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In This Edition

Noam Chomsky is, "Breaking The Israel-Palestine Deadlock."

Uri Avnery exclaims, "Interim Forever!"

Ralph Nader warns of, "Tweeting Away The Time."

Randall Amster explains, "2011: Time For A New, Clear Vision."

Jim Hightower says, "Airports: Surrender All Liberty, Ye Who Enter By Me."

James Donahue reports on, "The Healing Dance Of The Ye'ii Bi' Cheii."

Robert Naiman supports, "A 'Pledge of Resistance' To Defend Social Security And Defund The Empire."

Conn Hallinan joins us with, "The 2010 "Are You Serious?" Awards."

Chris Floyd examines, "Mondo Inferno."

Matthew Rothschild explores, "The Cynical War On Public Sector Workers."

Paul Krugman studies, "Deep Hole Economics."

Chris Hedges with a clarion call for revolution, "The Left Has Nowhere To Go."

David Michael Green sees your future in, "Happy New Year, 2030."

Con-gressman Fred Upton R/Mi wins the coveted "Vidkun Quisling Award!"

Sam Harris with, "A New Year's Resolution For The Rich."

Sarah Boseley with more, "WikiLeaks cables: McDonald's Used US To Put Pressure On El Salvador."

And finally in the 'Parting Shots' department The Onion discovers the, "Virgin Mary Statue Crying For No Good Reason" but first Uncle Ernie sez, "I Have Seen The Future."

This week we spotlight the cartoons of Steve Greenberg, with additional cartoons, photos and videos from Derf City, Clay Bennett, Jeff Parker, Jeff Roberson, Dees Illustration.Com, Eugene Delacroix, Just Foreign Policy.Org, Twitter, BBC, Lockheed Martin, Parker Brothers and Issues & Alibis.Org.

Plus we have all of your favorite Departments...

The Quotable Quote...
The Dead Letter Office...
The Cartoon Corner...
To End On A Happy Note...
Have You Seen This...
Parting Shots...

Welcome one and all to "Uncle Ernie's Issues & Alibis."

I Have Seen The Future
By Ernest Stewart

"I have seen the future brother; it is murder."
The Future ~~~ Leonard Cohen

"An asylum for the sane would be empty in America." ~~~ George Bernard Shaw

My books are like water; those of the great geniuses are wine. Fortunately everybody drinks water. ~~~ Mark Twain

"You can't cheat an honest man!" ~~~ W.C. Fields

For all you tea baggers in New York City, how did you like the last snow storm? I hope you liked it as that is what you voted for and can expect in the months and years to come. Except, of course, they will be more frequent and nastier as the global warming continues!

Even though you don't believe in global warming, and that storm is what you can expect more of, because unfortunately Mother Earth believes in global warming. Didn't your leaders tell you that's the kind of weather you can expect by doing nothing to end it? No, global warming isn't about no more winter as all it takes to change the weather and begin melting the ice packs is just a couple of degrees difference. In fact, global warming may someday bring upon the next ice age! As the glaciers melt, not only do they cause the oceans to rise and drown out many islands (Think Manhattan, Fire, Staten and Long!) and coastal area (Most of the east coast and most all of Florida) but also stop the heat exchange that causes the "Gulf Stream" to flow north to Greenland where it sinks and flows back south carrying cold water to be warmed. Melting glaciers flood fresh water into the ocean at this point diluting the oceans salt content and could shut this transfer process down. The end result is an ice age which would bury most of America under a mile of ice like it was 14,000 years ago. Did Rand or Scott mention this in any of their tea bagger speeches?

In the meantime, tea baggers, since you hate all those nasty socialist programs like social security, medicare, public schools, police and fire departments, and in New York, the Sanitation department, you can expect to be buried in snow drifts until the temps warm up and melt the snow. Since rescue, fire, and such have been drastically cut back to pay for the money give aways to the rich, the few remaining responders can't get to your house in an emergency because of the drifts. Ergo, you must be prepared to deliver that baby or stop that bullet wound yourself, just like you'll need to do if those socialist public hospitals close and you have to go to a private hospital. Too bad if you don't have the right insurance or a pocket full of money as they will throw you out on your own to deal with your medical problems. So you can expect a few million needless American deaths every year. But hey, with that big tax breaks for the billionaires that you support maybe one of them will give you a ride back home in their limos so you or your children can die in their own beds, provided, of course, that you still have a roof over your heads to begin with! As your baby dies in your arms for lack of medical attention, you can console yourself that the Rockefellers can now afford to buy a different colored yacht as all their other ones are just the wrong shade of white! Thank, Zeus, eh?

Yes, my tea bagging brothers and sisters, you have given us a brave new world to live in, so how do you like it so far? For a further glimpses of what lies ahead you might want to view the original movie, with James Caan "Roller Ball" or better yet "Free Jack!" After watching them, ask yourself, will this anti-tax, anti-socialist movement result in you living in one of those ivory towers or sleeping in the street with every other newly-minted slave? Be careful what you wish for, America!

In Other News

Our latest experiment in politics has come to fruition as the lunatics are now running the asylum, i.e., the US House of Representatives. Our tea bagging brothers and sisters on the far, far, right have sent a group of mental defectives to Washington, yeah, I know, nothing new about that, huh?

This particular group of leading brain deads have but one thing in mind, and that is to overturn all of Obama's passed legislation, which of course, they can't do, but are willing to waste their time trying. Funny they didn't run on a platform of wasting the people time, did they?

Of course, they really don't want to overturn those programs as they were all proposed and passed at their corpo-rat masters bidding but this is just a show for the Sheeple's benefit, except, of course, that it really isn't their benefit!

Their first real goal is to gut social security, medicare, medicaid and food stamps. Not since Caesar's Ides of March bloodletting has a similar event taken place as what we have in store for us when the Rethuglicans, with crocodile tears in their eyes, say we have to pay for those massive trillion dollar give aways to the rich, the bankers and our war lords, by balancing the budget on the backs of the poor, the old, the sick and the hungry. To say that average American voter is as dumb as a fence post would be a vast insult to fence posts everywhere!

The fascists in the House will spend the next two years attacking Obamahood nonstop, day and night and Barry will do his very best to make nice with them and do whatever they ask of him as he did in his first two years in office saying that a bipartisan government is what we all want, which is, of course, BS! But don't worry, America, none of it is real and is only a show for your entertainment as both the Rethuglican party and the Demoncratic party are only a leisure service of our corpo-rat masters and should never be taken seriously! You may recall what old Ben Jamin' Franklin, one of the few real heroes of the revolution once said on the subject of tea baggers:

"We are all born ignorant, but one must work hard to remain stupid."

Imagine just how hard Sarah and Rand had to work!

And Finally

I've had about all the PC bullshit that I can take; enough is enough! PC is just all about covering up the truth about something. What set me off is the new version of Huckleberry Finn that's coming out next month by NewSouth Books. That's the way they spell it with the words run together which may give you an insight on them.

Maybe it's just the writer in me, but his new version, yes, they've rewritten the masterpiece thanks to the effects of Auburn University professor Dr. Alan Gribben. What they've done is remove all the references to Nigger and Injun from the books. I have no argument to present that Nigger and Injun aren't bad words; they are. They're words that are often used to belittle and hurt other people, but when describing Sam Clemens' masterpieces Tom Sawyer & Huckleberry Finn, they are an important part of the book, as they show quite clearly what that time and those people were about. Sam Clemens wasn't a racist; he was an artist painting a picture of that time and place.

To me, a Nigger describes a personality trait and not the color of one's skin. The greatest Nigger that I know of in the literary world was a white man named Ebenezer Scrooge until we had his transformation. I understand, believe me, how those are hateful words when they flow from most people's lips, unless you're black, or your black friends know where you are coming from. In fact, in my case I had to be taught by a black man, my employer, to say "Nigger, Please!" He wanted me to say it to bring him back to reality from whatever trip he was on and it took me a while to be able to say it out loud.

It is obvious why those words need to remain in the book if you want a true historical setting, not to mention that it's just butchering a masterpiece so apparently the southern professor and book company can show the world that all southerners aren't racists; yeah, we get that. You knew that I'd write the good professor a quick note, didn't you?

Subject: Butchering Twain

Nigger, please! What next? Going to paint a mustache on the Mona Lisa? Weld a fig leaf over Michelangelo's David's junk? What gives you the right to butcher a masterpiece? Can you hear that spinning noise? That's Sam Clemens spinning in his grave! I'll keep my well worn copies of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, thank you very much, and you and that pulp fiction outfit can go to Hell! You can take that PC bullshit and shove it where the Sun don't shine!

Sincerely yours,
Ernest Stewart

As always, I'll share his reply when it comes!

Keepin' On

So how did you survive the holidaze? Did you have a Happy Mythmas? I probably did better than most as I escaped without any bills. I managed to get a couple of presents for those who matter most to me which is more than I thought I'd be able to do. This being a patriot thing doesn't pay squat, so I'm broke as usual.

Sure, if I joined the dark side I'm sure I could be rolling in cash but then I wouldn't be a patriot or able to look myself in the mirror without wanting to cut my throat. Cest la guerre!

Friends keep telling me I ought to charge a fee for the magazine as so many others do, but that wasn't and isn't the point of Issues & Alibis. The point is to present the real news so that everybody who can get on the Web can get to the Truth about important news. This is important because then they can make up their own minds about what's going down and what they should do about it to protect themselves and their families from their own government. You can always deal with the Truth, if you know what the Truth is! I get mail from folks that can't afford a computer or can't afford to get on the Internet who read Issues & Alibis at their local library. Where there's a will, there's a way!

That's the trouble with writing for the people in a depression and not for some trillionairre corpo-rat goon. They have no money, and he has all the money! Cest la vie! I know, I may be stupid, but I'd rather be poor and honest than rich and a hypocrite! Keep fighting the good fight, America, and help us out if you can!


09-16-1930 ~ 01-02-2011
Thanks for the films!

02-07-1946 ~ 01-02-2011
Thanks for the films!

08-15-1945 ~ 01-03-2011
Thanks for the films!

01-02-1953 ~ 01-03-2011
Thanks for caring!

04-16-1947 ~ 01-04-2011
Thanks for the jams!


We get by with a little help from our friends!
So please help us if you can...?


So how do you like Bush Lite so far?
And more importantly, what are you planning on doing about it?

Until the next time, Peace!
(c) 2010 Ernest Stewart a.k.a. Uncle Ernie is an unabashed radical, author, stand-up comic, DJ, actor, political pundit and for the last 9 years managing editor and publisher of Issues & Alibis magazine. Visit me on Face Book. Follow me on Twitter.

Breaking The Israel-Palestine Deadlock
By Noam Chomsky

While intensively engaged in illegal settlement expansion, the government of Israel is also seeking to deal with two problems: a global campaign of what it perceives as “delegitimization” – that is, objections to its crimes and withdrawal of participation in them – and a parallel campaign of legitimation of Palestine.

The “delegitimization,” which is progressing rapidly, was carried forward in December by a Human Rights Watch call on the U.S. “to suspend financing to Israel in an amount equivalent to the costs of Israel’s spending in support of settlements,” and to monitor contributions to Israel from tax-exempt U.S. organizations that violate international law, “including prohibitions against discrimination” – which would cast a wide net. Amnesty International had already called for an arms embargo on Israel. The legitimation process also took a long step forward in December, when Argentina, Bolivia and Brazil recognized the State of Palestine (Gaza and the West Bank), bringing the number of supporting nations to more than 100.

International lawyer John Whitbeck estimates that 80-90 percent of the world’s population live in states that recognize Palestine, while 10-20 percent recognize the Republic of Kosovo. The U.S. recognizes Kosovo but not Palestine. Accordingly, as Whitbeck writes in Counterpunch, media “act as though Kosovo’s independence were an accomplished fact while Palestine’s independence is only an aspiration which can never be realized without Israeli-American consent,” reflecting the normal workings of power in the international arena.

Given the scale of Israeli settlement of the West Bank, it has been argued for more a decade that the international consensus on a two-state settlement is dead, or mistaken (though evidently most of the world does not agree). Therefore those concerned with Palestinian rights should call for Israeli takeover of the entire West Bank, followed by an anti-apartheid struggle of the South African variety that would lead to full citizenship for the Arab population there.

The argument assumes that Israel would agree to the takeover. It is far more likely that Israel will instead continue the programs leading to annexation of the parts of the West Bank that it is developing, roughly half the area, and take no responsibility for the rest, thus defending itself from the “demographic problem” – too many non-Jews in a Jewish state – and meanwhile severing besieged Gaza from the rest of Palestine.

One analogy between Israel and South Africa merits attention. Once apartheid was implemented, South African nationalists recognized they were becoming international pariahs because of it. In 1958, however, the foreign minister informed the U.S. ambassador that U.N. condemnations and other protests were of little concern as long as South Africa was supported by the global hegemon – the United States. By the 1970s, the U.N. declared an arms embargo, soon followed by boycott campaigns and divestment. South Africa reacted in ways calculated to enrage international opinion. In a gesture of contempt for the U.N. and President Jimmy Carter – who failed to react so as not to disrupt worthless negotiations – South Africa launched a murderous raid on the Cassinga refugee camp in Angola just as the Carter-led “contact group” was to present a settlement for Namibia. The similarity to Israel’s behavior today is striking – for example, the attack on Gaza in January 2009 and on the Gaza freedom flotilla in May 2010.

When President Reagan took office in 1981, he lent full support to South Africa’s domestic crimes and its murderous depredations in neighboring countries. The policies were justified in the framework of the war on terror that Reagan had declared on coming into office. In 1988, Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress was designated one of the world’s “more notorious terrorist groups” (Mandela himself was only removed from Washington’s “terrorist list” in 2008). South Africa was defiant, and even triumphant, with its internal enemies crushed, and enjoying solid support from the one state that mattered in the global system.

Shortly after, U.S. policy shifted. U.S. and South African business interests very likely realized they would be better off by ending the apartheid burden. And apartheid soon collapsed. South Africa is not the only recent case where ending U.S. support for crimes has led to significant progress. Can such a transformative shift happen in Israel’s case, clearing the way to a diplomatic settlement? Among the barriers firmly in place are the very close military and intelligence ties between the U.S. and Israel.

The most outspoken support for Israeli crimes comes from the business world. U.S. high-tech industry is closely integrated with its Israeli counterpart. To cite just one example, the world’s largest chip manufacturer, Intel, is establishing its most advanced production unit in Israel.

A U.S. cable released by WikiLeaks reveals that Rafael military industries in Haifa is one of the sites considered vital to U.S. interests due to its production of cluster bombs; Rafael had already moved some operations to the U.S. to gain better access to U.S. aid and markets. There is also a powerful Israel lobby, though of course dwarfed by the business and military lobbies.

Critical cultural facts apply, too. Christian Zionism long precedes Jewish Zionism, and is not restricted to the one-third of the U.S. population that believes in the literal truth of the Bible. When British Gen. Edmund Allenby conquered Jerusalem in 1917, the national press declared him to be Richard the Lionhearted, finally rescuing the Holy Land from the infidels.

Next, Jews must return to the homeland promised to them by the Lord. Articulating a common elite view, Harold Ickes, Franklin Roosevelt’s secretary of the interior, described Jewish colonization of Palestine as an achievement “without comparison in the history of the human race.”

There is also an instinctive sympathy for a settler-colonial society that is seen to be retracing the history of the U.S. itself, bringing civilization to the lands that the undeserving natives had misused – doctrines deeply rooted in centuries of imperialism.

To break the logjam it will be necessary to dismantle the reigning illusion that the U.S. is an “honest broker” desperately seeking to reconcile recalcitrant adversaries, and to recognize that serious negotiations would be between the U.S.-Israel and the rest of the world.

If U.S. power centers can be compelled by popular opinion to abandon decades-old rejectionism, many prospects that seem remote might become suddenly possible.
(c) 2011 Noam Chomsky is emeritus professor of linguistics and philosophy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and is co-author, with Gilbert Achcar, of Perilous Power: The Middle East & U.S. Foreign Policy: Dialogues on Terror, Democracy, War, and Justice. His most recent book is Gaza In Crisis.

Interim Forever!
By Uri Avnery

“I HAVE three answers,” the Jew told the rabbi when his neighbor sued him for not returning a borrowed jar.

“First, I never borrowed a jar from him. Second, the jar was broken. Third, I returned it to him long ago.”

Avigdor Lieberman’s Peace Plan shows a similar kind of logic.

PEACE PLAN? Lieberman? Oh yes. Contrary to everything you thought, Lieberman wants peace, indeed is yearning for peace. So much so that he has spent days and nights working out an entire Peace Plan of his own.

This week he summoned Israel’s 170 senior diplomats, the elite of our foreign service, and revealed his thoughts to them. The opinions of the Foreign Minister are of course binding for the diplomats, and from now on they constitute the guiding line for all Israeli diplomatic missions around the world.

But first of all, Lieberman settled accounts with the Turks. They demand an apology from Israel for the killing of nine Turkish activists on the ship that tried to break the Gaza blockade. The Turks also demand that Israel pay indemnities to the bereaved families. They insist that the Israeli soldiers unlawfully attacked the Turkish ship on the high seas and shot the unarmed activists.

“There is no limit to their Chutzpah,” Lieberman thundered. Everybody knows that the Turks themselves attacked our soldiers who abseiled innocently from their helicopters and were compelled to shoot in self-defense.

Lieberman knew, of course, that Netanyahu was negotiating with the Turks in order to put an end to the conflict. The Minister of Defense, Ehud Barak, and the army chiefs were putting pressure on him to reestablish good relations with Ankara, and especially with the Turkish military – relations, they believe, that are of major strategic value for Israel. The Turks on their part, know that Israel controls the US Congress and therefore also believe that a compromise would be good for them. Netanyahu’s emissary was looking for a formula that would be short of an apology and yet satisfy Ankara.

Lieberman has put an end to this appeasement. Netanyahu cannot afford to look like a wimp next to his macho Foreign Minister. So he declared that he would never ever apologize.

For Lieberman, that was a major victory. Netanyahu capitulated. Barak was humiliated. The Turks remain enemies. What more can a Foreign Minister hope for?

BUT LIEBERMAN does not rest on his laurels for a moment. At the same meeting with the select 170 he laid out his great plan, Plan B.

Just a moment. If this is Plan B, what is Plan A?

Netanyahu, of course, has no peace plan. His declared position is that the Palestinians must return to direct negotiations without prior conditions, but only after they officially recognize Israel as “the state of the Jewish people” (or, in another version, as a “Jewish and democratic state”.) It is clear that the Palestinians cannot be expected to agree to any such prior condition.

So what “Plan A” does Lieberman allude to? Not to Netanyahu’s, but to Barack Obama’s. The American president speaks about two states with the border between them based on the 1967 lines and a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem.

On no account, says Lieberman. And, like the Jew who was sued for the jar, he also has his three reasons:

First, we have no partner for peace.

Second, the Israeli government cannot make peace.

Third, peace is no good for us.

WE HAVE no partner for peace, because the Palestinians don’t want peace. Lieberman, the immigrant from Moldavia, knows the Palestinians much better than they know themselves. Therefore he states categorically: “Even if we offer the Palestinians Tel Aviv and a withdrawal to the 1947 borders, they will find a reason not to sign a peace treaty.” (The 1947 borders, fixed by the United Nations, gave Israel 55% of the country, while the 1949-1967 borders left Israel with 78%.)

True, this matter could be settled easily: Israel could enter negotiations and offer a peace plan within the parameters set by President Bill Clinton and adopted by Barack Obama. If the Palestinians refuse, we would not lose anything and they would be shamed before the whole world.

Lieberman, so it seems, did not overlook such a possibility, and so he has prepared an alternative argument: we cannot negotiate with the Palestinians because they have no legitimate leadership.

Why not legitimate? Here Lieberman is revealed as the principled democrat he is. Mahmoud Abbas’ term of office has expired. The Palestinian Authority has held no new elections. Can one demand of Israel, the beacon of democracy in the Middle East, to make peace with a leadership that has not been lawfully elected?

Clearly, that is unthinkable. Israel will not betray its sacred principles. A committed democrat like Lieberman can not and will not agree to that.

True, the great majority of the Palestinian people agree that Abbas should conduct the negotiations. Even Hamas recently declared (not for the first time) that if Abbas reaches a peace agreement, and if this is confirmed by the Palestinian people in a referendum, Hamas would accept it, even though this would be contrary to its principles.

But this does not interest Lieberman. He will not compromise himself by negotiating with an administration whose democratic credentials are in doubt.

THIS IS NOT so important, because, according to Lieberman, Israel itself cannot make peace.

Quite simply, “there are sharp differences of opinion within the coalition." As he puts it: “I don’t think that it is possible to achieve a common denominator between Eli Yishai and Ehud Barak, or between me and Dan Meridor, or even in Likud between Benny Begin and Michael Eitan (Meridor, Begin and Eitan are all ministers without portfolio)…In the present political circumstances, it is impossible for us to present a plan for a permanent settlement, because the coalition would simply not survive.”

For Lieberman, as for Netanyahu, the continued existence of the present coalition is clearly more important than reaching a “permanent settlement”. True, one could easily set up an alternative coalition, based on Likud, Kadima and Labor, but for Lieberman – and, so it seems, for Netanyahu, too – this possibility is not worth considering.

THE CONCLUSION, according to Lieberman: peace is not possible, not now, not for the coming decades.

But, fortunately, he has an alternative that is much better than a final peace agreement.

It is called “Long-Term Interim Agreement.”

This week, Lieberman leaked its basics: “A significant increase in cooperation with the Palestinian Authority in the areas of security and the economy…The aim of the Plan is to stabilize even more the situation in the West Bank and increase the security cooperation with the Palestinian Authority in order to give the Palestinians more security responsibilities for what’s happening on the ground.”

So, it is possible after all to cooperate with the illegitimate regime of Mahmoud Abbas, if he continues to collaborate with the Israel military and Shin Bet to prevent attacks in Israel and the settlements. For this service, he will be paid well: “The Plan will act to strengthen the Palestinian economy significantly by increasing the freedom of movement between the Palestinian towns in the West Bank and providing various economic inducements.”

Meaning: in payment for the services of the Palestinian Authority for Israel’s security, Israel will graciously permit the inhabitants of Nablus to go to Ramallah, and the inhabitants of Bethlehem to reach Hebron. Palestinian workers will continue to build the settlements, whose numbers will increase mightily, and the economic situation will improve.

The Plan also fixes targets: the Palestinian GNP pro capita must reach about 20 thousand dollars (more than ten times its present level). “When the economic situation within the Palestinian Authority is similar to that in Israel, it will be easier to renew the political negotiations and achieve a permanent settlement.”

In other words: the occupation will continue until one of the following happens: either the Palestinian standard of living will reach that of Israel or the Messiah will come – whichever happens first. In any case, there is no clear indication that either will happen within the next few decades..

IS THIS the plan of Lieberman only, or of Netanyahu, too?

When asked about the speech of his Foreign Minister, Netanyahu gave an evasive answer. Any minister has the right to say whatever he wants, he said, but only the government’s official policy counts.

Well, first of all, the Foreign Minister is not just “any minister”. The political musings of the deputy Minister of Transportation (if any) may be unimportant, but the Foreign Minister is the international spokesman of the state, the representative of the government abroad.

But Netanyahu continued that if negotiations are resumed and these come up against a brick wall, it is very possible that there will be no choice but to conclude an interim agreement.

In practice, it is Netanyahu himself who is holding up the negotiations, because he refuses to freeze the settlements and he demands that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a “Jewish state”. And even if negotiations were resumed, they would soon come up against a wall, because of our government’s attitude towards East Jerusalem and the borders.

So what remains? Interim forever!
(c) 2011 Uri Avnery ~~~ Gush Shalom

Tweeting Away The Time
By Ralph Nader

The start of the New Year is a good time to talk about Time. About this, we can all agree—there are only twenty four hours in a day. Zillions of companies and persons want a piece of that time from us in order to make money. But that supply of Time is not expandable. Unlike other supplies in the marketplace, this one has no give beyond twenty four hours a day.

Note the massive increase in commercial requests for our time in return for our dollars—directly or indirectly—compared to 60 years ago. Instead of three television networks bidding for our time in order to sell advertising, there are over 100 channels on any cable system. There are ever more radio stations, more online blogs and websites, more video games, more music. In 1950, there were no cell phones, no iPhones, no Blackberries, no e-mails, no text messaging, no apps, no E-books, no faxes. Entertainment fare is now 24/7 and expanding rapidly on the Internet.

But there are still only twenty four hours per day. What are these merchants expecting of the consumers’ time? Squeezing more into less time as attention spans shorten, for one. Marketing so irresistibly that people buy far more of these videos and other entertainment services than they have time to listen or to view.

Think of the VCRs and the DVDs piled up at home that have never been seen. Same for many books. The big bestseller on the universe: The Grand Design by scientist Stephen Hawking became status furniture on sitting room tables except for the one in a hundred who actually read that book.

In short, the gap between what we think we have time for when we buy these products and what we actually expend time on is setting records every day.

However, people of all ages are spending more time on casual gaming (75 million Americans is the estimate) than on solitaire or cards—apart from being addicted to competitive video games. So there is some substitution at play here.

E-mails and text messaging are taking a large slice out of the day, in part because they are so cheap and in part because they are so personal. “What gives” here is that less time is being spent on the telephone but by no means in equal measure.

So cheap and easy are modern communications that it is often harder to actually reach people than during the days of the dial phone.

How much time do we spend trying to get someone to return calls or even to react to E-mails (which are increasingly passé in favor of text-messages) during the day or week? After awhile one stops trying to make telephone contact because of the low probability of actually talking to the person you want to reach.

People are so overloaded that just getting them to respond to a friendly letter, call or electronic message requires many repetitions. The banality of abundance is at work here.

On the other hand, where you do get quick replies are from your “friends” with mutual gossip and personal tid-bits drive up the back and forth volume immensely. A 16 year old girl said that she sends 600 text messages a day and “would die without her cell phone.”

Still the sellers are more and more vigorously competing for a piece of the buyers’ time. Where is all this going? First the sales appeal may ostensibly be for the buyers’ time—eg. toys, DVDs—but it really is an appeal to the buyers’ hope or belief that he/she has the time sometime. That is what gives what economists call the “elasticity” to the seemingly finite twenty four hour day. Whether that time is devoted to the program or product is immaterial to the seller once the sale is made. The successful seller is happy.

But what is happening to the buyer? More stuff piles up. More sense of being time burdened when weeks and months pass without getting around to using the purchased goods or services. More susceptibility to buying the newest upgrade or version out of a sense of getting to now what they haven’t had time to get to before with the older purchase.

Moreover, as a society of buyers, we become ever more fractured audiences—especially for national television—and it is less likely that we see or react to the events of the day as a community.

I was reminded of this observation recently when Washington’s current outrages of endemic wars, waste and corruption rattle the public far less than Nixon’s Watergate behavior. In 1974 after Nixon fired his Attorney General and the Special Prosecutor who were investigating his involvement in the Watergate burglary and cover-up, Tennesseans sent 40,000 telegrams to one of their Senators over three days. Members of Congress, even with the ease of E-mail and Twitter, do not get that kind of meaningful volume.

When our time feels overwhelmed and the marketers are banging on our doors for more time claims, what time is there left for necessary solitude, for family and other socializing, for kids playing outside instead of being addicted to indoor screens, even at dinner, for, excuse the words, reflection and contemplation?

It comes down to whether we have any time from our absorption into virtual reality to engage reality, including civil and political realities. A Society whose people do not show up for public meetings, hearings, protests and even local folklore events is a society that is cannibalizing its democracy, its critical sense of community purpose.

Take back some of those discretionary hours from the marketers and electronic entertainers. Devote them to shaping the future for you and your children.
(c) 2011 Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer, and author. His most recent book - and first novel - is, Only The Super Wealthy Can Save Us. His most recent work of non-fiction is The Seventeen Traditions.

2011: Time For A New, Clear Vision
By Randall Amster

For the coming year, rather than short-term resolutions, I'm issuing an ongoing challenge that is at once personal and political. Despite much evidence to the contrary and notwithstanding the relentless news cycle that we frequent, I believe that 2011 will be the year that the majority of people in the world demonstrably turn away from the brink of destruction and embrace a spirit of positive innovation and creative intervention in their communities. This may seem like a preposterous conclusion, but then again, if someone told you in early 2001 that we would be living in a perpetual state of terror/war and that our rights would be wholly eviscerated in short order, you might have said the same thing.

Watershed changes happen, and they needn't always be to the bad side of things. I won't attempt a predictive litany here, but any number of significant events could transpire this year that would forever remake the map of the world. One of the most troubling aspects of the present moment is that we've fostered a sensibility in which crises, conflicts and cataclysms eclipse any comprehension of positive information in our midst. While bad news is trumpeted on every billboard and dutifully reprinted in a preponderance of blogs, the prospects of anything good happening recede farther into the nether regions of our neural and informational networks alike. At this point, it's a fair question: If something monumentally positive were to occur, would anyone be inclined to actually notice and/or report it?

By most accounts, it looks and feels very much as if the fate of the world is approaching a fundamental crossroads, and, for most prognosticators, the future is grim. But that's as much a matter of our willing perception as it is a venal construct of the mass media. While undoubtedly many of the major issues of the day – from politics and culture to economics and climate – are seemingly in a downward spiral, it's also true that this is a time of great innovation, community-building and creative visioning. For every corporate crony, there's a neighborhood activist; for every warmonger, a peacemaker; for every usurer, a microlender; for every profiteer, a volunteer; and for every agribusiness, an urban garden. In each case, we can expound upon the poverty of the former while also highlighting the power of the latter.

Hence, I make this call for a refocusing of our collective energies and a retuning of our antennae to the light side. In this, we need not abandon critical thought, and, of course, we must continue to "speak truth to power" and expose the disconcerting machinations of politicking and profligacy. Can we do this, yet still actively strive to project a positive visage back to the larger world? Indeed, the real challenge would be to become both critical and optimistic at the same time, and, likewise, to be thoroughly steeped in the simultaneous virtues of deconstruction and constructiveness realized in the same breath. I make no pretense that this will be a small task, given the stark realities and incessant crises of the world as it now stands. And yet there is a lingering sense that we are somehow missing the verdant forest for the bare trees.

Undoubtedly, we will have to suspend our disbelief to some extent. But once again, aren't we already asked to do this on a daily basis with everything from manufactured wars and prefabricated terrorist plots to "too big to fail" scams and celebrity gossip passing as news? The version of "reality" that we consume, and are equally consumed by, begs our constant acceptance of its inherent solidity. Thus, raised on morsels of subsidized empty calories, we crave even more to fill the void, only to find that the hunger is never quite sated. This is the trap of the bad-news cycle – and, much like the violence-begets-violence cycle plied by "realists" both among the elites and in the streets, it will take fortitude and vision to break it.

Consider how much of our energy is expended in reactive pursuits rather than proactive measures. As the sense of real-time apocalypse becomes increasingly palpable, the most obvious responses are deepening despair and intentional avoidance. Yet, in both cases, we are constrained to chart our course in response to the narrative being constructed by the purveyors of ostensible hegemony, and within this constraint we are denied the rightful opportunity to develop our own stories, visions and practices in this world, freed from the shackles of inculcated negativism. Again, this doesn't mean that we have to yield our critical thinking capacities, but rather, it is suggested in order to propose that we can use them to guide ourselves and each other away from lives steeped in the faux news that we have confused for real intelligence.

To be sure, I'm not suggesting that this will entail waking up and seeing only sunshine and rainbows everywhere, but that we should try to balance our impressions of and ruminations on current events. Some of the most cogent and persuasive items I've recently read (and perhaps written) that analyze the moment in which we find ourselves tend to the mercilessly despair-laden side of the coin. One of the obligations attendant to being an educator – and punditry is a sort of public educative function, after all – is to take care not to further increase immiseration by highlighting merely that which has gone horribly wrong. In this sense, if we overemphasize the critical to the exclusion of the constructive, we will likely foster greater disempowerment despite our best intentions to the contrary.

In short, we can respect the critical perspective that aims to deconstruct the challenges before us, yet also acknowledge that without an equal emphasis on the productive potentials in our midst, pure critique can foster profound pessimism and lead to further entrenchment in the despair-denial cycle. Thus, my challenge for 2011 is simply to seek a balance and nurture a perspective that remains open to the possibility that good still exists despite the overseers' attempts to abolish it altogether. Indeed, I believe that good never really went anywhere, and that we merely need to adjust our collective vision to see it again. Once we do, we might even be surprised at how pervasive it is, and that the task of unearthing the positive news in our midst is truly a great challenge that will thoroughly engage our searching minds.

In that spirit, I sincerely wish you all a very happy new year – and I look forward to creating it together.
(c) 2011 Randall Amster J.D., Ph.D., teaches peace studies at Prescott College and serves as the executive director of the Peace & Justice Studies Association. His most recent book is the co-edited volume "Building Cultures of Peace: Transdisciplinary Voices of Hope and Action" (Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2009).

Airports: Surrender All Liberty, Ye Who Enter By Me

Wasn't it great in the holiday season to enjoy friends, family, good meals... and, of course, being radiated or groped at the airport security line.

Authorities have spent billions of our tax dollars on airport technology and agents, supposedly to catch terrorists. But the system amounts to a governmental intrusion that is based on a fundamentally un-American presumption: you are guilty until you proven innocent. The founders – who faced the terrorists of their day – would upchuck at out leaders' willingness to so meekly sacrifice the basic right of the presumption of innocence.

And how do you prove you are NOT a fiendish terrorists hellbent on destroying America? By meekly surrendering the very freedoms that the authorities say actual terrorists want to take from us. First, remove your shoes – a mass bowing-down gesture that must cause terrorists to giggle with fervent delight. Now, though, we must also submit either to being groped or to having a radiation scan that lets agents peek beneath your skivvies. The scan, appropriately enough, requires you to raise both hands in the surrender position.

The authoritarians and their apologists bark that liberty is a privilege that must be sacrificed for security. As one writer of a letter-to-the-editor put it: "I say scan away and grope away if that makes flying safer." Well, sir, that turns out to be a mighty big "if."

The chief flaw in our present technology-based security scheme is that it doesn't do any good. Hundreds of millions of passengers have been searched, and the system has yet to catch even one terrorist. In fact, the few would-be terrorists who've even attempted an airplane assault were hapless nincompoops who were not deterred by our vast security system, but were brought down by their own incompetence or by alert passengers.

How long will Lady Liberty be forced to bow down to autocratic government rules that aren't working?
(c) 2011 Jim Hightower's latest book, "If The Gods Had Meant Us To Vote They Would Have Given Us Candidates," is available in a fully revised and updated paperback edition.

The Healing Dance Of The Ye'ii Bi' Cheii
By James Donahue

The aboriginals don’t always dance for the pure joy of movement. The dances are part of the ritual of daily and religious life. A casual observer watching the dancing, however, is left with no doubt that the participants and even the watchers are having a good time.

It was during the winter of 1995-96 that my wife Doris and I lived with a Navajo medicine man and his wife on the Navajo reservation in northeast Arizona. We came to learn about the culture and experience the ways of the people on the reservation. We were well received by hour hosts and treated to many strange and memorable experiences. One night we had the privilege of attending a dance of the Ye’ii Bi’cheii (pronounced Yea-Bee-Jay). It was a strange ritual among an intricate web of dancers and chanters who worked to heal two men who were going deaf.

This is a ritual rarely observed by outsiders so it was a special honor when we were invited. While among a large crowd of Navajo men, women and children, we noted that we were the only white visitors attending. I believe the invitation was given after we proved in word and deed to our hosts that we were truly interested in learning about the Navajo culture, and we were not hostile to native belief systems that went beyond the bounds of the white man’s Christian oriented world.

The dance had been going on for eight consecutive nights before we arrived. We came on the final night. This was a time when the dancers appeared in full regalia, wearing eerie costumes that gave them an alien appearance in the light of the large bonfires surrounding the dance area. The dancing began at about midnight and continued until dawn.

The dance was held at an isolated place, miles from any sign of civilization. To get there, we drove a maze of dirt trails, all cut so deeply in the dry red desert clay that at times the car headlights gave us a feeling that we were moving through a tunnel. At last, we arrived at an isolated Navajo house. The dancers were gathered around a nearby Hogan. Several large bonfires already were lighting the sky in a nearby field.

Ye’ii Bi’cheii dances are held during the winter months. We were there in January. Even though this was Arizona, the high desert where the Navajo live, at an altitude of about 7,000 feet, gets bitterly cold. We came bundled for the cold. I was wearing thermal underwear, dungarees, a heavy wool shirt, a thin winter coat, and over this, a thick winter goose down coat. Gloves and a wool scarf wrapped around my ears and neck, and a leather western style hat covered my head. Even with this, I found comfort standing close to the bonfires.

We were warned that we were attending a most solemn event. Yet there was no doubt that the people present lacked all the reverence they were supposed to have. There was an air of gaiety and celebration, as if the people were gathering on any street in America to watch a parade. They brought folding chairs, wrapped themselves in brightly colored Navajo blankets, and munched on hot-dogs, hamburgers and fry bread. The food was sold at two portable concession stands.

Before the dancers appeared, children laughed and played tag games along the edge of the dance field, sometimes dashing out into the arena, a place considered sacred. Although a forbidden thing for the children to be doing, the parents overlooked their antics. Once the dancing began, however, the children sat quietly, paying respect to the sacredness of the event.

Something was going on inside the Hogan. We could hear a number of men chanting around a hot burning fire. The smoke and burning cinders occasionally flew upward through a hole in the center of the roof. Suddenly a blanket over the door was thrown back and the two men who were being healed walked out, each wrapped in personal blankets.

They stood in the arena on a large furry buffalo hide. Out of the darkness emerged a line of Ye’ii Bi’cheii. These mythical beings, according to Navajo legend, are something comparable to powerful demons in the Christian realm. They had the power to do terrible things, even kill. But if appeased in a special way, the Ye’ii Bi’cheii also can heal and bring benefit to those who knew how to ask.

The first line of dancers, all men, walked in single file. They wore brightly colored kilts, much like the Scots wear, only brighter. Also like the Scots, they wore matching purses with leather straps slung over their shoulders. Had it not been for the head piece, one might expect these men to be marching to the sound of bagpipes instead of native drums.

The kilts were short, stopping just above the knees. The dancers wore tan leather boots that came up over their calves. At their back, fox pelts hung from the waist. In each right hand was a large rattle made of gourds. The men’s bare skin at the chest was dabbed with white clay that made them appear ghostly and somewhat surreal. The head pieces were turquoise, oval and distorted. They appeared to be made of clay and covered the entire head. Tiny slits were cut for the eyes and at the bottom of what should have been the face hung a large dark purple bulb looking much like a clown’s nose, except that it was squared off at the tip.

Leading this strange lineup was the camelback, another mystical being depicted on Native American art throughout the southwest. This strange fellow was bent over, with his back arched. A line of feathers decorated his body from head to feet. We were told that his appearance was an extremely rare event and we were honored to be allowed to see him. I have yet to understand the significance of his showing.

Yet another odd character trailed the line of dancers. He was a true clown. The Hopi call this odd fellow a Qaletaqa, or Guardian. He is always a member of the Coyote Clan. His mask was white and his head was adorned with a spray of eagle feathers. He was dressed in dungarees. A bright blanket was wrapped over his shoulders. It was soon apparent, after watching his antics that this character’s purpose was to distract the minds of the watchers. It was a form of crowd control, so that collective mental energy would not interfere with the magical work going on in the center of the arena. This little guy, probably no older than a boy of 16, grabbed people’s hats, flirted with the ladies, and caused as much silent ruckus as possible without interrupting the dance.

There was a ritual that went on, in constant repetition, throughout the night. The line of dancers first stopped in front of the two men who were being healed. A medicine man spent about 15 minutes or longer chanting prayers, while the dancers stood in cold silence. I shivered from the cold and I was next to a fire, bundled up for the Arctic. I marveled that the dancers could stand quietly in the cold that long, wearing nothing more than a thin clay lining.

When the prayers were over, the two patients blessed the dancers by sprinkling a powder of crushed corn meal over them. Once blessed, the dancers began shaking their rattles in stiff, forward arm movements, creating a strange beat. At this, the dancers began chanting and moving around in unified single steps.

I call it dancing for lack of a better term. Each participant moved in stilted, controlled steps, feet sliding sideways in perfect unison. Almost like marching. Arms bend rigid, they swung forward and backward more like mechanical dolls would move. The chanting and rattles created the beat by which the dancers moved against the flickering firelight.

The Ye’ii Bi’cheii continued circling the arena four times before coming to a stop. Then the dancers began walking off into the night as if they were about to leave. Suddenly they stopped, turned around, and returned in single file back to where they started. Again the two patients blessed them with a sprinkling of corn, and the ritual was repeated. This continued for four consecutive times. Then the dancers disappeared into the darkness.

More prayers were chanted in the Hogan. Then more dancers appeared, and the same ritual was repeated. It was impossible to tell if they were the same dancers or new ones. This continued throughout the night until dawn. At one time, young girls joined the male dancers. They, like the men, wore turquoise masks, although their masks were not quite as grotesque. The girls, who were probably all in their early teens, wore black dresses with bright red symbols. They had bright belts with silver inlay around their waists, and they wore white boots. Their appearance was a colorful addition to the night’s event. We learned that women rarely appear in Ye’iiBi’cheii dances. I had the distinct feeling that we were being entertained as special guests.

The ritual affected all of us. One can watch films of such dancing and listen to taped versions of the chants, but until you are there to personally see it, one cannot sense the power of the ritual. Doris and I were stunned by the power and beauty of what we were allowed to see that night.

There is a story among the Navajo that the dancers must keep their lives in order both prior to and for many days following a Ye’ii Bi’cheii ceremony. Any infraction of the rule could cause the illness removed from the sick patient to fall upon the violator.

Did the ceremony really heal the deaf men?

When I asked this aloud an elderly gentleman standing next to me answered: “How many Navajo do you see wearing hearing aids?”
(c) 2011 James L. Donahue is a retired newspaper reporter, editor and columnist with more than 40 years of experience in professional writing. He is the published author of five books, all dealing with Michigan history, and several magazine articles. He currently produces daily articles for this web site.

A "Pledge of Resistance" To Defend Social Security And Defund The Empire
By Robert Naiman

For the third time in the last 20 years, establishment voices, with high-profile slots in traditional media, are trying to convince the public to accept cuts to Social Security by endlessly claiming such cuts are necessary without giving coherent evidence to justify the claim. Twice, under President Clinton and the second President Bush, these voices were defeated. But they didn't give up. And now they are in striking distance of their goal: the fact that Republicans have taken over the House, combined with the fact that the President appointed a deficit reduction commission which nearly recommended a cut in Social Security benefits, and might well have done so if Rep. Schakowsky hadn't worked to undermine the co-chairs' plan, means that one can't be complacent; some reports have suggested that the President may indicate support for cuts to Social Security in his State of the Union speech. Of the two principal Washington political actors who will shape the outcome - the Republican leadership and the President's team - one is a determined adversary of the public interest, the other a very uncertain ally. The most successful anti-poverty program in U.S. history is again in grave danger.

Twenty years ago, Social Security was called the "third rail" of U.S. politics. Touch it, you die. But it turned out that was not true. The Establishment greedheads were not, in fact, afraid to try to mess with this wildly popular program. Maybe Wall Street political power is the third rail.

In these two decades, Social Security hasn't been the third rail. Instead, it's been the Grey Goose of folk song legend. The knife couldn't cut him and the fork couldn't stick him. Try as they might, they couldn't kill him. Can the Grey Goose survive the next assault?

You might think that this would be the worst time to try to cut Social Security, with 10% measured unemployment, with many people's private savings having been wiped out first in the stock market collapse and then with the collapse in house prices. You might think is a great time to remember why we have Social Security: because it's secure. Housing bubbles and stock market bubbles may inflate and burst, industries that paid living wages may be shipped to Mexico and China, but since the program was established during the Great Depression, Social Security has never failed to pay scheduled benefits.

But this reality is being turned upside down. The presence of unnecessary suffering is being used not as an argument to alleviate suffering, but as an argument for creating more unnecessary suffering. "We all have to make sacrifices in these difficult times," although of course the people at the top of the income and wealth distribution - in particular, the high rolling gamblers on Wall Street who brought down the economy - are not being asked to make any sacrifices.

So far, the public has not yet been rolled. In a new 60 Minutes/Vanity Fair poll, asked >O?"what would you do first," 61%? say raise taxes on the wealthy. Twenty percent say cut military spending. Three percent say cut Social Security.

If there were ever an issue and a time that seemed ripe for militant protest, this should be the issue and the time. It's the broad public vs. the establishment, and for the establishment to win, they seek an environment of unquestioning obedience, like in the Milgrom experiment, where people obey instructions to subject someone to torture (so they think) because that's what Authority says to do. As in the Milgrom experiment, a little bit of protest can go a long way to disrupt the power of Authority, because intuitively, most people know that what Authority is saying is wrong. Authority says we have to accept Social Security cuts. It ain't so.

In the 1980s, during Reagan's war in Central America, there was a movement called the Pledge of Resistance. The basic idea was that you sign a pledge that if Reagan invades Nicaragua, you're willing to get arrested in mass civil disobedience. Of course, people involved in the Pledge of Resistance did not just sit around waiting for Reagan to invade Nicaragua to take action. They lobbied Congress to cut off funding for the US-organized Contra terrorists who were killing Nicaraguan civilians; they wrote letters to the editor; they gave talks in church basements; they organized material aid to Nicaragua; they opposed Reagan's air war in El Salvador and US military aid to the death squad government there. The pledge was to "resist" US "intervention" in Central America by all the nonviolent means at our disposal. But the willingness to participate in mass arrests in the event of a US ground invasion was a fundamental animating idea.

We need a Pledge of Resistance now to defend Social Security from cuts to benefits, including raising the normal retirement age. If Members of Congress know that if they refuse to pledge to vote against cuts to Social Security, their district offices are going to be occupied, that they and their staffs are going to be dogged at every public appearance, that their names are going to be mud in local media, support for cutting Social Security will evaporate.

Moreover, a Pledge to Resist cuts to Social Security will allow local activists to force a national discussion which traditional, establishment media have so far largely excluded: the one in which proposed cuts in domestic spending and proposed military spending are examined on the same chalkboard, so everyone can see and discuss the trade-offs that are implicit in the choices that are being proposed. This will allow anti-war activists to pursue the Holy Grail of anti-war activism: connecting the cost of the endless war with cuts in domestic spending for human needs.

There are two ways to think about Social Security. One way is to recognize that Social Security is a separately funded program with its own dedicated tax stream and its own Social Security-tax funded Trust Fund. According to this way of thinking, there is absolutely no urgency to do anything about Social Security in terms of the budget, because without touching the system at all it is projected to be able to pay scheduled benefits through 2037, and if revenue adjustments are needed before then there is plenty of time to enact them, and it would be far more sensible to consider doing so after the economy has recovered.

The other way to think about it is that there is one government budget which collects all the taxes and pays out all the expenses. According to this view, the (combined) government deficit is too big, and although Social Security is not the cause of projected deficits, nonetheless Social Security is a good place to cut.

But, in the second view, in which the advertised goal is to cut the deficit in the combined budget, there's nothing magic about Social Security that indicates that it's an especially worthy place to seek cuts, except the fact that some folks are just looking for any pretext to cut it, and these same folks want to protect other parts of the combined budget, like the spectacularly bloated military budget that funds their beloved Empire, from any meaningful cuts. You will notice that op-eds and editorials demanding cuts to Social Security typically will omit the crucial fact of how much money will be saved by the proposed cuts; still more they will typically omit any consideration of what cuts elsewhere in the budget - like the military budget - would achieve the same savings, while leaving Social Security alone.

Consider, for example, proposals to raise the normal retirement age. How much would that save? How else could we save the same amount of money?

On September 29, the Washington Post editorial board - Fox on 15th Street - expressed outrage that President Obama, as portrayed in Bob Woodward's book, "repeatedly cites the cost of the war and the need to shift resources to domestic priorities," despite the fact, the Post assured us, that "spending on Afghanistan is well below 1 percent of U.S. gross domestic product." Thus, for the Washington Post, when considering the war, spending of less than 1% of US GDP is not a big deal.

At the time, I asked economist Dean Baker of the Center for Economic and Policy Research how much then-current proposals to raise the Social Security retirement age would save. He said they would save about 0.7% of GDP. For example, a proposal to raise the retirement age to 70 by 2040 would save $155 billion by 2020. [This is shown in CEPR's Deficit Reduction Calculator.] Thus, less than 1% of GDP is not a big deal when it is spending for the war that the Washington Post supports, but it is a very needed savings when it comes to proposals for cutting Social Security benefits by raising the normal retirement age, a proposal that the Washington Post - Fox on 15th Street - supports.

This is not a mere rhetorical point. In the next few months, the Obama Administration is expected to make a decision about the war that is likely to dramatically affect its future cost: how fast to draw down troops from the military escalation President Obama ordered a year ago.

The rough estimate is that it costs about a billion dollars, all told, to put 1000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan for a year. Right now, there are 100,000 U.S. troops, for an annual cost of about $100 billion.

Consider two scenarios for 2012-2014.

In scenario one, the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan until 2014 remains about the same as it is today, for a total cost of $300 billion over 2012-2014.

In scenario two, starting July 1, U.S. forces in Afghanistan are drawn down over the next year so that when President Obama runs for re-election in mid-2012, they are at roughly the same level as when he took office, about 40,000. They remain at roughly this level - about the same level as we currently have in Iraq - until the U.S. fully hands off responsibility for security in Afghanistan to a Karzai-Taliban power-sharing government at the end of 2014.

Even putting to the side all the savings past 2014 that scenario two would imply if there are zero U.S. troops there at the end of 2014, as opposed to tens of thousands of troops, and also ignoring reduced future costs for veterans' health care, scenario two would save about $150 billion over 2012-2014 compared to scenario one.

By comparison, cutting Social Security benefits by lowering the cost of living adjustment as called for by the co-chairs of the President's deficit commission would save about $70 billion by 2020, Dean Baker says. The co-chairs' proposal to raise the retirement age wouldn't even go into effect until 2027, so no savings from that would be seen for 17 years.

So, far from being uninformed, the public opinion to cut military spending rather than Social Security makes much more sense than the position of the Washington Post editorial board.

But what makes most sense won't necessarily carry the day, if a media jihad for cutting Social Security isn't disrupted. We need to disrupt the Milgrom experiment for throwing Grandma off the bus. If you would sign a Pledge to Resist cuts in Social Security benefits, tell us in the comments.
© 2011 Robert Naiman is Policy Director at Just Foreign Policy.

The 2010 "Are You Serious?" Awards
By Conn Hallinan

The Harry Potter Award to the British technology company ATSC Ltd for its invention of a “wand” that, according to the company, detects explosives, drugs, and human remains for up to six miles by air and three fifths of a mile by land. The ADE 651 sells for $16,000 a unit.

The only problem is that it doesn’t work, which users might have figured out by reading the manual: the device has no batteries or internal parts. It is powered by “static electricity” generated by the holder walking in place. A wand-like antenna then points to the drugs, bodies, or explosives.

This past January ATSC Ltd was charged with fraud and banned by the British government. One ATSC source told the New York Times, “Everyone at ATSC knew that there was nothing inside the ADE 651,” and that the units cost only $250 to make.

But the wand was widely used in Iraq. Ammar Tuma, a member of the Iraqi parliament’s Security and Defense Committee, bitterly attacked the company for causing “grave and massive losses of the lives of innocent Iraqi civilians, by the hundreds and the thousands, from attacks we thought we were immune to because we have this device.” The Iraqi Ministry of the Interior purchased 800 ADE 651s at a cost of $85 million.

The managing director of ATSC, Jim McCormack, staunchly defended the wand, which he claims the company has sold to 20 countries. He did admit, “one of the problems is that the machine looks primitive,” and said the company was turning out an upgraded model “that has flashing lights.”

Runner-up for this award was the British firm, Global Technology Ltd, which sold $10 million worth of very similar wand—the GT 200—to Mexico. The unit retails for $20,000 apiece. In one demonstration the GT 200 detected drugs in a Volkswagen sedan. After thoroughly searching the car, authorities turned up a bottle of Tylenol (suggesting that one should switch to Advil). Human Rights Watch says it is “troubled” by the use of the wand, which is widely used in Thailand and Mexico. “If people are actually being arrested and charged solely on the basis of its readings, that would be outrageous,” the group said in a press release.

A Mexican interior official defended the GT-200, however, claiming that it “works with molecules.” Hard to argue with science.

The Golden Lemon Award goes to the Conservative government of Canada for shelling out $8.5 billion to buy 65 Lockheed Martin F-35 stealth fighters. According to Defense Minister Peter MacKay, “This multi-role stealth fighter will help the Canadian forces defend the sovereignty of Canadian airspace.” Exactly whom that airspace is being defended from is not clear.

The contract also includes a $6.6 billion maintenance agreement, which is a good thing because the F-35 has a number of “problems.” For instance, its engine shoots out sparks, and no one can figure out why. It is generally thought a bad idea for an engine to do that. There are several different types of F-35, and the vertical lift version of the aircraft doesn’t work very well. It seems the fan that cools the engine, doesn’t, and the panels that open for the vertical thrust, don’t. Also switches, valves and power systems are considered “unreliable.”

The F-35 is looking more and more like the old F-105 Thunderchief, a fighter-bomber used extensively at the beginning of the Vietnam War. Pilots nicknamed it the “Thud” (the sound the plane made when it hit the ground after failing to clear a runway, a rather common occurrence). One pilot said it had all the agility of a “flying brick,” thus its other nickname: the “lead sled.”

The U.S. is spending $382 billion to buy 2,457 F-35s, although the price tag keeps going up as more and more “problems” develop. Maintenance and spare parts for the aircraft will run several hundred billion extra.

One normally thinks of Canadians as sensible, but the country’s Conservative government is apparently as thickheaded as our own. Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper recently had a summit meeting on the Arctic and didn’t invite the Inuit (whom most Americans call Eskimos).

Well, the F-35 may not fly very well, but it works just fine for Lockheed Martin: second quarter profits saw a jump from $727 million to $731 million over last year, and revenues rose to $11.44 billion, 3 percent over last year.

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The Panjandrum Award to the U.S. military in Afghanistan. For those unfamiliar with the “Great Panjandrum,” it was an enormous rocket-propelled explosive wheel developed by Great Britain for breaching the Atlantic Wall that Nazi Germany had built on the French coast to defend against amphibious invasions. Tested on a Devon beach, it roared ashore, turned smartly to port, and thundered into a bevy of admirals and generals, scattering them hither and yon. Thus “Panjandrum” became a metaphor for really silly military ideas.

And there is not a whole lot sillier idea than the one to deploy M1-Abrams tanks in southern Afghanistan. The M1 is a 68-ton behemoth, powered by a jet engine (miles per gallon is not its strong point). Since Afghanistan has virtually no roads and a good deal of the terrain is vertical—at least the part where the insurgents are ensconced—how the M1 is going to get around is not obvious.

However, one U.S. Marine officer told the Washington Post, “The tanks bring awe, shock and firepower. It’s pretty significant.” Right. Show the Wogs a tank and they will be begging for mercy.

Except the Taliban are quite familiar with tanks. The initial Soviet invasion included 1,800 of them, many of them T-72s. The T-72 is admittedly smaller than the Abrams—41 1/2 tons vs. 68 tons—but the former actually packed a bigger gun. The M1 sports a 120mm gun, the T-72 a 125 mm gun. T-72 carcasses are scattered all over Afghanistan, and the Taliban even managed to capture some of them.

Tanks are effective against stationary targets and other tanks. The Taliban don’t have tanks, and they don’t stick around when one shows up. But shocked and awed by their appearance? Don’t these people read history? Try “The Bear Went Over the Mountain: Soviet Combat Tactics in Afghanistan,” by Lester Grau.

The George Orwell Award to the U.S. Defense Department for dropping the name of “Psychological Operations”—“Psyops” for short—because the “term can sound ominous.” Instead Psyops will now be known as Military Information Support Operation, or MISO, which sounds like a Japanese soup.

Some military contractors, however, apparently didn’t get the memo about using names and acronyms that sound “ominous.” Northrop Grumman just successfully tested a radar system that will be attached to Predator and Reaper armed drones to allow the killer robots to “detect individuals walking over a wide area” and track vehicles, watercraft, people, and animals, as well as “stationary targets of interest.” Given that the drones pack Hellfire missiles and 500 lb. bombs, you really don’t want to be “interesting” when they are around.

The news system is called the “Vehicle and Dismount Exploitation Radar” or “Vader” for short. Sound of heavy breathing are not included in the basic package.

The Rudyard Kipling Award to the Pentagon and its program to train officers for extended service in Afghanistan. For those unclear on this award, a few lines from Kipling’s poem, “Arithmetic on the Frontier” about Britain’s unsuccessful effort to subdue Afghanistan, and how one adds up the cost of occupation:

A scrimmage in a Border Station--
A canter down some dark defile—
Two thousand pounds of education
Drop to a ten-rupee jezail•

It appears some officers read Kipling. In spite of a high profile push by the Defense Department to recruit officers to serve in Afghanistan, the program is less than half filled, according to Pentagon officials.

*A jezail is a cheap, muzzle-loading rifle that took a heavy toll on British troops during their 19th century invasions of Afghanistan.

The Barn Door Award to the Department of Defense (yes, yes they do win a lot, but then they excel at winning awards) for telling employees and contractors not to read Wiki Leak documents online, because they are “classified.” Just close your eyes?

The Air Force went one step further and barred personnel from using computers where the documents were online, thus underlining conventional wisdom in Washington: the Army is slow, the Marines are dumb, the Navy lies, and the Air Force is evil.

The Mary Wollingstonecraft Shelly Award (the author of Frankenstein) goes to the University of California at Berkeley, MIT, and Cornell University for using Defense Department money to turn the beetle, Mecynorrhina torquata, into a cyborg. The beetle is fitted with an electronic backpack attached to the animal’s wing muscles, allowing scientists to control the beetle’s flight path.

The idea is to use the little beastie (actually, as beetles go, kind of a big beastie) to crawl or fly into areas where the “enemy” is. Once the “enemy” is identified, the military can target the area with bombs, rockets or artillery. This is a tad rough on the beetles.

According to researchers Michael Maharbiz and Hirotake Sato, the long-term goal is to “introduce synthetic interfaces and control loops” into other animals. “Working out the details in insects first will help us avoid mistakes and false starts in higher organisms, such as rats, mice, and ultimately people. And it allows us to postpone many of the deeper ethical questions about free will, among other things, that would become more pressing if this work took place on vertebrates.”

The Michele Bachmann Award to Australian legislator Bob Katter for sounding the alarm about a serious threat facing his constituents: “We have terrible problems with deadly flying foxes. They are going to kill more people than the Taipan snake in Australia.”

The flying fox is the world’s largest bat, also called the “fruit bat.” It has broad, flat molars and feeds on soft fruit, from which it extracts juice. By all accounts they are gentle and intelligent and don’t attack humans. The Taipan snake, which can grow up to 12 feet, is considered the most venomous land snake in the world. However, the animal is shy and rarely bites people.

It is comforting to know that there are other legislators in the world just as wacko as U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn), who recently suggested that legislators “slit their wrists in a blood pact” to block health reform and said that people had to be “armed and dangerous” to block efforts to mitigate global warming.
© 2011 Conn Hallinan writes the column Dispatches From the Edge.

Mondo Inferno
The Endless Echoes of America's WMD Atrocity
By Chris Floyd

For years, I have been writing about the American use of chemical weapons in the savage assault on the Iraqi city of Fallujah in late 2004. The results of this deployment of WMD began emerging a few months later. The clear evidence of chemical weapons damage among the civilians of the city -- uncovered by Iraqi doctors working for the American-backed government -- was scorned and dismissed at that time, including by many stalwart anti-war voices, apparently frightened that such "extremist" charges would somehow detract from their own "reasonable" opposition -- perhaps even cost them their perches in the mainstream media.

(Oddly enough, my own pieces on the matter were also appearing in the mainstream media -- the pages of The Moscow Times, the decidedly centrist, pro-business, English-language newspaper in the Russian capital, which supported my column from all attacks, including heavy hints from the American embassy that it should be dropped.)

In any case, the evidence of American WMD in Fallujah kept mounting, year after year, until finally, in mid--2010, even the BBC's most respected voices were reporting on the effects of the chemical weaponry -- primarily on the children of Fallujah, some of whom were not yet born when the attack was launched.

Even without the WMD, the attack itself was one of the most horrific events of the still-unfolding act of aggression in Iraq. Presented in the U.S. press as an old-fashioned, gung-ho, WWII-style "battle," it was in fact a mass slaughter, largely of trapped civilians; almost all of the "terrorists" and "insurgents" in the city had long escaped during the months-long, oddly public build-up to the assault. It seemed clear that the intent was not to quash an insurgent nest, as stated, but to perpetrate an act of condign, collective punishment -- primarily against civilians -- in order to terrorize the rest of Iraq into submission. As I noted at the time of the initial attack in 2004:

"There are more and more dead bodies on the streets and the stench is unbearable. Smoke is everywhere. It's hard to know how much people outside Fallujah are aware of what is going on here. There are dead women and children lying on the streets. People are getting weaker from hunger. Many are dying are from their injuries because there is no medical help left in the city whatsoever. Some families have started burying their dead in their gardens."

This was a voice from the depths of the inferno: Fadhil Badrani, reporter for the BBC and Reuters, trapped in the iron encirclement along with tens of thousands of civilians. ....

One of the first moves in this magnificent feat was the destruction and capture of medical centers. Twenty doctors – and their patients, including women and children – were killed in an airstrike on one major clinic, the UN Information Service reports, while the city's main hospital was seized in the early hours of the ground assault. Why? Because these places of healing could be used as "propaganda centers," the Pentagon's "information warfare" specialists told the NY Times. ...

So while Americans saw stories of rugged "Marlboro Men" winning the day against Satan, they were spared shots of engineers cutting off water and electricity to the city – a flagrant war crime under the Geneva Conventions, as CounterPunch notes, but standard practice throughout the occupation. Nor did pictures of attack helicopters gunning down civilians trying to escape across the Euphrates River – including a family of five – make the TV news, despite the eyewitness account of an AP journalist. Nor were tender American sensibilities subjected to the sight of phosphorous shells bathing enemy fighters – and nearby civilians – with unquenchable chemical fire, literally melting their skin, as the Washington Post reports. Nor did they see the fetus being blown out of the body of Artica Salim when her home was bombed during the "softening-up attacks" that raged relentlessly – and unnoticed – in the closing days of George W. Bush's presidential campaign, the Scotland Sunday Herald reports.

The wanton, unnecessary destruction of Fallujah is one of the central stories of our time. Yet it is almost entirely forgotten, especially among the people in whose name this vast crime was committed. But the marks of this atrocity live on in its victims. Over the holidays, while America's high and mighty were making merry, yet another detailed study was released confirming a major spike in birth defects in Fallujah following the attack. The Guardian reports:

A study examining the causes of a dramatic spike in birth defects in the Iraqi city of Falluja has for the first time concluded that genetic damage could have been caused by weaponry used in US assaults that took place six years ago.

The findings, which will be published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, come prior to a much-anticipated World Health Organisation study of Falluja's genetic health. ... The findings are likely to prompt further speculation that the defects were caused by depleted uranium rounds, which were heavily used in two large battles in the city in April and November 2004.

... One case documented in the report is of a mother and her daughter who after the 2004 battles both gave birth to babies with severe malformations. The second wife of one of the fathers also had a severely deformed baby in 2009. "It is important to understand that under normal conditions, the chances of such occurrences is virtually zero," said Savabieasfahani.

...Birth-defect rates in Falluja have become increasingly alarming over the past two years. In the first half of 2010, the number of monthly cases of serious abnormalities rose to unprecedented levels. In Falluja general hospital, 15% of the 547 babies born in May had a chronic deformity, such as a neural tune defect – which affects the brain and lower limbs – cardiac, or skeletal abnormalities, or cancers.

No other city in Iraq has anywhere near the same levels of reported abnormalities. Falluja sees at least 11 times as many major defects in newborns than world averages, the research has shown.

The new report follows on the harrowing findings reported by the BBC and The Independent (but strangely omitted from the American media) in mid-2010:

Iraqi doctors in Fallujah have complained since 2005 of being overwhelmed by the number of babies with serious birth defects, ranging from a girl born with two heads to paralysis of the lower limbs. They said they were also seeing far more cancers than they did before the battle for Fallujah between US troops and insurgents.

Their claims have been supported by a survey showing a four-fold increase in all cancers and a 12-fold increase in childhood cancer in under-14s. Infant mortality in the city is more than four times higher than in neighbouring Jordan and eight times higher than in Kuwait.

Dr Chris Busby, a visiting professor at the University of Ulster and one of the authors of the survey of 4,800 individuals in Fallujah, said it is difficult to pin down the exact cause of the cancers and birth defects. He added that "to produce an effect like this, some very major mutagenic exposure must have occurred in 2004 when the attacks happened."

US Marines first besieged and bombarded Fallujah, 30 miles west of Baghdad, in April 2004 after four employees of the American security company Blackwater were killed and their bodies burned. After an eight-month stand-off, the Marines stormed the city in November using artillery and aerial bombing against rebel positions. US forces later admitted that they had employed white phosphorus as well as other munitions.

As I noted at that time:

The background here is good as far as it goes, but it omits the salient point of that mutilation of American mercenaries; it followed a series of security shoot-em-ups that killed a number of innocent civilians in Fallujah. The attacks on the Blackwater mercenaries were a violent reprisal for murders committed by foreign agents in the midst of an illegal act of military aggression. But, as always, the American revenge for the attacks was vastly disproportionate: an entire city destroyed, thousands of people killed -- and generations of terrible suffering for innocent children -- all to get "payback" for four mercenaries.

The Independent reported in July:

In the assault US commanders largely treated Fallujah as a free-fire zone to try to reduce casualties among their own troops. British officers were appalled by the lack of concern for civilian casualties. "During preparatory operations in the November 2004 Fallujah clearance operation, on one night over 40 155mm artillery rounds were fired into a small sector of the city," recalled Brigadier Nigel Aylwin-Foster, a British commander serving with the American forces in Baghdad.

He added that the US commander who ordered this devastating use of firepower did not consider it significant enough to mention it in his daily report to the US general in command. Dr Busby says that while he cannot identify the type of armaments used by the Marines, the extent of genetic damage suffered by inhabitants suggests the use of uranium in some form. He said: "My guess is that they used a new weapon against buildings to break through walls and kill those inside."

As I noted then, the effects of these wonder-weapons were, to borrow Barack Obama's term for the Bush Regime's "surge" in Iraq, "an extraordinary achievement." From the Independent:

The study, entitled "Cancer, Infant Mortality and Birth Sex-Ratio in Fallujah, Iraq 2005-2009", is by Dr Busby, Malak Hamdan and Entesar Ariabi, and concludes that anecdotal evidence of a sharp rise in cancer and congenital birth defects is correct. Infant mortality was found to be 80 per 1,000 births compared to 19 in Egypt, 17 in Jordan and 9.7 in Kuwait. The report says that the types of cancer are "similar to that in the Hiroshima survivors who were exposed to ionising radiation from the bomb and uranium in the fallout."

Researchers found a 38-fold increase in leukaemia, a ten-fold increase in female breast cancer and significant increases in lymphoma and brain tumours in adults. At Hiroshima survivors showed a 17-fold increase in leukaemia, but in Fallujah Dr Busby says what is striking is not only the greater prevalence of cancer but the speed with which it was affecting people.

A city whose birth defect rate is 11 times the world average. A city where children are suffering from cancers "similar to that in the Hiroshima survivors" -- indeed, where the increase in leukemia is far greater than among the first victims of American WMD. O where are our great American moralists, who rant and rage at the exposure of a nipple or the thought of gay sex? Why have they not seized on this terrible crime "against the children," this horrible, criminal overreach of "big government?" O where are our great American progressives, who stood so tall and proud against the American war machine when it was led by an embarrassing vulgarian, but now occupy themselves with handwringing and bead-counting about the political fortunes of his bloodstained predecessor, now perpetrating his own mini-Fallujahs week after week against defenseless villagers in Pakistan?

I'm going to finish by repeating my conclusion of the July 2010 piece. Hell, I might just repeat it every six months from now until kingdom come:

I have written about Fallujah over and over for a long time. In many respects, these stories are like the ones I've written about the American-abetted horrors in Somalia: no one gives a damn. Well, I don't give a damn that no gives a damn. I'm going to keep ringing this bell until my arm falls off. We -- Americans -- have committed and countenanced a great evil in Iraq. I can't change that -- and it's obvious that I cannot prevent the "continuity" of such hellish atrocities by the progressive Peace Laureate now in the White House, and by whatever similar blood-soaked poltroon comes to lead the never-ending Terror War for Loot and Power after him. But by god I will not let it be said that I stood by and failed to bear witness to this raging filth.

From 2004 (see original for links):

"The inferno…is what is already here, the inferno where we live every day, that we form by being together. There are two ways to escape suffering it. The first is easy for many: accept the inferno and become such a part of it that you can no longer see it. The second is risky and demands constant vigilance and apprehension: seek and learn to recognize who and what, in the midst of the inferno, are not inferno, then make them endure, give them space." -- Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities.

(c) 2011 Chris Floyd

The Cynical War On Public Sector Workers
By Matthew Rothschild

In the ruling class’s endless strategy of divide and conquer, its current tactic of pitting public sector workers against those in the private sector is gaining ground.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger used it time and again in California.

Today the New York Times reports that Governor Andrew Cuomo will try to impose a one-year salary freeze on all state workers.

And today, as Wisconsin’s new governor, Scott Walker, is sworn in, state workers are preparing for an assault the likes of which none of them have ever seen before. Walker is threatening to cut wages and take away benefits. And he’s even raised the prospect of making it illegal for state workers to engage in collective bargaining.

This assault on public workers is happening in one state after another around the country.

“This is a concerted, deep attack on public employees and public workers," Gerald W. McEntee, president of the 1.6-million-member American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), told the Washington Post last month.

The attack is cynical in so many ways.

First, as McEntee noted, “The problem in the economy has not been created by public workers. It was created by Wall Street.”

Second, it’s not as though any public sector workers are getting filthy rich like the Wall Street bankers who got bailed out and are now back to bathing in ridiculous bonuses.

Third, the attack on public sector workers is an attack on the idea that there should be a decent middle class in this country.

If everyone’s wages and benefits have to be reduced to those offered by the stingiest private sector boss, you can kiss the middle class goodbye.

Fourth, the attack is but a thinly disguised thrust against unions. The public sector unionization rate is 36.8 percent; in the private sector, it’s 7.6 percent. Slashing the wages and benefits and rights of public sector workers is a way to delegitimize their unions. And for Republicans, it’s a way to get back at a Democratic power base and fundraising arm.

Finally, attacking public sector workers is bad for the economy. Cutting their wages and benefits will result in less purchasing power overall. The economy is suffering from a lack of demand already. This will just make that worse.

But mainly, it’s a great distraction. Those who rig the system and reward themselves would rather that workers fought among themselves than focused their anger upwards.
(c)2011 Matthew Rothschild is the editor of The Progressive magazine.

Deep Hole Economics
By Paul Krugman

If there’s one piece of economic wisdom I hope people will grasp this year, it’s this: Even though we may finally have stopped digging, we’re still near the bottom of a very deep hole.

Why do I need to point this out? Because I’ve noticed many people overreacting to recent good economic news. What particularly concerns me is the risk of self-denying optimism — that is, I worry that policy makers will look at a few favorable economic indicators, decide that they no longer need to promote recovery, and take steps that send us sliding right back to the bottom.

So, about that good news: various economic indicators, ranging from relatively good holiday sales to new claims for unemployment insurance (which have finally fallen below 400,000 a week), suggest that the great post-bubble retrenchment may finally be ending.

We’re not talking Morning in America here. Construction shows no sign of returning to bubble-era levels, nor are there any indications that debt-burdened families are going back to their old habits of spending all they earned. But all we needed for a modest economic rebound was for construction to stop falling and saving to stop rising — and that seems to be happening. Forecasters have been marking up their predictions; growth as high as 4 percent this year now looks possible.

Hooray! But then again, not so much. Jobs, not G.D.P. numbers, are what matter to American families. And when you start from an unemployment rate of almost 10 percent, the arithmetic of job creation — the amount of growth you need to get back to a tolerable jobs picture — is daunting.

First of all, we have to grow around 2.5 percent a year just to keep up with rising productivity and population, and hence keep unemployment from rising. That’s why the past year and a half was technically a recovery but felt like a recession: G.D.P. was growing, but not fast enough to bring unemployment down.

Growth at a rate above 2.5 percent will bring unemployment down over time. But the gains aren’t one for one: for a variety of reasons, it has historically taken about two extra points of growth over the course of a year to shave one point off the unemployment rate.

Now do the math. Suppose that the U.S. economy were to grow at 4 percent a year, starting now and continuing for the next several years. Most people would regard this as excellent performance, even as an economic boom; it’s certainly higher than almost all the forecasts I’ve seen.

Yet the math says that even with that kind of growth the unemployment rate would be close to 9 percent at the end of this year, and still above 8 percent at the end of 2012. We wouldn’t get to anything resembling full employment until late in Sarah Palin’s first presidential term.

Seriously, what we’re looking at over the next few years, even with pretty good growth, are unemployment rates that not long ago would have been considered catastrophic — because they are. Behind those dry statistics lies a vast landscape of suffering and broken dreams. And the arithmetic says that the suffering will continue as far as the eye can see.

So what can be done to accelerate this all-too-slow process of healing? A rational political system would long since have created a 21st-century version of the Works Progress Administration — we’d be putting the unemployed to work doing what needs to be done, repairing and improving our fraying infrastructure. In the political system we have, however, Senator-elect Kelly Ayotte, delivering the Republican weekly address on New Year’s Day, declared that “Job one is to stop wasteful Washington spending.”

Realistically, the best we can hope for from fiscal policy is that Washington doesn’t actively undermine the recovery. Beware, in particular, the Ides of March: by then, the federal government will probably have hit its debt limit and the G.O.P. will try to force President Obama into economically harmful spending cuts.

I’m also worried about monetary policy. Two months ago, the Federal Reserve announced a new plan to promote job growth by buying long-term bonds; at the time, many observers believed that the initial $600 billion purchase was only the beginning of the story. But now it looks like the end, partly because Republicans are trying to bully the Fed into pulling back, but also because a run of slightly better economic news provides an excuse to do nothing.

There’s even a significant chance that the Fed will raise interest rates later this year — or at least that’s what the futures market seems to think. Doing so in the face of high unemployment and minimal inflation would be crazy, but that doesn’t mean it won’t happen.

So back to my original point: whatever the recent economic news, we’re still near the bottom of a very deep hole. We can only hope that enough policy makers understand that point.
(c) 2011 Paul Krugman --- The New York Times

The Quotable Quote...

"Meanwhile, we must all face the fact that our leaders are certifiably insane or worse."
~~~ William S. Burroughs ~ Last Words ~~~

‘The Left Has Nowhere To Go’
By Chris Hedges

Ralph Nader in a CNN poll a few days before the 2008 presidential election had an estimated 3 percent of the electorate, or about 4 million people, behind his candidacy. But once the votes were counted, his support dwindled to a little over 700,000. Nader believes that many of his supporters entered the polling booth and could not bring themselves to challenge the Democrats and Barack Obama. I suspect Nader is right. And this retreat is another example of the lack of nerve we must overcome if we are going to battle back against the corporate state. A vote for Nader or Green Party candidate Cynthia McKinney in 2008 was an act of defiance. A vote for Obama and the Democrats was an act of submission. We cannot afford to be submissive anymore.

“The more outrageous the Republicans become, the weaker the left becomes,” Nader said when I reached him at his home in Connecticut on Sunday. “The more outrageous they become, the more the left has to accept the slightly less outrageous corporate Democrats.”

Nader fears a repeat of the left’s cowardice in the next election, a cowardice that has further empowered the lunatic fringe of the Republican Party, maintained the role of the Democratic Party as a lackey for corporations, and accelerated the reconfiguration of the country into a neo-feudalist state. Either we begin to practice a fierce moral autonomy and rise up in multiple acts of physical defiance that have no discernable short-term benefit, or we accept the inevitability of corporate slavery. The choice is that grim. The age of the practical is over. It is the impractical, those who stand fast around core moral imperatives, figures like Nader or groups such as Veterans for Peace, which organized the recent anti-war rally in Lafayette Park in Washington, which give us hope. If you were one of the millions who backed down in the voting booth in 2008, don’t do it again. If you were one of those who thought about joining the Washington protests against the war where 131 of us were arrested and did not, don’t fail us next time. The closure of the mechanisms within the power system that once made democratic reform possible means we stand together as the last thin line of defense between a civil society and its disintegration. If we do not engage in open acts of defiance, we will empower a radical right-wing opposition that will replicate the violence and paranoia of the state. To refuse to defy in every way possible the corporate state is to be complicit in our strangulation.

“The left has nowhere to go,” Nader said. “Obama knows it. The corporate Democrats know it. There will be criticism by the left of Obama this year and then next year they will all close ranks and say ‘Do you want Mitt Romney? Do you want Sarah Palin? Do you want Newt Gingrich?’ It’s very predictable. There will be a year of criticism and then it will all be muted. They don’t understand that even if they do not have any place to go, they ought to fake it. They should fake going somewhere else or staying home to increase the receptivity to their demands. But because they do not make any demands, they are complicit with corporate power.

“Corporate power makes demands all the time,” Nader went on. “It pulls on the Democrats and the Republicans in one direction. By having this nowhere-to-go mentality and without insisting on demands as the price of your vote, or energy to get out the vote, they have reduced themselves to a cipher. They vote. The vote totals up. But it means nothing.” There is no major difference between a McCain administration, a Bush and an Obama administration. Obama, in fact, is in many ways worse. McCain, like Bush, exposes the naked face of corporate power. Obama, who professes to support core liberal values while carrying out policies that mock these values, mutes and disempowers liberals, progressives and leftists. Environmental and anti-war groups, who plead with Obama to address their issues, are little more than ineffectual supplicants.

Obama, like Bush and McCain, funds and backs our unending and unwinnable wars. He does nothing to halt the accumulation of the largest deficits in human history. The drones murder thousands of civilians in Afghanistan and Pakistan, as they did under Bush and would have done under McCain. The private military contractors, along with the predatory banks and investment houses, suck trillions out of the U.S. Treasury as efficiently under Obama. Civil liberties, including habeas corpus, have not been restored. The public option is dead. The continuation of the Bush tax cuts, adding some $900 billion to the deficit, along with the reduction of individual contributions to Social Security, furthers a debt peonage that will be the excuse to privatize Social Security, slash social services and break the back of public service unions. Obama does not intercede as tens of millions of impoverished Americans face foreclosures and bankruptcies. The Democrats provide better cover. But the corporate assault is the same.

“Obama has the formula now,” Nader said. “You give the Republicans a lot of what they want. Many of them vote for you. You get your Democrat percentage. You weave a hybrid victory. That is what he learned in the lame-duck session. He gets praised as being a statesman and a leader and getting things done. Think of all the rewards he can contemplate while he is in Hawaii compared to what they were saying about him on Nov. 5. All the columnists and pundits say that now he can work with John Boehner. But once you take a broader view, it is the difference in the mph of corporatism. McCain is 50 miles per hour and Obama is 40 miles per hour.

“The left has disemboweled itself,” Nader said. “It doesn’t even have a strategy every four years like a good poker player. The best example is Richard Trumka and the AFL-CIO. Obama has given them nothing. Therefore, they are demanding nothing. They huff and puff. They make tough speeches. But Trumka hasn’t even made Obama’s campaign pledge of a $9.50 minimum wage by this year an issue. If you want to increase consumer demand, what better way to do it than to unleash $300 billion in wages? The card check for unionization, which Obama pledged as his No. 1 sop to the labor unions, is dead. The unions do not even demand a hearing. And now wait till you see what they will do to the public employee unions. Part of it is their own fault. They are going to be crushed. Everybody is ganging up on them. You have new class warfare. It is non-unionized lower income and middle class taking it out on the unionized middle-income public employees. It is a classic example of oligarchic manipulation. It will start playing out big time in New York State with Andrew Cuomo and others. They will start saying, ‘Why are you getting this? Most workers who pay the taxes, who pay your salaries, are not getting this.’ This plays.”

The banishment from the corporate media, Nader argues, has been one of the major contributors to the demoralization and weakening of the left. Protests by the left, which get little national or local coverage, have steadily dwindled in strength across the country. The first protest gets little or no coverage and this leads to movements, as well as the voices of activists, being diminished and finally suffocated.

“The so-called liberal media, along with Fox, is touting the tea party and publicizing Palin,” Nader said. “There was an editorial on Dec. 27 in The New York Times on the Repeal Amendment, the right-wing constitutional amendment to allow states to overturn federal law. The editorial writer at the end had the nerve to say there is no progressive champion. The editorial said that the liberals and progressives have faded out to let the tea party make history. And yet, for months, all The New York Times has done is promote Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck. They promote Newt Gingrich and the neocons on the Op-Ed pages. The book pages of the newspaper ignore progressive authors and pump all the right-wing authors.

“If we don’t raise hell, we won’t get any media,” Nader said. “If we don’t get any media, the perception will be that the tea party is the big deal.

“On one notorious Sunday, Oct. 10, two of The New York Times’ segments led with a big story about Ann Coulter and how she will change her strategy because she is being outflanked by others,” Nader said. “There was also a huge article on this anti-Semite against Arabs, this Islamaphobe, Pam Geller. Do you know how many pictures they had of Geller? Twenty on this front-page segment. The number of anti-war Op-Eds in The Washington Post over nine months in 2009 was 6-to-1 pro-war. We don’t raise hell. We don’t say Terry Gross is a censor. We don’t say that Charlie Rose is a censor. We have got to blast publicly. We have got to hammer them, because they are the tribune of right-wing fascist forces.

“Three thousand people rallied to protest the invasion and massacre in Gaza two years ago, It was held four blocks from The Washington Post. It did not get a single paragraph. People should march over to the Post and say ‘Fuck you! What are you doing here? You cover every little blip by the right-wing and you don’t cover us?’

“They are afraid of the right-wing because the right-wing bellows, and they have become right-wing, They have become fascinated by the bias of Fox. And they publicize what Fox is biased on. The coverage of O’Reilly and Beck and their fights is insane. In the heyday of coverage in the 1960s of what we were doing, it was always less than it should have been, but now it is almost zero. Why do we take this? Why do we accept this? Why isn’t Chris Hedges three times a year in the Op-Ed? Why is it always Paul Wolfowitz and Elliott Abrams and all these homicidal maniacs? Why are they there? Why is John Bolton constantly published in The Washington Post and The New York Times? Where is Andrew Bacevich? Bacevich told me he has had five straight Op-Eds rejected by the Post and the Times in the last two years. And he said he is not inclined to send anymore. How many times do you hear Hoover Institution? American Enterprise Institute? Manhattan Institute. These goddamned newspapers should be picketed.”

The timidity and silencing of the left fuels the steady impoverishment of a dispossessed working class and a beleaguered middle class. It solidifies a corporate oligarchy that is dismantling the anemic regulatory agencies that once protected citizens from predatory corporations. The economic system is designed to bail out Wall Street rather than replace the trillions of dollars and millions of jobs lost by workers. And the only hope left, Nader argues, is if the conservatives in the right-wing movement break from the corporatists. If the big banks again start going to the cliff and calling for new bailouts, Nader says, this may provoke a schism between conservative groups embodied by figures such as Ron Paul, and corporate lackeys.

“Every major movement starts with field organizers, the farmers, unions, and the civil rights movement,” Nader said. “But there is nothing out there. We need to start learning from what was done in the past. All over the country people are pissed off. They hate Wall Street. They know they are being gouged. They know they are slipping behind. They know their kids will not be as well off as they were, and they were not that well off. But no one is putting it together. Who could put a thousand organizers in the field, besides George Soros? The labor unions. They have the money. They have a lot of cash. These idiots are going down. The UAW is a paradigm of a suicidal, supplicant labor union. It is disgusting. They are a puppy dog of GM, Ford and Chrysler. They have huge reserves. The labor unions could organize the country, but they are into their own emoluments and high salaries. The union leadership has so distanced itself from the rank and file that it is ashamed to do anything controversial. These union leaders will not go on TV on Labor Day because they do not want someone saying ‘Why are you making $500,000 a year with a pension that is six times your rank and file?’ There is corruption at the top. The only way the union leaders can continue is to be in the shadows. And you don’t build a strong movement in the shadows.

“The black swan question is whether something will erupt that is rare, extreme and unpredictable,” Nader said. “It is amazing that it hasn’t happened in any pockets of the country. How much more can the oppressed take before they revolt? And can they revolt without organizers? These are the two important questions. You have got to have organizers, and as of now we don’t.”
(c) 2011 Chris Hedges, the former Middle East bureau chief for The New York Times, spent seven years in the Middle East. He was part of the paper's team of reporters who won the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for coverage of global terrorism. He is the author of War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning and American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America. His latest book is, "Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle."

Happy New Year, 2030
By David Michael Green

Good Morning, Worker Bees! Happy New Year!

And what a year it promises to be, too! We have lots of hard work in store for you. More than ever!

Now that our two-generation-long program of economic restructuring has finally made it to full fruition, I feel it only right and proper to celebrate our achievement with you by recapitulating the events of this greatest historical process in our country’s history.

Normally, of course, plutocrats such as myself would be loath to reveal such secrets to those whom we exploit so thoroughly. If this was the late eighteenth century, perhaps you’d even rise up and sweep us away in some sort of revolution.

Alas, that is hardly a concern anymore, for at least a half-dozen good reasons.

For one thing, we’ve made sure that all of you are stuck in a state of perpetual economic precariousness (at best). This has made you as docile as lambs. No one dares rock the boat, lest the mere scrap of an allowance we grant you in exchange for your labors were to vanish in a puff of smoke. We hold you hostage and demand your acquiescence. You give it to us.

Second, we know everything you think before you think it, anyhow, because our American Stasi Service is so powerful and omnipresent. If you were stupid enough to even utter the ‘R’ word, your well-trained child or spouse will have you turned in before you finish your sentence, and we’ll have you in chains thirty seconds later. Try building a revolutionary movement under those conditions, pal.

Even if you could, we have some very nasty riot police ready to go if we see you on the streets without proper authorization. These cops actually are no different than you – they’re just given a slightly bigger food ration than the rest of you proles. We find that one can get human beings to do almost anything using these conditions. And, be assured, we do.

Of course, revolution is the furthest thing from your mind anyhow, because we’ve turned worship of the existing class structure into this society’s religion, and we’ve made quite fervent little parishioners of you all, haven’t we? Some fools doubted this could be done, but we knew back in the 70s that if one could twist Jesus the socialist – who talks in bold print about money-changers and camels going through eyes of needles – into a champion of greedy capitalism, one could sell anything. And we did.

We’ve also supplemented your excellent cultural programming with some very potent pharmaceuticals to keep you nice and docile. You have much to be angry and depressed about, but your happy pills keep you properly focused. We like that.

Finally, we don’t worry about you conducting some sort of revolution, because we’ve made sure that you’ve never even heard of such a concept. You have the worst education that we could possibly imagine, and trust me, our imaginations are quite fertile. You’ve never heard of revolutions, or economic classes, or slave revolts or labor unions or any other such claptrap. If you’ve never heard of it before, it’s almost impossible for you to conceive of it on your own. By erasing history we have restarted history. And this time it’s going to play out in a lot more controlled fashion than it did even last time.

And so my dear sheeple, no, as a matter of fact, I don’t worry about divulging the truth to you about what we’ve done these last fifty years. You won’t understand it any more than you understand what I’m saying now. And even if you did, you are completely incapable of mounting any sort of response to the pitiless and intractable system we have created. Even if you could, we would crush you instantly, grind you into hamburger, and feed you to our pet piranha.

So, here’s what happened.

We (by which I mean us nice folks in the owning class) suffered through fifty years of the New Deal-inspired liberal America. It sucked. Instead of having nearly all the national wealth concentrated into the hands of the few of us, as had been the case for at least the century or so since America’s industrial revolution, we possessed only most of it. Unthinkable! Traitors like both Roosevelts, Kennedy and Johnson enacted progressive policies that resulted in a vast diminishment of our concentration of wealth, that created a massive middle class for the first time in American history, and that provided a modicum of relief for the poor. It wasn’t Sweden, I assure you (not that you’d know what I mean by that anyhow), but it was a big change from our glory days.

Even worse, these liberal bastards advanced an egalitarian ethos which sold the public on the idea that everyone should share in the benefits of economic growth, and that banana-republic-style concentration of wealth in the hands of a few oligarchs was not healthy for society at large, not healthy for democracy, and not healthy for 99 percent of the nation. That’s a dangerous set of ideas. Next stop is communism, buddy.

So we decided that enough was enough, and we came up with a plan.

The first step was to capture one of the only two viable political parties in America. That wasn’t exactly difficult. The Republicans were already halfway there. All that was left was to buy-off the old-school moderates who had come to terms with the New Deal and crush any of those who couldn’t be bought. This process was begun in the 1980s and accelerated in the subsequent two decades, to the point where by 2010 the concept of a moderate Republican more or less only existed as some bizarre notional idea anymore, like string theory in physics. Coupled to the new plutocrat-serving orthodoxy of the Purchased Party we added a hallucinatory hagiography of Ronald J. Christ, The Patron Saint of Tax Giveaways. All had to give praise to The Lord Gumby, and all did, yea, for generations hence.

It was also important to capture the other party as well (not to mention maintaining the absence of any viable third or fourth choices), and this was likewise duly accomplished. It was slightly tougher to take over the party of FDR and LBJ, but in the end not really so hard. The trick was to find some dolled-up whores with lots of charisma and let them do the work. There was this guy named Clinton, and another called Obama, who played their parts quite skillfully. Many devoted Democrats loved these DINOs, though they couldn’t exactly say why. Didn’t matter in the end. By the time we were finished, voters could choose between the Party of Wall Street or the Other Party of Wall Street. Guess which one they picked?

Our assault on your wallets – and, indeed, even upon your health and longevity – was as sophisticated in its execution as it was thorough in its strategy. That’s why we understood from the beginning that it was necessary to control the cognitive landscape of the country at the same time we were driving effective electoral choice down to zero. People had to understand – albeit, not consciously – that there were no choices at all, and that any apparent ones they might perceive were inherently lacking in legitimacy and therefore dangerous to adopt.

There were many implications to this imperative. To start with, there had to be some pseudo-intellectual air cover for the sacking of the body politic. We thus created ‘think’ tanks like the Heritage Foundation or the American Enterprise Institute, and funded them lavishly. We would have told them precisely what their studies were to conclude, but in fact we never needed to. They knew their purpose in life, and they knew who signed their paychecks.

A new media also had to be created, and we were spectacularly successful at this. Right-wing ranters on the radio had enormous appeal to those who hadn’t yet been dumbed down enough not to be angry, but were sufficiently idiotic not to know the source of their consternation. To those we added a network of television and radio outlets that were supposedly mainstream and dispassionate, but in fact were driving a corporate agenda from top to bottom, and were joined at the hip with the Republican Party. Those of you who are old enough will remember this as Fox News. Today, of course, we just call it the Daily Instruction Network. In any case, another crucial aspect to this process was the pressure that these outlets placed upon the so-called mainstream media to conform to the corporatism. Along with the ceaseless pull of profit, and the constant battering of the media as supposedly possessed of a liberal bias, we got them to self-censor what pathetically little authentic reporting there had ever once been in that domain.

It was also necessary to get people to hate government (except when we didn’t want them to, of course), so that they could never see it as a solution to the obvious problems that beset them individually and collectively. Hating a government that you simultaneously adore when it dons military uniforms and slaughters foreigners is manifestly absurd, of course, but you’d be surprised how illogical people can be, especially when you incentivize stupidity with some little carrot here or some little stick there. Anyhow, if you say that “government is the enemy” enough times – despite the fact that you’re always talking about the joys and wonders of democracy, which is, um, a system in which people pick their government – the public will indeed grow to hate their own government. Better yet, just in case some fool was still left somewhere, running around talking about regulation or taxing rich people or single-payer health care, all you have to do is shout “Big government!” and you’ve shot it down completely. Needless to say, we did.

Incessant fear can also be quite handy when it comes to quietly looting 300 million people, so we made sure there was plenty of that. Fear of evil foreign leaders was always handy. Never mind that they had almost always been on the CIA’s payroll for decades. Never mind that we secretly did business with them at the same time the government was publicly demonizing them and imposing embargos and sanctions for other folks. Never mind that these bogeymen were pathetic, two-bit, local-yokel bully boys compared to a Hitler, Stalin or Mao. No matter. If you say it loud enough and often enough, everybody falls into line pretty quickly. Plus, it’s easy to instantly smash any naysayers to bits just by questioning their patriotism.

Brown people also make pretty good diversionary demons. Or anyone else who’s a bit different. Women. Muslims. Gays. Immigrants. The homeless. Whatever. All we basically had to do was make them lower in stature than you all and then trash them endlessly. Not only did that make you feel gratified, having someone you could stand over and piss down on, it also kept you from noticing the sea of oligarchical urine in which you were yourself drowning at that very same moment. Very effective stuff. Public manipulation for fun and profit. Psych 101. Easy and amusing. You can’t imagine the laughs we had.

From there it was generally just a matter of incessant squeezing. We sold you a ridiculously counterintuitive bunch of bullshit about the joys of ‘free trade’. You went for it, and we made obscene amounts of money by shrinking labor costs down to nothing and pocketing the difference in profits. More importantly, by packing all your jobs off to Mexico, and then China and India, and later Africa, we put you firmly under the heavy jackboot of economic insecurity. That’s a dividend that has never stopped paying off very handsomely, ever since.

Once we had you sinking economically, we could sell you on whatever supposed remedy du jour we decided to hawk next. Tax cuts, which actually ultimately increased your taxes and cut ours, seemed like a lifeboat to a struggling middle class. In fact, they produced massive deficits, which we could then use to sell you on the necessity of slashing your meager safety net programs like Social Security and Medicare. We also got you to line up behind us as we not only smashed unions, but even the pensions that union workers had earned over the span of entire lifetimes. You didn’t say a word as we let infrastructure crumble and defunded education. We told you that none of that stuff could be afforded anymore. It never occurred to you to ask why millionaires and billionaires and corporations essentially no longer paid taxes. Or why it was necessary for your country to spend a sum equal to that of every other country in the world – combined – on a massive military that essentially had no enemies.

You went for it. All. And every time we gave you a chance to say no at the ballot box, you instead begged us for more.

And so we cut and we chopped, and we slashed and we burned. Mostly, though, we just looted and pillaged.

With your help, of course. Thanks for that. It was so much cleaner and quicker and more thorough that way.

All in all, I think you would have to agree that we came up with a pretty successful little program for taking the money that used to be in your pockets and sticking it in ours.

That is, you would have to agree had we not rendered you too ignorant, too brainwashed, too frightened, too prejudiced, too distracted, too sick, too doped up and too dead to notice.

Sorry about all that.

We just wanted your money.

Thanks, Fool.
(c) 2011 David Michael Green is a professor of political science at Hofstra University in New York. He is delighted to receive readers' reactions to his articles, but regrets that time constraints do not always allow him to respond. More of his work can be found at his website,

The Dead Letter Office...

Fred gives the Corpo-rat salute!

Heil Obama,

Dear Unterfuhrer Upton,

Congratulations, you have just been awarded the "Vidkun Quisling Award!" Your name will now live throughout history with such past award winners as Marcus Junius Brutus, Judas Iscariot, Benedict Arnold, George Stephanopoulos, Ralph Nader, George W. Bush, George H.W. Bush, Prescott Bush, Sam Bush, Fredo Bush, Kate Bush, Vidkun Quisling and last year's winner Volksjudge Elena (Butch) Kagan.

Without your lock step calling for the repeal of the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and your hiring a former big-time lobbyist for the hospital and pharmaceuticals industries to oversee health care issues in your House Energy and Commerce Committee, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and those many other profitable oil wars to come would have been impossible! With the help of our mutual friends, the other "Rethuglican Whores" you have made it possible for all of us to goose-step off to a brave new bank account!

Along with this award you will be given the Iron Cross 1st class with diamonds clusters, presented by our glorious Fuhrer, Herr Obama at a gala celebration at "der Fuhrer Bunker," formally the "White House," on 01-15-2011. We salute you Herr Upton, Sieg Heil!

Signed by,
Vice Fuhrer Biden

Heil Obama

A New Year's Resolution For The Rich
By Sam Harris

While the United States has suffered the worst recession in living memory, I find that I have very few financial concerns. Many of my friends are in the same position: Most of us attended private schools and good universities, and we will be able to provide these same opportunities to our own children. No one in my immediate circle has a family member serving in Afghanistan or Iraq. In fact, in the aftermath of September 11th, 2001, the only sacrifice we were asked to make for our beloved country was to go shopping. Nearly a decade has passed, with our nation's influence and infrastructure crumbling by the hour, and yet those of us who have been so fortunate as to actually live the American dream--rather than merely dream it--have been spared every inconvenience. Now we are told that we will soon receive a large tax cut for all our troubles. What is the word for the feeling this provokes in me? Imagine being safely seated in lifeboat, while countless others drown, only to learn that another lifeboat has been secured to take your luggage to shore...

Most Americans believe that a person should enjoy the full fruits of his or her labors, however abundant. In this light, taxation tends to be seen as an intrinsic evil. It is worth noting, however, that throughout the 1950's--a decade for which American conservatives pretend to feel a harrowing sense of nostalgia--the marginal tax rate for the wealthy was over 90 percent. In fact, prior to the 1980's it never dipped below 70 percent. Since 1982, however, it has come down by half. In the meantime, the average net worth of the richest 1 percent of Americans has doubled (to $18.5 million), while that of the poorest 40 percent has fallen by 63 percent (to $2,200). Thirty years ago, top U.S. executives made about 50 times the salary of their average employees. In 2007, the average worker would have had to toil for 1,100 years to earn what his CEO brought home between Christmas in Aspen and Christmas on St. Barthes.

We now live in a country in which the bottom 40 percent (120 million people) owns just 0.3 percent of the wealth. Data of this kind make one feel that one is participating in a vast psychological experiment: Just how much inequality can free people endure? Have you seen Ralph Lauren's car collection? Yes, it is beautiful. It also cost hundreds of millions of dollars. "So what?" many people will say. "It's his money. He earned it. He should be able to do whatever he wants with it." In conservative circles, expressing any doubt on this point has long been synonymous with Marxism.

And yet over one million American children are now homeless. People on Medicare are being denied life-saving organ transplants that were routinely covered before the recession. Over one quarter of our nation's bridges are structurally deficient. When might be a convenient time to ask the richest Americans to help solve problems of this kind? How about now?

It is easy to understand why even the most generous person might be averse to paying taxes: Our legislative process has been hostage to short-term political interests and other perverse incentives for as long as anyone can remember. Consequently, our government wastes an extraordinary amount of money. It also seems uncontroversial to say that whatever can be best accomplished in the private sector should be. Our tax code must also be reformed--and it might even be true that the income tax should be lowered on everyone, provided we find a better source of revenue to pay our bills. But I can't imagine that anyone seriously believes that the current level of wealth inequality in the United States is good and worth maintaining, or that our government's first priority should be to spare a privileged person like myself the slightest hardship as this once great nation falls into ruin.

And the ruination of the United States really does seem possible. It has been widely reported, for instance, that students in Shanghai far surpass our own in science, reading, and math. In fact, when compared to other countries, American students are now disconcertingly average (slightly below in math), where the average includes utopias like Kyrgyzstan, Azerbaijan, Albania, Kazakhstan, and Indonesia. President Obama was right to recognize this as a "Sputnik moment." But it is worse than that. This story was immediately followed by a report about giddy Creationists in the state of Kentucky being offered $40 million in tax subsidies to produce a full-scale model of Noah's ark. More horrible still, this ludicrous use of public money is probably a wise investment, given that such a monument to scientific ignorance will be guaranteed to attract an ovine influx of Christian tourists from neighboring states. Seeing facts of this kind, juxtaposed without irony or remedy at this dire moment in history, it is hard not to feel that one is witnessing America's irreversible decline. Needless to say, most Americans have no choice but to send their children to terrible schools--where they will learn the lesser part of nothing and emerge already beggared by a national debt now on course to reach $20 trillion. And yet Republicans in every state can successfully campaign on a promise to spend less on luxuries like education, while delivering tax cuts to people who, if asked to guess their own net worth, could not come within $10 million of the correct figure if their lives depended on it.

American opposition to the "redistribution of wealth" has achieved the luster of a religious creed. And, as with all religions, one finds the faithful witlessly espousing doctrines that harm almost everyone, including their own children. For instance, while most Americans have no chance of earning or inheriting significant wealth, 68 percent want the estate tax eliminated (and 31 percent consider it to be the "worst" and "least fair" tax levied by the federal government). Most believe that limiting this tax, which affects only 0.2 percent of the population, should be the top priority of the current Congress.

The truth, however, is that everyone must favor the "redistribution of wealth" at some point. This relates directly to the issue of education: as the necessity of doing boring and dangerous work disappears--whether because we have built better machines and infrastructure, or shipped our least desirable jobs overseas--people need to be better educated so that they can apply themselves to more interesting work. Who will pay for this? There is only one group of people who can pay for anything at this point: the wealthy.

To make matters more difficult, Americans have made a religious fetish of something called "self-reliance." Most seem to think that while a person may not be responsible for the opportunities he gets in life, each is entirely responsible for what he makes of these opportunities. This is, without question, a false view of the human condition. Consider the biography of any "self-made" American, from Benjamin Franklin on down, and you will find that his success was entirely dependent on background conditions that he did not make, and of which he was a mere beneficiary. There is not a person on earth who chose his genome, or the country of his birth, or the political and economic conditions that prevailed at moments crucial to his progress. Consequently, no one is responsible for his intelligence, range of talents, or ability to do productive work. If you have struggled to make the most of what Nature gave you, you must still admit that Nature also gave you the ability and inclination to struggle. How much credit do I deserve for not having Down syndrome or any other disorder that would make my current work impossible? None whatsoever. And yet devotees of self-reliance rail against those who would receive entitlements of various sorts--health care, education, etc.--while feeling unselfconsciously entitled to their relative good fortune. Yes, we must encourage people to work to the best of their abilities and discourage free riders wherever we can--but it seems only decent at this moment to admit how much luck is required to succeed at anything in this life. Those who have been especially lucky--the smart, well-connected, and rich--should count their blessings, and then share some of these blessings with the rest of society.

The wealthiest Americans often live as though they and their children had nothing to gain from investments in education, infrastructure, clean-energy, and scientific research. For instance, the billionaire Steve Ballmer, CEO of Microsoft, recently helped kill a proposition that would have created an income tax for the richest 1 percent in Washington (one of seven states that has no personal income tax). All of these funds would have gone to improve his state's failing schools. What kind of society does Ballmer want to live in--one that is teeming with poor, uneducated people? Who does he expect to buy his products? Where will he find his next batch of software engineers? Perhaps Ballmer is simply worried that the government will spend his money badly--after all, we currently spend more than almost every other country on education, with abysmal results. Well, then he should say so--and rather than devote hundreds of thousands of dollars to stoking anti-tax paranoia in his state, he should direct some of his vast wealth toward improving education, like his colleague Bill Gates has begun to do.

There are, in fact, some signs that a new age of heroic philanthropy might be dawning. For instance, the two wealthiest men in America, Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, recently invited their fellow billionaires to pledge the majority of their wealth to the public good. This is a wonderfully sane and long overdue initiative about which it is unforgivable to be even slightly cynical. But it is not sufficient. Most of this money will stay parked in trusts and endowments for decades, and much of it will go toward projects that are less than crucial to the future of our society. It seems to me, however, that Gates and Buffett could easily expand and target this effort: asking those who have pledged, along with the rest of the wealthiest Americans, to immediately donate a percentage of their net worth to a larger fund. This group of benefactors would include not only the super-rich, but people of far more modest means. I do not have 1/1000 the wealth of Steve Ballmer, but I certainly count myself among the people who should be asked to sacrifice for the future of this country. The combined wealth of the men and women on the Forbes 400 list is $1.37 trillion. By some estimates, there are at least another 1,500 billionaires in the United States. Something tells me that anyone with a billion dollars could safely part with 25 percent of his or her wealth--without being forced to sell any boats, planes, vacation homes, or art. As of 2009, there were 980,000 families with a net worth exceeding $5 million (not including their primary residence). Would a one-time donation of 5 percent really be too much to ask to rescue our society from the maw of history?

Some readers will point out that I am free to donate to the treasury even now. But such solitary sacrifice would be utterly ineffectual, and I am no more eager than anyone else is to fill the pork barrels of corrupt politicians. However, if Gates and Buffett created a mechanism that bypassed the current dysfunction of government, earmarking the money for unambiguously worthy projects, I suspect that there are millions of people like myself who would not hesitate to invest in the future of America.

Imagine that Gates and Buffett raised a trillion dollars this way: what should we spend it on? The first thing to acknowledge is that almost any use of this money would be better than just letting it sit. Mindlessly repairing every bridge, tunnel, runway, harbor, reservoir, and recreation area in the United States would be an improvement over what are currently doing. However, here are the two areas of investment that strike me as most promising:

Education: It is difficult to think of anything more important than providing the best education possible for our children. They will develop the next technologies, medical cures, and global industries, while mitigating their unintended effects, or they will fail to do these things and consign us all to oblivion. The future of this country will be entirely shaped by boys and girls who are just now learning to think. What are we teaching them? Are we equipping them to create a world worth living in? It doesn't seem so. Our public school system is an international disgrace. Even the most advantaged children in the United States do not learn as much as children in other countries do. Yes, the inefficiencies in our current system could be remedied, and must be, and these savings can then be put to good use--but there is no question that a true breakthrough in education will require an immense investment of further resources. Here's an expensive place to start: make college free for anyone who can't afford it.

Clean Energy: As Thomas Friedman and many others have pointed out, our dependence on nonrenewable sources of energy is not only bad for our economy and the environment, it is obliges us to subsidize both sides of the clash of civilizations. Much of the money we spend on oil is used to export the lunatic ideology of conservative Islam--building mosques and madrassas by the tens of thousands, recruiting jihadists, and funding terrorist atrocities. We should have devoted ourselves to a clean-energy Manhattan Project thirty years ago. Success on this front would still yield enormous wealth in this country, while simultaneously bankrupting the Middle Eastern states that only pretend to be our allies. Our failure to rise to this challenge already counts as one of the greatest instances of masochistic stupidity in human history. Why prolong it?

I am aware that a proposal of this kind is bound to seem quixotic. But what's to stop the wealthiest Americans from sponsoring a 21st Century Renaissance? What politician would object to our immediately spending a trillion dollars on improvements in education and energy security? Perhaps there are even better targets for this money. Let Gates and Buffett convene a team of brilliant people to lay out the priorities. But again, we should remember that they could scarcely fail to improve our situation. Simply repaving our roads, the dilapidation of which causes $54 billion in damage to our cars every year, would be better than doing nothing.
(c) 2011 Sam Harris is the author of "The End Of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason" and "Letter to a Christian Nation" and is the co-founder of The Reason Project, which promotes scientific knowledge and secular values. Follow Sam Harris on Twitter.

US ambassador Hugh Barclay 'voiced concern that
McDonald’s strategy ran directly counter to US interests.'

WikiLeaks cables: McDonald's Used US To Put Pressure On El Salvador
Burger giant tried to delay US legislation in order to aid lawsuit being fought in Central American country, cables reveal
By Sarah Boseley

McDonald's tried to delay the US government's implementation of a free-trade agreement in order to put pressure on El Salvador to appoint neutral judges in a $24m (£15.5m) lawsuit it was fighting in the country. The revelation of the McDonald's strategy to ensure a fair hearing for a long-running legal battle against a former franchisee comes from a leaked US embassy cable dated 15 February 2006.

Five days earlier, the firms's vice- president for government relations, Dick Crawford, and general counsel for Latin America and Canada, Maria Legett, had briefed the US ambassador on their efforts to get the case settled, using the Central America-Dominican Republic-United States Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR) essentially as a bargaining chip. "They explained that the company has engaged in a Washington-focused advocacy effort to put pressure on the Salvadorans to resolve the case according to the rule of law, suggesting that CAFTA-DR implementation should be delayed pending resolution of the case," the cable says.

Ambassador Hugh Barclay argued strongly that what McDonald's was doing "ran directly counter to US interests in seeing CAFTA-DR implemented as soon as possible." Embassy officials also noted that "McDonald's invocation of CAFTA-DR in the lead-up to legislative elections would play into the hands of those who have resisted CAFTA-DR by alienating senior government officials who are already working to see that the case is resolved according to the rule of law and by complicating efforts to get additional CAFTA-related reforms through the legislative assembly." The diplomats also argued that the tactic would thrust the case against McDonald's further into the limelight, attracting the sort of negative publicity they did not want. "Crawford acknowledged these concerns and agreed to tone down, but not cease, his company's efforts on this issue."

The case against McDonald's was a long-running and expensive problem for the burger giant. It had been brought by a former franchisee, Roberto Bukele, whose company had opened the first McDonald's in El Salvador in 1972. In 1996, Bukele lost his franchise. McDonald's suggested to the embassy that he had not complied with conditions attached to its renewal, which included remodelling the three restaurants he, by then, owned, using McDonald's-approved sources for food products, establishing a staff hiring and training plan, and obtaining corporate approval of new restaurant sites and new menu items.

Protracted legal action led to a ruling of the appeals court in 2005 that McDonald's had illegally terminated Bukele's contract. It awarded him $24m (£15.5m) damages for loss of earnings.

McDonald's filed an appeal to the supreme court, but Legett was not optimistic about the prospects for an unbiased hearing. "She suggested that a fair resolution of the case was unlikely given the current composition of the civil chamber," the cables says. "Two neutral judges have recused themselves based on previous involvement in the case. Judging from her case record on the bench, the third judge, an FMLN partisan, will rule against McDonald's regardless of the merits of the case. McDonald's is seeking to have this judge removed, and three substitute judges named. McDonald's has filed a motion to have the FMLN-linked judge recused from the proceedings on the grounds that her well-documented anti-Americanism will prevent her from hearing the case impartially."

McDonald's lawyers said they would pursue every legal means to get a fair hearing, lobbying local businessmen and government officials to try to persuade Chief Justice Agustin Calderon to name three impartial judges to the civil chamber to hear the case.

The ambassador told McDonald's representatives that he had already raised the issue with President Saca, "emphasising the stakes at play for a government in desperate need of foreign investment."

He said he thought the government was interested in settling the case fairly and promised to continue raising the issues as appropriate.

McDonald's denies it had wanted to delay implementation of the free trade agreement. "Our purpose was to raise awareness of our concerns with the rule of law in El Salvador and our lawsuit specifically," said a spokesperson. "We had no interest in delaying CAFTA. Our hope was that our legal issue could be included in the CAFTA discussions already taking place between the two governments at that time. It's important to note we would have engaged with the US embassy under any circumstances regarding our case."
© 2011 Sarah Boseley

The Cartoon Corner...

This edition we're proud to showcase the cartoons of
~~~ Steve Greenberg ~~~

To End On A Happy Note...

Kill THe King
By Rainbow

Danger, danger the Queen's about to kill
There's a stranger, stranger and life about to spill
Oh no, move me out of harm
I need a spell and a charm
Fly like the wind
I'm no pawn, so be gone, speed on and on
Kill the King
Tear him down
Kill the King
Strike him down

Power, power it happens every day
Power, devour all along the way
Oh no, move me out of harm
I need a spell and a charm
Fly like the wind
I'm no pawn, so be gone, speed on and on
Kill the King

Treason, treason, the specter looms again
Treason, treason, the realm is safe and then
Oh no, move me out of harm
I need a spell and a charm
Fly like the rainbow
I'm no pawn, so be gone, speed on and on

Kill the King
Tear him down
Kill the King
Got to take his crown

Kill the King
He'll rule no more
Strike him dead

He'll rule no more
Strike him dead
The people roar
Kill the King
Take his head
Down, down, down, down
Oh, kill
Oh, kill
Oh, oh
© 1975/2011 Ritchie Blackmore/Ronnie James Dio

Have You Seen This...

Jon Stewart ~ 911 ~ GOP Senators

Parting Shots...

The self-absorbed drama queen.

Virgin Mary Statue Crying For No Good Reason

WORCESTER, MA ~ Nearly a week after a statue of the Virgin Mary began shedding what appeared to be actual tears, worshippers at St. Alphonsus Catholic Church told reporters Wednesday they had lost patience with the figure's nonstop whining and carrying on.

"Like everyone else, I got sucked in at first," said the Rev. Paul Doherty, the pastor of the church, who admitted he had once kissed the tears streaming from the eyes of the 5-foot wooden altarpiece. "But now it's just too much—crying in the morning when I come in, crying during baptisms, crying, crying, crying all the time. I've called around to other parishes, and all of their Marys are doing fine, even the cheap plaster ones that have to stand outside in the wind and rain. There must be thousands of Marys in the Greater Boston area, but ours is the only one who can't hold it together."

"To think I actually thought it was a miracle," added Doherty, looking up at the statue's glistening, tear-slicked face. "The real miracle would be if Old Faithful over here would turn off the waterworks for five seconds."

Longtime church organist Agnes Wright told reporters that the weeping statue had become a distraction and that she now privately hoped someone would lay a drape over the self- indulgent figure or at least turn it so it was facing the wall.

"I know she's sad, but c'mon, she's acting like the world revolves around her or something," said Wright, adding that Mary's incessant sorrow had made receiving communion a "chore." "I just spent the past 10 years watching my husband slowly die from Alzheimer's, and I cried on my own time. I didn't make it this endless production."

"Show a little dignity," Wright continued. "The statue of Jesus has nails through his hands and feet, for God's sake, but you don't see him crying."

Despite warnings from church officials that any pilgrimages to the statue would only encourage its blubbering, thousands of faithful from around the world have converged on the church in hopes of getting a glimpse of Mary and her extraordinary appetite for drama. Day and night, visitors have been standing in lines a quarter of a mile long in order to witness the statue's breathtaking self-absorption firsthand.

"I came all the way from Oklahoma City because I had to see Mary's big pity party with my own eyes," said Jen Gammons, 53. "When I finally got up close enough to get a good look, I just wanted to smack her. We've all got problems, okay? But we don't all break down and start bawling like a bunch of babies."

At press time, church officials said they planned to continue services as normal for the foreseeable future, despite the fact that the statue's weeping continues unabated.

"I don't even want to deal with it at all, frankly, so I'm just going to ignore her," Doherty said. "Why indulge it, you know? I'm not going to debase myself by going over and consoling her and saying, 'Oh, you poor, poor thing, what's wrong?' Screw that. I'm going to read my sermon, and if she wants to cry all through it like some kind of grade-school prima donna, then she can be my guest, but I refuse to so much as even look in her direction."

When reached by reporters, a Vatican spokesman said Pope Benedict XVI would be arriving in Worcester next week to "give that statue something to cry about."
© 2011 The Onion

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Issues & Alibis Vol 11 # 01 (c) 01/07/2011

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