Various matters

It derides the debate without mentioning its corporate stake. Plus: Snooping into your drugs; U.S.'s No. 1 problem

Published September 8, 2010 1:09PM (EDT)

(updated below [w/correction] Update II)

A miserable flu prevented me from writing yesterday and may do so again today.  I'll summon the limited energy I have (do you hear the sickness-caused melodramatic martyrdom?) to note the following items of interest:

(1) Time Magazine has a lengthy new article examining -- and largely deriding -- the intensifying fight over net neutrality.  Just as was true for prior articles on this topic, Time does so without bothering to mention that the corporation which owns it, Time Warner Inc., is vehemently opposed to net neutrality and is pressuring the FCC to refrain from enforcing its principles.  As both a cable provider and owner of massive amounts of entertainment content, Time Warner loathes net neutrality.  One would think that ought to be disclosed by the corporation's news magazine when purporting to report on the issue.  Moreover, as the article note, many of the anti-net-neutrality groups -- including those purporting to be grassroots groups -- are covertly funded by large telecommunications companies, but the article says nothing about whether any Time Warner properties provide any such funding (see Update for correction).  The nature of a corporatized media is such that these conflicts are so pervasive that ignoring them is the norm.


(2) Sheriffs in North Carolina are lobbying to be given full access to "state computer records identifying anyone with prescriptions for powerful painkillers and other controlled substances."  That would allow all sheriffs and their employees to know of every prescription drug obtained by all residents.  I've written before about these prescription drug databases -- 39 states now maintain such databases and allow access to federal law enforcement authorities -- but this underscores just how sweeping our Surveillance State has become:  even programs that receive relatively little attention, like this one, are incredibly invasive.  So little of what you do is unrecorded and unlinkable to you, and the category of information that is genuinely private shrinks continuously.  We haven't come close to thinking about the short- and long-term effects which this loss of privacy will have for us as individuals, and on our culture and society.


(3) Slate's Tim Noah has written what is truly an excellent series on the vast economic inequality in America (Part I is here).  A sample:

[I]ncome distribution in the United States is more unequal than in Guyana, Nicaragua, and Venezuela, and roughly on par with Uruguay, Argentina, and Ecuador. Income inequality is actually declining in Latin America even as it continues to increase in the United States. Economically speaking, the richest nation on earth is starting to resemble a banana republic.

Combined with what Larry Lessig writes about today -- "a government captured by the economically powerful in society, as they find a way to convert economic into political power" -- a very compelling case could be made that this financial-based inequality, this growing oligarchy, is the premiere problem in America , the overarching issue infecting all others.


(4) I share Adam Serwer's discomfort with David Petraeus' purporting to instruct us all on what is and is not appropriate speech based on the danger it creates for troops; that's the same rationale used to demonize war opponents (they embolden the Enemy) and justify suppression of torture photos (disclosure would cause harm to the troops), among other things.  And while I'm glad to see civilian administration officials speaking out against anti-Muslim bigotry on the ground that it inflames anti-American sentiment in the Muslim world (though there should be no question -- none -- that a Church has the absolute right to burn Korans under several First Amendment guarantees), Blue Texan's observation is quite true:

Well, yes -- burning Korans is deeply stupid and inflammatory. But, um, so is haphazardly invading, bombing, Predator striking, torturing, and imprisoning hundreds of thousands of people, just for the hell of it.

It's a bit strange to watch American officials express such profound concern over the way in which a Koran burning may inflame anti-American sentiment while they simultaneously pursue policies which create precisely that sentiment on a much, much larger scale.


(5) One of the great journalistic scandals is how the owner and editor of The New Republic, Marty Peretz, is a raving, relentless, pure bigot, and does this with total impunity.  But since he targets two of the very few remaining groups against whom such overt, unapologetic bigotry is acceptable -- Muslims and Arabs -- most Serious People agree to simply ignore it and treat his magazine as though it's respectable.  Here's his latest, though by no means unusual, outburst of hate-mongering.  Just replace the word "Muslim" with "Jew" or "Christian" and contemplate the furor that would erupt if the owner of a major political magazine said it.


(6) With Richard Daley announcing that he will not seek re-election as Mayor of Chicago, it seems highly likely that Obama's White House Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel, will leave the White House to run for that office (he has long said he wanted that job).  Washington insider-journalists are now saying that the leading candidate to replace Emanuel would be Obama's deputy national security adviser, Tom Donilon.  Tim Carney today looks at Donilon's background as a former lobbyist and consultant to large banks.


(7) It's probably the distorting effects of the flu medication I'm ingesting, since this isn't typically the type of issue I use my blog to write about, but:   the deepening recession and unemployment crisis spawn substantial misery on many levels, including the way in which it forces people to abandon their family pets.  As a result of that -- as well as the economic suffering in the Gulf region created by the BP oil spill -- animal shelters around the country are overflowing with homeless, abandoned dogs and cats, most of whom end up being killed if not adopted quickly.  People with pets -- I have 7 dogs and a cat, all except 1 found on the street -- know the extraordinary value they provide in one's life and understand what must be the extreme suffering that comes from having to abandon them due to financial inability to care for them, but for those who don't, Balloon-Juice has been publishing a remarkable series of testimonials from readers who have recently adopted dogs from shelters.  It's worth reading to see the very positive effects adopting a pet can have on someone's life, and for those so moved, this article from the Humane Society describes how you can either adopt a Gulf region pet that has been abandoned or donate to groups working on the problem.


UPDATE:  As I noted yesterday, one of the benefits of an engaged, vibrant readership is that no error remains undetected for very long, and today demonstrates that.  As numerous commenters and emailers were quick to note (though I did not know this), Time Warner Inc. spun off and thus no longer owns Time Warner Cable, which means that Time Magazine is no longer part of the same corporate entity as Time Warner Cable, the company working against net neutrality.  From what I understand, owners of content such as Time Warner's entertainment properties are also opposed to net neutrality (see this August, 2010 New York Times article quoting Barry Diller to that effect), but since I don't have specific evidence of Time Warner itself (as opposed to Time Warner Cable) working against net neutrality, the conflict point I raised about Time Magazine in Item 1 is far less compelling, if it's valid at all.


UPDATE II:  To clarify one point:  the prescription drug data bases referenced in Item 2 do not include all prescriptions, but rather all Class II, III and IV controlled substances.  In other words, innocuous medication you take for standard illnesses may be excluded, but most medications you take for serious illnesses, including most psychiatric or psychological conditions, would be included.

By Glenn Greenwald

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