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In This Edition

Noam Chomsky finds, "It's Not Radical Islam That Worries The US -- It's Independence."

Uri Avnery says Israel is on the, "Wrong Side."

David Sirota uncovers, "State Budget Crises Mean New Language Of Deceit."

Randall Amster concludes, "The Evolution Has Come."

Jim Hightower studies, "The Corporate/GOP Attack On America's Middle Class."

Helen Thomas contemplates, "Union Blows & Budget Woes."

James Donahue zeros in on, "The Men Controlling The World’s Wealth."

Bob Herbert sees Peter King, "Flailing After Muslims."

Chris Floyd with another brilliant song and essay, " Nation Stripped Bare."

Matthew Rothschild announces, "Jesse Jackson Revs Up Madison Crowd."

Paul Krugman considers, "Degrees And Dollars."

Chris Hedges warns, "This Time We’re Taking the Whole Planet With Us."

David Michael Green is up for, "Trading Places."

Florida Governor Rick Scott wins the coveted "Vidkun Quisling Award!"

Ralph Nader catches Cuomo, "Selling Out Injured Baby Rights."

Bill Nemitz tells it like it is in, "Maine Librarian's Pointed Budget Message Hits The Mark."

And finally in the 'Parting Shots' department The Onion reports, "Wealthy Swiss Tourist Offers U.S. Government $87 Billion To Buy Indiana's Populace For Just One Night" but first Uncle Ernie reminds us that, "Republicans Are People Too"

This week we spotlight the cartoons of Mike Lester, with additional cartoons, photos and videos from Derf City, Ruben Bolling, Chris Floyd, Clay Bennett, Ted Rall, Tom Toles, B Dog 23, Raph, Mike Groll, The Portland Press Herald, Nat. Geo., The Onion, You Tube.Com 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."

Republicans Are People, Too!
(Mean, selfish, greedy people!)
By Ernest Stewart

"First they came for the Brown Shirts, and I did not speak out -- Because I was not a Brown Shirt, and besides, they were getting what they deserved!" ~~~ Uncle Ernie (with apologies to Martin Niemöller)

"To overcome extremism, we must also be vigilant in upholding the values our troops defend – because there is no force in the world more powerful than the example of America. That is why I have ordered the closing of the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, and will seek swift and certain justice for captured terrorists – because living our values doesn’t make us weaker, it makes us safer and it makes us stronger." ~~~ President Barack Obama

"Sell crazy someplace else, we're all stocked up here."
As Good As It Gets ~~~ Jack Nicholson

I get by with a little help from my friends,
I get high with a little help from my friends,
Going to try with a little help from my friends.
With a little help from my friends!
A Little Help From My Friends ~~~ The Beatles

As the title and cartoon imply, Republicans are people, too--mean, selfish, greedy people--and while the vast majority of them aren't rich and never will be, they still fall into those categories.

I heard a thousand pundits say that it's because of the siren song of the insanely wealthy that make them Republicans but I don't believe that is true. Sure, the Republicans are better than the Democrats at framing the cause and effect of what's happening; even though at the best, it's a half truth, but more often as not, as M.E. Cowan aptly puts it:

"Lie" isn't an adequate word for what Republicans say. We need a new term; I propose anti-truth, as in, "There are lies, damned lies, and Republican anti-truths." Like matter and anti-matter, Republicans and the truth just can't occupy the same space. What they say goes all the way through and past "untrue" into the realm of turning reality inside out, tying a knot in it and yanking hard.

So as confusing as the Republicans put it and behind their veil of smoke and mirrors, what it boils down to is if you're a Republican and you're not insanely wealthy or even upper middle class, you buy the song and dance because you are basically mean, selfish and greedy. As William Claude Dukenfield so concisely put it, "You Can't Cheat An Honest Man!"

I get this point driven home to me by the various 5th columnists and their followers every time I go to Facebook. You can hear them rant and rave about how bad those evil state unionists are, how they're sucking all the milk out of the state or federal tits, leaving nothing for them. How incredibly evil it is to want to support your family! Truth is, most federal and state employees are making far less than their private counterparts. The truth is the teachers are doing it for the kids in the schools, the nurses are doing for their patients, as the cops and the firemen are doing it to protect us from harm and not for their vastly underpaid salaries. But these camp followers of the fifth columnists want them unemployed, to suffer like they are doing and in some cases they want them all dead! This, in spite of the fact that the union employees have absolutely nothing to do with our current financial predicament. Oh, no, they say; it's not the Koch brothers and their like, nor former business man Walker who gave the rich more unneeded tax breaks which created the deficit to be paid for by the working class; oh, no, it's those damned unionists! As soon as we get rid of the middle class, we are assured, everything will get much better. Of course, the truth is that everything will get a few light years worse!

These Sheeple are just the elite's "Brown Shirts," who are useful for the moment, but only for a little while. When they accomplished what our corpo-rat masters want, they'll certainly end up like Ernst Rohm and company ended up, that is, up against a wall! I'm guessing the fifth columnists and fascist agitators don't mention that part of the equation to the Sheeple, huh? The truth of the matter may sink into them while chained to the wall of a box car on the way to a "Happy Camp"™ but even then, many will try to convince themselves that's it's not really happening. All I can tell them is that, when you get to camp, remember those evil unionists don't want you to take a shower!

In Other News

I see where our glorious Fuhrer, Herr Obamahood, is reopening the Kangaroo court down in Guantanamo. Which is strange, is it not, because I recall Obama saying that:

"We're going to close Guantanamo. And we're going to restore habeas corpus. -We're going to lead by example - by not just word, but by deed. That's our vision for the future." - San Antonio, June 24, 2007

So much for visions, huh? Yes, the Extreme Court in a rare ruling, rare because it actually favored democracy, by a 5-4 decision declared Section 7 of the Military Commissions Act of 2006 unconstitutional. The Court struck down that section of the MCA because it purported to abolish the writ of habeas corpus -- the means by which a detainee challenges his detention in a court -- despite the fact that the Constitution permits suspension of that writ only "in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion." Of course, Obamahood ruled that this doesn't apply to Gitmo because it is in Cuba, even though a US military base, like an embassy, is considered as US soil, no matter where it is, so much for promises!

You may recall that around 95% of all those kidnap victims, including children, that were brought to Gitmo and tortured for years were found to be innocent and released. Released without so much as a "oops, we bad! No financial compensation, nothing but their ruined lives! Sent back to their countries that we've destroyed, to their families that we've destroyed, to try and rebuild their shattered lives. When this country falls there's going to a be a huge sigh of relief and a cheer heard round the world! Other innocent victims pled guilty after being tortured and confessed to crimes that they didn't commit, just to end the torture, and are awaiting sentencing from our Kangaroo court. Many will never be brought to trial as we can't even, with a Kangaroo court, get convictions and will be held until they die and, who knows, for a few years afterward, without trial. Some have been found innocent and aren't released as they might, repeat might, join the struggle against our imperialism after the hell we put them through. I'm pretty sure that if I were treated similarly, I'd join the underground, too, as some have--about 5% of our victims. The vast majority just go home and try to heal, most never will. Your tax dollars at work, Mr. & Mrs. America, and there is no end to it in sight. It makes you proud, doesn't it? I hope not!

And Finally

I've noticed as of late that the tea-baggers, have been sent out by the Koch brother to cause mayhem all over the Internet. Seems everywhere you go, you run into these 5th columnists, leaving hatred and lies in their wake. I've been calling their bluff in my spare time; and because I only tell the truth, it really pisses them off. I know, my bad; I shouldn't play head games with the mentally challenged! But to let their BS stand is to allow it to grow and fester in the body politic. As Edmund Burke once said: "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." As you can imagine I have my hands full as these creatures keep crawling out from under their rocks to spout their lies. I won't bore you with their rants as it might give you brain cramps trying to follow their illogical thesis and outright lies, but here are my replies to one moron that pretty much says it all!

"See folks, here is a perfect example of Fascism 101. First Herr Johnson makes outrageous statements and when called on them, attacks the person, not the rebuttal. He can't attack the truth. An example is, he says that Obama is a socialist! Well, if so then George W was a socialist, too, as Obama has followed and then surpassed all of Dubya's acts of treason, adopting them as his own. The fascists hate Obama, even though he is one of them, because he is black--it's racism, pure and simple. They know that he was born in Hawaii and his mother and stepfather and grandparents were CIA. The reason his birth certificate isn't shown is it would show that he is a bastard, not that he was born in Kenya!

I hate Obama because he is a fascist just like Doc Johnson is. Also, since there is only one party, the Rethuglicrats, members of said fascist group pretend that there is a difference between them; there isn't! Don't believe me? Then here's Gore Vidal's thoughts on the subject, "It makes no difference who you vote for - the two parties are really one party representing four percent of the people." Don't like Gore? Then here's George Wallace's thoughts, "There's not a dime's worth of difference between the Republicans and Democrats."

Brother Johnson here is a 5th columnist traitor for our corpo-rat masters, and nothing more, and as you have no doubt noticed, he's as crazy as a March hare with his constant laughing about his stupidity. Methinks he must've gotten his doctorate from the University of Mars! If he can't defend his thesis against me, how could he against a college board? Oops, my bad, I left out an "e" and an apostrophe; sorry, I majored in Poli-Sci, not English. See, folks, you can't debate a fascist; all they do is lie, and when called on their lies, they can't refute the truth; it's just so typical. From Caesar, to Hitler, to Bush to Obama to Johnson, it all means the same thing, Bull Shit and nothing more! The prosecution rests!"

A little later I wrote:

"Your grasp of reality is very fragile indeed, even for a fascist. Socialism is the people coming together to fix problems, i.e., build roads, build bridges, libraries, schools, etc.--things that are a benefit to all! Capitalism is the rich concerned only with themselves, making laws that benefit only the rich, while screwing everyone else. Capitalism = kings and serfs. Socialism = one for all and all for one.

After the war, the war industry didn't break up, but got bigger and when the military took over, hence DDE warning about the ever-growing Military/Industrial Complex. About the only good thing of that time was that the uber-wealthy, you know, those goons that pull your puppet strings and make you dance, paid a 91% income tax and, guess what, the economy was booming! It was only after said Military/Industrial Complex put its sights on Vietnam that we went broke, had to take the dollar off the gold standard and begin the destruction of what was left of the American middle-class.

Want a booming economy? Then make the rich pay a 91% tax instead of 0%, put a 1000% import tariff on all things that used to be made in America but are now made overseas, and get rid of NAFTA and WTO! Watch thousands of new factories open, watch the people go back to work, watch the economy boom, watch the tax base soar and the deficits tumble! Or, continue on the road we're on and watch America become a third world country! And watch your savings become worthless like in the Weimar Republic!

Oh, and one more thing, my little brown shirt, when it hits the fan in a few months time, guess who they'll come for first, for a ride off to the new "Happy Camps?™" For the answer, go look into the mirror!

Ergo, don't stand idly by when some rat-wing brain-dead starts jacking his jaws, spewing out fascist propaganda. Speak up and state the truth and let him and everyone else know that what he says is bullshit and nothing more!

Keepin' On

Sometimes I think I'll just join the dark side! When was the last time one of their sites went off the Internet for lack of funds? If you said never, you may stay after class and clean the erasers! If I made the switch from telling the truth to just joining in the chorus of Fox Spews and all the others, I'm sure our bank account would swell and I'd never have to worry about fundraising again. The Koch brothers could fund me for ten years on their pocket change alone!

We're coming down to it again, just this and one more edition before the bills come due and I'm forced to shut down the magazine. You may recall that we were forced to do this once before until some money finally came in and we able to start it up again.

This time I don't know? Is there anybody out there that still cares about getting the truth and the facts out? Regardless, I'll still keep writing political pieces whenever I can, but I'll take the spare time to edit "Hollywood Daze," and when I start, I'm going to keep going at it until it's done, and I can send it around to the publishers. Then I'll finish writing several books that I had started when the 12-12-2000 coup d'etat went down. I certainly can't afford to live on the pitiful little Social Security checks that I receive! So if you want another chunk of the liberal press to disappear, do nothing and it will. If you're not ready to get on board that boxcar for the ride to the camps and want to stand and fight, then send whatever you can. I promise it will be put to good use, and we can fight these bastards together!


08-18-1939 ~ 03-04-2011
Tell little White Dove I said hi!

04-04-1966 ~ 03-08-2011
Rock on brother!

09-11-1929 ~ 03-09-2011
Burn Baby Burn


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


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

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

It's Not Radical Islam That Worries The US -- It's Independence
By Noam Chomsky

"The Arab world is on fire," al-Jazeera reported last week, while throughout the region, western allies "are quickly losing their influence." The shock wave was set in motion by the dramatic uprising in Tunisia that drove out a western-backed dictator, with reverberations especially in Egypt, where demonstrators overwhelmed a dictator's brutal police.

Observers compared it to the toppling of Russian domains in 1989, but there are important differences. Crucially, no Mikhail Gorbachev exists among the great powers that support the Arab dictators. Rather, Washington and its allies keep to the well-established principle that democracy is acceptable only insofar as it conforms to strategic and economic objectives: fine in enemy territory (up to a point), but not in our backyard, please, unless properly tamed.

One 1989 comparison has some validity: Romania, where Washington maintained its support for Nicolae Ceausescu, the most vicious of the east European dictators, until the allegiance became untenable. Then Washington hailed his overthrow while the past was erased. That is a standard pattern: Ferdinand Marcos, Jean-Claude Duvalier, Chun Doo-hwan, Suharto and many other useful gangsters. It may be under way in the case of Hosni Mubarak, along with routine efforts to try to ensure a successor regime will not veer far from the approved path. The current hope appears to be Mubarak loyalist General Omar Suleiman, just named Egypt's vice-president. Suleiman, the longtime head of the intelligence services, is despised by the rebelling public almost as much as the dictator himself.

A common refrain among pundits is that fear of radical Islam requires (reluctant) opposition to democracy on pragmatic grounds. While not without some merit, the formulation is misleading. The general threat has always been independence. The US and its allies have regularly supported radical Islamists, sometimes to prevent the threat of secular nationalism.

A familiar example is Saudi Arabia, the ideological centre of radical Islam (and of Islamic terror). Another in a long list is Zia ul-Haq, the most brutal of Pakistan's dictators and President Reagan's favorite, who carried out a programme of radical Islamisation (with Saudi funding).

"The traditional argument put forward in and out of the Arab world is that there is nothing wrong, everything is under control," says Marwan Muasher, a former Jordanian official and now director of Middle East research for the Carnegie Endowment. "With this line of thinking, entrenched forces argue that opponents and outsiders calling for reform are exaggerating the conditions on the ground."

Therefore the public can be dismissed. The doctrine traces far back and generalises worldwide, to US home territory as well. In the event of unrest, tactical shifts may be necessary, but always with an eye to reasserting control.

The vibrant democracy movement in Tunisia was directed against "a police state, with little freedom of expression or association, and serious human rights problems," ruled by a dictator whose family was hated for their venality. So said US ambassador Robert Godec in a July 2009 cable released by WikiLeaks.

Therefore to some observers the WikiLeaks "documents should create a comforting feeling among the American public that officials aren't asleep at the switch" -- indeed, that the cables are so supportive of US policies that it is almost as if Obama is leaking them himself (or so Jacob Heilbrunn writes in The National Interest.)

"America should give Assange a medal," says a headline in the Financial Times, where Gideon Rachman writes: "America's foreign policy comes across as principled, intelligent and pragmatic … the public position taken by the US on any given issue is usually the private position as well."

In this view, WikiLeaks undermines "conspiracy theorists" who question the noble motives Washington proclaims.

Godec's cable supports these judgments -- at least if we look no further. If we do,, as foreign policy analyst Stephen Zunes reports in Foreign Policy in Focus, we find that, with Godec's information in hand, Washington provided $12m in military aid to Tunisia. As it happens, Tunisia was one of only five foreign beneficiaries: Israel (routinely); the two Middle East dictatorships Egypt and Jordan; and Colombia, which has long had the worst human-rights record and the most US military aid in the hemisphere.

Heilbrunn's exhibit A is Arab support for US policies targeting Iran, revealed by leaked cables. Rachman too seizes on this example, as did the media generally, hailing these encouraging revelations. The reactions illustrate how profound is the contempt for democracy in the educated culture.

Unmentioned is what the population thinks -- easily discovered. According to polls released by the Brookings Institution in August, some Arabs agree with Washington and western commentators that Iran is a threat: 10%. In contrast, they regard the US and Israel as the major threats (77%; 88%).

Arab opinion is so hostile to Washington's policies that a majority (57%) think regional security would be enhanced if Iran had nuclear weapons. Still, "there is nothing wrong, everything is under control" (as Muasher describes the prevailing fantasy). The dictators support us. Their subjects can be ignored -- unless they break their chains, and then policy must be adjusted.

Other leaks also appear to lend support to the enthusiastic judgments about Washington's nobility. In July 2009, Hugo Llorens, U.S. ambassador to Honduras, informed Washington of an embassy investigation of "legal and constitutional issues surrounding the 28 June forced removal of President Manuel 'Mel' Zelaya."

The embassy concluded that "there is no doubt that the military, supreme court and national congress conspired on 28 June in what constituted an illegal and unconstitutional coup against the executive branch." Very admirable, except that President Obama proceeded to break with almost all of Latin America and Europe by supporting the coup regime and dismissing subsequent atrocities.

Perhaps the most remarkable WikiLeaks revelations have to do with Pakistan, reviewed by foreign policy analyst Fred Branfman in Truthdig.

The cables reveal that the US embassy is well aware that Washington's war in Afghanistan and Pakistan not only intensifies rampant anti-Americanism but also "risks destabilising the Pakistani state" and even raises a threat of the ultimate nightmare: that nuclear weapons might fall into the hands of Islamic terrorists.

Again, the revelations "should create a comforting feeling … that officials are not asleep at the switch" (Heilbrunn's words) -- while Washington marches stalwartly toward disaster.
(c) 2011 Noam Chomsky is emeritus professor of linguistics and philosophy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and is co-author, with Gilbert Achcar, of Perilous Power: The Middle East & U.S. Foreign Policy: Dialogues on Terror, Democracy, War, and Justice. His most recent book is Gaza In Crisis.

Wrong Side
By Uri Avnery

OF ALL the memorable phrases uttered by Barack Obama in the last two years, the one that stuck in my mind more than any other appeared in his historic speech in Cairo in the early days of his term. He warned the nations not to place themselves “on the wrong side of history.”

It seems that the Arab nations took heed of this advice more than he might have anticipated. In the last few weeks they jumped from the wrong to the right side of history. And what a jump it was!

Our government, however, is moving in the opposite direction. It is determined, so it seems, to get as far away from the right side as possible.

We are in a cul-de-sac. And it lies in the nature of culs-de-sac that the deeper in you get, the further you have to go back when the time comes.

THIS WEEK, a fascinating telephone conversation took place. On the one end was Binyamin Netanyahu, on the other the German Chancellor.

In time gone by, the world’s leaders did not generally talk to each other directly. Bismarck did not pick up the phone to talk with Napoleon III. He sent seasoned diplomats, who knew how to smooth the edges and deliver an ultimatum in a soft voice.

Netanyahu called to rebuke Angela Merkel for Germany’s vote in favor of the Security Council resolution condemning the settlements – the resolution blocked by the scandalous US veto. I don’t know if our Prime Minister mentioned the Holocaust, but he certainly expressed his annoyance about Germany daring to vote against the “Jewish State.”

He was shocked by the answer. Instead of a contrite Frau Merkel apologizing abjectly, his ear was filled by a schoolmistress scolding him in no uncertain terms. She told him that he had broken all his promises, that no one of the world’s leaders believes a single word of his any more. She demanded that he make peace with the Palestinians.

If a person like Netanyahu could be rendered “speechless”, it would have happened at that moment. Fortunately for Netanyahu, it just cannot happen to him.

THIS CONVERSATION is a symptom of an ongoing process – the slow but steady deterioration in Israel’s international standing.

In Israel, this is called “delegitimatsia”. It is conceived as a sinister world-wide conspiracy, rather on the lines of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Clearly, it has no connection with anything we do – since all our deeds are pure as gold. The obvious conclusion: the enemies of Israel all over the world – including their fifth column in Israel itself – are plotting the destruction of Israel by all kinds of boycotts.

Our leaders know how to obstruct this plot – by enacting laws. Anyone who supplies the enemies of Israel with lists of enterprises located in the settlements will be punished. Anyone who calls for a boycott of Israel or of the settlements – in the eyes of the lawmakers, they are one and the same – will have to pay astronomical fines and indemnities, millions of dollars. And if all this doesn’t help, the enemies of the regime will be sent to prison, as has happened already to the serial peace demonstrator Jonathan Pollak.

But it appears that our leaders do not rely on these measures alone. Therefore, our deputy Foreign Minister, Danny Ayalon (remember? the genius who sought to humiliate the Turkish ambassador by sitting him on a low stool?) decided to reach for even more radical remedies: all Israeli ambassadors will now be sent to the Machpela Cave in Hebron for a historic meeting with our forefather Abraham, who, according to Jewish belief, is buried there (archeologists think that it is a Muslim Sheikh who lies there in troubled rest.)

Seriously, our leaders now look like the boy in the legend who thrust his finger in the dyke to stop the water, though in our case the whole of the dyke is crumbling.

YES, ISRAEL’S standing in the world is indeed sinking continuously, but not because of a world-wide plot uniting “anti-Semites” and “Self-hating Jews.”

We are sinking, because we are on the wrong side of history.

Israel has maintained for decades a regime of occupation. It continues to control and humiliate another people. Ideologically and practically, it lives in the mental world of the 19th century, while the rest of the world is starting to live in the 21st. Israeli policy is simply anachronistic.

The 21st century will see the sight of nations coming together. It will see the beginning of a world order, and I have no doubt that this idea will be realized.

This is not a vision of starry-eyed idealists. It is an essential necessity for the human race and all its peoples and nations. The world is faced with problems that no single state or group of states can solve by itself. Global warming, which is threatening the very existence of the human species, is by its very nature a world problem. The recent economic crisis has shown that the collapse of one country’s economy can spread like wildfire to the entire world. The Internet has established a world-wide community, in which ideas spread easily from country to country, as we can see now in the Arab world.

International institutions, which once aroused only derision, are slowly acquiring real jurisdiction. The International Court has grown teeth. International law, which in the past was mainly an abstract idea, is slowly evolving into a real world law. Important and strong countries like Germany and France are voluntarily giving up large chunks of their sovereignty in favor of the European Union. Regional and world-wide cooperation between nations is becoming a political necessity.

Concepts like democracy, liberty, justice and human rights are not only moral values – in today’s world they have become essential needs, a basis for a new world order.

All these processes are advancing at a maddeningly slow, almost geological pace. But the direction is unmistakable and cannot be reversed. Whatever Barack Obama’s deeds – or lack of them – his intuition about the direction can be trusted.

That is the “right side of history.” But our country is closing its eyes to this. True, it excels in the most international of industries, high tech, and is working successfully to extend its economic ties to the far corners of the world. But it scorns international public opinion, the United Nations and international law. It sticks to a form of nationalism that was “modern” at the time of the French revolution, when the “nation-state” was the highest ideal. Of course, nationalism has not died, and it occupies even now an important place in the consciousness of the peoples. But this is a completely new form of nationalism, the nationalism of the 21st century, which does not stand in contradiction to internationalism but, on the contrary, constitutes a brick in the edifice of the international structure.

THE ARAB nations have suddenly awoken from a centuries-long slumber, and are now fighting to catch up with the other nations. The anachronistic tyrannies that kept them down, wasted their capabilities and imposed on them patterns of bygone ages, are no more.

It is difficult to know where these uprisings, which are engulfing the region from Morocco to Oman and from Syria to Yemen, will go. It is hard to prophesy, especially the future.

2011 may be for the Arab world what 1848 was for Europe. Then, when the French people stood up, the waves of revolution spread over much of the face of the continent. It seems that I am not the only one who is now reminded of this example. Much can be learned from it, and not all of it positive. In France, the uprising swept away a corrupt regime, but paved the way for the rise of Napoleon III, the first of Europe’s modern dictators. In Germany, then fragmented into dozens of kingdoms and principalities, the rulers were frightened and so promised democratic reforms. But while the debates of the lawyers and politicians in Frankfurt about the future constitution went on and on, the kings gathered their armies, crushed the democrats and started another era of oppression. (The failure of the Frankfurt assembly found its expression in the immortal German verse: “Dreimal hundert Professoren / Vaterland, du bist verloren!” – three times a hundred professors / Motherland you are lost.)

The revolutions of 1848 left behind a legacy of disappointment and despair. But they were not in vain. The noble ideas born in those heady months did not die, future generations strove to realize them in all the countries of the continent. The current flag of Germany was born in those days.

The Arab revolutions, too, may end in failure and disappointment. They may give birth to new dictatorships. Here and there anachronistic religious regimes may spring up. Each Arab country is different from the others, and in each the developments will be subject to local conditions. But what happened yesterday in Tunisia and Egypt, what is happening today in Libya and Yemen, what happens tomorrow in Saudi Arabia and Syria will shape the face of the Arab nations for a long time to come. They will play an entirely new role on the world stage.

ISRAEL IS dominated by the settlers, who resemble in spirit the Crusaders of the 12th century. Fundamentalist religious parties, not much different from their Iranian counterparts, play a major role in our state. The political and economic elite is steeped in corruption. Our democracy, in which we took so much pride, is in mortal danger.

Some people argue that all this is happening because “Netanyahu has no policy”. Nonsense. He has a clear policy: to maintain Israel as a garrison state, to enlarge the settlements, to prevent the foundation of a real Palestinian state, and to go on without peace, in a state of eternal conflict.

Just now it was been leaked that Netanyahu is going to give a historic speech - another one – very soon. Not in the Knesset, whose importance is approaching nil, but in the really important forum: AIPAC, the Jewish lobby in Washington.

There he will unfold his Peace Plan, whose details have also been leaked. A wonderful plan, with only one minor defect: it has nothing to do with peace.

It proposes setting up a Palestinian state with “provisional borders”. (With us, nothing is more permanent than the “provisional”). It will consist of about half the West Bank. (The other half, including East Jerusalem, will presumably be covered with settlements.) There will be a timetable for the discussion of the core issues – borders, Jerusalem, refugees etc. (In Oslo, a timetable of five years was fixed. It expired in 1999, by which time negotiation had not even started.) Negotiations will not start at all until the Palestinians recognize Israel as the State of the Jewish People and accept its “security requirements”. (Meaning: never.)

If the Palestinians accept such a plan, they need (in the words of the US Secretary of Defense in another context) “to have their heads examined.” But of course Netanyahu is not addressing the Palestinians at all. His plan is a primitive attempt at marketing. (After all, in the past he was a marketing agent for furniture). The aim is to stop the international campaign of “delegitimatsia”.

Ehud Barak, too, had something to say this week. In a long TV interview, almost entirely consisting of political gibberish, he made one important remark: the Arab uprisings provide Israel with new opportunities. What opportunities? You guessed it: to get increased quantities of American arms. Arms and America über alles.

And indeed, the one factor that makes this policy still possible is the unequalled relationship between Israel and the US. But the Arab Awakening will, in the medium and long term, change the Israeli-Arab balance of power – psychologically, politically, economically, and in the end also militarily. At the same time, the world balance of power is also changing. New powers are rising, old powers are gradually losing their clout. This will not be a one-time, dramatic occurrence, but a slow and steady process.

That is how history is moving. Anyone who places himself on the wrong side of it will pay the price.
(c) 2011 Uri Avnery ~~~ Gush Shalom

State Budget Crises Mean New Language Of Deceit
By David Sirota

For most of history, we had undebatable definitions of words such as "bailout" and "bankruptcy." We understood the former as an undeserved public grant, and the latter as an inability to pay existing bills. Whatever your particular beliefs about these concepts, their meanings were at least agreed upon.

Sadly, that's not the case during a deficit crisis that is seeing language redefined on ideological terms.

"Bailout" was the first word thrown into the Orwellian fire. As some lawmakers recently proposed replenishing depleted state coffers with federal dollars, the American Conservative Union urged Congress to oppose states "seek(ing) a bailout" from the feds. Now, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., says, "Should taxpayers in Indiana who have paid their bills on time, who have done their job fiscally be bailing out Californians who haven't? No."

Ryan, mind you, voted for 2008's TARP program -- a bank bailout in the purest sense of the term. But one lawmaker's rank hypocrisy is less significant than how the word "bailout" is being used -- and abused. Suddenly, the term suggests that federal aid would force taxpayers in allegedly "fiscally responsible" Republican states to underwrite taxpayers in supposedly irresponsible Democratic ones.

Aside from stoking a detestable interstate enmity, this thesis ignores the fact that state-to-state wealth transfers are already happening. According to the Tax Foundation, most Republican-voting states receive more in federal funding than they pay in federal taxes, while most Democratic-voting states receive less federal money than they pay in federal taxes. That means traditionally blue states like California are now perpetually subsidizing -- or in Ryan's parlance, "bailing out" -- traditionally red states like Indiana. Thus, federal aid to states could actually reduce the state-to-state subsidies conservatives say they oppose.

Congressional Republicans will undoubtedly ignore these facts. Their proposed solution to the budget emergency could instead be a Newt Gingrich-backed initiative letting states default on outstanding obligations by declaring bankruptcy. Again, the word is fraught with new connotations.

Whereas sick or laid-off individuals occasionally claim a genuine inability to repay debts and thus a need for bankruptcy protections, states can never legitimately claim such a need because they are never actually "bankrupt." Why? Because they always posses the power to raise revenue. The power is called taxation -- and destroying that authority is what the new bankruptcy idea is really about. It would let states avoid tax increases on the wealthy, renege on contractual promises to public employees and destroy the country's creditworthiness.

Blocking state "bailouts" and letting states declare "bankruptcy" are radical notions, especially in a bad economy. One would result in recession-exacerbating public layoffs; the other would institutionalize an anti-tax zealotry that destroys tomorrow's middle class in order to protect today's rich. That's why advocates of these ideas have resorted to manipulating language. They know the only way to make such extremism a reality is to distort the vernacular -- and if we aren't cognizant of their scheme, they will succeed.
(c) 2010 David Sirota is the author of the best-selling books "Hostile Takeover" and "The Uprising." He hosts the morning show on AM760 in Colorado and blogs at E-mail him at David Sirota is a former spokesperson for the House Appropriations Committee.

The Evolution Has Come
Time to Put Down the Gun
By Randall Amster

The top of the news queue a few weeks ago almost went unnoticed in its ordinariness: “Gunman shoots 4 officers inside Detroit precinct” and “Walmart shooting leaves 2 dead, 2 deputies hurt.” It was merely just another day in America, where the “right to bear arms” is bolstered by the tortuous logic that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” We’re still awaiting word of any sightings of a “well-regulated militia” being in the mix, but thus far the exercise appears to be mostly personal — and in fact, the Supreme Court in 2008 explicitly affirmed that the Second Amendment applies to individuals.

Let’s face it: America is obsessed with firearms, both domestically and in our exports and foreign policy directives alike. Guns are available on a legal or illegal basis nearly on a par with drugs in our society, which means pretty much everyone has access to them on demand. And some of the statistics are sobering, according to a 2007 Reuters article describing the U.S. as the “most armed country”:

The United States has 90 guns for every 100 citizens, making it the most heavily armed society in the world, a report released on Tuesday said. U.S. citizens own 270 million of the world’s 875 million known firearms, according to the Small Arms Survey 2007 by the Geneva-based Graduate Institute of International Studies. About 4.5 million of the 8 million new guns manufactured worldwide each year are purchased in the United States, it said…. The report, which relied on government data, surveys and media reports to estimate the size of world arsenals, estimated there were 650 million civilian firearms worldwide, and 225 million held by law enforcement and military forces…. Only about 12 percent of civilian weapons are thought to be registered with authorities.

Data compiled from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other government sources indicate some startling rates of fatalities due specifically to firearms, which ranks second only to automobiles as the leading cause of “accidental” death in the U.S. annually. For every 100,000 people (the size of a small city), approximately 10 are killed by guns (circa 2007), which totals to about 30,000 gun-related fatalities nationwide per year. By comparison, motor vehicle death rates run approximately 14 per 100,000, amounting to about 43,000 fatalities each year. While incidents of dramatic gun violence have taken center stage in recent years, with episodes including the Virginia Tech massacre and the Tucson shooting that critically wounded Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and claimed the life of a Federal Judge, such data have been similarly revealing of a nation steeped in firearm-related fatalities for at least the past three decades. A 1998 Associated Press article assessed the relative rates internationally and yielded similar conclusions to those present today:

The United States has by far the highest rate of gun deaths — murders, suicides and accidents — among the world’s 36 richest nations, a government study found. The U.S. rate for gun deaths in 1994 was 14.24 per 100,000 people. Japan had the lowest rate, at .05 per 100,000…. The CDC would not speculate why the death rates varied, but other researchers said easy access to guns and society’s acceptance of violence are part of the problem in the United States. ‘If you have a country saturated with guns — available to people when they are intoxicated, angry or depressed — it’s not unusual guns will be used more often,’ said Rebecca Peters, a Johns Hopkins University fellow specializing in gun violence. ‘This has to be treated as a public health emergency.’

A 2000 report detailing the work of researchers at Harvard University likewise confirms the basic data and offers nascent conclusions about the pervasive nature of gun-related violence:

Recent accounts of young school students shooting each other has sent a shiver through the nation; journalists call the killings an ‘epidemic’ and legislators have begun debates on new gun control laws. As tragic as these homicides are, however, they represent only the tip of an iceberg of gun deaths in the United States. Every year, more than 30,000 people are shot to death in murders, suicides, and accidents. Another 65,000 suffer from gun injuries. ‘The total number of school shootings each year is typically far less than one day’s toll attributable to firearms in the United States,’ notes David Hemenway, director of the Harvard Injury Research and Control Center. ‘Defective Firestone tires may have killed 103 people over a number of years, but firearms kill about 85 people every day in this country.’

Even anecdotally, there seems to be a growing awareness of the spectacular incidence of gun violence in the United States. Historically, various revolutionary movements have woven their ideologies around the possession (and sometimes use) of firearms, including the Black Panthers (“The revolution has come / Time to pick up the gun”) as an iconic (yet misunderstood) example. Today, however, the association of guns with revolution or insurrection is more likely than not the province of movements populating the political right. The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence has compiled a timeline of politically-oriented episodes of gun violence since June 2008, citing a litany of disturbing exemplars and noting in particular the existence of an April 2009 report from the Department of Homeland Security observing that “the economic downturn and the election of the first African American president present unique drivers for rightwing radicalization and recruitment.” Similarly, the website Crooks and Liars further provides an interactive map of rightwing violence directed at “liberal and government” targets since July 2008.

A chilling YouTube video titled “Guns Kill” unites a voice-over by Rachel Maddow detailing recent episodes of spectacular gun violence with the Cheryl Wheeler song “If It Were Up to Me” — which was written after the Jonesboro, Arkansas, schoolyard shootings, and concludes its speculation about the myriad sources of violence in the U.S. (from mass media to fast food) with this simple directive: “Maybe it’s the end, but I know one thing. If it were up to me, I’d take away the guns.” Taking up this injunction, Australia severely tightened its gun laws after a horrifying 1996 incident in which 35 people were killed; then newly-elected Prime Minister John Howard helped usher in new laws that were among the world’s strictest. “I hate guns,” he said at the time, according to Time Magazine. “One of the things I don’t admire about America is their slavish love of guns…. We do not want the American disease imported into Australia.” The article went on to contend that the new laws had actually “made no difference to the country’s gun-related death rates,” even as it noted that “there were 11 [mass shootings] in Australia in the decade before 1996, and there have been none since.”

By this point, it seems eminently clear that we are not going to see such strict gun control laws here in the U.S., and furthermore that the lines of the cultural debate on the issue are fairly well-settled without a great deal of movement on either side. For many, the right to bear arms is synonymous with freedom and independence — including the capacity to resist the ministrations of our own government, as summarized in the slogan, “With guns, we are citizens; without them, we are subjects.” Proponents will point to the purported attempts at gun control by the Nazis and other tyrannical regimes as part of the argument for maintaining an armed citizenry, indicative of a line of reasoning arguing that “the one country that created a truly gun-free society created a society of harsh class oppression, in which the strongmen of the upper class could kill the lower classes with impunity. When a racist, militarist, imperialist government took power, there was no effective means of resistance. The gun-free world of Japan turned into just the opposite of the gentle, egalitarian utopia of John Lennon’s song ‘Imagine.’”

I’m not so naïve as to think that a single article will significantly impact any of this, nor that we’re likely to have an open and thoughtful dialogue in this country on the issue of guns any time soon. I also understand completely that many people across the political spectrum maintain a strong fascination with firearms as tools of self-sufficiency, protection, toughness, and even at times a revolutionary posture. While I do not share this view, it is apparently a deeply-held one by a not-insignificant portion of the populace. The 2001 article quoted above (regarding Japan’s strict gun laws) summarizes this view in clear terms: “To imagine a world with no guns is to imagine a world in which the strong rule the weak, in which women are dominated by men, and in which minorities are easily abused or mass-murdered by majorities. Practically speaking, a firearm is the only weapon that allows a weaker person to defend himself from a larger, stronger group of attackers, and to do so at a distance.”

Putting aside the veracity of this argument for the moment — to wit, guns have not eliminated violence against women, people of color, and other marginalized groups — we might suspend our disbelief for a moment and wonder what a “world without guns” might look like. Interestingly, the same article concludes with precisely this speculation, even as it still argues for an unfettered right to own guns: “Instead of imagining a world without a particular technology, what about imagining a world in which the human heart grows gentler, and people treat each other decently?” Indeed, banning weapons won’t in itself solve the underlying problem of human aggression — and with the sheer volume of armaments already in our midst, it seems that we are going to have to find a way to live with our capacity to kill. Prohibition is a flawed strategy, and thus we might consider self-control as an alternative to gun control.

Luckily, cutting-edge research has begun to uncover some of the evolutionary processes that contribute to human behavior, including the notion of “mirror neurons” that have been observed to “fire even when you watch someone else execute the same action.” In other words, when we are exposed to behaviors, we tend to experience them empathetically and, perhaps most tellingly, neurologically as well. In this sense, the pervasive nature of gun violence in our midst imprints itself in our minds and bodies in a visceral manner. If true, the opposite is also possible — namely that when we witness peaceful interactions, our bodies and minds will assimilate and replicate these experiences as well. At this juncture, I believe that it would be to our collective advantage to begin associating the concept of something “firing” less with guns and artillery, and more so with the neurons we have evolved precisely for developing empathetic reactions and fostering peaceful outcomes in our shared lives. Fire away…
(c) 2011 Randall Amster J.D., Ph.D., teaches peace studies at Prescott College and serves as the executive director of the Peace & Justice Studies Association. His most recent book is the co-edited volume "Building Cultures of Peace: Transdisciplinary Voices of Hope and Action" (Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2009).

The Corporate/GOP Attack On America's Middle Class

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker's autocratic attempt to abrogate the democratic right of public employees to bargain with their governmental bosses is not wearing well with the public. Recent polls show that a mere one-third of Wisconsinites favor his blatantly-political power play, and that if he had told voters in the last year's election that he intended to do this, he would've lost. After only one month in office, Walker's approval rating has plummeted, and he's become a national poster boy for right-wing anti-union extremism – indeed, he's so out of step that he's even being jeered by democracy fighters in Egypt!

Yet, Walker is but one of a flock of far-right, corporate-crested Republican governors and congress critters who're waging an all-out class war on unionized workers. It's a shameful effort to bust the wage structure and legal protections that support America's already-endangered middle class.

In Washington, for example, loopy GOP leaders are out to abolish the legal mechanism through which workers can form a union and have their bargaining rights protected. Meanwhile, war-whooping Republican governors in Ohio, New Jersey, Indiana, and elsewhere are slashing the health care and pension benefits owed to public employees, blaming these middle-class workers for their states' fiscal messes. But state budgets have been depleted by the economic crash caused by Wall Street greed and massive tax giveaways to wealthy elites – not by a firefighter's pension or a teacher's health plan.

And check out Nevada, where the Chamber of Commerce is even pushing to eliminate the minimum wage. This corporate-funded Republican assault is not about fiscal responsibility. The corporate powers intend nothing less than to dismantle the entire framework of America's economic democracy and return us to the dark days of Robber Baron plutocracy. To the barricades, people!
(c) 2011 Jim Hightower's latest book, "If The Gods Had Meant Us To Vote They Would Have Given Us Candidates," is available in a fully revised and updated paperback edition.

Union Blows & Budget Woes
By Helen Thomas

"Which Side Are You On?" was the song during the painful 1930s when the working class decided they needed decent wages and hours during a work day.

Under the leadership of United Mine Workers President John L. Lewis and United Auto Workers President Walter Reuther, the labor movement made great strides. It was not easy. The strikers were brutally opposed by the entrenched companies, who fought the unioners engaged in sit-down strikes. Thugs were hired to beat down the workers' legitimate rights.

After the battles, a union card was a legitimate mark of respect. But, many corporate leaders were unreconciled.

The U.S. enjoyed many years of labor peace, with some upsets during World War II. Then came future president Ronald Reagan, six times elected president of Hollywood's Screen Actors Guild, a union man who turned conservative and anti-union when he began broadcasting for General Electric. Reagan became firmly against unions, despite the fact his father, a Democrat from Dixon, Illinois, handed out Works Progress Administration checks during the Great Depression.

Ironically, the air controllers were the first union to back Reagan's first bid for the presidency, and he showed his gratitude to unions by going after the air controllers when they went out on strike in defiance of government restrictions.

I was in the Oval Office a few minutes before Reagan walked out to the Rose Garden to fire 13,000 striking air controllers. He had a big smile on his face.

Many of those workers lost their jobs permanently, and some tragically committed suicide after being unable to support their families.

Now we come to 2011, with Republicans dominating the House and many GOP governors determined to cut the deficit on the backs of the poor and the deprived.

That's the way they have interpreted the mid-term elections - as a mandate to break the unions.

Leading the charge is Scott Walker, a Republican businessman elected governor of Wisconsin. He is one of several GOP governors apparently out to destroy organized labor. Walker is determined to deny public sector workers their collective bargaining rights. He is doing so under the guise of reducing the Wisconsin state budget.

A New York Times/CBS News poll last Tuesday showed a majority of Americans say they oppose efforts to weaken the collective bargaining rights of public employee unions. The poll showed they are also against cutting the pay and benefits of public workers to reduce the budget deficit.

Nearly every state has big budget problems and is deeply in the red. But none are suggesting that taxes for the rich - who can pay more taxes - be increased. And why not? When thousands of Americans are being asked to lay down their lives for the country, what makes the Republicans refuse to reach down in their pockets to keep the government going?

The Republicans also want to cut funding for National Public Radio and the Public Broadcast System (PBS), denying the nations' pre-schoolers popular programming such as Sesame Street, among other things.

They also are considering barring federal funds for Planned Parenthood, which provides breast and cervical cancer screenings, birth control, testing for HIV and advice on family planning.

Despite the major concessions the unions made to help meet the state deficit, Walker made no bones about his goal - to destroy the public unions.

One wonders, are there any poor Republicans? Obviously not, but compassion is not their strong suit. The bankrollers for Walker and the GOP, who drive to wipe out collective bargaining rights, are the Koch brothers, Charles and David, multi-billionaire owners of a private energy conglomerate based in Wichita, Kansas.

The military industrial complex is prevailing in this country, while millions of Americans are suffering from the great recession. The U.S. is spending billions every month. What planet are our leaders living on? The working and middle class is being eliminated. Like Wisconsin, Ohio and Indiana are taking the same anti-labor route. Missouri, of all places, is weakening its child labor laws to allow 14 year olds in the workplace. Maybe the American workers will get as angry as they are in the Middle East. After a span of many years, once more labor has to identify its rights.
(c) 2011 Helen Thomas is a columnist for the Falls Church News-Press. Among other books she is the author of Front Row At The White House: My Life and Times.

The Men Controlling The World’s Wealth
By James Donahue

There has been a lot of chatter among columnists and talking television heads about the sad state of the world’s financial system, the collapse of the real estate market, the failure of banks to lend money needed to get the wheels of commerce turning, and the strange decisions by big corporate boards to award their chief executive officers with multi-million dollar bonuses at a time when an estimated quarter of the nation’s citizens are out of work.

We also notice the annual Forbes’s Magazine list of the world’s wealthiest billionaires and glare with amazement that so much money rests in the hands of so few people. And our heads spin when we hear of national deficits climbing into the trillions of dollars and we cannot understand how our legislators in Washington could have let such an imbalance happen.

It does not take a financial genius to see that twisted bookkeeping has been going on and that the wealth of the world is now being controlled by power figures at the top of the human food chain. But the people pulling the strings do not appear to be the likes of such well-known billionaires as Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and Mexico’s Carlos Helu. The real power figures are names and faces that we rarely see or hear of. They include names like Rothschild, Rockefeller, Kuhn, Loeb, Mossesschieff, Warburg, and Lazard . . . banking families that secretly control the wealth of the world from behind the curtain. The media talks about American banks that have grown “too big to fail” with names like Citibank, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, and Morgan Stanley, many of them receiving “bailout” money from the federal treasury after the housing bubble collapsed because of reckless lending practices. We heard of the Goldman Sachs Group, yet another powerful financial institution operating on a global scale as an investment banking and securities firm.

We also heard of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, the names of the two largest mortgage finance lenders in the nation. It seems that these two organizations, although privately owned, were protected by the federal government and consequently were covered after so many bad mortgages were sold through these offices and ended up split into parcels and sold to investors all over the world. The practice has confounded the courts now that banks are attempting to foreclose on default mortgages because nobody knows who really owns many of the questionable mortgages.

The banks of America operate under the Federal Reserve Banking system. If you look at a dollar bill it reads “Federal Reserve Note” across the top. That means it is a note and not legal tender. The U. S. Constitution requires that all real money be minted in gold or silver coins, and that paper money must be backed up by its printed value in either gold or silver stored somewhere under government control. This is why gold was once stored in guarded vaults in places like Fort Knox, Kentucky. Today, however, there is no longer enough gold or silver in those vaults to back up the kind of money we are recklessly spending and after years of runaway inflation. Inflation has been caused by the Federal Reserve’s practice of printing more and more notes and give the market the appearance of more money in circulation. What is happening is that the dollar is losing its value not only in the United States, but in world markets.

There also exist a World Bank and an International Monetary Fund, both of which appear to have some control over all world banking systems. And there is yet another institution that most people have never heard of. It is called the Bank for International Settlements (BIS). The BIS is believed to be the most powerful financial institution in the world. It is headquartered in Basel, Switzerland. It does no direct business with individuals, governments or even corporate entities. It deals only with 55 member nations’ central banks, most of them privately owned and controlling most of the financial value in the world.

So what in the world is going on?

The banking system is a confusing and complex operation that most Americans do not understand. And big money interests have carefully designed it this way so that few people understand the big money shell game that has been occurring right before their eyes. In this way the world’s wealth is being carefully controlled by the people behind the curtain.

What appears to be happening today is that a decision has been made to stop the circulation of money. This is bringing the capitalistic system that the United States has known and enjoyed to its knees. Money that is not circulating has no value. When people cannot purchase the farmers and the manufacturers have no market for their goods. Commerce grinds to a halt.

This appears to be occurring by design. The financial crisis occurring throughout the world has not been entirely the fault of key bankers erroneously making bad real estate investments. We must ask if it is not part of a plan to destroy the financial market system as we know it.

Where is all of this leading? It should be clear that with the help of world trade agreements that there is a shifting of industry to areas where goods and services can be provided by cheap and non-union labor. For the masses this is human slavery in disguise. We have been sliding seductively back to the middle ages. Without realizing it, we have allowed ourselves to become surfs devoting our lives for the pleasure of the kings that once again control the wealth and power.
(c) 2011 James L. Donahue is a retired newspaper reporter, editor and columnist with more than 40 years of experience in professional writing. He is the published author of five books, all dealing with Michigan history, and several magazine articles. He currently produces daily articles for this web site.

US Representative Peter King N/NY

Flailing After Muslims
By Bob Herbert

It has often been the case in America that specific religions, races and ethnic groups have been singled out for discrimination, demonization, incarceration and worse. But there have always been people willing to stand up boldly and courageously against such injustice. Their efforts are needed again now.

Representative Peter King, a Republican from Long Island, appears to harbor a fierce unhappiness with the Muslim community in the United States. As the chairman of the powerful Homeland Security Committee, Congressman King has all the clout he needs to act on his displeasure. On Thursday, he plans to open the first of a series of committee hearings into the threat of homegrown Islamic terrorism and the bogus allegation that American Muslims have failed to cooperate with law enforcement efforts to foil terrorist plots.

“There is a real threat to the country from the Muslim community,” he said, “and the only way to get to the bottom of it is to investigate what is happening.”

That kind of sweeping statement from a major government official about a religious minority — soon to be backed up by the intimidating aura of Congressional hearings — can only serve to further demonize a group of Americans already being pummeled by bigotry and vicious stereotyping.

Rabbi Marc Schneier, the president of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, was among some 500 people at a rally in Times Square on Sunday that was called to protest Mr. King’s hearings. “To single out Muslim-Americans as the source of homegrown terrorism,” he said, “and not examine all forms of violence motivated by extremist belief — that, my friends, is an injustice.”

To focus an investigative spotlight on an entire religious or ethnic community is a violation of everything America is supposed to stand for. But that does not seem to concern Mr. King. “The threat is coming from the Muslim community,” he told The Times. “The radicalization attempts are directed at the Muslim community. Why should I investigate other communities?”

The great danger of these hearings, in addition to undermining fundamental American values, is that for no good reason — nearly a decade after the terrible attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 — they will intensify the already overheated anti-Muslim feeling in the U.S. There is nothing wrong with the relentless investigation of terrorism. That’s essential. But that is not the same as singling out, stereotyping and harassing an entire community.

On Monday, I spoke by phone with Colleen Kelly, a nurse practitioner from the Bronx whose brother, William Kelly Jr., was killed in the attack on the World Trade Center. She belongs to a group called September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows and is opposed to Mr. King’s hearings. “I was trying to figure out why he’s doing this,” she said, “and I haven’t come up with a good answer.”

She recalled how people were stigmatized in the early years of the AIDS epidemic and the way that stigmas become the focus of attention and get in the way of the efforts really needed to avert tragedy.

Mr. King’s contention that Muslims are not cooperating with law enforcement is just wrong. According to the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security, an independent research group affiliated with Duke University and the University of North Carolina, 48 of the 120 Muslims suspected of plotting terror attacks in the U.S. since Sept. 11, 2001, were turned in by fellow Muslims. In some cases, they were turned in by parents or other relatives.

What are we doing? Do we want to demonize innocent people and trample on America’s precious freedom of religion? Or do we want to stop terrorism? There is no real rhyme or reason to Congressman King’s incoherent flailing after Muslims. Witch hunts, after all, are about seeing what kind of ugliness might fortuitously turn up.

Mr. King was able to concoct the anti-Muslim ugliness in his 2004 novel, “Vale of Tears,” in which New York is hit yet again by terrorists and, surprise, the hero of the piece is a congressman from Long Island. But this is real life, and the congressman’s fantasies should not apply.

America should be better than this. We’ve had all the requisite lessons: Joe McCarthy, the House Un-American Activities Committee, the demonization of blacks and Jews, the internment of Japanese-Americans, and on and on and on. It’s such a tired and ugly refrain.

When I asked Colleen Kelly why she spoke up, she said it was because of her great love for her country. “I love being an American, and I really try to be thankful for all the gifts that come with that,” she said. But with gifts and privileges come responsibilities. The planned hearings into the Muslim community struck Ms. Kelly as something too far outside “the basic principles that I knew and felt to be important to me as a citizen of this country.”
(c) 2010 Bob Herbert ~~~ The New York Times

A Nation Stripped Bare
Fascism Has Come to America
By Chris Floyd

It is a question that has sparked much debate, at least in certain rare quadrants where the unvarnished reality of the American imperium is recognized. But surely now the debate is over. Question it no more; the supposition, the fear, the heartbreaking intimation is a fact. It is real. It is here.

Fascism has come to America.

And no, it didn't come in jackboots. It didn't come in massed, marching ranks. It didn't come in greasy-haired frothers ranting on a stage.

It came with cool. It came with savvy. It came wearing the mask of past evils redeemed by the image of a persecuted minority elevated to power. It came spouting scripture, hugging bright children, quoting pop music, sporting pricey leisure threads.

It came on Facebook, it came with 269 cable channels blazing, with I-Pad apps offering Catholic confession and YouTube porn. It came with the Super Bowl, with de la Renta gowns on the Oscar carpet, with 36 brands of dips and chips on the bulging shelves of your local Wal-Mart.

It came right in the midst of your ordinary life, as you went to work -- or looked for work -- as you partied, as you courted, as you watched TV, as you worshipped, as you studied, as you played, as you went about the business of being human.

As you went about the business of being human, this inhuman thing has come. It has come in your name, wrapped in your flag, claiming your security as its raison d'etre.

And in the guise of a young, hip, educated progressive, it has just now declared that anyone who reveals any hidden evil committed by the fascist state is subject to prosecution for a capital crime. That's right. It has revealed that you -- you American citizen, you patriot, you believer in goodness and justice and genuine democracy -- you can be killed by the government if you tell the truth.

This is what the administration of President Barack Obama has demonstrated -- indeed, has proudly proclaimed -- in its treatment of the young man it is avowedly, openly torturing for telling the truth about American war crimes, Bradley Manning. There can be no mistaking the meaning, implications and import of Barack Obama's actions.

Corporal Bradley Manning has been charged with leaking "classified material," including a video posted on WikiLeaks that showed American forces gleefully shooting up Iraqi civilians with helicopter gunships. Manning is also alleged to have obtained thousands of other files detailing crimes, corruption, cover-ups, lies and deceit by American forces and American diplomats around the world.

Although American officials have repeatedly said that none of leaks attributed to Manning and to WikiLeaks have caused any bodily harm to any agent of American imperial power around the world, Manning is being accused of "threatening national security" and "aiding the enemy."

And who, pray tell, is the "enemy" being aided by the expression of truth? On Thursday, the Pentagon very helpfully spelled it out to the New York Times:

The charge sheet did not explain who “the enemy” was, leading some to speculate that it was a reference to WikiLeaks. On Thursday, however, the military said that it instead referred to any hostile forces that could benefit from learning about classified military tactics and procedures.

It could not be clearer. The release of any information that the American government declares might be of any use whatsoever to any possible "hostile" force -- real, imagined, or possibly run by American provocateurs -- somewhere in the world at some point in time is a crime that can be punishable by death. Thus any person or any entity that reveals embarrassing or criminal facts that the government wishes to keep hidden now stands in the shadow of death.

If that is not fascism, there has never been such a thing on the face of the earth.

To be sure, American officials say that they will seek only life imprisonment for Manning -- who they are now subjecting to hours of forced nakedness in front of video cameras. But the military judge who will oversee Manning's court martial is entirely free to disregard the prosecutor's stated intention and impose the full penalty for aiding the "enemy."

But again, who is the "enemy"? You are the enemy -- if you speak a truth that the government does not want you to reveal. (Of course, if you are an approved and coddled courtier, an eager, scurrying scribe like Bob Woodward, for example, you can reveal all the most secret "classified material" that you like, as long as it comes from savvy insiders "authorized" to praise their bosses and make their rivals look bad.) If you speak this unwanted truth, the government, the president -- the cool, savvy, modern, hip, educated progressive president -- can throw you in jail, subject you to torture, deprive you of sleep, and finally strip you naked in front of cameras to break you down and humiliate you in their efforts to dehumanize you, to grind you down into a piece of meat.


Here is the New York Times report on Manning's treatment -- a small, brief story which did not make the front page of the print edition and within a few hours disappeared from the dozens of stories on the front page of the on-line edition:

A lawyer for Pfc. Bradley Manning, [David E. Coombs], the Army intelligence analyst accused of leaking secret government files to WikiLeaks, has complained that his client was stripped and left naked in his cell for seven hours on Wednesday. ... The soldier’s clothing was returned to him Thursday morning, after he was required to stand naked outside his cell during an inspection, Mr. Coombs said in a posting on his Web site.

“This type of degrading treatment is inexcusable and without justification,” Mr. Coombs wrote. “It is an embarrassment to our military justice system and should not be tolerated. Pfc. Manning has been told that the same thing will happen to him again tonight. No other detainee at the brig is forced to endure this type of isolation and humiliation.”

First Lt. Brian Villiard, a Marine spokesman, said a brig duty supervisor had ordered Private Manning’s clothing taken from him. He said that the step was “not punitive” and that it was in accordance with brig rules, but he said that he was not allowed to say more. “It would be inappropriate for me to explain it,” Lieutenant Villiard said. “I can confirm that it did happen, but I can’t explain it to you without violating the detainee’s privacy.”

This is rich; this shows a devilish irony at work in the PR boiler rooms of our fascist state. Yes, we tortured Manning, but we can't tell you why -- because we want to protect his privacy! We are very concerned about his sacred right to privacy! "I'm sorry," said Sgt. Heinrich Schultz, spokesman for the Auschwitz-Birkenau detention facility. "I can confirm that Mr Shlomo Stern, formerly of Krakow, was indeed stripped naked by guards here, but it would be inappropriate for me to explain why, because it would violate the detainee's privacy."

And as Glenn Greenwald reports, Manning was indeed stripped naked again the following night. Coombs himself notes:

PFC Manning was forced to strip naked in his cell again last night. As with the previous evening, Quantico Brig guards required him to surrender all of his clothing. PFC Manning then walked back to his bed, and spent the next seven hours in humiliation.

The decision to require him to be stripped of all clothing was made by the Brig commander, Chief Warrant Officer-2 Denise Barnes. According to First Lieutenant Brian Villard, a Marine spokesman, the decision was "not punitive" and done in accordance with Brig rules. There can be no conceivable justification for requiring a soldier to surrender all his clothing, remain naked in his cell for seven hours, and then stand at attention the subsequent morning. This treatment is even more degrading considering that PFC Manning is being monitored -- both by direct observation and by video -- at all times. The defense was informed by Brig officials that the decision to strip PFC Manning of all his clothing was made without consulting any of the Brig's mental health providers.

What is happening here -- as Arthur Silber foretold long ago -- is that Barack Obama is codifying the worst abuses of the Bush Administration (and its predecessors) -- which had usually been committed on the side, in the dark, in secret, behind many layers of "plausible deniability" -- into the open, declared law of the land. This too is facism in action. Indeed, rarely has there been a regime more legalistic than Nazi Germany, where jurists, legislators and civil servants adhered strenuously to the "law" as determined by the will of the ruling clique. And for all those who make a fetish of the "rule of law," here is the end result: law being used by brutal Power to "justify" inhuman treatment of truth-tellers. As we noted here some months ago:

A conversation during Civil War. (From work-in-progress Bright, Terrible Spirit):

"But in days past, I was a lawyer. Yes, a lawyer, can you believe it? It seems….ridiculous now, doesn't it? An orderly system meant to govern human society, to establish justice, to advance the progress and enlightenment of the human race. Yet that system, that civil cosmos – to which I was so passionately committed – embraced and protected the most wretched evils, entrenched the powerful in their unjust privilege, oppressed the poor and weak most relentlessly and wickedly, yet at every step – at every step – sang hosannas to itself as some kind of divinity. The "Law" – oh, what a hush of reverence surrounded that word, how deeply that reverence and respect penetrated the heart. Well, my heart, anyway. But in these last few years we have seen – in intense, concentrated, microscopic view – the truth about the law, a truth which too often escaped us in the slow unrolling of peacetime. The truth that there is no law, no Platonic Form out there to which we give paltry representation. There is only power: power in conflict with power, power seeking to drive out power, to establish its dominance, maintain its privilege. Power…acquiesces to law – sometimes – but it never, never bows to it. Power goes along with the law when it is convenient to do so, when it is not too restrictive, when it demands little more than the occasional sacrifice – for the powerful are certainly not above throwing one of their own to the mob when circumstances require. But when it comes to the crisis, power shreds the law like a filthy rag and has its own way. And then you see that the law is nothing but a rag, to be torn and patched and fitted to power's aims. The worst atrocities I have seen or heard of in this war have been committed wholly and completely under the law. This thing I held in such reverence was, is, nothing but a scrap soaked with blood and shit."

This is what the administration of President Barack Obama has brought to open fruition in the United States of America. The debate is over. The question is answered. Facism has come.


A brief reprise of a recent tribute to Manning and other truth-tellers:

"Good corporal, good corporal, don't you know the fate
Of all those who speak the hard truth to the State
And all who trouble the people's sweet dreams?
They're mocked into scorn and torn apart at the seams...."

(c) 2011 Chris Floyd

Jesse Jackson Revs Up Madison Crowd
By Matthew Rothschild

A little after 3:00 Friday afternoon, in front of a crowd of 850 people that had gathered at short notice, Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewics came outside of the city-county building with the Reverend Jesse Jackson.

“It’s nice to see so many people here,” the mayor said.

“And it’s nice to see the palm trees,” the mayor joked, alluding to Fox News’s insertion of some California ruckus footage that it had pawned off as being from Madison.

“This struggle is not just about union rights,” the mayor said. “It’s also about human rights. And it’s not just about civil rights but it’s also about peaceful protest. We have showed the world that Madison can protest peacefully.”

One person held a sign that said, “Firefighters for Workers’ Rights.”

And many people held pink signs that read, “Walker, Your Pink Slip Is Coming,” in response to the governor’s threat to hand out layoff notices.

Then the mayor introduced Jackson to tumultuous applause.

“Collective bargaining is what democracy looks like,” Jackson said. “The right to be at the table is what democracy looks like.”

Jackson revved up the Madison crowd, which was in a fighting spirit already.

“I congratulate you for your staying power,” he said, “for your commitment to hold on and hold out, and for your focus to stay nonviolent.”

Jackson then made a comparison between the civil rights movement and the current labor struggle in Wisconsin.

“This is the week we went across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma for the right to vote,” he said. “We have gone from Wallace trying to deny us the right to vote to Walker trying to deny workers the right to bargain. We have gone from Wallace to Walker.”

And he pointed out that “Dr. King’s last act on Earth was marching for workers’ rights.”

He added: “When we march, we honor Dr. King. When we march multiculturally and multiracially, we honor Dr. King. When we march nonviolently, we honor Dr. King.”

Jackson criticized Walker and other Republican governors for using teachers and workers as “scapegoats.”

And he asked repeatedly, “Where is the money?”

He pointed out that there were trillions of dollars for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and for bailing out the banks. He said there were billions of dollars for tax breaks for the five biggest oil companies, even though they have made $1 trillion since 9/ll.

But somehow there is no money, Jackson said, for teachers or for universal health care or for forgiving student loans or for HeadStart or for Pell grants.

Jackson took pains to warn the crowd not to lose faith in the days ahead, even if Walker succeeds in passing his bill.

“Don’t let them break your spirits,” he said, as he concluded. “Stand tall. The journey gets hard some time. Hold on. Hold out. Victory is assured. Joy cometh in the morning.”

And with that, the crowd broke out into applause, and then, expressing Midwestern politeness and gratitude, chanted: “Thank you! Thank you!”
(c)2011 Matthew Rothschild is the editor of The Progressive magazine.

Degrees And Dollars
By Paul Krugman

It is a truth universally acknowledged that education is the key to economic success. Everyone knows that the jobs of the future will require ever higher levels of skill. That’s why, in an appearance Friday with former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, President Obama declared that “If we want more good news on the jobs front then we’ve got to make more investments in education.”

But what everyone knows is wrong.

The day after the Obama-Bush event, The Times published an article about the growing use of software to perform legal research. Computers, it turns out, can quickly analyze millions of documents, cheaply performing a task that used to require armies of lawyers and paralegals. In this case, then, technological progress is actually reducing the demand for highly educated workers.

And legal research isn’t an isolated example. As the article points out, software has also been replacing engineers in such tasks as chip design. More broadly, the idea that modern technology eliminates only menial jobs, that well-educated workers are clear winners, may dominate popular discussion, but it’s actually decades out of date.

The fact is that since 1990 or so the U.S. job market has been characterized not by a general rise in the demand for skill, but by “hollowing out”: both high-wage and low-wage employment have grown rapidly, but medium-wage jobs — the kinds of jobs we count on to support a strong middle class — have lagged behind. And the hole in the middle has been getting wider: many of the high-wage occupations that grew rapidly in the 1990s have seen much slower growth recently, even as growth in low-wage employment has accelerated.

Why is this happening? The belief that education is becoming ever more important rests on the plausible-sounding notion that advances in technology increase job opportunities for those who work with information — loosely speaking, that computers help those who work with their minds, while hurting those who work with their hands.<> Some years ago, however, the economists David Autor, Frank Levy and Richard Murnane argued that this was the wrong way to think about it. Computers, they pointed out, excel at routine tasks, “cognitive and manual tasks that can be accomplished by following explicit rules.” Therefore, any routine task — a category that includes many white-collar, nonmanual jobs — is in the firing line. Conversely, jobs that can’t be carried out by following explicit rules — a category that includes many kinds of manual labor, from truck drivers to janitors — will tend to grow even in the face of technological progress.

And here’s the thing: Most of the manual labor still being done in our economy seems to be of the kind that’s hard to automate. Notably, with production workers in manufacturing down to about 6 percent of U.S. employment, there aren’t many assembly-line jobs left to lose. Meanwhile, quite a lot of white-collar work currently carried out by well-educated, relatively well-paid workers may soon be computerized. Roombas are cute, but robot janitors are a long way off; computerized legal research and computer-aided medical diagnosis are already here.

And then there’s globalization. Once, only manufacturing workers needed to worry about competition from overseas, but the combination of computers and telecommunications has made it possible to provide many services at long range. And research by my Princeton colleagues Alan Blinder and Alan Krueger suggests that high-wage jobs performed by highly educated workers are, if anything, more “offshorable” than jobs done by low-paid, less-educated workers. If they’re right, growing international trade in services will further hollow out the U.S. job market.

So what does all this say about policy?

Yes, we need to fix American education. In particular, the inequalities Americans face at the starting line — bright children from poor families are less likely to finish college than much less able children of the affluent — aren’t just an outrage; they represent a huge waste of the nation’s human potential.

But there are things education can’t do. In particular, the notion that putting more kids through college can restore the middle-class society we used to have is wishful thinking. It’s no longer true that having a college degree guarantees that you’ll get a good job, and it’s becoming less true with each passing decade.

So if we want a society of broadly shared prosperity, education isn’t the answer — we’ll have to go about building that society directly. We need to restore the bargaining power that labor has lost over the last 30 years, so that ordinary workers as well as superstars have the power to bargain for good wages. We need to guarantee the essentials, above all health care, to every citizen.

What we can’t do is get where we need to go just by giving workers college degrees, which may be no more than tickets to jobs that don’t exist or don’t pay middle-class wages.
(c) 2011 Paul Krugman --- The New York Times

The Quotable Quote...

"There is good news from Washington today. Congress is deadlocked and can't act."

~~~ Will Rogers ~~~

This Time We’re Taking the Whole Planet With Us
By Chris Hedges

I have walked through the barren remains of Babylon in Iraq and the ancient Roman city of Antioch, the capital of Roman Syria, which now lies buried in silt deposits. I have visited the marble ruins of Leptis Magna, once one of the most important agricultural centers in the Roman Empire, now isolated in the desolate drifts of sand southeast of Tripoli. I have climbed at dawn up the ancient temples in Tikal, while flocks of brightly colored toucans leapt through the jungle foliage below. I have stood amid the remains of the ancient Egyptian city of Luxor along the Nile, looking at the statue of the great Egyptian pharaoh Ramesses II lying broken on the ground, with Percy Shelley’s poem “Ozymandias” running through my head:

“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

Civilizations rise, decay and die. Time, as the ancient Greeks argued, for individuals and for states is cyclical. As societies become more complex they become inevitably more precarious. They become increasingly vulnerable. And as they begin to break down there is a strange retreat by a terrified and confused population from reality, an inability to acknowledge the self-evident fragility and impending collapse. The elites at the end speak in phrases and jargon that do not correlate to reality. They retreat into isolated compounds, whether at the court at Versailles, the Forbidden City or modern palatial estates. The elites indulge in unchecked hedonism, the accumulation of vaster wealth and extravagant consumption. They are deaf to the suffering of the masses who are repressed with greater and greater ferocity. Resources are more ruthlessly depleted until they are exhausted. And then the hollowed-out edifice collapses. The Roman and Sumerian empires fell this way. The Mayan elites, after clearing their forests and polluting their streams with silt and acids, retreated backward into primitivism.

As food and water shortages expand across the globe, as mounting poverty and misery trigger street protests in the Middle East, Africa and Europe, the elites do what all elites do. They launch more wars, build grander monuments to themselves, plunge their nations deeper into debt, and as it all unravels they take it out on the backs of workers and the poor. The collapse of the global economy, which wiped out a staggering $40 trillion in wealth, was caused when our elites, after destroying our manufacturing base, sold massive quantities of fraudulent mortgage-backed securities to pension funds, small investors, banks, universities, state and foreign governments and shareholders. The elites, to cover the losses, then looted the public treasury to begin the speculation over again. They also, in the name of austerity, began dismantling basic social services, set out to break the last vestiges of unions, slashed jobs, froze wages, threw millions of people out of their homes, and stood by idly as we created a permanent underclass of unemployed and underemployed.

The Mayan elite became, at the end, as the anthropologist Ronald Wright notes in “A Short History of Progress,” “… extremists, or ultra-conservatives, squeezing the last drops of profit from nature and humanity.” This is how all civilizations, including our own, ossify and die. The signs of imminent death may be undeniable. Common sense may cry out for a radical new response. But the race toward self-immolation only accelerates because of intellectual and moral paralysis. As Sigmund Freud grasped in “Beyond the Pleasure Principle” and “Civilization and Its Discontents,” human societies are as intoxicated and blinded by their own headlong rush toward death and destruction as they are by the search for erotic fulfillment.

The unrest in the Middle East, the implosion of national economies such as those of Ireland and Greece, the increasing anger of a beleaguered working class at home and abroad, the growing desperate human migrations and the refusal to halt our relentless destruction of the ecosystem on which life depends are the harbingers of our own collapse and the consequences of the idiocy of our elite and the folly of globalization. Protests that are not built around a complete reconfiguration of American society, including a rapid dismantling of empire and the corporate state, can only forestall the inevitable. We will be saved only with the birth of a new and militant radicalism which seeks to dethrone our corrupt elite from power, not negotiate for better terms.

The global economy is built on the erroneous belief that the marketplace—read human greed—should dictate human behavior and that economies can expand eternally. Globalism works under the assumption that the ecosystem can continue to be battered by massive carbon emissions without major consequences. And the engine of global economic expansion is based on the assurance that there will always be plentiful and cheap oil. The inability to confront simple truths about human nature and the natural world leaves the elites unable to articulate new social, economic and political paradigms. They look only for ways to perpetuate a dying system. Thomas Friedman and the array of other propagandists for globalization make as much sense as Charlie Sheen.

Globalization is the modern articulation of the ancient ideology used by past elites to turn citizens into serfs and the natural world into a wasteland for profit. Nothing to these elites is sacred. Human beings and the natural world are exploited until exhaustion or collapse. The elites make no pretense of defending the common good. It is, in short, the defeat of rational thought and the death of humanism. The march toward self-annihilation has already obliterated 90 percent of the large fish in the oceans and wiped out half of the mature tropical forests, the lungs of the planet. At this rate by 2030 only 10 percent of the Earth’s tropical forests will remain. Contaminated water kills 25,000 people every day around the globe, and each year some 20 million children are impaired by malnourishment. Greenhouse gases in the atmosphere now are at 329 parts per million and climbing, with most climate scientists warning that the level must remain below 350 ppm to sustain life as we know it. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates that the measurement could reach 541 to 970 ppm by 2100. At that point huge parts of the planet, beset with overpopulation, droughts, soil erosion, freak storms, massive crop failures and rising sea levels, will be unfit for human existence.

Jared Diamond in his essay “The Last Americans” notes that by the time Hernan Cortés reached the Yucatán, millions of Mayan subjects had vanished.

“Why,” Diamond writes, “did the kings and nobles not recognize and solve these problems? A major reason was that their attention was evidently focused on the short-term concerns of enriching themselves, waging wars, erecting monuments, competing with one another, and extracting enough food from the peasants to support all these activities.”

“Pumping that oil, cutting down those trees, and catching those fish may benefit the elite by bringing them money or prestige and yet be bad for society as a whole (including the children of the elite) in the long run,” Diamond went on. “Maya kings were consumed by immediate concerns for their prestige (requiring more and bigger temples) and their success in the next war (requiring more followers), rather than for the happiness of commoners or of the next generation. Those people with the greatest power to make decisions in our own society today regularly make money from activities that may be bad for society as a whole and for their own children; those decision-makers include Enron executives, many land developers, and advocates of tax cuts for the rich.”

It was no different on Easter Island. The inhabitants, when they first settled the 64-square-mile island during the fifth century, found abundant fresh water and woods filled with the Chilean wine palm, a tree that can reach the size of an oak. Seafood, including fish, seals, porpoises and turtles, and nesting seabirds were plentiful. Easter Island’s society, which split into an elaborate caste system of nobles, priests and commoners, had within five or six centuries swelled to some 10,000 people. The natural resources were devoured and began to disappear.

“Forest clearance for the growing of crops would have led to population increase, but also to soil erosion and decline of soil fertility,” Paul Bahn and John Flenley write in “Easter Island, Earth Island.”

“Progressively more land would have had to be cleared. Trees and shrubs would also be cut down for canoe building, firewood, house construction, and for the timbers and ropes needed in the movement and erection of statues. Palm fruits would be eaten, thus reducing regeneration of the palm. Rats, introduced for food, could have fed on the palm fruits, multiplied rapidly and completely prevented palm regeneration. The over exploitation of prolific sea bird resources would have eliminated these for all but the offshore islets. Rats could have helped in this process by eating eggs. The abundant food provided by fishing, sea birds and rats would have encouraged rapid initial human population growth. Unrestrained human population increase would later put pressure on availability of land, leading to disputes and eventually warfare. Non-availability of timber and rope would make it pointless to carve further statues. A disillusionment with the efficacy of the statue religion in providing the wants of the people could lead to the abandonment of this cult. Inadequate canoes would restrict fishing to the inshore waters, leading to further decline in protein supplies. The result could have been general famine, warfare and the collapse of the whole economy, leading to a marked population decline.”

Clans, in the later period of the Easter Island civilization, competed to honor their ancestors by constructing larger and larger hewn stone images, which demanded the last remnants of the timber, rope and manpower on the island. By the year 1400 the woods were gone. The soil had eroded and washed into the sea. The islanders began to fight over old timbers and were reduced to eating their dogs and soon all the nesting birds.

The desperate islanders developed a belief system that posited that the erected stone gods, the moai, would come to life and save them from disaster. This last retreat into magic characterizes all societies that fall into terminal decline. It is a frantic response to loss of control as well as despair and powerlessness. This desperate retreat into magic led to the Cherokee ghost dance, the doomed Taki Onqoy revolt against the Spanish invaders in Peru, and the Aztec prophecies of the 1530s. Civilizations in the last moments embrace a total severance from reality, a reality that becomes too bleak to be absorbed.

The modern belief by evangelical Christians in the rapture, which does not exist in biblical literature, is no less fantastic, one that at once allows for the denial of global warming and of evolution and the absurd idea that the righteous will all be saved—floating naked into heaven at the end of time. The faith that science and technology, which are morally neutral and serve human ambitions, will make the world whole again is no less delusional. We offer up our magical thinking in secular as well as religious form.

We think we have somehow escaped from the foibles of the past. We are certain that we are wiser and greater than those who went before us. We trust naively in the inevitability of our own salvation. And those who cater to this false hope, especially as things deteriorate, receive our adulation and praise. We in the United States, only 5 percent of the world’s population, are outraged if anyone tries to tell us we don’t have a divine right to levels of consumption that squander 25 percent of the world’s energy. President Jimmy Carter, when he suggested that such consumption was probably not beneficial, became a figure of national ridicule. The worse it gets the more we demand illusionary Ronald Reagan happy talk. Those willing to cater to fantasy and self-delusion are, because they make us politically passive, lavishly funded and promoted by corporate and oligarchic forces. And by the very end we are joyfully led over the cliff by simpletons and lunatics, many of whom appear to be lining up for the Republican presidential nomination.

“Are the events of three hundred years ago on a small remote island of any significance to the world at large?”

Bahn and Flenley ask. “We believe they are. We consider that Easter Island was a microcosm which provides a model for the whole planet. Like the Earth, Easter Island was an isolated system. The people there believed that they were the only survivors on Earth, all other land having sunk beneath the sea. They carried out for us the experiment of permitting unrestricted population growth, profligate use of resources, destruction of the environment and boundless confidence in their religion to take care of the future. The result was an ecological disaster leading to a population crash. A crash on a similar scale (60 percent of the population) for the planet Earth would lead to the deaths of about 1.8 billion people, roughly 100 times the death toll of the Second World War. Do we have to repeat the experiment on this grand scale? Do we have to be as cynical as Henry Ford and say ‘History is bunk’? Would it not be more sensible to learn the lesson of Easter Island history, and apply it to the Earth Island on which we live?”

Human beings seem cursed to repeat these cycles of exploitation and collapse. And the greater the extent of the deterioration the less they are able to comprehend what is happening around them. The Earth is littered with the physical remains of human folly and human hubris. We seem condemned as a species to drive ourselves and our societies toward extinction, although this moment appears be the denouement to the whole sad show of settled, civilized life that began some 5,000 years ago. There is nothing left on the planet to seize. We are now spending down the last remnants of our natural capital, including our forests, fossil fuel, air and water.

This time when we go down it will be global. There are no new lands to pillage, no new peoples to exploit. Technology, which has obliterated the constraints of time and space, has turned our global village into a global death trap. The fate of Easter Island will be writ large across the broad expanse of planet Earth.
(c) 2011 Chris Hedges, the former Middle East bureau chief for The New York Times, spent seven years in the Middle East. He was part of the paper's team of reporters who won the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for coverage of global terrorism. He is the author of War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning and American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America. His latest book is, "“Death Of The Liberal Class.”

Trading Places
A Tale of Two Countries
by David Michael Green

Regressives love markets as a tool for organizing our social sphere. Love ‘em!

That’s fine, up to a point. Marketplace of ideas? Great notion. Political choice? Could we have a lot more, please? Competition in commercial relations? I wish the folks on the right were one-tenth as serious about that as is their rhetoric.

In other respects, however, the market is not the way to go. Letting the market take care of my health security (have we already forgotten that “managed care” was originally sold to us on the basis of bringing the wonders of the business model to medicine?) hasn’t worked out so very well. And, as we’re going to realize acutely in the coming decades, turning over environmental stewardship to the magic of the marketplace has been about as brilliant an idea as would be giving nuclear warheads to angry meth-torqued teenagers or religious lunatics sporting apocalyptic visions of the paradise that will follow global annihilation.

But, I’ve got an idea. And perhaps my (mostly imaginary) friends on the right will indulge me and play along. Let’s call it the Marketplace of Countries, shall we? Let’s take two (for the sake of simplicity) countries and compare them to each other. Then we can use the magical market modality to determine our respective assessments of them. If it turns out that one country looks a lot more attractive than the other, surely we’ll want to exercise that much vaunted power of marketplace choice, and validate that one as the superior place to live, right?

Fair enough?

An additional beauty of this test is that while the right and what little that goes for a left in America today can hardly ever agree on any solutions to problems, I think we can mostly agree on what constitutes the problems, right? Not always, but mostly. For example, a richer country is better than a poorer one, isn’t it? No debate on that. A more educated society beats an ignorant one, no? And wouldn’t we all like to feel safe from crime?

Okay, then! Let’s compare Country A and Country B on a variety of measures, and see what we come up with, shall we?

How about if we start with physical security? Suppose I told you that in Country A the murder rate is 5.0 per 100,000 people. I believe you’d say “Ouch!” That’s ranks in about the top ten percent of countries internationally. Maybe, therefore, you’d like it better in Country B, where the rate is about one-sixth of that nasty figure, at .89 per hundred thousand people instead. And that’s true even though Country A has the death penalty going, while in Country B they think that the government murdering its own people is a pretty barbaric thing to do. Hmm. So much for that whole deterrent argument, eh? But I digress...

How about health? How do the two countries compare? In Country A, there are substantially fewer hospital beds per thousand people (3.3) than in Country B (3.6), and the infant mortality rate – always a key indicator of national health – is more than twice as bad, with 6.3 deaths per thousand live births in A, compared to 2.75 in B. That probably explains why the World Health Organization ranks Country A as having only the 37th best health care system on the planet (out of about 200 countries), while Country B’s is 23rd best. That may also help explain why people live a fair bit longer in Country B (80.74 years) as compared to Country A (78.14).

Surely, though, Country B is spending a helluva lot more than is A on its health care system in order to get these numbers, right? I mean anyone can improve delivery by spending more money, can’t they? Well, not exactly. In order to achieve this record of fewer hospital beds, staggeringly greater infant mortality, and killing people off at a younger age, Country A is actually spending twice as much as Country B in annual health care costs. That is, $4271 versus $2145 per person, per year. At that rate, good thing they spent more! Just think how sick people would be in Country A if they spent four times what Country B does on health care.

The two countries are pretty similar in terms of education measures. Both sport 99 percent literacy rates. People go to school a bit longer, on average, in Country A than B – 12.0 years versus 11.4. But Country B devotes a greater portion of its GDP to education, and does slightly better than Country A on measures of reading, scientific and mathematical literacy.

Country A and Country B are also pretty similar when it comes to measures of civil and political liberties. They both get rated 6 on a 7 point scale. Not bad. But that is where the similarities end. Government corruption levels in Country B are among the lowest in the world, earning a 9.2 rating on a 10-point scale, while in Country A that number is only 7.6. In Country A, voter registration rates run at about 50 percent, whereas in Country B they’re 74 percent. In A, turnout of registered voters tops out at 64 percent, while in Country B fully eight out of every ten registered voters shows up at the polling place. In Country B 43 percent of parliamentarians are women, whereas in Country A it’s only 14 percent. And the overall gender empowerment index (a composite statistic that accounts for women’s participation in government, business, academia, salary ratios, etc.) for B is .824, whereas for A it is .757. In short, both countries are relatively free democracies, but B achieves much greater participation of its people – and, importantly, all of its people – than does A.

There are certain social indicators that are quite telling as well. In Country A, they sure go to church a lot. Forty-four percent of people attend once a week or more often, while in Country B only 4 percent do. It’s not so clear that such piousness makes them better people over there in A, however. Teenage pregnancy rates are not only higher, they’re nearly ten times higher in Country A than in Country B, coming in at an annual rate of 1672 versus 178 per one million people, respectively. And a look at environmental responsibility shows similar massive discrepancies. Country A produces over three times more the annual carbon emissions – 19.48 tons per capita – than does Country B, at 5.4 tons. That’s not only, er, rude, it happens to be quite lethal as well. Given the global pollution and climate effects of such a massive carbon footprint, one might say that Country A doesn’t exactly play well with others.

But, you might argue, what everyone really cares about is getting rich. I’d say that varies a lot from culture to culture (which also means that any given society doesn’t have to be obsessed with money if it doesn’t want to be), but I’d surely agree that it’s important to compare economic performance across national boundaries. Country A had a slightly better rate of GDP growth in 2005 than did Country B, 3.2 percent over 2.7, and a slightly lower unemployment rate in 2004, 5.5 versus 6.5 percent. However, it’s also important to note that A grows in population each year at a much greater rate (.883 percent, using 2008 figures) than does B (.157 percent), which likely more than wipes out the GDP growth rate differential between the two countries. In any case, the net difference in GDP per capita between them turns out to be pretty small anyhow. In Country A people earned, on average, $44,155 in 2006, while in Country B that figure is $42,553.

So, for all their differences, it turns out that A and B are more or less equally wealthy countries, right? Well, yes and no. They do indeed both enjoy relatively equal (and quite high) standards of living. But GDP per capita is, after all, a very well-named figure. As a measurement of economic well being, it is indeed gross. Since it is an average, it tells us nothing about the distribution of wealth and income in a given country. Very different concentrations of wealth can produce identical averages. And, it turns out that they are very different in this case. In Country A the share of income received by the richest ten percent of the population is 31 percent, whereas in Country B it is 20 percent. In Country A, child poverty rates are ten times what they are in Country B. Ten times. That is, the share of children living in households with income below fifty percent of the national median is 22.4 percent in A, whereas in B it is a mere 2.6 percent. And the overall polarization of wealth, as measured by the Gini coefficient statistic, is twice as high in Country A (45) as compared to Country B (23). Country A is thus the 42nd highest country in the world in terms of economic inegalitarianism, located right between Cameroon and Uruguay. Every single country that is higher than it on that list is a third world country, as are the next 26 below it on the list, assuming one does not count Russia (#54) as a developed economy. Country B, on the other hand, is the least unequal society in the entire world.

Ah, well, you say: “Country B is some communist dictatorship, where they have no free market and they imprison the wealthy! It’s North Korea, right?! Evil egalitarianism brought to us courtesy the business end of gun barrel!” Alas, ‘fraid not. Indeed, here we can consult our good friends at the ultra-conservative Heritage Foundation, which ranks countries according to their level of economic freedom, per an index that the right-wing think tank has cooked up. Turns out that in extraordinarily unequal Country A, that figure is 3.2, while in extraordinarily equal country B it’s – wait for it, now – all the way down to 3.1. It would seem that both places are – in the current parlance of our friendly downsizing, union-busting, middle class-crushing political class – quite “open for business”, thank you very much.

And, interestingly, notwithstanding its welcoming attitude to business big and small, it turns out that working conditions are also much better in Country B than in Country A. People in B work 1564 hours per year, whereas in A it is 1792. Based on a forty hour work week, that means that the 228 extra hours being worked by the folks in Country A translate into nearly six additional work weeks per year, even though, as we’ve seen, GDP per capita is pretty similar. (Hmm. Doesn’t that therefore also mean that they work for a lot less over there in Country A?) And, indeed, when it comes to vacation and holidays, the legally required minimum that workers must receive in Country B ranges from 25 to 32 days, depending on one’s age. In Country A that number is zero. Although most workers actually get 7 to 21 days off work each year, many do not, and none are legally required to. Moreover, when people lose their jobs, they do much better in Country B than in Country A. In addition to not losing health and pension coverage, the unemployment benefit replacement rate (a composite statistic) is 29 in Country B, and more than double that (14) in Country A.

In Country B, people receive substantial support through government programs throughout the duration of their lives, from cradle to grave. In Country A, there is little of that, except for seniors, who receive a modest governmental pension supplement and help with their health care expenses. Of course, such programs are expensive, and in Country B all forms of taxation combined are equal to 54 percent of GDP, while in Country A that figure is instead 30 percent. For individuals in Country B, that translates into 41 percent of family income going to taxes, while only 19 percent does so in Country A. Yet, that does not seem to bother the citizens of Country B, who indeed are quite delighted with the economic system. When asked to rate themselves on a ten-point scale with respect to their degree of financial satisfaction, the mean response there was 6.6. What was it for Country A, where people get to keep so much more of what they earn? A whopping 6.7.

We could go on and on with this. Did I mention, for instance, that 82 percent of workers in Country B are members of trade unions (the highest level in the industrialized world), but only a mere 13 percent in Country A (nearly the lowest). I’m sure that little factoid has nothing to do with the comparative economic conditions for workers in each place, eh? Anyhow, you get the picture I think. Call me crazy, but it seems like there’s a pattern emerging here.

So let’s recap, shall we? In Country B, as compared to Country A, people are way safer, they’re healthier and they live longer. They are far more equal socially, politically and economically. They’re much more engaged in their democracy, and their government is less corrupt. They are far more environmentally responsible, secularist, and they have one-tenth the teenage pregnancy rates. They spend more on education, and their public is more literate in language, math and science. They pay more in taxes, but in exchange for that, they get far more benefits and a lifetime of almost complete freedom from economic anxiety. They work far fewer hours each year, and they are just as satisfied with their financial position as the folks in Country A, despite netting far less income after taxes. They have essentially eliminated poverty within their national borders, while tens of millions of children and adults are impoverished in Country A. Oh, and I didn’t even mention how much Country A loves to fight wars, and Country B never does. So, where would you rather live? Hey you guys out there on the right, with your constant mantra about the wonders of the marketplace. I’m talkin’ to you. Which product are you gonna buy at this market? Sorry, I can’t hear you. I can no longer make out the lofty choruses of your “Ode To Market”, or the sweet strains of “Bring Back The Morning Again, Ronald”. All I hear are footsteps, and they’re getting quieter and quieter.

Here’s what Barack Obama said about Americans in his state of the union address, as reported in the official text: “As contentious and frustrating and messy as our democracy can sometimes be, I know there isn't a person here who would trade places with any other nation on Earth. (Applause.)”

(Other) regressives, meanwhile, love to rail against the perils of evil European socialism, as supposedly embodied by the pernicious Mr. Obama himself. For example, a 2009 article in Slate noted that, “The columnist Charles Krauthammer recently called the president's address to a joint session of Congress last month ‘the boldest social democratic manifesto ever issued by a U.S. president.’ Newt Gingrich claims that Obama wants to bring us ‘European socialism.’”

So, let me see here. According to both the far right and the alleged left, European socialism is a total disaster of malaise and stagnation and oppression, and America is all warm and fuzzy and “exceptional”, right?

But how is it, then, that Country B above – you know, the one that kicks ass in just about every measure – is that paragon of evil socialism, Sweden?

(Though it also could have been Norway. Or Denmark. Or Germany. Or Canada. Or just about any developed democracy in the world, including those prissy poofs in France, who actually do have the world’s best health care system. As opposed to the blowhards from a certain other country – ranked right between Slovenia and Costa Rica on the list – who merely claim to. Incessantly.)

And why is it that the dysfunctional Country A – deficient in nearly every measure, and often quite sickeningly so – is none other than America?

I wish I could have been at the state of the union speech, so that I could have jumped up in the halls of Congress and shouted to the president, “Excuse me, Barack, but, yes, there is a person here who wants to trade places!”

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

The Dead Letter Office...

Rick gives the corpo-rat salute!

Heil Obama,

Dear Gouverneur Scott,

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, George W. Bush, George H.W. Bush, Prescott Bush, Sam Bush, Fredo Bush, Kate Bush, Vidkun Quisling and last year's winner Volksjudge Elena (Butch) Kagan.

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

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

Signed by,
Vice Fuhrer Biden

Heil Obama

Andy gives the corpo-rat salute

Selling Out Injured Baby Rights
By Ralph Nader

New York State's Governor Andrew Cuomo will be judged harshly by history if he doesn't reverse his position supporting limiting the legal rights of brain damaged babies. Imagine a life-time $250,000 cap on pain and suffering and families having to endure a burdensome and humiliating struggle to get medical bills paid as they arise from an insurance funded entity.P <> Governor Cuomo is hiding behind the recommendations of his Medicaid Redesign Team, which has more than a sprinkling of hospital and industry lobbyists, and which was the stalking horse for this heartless proposal.

Why you might ask would Andrew Cuomo, the son of Mario Cuomo, a man widely regarded as a champion of the underdog, advance such a mean-spirited and wrong-headed measure?

The short answer: political expediency. Credible observers say Governor Cuomo needs to give the health insurance industry a financial benefit in exchange for the health insurance industry not economically punishing hospitals workers. And to top it off with a touch that would make Machiavelli proud, the Governor placed this initiative in his budget proposal. This means that for the New York State Assembly and Senate to vote against this draconian measure used to seal a political deal, the legislators would have to vote down the entire state budget.

It is shameful that the Governor would use his creativity and intellect to help the health industry at the expense of helpless babies who are victims of medical malpractice.

Many in the health care and insurance industry seem to regard the civil justice system as a nuisance that threatens to destroy our economy and way of life. In reality, America's civil justice system plays an indispensable role. When the rights of injured consumers are vindicated in court, our society benefits in countless ways: compensating victims and their families for shattering losses (with the cost borne by the wrongdoers rather than taxpayers); preventing future injuries by deterring dangerous health care and other practices, spurring safety innovation; and educating the public to risks associated with certain products and services. These legal rights provide society with its moral and ethical fiber by defining appropriate norms of conduct.

Governor Cuomo needs to review the facts on medical malpractice. First he should know that supporters of tort "deform" invoke one myth after another: a litigation explosion, juries automatically ruling in favor of plaintiffs and routinely awarding punitive damages, an economy shattered by these awards. Each of these notions is demonstrably false. Only a tiny percentage of persons injured bring lawsuits, and an even tinier percentage of those who do receive large verdicts. Limiting victims' rights is an anti-democratic solution to a trumped-up problem.

Second, a driving force behind this dishonest campaign is the insurance industry. Whenever, over the years, insurers face low interest rates and declining stock investments, they start the drumbeat against justice for victims. They've made a particular cause against liabilities for medical malpractice. Instead of demanding disciplinary action against incompetent physicians, urging medical associations to police their own ranks, the insurance industry lobbies state and federal legislatures to curtail victims' rights and remedies in courts of law. At the insurance industry's behest, their physician policyholders have joined the call.

Why do physicians allow themselves to be tools of insurance companies that gouge them especially when they are not among the incompetent few who account for most malpractice claims (five percent of doctors are involved in roughly 50 percent of malpractice payouts)? One answer is that insurance companies frighten physicians with false data suggesting that malpractice suits run amok. A persuasive case can be made that there are far too few malpractice suits. The 1999 Institute of Medicine study estimated that gross malpractice in hospitals alone takes up to 98,000 American lives a year and causes hundreds of thousands of serious injuries. Yet various studies show that roughly 90% of people harmed by medical malpractice do not even file suit.

If you total the entire amount of premiums physicians pay in a year for their malpractice insurance and divide it evenly by all the physicians practicing in the United States, the average annual premium is less than $10,000 per doctor. Very manageable. So why are some doctors paying $50,000 or $100,000 a year to their malpractice insurers? Because the profit hungry companies have learned to over-classify their risk pools, thereby charging exorbitant amounts to specific specialists like obstetricians and orthopedic surgeons. In addition, because insurers fail to surcharge the few incompetent physicians in these specialties, the competent specialists pay for more than they should.

There is another benefit to the insurance industry from this kind of over-classification. When obstetricians are gouged, they protest loudly, threaten not to deliver babies, and sometimes actually go on strike. This makes great television -- crying babies and physicians in their garb blaming lawyers – and deflects blame from the insurers, who laugh their way to the bank. In recent years, their profits have soared.

Neither organized medicine nor the insurance companies go after bad doctors. The AMA's web site does not report any data about incompetent or crooked physicians, and the insurance companies have shown little interest in loss prevention. Instead, both physicians' and insurers' lobbies fund and press legislators to enact laws that politicize the courts, tie the hands of judges and juries, and make it harder for innocent people or children to receive just compensation for their tragic suffering.

Isn't it time to focus on malpractice prevention instead of trying to hamstring hundreds of thousands of Americans harmed by their doctors' negligence? Are malpractice awards the national crisis physicians and insurers suggest? In fact, the entire medical malpractice insurance industry payout to victims in verdicts and settlements is about $5 billion a year (substantially less than the amount our the country spends on dog food). Isn't it time to focus on malpractice prevention instead of trying to restrict the rights of hundreds of thousands of Americans harmed by their doctors' negligence?

We need to ask whether proposed reforms level the playing field or tilt an already un-level field even further by making it more difficult for wrongfully injured citizens to receive justice from the perpetrators of their harms.

The tort deform movement amounts to a perverse rewriting of history. Tort law produced decades of slow but steady progress in state after state respecting the physical integrity of human beings against harm by recognizing that even the weak and defenseless deserve justice. Instead of seeing this evolution as a source of national pride, a coalition of insurance companies, corporate defense lobbies, and craven politicians depict it as an accountability that must be stripped.

If this campaign succeeds, the results are sadly predictable. Tort deform means less deterrence, which means more injuries, more uncompensated victims, and tremendous overall costs transferred to society.

Send the governor a letter and remind him an important part of being a leader is defending the defenseless. His address is:

The Honorable Andrew M. Cuomo of New York State
State Capitol Building
Albany, NY 12224
(c) 2011 Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer, and author. His most recent book - and first novel - is, Only The Super Wealthy Can Save Us. His most recent work of non-fiction is The Seventeen Traditions.

Maine Librarian's Pointed Budget Message Hits The Mark
By Bill Nemitz

Some might have looked at the long lines of people waiting to testify on Gov. Paul LePage's proposed budget and decided it wasn't worth it.

After all, you can wait hours for your turn to speak.

And when they finally do invite you up to the microphone, you get only three minutes.

[Kelley McDaniel, who got the attention of lawmakers during a budget hearing Wednesday, is an award-winning librarian who also connects with students at Portland’s King Middle School. ] Kelley McDaniel, who got the attention of lawmakers during a budget hearing Wednesday, is an award-winning librarian who also connects with students at Portland’s King Middle School. And while there may be strength in numbers, it's easy to wonder after a while whether those weary legislators on the Appropriations Committee -- or any of us, for that matter -- are truly capable of absorbing all that testimony over one full day, then another, then another ...

I got that feeling Wednesday afternoon as I sat at my desk with headphones on, listening online as a seemingly endless procession of Maine citizens decried all that's wrong with the governor's $6.1 billion spending package for the next two years.

Some, understandably, sounded nervous.

Others apologized in advance because they had colds.

Still others, bless them, tried to cram too many words into too little time and had to be gently coaxed into conclusion by Sen. Richard Rosen, R-Bucksport, the committee's co-chair.

Then along came Kelley McDaniel of Portland -- No. 48 on the day's speaker list.

She's a part-time librarian at King Middle School -- and a very good one at that.

She drove to Augusta with her 11-year-old daughter, Aedin, in tow because Aedin is on King Middle School's debate team, loves politics and dutifully met her mother's condition that she write a letter to each of her teachers explaining why listening to her mom testify at a state budget hearing was at least as important as a day in school.

Talk about a teachable moment.

If politics these days is all about what the experts call "driving the message," McDaniel spent all of her precious three minutes in the fast lane.

She told the committee that she recently won a national "I Love My Librarian" Award from the Carnegie Corp. and The New York Times -- an honor that included a check, made out to McDaniel, for $5,000.

"I plan to report that money on my income tax and I expect to pay taxes on it," she told the lawmakers. "Even though I donated the money in its entirety to the public middle school where I work."

You heard that right.

She gave the whole five grand, after taxes, to her school. If you live in Portland, that's your school, too.

It was only the beginning.

McDaniel said she's "happy to pay those taxes" because the way she sees it, taxes are "like membership dues" for being a citizen of this great state.

She said that while she gets lots of things (education, health and safety, arts and recreation) in exchange for those "dues," she realizes "I may not personally benefit from everything that tax money is used for."

She has no problem with that. As McDaniel put it, "I try to trust that elected officials will spend money to the best benefit of society and not just to a handful of individuals."

Then, without missing a beat, she turned her attention to the budget.

She talked about how, over there, the budget contains $200 million in tax cuts -- including an expansion of the estate-tax exemption from $1 million to $2 million -- that largely would benefit Mainers who aren't exactly scraping to get by.

And how, over here, that loss of state revenue is more than offset by $413 million in various curtailments on benefits earned by retired state workers -- many of whom, like McDaniel has at King Middle for the past 11 years, served long and nobly in Maine's public schools.

Observed McDaniel, "I don't understand the rationale for this proposal."

She said she doesn't buy the idea that the tax cuts, putting significantly more money back into the pockets (or portfolios) of Maine's wealthy, will stimulate the economy.

Citing reports from the Congressional Budget Office, McDaniel said "the best way to stimulate the economy is to give modest increases to the poor. Wealthy people tend to hold on to their money, while poor people tend to spend it as they get it."

Then McDaniel, as those experts might say, "re-framed the issue."

"I don't think it's a moral decision, because taking money from people who don't have much money and giving it to people who have more money than the people you took it from seems, well, greedy," she said. "Greed is frowned upon in every major world religion -- and I don't think agnostics and atheists look too kindly upon it, either."

She wondered aloud, "Is this about a quid pro quo? A gift from elected officials to wealthy people who have donated, or will donate, to election and re-election campaigns?"

Finally, as the clock wound down, McDaniel dropped the hammer.

"It's not economically sound. It's not morally sound. And I think you know that," she said. "I would be embarrassed to support something so ludicrous -- taking from the poor to give to the rich.

"Maybe you're testing us, checking to see if we, your constituents, are really paying attention, really listening," she continued. "I hope that's what's going on, because the alternative involves me losing faith in representative government, in democracy and in you, the elected officials."

Not once did her voice waver.

Not once did she cross the line between on-point and off-the-wall.

And not once did she sound like she was feeling sorry for herself.

Truth be told, McDaniel decided to testify in honor of her stepfather, a retired high school social studies teacher who, like so many in this state, struggles to fit rising health care costs into a painfully fixed income.

After McDaniel finished, the packed hearing room erupted into applause. Rules being rules, Chairman Rosen reminded them that cheering is not allowed.

But as McDaniel gathered her daughter for the ride home to Portland, a proud young Aedin said she noticed something about her mother's testimony that she hadn't seen with the other speakers.

"All of the people on the committee -- they weren't on their computers or looking at their papers while you were talking," Aiden told her mother. "That's because you were using your teacher voice."

A teacher voice.

Now more than ever, it's worth a few minutes of Maine's time.
© 2011 Bill Nemitz is a news columnist for the Portland Press Herald and Maine Sunday Telegram. After 10 years as a city editor and assistant managing editor/sports for the Portland Newspapers, he began fulfilling his long-held desire to put aside the budgets and performance evaluations and returned to writing in 1995, with his three-times-a-week column.

The Cartoon Corner...

This edition we're proud to showcase the cartoons of
~~~ Mike Lester ~~~

To End On A Happy Note...

Hanging On The Old Barbed Wire
By Chumbawamba

If you want to find the general
I know where he is
I know where he is
I know where he is

If you want to find the general
I know where he is
He's pinning another medal on his chest
I saw him, I saw him
Pinning another medal on his chest
I saw him... Pinning another medal on his chest

If you want to find the colonel
I know where he is
I know where he is
I know where he is

If you want to find the colonel
I know where he is
He's sitting in comfort stuffing his bloody gut
I saw him, I saw him
Sitting in comfort stuffing his bloody gut
I saw him... Sitting in comfort stuffing his bloody gut

If you want to find the seargent
I know where he is
I know where he is
I know where he is

If you want to find the seargent
I know where he is
He's drinking all the company rum
I saw him, I saw him
Drinking all the company rum
I saw him... Drinking all the company rum

If you want to find the private
I know where he is
I know where he is
I know where he is

If you want to find the private
I know where he is
He's hanging on the old barbed wire
I saw him, I saw him
Hanging on the old barbed wire
I saw him... Hanging on the old barbed wire
© Chumbawamba 2008/2011 Traditional-1917

Have You Seen This...

Parting Shots...

The suave, fantastically wealthy Krieger calls the state "captivating."

Wealthy Swiss Tourist Offers U.S. Government $87 Billion To Buy Indiana's Populace For Just One Night

WASHINGTON—Sources on Capitol Hill have confirmed that visiting Swiss banker Maximilian Krieger met privately with President Barack Obama and congressional leaders Friday, offering the U.S. government the equivalent of $87.3 billion for one night with the entire population of Indiana.

The charming billionaire's offer, which he has given the United States 72 hours to consider, would reportedly come with "no strings attached," and sources said Krieger has assured the White House the deal would be for one night, and no more.

"Let me be frank: You have something I want, and I, in turn, have something you want," said the debonair Krieger, according to an Oval Office staffer who was briefed on the meeting. "Of course, I'd be most delighted to assist you in any, how shall we say, pecuniary matters? All I ask in return is 12 hours alone with that lovely Indiana of yours."

The charming billionaire made his offer after catching a glimpse of Indiana's "alluring and bountiful fields."

"By all means, gentlemen, think it over—though I'm certain you'll find this offer more than agreeable to all parties," Krieger added.

The banking magnate then demonstrated the seriousness of his proposition to government leaders by opening a leather briefcase to reveal several billion Swiss francs. The heavily indebted U.S. government is widely expected to accept Krieger's offer and use the proceeds to fund critical job creation and infrastructure renewal projects. However, White House sources reported that President Obama has privately expressed conflicted emotions, admitting that the thought of Indiana with someone else was "tearing [him] up inside."

The charming billionaire made his offer after catching
a glimpse of Indiana's "alluring and bountiful fields."

Despite speculation that his ulterior motive is to drive a wedge between Indiana and the United States and lure its population into his arms, Krieger has maintained that he has no agenda other than a desire to give the state "one magical evening it will never forget."

"When I see an object of great beauty, I must possess it," the wealthy banker said in a televised interview Saturday, explaining how Indiana's "purity and innocence" set it apart from all the other Midwestern states. "In all my travels, never have I found anything more beautiful than Indiana."

According to Krieger, limousines will be dispatched to escort every Indiana resident, all of whom will be treated to an elegant evening of dinner, dancing, and champagne. Krieger stated that he and Indiana's citizenry would then retire back to his private suite to "enjoy the pleasures of one another's company."

In an effort to woo the state into submitting to his promised night of "bliss," the dashing banker reportedly sent each citizen a key to Suite 502 at the Terre Haute Crowne Plaza and an elegant handcrafted outfit of Italian silk that he would like them to wear during their rendezvous.

By his own account, Krieger became infatuated with the Hoosier State last week after glimpsing it from the window of his private jet. The billionaire reportedly spent the ensuing days poring over photographs of the state and slowly repeating the names of each of its 92 counties, growing particularly captivated upon learning that 64 percent of the state remained wholesome, unspoiled farmland.

"Let me assure you that my intentions are honorable," said Krieger, addressing Indiana residents directly during a press conference on the Statehouse steps. "I humbly ask just one thing: Surrender to your curiosities for a single evening. I'm certain that you'll find it a most rewarding experience."

"Let me ask you, Indiana," Krieger added, "when was the last time anyone told you how beautiful you are?"

According to the latest reports, most of Indiana has agreed to Krieger's proposal, with the mayor of Fort Wayne noting that his municipality was "willing to do pretty much anything." However, a handful of communities have remained hesitant, sending politicians scrambling to convince lingering holdouts to consent to the encounter.

"I recognize that this is an uncomfortable situation, but the money will go a long way in helping our schools and police departments," Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN) said in a radio address yesterday. "Please, fellow Indianans, it's only one night. And really, how bad could it be? Monsieur Krieger is an upstanding and cultured man, and he promised to keep the evening dignified and sophisticated."

"And if we just get this over with, we'll never have to speak of it again," Lugar added. "So let's go into it with an open mind, okay?"

At press time, with Krieger's deadline looming, White House aides confirmed that a regretful President Obama was racing westward in Air Force One, hoping to burst into Krieger's suite and proclaim his love for Indiana before the foreigner could consummate his liaison with the state's 6,423,113 inhabitants.
© 2011 The Onion

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