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In This Edition

Sam Harris examines why, "We Are Lost In Thought."

Uri Avnery discovers, "The World Is No Golem."

Robert Scheer says, "Hogwash, Mr. President."

Randall Amster explores, "Desert Dichotomy."

Jim Hightower visits, "Johnnie "Business As Usual" Boehner."

Helen Thomas reports, "Gun Control Issues Seen In Shootings."

James Donahue asks, "Has The Mad Cow Epidemic Gone Away?"

Maureen Murphy declares, "Activism Is Not A Crime."

Chris Floyd is, "Goonstruck."

Matthew Rothschild demands, "Hey, Glenn Beck, Stop Inciting Death Threats Against Professor Piven."

Paul Krugman explains, "The Competition Myth."

Chris Hedges takes us, "Where Liberals Go To Feel Good."

David Michael Green concludes, "Civility? Whatever. Capitulation? No Thanks."

Alabama Governor Robert Bentley wins the coveted "Vidkun Quisling Award!"

Glenn Greenwald studies, "America's Treatment Of Detainees."

J. Alva Scruggs finds that, "Congressmen Talk To Cameras Not Issues!"

And finally in the 'Parting Shots' department Bill Maher returns with, "New Rules" but first Uncle Ernie sez, "How Time Flies!"

This week we spotlight the cartoons of Joe Heller, with additional cartoons, photos and videos from Derf City, Brian McFadden, Ben Sargent, Mr. Fish, B Dog 23, Stop These Wars.Org, Answer Coalition.Org, Stop FBI.Net, University of New York, A.P. and Issues & Alibis.Org.

Plus we have all of your favorite Departments...

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

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

Your Issues & Alibis staff!

How Time Flies!
It's our tenth aniversary!
By Ernest Stewart

Welcome to volume 1 # 1 of our new ezine "Issues & Alibis." Our goal is to present to you on a bi-monthly basis America's best writers and political cartoonists, so that you can cut through the political bullshit and past the spin-doctors to the heart and the truth of the matter.

On the 1st and 15th of every month no smoke and mirrors will stop us from bringing you your political reality, however horrible it actually is. You can always deal with the truth, no matter how bad it is, but you must know what it is. This is not an ezine for the weak of heart or for those who would rather have a sugarcoating on the truth. We're going to tell it like it is and let the chips fall where they may! We hope you are ready for "Issues & Alibis."
An Introduction ~~~ Issues & Alibis magazine

"...It is a tale, told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.
MacBeth ~~~ Shakespeare

"Everyone knows that there is one law for the rich and another for the poor." ~~~ George Orwell

If you're drowning, you don't clutch no straw, no, no!
Lazy ~~~ Deep Purple

Has it really been ten years that I've been sitting behind a computer bringing you, for your enlightenment, the latest atrocities committed by our government against us? It seems like only yesterday when I said enough is enough. The 12-12-2000 judicial coup d'etat had just gone down as Tony (light-fingers) Scalia and his "Gang of Five"™ on the Extreme Court had just installed Smirky the "Wonder Chimp" in Al Gore's house at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Al, even though he had clearly won the election, like the rest of the country, for the most part, went along with this act of treason and sedition.

For me, being the poli-sci/history student that I am, there was but one choice to be made. Either go along and expect that America was over and all the madness and mayhem that this act would surely bring would be on my hands too, or stand up and oppose it. I chose the latter; and with the Internet beckoning, I decided to begin this magazine.

I had put myself through college by working for a couple of chains of local, weekly newspapers and had been writing a column, "Issues & Alibis" for a local magazine, so I knew what I should do if I wanted to be effective in countering this fascist madness, and two months later on February 1st, 2001 "Issues and Alibis: The Magazine" was born. Ever since old Dementia-head Ray Guns got rid of the fairness doctrine on TV, there was only the corpo-rats viewpoint available on the TV, on radio and in newspapers. The truth wasn't getting out there to the public, so I decided that I'd put it out there for all to read! My mission was born! At the time, there were damn few leftist news sites on the Internet; Bartcop and the Online Journal were perhaps the best known, so there was certainly a spot and need for me and a niche that needed filling!

Initially, I was only publishing twice a month--on the 1st and 15th--as I wasn't sure if I could put out a weekly. Could I find enough material, just not anything, but important things that everyone should know and if so, would I have enough time to do it in? For the first couple of issues, it was taking me around 80 hours to get it out. A lot of that time was because I was on dial up; when I went broadband, I cut out at least 20 hours a week! By the time of our 4th edition, I had enough connections to enable me to publish every week, and had divided the time it took in seven days, with the shortest days being on the weekend so I could escape from the news madness on the occasional weekend to the lakes and the Jack Pines! We've publish every week since, with just ten weeks in all that time where we couldn't. About half of that time was because of moving, the rest because of sickness from Influenza to SARS!

About half way through I ran out of funds as I had been paying for all the costs. I had never charged a fee or ran any advertising to cover costs, but I suddenly either had to let in a few ads, beg for money or start charging a fee like everybody else does. I couldn't charge a fee as the point of all this was to assure that anyone who could get online could get to the truth, so I started accepting advertisements from like-minded companies and people and coming to you hat in hand for donations. Cest la guerre!

As we start our eleventh year, I look forward to fighting the good fight with you against the truly evil people who are running this country. As George said, "You got to pay your dues if you want to sing the blues and you know it don't come easy!" It seems that nothing good ever does come easy, but I'm willing to pay the price; are you, America?

In Other News

Mr. President, who you jivin' with that cosmic debris? Certainly not this old bird! Wasn't it you who once said, "You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but here's where I make a liar out of Lincoln?" Or was it Nixon, and what's the difference between the two? Not a lot that I can see.

Barry had a lot of bright ideas but never mention a single plan on how he was going to implement them. He did mention going after programs for the poor, the elderly and the sick:

"This means further reducing health care costs, including programs like Medicare and Medicaid, which are the single biggest contributor to our long-term deficit."

As you well know, Mr. President, the biggest contributor to our long-term deficit are our many war crimes and crimes against humanity that are a never-ending drain on the treasury! He then told some more lies about how we are better than other countries, assuring us that things like this could never happen in America when they certainly happen every day:

"Of course, some countries don’t have this problem. If the central government wants a railroad, they build a railroad, no matter how many homes get bulldozed. If they don’t want a bad story in the newspaper, it doesn’t get written."

If you ever been in the way of a rail line or a freeway you can kiss your property goodbye for whatever they want to pay you for it, and when exactly was the last time you could get the truth and important news stories from the MSM? If you could, I wouldn't be here! Many Americans have never gotten the truth from our corpo-rat controlled media as they were born after Barry's hero Ray-Guns destroyed those requirements of equality.

Another funny lie was this:

"And yet, as contentious and frustrating and messy as our democracy can sometimes be, I know there isn’t a person here who would trade places with any other nation on Earth."

Perhaps that's true for the denizens of Foggy Bottom in Con-gress but I'm willing to bet that millions of regular folk would pack up and leave for greener pastures in a heartbeat if they could! Who wants to stay on board a sinking ship, especially when it's politicians and corpo-rat goons that get first crack at the life boats?

I think the funniest thing that Barry said was:

"We may have differences in policy, but we all believe in the rights enshrined in our Constitution."

Oh please, the last five Presidents and the Congress have been doing everything they can do to destroy the Constitution and Bill of Rights and they're still working on dismantling the few rights they still haven't yet destroyed!

Not happy to be destroying Medicare and Medicaid, Obamahood has plans for those Social Security funds as well. He's already cut the funds to Social Security by cutting back on Social Security taxes, making the fund less stable than it was; but there's more to come America:

"To put us on solid ground, we should also find a bipartisan solution to strengthen Social Security for future generations."

What a crock! Then he's off to brag about our "Frankenfood" which is designed to kill you, thanks to the FDA which has been selling us out for 150 years. Our water in most cases is poisonous and shouldn't be drunk unless it is first boiled and filtered to remove the industrial poisons, biochemical wastes, fertilizer run-offs and pharmaceutical poisons. And some of the most polluted air outside of China or India floats right here in these United Snakes! And yet he says:

"It’s why our food is safe to eat, our water is safe to drink, and our air is safe to breathe."

I could go on and on with lies like, "And it’s why we passed reform that finally prevents the health insurance industry from exploiting patients." I guess trippling their fees isn't exploiting us but life and this column is short, so I'll just close the way I began by paraphrasing Frank Zappa, "Mr. President, who you jivin' with that cosmic debris?"

And Finally

In Ray McGovern's brilliant article "Torture at the Justice Department? Better Not to Ask" Ray questions the Just-us Department's Thomas Perez, Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights. Ray asked Thomas as to why Smirky the Wonder Chimp and old Dead-Eye Dick hadn't been brought to justice for authorizing torture:

RM: You are head of the Civil Rights Division at Justice. I am sure you would agree that a person's right not to be tortured is a civil right.

Your immediate boss, Attorney General Eric Holder has stated in testimony to Congress that waterboarding is torture. President Obama has said the same thing. Now the President...that is former President George W. Bush...has written a book in which he brags about authorizing waterboarding and says he would do it again. Former Vice President Dick Cheney earlier endorsed waterboarding.

Like you, Tom, I went to a Jesuit high school, and I know what a syllogism is. If waterboarding is torture, and those who authorized it now admit that and brag about it, is not your boss Eric Holder bound by his oath of office to prosecute those who admit having done that?

I refer here not only to those tortured at Guantanamo, at the huge prison complex at Bagram, Afghanistan, and at "black sites" around the world where my former colleagues at CIA were given carte blanche to ply their trade. I refer also to American citizens like José Padilla born, like me, in New York City, who was deprived of his civil rights and subjected to the cruelest forms of debilitating torture right here in the U.S.A.

Again, you are head of the Civil Rights Division at Justice. You have talked a good bit about conscience. Your boss, the Attorney General, appears unwilling to see to it that the law be faithfully executed. Has your faith or your conscience led you to raise this subject with Eric Holder?

Perez: It's a matter of prosecutorial discretion. We have discussed these matters, and I am not about to reveal information on those discussions.

Trouble is, there is no such thing as prosecutorial discretion when it comes to torture. Of course, if Eric were to bring charges against Smirky and Dick, as is required by not only US law but by United Nations law which we signed on to, i.e., "the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment adopted by the UN General Assembly on Dec. 10, 1984 (now signed by some 150 nations - including the U.S., which ratified it on Oct. 21, 1994) has been and remains the supreme law of the land? The Convention makes no allowance for 'prosecutorial discretion,'" he'd also have to bring charges against Obamahood and Biden as well! There is of course no chance of that ever happening! But what if you or I were to waterboard crybaby Glenn Beck for his crimes against America? I wonder if Eric would look the other way? Also, shouldn't Eric be brought to just-us for not enforcing the laws that he swore to uphold?

Anyone care to find out if the law would apply to you? The very same law that doesn't apply to Bush, Cheney, Obama and Biden? If you do, please let me know how that works out for you!

Keepin' On

As Obamahood stated in his SOTUA things are starting to improve. They're starting to improve for the millionaires and billionaires, while they continue to get worse for most everybody else. Things have never been good for members of the left-wing blogosphere; but needless to say, they're terrible now.

One could expect to get a little help from the readership. In a good year perhaps 2% would help out; in a bad year only 1%. Now-a-daze that number has dropped to about .02%. In my case, if it weren't for a couple of folks overseas or at least across our northern border we would have ceased to be last year.

In most cases we're kept afloat by people who really can't afford to help out, while those who could finance us for a year on their pocket change alone send in nothing, but have no problems reading us every week. How those folks can look in the mirror every morning without cutting their throats is beyond my comprehension, but they don't.

Those of you who can help us out, please do. Rest assured that we will put your donations to good use and never, ever, waste a penny of them. If you have advertising money to spend please consider spending some of it here. Our rates are much better than most and you'd be helping out a good liberal cause in the bargain!


09-26-1914 ~ 01-23-2011
Thanks for the reps!

04-14-1933 ~ 01-23-2011
Thanks for the adventures!

06-16-1944 ~ 01-26-2011
Thanks for the music!

07-27-1927 ~ 01-26-2011
Thanks for the harmony!


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


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

Until the next time, Peace!
(c) 2011 Ernest Stewart a.k.a. Uncle Ernie is an unabashed radical, author, stand-up comic, DJ, actor, political pundit and for the last 10 years managing editor and publisher of Issues & Alibis magazine. Visit me on Face Book. Follow me on Twitter.

We Are Lost In Thought
By Sam Harris

I invite you to pay attention to anything — the sight of this text, the sensation of breathing, the feeling of your body resting against your chair — for a mere sixty seconds without getting distracted by discursive thought. It sounds simple enough: Just pay attention. The truth, however, is that you will find the task impossible. If the lives of your children depended on it, you could not focus on anything — even the feeling of a knife at your throat — for more than a few seconds, before your awareness would be submerged again by the flow of thought. This forced plunge into unreality is a problem. In fact, it is the problem from which every other problem in human life appears to be made.

I am by no means denying the importance of thinking. Linguistic thought is indispensable to us. It is the basis for planning, explicit learning, moral reasoning, and many other capacities that make us human. Thinking is the substance of every social relationship and cultural institution we have. It is also the foundation of science. But our habitual identification with the flow of thought — that is, our failure to recognize thoughts as thoughts, as transient appearances in consciousness — is a primary source of human suffering and confusion.

Our relationship to our own thinking is strange to the point of paradox, in fact. When we see a person walking down the street talking to himself, we generally assume that he is mentally ill. But we all talk to ourselves continuously — we just have the good sense to keep our mouths shut. Our lives in the present can scarcely be glimpsed through the veil of our discursively: We tell ourselves what just happened, what almost happened, what should have happened, and what might yet happen. We ceaselessly reiterate our hopes and fears about the future. Rather than simply exist as ourselves, we seem to presume a relationship with ourselves. It's as though we are having a conversation with an imaginary friend possessed of infinite patience. Who are we talking to?

While most of us go through life feeling that we are the thinker of our thoughts and the experiencer of our experience, from the perspective of science we know that this is a distorted view. There is no discrete self or ego lurking like a minotaur in the labyrinth of the brain. There is no region of cortex or pathway of neural processing that occupies a privileged position with respect to our personhood. There is no unchanging "center of narrative gravity" (to use Daniel Dennett's phrase). In subjective terms, however, there seems to be one — to most of us, most of the time.

Our contemplative traditions (Hindu, Buddhist, Christian, Muslim, Jewish, etc.) also suggest, to varying degrees and with greater or lesser precision, that we live in the grip of a cognitive illusion. But the alternative to our captivity is almost always viewed through the lens of religious dogma. A Christian will recite the Lord's Prayer continuously over a weekend, experience a profound sense of clarity and peace, and judge this mental state to be fully corroborative of the doctrine of Christianity; A Hindu will spend an evening singing devotional songs to Krishna, feel suddenly free of his conventional sense of self, and conclude that his chosen deity has showered him with grace; a Sufi will spend hours whirling in circles, pierce the veil of thought for a time, and believe that he has established a direct connection to Allah.

The universality of these phenomena refutes the sectarian claims of any one religion. And, given that contemplatives generally present their experiences of self-transcendence as inseparable from their associated theology, mythology, and metaphysics, it is no surprise that scientists and nonbelievers tend to view their reports as the product of disordered minds, or as exaggerated accounts of far more common mental states — like scientific awe, aesthetic enjoyment, artistic inspiration, etc.

Our religions are clearly false, even if certain classically religious experiences are worth having. If we want to actually understand the mind, and overcome some of the most dangerous and enduring sources of conflict in our world, we must begin thinking about the full spectrum of human experience in the context of science.

But we must first realize that we are lost in thought.
(c) 2011 Sam Harris is the author of "The End Of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason" and "Letter to a Christian Nation" and is the co-founder of The Reason Project, which promotes scientific knowledge and secular values. Follow Sam Harris on Twitter.

The World Is No Golem
By Uri Avnery

ISRAEL IS, as we well know, the land of unlimited impossibilities. In Israel, for example, the diplomats are striking.

A strike of diplomats? But that is impossible! Postmen strike. Longshoremen strike. But diplomats? The most conservative, the most establishment people? The people who serve any Israeli government, whatever its complexion? Who find pretexts for all its actions, whatever they may be?

Well, in Israel it is possible. All the Foreign Office services have ceased to function. No new passports for citizens who have lost their papers in Moscow, no consular assistance for citizens who have been thrown into prison in New York. No preparations for Binyamin Netanyahu’s visit to Paris.

For years, Foreign Office people have suffered from miserable working conditions. Their salaries are bordering on the ridiculous. So they went on strike.

DOES THIS infuriate the Prime Minister? Is the Foreign Minister upset? Not a bit of it. Netanyahu does not go out of his way to put an end to the strike, and Avigdor Lieberman does absolutely nothing to tempt his employees back to their desks. Both do not care. On the contrary, they look almost happy. For all they care, let them strike forever. And they are right. This week, everybody realized how right they are.

The President of the Russian Federation, Dmitry Medvedev, was scheduled to visit Israel. But before that, he went to Jericho, which is considered the oldest town in the world. There, in the presence of President Mahmoud Abbas, he declared that Russia had recognized the Palestinian state long ago, and that it continues to recognize the Palestinians’ right to a state of their own, with its capital in East Jerusalem.

Not exactly. It was not Russia that recognized Palestine, but the Soviet Union. And the recognition was conferred on the virtual state declared by Yasser Arafat in 1988. That is very different from recognition of the Palestinian state now, when it is becoming a reality.

After his visit to Jericho, Medvedev was to come to Jerusalem, to be photographed next to Binyamin Netanyahu and shake hands with Avigdor Lieberman. How was Netanyahu to react to the Jericho declaration? How could he extricate himself from this matter, without humiliating himself or offending the largest country in the world?

This embarrassment was avoided by the sanctions of the Israeli diplomats. They refused to prepare the visit and organize the meetings. Medvedev gave up, and the two great statesmen – Netanyahu and Lieberman – could breathe again.

Deep in his heart, Lieberman surely blessed the people of his office, whom he hates. They saved him. What could he tell Medvedev? Ever since walking into the Foreign Office like a bear entering the proverbial china shop, he has boasted of his excellent relations with Russia. The Americans loathe him? So what? America is a declining empire. The Europeans don’t want to meet with him? So what? Who are they, anyhow? But Russia is Russia. Here we have a real friend. Lieberman admires Vladimir Putin, that great democrat, who knows how to deal with cheeky people like the Chechnyans. Lieberman speaks with him in his mother tongue. He boasted of having established really intimate relations with Russia. And now they do this thing to him. What a disgrace.

BUT THE truth is that Putin is not really his friend. Yvette Lieberman (his original name) has only one real friend in the world: Aleksandr Lukashenko, President of Belarus, “the Last Dictator in Europe”. True. Lieberman was not born in Belarus, but in Soviet Moldavia. But there is no doubt that Belarus is his Second Homeland. In its capital, Minsk, he spends his vacations. There he chose to hide in the (successful) intention of blackmailing Netanyahu, when “Bibi” begged him to join the government coalition.

Lukashenko is his soul-mate. He is his model. From him he learned how to deal with human rights organizations. The patent belongs to the President of Belarus, and is only licensed to the leader of “Israel Our Home”. It was Lukashenko who sent an official warning to the human rights activists in his country and threatened them with heavy penalties if they continue to “distort information” about Belarus.

“The Ministry of Justice has issued a written warning,” said the text, “to the Belorussian Helsinki Committee for violations of the law on civic organizations and mass media and for spreading dubious information discrediting the law enforcement and justice agencies of the republic.” The police raided the premises of the human rights organizations and the KGB (yes, the old name lives on in Belarus) has started to investigate.

From there Lieberman drew his inspiration, when he opened his campaign against the peace and human rights activists in Israel, whom he called this week “collaborators of terrorism." I don’t speak Slavic languages, but I am sure that it sounds more authentic in Belarussian than in Hebrew.

ONE CAN laugh (for the time being) at Lieberman’s claim that the peace and human rights organizations cause the de-legitimization of the State of Israel, and especially the de-legitimization of the Israeli army.

But one cannot laugh about the de-legitimization itself. More and more governments are recognizing the State of Palestine, boxing the ears of the Netanyahu government in the process.

When the Palestinian National Council declared, 22 years ago, the foundation of the independent Palestinian state, about 110 countries recognized it. All of them raised the status of the Palestinian delegations to the rank of embassies. The Israeli government ignored them. In its view, that was an empty declaration and a meaningless recognition. It did not change the realities on the ground. In its eyes, one new settlement in the West Bank was more important than the opinion of a hundred countries. As they say in Yiddish: Oilam Goilam – the world is a Golem (the clumsy monster of Jewish legend.).

But the new wave of recognition of Palestine is a different matter altogether. When important countries like Brazil, Argentina and Chile recognize Palestine, and draw behind them the other Latin American countries, this is significant. When Russia renews its recognition, through its highest official and on Palestinian soil, this is an important event. If anybody is relying on the rock solid American support we are used to, they should pay attention to a small news item that appeared this week: the permanent delegation of the PLO in Washington DC was allowed to fly the Palestinian flag over its building – a right generally reserved for embassies alone.

An interesting plot is unfolding. Two thirds of the world’s countries have already recognized the State of Palestine, and the wave is gathering momentum. These are no longer just small third world states, but significant actors on the world stage. Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayad are quietly and persistently building the institutions of the Palestinian state. They are investing a lot of effort in development, building a new town north of Ramallah, restricting the powers of the security services and gaining the sympathy and attention of the world’s governments.

So what? – the average Israeli asks. After all, the Goyim are only proving yet again that they are all anti-Semites. How is this important? We control the territory and no diplomatic tricks will change that. And as long as we have unlimited American support, we don’t give a damn.

Really? For many years we could rely on the Americans with eyes closed. Every “anti-Israeli” resolution was met with a firm American veto. But is this still so certain? When all the important countries in the world recognize the State of Palestine – will the US alone hold out forever?

While the Israeli diplomats are striking, a new initiative condemning the settlements is gaining momentum in the UN Security Council. The entire world is against these settlements, which are manifestly illegal under international law. Even the US has demanded a freeze. Can the US veto a resolution that expresses its own policy, without becoming a laughing stock? And if it does do so all the same this time, what about next time, or the time after?

And if the American veto still rules the Security Council – it does not rule the UN General Assembly. It was the General Assembly – and not the Security Council – that resolved in 1947 to set up in Palestine, next to each other, a Jewish and an Arab state. If the Assembly decides now that the time has come to realize the second half of the resolution – the establishment of the Arab State in Palestine – it will strengthen even more the world-wide recognition of Palestine.

THE ARAB governments, which have lately paid only lip-service to the Palestinian cause and have not lifted a finger to help in the creation of the state – must now think again.

In Tunisia the people rose up against a dictatorship just like all the other Arab dictatorships – a small and corrupt elite, indifferent towards the wishes of the people and overtly or covertly collaboration with Israel.

During the 13 years of Yasser Arafat’s stay in Tunis, I visited there many times. I always knew that lurking behind the liberal and attractive facade was a tough and oppressive police-state. But I saw the Tunisian men walking in the streets with a Jasmine flower over their ear (called Shmum) and I could never have imagined that here, of all places, the first popular Arab revolt would erupt.

Now it has happened. And in Tunisia. This is a wake-up call to all Arab countries, from Morocco to Oman, that dictatorships will fall, that there will be an endeavor to set up liberal democratic regimes, and if that does not succeed – Islamic regimes will take over.

That is the writing on the wall. The present Israeli government is leading us towards disaster. But this week this government was shored-up even more, when Ehud Barak, the pocket Napoleon, finally abandoned all pretense of belonging to the social-democratic left and set up a clearly rightist party, something like Likud II, that will be a loyal partner of Netanyahu and Lieberman.

With such leaders, does our country really need enemies?
(c) 2011 Uri Avnery ~~~ Gush Shalom

Hogwash, Mr. President
By Robert Scheer

What is the state of the union? You certainly couldn't tell from that platitudinous hogwash that the president dished out Tuesday evening. I had expected Barack Obama to be his eloquent self, appealing to our better nature, but instead he was mealy-mouthed in avoiding the tough choices that a leader should delineate in a time of trouble. He embraced clean air and a faster Internet while ignoring the depth of our economic pain and the Wall Street scoundrels who were responsible-understandably so, since they so prominently populate the highest reaches of his administration. He had the effrontery to condemn "a parade of lobbyists" for rigging government after he appointed the top Washington representative of JPMorgan Chase to be his new chief of staff.

The speech was a distraction from what seriously ails us: an unabated mortgage crisis, stubbornly high unemployment and a debt that spiraled out of control while the government wasted trillions making the bankers whole. Instead the president conveyed the insular optimism of his fat-cat associates: "We are poised for progress. Two years after the worst recession most of us have ever known, the stock market has come roaring back. Corporate profits are up. The economy is growing again." How convenient to ignore the fact that this bubble of prosperity, which has failed the tens of millions losing their homes and jobs, was floated by enormous government indebtedness now forcing deep cuts in social services including state financial aid for those better-educated students the president claims to be so concerned about.

His references to education provided a convenient scapegoat for the failure of the economy, rather than to blame the actions of the Wall Street hustlers to whom Obama is now sucking up. Yes, it is an obvious good to have better-educated students to compete with other economies, but that is hardly the issue of the moment when all of the world's economies are suffering grievous harm resulting from the irresponsible behavior of the best and the brightest here at home. It wasn't the students struggling at community colleges who came up with the financial gimmicks that produced the Great Recession, but rather the super-whiz-kid graduates of the top business and law schools.

What nonsense to insist that low public school test scores hobbled our economy when it was the highest-achieving graduates of our elite colleges who designed and sold the financial gimmicks that created this crisis. Indeed, some of the folks who once designed the phony mathematical formulas underwriting subprime mortgage-based derivatives won Nobel prizes for their effort. A pioneer in the securitization of mortgage debt, as well as exporting jobs abroad, was one Jeffrey Immelt, the CEO of GE, whom Obama recently appointed to head his new job creation panel.

That the financial meltdown at the heart of our economic crisis was "avoidable" and not the result of long-run economic problems related to education and foreign competition is detailed in a sweeping report by the Democratic majority on the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission to be released as a 576-page book on Thursday. In a preview reported in The New York Times, the commission concluded: "The greatest tragedy would be to accept the refrain that no one could have seen this coming and thus nothing could have been done. If we accept this notion, it will happen again."

Just the warning that Obama has ignored by continually appointing the very people who engineered this crisis, mostly Clinton alums, to reverse its ongoing dire consequences. As the Times reports: "The decision in 2000 to shield the exotic financial instruments known as over-the-counter derivatives from regulation, made during the last year of President Bill Clinton's term, is called ‘a key turning point in the march toward the financial crisis.'"

Obama appointed as his top economic adviser Lawrence Summers, who as Clinton's treasury secretary was the key architect of that "turning point," and Summers protégé Timothy Geithner as his own treasury secretary. The unanimous finding of the 10 Democrats on the commission is that Geithner, who had been president of the New York Fed before Obama appointed him, "could have clamped down" on excesses by Citigroup, the subprime mortgage leader that Geithner and the Fed bailed out along with other unworthy banking supplicants.

Profligate behavior that has hobbled the economy while running up an enormous debt that Obama now uses as an excuse for a five-year freeze on discretionary domestic spending cuts that small part of the budget that might actually help ordinary people. Speaking of our legacy of deficit spending, Obama stated, "... in the wake of the financial crisis, some of that was necessary to keep credit flowing, save jobs, and put money in people's pockets. But now that the worst of the recession is over, we have to confront the fact that our government spends more than it takes in."

Why now? It is an absurd demarcation to freeze spending when so many remain unemployed just because corporate profits, and therefore stock market valuations, seem firm. Ours is a union divided between those who agree with Obama that "the worst of the recession is over" and the far larger number in deep pain that this president is bent on ignoring.
(c) 2011 Robert Scheer is the editor of Truthdig. A journalist with over 30 years experience, Scheer has built his reputation on the strength of his social and political writing. His columns have appeared in newspapers across the country, and his in-depth interviews have made headlines. He is the author, most recently, of "The Pornography of Power: How Defense Hawks Hijacked 9/11 and Weakened America," published by Twelve Books.

Desert Dichotomy
Will It Be Force … or Discourse?
By Randall Amster

In that fateful supermarket parking lot in Tucson, two drastically different forms of politics were on display, and the contrast couldn’t have been more starkly evident. On the one hand there were ordinary people meeting with their congressional representative, ostensibly to get to know one another and share concerns about important issues. On the other there was an alienated and disturbed individual armed with a deadly weapon, seemingly bent on making a statement of his own while brutally silencing others in the process. The fact that this transpired in beleaguered Arizona, known widely for its invidious policies, lax gun laws, and blunt politics, has served to heighten the contrast and arouse the nation’s conscience in the process.

With the Tucson massacre, we witnessed in microcosm the two dominant forms of our contemporary politics: discourse, and force. One of the reasons for the immediate pushback against the incendiary rhetoric used by certain influential figures is that it blurs the line between the two forms, conflating a central tenet of democracy with the disfavored impetus to use violence and, in so doing, inviting greater resort to the latter. For many, there remains a profound sense that we have “peaceful revolutions” in America by virtue of our democratic processes and aren’t plagued by the overt political violence oftentimes on display elsewhere. The impact of vitriol as a tool of politicking has given us pause to consider if this is indeed so, and likewise to explore the prospect of a potentially short path from shouting to shooting. Indeed, it might be said that we’ve moved from a worldview that prioritizes First Amendment strategies to one that increasingly seems to be fixated on “Second Amendment remedies.”

If we take a slightly broader view, however, it isn’t just rhetorical belligerence that has come to dominate the landscape in recent times. In Arizona in particular, though certainly not exclusively, the use of “force” hasn’t merely been of the verbal variety. Through various legislative attempts to reinforce an ethnic caste system, austerity measures aimed at decimating the state’s public infrastructure, the evisceration of life-saving healthcare programs, and the intentional adoption of “attrition through enforcement” policies designed to displace certain segments of the population, Arizona has coupled vitriolic political discourse with the tangible control of bodies, livelihoods, movements, and even existence itself. Largely unreported in this context have been the attendant “hate crimes” across the state, as well as a culture of intimidation that includes lawmakers carrying firearms in session. In this case, the use of force includes both the inherent power of words and the legislative power of the state, fostering a climate of alienation and antipathy that can (and does) have tragic consequences.

On the national and international levels, the news isn’t much more encouraging. U.S. foreign policy has by now devolved primarily upon the deployment of brute strength to secure resources and advance the national interests. The machinations revealed by WikiLeaks further indicate the widespread use of “soft force” tactics of subterfuge, infiltration, and potential blackmail as tools of “diplomacy.” Internally, the burgeoning emplacement of surveillance technologies and the blithe acceptance of even physically intrusive forms of unwarranted search and seizure have emerged as the leading edge of domestic social control. On a daily basis in America, the structural violence of homelessness, poverty, racism, and more continues to proliferate. Youth are everywhere bombarded with violent imagery, and the schools look more and more like pipelines to prison or proving grounds for military recruitment. In essence, we have realized the rapid onset of a culture that embodies the combined impact of rhetorical and soft force with the tangible, pervasive deployment of the technologies of war and control.

An evenhanded assessment of this culture indicates that the use of force in both words and deeds is not limited to one side of the political spectrum. While one faction may come off more crassly in its “reload” rhetoric and “shock and awe” syllogisms, it’s equally true that the pro-war perspective is plied by both major parties, and that the cultivation of cultural violence for purposes of social control and economic advantage are likewise fairly well distributed across the political spectrum. Thus, while the President may give a sincere and moving speech in Tucson, he will also promptly return to condoning drone strikes and militarizing our borders, just to name a few of the myriad ways in which force and governance regularly correlate. As Martin Luther King, Jr. noted in denouncing the war in Vietnam, “I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today — my own government.”

The use of force, both subtle and overt, is in many ways the political rule, whereas the practice of democratic discourse has become the exception. Our cultural appurtenances feed back into this narrative by constructing the “bring it on” ethos as strong-willed, bold, and part of the hero’s stock-in-trade. Discursive displays of reasonableness, outreach, and a willingness to seek understanding are coded as forms of weakness, naivete, and even appeasement. Exhortations to “reload,” “grab a torch,” and “take out” one’s adversaries tap into this sensibility, as does the invocation of graphics placing targets and bulls-eyes on those with whom we disagree. This may be symbolic in most cases, but as we’ve surmised from the Tucson massacre, it can contribute to a climate in which horrific actions occur. Words and images do have an impact on behavior — after all, the entire advertising industry is based on this very premise, and it clearly works.

The cultural referendum on the pervasive and escalating use of vitriol in politics is essentially about which side of the line these tactics fall on: force, or discourse? Is it a legitimate exercise of free speech, or does it cross over into an unacceptable form of hate-baiting that suggests at least moral if not legal culpability? The question seems to turn on whether such incendiary rhetoric is part of what a vibrant democracy must accommodate, or whether it more properly belongs in the camp of violence that we claim to disavow. The danger of calling it out as the latter is that partisan expediency can serve to cloud the fact that vitriol (and its cousins propaganda, manipulation, and fear-mongering) is an equal opportunity political tactic.

As such, while the dichotomy of force/discourse is largely false, as most dichotomies are, it certainly feels real in the aftermath of Tucson. Culturally and politically, we have so conflated discourse and violence in America that the difference is no longer readily apparent. The Tucson shootings were uniquely characterized by a scenario that presented us, starkly and graphically, with the two extremes of our current political landscape, namely the dialogical display of democracy versus the deafening silence of brute force. Malcolm X once spoke of America’s dilemma as turning upon the ballot or the bullet,” and there remains an instructive resonance to his words a half century later as we struggle to navigate this fine line.

The condemnation of vitriolic rhetoric perhaps is a starting point for a deeper engagement with these issues. But if we stop there, and mistakenly politicize the matter by making it solely the province of one party or another, we will have missed the larger point and in the process squandered yet another opportunity to promote sanity in the wake of tragedy. To do justice to the victims in Tucson and, increasingly, across America, we must revisit the ways in which force and violence are condoned at all levels of our politics and governance. This reexamination will be difficult, and will in the process call into question much of the societal architecture that has become normalized in our post-9/11 world. However, if we fail to undertake it, the resultant escalation is likely to be even more painful, as we cascade from one calamity to another.

It is not a mere coincidence that our latest national tragedy has occurred in Arizona. The state has been openly courting catastrophe for some time now, both through incendiary rhetoric and overtly divisive social policies. Perhaps the recent tragedy will someday be remembered as the turning point at which we consciously rejected the politics of “bait and hate,” and replaced it instead with a new national ethos grounded in respect and mutuality. Civil discourse may be a laudable aim, but if it is accompanied by inhumane policies then it will merely serve to stifle resistance to an inherently violent status quo. Tucson provides us with a compelling impetus to step back from the brink and embrace a form of politics that is less adversarial, and to establish peaceful concourse as the cultural norm both in terms of the rhetoric we employ and the policies we enact. The fact that this may seem far-fetched doesn’t make it any less necessary.

The desert is often known as a place of solitude, but in meeting the challenges before us, it might equally be said that we’re all in this together. We can continue to let force and violence (in all of its forms) guide us, or we can look to the virtues of measured, meaningful discourse as a potential alternative. Recent events squarely frame the choice, and we are called to respond.
(c) 2011 Randall Amster J.D., Ph.D., teaches peace studies at Prescott College and serves as the executive director of the Peace & Justice Studies Association. His most recent book is the co-edited volume "Building Cultures of Peace: Transdisciplinary Voices of Hope and Action" (Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2009).

Johnnie "Business As Usual" Boehner

When John Boehner was sworn-in as the new speaker of the House, he tipped his hat to the teabag activists across the country who had fueled the Republican takeover of the Chamber last fall. He almost choked up as he promised to “give the government back to the American people.”

However, Boehner was not choking back tears, he literally was choking on the flagrant hypocrisy of his words. You see, the people he's giving the government back to are not Tea Partiers, but the rapacious corporate lobbyists who ran the Congress during the Bush years. Apparently, the name “Boehner” is derived from an ancient Teutonic word meaning: Business-as-usual.

Throughout his two decades in Congress, the new speaker has been a reliable ally of corporate interests. In recent years, he has formed unusually tight legislative, political and even social ties with a group of lobbyists for such giants as Citigroup, Coors, Goldman Sachs, Google and R. J. Reynolds. Of course, most congressional leaders work with lobbyists, but to have them as your closest friends and social chums – well, you just want to say: For heaven's sake Johnnie, get a life!

These influence peddlers now form the Speaker's inner circle, guiding his legislative decisions. Even before last November's election, Boehner met in a closed door session with a flock of top corporate lobbyists to help shape "a new GOP agenda.” Forget the Tea Party! No Tea Party operative is a Boehner insider. It's the corporate agenda that Republican leaders will be pushing, and to make sure that it stays on track, Boehner has hired a top corporate lobbyist to be his policy director.

So, while Tea Party regulars are giddy with the thought that their movement took over the U. S. House, they were actually the Trojan Horse. They delivered the votes to make Boehner Speaker, allowing the corporate powers to move inside, quietly take over, and return Congress to business as usual.
(c) 2011 Jim Hightower's latest book, "If The Gods Had Meant Us To Vote They Would Have Given Us Candidates," is available in a fully revised and updated paperback edition.

Gun Control Issues Seen In Shootings
By Helen Thomas

President Barack Obama's speech in Tuscon, after the Jan. 8 massacre leaving six dead and 13 wounded, has been widely heralded as brilliant and consoling for the country. However, something was missing. Where's the beef? The prevalence of guns everywhere has put every American tragically in jeopardy. Doesn't anyone care?

It was easy for Obama to commiserate over the Tuscon massacre, but it would have taken courage to call it like it is. Courage he has rarely shown when the chips are down, and even more to expect when the 2012 elections loom, as he is seeking re-election. That is too much to ask even of a President who is so eloquent with words and reticent and self protective, when it comes to a political pitfall.

Presidential speeches may soothe the moment and comfort the bereaved, but they do not attempt to resolve the trend of mass shootings in our high schools, colleges and workplaces.

In his Jan. 12 address at the University of Arizona at Tuscon, Obama mourned for the fallen and named the wounded, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, Judge John Roll, 9-year-old Christina Taylor Green, and others who were attending Giffords' "Congress on Your Corner" rally.

The gun owners not only have the law and the Supreme Court on their side, the high court has ruled against state and local gun bans. The decision was a follow up to the courts' 2008 ruling against the hand gun law in the District of Columbia.

In the aftermath, Obama has moved from that ruling. Obama, then a political candidate, said he always believed that "the Second Amendment protects the right of individuals to bear arms, but I also identify with the need for crime-ravaged communities to save their children." He added that any firearm regulation must protect the Second Amendment. Obama said he also believes the court's opinion strengthens the protection of our bill of rights. I didn't know that an individual could be called a "well-regulated militia," but that is the way the Second Amendment is being interpreted.

Let's think of the thousands who die each year from guns. My sister personally suffered the loss of two of her children, my beloved niece and nephew, in the prime of their lives, both murdered from gun shots. Let's dwell on the assassinations in recent times of political leaders, with President John F. Kennedy, his brother, Bobby Kennedy, a candidate for the presidency in 1968, and the great civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.

The attempt on President Ronald Reagan's life in 1981 resonates in our history - as with other headliners who have taken a bullet. Where does it all end? Not with control, say gun lovers.

Former White House press secretary Jim Brady, who was shot in the head during the shooting rampage against Reagan outside the Washington Hilton Hotel, and his wife, Sarah, have been strong advocates of gun control - to no avail. I interviewed Reagan with the great Associated Press correspondent James Gerstenzang, while Reagan was still recovering from his bullet wound. While I was covering President-elect Reagan in New York City, John Lennon was shot to death Dec. 8, 1980. After this senseless, brutal murder, Reagan continued to maintain a strong stand against any gun control. Ironically, Reagan was still against gun control even after he himself was shot by John Hinckley.

It is interesting to learn of potential congressional moves to protect members of Congress and our judges who are vulnerable in a climate of hate and violence. Members of the Supreme Court are protected in their comings and goings by the FBI. They are entitled, but what about the protection of the average American and their families?

According to a poll by Rasmussen, only 29 percent of Americans believe that strong gun laws would prevent incidents like the Tucson shooting, and a new poll by John Zogby showed that only 35 percent of voters felt the shooting should lead to tougher gun laws.

So let's face it: We can expect more national tragedies from guns in the hands of the deranged and haters. Despite NRA slogans claiming that guns do not kill, of course they do - in the hands of those determined to kill.
(c) 2011 Helen Thomas is a columnist for the Falls Church News-Press. Among other books she is the author of Front Row at The White House: My Life and Times.

Has The Mad Cow Epidemic Gone Away?
By James Donahue

Michigan deer hunters last fall were urged to have the meat of the animals they bagged tested after random state exams found cases of Chronic Wasting Disease in a few bucks on the Northern Peninsula. While most people watching this televised news report may not have connected the dots, state game and health department officials were warning hunters that the deadly prions known to bring on bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or “Mad Cow Disease” had been found lurking in the forests of Michigan.

While the Mad Cow Disease epidemic of the early 1990s that brought about the mass slaughter of hundreds of thousands of cows around the world appears to be under control, researchers are still keeping a watchful eye on the herds of not only the beef cattle, but also sheep, deer and other forms of livestock consumed by humanity.

That is because the Mad Cow prion is found to jump from species to species, even showing up in birds, cats and humans. It spreads not only by the consumption of infected meat, but through the air, according to a report in the January issue of Scientific American. The story by Philip Yam states that researchers at University Hospital Zurich found that the prion could be passed to laboratory mice via aerial sprays. The discovery adds a new dimension to the potential danger hiding out in these microscopic bits of abnormal protein.

Indeed, prions are proteins that are naturally produced in the bodies of all animals. In the case of the Mad Cow Disease, it was discovered that toxic mutant versions of prions were created by the practice of grinding up bones and other non-marketable animal parts and turning it into livestock feed. What that amounted to was forced cannibalism among the cattle.

Yam described the result when he wrote: “These malformed versions can cause normal prions to become pathogenic, setting off a chain reaction conversion to the deadly kind. The bad prions destroy neural tissue, sometimes leaving the brain full of holes like a sponge.” This is why the disease has the technical name of spongiform encephalopathy.

All farming operations throughout the world stay in contact with one another, usually through agricultural researchers at major colleges and universities, so feeding practices used successfully in one part of the world are quickly picked up and used everywhere. Thus when farmers in the UK came up with the idea of grinding up waste parts of slaughtered cows and adding them to the cattle feed, it sounded like a good way to add protein to the feed and make good use of material that normally had to be disposed of. Thus it was not long after Mad Cow Disease broke out in the UK, cases began turning up all over Europe, the United States and other countries of the world.

Even worse, the prion had already spread to humans in the form of Creutzfeld-Jakob disease. People who had eaten the tainted meat were infected.

Deer and other wild animals that easily jump fences and feed from open farm feed troughs designed for beef cattle, began dying from what was called Chronic Wasting Disease. In the sheep it was called “scrapie.” Different names, but all the same thing. All suffered from spongiform encephalopathy, brought on by mutant prions that got into their feed. The disease by whatever name we choose to call it is insidious. As the mutant prions destroy neural tissue, it eats holes in the brain. Humans suffering from Creutzfeld-Jakob disease go insane and eventually die. Autopsies show that after death, the brain tissue looks like a block of gray Swiss cheese.

After the UK cattle began going crazy and dropping dead in the early 1990s, the cause of the problem was not known until Dr. Stanley Prusiner of the University of California found that the prion was the common thread linking all of the brain diseases. Prusiner was awarded the Nobel Prize in medicine for his discovery in 1997.

While classified as a protein, prions in mutant form are an indestructible disease-causing substance. They are living organisms although scientists cannot classify them as viruses, bacteria, fungi or parasites. They are a combination of 20 amino acids that attack brain tissue

As researchers studied prions they found that they survive the pressurized steam of autoclaves, filtration, extreme heat, radiation, formaldehyde and decades of freezing. They cross species and can be spread not only by ingestion and aerial application, but through blood transfusions and feeding on infected meat. Cooked meat does not protect the consumer.

Because of its nature, blood tests do not exist to determine the presence of spongiform encephalopathy in humans, livestock or stored blood. The only way to determine the presence of the prion is by examining brain tissue after death.

So how dangerous is the meat we buy from today’s supermarket? We are glad to say that once the cause of the Mad Cow nightmare was discovered, world farming practices have changed and mad cow disease has been brought under control. Yet occasional cases still turn up. According to the World Organization for Animal Health, only seven mad cow cases occurred in the UK in 2010. The United States reported only two cases in 2004 and 2005. Thus the chance of that hamburger frying your brain into Swiss cheese has been reduced almost to zero.

Still, there was that alarm about infected deer in Michigan.
(c) 2011 James L. Donahue is a retired newspaper reporter, editor and columnist with more than 40 years of experience in professional writing. He is the published author of five books, all dealing with Michigan history, and several magazine articles. He currently produces daily articles for this web site.

Activism Is Not A Crime
Why I Will Not Testify Before This Federal Grand Jury
By Maureen Murphy

I have been summoned to appear before a federal grand jury in Chicago on January 25. But I will not testify, even at the risk of being put in jail for contempt of court, because I believe that our most fundamental rights as citizens are at stake.

I am one of 23 anti-war, labor and solidarity activists in Chicago and throughout the Midwest who are facing a grand jury as part of an investigation into "material support for foreign terrorist organizations." No crime has been identified. No arrests have been made. And when it raided several prominent organizers' homes and offices on Sept. 24, the FBI acknowledged that there is no immediate threat to the American public. So what is this investigation really about?

The activists who have been ensnared in this fishing net work with different groups to end the US wars and occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan, to end US military aid for Israel's occupation of Palestinian land and US military aid to Colombia, which has a shocking record of repression and human rights abuses. All of us have publicly and peacefully dedicated our lives to social justice and advocating for more just and less deadly US foreign policy.

I spent a year and a half working for a human rights organization in the occupied West Bank, where I witnessed how Israel established "facts on the ground" at the expense of international law and Palestinian rights. I saw the wall, settlements and checkpoints and the ugly reality of life under Israeli occupation which is bankrolled by the US government on the taxpayer's dime. Many of us who are facing the grand jury have traveled to the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Colombia to learn about the human rights situation and the impact of US foreign policy in those places so we may educate fellow Americans upon our return and work to build movements to end our government's harmful intervention abroad.

Travel for such purposes should be protected by the first amendment. But new legislation now allows the US government to consider such travel as probable cause for invasive investigations that disrupt our movements and our lives.

The June 2010 US Supreme Court decision Holder vs. Humanitarian Law Project expanded even further the scope of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 to include first amendment activity such as political speech and human rights training.

Even former President Jimmy Carter feels vulnerable under these laws because of his work doing elections training in Lebanon where one of the main political parties, until earlier this month a member of the ruling coalition, is listed as a "foreign terrorist organization" by the US State Department. "The vague language of the law leaves us wondering if we will be prosecuted for our work to promote peace and freedom," Carter has said.

Former FBI officer Mike German, who now works with the American Civil Liberties Union, told the television program Democracy Now! that the subpoenas, search warrants and materials seized from activists' homes make it clear that the government is interested in "address books, computer records, literature and advocacy materials, first amendment sort of materials." He added, "unfortunately, after 9/11, [investigation standards] have been diluted significantly to where the FBI literally requires no factual predicate to start an investigation."

The US government doesn't need to call me before a grand jury to learn my activities and my beliefs. I have often appealed to my elected representatives to take a principled stand on foreign policy issues, protested outside federal buildings and have written countless articles over the years that can be easily found through a Google search.

Witnesses called to testify to a grand jury have no right to have a lawyer in the room and the jury is hand-picked by government prosecutors with no screening for bias. It is the ultimate abuse of power for a citizen to be forced to account to the government for no other reason than her exercise of constitutionally-protected freedoms of speech and association.

This is why these grand jury proceedings are a threat to the rights of all Americans, and why those of us who have been targeted, and others in the movements we work with, call them a witch hunt. And, even though it means I risk being jailed for the life of the grand jury, I will not be appearing before it.

The grand jury has been scrapped in virtually all countries and more than half the states in this country. There is a long American history of abusing grand juries to launch inquisitions into domestic political movements, from the pre-Civil War abolitionist movement to labor activists advocating for an eight-hour work day to the anti-war movement during the Vietnam years.

We have done nothing wrong and risk being jailed because we have exercised our rights to free speech, to organize and hold our government accountable. It is a dark day for America when people face jail for exercising the rights that we hold so dear.
© 2011 Maureen Murphy is a journalist and Palestine solidarity activist who lives in Chicago.

The Mysterious Mind of Modern Progressives
Written by Chris Floyd

I must have born too long ago, in a world that's dead and gone. Maybe that's why I can't understand the "progressive" politics of our day.

All across the blogosphere -- and in those few niches in other media where outright corporate harlotry and hardcore militarism don't yet hold absolute sway -- I see earnest, eager exhortations to our political leaders, urging them to act with wisdom, morality, mercy and justice. I see calls for those in power to think of the future, think of the children, think of the planet, think of the vulnerable, think of the needs and interests of working people. I see vast expenditures of mental and emotional energy devoted to parsing the politics of the high and mighty -- and to devising the best strategies and tactics (especially the oh-so-savvy tactics) for advancing the fortunes of those top dogs whose rhetoric occasionally seems simpatico to the ideals of peace, freedom, equality and human advancement.

There seems to be a widespread, deeply held supposition that politicians – politicians! -- will save us, if we can only put the right ones in charge of the power structure. And behind this supposition there is an unspoken -- and, in many cases, unconscious -- belief in the inherent goodness of this power structure itself. To be sure, it is a goodness that most progressives believe has been lost or diminished, or perhaps not yet realized. But there seem to be few doubts in the ultimate moral efficacy of this power structure, however lost or latent it might be at any given time. It just needs to be guided properly.

All this is very strange to me. I came of age in a time when politicians of every stripe were considered little more than sinister buffoons: gasbags, grifters and gloryhogs in the pay of the rich and powerful -- and in happy thrall to a brutal power structure based on violence, war, corruption and cronyism. We thought this not because we considered ourselves too cool or too hip or too cynical for that establishment drag, man; we thought this because of what we had seen with our own eyes.

We saw people torn from their private lives by an implacable militarist state and forced to kill and die in a savage, pointless imperial war that left millions of innocent people dead. We saw people gunned down in the street or clubbed into bloody goo for peaceful acts of dissent against the power structure. Politicians mouthed witless pieties that no one believed they believed, while behind the scenes elections were fixed (or "ratfucked"), contracts were rigged, laws were laughed at, and rules were broken at every turn. Cities were left to choke and rot; an entire industrial infrastructure was sold off to enrich a tiny, tax-dodging elite feasting on foreign slave labor. The wars went on and on, covertly and overtly; the living standards of working people kept plunging relentlessly; the prisons filled up; the farms went down; torturers, murderers, liars and thieves were applauded to high heaven.

This was the power structure. This is the power structure. This is the same system that bred every politician dancing on top of the greasy pole today. I have lived a politically aware life inside it for more than 45 years. When did it change for the better? When did the courtiers of this system suddenly become vessels of hope and goodness, and not the third-rate time-servers and witless goons they have been from days of yore? [Naturally, there have been a few exceptions; but then, there are always exceptions. You will always find a few individuals more concerned with the common good and acting honorably cropping up in every political system, however harsh, throughout history. But the presence of honorable exceptions does not redeem an entire system.] Where did today's belief in the power structure's inherent worthiness -- if we can only get a few plucky guys and gals in there to work the gears -- come about? Somewhere along the line, the "progressive left" became imbued with the same worship of power that we are constantly, and rightly, told is a hallmark of the Right.

Nothing illustrates this better than the sorry, shameful, cringing state of the "progressive left" in the age of Obama. As Arthur Silber warned us a long time ago -- far in advance of the 2008 election -- the acent of Obama to power has effectively neutered the entire edifice of progressive 'dissent' against the truly monstrous crimes of the power structure. Silber is no mystical prophet; he simply has a keen eye and sharp mind, and he simply looked at what was in front of him, in front of us all: a candidate bankrolled by Big Money and War Profiteers, clearly stating his intent to escalate the Terror War, surrounding himself with the architects of the economic collapse and pledging billions, trillions to bail out the rich, refusing outright to "dwell on the past" (i.e., investigate and prosecute the war crimes of his predecessor), and so on. None of this was hidden from view -- for anyone who wanted to see it.

Yet despite Obama's admirably frank presentation of himself as willing, eager tool of the bloodstained, brutal power structure that progressives decried so strenuously during the Bush years, these same progressives clambered onto Obama's bandwagon, declaring his election to be a moral imperative that all must support, or else be damned as an enemy of truth and light. They drank in his vague and vacuous rhetoric -- which in its soaring words about unity, peace, justice, equality, the future, etc., did not differ by a single iota from the disgorgings of meaningless gas we have always heard from the high and mighty. And when he reached the top of the power structure, and set about replicating, defending, entrenching and expanding the crimes of his predecessors, "progressives" fell silent, or carped a bit around the margins of this issue or that, or stuck out their tongues at Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck, or, in a great many cases, simply pivoted on a dime and began praising and justifying Obama's savvy "continuity" with policies they had considered intolerable abominations just months before.

This supinity toward power is also seen, on a far less important level, in the reaction to the departure of some talking head from some cable TV network. This development -- which apparently involves some vast golden handshake for the multimillionaire commentator -- has been greeted in some progressive quarters as a grievous blow to the health of the Republic. Witness this outpouring posted on Eschaton:

There was a time when Keith Olbermann was the only person who drew attention to the deep, deep veins of damage in our public life.

The first time he came to my attention was in 2004, when he focused like a laser on the electoral irregularities rife in Ohio, both on Countdown and his old blog Bloggermann, with a simple, straightforward shrug: "I'm a sports guy. I look at the numbers." (I may have that quote wrong, but it was similar to that.)

As he developed a clearer voice in his broadcasts, including the often hotly-awaited Special Comments, I didn't always agree with him, but he always seemed to speak from a principled position. He is a good American, and we need him. He will be missed.

"The only person who drew attention to the deep, deep veins of damage in our public life." Really ? The only person -- in the whole country? In all the world? Across the universe? There was not a single other person, anywhere, drawing attention to these veins of damage? Just Keith Olbermann? And not until 2004? So there was not a no other person in the entire cosmos drawing attention to damage in American public life until 2004, when Keith Olbermann stepped forth, alone?

But of course we are being unfair. The writer is not really saying that Keith Olbermann was the only person in the world who publicly criticized the policies of the Bush Administration and its rightwing allies; what is actually intended by this literally nonsensical statement is that Keith Olbermann was the only guy the writer saw on the Tee-Vee speaking disparagingly of one faction of the power structure. He was, to the writer's obviously circumscribed knowledge, the only person with a bit of media pull -- a bit of power -- to make some critical remarks on current politics.

It is also telling that what drew the writer's attention to Olbermann was not, say, fierce public denunciations of the mass slaughter of innocents in Iraq, but a partisan squabble to put a Democrat at the top of the power structure. The “deep veins of damage” apparently refers to the quite obvious vote-rigging and ratfucking in Ohio, which shocked the tender sensibilities of the writer -- who seems blissfully ignorant of the campaign histories of, say, Lyndon Johnson, John Kennedy and Harry Truman. Of course the vote in Ohio was rigged by the Republicans; and it could easily have been contested by John Kerry, with the full support of tens of millions of people. But while the young John Kerry -- who came out of the savage, pointless imperial war noted above and hurled the medals of the power structure in its face -- might have fought the ratfucking, the John Kerry of 2004 was, well, a politician: a third-rate sinister buffoon, in the pay of the rich and powerful, too frightened, and too comfortable, to upset the golden trough where he now fed. Yet it was the political fortunes of this ludicrous gloryhog -- who spent the entire campaign frantically running away from any principled position he had ever espoused in public life -- that alerted our Olbermann-mourning author to those deep, deep veins of damage in the green, green grass of home.

Today it is the political fortunes of another politician happily embedded in the corrupt and murderous power structure that exercises our progressives. Not the fact that Obama's war machine is razing entire villages -- entire villages! Go look at the pictures -- at a single stroke in Afghanistan. Not the fact that Obama's massive escalation of an entirely illegal war of murder and assassination by robot drones in Pakistan is destabilizing and destroying one of the most volatile regions on earth. Not the fact ten percent of entire working population of the United States is without employment, while tens of millions more languish in underpaid jobs with little or no benefits. Not the fact that the "secret government" of unaccountable intelligence and security agencies -- many of them with own secret armies and death squads -- keeps spreading like kudzu across the land. Not the fact that the nation's economic policies are firmly in the hands of Wall Street sharks and squids. Not the fact that Obama has openly declared he has the right to kill anyone on earth if he arbitrarily deems them a 'terrorist.' Not the fact that the torture of Terror War "detainees" goes on and on under Obama -- and is now aimed more and more at American citizens.

No, none of that bothers our fightin' progressives -- or at least, not for more than a blog post or two. Instead, it is the political fate of the most powerful man in the world that really gets their pulses racing with earnest, obsessive concern. It is the question of whether this third-rate murderer of innocent villagers in Central Asia gets to spend six more years managing the bloodthirsty power structure, or just two more years. And whether the far right clique of imperial courtiers wins the White House and then dismantles Social Security -- or whether Barack Obama and his clique of courtiers dismantle Social Security first as part of their "grand bargain" with their fellow trough-feeders. Oh, what mighty, weighty straws these are which spur our progressives to the field!

True, a handful of progressives lambast Obama now -- without, it must be said, ever apologizing for their misjudgment in insisting that we vote for him in the first place. But even some of the Obama's most vociferous critics on the left are making it clear that no matter what happens -- no matter how many more crimes the Terror War Continuer lays at America's door -- they will, in the end, stand squarely by his side when the battle trumpet sounds. John Caruso has just found a jaw-dropping example of this progressive-compulsive disorder, with which he makes much antic hay:

What do you do when Democrats ignore everything you want (on those rare occasions when they're not actively doing the exact opposite of what you want), and dismiss you as the sanctimonious purist fucking retards of the professional left for not applauding their betrayals loudly enough? Declare that you'll support them unconditionally, of course:

NORMAN SOLOMON: Obviously, on the one hand, when November comes along we want to stop right-wing Republicans, so we're going to vote Democrat.

I wanted to hear more about this seemingly counterintuitive strategy, so I got in touch with Solomon and asked him a few questions:

JC: Norman, you, Jeff Cohen and others have started Roots Action, a group which pledges to "take action independent of both party leaderships." Can you explain just what this independence means to you?

NORMAN SOLOMON: Obviously, on the one hand, when November comes along we want to stop right-wing Republicans, so we're going to vote Democrat.

JC: I see, I see. Now, in an essay titled "A Time for Action — Not Servility", you and Cohen have said that Roots Action's first action will be to send a petition to President Obama calling for an end to the Afghanistan war. Assuming Obama ignores this just as he's ignored dozens of other toothless petitions directed at him, how will you demonstrate your lack of servility?

NS: Obviously, on the one hand, when November comes along we want to stop right-wing Republicans, so we're going to vote Democrat.

JC: Huh, ok. You know, it's nearly two years until the next "November" that you're talking about—isn't there a possibility that the Democrats might do something so despicable between now and then that you'd change your mind? Let's try out a hypothetical here: suppose Obama announces a plan to terminate social security and use all the accumulated assets to invade Yemen, give lavish bonuses to corporate CEOs, throw all anti-war activists into an expanded Guantanamo, and then to celebrate he comes to your house and personally drinks the blood of your adorable pet schnauzer. What would you do in that scenario?

NS: Obviously, on the one hand, when November comes along we want to stop right-wing Republicans, so we're going to vote Democrat...

They will not, and evidently cannot, break faith with their fundamentalist belief in the inherent goodness of the power structure -- as long as this structure is managed by politicians from the Democratic Party. The actual, demonstrable content of this management -- war, murder, torture, repression, injustice, inequality, corruption -- doesn't seem to matter. All that really matters is that these atrocities are carried out under the proper factional label, by gasbags and gloryhogs occasionally making the proper noises in their empty speeches. That's what progressivism, liberalism, dissent, the "left" has come to in America.

Like I said, I was born in a long-gone age; I just can't fathom this fawning modern mindset.
(c) 2011 Chris Floyd

Hey, Glenn Beck, Stop Inciting Death Threats Against Professor Piven
By Matthew Rothschild

Frances Fox Piven is a distinguished professor of political science and sociology at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.

At 78, she has taught several generations of students about how and why poor people don’t get a fair shake in the United States and how to increase their organizational power and encourage voter registration.

Such scholarship, evidently, is too much for Glenn Beck, who several months ago started to wage a nasty campaign against her.

He’s falsely accused her of being “an enemy of the Constitution” and an advocate of “violent revolution” and has listed her as one of the nine most dangerous people in the world.

Since he started to air these attacks, Piven has begun receiving death threats.

“I got e-mails that said, ‘Die You Cunt,’ and ‘May cancer find you soon,’” she tells The Progressive. “And people are posting my address on the Internet with their messages that are really crude and ugly and violent.”

According to the Center for Constitutional Rights, several death threats against her have been posted on Beck’s website.

Here are a few:

“Be very careful what you ask for honey…A few well placed marksmen with high powered rifles…”

“Maybe they should burst through the front door of the arrogant elitist and slit the cow’s throat.”

“Somebody tell Frances I have 5,000 rounds ready.”

“We should blow up Piven’s office and home.”

“Let’s go string her up.”

“Snap her little chicken neck. This pinko filth needs a long dirt nap.”

The Center for Constitutional Rights just sent a letter to Roger Ailes, president of Fox News, urging him “to intervene and bring a stop to …the reckless endangering of the safety of Professor Piven.”

The letter, signed by executive director Vincent Warren and legal director William Quigley, concludes: “Professor Piven’s life could be at stake.”
(c)2011 Matthew Rothschild is the editor of The Progressive magazine.

The Competition Myth
By Paul Krugman

Meet the new buzzword, same as the old buzzword. In advance of the State of the Union, President Obama has telegraphed his main theme: competitiveness. The President’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board has been renamed the President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness. And in his Saturday radio address, the president declared that “We can out-compete any other nation on Earth.”

This may be smart politics. Arguably, Mr. Obama has enlisted an old cliché on behalf of a good cause, as a way to sell a much-needed increase in public investment to a public thoroughly indoctrinated in the view that government spending is a bad thing.

But let’s not kid ourselves: talking about “competitiveness” as a goal is fundamentally misleading. At best, it’s a misdiagnosis of our problems. At worst, it could lead to policies based on the false idea that what’s good for corporations is good for America.

About that misdiagnosis: What sense does it make to view our current woes as stemming from lack of competitiveness?

It’s true that we’d have more jobs if we exported more and imported less. But the same is true of Europe and Japan, which also have depressed economies. And we can’t all export more while importing less, unless we can find another planet to sell to. Yes, we could demand that China shrink its trade surplus — but if confronting China is what Mr. Obama is proposing, he should say that plainly.

Furthermore, while America is running a trade deficit, this deficit is smaller than it was before the Great Recession began. It would help if we could make it smaller still. But ultimately, we’re in a mess because we had a financial crisis, not because American companies have lost their ability to compete with foreign rivals.

But isn’t it at least somewhat useful to think of our nation as if it were America Inc., competing in the global marketplace? No.

Consider: A corporate leader who increases profits by slashing his work force is thought to be successful. Well, that’s more or less what has happened in America recently: employment is way down, but profits are hitting new records. Who, exactly, considers this economic success?

Still, you might say that talk of competitiveness helps Mr. Obama quiet claims that he’s anti-business. That’s fine, as long as he realizes that the interests of nominally “American” corporations and the interests of the nation, which were never the same, are now less aligned than ever before.

Take the case of General Electric, whose chief executive, Jeffrey Immelt, has just been appointed to head that renamed advisory board. I have nothing against either G.E. or Mr. Immelt. But with fewer than half its workers based in the United States and less than half its revenues coming from U.S. operations, G.E.’s fortunes have very little to do with U.S. prosperity.

By the way, some have praised Mr. Immelt’s appointment on the grounds that at least he represents a company that actually makes things, rather than being yet another financial wheeler-dealer. Sorry to burst this bubble, but these days G.E. derives more revenue from its financial operations than it does from manufacturing — indeed, GE Capital, which received a government guarantee for its debt, was a major beneficiary of the Wall Street bailout.

So what does the administration’s embrace of the rhetoric of competitiveness mean for economic policy?

The favorable interpretation, as I said, is that it’s just packaging for an economic strategy centered on public investment, investment that’s actually about creating jobs now while promoting longer-term growth. The unfavorable interpretation is that Mr. Obama and his advisers really believe that the economy is ailing because they’ve been too tough on business, and that what America needs now is corporate tax cuts and across-the-board deregulation. <>P> My guess is that we’re mainly talking about packaging here. And if the president does propose a serious increase in spending on infrastructure and education, I’ll be pleased.

But even if he proposes good policies, the fact that Mr. Obama feels the need to wrap these policies in bad metaphors is a sad commentary on the state of our discourse.

The financial crisis of 2008 was a teachable moment, an object lesson in what can go wrong if you trust a market economy to regulate itself. Nor should we forget that highly regulated economies, like Germany, did a much better job than we did at sustaining employment after the crisis hit. For whatever reason, however, the teachable moment came and went with nothing learned.

Mr. Obama himself may do all right: his approval rating is up, the economy is showing signs of life, and his chances of re-election look pretty good. But the ideology that brought economic disaster in 2008 is back on top — and seems likely to stay there until it brings disaster again.
(c) 2011 Paul Krugman --- The New York Times

The Quotable Quote...

"We have to condemn publicly the very idea that some people have the right to repress others. In keeping silent about evil, in burying it so deep within us that no sign of it appears on the surface, we are implanting it, and it will rise up a thousandfold in the future. When we neither punish nor reproach evildoers ... we are ripping the foundations of justice from beneath new generations."
~~~ Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Where Liberals Go To Feel Good
By Chris Hedges

Barack Obama is another stock character in the cyclical political theater embraced by the liberal class. Act I is the burst of enthusiasm for a Democratic candidate who, through clever branding and public relations, appears finally to stand up for the interests of citizens rather than corporations. Act II is the flurry of euphoria and excitement. Act III begins with befuddled confusion and gnawing disappointment, humiliating appeals to the elected official to correct “mistakes,” and pleading with the officeholder to return to his or her true self. Act IV is the thunder and lightning scene. Liberals strut across the stage in faux moral outrage, delivering empty threats of vengeance. And then there is Act V. This act is the most pathetic. It is as much farce as tragedy. Liberals—frightened back into submission by the lunatic fringe of the Republican Party or the call to be practical—begin the drama all over again.

We are now in Act IV, the one where the liberal class postures like the cowardly policemen in “The Pirates of Penzance.” Liberals promise battle. They talk of glory and honor. They vow not to abandon their core liberal values. They rouse themselves, like the terrified policemen who have no intention of fighting the pirates, with the bugle call of “Tarantara!” This scene is the most painful to watch. It is a window into how hollow, vacuous and powerless liberals and liberal institutions including labor, the liberal church, the press, the arts, universities and the Democratic Party have become. They fight for nothing. They stand for nothing. And at a moment when we desperately need citizens and institutions willing to stand up against corporate forces for the core liberal values, values that make a democracy possible, we get the ridiculous chatter and noise of the liberal class.

The moral outrage of the liberal class, a specialty of MSNBC, groups such as Progressives for Obama and, is built around the absurd language of personal narrative—as if Barack Obama ever wanted to or could defy the interests of Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase or General Electric. The liberal class refuses to directly confront the dead hand of corporate power that is rapidly transforming America into a brutal feudal state. To name this power, to admit that it has a death grip on our political process, our systems of information, our artistic and religious expression, our education, and has successfully emasculated popular movements, including labor, is to admit that the only weapons we have left are acts of civil disobedience. And civil disobedience is difficult, uncomfortable and lonely. It requires us to step outside the formal systems of power and trust in acts that are marginal, often unrecognized and have no hope of immediate success.

The liberal class’ solution to the bleak political landscape is the conference. This, along with letters and cries of outrage circulated on the Internet, is its preferred form of expression. Conferences, whether organized by Left Forum, Rabbi Michael Lerner’s Tikkun or figures such as Ted Glick—who is touting a plan to lure progressives, including members of the Democratic Party, into something he calls a “third force”—are where liberals go to feel good about themselves again. These conferences are not fundamentally about change. They are designed to elevate self-appointed liberal apologists who seek to become advisers and courtiers within the Democratic Party. The conferences produce resolutions no one reads. They build networks no one uses. But with each conference liberals get to do what they do best—applaud their own moral probity. They make passionate appeals to work within systems, such as electoral politics, that have been gamed by the corporate state. And the result is to spur well-meaning people toward useless and ultimately self-defeating activity.

“What we need is an alliance which consciously incorporates elected Democrats as well as elected Greens and independents, as well as groups, or individual leaders and members of groups, like Progressive Democrats of America and the Green Party,” Glick proposes. “More than that, this alliance eventually needs to support and work to elect candidates running both as Democrats and progressive independents, and maybe even an occasional Republican.”

The Tikkun Conference held in Washington last June was another pathetic display of liberal apologists begging Obama to be Obama. The organizers called on those participating to “Support Obama to BE the Obama We Voted For—Not the Inside-the-Beltway Pragmatist/Realist whose compromises have led to a decrease in his popularity and opened the door for a revival of the just-recently-discredited Right wing.”

Good luck.

The organizers of the Left Forum conference scheduled for this March at Pace University in New York City also communicate in the amorphous, high-blown moral rhetoric that is unmoored from the actual and real. The upcoming Left Forum conference, which has the vacuous title “Towards a Politics of Solidarity,” promises to “focus on the age-old theme of solidarity: the moral act of imagination underpinning working-class victories everywhere. It will undertake to examine the new forms of far-reaching solidarity that are both necessary and possible in an increasingly global world.” The organizers posit that “the potential for transformative struggles in the 21st century depends on new chains of solidarity—between workers in the rich world and workers in the global south, indigenous peasants and more affluent consumers, students and pensioners, villagers in the Niger Delta and environmental campaigners in the Gulf of Mexico, marchers and rioters in Greece and Spain, and unionists in the United States and China.” The conference “will contribute to the intellectual underpinnings of new and tighter forms of world-wide solidarity upon which all successful emancipatory struggles of the future will depend.”

The conference agenda, which sounds like a parody of a course catalogue description, includes the requisite academic jargon of “moral act of imagination” and “chains of solidarity.” This language gives to the enterprise a lofty but undefined purpose. And this is a specialty of the liberal class—to grandly say nothing. The last thing the liberal class intends to do is fight back. Left Forum brings in a few titans, including Noam Chomsky, who is always worth hearing, but it contributes as well to the lethargy and turpitude that have made the liberal class impotent.

The only gatherings worth attending from now on are acts that organize civil disobedience, which is why I will be at Lafayette Park in Washington, D.C., at noon March 19 to protest the eighth anniversary of the invasion and occupation of Iraq. Veterans groups on March 19 will also carry out street protests in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Chicago. You can link to the protests at Save your bus fare and your energy for events like this one.

Either we begin to militantly stand against the coal, oil and natural gas industry or we do not. Either we defy pre-emptive war and occupation or we do not. Either we demand that the criminal class on Wall Street be held accountable for the theft of billions of dollars from small shareholders whose savings for retirement or college were wiped out or we do not. Either we defend basic civil liberties, including habeas corpus and the prosecution of torturers or we do not. Either we turn on liberal institutions, including the Democratic Party, which collaborate with these corporations or we do not. Either we accept that the age of political compromise is dead, that the corporate systems of power are instruments of death that can be fought only by physical acts of resistance or we do not. If the liberal class remains gullible and weak, if it continues to speak to itself and others in meaningless platitudes, it will remain as responsible for our enslavement as those it pompously denounces.
(c) 2011 Chris Hedges, the former Middle East bureau chief for The New York Times, spent seven years in the Middle East. He was part of the paper's team of reporters who won the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for coverage of global terrorism. He is the author of War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning and American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America. His latest book is, "Empire of Il

Civility? Whatever. Capitulation? No Thanks.
By David Michael Green

Civility in politics is – pardon the anti-pun – all the rage nowadays.

Go figure. I guess assassinating members of the ruling class tends to have that kind of sobering effect.

So everyone’s talking nicey-nice, certain members of Congress will be sitting together during this week’s State of the Union despite their differing party affiliations, and most (but not quite) everybody has avoided calling each other Nazis for a week or two.

That’s cool. You know, I’m all for civility in politics. I’ve been disgusted and sometimes horrified at what has become of our national discourse these last decades. Shit like a multi-draft-deferral war-avoider, for example, running for the US Senate by branding a triple-amputee Vietnam vet as weak on national security, an’ all. Like that kind of incivility.

So yeah, can we and should we disagree more politely in American politics? How does whatshername put it? ‘You betcha.’

What I’m not down for, however, is civility that is actually a mask for capitulation.

Check out this sampling of headlines, from just one page (the front), of one newspaper (the New York Times), on one day (January 22, 2011):

“Obama Names G.E. Chairman To Fiscal Panel: A Pro-Business Signal by the White House”

“Tiny Species at Heat Risk, From Tropics to Peaks”

“Across Country, Lawmakers Push Abortion Curbs”

“In Tucson, Solace From Relatives of Past Killers”

“Olbermann Quits ‘Countdown’”

“CUNY Professor Threatened”

Get the picture, here? If the right is all of a sudden feeling more inclined toward civility in their conduct of American politics, maybe it’s because they’ve won every battle they’ve engaged in these last decades.

And if the “left” continues its pattern of “civility” in their conduct of American politics, maybe it’s because that’s the name they’ve given to what is in fact just capitulation to the right.

Well, strike that. There’s no maybe about it, actually. That’s precisely what’s happened.

And it pains me to see it.

It pains me to see that you can actually get away with running a political program for decades on end, in a democracy where everyone can vote no less, that is all about transferring the wealth of working people to the rich.

It pains me that the public is so dumb that you can steal their money and their quality of life, for decades on end, and successfully hide what you’re doing behind attacks on gays, or minorities, or immigrants, or tin-pot dictators abroad.

It pains me that (alleged) people ranging from Joe McCarthy to Newt Gingrich to Glenn Beck to Sarah Palin to Rush Limbaugh could infect American politics with their endless stream of venom, bringing it to its knees, and the public’s reaction to that is to decide that American politics is too angry and vitriolic in general. As though these folks had their lefty equivalent in – who? – Rachel Maddow? As though the vitriol were coming from both sides of the aisle.

And as though there even are two sides of the aisle, anymore.

In truth, there is. Kinda. Sorta. And peripherally. I do think there is a qualitative difference between Democrats and Republicans on issues of civil rights. And I think it highly unlikely that a Democrat would have plunged the country into the folly of Iraq in 2003. Even though it was America’s most liberal president on domestic politics – Lyndon Johnson – who lied the country into its most debilitating war, I think it’s fair to say that those days are over. Democrats are hardly different from Republicans on, say, ‘defense’ spending or the Palestinian conflict, but I don’t think they’re as overtly war-hungry as the chickenhawks of the GOP, plain and simple.

But the defining issue of our times is not civil rights or a stupid-ass war in Iraq. Rather, it is instead the question of the distribution of wealth in our society. And on these matters, there is almost no difference anymore between the two parties.

Consider the first paragraph of the Times’ “G.E. Chairman” article referenced above. It goes like this: “President Obama, sending another strong signal that he intends to make the White House more business-friendly, named a high-profile corporate executive on Friday as his chief outside economic adviser, continuing his efforts to show more focus on job creation and reclaim the political center.”

I’m sorry. I must need to get my hearing-aid batteries checked. For a minute there it sounded like you said “make the White House more business-friendly”? You mean the White House of Larry Summers, the nice man whose policies in the last Democratic White House brought us a massive global recession? Do you mean the White House that bailed out Wall Street, one hundred cents on the dollar, from their outrageous scams but has left the rest of us hanging, losing our jobs, our houses and our unemployment safety net? Do you mean the White House that drafted a ridiculous health care legislative monstrosity in order to placate insurance companies, forcibly driving 35 million brand-new customers into their arms? That White House? You want to make those guys more business-friendly?

There’s been only one issue that really matters in the thirty years since Ronald Reagan came to Washington, and that is the highly successful effort by the plutocracy to enrich themselves further by destroying the standard of living of the middle, working and poorest classes. All the debates concerning taxes and trade and labor rights and spending and regulation policy have been precisely about this single theme. And all the other debates about gay rights and Iraq and immigration and putting Christ back into Christmas have been peripheral matters to this core initiative, if not intentional distractions.

Astonishingly, this campaign has produced enormous success. And, since policies have consequences, these policies have had the consequence of directing almost every penny of the considerable growth in GDP sustained over the last thirty years into the hands of the rich, while everyone else slips into economic despair, or uses credit cards with usurious interest rates to barely keep their noses above water. I say “astonishingly”, because you’d think that this development was the product of a non-democracy, because in a real democracy people would never stand for it. But in fact, that’s exactly what’s happened, with the compliance of the victims in this crime. We do get to actually vote for the people who make policy in this country, but we don’t in fact choose candidates with our best interests at heart. In the most recent go-round, we picked a group of feral dog Republicans for our Congress even more obscene than the McCain-Boehner variety who impoverished the country only two years earlier.

So, no doubt Republicans are talking about civility in politics today. First, after Tucson their invective is unpopular even with astonishingly dumbed-down American voters. Second, they realize that bullets are now flying towards members of Congress and that they are, um, members of Congress themselves. But most importantly, there’s hardly anything left to loot. As Warren Buffet so eloquently put it, after noting that he pays a lower percentage of his income in taxes than does his receptionist, “There’s class warfare, all right, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.”

Yeah, I’m all for civility in politics. But not if it’s a mask for capitulation. And that’s more or less what I see in the American politics of the last generation or so. One “side” is just absolutely crazed-to-the-wall, seemingly unencumbered by any notion of civility, and absolutely destructive of democratic institutions and even government itself, in pursuit of its predatory agenda. Meanwhile, the other “side” pursues the almost identical set of economic politics, only with a nicer face and the endearing big toothy smile of a Barack Obama. But the outcomes are the same.

Those of us distraught at seeing the president punt on first down in his negotiations with the GOP thugs are making the fundamental error of seeing these conversations as actual negotiations. They are such only in the sense that one self-defining tribal faction wants to be the folks who get the perks from actually holding office and doing the bidding of the overclass, rather than allowing the other faction to perform that role. But substantively? Nah. Obama’s not ‘folding’ in ‘negotiations’ because he is not starting out anywhere fundamentally different than his ‘opponents’ in these conversations. They both want the same outcome, give or take a dollar or two here and there. They both have to manage their public images in order to appeal to their respective voting bases, while in reality simultaneously serving the same puppet-masters.

In this context, the current blah-blah over civility is just another side show, just another diversion.

And, in any case, civility is over-rated. While I agree that it is rarely necessary to employ the sort of ugly ad hominem attacks out of which the likes of Limbaugh have spun an entire career and a small fortune, what is truly lacking in our politics in not civility, but in fact passion. And honesty.

If I believed that the right in America had the interests of the world, or even just the American people, truly at heart, it would be one thing. But I don’t at all. I know instead for a fact that their interest is actually in destroying us folks if it is necessary in the process of looting us. Does that deserve the sort faux civility we arguably practice far too much? We weren’t called upon to be nice to the Japanese after they killed about 3000 of us in a surprise attack, were we? Why am I called upon to treat with respect millionaires and billionaires and the politician whores they’ve bought, when their goal is at least as destructive?

Does that seem like a far-fetched claim? “Worse the Pearl Harbor”, you say? To the hand-wringing centrists in this country, still desperately clinging for reasons of their own precarious emotional well-being to the prevailing ‘civility’ narrative, it’s a ridiculous statement.

Fine. I say, tell it to the perhaps one million dead Iraqis. Tell it to a million dead Americans, the victims of gun violence over the last generation’s time. Tell it to the rapidly proliferating number of species across the planet we are speedily eradicating. Tell it to the American children who can’t get health care or a decent education because public money has been redirected to tax cuts for the rich or ‘defense’ boondoggles of every sort. Tell it to the massive chunk of our population – a greater percentage than in any country in the world – behind bars in order to serve a for-profit prison industry. Tell it to the million of unemployed Americans whose jobs have been shipped overseas where labor is cheap and goon squads ‘disincentivize’ organizing into unions. Tell it to African farmers who starve to death because they can’t compete with subsidized American corporate agriculture. For that matter, tell it to the American family farmer. If you can find one.

You know, it’s bad enough being screwed. But it’s far worse to be screwed and to have to pretend it’s just an honest policy difference between well-meaning patriots with two divergent but equally legitimate and public-spirited positions on these issues.

It’s well past time to be blunt about our situation. Indeed, we cannot even hope to ameliorate it if we cannot even begin by labeling it.

The truth is that there are economic predators out there seeking to take what we have so that they can live ever wealthier lives while ours are short, nasty and brutish because of their institutionalized and legalized theft.

Victims of these crimes can choose to treat their assailants with civility if they want.

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

The Dead Letter Office...

Heil Obama,

Dear Gouverneur Bentley,

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

Without your lock step calling for the repeal of the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and your embracing only members of your personal mythological cult, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and those many other profitable oil wars to come would have been impossible! With the help of our mutual friends, the other "Rethuglican Whores" you have made it possible for all of us to goose-step off to a brave new bank account!

Along with this award you will be given the Iron Cross 1st class with diamonds clusters, presented by our glorious Fuhrer, Herr Obama at a gala celebration at "der Fuhrer Bunker," formally the "White House," on 04-01-2011. We salute you Herr Bentley, Sieg Heil!

Signed by,
Vice Fuhrer Biden

Heil Obama

America's Treatment Of Detainees
By Glenn Greenwald

Amnesty International has written a letter to Defense Secretary Robert Gates objecting to the conditions of Bradley Manning's detention, which was first reported here. The group denounces the oppressive conditions under which Manning is being held as "unnecessarily harsh and punitive," and further states they "appear to breach the USA’s obligations under international standards and treaties, including Article 10 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights." The letter describes Manning's treatment as particularly egregious "in view of the fact that he has no history of violence or disciplinary infractions and that he is a pre-trial detainee not yet convicted of any offence." Moreover:

The harsh conditions imposed on PFC Manning also undermine the principle of the presumption of innocence, which should be taken into account in the treatment of any person under arrest or awaiting trial. We are concerned that the effects of isolation and prolonged cellular confinement . . . may, further, undermine his ability to assist in his defence and thus his right to a fair trial.

The letter follows a report from Manning's lawyer, former Lt. Col. David Coombs, that the conditions of his detention temporarily worsened in the past week, prompting a formal complaint under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Amnesty's letter also follows a report that the U.N.'s leading official on torture is formally investigating the conditions of Manning's detention, a fact confirmed two weeks ago by The New York Times ("the United Nations’ special rapporteur on torture, Juan E. Mendez, said he had submitted a formal inquiry about the soldier’s treatment to the State Department").

Of course, caring what Amnesty International or the U.N. have to say about the conditions of America's detainees is so very 2004. Now, such a concern is -- to borrow a phrase from Alberto Gonazles -- a quaint and obsolete relic of the past.

Relatedly, the ACLU has obtained new documents which shed more harsh light on the 190 War on Terror detainees who died in American custody. Specifically, many of these documents -- autopsy reports and military investigations - - show that at least 25 to 30 of those cases were "unjustified homicides," i.e., murder. It's long been known that many detainees were killed by their treatment during interrogation. I wrote about many of these cases here over a year ago, and Gen. Barry McCaffrey has said: "We tortured people unmercifully. We probably murdered dozens of them during the course of that, both the armed forces and the C.I.A." But these new documents show that these deaths at the hands of U.S. captors were even more deliberate, brutal and widespread than previously known:

In one such case, a detainee was killed by an unnamed sergeant who walked into a room where the detainee was lying wounded "and assaulted him ... then shot him twice thus killing him," one of the investigating documents says. The sergeant than instructed the other soldiers present to lie about the incident. Later, the document says an unnamed corporal then shot the deceased detainee in the head after finding his corpse.

Appropriately, The Weekly Standard today has an interview with former Bush Attorney General Michael Mukasey in which he slams Eric Holder for the mere possibility that some of these detainee deaths will be criminally investigated, calling it a "witch hunt." That view is not an aberration, of course. The Brookings Institutions' Benjamin Wittes last week criticized the Obama DOJ for merely leaving open the possibility of prosecution for some of these CIA interrogators who were so sadistic and lawless that they even exceeded the boundaries of the torture permission slips given to them by the Bush DOJ. Both Mukasey and Wittes are speaking for the consensus of America's political class. They -- and it -- literally believe that anyone acting as part of the American government should be able to get away with murder -- which they'll argue in between sermons on the evils of other nations' human rights abuses and the need for the U.S. to "do more" to stop such abuses.
(c) 2011 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.

Congressmen Talk To Cameras Not Issues!
By J. Alva Scruggs

It was a great Red Letter day when TV cameras were allowed on the floor of our Government bodies. However, the live images of our representatives resulted in a most remarkable thing. Instead of showing out duly elected officials doing the real business of the people's government, very large numbers of our leaders are profiling and talking to the cameras.

How many time do we see our legislators approaching the podium, leaning against the podium, hands in a gesturing position and talking the most ignorant, illogical, misleading message of fear, and emotion of all times! Our fellow American leaders white hair all silky white, wearing their Eagle Brand suits, blue eyeing staring at you as if they were the messengers of some all knowing god, and lying openly or aggressive working for some special interest. Recently a Congressman said, ”My truth may not fit your facts but truth is always common sense and believable!” In other wards, “Truth and facts are mutually exclusive!”

Take the Health Legislation-it was said, “The government's Obamacare mandates Advanced planning consultations. Those on Social Security will be required to attend am ‘end of life planning’ seminar every five years!” These are the Death committees! “The tax imposed under this section will not be treated as a tax.” Now, how could anyone in his or her right mind come up with this convoluted statement!

The act of Congressmen talking to the cameras has caused two very destructive things.

First, it has provided the public a standard of “non sense” and “lies” that set the average intellectual goals of achievement at a level of a 7th grader and tells the public that any thing you say regardless of how ignorant is OK. The facts do not need to support what is given under the guise of Truth!

Secondly, this tendency to say any thing as truth and absolute has stopped these leaders from taking the time and effort to look for the facts and them using reason to make accretions or conclusions. The full potential of the individual and whole group is never to be reached. The level of universal "stupidity" becomes the standard.

The TV camera live in the Congress chamber has diminished the elected politician becoming a “Statesman” once elected to office. It has made a sham out of the expectation that the voter has placed into office a true representative “of, by and for” the people!

A classical example of how a Female (and others) views herself (themselves) as the equal to an essentially white male leader we only need to look at Sarah Palin-Mother Grizzly. She wares bibbed pants waders with both belt and suspenders. Stands in the Bubber stance, her little legs apart, thumbs stuck in the side pockets, swaying from side-to-side, posturing while waiting to take a shot on the shooting range. She takes her 306 rifle shoots Bambi, Thumper, Yogi and Boo Boo Bear, takes home a moose for dinner after clubbing a Flounder to death! Her rethoric is filled with images of targets, lock and load, and remember the 2nd Amendment of the Constitution. She takes Vice President Cheney’s image of shooting his “Friend” in the face as a wonderful hazard worth taking for the sake of the win!

In addition, some female and Blacks that are vying for political positions having adapted the common habit of using, “Common Sense (polite phrase for the stupidity)” and using it to make others comfortable with being ignorant and having joined the mass “Stupidity” of the voting public! This is one of the main reasons that the level of American education/intelligence performance is reported to be about the 7th grade level. Further. This demonstration by Congresspersons exposes to the world the reality that Americans are no more enlightened that some of the Third World Nations!

Some enterprising fellow Americans are using this condition of fear, emotion and declaration of truth with out fact to back it up and making big money (Limbaugh $500 million, Palin $20 million, Hannity, O'Reilly, Glen Back, Joe Scarborough, Buckman, many new pundits & Expert Consultants, ,etc.) America's more perfect union has been obstructed by the show of disloyalty to truth, morality, and ethics! It is critical that Americans declare who our enemy is (i.e. Corporations, corrupt politicians, even at times some of our so called religious leaders) and excise/eliminate this cancer from the “ Body Government” using all means necessary.

2011 brings America to probably the most critical corporate bought and paid for assembly (112th Congress) in decades. The Republicans are ready for the systemic destruction of many pieces of legislation that is good for citizens and destructive to corporate exploitation!
© 2011 Dr. J. Alva Scruggs, BS, MS, MA, EdD is an author, journalist and columnist. He looks forward to your comments.

The Cartoon Corner...

This edition we're proud to showcase the cartoons of
~~~ Joe Heller ~~~

To End On A Happy Note...

The Man I Killed

When they tightly strap me in, give me lethal injection,
Just a few more minutes to live, no remorse for what I did,
It was for the betterment of man, I gave the utmost sacrifice,
Before more damage could be done I took his life.

There was a split second of silence when the dart punctured the skin,
Beady eyes rolled back in head, the body dropped from the poison,
They could incapacitate me, but could not erase my sneer,
I heard a thousand people screaming, while three billion others cheered,
He was gone, and I would soon be…

Executed by the state, all appeals would be in vain,
I was not criminally insane, in fact, I was found to be,
An otherwise caring and respectable member of society,
A minor threat except for that one that I killed.

As the sedatives take effect, I just smile and close my eyes,
There's a priest kneeling next to me, he asked me if I realized,
I was going straight to hell, and he thought that I should know,
That the man I killed's replacement planned this whole scenario,
And what I did had no significance at all.
© 2006/2011 NOFX

Have You Seen This...

Parting Shots...

New Rules
By Bill Maher

New Rule: All the other contestants for "Stupidest Movie Title of All Time" can put their pencils down. We have a winner: 'Country Strong.' Who came up with this title? The Hulk? "Country Strong," a movie that makes you stupid just buying the ticket. "Here money, give ticket." I mean, 'Jaws' wasn't the greatest title, but it was better than 'Shark Eat!'

New Rule: There's no sure way to prevent the next shooting spree, but let's start by not letting Starbucks sell a 31-ounce cup of coffee. That's the equivalent of 31 espressos. If you can't get going in the morning without this, check for your reflection in a mirror. You might need to graduate to smoking crack. Maybe Starbucks should stick to what it does best: providing a place for losers with laptops to pretend they're writing a screenplay.

New Rule: Instead of making a YouTube video out of the guy who had a rat crawling on him after he fell asleep on the subway, how about waking him up and saying, "Dude, you have a rat on you"? I'm sure he doesn't want it there. He's not the homeless version of Steve Irwin. And if common decency isn't enough, think how bad you're going to feel when it turns out this man has a golden radio voice?

New Rule: Leave stupid enough alone. The lives of millions were rocked last week when people learned that their astrological charts were invalidated by a Minneapolis astronomer named Paul Kunkel. Or as I like to call him, "The Zodiac Killer." Look, if you're panicked because your zodiac sign just changed to "Ophiuchus," and now you don't know what your traits are...let me help: you're a gullible dumb-ass.

New Rule: [slide of President Obama and China's President Hu] Forget the trade, currency and human rights issues. These two must give the world what it wants and sign on for 'Rush Hour 4.'

And, finally, New Rule: The problem isn't that there's too little civility in government, it's that there's too much. President Obama's State of the Union speech is next week, and as you've probably heard, Members of Congress have agreed, in response to the tragedy in Arizona, to break with the tradition of Republicans on one side of the room and Democrats on the other. Instead, they're all going to sit together, conservative next to liberal, gay next to straight, nerd next to jock. Oh, wait, that was an episode of 'Glee.'

In any event, the two parties are coming together, and they've agreed Joe Lieberman has to sit by himself. Now, I must say, America is such a mystery to me. A lunatic uses a Glock to shoot 19 people, and our answer is, "Don't try to control guns or nuts, just be more polite." Now, I'm just a hockey mom, seems to me when a madman kills people, the problem isn't the First Amendment, it's the Second.

In his big speech, President Obama said we should do everything we can to make sure this country lives up to our children's expectations. The first of which, I'm guessing, would be to live in a country where children don't get shot when they leave the house. That's what's important. Who gives a damn if politicians mask their disdain for each other with forced niceties? They do it already. "My good friend from the great state of Alabama." As if they're really good friends, or anyone outside Alabama thinks it's a great state.

Oh, it's a love-fest these days. Conservatives couldn't stop praising Obama's speech. Of course, because it left them off the hook. The party of assault weapons didn't get blamed for the assault. Just like the party of oil didn't get blamed for the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Like the party of deregulation skated on tanking the economy.

Again and again, Obama is given the opportunity to lay some richly-deserved blame at the feet of the Republicans, and again and again, he just can't do it. Because he wants them to like him so badly. Conservatives, stop worrying. He can't be a Kenyan. He's a "golden retriever." He's done everything he possibly could to appease you short of using bleach.

And when Obama says, "Find common ground," oh, here comes the bulls**t now. Because whenever a Democrat seeks "common ground," he always seems to find it right where the Republican was already standing. Ten years ago, we had a ban on extended-ammo clips, so that people like this walking-Thorazine ad couldn't kill supermarket crowds hassle-free. The Republicans killed that ban. And now the compromise is we can never get it back.

I think the old word for that was "surrender."

Republicans, please note, are not taken in by the myth of common ground. They never move an inch on anything. Gun restrictions are always bad, taxes are always too high, and there's nothing on earth that can't be improved by adding either Jesus or bacon.

Sarah Palin knows fewer words than Koko the gorilla. But, it's not a coincidence that two of them are "Don't retreat," and the other is, "reload."
(c) 2011 Bill Maher is host of HBO's, "Real Time with Bill Maher."

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Issues & Alibis Vol 11 # 04 (c) 01/28/2011

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