Issues & Alibis
















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In This Edition

Naomi Klein explores, "Haiti: A Creditor, Not A Debtor."

Uri Avnery smells, "A Stink Bomb."

Scott Ritter foresees, "The End Of Obama's Vision Of A Nuke-Free World."

Tom Engelhardt says, "Hold Onto Your Underwear."

Jim Hightower wants to know, "What Happened To Wall Street Reform?"

Randall Amster explaiins, "Empire Of The Sunset."

Ann Wright reports, "Congress Told That DOD Data On Sexual Assault And Rape In Military Is 'Lacking In Accuracy, Reliability And Validity.'"

Paul Krugman studies, "The Making Of A Euromess."

Chris Floyd visits, "The Last Station."

Case Wagenvoord wonders about, "Streamlining The Constitution."

Mike Folkerth exclaims, "Food? We Don't Need No Stinkin' Food; We Need Growth!"

Norman Solomon returns with, "Dollars For Death, Pennies For Life."

David Michael Green demands you, "Lead, Follow, Or Get Out Of The Way."

Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair wins the coveted "Vidkun Quisling Award!"

Glenn Greenwald considers, "Our Human Rights v. The Others."

Mary Pitt asks if you know, "Who Are The 'Progressives?'"

And finally in the 'Parting Shots' department Andy Borowitz is, "Introducing the Hot New Social Network, PhoneBook" but first Uncle Ernie sez, "Might Makes Right."

This week we spotlight the cartoons of Gary Markstein, with additional cartoons, photos and videos from Marvel Comics, Freaking News.Com, Married To The Sea.Com, Jim Morin, Darrin Bell, Pasternak, Tex Pete, Getty Images, Life Magazine, MGM, Al Jazeera English, AP 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."










Might Makes Right
By Ernest Stewart

"We deeply regret this tragic loss of life. The current operation in central Helmand is aimed at restoring security and stability to this vital area of Afghanistan. It's regrettable that, in the course of our joint efforts, innocent lives were lost." ~~~ General Stanley McChrystal

"We take direct action against terrorists in the intelligence community. If that direct action, we think that direct action will involve killing an American, we get specific permission to do that." ~~~ Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair

"What I had said in the morning was that this is what we know has happened, but there has been no significant off-site release. Only to find out moments later that, in fact, there had been an off-site release. I still haven't gotten over that." ~~~ William Scranton ~ on 3 mile island

They say that the third time is a charm; what is the fourth time called? After all the talk about not targeting civilians, of being so careful not to create even more "collateral damage" as our wizards and warlocks in the Pentagoon like to call murder and mayhem, we did it again on the first day of our latest war crime.

You'll no doubt recall the first time when it was done in a street war between Al Capone and Bugs Moran. It was in the headlines for weeks and has been relived every year for the last 81 years, much ado indeed! Yes, the first St. Valentines Day massacre is still going strong.

The second St. Valentine's Days massacre, like the two that followed, was done in cahoots with our war criminal friends the British in the closing days of WWII. We firebombed the German city of Dresden to ashes in a two-day fire storm that killed tens of thousands. We made Big Al look like a piker by comparison. Of course, in Al's defense he didn't have thousands of heavy bombers at his disposal like FDR and Winnie did!

The third St. Valentines massacre killed over 56 times more folks than big Al killed and yet you only heard about it for a couple of days. In case you missed it, I refer, of course, to, "The Amiriyah shelter, which was an air-raid shelter ("Public Shelter No. 25") in the Amiriyah neighborhood of Baghdad, Iraq. The shelter was used in the Iran-Iraq War and the Gulf War by hundreds of civilians. It was destroyed by the USAF with two laser-guided "smart bombs" on 13 February 1991 during the Gulf War, killing more than 408 civilians. According to U.S. government sources, the attack was based on signals and human intelligence reports suggesting the bunker was a military command site." This of course is pure bullshit, as we knew what it was and who was in it and decided to punish those civilians with a little collateral damage like we did in Dresden!

The latest St. Valentine's Day massacre happened on Sunday when an artillery barrage was directed at a house full of women and children who couldn't get out of Marjah in Operation "Moshtarak" (which I believe means "secure the Pipeline" in the Dari language) in Helmand Province because this time of the year it's below zero most of the time and to leave the warmth of the house means certain death. Of course, we said the murder of 15 people and the wounding of a score of others was an accident as the barrage was directed at a nearby house full of the Taliban. Truth is, that nearby structure was almost a quarter mile away. I know what our sergeants would have said and done when I was in the Army if our 105mm and 155mm howitzers had been more than a couple of yards off target firing 5 rounds in 15 seconds. This wasn't an accident but deliberate murder!

The buildup to this, of course, has been going on for weeks on Fox Spews and the rest of the rat wing control media and has been constantly compared to the D-Day Invasion. Of course, with a couple of exceptions:

#1 We went way out of our way to keep the Germans from knowing we were coming on D-Day, including putting Patton in charge of a fake Army across the ditch from the Pas de Calais. We didn't broadcast our intent on Fox Spews.

#2 We were fighting regular armies instead of guerilla units. Regular armies stand and fight. Guerilla armies fight then run away; they don't stand up to regular armies which is why our current friends the British lost their colonies in America. (Swamp Fox, Swamp Fox, feather in his hat. Nobody knows where de Swamp Fox at. Swamp Fox, Swamp Fox, riding' through de glen, he'll run away to fight again!) The only Taliban members left were suiciders and snipers. The rest had cleared out long before the attack began which is why we're currently killing almost as many civilians as we are Taliban fighters. Instead of "Nation Building" and making friends, we're making enemies and doing the Taliban's recruiting for them!

We know all this from hundreds of years of experience and yet we learn absolutely nothing from that experience. Nor have the British who, in three other wars in Afghanistan, lost not only the battles but their empire (just like we're losing our Empire in Afghanistan) and are back again to lose yet another war! That laughing noise you might hear in the background comes from the Russians who lost their empire the "USSR" in Afghanistan as well and can't believe how dumb we are. Happy Valentine's Day, America!

In Other News

Over in the Historical Documents section of the magazine you will find a link to The Bill Of Rights wherein you'll soon come across Amendment V to the US Constitution in which it clearly states:

"No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation."

Nowhere does an asterisk appear saying we may murder our citizens if the President says so. In fact, it says just the opposite, that we must be given due process of law. I'm positively sure that a lawyer such as Barry is well aware of this fact and yet he seems to think that on his whim he can order the murder of anyone he chooses, one of Dubya's bright ideas that Barry's adopted as his own!

Sure, we may kill any citizen on a battlefield who is apposing our forces which is the price you pay for being a solider on any side in any war. If you want to become a baby killer, boys and girls, there is a price to pay. In fact, many prices to pay if you choose to do so. However, this doesn't apply if you merely oppose our policies for political reasons. By Barry's way of thinking, he could brand old "Wet Start" McCain an enemy along with all the members of the RNC and even members of the DNC and have a contract put on all of them and their families and friends if they're around when the missiles strike. There's always a little collateral damage! What's more, nothing could be done about it!

Not only that but according to General McChrystal, Barry (and who knows, maybe President Palin?) has the right to do so with absolutely no oversight what-so-ever! No courts, no Congress, can stop him! I'm going to repeat that again for those of you on drugs.

Barry is god and god's rule is law, no matter what the Constitution says!

Are you still not willing to rock the boat America? I wonder what nightmares will come along next, don't you?

And Finally

Speaking of nightmares to come there's a new one on the horizon, The Obama Syndrome! Barry has been doing a lot of talking about growing a green technology. We all thought he was talking about solar power, wind mills, thermal power and the like but apparently what he meant was turning us green from radioactive poisoning from a whole bunch of new nuclear power plants. Ask the folks in Hiroshima and Nagasaki how radiation has worked out for them!

That's right, our beloved Fuhrer who hasn't a spare dime for the poor or infrastructure or schools, has billions to spare for power company boardrooms. Who cares if they poison us all with a series of new 3 Mile Islands and Chernobyl power plants built in Georgia, South Carolina, Maryland, and Texas. Can't you just see a future movie of the week, "The Night We Lost Baltimore?"

Barry says he's doing this to appease his Rethuglican pals and while they can dig it with all that kick back money they'll receive from the power companies, it won't cause them to make a single change in their opposition to his energy bill. Barry always has been a couple of beers short of a six-pack!

There are many good reasons for not building any more nuke plants and reasons to dismantle the ones we already have, from the "China Syndrome" to what to do with the millions of tons of highly radioactive spent fuel rods that keep piling up around the current plants. Perhaps if we could store them in the House and Senate chambers and a few tons in the White House basement and in the homes of members of the various power company boards of directors, we might get some sanity out of Foggy Bottom and their corpo-rat masters. There is no chance of that happening but there is a good chance of radiation leaking into your ground water and giving you that deep dark tan you've always wanted, not mention not having to ever buy flash lights again since you'll glow in the dark! If you're looking for something to do, you might want to write or call the White House and let them know what you think about the Obama Syndrome!

Oh and before I forget, we added a new chapter to the Historical Documents section of the magazine. In addition to the Declaration of Independence, the US Constitution, the Bill of Rights and The Emancipation Proclamation we've added The Voting Rights Act of 1965! If you haven't already, do take the time to study them and understand what they say and what they mean to you and yours.

Oh And One More Thing

It's that time of year once again when those income tax checks come a rollin' in. If you're getting one, please think of us because we always think of you! We desperately need your help to keep publishing. Please send us what you can and not only will we be extremely grateful but we'll see that it goes to good use in the struggle to reclaim our Republic! Please, do whatever you can. We need your help.

*****


08-08-1940 ~ 02-05-2010
Thanks for women's healthcare!



11-25-1988 ~ 02-12-2010
If you snooze you luge!



08-21-1952 ~ 02-14-2010
Thanks for the Jams!



10-31-1920 ~ 02-14-2010
Thanks for the read!


05-21-1969 ~ 02-14-2010
Thanks for da blues!


*****

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*****

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

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













Haiti: A Creditor, Not A Debtor
By Naomi Klein

If we are to believe the G-7 finance ministers, Haiti is on its way to getting something it has deserved for a very long time: full "forgiveness" of its foreign debt. In Port-au-Prince, Haitian economist Camille Chalmers has been watching these developments with cautious optimism. Debt cancellation is a good start, he told Al Jazeera English, but "It's time to go much further. We have to talk about reparations and restitution for the devastating consequences of debt." In this telling, the whole idea that Haiti is a debtor needs to be abandoned. Haiti, he argues, is a creditor-and it is we, in the West, who are deeply in arrears.

Our debt to Haiti stems from four main sources: slavery, the US occupation, dictatorship and climate change. These claims are not fantastical, nor are they merely rhetorical. They rest on multiple violations of legal norms and agreements. Here, far too briefly, are highlights of the Haiti case.

The Slavery Debt

When Haitians won their independence from France in 1804, they would have had every right to claim reparations from the powers that had profited from three centuries of stolen labor. France, however, was convinced that it was Haitians who had stolen the property of slave owners by refusing to work for free. So in 1825, with a flotilla of war ships stationed off the Haitian coast threatening to re-enslave the former colony, King Charles X came to collect: 90 million gold francs--ten times Haiti's annual revenue at the time. With no way to refuse, and no way to pay, the young nation was shackled to a debt that would take 122 years to pay off.

In 2003, Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, facing a crippling economic embargo, announced that Haiti would sue the French government over that long-ago heist. "Our argument," Aristide's former lawyer Ira Kurzban told me, "was that the contract was an invalid agreement because it was based on the threat of re-enslavement at a time when the international community regarded slavery as an evil." The French government was sufficiently concerned that it sent a mediator to Port-au-Prince to keep the case out of court. In the end, however, its problem was eliminated: while trial preparations were under way, Aristide was toppled from power. The lawsuit disappeared, but for many Haitians the reparations claim lives on.

The Dictatorship Debt

From 1957 to 1986, Haiti was ruled by the defiantly kleptocratic Duvalier regime. Unlike the French debt, the case against the Duvaliers made it into several courts, which traced Haitian funds to an elaborate network of Swiss bank accounts and lavish properties. In 1988 Kurzban won a landmark suit against Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier when a US District Court in Miami found that the deposed ruler had "misappropriated more than $504,000,000 from public monies."

Haitians, of course, are still waiting for their payback--but that was only the beginning of their losses. For more than two decades, the country's creditors insisted that Haitians honor the huge debts incurred by the Duvaliers, estimated at $844 million, much of it owed to institutions like the IMF and the World Bank. In debt service alone, Haitians have paid out tens of millions every year.

Was it legal for foreign lenders to collect on the Duvalier debts when so much of it was never spent in Haiti? Very likely not. As Cephas Lumina, the United Nations Independent Expert on foreign debt, put it to me, "the case of Haiti is one of the best examples of odious debt in the world. On that basis alone the debt should be unconditionally canceled."

But even if Haiti does see full debt cancellation (a big if), that does not extinguish its right to be compensated for illegal debts already collected.

The Climate Debt

Championed by several developing countries at the climate summit in Copenhagen, the case for climate debt is straightforward. Wealthy countries that have so spectacularly failed to address the climate crisis they caused owe a debt to the developing countries that have done little to cause the crisis but are disproportionately facing its effects. In short: the polluter pays. Haiti has a particularly compelling claim. Its contribution to climate change has been negligible; Haiti's per capita CO2 emissions are just 1 percent of US emissions. Yet Haiti is among the hardest hit countries-according to one index, only Somalia is more vulnerable to climate change.

Haiti's vulnerability to climate change is not only-or even mostly-because of geography. Yes, it faces increasingly heavy storms. But it is Haiti's weak infrastructure that turns challenges into disasters and disasters into full-fledged catastrophes. The earthquake, though not linked to climate change, is a prime example. And this is where all those illegal debt payments may yet extract their most devastating cost. Each payment to a foreign creditor was money not spent on a road, a school, an electrical line. And that same illegitimate debt empowered the IMF and World Bank to attach onerous conditions to each new loan, requiring Haiti to deregulate its economy and slash its public sector still further. Failure to comply was met with a punishing aid embargo from 2001 to '04, the death knell to Haiti's public sphere.

This history needs to be confronted now, because it threatens to repeat itself. Haiti's creditors are already using the desperate need for earthquake aid to push for a fivefold increase in garment-sector production, some of the most exploitative jobs in the country. Haitians have no status in these talks, because they are regarded as passive recipients of aid, not full and dignified participants in a process of redress and restitution.

A reckoning with the debts the world owes to Haiti would radically change this poisonous dynamic. This is where the real road to repair begins: by recognizing the right of Haitians to reparations.

The interview with economist Camille Chalmers was conducted by my partner Avi Lewis for an in-depth report that aired today on Al Jazeera English. (See above video) The piece, Haiti: The Politics of Rebuilding, offers a deeply compelling portrait of a people who are brimming with ideas about how how to rebuild their country based on principles of sovereignty and equity-far from the passive victims we have seen on so many other networks. It was produced by my former colleague Andrea Schmidt, one of the main researchers on The Shock Doctrine, and is crucial viewing for anyone concerned with avoiding a disaster capitalism redux in Haiti.
(c) 2010 Naomi Klein is the author of, "The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism."





A Stink Bomb
By Uri Avnery

THIS WEEK the Netanyahu government let off a stink bomb under the chair of Mahmoud Abbas.

For months now, Abbas has angered the Prime Minister. He has refused to start "peace negotiations" while the settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem are continually expanding.

Everyone knows that the proposed negotiations are meaningless and will lead nowhere. Binyamin Netanyahu needs them to deflect American pressure. Barack Obama needs them to show some achievement, tiny as it may be. But Abbas knows that his acquiescence would help Hamas to present him as a collaborator.

Now Netanyahu has decided to teach Abbas a lesson. For three days, day after day and program after program, Channel 10 (Israel's second biggest TV station) has broadcast shocking "disclosures" about financial and sexual scandals at the top of the Palestinian Authority.

A person who was presented as a "senior commander" of the Palestinian Security Service, with the rank of general, appeared on Israeli television and accused the leaders of the Palestinian Authority and the Fatah movement of stealing hundreds of millions of dollars and committing disgusting sexual offences.

The "disclosures" may endanger the very existence of the Authority and Fatah.

Such material would not have been broadcast if the Israel Security Agency (known as Shin Bet or Shabak) had objected to it. It is reasonable to assume that it is deeply involved.

THE HAPPY father of the scoop was Tzvi Yehezkeli, the "correspondent for Arab affairs" of Channel 10.

I have been following Yehezkeli's broadcasts for years, and it is hard for me to recall a single word of his that does not show Muslims in general or Arabs in particular in a ridiculous light. His reports, and the material he chooses to show, are generally pitched somewhere between sky-high overbearing and bottomless contempt.

In this he is nothing exceptional in our media. Most "correspondents for Arab affairs" are alumni of Army Intelligence, and consider themselves active members of the great propaganda enterprise against the Arabs.

Many of them enjoy the generous assistance of certain institutions financed by American billionaires, whose sole function is to poison the wells of peace and understanding. Israeli Jews, most of whom do not understand Arabic, are not aware of the fact that under the guise of objective information they are being fed items of well executed anti-Arab psychological warfare. These institutions employ scores of people who monitor every word and every picture that appear in the media throughout the Arab world. When one sifts the millions of words and thousands of broadcasts emanating from 22 Arab countries (including the Palestinian Authority) and the other parts of the Muslim world, one can easily find one crazy utterance and one ridiculous event every day. That is the picture presented to the Israeli public. (How would we ourselves look if subjected to this kind of scrutiny?)

SO MUCH for the father of the scoop. Who is the whistleblower? Fahmi Shabaneh, a former chief of the Palestinian security service in Hebron, is being pictured by Yehezkeli as a hero ready to die at any moment for the cause of moral purity. He has even prepared a grave for himself on the Mount of Olives.

Frankly, I would not buy a used car from him.

His appearance on Israeli television is by itself, to say the least, odd. Why would this Palestinian patriot appear in the Israeli media, of all places? Why did he not present his merchandise to an Arab station or newspaper, or at least to a neutral one? The argument that nobody would have published it does not make sense. Would Hamas have refused? Is there in Europe and the US a lack of media which would jump at the chance to throw mud at Arabs?

This material serves, of course, the Israeli occupation. It supplies ammunition to all those who want to show that "We Have No Partner For Peace". It helps the settlers and other war-mongers.

For this reason we cannot abstain from dealing with this matter, however repellent. This stink bomb is an explosive device.

HOWEVER, THE quality of the disclosure does not necessarily depend on the character of Tzvi Yehezkeli and Fahmi Shabaneh. Incriminating information often comes from tainted sources. It must be judged on its own merits.

Until now I have seen five broadcasts on this affair. They were full of accusations but empty of proof. Shabaneh spoke about boxes full of evidence. He brandished files and papers. But he did not present any paper in a way that would have allowed its examination.

Proof means, for example, the presentation of a bank document in a way that makes it possible to read it properly, study its details and draw conclusions. The documents that were flashed on screen for a split second did not allow any of this.

Even more suspect is the pornographic video clip that was shot, so it was claimed, in the apartment of a Palestinian woman who served as bait for Rafiq al-Husseini, Abbas' chief of staff. I have met and spoke with the man only superficially (during demonstrations at Bil'in). He belongs to one of the largest noble families of Jerusalem, which has counted among its members Hajj Amin, the former Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, leader of the 1936 Palestinian revolt, as well as Abd-al-Qader, the legendary commander of the Arab fighters in Jerusalem in 1948, and the adored and beloved Faisal, the late leader of the Arab community in the city.

According to Shabaneh, Husseini and his female secretary (and mistress) came to the home of the woman, who had applied for a job on Abbas' staff. Husseini demanded a sexual bribe, and she helped Shabaneh to set a trap for him. The camera shows him undressing and getting naked into bed, where the virtuous Shabaneh surprises him.

Up to this point, the scenario seems possible, if only tenuously. But in the course of the action something happens that is manifestly unlikely. When the camera shows Husseini in the company of the secretary and the woman job-seeker, he tells her that "Arafat was a thief, Abbas is a thief, they are all thieves".

Is it plausible that the No. 2 man in the office of the Palestinian president would talk in such a way to a stranger, a mere job-seeker? In her home? In the presence of a witness? Why, is he a little child? The hidden camera filmed the scene from a distance, making it impossible to read the lips of the speaker.

All in all: juicy, hair-raising accusations, very little convincing evidence.

After 40 years on the job as "father of Israeli investigative journalism" (as I was described when I received the Sokolov Prize, the highest award of the Israel journalist community), I dare say that I have a nose for such disclosures - both real and phony. At this stage, after viewing the broadcasts, my impression is that the matter is fishy.

WITHOUT DOUBT, there is a lot of corruption at the top of the Palestinian Authority.

It already started during the days of Yasser Arafat. He himself was clean, but he did not hesitate to use corruption as one of the means to manipulate people.

Nobody who knew Arafat personally could suspect him of being corrupt. Nor did I ever hear accusations or gossip of this kind from Palestinians. He was totally devoted to the Palestinian struggle (and his leadership of it). Material possessions and the good life did not interest him. In this respect he was like David Ben-Gurion and Menachem Begin, only in infinitely harder circumstances. While the people around him built mansions for themselves, he had no home of his own. Once, in Tunis, he boasted to me that he lived in airplanes. That helped him in warding off attempts on his life (for decades, his life was in mortal danger at every moment) and also saved time. His "private" bank accounts served to assure his personal control of the money, a large part of which served for clandestine purposes, such as the acquisition of weapons, the arming of the Palestinians in the Lebanese refugee camps and their defense against the murderous Phalanges that were out to annihilate them, keeping the political missions throughout the world that conducted the fight in the diplomatic arena, etc.

But Arafat did not fight the corruption of his aides. Perhaps he sometimes even encouraged it. I think he considered it one of the instruments of control over people and factions, which helped him to perform the miracle: to keep Palestinian unity intact in impossible circumstances, in the Diaspora and under occupation.

In my opinion, that was a mistake. Arafat thought that the corrupt businesses of his people would help him control them, but as a matter of fact the corruption helped the Shin Bet to bribe Palestinian personalities and blackmail them, corrupt the leadership and blunt their struggle for liberation.

Palestinian corruption is quite shabby: dubious joint transactions with Israeli businessmen, many of them former military governors; pocketing commissions, winning phony tenders. It is negligible compared, for example, to our own all-encompassing legal corruption. Our prime ministers leave politics for a short time and make tens of millions by using the connections and information acquired in office. Retired generals sell arms and pay bribes all over the world. Twenty oligarchs control practically the whole of the Israeli economy, with the help of ministers and senior officials owned by them. Not to mention the US, where lobbies buy senators and congressmen quite openly with campaign contributions.

BACK TO the virtuous Fahmi Shabaneh. Some months ago, the Israeli police arrested him. He is a resident of East Jerusalem and has an Israeli Identity card. He was accused of serving the Palestinian Authority - a manifestly absurd indictment, since hundreds of East Jerusalemites work for the Authority. The Israeli government closes its eyes, because it is trying to turn the Palestinian Authority into its sub-contractor.

So why was Shabaneh arrested? To give him credit in Palestinian circles and divert suspicion from him, on the eve of his becoming the anti-corruption hero? To blackmail him? He was released on bail (quite unusual in such cases) and his trial is pending. Now he is the "Good Arab", the hero of the Israeli media, which are an integral part of the well-oiled propaganda machine.

From the entire sordid affair, there remains one paramount question: What is the purpose? After all, whoever decides to blacken the face of Abbas knows that he is adding to the power of Hamas, a movement considered by the Palestinian public as untainted by corruption.

While dealing a mortal blow to Abbas, with whom he ostensibly wants to conduct negotiations, Netanyahu is delivering a tremendous gift to Hamas, which does not want to negotiate.

Odd? Perhaps not.
(c) 2010 Uri Avnery ~~~ Gush Shalom






The End Of Obama's Vision Of A Nuke-Free World
By Scott Ritter

As any student of foreign and national security policy well knows, the devil is in the details. Back in April 2009, in a speech delivered in Prague, the Czech Republic, President Barack Obama articulated his vision of a world free of nuclear weapons. Since that time, however, the Obama administration has offered very little of substance to push this vision forward. When one looks past the grand statements of the president for policy implementation that supports the rhetoric, one is left empty-handed. No movement on ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). No extension of a Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with Russia (START). No freeze on the development of a new generation of American nuclear weapons. Without progress in these areas, any prospects of a new approach to global nuclear nonproliferation emerging from the May 2010 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference are virtually zero.

Perhaps the most telling indicator of failed nonproliferation policy on the part of the Obama administration is the fact that there has been no progress on the issue of Iran's nuclear program, and in particular the ongoing controversy surrounding a proposed uranium exchange. The deal would have Iran swap a significant portion of its existing stock of 3.5 percent enriched uranium (the level needed to fuel Iran's planned nuclear power reactors, as opposed to uranium enriched to 90 percent, which is needed for nuclear weapons) in exchange for nuclear fuel rods containing uranium enriched to 19.5 percent (the level needed to operate a U.S.-built research reactor in Tehran that produced nuclear isotopes for medical purposes). Iran is running out of fuel for this reactor, and needs a new source of fuel or else it will be forced to shut it down. As a signatory member of the NPT, Iran should have the right to acquire this fuel on the open market, subject of course to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards, but the United States and Europe have held any such sale hostage to Iran's agreeing to suspend its indigenous uranium enrichment program, which is the source of the 3.5 percent enriched uranium currently in Iran.

The crux of the U.S. and European concerns rests not with Iran's possession of 3.5 percent enriched uranium, but rather that the enrichment technique employed by Iran to produce this low-enriched uranium could be used, with some significant modifications, to manufacture high-enriched uranium (90 percent) usable in a nuclear weapon. This reality, and the fears of a nuclear-armed Iran it produces, trumps the fact that the IAEA today is in a position to certify that it can account for the totality of Iran's inventory of nuclear material, and that any diversion of nuclear material would be detected by the IAEA almost immediately. Furthermore, beyond its capacity to enrich uranium, there is no real evidence that Iran has engaged in a nuclear weapons program.

But the fear and hype that emanate from American and European policymakers, strongly influenced by the zero-tolerance policy of Israel when it comes to Iran and anything nuclear, peaceful or otherwise, have created an environment where common sense goes out the window and anything becomes possible. Take, for instance, Iran's current stock of 3.5 percent enriched uranium. The IAEA certifies that Iran is in possession of approximately 1,800 kilograms of this material. Policy wonks and those in the intelligence community given to hypotheticals have postulated scenarios that have Iran using this stock of 3.5 percent enriched uranium as the feedstock for a breakout enrichment effort that, if left to its own devices, could produce enough high-enriched uranium (90 percent) for a single nuclear bomb. This breakout capability would require Iran to reconfigure thousands of the centrifuges it uses for low-level enrichment for use in the stepped-up process of follow-on enrichment. Ironically, one of the next steps required in such a scenario would be for Iran to reconfigure its centrifuges to enrich uranium up to 20 percent-roughly the level Iran needs for the nuclear fuel required to operate the Tehran research reactor.

Fears about a potential covert Iranian enrichment breakout capability reached feverish proportions when, in September 2009, Iran revealed the existence of (and U.S. intelligence proclaimed the discovery of) a prospective small underground centrifuge enrichment facility near the city of Qom. The fact that this facility was under construction, and consisted as of September 2009 of little more than a reinforced hole in the ground without any equipment installed, did nothing to allay the fears of those who saw an Iranian nuclear bomb behind every bush, or under every rock. Suddenly Iran was on the verge of having a nuclear bomb, and something had to be done to prevent this from happening.

The focus of attention shifted away from Iran's ongoing enrichment capability, which the U.S. and Europe demanded be permanently suspended, to Iran's 1,800 kilograms of 3.5 percent enriched uranium. This material represented Iran's theoretical atomic bomb. If the material could be placed under international control, then Iran's nuclear weapons ambitions, at least for the immediate future, could be thwarted. Iran was not going to freely hand over this material. However, a deal was negotiated between the U.S. and Iran that would have Iran ship 1,600 kilograms of its 3.5 percent enriched uranium to Russia, which would then further enrich it to 19.5 percent before sending it to France, which would process the uranium into fuel rods unusable for nuclear weapons. This fuel swap appeared to provide an elegant solution to a vexing problem. Indeed, President Obama embraced it as his own initiative when it was announced in October 2009.

For Iran, the swap was always about acquiring the needed nuclear fuel rods, manufactured from 19.5 percent enriched uranium, in order to continue operation of its research reactor in Tehran, which produces much-needed nuclear isotopes for medical purposes. The main attraction for the Iranians for such a deal, beyond acquiring the fuel rods, was that they would not need to produce any 19.5 percent enriched uranium itself, and thus not have to reconfigure their current centrifuge-based enrichment infrastructure to operate beyond its 3.5 percent enrichment threshold. Iran has consistently maintained that it neither requires, nor desires, any capability to enrich uranium beyond the 3.5 percent level needed to manufacture nuclear fuel rods for its own nuclear power reactors. Having its uranium enrichment infrastructure locked in at 3.5 percent simplified not only Iran's own operations, but also the safeguard monitoring and inspection requirements of the International Atomic Energy Agency, charged with verifying Iran's compliance with the terms of the NPT. Iran viewed the fuel swap as a means of facilitating international acceptance of its uranium enrichment program, a point of view that was in fundamental opposition to that of the United States and Europe.

No amount of finessing the specifics of a fuel swap, whether it be done in stages, managed by a neutral third party, or carried out over the course of several months or several years, could reconcile the Iranian position with that of the U.S. and Europe. At the center of this problem is the Iranian uranium enrichment program itself. Any fuel swap deal is little more than window dressing to the larger issue of whether or not Iran will be permitted by the international community to enrich uranium. To the U.S. and Europe, finer points such as whether such enrichment would be capped at 3.5 percent, or diversified to include 19.5 percent, remain irrelevant, since their unified policy approach is to suspend all uranium enrichment activities inside Iran.

The fatal flaw in the Obama fuel swap proposal, when it was broached in October 2009, was that it failed to explicitly state that any fuel swap had to be linked to Iran's suspension of its uranium enrichment program. While policy wonks in and out of the Obama administration can argue that such a position was more than implied, given the existence of U.N. Security Council resolutions that explicitly call for suspension, any deal that introduces Iran's stocks of low-enriched uranium as a legitimate commodity provides de facto legitimization of the processes that produced that commodity. Since Iran has consistently refused to suspend its uranium enrichment activities, it had every reason to treat the proposed fuel swap as a stand-alone deal that focused on a short-term problem, and not as part of the larger U.S.-driven demands for enrichment suspension.

The U.S. policy objective was never to provide Iran with 19.5 percent enriched uranium fuel rods, or to lock Iran in at a 3.5 percent enrichment threshold, but rather to get the majority of Iran's existing stocks of 3.5 percent enriched uranium out of the country, thereby eliminating any scenario that had Iran using this low-enriched uranium as feedstock for any breakout nuclear weapons production capability, no matter how farfetched such a scenario might be. This is why the Obama administration never paid much attention to the details of such a swap, since these details simply didn't matter. The U.S. approach was never about facilitating a swap so much as it was about facilitating a kidnapping. The policy objective was to get the majority of Iran's enriched uranium stocks under international control. Once Iran no longer had access to 1,600 kilograms of its 1,800-kilogram stockpile of low-enriched uranium, the Obama administration could blunt the fear-driven concerns over the immediacy of any Iranian nuclear capability. It would take Iran several months to reconstitute its low-enriched uranium stocks to the level needed to produce its hypothetical nuclear bomb. During this period, the U.S. would redouble its demands for suspension of uranium enrichment and develop a comprehensive package of stringent economic sanctions that would be imposed on Iran should it fail to cooperate.

The fatal flaw in the U.S. approach was that it failed to recognize that such policy formulations may work on paper but in the real world things are far more complicated. The Obama administration had hoped for immediate Iranian agreement to the fuel swap. Once Iran's enriched uranium was safely out of Iran, the U.S. would then redouble its diplomatic pressure to suspend enrichment activities while simultaneously pressing for international consensus on sanctions. U.S. policy formulators envisioned a seamless transition between these various stages of policy implementation. But Iran, by agreeing in principle to a fuel swap, but demanding closer scrutiny of the details inherent in any such deal, complicated implementation of the U.S. plan.

By December 2009, a point at which the U.S. had hoped to have the Iranian uranium under its control and a sanctions campaign under way, Iran had yet to agree to the specifics of any fuel swap but at the same time publically remained committed to the concept. That approach paralyzed the U.S.-led effort to rally support behind sanctions since most nations did not want to do anything that would threaten the fuel swap negotiations. As 2010 rolled around, the Iranian delay tactics forced the U.S. to shed all pretenses around the fuel swap. While Iranian negotiators spoke of a potential swap formula that could unfold over the course of several months, the U.S. spoke of a swap timetable stretching out several years, making such a swap useless for the purpose it was ostensibly being instituted for-the Iranian nuclear research reactor and the manufacture of medical isotopes.

With the true U.S. policy objective thus exposed, Iran last week announced that it would carry out its own indigenous enrichment of uranium to the 19.5 percent needed to fuel the research reactor. Whether Iran has the technical or practical capabilities necessary to bring such a plan to fruition is debatable. While reconfiguring its existing centrifuge cascades to produce 19.5 percent enriched uranium is not impossible, Iran has never before attempted to process enriched uranium into nuclear fuel rods. Likewise, there is a question about the viability of Iran's feedstock of uranium hexafluoride (UF6), the gaseous material that is fed into the centrifuges for the purpose of enriching uranium.

Iran's stores of foreign-procured UF6 are nearly exhausted. So is the stock of UF6 that Iran produced using foreign supplies of natural uranium. What is left for Iran is UF6 produced from indigenous sources of natural uranium. However, these stocks are believed to be contaminated with molybdenum, a metallic substance the presence of which creates destructive mass-distribution problems when Iran's centrifuges are spun up to the more than 60,000 revolutions per minute needed to extract enriched uranium from the UF6 feedstock. If Iran cannot come up with the means to extract the molybdenum from its indigenous UF6, then short of finding an outside supplier of natural uranium or clean UF6 (activities that would have to be declared to the IAEA), the Iranian enrichment program will halt.

This would not prevent Iran from using its existing stocks of 3.5 percent enriched uranium as the feedstock for any effort to produce 19.5 percent uranium. Reconfiguration of its centrifuges to conduct this higher level of enrichment is likewise well within the technical capability of Iran. The ultimate testament to the failure of U.S. nonproliferation policy when it comes to Iran's nuclear program is the reality that, in an effort to retard any Iranian nuclear breakout scenario that saw Iran rapidly converting its low-enriched stocks to high-enriched fissile material, the United States has actually facilitated such a scheme. Had the U.S. sought to lock Iran's enrichment infrastructure in at a 3.5 percent capacity, any deviation from that level would have been viewed with suspicion. However, by creating the conditions that have Iran now seeking to build enrichment facilities capable of 20 percent enrichment, the Obama administration has significantly reduced the threshold of detection and prevention which was in place when all Iran produced was 3.5 percent enriched uranium.

The number of centrifuges required to step up enrichment of 20 percent uranium to higher levels is significantly smaller than the number needed to step up from 3.5 percent to 20 percent. Furthermore, any Iranian breakout scenario that starts at 20 percent enriched feedstock will reach its end objective of 90 percent enrichment far quicker than a similar program that starts at 3.5 percent. The Obama administration has not only made it easier for Iran to hide a covert nuclear weapons enrichment capability, but also made it far more efficient. That there is no evidence of any such program in existence does not matter in the minds of those who had given Iran such a capability to begin with. When dealing in a universe driven by the theoretical, the U.S. fumbling of the nuclear fuel swap with Iran has simply made the breakout theory more viable. And since U.S. nonproliferation policy toward Iran is more driven by faith-based analysis than it is by fact-based analysis, one can all but guarantee that the U.S. response to this new fiction will be real, and measurable, and have nothing but negative results for the Middle East and the World.

The unfolding crisis concerning Iran's nuclear program represents but one of several nonproliferation failures perpetrated by the United States that, in combination, bode poorly for the upcoming NPT Review Conference scheduled for May. In May of 2009, at the conclusion of the preparatory committee for the NPT Review Conference, there were high hopes for the possibility of progress in reaching international consensus on nonproliferation issues, and reshaping the NPT to capture this consensus. Much of these hopes were derived from the statements and rhetoric of the Obama administration about nuclear disarmament and arms control. Unfortunately, rhetoric never caught up with reality.

Not only has U.S. policy toward Iran been exposed as operating in total disregard to the provisions of the NPT (Iran, after all, is permitted to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes under Article IV of that treaty), but the cornerstone commitments made by the Obama administration as a prerequisite for a successful NPT Review Conference in May 2010-movement toward ratification of the CTBT, agreement with the Russians to extend the verification mechanisms inherent in START while achieving even deeper cuts in their respective nuclear arsenals-have failed to materialize. There is almost no chance of the CTBT being submitted to the U.S. Senate for ratification, let alone being actually ratified. The failure of the administration to extend START past its December 2009 expiration date has not only left the U.S. and Russia with no arms control verification vehicle, but has reignited dormant Cold War-era tendencies in both nations, with the Russians deploying a new generation of intercontinental ballistic missile and the U.S. talking about nuclear warhead modernization.

President Obama had hoped that the 2010 NPT Review Conference would pave the way to a global consensus on multilateral approaches toward nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation. Instead, its looming demise only accelerates the existing trend in the United States to reject international agreements and instead embrace a unilateralism sustained by the false premise that security can be achieved through nuclear supremacy. One only needs to examine the events of Sept. 11, 2001, and the ongoing fiasco that is America's global war on terrorism to understand the fallacy of that argument.

The policy of the U.S. toward Iran's nuclear program is to blame for much, if not all, of this failure. Had the administration used the fuel swap agreement as an opportunity to bring Iran back into the fold of the international community-not by excluding its uranium enrichment efforts, but rather legitimizing them through enhanced IAEA inspections and Iran's agreement to participate in closely controlled regional fuel bank programs that kept its enriched uranium stocks under stringent international controls-there would not have been the policy floundering which occurred in the fall of 2009.

Fears about a phantom Iranian nuclear weapon would have dissipated, and with it the illogical U.S. insistence on ballistic missile defense initiatives that have fatally undermined the current round of U.S.-Russian arms control negotiations. Had the Obama administration remained consistent with its September 2009 decision to terminate the controversial Bush-era missile defense plan involving the stationing of interceptor missiles and radar systems in Poland and the Czech Republic, there would be a START treaty today. But the sleight-of-hand approach, in which one program was terminated only to be replaced by another, triggered concerns among Russian military leaders about the real policy objectives of the Obama administration.

The administration has demonstrated that, for all the noble intent and objectives in the arena of arms control and nonproliferation exhibited at its inception, it too is susceptible to the addiction to nuclear weapons that has plagued America since 1945. This addiction, which feeds the notion of the United States' self-appointed status of global savior and policeman, prevents any policy formulation that is perceived to weaken or undermine America's nuclear supremacy. At a time when the world needed American leadership in the field of disarmament and nonproliferation, it instead got nothing but a replay of past policy, wrapped in the paranoid delusions of a nation that is unable or unwilling to come to grips with reality. Genuine international security is derived not from any nation, even the United States, seeking to impose deterrence-based policies through nuclear supremacy. True security comes from a world free of nuclear weapons.

To secure America, a president must have the courage to dismantle what, in the past, has been proclaimed as the foundation of our survival, but in reality presents us with the seeds of our destruction-nuclear weapons. President Obama had articulated such a vision in his groundbreaking speech in Prague back in April 2009. Since that time the United States has embarked on arms control and nonproliferation policies that have not only failed to move America and the world further down the path of peace and security, but actually made matters worse.

Policies must be judged not by their intent but their results. In this, the Obama administration's policies represent an abysmal failure. The administration seeks to place the blame for these failures elsewhere, on Iran, China, Russia and North Korea. But the root cause of such failure lies with the utter lack of courage and conviction on the part of Barack Obama. He claimed to possess a vision of a world free of nuclear weapons, only to succumb to the same hubris and avarice that afflicted past U.S. presidents when tempted by the world supremacy that nuclear weapons promise.
(c) 2010 Scott Ritter a former Marine Corps intelligence officer, was a chief inspector for the United Nations Special Commission in Iraq from 1991 until 1998. He is the author of several books; "Target Iran," with a new afterword by the author, was recently released in paperback by Nation Books. "Dangerous Ground: The Failure of U.S. Arms Control Policy From FDR to Obama," to be published by Nation Books this year.







Hold Onto Your Underwear
This Is Not a National Emergency
By Tom Engelhardt

Let me put American life in the Age of Terror into some kind of context, and then tell me you're not ready to get on the nearest plane heading anywhere, even toward Yemen.

In 2008, 14,180 Americans were murdered, according to the FBI. In that year, there were 34,017 fatal vehicle crashes in the U.S. and, so the U.S. Fire Administration tells us, 3,320 deaths by fire. More than 11,000 Americans died of the swine flu between April and mid-December 2009, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; on average, a staggering 443,600 Americans die yearly of illnesses related to tobacco use, reports the American Cancer Society; 5,000 Americans die annually from food-borne diseases; an estimated 1,760 children died from abuse or neglect in 2007; and the next year, 560 Americans died of weather-related conditions, according to the National Weather Service, including 126 from tornadoes, 67 from rip tides, 58 from flash floods, 27 from lightning, 27 from avalanches, and 1 from a dust devil.

As for airplane fatalities, no American died in a crash of a U.S. carrier in either 2007 or 2008, despite 1.5 billion passengers transported. In 2009, planes certainly went down and people died. In June, for instance, a French flight on its way from Rio de Janeiro to Paris disappeared in bad weather over the Atlantic, killing 226. Continental Connection Flight 3407, a regional commuter flight, crashed into a house near Buffalo, New York, that February killing 50, the first fatal crash of a U.S. commercial flight since August 2006. And in January 2009, US Airways Flight 1549, assaulted by a flock of birds, managed a brilliant landing in New York's Hudson River when disaster might have ensued. In none of these years did an airplane go down anywhere due to terrorism, though in 2007 two terrorists smashed a Jeep Cherokee loaded with propane tanks into the terminal of Glasgow International Airport. (No one was killed.)

The now-infamous Northwest Airlines Flight 253, carrying Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab and his bomb-laden underwear toward Detroit on Christmas Day 2009, had 290 passengers and crew, all of whom survived. Had the inept Abdulmutallab actually succeeded, the death toll would not have equaled the 324 traffic fatalities in Nevada in 2008; while the destruction of four Flight 253s from terrorism would not have equaled New York State's 2008 traffic death toll of 1,231, 341 of whom, or 51 more than those on Flight 253, were classified as "alcohol-impaired fatalities."

Had the 23-year-old Nigerian set off his bomb, it would have been a nightmare for the people on board, and a tragedy for those who knew them. It would certainly have represented a safety and security issue that needed to be dealt with. But it would not have been a national emergency, nor a national-security crisis. It would have been nothing more than a single plane knocked out of the sky, something that happens from time to time without the intervention of terrorists.

And yet here's the strange thing: thanks to what didn't happen on Flight 253, the media essentially went mad, 24/7. Newspaper coverage of the failed plot and its ramifications actually grew for two full weeks after the incident until it had achieved something like full-spectrum dominance, according to the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism. In the days after Christmas, more than half the news links in blogs related to Flight 253. At the same time, the Republican criticism machine (and the media universe that goes with it) ramped up on the subject of the Obama administration's terror wimpiness; the global air transport system plunked down millions of dollars on new technology which will not find underwear bombs; the homeland security-industrial-complex had a field day; and fear, that adrenaline rush from hell, was further embedded in the American way of life.

Under the circumstances, you would never know that Americans living in the United States were in vanishingly little danger from terrorism, but in significant danger driving to the mall; or that alcohol, tobacco, E. coli bacteria, fire, domestic abuse, murder, and the weather present the sort of potentially fatal problems that might be worth worrying about, or even changing your behavior over, or perhaps investing some money in. Terrorism, not so much.

The few Americans who, since 2001, have died from anything that could be called a terror attack in the U.S. -- whether the 13 killed at Fort Hood or the soldier murdered outside an army recruiting office in Little Rock, Arkansas -- were far outnumbered by the 32 dead in a 2007 mass killing at Virginia Tech University, not to speak of the relatively regular moments when workers or former workers "go postal." Since September 11th, terror in the U.S. has rated above fatalities from shark attacks and not much else. Since the economic meltdown of 2008, it has, in fact, been left in the shade by violent deaths that stem from reactions to job loss, foreclosure, inability to pay the rent, and so on.

This is seldom highlighted in a country perversely convulsed by, and that can't seem to get enough of, fantasies about being besieged by terrorists.

Institutionalizing Fear Inc.

The attacks of September 11, 2001, which had the look of the apocalyptic, brought the fear of terrorism into the American bedroom via the TV screen. That fear was used with remarkable effectiveness by the Bush administration, which color-coded terror for its own ends. A domestic version of shock-and-awe -- Americans were indeed shocked and awed by 9/11 -- helped drive the country into two disastrous wars and occupations, each still ongoing, and into George W. Bush's Global War on Terror, a term now persona non grata in Washington, even if the "war " itself goes on and on.

Today, any possible or actual terror attack, any threat no matter how far-fetched, amateurish, poorly executed, or ineffective, raises a national alarm, always seeming to add to the power of the imperial presidency and threatening to open new "fronts" in the now-unnamed global war. The latest is, of course, in Yemen, thanks in part to that young Nigerian who was evidently armed with explosives by a home-grown organization of a few hundred men that goes by the name al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

The fear of terrorism has, by now, been institutionalized in our society -- quite literally so -- even if the thing we're afraid of has, on the scale of human problems, something of the will o' the wisp about it. For those who remember their Cold War fiction, it's more specter than SPECTRE.

That fear has been embedded in what once was an un-American word, more easily associated with Soviet Russia or Nazi Germany: "homeland." It has replaced "country," "land," and "nation" in the language of the terror-mongers. "The homeland" is the place which terrorism, and nothing but terrorism, can violate. In 2002, that terror-embedded word got its own official government agency: the Department of Homeland Security, our second "defense" department, which has a 2010 budget of $39.4 billion (while overall "homeland security" spending in the 2010 budget reached $70.2 billion). Around it has grown up a little-attended-to homeland-security complex with its own interests, businesses, associations, and lobbyists (including jostling crowds of ex-politicians and ex-government bureaucrats).

As a result, more than eight years after 9/11, an amorphous state of mind has manifested itself in the actual state as a kind of Fear Inc. A number of factors have clearly gone into the creation of Fear Inc. and now insure that fear is the drug constantly shot into the American body politic. These would include:

The imperial presidency: The Bush administration used fear not only to promote its wars and its Global War on Terror, but also to unchain the commander-in-chief of an already imperial presidency from a host of restraints. The dangers of terror and of al-Qaeda, which became the global bogeyman, and the various proposed responses to it, including kidnapping ("extraordinary rendition"), secret imprisonment, and torture, turned out to be the royal road to the American unconscious and so to a presidency determined, as Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and others liked to say, to take the gloves off. It remains so and, as a result, under Barack Obama, the imperial presidency only seems to gain ground. Recently, for instance, we learned that, under the pressure of the Flight 253 incident, the Obama administration has adopted the Bush administration position that a president, under certain circumstances, has the authority to order the assassination of an American citizen abroad. (In this case, New Mexico-born Islamic cleric Anwar Aulaqi, who has been linked to the 9/11 plotters, the Fort Hood killer, and Abdulmutallab.) The Bush administration opened the door to this possibility and now, it seems, a Democratic president may be stepping through.

The 24/7 media moment: 24/7 blitz coverage was once reserved for the deaths of presidents (as in the assassination of John F. Kennedy) and public events of agreed-upon import. In 1994, however, it became the coin of the media realm for any event bizarre enough, sensational enough, celebrity-based enough to glue eyeballs. That June, O.J. Simpson engaged in his infamous low-speed car "chase" through Orange County followed by more than 20 news helicopters while 95 million viewers tuned in and thousands more gathered at highway overpasses to watch. No one's ever looked back. Of course, in a traditional media world that's shedding foreign and domestic bureaus and axing hordes of reporters, radically downsizing news rooms and shrinking papers to next to nothing, the advantages of focusing reportorial energies on just one thing at a time are obvious. Those 24/7 energies are now regularly focused on the fear of terrorism and events which contribute to it, like the plot to down Flight 253.

The Republican criticism machine and the media that go with it: Once upon a time, even successful Republican administrations didn't have their own megaphone. That's why, in the Vietnam era, the Nixon administration battled the New York Times so fiercely (and -- my own guess -- that played a part in forcing the creation of the first "op-ed" page in 1970, which allowed administration figures like Vice President Spiro Agnew and ex-Nixon speechwriter William Safire to gain a voice at the paper). By the George W. Bush era, the struggle had abated. The Times and papers like it only had to be pacified or cut out of the loop, since from TV to talk radio, publishing to publicity, the Republicans had their own megaphone ready at hand. This is, by now, a machine chock-a-block full of politicians and ex-politicians, publishers, pundits, military "experts," journalists, shock-jocks, and the like (categories that have a tendency to blend into each other). It adds up to a seamless web of promotion, publicity, and din. It's capable of gearing up on no notice and going on until a subject -- none more popular than terrorism and Democratic spinelessness in the face of it -- is temporarily flogged to death. It ensures that any failed terror attack, no matter how hopeless or pathetic, will be in the headlines and in public consciousness. It circulates constant fantasies about possible future apocalyptic terror attacks with atomic weaponry or other weapons of mass destruction. (And in all of the above, of course, it is helped by a host of tagalong pundits and experts, news shows and news reports from the more liberal side of the aisle.)

The Democrats who don't dare: It's remarkable that the sharpest president we've had in a while didn't dare get up in front of the American people after Flight 253 landed and tell everyone to calm down. He didn't, in fact, have a single intelligent thing to say about the event. He certainly didn't remind Americans that, whatever happened to Flight 253, they stood in far more danger heading out of their driveways behind the wheel or pulling into a bar on the way home for a beer or two. Instead, the Obama administration essentially abjectly apologized, insisted it would focus yet more effort and money on making America safe from air terrorism, widened a new front in the Global War on Terror in Yemen (speeding extra money and U.S. advisors that way), and when the din from its critics didn't end, "pushed back," as Peter Baker of the New York Times wrote, by claiming "that they were handling terror suspects much as the previous administration did." It's striking when a Democratic administration finds safety in the claim that it's acting like a Republican one, that it's following the path to the imperial presidency already cleared by George W. Bush. Fear does that to you, and the fear of terror has been institutionalized at the top as well as the bottom of society.

9/11 Never Ends

Fear has a way of re-ordering human worlds. That only a relatively small number of determined fanatics with extraordinarily limited access to American soil keep Fear Inc. afloat should, by now, be obvious. What the fear machine produces is the dark underside of the charming Saul Steinberg New Yorker cover, "A View of the World from 9th Avenue," in which Manhattan looms vast as the rest of the planet fades into near nothingness.

When you see the world "from 9th Avenue," or from an all-al-Qaeda-all-the-time "news" channel, you see it phantasmagorically. It's out of all realistic shape and proportion, which means you naturally make stupid decisions. You become incapable of sorting out what matters and what doesn't, what's primary and what's secondary. You become, in short, manipulable.

This is our situation today.

People always wonder: What would the impact of a second 9/11-style attack be on this country? Seldom noticed, however, is that all the pin-prick terror events blown up to apocalyptic proportions add up to a second, third, fourth, fifth 9/11 when it comes to American consciousness.

So the next time a Flight 253 occurs and the Republicans go postal, the media morphs into its 24/7 national-security-disaster mode, the pundits register red on the terror-news scale, the president defends himself by reaffirming that he is doing just what the Bush administration would have done, the homeland security lobbyists begin calling for yet more funds for yet more machinery, and nothing much happens, remember those drunken drivers, arsonists, and tobacco merchants, even that single dust devil and say:

Hold onto your underpants, this is not a national emergency.
(c) 2010 Tom Engelhardt







What Happened To Wall Street Reform?

Gosh, has it been two years already? Time sure flies when you're dealing with a crisis.

It seems like only yesterday that Bear Stearns went down and most of Wall Street followed. As we know, the greed and unbridled excesses of the bankers didn't just crash their firms, but also devastated Main Street and millions of American families. Bankruptcies and mass job losses are still spreading across our land. The only thing good to come from the crisis is that public outrage forced Congress to overhaul banking regulations so the greedheads can't do this to us again.

How many of those vital reforms have been enacted, you ask? Well, there's... uh. Then there's the... uh. Well, actually, none. So the rules of the old Wall Street casino remain essentially unchanged two years after the debacle.

Why is that? Because, as senate banking committee chairman Chris Dodd succinctly put it, Wall Street bankers deployed "an army of lobbyists whose only mission is to kill the common sense financial reforms the public demands."

In addition to sending lobbyists and bales of campaign contributions to Washington, Wall Street also sent some of its executives to instruct senators on how reform should work. For example, Goldman Sachs dispatched a man to lecture the banking committee on dealing with the dangerous conflict of banks combining our consumer deposits with the business of high-risk hedge funds. Threats posed to little depositors, the Wall Street banker assured the senators, "can be effectively managed by means short of outright prohibition [of the conflict]." Just provide tough oversight, said the slick from Goldman Sachs.

Hello - Wall Street's wiley coyotes specialize in subverting "tough oversight." But such self-serving sophistry gives cover to banker-friendly congress critters who want to stall - and ultimately kill - real reform.
(c) 2010 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.







Empire Of The Sunset
By Randall Amster

Sometimes, I really miss America - or at least the idea of it. You know: that can-do spirit, streets paved with gold, champion of the tired and poor, purple mountains majesty, that sort of thing. Say what you will, and call it na´ve, but the storybook values at the heart of America's erstwhile image are inspiring.

Like most who grew up here, I was steeped in the lore and legend of this place. Despite obvious flaws in the narrative (how exactly does one "discover" land upon which others are living, anyway?) there existed a strong sense that at the end of the day some part of our cherished ideals would emerge in time to set things right. Principles like due process, free speech, the work ethic, checks and balances, equal opportunity and the pursuit of happiness held meaning if only as a reminder that our collective lives stood for something and that our destinies were in our own hands. It may well have been an illusion all along, yet even the most cynical among us likely believed in the underlying ethos at some point in time.

Unfortunately, that America - even in its illusory state - has ceased to exist. We are no longer an abstract beacon of hope to the world, but rather a purveyor of concrete hellfire. We rain automated death from above and commit orchestrated theft from below. We export despair and import disdain. We've abandoned even keeping up the pretense of fair play and adherence to principle. We've become global pariahs and domestic piranhas. Awash in a sea of surfaces, distractions and palliatives, we unsurprisingly have failed to notice that the sun has already started to set on our adolescent empire.

Indeed, by most measures, the US is rapidly becoming a failed state. Educationally, economically, politically, culturally - all of our national gauges are pointing in the wrong direction. We're moving down the list on health care, democratic governance, productivity, environmental protection, academic achievement, official transparency, incarceration rates, transportation and public services. We're ruled by an increasingly emboldened elite class that rewrites the rules at will, increasingly represses dissent and openly enriches itself at our expense. We hardly make anything on these shores, but still consume everything in sight. We have few public intellectuals of renown, yet are bombarded daily with the foibles of celebrities who are in many cases famous simply for being famous. Our food supply is tainted, our energy is unclean and our water is drying up. And racism remains as deeply rooted as ever.

It's not a pretty picture from inside the belly of the beast these days. But never fear, for America has a secret weapon at its disposal that will keep us in the driver's seat for a while longer. Our secret weapon, actually, isn't so secret: weapons. The days of guile, comity and negotiation are over. Empires don't dicker, they simply take what they want. They don't ask permission or forge alliances, they make demands and extort loyalties under threat of repercussions. They don't cede oversight authority to any international community, or even feel constrained by their own laws and rules, but instead act by fiat and in flagrant disregard of treaty and protocol. Empires, in short, follow the empty logic of "might makes right."

The ruling elite in the US have made it eminently clear that this is our prevailing strategy going forward. We will utilize brute force to retain our position as the global superpower even as we have lost our moral and cultural suasion. America's tenure as a fully imperialist power is barely over a century old, its position as a true superpower about half that, and its status as sole hegemon about half that still. In a mere few decades, we've gone from savior to enslaver, from bastion to bastards, from heroic to horrific. Whatever historical good will we may have accrued has been squandered in a frenzy of hubris and hatred.

Perhaps I'm being a bit obdurate here, so let me clarify things a bit. Empires that reach this point of no return, in which power subsumes principle, are essentially on their last legs. Legitimacy can be replaced by subjugation for a time, but it is always self-defeating in the end. While history is unequivocal about this, it's also true that the recorded annals have never seen an empire quite like the one we've created. By slowly and steadily insinuating ourselves economically and militarily into the affairs of nearly every nation on the planet, we've built an ingenious system in which recalcitrance is very nearly a form of suicide. If this empire falls, it threatens to take everyone with it in the process, thus perpetuating the unspoken but widely understood mantra: "You're either with us ... or else."

Consider the sheer totality of the US military presence around the planet. Hundreds of bases are spread across every continent - effectively functioning as sovereign satellites of American influence - with a preponderance located in vanquished nations such as Germany, Japan, Iraq and Afghanistan. These are now our chief exports: military bases, hardware and soldiers. We've also weaponized space and created an automated execution network that circumnavigates the globe, bringing push-button "justice" to anyone we deem a viable target (including our own citizens). Now we're developing fully functional robot soldiers to continue the dehumanization of warfare in our stead, which will serve our purpose of fostering submission through fear equally well whether they in fact work properly or not.

Domestically, the agenda has been set. The power elite have now "doubled down" on this strategy of maintaining supremacy through force. Military strategy documents point toward a future of perpetual warfare and relentless competition over dwindling resources, with the highest ideal of "national security" represented by our unmitigated capacity to impose our will on multiple fronts at once. Increasing episodes of disaster, such as in Haiti, will be used overtly as "Trojan horse" moments to expand our military footprint under the guise of humanitarianism. Our federal budgets will concretize all of this with escalating military expenditures coupled with frozen austerity in all other spheres. The military is sacrosanct and, moreover, is now the lone remaining chip to be played in the game of global conquest.

It certainly seems like a grim scenario, one that stands in stark contrast to the idyllic (albeit ersatz) America of our youth. It also begs us to consider what will become of young people growing up in tomorrow's America, devoid as it likely will be of even a redeeming ideological veneer. Will the future populace here be comprised of equal parts swaggering "ugly Americans" and withdrawn, apathetic technophiles? Will we have an America in which people either embrace our military superiority and martial character as a moral virtue on the one hand, or are constrained to immerse themselves in our cultural distractions as a refuge from the emerging security panopticon on the other? In other words, will those ensuing Americans face delimited choices that come down to either institutionalized anger or repressed angst?

I wonder if people living under the auspices of failing empires throughout history have felt similarly. The silver lining (there has to be one, right?) is that all previous empires have fallen and the sun still came up the next day. Indeed, as surely as anything else we can count on in this life, sunset is inevitably followed by sunrise. Whether anyone will be here to see that new day dawning is an open question, and one that we might consider as something of a cultural crucible at this point. Perhaps that apocryphal America from a bygone day can yet be resurrected, only this time for real and not merely as an ideal. In my mind's eye, I can envision a door opening up ahead even as the one behind us closes.
(c) 2010 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).








Congress Told That DOD Data On Sexual Assault And Rape In Military Is 'Lacking In Accuracy, Reliability And Validity'
By Ann Wright

A Department of Defense Task Force on Sexual Assault in the Military told a Congressional committee on February 3, 2010 that "DoD's procedures for collecting and documenting data about military sexual assault incidents are lacking in accuracy, reliability, and validity."

Task Force a low priority--three years to name members of the Task Force.

In what many see as the reality of the military institution investigating itself on the criminal acts of sexual assault and rape committed by its own personnel, the naming of Task Force members and the work of the Task Force was delayed for three years. Following a congressional request, in October, 2005, Donald Rumsfeld as Secretary of Defense authorized the DOD Task Force on Sexual Assault in the Military, but DOD took three years to name the Task Force and for the Task Force to have its initial meeting in August, 2008.

Military Personnel Subcommittee Chair Susan Davis in her opening statement at the hearing noted this three year delay: "Not to make a major issue here, but I do feel that it is important to note for the record that, due to a variety of factors that could have been dealt with more quickly by the Department of Defense and were certainly beyond the control of the witnesses before us today, the Defense Task Force on Sexual Assault in the Military Services did not actually begin their work until August of 2008."

Why not make this delay a major issue when the purposeful delay undercut the oversight that Congress itself was demanding and most importantly, when during these three years 6,000 service women and men were sexually assaulted and raped?

In fact another Congressional subcommittee did make this delay an issue. In July, 2008, the Representative John Tierney, chair of the House Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs of the Committee on Oversight and Governmental Reform, dismissed from the hearing DOD's Principal Deputy Undersecretary of defense Michael Dominguez from the hearing when Dominguez acknowledged that he had ordered Dr. Kaye Whitley, chief of the DOD Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office (SAPRO) not to honor the subpoena the committee had issued to Dr. Whitely to testify in the hearing. The subcommittee was poised to ask her why the Department of Defense had taken three years to name the 15 person task force and why the SAPRO program was failing to require key information from the military services in order to evaluate the effectiveness of the sexual assault prevention and response programs.

Once the Task Force began meeting in 2008, over the next 15 months, members of the Task Force talked with over 3,500 service members in 60 U.S. military locations throughout the world. Its 179 page report on sexual assault in the military was made public in December, 2009.

It must be a challenge for a Task Force composed a retired Admiral, a former advisor to the Under Secretary of Defense and 4 active duty military service members appointed by the Secretary of Defense to be critical of policies of the Defense Department. The four civilians on the Task Force would be most likely to be more critical.

One can see the difficulty in bringing out critical information on sexual assault and rape in the military in how the information from the Task Force's report has been made public.

Take for example, the testimony itself of the Task Force co-chairs to the Subcommittee on Military Personnel of the House of Representatives Armed Services Committee. It is only in the last paragraphs of page 8 before you can find what key problems are concerning sexual assault and rape in the military.

DoD data on military sexual assault incidents are lacking in accuracy, reliability, and validity

Why wait to the last page of testimony before the co-chairs of the Task Force state that "DoD's procedures for collecting and documenting data about military sexual assault incidents are lacking in accuracy, reliability, and validity?"

It seems reasonable that the Congress, the public and, in particular, the members of the military, should be informed first-thing in the testimony that the information provided by DOD has not been accurate, reliable or valid! But, unfortunately, the Task Force did not elaborate on how inaccurate, unreliable or invalid DOD's information is or how they arrived at that conclusion.

We all know that as the testimony says "Accurate and comprehensive data is essential to achieving accountability for responders and those who are accused of criminal activities. Without meaningful data, trend analysis and efforts to effectively address issues become problematic."

According to the Task Force's December, 2009 report (page 77), DOD's procedures for collecting and documenting data about military sexual assault incidents lack "accuracy, reliability, and validity." The report states that the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office (SAPRO) expends much effort compiling DOD's annual report to Congress, but this report "falls short in measuring the underlying incidence of sexual assault. Specifically, SAPRO has not established a database or the necessary tools to accurately track the incidence, investigation, and prosecution of sexual assaults in the Armed Forces. The absence of this database and associated tracking tools precludes the ability of DOD and the Military Services to gain an accurate understanding of the pervasiveness and nature of military sexual assaults and impact on military readiness."

Is it inaccuracy in terminology alone, or in numbers of incidents reported, action taken, and types of punishment? We don't know, but these would be questions for the Congress to ask. Where is the accountability?

How and why would someone combine offender and victim data?

The Task Force co-chairs in their testimony remarkably acknowledged that the most recent DoD report to Congress itself was wrong as it "combined offender and victim data." That must be a story in itself, how two very different sets of data could/would be mixed together and no one spot the mistake before the report was submitted to Congress!

What are the implications of the mixing of the data, one would like to ask? Who would have made such a mistake? Was it a mistake?

Neither victims nor other military personnel informed of the results of possible disciplinary actions

The Task Force leaders told the Congress that "neither victims nor other military personnel were routinely informed of the results of disciplinary actions relating to sexual assault." The Task Force stated that "Commanders generally did not communicate case results to members of their command, and that this lack of information often led to misperceptions, rumors, and assumptions that allegations were unfounded."

I have heard from several women survivors of sexual assault that they were the last to find out that the perpetrator of the assault had gotten off scot-free with no punishment and they, the victim, became the focus of unit members' snide remarks and comments.

Additionally, the Task Force recommended that "both victims and other military personnel within the affected command be informed of the disciplinary action results related to sexual assault."

Why does it take a recommendation of a task force to remind/force persons entrusted with command to simply notify victims of the sexual assault of the disciplinary action taken?

Perhaps it is that in all too many cases, no disciplinary action was taken at all. Perhaps it is because no one in the higher chain of command was/is holding commanders responsible for punishing these types of criminal acts committed.

Leaders need to model correct behavior.

A clue at what the Task Force is driving at comes from a statement earlier in the testimony about the importance of unit leadership. "Leadership clearly has a profound influence on the prevention of sexual assault, from strategy development and execution, to continued focus and open discussion of the issue. Commanders and leaders must take an active role in addressing the issue and modeling correct behavior."

The report itself notes: "Given commanders' responsibility to actively ensure proper support and discipline of those under their charge, the restricted reporting option for military sexual assault victims presents a challenge to some commanders. This reporting option requires commanders to respect the protections offered to victims to ensure confidentiality and support. Confidentiality runs counter to commanders' traditional expectations of accountability. Focus on accountability and discipline - important attributes of the chain of command - may prevent some military personnel from reporting sexual assault. This is particularly an issue when sexual assault victims may have engaged in misconduct for which they could be disciplined, such as underage drinking, fraternization, or adultery." (p.37)

Military Lawyers say sexual misconduct regulations are "cumbersome and confusing."

The Task Force leaders commented that military lawyers consistently advised the Task Force that the new Article 120 of the Uniformed Code of Military Justice, the article that addresses sexual misconduct, is "cumbersome and confusing." Based upon the consistency of this feedback, the Task Force recommended a review of the effectiveness of Article 120.

If the military lawyers are having difficulty figuring out the regulations, no wonder so few persons are prosecuted for these crimes.

After 60 years of sexual assault and rape, still no measurable indices.

After 60 years of women being in the military and with cases of sexual assault and rape increasing by the decade, one would have hoped that in all the studies (dozens of them) conducted, that the Department of Defense, that can figure out "metrics" on every other subject, to include all other types of criminal acts, would have made it a priority to develop the "metrics" on these criminal acts affecting members of its population.

The Task Force website lists 20 reports on sexual assault since 1988 and there were many more reports prior to that date. But, if comments of the Task Force are accurate, I guess data collection on sexual assault and rape has been too difficult, or more likely, too unimportant for men who are at the top echelons of the military establishment.

Military system stacked against the victim.

Effectiveness between victim and victim advocates in the military limited as no communications privilege under military law.

The Task Force stated that communications between sexual assault victims and victim advocates were "problematic" because these communications are afforded no privilege under military law. Therefore, the effectiveness of victim advocates in the military is limited.

The Task Force reminds us that in civilian communities, medical personnel can provide privileged advice and counsel to victims, but this is not the case for military medical providers. While a victim advocate may be available, the advocate must advise the victim that, should he or she decide to pursue an unrestricted report of the assault, all communications between the advocate and the victim are discoverable by the alleged assailant's attorney.

As it stands now, the only legal source of confidential advice for a victim from the military community is a lawyer or a chaplain, but many victims are reluctant to seek help from a chaplain about a sexual matter.

In contrast, in the civilian world, 35 states have granted effective privilege to communications between victims and victim advocates.

The Task Force recommends that Congress enact into the Uniformed Code of Military Justice, a comprehensive military justice privilege for communications between military victims of sexual assault and victim advocates.

Victims don't know their rights and are dissatisfied with treatment in investigative process.

The Task Force found that sexual assault victims are frequently dissatisfied with their treatment during the investigative process, often because they participate in this process without fully understanding their rights and the limitations of their rights.

The Task Force recommends that victims of sexual assault be immediately made aware of their rights including the opportunity to consult with legal counsel during the investigative process.

Perhaps a headline in military newspapers and in military recruiting stations and basic training facilities "If you are raped, ask for a lawyer" might be an effective way of communicating this information!

No certification required for DOD victim advocates.

While many victim advocates volunteer for the duty, others are appointed as an extra duty by the unit commanders and have very little interest or compassion for the victims. DOD has never required formal certification for its victim advocates.

The Task Force recommends that DOD require response personnel and victims advocates receive more specialized training on sexual assault response and also service members who report they were sexually assaulted be afforded the assistance of a nationally certified victim advocate.

Rape of men in the military.

The social pressure within military units against reporting sexual assault and rape is extremely intense, and particularly for male soldiers.

The Task Force acknowledges that sexual assault of men in the military is under reported (p. 34). In Congressional testimony in the summer of 2008, Lt. Gen. Rochelle, the Army chief of personnel, reported the little known statistic that 12 percent (approximately 260) of reported 2200 rapes in the military in 2007 were reported by military men victims.

Interestingly, the lead story of rape chronicled in the Task Force report was not the rape of a woman soldier, but the rape of a male soldier. Private First Class Cody Openshaw was raped by a non-commissioned officer in charge of the medical holding unit where Openshaw was assigned to recover from injuries following a parachute accident. Openshaw was threatened by the NCO and never reported the rape. Five years later he finally acknowledged the rape and sought assistance because of his nightmares, excessive drinking and his increasing isolation. He ended up committing suicide.

The Task Force recommends establishment of gender-specific medical care protocols for victims of sexual assault to provide immediate treatment to victims for their injuries; to provide screening and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases; and to provide a forensic examination to assist law enforcement efforts.

"Sexual assault within the ranks is antithetical to the trust and camaraderie that defines military culture"

Military Personnel Subcommittee chair Susan Davis ended her opening statement at the February 3, 2010 hearing with "Sexual assault within the ranks is antithetical to the trust and camaraderie that defines military culture. Any sexual assault undermines the moral foundation of our Armed Forces and does irreparable harm to unit cohesion. Hopefully today's hearing will help us chart a legislative course to make progress in our goal to eliminate sexual assaults in the military."

It's a crisis when legislation is needed to make progress to eliminate sexual assaults in the military.

Congresswoman Davis' comment that the elimination of sexual assaults and rape in the military needs a "legislative course" reflects the key, under-lying problem women and men victims are facing-unresponsive leadership of both commissioned and non-commissioned officers, who provide the foundation of the military's culture.

As citizens, we should recognize that there is a crisis in our military when the Congress feels it must step in with legislative fixes to try to stop these criminal acts when military leadership refuses to take appropriate steps on its own.
(c) 2010 Ann Wright is a 29-year US Army veteran who retired as a Colonel, and a former US diplomat who resigned in March, 2003, in opposition to the war on Iraq. She served in Nicaragua, Grenada, Somalia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Sierra Leone, Micronesia and Mongolia. In December, 2001, she was on the small team that reopened the US Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan. She is the co-author of "Dissent: Voices Of Conscience." Her March 19, 2003, letter of resignation can be read here.






The Making Of A Euromess
By Paul Krugman

Lately, financial news has been dominated by reports from Greece and other nations on the European periphery. And rightly so.

But I've been troubled by reporting that focuses almost exclusively on European debts and deficits, conveying the impression that it's all about government profligacy - and feeding into the narrative of our own deficit hawks, who want to slash spending even in the face of mass unemployment, and hold Greece up as an object lesson of what will happen if we don't.

For the truth is that lack of fiscal discipline isn't the whole, or even the main, source of Europe's troubles - not even in Greece, whose government was indeed irresponsible (and hid its irresponsibility with creative accounting).

No, the real story behind the euromess lies not in the profligacy of politicians but in the arrogance of elites - specifically, the policy elites who pushed Europe into adopting a single currency well before the continent was ready for such an experiment.

Consider the case of Spain, which on the eve of the crisis appeared to be a model fiscal citizen. Its debts were low - 43 percent of G.D.P. in 2007, compared with 66 percent in Germany. It was running budget surpluses. And it had exemplary bank regulation.

But with its warm weather and beaches, Spain was also the Florida of Europe - and like Florida, it experienced a huge housing boom. The financing for this boom came largely from outside the country: there were giant inflows of capital from the rest of Europe, Germany in particular.

The result was rapid growth combined with significant inflation: between 2000 and 2008, the prices of goods and services produced in Spain rose by 35 percent, compared with a rise of only 10 percent in Germany. Thanks to rising costs, Spanish exports became increasingly uncompetitive, but job growth stayed strong thanks to the housing boom.

Then the bubble burst. Spanish unemployment soared, and the budget went into deep deficit. But the flood of red ink - which was caused partly by the way the slump depressed revenues and partly by emergency spending to limit the slump's human costs - was a result, not a cause, of Spain's problems.

And there's not much that Spain's government can do to make things better. The nation's core economic problem is that costs and prices have gotten out of line with those in the rest of Europe. If Spain still had its old currency, the peseta, it could remedy that problem quickly through devaluation - by, say, reducing the value of a peseta by 20 percent against other European currencies. But Spain no longer has its own money, which means that it can regain competitiveness only through a slow, grinding process of deflation.

Now, if Spain were an American state rather than a European country, things wouldn't be so bad. For one thing, costs and prices wouldn't have gotten so far out of line: Florida, which among other things was freely able to attract workers from other states and keep labor costs down, never experienced anything like Spain's relative inflation. For another, Spain would be receiving a lot of automatic support in the crisis: Florida's housing boom has gone bust, but Washington keeps sending the Social Security and Medicare checks.

But Spain isn't an American state, and as a result it's in deep trouble. Greece, of course, is in even deeper trouble, because the Greeks, unlike the Spaniards, actually were fiscally irresponsible. Greece, however, has a small economy, whose troubles matter mainly because they're spilling over to much bigger economies, like Spain's. So the inflexibility of the euro, not deficit spending, lies at the heart of the crisis.

None of this should come as a big surprise. Long before the euro came into being, economists warned that Europe wasn't ready for a single currency. But these warnings were ignored, and the crisis came.

Now what? A breakup of the euro is very nearly unthinkable, as a sheer matter of practicality. As Berkeley's Barry Eichengreen puts it, an attempt to reintroduce a national currency would trigger "the mother of all financial crises." So the only way out is forward: to make the euro work, Europe needs to move much further toward political union, so that European nations start to function more like American states.

But that's not going to happen anytime soon. What we'll probably see over the next few years is a painful process of muddling through: bailouts accompanied by demands for savage austerity, all against a background of very high unemployment, perpetuated by the grinding deflation I already mentioned.

It's an ugly picture. But it's important to understand the nature of Europe's fatal flaw. Yes, some governments were irresponsible; but the fundamental problem was hubris, the arrogant belief that Europe could make a single currency work despite strong reasons to believe that it wasn't ready.
(c) 2010 Paul Krugman --- The New York Times







The Last Station
Surging Into the Savage Past in Afghanistan
By Chris Floyd

I.

The current Nobel Peace laureate is continuing his noble and inspiring work of war this week in the latest PR blitz in Afghanistan: "Operation Moshtarak," the much-ballyhooed, extravagantly telegraphed "attack" on the city of Marja. Is it even worth discussing this monstrous sham? The perpetrators of the attack know full well that there will be no "battle." Even the American commanders cannot be so sealed in their arrogant ignorance that they do not know their insurgent opponents will do what every guerrilla army does when facing concentrations of conventional military force: disperse into the countryside, and into the urban populace, biding their time until the occupiers draw down their forces -- and in the meantime launching small ambushes with sniper fire and roadside bombs aimed at the sitting-duck cannon fodder placed in harm's way by their publicity-driven commanders.

And yet, the Western media has fully bought into the hackneyed, transparently false narrative of "the largest military operation of its kind since the American-backed war began eight years ago," with a plucky band of Marines and their faithful Afghan allies facing down "hundreds" of hardened fighters in the "largest Taliban sanctuary inside Afghanistan." The embedded media tracked the countdown to the attack as if they were hunkered down in the landing craft on their way to Omaha Beach. Except, of course, when one is genuinely planning an actual major attack on a strong, entrenched enemy -- as at Omaha Beach -- one does not normally advertise it around the clock for weeks on end beforehand.

If, however, one is attempting to galvanize public support for a long, grinding, bloody war of domination and occupation that has no discernible purpose (none that can be stated in public, anyway), why then, a nice set-piece "battle" which will end in a guaranteed, low-cost "victory" is just the ticket. It will demonstrate that the "new and improved" strategy of your "new and improved" president is "working," and that we are "winning" -- so we can't quit now!

This is of course the same message conveyed many years -- and many thousands of lives -- ago by the fall of Kabul, the "conquest" of Kandahar, and other great triumphs that "cleaned out" the various "largest Taliban sanctuar[ies] inside Afghanistan." But as any ad man can tell you, a commercial brand needs to be refreshed periodically in order to keep pulling in the profits. And the Afghan War brand has been a veritable bonanza, a cornucopia of contracts, corruption, profiteering and political pull for all of the interested parties involved: the various militaries and security apparats (and their contractors), the political elites, the many insurgent factions (loosely and falsely given the single rubric "Taliban"), the warlords, the druglords, organized crime, violent religious extremists -- in short, all those who traffic in hate, death, conflict and fear.

Or as "retired American military officer working in security in Afghanistan" put it to Nir Rosen in Mother Jones:

"Every time our boys face them, we win," he told me grimly. "We're winning every day. Are we going to keep winning for 20 years?"

Yes, mister retired American military officer, that is indeed the plan -- if they can swing it:

PESHAWAR, Pakistan, Feb. 17, 2017 -- President David Petraeus' "New Way Forward" in the Af-Pak War got off to a rousing start today as a combined force of U.S. Marines and Frontier paramilitaries launched a new 'warfighter/nationbuilder' offensive against this stonghold of Taliban insurgency. The attack is seen as a vital test of what the president has called his "Counterinsurgency 2.0" strategy, an updating of the highly successful approach that President Petraeus implemented in Iraq, where the 75,000 remaining U.S. advisors and trainers recently marked the 10th anniversary of his victorious surge.....

II.

The true context of the present operation, and the many that preceded it, and the many that will follow it, was put in stark relief by Scott Horton at Harper's last week, when he did us the great service of posting an excerpt from the correspondence between Lev Tolstoy and Mohandas Gandhi. The exchanges between the young Hindu lawyer and the aging Russian writer burn with a moral fervor and compassion that in our day seem to have come from another planet, not just another century. Here is an excerpt from that excerpt, taken from a letter that Tolstoy wrote (in his strong if imperfect English) just weeks before his death in 1910:

The longer I live - especially now when I clearly feel the approach of death - the more I feel moved to express what I feel more strongly than anything else, and what in my opinion is of immense importance, namely, what we call the renunciation of all opposition by force, which really simply means the doctrine of the law of love unperverted by sophistries. ...

This law was announced by all the philosophies - Indian as well as Chinese, and Jewish, Greek and Roman. Most clearly, I think, was it announced by Christ, who said explicitly that on it hang all the Law and the Prophets. More than that, foreseeing the distortion that has hindered its recognition and may always hinder it, he specially indicated the danger of a misrepresentation that presents itself to men living by worldly interests - namely, that they may claim a right to defend their interests by force or, as he expressed it, to repay blow by blow and recover stolen property by force, etc., etc. He knew, as all reasonable men must do, that any employment of force is incompatible with love as the highest law of life, and that as soon as the use of force appears permissible even in a single case, the law itself is immediately negatived.

The whole of Christian civilization, outwardly so splendid, has grown up on this strange and flagrant-partly intentional but chiefly unconscious-misunderstanding and contradiction. At bottom, however, the law of love is, and can be, no longer valid if defence by force is set up beside it. And if once the law of love is not valid, then there remains no law except the right of might. In that state Christendom has lived for 1,900 years. Certainly men have always let themselves be guided by force as the main principle of their social order. ...

The clear-eyed idealism -- the belief in constant, relentless, non-violent resistance to evil -- that drove Tolstoy, Gandhi and their many spiritual descendants, such as Martin Luther King Jr., are now openly mocked, or else condescendingly discarded as quaint relics, unsuitable for our own tough, savvy times. We saw a prime example of this derision only a few months ago, when Barack Obama, the loudly self-proclaimed Christian, accepted his Nobel Peace Prize with a ringing endorsement of state violence on a massive, savage, overwhelming scale, and an explicit renunciation of non-violence. (For more, see "Miraculous Organ: Blair, Obama and the Narcissists' Defense") How far we have travelled in the wretched century since Tolstoy's last letter to Gandhi -- a journey into the past, back to the caves, back to the dark forests, where "there remains no law except the right of might."
(c) 2010 Chris Floyd







Streamlining The Constitution
By Case Wagonvoord

The Constitution has always been a pain in the ass. It's hard to know what our founding fathers were thinking when they started hand out rights as if they were candy. If the goddamn document had never been written there never would have been a 9/11 because we would have snuffed the bastards before they even planned it.

This certainly seems to be the premise behind the multiple policies designed to keep us safe from terrorists by seeing how many terrorists we can create by blowing up their families.

If nothing else, many of these policies reflect the corporate state's belief that efficiency is more important than civil liberty. Trials are expensive and involve too much effort on the part of the government to prove that in accused is guilty as charged. Prosecutors actually have to dig up evidence and then contest with a troublesome defense attorney to win a conviction. How much nicer it would be to do away with the whole process.

And the Obama administration is aiding this effort by continuing the Bush policy of targeting American citizens for assassination if the administration deems them "terrorists."

Glen Greenwald quotes Dahlia Lithwick who calls the policy part of the administration's "own special brand of terrorism-derangement syndrome." Pogo Possum summed it up nicely when he said, "We have met the enemy, and it is us." (He made the comment back in the 1950s when Albert the Alligator was being investigated for speaking English instead of Americanize.)

It's for certain we are in more danger from our government than from any terrorists who might be floating around.

"Terrorist" is such a delicious label that makes the corporate state's job so much easier. It's a much more sophisticated label than "Communist." "Communist" was too damn abstract to have any sort of real punch. It had to be propped up with an array of sub-labels such as, "pinko," "fellow traveler," "subversive," the esoteric "comsymp," and the ever popular "commie."

Terrorist requires no such help. Its legs are strong enough to stand on its own and justify all sorts of derangement. Of course it helps that "terrorist" immediately brings to mind brown skin and a heathen religion. This gives the label a little extra oomph.

There is a toxic irony to all this. The only difference between the '93 bombing of the World Trade Center and 9/11 is that 9/11 succeeded in bringing down the towers where the '93 bombing failed to do so, even though that was its intent. However, all the perpetrators of the '93 bombing were apprehended, tried in a court of law with all of its pesky constitutional safeguards in place and convicted. All of this was accomplished without a Patriot Act, military commissions, rendition, torture or wars of aggression. Meanwhile Obama bin Laden continues to make tapes.

And now the president wants to execute American citizens without the benefit of a trial by their peers.

Greenwald pointedly asks, "[I]f the Fifth amendment's explicit guarantee-that one shall not be deprived of life without due process-does not prohibit the U.S. government from assassinating your without any process, what exactly does it prohibit?

I guess this is the change we can believe in.
(c) 2010 Case Wagenvoord. Some years ago, Case Wagenvoord turned off the tube and picked up a book. He's been trouble ever since. His articles have been posted at The Smirking Chimp, Countercurrents and Issues & Alibis. When he's not writing or brooding, he is carving hardwood bowls that have been displayed in galleries and shows across the country. He lives in New Jersey with his wife and two cats. His book, Open Letters to George W. Bush is available at Amazon.com.







Food? We Don't Need No Stinkin' Food; We Need Growth!
By Mike Folkerth

Good Morning to all of you inquisitive minds out there in Reality Land; your King of Simple News is on the air.

Cathy and I are off for a few days to investigate a rumor that there is green grass, water that isn't frozen, and trees with the leaves still attached, in southern Nevada. I'll definitely take my laptop and let you know what we find out.

In the mean time, I want to continue to focus on the very real fact that as a nation, we have multiple problems and that any one of those problems could single handedly bring down the tent.

In the end, I suppose that overpopulation by the human species is issue #1. In Australia, they are actually gaining a little ground on that subject and considering stopping all immigration as they run up against the barrier of producing food.

The Japanese already import approximately 40% of their food supply and the Koreans have leased large foreign farming acreage so as not get caught in the food supply trap.

So then, how big is the food supply problem? Please take the time to read this well written and well documented article from National Geographic; I think you'll be surprised... I was.

Once again, those who have steered us in the direction of unlimited growth are dead wrong.
(c) 2010 Mike Folkerth is not your run-of-the-mill author of economics. Nor does he write in boring lecture style. Not even close. The former real estate broker, developer, private real estate fund manager, auctioneer, Alaskan bush pilot, restaurateur, U.S. Navy veteran, heavy equipment operator, taxi cab driver, fishing guide, horse packer...(I won't go on, it's embarrassing) writes from experience and plain common sense. He is the author of "The Biggest Lie Ever Believed."





The Quotable Quote...



"Freedom is actually a bigger game than power. Power is about what you can control. Freedom is about what you can unleash."
~~~ Harriet Rubin








Dollars For Death, Pennies For Life
By Norman Solomon

When the U.S. military began a major offensive in southern Afghanistan over the weekend, the killing of children and other civilians was predictable. Lofty rhetoric aside, such deaths come with the territory of war and occupation.

A month ago, President Obama pledged $100 million in U.S. government aid to earthquake-devastated Haiti. Compare that to the $100 billion price tag to keep 100,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan for a year.

While commanders in Afghanistan were launching what the New York Times called "the largest offensive military operation since the American-led coalition invaded the country in 2001," the situation in Haiti was clearly dire.

With more than a million Haitians still homeless, vast numbers -- the latest estimates are around 75 percent -- don't have tents or tarps. The rainy season is fast approaching, with serious dangers of typhoid and dysentery.

No shortage of bombs in Afghanistan; a lethal shortage of tents in Haiti. Such priorities -- actual, not rhetorical -- are routine.

Last summer, I saw hundreds of children and other civilians at the Helmand Refugee Camp District 5, a miserable makeshift encampment in Kabul. The U.S. government had ample resources for bombing their neighborhoods in the Helmand Valley -- but was doing nothing to help the desperate refugees to survive after they fled to Afghanistan's capital city.

Such priorities have parallels at home. The military hawks and deficit hawks are now swooping along Pennsylvania Avenue in tight formation. There's plenty of money in the U.S. Treasury for war in Afghanistan. But domestic spending to meet human needs -- job creation, for instance -- is another matter.

Joblessness is now crushing many low-income Americans. Among those with annual household incomes of less than $12,500, the unemployment rate during the fourth quarter of last year "was a staggering 30.8 percent," Bob Herbert noted in a February 9 column. "That's more than five points higher than the overall jobless rate at the height of the Depression." Herbert added: "The next lowest group, with incomes of $12,500 to $20,000, had an unemployment rate of 19.1 percent. These are the kinds of jobless rates that push families already struggling on meager incomes into destitution."

The current situation is akin to the one that Martin Luther King Jr. confronted in 1967 when he challenged Congress for showing "hostility to the poor" -- appropriating "military funds with alacrity and generosity" but providing "poverty funds with miserliness."

Such priorities are taking lives every day, near and far.

Early this month, the National Council of Churches sent out an article by theologians George Hunsinger and Michael Kinnamon, who wrote: "What the Haitians obviously need most is massive humanitarian relief. They need food, water, medical supplies. They need shelter and physical reconstruction. . . . Over half of Haiti's population are children, 15 years old or younger. Many were already hungry and homeless before the earthquake hit."

But the warfare state, with vast budgets for military purposes, has scant funds for sustaining life.

These priorities kill.
(c) 2010 Norman Solomon's latest book is "Made Love, Got War: Close Encounters with America's Warfare State." The foreword is by Daniel Ellsberg. For more information, go to: www.MadeLoveGotWar.com. The documentary film "War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death," based on Norman Solomon's book of the same name, went into home-video release and is now available on DVD from Netflix, Amazon and similar outlets. For more information, go to: www.WarMadeEasyTheMovie.org.







Lead, Follow, Or Get Out Of The Way
By David Michael Green

So now there's going to be a bipartisan health care summit, eh? Woo-hoo.

Is that sorta like the jobs summit we just had, one full year into the reign of Obama, despite that all twelve of those months has been riddled with severe economic cancer? And hasn't that summit just really produced a raft of good solutions to the unemployment crisis?

Is the health care summit gonna be kinda like the stimulus bill, a full third of which was a sop to Republican tax-cutting religious dogma, which effort bought all of a single GOP vote in Congress?

Does it bear any resemblance to the health care negotiations which have been going on for nearly a year now, that also involved protracted efforts to accommodate Republican interests, and that succeeding in reducing the level of GOP support from the prior vote on the stimulus bill down by a full one hundred percent?

Or are we talking here about any of a whole slew of "Democratic" policies, from the Middle East to Afghanistan to civil liberties to military spending, in which the Obama administration never had to negotiate at all with Republicans, because they were already running the same policies as George W. Bush? And nevertheless still got slammed for it?

I really have to confess that I don't know why Barack Obama ever wanted the presidency. He had a boatload of fame and fortune in his hands already, though admittedly it's a whole other league to be in as a part of the exclusive club of US presidents.

On the other hand, you run some serious risks as president that really call into question whether it's worth it, from a cost-benefit perspective. Especially since you can only spend so much money in a lifetime, and Obama had already made tens of millions from his books, and had huge potential to keep on making more from lectures, lobbying and more books, without ever sitting in the White House.

Lincoln and Kennedy remind us of the most prominent of these risks. But combine the always present possibility of presidential assassination with the fact that we have the first black president of a country still loaded with angry, armed racists, and you have a serious concern there. Additionally, America is just absolutely in a bad mood these days. We're like a toddler having a temper tantrum, oscillating between wanting this or that, usually wanting both at the same time, and regularly throwing a shit-fit if we don't get just exactly what we want when we want it. If it were possible for an entire country to need its diapers changed, that's just about where we are nowadays. Put it all together and you get a recipe for disaster for a black president whose middle name is Hussein. Especially one who allows himself to be labeled a socialist. Maybe Michael Steele or Clarence Thomas could pull this off without agitating the survivalist crowd into taking a pop at him, but Obama's got a whole army of nuts out there waiting to take him out. Many of them are in these tea party fringe fanatic groups. Hell, many of them are in the GOP.

Moreover, that's not the only risk he took in running for the presidency. You can also get elected and then fail miserably. Is it really worth it to enter the pantheon of American politics, but in a titular sense only? Wouldn't it be better to lay low and get rich than to be a laughingstock failure who also happened to have once had an oval-shaped office? Wouldn't most people rather be Jeb Bush than George W.?

This is why I wonder why this guy ever sought the presidency. Doing so clearly came with some serious risks, and not necessarily massive benefits relative to where he was already sitting.

Of course, if you were going to do something with the office, that would be something else entirely. That would be worth taking big risks for. I think most people want to be successful in life, and most people who are either self-confident (or radically insecure) enough to seek the American presidency would absolutely also like the legacy of being one of the great ones. Obama just doesn't seem to have that jones, though. He's the perfunctory president. He seems to want to have a health care bill, any health care bill, so he can say he's done that. He seems to want to have a climate agreement, however eviscerated, just so he can tick off that box. And he seems to want to be president just to be president.

Of course, the Democratic Party has become nearly as captive of corporate and Wall Street interests as the Republicans have, which may be a better explanation for the inaction of Congress and the president. But the capacity to sustain that facade is now rapidly melting. Perhaps Democrats even realize this.

The core (sometimes theoretical) principle at the root of representative democracy is the quid pro quo that is supposed to govern the relationship between the representative and the represented. The member of parliament gets to serve in high office, provided that MP reflects the political sentiments of his or her constituents. The problem with American politics today, of course, is that the real constituents of members of Congress are not the voters in their districts and states, but rather the special interests who fund their campaigns to fool the voters in their districts and states. You don't need to see Bulworth again to figure that one out.

And the problem for Democrats is that the country is now reaching the limits of viability for that game. Voters can be fooled or lulled into political narcolepsy for a long time, provided conditions are relatively benign. One reason, frankly, that voter turnout has been so low over the last half-century is that people have been basically satisfied with conditions in their lives, notwithstanding the usual grumbling about welfare queens or foreign aid or uppity blacks. This also explains why we rarely see people marching in the streets in any serious way, and why we don't see the rise of alternative political parties of any serious scale. By and large, people have been pretty complacent about politics because their life conditions have been pretty decent, whether they know it or not.

All that is changing now. Actually, it's been changing for thirty years, but now it's really crashing down hard. During the middle part of the twentieth century a literal new deal was struck in American society, in which for the first time the masses would get a moderate share of the pie and the fantastically wealthy would be reduced in economic stature to being merely hugely wealthy. But, after a while, the greediest amongst us decided they'd had enough of that tough bargain and, circa 1980 or so, the empire struck back. The American plutocracy hired Ronald Reagan and his party to undo the provisions of trade, labor, tax and welfare state laws that propped up the newly created middle class, and the ground underneath most Americans' feet has been eroding ever since. It was actually much worse than what people thought all along, because much of the pain for the middle class was eased by sending wives to work earning a second income, and stealing from their children via budget deficits.

Now comes the triple whammy of the apocalypse, as the products from these policies come home to roost in a serious way. First, deregulating everything in sight so that the rapist class could have its unfettered way with all of us has produced the inevitable reckoning with reality now screening in your neighborhood as "The Great Recession". Second, the unsustainable pattern of profligate borrowing has become - go figure - unsustainable, and we are now seeing the beginning of serious movements toward reeling back spending on popular government programs, just when they are needed most. And third, the structural changes that have been promulgated over the last three decades leave most Americans poorly positioned to even hope for a path to economic recovery. Roughly speaking then, the middle class have been tossed out of the plane, their primary parachute was defectively fabricated by a deregulated corporation trying to save money on production, and their emergency chute was stolen out of the pack and sold on the black market called Wall Street.

The problem for people like Obama or Pelosi or Reid or just about any Democrat in Congress today is that people increasingly know this. They are feeling it acutely. The decades of complacency have been replaced by the new era of fear and anxiety. Thus we're now seeing signs of a reanimated political sphere. Turnout is up, anti-incumbency is way up, and street rallies and alternative political movements are increasingly challenging the pathetically limited options of the status quo.

We've entered an epoch of political oscillation - mood swings would perhaps be the better description - in which the two dominant political parties do fantastically well in opposition, but horribly in government. That's because, in reality, neither of them is offering any actual solutions to the problems the shrinking American middle class is grappling with every day. Republicans distract with an endless procession of bogeymen at home and abroad, and with tax cuts that only exacerbate the problem further. Democrats, on the other hand, uh... Democrats, er... Well, I don't know what Democrats actually do. They just kinda sit there taking potshots. Both parties do great in opposition because it's so easy to show how useless the government is, especially if hypocrisy is not necessarily a problem for how you practice politics (and for the GOP it is not only not a problem, it has become a high art form). But it turns out that actually governing after you win in opposition is problematic if you don't have any real solutions to offer. Republicans have been hammered twice in the last two election cycles, once to kick them out of Congress and then again to kick them out of the White House. Democrats will have precisely the same experience in 2010 and 2012, and for precisely the same reasons.

And yet the public will be no more satisfied with the outcome than they are now, and likely less so. It's ludicrous to imagine that the party of Bush and Cheney - which has only gotten worse in their absence - will actually solve any national problems. Meanwhile, time is running out for Washington to actually produce solutions. Or at least to be seen as serious about producing solutions. People understand that this is not necessarily easily done. Franklin Roosevelt got elected president four times without ever genuinely slaying the Great Depression. But people believed that he was trying, and they knew that the party of Hoover would do nothing. Obama, on the other hand, has done just the opposite of FDR. He has entirely blown the good will which attended his inauguration one year ago, such that even if he were to be serious about dealing with jobs now, it's not clear that he would be trusted enough to be taken seriously, and it's not clear that he could even reap the political benefit from any success he might actually produce.

This was the stupidest imaginable of strategic decisions by this White House. If they thought they could simply continue to win by being not Republicans, they were wrong even in the short term. (Very short term, as it turns out. They got clobbered right away in Virginia and New Jersey, and now also in Massachusetts.) If they thought they couldn't do anything legit to solve problems because they have to placate their real masters on Wall Street, they were wrong in the longer term. Americans are unlikely to continue to countenance such treason from their government anymore, as they lose their jobs, houses, medical care and dignity.

Look, let's be honest, American government was designed by its creators to fail, if by success one means the ability to govern in any real sense and the ability to be responsive to the preferences of voters. It's a pretty ingenious system really, at least for those who have a congenital fear of government, that particularly American paranoia. The system basically requires so much consensus (which is another way of saying that so many actors can block it from moving forward), that only on occasions like the day after Pearl Harbor can it move expeditiously at articulating and legislating national policy. Otherwise, it requires a powerful figure who can light enough of a fire under the recalcitrant co-decisionmakers in the system for anything substantial to happen. And that more or less can only be the president.

In the long nineteenth century of American government, that mostly just didn't happen, in large part because the prevailing view of the role of government was so limited. Today, however, it is more or less expected. It more or less defines whether a presidency is successful or not. Roosevelt and Johnson and Reagan and Wee Bush got what they wanted, and thus had largely successful presidencies, as measured by that yardstick. Of course, in some of those cases what they wanted were really disastrous things, and so those presidencies turned out to be not so successful in the larger sense, by virtue, ironically, of their successes in the narrow sense. In any case, for folks like Bill Clinton or Big Daddy Bush or Barack Obama it's all moot anyhow. They don't aspire to much of anything serious, and they therefore, of course, don't get anywhere near achieving it.

This model for governmental failure created by the Founders has now become even more unruly, at least when Republicans are in the opposition. They have decided to use the filibuster and nomination holds in the Senate to block literally everything the Democrats want to do, including even staffing up the president's administration. Democrats, of course, are just the opposite. Even when they are in the minority by only the barest amount, they still allow the Republicans to do whatever they want, using whatever legislative bullying technique they choose. Essentially what we have today is a situation in which Republicans make life for the vast majority of Americans worse when they are in government, and Democrats do nothing whatsoever when they are given control. Nothing, that is, unless you count destroying the reputation of progressive politics while ironically not actually being progressive at all.

America is increasingly in need of some serious Constitutional shake-ups, and a parliamentary system of responsible government to replace the existing do-nothing model is perhaps at the top of the list. That alternative surely at least has clarity going for it, hence the term 'responsible'. You know who governs at any given time, and you get to throw the bums out of office if they don't do it the way you want them to. It's a higher gamble affair, though. It essentially puts all the eggs in one basket, at least for the short term. If we had had such a system in 2005, for example, Social Security would have been effectively destroyed. On the other hand, when people saw in 2008 what Wall Street did to the Social Security accounts they had been building over a lifetime, Republicans would have banished from the halls of government for eighty years.

The system is truly broken, but the truth is that all systems are broken, and all systems are also not broken. It's in the nature of people to switch systems, and to want to switch systems, as a cheap potential solution to their problems. But, in reality, institutions and constitutions don't make nearly as much difference in the quality of governance as does the character and commitments of the people at the helm, and that of those who choose them. Good people with good intentions and a good helping of guts will produce good results, even when faced with daunting obstacles built into the system of governance. Rip-off artists, on the other hand, will not be deterred by mere checks and balances. And those who seek to do nothing while the country burns will be able to under any constitutional order, at least for the short-term.

Major aspects of the current crisis in American politics are deeply fundamental in nature, in the sense that a cavalier and self-interested (often at best) public has allowed the gravest crimes to be committed in its name, as long as it could still sit on the sofa unmolested, slurping beer, scarfing Tater Tots, and watching yet another episode of American Idol. We truly do have the government we deserve.

And yet, to some extent, it 'twas ever thus, and still we've managed to do better at times. Moreover, it's hard not to conclude that there has been a concerted effort to dumb down the American public on matters of politics and even their own welfare these last few decades. And why not, eh? There was a helluva lot of money to be made.

But while the breakdown of the country's political system has been near complete - ranging from government to opposition party to the media to the public - those who ask for our votes by promising serious change, and who invoke the rhetoric of Martin Luther King and the centuries-long tribulations of the enslaved in order to get elected, have a special responsibility to fulfill their commitment. It requires a particular and spectacular brand of treasonous contempt to piss away the beliefs of an entire nation in one's promise and one's integrity, not to mention trashing the legions of people who carried you across the finish line for exactly that reason. Even worse, to mangle the governance of a country at a time of crisis - knowing full well what sort of creatures to whom that throws open the doors of the government in the wake of your failure - is an egregious crime of historical proportions. How many Weimar Republics or Neville Chamberlains do we need before we figure that one out? Obama's weakness will make Sarah Palin president.

Some folks argue that change never comes from the top and it's a fool's errand to expect Barack Obama or Harry Reid or Nancy Pelosi or any other leaders of American government to ever just do the right thing for the right reasons. Maybe that's all true, and I certainly rue the fact that the only people out on the streets these days are the know-nothings of the right. There is a ton of work to be done right now building a progressive movement with the capacity to pressure the country's national leaders into doing the right thing for the country.

But those leaders are part of the problem, too. And it's also the case that some of the great transformative figures of this country or others - Franklin Roosevelt, Mikhail Gorbachev, Deng Xiaoping - were so much more than history forced them to be. To me, that means both that we should continue to expect a serious contribution from those entrusted with governing the country, beyond what the street forces them to do, and that history vindicates such expectations as being legitimate. In other words, we know from the historical record that it can happen that leaders actually lead, beyond where we folks down below push them to go. It is, therefore, not unreasonable to expect that of the current crop, notwithstanding the crucial role also to be played by the public, the media, social movements, etc.

Few leaders in American history have been as blessed with the ironic opportunity of crisis as has been Barack Obama. This last year could have been written into the history books with an entirely different script, and one which would have massively benefitted the country, the Democratic Party and Barack Obama. Yet, because he is so very much not a man of his time, just the opposite occurred. Clinton got away with being a nothingburger during fat times. Obama is foolishly trying it during a moment of multiple simultaneous national and international crises, and he is failing miserably. As he should be, with such a shamefully tepid agenda.

Barack Obama and his congressional co-conspirators in cowardice will soon be toast, the victims - both directly through their own inadequacies and indirectly through their unwillingness to counter attacks upon them by the most destructive elements of American politics - of their own failings of character.

But because of those failings, and because at the moment the bottom was falling out they would neither lead, follow nor get out of the way, they are not the only folks right now staring down the business end of the shotgun that is the future of America.

We are, too.

Indeed, far more than they.
(c) 2010 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, www.regressiveantidote.net.





The Dead Letter Office...





Dennis smoking a "blunt."

Heil Obama,

Dear Deputy Fuhrer Blair,

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, Fredo Bush, Vidkun Quisling and last year's winner Volksjudge Sonia (get whitey) Sotomayor.

Without your lock step calling for the repeal of the Constitution and Bill of Rights, your new found ability to murder any American, without a trial that we say is the enemy, 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 "Military 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 Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Golden Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds presented by our glorious Fuhrer, Herr Obama at a gala celebration at "der Fuhrer Bunker," formally the "White House," on 03-15-2010. We salute you Herr Blair, Sieg Heil!

Signed by,
Vice Fuhrer Biden

Heil Obama





Our Human Rights v. The Others
By Glenn Greenwald

Ten American Baptists were arrested two weeks ago in Haiti on charges that they exploited the chaos in that country by attempting to smuggle 33 young Haitian children across the border without permission -- either to bring them to a life of Christianity or (as some evidence suggests) to filter them into a child trafficking ring. National Review's Kathyrn Jean Lopez is deeply upset by the plight of at least one of the detained Americans, Jim Allen, whom she contends (based exclusively on his family's claims) is innocent. Lopez demands that the State Department do more to "insist" upon Allen's release, and -- most amazingly of all -- complains about the conditions of his detention. She has the audacity to cite a Human Rights Watch description of prison conditions in Haiti as "inhumane." Lopez complains that Allen was waterboarded, stripped, frozen and beaten has "hypertension," was shipped thousands of miles away to a secret black site beyond the reach of the ICRC and then rendered to Jordan allowed to speak to his wife only once in the first ten days of his confinement, and was consigned to years in an island-prison cage with no charges denied his choice of counsel for a few days (though he is now duly represented in Haitian courts by a large team of American lawyers).

You know what else Human Rights Watch vehemently condemns as human rights abuses? Guantanamo, military commissions, denial of civilian trials, indefinite detention, America's "enhanced interrogation techniques," renditions, and a whole slew of other practices that are far more severe than the conditions in Haiti about which Lopez complains and yet which have been vocally supported by National Review. In fact, Lopez's plea for Allen is surrounded at National Review by multiple and increasingly strident attacks on the Obama administration by former Bush officials Bill Burck and Dana Perino for (allegedly) abandoning those very policies, as well as countless posts from former Bush speechwriter (and the newest Washington Post columnist) Marc Thiessen promoting his new book defending torture. Lopez herself has repeatedly cheerled for Guantanamo and related policies, hailing Mitt Romney's call in a GOP debate that we "double Guantanamo" as his "best answer" and saying she disagrees with John McCain's anti-torture views, while mocking human rights concerns with the term "Club Gitmo." And National Review itself has led an endless attack on the credibility of Human Rights Watch, accusing it of anti-Israel and anti-American bias for daring to point out the human rights abuses perpetrated by those countries.

What's going on here is quite clear, quite odious, and quite common. It goes without saying that because he hasn't yet had a trial, Allen could be perfectly innocent, or he could be guilty of some rather heinous crimes -- just as is true of Guantanamo detainees held for years without charges or a trial (indeed, even with Haiti virtually destroyed under rubble, Allen -- unlike GITMO detainees -- is receiving full due process). Why would National Review -- which endorses far worse abuses when perpetrated on Muslims convicted of nothing -- take up the cause of an accused child smuggler and possible child trafficker, and suddenly find such grave concern over detainee conditions? Or, to use their warped vernacular, which equates unproven accusations with guilt, why would National Review be advocating for the rights of child kidnappers and child traffickers? Because, as a Christian, Allen is deemed by National Review to deserve basic human rights, unlike the Muslim detainees whose (far worse) abuse they have long supported [in stark and commendable contrast to National Review, Southern Baptist leaders are also demanding that the Obama administration do more to secure the release of Allen and his fellow prisoners, but they at least have standing and credibility to do so, as the National Association of Evangelicals, the Southern Baptist Convention, and the leading Southern Baptist ethicist all condemned Bush policies as "torture" which "violates everything we stand for," although they did that quite belatedly].

All of this is reminiscent of the single greatest act of self-satire I encountered since I began writing about politics: in September, 2006, three Indonesian Christians were convicted in a regular Indonesian court of a brutal terrorist attack that left 70 Muslims dead, and they were sentenced to death. Michelle Malkin and various other right-wing agitators -- who not only cheered on every radical Bush/Cheney denial of due process and punishment without trial for Muslims, but demanded even more extreme measures -- righteously took up the cause of these Christian Terrorists, expressing "grave doubts raised over the fairness of the trial," citing "irregularities" in the trial they received, and even calling upon the "International Criminal Court in Geneva" to intervene -- seriously (this behavior from GOP Sen. Mel Martinez, in a different case, was quite similar). The very same people who have been demanding for years that Muslims be imprisoned for life, tortured and killed with no trials or charges of any kind suddenly become extremely sensitive to the nuances of due process and humane detention conditions -- they start sounding like Amnesty International civil liberties extremists -- the minute it's a Christian, rather than a Muslim, who is subjected to such treatment. Lest anyone think these glaring double standards are driven more by nationality than religion, National Review -- along with most of their comrades -- supported the full denial of due process in the case of Jose Padilla, a U.S.-born American citizen and Muslim who was tortured to the point of insanity, and it now does the same with U.S.-born American citizen and Muslim Anwar al-Awlaki, whom the U.S. is currently trying to assassinate.

The only thing worse than someone completely indifferent to human rights abuses when committed by their own government is someone whose concern for such matters is dictated by the religion or other demographic attributes of those whose basic rights are being denied. That's the same mentality that leads our media to treat American journalists held by Evil Foreign Governments for a few weeks under dubious circumstances as screeching headline-making news, while ignoring almost completely those foreign (Muslim) journalists held by the U.S. Government for years without charges. How many Americans know and are outraged about Iran's detention of Roxana Saberi, all while being completely ignorant of the numerous Muslim journalists held for years by the U.S., including a Reuters photojournalist, Ibrahim Jassam Mohammed, finally released last week after being held by the U.S. military for 17 months with no charges and even after an Iraqi court ordered him released? It's the same mentality that allows the U.S. Government, with a straight face, to issue reports condemning as "torture" the very techniques we used, to protest indefinite detention, extra-judicial killings and lawless eavesdropping when engaged in by other countries, and to demand that other countries prosecute their war criminals and torturers in the name of "the rule of law" (while our own are feted on TV shows and given regular newspaper columns to glorify the torture and other war crimes they implemented).

Would you rather be an American wrongfully accused of child trafficking even in the post-earthquake Haitian justice system (complete with lawyers, access to courts, and full due process), or a Muslim wrongly accused of Terrorism by the U.S. Government (and put in a black hole for years with no rights)? To ask the question is to answer it. The primary duty of a citizen is to protest bad acts by their own government. If you're acquiescing to or even endorsing serious human rights abuses by your own government, then it's not only morally absurd -- but laughably ineffective -- to parade around as some sort of human rights crusader when it comes time to protest the treatment of one of your own, however you might define that. It might produce some soothing feelings of self-satisfaction, but nobody will remotely take that seriously, nor should they.
(c) 2010 Glenn Greenwald. was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator in New York. He is the author of the New York Times Bestselling book "How Would a Patriot Act?," a critique of the Bush administration's use of executive power, released in May 2006. His second book, "A Tragic Legacy," examines the Bush legacy.







Who Are The 'Progressives?'
By Mary Pitt

When we read reports of polls, we find that the "Independents" in the United States outnumber the declarants for either of the established political parties. In discussing this, the pundits assume that this indicates that most voters are in the "middle of the road" between the Democrats and the Republicans. This is not the case. The number includes members of small established groups that have been with us for years and their views are all over the map. There are the Libertarians who are far to the right, the Green Party with their ecological agenda, and now, the Tea Party whose views are more anti-government.

Buried and out of sight are the Progressives who have no party affiliations at present but who know what they want and need. There is an Progressive wing of the Democratic Party but they are not necessarily representative of those who advocate for progress but are not yet convinced that the party, as it exists today, are truly committed to the substance of their own needs and will not deal them away in the interests of "bipartisanship." President Obama was swept into office on a wave of support from these very people who are now waiting to see whether he can or will accomplish the promises he made to them in return.

But, who are these Progressives, these nameless, faceless people who claim to represent a majority of the populace of the United States? I am one and I will undertake the task of telling you exactly who we are.

We are the vermin of your life; we are white, black, Hispanic, Asian, and every shade of every color in the palette. Very few of us are rich or even "middle-class". We live everywhere yet we are largely unseen. We are in the long lines at the unemployment offices and at the gates to those plants that are still operating; we serve your meals, we clean up your messes, take out your garbage, and clean your toilets. We are on your streets, yet you do not see us because there is nothing about us to which to draw your attention. We neither damage your ears with loud jam-boxes nor are we using expensive cell phones into which we speak loudly so you will notice us. We are simply there.

We work in your yards and in your homes; we nurture and nourish your children so that they do not suffer your absence unduly. We are as diligent with "Yes, Ma'am", and "No, Sir," as those who worked in utter bondage in centuries past. We prepare the hotel rooms in which you work or vacation, making sure you have all the comforts and cleanliness that you expect. We clean your offices after you have gone home or to your recreational pursuits. We live in your slums and your low-income housing projects, we live along the highways and the byways as you pass in your big gas-hog cars or fly over in your silvery airplanes. We grow and cook your food and clean your clothes; there is not an aspect of your life in which we are not an integral part, yet you do not see us.

We can easily be seen when we turn out to support President Obama when he appears in our area but we cannot afford to travel to attend Tea Parties and other big demonstrations. But we can be seen in huge numbers at the Free Health Clinics as they are held in larger cities offering life-saving health care for those who have been deprived of it, sometimes for years! These affairs are not covered by news agencies except, recently by MSNBC. Hundreds of medical professionals throughout an area will gather in arenas or in huge tents to dispense needed physical care to those of us who have no insurance but are deemed to be "too rich" for Medicaid or any other Federal program to be diagnosed and steered to free clinics for every complaint from new eye glasses or dental caries to life-threatening cancers.

For this reason, our principal political goal is for truly universal health care. Learning that President Obama approached this problem first by consulting Big Pharma and the heads of the insurance companies was a kick in the gut! President Clinton tried that and we still suffer from his failure President G. W. Bush told us that we had no problem; that all we had to do was to go to the nearest Emergency Room. We've been there and done that! We have thereafter received the over-inflated bills and many have had our assets attached and been hounded into bankruptcy if we could not pay. We will not be doing that again!

We are the "make or break" faction who will determine whether the Democrats are allowed to continue their majority status past the next election. We will do as we have always done. We will accept the fact that, once again, we have been lied to by a politician, crawl back into the woodwork and disappear until the great day, by and by, that some other political figure might arise and convince us that they will do something about our problems.

You see, we are the sixty per cent of the population who don't bother to turn out on Election Day. We are aware of our invisibility and unconvinced that you and the others like you are so consumed by your own lives, your good jobs, your beautiful children, and your secure lives that you have no reason to care about us. We will go on doing what we do, trying to scratch out a living from our poor endeavors living as long as whatever god we believe in decrees for us, allowing you to demean us at every opportunity as the "lower class" and a "drag on society" while giving you our offspring for cannon fodder in your wars of acquisition.

Think of us as the peasants of Middle Ages France who bore the burdens of serving the "upper classes" until they could no longer bear it. For we know that we are the base for everything you treasure. We are the ones who provide your creature comforts. Without us you would have to live in an unbearable world of chaos and your own trash. When you pray, pray for us. Pray that we will continue in our firm belief in the Brotherhood of Man and that we will continue to support you. That is because we know, though you obviously do not, that you are just like us!
(c) 2010 Mary Pitt is eighty years old and has spent a half century working with handicapped and deprived people and advocating on their behalf while caring for her own working-class family. She spends her "Sunset Years" in writing and struggling with The System. Huzzahs and whiney complaints may be sent to tfolbrd@cox.net



The Cartoon Corner...

This edition we're proud to showcase the cartoons of
~~~ Gary Markstein ~~~










To End On A Happy Note...




When The Tigers Broke Free
By Pink Floyd

It was just before dawn
One miserable morning in black 'forty four.
When the forward commander
Was told to sit tight
When he asked that his men be withdrawn.
And the Generals gave thanks
As the other ranks held back
The enemy tanks for a while.
And the Anzio bridgehead
Was held for the price
Of a few hundred ordinary lives.

And kind old King George
Sent Mother a note
When he heard that father was gone.
It was, I recall,
In the form of a scroll,
With gold leaf and all.
And I found it one day
In a drawer of old photographs, hidden away.
And my eyes still grow damp to remember
His Majesty signed
With his own rubber stamp.

It was dark all around.
There was frost in the ground
When the tigers broke free.
And no one survived
From the Royal Fusiliers Company C.
They were all left behind,
Most of them dead,
The rest of them dying.
And that's how the High Command
Took my daddy from me.
(c) 1979/2010 Pink Floyd



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Parting Shots...





Introducing the Hot New Social Network, PhoneBook

Allows User to Call Friends, Speak to Them
By Andy Borowitz

SILICON VALLEY (The Borowitz Report) - A new social network is about to alter the playing field of the social media world, and it's called PhoneBook.

According to its creators, who invented the network in their dorm room at Berkeley, PhoneBook is the game-changer that will leave Facebook, Twitter and even the much anticipated Google Buzz in a cloud of dust.

"With PhoneBook, you have a book that has a list of all your friends in the city, plus everyone else who lives there," says Danny Fruber, one of PhoneBook's creators.

"When you want to chat with a friend, you look them up in PhoneBook, and find their unique PhoneBook number," Fruber explains. "Then you enter that number into your phone and it connects you directly to them."

Another breakout utility of PhoneBook allows the user to arrange face-to-face meetings with his or her friends at restaurants, bars, and other "places," as Fruber calls them.

P "You will be sitting right across from your friend and seeing them in 3-D," he said. "It's like Skype, only without the headset."

PhoneBook will enable friends to play many games as well, such as charades, cards, and a game Fruber believes will be a breakout: Farm.

"In Farm, you have an actual farm where you raise real crops and livestock," he says. "It's hard work, but it's more fun than Mafia, where you actually get killed."
(c) 2010 Andy Borowitz




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Issues & Alibis Vol 10 # 08 (c) 02/19/2010


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