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In This Edition

Naomi Klein explores, "Goldstone's Legacy For Israel."

Uri Avnery examines, "The Aljazeera Scandal."

Diana B. Henriques reports on a, " Reservist In A New War, Against Foreclosure."

Randall Amster goes, "In Search Of A New Beginning … Before The End."

Jim Hightower investigates, "Obama Inc."

Helen Thomas studies, "The Casualties Of War."

James Donahue concludes, "Americans Were Duped ."

Mike Folkerth returns with "Predictions."

Chris Floyd sees, "Egypt Rising."

Matthew Rothschild finds that the, "Vast Majority Wants To Amend The Constitution To Overturn Corporate Personhood!."

Paul Krugman warns of, "A Cross Of Rubber."

Chris Hedges discerns, "What Corruption And Force Have Wrought In Egypt."

David Michael Green explains, "The Pseudo-State Of The Pretend Union."

Maine Governor Paul LePage wins the coveted "Vidkun Quisling Award!"

Amy Goodman reports on, "When Corporations Choose Despots Over Democracy."

Sam Harris gives, "A Response To Critics."

And finally in the 'Parting Shots' department Andy Borowitz says, "World Cannot Believe Mubarak Hasn’t Fucking Left Yet" but first Uncle Ernie sez, "Obamacare Bites The Big One!!"

This week we spotlight the cartoons of Jerry Holbert, with additional cartoons, photos and videos from Derf City, Rex babin, Robert Ariail, Jim Morin, Dees Illustration.Com, Ben Curtis, Erik Holladay, Borowitz Report.Com, Spectrum Z.Com, New Clear Vision.Com, Jacques Louis David 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."

ObamaCare Bites The Big One!
Hooray, I think?
By Ernest Stewart

“I note that in 2008, then-Senator Obama supported a health care reform proposal that did not include an individual mandate because he was at that time strongly opposed to the idea, stating that ‘if a mandate was the solution, we can try that to solve homelessness by mandating everybody to buy a house.’” ~~~ Federal Judge Roger Vinson

"Yes, at first I was happy to be learning how to read. It seemed exciting and magical, but then I read this: Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. I read every last word of this garbage, and because of this piece of sh*t, I am never reading again." ~~~ Officer Barbrady

“I worship a Jew! I have a lot of Jewish friends, and they’re kind of, like, ‘You evangelicals love Israel more than we do.’ I’m, like, ‘Do you not get it? If there weren’t a Jewish faith, there wouldn’t be a Christian faith!’” ~~~ Mike Huckabee

"Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing." ~~~ Ben jamin' Franklin

Don't get me wrong: there are aspects of ObamaCare that I like and support--sort of. There was a simple alternative to all this ado, and it wouldn't have taken 2,000 pages of political gobbledygook. In fact, all it would have taken is one sentence-- ten words! "Medicare for everyone who wants it from birth to death!" Simple, huh? It would save billions in red tape; no one forced to buy anything. If you want to buy private insurance, and take the chances of some corpo-rat death panel refusing your coverage, then you are far too stupid to live to begin with and we could quickly and efficiently thin out the herd of teabagger morons! Of course, most of those teabaggers already have Medicare, so it wouldn't affect them, but at least the younger ones wouldn't have been left around to breed and mess up the gene pool!

Obama being the corpo-rat tool that he is never even considered any other option than selling us all lock, stock and barrel to the insurance goons, so I won't be shedding any tears for ObamaCare.

Yes, those few pluses that the bill contained may be lost, but they can be resurrected, the bits about lowering taxes on small businesses, lowering prescription prices for seniors and keeping insurance companies from denying sick children and people with a preexisting condition medical care. Of course, all of those and all the rest would be covered by Medicare and since Medicare doesn't have the costs of buying the CEO and Board of Directors new yachts and summer homes in San Tropez every year, your cost would be much less. Throw in a few provisions that keep hospitals from charging you $100 for a band-aid and $250 for a sandwich and a box of milk and it would go a long ways to drastically lowering health care costs! As would buying drugs at a good discount from their manufacturers, where we could save billions; or if they refused, we would buy them from someone else who would give us righteous discounts! Those who didn't and then lost 90% of their business might see the light and go along with the program!

This reversal was brought about by a lawsuit brought in Florida by Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Washington, Wisconsin and Wyoming. More than half the states--both red and blue!

Federal judge Rodger Vinson ruled for the states saying that if the government can require people to buy health insurance, it could also regulate food the same way.

"Or, as discussed during oral argument, Congress could require that people buy and consume broccoli at regular intervals, Not only because the required purchases will positively impact interstate commerce, but also because people who eat healthier tend to be healthier, and are thus more productive and put less of a strain on the health care system."

Of course Eric Holder was up in arms, and, through Justice Department spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler, said Monday the department strongly disagrees with Vinson's ruling and intends to appeal.

"There is clear and well-established legal precedent that Congress acted within its constitutional authority in passing this law and we are confident that we will ultimately prevail on appeal."

The final step will almost certainly be the U.S. Extreme Court, as two other federal judges have already upheld the law, and a federal judge in Virginia ruled the insurance mandate unconstitutional, but stopped short of voiding the entire thing.

I wonder how the "Gang of Five"™ on the Extreme Court will rule on this, don't you? Me neither--it's a foregone conclusion. Had Obama been a president for the people, instead of one for the corpo-rats, we would have finally had a health care system that we could have been proud of, but for many this will mean trips to the emergency room when it is often too late to do something about it, instead of seeing a doctor when there was still time! Either way, there will be winners and losers, no matter how the "Extremes" finally rule. As is often the case in America these daze, we're damned if we do and damned if we don't!

In Other News

What's with the folks down in Kentucky? Are they all insane? I have kin folk down there and they all struck me as intelligent, good, caring people; so how do you explain the last few US Senators from Kentucky. Total brain deads like Jim Bunning, Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul? Not content with electing looney toons to the Senate, they've elected one as governor, too! Steve Beshear wants to build a full size replica of "Noah's Ark" (yeah I know, how're you going to build something that never existed?) and, as rumor has it, a full sized "Tower of Babel" that's sure to bring in the tourist dollars!

Well, as a kid I once watched Jim Bunning, who was a pitcher for the Detroit Tigers, stop a line drive off the bat of Micky Mantle with his forehead. So, in Jim's case, his insanity at least comes honestly. However, it doesn't explain why Kentuckians would vote for that brain dead in the last stages of Alzheimer's disease. It being so obvious, how could they?

Then there's Mitch McConnell who always has a look in his eyes as if he's just escaped from the loony bin and whose legislative acts also resemble the acts of a mad man. Even if he is, as some have said, a raving queen whose lover, South Carolina's Lindsey Graham, is also not too lucid when it comes to reality, it doesn't explain why anyone would vote for this corpo-rat stooge? Why would any one, anywhere, vote for someone whose whole purpose is to enslave them for his corpo-rat masters? Sorry, Kentucky; I just don't get it!

Now while this pair of fascists are truly evil, they're not worthy to carry the luggage of Kentucky's latest brain aneurysm: Rand Paul.

Rand got his name from his daddy: everyone's favorite fascist moron, viz., Ron Paul. Ron named Rand after his favorite writer, Ayn Rand, who was not only a famous whore for her many, twisted, sexual perversions, but holds the honor, or more appropriately, dishonor, of having written the worst book ever published in the English language, and I'm not talking about "Decision Points," which comes in a distant 5th, but "Atlas Shrugged." "Atlas Shrugged" is so awful that I've never been able to finish it, try as I may. The first attempt I quit after 500 pages and the book went into the trash. On the second attempt, I quit after 600 pages, throwing the book into the fireplace. The third attempt, I either had to quit reading or get myself blinded, so after 800 pages I put the book into the bathroom to be used as toilet paper! Something I think that we should consider doing with Ron's boy Rand. I think any of the above three would work nicely, don't you?

Rand hasn't been in office for a month and one of his first bright ideas is to get rid of the few remaining union jobs by passing what he calls the "National Right to Work Act" but what should be rightly called, if there were any truth in it, the "National Right to Work For Slave Wages Act."

This turkey is nothing more than part of the plan to destroy what's left of the middle class. Something that the right has been out to do ever since a middle class arose in America, despite their best effects to quash it. Rand doesn't give a rat's ass about the workers; what Rand and most of the rest from both parties are out to do is to return us to those glorious daze of yesteryear when southern gentlemen gathered to tally up their profits on selling cotton, while drinking mint juleps and bull whipping and raping a few of their slaves for amusement.

Again, why anyone in their right mind would vote Rethuglican is way beyond me and why folks that seem to be normal would vote those three traitors into office is beyond me! Are the people of Kentucky that way because of what drove the people of California to elect and reelect the Groppen Fuhrer, i.e., the polluted air they try to breathe and the polluted water that they're forced to drink? Or have all the people in Kentucky been replaced by pods? Pod people--that would explain a lot, wouldn't it, America? "Pods for Paul!"

And Finally

One of our prominent national embarrassments, Mike "Huckleberry Hound" Huckabee, accompanied by Angelina Jolie's embarrassment, Jon Voight, went off to the "holely land" to stir up even more Arab resentment (if that's even possible) against America.

Huckabee, the well known Israeli "5th columnist" spoke in favor as he has on many occasions of Israel taking over the rest of Palestine and "settling" all Palestinian lands with Jews almost as we did with the various Indian tribes. Except, of course, all those Israeli aboriginal people will have to move somewhere else, or face the "Final Solution" that Israel has been working on for the last 64 years. Mike said:

"I cannot imagine, as an American, being told I could not live in certain places in America because I was Christian, or because I was white, or because I spoke English."

Huckabee then dismissed the notion that Jewish settlements on land the Palestinians want for a future state are obstacles to peace. Instead, he backed the "settlers'" view that they have the right to build anywhere in "the place that God gave them." Do you think that Mike might be one of those one world types? He must be if he thinks the United Nations is god, as they were the ones that caused this 64-year long disaster to happen, not some mythical creature!

You can see why Obamahood isn't worried about reelection with brain deads like Mike running for his job!

The Palestinians claim east Jerusalem, as their capital of a Palestinian state, but Huckabee referred to the area as part of Israel's "eternal capital." He also met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and members of Israel's parliament during a "bund rally."

Huckabee and Voight were "hosted" by, and the guests of, the "Jerusalem Reclamation Project," a group that promotes stealing Arab lands for Jewish settlements.

Huckabee visited the Shepherd Hotel site, the former residence of the Mufti of Jerusalem that was destroyed in early January to make way for Jewish apartment blocks. Huckabee was thumbing his nose at U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who has admonished Israel for knocking down the hotel, a position Huckabee brushed off.

"I think we ought to be more concerned about Iran building bombs than Israelis building bedrooms."

Keepin' On

Thank almighty Zeus for the Great White North! If not for Canada, I'd be in a terrible fix! Good ole Ernie came through again, between him and Martin I can almost get by, unfortunately almost isn't quite good enough. Also, they've done way more than their fair share helping me pay the bills for the magazine and put some food on the table!

I'm about 6 weeks away from having to pay a $650 bill, then more bills come due in June, July and September. Even though this is a non-profit organization, it doesn't mean we have no bills to pay, and while we need about 2% of what other online political magazines need to operate, it's a substantial amount if you don't have it.

So what's up, America? Are you going to let Canada pay your bills, pay your fair share? Or are you going to help us spread the load around, so no one is crushed under its weight? If you believe in the cause, then do something about it, and do it now before Issues & Alibis, like the antebellum south, is "Gone With The Wind!" After all, you don't need Issues & Alibis to get truthful news, right? You can always tune into Fox or CNN, eh? Good luck with that!


12-29-1927 ~ 01-27-2011
Thanks for the laughs!

11-03-1933 ~ 01-30-2011
Thanks for the music!

03-27-1952 ~ 02-03-2011
Thanks for the tango!


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.

Goldstone's Legacy For Israel
By Naomi Klein

A sprawling crime scene. That is what Gaza felt like when I visited in the summer of 2009, six months after the Israeli attack. Evidence of criminality was everywhere-the homes and schools that lay in rubble, the walls burned pitch black by white phosphorus, the children's bodies still unhealed for lack of medical care. But where were the police? Who was documenting these crimes, interviewing the witnesses, protecting the evidence from tampering?

For months it seemed that there would be no investigation. Many Gazans I met on that trip appeared as traumatized by the absence of an international investigation as by the attacks. They explained that even in the darkest days of the Israeli onslaught, they had comforted themselves with the belief that, this time, Israel had gone too far. Mona al-Shawa, head of the Women's Unit at the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, told me that Gazans took great solace from news of pro-Palestinian protesters filling the streets of London and Toronto. "People called it war crimes," she recalled. "We felt we were not alone in the world." It seemed to follow from these expressions of outrage that there would be serious consequences for the attacks-criminal trials for the perpetrators, sentences. And under the glare of international investigation, Israel would surely have to lift the brutal embargo that had kept Gaza sealed off from the world since Hamas came to power. Those who really dared to dream convinced themselves that, out of the lawlessness and carnage, a just peace would emerge at last.

But six months later, an almost unbearable realization had set in: the cavalry wasn't coming. Despite all the righteous indignation, Israel had not been forced to change its behavior in any way. Gaza's borders were still sealed, only now the blockade was keeping out desperately needed rebuilding supplies in addition to many necessities of life. (It would take Israel's lethal attack last year on a humanitarian aid flotilla for a debate about the siege to begin in earnest.) Even worse, the people I met were acutely aware that they could find themselves trapped under Israeli air bombardment again tomorrow, for any arbitrary excuse of Israel's choosing. The message sent by the paralysis of the international legal system was terrifying: Israel enjoyed complete impunity. There was no recourse.

Then, out of nowhere, a representative of the law showed up. His name was Justice Richard Goldstone, and he was leading a fact-finding mission for the United Nations. His mandate was to assess whether war crimes had been committed in the context of the attack. I happened to be in Gaza City when Justice Goldstone was wrapping up his public hearings and met several people who had testified before him, as well as others who had opened their homes to the mission, showing the scars left by Israeli weapons and sharing photographs of family members killed in the attacks. Finally some light seemed to be shining on this rubble-choked strip of land. But it was faint, and many Gazans remained skeptical that justice would follow. If the attacks had failed to provoke action, they reasoned, what hope was there that words in a report would awaken the world? This caution, it turns out, was a wise form of self-preservation.

The attempts to block, then sabotage, then bury the Goldstone Report began before a single word had been written. The Israeli government rejected the original decision by the UN Human Rights Council to investigate allegations of war crimes during the Gaza attack. The council was hopelessly biased, Israel claimed, and the January 12, 2009, resolution creating the fact-finding mission was, according to Israel's ministry of foreign affairs, "one-sided and irrelevant." It is true that the original mandate of the mission called only for an investigation of violations committed "by the occupying Power, Israel, against the Palestinian people." But when Justice Goldstone took the top job and announced that the mandate had been expanded to include possible crimes committed by Palestinians "whether before, during or after" the attacks, Israel flatly refused to acknowledge this new reality. "There is no formal expansion of the mandate," foreign ministry spokesman Yossi Levy insisted, against abundant evidence to the contrary. He added, "We will not cooperate with the mission, because its duty is not to find the truth but to find semi-judicial ways to attack Israel."

When it became clear that the mission would proceed despite this obstructionism, the Israeli government switched to a new strategy: doing almost everything in its considerable power to sabotage Goldstone's work. To this end, the Israeli government refused to allow the UN team to travel inside Israel. That meant that to get into Gaza, members had to go through Egypt. It also meant that Goldstone's investigators could not travel to Sderot and Ashkelon to hear from Israeli victims of Qassam rocket attacks-critical testimony if the mission was to fulfill its mandate to investigate crimes on all sides. Israel's strategy was transparent enough: it would force Goldstone to produce a one-sided report, which it would then enthusiastically dismiss for being one-sided.

It didn't work. To get around the government roadblocks, Goldstone flew Israelis to Geneva so he could hear their testimony in person. When the report came out, it reflected the scale of the crimes committed by each side, concentrating mostly on Israel's actions, including attacks on houses, hospitals and mosques that together killed scores of people, as well as attacks on civilian infrastructure such as water installations, agricultural facilities and factories. But the report did not give Hamas a pass. Goldstone concluded that the launching of rockets and mortars into populated areas "where there is no intended military target"-a practice used by Hamas's military wing as well as by other armed Palestinian groups-"indicates the commission of an indiscriminate attack on the civilian population of southern Israel, a war crime, and may amount to crimes against humanity." He also accused Hamas of "extrajudicial executions" in the Gaza Strip and the Palestinian Authority of repression and possibly torture in the West Bank.

The Goldstone Report is a serious, fair-minded and extremely disturbing document-which is precisely why the Israeli strategy since its publication has been to talk about pretty much everything except the substance of the report. Distractions have ranged from further posturing about the UN's bias, to smear campaigns about Justice Goldstone's personal history, to claims that the report is an integral part of a grand conspiracy to deny Israel's right to exist. Dore Gold, a former Israeli ambassador and top political adviser, said the report was "the most serious and vicious indictment of the State of Israel bearing the seal of the United Nations" since the UN equated Zionism with racism in 1975 and "an assault on Israeli society as a whole," while Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu explained that "there are three primary threats facing us today: the nuclear threat, the missile threat and what I call the Goldstone threat." The phrase "blood libel" was thrown around with great promiscuity, disgracefully equating the Goldstone Report with the anti-Semitic trials of the Middle Ages in which Jews were accused of drinking the blood of Christian children. (For some reason this seems to be a problem only when Sarah Palin abuses the term.)

Given this kind of incitement from the top, it's little wonder that the 72-year-old judge was very nearly prevented from attending his grandson's bar mitzvah in a Johannesburg suburb, with the synagogue worried about violence breaking out. "I could not believe that political anger against him-which people had every right to express-had evolved into an uncontrolled and unconscionable rage that sought to violate the spirit of one of the most sacred aspects of formal Jewish tradition," observed noted South African judge Albie Sachs.

Israel has no shortage of critics, many of them Jewish. So what was it about Goldstone that ignited this conflagration? The likeliest answer lies in the particular rhetorical techniques Israel's leaders reliably employ to defend their actions. For decades, Israeli officials have deflected any and all human rights criticisms by claiming that Israel was being unfairly "singled out" by those who claim to care about international law but who look the other way when equally serious crimes are committed by other states. The problem posed by Goldstone was that his record as a judge on the world stage made it impossible for Israel to make this claim with any credibility.

Goldstone began his judicial career as one of a handful of liberal judges serving on the South African bench during the apartheid era. Though required to enforce the country's brutal discriminatory laws, these judges were also able to chip away at the system from within, helping to loosen the grip of apartheid in its final years. A 1982 ruling by Goldstone, for instance, blocked judges from evicting blacks and "coloreds" from their homes to make way for whites-only neighborhoods without considering whether suitable alternative accommodations could be found, a requirement that made it virtually impossible to enforce the much-hated Group Areas Act. As apartheid weakened, Goldstone began playing a more activist role, exposing a system of extrajudicial death squads within South Africa's police and military-crimes that eventually came before the country's Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Goldstone's contribution to building South Africa's first multiracial democracy eventually took him to the international arena, where he sought justice for war crimes, ethnic cleansing and genocide as chief prosecutor of the UN's International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and for Rwanda. It was here that Goldstone began to dedicate his life to the post-Holocaust pledge of "never again"-never again to anyone. "If future perpetrators of genocide, crimes against humanity, and serious war crimes are brought to justice and appropriately punished," he wrote in a 2001 essay, "then the millions of innocent victims who perished in the Holocaust will not have died in vain. Their memory will remain alive and they will be remembered when future war criminals are brought to justice. And, it is certainly not too much to hope that efficient justice will also serve to deter war crimes in the future and so protect the untold numbers of potential victims." The judge was always clear that this quest for justice was deeply informed by his Jewishness. "Because of our history, I find it difficult to understand how any Jew wouldn't instinctively be against any form of discrimination," he told the Jerusalem Report in 2000.

It is this theory of justice-a direct response to the Nazi Holocaust-that Justice Goldstone brought to his work in Gaza in 2009, insisting that his fact-finding mission would examine the crimes committed both by Israelis and Palestinians. For Israel's leaders it was terrifying when Goldstone took on the Gaza assignment precisely because there was absolutely no way to claim that the judge was "singling out Israel" for special condemnation. Clearly and indisputably, Goldstone was applying the same principles to Israel that he had systematically applied to other countries for decades. The only thing left for Israel and its allies to do was to make sure the report's recommendations never came before a judicial body with any teeth. In the United States the job was easy: pro-Israel lobbyists handily persuaded the House of Representatives to declare the report "irredeemably biased and unworthy of further consideration or legitimacy," with an anti-Goldstone resolution passing by a vote of 344 to 36. In the occupied territories, the job of burying Goldstone required some very ugly tactics. According to a January 17, 2010, report in Haaretz, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was informed that "if he did not ask for a deferral of the vote [at the Human Rights Council] on the critical report on last year's military operation, Israel would turn the West Bank into a ‘second Gaza.'"

But while Western governments continue to protect Israel from accountability, insisting that economic sanctions are off the table, even welcoming Israel into the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, civil society around the world is filling the gap. The findings of the Goldstone Report have become a powerful tool in the hands of the growing movement for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, which is attempting to pressure Israel to comply with international law by using the same nonviolent pressure tactics that helped put an end to apartheid in South Africa. A new book, The Goldstone Report: The Legacy of the Landmark Investigation of the Gaza Conflict, will allow many more people to read the text of the report, along with contextualizing analysis. And they will be free to make their own judgments about whether Israel has been unfairly "singled out"-or whether, on the contrary, it is finally being held to account.

One of the most remarkable responses to the report came in January 2010, when a coalition of eleven leading Palestinian human rights groups called on Hamas and the Palestinian Authority to investigate Goldstone's allegations that they were complicit in war crimes-despite the fact that the Israeli government had refused to launch an independent investigation of the far more numerous allegations leveled against it in the report. Theirs was a deeply courageous position, one that points to what may prove to be the Goldstone Report's most enduring legacy. Although most of us profess to believe in universal human rights and oppose all crimes of war, for too long those principles have been applied in ways that are far from universal. Too often we make apologies for the crimes of "our" side; too often our empathy is selectively deployed. To cite just one relevant example, the Human Rights Council has frequently failed to live up to its duty to investigate all major human rights abuses, regardless of their state origins. So while the council boldly created the Goldstone mission to investigate crimes in Gaza, it stayed scandalously silent about the massacres and mass incarcerations of Tamils in Sri Lanka, which were alleged to have taken place within months of the Gaza attack.

This kind of selectivity is a gift to defiantly lawless governments like Israel's, since it allows states to hide behind their critics' hypocrisy. ("They should call us the day the Human Rights Council decides on a human rights inquiry on some other place around the globe," Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said, explaining away his government's refusal to cooperate with Goldstone.) But a new standard has been set. The Goldstone Report, with its uncompromising moral consistency, has revived the old-fashioned principles of universal human rights and international law-enshrined in a system that, flawed as it is, remains our best protection against barbarism. When we rally around Goldstone, insisting that this report be read and acted upon, it is this system that we are defending. When Israel and its supporters respond to Goldstone by waging war on international law, characterizing any possible legal challenge to Israeli politicians and military officials as "lawfare," they are doing nothing less than recklessly endangering the human rights architecture that was forged in the fires of the Holocaust.

One of the people I met in Gaza was Ibrahim Moammar, chair of the National Society for Democracy and Law. He could barely contain his disbelief that the crimes he had witnessed had not sparked an international legal response. "Israel needs to face war crimes trials," he said. He is right, of course. In a just world, the testimonies collected by Richard Goldstone and now published in book form would not merely raise our consciousness; they would be submitted as evidence. But for now, in the absence of official justice, we will have to settle for what the survivors of Argentina's most recent dictatorship have called "popular justice"-the kind of justice that rises up from the streets, educating friends, neighbors and family, until the momentum of its truth-telling eventually forces the courts to open their doors.

It starts with reading the report.

This essay is adapted from the introduction to The Goldstone Report: The Legacy of the Landmark Investigation of the Gaza Conflict (Nation Books).
(c) 2011 Naomi Klein is an award-winning journalist and syndicated columnist and the author of the international and New York Times bestseller, "The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism."

The Aljazeera Scandal
By Uri Avnery

I ALWAYS thought this a specifically Israeli trait: whenever a scandal of national proportions breaks out, we ignore the crucial issues and focus our attention on some secondary detail. This spares us having to face the real problems and making painful decisions.

There are examples galore. The classic one centered on the question: “Who Gave the Order?” When it became known that in 1954 an Israeli spy ring had been ordered to plant bombs in US and British institutions in Egypt, in order to sabotage the effort to improve relations between the West and Gamal Abd-al-Nasser, a huge crisis rocked Israel. Almost nobody asked whether the idea itself had been wise or stupid. Almost nobody asked whether it was really in the best interest of Israel to challenge the new and vigorous Egyptian leader, who was fast becoming the idol of the entire Arab world (and who had already secretly indicated that he could possibly make peace with Israel).

No, the question was solely: Who had given the order? The Minister of Defense, Pinhas Lavon, or the chief of military intelligence, Binyamin Gibli? This question rocked the nation, brought down the government and induced David Ben-Gurion to leave the Labor Party.

Recently, the Turkish flotilla scandal centered around the question: was it a good idea for commandos to slide down ropes onto the ship, or should another form of attack have been adopted? Almost nobody asked: should Gaza have been blockaded in the first place? Wasn’t it smarter to start talking with Hamas? Was it a good idea to attack a Turkish ship on the high sees?

It seems that this particular Israeli way of dealing with problems is infectious. In this respect (too), our neighbors are starting to resemble us.

THE ALJAZEERA TV network followed WikiLeaks’ example this week by publishing a pile of secret Palestinian documents. They paint a detailed picture of the Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, especially during the time of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, when the gap between the parties became much smaller.

In the Arab world, this caused a huge stir. Even while the “Jasmine Revolution” in Tunisia was still in full swing, and masses of people in Egypt were confronting the Mubarak regime, the Aljazeera leaks stirred up an intense controversy.

But what was the clash about? Not about the position of the Palestinian negotiators, not about the strategy of Mahmoud Abbas and his colleagues, its basic assumptions, its pros and cons.

No, in the Israeli way, the main question was: who leaked the documents? Who is lurking in the shadows behind the whistle-blowers? The CIA? The Mossad? What were their sinister motives?

On Aljazeera, the Palestinian leaders were accused of treason and worse. In Ramallah, the Aljazeera offices were attacked by pro-Abbas crowds. Saeb Erekat, the Palestinian chief negotiator, declared that Aljazeera was actually calling for his murder. He and others denied that they had ever made the concessions indicated in the documents. They seemed to be saying in public that such concessions would amount to betrayal – though they agreed to them in secret.

All this is nonsense. Now that the Palestinian and Israeli negotiating positions have been made public – and nobody seriously denied their authenticity - the real discussion should be about their substance.

FOR ANYONE involved in any way with Israeli-Palestinian peace-making, there was nothing really surprising in these disclosures.

On the contrary, they showed that the Palestinian negotiators are adhering strictly to the guidelines laid down by Yasser Arafat.

I know this firsthand, because I had the opportunity to discuss them with Arafat himself. That was in 1992, after the election of Yitzhak Rabin. Rachel and I went to Tunis to meet “Abu Amar”, as he liked to be called. The high point of the visit was a meeting in which, besides Arafat himself, several Palestinian leaders took part - among them Mahmoud Abbas and Yasser Abed-Rabbo.

All were intensely curious about the personality of Rabin, whom I knew well, and questioned me closely about him. My remark that “Rabin is as honest as a politician can be” was greeted with general laughter, most of all from Arafat.

But the main part of the meeting was devoted to a review of the key problems of Israeli-Palestinian peace. The borders, Jerusalem, security, the refugees etc, which are now generally referred to as the “core issues”.

Arafat and the others discussed it from the Palestinian point of view. I tried to convey what – in my opinion – Rabin could possible agree to. What emerged was a kind of skeleton peace agreement.

Back in Israel, I met with Rabin at his private home on a Shabbat, in the presence of his assistant Eitan Haber, and tried to tell him what had transpired. Rather to my surprise, Rabin evaded all serious discussion. He was already thinking about Oslo.

A few years later, Gush Shalom published a detailed draft peace agreement. It was based on knowledge of the Palestinian position as disclosed in Tunis. As anyone can see on our website, it was very similar to the recent proposals of the Palestinian side as disclosed in the Aljazeera papers.

THESE ARE roughly as follows:

The borders will be based on the 1967 lines, with some minimal swaps of territory which would join to Israel the big settlements immediately adjacent to the Green Line. These do not include the big settlements that jut deep into the West Bank, cutting the territory into pieces, such as Ma’aleh Adumim and Ariel.

All the settlements in what will become the State of Palestine will have to be evacuated. According to the papers, one of the Palestinians opened another option: that the settlers remain where they are and become Palestinian citizens. Tzipi Livni – then Foreign Minister – immediately objected, saying bluntly that all of them would be murdered. I agree that it would not be a good idea – it would cause endless friction, since these settlers sit on Palestinian land, either Palestinian private property or the land reserves of the towns and villages.

About Jerusalem, the solution would be as phrased by President Bill Clinton: What is Arab will go to Palestine, what is Jewish will be joined to Israel. This is a huge Palestinian concession, but a wise one. I was glad that they did not agree to apply this rule to Har Homa, the monstrous settlement built on what was once a beautiful wooded hill, where I spent many days and nights (and almost lost my life) in protests against its construction.

About the refugees, it is clear to any reasonable person that there will not be a mass return of millions, which would turn Israel into something else. This is a very bitter (and unjust) pill for the Palestinians to swallow – but which any Palestinian who really desires a two-state solution must accept. The question is: how many refugees will be allowed back to Israel as a healing gesture? The Palestinians proposed 100,000. Olmert proposed 5,000. That’s a big difference – but once we start to haggle about numbers, a solution can be found.

The Palestinians want an international force to be stationed in the West Bank, safeguarding their own and Israel’s security. I don’t remember if Arafat mentioned this to me, but I am sure that he would have agreed.

This, then, is the Palestinian peace plan – and it has not changed since Arafat came, in late 1973, to the conclusion that the two-state solution was the only viable one. The fact that Olmert and Co. did not jump to accept these terms, instead launching the deadly Cast Lead operation, speaks for itself.

THE ALJAZEERA disclosures are inopportune. Such delicate negotiations are better conducted in secret. The idea that “the people should be part of the negotiations” is naïve. The people should certainly be consulted, but not before a draft agreement lies on the table and they can decide whether they like the whole bundle or not. Before that, disclosures will only whip up a demagogic cacophony of accusations of treason (on both sides), like what is happening now.

For the Israeli peace camp, the disclosures are a blessing. They prove, as Gush Shalom put it yesterday in its weekly statement, that “We have a partner for peace. The Palestinians have no partner for peace.”
(c) 2011 Uri Avnery ~~~ Gush Shalom

Sgt. James B. Hurley on a bridge near the property he lost
to foreclosure while serving with the National Guard in Iraq. (Erik Holladay for The New York Times)

A Reservist In A New War, Against Foreclosure
By Diana B. Henriques

While Sgt. James B. Hurley was away at war, he lost a heartbreaking battle at home.

In violation of a law intended to protect active military personnel from creditors, agents of Deutsche Bank foreclosed on his small Michigan house, forcing Sergeant Hurley's wife, Brandie, and her two young children to move out and find shelter elsewhere.

When the sergeant returned in December 2005, he drove past the densely wooded riverfront property outside Hartford, Mich. The peaceful little home was still there -- winter birds still darted over the gazebo he had built near the water's edge -- but it almost certainly would never be his again. Less than two months before his return from the war, the bank's agents sold the property to a buyer in Chicago for $76,000.

Since then, Sergeant Hurley has been on an odyssey through the legal system, with little hope of a happy ending -- indeed, the foreclosure that cost him his home may also cost him his marriage. "Brandie took this very badly," said Sergeant Hurley, 45, a plainspoken man who was disabled in Iraq and is now unemployed. "We're trying to piece it together."

In March 2009, a federal judge ruled that the bank's foreclosure in 2004 violated federal law but the battle did not end there for Sergeant Hurley.

Typically, banks respond quickly to public reports of errors affecting military families. But today, more than six years after the illegal foreclosure, Deutsche Bank Trust Company (NYSE: DB - News) and its primary co-defendant, a Morgan Stanley (NYSE: MS - News) subsidiary called Saxon Mortgage Services, are still in court disputing whether Sergeant Hurley is owed significant damages. Exhibits show that at least 100 other military mortgages are being serviced for Deutsche Bank, but it is not clear whether other service members have been affected by the policy that resulted in the Hurley foreclosure.

A spokesman for Deutsche Bank declined to comment, noting that Saxon had handled the litigation on its behalf. A spokesman for Morgan Stanley, which bought Saxon in 2006, said that Saxon had revised its policy to ensure that it complied with the law and was willing to make "reasonable accommodations" to settle disputes, "especially for our servicemen and women." But the Hurley litigation has continued, he said, because of a "fundamental disagreement between the parties over damages."

In court papers, lawyers for Saxon and the bank assert the sergeant is entitled to recover no more than the fair market value of his lost home. His lawyers argue that the defendants should pay much more than that -- including an award of punitive damages to deter big lenders from future violations of the law. The law is called the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, and it protects service members on active duty from many of the legal consequences of their forced absence.

Even though some of the nation's military families have been sending their breadwinners into war zones for almost a decade, some of the nation's biggest lenders are still fumbling one the basic elements of this law -- its foreclosure protections.

Under the law, only a judge can authorize a foreclosure on a protected service member's home, even in states where court orders are not required for civilian foreclosures, and the judge can act only after a hearing where the military homeowner is represented. The law also caps a protected service member's mortgage rate at 6 percent.

By 2005, violations of the civil relief act were being reported all across the country, some involving prominent banks like Wells Fargo (NYSE: WFC - News) and Citigroup (NYSE: C - News). Publicity about the violations spared some military families from foreclosure, prompted both banks to promise better compliance and put lenders on notice that service members were entitled to special relief.

But the message apparently did not get through. By 2006, a Marine captain in South Carolina was doing battle with JPMorgan Chase (NYSE: JPM - News) to get the mortgage interest rate reductions the act requires. Chase eventually reviewed its policies and, earlier this month, acknowledged it had overcharged thousands of military families on their mortgages and improperly foreclosed on 14 of them. After a public apology, Chase began mailing out about $2 million in refunds and working to reverse the foreclosures.

For armed forces in a war zone, a foreclosure back home is both a family crisis and a potentially deadly distraction from the military mission, military consumer advocates say.

"It can be devastating," said Holly Petraeus, the wife of Gen. David Petraeus and the leader of a team that is creating an office to serve military families within a new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

"It is a terrible situation for the family at home and for the service member abroad, who feels helpless," Mrs. Petraeus said. "I would hope that the recent problems will be a wake-up call for all banks to review their policies and be sure they comply with the act."

Chase's response, however belated, is in sharp contrast to the approach taken by Deutsche Bank and Saxon in the Hurley case.

Sergeant Hurley bought the land in 1994 and "was developing this property into something special," he said in a court affidavit. He put a double-wide manufactured home on the site and added a deck, hunting blinds, floating docks and storage buildings.

According to his lawyers, his financial troubles began in the summer of 2004, when his National Guard unit sent him to California to be trained to work as a power-generator mechanic in Iraq. Veterans of that duty advised him to buy certain tools not readily available in the war zone, he said in his affidavit. With that expense and his reduced income, he said, he fell behind on his mortgage -- a difficulty many part-time soldiers faced when reserve and National Guard units were mobilized.

Believing he was protected by the civil relief act -- as, indeed, he was, as of Sept. 11, 2004 -- his family repeatedly informed Saxon that Sergeant Hurley had been sent to Iraq. But Saxon refused to grant relief without copies of his individual military orders, which he did not yet have.

Although Saxon's demand would have been legitimate if Sergeant Hurley had been seeking a lower interest rate, the law did not require him to provide those orders to invoke his foreclosure protections.

Nevertheless, Saxon referred the case to its law firm, Orlans Associates in Troy, Mich., which completed the foreclosure without the court hearing required by law. The law firm filed an affidavit with the local sheriff saying there was no evidence Sergeant Hurley was on military duty. At a sheriff's sale in October 2004, the bank bought the property for $70,000, less than the $100,000 the sergeant owed on the mortgage.

Orlans acknowledged in a court filing that one of its lawyers learned in April 2005 that Sergeant Hurley had been on active duty since the previous October. Nevertheless, neither Saxon nor the law firm backtracked to ensure the foreclosure had been legal or took steps to prevent the seized property from being sold, according to the court record. Lawyers for Orlans Associates did not respond to a request for comment.

When Sergeant Hurley sued in May 2007, the defendants initially argued that he was not allowed to file a private lawsuit to enforce his rights under the civil relief act. Federal District Judge Gordon J. Quist agreed and threw the case out in the fall of 2008.

That drew a fierce reaction from Col. John S. Odom, Jr., a retired Air Force lawyer in Shreveport, La., who is working with Sergeant Hurley's local lawyer, Matthew R. Cooper, of Paw Paw, Mich.

Colonel Odom, recognized by Congress and the courts as an expert on the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, knew Judge Quist had missed a decision that overturned the one he had cited in his ruling. In December 2008, Colonel Odom appealed the ruling.

In March 2009, Judge Quist reversed himself, reinstated the Hurley case, ruled that the foreclosure had violated the civil relief act and found that punitive damages would be permitted, if warranted.

Despite that legal setback, the defendants soldiered on. As the court docket grew, they argued against allowing Sergeant Hurley to seek compensatory or punitive damages in the case. Judge Quist ruled last month that punitive damages were not warranted -- a ruling Colonel Odom has said he has challenged in court and, if necessary, will appeal.

"Nothing says you screwed up as clearly as a big punitive damages award," he said. "They are a deterrence that warns others not to do the same thing."

When the trial on damages begins in early March, Sergeant Hurley will have been fighting for almost four years over the illegal foreclosure, a fight he could not have waged without a legal team that will probably only be paid if the court orders the defendants to cover the legal bills.

Regardless of the trial outcome, Sergeant Hurley's dream home is likely to remain as far beyond his reach as it was when he was in Iraq. Its new owner has refused to entertain any offers for it and recently bought an adjoining lot.

Sergeant Hurley said he still loved the wooded refuge he drives past almost every day. "I was hoping I could get the property back," he said. "But they tell me there's just no way."
© 2011 Diana B. Henriques, is a senior financial writer for the New York Times.

In Search Of A New Beginning … Before The End
By Randall Amster

Undertaking even a cursory review of the news queue evidences the apocalyptic overtones in our collective midst. In the most recent additions to the canon, 2010 ended with semi-sardonic coverage of the so-called “Snowpocalypse” and its aftermath, and 2011 began with perplexed musings over the “Aflockalypse” in which birds and fish seem to be dying in odd ways due to mystifying causes. Not long before, we had the perceptive invocation of the “Shopocalypse” by Reverend Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping, and next year’s 2012 allusions promise to spawn a new generation of nomenclatural evolutions.

While we may be tempted to dismiss the suffix “-ocalypse” being deployed much like “-gate” as an all-purpose distortion device, on another level we can also perceive that its very utilization as both a linguistic tool and interpretation of concrete outcomes is telling about the times in which we live. We’re actually in good company on this, at least historically speaking, as the sense of looming apocalypse has been woven into the fabric of Western civilization since its earliest days of recorded reckoning. And there certainly has been no shortage of cataclysmic harbingers in the modern era, from the inception of cinema itself to the invocation of the “mushroom cloud” as part of political theater. This is, in short, our cultural talisman, and its influence upon us is palpable.

Today, the news cycle brings reports of “natural disasters” of perpetually escalating magnitude, and we are increasingly aware of the cataclysmic potential of “climate collapse” and its attendant ravages. Spanning the literal and metaphorical gamut from Genesis to Revelation, our very existence appears conditioned by the constant recollection of our impending nonexistence. The recent widespread deployment of the “-ocalypse” motif in the vernacular signifies a casual acceptance of the notion that signs of the “end times” are everywhere — and perhaps likewise an urge to begin anew.

Even in the face of this history, the sudden appearance in locales around the world of birds falling from the sky and fish washing up on shores is particularly disturbing. Scientists for years have been tracking the increasing rate of species extinctions, correlating the surge with expanding human intervention into the planet’s regenerative capacities. It is distinctly possible that these recent events are related to the larger phenomenon of habitat degradation, and furthermore that we might be experiencing a nascent “canary in the coalmine” moment on a global scale. Whatever the cause, the symbolic impact of this small item in itself is noteworthy, and seemingly indicates a convergence of fiction with reality.

Whereas the specter of nuclear annihilation dominated the popular consciousness for decades, perhaps the ultimate “doomsday scenario” in our midst today concerns the rapidly changing climate — comprising a new paradigm in the lexicon that we might soon be calling the “Carbocalypse.” Consider a recent report from the Inter Press Service titled “Climate Change: Driving Straight Into Catastrophe,” which chronicled the sci-fi-sounding crises that are apparently at hand:

“Despite repeated warnings by environmental and climate experts that reduction of fossil fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions is fundamental to forestalling global warming, disaster appears imminent. According to the latest statistics, unprecedented climate change has Earth hurtling down a path of catastrophic proportions…. These findings have prompted leading environmental experts to warn that humankind is racing towards destruction. ‘The year 2010 was the hottest ever measured since the beginning of the recordings, 130 years ago,’ Anders Levermann, professor of climate system dynamics at the Physics Institute of the Potsdam University told IPS…. He added that the rapid rising of global temperatures could provoke extreme weather catastrophes that humankind won’t be able to survive…. ‘Climate change would destroy drinking water supplies, agriculture, habitats, and provoke giant waves of migration and mass mortality,’ he explained.”

Another post that recently analyzed the near-future tea leaves, this one from the respected author Michael T. Klare and titled “The Year of Living Dangerously,” also reads like a desultory stroll through the Book of Revelation:

“Get ready for a rocky year. From now on, rising prices, powerful storms, severe droughts and floods, and other unexpected events are likely to play havoc with the fabric of global society, producing chaos and political unrest. Start with a simple fact: the prices of basic food staples are already approaching or exceeding their 2008 peaks, that year when deadly riots erupted in dozens of countries around the world…. Rising food prices leading to riots, protests, and revolts, mounting oil prices, mammoth worldwide unemployment, and a collapsed recovery — it looks like the perfect set of preconditions for a global tsunami of instability and turmoil. Events in Algeria and Tunisia give us just an inkling of what this maelstrom might look like, but where and how it will next erupt, and in what form, is anyone’s guess. A single guarantee: we haven’t seen the last of resource revolts which, in the coming years, could reach an intensity we scarcely imagine today.”

Scenarios of this sort seem to leap straight out from the pages of apocalyptic science fiction. Consider Phillip Wylie’s 1973 tome The End of the Dream, in which he describes a series of baffling environmental calamities that at first seem relatively insignificant to all but a few individuals, yet in the final analysis result in the massive collapse of the biosphere. Those who warn of the potential consequences are dismissed at best as panicked “Chicken Littles” and at worst as dangerous heretics — mirroring the real-life treatment of prescient writers like Rachel Carson in her landmark work Silent Spring, which was published a decade before Wylie’s fictional work and seemed to inspire its basic thesis that humankind was blithely (and suicidally) toxifying its irreplaceable habitat.

An even earlier work of speculative fiction established the themes of “environmental sacrifice” and “doomsayer castigation” in a dramatic (and unfortunately prophetic) manner. Frederik Pohl and C.M. Kornbluth’s 1958 classic The Space Merchants depicts a near-future world controlled by corporations to such an extent that any pretense of governance “by the people” is dispensed with altogether (e.g., “The Senator from Alcoa has the floor…”), and those few remaining souls who raise even a whiff of environmental consciousness are persecuted as dangerous terrorists known as “Consies” (i.e., conservationists). In this parable, the sense of looming environmental apocalypse is papered over by corporate propaganda, faux food, somatic pharmacology, and virtual realities to such an extent that the populace’s awareness of its plight is almost nonexistent.

A decade earlier, George Stewart’s haunting and award-winning work Earth Abides portrayed a world surreptitiously decimated by a cataclysmic pox that leaves only small pockets of humankind left to pick up the pieces. In the process of describing this apocalypse and its aftermath, Stewart explores in a visionary manner the ways in which our relentless “will to power” vis-a-vis nature are implicitly responsible for the resultant calamity, and likewise how our fragile dependency on a system of production that alienates consumers from essential knowledge and basic resources sets the template for the collapse of civilization and the near-eradication of homo sapiens in the process. Still, despite these apocalyptic sensibilities, Earth Abides manages to present a tale of human dignity and resilient innovation in the midst of profound crisis.

Later works have extended these themes in ways that are equally instructive. Pat Murphy’s brilliant 1989 book The City, Not Long After likewise depicts survivors of a self-inflicted plague struggling to maintain their humanity in the face of calamity. In this tale, peace-minded individuals band together in explicit reliance on a Gandhian nonviolent framework to stave off the ravages of militarists bent on asserting their control over the post-apocalyptic landscape. Similarly, in Starhawk’s evocative The Fifth Sacred Thing, eco-spiritualists draw upon a reaffirmation of nature’s power in confronting the domineering aims of a fascistic force trying to annihilate them. Ernest Callenbach’s landmark work Ecotopia is perhaps less metaphysical in its musings, but is equally based on reclaiming the virtues of ecology and deploying its inherent lessons as a counter-balance to the forces of devastation.

There are many such cautionary tales in the annals of science fiction — indeed, the cinematic depictions alone could fill a volume — that seem ripped right from today’s headlines. In most instances, the looming ecological collapse is foreshadowed by relatively minor (but in retrospect highly indicative) episodes such as those reflected in “Storm of the Century” and “Birds Fall from Sky” headlines. The characters in these speculative stories, much like ourselves perhaps, oftentimes tend to ignore the evidence in favor of official pronouncements that all is well and life should proceed as normal while the “experts” work diligently and altruistically on forthcoming solutions. What is omitted from this systemic propaganda, however, is precisely the sobering (and ultimately fateful) realization that it is actually our “normal” lives that are precipitating the onset of the apocalypse.

Oddly enough, we can take some hopeful inspiration from these fictional works. For one, their mere existence demonstrates a longstanding and sophisticated understanding of the issues we are grappling with today, and in this sense indicates a sociopolitical center from which to frame queries and guide actions. Fictional accounts allow a scathing critique of dominant norms to proliferate more widely than the mere ruminations of scholars and pundits, bringing an evocative sensibility and wider consciousness to bear on pressing concerns. They also portray the inner lives of thoughtful characters coping with breakneck changes in their world, overcoming ostracism and persecution upon raising their voices, and displaying dignified fortitude in meeting the challenges before them.

When science fiction writers suggest that “we are not alone,” they usually have something otherworldly in mind. Yet another meaning is suggested by the texts noted above and similar works in the genre — namely that we are also part of a demonstrable tradition in the post-WWII era, calling into question the consumer-oriented and profit-driven values that are largely responsible for pushing the world to the point where apocalyptic nonfictions leap from the headlines nearly on a daily basis. Another positive revelation from these ostensible demise-themed works is the impetus of post-calamity characters to relearn basic skills of food production and capacities for social organization in the absence of nations and corporations — something they generally lament not having done before disaster struck.

Here, then, is one more addition to the lexicon, this one meant to capture the “gift of time” sensibility that Jonathan Schell once powerfully invoked in confronting the nuclear crisis: Prepocalyse, to indicate our narrow interval of time in which to reclaim skills of sustenance and community. Indeed, the desire and capacity for this reclamation is already emerging as a bona fide phenomenon, with a resurgence of interest in values and practices including localism, small-scale agriculture, food sovereignty, renewable energy, and grassroots democracy found in cities and towns everywhere.

As it turns out, these are also the strategies implicitly urged by the speculative fiction writers (and explicitly by many current advocates) as ways to avoid a self-extinguishing “total collapse” in the first instance. And in this sense may we find an opportunity for a new beginning, well before the end. Indeed, this is the very essence of the notion of apocalypse, comprising in equal parts the “final battle” of Armageddon and a time for “lifting the veil” on a new vision undistorted by collective delusion. The steady convergence of fiction and reality points the way toward a potentially positive eschatology in which we get to help write the next chapter, rather than merely consuming its leading edge.
(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).

Obama Inc.

When dancing with the devil, never fool yourself into thinking that you're in the lead.

That would be my 50-cents worth of advice to President Obama as he rushes ahead with the remake of his presidency into a Clintonesque corporate enterprise. Following last fall's congressional elections, he immediately began blowing kisses to CEOs and big business lobbyists, and he's now filled his White House dance card with them.

First came Bill Daley, the Wall Street banker and longtime corporate lobbyists. In early January, Obama brought him to the White House ball to be his chief-of-staff, gatekeeper and policy coordinator.

Then, Obama tapped Jeffery Immelt to lead his Council on Jobs, which is supposed to "encourage the private sector to hire [Americans] and invest in American competitiveness." This is a bizarre coupling, for Immelt is CEO of General Electric and has been a leader in shipping American factories and jobs to Asia and elsewhere. Today, fewer than half of GE's workers are in our country. As an AFL-CIO official notes, "Highly globalized companies don't have the same interests as the United States. There is no company more emblematic of this than GE."

In his recent State of the Union speech, Obama offered only cold comfort to the millions of Americans who're unemployed or barely employed, saying blandly that "The rules have changed." Well, yes – and who changed them? Self-serving CEOs like Jeffrey Immelt, that's who.

America's working families – our endangered middle class – have a right to expect Obama to fight for rules that are fair to them and our country, not meekly accept rules that have been skewed by an elite corporate class to profit them alone. Instead, our president is waltzing with the devil.

He's rebranding his presidency, all right. It's becoming Obama, Inc.
(c) 2011 Jim Hightower's latest book, "If The Gods Had Meant Us To Vote They Would Have Given Us Candidates," is available in a fully revised and updated paperback edition.

The Casualties Of War
By Helen Thomas

Former President George W. Bush has few regrets for the fatal decisions he made during his eight years in the highest office of the land.

Among the things that Bush says he regrets is not finding "weapons of mass destruction that we thought were in Iraq." That statement, in an interview with Nancy Perry Graham, in the AARP magazine, would be comic, if it was not so tragic.

As a reporter at the White House, over and over I heard Ari Fleischer using the White House podium to debase the truth about the existence of lethal weapons in Iraq. He was only following orders. Sound familiar?

American officials, Congress and the press bought it, despite the truth. The British chief of intelligence came to Washington in July 2002 and exposed the administration's determination to invade Iraq at any cost.

After interviews with key national security officers of the U.S. government, Britain's top spy wrote to his government that the Bush administration was determined to go to war and "fix the facts" to justify it. That was known as the "Downing Street Memos."

Nevertheless, Bush and former Vice President Dick Cheney charged ahead with their military planning.

Bush was aided and abetted by General Colin Powell, the good soldier, who put his credibility on the line and lost his impeccable image. On Feb. 5, 2003, Powell made a 90-minute speech at the United Nations insisting Iraq had a WMD arsenal, and the nation followed in lock step.

Powell later, too late, admitted he had a "black mark" on his reputation. He cleared the path for the nation to support an invasion of Iraq in March 2003. I remember well the White House reporters who were gung ho to go to war - anxious to put their trench coats on and build their reputations as "foreign correspondents."

After all, they were told the war would last, at best, three weeks, and the Iraqis would greet them with candies and flowers. In the beginning, to some extent that was true. That is, until the Iraqis woke up to the intent of Bush and his neo-con advisers, to destroy Iraq.

To this day, Bush has yet to explain why he invaded Iraq and the speculation still centers on oil, to upstage daddy (who had the good sense not to go on to Baghdad after victory in the Kuwait war), or to help Israel.

Hans Blix, the U.N. arms control adviser, knew Saddam Hussein did not have the alleged WMDs and begged Bush for another chance to search for the weapons in Iraq. Bush refused. He wanted to go to war. The U.S. invaded Iraq in March 2003 and has occupied that country since then.

Many thousands of Americans have died and many thousands more of Iraqis have lost their lives from American bombs.

Saddam Hussein was hung to Bush's personal satisfaction, and also to the joy of others who suffered under Saddam's brutal rule. In the aftermath, Iraq was destroyed and sectarian violence ensued.

The killing still goes on. To this day, Bush has not explained the real reason for the invasion of Iraq. He can't, because it is so unacceptable - and unforgiveable.

"I regret not finding Osama Bin Laden," Bush said in the interview, "I regret the fact, that Saddam did not have the weapons of mass destruction that we thought - I don't regret removing him from power."

The war-hungry neo-cons (many who dodged the draft during the Vietnam War) crawled back to their think tanks, and to universities who were willing to take them back into the classrooms. Their silence is deafening.

Bush has retired happily to his ranch in Texas, he says, "looking forward to having grandkids."

The war has been forgotten in the public mind. The coffins and fate of the many casualties ignored. Not even during the recent midterm elections was it even mentioned by the candidates - out of sight, out of mind.

Tell me, where is the American outrage? Does anyone care that America has paid such a huge human price, as a result of the Bush war, which President Barack Obama has blindly carried on?
(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.

Americans Were Duped Into Past Wars – Let’s Stop The Insanity
By James Donahue

Because of my interest in naval history I have been acutely aware of two troublesome facts about the two great world wars. I believe the United States was skillfully drawn into both conflicts. Certain people in high places used major events to occur and then used them to inflame public opinion.

It happened again after 9-11. I also believe the Korean and Vietnam Wars were designed to help fuel the industrial military complex created during World War II. In fact, Congress never officially declared war on any other world nation since World War II. Both Korea and Vietnam were declared “police actions” at the time they were fought.

Looking back in history, many historians have reason to believe that the sinking of the Lusitania and the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor were allowed to happen for political reasons.

Most historians agree that the destruction of the British liner Lusitania by German submarine U-20 on May 7, 1915, was a major contributory event that stirred America to enter the First World War. The sinking killed 1,198 men, women and children, including 128 Americans. The passengers on that ship ignored a warning published by Germany in various New York newspapers that the liner would be attacked if it took its fateful trip into the war zone surrounding the British Isles.

Had the American people been given all of the facts about this incident, they might have been more inclined to join Germany in the war against England, and perhaps turn the course of history.

The Lusitania appeared to be a luxury liner, but in reality it was a navy cruiser in disguise. The British government commissioned the construction of this ship. Her decks were carefully designed with gun mounts. Some believe her guns were stored below deck on the day it sank. While it carried passengers on the upper decks, there is evidence that the Lusitania also was operating as a military cargo ship. Some say that one of the reasons it sank within 20 minutes after a single torpedo from Kapitan-Leutnant Walther Schwieger's U-boat hit the hull was that the vessel was laden with ammunition. The bombs and bullets exploded, blowing the bottom out of the ship.

Yet another curious event made the Lusitania a virtual "sitting duck." Because German U-boats were known to be patrolling for several miles off the coast, the British Navy was escorting friendly ships in and out of the nation's ports of call. Yet on the day the Lusitania was scheduled to arrive, the naval escort vessels were called away. This order was given by the first lord of the admiralty who was none other than Sir Winston Churchill.

Why would such an order be given, especially after Germany specifically warned of plans to try to sink the Lusitania? I suggest that this ship and all of the people who perished with it were sacrificed in a daring effort to get the United States involved in the war. Both sides were at an impasse until the United States entered the war in 1917. Our forces helped turn the tide and Germany surrendered within the year.

I can't help but wonder if there would have been a Hitler or a Nazi movement in Germany if England had lost the war. The German defeat followed by the Great Depression plunged Germany into economic collapse. This set the stage for a radical new form of government.

The war was again raging in Europe in 1941 and there were many Americans who wanted to get the U. S. war machine cranked up for the inevitable conflict. But America has always been slow to go to war when the decision is left to Congress. Politicians don't make hard decisions like that without first knowing that their constituents are whole-heartedly behind them. Modern presidents can order troops into battle without first getting an act of Congress, but that wasn't the case in 1917 and again in 1941. President Roosevelt had to wait until the majority of the people wanted to go to war.

The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was the perfect solution to this problem. It plunged America into war with not only Japan, but with Germany and Italy within days.

I have personally talked to former Navy men who survived the Pearl Harbor bombing. They said the Navy knew the Japanese were coming but did nothing to stop them. It is public record that the 181 approaching Japanese aircraft were on naval radar screens in time to launch a counter attack, but the order was never given. Consequently, the 151 U. S. planes that might have warded off the attack were destroyed on the ground.

The attack sank or damaged eight outdated battleships and a fleet of smaller ships, including some old four-stacker destroyers that had outlived their usefulness. Unfortunately, the raid also left 2,343 U. S. service personnel dead, 960 more missing, and 1,272 wounded.

The Navy's fleet of aircraft carriers and submarines were conveniently out to sea and survived to launch a counter attack against Japan. Naval leaders knew even in 1941 that future wars would be mostly won with the help of carriers and submarines, not slow moving, coal burning dreadnoughts, cruisers and other surface vessels. Were these old ships and their crews sacrificed for political reasons?

Other than the fact that Hitler poised a serious world threat in 1941, what other political reasons would there have been? Remember that the world was still struggling from a serious depression in the 1930s when the Axis powers began rattling sabers. A world war was a perfect solution to getting a sluggish economy stimulated again. Generating a Second World War worked like magic.

It is said that the United States was not geared up for the war that fell on us so quickly. But don't let the history books fool you. We made a conversion of our factories into a giant war machine in a remarkably short time. It is obvious that a lot of planning had been going on before the war actually started.

World War II worked out so well for us that the United States was turned almost overnight into the most powerful nation in the world.

Think about these things when you hear all of the tough talk and saber rattling going on these days between the United States and Middle Eastern nations. Many economists have been concerned about the current economic crisis that has left millions of people in the United States out of work and many of them even out of their homes. You can bet that the people in charge are thinking about launching another world conflict. It has always been the formula for jump starting sluggish economic situations.

Conditions are different today than they were in 1941, however. This overpopulated world has used up its resources. Also we are all encumbered by a great nuclear arsenal possessed by not only the United States and Russia, but also China, Israel, England, Pakistan, India, France and other smaller nations like North Korea and possibly Iran.

The next war could easily turn into a fiery holocaust leading to the extinction of all life on the planet.
(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.

By Mike Folkerth

“It is natural for man to indulge in the illusions of hope. We are apt to shut our eyes against a painful truth, and listen to the song of that siren till she transforms us into beasts…For my part, whatever anguish of spirit it may cost, I am willing to know the whole truth, to know the worst, and to provide for it.” ~~~ Patrick Henry

I won't belabor this message, but as I have continued to study the economic issues that face the U.S., I believe that we are now on an unavoidable collision course with reality. It is my opinion that we will in fact, fall into depression within two years. Drastic prediction? In the white hot economy of 2006 I wrote my book predicting that there would be a housing collapse, an economic collapse, high unemployment, and in short, all that we are experiencing today. Nearly everyone at the time said that I was mad as a hatter, including those at the highest levels of leadership.

The last lumber yard in our nearby supply center of Delta has now closed. Commercial space that was built in 2006 remains vacant. We will continue to see business's fold the proverbial tent and unemployment will continue to climb as the positive feedback loop gains strength.

We have reached debt, population, consumption, and employment limits that are only being supported by our Federal government incurring a $1.5 Trillion annual deficit. There absolutely nothing that can be done to avoid our downfall. Debt capitalism has reached its mathematical limits. What we are actually experiencing is the end of a mathematically impossible system that is being exacerbated by increasing man made fiat debt.

As states, cities, counties, towns and the general citizenry simultaneously approach monetary impasses (limits to debt combined with limits to production), the politicians on both sides of the aisle continue to appease us by directing their fairy tale speeches at our normalcy bias (the inner desire to believe that we can return to our own perceptions of normal).

We pretend that the five million home owners who are behind at least two months in their house payments, is not a faction of physics, but simply a matter of political leadership. We pretend that those folks who have lost their homes, jobs, retirement, cars, hopes and dreams...can all be reinstated by electing some new morons to Congress.

But most of all, we pretend that humankind can trump the universal laws of natural physics and that Congress can repeal the Laws of Thermodynamics with a simple vote.

In short, I believe that we have precious little time to prepare for another depression, that unlike the Great Depression, will never end. We have simply overgrazed the entire range and this ain't 1929.

Could I be absolutely wrong in my predictions? I suppose so, but then, that's what the folks said back in 2003 when I first began questioning the mathematical possibilities of our economic underpinnings.
(c) 2011 Mike Folkerth is not your run-of-the-mill author of economics. Nor does he write in boring lecture style. Not even close. The former real estate broker, developer, private real estate fund manager, auctioneer, Alaskan bush pilot, restaurateur, U.S. Navy veteran, heavy equipment operator, taxi cab driver, fishing guide, horse packer...(I won't go on, it's embarrassing) writes from experience and plain common sense. He is the author of "The Biggest Lie Ever Believed."

Egypt Rising
Potomac Power Plays and Progressive Anxieties
By Chris Floyd

1. American Imperative: Keep the Applecart Rolling Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak has bowed to pressure and appointed a vice-president; in reality, a successor to take his place after his departure, which may come within a matter of days, if not hours.

But the pressure that led to Mubarak's decision came not from the revolution erupting in Egypt -- at least, not directly. No, it almost certainly came from his imperial patrons and paymasters in Washington. Even the third-rate poltroons on the Potomac can see that Mubarak is a now a decidedly dead duck, destined to end his days in luxurious exile in Saudi Arabia or some other friendly tyranny. So they are now scrambling to put Egypt under the control of the proverbial "safe pair of hands" -- someone whose main concern will be "continuity" in advancing the interests of the American power structure.

Why, that sounds like someone else we know -- a guy who took over from one of the most despised presidents in American history ... and promptly began replicating his most heinous policies.

In like fashion, Mubarak has now appointed his spymaster, Omar Suleiman, who has been at the center of the regime's brutal power structure for 20 years, as vice-president of the country. He has also named a retired military man, Ahmed Shafik, as prime minister. Perhaps not coincidentally, the New York Times published a revealing story on Saturday detailing the remarkably close interconnections between the American and Egyptian military-security complexes, going back several decades -- a relationship that has been worth billions of dollars to war profiteers, bagmen and baksheesh-peddlers in both countries, for generations.

It seems painfully obvious that the Continuer-in-Chief and the imperial militarists along the Potomac are seeking desperately to keep this golden applecart on the road. Installing a longtime chief of intelligence like Suleiman fits the bill nicely. Mubarak had better start packing his bags. For as always, whenever the American Power Structuralists find that a foreign puppet no longer serves their purposes, they are quick to toss him aside. No doubt we will soon see a steady leakage of stories from "senior White House aides," "unnamed intelligence officials in a position to know" and "Pentagon insiders who asked to remain anonymous" telling us how terrible Mubarak has been all along. This will be done either to undermine the puppet if he tries to cling to office, or else as the usual erasure of the historical record, if Hosni has already hopped a Lear Jet to new digs beyond the Nile.

But I think the people of Egypt might refuse to follow this old, moth-eaten script. The regime of Hosni Mubarak is not the only power center that is seeing its ability to control events on behalf of a corrupt elite draining away on the Egyptian streets.

2. Profiles in Wiggliness

Oh, but you know what? We even shouldn't be talking about all this. This whole Egyptian uprising business seems to be making some of our leading progressives feel a bit wiggly. Atrios, for example, has salted several of his brief squibs about these momentous events with grumpy asides. For example:

I get a bit fed up with the ultra-serious tweeting and retweeting the revolution stuff which happens when Big Events are going on.

Yes, don't you just hate that? People being all ultra-serious and stuff about a brave popular uprising in a long-repressed land? I mean, really: couldn't they just do some cat-blogging or something? That would be, like, way more cool.

Or this:

I get a wee bit uncomfortable at the way people enthusiastically cheer on revolutionary movements in other countries they don't know much about. I'm not defending bad governments, just objecting to the notion that revolution=democracy. It's never clear what will emerge on the other side.

Yeah, that makes me squirm a wee bit in my Barcalounger as well: people being all ignorantly enthusiastic about these breakthrough moments in history, these rare upsurgings of the human spirit. Why, they probably haven't even read an article from the Center for American Progress telling them what to think about it yet! People like that should just shut up. It's like back in '89, when people were enthusiastically cheering the Velvet Revolution and all that other tiresome, ultra-serious shit. I mean, how many of them really knew anything about Czechoslovakia or Romania? And anyway, you never know what the end result of any of these so-called, whoop-de-doo "Big Events" might be. So why get all wrought up about it? Seriously uncool.

The eye-rolling goes on:

I get depressed by the fact that whenever there is a major event somewhere in the world few people can manage to go past the question of, "What should we (the US) do?" I know that things are a bit more complicated, and our being involved in everything already complicates them further, but the answer, mostly, is "nothing."

Yeah, I guess our being the main international backer of a 30-year dictatorship does, like, "complicate" things a bit. So obviously, the main thing for Washington to do now is "nothing." That is, it should take no action whatsoever to change the status quo. It should not repudiate the murderous dictator -- whose American-trained, American-armed security forces have already gunned down 100 innocent people taking to the streets to demand dignity and freedom. (Although of course if these irritatingly ultra-serious people had just stayed home cat-blogging, they'd still be alive!) Washington shouldn't apologize abjectly for this atrocious record. Washington shouldn't cut off the spigot of bribery and weaponry to the Egyptian elite. Washington shouldn't stop using Egypt as an off-shore outlet for torture. Washington shouldn't pledge to support and respect the emergence of genuine democracy in Egypt -- wherever it might lead. No, Washington should do none of this, or anything like it. It should simply do nothing, make no changes at all.

In fact, doing nothing is really the best thing all around, don't you think? Because actually doing something about these monstrous injustices would just be too "ultra-serious," wouldn't it? It would just keep making us feel strangely agitated and dissatisfied: "fed-up," "depressed," "a wee bit uncomfortable," with all this talk about people taking action against economic, social and political repression, people who are no longer content to sit back and accept a corrupt and degrading system, confining their "dissent" to a few savvy, ironic quips now and then, but are instead rising up and actually risking something -- lives, livelihoods, liberties -- in a courageous attempt to achieve genuine change. And lord knows, we can't have that, can we? After all, you never know what might emerge on the other side!

But really now, seriously (or even ultra-seriously): Can you imagine watching these astonishing events in Egypt unfold, and coming away feeling "depressed" and "fed up" because people were excited about it? Can you even fathom such a reaction? If not, then you, my friend, are no progressive.
(c) 2011 Chris Floyd

Vast Majority Wants To Amend The Constitution To Overturn Corporate Personhood!
By Matthew Rothschild

Last January, the Supreme Court handed our democracy over to corporations.

It said, in its Citizens United decision, that corporations could spend unlimited amounts of money to try to elect or defeat candidates for office.

It said that corporations are, amazingly, persons.

So long as this ruling stands, any hope of having democracy in America will fade.

But fortunately, the vast majority of the American public despises this ruling and favors the only remedy available to us: amending the Constitution.

In a recent poll by Hart Research, 87% of Democrats, 82% of Independents, and even 68% of Republicans support the passage of an amendment that would “make clear that corporations do not have the same rights as people.”

There is, of course, a problem, a classic Catch-22.

To amend the Constitution, we’ll have to get supermajorities from our elected officials. Yet most of those officials are beholden to corporations that fund them, and those that aren’t would naturally fear retribution from big business at the polls the next time around.

The only way to break this Catch-22 is to organize from the ground up: at city councils, at county boards, at state legislatures.

So please get involved in this fundamental effort to democratize the United States. Go to or, sign a petition, and pass the word.

We can get this done.

We must get this done.
(c)2011 Matthew Rothschild is the editor of The Progressive magazine.

A Cross Of Rubber
By Paul Krugman

Last Saturday, reported The Financial Times, some of the world’s most powerful financial executives were going to hold a private meeting with finance ministers in Davos, the site of the World Economic Forum. The principal demand of the executives, the newspaper suggested, would be that governments “stop banker-bashing.” Apparently bailing bankers out after they precipitated the worst slump since the Great Depression isn’t enough — politicians have to stop hurting their feelings, too.

But the bankers also had a more substantive demand: they want higher interest rates, despite the persistence of very high unemployment in the United States and Europe, because they say that low rates are feeding inflation. And what worries me is the possibility that policy makers might actually take their advice.

To understand the issues, you need to know that we’re in the midst of what the International Monetary Fund calls a “two speed” recovery, in which some countries are speeding ahead, but others — including the United States — have yet to get out of first gear.

The U.S. economy fell into recession at the end of 2007; the rest of the world followed a few months later. And advanced nations — the United States, Europe, Japan — have barely begun to recover. It’s true that these economies have been growing since the summer of 2009, but the growth has been too slow to produce large numbers of jobs. To raise interest rates under these conditions would be to undermine any chance of doing better; it would mean, in effect, accepting mass unemployment as a permanent fact of life.

What about inflation? High unemployment has kept a lid on the measures of inflation that usually guide policy. The Federal Reserve’s preferred measure, which excludes volatile energy and food prices, is now running below half a percent at an annual rate, far below the informal target of 2 percent.

But food and energy prices — and commodity prices in general — have, of course, been rising lately. Corn and wheat prices rose around 50 percent last year; copper, cotton and rubber prices have been setting new records. What’s that about?

The answer, mainly, is growth in emerging markets. While recovery in advanced nations has been sluggish, developing countries — China in particular — have come roaring back from the 2008 slump. This has created inflation pressures within many of these countries; it has also led to sharply rising global demand for raw materials. Bad weather — especially an unprecedented heat wave in the former Soviet Union, which led to a sharp fall in world wheat production — has also played a role in driving up food prices.

The question is, what bearing should all of this have on policy at the Federal Reserve and the European Central Bank?

First of all, inflation in China is China’s problem, not ours. It’s true that right now China’s currency is pegged to the dollar. But that’s China’s choice; if China doesn’t like U.S. monetary policy, it’s free to let its currency rise. Neither China nor anyone else has the right to demand that America strangle its nascent economic recovery just because Chinese exporters want to keep the renminbi undervalued.

What about commodity prices? The Fed normally focuses on “core” inflation, which excludes food and energy, rather than “headline” inflation, because experience shows that while some prices fluctuate widely from month to month, others have a lot of inertia — and it’s the ones with inertia you want to worry about, because once either inflation or deflation gets built into these prices, it’s hard to get rid of.

And this focus has served the Fed well in the past. In particular, the Fed was right not to raise rates in 2007-8, when commodity prices soared — briefly pushing headline inflation above 5 percent — only to plunge right back to earth. It’s hard to see why the Fed should behave differently this time, with inflation nowhere near as high as it was during the last commodity boom.

So why the demand for higher rates? Well, bankers have a long history of getting fixated on commodity prices. Traditionally, that meant insisting that any rise in the price of gold would mean the end of Western civilization. These days it means demanding that interest rates be raised because the prices of copper, rubber, cotton and tin have gone up, even though underlying inflation is on the decline.

Ben Bernanke clearly understands that raising rates now would be a huge mistake. But Jean-Claude Trichet, his European counterpart, is making hawkish noises — and both the Fed and the European Central Bank are under a lot of external pressure to do the wrong thing.

They need to resist this pressure. Yes, commodity prices are up — but that’s no reason to perpetuate mass unemployment. To paraphrase William Jennings Bryan, we must not crucify our economies upon a cross of rubber.
(c) 2011 Paul Krugman --- The New York Times

The Quotable Quote...

"Beware of the fish people, they are the true enemy!"
~~~ Frank Zappa

What Corruption And Force Have Wrought In Egypt
By Chris Hedges

The uprising in Egypt, although united around the nearly universal desire to rid the country of the military dictator Hosni Mubarak, also presages the inevitable shift within the Arab world away from secular regimes toward an embrace of Islamic rule. Don’t be fooled by the glib sloganeering about democracy or the facile reporting by Western reporters—few of whom speak Arabic or have experience in the region. Egyptians are not Americans. They have their own culture, their own sets of grievances and their own history. And it is not ours. They want, as we do, to have a say in their own governance, but that say will include widespread support—especially among Egypt’s poor, who make up more than half the country and live on about two dollars a day—for the Muslim Brotherhood and Islamic parties. Any real opening of the political system in the Arab world’s most populated nation will see an empowering of these Islamic movements. And any attempt to close the system further—say a replacement of Mubarak with another military dictator—will ensure a deeper radicalization in Egypt and the wider Arab world.

The only way opposition to the U.S.-backed regime of Mubarak could be expressed for the past three decades was through Islamic movements, from the Muslim Brotherhood to more radical Islamic groups, some of which embrace violence. And any replacement of Mubarak (which now seems almost certain) while it may initially be dominated by moderate, secular leaders will, once elections are held and popular will is expressed, have an Islamic coloring. A new government, to maintain credibility with the Egyptian population, will have to more actively defy demands from Washington and be more openly antagonistic to Israel. What is happening in Egypt, like what happened in Tunisia, tightens the noose that will—unless Israel and Washington radically change their policies toward the Palestinians and the Muslim world—threaten to strangle the Jewish state as well as dramatically curtail American influence in the Middle East.

The failure of the United States to halt the slow-motion ethnic cleansing of Palestinians by Israel has consequences. The failure to acknowledge the collective humiliation and anger felt by most Arabs because of the presence of U.S. troops on Muslim soil, not only in Iraq and Afghanistan but in the staging bases set up in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, has consequences. The failure to denounce the repression, including the widespread use of torture, censorship and rigged elections, wielded by our allies against their citizens in the Middle East has consequences. We are soaked with the stench of these regimes. Mubarak, who reportedly is suffering from cancer, is seen as our puppet, a man who betrayed his own people and the Palestinians for money and power.

The Muslim world does not see us as we see ourselves. Muslims are aware, while we are not, that we have murdered tens of thousands of Muslims in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. We have terrorized families, villages and nations. We enable and defend the Israeli war crimes carried out against Palestinians and the Lebanese—indeed we give the Israelis the weapons and military aid to carry out the slaughter. We dismiss the thousands of dead as “collateral damage.” And when those who are fighting against occupation kill us or Israelis we condemn them, regardless of context, as terrorists. Our hypocrisy is recognized on the Arab street. Most Arabs see bloody and disturbing images every day from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, images that are censored on our television screens. They have grown sick of us. They have grown sick of the Arab regimes that pay lip service to the suffering of Palestinians but do nothing to intervene. They have grown sick of being ruled by tyrants who are funded and supported by Washington. Arabs understand that we, like the Israelis, primarily speak to the Muslim world in the crude language of power and violence. And because of our entrancement with our own power and ability to project force, we are woefully out of touch. Israeli and American intelligence services did not foresee the popular uprising in Tunisia or Egypt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, Israel’s new intelligence chief, told Knesset members last Tuesday that “there is no concern at the moment about the stability of the Egyptian government.” Tuesday, it turned out, was the day hundreds of thousands of Egyptians poured into the streets to begin their nationwide protests.

What is happening in Egypt will damage and perhaps unravel the fragile peace treaty between Egypt and Jordan with Israel. It is likely to end Washington’s alliance with these Arab intelligence services, including the use of prisons to torture those we have disappeared into our vast network of black sites. The economic ties between Israel and these Arab countries will suffer. The current antagonism between Cairo and the Hamas government in Gaza will be replaced by more overt cooperation. The Egyptian government’s collaboration with Israel, which includes demolishing tunnels into Gaza, the sharing of intelligence and the passage of Israeli warship and submarines through the Suez Canal, will be in serious jeopardy. Any government—even a transition government that is headed by a pro-Western secularist such as Mohamed ElBaradei—will have to make these changes in the relationship with Israel and Washington if it wants to have any credibility and support. We are seeing the rise of a new Middle East, one that will not be as pliable to Washington or as cowed by Israel.

The secular Arab regimes, backed by the United States, are discredited and moribund. The lofty promise of a pan-Arab union, championed by the Egyptian leader Gamal Abd-al-Nasser and the original Baathists, has become a farce. Nasser’s defiance of Washington and the Western powers has been replaced by client states. The secular Arab regimes from Morocco to Yemen, for all their ties with the West, have not provided freedom, dignity, opportunity or prosperity for their people. They have failed as spectacularly as the secular Palestinian resistance movement led by Yasser Arafat. And Arabs, frustrated and enduring mounting poverty, are ready for something new. Radical Islamist groups such as the Palestinian Hamas, the Shiite Hezbollah in Lebanon and the jihadists fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan are the new heroes, especially for the young who make up most of the Arab world. And many of those who admire these radicals are not observant Muslims. They support the Islamists because they fight back. Communism as an ideological force never took root in the Muslim world because it clashed with the tenets of Islam. The championing of the free market in countries such as Egypt has done nothing to ameliorate crushing poverty. Its only visible result has been to enrich the elite, including Mubarak’s son and designated heir, Gamal. Islamic revolutionary movements, because of these failures, are very attractive. And this is why Mubarak forbids the use of the slogan “Islam is the solution” and bans the Muslim Brotherhood. These secular Arab regimes hate and fear Hamas and the Islamic radicals as deeply as the Israelis do. And this hatred only adds to their luster.

The decision to withdraw the police from Egyptian cities and turn security over to the army means that Mubarak and his handlers in Washington face a grim choice. Either the army, as in Tunisia, refuses to interfere with the protests, meaning the removal of Mubarak, or it tries to quell the protests with force, a move that would leave hundreds if not thousands dead and wounded. The fraternization between the soldiers and the crowds, along with the presence of tanks adorned with graffiti such as “Mubarak will fall,” does not bode well for Washington, Israel and the Egyptian regime. The army has not been immune to the creeping Islamization of Egypt—where bars, nightclubs and even belly dancing have been banished to the hotels catering to Western tourists. I attended a reception for middle-ranking army officers in Cairo in the 1990s when I was based there for The New York Times and every one of the officers’ wives had a head covering. Mubarak will soon become history. So, I expect, will neighboring secular Arab regimes. The rise of powerful Islamic parties appears inevitable. It appears inevitable not because of the Quran or a backward tradition, but because we and Israel believed we could bend the aspirations of the Arab world to our will through corruption and force.
(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, "“Death Of The Liberal Class.”

The Pseudo-State Of The Pretend Union
By David Michael Green

Barack Obama was supposed to be a transformational president. Remember that?

He certainly marketed himself as such. He certainly – like an FDR or a Lincoln – was handed a context of crisis which simultaneously demanded of him and permitted him to be transformational as the leader of the country at this fraught historical moment.

Watching him deliver his state of the union address this week revealed anything but that, however. This is a shrunken president, playing small-ball at a moment of peril. Watching Obama talk before a global audience, I could not help but think of the weakness and irrelevance of this human platitude production machine, so out of touch with the threats and concerns of our time.

Is it possible to imagine that people will be still talking about this speech twenty years from now? Were they even talking about it twenty minutes after he gave it?

The measure of a presidency is the degree to which it responds, and responds effectively, to the issues before the country. This is why Lincoln is almost universally regarded as the greatest of American presidents. Faced with the greatest of American crises, he responded. (I actually happen to disagree with Lincoln’s violent response to secession, just as I opposed, and for the same bloody reasons, President Bashir’s violent initial reaction to secession in southern Sudan, but that’s another essay.) Similarly, until nation-wrecker par excellence George W. Bush came on the world stage, Lincoln’s predecessor James Buchanan was largely regarded by history as the worst American president, precisely because he failed to deal with exactly the same crisis he would then bequeath to Lincoln.

This is the test of presidents – Can you rise up to the challenges of your moment? – and it’s a fair one. And, given that benchmark, we can ask how history will evaluate Barack Obama. The way to answer that question is to catalogue our great challenges, and to ask how is the president addressing those? Some of these are obvious. Some are obvious, but less immediately threatening. And some, ironically, are so fundamental that they are generally not even perceived, like water is to fish.

What was so amazing about Obama’s speech was his sheer gall in not addressing the most prominent and urgent questions in our political sphere, right here and right now. How is it that the guy can go on about the murderous killing spree in Tucson, and yet utter not a word about a solution? I mean, after all, only about 30,000 Americans die every year, year in and year out, from gun violence. I suppose the president is just waiting for it to get serious – then he’ll advocate for a solution? As long as the NRA doesn’t mind, that is (hint: they do).

Or how about Egypt? The country is exploding before our eyes, and the “Leader of the Free World” cannot use the occasion to tell “President” Mubarak to stand down? He can’t inform the Egyptian dictator that the massive amounts of American aid he receives are being cut off? Or does he even recognize Mubarak as such? I saw PBS anchor, Jim “Softball On Quaaludes” Lehrer, interviewing the Vice President, who couldn’t even admit that Mubarak is a dictator. I guess the Egyptian leader has just been extraordinarily lucky, winning landslide “elections” for thirty years running now. That can happen, you know.

Well, at least the president was better in his speech when it came to the one thing Americans really care about right now (and, foolishly, that probably doesn’t include the proliferation of guns or US support for Middle Eastern potentates) – jobs, jobs, jobs. Did you catch the president’s jobs program in his speech? No? Golly, I didn’t either. I just heard endless platitudes about education, infrastructure and light rail. You know, that’s all really cool stuff, and maybe, if we’re lucky, it will raise GDP by six-tenths of a percent in the year 2040 (though, of course, if it did, all of that revenue will go to the rich, as it has for the last thirty years).

But right now real humans are suffering the real pains of job loss and foreclosure, and all this president can muster in terms of a solution is the hiring of yet more Clinton administration retreads, the very same people who turned the Democratic Party into a Ladies Auxiliary of the GOP, and whose deregulatory fervor brought us precisely to where we are today. Out goes Emanuel, in comes Daley. Out goes Summers, in comes Sperling. How inspirational. I’m gonna go start knocking on doors for the Obama-Biden 2012 campaign first thing tomorrow morning! We need real solutions in this country! Yes, coming soon to an election campaign near you: “Clinton II: The Folks Who Brought You WTO, the Annihilation of Welfare, and Bank Deregulation Now Carry the Hope and Change Flag!”

Charles Blow noted in the New York Times this week that Obama’s State of the Union speech was only the second one by a Democratic president since Harry Truman in 1948 that did not mention the poor and the need to fight against poverty. This continues the trend started by Bill Clinton to pander to the middle class and that cohort’s insufferable and seemingly endless capacity for selfishness. Gone, in the 1990s, was the commitment to those most in need, and every reference instead was to serving the middle class, though in fact Clinton and his team were really looting them on behalf of the plutocracy, as Obama is now doing as well. Blow goes on in his article to show the absolute inverse statistical correlation between income level and support for Obama in the 2008 election (The less money you make, the more likely you were to vote for Obama), which makes the president’s priorities even more egregious. There he is in his speech talking about the stock market “roaring” back, while ignoring the needs of the hardest hit Americans, who just happen also to be the ones that most ardently supported him when he wanted what he wanted – to be president.

I’m quite sure the calculus in the White House is “What the hell do we care? Where’re these people going to go in 2012? What are they going to do, vote for Ralph Nader?” And, I guess if that whole morality thing isn’t an issue for you, then such a cynical political calculation is probably not so far off the mark. If, like Bill Clinton, you just want to be president at all costs, you probably should sell-out the poor, as Clinton did with the unconscionable welfare bill he signed in order to guarantee his reelection. Especially if you’re Obama, who can pretty much count on getting every black vote in the country, no matter what he does, along with a lot of white liberal guilt votes as well.

But I suspect that Obama, even if he can pull out a second term, will wind up were Clinton manifestly has, and it’s pathetic to see. Bad Bill gets all the adulation of a political Mick Jagger, and he gets to hang out in the Hamptons with all the real Mick Jaggers of this world. But you can see that he’s a profoundly unsatisfied man, now in the latter years of a life dwindling toward conclusion. He desperately wanted to be great, and he just wasn’t. Even if you leave out the tawdry stuff.

Clinton, in what surely wins the world prize for the absolute pinnacle of narcissistic self-obsession, once lamented that he didn’t have the good fortune to have a crisis during his presidency, so that he could join the pantheon of Lincoln and FDR as one of the greats in American history. George W. Bush will never have Clinton’s remorse problem, of course, because he drowns his insecurities in booze or the alcohol-free version of the same, otherwise known as religion. But Obama is likely too introspective to avoid his fate. Clinton governed during more or less stable and munificent times. Bush was a crisis walking in the door, had a crisis on his watch, and turned everything he touched into crisis. Obama’s situation is a bit more subtle. He actual has multiple crises on his plate, but they are somewhat less obvious. Obama will know, when it’s all over, what he could have done, what he should have done, what history is screaming out needs to be done. And he – like Clinton, but lots more so because eight years of Bush have made these much more perilous times – will know what he did and especially didn’t do.

You might think that the global warming issue was an obvious candidate for presidential leadership, now that we’ve noted that nine of the ten hottest years ever recorded occurred during the last decade-and-a-half. But the scepticism-for-fun-and-profit industry has managed to muddy the waters of public perception sufficiently so as to prevent anything remotely resembling a serious response to what is unquestionably the greatest crisis in all of human history. If you look at what real scientists are saying about this, then it appears that we’re headed for a planetary catastrophe of epic proportions. This is here, and it is now. And, given the unfortunate opposing array of special interest profiteers and legitimate developing country desires to industrialize, it is going to take global leadership to wake people up to what we’re facing. But did the president even mention this greatest of all challenges in his speech?

At home, we are a society sickened by a cancer of greed, which has rendered our political process broken and profoundly dishonest on a good day, and utterly predatory all the rest of the time. And there aren’t many good days in American politics right now. Here’s a place where Obama could have really had a serious impact. Once again, what is required here is presidential, moral, bully pulpit leadership to define the problem, wag the finger, call our enemies our enemies, demand a solution, and push it across the goal line. Given the direction that the Supreme Court has been going of late, it would appear that nothing short of a constitutional amendment will any longer suffice in breaking the death-grip of money on public policymaking in America. Politically, that is an extremely tall mountain to climb, though there may be enormous reserves of public support that could line up behind such an initiative. But it is almost wholly unimaginable today, in the absence of presidential leadership, for that to be successfully placed on the national agenda and then driven through.

This is, in so many ways, the single key that unlocks all the doors to solutions for our various national ailments in the United States. If we could get special interest influence out of governing, we could deal with our spiraling debt, for example. We would not have had this Great Recession we’re all living through (all living though except, of course, those who are dying). We could address global warming. We could get the guns off our streets. We could scale back our military and our wars dramatically. We could depopulate our for-profit prisons. We could end any reason for the Republican Party to continue to exist.

And so on. The list is endless. This is the great issue of our time. It is hardly new, but the degree of institutionalized greed has reached astonishing proportions today, and a once fat context of American world dominance, unending resource availability, and relatively benign environmental consequences for plundering has ended. Our current practices are anything but sustainable, but nobody is talking about it. A great president would have made this debilitating greed the defining issue of his presidency. Indeed, a great president would have realized that by changing, at the beginning of his administration, the nature of who the political class in Washington actually serves, everything else would have become possible in subsequent years of his presidency. A Congress owned by Goldman Sachs will never pass meaningful financial system reform. But a Congress that actually serves its constituents instead would easily do so. A government owned by the NRA will never deal with gun violence. But a government answerable to the public interest rather than special interests would. And so on.

We also fail to appreciate the level of danger entailed by the character and quantities of sick invective coursing through the veins of our political system. Even worse, if we do ever talk about that – as the Tucson shootings have caused us to do, for five minutes, anyhow – we get it entirely wrong, especially by imposing a false equivalence to the supposed sources of the problem. That would be ridiculous if it weren’t so pernicious. There is no Glenn Beck of the left, nor a Rush Limbaugh, nor the equal of any of the other even more caustic freaks of right wing radio. The closest one could come to that (and still not get very close at all) would be Keith Olbermann, and look what happened to him. Amongst the political class, the same is true. There is no Satan Plain or Michelle Bachmann of the left.

The rhetoric of these monsters, sustained over decades now, is incredibly corrosive to the national esprit de corps. The ramifications of this destructiveness will be felt powerfully, and for a long time to come. But the ascendance of such damaging lunacy has only been possible because of the silence of anyone and everyone carrying the flag of political sanity. When Democrats aren’t busy being coopted, they’re busy being cowardly, something I find especially remarkable given the sheer buffoonery of targets like those mentioned above. I mean, just how hard would it be to ridicule a serial-divorcee and drug addict like Limbaugh, when the guy runs around lecturing the rest of us on family values?

Nobody fails this test quite like Obama, either. Even Clinton did better than this cat. Barack just seems to want to be liked, just wants to get along with everybody, even when they’re trashing his mama in public. There seems to be virtually nothing you can say about him – even if you’re a Republican leader in Congress – which he will not fail to respond to. Question his citizenship, his religion, his patriotism – it’s endless, and all too unfortunately, loads of numbies out there in Americaland believe this nonsense.

On the other hand, if all Obama wants is a second term, then perhaps he is being strategically smart. As vacuous as his speech was, the response by GOP would-be wunderkind Paul Ryan turned out to be just another in the party’s continuing string of embarrassments (remember Bobby Jindal?). Ryan looked small and petty coming after Obama. And the amount of explicit and implicit deceit in his party’s newly-found hostility to debt (he seems to have conveniently forgotten Cheney’s “Reagan proved deficits don’t matter”, an indictment of all Republican administrations of the last thirty years) was only exceeded by that in Michelle Bachmann’s ludicrous tea bag rant.

Unfortunately, what makes good politics for Obama makes disaster for the country. The GOP – either the Radical Mouthfoamer wing or the Even More Radical Mouthfoamer wing – is likely to continue making the president look sensible by comparison. Given that unemployment probably will not fall significantly between now and November 2012, the White House has probably figured out that being the less insane option for voters in that contest is their only prayer of winning reelection. They may be right, though it depends on who the GOP nominates. Traditionally, however, the economy is nine-tenths of the equation. An incumbent president sitting on top of a crappy economy is almost always heading for the door.

But even if he wins, what for? Every time I look at this president, I wonder what the hell he wanted the job for.

I mean, after all, we’ve already had James Buchanan.
(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 LePage,

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 shunning the NAACP, 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 LePage, Sieg Heil!

Signed by,
Vice Fuhrer Biden

Heil Obama

When Corporations Choose Despots Over Democracy
By Amy Goodman

“People holding a sign ‘To: America. From: the Egyptian People. Stop supporting Mubarak. It’s over!” so tweeted my brave colleague, “Democracy Now!” senior producer Sharif Abdel Kouddous, from the streets of Cairo.

More than 2 million people rallied throughout Egypt on Tuesday, most of them crowded into Cairo’s Tahrir Square. Tahrir, which means liberation in Arabic, has become the epicenter of what appears to be a largely spontaneous, leaderless and peaceful revolution in this, the most populous nation in the Middle East. Defying a military curfew, this incredible uprising has been driven by young Egyptians, who compose a majority of the 80 million citizens. Twitter and Facebook, and SMS text messaging on cell phones, have helped this new generation to link up and organize, despite living under a U.S.-supported dictatorship for the past three decades. In response, the Mubarak regime, with the help of U.S. and European corporations, has shut down the Internet and curtailed cellular service, plunging Egypt into digital darkness. Despite the shutdown, as media activist and professor of communications C.W. Anderson told me, “people make revolutions, not technology.”

The demands are chanted through the streets for democracy, for self-determination. Sharif headed to Egypt Friday night, into uncertain terrain. The hated Interior Ministry security forces, the black-shirted police loyal to President Hosni Mubarak, were beating and killing people, arresting journalists, and smashing and confiscating cameras.

On Saturday morning, Sharif went to Tahrir Square. Despite the SMS and Internet blackout, Sharif, a talented journalist and technical whiz, figured out a workaround, and was soon tweeting out of Tahrir: “Amazing scene: three tanks roll by with a crowd of people riding atop each one. Chanting ‘Hosni Mubarak out!’ ”

Egypt has been the second-largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid for decades, after Israel (not counting the funds expended on the wars and occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan). Mubarak’s regime has received roughly $2 billion per year since coming to power, overwhelmingly for the military.

Where has the money gone? Mostly to U.S. corporations. I asked William Hartung of the New America Foundation to explain:

“It’s a form of corporate welfare for companies like Lockheed Martin and General Dynamics, because it goes to Egypt, then it comes back for F-16 aircraft, for M-1 tanks, for aircraft engines, for all kinds of missiles, for guns, for tear-gas canisters [from] a company called Combined Systems International, which actually has its name on the side of the canisters that have been found on the streets there.”

Hartung just published a book, “Prophets of War: Lockheed Martin and the Making of the Military-Industrial Complex.” He went on:

“Lockheed Martin has been the leader in deals worth $3.8 billion over that period of the last 10 years; General Dynamics, $2.5 billion for tanks; Boeing, $1.7 billion for missiles, for helicopters; Raytheon for all manner of missiles for the armed forces. So, basically, this is a key element in propping up the regime, but a lot of the money is basically recycled. Taxpayers could just as easily be giving it directly to Lockheed Martin or General Dynamics.”

Likewise, Egypt’s Internet and cell phone “kill switch” was enabled only through collaboration with corporations. U.K.-based Vodafone, a global cellular-phone giant (which owns 45 percent of Verizon Wireless in the U.S.) attempted to justify its actions in a press release: “It has been clear to us that there were no legal or practical options open to Vodafone ... but to comply with the demands of the authorities.”

Narus, a U.S. subsidiary of Boeing Corp., sold Egypt equipment to allow “deep packet inspection,” according to Tim Karr of the media policy group Free Press. Karr said the Narus technology “allows the Egyptian telecommunications companies ... to look at texting via cell phones, and to identify the sort of dissident voices that are out there. ... It also gives them the technology to geographically locate them and track them down.”

Mubarak has pledged not to run for re-election come September. But the people of Egypt demand he leave now. How has he lasted 30 years? Maybe that’s best explained by a warning from a U.S. Army general 50 years ago, President Dwight D. Eisenhower. He said, MU<“We must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex.”

That deadly complex is not only a danger to democracy at home, but when shoring up despots abroad.
(c) 2011 Amy Goodman is the host of "Democracy Now!," a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on 750 stations in North America. She is the co-author of "Standing Up to the Madness: Ordinary Heroes in Extraordinary Times," recently released in paperback.

A Response To Critics
By Sam Harris

Among the many quandaries a writer must face after publishing a controversial book is the question of how, or whether, to respond to criticism. At a minimum, it would seem wise to correct misunderstandings and distortions of one's views wherever they appear, but one soon discovers that there is no good way of doing this. After my first book was published, the journalist Chris Hedges seemed to make a career out of misrepresenting its contents -- asserting, among other calumnies, that somewhere in its pages I call for an immediate, nuclear first-strike on the entire Muslim world. Hedges spread this lie so sedulously that I could have spent the next year writing letters to the editor. Even if I had been willing to squander my time in this way, such letters are generally pointless, as few people read them. In the end, I decided to create a page on my website addressing controversies of this kind, so that I can then forget all about them. The result has been less than satisfying. Several years have passed, and I still meet people at public talks and in comment threads who believe that I support the outright murder of hundreds of millions of innocent people.

The problem posed by public criticism is by no means limited to the question of what to do about misrepresentations of one's work. There is simply no good forum in which to respond to reviews of any kind, no matter how substantive. To do so in a separate essay is to risk confusing readers with a litany of disconnected points or -- worse -- boring them to salt. And any author who rises to the defense of his own book is always in danger of looking petulant, vain, and ineffectual. There is a galling asymmetry at work here: to say anything at all in response to criticism is to risk doing one's reputation further harm by appearing to care too much about it.

These strictures now weigh heavily on me, because I recently published a book, The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values, which has provoked a backlash in intellectual (and not-so-intellectual) circles. I knew this was coming, given my thesis, but this knowledge left me no better equipped to meet the cloudbursts of vitriol and confusion once they arrived. Watching the tide of opinion turn against me, it has been difficult to know what, if anything, to do about it.

How, for instance, should I respond to the novelist Marilynne Robinson's paranoid, anti-science gabbling in the Wall Street Journal where she consigns me to the company of the lobotomists of the mid 20th century? Better not to try, I think -- beyond observing how difficult it can be to know whether a task is above or beneath you. What about the science writer John Horgan, who was kind enough to review my book twice, once in Scientific American where he tarred me with the infamous Tuskegee syphilis experiments, the abuse of the mentally ill, and eugenics, and once in The Globe and Mail, where he added Nazism and Marxism for good measure? How does one graciously respond to non sequiturs? The purpose of The Moral Landscape is to argue that we can, in principle, think about moral truth in the context of science. Robinson and Horgan seem to imagine that the mere existence of the Nazi doctors counts against my thesis. Is it really so difficult to distinguish between a science of morality and the morality of science? To assert that moral truths exist, and can be scientifically understood, is not to say that all (or any) scientists currently understand these truths or that those who do will necessarily conform to them.

But we must descend further before reaching a higher place: for occasionally one's book will be reviewed by a prominent person who has not even taken the trouble to open it. Such behavior is always surprising and, in a strange way, refreshingly stupid. What should I say, for instance, when the inimitable Deepak Chopra produces a long, poisonous, and blundering review of The Moral Landscape in The San Francisco Chronicle while demonstrating in every line that he has not read it? (His "review" is wholly based on a short Q&A I published for promotional purposes on my website.) Admittedly, there is something arresting about being called a scientific fraud and "egotistical" by Chopra. This is rather like being branded an exhibitionist by Lady Gaga. In retrospect, I see that the haste and bile of Chopra's fake review are readily explained: we had recently participated in a debate at Caltech (along with Michael Shermer and Jean Houston) in which the great man had greatly embarrassed himself. And while I am certainly capable of being both scientifically mistaken and egotistical, I am confident that anyone who views our exchange in its entirety will recognize that I am the firefly to Chopra's sun.

Why respond to criticism at all? Many writers refuse to even read their reviews, much less answer them. The problem, however, is that if one is committed to the spread of ideas -- as most nonfiction writers are -- it is hard to ignore the fact that negative reviews can be very damaging to one's cause. Not only do they discourage smart people from reading a book, they can lead them to disparage it as though they had discovered its flaws for themselves. Consider the following published remarks from the philosopher Colin McGinn, whose work I greatly admire:

I think Sam Harris' idea is equally bad [as religion-based morality], I'm surprised he'd write on it. There's just some really bad thinking in Sam Harris's new book, I haven't read it yet, but that's because from what I've heard, it sounds terrible and wrong-headed and just bizarre. He's trying to make science do what religion used to. His basic philosophical reason is a fallacy, it's impossible to derive ought from is, the naturalistic fallacy, it's a complete misconception that you can. I'm surprised Sam Harris would fall for that. A few weeks ago, Anthony Appiah nailed him for it in the New York Times. I have no idea why that arises in some scientists. The idea is wrong. It's been refuted. It's hard to believe they still argue that point.

No matter that I cannot find a single, substantive point in Appiah's review not already addressed in my book, McGinn appears to know otherwise through the power of clairvoyance. Many other philosophers and scientists have begun to play this game with The Moral Landscape, without ever engaging its arguments. And so, mindful of the dangers, I have decided to answer the strongest criticisms that have appeared to date. Failure beckons on both sides, of course, as my response will be all-too-brief for some and far more than others can stomach. But it is worth a try.

As far as I know, the best reviews of The Moral Landscape have come from the philosophers Thomas Nagel, Troy Jollimore, and Russell Blackford. I will focus on Blackford's (along with a few of his subsequent blog posts) as it strikes me as the most searching. It also seems to echo everything of interest in the others.

For those unfamiliar with my book, here is my argument in brief: Morality and values depend on the existence of conscious minds -- and specifically on the fact that such minds can experience various forms of well-being and suffering in this universe. Conscious minds and their states are natural phenomenon, of course, fully constrained by the laws of Nature (whatever these turn out to be in the end). Therefore, there must be right and wrong answers to questions of morality and values that potentially fall within the purview of science. On this view, some people and cultures will be right (to a greater or lesser degree), and some will be wrong, with respect to what they deem important in life.

Blackford and others worry that any aspect of human subjectivity or culture could fit in the space provided: after all, a preference for chocolate over vanilla ice cream is a natural phenomenon, as is a preference for the comic Sarah Silverman over Bob Hope. Are we to imagine that there are universal truths about ice cream and comedy that admit of scientific analysis? Well, in a certain sense, yes. Science could, in principle, account for why some of us prefer chocolate to vanilla, and why no one's favorite flavor of ice cream is aluminum. Comedy must also be susceptible to this kind of study. There will be a fair amount of cultural and generational variation in what counts as funny, but there are probably basic principles of comedy -- like the violation of expectations, the breaking of taboos, etc. -- that could be universal. Amusement to the point of laughter is a specific state of the human nervous system that can be scientifically studied. Why do some people laugh more readily than others? What exactly happens when we "get" a joke? These are ultimately questions about the human brain. There will be scientific facts to be known here, and any differences in taste among human beings must be attributable to other facts that fall within the purview of science. If we were ever to arrive at a complete understanding of the human mind, we would understand human preferences of all kinds. Indeed, we might even be able to change them.

However, morality and values appear to reach deeper than mere matters of taste -- beyond how people happen to think and behave to questions of how they should think and behave. And it is this notion of "should" that introduces a fair amount of confusion into any conversation about moral truth. I should note in passing, however, that I don't think the distinction between morality and something like taste is as clear or as categorical as we might suppose. If, for instance, a preference for chocolate ice cream allowed for the most rewarding experience a human being could have, while a preference for vanilla did not, we would deem it morally important to help people overcome any defect in their sense of taste that caused them to prefer vanilla -- in the same way that we currently treat people for curable forms of blindness. It seems to me that the boundary between mere aesthetics and moral imperative -- the difference between not liking Matisse and not liking the Golden Rule -- is more a matter of there being higher stakes, and consequences that reach into the lives of others, than of there being distinct classes of facts regarding the nature of human experience. There is much more to be said on this point, of course, but it is not one that I covered in my book, so I will pass it by.

Let's begin with my core claim that moral truths exist. In what was a generally supportive review of The Moral Landscape, strewn with strange insults, the philosopher Thomas Nagel endorsed my basic thesis as follows:

Even if this is an exaggeration, Harris has identified a real problem, rooted in the idea that facts are objective and values are subjective. Harris rejects this facile opposition in the only way it can be rejected -- by pointing to evaluative truths so obvious that they need no defense. For example, a world in which everyone was maximally miserable would be worse than a world in which everyone was happy, and it would be wrong to try to move us toward the first world and away from the second. This is not true by definition, but it is obvious, just as it is obvious that elephants are larger than mice. If someone denied the truth of either of those propositions, we would have no reason to take him seriously...

The true culprit behind contemporary professions of moral skepticism is the confused belief that the ground of moral truth must be found in something other than moral values. One can pose this type of question about any kind of truth. What makes it true that 2 + 2 = 4? What makes it true that hens lay eggs? Some things are just true; nothing else makes them true. Moral skepticism is caused by the currently fashionable but unargued assumption that only certain kinds of things, such as physical facts, can be "just true" and that value judgments such as "happiness is better than misery" are not among them. And that assumption in turn leads to the conclusion that a value judgment could be true only if it were made true by something like a physical fact. That, of course, is nonsense.

It is encouraging to see a philosopher of Nagel's talents conceding this much -- for the position he sketches nullifies much of the criticism I have received. However, my view of moral truth demands a little more than this -- not because I am bent upon reducing morality to "physical" facts in any crude sense, but because I can't see how we can keep the notion of moral truth within a walled garden, forever set apart from the truths of science. In my view, morality must be viewed in the context of our growing scientific understanding of the mind. If there are truths to be known about the mind, there will be truths to be known about how minds flourish; consequently, there will be truths to be known about good and evil.

Many critics claim that my reliance on the concept of "well-being" is arbitrary and philosophically indefensible. Who's to say that well-being is important at all or that other things aren't far more important? How, for instance, could you convince someone who does not value well-being that he should, in fact, value it? And even if one could justify well-being as the true foundation for morality, many have argued that one would need a "metric" by which it could be measured -- else there could be no such thing as moral truth in the scientific sense. There seems to be a unnecessarily restrictive notion of science underlying this last claim -- as though scientific truths only exist if we can have immediate and uncontroversial access to them in the lab. The physicist Sean Carroll has written a fair amount against me on this point (again, without having read my book), and he is in the habit of saying things like, "I don't know what a unit of well-being is," as though he were regretfully delivering the killing blow to my thesis. I would venture that Carroll doesn't know what a unit of depression is either -- and units of joy, disgust, boredom, irony, envy, or any other mental state worth studying won't be forthcoming. If half of what Carroll says about the limits of science is true, the sciences of mind are not merely doomed, there would be no facts for them to understand in the first place.

It seems to me that there are three, distinct challenges put forward thus far:

1. There is no scientific basis to say that we should value well-being, our own or anyone else's. (The Value Problem)

2. Hence, if someone does not care about well-being, or cares only about his own and not about the well-being of others, there is no way to argue that he is wrong from the point of view of science. (The Persuasion Problem)

3. Even if we did agree to grant "well-being" primacy in any discussion of morality, it is difficult or impossible to define it with rigor. It is, therefore, impossible to measure well-being scientifically. Thus, there can be no science of morality. (The Measurement Problem)

I believe all of these challenges are the product of philosophical confusion. The simplest way to see this is by analogy to medicine and the mysterious quantity we call "health." Let's swap "morality" for "medicine" and "well-being" for "health" and see how things look: 1. There is no scientific basis to say that we should value health, our own or anyone else's. (The Value Problem)

2. Hence, if someone does not care about health, or cares only about his own and not about the health of others, there is no way to argue that he is wrong from the point of view of science. (The Persuasion Problem)

3. Even if we did agree to grant "health" primacy in any discussion of medicine, it is difficult or impossible to define it with rigor. It is, therefore, impossible to measure health scientifically. Thus, there can be no science of medicine. (The Measurement Problem)

While the analogy may not be perfect, I maintain that it is good enough to obviate these three criticisms. Is there a Value Problem, with respect to health? Is it unscientific to value health and seek to maximize it within the context of medicine? No. Clearly there are scientific truths to be known about health -- and we can fail to know them, to our great detriment. This is a fact. And yet, it is possible for people to deny this fact, or to have perverse and even self-destructive ideas about how to live. Needless to say, it can be fruitless to argue with such people. Does this mean we have a Persuasion Problem with respect to medicine? No. Christian Scientists, homeopaths, voodoo priests, and the legions of the confused don't get to vote on the principles of medicine. "Health" is also hard to define -- and, what is more, the definition keeps changing. There is no clear "metric" by which we can measure it, and there may never be one -- because "health" is a suitcase term for hundreds, if not thousands, of variables. Is an ability to "jump very high" one of them? That depends. What would my doctor think if I wanted a full neurological workup because I can only manage a 30-inch vertical leap? He would think I had lost my mind. However, if I were a professional basketball player who had enjoyed a 40-inch leap every day of his adult life, I would be reporting a sudden, 25 percent decline in my abilities -- not a good sign. Do such contingencies give us a Measurement Problem with respect to health? Do they indicate that medicine will never be a proper science? No. "Health" is a loose concept that may always bend and stretch depending on the context -- but there is no question that both it and its context exist within an underlying reality which we can understand, or fail to understand, with the tools of science.

Let's look at these problems in light of Blackford's review:

The Value Problem

My critics have been especially exercised over the subtitle of my book, "how science can determine human values." The charge is that I haven't actually used science to determine the foundational value (well-being) upon which my proffered science of morality would rest. Rather, I have just assumed that well-being is a value, and this move is both unscientific and question-begging. Here is Blackford:

If we presuppose the well-being of conscious creatures as a fundamental value, much else may fall into place, but that initial presupposition does not come from science. It is not an empirical finding... Harris is highly critical of the claim, associated with Hume, that we cannot derive an "ought" solely from an "is" - without starting with people's actual values and desires. He is, however, no more successful in deriving "ought" from "is" than anyone else has ever been. The whole intellectual system of The Moral Landscape depends on an "ought" being built into its foundations.

Again, the same can be said about medicine, or science as a whole. As I point out in my book, science in based on values that must be presupposed -- like the desire to understand the universe, a respect for evidence and logical coherence, etc. One who doesn't share these values cannot do science. But nor can he attack the presuppositions of science in way that anyone should find compelling. Scientists need not apologize for presupposing the value of evidence, nor does this presupposition render science unscientific. In my book, I argue that the value of well-being -- specifically the value of avoiding the worst possible misery for everyone -- is on the same footing. There is no problem in presupposing that the worst possible misery for everyone is bad and worth avoiding and that normative morality consists, at an absolute minimum, in acting so as to avoid it. To say that the worst possible misery for everyone is "bad" is, on my account, like saying that an argument that contradicts itself is "illogical." Our spade is turned. Anyone who says it isn't simply isn't making sense. The fatal flaw that Blackford claims to have found in my view of morality could just as well be located in science as a whole -- or reason generally. Our "oughts" are built right into the foundations. We need not apologize for pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps in this way. It is far better than pulling ourselves down by them.

Blackford raises another issue with regard to the concept of well-being:

There could be situations where the question of which course of action might maximize well-being has no determinate answer, and not merely because well-being is difficult to measure in practice but because there is some room for rational disagreement about exactly what it is. If it's shorthand for the summation of various even deeper values, there could be room for legitimate disagreement on exactly what these are, and certainly on how they are to be weighted. But if that is so, there could end up being legitimate disagreement on what is to be done, with no answer that is objectively binding on all the disagreeing parties.

Couldn't the same be said about human health? What if there are trade-offs with respect to human performance that we just can't get around -- what if, for instance, an ability to jump high always comes at the cost of flexibility? Will there be disagreements between orthopedists who specialize in basketball and those who specialize in yoga? Sure. So what? We will still be talking about very small deviations from a common standard of "health" -- one which does not include anencephaly or a raging case of smallpox.

[Harris] acknowledges the theoretical possibility that two courses of action, or, say, two different systems of customs and laws could be equal in the amount of well-being that they generate. In such cases, the objectively correct and determinate answer to the question of which is morally better would be: "They are equal." However, he is not prepared to accept a situation where two people who have knowledge of all the facts could legitimately disagree on what ought to be done. The closest they could come to that would be agreement that two (or more) courses of action are equally preferable, so either could be pursued with the same moral legitimacy as the other.

This is not quite true. My model of the moral landscape does allow for multiple peaks -- many different modes of flourishing, admitting of irreconcilable goals. Thus, if you want to move society toward peak 19746X, while I fancy 74397J, we may have disagreements that simply can't be worked out. This is akin to trying to get me to follow you to the summit of Everest while I want to drag you up the slopes of K2. Such disagreements do not land us back in moral relativism, however: because there will be right and wrong ways to move toward one peak or the other; there will be many more low spots on the moral landscape than peaks (i.e. truly wrong answers to moral questions); and for all but the loftiest goals and the most disparate forms of conscious experience, moral disagreements will not be between sides of equal merit. Which is to say that for most moral controversies, we need not agree to disagree; rather, we should do our best to determine which side is actually right.

In any case, I suspect that radically disjoint peaks are unlikely to exist for human beings. We are far too similar to one another to be that different. If we each could sample all possible states of human experience, and were endowed with perfect memories so that we could sort our preferences, I think we would converge on similar judgments of what is good, what is better, and what is best. Differences of opinion might still be possible, and would themselves be explicable in terms of differences at the level of our brains. Consequently, even such disagreements would not be a problem for my account, because to talk about what is truly good, we must also include the possibility (in principle, if not in practice) of changing peoples desires, preferences, and intuitions as a means of moving across the moral landscape. I will discuss the implications of this below.

Generally speaking, I think that the problem of disagreement and indeterminacy that Blackford raises is a product of incomplete information (we will never be able to know all the consequences of an action, estimate all the relevant probabilities, or compare counterfactual states of the world) combined with the inevitable looseness with which certain terms must be defined. Once again, I do not see this as a problem for my view.

The Persuasion Problem

Another concern that prompts Blackford and others to invoke terms like "ought" and "should" is the problem of persuasion. What can I say to persuade another person that he or she should behave differently? What can I think (that is, say to myself) to inspire a change in my own behavior? There are, in fact, people who will not be persuaded by anything I say on the subject of well-being, and who may even claim not to value well-being at all. And even I can knowingly fail to maximize my own well-being by acting in ways that I will later regret, perhaps by forsaking a long term goal in favor of short term pleasure.

The deeper concern, however, is that even if we do agree that well-being is the gold standard by which to measure what is good, people are selfish in ways that we are not inclined to condemn. As Blackford observes:

[W]e usually accept that people act in competition with each other, each seeking the outcome that most benefits them and their loved ones. We don't demand that everyone agree to accept whatever course will maximize the well-being of conscious creatures overall. Nothing like that is part of our ordinary idea of what it is to behave morally.

Why, for example, should I not prefer my own well-being, or the well-being of the people I love, to overall, or global, well-being? If it comes to that, why should I not prefer some other value altogether, such as the emergence of the Ubermensch, to the maximization of global well-being?... Harris never provides a satisfactory response to this line of thought, and I doubt that one is possible. After all, as he acknowledges, the claim that "We should maximize the global well-being of conscious creatures" is not an empirical finding. So what is it? What in the world makes it true? How does it become binding on me if I don't accept it?

The worry is that there is no binding reason to argue that everyone should care about the well-being of others. As Blackford says, when told about the prospect of global well-being, a selfish person can always say, "What is that to me?":

If we want to persuade Alice to take action X, we need to appeal to some value (or desire, or hope, or fear, etc. ... but you get the idea) that she actually has. Perhaps we can appeal to her wish for our approval, but that won't work unless she actually cares about whether or not we approve of her. She is not rationally bound to act in the way we wish her to act, which may be the way that maximizes global welfare, unless we can get some kind of grip on her own actual values and desires (etc.)... Harris does not seem to understand this idea... there are no judgments about how people like Alice should conduct themselves that are binding on them as a matter of fact or reason, irrespective of such things as what they actually value, or desire, or care about... If we are going to provide her with reasons to act in a particular way, or to support a particular policy, or condemn a traditional custom - or whatever it might be - sooner or later we will need to appeal to the values, desires, and so on, that she actually has. There are no values that are, mysteriously, objectively binding on us all in the sense I have been discussing. Thus it is futile to argue from a presupposition that we are all rationally bound to act so as to maximize global well-being. It is simply not the case.

Blackford's analysis of these issues is excellent, of course, but I think it still misses my point. The first thing to notice is that the same doubts can be raised about science/rationality itself. A person can always play the trump card, "What is that to me?" -- and if we don't find it compelling elsewhere, I don't see why it must have special force on questions of good and evil. The more relevant issue, however, is that this notion of "should," with its focus on the burden of persuasion, introduces a false standard for moral truth.

Again, consider the concept of health: should we maximize global health? To my ear, this is a strange question. It invites a timorous reply like, "Provided we want everyone to be healthy, yes." And introducing this note of contingency seems to nudge us from the charmed circle of scientific truth. But why must we frame the matter this way? A world in which global health is maximized would be an objective reality, quite distinct from a world in which we all die early and in agony. Yes, it is true that a person like Alice could seek to maximize her own health without caring about the health of other people -- though her health will depend on the health of others in countless ways (the same, I would argue, is true of her well-being). Is she wrong to be selfish? Would we blame her for taking her own side in any zero-sum contest to secure medicine for herself or for her own children? Again, these aren't the kinds of questions that will get us to bedrock. The truth is, Alice and the rest of us can live so as to allow for a maximally healthy world, or we can fail to do so. Yes, it is possible that a maximally healthy world is one in which Alice is less healthy than she might otherwise be (though this seems unlikely). So what? There is still an objective reality to which our beliefs about human health can correspond. Questions of "should" are not the right lens through which to see this.

And the necessity of grounding moral truth in things that people "actually value, or desire, or care about" also misses the point. People often act against their deeper preferences -- or live in ignorance of what their preferences would be if they had more experience and information. What if we could change Alice's preference themselves? Should we? Obviously we can't answer this question by relying on the very preferences we would change. Contrary to Blackford's assertion, I'm not simply claiming that morality is "fully determined by an objective reality, independent of people's actual values and desires." I am claiming that people's actual values and desires are fully determined by an objective reality, and that we can conceptually get behind all of this -- indeed, we must -- in order to talk about what is actually good. This becomes clear the moment we ask whether it would be good to alter people values and desires.

Consider how we would view a situation in which all of us miraculously began to behave so as to maximize our collective well-being. Imagine that on the basis of remarkable breakthroughs in technology, economics, and politic skill, we create a genuine utopia on earth. Needless to say, this wouldn't be boring, because we will have wisely avoided all the boring utopias. Rather, we will have created a global civilization of astonishing creativity, security, and happiness.

However, some people were not ready for this earthly paradise once it arrived. Some were psychopaths who, despite enjoying the general change in quality of life, were nevertheless eager to break into their neighbors' homes and torture them from time to time. A few had preferences that were incompatible with the flourishing of whole societies: Try as he might, Kim Jong Il just couldn't shake the feeling that his cognac didn't taste as sweet without millions of people starving beyond his palace gates. Given our advances in science, however, we were able to alter preferences of this kind. In fact, we painlessly delivered a firmware update to everyone. Now the entirety of the species is fit to live in a global civilization that is as safe, and as fun, and as interesting, and as filled with love as it can be.

It seems to me that this scenario cuts through the worry that the concept of well-being might leave out something that is worth caring about: for if you care about something that is not compatible with a peak of human flourishing -- given the requisite changes in your brain, you would recognize that you were wrong to care about this thing in the first place. Wrong in what sense? Wrong in the sense that you didn't know what you were missing. This is the core of my argument: I am claiming that there must be frontiers of human well-being that await our discovery -- and certain interests and preferences surely blind us to them.

Nevertheless, Blackford is right to point out that our general approach to morality does not demand that we maximize global well-being. We are selfish to one degree or another; we lack complete information about the consequences of our actions; and even where we possess such information, our interests and preferences often lead us to ignore it. But these facts obscure deeper questions: In what sense can an action be morally good? And what does it mean to make a good action better?

For instance, it seems good for me to buy my daughter a birthday present, all things considered, because this will make both of us happy. Few people would fault me for spending some of my time and money in this way. But what about all the little girls in the world who suffer terribly at this moment for want of resources? Here is where an ethicist like Peter Singer will pounce, arguing that there actually is something morally questionable -- even reprehensible -- about my buying my daughter a birthday present, given my knowledge of how much good my time and money could do elsewhere. What should I do? Singer's argument makes me uncomfortable, but only for a moment. It is simply a fact about me that the suffering of other little girls is often out of sight and out of mind -- and my daughter's birthday is no easier to ignore than an asteroid impact. Can I muster a philosophical defense of my narrow focus? Perhaps. I might be that Singer's case leaves out some important details: what would happen if everyone in the developed world ceased to shop for birthday presents? Wouldn't the best of human civilization just come crashing down upon the worst? How can we spread wealth to the developing world if we do not create wealth in the first place? These reflections, self-serving and otherwise -- along with a thousand other facts about my mind for which Sean Carroll still has no "metric" -- land me in a toy store, looking for something that isn't pink.

So, yes, it is true that my thoughts about global well-being did not amount to much in this instance. And Blackford is right to say that most people wouldn't judge me for it. But what if there were way for me to buy my daughter a present and also cure another little girl of cancer at no extra cost? Wouldn't this be better than just buying the original present? Imagine if I declined this opportunity saying, "What is that to me? I don't care about other little girls and their cancers." It is only against an implicit notion of global well-being that we can judge my behavior to be less good than it might otherwise be. It is true that no one currently demands that I spend my time seeking, in every instance, to maximize global well-being -- nor do I demand it of myself -- but if global well-being could be maximized, that would be better (by the only definition of "better" that makes any sense).

It seems to me that whatever our preferences and capacities are at present, our beliefs about good and evil must still relate to what is ultimately possible for human beings. We can't think about this deeper reality by focusing on the narrow question of what a person "should" do in the gray areas of life where we spend much of our time. However, the extremes of human experience throw ample light: are the Taliban wrong about morality? Yes. Really wrong? Yes. Can we say so from the perspective of science? Yes. If we know anything at all about human well-being -- and we do -- we know that the Taliban are not leading anyone, including themselves, toward a peak on the moral landscape.

Finally, Blackford asserts, as many have, that abandoning a notion of moral truth "doesn't prevent us developing coherent, rational critiques of various systems of laws or customs or moral rules, or persuading others to adopt our critiques."

In particular, it is quite open to us to condemn traditional systems of morality to the extent that they are harsh or cruel, rather than providing what most of us (quite rationally) want from a moral tradition: for example that it ameliorate suffering, regulate conflict, and provide personal security and social cooperation, yet allow individuals a substantial degree of discretion to live their lives as they wish.

I'm afraid I have seen too much evidence to the contrary to accept Blackford's happy talk on this point. I consistently find that people who hold this view are far less clear-eyed and committed than (I believe) they should be when confronted with moral pathologies -- especially those of other cultures -- precisely because they believe there is no deep sense in which any behavior or system of thought can be considered pathological in the first place. Unless you understand that human health is a domain of genuine truth claims -- however difficult "health" may be to define -- it is impossible to think clearly about disease. I believe the same can be said about morality. And that is why I wrote a book about it...
(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 Cartoon Corner...

This edition we're proud to showcase the cartoons of
~~~ Jerry Holbert ~~~

To End On A Happy Note...

Tweeter And The Monkey Man
By The Traveling Wilburys

Tweeter and the Monkey Man were hard up for cash
They stayed up all night selling cocaine and hash
To an undercover cop who had a sister named Jan
For reasons unexplained she loved the Monkey Man

Tweeter was a boy scout before she went to Vietnam
And found out the hard way nobody gives a damn
They knew that they found freedom just across the Jersey Line
So they hopped into a stolen car took Highway 99

And the walls came down, all the way to hell
Never saw them when they're standing
Never saw them when they fell

The undercover cop never liked the Monkey Man
Even back in childhood he wanted to see him in the can
Jan got married at fourteen to a racketeer named Bill
She made secret calls to the Monkey Man from a mansion on the hill

It was out on thunder road - Tweeter at the wheel
They crashed into paradise - they could hear them tires squeal
The undercover cop pulled up and said "Everyone of you's a liar
If you don't surrender now it's gonna go down to the wire

And the walls came down, all the way to hell
Never saw them when they're standing
Never saw them when they fell

An ambulance rolled up - a state trooper close behind
Tweeter took his gun away and messed up his mind
The undercover cop was left tied up to a tree
Near the souvenir stand by the old abandoned factory

Next day the undercover cop was hot in pursuit
He was taking the whole thing personal
He didn't care about the loot
Jan had told him many times it was you to me who taught
In Jersey anything's legal as long as you don't get caught

And the walls came down, all the way to hell
Never saw them when they're standing
Never saw them when they fell

Someplace by Rahway prison they ran out of gas
The undercover cop had cornered them said "Boy, you didn't think that this could last"
Jan jumped out of bed said "There's someplace I gotta go"
She took a gun out of the drawer and said "It's best if you don't know"

The undercover cop was found face down in a field
The Monkey Man was on the river bridge using Tweeter as a shield
Jan said to the Monkey Man "I'm not fooled by Tweeter's curl
I knew him long before he ever became a Jersey girl"

And the walls came down, all the way to hell
Never saw them when they're standing
Never saw them when they fell

Now the town of Jersey City is quieting down again
I'm sitting in a gambling club called the Lion's Den
The TV set was blown up, every bit of it is gone
Ever since the nightly news show that the Monkey Man was on

I guess I'll go to Florida and get myself some sun
There ain't no more opportunity here, everything's been done
Sometime I think of Tweeter, sometimes I think of Jan
Sometimes I don't think about nothing but the Monkey Man

And the walls came down, all the way to hell
Never saw them when they're standing
Never saw them when they fell

And the walls came down, all the way to hell
Never saw them when they're standing
Never saw them when they fell
© 1988/2011 The Traveling Wilburrys

Have You Seen This...

Parting Shots...

World Cannot Believe Mubarak Hasn’t Fucking Left Yet
Clinton Calls Egyptian ‘Epic Douche’
By Andy Borowitz

CAIRO (The Borowitz Report) – As protests in Egypt enter their second week, the consensus in diplomatic circles is disbelief that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has not fucking left yet.

Around the world, diplomats spoke openly about Mr. Mubarak, often in language reserved for Wikileaks cables, underlining the prevailing opinion that Mr. Mubarak is behaving like a ginormous dick.

“Hosni Mubarak is acting like an in-law who’s stayed too long and can’t take a hint,” said the usually reserved US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. “I have no idea why he’s still fucking there, other than to be an epic douche.”

Even President Barack Obama, renowned for his careful choice of words, seemed to be losing patience with Mr. Mubarak: “I never thought I’d say this about someone, but Hosni Mubarak is an even bigger jackass than Kanye.”

In a sign that the US may be trying to send a clear message to Mr. Mubarak, today the State Department dispatched Donald Trump to Egypt.

As people once again filled the streets of Cairo, Fox News said that it could not estimate the crowd size “until we know how many of them are Democrats.”

Meanwhile, CNN’s Wolf Blitzer said that as the crisis deepens in Egypt, “Stay tuned to CNN for up-to-the-minute reports about Charlie Sheen.”
(c) 2011 Andy Borowitz

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Issues & Alibis Vol 11 # 05 (c) 02/04/2011

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