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In This Edition

Elizabeth Holtzman is, "Holding Bush Accountable."

Uri Avnery discovers that, "The Boss Has Gone Mad."

Victoria Stewart with, "More... Or Less."

Jim Hightower reveals, "Doing Time, The Madoff Way."

Andy Kroll explores, "The Duncan Doctrine."

Ted Rall thinks, "That's It?"

Paul Krugman writes, "A Letter To The New President."

Chris Floyd finds, "Big Party, Small Change: Baby, We Were Born To Run...The Empire."

Mike Adams reports, "Chrysalis Nutritionist Stephen Heuer Arrested By Federal Marshalls In FDA Raid."

Mike Folkerth says there is, "No Controlled Crash Landing For Us."

Robert Fisk explains, "So, I asked the UN secretary general, isn't it time for a war crimes tribunal?"

Frank Scott wonders of Obama, "For America Or Israel?"

Texas US Sin-ator John Cornyn wins the coveted "Vidkun Quisling Award!"

Glenn Greenwald finds, "Binding U.S. Law Requires Prosecutions For Those Who Authorize Torture."

Mary Pitt gives, "The View From The Bottom."

And finally in the 'Parting Shots' department 'Monty Python's' Terry Jones asks, "Where's The Arm?" but first Uncle Ernie gives welcome to the, "Obama Nation."

This week we spotlight the cartoons of Drew Sheneman with additional cartoons, photos and videos from Derf City, Mike Adams, The Heretik, Old American Century.Org, Dees Illustration.Com, P.Jamiol, R.J. Matson, Issues & Alibis.Org and Pink & Blue Films.

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...
Zeitgeist The Movie...

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









Obama Nation
By Ernest Stewart

"Years ago, fairy tales all began with 'Once Upon A Time.' Now we know they all begin with, 'If I am elected.'" ~~~ Carolyn Warner

"The Constitution provides that the President "shall have power to grant reprieves and pardons for offences against the United States, except in cases of impeachment." The power thus conferred is unlimited, with the exception stated. It extends to every offence known to the law, and may be exercised at any time after its commission, either before legal proceedings are taken or during their pendency or after conviction and judgment.

This power of the President is not subject to legislative control. Congress can neither limit the effect of his pardon nor exclude from its exercise any class of offenders. The benign prerogative of mercy reposed in him cannot be fettered by any legislative restrictions. Such being the case, the inquiry arises as to the effect and operation of a pardon, and on this point all the authorities concur.

A pardon reaches both the punishment prescribed for the offence and the guilt of the offender, and when the pardon is full, it releases the punishment and blots out of existence the guilt, so that, in the eye of the law, the offender is as innocent as if he had never committed the offence. If granted before conviction, it prevents any of the penalties and disabilities consequent upon conviction from attaching; if granted after conviction, it removes the penalties and disabilities and restores him to all his civil rights; it makes him, as it were, a new man, and gives him a new credit and capacity."
~~~ Supreme Court Justice Stephen J. Field in the Opinion of the Court for Ex Parte Garland (1866) ~~~

"Protocol III on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Incendiary Weapons prohibits, in all circumstances, making the civilian population as such, individual civilians or civilian objects, the object of attack by any weapon or munition which is primarily designed to set fire to objects or to cause burn injury to persons through the action of flame, heat or a combination thereof, produced by a chemical reaction of a substance delivered on the target."
Protocol III: Incendiary Weapons ~ Geneva Treaty of 1980

Wasn't it Tricky Dick who once said, " You may fool all the people some of the time, you can even fool some of the people all of the time, now here's where I make a liar out of Lincoln?" In that same spirit our 44th President took the oath of office as the Sheeple cheered him on. Methinks "The Who" said it best in, "Won't Get Fooled Again" when they sang, "Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss."

So far the only differences that I can see between the "New Boss" and the "Old Boss" is that the "New Boss" was apparently elected, isn't an alcoholic and is smarter and better educated. However, if you recall, "Slick Willie" had a better education and a higher IQ so that is not necessarily a better thing!

All we have to go on so far is Barry's voting record, which was a little to the right of John McCain and does not bode well for the progressives and the Sheeple that elected him. And his choices for a cabinet and such look to be a disaster in the making. I've heard a lot of "progressives" say we've got to hold Obama to those promises but he's already stated that those promises are "off the table," so good luck with that.

"Surely he'll be better for America than Bush was," I hear you cry. Perhaps? Perhaps not? The lesser of two evils is still evil and if America continues down the path we've been on since the Spanish American War, then expect the "Big Darkness" to come soon!

While Gitmo may close in a year or two, the other dozens of concentration camps around the world will stay open and ready for business. While Barry shifts a few thousand troops out of Iraq into Afghanistan to slaughter more Afghanis, neither illegal, immoral war, will soon end. America junior will continue making life a living Hell-on-Earth for the Palestinians. In other words, not much will change, as "The Who" said, "SAME AS THE OLD BOSS!"

Off to a good start Barry insisted on having that fund-a-mentalist Rick Warren say a few words to enrage the gay community and everyone that wasn't a "Rattler Baptist." So much for "...unity of purpose over conflict and discord," eh? While Barry has some good speech writers and gives a pretty speech, talk is cheap. However, I must admit he can string a few sentences together coherently which is a vast improvement over "Smirky the Wonder Chimp!" Still my favorite part of the Inaugural was the crowd singing to Bush and the wheelchair bound Cheney the old "Steam" song, "Na Na Na Na, Na Na Na Na, Hey Hey Hey, Goodbye."

In Other News

With the commutation of the sentences of Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean, the border guards convicted of shooting an unarmed pot smoker in the back, Smirky ended up his pardons and commutations. He pardoned 137 people, mostly unknowns, for various offences which were mostly harmless and commuted the sentences of 39 more, the most famous of whom was Scooter Libby, Cheney's puppet traitor.

The fact that he didn't pardon himself or Cheney or Rummy or Rove or Colon or Asscroft or Kinda Sleazy should send a chill down your spine, America. While Bush may be insane, he isn't stupid and even if he is, his puppet masters aren't. The reason he didn't pardon the above for their various and sundry acts of treason, sedition, war crimes, crimes against humanity, torture, death camps etc. is that there was no need to.

Surprise, surprise. The fix is in, again! Barry has absolutely no plans to bring the biggest gang of American criminals since Nixon to justice as he's looking forward not backward. And, if he were to do so, his own war crimes and such might be called to task. Our anti-war candidate of change voted for all that mass murder and mayhem every opportunity he got. He voted to cover up his crimes along with the Junta's and many other Democrats and Republicans in the FISA bill which allows them to keep monitoring our every word and move.

Ergo, Bush could keep from committing even more controversy on his last day in office with the assurance he'll never be brought to justice for his many crimes. So unless Barry opens up all the jail and prison cells and lets everyone go he'll be what "Tweety Bird" calls a "hypo-twit" because if you added up all the crimes committed by America's two million plus prisoners they wouldn't equal 10% of the Bush Junta's crimes! Still, after helping to destroy millions of lives and several Amendments to the Constitution, what's being called a hypocrite?

And Finally

I see where the lying, thieving, murdering Zionazis got caught with their hands in the cookie jar again. This time they were caught using "Willie Pete" on the Gaza Ghetto! Willie Pete, or "White Phosphorus," is banned by many treaties, considered a war crime and only outlaw nations like Israel and these United Snakes use them against civilians! You may recall we burned several thousand women and children to death in Fallujah?

You also may remember that famous film strip and the photos of the little naked Vietnamese girl running down the road after we hit her village with Napalm? If you are hit with Willie Pete you don't run down the road. You sort of lie there wiggling and screaming. Of course, Israel denies it, saying it was merely smoke, even though there are many photos and filmstrips showing that it was, indeed, White Phosphorus! Of course, there is also some hideous film of the children who were caught under it. Finally, Israel is saying that it's really no big deal if they did as we still use it!

I know Willie Pete when I see it. In my youth I was in battery B of the 169th field artillery, Fifth Army, and we used Willie Pete a lot out on the ranges. I've seen it on many occasions and so, know it when I see it. My roommates and I would often smoke a few doobies, maybe drop of few hits of purple Owsley, turn Jimi and Janis up real loud on the 8-track boom box and set off a dozen or so big bluish white spiders in the night. From a distance very pretty and psychedelic, up close a living nightmare. So have no doubt that was Willie Pete they were using on the schools, mosques and villagers! Fortunately, I never had to use it in combat but it was used by others in Vietnam!

Oh, and did I mention that all of this murder and mayhem is being paid for by you, America. That red stuff on your hands is the blood and agony of the innocents. Isn't it about time we did something about supporting these Israeli war-criminal terrorists? Isn't it? Like not supporting them and not vetoing the United Nations efforts to bring these war criminals to a Nuremburg type war crimes trial. We could bring Smirky and crew up before it, too! Just think about what a peaceful world that would create! It might also keep Barry and the Pentagoons from starting new wars and ramping up existing wars? It just might!

*****

We don't sell our readers new cars, fancy homes or designer clothes. We don't advocate consumerism nor do we offer facile solutions to serious problems. We do, however, bring together every week writers and activists who are not afraid to speak the truth about our country and our world. The articles we print are not for the faint of heart.

As access to accurate information becomes more difficult and free speech and the exchange of ideas becomes more restricted and controlled, small publications and alternative presses disappear. Issues and Alibis may soon join that list.

We aren't asking for much-not thousands of dollars a month, not tens of thousands a year. What we need is simply enough money to cover expenses for the magazine. A few thousand dollars a year. A few hundred dollars a month. We cannot continue to go into debt to publish Issues and Alibis but at the same time we cannot, in good conscience, go quietly about our daily lives, remaining silent in face of the injustices perpetrated by our leaders and our government. So we need your help. We need your spare change. A dollar, five dollars, whatever you can contribute. Every penny makes a difference.

Ernest & Victoria Stewart



*****


07-12-1917 ~ 01-16-2009
Christina's Crying!



04-21-1923 ~ 01-16-2009
Rumpole is Crying!



09-04-1939 ~ 01-18-2009
Danger Bob May!



02-24-1933 ~ 01-20-2009
R.I.P. Fathead!


*****

The "W" theatre trailers are up along with the new movie poster and screen shots from the film. They are all available at the all-new "W" movie site: http://wthemovie.com. Both trailers are on site and may be downloaded; the new trailer can be seen with Flash on site. You can download in either PC or Mac formats. I'm in the new trailer as myself but don't blink or you'll miss me! The trailers are also available on YouTube along with a short scene from the film.

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So how do you like the 2nd coup d'etat so far?
And more importantly, what are you planning on doing about it?

Until the next time, Peace!
(c) 2009 Ernest Stewart a.k.a. Uncle Ernie is an unabashed radical, author, stand-up comic, DJ, actor, political pundit and for the last 8 years managing editor and publisher of Issues & Alibis magazine. In his spare time he is an actor, writer and an associate producer for the new motion picture "W The Movie."













Holding Bush Accountable
By Elizabeth Holtzman

President Obama, on his first day in office, can make a number of changes that will mark a clean break with the Bush presidency. He can, and should, issue an executive order revoking any prior order that permits detainee mistreatment by any government agency. He should begin the process of closing Guant∑namo, and he should submit to Congress a bill to end the use of military commissions, at least as presently constituted. Over the coming months he can pursue other reforms to restore respect for the Constitution, such as revising the Patriot Act, abolishing secret prisons and "extraordinary rendition," and ending practices, like signing statements, that seek to undo laws.

While these steps are all crucial, however, it is not enough merely to cease the abuses of power and apparent criminality that marked the highest levels of George W. Bush's administration. We cannot simply shrug off the constitutional and criminal misbehavior of the administration, treat it as an aberration and hope it won't happen again. The misbehavior was not an aberration--aspects of it, particularly the idea that the president is above the law, were present in Watergate and in the Iran/Contra scandal. To fully restore the rule of law and prevent any repetition of Bush's misconduct, the abuses of his administration must be directly confronted. As Indiana University law professor Dawn Johnsen--recently tapped by Obama to head his Office of Legal Counsel--wrote in Slate last March, "We must avoid any temptation simply to move on. We must instead be honest with ourselves and the world as we condemn our nation's past transgressions and reject Bush's corruption of our American ideals."

What we need to do is conceptually simple. We need to launch investigations to get at the central unanswered questions of Bush's abuse of power, commence criminal proceedings and undertake institutional, statutory and constitutional reforms. Perhaps all these things don't need to be done at once, but over time--not too much time--they must take place. Otherwise, we establish a doctrine of presidential impunity, which has no place in a country that cherishes the rule of law or considers itself a democracy. Bush's claim that the president enjoys virtually unlimited power as commander in chief at a time of war--which Vice President Dick Cheney defiantly reasserted just last month--brought us perilously close to military dictatorship.

As the former district attorney in Brooklyn, New York, I know the price society pays for a doctrine of impunity. Failure to prosecute trivializes and encourages the crimes. The same holds true of political abuses--failure to hold violators accountable condones the abuse and entrenches its acceptability, creating a climate in which it is likely to be repeated. The doctrine of impunity suggests, too, that there is a dual system of justice--one for the powerful and one for ordinary Americans. Because the concept of equal justice under the law is the foundation of democracy, impunity for high-level officials who abuse power and commit crimes erodes our democracy.

An impeachment proceeding against President Bush would have been the proper forum to expose the full scope of his abuses and to impose punishment. That obviously didn't happen, but investigations and prosecutions can still provide the vast civics lesson that an impeachment process would have given our nation.

There is another important reason for not "moving on." On January 20, Barack Obama will take an oath of office to uphold the Constitution, which requires the president to "take care that the laws be faithfully executed." Much as President Obama might like to avoid controversy arising from investigations and prosecutions of high-level Bush administration officials, he cannot let them get away with breaking the law without violating his oath. His obligation to pursue justice in these cases is all the more serious given his acknowledgment that waterboarding is torture--which is a federal crime--and the vice president's recent admission of his involvement in and approval of "enhanced" interrogation techniques.

Moreover, under the Geneva Conventions and the Convention Against Torture, our government is obliged to bring to justice those who have violated the conventions. Although Bush smugly ignored his constitutional duty to enforce treaty obligations and laws that punish detainee mistreatment, Obama cannot follow the same lawless path.

Investigations

The Iraq War, the torture and mistreatment of detainees, and the wiretapping and US Attorney scandals of the Bush administration merit new and full investigations that could be carried out singly or together and could be conducted by Congress or an outside commission.

The Iraq War has been a tragic mistake for America. More than 4,000 Americans have been killed, more than 30,000 wounded and the financial cost is expected to exceed $1 trillion. The cost to Iraqis in lives and destruction is much greater. This war was not just unnecessary; it was based on false claims. We were told we were justified in striking at Iraq because it posed the threat of weapons of mass destruction and because Saddam Hussein was in cahoots with Al Qaeda, which attacked us on 9/11. Those statements, as we now know, were blatantly untrue.

Despite several Congressional investigations, we never learned whether President Bush knew that the justifications for the war were untrue and whether he deliberately lied to drive the country into the war.

There are many indications that he did know. The Downing Street memo officially recorded a briefing given to British Prime Minister Tony Blair in July 2002 by his top intelligence official, who had just returned from meetings in Washington, eight months before the war began. According to the memo, Blair was told that the United States had already decided to remove Saddam and that the intelligence was going to be "fixed" around the policy. At the first National Security Council meeting in 2001, two years before the United States went to war, Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill was astonished to find that the decision to invade Iraq had already been made--the question, he said, was not whether but when. Finally, the Senate Intelligence Committee not long ago found that most of the claims made for the need to go to war were not borne out by information in the possession of US intelligence agencies.

A 9/11 kind of commission or committees of Congress must commence an investigation to get at the truth of the presidential deceptions related to the war. Whether President Bush knowingly deceived us needs to be fully explored and exposed; if he did, he will at the very least have to carry that burden of disgrace permanently. Precisely because other presidents lied about warmaking--think of Lyndon Johnson and the Gulf of Tonkin resolution and Richard Nixon and the secret bombing of Cambodia--we know that future presidents will be tempted to do the same. Investigating and exposing the role of President Bush and his team in the deceptions causing the Iraq War may discourage future presidents from taking the same path.

Similarly, investigations need to be conducted into the torture and mistreatment of detainees held by the US government. The numerous investigations ordered by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in the wake of the Abu Ghraib disclosures obfuscated the question of responsibility at the highest level. They conveniently did not probe the role of the president; vice president; Justice Department officials, including the attorney general; or other cabinet secretaries. They also did not look at the actions of the Central Intelligence Agency.

The mistreatment was recently confirmed by the Senate Armed Services Committee, which in a bipartisan report found that it was initially traceable to President Bush's removal of Geneva Convention protections from members of Al Qaeda and the Taliban, and was a direct result of actions taken by Rumsfeld.

Full inquiries into responsibility for torture and mistreatment, however, need to be undertaken by a commission outside Congress, since some members of the House and Senate appear to have been apprised by the administration of the torture while it was going on and may have approved it. Members of Congress might be reluctant to sit in judgment of their colleagues, and in any case there would be a serious problem of appearances if they did.

Detainee mistreatment and torture have inflamed anti-American sentiment throughout the world, creating added risks to our soldiers and to Americans everywhere. Indeed, Abu Ghraib and Guant∑namo have become rallying cries and recruitment tools for Al Qaeda. Revealing and documenting the whole story of detainee mistreatment, including the role of the CIA and the president and vice president, would go a long way toward changing public opinion about America at home and abroad.

The Bush administration's wiretapping program must also be reviewed. Although Congress has watered down the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), it is important to understand the nature and scope of the intrusions into Americans' privacy under the program. As much information as possible, limited only by what is absolutely essential to protect national security, must be made public. For example, we do not yet know whether journalists, lawyers, political opponents and the like were subjected to wiretaps or other intrusions.

Investigations also need to be conducted into the president's role in the US Attorney scandal and the role of his aides Karl Rove and Harriet Miers and his Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. It appears that certain US Attorneys were removed from office solely because they failed to bring baseless prosecutions against Democrats in the 2006 election year, and that other US Attorneys were appointed to bring baseless prosecutions. The misuse of our criminal justice system for electoral ends is a grave abuse of power, and the facts behind the scandal must be uncovered.

In connection with the conviction of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby for obstruction of justice, the administration classified the notes from the FBI's interview of Vice President Cheney. Those notes need to be declassified so the country can better understand the role he and the president played in the effort to "out" a clandestine CIA employee in retaliation for her husband's public claims that President Bush was taking the country to war under false pretexts. The FBI's notes of the president's interview should be made public as well.

Prosecutions

Some of the abuses of power in which President Bush and the top members of his team engaged may well constitute crimes.

Violation of FISA is a felony, and we know, through his own admissions, that Bush failed on at least forty occasions to obtain court approval for the wiretaps, despite the clear requirement of the statute that he do so. He even authorized wiretapping when the Justice Department refused to sign off on its legality. Subsequently the president worked with the FISA court to obtain authorization for the special program--a fact that strongly suggests court authorization could have been obtained much earlier, if not from the outset. Similarly, the president was able to persuade Congress to weaken the FISA protections a number of months ago. That shows that the president could have asked Congress to change the law from the outset (as he did with other parts of FISA). Instead, Bush took it upon himself brazenly and repeatedly to violate the law, authorizing wiretap after wiretap without seeking FISA court approval or revisions in the statute. No person, including a president, should be able to disobey the law this way.

Violation of the Anti-Torture Act is also a felony. This statute bars any US citizen from committing or attempting to commit torture abroad. Those who conspire with or aid and abet the torturers are penalized. The statute carries the death penalty when death results from the torture, and thus in those cases there is no statute of limitations on prosecution.

Undoubtedly Bush will claim that there should be no prosecution because the anti-torture statute cannot limit his powers as commander in chief. He may also claim that the mistreatment of detainees that was authorized did not constitute torture. Neither of these positions is a fatal bar to prosecution. The Supreme Court has ruled that a president's powers as commander in chief do not override statutes. And waterboarding, which the administration acknowledges took place (but on only three people), has long been viewed as torture.

If the investigations show that President Bush deliberately deceived the country about the Iraq War, then a determination should be made as to whether the lies are prosecutable under federal law. If so, a criminal proceeding on these grounds should be commenced.

The investigations and prosecutions should be conducted by one or more special prosecutors, since the Justice Department would have a serious conflict in prosecuting people who may claim to have followed its guidance or who were members of the department facilitating the torture.

The decision to prosecute Bush and lower-level officials who acted at the president's behest may seem too weighty to place in the hands of one person, no matter how seasoned, fair and reputable a prosecutor he or she may be, without establishing a full context for the prosecutions. After all, almost eight years of abuses have gone by with only a few whispers from the political establishment and the mainstream media about the need for criminal prosecutions. For that reason, designated Congressional committees or an outside commission should pursue inquiries into presidential abuses, particularly those that may also constitute crimes. These inquiries, which should not interfere with any criminal prosecutions, should aim to give the public an understanding of why the Bush Administration's actions are so grave and why the defense that a president may take the law into his own hands is unacceptable.

Reforms

The most pressing reform involves the War Crimes Act of 1996, which would be a more effective tool for prosecuting detainee mistreatment than the Anti-Torture Act. The president and other top officials were concerned about prosecution under that act, which makes cruel and inhuman treatment of detainees a federal crime. Like the anti-torture statute, it carries the death penalty when death results from the mistreatment, which means there is no statute of limitations. Administration officials might think they can avoid criminal liability under the Anti-Torture Act by claiming the mistreatment isn't torture (as in President Bush's oft-repeated claim that we "don't do torture"); but they know that they can't avoid liability under the War Crimes Act, because "harsh" interrogation techniques--waterboarding, stress positions, threatening dogs, exposure to temperature extremes--are all clearly cruel and inhuman. They can't get around the War Crimes Act with definitional tricks.

Following White House counsel Alberto Gonzales's advice in January 2002 about how to "reduce the likelihood of prosecution" under the War Crimes Act, President Bush opted out of the Geneva Conventions for members of Al Qaeda. Administration officials apparently thought this would enable them to avoid liability for mistreating those prisoners, because the War Crimes Act was intended to enforce the Geneva Conventions. But then the Supreme Court ruled in summer 2006 that the Geneva Conventions applied to Al Qaeda detainees, and the administration realized that something had to be done to prevent criminal liability under the act. So it quietly inserted a provision into the Military Commissions Act in October 2006 that made the War Crimes Act retroactively inoperative--meaning that past violations could not be prosecuted.

Retroactively nullifying the War Crimes Act was one of the Bush administration's most cynical acts with respect to the rule of law. In essence, it issued a blanket pardon to anyone who had violated the War Crimes Act, including the president and vice president. There was no examination of the facts of any particular case. The violations, whether egregious or minor, were swept under the rug. No one was ever to be called to account. The crimes were made to disappear--poof. This maneuver may be the worst embodiment of the doctrine of impunity for high-level government officials in our history. It cannot be allowed to stand.

Fortunately, the retroactive nullification can be undone and the original law resurrected. Once the War Crimes Act is restored, a special prosecutor should determine whether and how to prosecute under the act. But even if no prosecutions are brought against President Bush and his team, by restoring the original law, we put an end to the horrific situation in which a criminal statute is decriminalized after crimes are committed to protect people in the highest offices.

A second reform is limiting the president's pardon power. This must be done by constitutional amendment. One of the ways a president can execute illegal schemes is to assure subordinates that they will not face criminal liability. To prevent this kind of high-level conspiracy, the amendment should prohibit a president from pardoning anyone he or she appointed to office, or the vice president. Prohibitions against self-pardoning or pardoning in return for a bribe should also be clearly spelled out in the amendment.

A third reform would re-enact legislation creating a special prosecutor for crimes committed by high-level government officials. The original law was allowed to expire after the sorry excesses of special prosecutor Kenneth Starr. A new statute, devised to prevent such excesses, would permit prosecution of officials when the Justice Department cannot or will not investigate--as happened repeatedly during the Bush era. (The appointment of Patrick Fitzgerald in the Valerie Plame leak case was fortuitous; the attorney general was incapacitated, so the power to appoint a special prosecutor fell to a nonpolitical professional prosecutor.) The problem extends beyond the Bush administration: no attorney general can be expected to investigate the president who appointed him or her.

Sooner or later, America will confront the abuses of the Bush presidency head-on. The only question is whether we will wait for years--as Chile did with respect to bringing Gen. Augusto Pinochet to justice--or do it now, sending a clear signal that our country is back on track and firmly embraces the rule of law.
(c) 2009 Elizabeth Holtzman, is a former US Representative from New York and is the co-author of The Impeachment of George W. Bush with Cynthia L. Cooper.





The Boss Has Gone Mad
By Uri Avnery

169 YEARS before the Gaza War, Heinrich Heine wrote a premonitory poem of 12 lines, under the title "To Edom." The German-Jewish poet was talking about Germany, or perhaps all the nations of Christian Europe. This is what he wrote (in my rough translation):

"For a thousand years and more / We have had an understanding / You allow me to breathe / I accept your crazy raging // Sometimes, when the days get darker / Strange moods come upon you / Till you decorate your claws / With the lifeblood from my veins // Now our friendship is firmer / Getting stronger by the day / Since the raging started in me / Daily more and more like you."

Zionism, which arose some 50 years after this was written, is fully realizing this prophesy. We Israelis have become a nation like all nations, and the memory of the Holocaust causes us, from time to time, to behave like the worst of them. Only a few of us know this poem, but Israel as a whole lives it out.

In this war, politicians and generals have repeatedly quoted the words: "The boss has gone mad!" originally shouted by vegetable vendors in the market, in the sense of "The boss has gone crazy and is selling the tomatoes at a loss!" But in the course of time the jest has turned into a deadly doctrine that often appears in Israeli public discourse: in order to deter our enemies, we must behave like madmen, go on the rampage, kill and destroy mercilessly.

In this war, this has become political and military dogma: only if we kill "them" disproportionately, killing a thousand of "them" for ten of "ours," will they understand that it's not worth it to mess with us. It will be "seared into their consciousness" (a favorite Israeli phrase these days). After this, they will think twice before launching another Qassam rocket against us, even in response to what we do, whatever that may be.

It is impossible to understand the viciousness of this war without taking into account the historical background: the feeling of victimhood after all that has been done to the Jews throughout the ages, and the conviction that after the Holocaust, we have the right to do anything, absolutely anything, to defend ourselves, without any inhibitions due to law or morality.

WHEN THE killing and destruction in Gaza were at their height, something happened in faraway America that was not connected with the war, but was very much connected with it. The Israeli film "Waltz with Bashir" was awarded a prestigious prize. The media reported it with much joy and pride, but somehow carefully managed not to mention the subject of the film. That by itself was an interesting phenomenon: saluting the success of a film while ignoring its contents.

The subject of this outstanding film is one of the darkest chapters in our history: the Sabra and Shatila massacre. In the course of Lebanon War I, a Christian Lebanese militia carried out, under the auspices of the Israeli army, a heinous massacre of hundreds of helpless Palestinian refugees who were trapped in their camp, men, women, children and old people. The film describes this atrocity with meticulous accuracy, including our part in it.

All this was not even mentioned in the news about the award. At the festive ceremony, the director of the film did not avail himself of the opportunity to protest against the events in Gaza. It is hard to say how many women and children were killed while this ceremony was going on - but it is clear that the massacre in Gaza is much worse than that 1982 event, which moved 400 thousand Israelis to leave their homes and hold a spontaneous mass protest in Tel-Aviv. This time, only 10 thousand stood up to be counted.

The official Israeli Board of Inquiry that investigated the Sabra massacre found that the Israeli government bore "indirect responsibility" for the atrocity. Several senior officials and officers were suspended. One of them was the division commander, Amos Yaron. Not one of the other accused, from the Minister of Defense, Ariel Sharon, to the Chief of Staff, Rafael Eitan, spoke a word of regret, but Yaron did express remorse in a speech to his officers, and admitted: "Our sensitivities have been blunted."

BLUNTED SENSITIVITIES are very evident in the Gaza War.

Lebanon War I lasted for 18 years and more than 500 of our soldiers died. The planners of Lebanon War II decided to avoid such a long war and such heavy Israeli casualties. They invented the "mad boss" principle: demolishing whole neighborhoods, devastating areas, destroying infrastructures. In 33 days of war, some 1000 Lebanese, almost all of them civilians, were killed - a record already broken in this war by the 17th day. Yet in that war our army suffered casualties on the ground, and public opinion, which in the beginning supported the war with the same enthusiasm as this time, changed rapidly.

The smoke from Lebanon War II is hanging over the Gaza war. Everybody in Israel swore to learn its lessons. And the main lesson was: not to risk the life of even one single soldier. A war without casualties (on our side). The method: to use the overwhelming firepower of our army to pulverize everything standing in its way and to kill everybody moving in the area. To kill not only the fighters on the other side, but every human being who might possibly turn out to harbor hostile intentions, even if they are obviously an ambulance attendant, a driver in a food convoy or a doctor saving lives. To destroy every building from which our troops could conceivably be shot at - even a school full of refugees, the sick and the wounded. To bomb and shell whole neighborhoods, buildings, mosques, schools, UN food convoys, even ruins under which the injured are buried.

The media devoted several hours to the fall of a Qassam missile on a home in Ashkelon, in which three residents suffered from shock, and did not waste many words on the forty women and children killed in a UN school, from which "we were shot at" - an assertion that was quickly exposed as a blatant lie.

The firepower was also used to sow terror - shelling everything from a hospital to a vast UN food depot, from a press vantage point to the mosques. The standard pretext: "we were shot at from there."

This would have been impossible, had not the whole country been infected with blunted sensitivities. People are no longer shocked by the sight of a mutilated baby, nor by children left for days with the corpse of their mother, because the army did not let them leave their ruined home. It seems that almost nobody cares anymore: not the soldiers, not the pilots, not the media people, not the politicians, not the generals. A moral insanity, whose primary exponent is Ehud Barak. Though even he may be upstaged by Tzipi Livni, who smiled while talking about the ghastly events.

Even Heinrich Heine could not have imagined that.

THE LAST DAYS were dominated by the "Obama effect."

We are on board an airplane, and suddenly a huge black mountain appears out of the clouds. In the cockpit, panic breaks out: How to avoid a collision?

The planners of the war chose the timing with care: during the holidays, when everybody was on vacation, and while President Bush was still around. But they somehow forgot to take into consideration a fateful date: next Tuesday Barack Obama will enter the White House.

This date is now casting a huge shadow on events. The Israeli Barak understands that if the American Barack gets angry, that would mean disaster. Conclusion: the horrors of Gaza must stop before the inauguration. This week that determined all political and military decisions. Not "the number of rockets," not "victory," not "breaking Hamas.".

WHEN THERE is a ceasefire, the first question will be: Who won?

In Israel, all the talk is about the "picture of victory" - not victory itself, but the "picture." That is essential, in order to convince the Israeli public that the whole business has been worthwhile. At this moment, all the thousands of media people, to the very last one, have been mobilized to paint such a "picture." The other side, of course, will paint a different one.

The Israeli leaders will boast of two "achievements:" the end of the rockets and the sealing of the Gaza-Egypt border (the co-called "Philadelphi route." Dubious achievements: the launching of the Qassams could have been prevented without a murderous war, if our government had been ready to negotiate with Hamas after they won the Palestinian elections. The tunnels under the Egyptian border would not have been dug in the first place, if our government had not imposed the deadly blockade on the Strip.

But the main achievement of the war planners lies in the very barbarity of their plan: the atrocities will have, in their view, a deterrent effect that will hold for a long time.

Hamas, on the other side, will assert that their survival in the face of the mighty Israeli war machine, a tiny David against a giant Goliath, is by itself a huge victory. According to the classic military definition, the winner in a battle is the army that remains on the battlefield when it's over. Hamas remains. The Hamas regime in the Gaza Strip still stands, in spite of all the efforts to eliminate it. That is a significant achievement.

Hamas will also point out that the Israeli army was not eager to enter the Palestinian towns, in which their fighters were entrenched. And indeed: the army told the government that the conquest of Gaza city could cost the lives of about 200 soldiers, and no politician was ready for that on the eve of elections.

The very fact that a guerrilla force of a few thousand lightly armed fighters held out for long weeks against one of the world's mightiest armies with enormous firepower, will look to millions of Palestinians and other Arabs and Muslims, and not only to them, like an unqualified victory.

In the end, an agreement will be concluded that will include the obvious terms. No country can tolerate its inhabitants being exposed to rocket fire from beyond the border, and no population can tolerate a choking blockade. Therefore (1) Hamas will have to give up the launching of missiles, (2) Israel will have to open wide the crossings between the Gaza Strip and the outside world, and (3) the entry of arms into the Strip will be stopped (as far as possible), as demanded by Israel. All this could have happened without war, if our government had not boycotted Hamas.

HOWEVER, THE worst results of this war are still invisible and will make themselves felt only in years to come: Israel has imprinted on world consciousness a terrible image of itself. Billions of people have seen us as a blood-dripping monster. They will never again see Israel as a state that seeks justice, progress and peace. The American Declaration of Independence speaks with approval of "a decent respect to the opinions of mankind." That is a wise principle.

Even worse is the impact on hundreds of millions of Arabs around us: not only will they see the Hamas fighters as the heroes of the Arab nation, but they will also see their own regimes in their nakedness: cringing, ignominious, corrupt and treacherous.

The Arab defeat in the 1948 war brought in its wake the fall of almost all the existing Arab regimes and the ascent of a new generation of nationalist leaders, exemplified by Gamal Abd-al-Nasser. The 2009 war may bring about the fall of the current crop of Arab regimes and the ascent of a new generation of leaders - Islamic fundamentalists who hate Israel and all the West..

In coming years it will become apparent that this war was sheer madness. The boss has indeed gone mad - in the original sense of the word.
(c) 2009 Uri Avnery ~~~ Gush Shalom






More... Or Less
By Victoria Stewart

Alright. I admit it. I liked Michelle Obama's inauguration dress. I know the world is falling apart, the economy is a slagheap and the planet is in peril and caring about clothes is sooooo superficial but damn it, I liked that dress. Okay, so the planet being in peril makes me feel pretty shallow for noticing, let alone commenting, on what she wore and the starving, dying children and the abused animals and endangered species come trudging along with the ravaged planet and I start to feel really, really bad about liking that stupid dress.

And then I heard that the First Daughters' coats came from J. Crew, a fact which created such a frenzy of (attempted) ordering on the J. Crew website that it crashed for a while, and I had this flash of memory that made me aware, once again, of the importance of small things.

Once upon a time, I worked at a J. Crew call center and, while the job was short lived, I still remember the cavernous warehouse, the terrible lighting, the pressure to make sales, the monitored phone calls and desperation of the workers for most of whom this was a second or third job. They were struggling survive and J. Crew offered part-time work, low wages and no benefits. I was happy to have the job, coming as it did in one of those unfortunate economic downturns-you know, the old-style downturns that eventually went away-but the grim reality of the call center was a marked contrast to the glossy catalogues and website and the world in which those call in customers lived. Retail, at best, is hard, mind-numbing, demanding and soulless work. Call centers are a step or two down from retail at its best. I know Michelle Obama didn't call up the 800 number, and J. Crew contracted out its call center operations in 2005 anyway so she wouldn't have actually talked to a J. Crew employee had she made that call but something about those princess coats, the memory of that warehouse and the thousands of parents trying to buy copies of the coats rankled.

Because I was feeling just a tiny bit of self-loathing for the whole dress thing and spending so much time thinking about clothes, I indulged in a little rationalization. I did some research. It turns out none of J. Crew's clothes and accessories are manufactured in the U.S. I was a little surprised at that since they are now clothiers to the First Family-sometimes I'm embarrassingly na‘ve- and after the inauguration speech, after seeing all those sincere, hopeful, excited people in the audience and witnessing what was truly an historic and emotional event, I wanted to feel good about this new administration. After 8 years of George Bush and Dick Cheney, after Condoleezza Rice's simpering malevolence and Laura Bush's humiliating passivity, after all that has happened in this country and the world since the stolen election of 2000, I really, really, really wanted to feel good about this new president. And, squashing my anger over Rick Warren's appearance, for a few hours yesterday, I did. Until I started thinking about clothes.

In the grand scheme of things, what is being worn in Washington and by whom isn't such a big deal, especially when compared to dead children in Gaza or homeless families or any the ills that swirl over us, but it did clarify some of those nagging doubts about the people who will be formulating answers to the big questions.

Obama's approval ratings are sky high and I would hazard that most Americans are so hungry for hope they are willing to accept the cabinet appointments, the reneging on promises, the lessening of expectations and the obsequious "inclusion" of the corrupt power elite as necessary and indicative of inclusiveness and unification. I would also hazard that most Americans are unconscious of political reality, ignorant of conditions in the rest of the world and uneducated-no matter how many their degrees-about the acquisition and use of power and so cannot adequately assess what is happening to them. We have been appallingly and systematically dumbed down. Ignorant, unaware, scared and exhausted we are in terrible need of help and hope. The Obamas have exuded an air of confidence and, because of the tragedy of America's racial bigotry, a sense of belonging not to the spheres of the power elite, but to the same world as the rest of us. And maybe their sincerity and concern are genuine.

But there is a disconnect and it is the same disconnect that afflicts the politicians who have handed this country over to thieves and criminals.

All the problems assailing our country and the planet stem from the abuse of power and that abuse comes from the assumption of privilege and entitlement power bestows. As simple as that is and as easy for the have-nots to see, it escapes the ones who hold wealth and power. The middle-class, though it is ever-shrinking, holds immense wealth and power when compared to the lower and working classes and just as it is almost impossible for the truly rich to understand what life is like without money, so it is for the bourgeoisie. Barack and Michelle Obama, who have now entered the arena of the world elite, come from the American middle class, that group of people who believe they keep the world moving, pay everyone else's bills and get what they deserve. While money doesn't obviate all the indignities of racism, it makes the experiences vastly different than it is for the poor. It makes it possible to think coats from J. Crew are not extravagant.

On the J. Crew website, winter clothes are marked down but it is still possible to see the retail prices. For example, a "girl's heavy wool pique noella coat" for $248.00 or a "shimmery snow cardigan" (that's right, a sweater) for the same amount. I suspect the Obama coats, which will reportedly be available in the fall, will cost slightly more. I don't think Michelle Obama, or whomever dresses her daughters. is evil, necessarily. It makes good political sense to dress them in ready-to-wear-or pseudo ready-to-wear in this case--and it generates that quintessential American consumer magic to think your child can be an Obama-girl with the purchase of a coat. It's the same marketing tool that has sold Barbie dolls and Disney products for decades. It's the serving girl dressed up in the lady's finery. It's the most human of desires-to be part of the right group-to be safe-to have hope.

The people who are going to repair our economy, protect the free world, liberate the rest, restore justice, order and peace, fix health care and save the environment didn't see that, in a time when people are losing jobs and homes and health care, when cities and states are facing massive cutbacks and bankruptcy, when the American taxpayer is on the hook for trillions of dollars in corporate bailouts and more trillions in debt for illegal wars, when our schools are in trouble and our children face the most uncertain of futures, in times like these, most people can't afford to spend $248.00 or more on a little girl's coat. Someone should have realized that.

And the Wal-Mart knockoffs that will be showing up on our children in elementary schools next fall?

They won't be made in America either.
(c) 2009 Victoria Stewart is the editor of Issues & Alibis magazine.







Doing Time, The Madoff Way

That Bernie - what a guy!

Bernie Madoff, I'm talking about, the world-champion Ponzi schemer who has confessed to bilking some $50 billion from investors in his felonious hedge fund, wrecking lives in the process. Bernie being Bernie, though, he didn't just pick on strangers - many of his personal friends and close associates were also suckered. In fact, he even ripped off his 74-year-old sister for about $3 million, forcing her to sell her home. As an incredulous neighbor asked, "What kind of person scams their own sister?"

Well, a person like Bernie, who's been living his scam for years and getting away with it, so he keeps trying to get away with ever-more escalating outrages. In fact, even now, the authorities are feeding his sense of special privilege. For example, rather than being in jail - as any far lesser crook would be - he's under house arrest, comfortably ensconced in his $7 million Manhattan apartment.

While in the privacy of his swank prison nest, Bernie has tried to stash about $300 million worth of his ill-gotten loot with friends and relatives, so his victims can't get it through court actions. For example, he sent out three packages on Christmas Eve containing more than a million dollars worth of precious gems, Tiffany watches, and such. When this ploy was detected, Madoff's lawyer claimed that these were merely "a few sentimental personal items," and that poor Bernie had innocently failed to realize that it was wrong to dispense assets bought with other people's money.

Astonishingly, a judge let him get away with this, requiring only that all valuables in Madoff's apartment be inventoried, so they can be checked periodically. But - get this - the judge allowed Bernie himself to do the inventory!

In America, if you steal a little, go to jail; if you steal a lot, go to your penthouse.
(c) 2009 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.




Barack Obama with Arne Duncan.




The Duncan Doctrine
The Military-Corporate Legacy of the New Secretary of Education
By Andy Kroll

On December 16th, a friendship forged nearly two decades ago on the hardwood of the basketball court culminated in a press conference at the Dodge Renaissance Academy, an elementary school located on the west side of Chicago. In a glowing introduction to the media, President-elect Barack Obama named Arne Duncan, the chief executive officer of the Chicago Public Schools system (CPS), as his nominee for U.S. Secretary of Education. "When it comes to school reform," the President-elect said, "Arne is the most hands-on of hands-on practitioners. For Arne, school reform isn't just a theory in a book - it's the cause of his life. And the results aren't just about test scores or statistics, but about whether our children are developing the skills they need to compete with any worker in the world for any job."

Though the announcement came amidst a deluge of other Obama nominations - he had unveiled key members of his energy and environment teams the day before and would add his picks for the Secretaries of Agriculture and the Interior the next day - Duncan's selection was eagerly anticipated, and garnered mostly favorable reactions in education circles and in the media. He was described as the compromise candidate between powerful teachers' unions and the advocates of charter schools and merit pay. He was also regularly hailed as a "reformer," fearless when it came to challenging the educational status quo and more than willing to shake up hidebound, moribund public school systems.

Yet a closer investigation of Duncan's record in Chicago casts doubt on that label. As he packs up for Washington, Duncan leaves behind a Windy City legacy that's hardly cause for optimism, emphasizing as it does a business-minded, market-driven model for education. If he is a "reformer," his style of management is distinctly top-down, corporate, and privatizing. It views teachers as expendable, unions as unnecessary, and students as customers.

Disturbing as well is the prominence of Duncan's belief in offering a key role in public education to the military. Chicago's school system is currently the most militarized in the country, boasting five military academies, nearly three dozen smaller Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps programs within existing high schools, and numerous middle school Junior ROTC programs. More troubling yet, the military academies he's started are nearly all located in low-income, minority neighborhoods. This merging of military training and education naturally raises concerns about whether such academies will be not just education centers, but recruitment centers as well.

Rather than handing Duncan a free pass on his way into office, as lawmakers did during Duncan's breezy confirmation hearings last week, a closer examination of the Chicago native's record is in order. Only then can we begin to imagine where public education might be heading under Arne Duncan, and whether his vision represents the kind of "change" that will bring our students meaningfully in line with the rest of the world.

The Militarization of Secondary Education

Today, the flagship projects in CPS's militarization are its five military academies, affiliated with either the Army, Navy, or Marines. All students - or cadets, as they're known - attending one of these schools are required to enroll as well in the academy's Junior ROTC program. That means cadets must wear full military uniforms to school everyday, and undergo daily uniform inspections. As part of the academy's curriculum, they must also take a daily ROTC course focusing on military history, map reading and navigation, drug prevention, and the branches of the Department of Defense.

Cadets can practice marching on an academy's drill team, learn the proper way to fire a weapon on the rifle team, and choose to attend extracurricular spring or summer military training sessions. At the Phoenix Military Academy, cadets are even organized into an academy battalion, modeled on an Army infantry division battalion, in which upper-class cadets fill the leading roles of commander, executive officer, and sergeant major.

In addition, military personnel from the U.S. armed services teach alongside regular teachers in each academy, and also fill administrative roles such as academy "commandants." Three of these military academies were created in part with Department of Defense appropriations - funds secured by Illinois lawmakers - and when the proposed Air Force Academy High School opens this fall, CPS will be the only public school system in the country with Air Force, Army, Navy, and Marine Corps high school academies.

CPS also boasts almost three dozen smaller Junior ROTC programs within existing high schools that students can opt to join, and over 20 voluntary middle school Junior ROTC programs. All told, between the academies and the voluntary Junior ROTC programs, more than 10,000 students are enrolled in a military education program of some sort in the CPS system. Officials like Duncan and Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley justify the need for the military academies by claiming they do a superlative job teaching students discipline and providing them with character-building opportunities. "These are positive learning environments," Duncan said in 2007. "I love the sense of leadership. I love the sense of discipline."

Without a doubt, teaching students about discipline and leadership is an important aspect of being an educator. But is the full-scale uniformed culture of the military actually necessary to impart these values? A student who learns to play the cello, who studies how to read music, will learn discipline too, without a military-themed learning environment. In addition, encouraging students to be critical thinkers, to question accepted beliefs and norms, remains key to a teacher's role at any grade level. The military's culture of uniformity and discipline, important as it may be for an army, hardly aligns with these pedagogical values.

Of no less concern are the types of students Chicago's military academies are trying to attract. All of CPS's military academies (except the Rickover Naval Academy) are located in low-income neighborhoods with primarily black and/or Hispanic residents. As a result, student enrollment in the academies consists almost entirely of minorities. Whites, who already represent a mere 9% of the students in the Chicago system, make up only 4% of the students enrolled in the military academies.

There is obviously a correlation between these low-income, minority communities, the military academies being established in them, and the long-term recruitment needs of the U.S. military. The schools essentially functional as recruiting tools, despite the expectable military disclaimers. The Chicago Tribune typically reported in 1999 that the creation of the system's first military school in the historically black community of Bronzeville grew, in part, out of "a desire for the military to increase the pool of minority candidates for its academies." And before the House Armed Services Committee in 2000, the armed services chiefs of staff testified that 30%-50% of all Junior ROTC cadets later enlist in the military. Organizations opposing the military's growing presence in public schools insist that it's no mistake the number of military academies in Chicago is on the rise at a time when the U.S. military has had difficulty meeting its recruitment targets while fighting two unpopular wars.

It seems clear enough that, when it comes to the militarization of the Chicago school system, whatever Duncan's goals, the results are likely to be only partly "educational."

Merging the Market and the Classroom

While discussing his nomination, President-elect Obama praised the fact that Duncan isn't "beholden to any one ideology." A closer examination of his career in education, however, suggests otherwise. As Chicago's chief executive officer (not to be confused with CPS's chief education officer), Duncan ran his district in a most businesslike manner. As he put it in a 2003 profile in Catalyst Chicago, an independent magazine that covers education reform, "We're in the business of education." And indeed, managing the country's third-largest school system does require sharp business acumen. But what's evident from Duncan's seven years in charge is his belief that the business of education should, first and foremost, embrace the logic of the free market and privatization.

Duncan's belief in privatizing public education can be most clearly seen in Chicago's Renaissance 2010 plan, the centerpiece of his time in that city. Designed by corporate consulting firm A.T. Kearney and backed by the Commercial Club of Chicago, an organization representing some of the city's largest businesses, Renaissance 2010 has pushed hard for the closing of underperforming schools - to be replaced by multiple new, smaller, "entrepreneurial" schools. Under the plan, many of the new institutions established have been privatized charter or "contract" schools run by independent nonprofit outfits. They, then, turn out to have the option of contracting school management out to for-profit education management organizations. In addition, Renaissance 2010 charter schools, not being subject to state laws and district initiatives, can - as many have - eliminate the teachers' union altogether.

Under Duncan's leadership, CPS and Renaissance 2010 schools have adopted a performance-driven style of governance in which well-run schools and their teachers and administrators are rewarded, and low-performing schools are penalized. As Catalyst Chicago reported, "Star schools and principals have been granted more flexibility and autonomy, and often financial freedom and bonus pay." Low-performing schools put on probation, on the other hand, "have little say over how they can spend poverty funding, an area otherwise controlled by elected local school councils [Local school councils] at struggling schools have also lost the right to hire or fire principals - restrictions that have outraged some parent activists."

Students as well as teachers and principals are experiencing firsthand the impact of Duncan's belief in competition and incentive-based learning. This fall, the Chicago Public Schools rolled out a Green for Grade$ program in which the district will pay freshmen at 20 selected high schools for good grades - $50 in cash for an A, $35 for a B, and even $20 for a C. Though students not surprisingly say they support the program - what student wouldn't want to get paid for grades? - critics contend that cash-for-grades incentives, which stir interest in learning for all the wrong reasons, turn being educated into a job.

Duncan's rhetoric offers a good sense of what his business-minded approach and support for bringing free-market ideologies into public education means. At a May 2008 symposium hosted by the Renaissance Schools Fund, the nonprofit financial arm of Renaissance 2010, entitled "Free to Choose, Free to Succeed: The New Market of Public Education," Duncan typically compared his job running a school district to that of a stock portfolio manager. As he explained, "I am not a manager of 600 schools. I'm a portfolio manager of 600 schools and I'm trying to improve the portfolio." He would later add, "We're trying to blur the lines between the public and the private." A Top-Down Leadership Style

Barack Obama built his campaign on impressive grassroots support and the democratic nature of his candidacy. Judging by his continued outreach to supporters, he seems intent on leading, at least in part, with the same bottom-up style. Duncan's style couldn't be more different.

Under Duncan, the critical voices of parents, community leaders, students, and teachers regularly fell on deaf ears. As described by University of Illinois at Chicago professor and education activist Pauline Lipman in the journal Educational Policy in 2007, Renaissance 2010 provoked striking resistance within affected communities and neighborhoods. There were heated community hearings and similarly angry testimony at Board of Education meetings, as well as door-to-door organizing, picketing, and even, at one point, a student walk-out.

"The opposition," Lipman wrote, "brought together unions, teachers, students, school reformers, community leaders and organizations, parents in African American South and West Side communities, and some Latino community activists and teachers." Yet, as she pointed out recently, mounting neighborhood opposition had little effect. "I'm pretty in tune with the grassroots activism in education in Chicago," she said, "and people are uniformly opposed to these policies, and uniformly feel that they have no voice."

During Duncan's tenure, decision-making responsibilities that once belonged to elected officials shifted into the hands of unelected individuals handpicked by the city's corporate or political elite. For instance, elected local school councils, made up mostly of parents and community leaders, are to be scaled back or eliminated altogether as part of Renaissance 2010. Now, many new schools can simply opt out of such councils.

Then there's the Renaissance Schools Fund. It oversees the selection and evaluation of new schools and subsequent investment in them. Made up of unelected business leaders, the CEO of the system, and the Chicago Board of Education president, the Fund takes the money it raises and makes schools compete against each other for limited private funding. It has typically been criticized by community leaders and activists for being an opaque, unaccountable body indifferent to the will of Chicago's citizens.

Making the Grade?

Despite his controversial educational policies, Duncan's supporters ultimately contend that, as the CEO of Chicago's schools, he's gotten results where it matters - test scores. An objective, easily quantifiable yet imperfect measure of student learning, test scores have indeed improved in several areas under Duncan (though many attribute this to lowered statewide testing standards and more lenient testing guidelines). Between 2001 and 2008, for instance, the percentage of elementary school students meeting or exceeding standards on the Illinois Standards Achievement Test increased from 39.5% to 65%. The number of CPS students meeting or exceeding the Illinois Learning Standards, another statewide secondary education achievement assessment, also increased from 38% in 2002 to 60% in 2008.

When measured on a national scale, however, Duncan's record looks a lot less impressive. In comparison to other major urban school districts (including Los Angeles, Boston, New York City, and Washington, D.C.) in the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or "The Nation's Report Card," Chicago fourth and eighth graders ranked, with only one exception, in the bottom half of all districts in math, reading, and science in 2003, 2005 and 2007. In addition, from 2004 to 2008, the Chicago Public Schools district failed to make "adequate yearly progress" as mandated by the Bush administration's No Child Left Behind Act.

Even if Duncan's policies do continue to boost test scores in coming years, the question must be asked: At whose expense? In a competition-driven educational system, some schools will, of course, succeed, receiving more funding and so hiring the most talented teachers. At the same time, schools that aren't "performing" will be put on probation, stripped of their autonomy, and possibly closed, only to be reopened as privately-run outfits - or even handed over to the military. The highest achieving students (that is, the best test-takers) will have access to the most up-to-date facilities, advanced equipment, and academic support programs; struggling students will likely be left behind, separate and unequal, stuck in decrepit classrooms and underfunded schools.

Public education is not meant to be a win-lose, us-versus-them system, nor is it meant to be a recruitment system for the military - and yet this, it seems, is at the heart of Duncan's legacy in Chicago, and so a reasonable indication of the kind of "reform" he's likely to bring to the country as education secretary.
(c) 2009 Andy Kroll is a writer based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and a student at the University of Michigan. His writing has appeared at the Nation Online, Alternet, CNN, CBS News, CampusProgress.org, and Wiretap Magazine, among other publications. He welcomes feedback, and can be reached at his website.







That's It?
If Bushies Escape Justice, What's Left of the U.S.?
By Ted Rall

NEW YORK--That's it? Bush moves back to Texas to dote on his presidential library--while drawing a $197,000 pension? Cheney goes back to Wyoming to fish and work on his memoirs? After committing crimes so numerous and monstrous that bookshelves are already groaning under their weight, the cabal of illegitimate coup leaders who destroyed the U.S. get to tiptoe out of the rubble and go home to a comfortable retirement?

Earlier this week a senior Pentagon prosecutor openly admitted what has long been known: torture, the lowest and most criminal act any society can sanction, is official U.S. policy. "His treatment met the legal definition of torture," Judge Susan Crawford told The Washington Post about the alleged "20th hijacker" on 9/11, now being held at Gitmo. The man was so brutalized, Crawford decided, that he could not be charged in court. The same is true of many of those being held at the Guant∑namo concentration camp.

None of the Bush Administration officials responsible has faced the slightest inconvenience as the result of his actions.

Donald Rumsfeld, the beast who promoted, botched and joked about a war that has killed more than a million innocent Iraqis, spent the last year as a "distinguished visiting fellow" at Stanford, cogitating about "issues pertaining to ideology and terror."

John Yoo, the Justice Department hack who wrote the memos that authorized U.S. military and intelligence personnel to torture prisoners of war, is enjoying the cozy ambiance of academe as a UC Berkeley law professor.

Colin Powell, whose 2003 lie to the U.N. ("there can be no doubt that Saddam Hussein has biological weapons and the capability to rapidly produce more, many more") convinced Americans who were still on the fence to support the invasion of Iraq--a misbegotten project that drove the last nail in the coffin of the U.S. economy--wiles away his days attending the meetings of various corporate boards.

If you were expecting Barack Obama to deliver justice, forget it. "I don't believe that anybody is above the law. On the other hand, I also have a belief that we need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards," Obama said recently. "Look forward" is Beltwayese for "no accountability."

Obama went on to assure the men and women who tortured innocent detainees to death that no one will ever bother them about their war crimes. "And part of my job is to make sure that for example at the CIA, you've got extraordinarily talented people who are working very hard to keep Americans safe. I don't want them to suddenly feel like they've got to spend all their time looking over their shoulders and lawyering up."

Is this what we've come to? Have Americans become so morally depraved that we condone this level of lawlessness? Have we become so weak and helpless in the face of unconscionable violations of the Bill of Rights--torture, government spies listening to our phone calls, starting wars against countries that never hurt us, looting the treasury--that we just "look forward"?

So much for the land of the free and the brave. See you around, nation of laws.

The meltdown at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, historians say, brought down the Soviet government by exposing its incompetence and powerlessness. Poor design and disaster response turned the accident into a disaster. The regime's inability to contain the problem and successfully cover it up highlighted its impotence.

"The Chernobyl catastrophe," wrote Philip Taubman in The New York Times in 1996, "was a manifestation of the political, moral and technological rot that was metastasizing in the Soviet system and would soon kill it." People stopped believing in the USSR. Then they stopped fearing it.

Should the United States collapse, historians will likely point to two events: 9/11 and Katrina. 9/11 proved the U.S. was a paper tiger, an aggressive power that can blow up the world with nuclear weapons yet can't scramble a single fighter jet to stop 19 idiots with boxcutters. The inept response to the hurricane that destroyed New Orleans was incompetence personified. The American people don't think the U.S. government cares about them. Even worse, they doubt the government could help them if it wanted to.

With the American government exposed as stupid and weak, all that remains is the American ideal: the 232-year-old democratic experiment that began with the idea that we are all equal under the law and that all human beings enjoy a set of inherent, inalienable rights--even "enemy combatants" and illegal immigrants.

If we fail to hold the elites who seized the presidency in a 2000 judicial coup d'»tat to account, if we say torture is no big deal, if we don't imprison men who lied and conspired to murder more than one million Iraqis and Afghans and Americans and countless others, if we let these individuals golf and fish and deliver lectures to young people as if they have done nothing wrong, then such horrors will happen again and again. I want would-be torturers to "look over their shoulders." I want them to second-guess themselves.

Even worse than that: If we don't prosecute Bush and Cheney and Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld and Yoo and Rice and Powell and scores of other top Bush officials who took part in the destruction of fundamental American values, there will be nothing--not even an idea--left of the United States.
(c) 2009 Ted Rall is the author of the new book "Silk Road to Ruin: Is Central Asia the New Middle East?" an in-depth prose and graphic novel analysis of America's next big foreign policy challenge.)







A Letter To The New President
What Obama must do.
By Paul Krugman

Dear Mr. President:

Like FDR three-quarters of a century ago, you're taking charge at a moment when all the old certainties have vanished, all the conventional wisdom been proved wrong. We're not living in a world you or anyone else expected to see. Many presidents have to deal with crises, but very few have been forced to deal from Day One with a crisis on the scale America now faces.

So, what should you do?

In this letter I won't try to offer advice about everything. For the most part I'll stick to economics, or matters that bear on economics. I'll also focus on things I think you can or should achieve in your first year in office. The extent to which your administration succeeds or fails will depend, to a large extent, on what happens in the first year - and above all, on whether you manage to get a grip on the current economic crisis.

The Economic Crisis

How bad is the economic outlook? Worse than almost anyone imagined.

The economic growth of the Bush years, such as it was, was fueled by an explosion of private debt; now credit markets are in disarray, businesses and consumers are pulling back and the economy is in free-fall. What we're facing, in essence, is a yawning job gap. The U.S. economy needs to add more than a million jobs a year just to keep up with a growing population. Even before the crisis, job growth under Bush averaged only 800,000 a year - and over the past year, instead of gaining a million-plus jobs, we lost 2 million. Today we're continuing to lose jobs at the rate of a half million a month.

There's nothing in either the data or the underlying situation to suggest that the plunge in employment will slow anytime soon, which means that by late this year we could be 10 million or more jobs short of where we should be. This, in turn, would mean an unemployment rate of more than nine percent. Add in those who aren't counted in the standard rate because they've given up looking for work, plus those forced to take part-time jobs when they want to work full-time, and we're probably looking at a real-world unemployment rate of around 15 percent - more than 20 million Americans frustrated in their efforts to find work.

The human cost of a slump that severe would be enormous. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a nonpartisan research group that analyzes government programs, recently estimated the effects of a rise in the unemployment rate to nine percent - a worst-case scenario that now seems all too likely. So what will happen if unemployment rises to nine percent or more? As many as 10 million middle-class Americans would be pushed into poverty, and another 6 million would be pushed into "deep poverty," the severe deprivation that happens when your income is less than half the poverty level. Many of the Americans losing their jobs would lose their health insurance too, worsening the already grim state of U.S. health care and crowding emergency rooms with those who have nowhere else to go. Meanwhile, millions more Americans would lose their homes. State and local governments, deprived of much of their revenue, would have to cut back on even the most essential services.

If things continue on their current trajectory, Mr. President, we will soon be facing a great national catastrophe. And it's your job - a job no other president has had to do since World War II - to head off that catastrophe.

Wait a second, you may say. Didn't other presidents also face troubled economies? Yes, they did - but when it came to economic policy, your predecessors weren't actually running the show. For the past half century the Federal Reserve - a more or less independent institution, run by technocrats and deliberately designed to be independent of whoever happens to occupy the White House - has been taking care of day-to-day, and even year-to-year, economic management. Your fellow presidents were just along for the ride.

Remember the economic boom of 1984, which let Ronald Reagan run on the slogan "It's morning again in America?" Well, Reagan had absolutely nothing to do with that boom. It was, instead, the work of Paul Volcker, whom Jimmy Carter appointed as chairman of the Federal Reserve Board in 1979 (and who's now the head of your economic advisory panel). First Volcker broke the back of inflation, at the cost of a recession that probably doomed Carter's re-election chances in 1980. Then Volcker engineered an economic bounce-back. In effect, Reagan dressed up in a flight suit and pretended to be a hotshot economic pilot, but Volcker was the guy who actually flew the plane and landed it safely.

You, on the other hand, have to pull this plane out of its nose dive yourself, because the Fed has lost its mojo.

Compare the situation right now with the one back in the 1980s, when Volcker turned the economy around. All the Fed had to do back then was print a bunch of dollars (OK, it actually credited the money to the accounts of private banks, but it amounts to the same thing) and then use those dollars to buy up U.S. government debt. This drove interest rates down: When Volcker decided that the economy needed a pick-me-up, he was quickly able to drive the interest rate on Treasury bills from 13 percent down to eight percent. Lower interest rates on government debt, in turn, quickly drove down rates on mortgages and business borrowing. People started spending again, and within a few months the economy had gone from slump to boom. Economists call this process - from the Fed's decision to print more money to the resulting pickup in spending, jobs and incomes - the "monetary transmission mechanism." And in the 1980s that mechanism worked just fine.

This time, however, the transmission mechanism is broken.

First of all, while the Fed can still print money, it can't drive interest rates down. Why? Because those interest rates are already about as low as they can go. As I write this letter, the interest rate on Treasury bills is 0.005 percent - that is, zero. And you can't push rates lower than that. Now, you might think that zero interest rates would lead to an orgy of borrowing. But while the U.S. government can borrow money for free, the rest of us can't. Fear rules the financial markets, so over the past year and a half, as the interest rates on government debt have plunged, the interest rates that Main Street has to pay have mostly gone up. In particular, many businesses are paying much higher interest rates now than they were a year and a half ago, before the Fed started cutting. And they're lucky compared to the many businesses that can't get credit at all.

Besides, even if more people could borrow, would they really want to spend? There's a glut of unsold homes on the market, so there's very little incentive to build more houses, no matter how low mortgage rates go. The same goes for business investment: With office buildings standing empty, shopping malls begging for tenants and factories sitting idle, who wants to spend on new capacity? And with workers everywhere worried about job security, people trying to save a few dollars may stampede into stores that offer deep discounts, but not many people want to buy the big-ticket items, like cars, that normally fuel an economic recovery.

So as I said, the Fed has lost its mojo. Ben Bernanke and his colleagues are trying everything they can think of to unfreeze the credit markets - the alphabet soup of new "lending facilities," with acronyms nobody can remember, is growing by the hour. Any day now, the joke goes, everyone will have a Visa card bearing the Fed logo. But at best, all this activity only serves to limit the damage. There's no realistic prospect that the Fed can pull the economy out of its nose dive.

So it's up to you.

Rescuing the Economy

The last president to face a similar mess was Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and you can learn a lot from his example. That doesn't mean, however, that you should do everything FDR did. On the contrary, you have to take care to emulate his successes, but avoid repeating his mistakes.

About those successes: The way FDR dealt with his own era's financial mess offers a very good model. Then, as now, the government had to deploy taxpayer money in order to rescue the financial system. In particular, the Reconstruction Finance Corporation initially played a role similar to that of the Bush administration's Troubled Assets Relief Program (the $700 billion program everyone knows about). Like the TARP, the RFC bulked up the cash position of troubled banks by using public funds to buy up stock in those banks.

There was, however, a big difference between FDR's approach to taxpayer-subsidized financial rescue and that of the Bush administration: Namely, FDR wasn't shy about demanding that the public's money be used to serve the public good. By 1935 the U.S. government owned about a third of the banking system, and the Roosevelt administration used that ownership stake to insist that banks actually help the economy, pressuring them to lend out the money they were getting from Washington. Beyond that, the New Deal went out and lent a lot of money directly to businesses, to home buyers and to people who already owned homes, helping them restructure their mortgages so they could stay in their houses.

Can you do anything like that today? Yes, you can. The Bush administration may have refused to attach any strings to the aid it has provided to financial firms, but you can change all that. If banks need federal funds to survive, provide them - but demand that the banks do their part by lending those funds out to the rest of the economy. Provide more help to homeowners. Use Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the home-lending agencies, to pass the government's low borrowing costs on to qualified home buyers. (Fannie and Freddie were seized by federal regulators in September, but the Bush administration, bizarrely, has kept their borrowing costs high by refusing to declare that their bonds are backed by the full faith and credit of the taxpayer.)

Conservatives will accuse you of nationalizing the financial system, and some will call you a Marxist. (It happens to me all the time.) And the truth is that you will, in a way, be engaging in temporary nationalization. But that's OK: In the long run we don't want the government running financial institutions, but for now we need to do whatever it takes to get credit flowing again.

All of this will help - but not enough. By all means you should try to fix the problems of banks and other financial institutions. But to pull the economy out of its slide, you need to go beyond funneling money to banks and other financial institutions. You need to give the real economy of work and wages a boost. In other words, you have to get job creation right - which FDR never did.

This may sound like a strange thing to say. After all, what we remember from the 1930s is the Works Progress Administration, which at its peak employed millions of Americans building roads, schools and dams. But the New Deal's job-creation programs, while they certainly helped, were neither big enough nor sustained enough to end the Great Depression. When the economy is deeply depressed, you have to put normal concerns about budget deficits aside; FDR never managed to do that. As a result, he was too cautious: The boost he gave the economy between 1933 and 1936 was enough to get unemployment down, but not back to pre-Depression levels. And in 1937 he let the deficit worriers get to him: Even though the economy was still weak, he let himself be talked into slashing spending while raising taxes. This led to a severe recession that undid much of the progress the economy had made to that point. It took the giant public works project known as World War II - a project that finally silenced the penny pinchers - to bring the Depression to an end.

The lesson from FDR's limited success on the employment front, then, is that you have to be really bold in your job-creation plans. Basically, businesses and consumers are cutting way back on spending, leaving the economy with a huge shortfall in demand, which will lead to a huge fall in employment - unless you stop it. To stop it, however, you have to spend enough to fill the hole left by the private sector's retrenchment.

How much spending are we talking about? You might want to be seated before you read this. OK, here goes: "Full employment" means a jobless rate of five percent at most, and probably less. Meanwhile, we're currently on a trajectory that will push the unemployment rate to nine percent or more. Even the most optimistic estimates suggest that it takes at least $200 billion a year in government spending to cut the unemployment rate by one percentage point. Do the math: You probably have to spend $800 billion a year to achieve a full economic recovery. Anything less than $500 billion a year will be much too little to produce an economic turnaround.

Spending on that scale, at a time when the weakening economy is driving down tax collection, will produce some really scary deficit numbers. But the consequences of too much caution - of a failure on your part to do enough to stop the economy's nose dive - will be even scarier than the coming ocean of red ink.

In fact, the biggest problem you're going to face as you try to rescue the economy will be finding enough job-creation projects that can be started quickly. Traditional WPA-type programs - spending on roads, government buildings, ports and other infrastructure - are a very effective tool for creating employment. But America probably has less than $150 billion worth of such projects that are "shovel-ready" right now, projects that can be started in six months or less. So you'll have to be creative: You'll have to find lots of other ways to push funds into the economy.

As much as possible, you should spend on things of lasting value, things that, like roads and bridges, will make us a richer nation. Upgrade the infrastructure behind the Internet; upgrade the electrical grid; improve information technology in the health care sector, a crucial part of any health care reform. Provide aid to state and local governments, to prevent them from cutting investment spending at precisely the wrong moment. And remember, as you do this, that all this spending does double duty: It serves the future, but it also helps in the present, by providing jobs and income to offset the slump.

You can also do well by doing good. The Americans hit hardest by the slump - the long-term unemployed, families without health insurance - are also the Americans most likely to spend any aid they receive, and thereby help sustain the economy as a whole. So aid to the distressed - enhanced unemployment insurance, food stamps, health-insurance subsidies - is both the fair thing to do and a desirable part of your short-term economic plan.

Even if you do all this, however, it won't be enough to offset the awesome slump in private spending. So yes, it also makes sense to cut taxes on a temporary basis. The tax cuts should go primarily to lower- and middle-income Americans - again, both because that's the fair thing to do, and because they're more likely to spend their windfall than the affluent. The tax break for working families you outlined in your campaign plan looks like a reasonable vehicle.

But let's be clear: Tax cuts are not the tool of choice for fighting an economic slump. For one thing, they deliver less bang for the buck than infrastructure spending, because there's no guarantee that consumers will spend their tax cuts or rebates. As a result, it probably takes more than $300 billion of tax cuts, compared with $200 billion of public works, to shave a point off the unemployment rate. Furthermore, in the long run you're going to need more tax revenue, not less, to pay for health care reform. So tax cuts shouldn't be the core of your economic recovery program. They should, instead, be a way to "bulk up" your job-creation program, which otherwise won't be big enough.

Now my honest opinion is that even with all this, you won't be able to prevent 2009 from being a very bad year. If you manage to keep the unemployment rate from going above eight percent, I'll consider that a major success. But by 2010 you should be able to have the economy on the road to recovery. What should you do to prepare for that recovery?

Beyond the Crisis

Crisis management is one thing, but America needs much more than that. FDR rebuilt America not just by getting us through depression and war, but by making us a more just and secure society. On one side, he created social-insurance programs, above all Social Security, that protect working Americans to this day. On the other, he oversaw the creation of a much more equal economy, creating a middle-class society that lasted for decades, until conservative economic policies ushered in the new age of inequality that prevails today. You have a chance to emulate FDR's achievements, and the ultimate judgment on your presidency will rest on whether you seize that chance.

The biggest, most important legacy you can leave to the nation will be to give us, finally, what every other advanced nation already has: guaranteed health care for all our citizens. The current crisis has given us an object lesson in the need for universal health care, in two ways. It has highlighted the vulnerability of Americans whose health insurance is tied to jobs that can so easily disappear. And it has made it clear that our current system is bad for business, too - the Big Three automakers wouldn't be in nearly as much trouble if they weren't trying to pay the medical bills of their former employees as well as their current workers. You have a mandate for change; the economic crisis has shown just how much the system needs change. So now is the time to pass legislation establishing a system that covers everyone.

What should this system look like? Some progressives insist that we should move immediately to a single-payer system - Medicare for all. Although this would be both the fairest and most efficient way to ensure that all Americans get the health care they need, let's be frank: Single-payer probably isn't politically achievable right now, simply because it would represent too great a change. At least at first, Americans who have good private health insurance will be reluctant to trade that insurance for a public program, even if that program will ultimately prove better.

So the thing to do in your first year in office is pass a compromise plan - one that establishes, for the first time, the principle of universal access to care. Your campaign proposals provide the blueprint. Let people keep their private insurance if they choose, subsidize insurance for lower-income families, require that all children be covered, and give everyone the option to buy into a public plan - one that will probably end up being cheaper and better than private insurance. Pass legislation doing all that, and we'll have universal health coverage up and running by the end of your first term. And that will be an achievement that, like FDR's creation of Social Security, will permanently change America for the better.

All this will cost money, mainly to pay for those insurance subsidies, and some people will tell you that the nation can't afford major health care reform given the costs of the economic recovery program. Let's talk about why you should ignore the naysayers.

First, let's put the costs of the economic-recovery program in perspective. It's possible that reviving the economy might cost as much as a trillion dollars over the course of your first term. But the Bush administration wasted at least twice that much on an unnecessary war and tax cuts for the wealthiest; the recovery plan will be intense but temporary, and won't place all that much burden on future budgets. Put it this way: With long-term federal debt paying the lowest interest rates in half a century, the interest costs on a trillion dollars in new debt will amount to only $30 billion a year, about 1.2 percent of the current federal budget.

Second, there's good reason to believe that health care reform will save money in the long run. Our system isn't just full of holes in coverage, it's also grossly inefficient, with huge bureaucratic costs - such as the immense resources that insurance companies devote to making sure they don't cover the people who need health care the most. And under a universal system it will be much easier to use our health care dollars wisely, to spend money only on medical procedures that work and not on those that don't. Since rising health care costs are the main source of the grim, long-run projections for the federal budget, the truth is that we can't afford not to move forward on health care reform.

And let's not ignore the long-term political effects. Back in 1993, when the Clintons tried and failed to create a universal health care system, Republican strategists like William Kristol (now my colleague at The New York Times) urged their party to oppose any reform on political grounds; they argued that a successful health care program, by conveying the message that government can actually serve the public interest, would fundamentally shift American politics in a progressive direction. They were right - and the same considerations that made conservatives so opposed to health care reform should make you determined to make it happen.

Universal health care, then, should be your biggest priority after rescuing the economy. Providing coverage for all Americans can be for your administration what Social Security was for the New Deal. But the New Deal achieved something else: It made America a middle-class society. Under FDR, America went through what labor historians call the Great Compression, a dramatic rise in wages for ordinary workers that greatly reduced income inequality. Before the Great Compression, America was a society of rich and poor; afterward it was a society in which most people, rightly, considered themselves middle class. It may be hard to match that achievement today, but you can, at least, move the country in the right direction.

What caused the Great Compression? That's a complicated story, but one important factor was the rise of organized labor: Union membership tripled between 1935 and 1945. Unions not only negotiated better wages for their own members, they also enhanced the bargaining power of workers throughout the economy. At the time, conservatives warned that wage gains would have disastrous economic effects - that the rise of unions would cripple employment and economic growth. But in fact, the Great Compression was followed by the great postwar boom, which doubled American living standards over the course of a generation.

Unfortunately, the Great Compression was reversed starting in the 1970s, as American workers once again lost much of their bargaining power. This loss was partly due to changes in the world economy, as major U.S. manufacturing corporations started facing more international competition. But it also had a lot to do with politics, as first the Reagan administration, then the Bush administration, did all they could to undermine the ability of workers to organize.

You can make a start on reversing that process. Clearly, you won't be able to oversee a tripling of union membership anytime soon. But you can do a lot to enhance workers' rights. One is to start laying the groundwork to pass the Employee Free Choice Act, which would make it much harder for employers to intimidate workers who want to join a union. I know it probably won't happen in your first year, but if and when it does, the legislation will enable America to take a huge step toward recapturing the middle-class society we've lost.

Truth & Reconciliation

There are many other issues you'll need to deal with, of course. In particular, I haven't said a word about environmental policy, which is ultimately the most important issue of all. That's because I suspect that it won't be possible to pass a comprehensive plan for dealing with climate change in your first year. By all means, put as much environmentally friendly investment as possible - such as spending to enhance energy efficiency - into the initial recovery plan. But I'm guessing that 2009 won't be the year to introduce cap-and-trade measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. If I'm wrong, that's great - but I'm not counting on big environmental policy moves right away.

I also haven't said anything about foreign policy. Your team is well aware of the need to wind down the war in Iraq - which is, by the way, costing about as much each year as the insurance subsidies we need to implement universal health care. You're also aware of the need to find the least bad solution for the mess in Afghanistan. And I don't even want to think about Pakistan - but you have to. Good luck.

There is, however, one area where I feel the need to break discipline. I'm an economist, but I'm also an American citizen - and like many citizens, I spent the past eight years watching in horror as the Bush administration betrayed the nation's ideals. And I don't believe we can put those terrible years behind us unless we have a full accounting of what really happened. I know that most of the inside-the-Beltway crowd is urging you to let bygones be bygones, just as they urged Bill Clinton to let the truth about scandals from the Reagan-Bush years, in particular the Iran-Contra affair, remain hidden. But we know how that turned out: The same people who abused power in the name of national security 20 years ago returned as part of the team that, under the second George Bush, did it all over again, on a much larger scale. It was an object lesson in the truth of George Santayana's dictum: Those who refuse to learn from the past are condemned to repeat it.

That's why this time we need a full accounting. Not a witch hunt, maybe not even prosecutions, but something like the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that helped South Africa come to terms with what happened under apartheid. We need to know how America ended up fighting a war to eliminate nonexistent weapons, how torture became a routine instrument of U.S. policy, how the Justice Department became an instrument of political persecution, how brazen corruption flourished not only in Iraq, but throughout Congress and the administration. We know that these evils were not, whatever the apologists say, the result of honest error or a few bad apples: The White House created a climate in which abuse became commonplace, and in many cases probably took the lead in instigating these abuses. But it's not enough to leave this reality in the realm of things "everybody knows" - because soon enough they'll be denied or forgotten, and the cycle of abuse will begin again. The whole sordid tale needs to be brought out into the sunlight.

It's probably best if Congress takes the lead in investigations of the Bush years, but your administration can do its part, both by not using its influence to discourage the investigations and by bringing an end to the Bush administration's stonewalling. Let Congress have access to records and witnesses, and let the truth be told.

That said, the future is what matters most. This month we celebrate your arrival in the White House; at a time of great national crisis, you bring the hope of a better future. It's now up to you to deliver on that hope. By enacting a recovery plan even bolder and more comprehensive than the New Deal, you can not only turn the economy around - you can put America on a path toward greater equality for generations to come.

Respectfully,

Paul Krugman
(c) 2009 Paul Krugman --- The New York Times







Big Party, Small Change: Baby, We Were Born To Run...The Empire
By Chris Floyd

I understand there's a big party going on in Washington this week, where hundreds of thousands of people are gathering to celebrate Bob Gates' retention as Pentagon chief. I mean, that is what this shindig is all about, isn't it? Hope and.... continuity? [See Arthur Silber for more.]

We've got Bush's man still driving the war machine, we've got Bush's generals still waging the "War on Terror" all over the world. We've got a president who is eager to spend his "political capital" on slashing "entitlements," because everyone must sacrifice, everybody's "going to have to have some skin in this game" -- everyone, that is, except for the president's Wall Street backers, who are about to receive yet another tranche of billions of taxpayer dollars in what they are now calling openly -- and rightly -- "opportunity funding." We've got a president honoring homophobic right-wing preachers who urge their followers to imitate the mindless zeal of Nazis and Bolsheviks in doing "whatever it takes" to establish Christianist dominion. We've got a president whose education chief believes in turning over the teaching of America's children to corporations -- and the military. We've even got a president who follows Dick Cheney's "good advice" on interrogating Terror War captives.

It seems like the only place you can find "change" in Washington these days is in the cup of a street beggar, left homeless and jobless in the great bankrupting of the nation by Wall Street and the war machine.

(Both of which, by the way, gave more money to Obama than to John McCain. Meanwhile, McCain himself has become an honored, closely consulted advisor for Obama, whose appointees must scurry to allay any concerns McCain might have about them, as the New York Times reports. Oh, did you vote for Obama to keep McCain's cockamamie notions out of the White House? Too bad.)

So when those hundreds of thousands of people gather on Tuesday to watch Barack Obama sworn in on the very site of the famous civil rights rally led by Martin Luther King Jr. -- who was assassinated after he began denouncing the American war machine (see this, via Silber) -- the revelers can take great comfort in the knowledge that this same war machine is still in the hands of the same militarist faction that has served us so well for so long. What's more, Obama is going to enlarge the war machine (via antiwar.com) and expand its noble mission of honeycombing the globe with bristling bases and secret prisons, promising to use force "unilaterally if necessary" not only against attacks but also against undefined "imminent threats." (Like Saddam's nuclear-armed, intercontinental robot drones, perhaps.)

Sounds great, doesn't it? Hey, maybe Bruce Springsteen -- one of the many progressive paladins who have come over all verklempt about Obama -- can write a song about it:

Every day we live it up on the wings of a trillion-dollar killing machine
Where bombers swoop and the natives droop when their children start to scream
Sprung from bays that overflow with death
The Willy Pete scalds 'em till their last, harsh, anguished breath
Baby this town gives you big contracts
It's a golden goose, you don't pay no tax
And Barry, he's so cool
Oh, champs like us, baby, we were born to rule......
(c) 2009 Chris Floyd







Chrysalis Nutritionist Stephen Heuer Arrested By Federal Marshalls In FDA Raid
By Mike Adams

(NaturalNews) Both the FTC and FDA are turning up the heat on nutrition-oriented companies and websites, resorting to arrests at gunpoint to enforce "nutritional illiteracy" across America by imprisoning those who accurately describe the health benefits of nutritional products they sell.

It was only days ago that the FTC attacked a church over its dietary supplements. NaturalNews covered the legal battle in a feature article and an exclusive audio interview with health freedom attorney Jim Turner.

The latest victim of this state-sponsored oppression and censorship agenda is Stephen Heuer of Cocoon Nutrition who advertised natural health products as treatments for depression and other health conditions. It remains the position of the FDA that there is no such thing as an herb, vitamin or superfood that has any ability to prevent, treat or cure any disease or health condition whatsoever. (In other words, the FDA ridiculously believes foods and herbs are chemically inert.)

Anyone who accurately describes the biochemical effects of their herbal or nutritional products is immediately branded a criminal by the FDA and subject to arrest at gunpoint. Read the history of FDA raids on vitamin companies here.

NaturalNews contacted Cocoon Nutrition offices and was told that Stephen Heuer had been arrested and detained by U.S. Federal Marshalls. No further comment was available, but we hope to be able to speak with Heuer's attorneys soon to determine the nature of the charges being brought against Heuer.

The truth about health is outlawed in the "land of the free"

Effectively, it is illegal in America to tell the truth about nutritional products that you sell. The statements made by Heuer on the Cocoon Nutrition website are technically factual and accurate. But they are not LEGAL to make in America because Free Speech is routinely oppressed by the FDA and FTC. Telling the truth in America is enough to get you locked up in federal prison; especially if you dare to inform people about natural cures that might take revenues away from the drug companies.

Both the FDA and FTC are now acting as the racket enforcement thugs of Big Pharma. And like any other mob, they use armed personnel to protect their revenue territories. Who will they raid next? Take your pick: It will be a small, family-run health supplement company that lacks the financial resources to fight back. Notice how the FDA won't dare attack the Life Extension Foundation anymore? That's because LEF has the financial resources to stand up for itself. Small, family-run nutritional businesses do not, so they're routinely targeted by FDA thugs for business termination.

A letter sent to customers by Cocoon Nutrition asks for donations to support Heuer's legal defense fund. Here is the full text of that letter:

I regret to inform our customers and close friends that Stephen is being held by the FDA and their goal is to permanently discontinue Chrysalis. He has not committed a single crime and is only guilty of helping thousands of people across the country live healthier happier lives. The government unfortunately will do whatever it takes to protect the pharmaceutical companies and its investors from a product that genuinely threatens their profit margins.

Stephen will be waging war against Federal Agencies because his rights are at stake as well as your freedom to purchase these supplements. He is going to need all the help and encouragement he can get. If any of you are willing and capable to support or donate towards his legal battle, please do so by mail or by calling us at 888-988-3325. Our mailing address is 160 Dewey Road, Greer, SC 29651. Checks or money orders need to be made out to Stephen Heuer. Thank you so much for helping Stephen in his time of need. He hopes to return home soon so he can continue helping each and every one of you to better health.

What will happen next?

I personally have never met Stephen Heuer, and I'm not yet aware of what charges are being brought against him by the FDA, but this raid and arrest are consistent with the secret police-style oppression tactics the FDA has relied on for nearly two decades to eliminate competitors of Big Pharma.

We are witnessing a nutritional knowledge cleansing of America. This has nothing to do with protecting the public, or good science, or product safety. It is 100% based on eliminating the competition for Big Pharma while keeping the public in the dark about natural cures.

Through their actions, FDA officials have revealed themselves to be little more than common thugs hiding behind a federal badge. Even the FDA's own scientists accuse the agency's top decision makers of being outright criminals who place the safety of Americans' lives at risk.

U.S. Federal Marshalls, of course, are so clueless about law and justice that they're arresting all the wrong people! They should turn around and arrest the FDA criminals who are running this illegal monopoly enforcement racket instead of harassing the small family business owners who are trying to offer healing herbs to informed consumers.
(c) 2009 Mike Adams is the editor of Natural News







No Controlled Crash Landing For Us
By Mike Folkerth

Good Morning Middle America, your King of Simple News is on the air.

I've argued for some time that we can give the car companies all the money in the world, but it won't make any difference due to the small problem that they can't sell cars.

It may be a picky issue, but the last time I checked, the "build cars and store them" business model is not all that profitable.

After all, government can't force people to buy cars; right? Well, not exactly. What if the government were to sort of buy a car for you? Or help you to buy a car in order to help the auto industry? Enter the "Cash for Clunkers," program.

Our illustrious representatives, namely Diane Feinstein and Charles Schumer, are sponsoring a bill that would give car owners who trade in gas guzzlers an additional $4500 toward the purchase of a fuel efficient car. Wow, free money and rewards for the ignorant and irresponsible, how good can it get?

Bought a great big old gas guzzler and don't know what to do? Steal money from the folks who bought fuel efficient cars; because they aren't eligible! That's right, if you own an older fuel efficient vehicle, you don't qualify for the program.

The pundits' tout the low, low cost to government (that would be us) of only $1 or $2 Billion per year. It will help to lessen pollution, curb global warming and assist us in becoming less dependent on foreign oil, all while providing stimulus for the auto makers. Well break out the flag and let's all hold hands and sing America the Beautiful.

Where do these people come from? Do the people at the hospital know they have escaped? What's next?

Bought a big expensive utility consuming home? Are taxes and maintenance eating you alive? Does selling your albatross to some other fool seem nearly impossible? We are the government and we are here to help. We will buy your home at your original inflated value, pay to have it torn down, and replace it with a smaller energy efficient home.

This will lower utility consumption, curb global warming, and assist the homebuilders, all in one-fell-swoop. Those who were previously responsible and who own smaller energy efficient homes need not apply.

Why not? Same principal isn't it?

At some point and time, government will hit the proverbial wall where greater increases in debt and taxes are no longer an option. We are well past the point of no return and unlike Captain "Sully" Sullenberger, no attempt at a controlled crash will proceed flying full speed into the side of a mountain.
(c) 2009 Mike Folkerth is not your run-of-the-mill author of economics. Nor does he write in boring lecture style. Not even close. The former real estate broker, developer, private real estate fund manager, auctioneer, Alaskan bush pilot, restaurateur, U.S. Navy veteran, heavy equipment operator, taxi cab driver, fishing guide, horse packer...(I won't go on, it's embarrassing) writes from experience and plain common sense. He is the author of "The Biggest Lie Ever Believed."





The Quotable Quote...



"Should any American soldier be so base and infamous as to injure any [prisoner] I do most earnestly enjoin you to bring him to such severe and exemplary punishment as the enormity of the crime may require. Should it extend to death itself, it will not be disproportional to its guilt at such a time and in such a cause... for by such conduct they bring shame, disgrace and ruin to themselves and their country."
~~~ George Washington, charge to the Northern Expeditionary Force, September 14, 1775 ~~~









So, I asked the UN secretary general, isn't it time for a war crimes tribunal?
By Robert Fisk

Mr Ban said it would not be up to him to launch a war crimes tribunal. It was pathetic

It's a wrap, a doddle, an Israeli ceasefire just in time for Barack Obama to have a squeaky-clean inauguration with all the world looking at the streets of Washington rather than the rubble of Gaza. Condi and Ms Livni thought their new arms-monitoring agreement - reached without a single Arab being involved - would work. Ban Ki-moon welcomed the unilateral truce. The great and the good gathered for a Sharm el-Sheikh summit. Only Hamas itself was not consulted. Which led, of course, to a few wrinkles in the plan. First, before declaring its own ceasefire, Hamas fired off more rockets at Israel, proving that Israel's primary war aim - to stop the missiles - had failed. Then Cairo shrugged off the deal because no one was going to set up electronic surveillance equipment on Egyptian soil. And not one European leader travelling to the region suggested the survivors might be helped if Israel, the EU and the US ended the food and fuel siege of Gaza.

After killing hundreds of women and children, Israel was the good guy again, by declaring a unilateral ceasefire that Hamas was certain to break. But Obama will be smiling on Tuesday. Was not this the reason, after all, why Israel suddenly wanted a truce?

Egypt's objections may be theatre - the US spent £18m last year training Egyptian security men to stop arms smuggling into Gaza and since the US bails out Egypt's economy, ignores the corruption of its regime and goes on backing Hosni Mubarak, there's sure to be a "compromise" very soon.

And Hamas has had its claws cut. Israel's informers in Gaza handed over the locations of its homes and hideouts and the government of Gaza must be wondering if they can ever close down the spy rings. Hamas thought its militia was the Hizbollah - a serious error - and that the world would eventually come to its aid. The world (although not its pompous leaders) felt enormous pity for the Palestinians, but not for the cynical men of Hamas who staged a coup in Gaza in 2007 which killed 151 Palestinians. As usual, the European statesmen appeared hopelessly out of touch with what their own electorates thought.

And history was quite forgotten. The Hamas rockets were the result of the food and fuel siege; Israel broke Hamas's own truce on 4 and 17 November. Forgotten is the fact Hamas won the 2006 elections, although Israel has killed a clutch of the victors.

And there'll be little time for the peacemakers of Sharm el-Sheikh to reflect on the three UN schools targeted by the Israelis and the slaughter of the civilians inside. Poor old Ban Ki-moon. He tried to make his voice heard just before the ceasefire, saying Israel's troops had acted "outrageously" and should be "punished" for the third school killing. Some hope. At a Beirut press conference, he admitted he had failed to get a call through to Israel's Foreign Minister to complain.

It was pathetic. When I asked Mr Ban if he would consider a UN war crimes tribunal in Gaza, he said this would not be for him to "determine." But only a few journalists bothered to listen to him and his officials were quickly folding up the UN flag on the table. About time too. Bring back the League of Nations. All is forgiven.

What no one noticed yesterday - not the Arabs nor the Israelis nor the portentous men from Europe - was that the Sharm el-Sheikh meeting last night was opening on the 90th anniversary - to the day - of the opening of the 1919 Paris peace conference which created the modern Middle East. One of its main topics was "the borders of Palestine." There followed the Versailles Treaty. And we know what happened then. The rest really is history. Bring on the ghosts!
(c) 2009 Robert Fisk --- The Independent







For America Or Israel?
By Frank Scott

After the massacre in Gaza temporarily subsided, an American holiday was celebrated just one day before a historically symbolic new president took power. Neither the massacre nor the holiday received proper attention, and the new president's inauguration was as filled with emotional style as it was empty of material substance.

Martin Luther King has become a symbol for ending America's sordid history of racial discrimination, but little attention is paid to his criticism of capitalism and its bloody international empire. The moving lines of his "I Have A Dream" speech are replayed endlessly, with more attention given those words at the soul of a sermon, rather than the body of its message repeated in many speeches and writings of King's which criticized America's imperial wars as well as its racism.

We're taught to acknowledge words which do not threaten the system itself, but only the way it is exercised. Along with a sanitized King, made to seem as though he only wanted to racially integrate those carrying out social policies he criticized, we have a new CEO showing little sign that the corporation's practice will change in anything but the style, design and color of its usual product.

And our executive is no different from our legislature, as indicated in the shameful performance of a congress that operates as an Israeli Caucus when dealing with Palestine. Of 535 members, only five had the sense and courage to oppose a resolution praising the Jewish apartheid state's slaughter in Gaza, continuing to profess admiration for the colonial horror that has existed for more than sixty years and threatens to engulf more of the world in the bloodshed its racial supremacist immorality provokes.

But a new regime has begun in America, and the hope expressed by millions not only here but the world over is inspiring. Still, for the emotional extravaganza of the inauguration not to be remembered simply as a political Super Bowl with private products consumed at public expense, those inspired by the new leader must take actions that force him into real change. Some progress is to be expected, if only that Bush is gone and we have moved on to a president who couldn't possibly be as bad.

Could he?

This administration has not been placed in power simply by a mass of voters, but by a much smaller number who educated, developed and paid for the candidate's consciousness and service long before he appeared on the ballot. As the slaughter took place in Gaza and was loudly praised here and in Israel, where did Obama stand? Perhaps slightly to the left of Bush, who was slightly to the left of fascism, according to many liberals. What has the agent of change had to say about Israel and the Islamic world?

He trashed his former pastor for having: "...a view that sees the conflicts in the Middle East as rooted primarily in the actions of stalwart allies like Israel, instead of emanating from the perverse and hateful ideologies of radical Islam."

Gaza's people have been under murderous siege since Hamas won a democratic victory at the polls, but that plays to America's new president as "perverse and hateful ideologies" emanating from "radical islam." And during a campaign in which Obama thrilled millions by almost never speaking of black americans unless forced to, did he ever acknowledge uncomfortable facts like these?

In 1967 blacks earned 54 cents for every dollar made by whites, but by 2005 they had increased to 57 cents for every white dollar. That meteoric rise of three cents in 38 years means it will take more than 500 years for them to achieve dollar parity with whites. Of course there may be a speedier closing of that awesome gap now that Obama is in the White House; like maybe only 400 years?

If we last that long, given the present deep recession with only the most hallucinogenic economists seeing any quick end to the survival problems affecting more Americans each day, and they are of every race, religion, ethnic hyphenation or political ideology. There will probably be some progress as celebrity faith and media hype translate into market gains and a rosier outlook after the dark days of the recent past. But we may have replaced a bold leader with almost no capacity to think with one who thinks carefully and cautiously, but is as likely to be bold as his predecessor was likely to be thoughtful. And if he does provoke action, will it be for the majority who voted for him, or for the wealthy and powerful minority that trained him to serve?

When the next explosion occurs in the Middle East, will he go on representing Israeli interests to the detriment of our own? How much longer can we tolerate a racist colonial regime being foisted on us as a peaceful democracy that we should finance and support to our own disadvantage? Palestine is the most serious issue confronting our nation, as continued support for the Jewish apartheid state is costing lives, money, losing world support and threatening our future more quickly than climate is changing or polar ice caps are melting.

The system of economic domination and racial supremacy that is moving us to ruin will not change as long as this government serves minority interest both here and abroad. Palestine needs to become what it once was, a land where Jews, Christians and Muslims lived together in peace, but that cannot happen if America operates as a handmaiden for zionist principles that counter every positive aspect of the credos of any Abrahamic faith. This president and this government will work against American interest until we demand that they stop acting on behalf of a foreign power and start performing for the people of the USA.

All of us, and not just some of us.
(c) 2009 Frank Scott writes political commentary which appears in the Coastal Post, a monthly publication from Marin County, California, on numerous web sites and his shared blog.





The Dead Letter Office...



Heil Obama,

Dear Uberfuhrer Cornyn,

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, Vidkun Quisling and last year's winner Volksjudge Clarence (slappy) Thomas.

Without your lock step calling for the repeal of the Constitution, your ability to go from Smirky's lapdog to Barry's lapdog helping us to bring Hillary in line, Iraq and these 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, first class, with ruby clusters presented by our glorious Fuhrer, Herr Obama at a gala celebration at "der Fuhrer Bunker," formally the "White House," on 05-23-2009. We salute you Herr Cornyn, Sieg Heil!

Signed by,
Vice Fuhrer Biden

Heil Obama






Binding U.S. Law Requires Prosecutions For Those Who Authorize Torture
By Glenn Greenwald

It seems fairly easy -- even for those overtly hostile to the basic rules of logic and law -- to see what conclusions are compelled by these clear premises:

Associated Press, April 11, 2008:

Bush administration officials from Vice President Dick Cheney on down signed off on using harsh interrogation techniques against suspected terrorists after asking the Justice Department to endorse their legality, The Associated Press has learned.

The officials also took care to insulate President Bush from a series of meetings where CIA interrogation methods, including waterboarding, which simulates drowning, were discussed and ultimately approved. . . .

The meetings were held in the White House Situation Room in the years immediately following the Sept. 11 attacks. Attending the sessions were Cheney, then-Bush aides Attorney General John Ashcroft, Secretary of State Colin Powell, CIA Director George Tenet and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice.

Agence France-Presse, October 15, 2008:

The administration of US President George W. Bush authorized the CIA to waterboard Al-Qaeda suspects according to two secret memos issued in 2003 and 2004, The Washington Post reported Wednesday.

Soon-to-be U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, 1/15/2009:

President-elect Barack Obama's nominee for attorney general said unequivocally Thursday that waterboarding is torture . . .

Early on he was asked whether waterboarding, a technique that makes a prisoner believe he is in danger of drowning, constitutes torture and is illegal.

"If you look at the history of the use of that technique, " Holder replied, "we prosecuted our own soldiers for using it in Vietnam. . . . Waterboarding is torture."

Bush official Susan Crawford, 1/13/2009:

The top Bush administration official in charge of deciding whether to bring Guantanamo Bay detainees to trial has concluded that the U.S. military tortured a Saudi national who allegedly planned to participate in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, interrogating him with techniques that included sustained isolation, sleep deprivation, nudity and prolonged exposure to cold, leaving him in a "life-threatening condition."

"We tortured [Mohammed al-] Qahtani," said Susan J. Crawford, in her first interview since being named convening authority of military commissions by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates in February 2007. "His treatment met the legal definition of torture. And that's why I did not refer the case" for prosecution."

Current Attorney General Michael Mukasey, 1/17/2009:

"Torture is a crime," Mr. Mukasey said in an interview Friday . . . .

CONVENTION AGAINST TORTURE and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (signed by the U.S. under Ronald Reagan):

Article 2

1. Each State Party shall take effective legislative, administrative, judicial or other measures to prevent acts of torture in any territory under its jurisdiction.

2. No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat or war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.

3. An order from a superior officer or a public authority may not be invoked as a justification of torture. . . .

Article 4

1. Each State Party shall ensure that all acts of torture are offences under its criminal law. The same shall apply to an attempt to commit torture and to an act by any person which constitutes complicity or participation in torture.

Article 7

1. The State Party in territory under whose jurisdiction a person alleged to have committed any offence referred to in article 4 is found, shall in the cases contemplated in article 5, if it does not extradite him, submit the case to its competent authorities for the purpose of prosecution.

Article 15

Each State Party shall ensure that any statement which is established to have been made as a result of torture shall not be invoked as evidence in any proceedings, except against a person accused of torture as evidence that the statement was made.

Ronald Reagan, 5/20/1988, transmitting Treaty to the U.S. Senate:

The United States participated actively and effectively in the negotiation of the Convention. It marks a significant step in the development during this century of international measures against torture and other inhuman treatment or punishment. Ratification of the Convention by the United States will clearly express United States opposition to torture, an abhorrent practice unfortunately still prevalent in the world today.

U.S. Constitution, Article VI:

This Constitution, and the laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof; and all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land; and the judges in every state shall be bound thereby, anything in the Constitution or laws of any State to the contrary notwithstanding.

Soon-to-be Attorney General Eric Holder, 1/15/2009 (repeatedly):

"No one is above the law."

These premises -- conclusively established by undisputed news reports and the statements of the person about to become the country's top law enforcement officer as well as a top Bush official -- are clear, and the conclusions they compel are inescapable. The Bush administration authorized, ordered and practiced torture. The U.S., under Ronald Reagan, legally obligated itself to investigate and prosecute any acts of torture committed by Americans (which includes authorization of torture by high level officials and also includes, under Article 3 of the Convention, acts of "rendering" detainees to countries likely to torture, as the Bush administration unquestionably did).

All of the standard excuses being offered by Bush apologists and our political class (a virtual redundancy) -- namely: our leaders meant well; we were facing a dangerous enemy; government lawyers said this could be done; Congress immunized the torturers; it would be too divisive to prosecute -- are explicitly barred by this treaty (i.e., binding law) as a ground for refusing to investigate and prosecute acts of torture.

This is also why the standard argument now being offered by Bush apologists (such as University of Chicago Law Professor Eric Posner, echoing his dad, Court of Appeals Judge Richard Posner in Chicago) as to why prosecutions are unnecessary -- namely: there is "prosecutorial discretion" that should take political factors into account in order not to prosecute -- are both frivolous and lawless. The Convention explicitly bars any such "discretion": "The State Party in territory under whose jurisdiction a person alleged to have committed any offence referred to in article 4 is found, shall . . . submit the case to its competent authorities for the purpose of prosecution." The principal purpose of the Convention is to remove the discretion involved in prosecuting acts of torture and to bar the very excuses which every torturing society proffers and which our own torturing society is now attempting to invoke ("we were dealing with real threats; there were 'exceptional circumstances' that justified it; we enacted laws legalizing the torture; our leaders meant well; we need to move on").

International treaties which the U.S. signs and ratifies aren't cute little left-wing platitudes for tying the hands of America. They're binding law according to the explicit mandates of Article VI of our Constitution. Thus, there simply is no way to (a) argue against investigations and prosecutions for Bush officials and simultaneously (b) claim with a straight face to believe in the rule of law, that no one is above the law, and that the U.S. should adhere to the same rules and values it attempts to impose on the rest of the world. Last week, Paul Krugman stated about as clearly as possible why this is so:

I'm sorry, but if we don't have an inquest into what happened during the Bush years - and nearly everyone has taken Mr. Obama's remarks to mean that we won't - this means that those who hold power are indeed above the law because they don't face any consequences if they abuse their power.

It's just as simple as that. Once Eric Holder stated unequivocally that waterboarding is torture, and once a top Bush official used the word "torture" to describe what the U.S. did at Guantanamo using authorized techniques other than waterboarding, the "discretion" to investigate and prosecute disappeared-- at least for people who believe in the most basic precepts of the rule of law and equality under it, Western principles of justice established at Nuremberg, and the notion that the U.S. is bound by the treaties it signs. There simply is no way to argue against investigations and prosecutions (and no way to argue that we should use torture-obtained evidence against Guantanamo detainees) without fully rejecting all of those principles.

While many Americans, especially American political elites, may be eager to overlook the implications of immunizing Bush officials for these crimes (as citizens typically are eager to avoid having their leaders branded as torturers and war criminals), it's rather difficult to understand how people think that we're going to "send a message to the world" about the restoration of American values as we deliberately protect the people who have systematically tortured and thereby transparently violate the core provisions of this Convention. Doesn't that conduct rather clearly send the exact opposite message?

UPDATE: Citing the Convention, Hilzoy (a/k/a Johns Hopkins Professor Hilary Bok) wrote:

It seems to me that these facts imply that if Barack Obama, or his administration, believe that there are reasonable grounds to believe that members of the Bush administration have committed torture, then they are legally obligated to investigate; and that if that investigation shows that acts of torture were committed, to submit those cases for prosecution, if the officials who committed or sanctioned those acts are found on US territory. If they are on the territory of some other party to the Convention, then it has that obligation. Under the Convention, as I read it, this is not discretionary. And under the Constitution, obeying the laws, which include treaties, is not discretionary either.

It's just not possible to argue with that. In light of Holder's testimony, the "if" component of Hilzoy's argument -- "if Barack Obama, or his administration believe that there are reasonable grounds to believe that members of the Bush administration have committed torture . . . ." -- is now a certainty. In Slate, Dahlia Lithwick and Phillipe Sands made a similar argument regarding Bush official Susan Crawford's statement that the U.S. "tortured" Mohammed al-Qahtani: "These states [who are parties to the Convention] must take any person alleged to have committed torture (or been complicit or participated in an act of torture) who is present in their territories into custody. The convention allows no exceptions."

While those who argue that the U.S. was right to torture because it's the U.S. that did it are expressing a repugnant form of exceptionalism, at least they're being honest -- far more so than those who argue that Bush officials shouldn't be investigated or prosecuted while paying deceitful lip service to "the rule of law" and the idea that "no one is above the law."
(c) 2009 Glenn Greenwald. was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator in New York. He is the author of the New York Times Bestselling book "How Would a Patriot Act?," a critique of the Bush administration's use of executive power, released in May 2006. His second book, "A Tragic Legacy", examines the Bush legacy.








The View From The Bottom
By Mary Pitt

The greatest problem as the new President and the Congress attempt to enact remedies to the very real problems of the poor, the disabled, and the laboring class, (not the much-broader "working class"), is that they do not know or understand exactly what it is that they are trying to "fix." With the exception of the President, none of them have ever wanted for food, clothing, or medical care, (and even he, thank God, had grandparents of substance who were able to be of assistance.)

The trials with which we must deal every day are totally foreign to them. They do not know and never even visit in the homes in the tenements, the poor neighborhoods, or even the common homes in the small rural villages which dot the plains and the industrial areas of our nation. Those who knock on our doors during campaigns are college kids asking for our votes and will promise us anything in return for our pledges. Should our congresspersons come "home" to run for re-election, they will appear at a local watering hole where they can address a large number of people and those who get to speak to them personally are the local party officials.

How, then, can we demonstrate to those whom we see on our televisions as they advocate for our right to "choice" that, in fact, our choices are few? They say that we have a choice where we get our medical care, not knowing that we must "choose" a physician or a medical facility that is near us or to which there is public transportation available or that, in the worst case, will accept Medicaid patients. Sure, we can go to the Emergency Room of the big, shiny hospital on the hill but, if they treat us, the bill that would follow us home would send us straight to bankruptcy court, (if we could afford the up-front fees for an attorney to file the papers that are necessary to allow that relief).

There is no "choice" as to where we work. With the true number of unemployed and under-employed at almost twenty per cent nationwide, it may be even worse on a given local level, and any job we can get that pays a subsistence wage is where we work. If that job involves working in a harmful atmosphere, we will breathe noxious fumes or dust for eight hours a day so the kids will not be crying from hunger. If our bodies ache from fatigue, disease, or just advancing age, we will endure it until we can go home to our leaking roofs or our noisy tenements and try to shake it off and rest so that we can do it again tomorrow.

We also have a "choice" as to which insurance company administers our health care. That's a laugh! We can't afford any of them. The premiums would require us to pay half our annual income! If that income falls below what the people in Washington think our family can live on, we might be eligible for Medicaid or, at least, S-CHIP for the kids, but Moms and Dads must still fend for themselves. So, they burn out their bodies, aging before they are old and striving for the Holy Grail of Social Security and Medicare, if death does not come first.

There is not even a "choice" of where we live. We must go into the "sub-standard" housing in the lower parts of town or to Section 8 units for which we do not qualify unless we are on welfare or disabled. Otherwise, they are even more costly than the run-down old houses that we rent. And, don't even go into our "choice of lifestyle." Our meager nutritional needs are met by purchasing the cheapest food at the market; potatoes, rice, pasta, and sometimes, hotdogs or hamburger. We do not even qualify for food stamps as some accountant in Washington thinks we make too much money. Yet, we are blamed for our own illnesses, many of which are caused by the poverty that has fallen upon us by our lack of better-off family to help, education, or simple misfortune.

Our new President may understand us due to his own childhood poverty but, mostly, due to his work with poor communities in Chicago but it remains to be seen whether he can infuse all the congress and the bureaucrats with this understanding so that they can work effectively at solving some of the problems with which we are beset. Yet, the working poor, the disabled, and the handicapped are people to whom hope is a foreign concept. Our only ambition becomes merely surviving for another day so that maybe, just maybe, our kids will be able to find a way to have a better life.

President Bush has told us for eight years that we must take advantage of all our "choices" and pull ourselves up by our bootstraps. Well, our boots have holes in the soles so that we must wear bread bags over our socks to try to keep our feet warm and dry. But we DO understand the political system and we understand the dire straits by which our nation as a whole is suffering. We understand that our national debt will be a burden upon the several generations not yet born. And, when we hear all the talk about needing to "cut entitlements" or to "adjust Social Security," we feel the dark hand of doom hovering over us like the Angel of Death and the bright star of hope becomes even further away.
(c) 2009 Mary Pitt is a very "with-it" old lady who aspires to bring a bit of truth, justice, and common sense to a nation that has lost touch with its humanity in the search for societal "perfection." Huzzahs and whiney complaints may be sent to mpitt@cox.net



The Cartoon Corner...

This edition we're proud to showcase the cartoons of
~~~ Drew Sheneman ~~~







2009 Greeting card to George W. Bush (& Oliver Stone) from THE Alternative "W the Movie"





To End On A Happy Note...



Journey to the Center of the Mind
By The Amboy Dukes

Leave your cares behind
Come with us and find
The pleasures of a journey to the center of the mind

Come along if you care
Come along if you dare
Take a ride to the land inside of your mind

Beyond the seas of thought
Beyond the realm of what
Across the streams of hopes and dreams
Where things are really hot

Come along if you care...
Come along with if you dare
Take a ride to the land inside of your mind

But please realize, you'll probably be surprised
For it's the land unknown to man
Where fantasy is fact
So if you can, please understand
You might not come back

Come along if you care
Come along if you dare
Take a ride to the land inside and you'll see

How happy life could be
If all of mankind
Would take the time to journey
To the center of the mind

Would take the time to journey
To the center of the mind
Center of the mind
... of the mind
... of the mind
... of the mind
... of the mind
(c) 1970/2009 The Amboy Dukes



Have You Seen This...



Pro-Israel Rally For Attacking Gaza, NYC, 1-11-09


Parting Shots...




Where's The Arm?
By Terry Jones

We're in a recession, but there are few businesses doing quite as well as the weapons industry. I'm going to give it a go

I've decided to start manufacturing weapons. Nothing too ambitious, just some small arms, a few automatic weapons, and maybe a couple of bombs. You know the sort of thing.

It's not that I'm keen on killing people. I haven't actually killed anyone myself yet. It's all to do with economics.

You see, I can't help but notice that the arms industry is doing extremely well. In fact in these times of economic disaster, it's the one industry that seems to be expanding. According to the government, the UK has become the top global defence exporter, notching up a golden £10bn of new business and snagging a walloping 33% of the market.

In fact the UK is now the second biggest player in the global arms market, with a whizzo $53bn of sales over the past five years, compared with America's $63bn, and Russia's measly $33bn, France's pathetic $17bn, and Germany and Israel trailing at $9bn each.

And, even in these difficult economic times, things look good for the future too. In 2007, global arms buying rose by 6% to £1.3tn. And, according to the Centre for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, the US spent $696bn last year and is set to increase that to $706bn this year.

US operations in Iraq are currently costing $14m per hour. That's $343m per day or $3,973 per second. By the time you finish reading this, the US will have spent another $1m in Iraq and Afghanistan combined! That's an awful lot of gravy to share around, and I wouldn't mind putting my knees under the arms industry's table.

What I admire about the arms industry is that it's willing to put its money where its mouth is, when it comes to promoting its members' interests. And it has a lot of money.

Last summer, for example, the National Rifle Association of America announced that it intended to spend $40m during the 2008 elections. That's quite a lot isn't it? And $15m was earmarked merely to persuade Americans that Barack Obama would be a threat to gun ownership in the US. They wouldn't throw that sort of money around if they didn't think it was going to do some good. And of course it does.

In the 2000 presidential race, the arms industry gave George W Bush five times the donations it gave to Al Gore. And Bush duly showed his thanks by doubling the expenditure on defence from just over $333bn in 2001 to $696bn in 2008.

And since November, the outgoing president has rushed through a whole slew of arms export deals, just to make sure his friends in the arms industry survive any economic downturn.

With friends like that, I know I'm going to feel right at home as an arms manufacturer.

Another thing that persuades me that the arms industry is the industry for me is its professionalism when it comes to creating markets. One of the main responsibilities of any industry, of course, is to make sure it creates its own markets. You can't just rely on the demand being there, you have to go out and actually stimulate the demand.

And this is where, for me, the arms industry proves itself to be one of the most responsible in the world - on a par with the heroin and crack cocaine industries. Take what happened after the collapse of communism, which had provided the arms industry's bread and butter since the second world war. The arms industry was faced with empty order books. As the then chair of the US joint chiefs of staff, Colin Powell, put it: they were "running out of enemies"! But it only lasted for about six months.

At the time, I remember reading an editorial in a magazine called Weapons Today which described how the industry had fallen on lean times, but "cheer up!", the editor wrote, because now Saddam Hussein has invaded Kuwait things will start looking up, and in the future we in the arms industry can look forward to Islam replacing communism to keep our order books full.

To be quite honest, when I read that in 1990 I thought they were off their heads, but now I realise that one should never underestimate the professionalism and skill of the weapons industry in creating markets for their product.

I don't know how they've done it, but I am certain my future colleagues have had a big hand in making their own dreams come true. And now, as the DSO notes with satisfaction in a recent market review, there has been a "return to higher spending in the Middle East." And as long as America keeps encouraging Israel to bomb the hell out of Gaza, thereby fuelling the Islamic backlash that we are all praying for, we in the arms industry can look forward to a secure future, safe in the knowledge that the "middle East regional market" will continue to expand well into the foreseeable golden future.

I can't wait to get manufacturing those landmines and cluster bombs.
(c) 2009 Terry Jones is a writer, film director, actor and Python.



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Issues & Alibis Vol 9 # 4 (c) 01/23/2009


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