHING about the Smithsonian, its collections, or even staff has to offer to sell Showtime the finished product:

Jeanny Kim, the vice president for media services at Smithsonian Business Ventures, said the filmmakers who were doing "more than an incidental treatment" of a subject mainly from Smithsonian materials or wishing to focus on a Smithsonian curator or scientist would first have to offer the idea to Smithsonian/Showtime. Otherwise, the archives could not be used

Not only is this an outrageous enrichment of a private company at public expense, but it is literally allowing a corporation to spin  our history as it sees fit. According to the deal, to get access to the Archives, Filmmakers MUST sell their final products to Showtime if Showtime wishes to purchase them.   However there are no control on what Showtime does once the film is in their possession, whether or if they ever air it, and what edits they may chose to make before doing so.    They are now free to spin pieces of the historical record anyway they find convenient and no one can effectively rebut them.   It almost goes without saying that this is an unbelievably dangerous idea.  

Worse yet, Showtime is a only a tiny part of the Communications Giant  Viacom.  Viacom's other holdings include: CBS,  dozens of Local TV and Radio Stations , 20 different cable channels (including MTV and all its demon-spawn), Simon and Schuster publishers, King World Distributors, etc.  and it would be utterly naïve to believe that they have no plans for leveraging their access to the Smithsonian's collections  for corporate synergy purposes.   Those things they find helpful or profitable can be promoted and those they find unhelpful can be suppressed (for example inconvenient historical records that contradict a Blockbuster Biopic made by Paramount, might never see the light of Day if Viacom decided releasing them would hurt the Box office gross)

We have fought hard to save other National treasures like ANWAR, and staked out the principle that sacrificing our natural heritage for short term corporate profits was a bad idea.

That principle has Never been more imperiled than by this back room, still-secret deal that effectively turns over millions or unique and irreplaceable historical records, knowledge and artifacts to a giant entertainment company.  If you stood Up for ANWAR it's time to stand again and not let a giant Mega-corporation take sole ownership of your History.

Update [2006-4-19 8:0:8 by Magorn]:
Read this Diary on this deal as well, the author has an excellent sense of what this deal means in a larger context

Monday, April 10, 2006

DeLay's Defense: The Hammer becomes St. Tom the Dumbass

Good-bye Tommy "the Hammer" Delay, we Hardly Knew ye.  We THOUGHT we knew you. The scheming, ruthless operative without heart or scruples who built a Republican majority by  nearly single handedly destroying civility, bi-partisanship, ethics or decency in American politics.

Oh but we were so Wrong. You were nothing but a good , decent, principled, if slightly naive man who was led astray by Bad Companions (all of whom conveniently, have already plead guilty).  You weren't an evil prick at all, but in fact the Noble Moor undone by a trio of Casio's and their ruthless ambitions.

At least that's what  Former DeLay Aide and Current MPAA lobbyist John Feehery would have us believe.  This Sunday the Washington Post published his utterly shameless attempt to re-write history on the Front page of their Op-ed section.

To me it signals that Ol'  TD is in a LOT more trouble than we previously assumed and He's already laying the groundwork for a Bernie Ebbers "nobody tells me nothin'" style defense

  Today, everyone wants to know what Tom DeLay knew and when he knew it. And I can't answer those questions.

But I do know that Tom DeLay achieved great things for the Republican majority, the Congress and for the country. He also created great controversy caused in part by his own aggressive nature, in part by his political enemies, and in part by rogue members of his own staff.

What precisely those "great things" were, strangely, are not mentioned.  However, note how already in the opening paragraphs he's already starting to shift the blame away from Delay,  who is, in his words at most only partly to blame for his own woes.  No more than a third really, the rest is the fault of evil aides and of course, political enemies.

In fact, when you really look at it TOM isn't to blame at all, merely his aggressive nature. See? He's like one of those unfortunate Type A souls who identify their greatest flaw in job interviews as "working TOO hard"

You see, Tom wasn't evil, he just had evil friends

It's a Meme that Feehery will hit early and often in this oversized mash-note.  Watch the subtle deflection of blame for this early example of Tom's propensity for slander and character assassination:

It was my first week as Tom DeLay's communications director in late 1995. And we were already in crisis.

On the House floor, DeLay had gotten into a shoving match with a Wisconsin Democrat named Dave Obey. I had no idea what had happened.

While I worked the phones trying to figure out the details, our press secretary, Tony Rudy, wasn't waiting for the facts. He started telling reporters that Obey had called Tom an obscenity too graphic to print in this newspaper.

Later, I asked Tom if it was true.

No, he said, he had never actually heard Obey utter the alleged insult. I called reporters to tell them we couldn't confirm the rumor.{ NB. "couldn't confirm rather than "to tell them my own guy said it was a complete crock}  But, of course, it was too late. The rumor had come in part from our own office. And I had my crash course in spin control as played by some members of Team DeLay.

(Historians may wish to note, even at this early date we see a fully formed fossil of the Big Lie, the workhorse of the Republican dirty-tricks playbook)

See? it wasn't Tom Delay who slandered another member of Congress after physically assaulting him, no no. It was Team Delay, particularly, his Evil Aide Tony Rudy.  

Of course, the Feehery fails to mention why Good Tom the Honorable, didn't immediately set the record straight and fire Rudy.  Ya know, the thing which it seems any honest man would have done in his place?  Maybe like our president, his flaw is also he's too darn loyal to people that let him down. He wouldn't want to hurt their feelings by telling them they screwed up after all.  Remember, "there is no "You F*'ed Up" in Team".

And let it be noted that Feehery, pulls no punches in identifying other Bad Companions of Mr. Delay's  as well, who led him astray.  As it happens there were Three:

The overwhelming majority of DeLay's staffers were professional, honest and working in Congress for the right reasons. But Tom prized the most aggressive staffers and most often heeded their counsel. As it turned out, three of them went over the line, abused the trust of House members and seemingly broke the law. A former hockey player, Tony Rudy was DeLay's enforcer; he wasn't evil, but lacked maturity and would do whatever necessary to protect his patron. Ed Buckham, DeLay's chief of staff, gatekeeper and minister, constantly pushed DeLay to be more radical in his tactics and spun webs of intrigue we are only now beginning to unravel. And Michael Scanlon, who, in my experience, was a first-class rogue and a master of deception.

Now, I'm sure this will come as a total shock to you, but it just so happens that these three just happen to be same three aides who have either plead guilty or are facing federal criminal charges.   And I' absolutely certain that Feehery's public denunciation of these men exclusively of all Delay's aides has nothing to do with the fact that they are all now cooperating with federal authorities to provide evidence against Good St. Tom.

And notice how Feehery tries to erase the OTHER radioactive elephant in the room with a flick of a paragraph:

In those early days, Jack Abramoff was not a significant presence in our office; we knew him mainly as a friend of Buckham's.

See? In  Feehery's desperate attempt at retro-hagiography  he reduces the  footprint of incredibly guilty slimeball Jack Abramoff.  Gone is the uber-fundraiser/fixer who greased the wheels of The Hammer's Machine.  Nowhere to be found is the man Tom Delay embraced, golfed with and famously called his "Good and dear friend".  Instead he's no more than a friend of Ed Buckham, Delay's aide.

In the Most Shameless, moment of the article (and trust me this was a hard choice given it's contents), Feehery even tries to rehabilitate the Sleaziest thing Tom Delay ever did (and trust me this was a hard choice given his career).

  Apparently DeLay's outrageous deep-sixing of a DOJ human rights investigations into the Northern Marianas's Slave-labor Sweatshops  WASN'T a blatant example of "Money Talks Politics"   NO, to our collective shock Tom Delay protected those Dickensian factories out of principle.

in early 1997 to meet with government officials of Saipan, who were fighting hard to keep Congress and the Clinton administration from imposing minimum-wage and other labor laws. As a former small-business owner, DeLay hated minimum-wage laws and other government mandates, so it was a pretty easy sell.

Oh the Poor Poor Bugman!  I imagine that he was forever scarred by having to fork over a whole $4.50 every hour to his minions who only  had to risk cancer and the ability to reproduce to spray his wonderful Chemicals!  especially when he could have gotten twice as many Mexicans for the same price!

To heear Feehery tell it,  one can almost see  DeLay pacing in his Congressional offices fuming at these horrible indignities, looking Ahab-like for revenge on this federal behemoth that had so hindered his right to capitalism.   Suddenly!  There in the Sky someone is calling for help with  Adam Smith's Invisible Hand Beacon.

   "quick Feehery! the Federal Government is preparing to  

    spoil the Free market paradise that is the Northern    

    Marianas Islands!  To the Bat(sh*t) Jet!"

   "What?  we Don't have a BatJet?  Well see if Buckham's

   friend,  what's his name? Abramoff!  see if he can get us


    "Holy happy coincidences, he just happened to be

    planning a trip there himself boss!  You'll have to

    suffer with 5-star hotel accommodations and endless

     rounds of Golf on the nearby resorts, but It's for  

     a good cause!"

Oddly, also absent from Feehery's fantasy are any mention of the OTHER labor abuses by  the NMI Factories.  He never really explains Tom's support for practices such as :  forcing female workers into sexual slavery, Locking employees into their dorms at night or even forcing pregnant workers to have abortions.  But that too I'm sure had something to do with his deeply felt conservative principles.

There is more of this Glurge, but this being a Monday and wanting to spare your potentially delicate digestive systems I think I'll stop with one more excerpt. In  the interests of fairness;  I hereby warm those who might be diabetic or already feel their gorge rising to avoid it altogether.  

Apparently,  worried that he was being too subtle or insufficiently obsequious up to this point Feehery closes his article thusly:

Yet, watching him announce his resignation last week brought me great sadness -- sadness that a politician so gifted could take such a fall. DeLay was an amazing legislator, probably the most talented this town has seen since Lyndon Baines Johnson. But like all great men, Tom DeLay had great talents and one great weakness.  In his case, it was some staff members run amok. In the end, that weakness forced him to step down.

Why he's not even Shakespearian, he's positively Erupidean is wot he is!   Here all this time I thought what laid him low was his lack of ethics, or his wanton disregard for the law, or his reckless willingness to put the good of his party and donors over the good of the country.  

 Silly Me.

  Apparently the truth is it was that nightmare of the HR departments everywhere;  Bad Staffers Gone Wild, that laid the great man out.   The Poor bugger, all that talent at judging and manipulating and controlling people, and he's brought down by his inability to judge, or control his own staff.  It's bloody Ironic it is.  Not to mention a complete non-sequitur

Isn't it odd that after 10 years on the Hill and literally thousands of stories with millions of words written about Delay and his operation, this is the very first we've heard of  Tom's weak willed nature and his propensity to be dominated by his overbearing staffers?  

So what's really going one here?

Well, I will make no claim to psychic powers but I DO have a legal education, and I'm seeing the beginnings of  a now-familiar pattern emerging.   Like the great corporate CEO's Tom held up for contributions and doled out billions in favors to, Delay seems to be laying the framework for a Dumbass Defense.  

Like  Healthsouth's Richard Srcushy and Worldcom's Bernie Ebbers and of course Enron's Ken Lay, Delay is trying to reposition himself from ruthless, brilliant, Master of the Universe , to mildly retarded simpleton  who was lied to by untrustworthy underlings, all of whom conveniently have already been convicted of crimes.  

It's become the fashionable defense of last resort among the incredibly guilty,  this season and to me it says volumes that Delay is already laying the groundwork for it.

Friday, April 07, 2006

New GAO report: Abstinence-only strings on AIDS money costing lives

W's Theocratic pandering is starting to have a body count.  Last year, largely as a sop to hard-right religious groups, (many of whom once regarded AIDS as God's punishment),  Bush added some unprecedented strings to all US AIDS-prevention money:

President George W. Bush's...AIDS relief plan requires that two-thirds of funds for preventing sexual HIV transmission be used to promote "ABC" programs -- abstain, be faithful or use a condom.

Would you be shocked if I told you this has been a total disaster?

According to GAO audit; thanks largely to those conditions, the money the US is spending on AIDS prevention is doing more harm than good:

An audit by the nonpartisan     Government Accountability Office, Congress's audit and investigative arm, found the spending requirement limited the ability of U.S. workers to address prevention priorities of the countries they serve.

"Seventeen of 20 country teams reported that fulfilling that spending requirement ... presents challenges to their ability to respond to local prevention needs," the GAO audit said.

Once upon a time, it Looked as IF AIDS prevention may have been the one decent thing that W did during his presidency.

In fact, disloyal citizens who haven't recently used their memory hole may recall that in the 2003 State of the Union Address Bush Promised to spend a whopping 15 billion dollars over 5 years to fight the spread of AIDS in the third world.

Given that nearly 20 million have died from AIDS so far in the world and another 30 million are infected in Africa alone, this  actually seemed like W was, for once, doing the right thing (as opposed to the Right-wing thing). I for one was cautiously optimistic


Fast forward three years. Not only has Bush failed to deliver anywhere NEAR the funds he promised (or even ask for them in his budgets), but  thanks to those "ABC" conditions Bush attached to the funding; what we HAVE spent has actually HURT not helped global prevention efforts:

Three countries interviewed by GAO investigators reported that they had to cut back programs to prevent mother-to-child HIV transmission. One country reported it had to cut investment in medical and blood safety activities.

And the Country that was facing a severe Condom shortage? Fuhgetaboutit: (after all why would we want our AIDS-prevention money going to the cheapest and most effective way to fight AIDS?)

 Another said the ABC spending requirement had complicated efforts to address a condom shortage.

"To reserve funding to procure condoms, the team was required to cut funding for other programs in the 'other prevention' program area and to shift funds from the care category," the report said.

And it's not Just those whacky bi-partisan moonbats at the GAO who think so either.  In fact, the same message is being heard from many different experts:

Dr. Paul Zeitz, director of the Washington-based Global AIDS Alliance said the large earmark requirement for abstinence-only forces people on the ground to under fund critical programs.

"The Bush policy on AIDS prevention is unworkable the way it's currently being implemented. The policy is essentially doing more harm than good"

"more Harm than good".  Chew on that for a moment.  Then consider the enormity of the crime of placing ideological restrictions on money desperately needed to save lives.  Its no exaggeration to say that literally millions of lives hang in the balance right now.

Here in America, it's easy to forget there is a pandemic raging, outside.  Here, it's easy to forget about AIDS.  Thanks to new treatments and drugs, it is no longer an automatic  death sentence anymore, people live for decades after becoming HIV+ with no obvious ill effects.  If it hasn't affected you personally, it's easy to believe the problem is nearly solved.

It is a VERY different story in the rest of the world however; particularly Africa.  Those anti-viral drugs that are SOP here cost more per dose than many people make in a month. Even with Drug give-0away programs and cheaper "counterfeit" AIDS drugs, very few people can sucessfully take them.   Those drugs have to be taken daily for YEARS, in a precise regimine, and carefully adjusted over time.   In countries where healthcare access is nearly non-existant to start with, the brutal truth is a single person often simply  isn't worth that many resources.

As a result,  The worldwide statistics on AIDS casualties are staggering:

  • Since the start of the epidemic 25 Million have died worldwide from AIDS

  • 80% of the worlds current AIDS cases live in Africa

  • Right now,  in Africa alone, there are 30 Millionpeople infected with the AIDS virus

  • There are already 11 Million "AIDS orphans" in Africa

I try to be open-minded; I try not to hate those I disagree with poltically.  I try desperately to tell myself that they are people of good will, and we just have honest disagreements about what's best for our country.   I even try, from time to time to put myself in their shoes, and see the world from their eyes.  After all, not too long ago, you would have considered me one of them in many ways.

But this time, I'm too angry, too baffled, to even try.

Try as I might, I cannot even imagine  what kind of mind it would take, how ideologically twisted you would have to be, to be look at the cataclysmic impact that AIDS has had on the Third World and have the response that W and his administration did.    

How can you face a crisis of this proportion and say:  "Well Yes, certainly we have to do something about this disease, but what I'm really more concerned about is appearing to condone pre-marital sex .  I mean it's all well and good to try to protect people from a sexually transmitted disease; but we can't make it seem like it was okay for them to be having sex in the first place."  :

"After all,  THAT  would be Immoral"