Issues & Alibis

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In This Edition

Michelle Alexander explores, "The New Jim Crow."

Uri Avnery visits, "The Harlot's Grave."

David Sirota gives, "The Senate's Lesson About Democracy."

Amy Goodman covers, "Rachel Corrie's (Posthumous) Day In Court."

Jim Hightower finds, "A Good Banking Reform Has Gone Bad."

Mark Benjamin explains, "Waterboarding For Dummies."

Joel S. Hirschhorn trys, "Understanding Toyota Sudden Acceleration."

Paul Krugman looks into, "An Irish Mirror."

Chris Floyd considers, "Unnatural Acts."

Case Wagenvoord wonders about, "A Christian Nation?"

Mike Folkerth got dem ol', "Blue Collar Blues."

Chris Hedges is, "Calling All Rebels."

David Michael Green goes, "To Hell In A Handbasket."

Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli wins the coveted "Vidkun Quisling Award!"

Joe Conason asks, "Why Probe Charlie Rangel -- But Not Mitch McConnell?"

James Donahue warns of, "The Rising Tide Of Anger In America."

And finally in the 'Parting Shots' department The Onion reports, "Latest Sarah Palin Speech Opens Sixth Seal" but first Uncle Ernie revisits, "Persecution Smith."

This week we spotlight the cartoons of R. P. Overmyer, with additional cartoons, photos and videos from Derf City, J.D. Crowe, Wiley Miller, Bill Schorr, Jeff Parker, Rick McKee, Betty Bowers.Com, Rob Rogers, Bob Englehart, Steve Sack, Keith Tucker, Zinger Bug.Com, The Onion, Life Magazine 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."

Persecution Smith
By Ernest Stewart

When you're finished with your ideals,
And you're finished with your dreams.
When you're finished your crusading and no longer hear the screams.
When you're finished trying to picture a world with people free.
When you're finished looking up and the down is all you see.

Then make your goal the first foxhole!
And hide your head beneath your bed.
Cause you won't be alone my friend
You know who you'll be with?
With persecution, persecution, Persecution Smith!
Persecution Smith ~~~Bob Seger

"Additionally, the legislation would authorize detention of enemy belligerents without criminal charges for the duration of the hostilities consistent with standards under the law of war which have been recognized by the Supreme Court. Importantly, if a decision is made to hold a criminal trial after the necessary intelligence information is obtained, the bill mandates trial by military commission where we are best able to protect U.S. national security interests, including sensitive classified sources and methods, as well as the place and the people involved in the trial itself." ~~~ John McCain

Who's that lady (who's that lady)
Sexy lady (who's that lady)
Beautiful lady (who's that lady)
Real fine lady (who's that lady)
Who's That Lady ~~~ Isley Brothers

Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II is still defending his call for state universities and colleges to rescind anti-discrimination policies based on sexual orientation, saying that he's not out to be popular. Well, he's certainly achieved that, huh? Still, I'm sure that there are some "good old boys" who will applaud him, you know the ones with the hoods pulled over their heads at his club meetings?

Cuccinelli found himself in a firestorm of controversy last week when various media sources reported that the state's top lawyer called such measures illegal in a letter written to the state's public schools. Cuccinelli said:

"It is my advice that the law and public policy of the Commonwealth of Virginia prohibit a college or university from including 'sexual orientation,' 'gender identity,' 'gender expression,' or like classification as a protected class within its non-discrimination policy absent specific authorization from the General Assembly. The schools should take appropriate actions to bring their policies in conformance with the law and public policy of Virginia."

"My job as Attorney General is to advise our various arms of state government what the law is and that's what I was doing and will continue to do that and will be true to the law whether people like it or not. My job isn't to be popular, it's to correctly interpret the law for my clients"

The ACLU of Virginia, however, disagreed with Cuccinelli's legal interpretation in a letter sent to the state's public colleges and universities.

In the letter, written by Rebecca K. Glenberg, the group's legal director, the ACLU says that the Supreme Court "held that discriminatory laws based on sheer animus toward lesbian and gay persons violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment" in Romer V. Evans.

"If Ken Cuccinelli is trying to say that the U.S. Constitution doesn't apply in Virginia, his first significant act as attorney general is a giant step backwards and a huge embarrassment for the state," Kent Willis, executive director of the group, said in a statement.

Students and faculty members all across Virginia are in protest and demanding their schools ignore Cuccinelli's imperial decree!

Cuccinelli added that he did not consult Governor Bob McDonnell on the issue: "The governor had nothing to do or knew about the fact that we were giving legal advice."

Whether he approved or not McDonnell, also a Rethuglican, omitted such protections for state workers in a February 5 executive order. If you wondered why Kenny won the Vidkun Quisling Award for this week, then wonder no more!

PS. I wrote Governor McDonnell a note asking if they were going to change their motto of "Virginia is for Lovers" to "Virginia is for Bigots" which it seems is more in line with reality and truth in advertising!

In Other News

Just when you thought it couldn't get any worse, of course it does! When one thinks of American traitors two names spring to mind. Two who should have been tried and executed decades ago have come up with another way to get rid of the patriots with a little political hocus-pocus. The traitor old "Wet Start John" McCain, sold out his comrades by making over 30 broadcasts denouncing America when he was a POW held by the North Vietnamese. And his partner in so many crimes against America since, everyone's ones favorite Israeli 5th columnist, the traitor "Tail gunner Joe" Lieberman. They've come up with another crime against the Constitution called, "The Enemy Belligerent, Interrogation, Detention, and Prosecution Act of 2010." Senate bill S.3081 The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder writes about the bill:

The Enemy Belligerent, Interrogation, Detention, and Prosecution Act of 2010 sets out a comprehensive policy for the detention, interrogation and trial of suspected enemy belligerents who are believed to have engaged in hostilities against the United States by requiring these individuals to be held in military custody, interrogated for their intelligence value and not provided with a Miranda warning.

The full bill can be read here.

Trouble is what it says and what it actually means is two different things! The bill does not distinguish between U.S. citizens and non-citizens, and states that "suspected belligerents" who are "considered a "high-value detainee" shall not be provided with a Miranda warning."

You are considered a "high value detainee" if you fulfill one of the following criteria.

(1) poses a threat of an attack on civilians or civilian facilities within the U.S. or U.S. facilities abroad;
(2) poses a threat to U.S. military personnel or U.S. military facilities;
(3) potential intelligence value;
(4) is a member of al Qaeda or a terrorist group affiliated with al Qaeda or
(5) such other matters as the President considers appropriate.

The Southern Poverty Law Center says, "the MIAC report and innumerable other leaked documents, consider virtually anyone with a dissenting opinion against the state as 'posing a threat,' (folks like you and me) millions of peaceful American citizens could be swept up by this frightening dragnet of tyranny" (So keep your powder dry).

The scary thing, or one of the scary things, according to the bill is, an individual doesn't even have to pose a threat to be snatched, detained and interrogated - they can merely be deemed to be of "potential intelligence value" or as Smirky established come under the vague and sweeping mandate of "such other matters as the President considers appropriate." Did a chill just go up and down your spine, America? It should have!

This last bit hands Obama powers to have any American citizen kidnapped, detained, and interrogated on a whim, way beyond any powers granted to him by the U.S. Constitution. Not afraid of President Obama doing that to you? How about President Palin? President Romney, or President Cheney? Got them goose bumps yet?

The ACLU has expressed its vigorous opposition to this legislation, labeling it a "direct attack on the Constitution."

"Indefinite detention flies in the face of American values and violates this country's commitment to the rule of law," states Laura W. Murphy, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office.

Did you really think they were building all those new Happy Camps for Mexicans and Muslims? Sure they'll be in there too but they're just practice for the main event. Those camps are for people like you and me. They're for unionists, radicals, blacks, gays, who knows, even tea baggers. For any one who has a pair and dares to stand against them, for anyone who rocks the boat. For all those unemployed homeless who demand jobs, roofs over their heads and food in their bellies. For those who stand for their children's educations and welfare, etc.

When George Orwell wrote 1984 back in 1948 most folks thought he was writing about the future. Orwell was actually writing about 1948. 62 years later I think even Orwell would be amazed by 2010, perhaps not shocked but amazed that we've let it get this bad.

And Finally

Ken, a long time reader and fellow "Firehead," wrote in asking if I might display somewhere the names of the folks in the obit section of my column. I get one of these letters about once a month and have from time to time mentioned the solution to this in my column as well as telling the writer what to do. But sometimes I forget and my thanks to Ken for reminding me!

The people who make the obits are either famous for doing something remarkable or infamous for doing something dastardly! I often will run the earliest photo I can find for the ladies, often a cheese cake to make them look as good as possible. She may have been 92 but when she was 17 and wearing a bikini, Oh Baby! Ergo you might not recognize them in this photo but would know them from an up-to-date shot. A lot of times you'll know their name but not what they look like! For the guys pretty much the same thing, a photo from when they were famous. However, there is a simple solution to this quandary!

If the photo and clue don't ring a bell just slide their photo over to your desktop and you'll see their name beside the gif or jpeg. For example the first photo in this weeks obits is that of Ron Banks (ronbanks.jpg) leader and lead singer from the Detroit Funk Band, "The Dramatics." Right below him is Lolly Vegas (redbone_lollyvegas.jpg) co-founder, guitarist, and singer from the rock band "Red Bone!" If having their name still doesn't ring a bell just put it into your favorite search engine!

Oh And One More Thing

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


05-10-1951 ~ 03-04-2010
Thanks for the Funk!

10-02-1939 ~ 03-04-2010
Thanks for the Jams!

02-19-1910 ~ 03-10-2010
Thanks for the Movies!

12-23-1971 ~ 03-10-2010
Thanks for the Film!

09-15-1940 ~ 03-11-2010
Thanks for the entertainment!


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

The New Jim Crow
How the War on Drugs Gave Birth to a Permanent American Undercaste
By Michelle Alexander

Ever since Barack Obama lifted his right hand and took his oath of office, pledging to serve the United States as its 44th president, ordinary people and their leaders around the globe have been celebrating our nation's "triumph over race." Obama's election has been touted as the final nail in the coffin of Jim Crow, the bookend placed on the history of racial caste in America.

Obama's mere presence in the Oval Office is offered as proof that "the land of the free" has finally made good on its promise of equality. There's an implicit yet undeniable message embedded in his appearance on the world stage: this is what freedom looks like; this is what democracy can do for you. If you are poor, marginalized, or relegated to an inferior caste, there is hope for you. Trust us. Trust our rules, laws, customs, and wars. You, too, can get to the promised land.

Perhaps greater lies have been told in the past century, but they can be counted on one hand. Racial caste is alive and well in America.

Most people don't like it when I say this. It makes them angry. In the "era of colorblindness" there's a nearly fanatical desire to cling to the myth that we as a nation have "moved beyond" race. Here are a few facts that run counter to that triumphant racial narrative:

*There are more African Americans under correctional control today -- in prison or jail, on probation or parole -- than were enslaved in 1850, a decade before the Civil War began.

*As of 2004, more African American men were disenfranchised (due to felon disenfranchisement laws) than in 1870, the year the Fifteenth Amendment was ratified, prohibiting laws that explicitly deny the right to vote on the basis of race.

* A black child born today is less likely to be raised by both parents than a black child born during slavery. The recent disintegration of the African American family is due in large part to the mass imprisonment of black fathers.

*If you take into account prisoners, a large majority of African American men in some urban areas have been labeled felons for life. (In the Chicago area, the figure is nearly 80%.) These men are part of a growing undercaste -- not class, caste -- permanently relegated, by law, to a second-class status. They can be denied the right to vote, automatically excluded from juries, and legally discriminated against in employment, housing, access to education, and public benefits, much as their grandparents and great-grandparents were during the Jim Crow era.

Excuses for the Lockdown

There is, of course, a colorblind explanation for all this: crime rates. Our prison population has exploded from about 300,000 to more than 2 million in a few short decades, it is said, because of rampant crime. We're told that the reason so many black and brown men find themselves behind bars and ushered into a permanent, second-class status is because they happen to be the bad guys.

The uncomfortable truth, however, is that crime rates do not explain the sudden and dramatic mass incarceration of African Americans during the past 30 years. Crime rates have fluctuated over the last few decades -- they are currently are at historical lows -- but imprisonment rates have consistently soared. Quintupled, in fact. And the vast majority of that increase is due to the War on Drugs. Drug offenses alone account for about two-thirds of the increase in the federal inmate population, and more than half of the increase in the state prison population.

The drug war has been brutal -- complete with SWAT teams, tanks, bazookas, grenade launchers, and sweeps of entire neighborhoods -- but those who live in white communities have little clue to the devastation wrought. This war has been waged almost exclusively in poor communities of color, even though studies consistently show that people of all colors use and sell illegal drugs at remarkably similar rates. In fact, some studies indicate that white youth are significantly more likely to engage in illegal drug dealing than black youth. Any notion that drug use among African Americans is more severe or dangerous is belied by the data. White youth, for example, have about three times the number of drug-related visits to the emergency room as their African American counterparts.

That is not what you would guess, though, when entering our nation's prisons and jails, overflowing as they are with black and brown drug offenders. In some states, African Americans comprise 80%-90% of all drug offenders sent to prison.

This is the point at which I am typically interrupted and reminded that black men have higher rates of violent crime. That's why the drug war is waged in poor communities of color and not middle-class suburbs. Drug warriors are trying to get rid of those drug kingpins and violent offenders who make ghetto communities a living hell. It has nothing to do with race; it's all about violent crime.

Again, not so. President Ronald Reagan officially declared the current drug war in 1982, when drug crime was declining, not rising. From the outset, the war had little to do with drug crime and nearly everything to do with racial politics. The drug war was part of a grand and highly successful Republican Party strategy of using racially coded political appeals on issues of crime and welfare to attract poor and working class white voters who were resentful of, and threatened by, desegregation, busing, and affirmative action. In the words of H.R. Haldeman, President Richard Nixon's White House Chief of Staff: "[T]he whole problem is really the blacks. The key is to devise a system that recognizes this while not appearing to."

A few years after the drug war was announced, crack cocaine hit the streets of inner-city communities. The Reagan administration seized on this development with glee, hiring staff who were to be responsible for publicizing inner-city crack babies, crack mothers, crack whores, and drug-related violence. The goal was to make inner-city crack abuse and violence a media sensation, bolstering public support for the drug war which, it was hoped, would lead Congress to devote millions of dollars in additional funding to it.

The plan worked like a charm. For more than a decade, black drug dealers and users would be regulars in newspaper stories and would saturate the evening TV news. Congress and state legislatures nationwide would devote billions of dollars to the drug war and pass harsh mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes -- sentences longer than murderers receive in many countries.

Democrats began competing with Republicans to prove that they could be even tougher on the dark-skinned pariahs. In President Bill Clinton's boastful words, "I can be nicked a lot, but no one can say I'm soft on crime." The facts bear him out. Clinton's "tough on crime" policies resulted in the largest increase in federal and state prison inmates of any president in American history. But Clinton was not satisfied with exploding prison populations. He and the "New Democrats" championed legislation banning drug felons from public housing (no matter how minor the offense) and denying them basic public benefits, including food stamps, for life. Discrimination in virtually every aspect of political, economic, and social life is now perfectly legal, if you've been labeled a felon.

Facing Facts

But what about all those violent criminals and drug kingpins? Isn't the drug war waged in ghetto communities because that's where the violent offenders can be found? The answer is yes... in made-for-TV movies. In real life, the answer is no.

The drug war has never been focused on rooting out drug kingpins or violent offenders. Federal funding flows to those agencies that increase dramatically the volume of drug arrests, not the agencies most successful in bringing down the bosses. What gets rewarded in this war is sheer numbers of drug arrests. To make matters worse, federal drug forfeiture laws allow state and local law enforcement agencies to keep for their own use 80% of the cash, cars, and homes seized from drug suspects, thus granting law enforcement a direct monetary interest in the profitability of the drug market.

The results have been predictable: people of color rounded up en masse for relatively minor, non-violent drug offenses. In 2005, four out of five drug arrests were for possession, only one out of five for sales. Most people in state prison have no history of violence or even of significant selling activity. In fact, during the 1990s -- the period of the most dramatic expansion of the drug war -- nearly 80% of the increase in drug arrests was for marijuana possession, a drug generally considered less harmful than alcohol or tobacco and at least as prevalent in middle-class white communities as in the inner city.

In this way, a new racial undercaste has been created in an astonishingly short period of time -- a new Jim Crow system. Millions of people of color are now saddled with criminal records and legally denied the very rights that their parents and grandparents fought for and, in some cases, died for.

Affirmative action, though, has put a happy face on this racial reality. Seeing black people graduate from Harvard and Yale and become CEOs or corporate lawyers -- not to mention president of the United States -- causes us all to marvel at what a long way we've come.

Recent data shows, though, that much of black progress is a myth. In many respects, African Americans are doing no better than they were when Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated and uprisings swept inner cities across America. Nearly a quarter of African Americans live below the poverty line today, approximately the same percentage as in 1968. The black child poverty rate is actually higher now than it was then. Unemployment rates in black communities rival those in Third World countries. And that's with affirmative action!

When we pull back the curtain and take a look at what our "colorblind" society creates without affirmative action, we see a familiar social, political, and economic structure -- the structure of racial caste. The entrance into this new caste system can be found at the prison gate.

This is not Martin Luther King, Jr.'s dream. This is not the promised land. The cyclical rebirth of caste in America is a recurring racial nightmare.
(c) 2010 Michelle Alexander is the author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (The New Press, 2010). The former director of the Racial Justice Project of the ACLU in Northern California, she also served as a law clerk to Justice Harry Blackmun on the U.S. Supreme Court. Currently, she holds a joint appointment with the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity and the Moritz College of Law at Ohio State University.

The Harlot's Grave
By Uri Avnery

SOME WEEKS ago, Mehmet Ali Agca, the Turk who tried to kill Pope John Paul II in Rome, was released after serving 28 years in prison. The motives for his act have never been clarified. But a Palestinian leader once told me his version:

God appeared to Agca in a dream and told him: Go to the Holy City and kill that damn Pole. But the Turk misunderstood, so instead of going to Jerusalem and killing Menachem Begin, he went to Rome.

Which just goes to show that holy cities are a pain in the neck.

THE LATE Yeshayahu Leibowitz, an observant Jew and a resolute opponent of the religious establishment, used to praise a deed of the Wahhabis, the radical sect that arose more than 200 years ago to cleanse Islam of impurity. The first thing they did upon conquering Mecca was to destroy the tomb of the Prophet Muhammad. The sanctification of graves was, to their mind, a pagan abomination. Leibowitz lauded this act and poured his wrath on religious Jews who sanctify "holy" sites.

He was standing on solid ground. The last chapter of the Torah (Deuteronomy 34) states: "So Moses, the servant of the Lord, died there in the land of Moaboand he buried him but no man knoweth of his sepulcher unto this day." Clearly, the authors of the Bible, too, believed that the adulation of graves was a despicable habit of idolaters.

In the course of generations, Jews, too, were infected with this ailment. Orthodox Jews worshipped at the grave of Rabbi Nachman in the Ukraine and of Rabbi Abu-Hatzira in Egypt. The mutation of Judaism, which has become a kind of state religion in Israel, has turned this idolatry into a holy cult.

During the first years of the state, an official of the Ministry of Religions (as it was then called), a certain Shmuel Zanwill Kahana, toured the country and discovered holy sites right and left. He found graves of Muslim sheikhs and announced that they were, actually, the tombs of our forefathers. They were declared holy places and taken over by his ministry.

That aggrandized the ministry and its budget, attracted tourists and "proved" that Jews had deep roots in the country. Secular Israelis smiled in derision, and some religious Jews, like Leibowitz, were furious.

But after the Six-day War and the beginning of the occupation, the worship of holy places assumed a much more sinister character. It became an instrument of the settlers.

USING HOLY sites to justify conquest and massacres is by no means an Israeli, or Jewish, invention.

One of the most abominable examples is the First Crusade. Pope Urban II called upon the Christians of Europe to rise and liberate the Holy Sepulcher not the country of Palestine, not the city of Jerusalem, but one specific site: the grave where, according to Christian tradition, the body of Jesus lay before his resurrection.

For this grave, many thousands of Christians crossed immense distances to Jerusalem, murdering masses of people (mostly Jews) on the way, and, after conquering the city, carrying out a horrendous massacre. According to Christian chroniclers, they waded up to their knees in blood. The victims were Muslims and Jews, men, women and children.

But there is no need to go back 911 years to find fanatical or cynical leaders using holy places to justify monstrous deeds. When Slobodan Milosevic carried out the ethnic cleansing of Kosovo an act of genocide his central claim was that the country was sacred to Serbs.

And indeed, in 1389 a historic battle took place there. The Christian Serbs were beaten by the Muslim Ottomans, who took over the country for the next 600 years. During that time, the local population voluntarily adopted Islam. But the Serbs sanctified the battlefield in a rare example of a people celebrating its defeat (as Jews do at Masada).

If Binyamin Netanyahuís favorite expression "the Rock of our Existence" existed in Serbian, Milosevic would surely have used it. He argued that Kosovo was the spiritual and religious center of the Serbian people, in spite of the fact that the overwhelming majority of its inhabitants are now Albanian Muslims. Until this very day, Serbia does not recognize the independent state of Kosova, because of the ancient Serbian churches and monasteries located there.

AND HERE? Since the beginning of the occupation, the "holy places" in the West Bank have served as weapons in the hands of the settlers. They go there, they say, to restore Jewish rule over Judaism's holy places, obeying God's commandment.

The stories of the Bible are set mostly in these territories. The settlers and the Israeli army call them "Judea and Samaria." Place names can be acts of annexation. They confirm the ownership of the Jewish people from ancient times. (In the 50s the British historian Steven Runciman, a leading expert on the crusades, drew my attention to the fact that the names have somehow been reversed: the Israelis are living in the land of the Philistines, from which the name Palestine is derived, while the Palestinians live in the land that was the ancient kingdom of Israel.)

The first settlement was established by a group of religious people who entered Hebron by deceit. Since the Israeli military governor forbade Jews to enter the city, they asked for permission to stay there for a few days in order to deliver their Passover prayers in the holy city.

Since then, the "Cave of Machpelah" in Hebron has become a holy battlefield. Near it, the most extreme Jewish settlers have established themselves. They are rabid Arab-haters and aim to drive out the 160 thousand Arabs, whose families have been living there for many generations. The most notorious mass murderer from among the settlers, the physician Baruch Goldstein, massacred Muslim worshippers in order to cleanse the holy place.

Holy places serve now as justification for the robbing expedition called settlement. Pieces of land are stolen all over the occupied territories because of their sanctity. The most extreme leaders of the settlers, all of them "rabbis", fight for the liberation of holy graves. One of them is leading a crusade (or, rather, star-of-davidade) in order to take possession of the "tomb of Joseph" in the center of Nablus, which would turn the city into a second Hebron. The Israeli army chauffeurs the settlers there in armored vehicles, so they can "pray" there.)

But not only "fathers of the nation" deserve holy graves, on which blood can be spilt. Every secondary figure in the Bible can get one and become a target for the settlers. Now a battle is raging around the "tomb of Othniel", bearing the name of Othniel the son of Kenaz, an obscure Biblical personality. The Muslim inhabitants of Hebron believe that it is the grave of the founder of their city.

Some days ago, settlers invaded an ancient synagogue in Jericho, which has been preserved by Muslims for generations. Jews had no problem visiting the place peacefully the Jericho municipality, a part of the Palestinian Authority, has enabled all Jews to pray there. But the settlers did not go there to pray. They came to conquer.

Which reminds me of another prophecy by Yeshayahu Leibowitz on Jericho. The settlers, he said, would sanctify the tomb of Rahab the Harlot in Jericho. This heroine of the Bible (Joshua 2), the whore who betrayed her city and helped the invaders to conquer it and murder all the other inhabitants, is in good company with the settlers.

NO NEED to point out that the worship of these holy places is manifestly absurd. There is not a single grave in the country that can be seriously identified with any Biblical figure, real or imagined. Most holy graves are those of local Arab Sheikhs, who, because of their righteousness, were believed to be able to intercede with Allah. The location of most holy sites, including the Christian Holy Sepulcher, is much in doubt, to say the least.

That is also true for the two sites where bloody riots have lately broken out: the Tomb of Rachel in Bethlehem and the Cave of Machpelah in Hebron.

This is not the place to ask whether "Our Mother Rachel", one of the most attractive figures in the Bible, belongs to the realm of legend or of history. But even according to legend, she is not buried at the spot that now bears her name. Many Bible experts (of those who believe that she really existed) think that she was buried North, not South, of Jerusalem. It is Muslim tradition that located her grave in the isolated, modest building that appears on the postage stamps of Palestine during the British Mandate. Many generations of Muslim, Jewish and Christian women have prayed there, asking Rachel to bless them with offspring. This building cannot be seen anymore: the army has surrounded it with fortified walls and gates, so that the site now looks menacing, an ugly copy of a Crusader fortress.

The building in Hebron known as the "Cave of Machpelah" is actually no cave at all - has also been preserved by Muslim tradition, which sanctified it as "Ibrahimis Mosque". Many Bible experts who do not think that the story of Abraham is a legend believe that the Cave is located at another place altogether. But on this spot, much blood has been spilt.

This week's riots took place at both holy sites. They were caused by a decision by Netanyahu to include them in a list of Jewish "Heritage Sites" to be renovated by the Israeli government. Since both are holy to Muslims, Jews and Christians, this unilateral act is nothing but an expropriation and a blatant provocation. If there were really a desire for the improvement of the sites, it could have been done by a joint committee of the representatives of the two peoples and the three religions.

Years ago, I was invited by the late lamented mayor of Florence, Giorgio La Pira, to take part in a joint prayer session with a Catholic priest, a Muslim Sheikh and a Jewish rabbi at the Cave of Machpelah. In spite of being a devout atheist, I went along. At the time, it crossed my mind that such a site could well serve as a symbol of fraternity for both peoples of the country.

Joint love for the country, including all its periods and sites, holy and unholy, could serve as a spiritual basis for peace and reconciliation. Even now I hope for the day when schoolchildren in both states, Israel and Palestine, will learn the annals of this country in all its periods, and not just Jewish history here and Muslim history there. The wonderful richness of this country's history, from the time of the Canaanites to this day, could create a strong bond.

However, the intentions of Netanyahu and his settlers are quite the opposite: to misuse history as an instrument of occupation, and to build settlements around the harlot's grave.
(c) 2010 Uri Avnery ~~~ Gush Shalom

Mike gives the republican salute

The Senate's Lesson About Democracy
By David Sirota

When you look past the craziness, chaos and confusion of politics these days, you still find roughly two major schools of thought that aim to explain What's Fundamentally Wrong.

The first says America is paralyzed by a political system that is too democratic -- too responsive to citizens' whims. This is the religion of almost everyone in the permanent Washington elite, regardless of party. Its canon mixing paeans to noblesse oblige with shrill authoritarianism is most clearly articulated by high priests like The Washington Post's David Broder and The New York Times' Tom Friedman. The former has said democracy threatens to make "official Washington altogether too responsive to public opinion"; the latter dreams of Chinese-style dictatorship.

"One-party autocracy certainly has its drawbacks. But when it is led by a reasonably enlightened group of people, as China is today, it can also have great advantages," Friedman recently gushed, adding that the chief "advantage" is the ability of despots to "just impose" policies at the barrel of a gun.

By contrast, most people living outside of Washington (i.e., the Rest of Us) see America harmed by a political system that is too undemocratic -- too controlled by moneyed interests, unaccountable lawmakers and a servile press. An organizer friend of mine sums up this view by saying, "The best kind of politician is a nervous politician" -- and the trouble is that gerrymandering, extended terms, incumbent fundraising advantages, obsequious media coverage, lame duck-ness and other travesties make sure few politicians are ever nervous about keeping their jobs.

Over the course of history, neither side of this divide has had a full monopoly on truth. But recent moves by three senators teach that, at least at this moment, the Rest of Us are more accurately diagnosing the root problem than our Beltway adversaries.

What, for instance, is Sen. Jim Bunning but the personification of unaccountability's downsides? The Kentucky Republican announced in July that he is not seeking re-election. Thus shielded from democratic pressure, he felt free to let his conservative extremism fly with an outrageous attempt this week to block unemployment benefits for thousands of jobless Americans.

Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd is Bunning's Democratic analogue. When he was originally planning to face voters in 2010, he was motivated to represent voters' support for stronger financial regulations. For instance, he promised to use his Banking Committee chairmanship to pass a bill constructing a Consumer Financial Protection Agency (CFPA) -- one independent of the Federal Reserve, which he rightly said "failed for over 14 years to put an end to the predatory mortgage lending practices that led to the financial crisis."

Now, however, Dodd has opted not to run for re-election -- and guess what? He's started working with lobbyists to make sure any CFPA is run by the Fed.

The converse of Dodd and Bunning is Michael Bennet, who embodies the same axiom -- but in the opposite way. Confronting an increasingly aggressive Democratic primary challenge from former state legislator Andrew Romanoff, the Colorado senator is suddenly shaking off his backbench lethargy. Last week, he released a letter endorsing the use of majority rules ("reconciliation") to create a much-needed government-run health insurer that will compete with private insurance monopolies. Polls in Colorado and nationally show his initiative is wildly popular -- and since he needs voters' support to retain his Senate seat, he is reinvigorating this critical fight.

Bennet is nervous; Bunning and Dodd are not. The one facing democracy is serving the public interest; the two insulated from democracy are serving their own interests. In government today, the election-related trepidation and legislative responsiveness is the exception, the insulation and indifference the norm.

If you want to understand What's Fundamentally Wrong, here endeth the lesson.
(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

Rachel Corrie's (Posthumous) Day In Court
By Amy Goodman

An unusual trial begins in Israel this week, and people around the world will be watching closely. It involves the tragic death of a 23-year-old American student named Rachel Corrie. On March 16, 2003, she was crushed to death by an Israeli military bulldozer.

Corrie was volunteering with the group International Solidarity Movement (ISM), which formed after Israel and the United States rejected a proposal by then-United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson to place international human rights monitors in the occupied territories. The ISM defines itself as "a Palestinian-led movement committed to resisting the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land using nonviolent, direct-action methods and principles." Israel was building a large steel wall to separate Rafah from Egypt, and was bulldozing homes and gardens to create a "buffer zone." Corrie and seven other ISM activists responded to a call on that March day to protect the home of the Nasrallah family, which was being threatened with demolition by two of the armored Israeli military bulldozers made by the U.S. company Caterpillar.

Cindy Corrie, Rachel's mother, related what happened: "The bulldozer proceeded toward Rachel. ... She was in her orange jacket. When it kept coming, she rose on the mound, and the eyewitnesses testified that her head rose above the top of the blade of the bulldozer, so she could clearly be seen, but the bulldozer continued and proceeded over her, and so that it was covering her body. It stopped and then reversed, according to the eyewitness testimonies, without lifting its blade, so backed over her once again.

"Her friends were screaming at the bulldozer drivers through this to stop. They rushed to her, and she said to them, 'I think my back is broken.' And those were her final words."

Shortly after Rachel's death, the Corries met with the Bush State Department. It was there that the idea of a civil lawsuit was first presented, by Secretary of State Colin Powell's own chief of staff, Lawrence B. Wilkerson. Craig Corrie, Rachel's father, recalled: "He said: 'If it was my daughter, I'd sue them. I don't care about money. I wouldn't care about anything. I would sue the state of Israel.'" Ultimately, this is what the Corrie family did.

Just before heading to JFK Airport in New York to attend the trial, Craig Corrie told me about the lawsuit: "We're accusing the state of Israel of either intentionally killing Rachel or of gross negligence in her killing seven years ago." The day after Rachel was killed, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon promised President George W. Bush a "thorough, credible and transparent investigation." Yet according to a Human Rights Watch report from 2005, Israel's "investigations into Corrie's killing ... fell far short of the transparency, impartiality, and thoroughness required by international law."

The civil trial, Craig Corrie says, is not about the monetary damages, but discovering information, and "like [South African Archbishop] Desmond Tutu talks about, of mending the tear in society." The Corries never speak solely about their daughter, but about the plight of the Palestinians and the Israeli siege of Gaza. According to the latest figures of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, 24,145 houses have been demolished in the occupied territories since 1967, including the 4,247 that the United Nations estimated were destroyed during Operation Cast Lead, the name Israel gave to its military assault on Gaza in December 2008 and January 2009.

Of course, more than houses were destroyed there. More than 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed. The Corries also express concern about the psychological toll exacted on Israeli soldiers. Craig Corrie said, "We lost Rachel, and that hurts every day, but that bulldozer driver lost a lot of his humanity when he crushed Rachel."

The trial begins during the same week that Joe Biden makes his first trip to Israel as vice president. As chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Biden sought answers on the death of Rachel Corrie during the confirmation hearings for U.S. Ambassador to Israel James Cunningham.

Biden knows the pain of losing a daughter. His daughter was killed with his first wife in a car accident in 1972. The Corries are calling on people around the world to stand with them on March 16, the anniversary of Rachel's death, for truth, accountability and justice, "to raise and highlight many of the critical issues to which Rachel's case is linked."
(c) 2010 Amy Goodman is the host of "Democracy Now!," a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on 750 stations in North America. She is the co-author of "Standing Up to the Madness: Ordinary Heroes in Extraordinary Times," recently released in paperback.

A Good Banking Reform Has Gone Bad

They roll into Washington from the West, the North, the South - good ideas to make our national policies better, to make our economy fairer, to improve our nation. And these good ideas - still sparkling with freshness and common sense - are delivered into the welcoming arms of our members of Congress, who with great fanfare and promise, carry them into the majestic Capitol building, the sanctuary of our democracy.

But then, lobbyists appear from out of the shadows to whisper to lawmakers and slip checks into their pockets. Time passes, and the fresh ideas show signs of wilting. Next, they moved into closed committee rooms where they get dissected by members representing special interests. Then - with Republicans sourly opposing anything fresh and good, and with Democrats timorously trying to appease sour Republicans - the ideas are taken down into a dark, secret chamber for "negotiations."

From there, the good idea emerges as a bill. Only - Ohmygod, don't look! - it's been turned inside out, stuffed, and twisted into a bad idea. Republicans, who forced this grotesque gut job, spit on their own creation and walk away, but Democrats say they need to pass something, so they pass the bad idea, and call it progress.

This has been the sad journey of a bill to create a Consumer Financial Protection Agency, a good idea that surfaced a year ago to stop Wall Street and other banking hucksters from ripping off consumers. That idea is now being "negotiated" in the senate, where it is expected to be perverted from an independent watchdog with real teeth into a puppy kept by the Federal Reserve System, where it will be taught not to bark at bankers, much less bite.

The hope for us consumers is that the house will reject this fraud. For more information, contact Consumer Federation of America.
(c) 2010 Jim Hightower's latest book, "If The Gods Had Meant Us To Vote They Would Have Given Us Candidates," is available in a fully revised and updated paperback edition.

Waterboarding For Dummies
Internal CIA documents reveal a meticulous protocol that was far more brutal than Dick Cheney's "dunk in the water"
By Mark Benjamin

Self-proclaimed waterboarding fan Dick Cheney called it a no-brainer in a 2006 radio interview: Terror suspects should get a "a dunk in the water." But recently released internal documents reveal the controversial "enhanced interrogation" practice was far more brutal on detainees than Cheney's description sounds, and was administered with meticulous cruelty.

Interrogators pumped detainees full of so much water that the CIA turned to a special saline solution to minimize the risk of death, the documents show. The agency used a gurney "specially designed" to tilt backwards at a perfect angle to maximize the water entering the prisoner's nose and mouth, intensifying the sense of choking - and to be lifted upright quickly in the event that a prisoner stopped breathing.

The documents also lay out, in chilling detail, exactly what should occur in each two-hour waterboarding "session." Interrogators were instructed to start pouring water right after a detainee exhaled, to ensure he inhaled water, not air, in his next breath. They could use their hands to "dam the runoff" and prevent water from spilling out of a detainee's mouth. They were allowed six separate 40-second "applications" of liquid in each two-hour session - and could dump water over a detainee's nose and mouth for a total of 12 minutes a day. Finally, to keep detainees alive even if they inhaled their own vomit during a session - a not-uncommon side effect of waterboarding - the prisoners were kept on a liquid diet. The agency recommended Ensure Plus.

"This is revolting and it is deeply disturbing," said Dr. Scott Allen, co-director of the Center for Prisoner Health and Human Rights at Brown University who has reviewed all of the documents for Physicians for Human Rights. "The so-called science here is a total departure from any ethics or any legitimate purpose. They are saying, 'This is how risky and harmful the procedure is, but we are still going to do it.' It just sounds like lunacy," he said. "This fine-tuning of torture is unethical, incompetent and a disgrace to medicine."

These torture guidelines were contained in a ream of internal government documents made public over the past year, including a legal review of Bush-era CIA interrogations by the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility released late last month.

Though public, the hundreds of pages of documents authorizing or later reviewing the agency's "enhanced interrogation program" haven't been mined for waterboarding details until now. While Bush-Cheney officials defended the legality and safety of waterboarding by noting the practice has been used to train U.S. service members to resist torture, the documents show that the agency's methods went far beyond anything ever done to a soldier during training. U.S. soldiers, for example, were generally waterboarded with a cloth over their face one time, never more than twice, for about 20 seconds, the CIA admits in its own documents.

These memos show the CIA went much further than that with terror suspects, using huge and dangerous quantities of liquid over long periods of time. The CIA's waterboarding was "different" from training for elite soldiers, according to the Justice Department document released last month. "The difference was in the manner in which the detainee's breathing was obstructed," the document notes. In soldier training, "The interrogator applies a small amount of water to the cloth (on a soldier's face) in a controlled manner," DOJ wrote. "By contrast, the agency interrogator ... continuously applied large volumes of water to a cloth that covered the detainee's mouth and nose."

One of the more interesting revelations in the documents is the use of a saline solution in waterboarding. Why? Because the CIA forced such massive quantities of water into the mouths and noses of detainees, prisoners inevitably swallowed huge amounts of liquid - enough to conceivably kill them from hyponatremia, a rare but deadly condition in which ingesting enormous quantities of water results in a dangerously low concentration of sodium in the blood. Generally a concern only for marathon runners, who on extremely rare occasions drink that much water, hyponatremia could set in during a prolonged waterboarding session. A waterlogged, sodium-deprived prisoner might become confused and lethargic, slip into convulsions, enter a coma and die.

Therefore, "based on advice of medical personnel," Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Steven Bradbury wrote in a May 10, 2005, memo authorizing continued use of waterboarding, "the CIA requires that saline solution be used instead of plain water to reduce the possibility of hyponatremia."

The agency used so much water there was also another risk: pneumonia resulting from detainees inhaling the fluid forced into their mouths and noses. Saline, the CIA argued, might reduce the risk of pneumonia when this occurred.

"The detainee might aspirate some of the water, and the resulting water in the lungs might lead to pneumonia," Bradbury noted in the same memo. "To mitigate this risk, a potable saline solution is used in the procedure."

That particular Bradbury memo laid out a precise and disturbing protocol for what went on in each waterboarding session. The CIA used a "specially designed" gurney for waterboarding, Bradbury wrote. After immobilizing a prisoner by strapping him down, interrogators then tilted the gurney to a 10-15 degree downward angle, with the detainee's head at the lower end. They put a black cloth over his face and poured water, or saline, from a height of 6 to 18 inches, documents show. The slant of the gurney helped drive the water more directly into the prisoner's nose and mouth. But the gurney could also be tilted upright quickly, in the event the prisoner stopped breathing.

Detainees would be strapped to the gurney for a two-hour "session." During that session, the continuous flow of water onto a detainee's face was not supposed to exceed 40 seconds during each pour. Interrogators could perform six separate 40-second pours during each session, for a total of four minutes of pouring. Detainees could be subjected to two of those two-hour sessions during a 24-hour period, which adds up to eight minutes of pouring. But the CIA's guidelines say interrogators could pour water over the nose and mouth of a detainee for 12 minutes total during each 24-hour period. The documents do not explain the extra four minutes to get to 12.

Interrogators were instructed to pour the water when a detainee had just exhaled so that he would inhale during the pour. An interrogator was also allowed to force the water down a detainee's mouth and nose using his hands. "The interrogator may cup his hands around the detainee's nose and mouth to dam the runoff," the Bradbury memo notes. "In which case it would not be possible for the detainee to breathe during the application of the water."

"We understand that water may enter - and accumulate in - the detainee's mouth and nasal cavity, preventing him from breathing," the memo admits.

Should a prisoner stop breathing during the procedure, the documents instructed interrogators to rapidly tilt the gurney to an upright position to help expel the saline. "If the detainee is not breathing freely after the cloth is removed from his face, he is immediately moved to a vertical position in order to clear the water from his mouth, nose, and nasopharynx," Bradbury wrote. "The gurney used for administering this technique is specially designed so that this can be accomplished very quickly if necessary."

Documents drafted by CIA medical officials in 2003, about a year after the agency started using the waterboard, describe more aggressive procedures to get the water out and the subject breathing. "An unresponsive subject should be righted immediately," the CIA Office of Medical Services ordered in its Sept. 4, 2003, medical guidelines for interrogations. "The interrogator should then deliver a sub-xyphoid thrust to expel the water." (That's a blow below the sternum, similar to the thrust delivered to a chocking victim in the Heimlich maneuver.)

But even those steps might not force the prisoner to resume breathing. Waterboarding, according to the Bradbury memo, could produce "spasms of the larynx" that might keep a prisoner from breathing "even when the application of water is stopped and the detainee is returned to an upright position." In such cases, Bradbury wrote, "a qualified physician would immediately intervene to address the problem and, if necessary, the intervening physician would perform a tracheotomy." The agency required that "necessary emergency medical equipment" be kept readily available for that procedure. The documents do not say if doctors ever performed a tracheotomy on a prisoner.

The doctors were also present to monitor the detainee "to ensure that he does not develop respiratory distress." A leaked 2007 report from the International Committee of the Red Cross says that meant the detainee's finger was fixed with a pulse oxymeter, a device that measures the oxygen saturation level in the blood during the procedure. Doctors like Allen say this would allow interrogators to push a detainee close to death - but help them from crossing the line. "It is measuring in real time the oxygen content in the blood second by second," Allen explained about the pulse oxymeter. "It basically allows them to push these prisoners more to the edge. With that, you can keep going. This is calibration of harm by health professionals."

One of the weirdest details in the documents is the revelation that the agency placed detainees on liquid diets prior to the use of waterboarding. That's because during waterboarding, "a detainee might vomit and then aspirate the emesis," Bradbury wrote. In other words, breathe in his own vomit. The CIA recommended the use of Ensure Plus for the liquid diet.

Plowing through hundreds of pages of these documents is an unsettling experience. On one level, the detailed instructions can be seen as helping to carry out kinder, gentler waterboarding, with so much care and attention given to making sure detainees didn't stop breathing, get pneumonia, breathe in their own vomit or die. But of course dead detainees tell no tales, so the CIA needed to keep many of its prisoners alive. It should be noted, though, that six human rights groups in 2007 released a report showing that 39 people who appeared to have gone into the CIA's secret prison network haven't shown up since. The careful attention to detail in the documents was also used to provide legal cover for the harsh and probably illegal interrogation tactics.

As brutal as the waterboarding process was, the memos also reveal that the Bush-era Justice Department authorized the CIA to use it in combination with other forms of torture. Specifically, a detainee could be kept awake for more than seven days straight by shackling his hands in a standing position to a bolt in the ceiling so he could never sit down. The agency diapered and hand-fed its detainees during this period before putting them on the waterboard. Another memo from Bradbury, also from 2005, says that in between waterboarding sessions, a detainee could be physically slammed into a wall, crammed into a small box, placed in "stress positions" to increase discomfort and doused with cold water, among other things.

The CIA's waterboarding regimen was so excruciating, the memos show, that agency officials found themselves grappling with an unexpected development: detainees simply gave up and tried to let themselves drown. "In our limited experience, extensive sustained use of the waterboard can introduce new risks," the CIA's Office of Medical Services wrote in its 2003 memo. "Most seriously, for reasons of physical fatigue or psychological resignation, the subject may simply give up, allowing excessive filling of the airways and loss of consciousness."

The agency's medical guidelines say that after a case of "psychological resignation" by a detainee on the waterboard, an interrogator had to get approval from a CIA doctor before doing it again.

The memo also contains a last, little-noticed paragraph that may be the most disturbing of all. It seems to say that the detainees subjected to waterboarding were also guinea pigs. The language is eerily reminiscent of the very reasons the Nuremberg Code was written in the first place. That paragraph reads as follows:

"NOTE: In order to best inform future medical judgments and recommendations, it is important that every application of the waterboard be thoroughly documented: how long each application (and the entire procedure) lasted, how much water was used in the process (realizing that much splashes off), how exactly the water was applied, if a seal was achieved, if the naso- or oropharynx was filled, what sort of volume was expelled, how long was the break between applications, and how the subject looked between each treatment."

(c) 2010 Mark Benjamin is the winner of a Raymond Clapper Memorial Award for the best reporting from Washington, a Fourth Estate Award from the American Legion, a Mental Health Media Award from the National Mental Health Association, an Outstanding Media Coverage Award from the National Gulf War Resource Center, a GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Digital Journalism, and a Project Censored Award and was twice a finalist for the Online News Association's Online Journalism Awards.

Understanding Toyota Sudden Acceleration
Joel S. Hirschhorn

As a materials and manufacturing engineer with decades of experience with failure analysis of manufactured products, and as an owner of a Toyota vehicle, I am saddened by the lack of expertise and insight shared with Congress and the public about the sudden acceleration problem.

When products fail due to a systemic design, materials or manufacturing flaw, large and statistically significant levels of problems emerge fairly rapidly. This is definitely not the case with the Toyota problem. With many millions of Toyota models on which even more millions of miles have been driven, if there had been an inherent materials or manufacturing design defect, then we would have seen untold thousands of cases of sudden acceleration. It literally would have been virtually a daily event happening all over the country in many Toyota models. But, in fact, little more than 1,000 Toyota and Lexus owners have reported since 2001 that their vehicles suddenly accelerated on their own. This is a tiny, minuscule percentage of Toyotas.

This infrequent runaway car problem is not analogous to a serious case of bacterial contamination of a major food product causing many thousands of cases of food poisoning in a relatively short period. It is even more difficult to find the cause of.

Understanding this nature of defects also means that the so-called solutions of replacing floor mats and gas pedals are sheer nonsense. Indeed, it did not surprise me to read today that there have already been cases of sudden acceleration in cars that had received fixes by Toyota. More than 60 Toyota owners have complained to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration about cars already repaired under the two major Toyota recalls, saying they aren't fixed and their throttles can still race out of control.

While recognizing the agony and suffering of sudden acceleration accidents and deaths it is also necessary to appreciate the statistically rare occurrences of this problem. Only by doing so is it possible to understand that the ultimate explanation - and solution - to the sudden acceleration problem will be a non-systemic flaw or defect in a critical component. In other words, either a random defect in a material or some unusual and infrequent deviation in a manufacturing process of some critical component. Only such a situation can logically explain so few sudden acceleration problems in so many millions of cars being operated for many more millions of hours and miles.

In my professional opinion, the likely scenario is a defect in a semiconductor chip used in the electronic control system. A defect that was caused by some infrequent flaw in a raw material or manufacturing process that would not show up in routine quality control testing of raw materials or components. That so many different Toyota models over many years have been found defective signifies the likelihood of a particular problem component made in a specific factory that has been used for quite a while. Moreover, the defect obviously does not ordinarily impair vehicle performance but only manifests itself under some infrequent conditions, as yet undetermined.

Rita Taylor of Fort Worth, Texas experienced runaway acceleration, took her car to a Toyota dealer, and had the floor mats removed. A few months later she had another frightening runaway episode. Ditto for Eric Weiss in California, who also had a second episode months after the first one and after removing the mats. Others who have not died and kept using their Toyotas have also had repeat events. Thus, perfectly normal vehicle performance is possible between runaway events.

Make no mistake, the precise cause of such a sporadic event is incredibly difficult to pin down and even more difficult to remedy. An extremely intense and costly investigation is necessary. It is the classic needle-in-the-haystack problem.

If my thinking is correct, then it is sheer folly to believe that replacing floor mats or gas pedals can solve the sudden acceleration problem. However, there is one aspect to the sudden acceleration problem that also is crystal clear and, in some ways, even more aggravating than the acceleration problem. This is the absence of an override system that absolutely prevents fuel being fed to the engine when brakes are employed while a car is accelerating. It is gratifying that the federal government is seriously considering requiring such an override system in all vehicles. An effective override system might, in the long run, be a faster and more cost-effective solution than chasing-the-defect strategy, especially for retrofitting many millions of vehicles.

Alternatively, finding the cause of the sudden acceleration problem requires a standard failure analysis methodology, namely to obtain absolutely every Toyota vehicle that has experienced sudden acceleration. Then meticulously examine through microscopic and other types of analysis and testing all critical components of the electronic system (called by Toyota the Electronic Throttle Control System with intelligence). Think of it like an autopsy.

This does not appear to have been done. To the contrary, the firm hired by Toyota tested several ordinary vehicles and components. One of the primary authors of the Exponent report said they did not examine any vehicles or components that had the unintended accelerations. This makes no sense whatsoever if the defect is rare and, therefore, its finding that there was nothing wrong was meaningless. Worse, it was a deception and distraction.
(c) 2010 Joel S. Hirschhorn observed our corrupt federal government firsthand as a senior official with the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment and the National Governors Association and is the author of Delusional Democracy - Fixing the Republic Without Overthrowing the Government. To discuss issues write the author.

[The author has a Ph.D. in Materials Engineering and was formerly a full professor of metallurgical engineering at the University of Wisconsin, Madison and a consultant for many corporations, such as IBM, Texas Instruments, Polaroid, and RayOVac, and has served as an expert witness in many legal proceedings and is the author of several nonfiction books and hundreds of articles.]

An Irish Mirror
By Paul Krugman

Everyone has a theory about the financial crisis. These theories range from the absurd to the plausible - from claims that liberal Democrats somehow forced banks to lend to the undeserving poor (even though Republicans controlled Congress) to the belief that exotic financial instruments fostered confusion and fraud. But what do we really know?

Well, in a way the sheer scale of the crisis - the way it affected much, though not all, of the world - is helpful, for research if nothing else. We can look at countries that avoided the worst, like Canada, and ask what they did right - such as limiting leverage, protecting consumers and, above all, avoiding getting caught up in an ideology that denies any need for regulation. We can also look at countries whose financial institutions and policies seemed very different from those in the United States, yet which cracked up just as badly, and try to discern common causes.

So let's talk about Ireland.

As a new research paper by the Irish economists Gregory Connor, Thomas Flavin and Brian O'Kelly points out, "Almost all the apparent causal factors of the U.S. crisis are missing in the Irish case," and vice versa. Yet the shape of Ireland's crisis was very similar: a huge real estate bubble - prices rose more in Dublin than in Los Angeles or Miami - followed by a severe banking bust that was contained only via an expensive bailout.

Ireland had none of the American right's favorite villains: there was no Community Reinvestment Act, no Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. More surprising, perhaps, was the unimportance of exotic finance: Ireland's bust wasn't a tale of collateralized debt obligations and credit default swaps; it was an old-fashioned, plain-vanilla case of excess, in which banks made big loans to questionable borrowers, and taxpayers ended up holding the bag.

So what did we have in common? The authors of the new study suggest four "'deep' causal factors."

First, there was irrational exuberance: in both countries buyers and lenders convinced themselves that real estate prices, although sky-high by historical standards, would continue to rise.

Second, there was a huge inflow of cheap money. In America's case, much of the cheap money came from China; in Ireland's case, it came mainly from the rest of the euro zone, where Germany became a gigantic capital exporter.

Third, key players had an incentive to take big risks, because it was heads they win, tails someone else loses. In Ireland this moral hazard was largely personal: "Rogue-bank heads retired with their large fortunes intact." There was a lot of this in the United States, too: as Harvard's Lucian Bebchuk and others have pointed out, top executives at failed U.S. financial companies received billions in "performance related" pay before their firms went belly-up.

But the most striking similarity between Ireland and America was "regulatory imprudence": the people charged with keeping banks safe didn't do their jobs. In Ireland, regulators looked the other way in part because the country was trying to attract foreign business, in part because of cronyism: bankers and property developers had close ties to the ruling party.

There was a lot of that here too, but the bigger issue was ideology. Actually, the authors of the Irish paper get this wrong, stressing the way U.S. politicians celebrated the ideal of homeownership; yes, they made speeches along those lines, but this didn't have much effect on lenders' incentives.

What really mattered was free-market fundamentalism. This is what led Ronald Reagan to declare that deregulation would solve the problems of thrift institutions - the actual result was huge losses, followed by a gigantic taxpayer bailout - and Alan Greenspan to insist that the proliferation of derivatives had actually strengthened the financial system. It was largely thanks to this ideology that regulators ignored the mounting risks.

So what can we learn from the way Ireland had a U.S.-type financial crisis with very different institutions? Mainly, that we have to focus as much on the regulators as on the regulations. By all means, let's limit both leverage and the use of securitization - which were part of what Canada did right. But such measures won't matter unless they're enforced by people who see it as their duty to say no to powerful bankers.

That's why we need an independent agency protecting financial consumers - again, something Canada did right - rather than leaving the job to agencies that have other priorities. And beyond that, we need a sea change in attitudes, a recognition that letting bankers do what they want is a recipe for disaster. If that doesn't happen, we will have failed to learn from recent history - and we'll be doomed to repeat it.
(c) 2010 Paul Krugman --- The New York Times

Unnatural Acts
Breaking the Fever of Militarism
By Chris Floyd

"All who draw the sword will die by the sword."
~~~ Yeshua Ha-Notsri, Palestinian dissident, c. 33 CE ~~~


As we all know - or rather, as everyone but those who climb and claw their way to the top of power's greasy pole knows - the effects of war are vast, unforeseeable, long-lasting -- and uncontrollable. The far-reaching ripples of the turbulence will churn against distant shores and hidden corners, then roil back upon you in ways you could never imagine, for generations, even centuries.

Nor is "victory" in war proof against these deleterious effects. For the brutalization, moral coarsening, corruption and concentration of elite power that attend every war do not simply disappear from a society when the fighting stops. They persist, like microbes, in myriad forms, working with slow, corrosive force to degrade and deform the victors. Indeed, victory in battle often leads a society to enshrine war's most pernicious attributes: violence is ennobled, and becomes entrenched as an ever-ready instrument of national policy. Militarism is exalted, the way of peace dishonored: cries of "Appeasers! Cowards! Traitors!" greet every approach that fails to brandish the threat of extreme violence, that fails to "keep all options on the table."

The apparent "lesson" of victory - that there can be no right without armed might to win and safeguard it - quickly degenerates into the belief that armed might is right. (William Astore has an excellent article here on how the collision with Nazi Germany infected America's military with a continuing admiration for the German war machine.) Military power becomes equated with moral worth, and the ability to wreak savage, unimaginable destruction through armed violence -- via thoughtless obedience to the orders of "superiors" - becomes a cherished attribute of society.

War is no longer seen as a vast, horrific failure of the human spirit, a scandalous betrayal of our common humanity, a sickening tragedy of irrevocable loss and inconsolable suffering - although this is its inescapable reality, even in a "good" war, for a "just" cause. (And of course no nation or faction has ever gone to war without declaring that its cause is just.) Instead of lamenting war, and girding for it, if at all, only in the most dire circumstances, with the most extreme reluctance, the infected society celebrates it at every turn. No national occasion - even a sporting event! - is complete without bristling displays of military firepower, and pious tributes to those wreaking violence around the world in blind obedience to their superiors.

Oddly enough, when a modern nation consciously adopts a "warrior ethos," it casts aside -- openly, even gleefully -- whatever virtue that ethos has historically claimed for itself, such as courage in battle and honor toward adversaries. In its place come the adulation of overwhelming technological firepower and the rabid demonization of the enemy (or the perceived enemy, or even the "suspected" enemy), who is stripped of all rights, all human dignity, and subject to "whatever it takes" to break him down or destroy him.

Thus our American militarists exult in the advanced hardware that allows "soldiers" to slaughter people from thousands of miles away, with missiles, bombs and bullets fired from lurking, unreachable drones high in the sky. (A recent study shows that even by the most conservative reckoning of who is or isn't a "militant," at least one third of the hundreds killed in the Bush-Obama drone campaigns in Pakistan are clearly civilians.) The drone "warriors" -- often living in complete safety and comfort -- see nothing but a bloodless image on a screen; they face no physical threat at all. This is assassination, not combat; it reeks of cowardice, and dehumanizes everyone it touches, the victims and the button-pushers alike. Yet our militarists -- most of whom, of course, have somehow never found the time to fight the wars they cheer for -- wax orgasmic about this craven weaponry. In the transvaluation of values that militarism produces, cowardice becomes a martial virtue.

Barack Obama, the Nobel Peace Laureate, pushes forward with plans for the "Prompt Global Strike" system of "conventional" super-missiles that can rain down massive death -- unstoppable, undeterrable, without warning -- anywhere on the planet within an hour. All this, while expanding shorter-range missile "defense" systems that bristle with blatantly offensive potential, and intent, all over the world. Plus spending billions to "modernize" the nuclear arsenal, ensuring that it stays effective enough to murder the entire earth, while weeding out some "redundant" warheads as a PR gesture. Meanwhile, the drone programs -- emblazoned with names that proudly proclaim their savage nature: "Predators" and "Reapers," launching "Hellfire" missiles into sleeping villages -- keep expanding relentlessly. As noted by Nick Turse -- who is doing invaluable work detailing the deadly nuts and bolts of the militarist empire and its profiteers -- the Pentagon is drooling over visions of vast robotic forces filling the heavens and roaming the earth, even down to the smallest crevice. He rightly notes the main purpose of this massively funded R&D: to make war "easier," less deadly to "our side," and thus more palatable to the public:

This means bigger, badder, faster drones - armed to the teeth - with sensor systems to monitor wide swathes of territory and the ability to loiter overhead for days on end waiting for human targets to appear and, in due course, be vaporized by high-powered munitions. It's a future built upon advanced technologies designed to make targeted killings - remote-controlled assassinations - ever more effortless.

... For the Air Force, such a prospect is the stuff of dreams, a bright future for unmanned, hypersonic lethality; for the rest of the planet, it's a potential nightmare from which there may be no waking.

But while Turse outlines this potential nightmare in grim detail (the whole piece should be read in full), we are of course beset by present nightmares in horrific plenty. And few are more chilling than the ruling establishment's astonishingly swift acceptance of outright torture as an open tool of national policy. This acceptance not only includes the increasingly frenzied praise and championing of torture by the circle of war criminals and accomplices led by Dick Cheney; in slightly more restrained tones, it goes right across the board among the political and media elite. Torture is now nothing more than a topic for "debate" -- debates which center largely on the relative "effectiveness" of various torture techniques, or else on mindless (not to mention heartless) hairsplitting over the meaning of the word "torture."

There is of course a myth that Barack Obama has "ended" the practice of torture. This is not even remotely true. For one thing, as we have often noted here, the Army Field Manual that Obama has adopted as his interrogation standard permits many practices that any rational person would consider torture. For another, we have no way of verifying what techniques are actually being used by the government's innumerable "security" and intelligence agencies, by the covert units of the military -- and by other entities whose very existence is still unknown. These agencies are almost entirely self-policed; they investigate themselves, they report on themselves to the toothless Congressional "oversight" committees; we simply have to take these organizations -- whose entire raison d'etre is deceit, deception, lawlessness and subterfuge -- at their word. And of course, we have no way of knowing what is being done in the torture chambers of foreign lands where the United States often "outsources" its captives.

Finally, even if the comforting bedtime story of Obama's ban of torture techniques in interrogation were true, there remains his ardent championing of the right to seize anyone on earth -- without a warrant, without producing any evidence whatsoever of wrongdoing -- and hold them indefinitely, often for years on end, in a legal limbo, with no inherent rights whatsoever, beyond whatever narrowly constricted, ever-changing, legally baseless and often farcical "hearings" and tribunals the captors deign to allow them. Incarceration under these conditions is itself an horrendous act of torture, no matter what else might happen to the captive. Yet Obama has actively, avidly applied this torture, and has gone to court numerous times to defend this torture, and to expand the use of this torture.

Many thousands of innocent people have already been forced through the meat grinder of this torture -- at one point early in the Iraq War, the Red Cross estimated that 70-90 percent of the more than 20,000 Iraqis being held by the Americans as "suspected terrorists" were not guilty of any crime whatsoever, much less 'terrorism'. And that is just a single snapshot, at a single point in time, of the vast gulag that America has wrapped around the earth -- a gulag where many have been murdered outright, not just tortured or unjustly imprisoned. And it is still going on, with scarcely a demur across the bipartisan establishment. The heinous and dishonorable practice of torture, physical and psychological, is now an intrinsic, openly established element of American society.

Murder, cowardice, torture, dishonor: these are fruits -- and the distinguishing characteristics -- of the militarized society. What Americans once would not do even to Nazis with the blood of millions on their hands, they now do routinely to weak and wretched captives seized on little or no evidence of wrongdoing at all. We are deep in the darkness, and hurtling deeper, headlong, all the time.


Let's not kid ourselves, however. The militarism that has now gained such a strangulating ascendancy over American life did not drop down suddenly from the sky (or arrive on the hijacked bus that Bush and Cheney drove to the White House). Although this militarism has now reached unprecedented levels of institutional and political dominance, there has always been a strong warlike strain running through American history -- indeed, through its pre-history as well, as Fred Anderson and Andrew Cayton demonstrate in their book, Dominion of War, detailing the decisive influence of war and imperialism on America's development over the past 500 years.

Nor is it a peculiarly American problem. As Caroline Alexander notes in her remarkable new work, The War That Killed Achilles:

If we took any period of a hundred years in the last five thousand, it has been calculated, we could expect, on average, 94 of those years to be occupied with large-scale conflicts in one or more parts of the world. This enduring, seemingly ineradicable fact of war is ... as intrinsic and tragic a component of the human condition as our very mortality.

We human beings have been shaped by millions of years of genetic breakage and mutation, all of which is still on-going. We are compounds of chaos, ignorance and error. Our psyches are frail and variegated things, isolated, with each individual consciousness formed from a unique and ever-shifting coalescence of billions of brain cells firing (and misfiring) in infinite, unrepeatable combinations. Beneath this electrical superstructure lie mechanical rhythms and erratic surges of instinct and impulse, dark, hormonal tides and drives that never reach the plane of awareness.

In the infancy of our species we began to cling -- fiercely, in fear and desire -- to patterns of behavior, emotion and thought that seemed to bring some sort of order, some containment of the whirlwind within us, and some protection from the dangers, known and unknown, that lurked outside. We began to do "whatever it takes" to preserve these patterns from the ever-present threat of their dissolution in the whirlwind, to impose them, by violence if necessary, on the recalcitrant material of reality -- including the always-unknowable, impenetrable reality of the Other, those mysterious combinations outside our isolated consciousness.

The patterns become ingrained, they sink into the substrate where they operate unquestioned and unseen, they become "natural," the way that things must be. Domination and obedience are among the strongest, and most enduring, of these patterns, taking multitudinous forms -- a "local habitation and a name" -- in the ever-changing circumstances of existence. War is their expression writ large. It is in us, it comes from us.

But to acknowledge war's intrinsic, universal character does not absolve us of the need to resist it. To say, "Oh, that's just human nature; it's always been this way and always will be this way," is not only a lazy, timorous acquiescence to base instinct, it also posits a settled, even eternal quality to human nature and human consciousness that simply does not and cannot exist. To go against war, to step outside the ingrained behavioral patterns of domination and obedience is indeed an "unnatural" act -- and it feels unnatural, it feels strange, and raw, and frightening. But the deeper fear -- of psychic and physical dissolution -- that lies at the foundation of these ever-more destructive patterns can only be faced down, changed, and wrenched into some more benevolent pattern by embracing the risk and discomfort of stepping forth, of stepping beyond -- literally, "transgressing" -- the boundaries of a wholly imaginary (or even hallucinatory) "human nature."

The whirlwind that characterizes the imperfect, breaking, misfiring, evolving reality of human consciousness is not only a producer of (very understandable) deep-seated fears; it is also a force for liberation. Because our nature is not ultimately fixed, we can, literally and figuratively, burn new connections in our brains, we can enlarge our consciousness and extend our empathetic understanding of those strange Others. And we have been doing this, in fits and starts, in lurches and staggers, with much backsliding and many wrong turns -- indeed, in ignorance and error -- for as long as we have been creatures cursed and gifted with self-awareness. We do have the capacity, the space, to resist the patterns of domination and obedience, to seek out new ways of seeing the world, of being in the world, of communing with others.

This seems, to me, a worthwhile thing to be getting on with during our painfully brief time on the earth, during our infinitesimal window of opportunity to make some small contribution toward pushing the project of being human -- or rather, becoming human -- down the road, at least a few more steps, in the direction of a better understanding, a broader consciousness, a greater enlightenment.
(c) 2010 Chris Floyd

A Christian Nation?
By Case Wagonvoord

The fundies are carrying on about how the United States is a "Christian" nation, which is their way of saying that we should be a theocracy ruled over by a gaggle of televangelists. Instead of taxes we'd simply send a dollar bill to the address on our television screen. Not only would that fund our public services, it would also get us prayed for.

But let's say, just for the fun of it, that we were a Christian nation. What exactly would that entail? Well, in Matthew 25:35 Jesus says, "For I hungered and you gave me meat; I was thirsty and you gave me drink."

I suppose that means that a Christian nation would feed its hungry, clothe its naked and shelter its homeless. That sort of plays havoc with the religious right's belief that poverty is a sign of God's displeasure. It also means a Christian nation would have one hell of a strong safety net. In a Christian nation no child would go to be hungry; no family would be homeless; no individual would be denied adequate health care; its prisons would focus on rehabilitation instead of punishment; it would honor humility instead of celebrity; and it would value love over strength.

But it gets tougher. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus enjoins us to "turn the other cheek." In other words, a Christian nation would only resort to violence as a last resort when all other means had been exhausted. It would also mean that a Christian nation would not maintain an obscenely bloated defense establishment. It would mean that the nation would play nice in its conduct of foreign affairs instead of starting wars of aggression and exploiting Third World countries for their resources.

A Christian nation would see all persons as children of God; there would be no illegal immigrants or racially inferior "others;" it would value people over money or property. A Christian nation would embrace all of creation as a gift from God for which they were expected to be responsible stewards instead of rapacious exploiters.

Instead of the Ten Commandments, a Christian nation would hang the Beatitudes in its public buildings, as Kurt Vonnegut suggested.

Is the United States a Christian nation?

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

Blue Collar Blues
By Mike Folkerth

Today, I want to talk about the functional, physical, and mathematical impossibility of the majority of kids in America acquiring a college education. I'll use some old and some new arguments, and of course, the application of Mikeronomics.

I suppose that it's necessary for me to qualify my stance on education yet one more time; I'm an education junkie. I hold education in the highest regard, but there are a thousand ways to become educated and at the same time, valuable to society, that do not include four years of conventional college and the associated costs both in money and years of life.

Higher education today is aimed at increasing wages, decreasing manual labor, and elevating the perceived social status of the holders of those coveted degrees. This push toward higher education has become so successful, that the value of a four year degree has been diluted to such a point as to threaten the original intent. More simply put; many of those with standard four year degrees can no longer find work.

The answer to this little glitch in the plan is to then move up to six and eight years of formal education. It's only time and money folks. The newest plan worked right up to the recent debacle of those holding Masters and PhDs joining the ranks of those who were no longer able find work at a level necessary to support the associated costs and egos.

The reason that these people can longer find work can be found on page one, of Economics 101; The Law of Supply and Demand. "We've got all that we can use." They don't teach the Law of Supply and Demand in law school, or liberal arts, or political science, or nearly any other aspect of higher education.

But then, the Law of Supply and Demand doesn't give a hang whether it's taught or not; it rules supreme without a hint of consideration to what mortals concoct in their deluded minds.

To better understand that delusion, let's take a little stroll down Fantasy Lane and pretend that nearly everyone in America is both financially and mentally capable of acquiring a formal college education. That seems to be the plan ya know?

Let's cut to the quick on this one. Who would expect to do the following work after obtaining a four year college degree? Work as a retail sales clerk; America's number one job. Work as a cashier; America's number two job. Who would pave the streets and operate heavy equipment? Who would grow, process, and transport our food?

Who would build our homes and who would produce the material that our homes are constructed from? Who would serve in the common ranks of our military? Who would build our cars and produce the oil and gas that makes them run? Who would fix the cars and tires when they break down and go flat?

Who would provide us with drinking water and natural gas? Who would build power lines and work in the power plants? Who would mine and fish and work in manufacturing? Who would fix our furnace and plumbing and repair or our leaky roofs?

The harsh truth is that without blue collar America, we couldn't live at all! On the flip side, without Wall Street, we could all live much better.

I could go on and write page, after page, after page of the jobs that do not require a four year college degree and that are far better served with four years of actual experience learning their particular stock and trade.

So then, if most essential jobs in America really do not require a four year college education; why then does our society marginalize the value of these indispensable Middle Class occupations? Why would it be suggested that those who lack a four year degree are nothing more than second rate citizens?

In truth, the blue collar workers of America are the glue that holds this whole mess together. They comprise the fabric that makes life possible at all.

Anyone who doesn't think so should attempt to get by for a few days without utilizing the services that are provided by the blue collar workforce.

If in fact everyone were to obtain a college degree and if in fact everyone who did so were to find employment that was commensurate with their expectations of no manual labor and no dirt under the finger nails; our society would collapse within days.

So what possible motive could drive our current society's flippant attitude toward Middle America? Is the motive possibly to transform, not to a service economy, but to a service class? To lower the social plane of one class in order that they can serve a perceived higher set?

Have the titles such as Duke, Duchess, Earl, Prince, and Princess, merely changed to new titles such as BS, BA, MAs, MBA, and PhD? Give me your thoughts pro or con.
(c) 2010 Mike Folkerth is not your run-of-the-mill author of economics. Nor does he write in boring lecture style. Not even close. The former real estate broker, developer, private real estate fund manager, auctioneer, Alaskan bush pilot, restaurateur, U.S. Navy veteran, heavy equipment operator, taxi cab driver, fishing guide, horse packer...(I won't go on, it's embarrassing) writes from experience and plain common sense. He is the author of "The Biggest Lie Ever Believed."

The Quotable Quote...

"A total population of 250-300 million people, a 95% decline from present levels, would be ideal."
~~~ Ted Turner to Audubon Magazine, 1996

Calling All Rebels
By Chris Hedges

There are no constraints left to halt America's slide into a totalitarian capitalism. Electoral politics are a sham. The media have been debased and defanged by corporate owners. The working class has been impoverished and is now being plunged into profound despair. The legal system has been corrupted to serve corporate interests. Popular institutions, from labor unions to political parties, have been destroyed or emasculated by corporate power. And any form of protest, no matter how tepid, is blocked by an internal security apparatus that is starting to rival that of the East German secret police. The mounting anger and hatred, coursing through the bloodstream of the body politic, make violence and counter-violence inevitable. Brace yourself. The American empire is over. And the descent is going to be horrifying.

Those singled out as internal enemies will include people of color, immigrants, gays, intellectuals, feminists, Jews, Muslims, union leaders and those defined as "liberals." They will be condemned as anti-American and blamed for our decline. The economic collapse, which remains mysterious and enigmatic to most Americans, will be pinned by demagogues and hatemongers on these hapless scapegoats. And the random acts of violence, which are already leaping up around the fringes of American society, will justify harsh measures of internal control that will snuff out the final vestiges of our democracy. The corporate forces that destroyed the country will use the information systems they control to mask their culpability. The old game of blaming the weak and the marginal, a staple of despotic regimes, will empower the dark undercurrents of sadism and violence within American society and deflect attention from the corporate vampires that have drained the blood of the country.

"We are going to be poorer," David Cay Johnston told me. Johnston was the tax reporter of The New York Times for 13 years and has written on how the corporate state rigged the system against us. He is the author of "Free Lunch: How the Wealthiest Americans Enrich Themselves at Government Expense and Stick You With the Bill," a book about hidden subsidies, rigged markets and corporate socialism.

"Health care is going to eat up more and more of our income. We are going to have less and less for other things. We are going to have some huge disasters sooner or later caused by our failure to invest. Dams and bridges will break. Buildings will collapse. There are water mains that are 25 to 50 feet wide. There will be huge infrastructure disasters. Our intellectual resources are in decline. We are failing to educate young people and instill in them rigor. We are going to continue to pour money into the military. I think it is possible, I do not say it is probable, that we will have a revolution, a civil war that will see the end of the United States of America."

"If we see the end of this country it will come from the right and our failure to provide people with the basic necessities of life. "Revolutions occur when young men see the present as worse than the unknown future. We are not there. But it will not take a lot to get there. The politicians running for office who are denigrating the government, who are saying there are traitors in Congress, who say we do not need the IRS, this when no government in the history of the world has existed without a tax enforcement agency, are sowing the seeds for the destruction of the country. A lot of the people on the right hate the United States of America. They would say they hate the people they are arrayed against. But the whole idea of the United States is that we criticize the government. We remake it to serve our interests. They do not want that kind of society. They reject, as Aristotle said, the idea that democracy is to rule and to be ruled in turns. They see a world where they are right and that is it. If we do not want to do it their way we should be vanquished. This is not the idea on which the United States was founded."

It is hard to see how this can be prevented. The engines of social reform are dead. Liberal apologists, who long ago should have abandoned the Democratic Party, continue to make pathetic appeals to a tone-deaf corporate state and Barack Obama while the working and middle class are ruthlessly stripped of rights, income and jobs. Liberals self-righteously condemn imperial wars and the looting of the U.S. Treasury by Wall Street but not the Democrats who are responsible. And the longer the liberal class dithers and speaks in the bloodless language of policies and programs, the more hated and irrelevant it becomes. No one has discredited American liberalism more than liberals themselves. And I do not hold out any hope for their reform. We have entered an age in which, as William Butler Yeats wrote,

"the best lack all conviction and the worst are full of passionate intensity."

"If we end up with violence in the streets on a large scale, not random riots, but insurrection and things break down, there will be a coup d'état from the right," Johnston said. "We have already had an economic coup d'état. It will not take much to go further."

How do we resist? How, if this descent is inevitable, as I believe it is, do we fight back? Why should we resist at all? Why not give in to cynicism and despair? Why not carve out as comfortable a niche as possible within the embrace of the corporate state and spend our lives attempting to satiate our private needs? The power elite, including most of those who graduate from our top universities and our liberal and intellectual classes, have sold out for personal comfort. Why not us?

The French moral philosopher Albert Camus argued that we are separated from each other. Our lives are meaningless. We cannot influence fate. We will all die and our individual being will be obliterated. And yet Camus wrote that:

"one of the only coherent philosophical positions is revolt. It is a constant confrontation between man and his obscurity. It is not aspiration, for it is devoid of hope. That revolt is the certainty of a crushing fate, without the resignation that ought to accompany it."

"A living man can be enslaved and reduced to the historic condition of an object," Camus warned. "But if he dies in refusing to be enslaved, he reaffirms the existence of another kind of human nature which refuses to be classified as an object."

The rebel, for Camus, stands with the oppressed-the unemployed workers being thrust into impoverishment and misery by the corporate state, the Palestinians in Gaza, the civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan, the disappeared who are held in our global black sites, the poor in our inner cities and depressed rural communities, immigrants and those locked away in our prison system. And to stand with them does not mean to collaborate with parties, such as the Democrats, who can mouth the words of justice while carrying out acts of oppression. It means open and direct defiance.

The power structure and its liberal apologists dismiss the rebel as impractical and see the rebel's outsider stance as counterproductive. They condemn the rebel for expressing anger at injustice. The elites and their apologists call for calm and patience. They use the hypocritical language of spirituality, compromise, generosity and compassion to argue that the only alternative is to accept and work with the systems of power. The rebel, however, is beholden to a moral commitment that makes it impossible to stand with the power elite. The rebel refuses to be bought off with foundation grants, invitations to the White House, television appearances, book contracts, academic appointments or empty rhetoric. The rebel is not concerned with self-promotion or public opinion. The rebel knows that, as Augustine wrote, hope has two beautiful daughters, anger and courage-anger at the way things are and the courage to see that they do not remain the way they are. The rebel is aware that virtue is not rewarded. The act of rebellion defines itself.

"You do not become a 'dissident' just because you decide one day to take up this most unusual career," Vaclav Havel said when he battled the communist regime in Czechoslovakia.

"You are thrown into it by your personal sense of responsibility, combined with a complex set of external circumstances. You are cast out of the existing structures and placed in a position of conflict with them. It begins as an attempt to do your work well, and ends with being branded an enemy of society. ... The dissident does not operate in the realm of genuine power at all. He is not seeking power. He has no desire for office and does not gather votes. He does not attempt to charm the public. He offers nothing and promises nothing. He can offer, if anything, only his own skin-and he offers it solely because he has no other way of affirming the truth he stands for. His actions simply articulate his dignity as a citizen, regardless of the cost."

Those in power have disarmed the liberal class. They do not argue that the current system is just or good, because they cannot, but they have convinced liberals that there is no alternative. But we are not slaves. We have a choice. We can refuse to be either a victim or an executioner. We have the moral capacity to say no, to refuse to cooperate. Any boycott or demonstration, any occupation or sit-in, any strike, any act of obstruction or sabotage, any refusal to pay taxes, any fast, any popular movement and any act of civil disobedience ignites the soul of the rebel and exposes the dead hand of authority. "There is beauty and there are the humiliated," Camus wrote. "Whatever difficulties the enterprise may present, I should like never to be unfaithful either to the second or the first."

"There is a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can't take part; you can't even passively take part, and you've got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you've got to make it stop," Mario Savio said in 1964. "And you've got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that unless you're free, the machine will be prevented from working at all."

The capacity to exercise moral autonomy, the capacity to refuse to cooperate, offers us the only route left to personal freedom and a life with meaning. Rebellion is its own justification. Those of us who come out of the religious left have no quarrel with Camus. Camus is right about the absurdity of existence, right about finding worth in the act of rebellion rather than some bizarre dream of an afterlife or Sunday School fantasy that God rewards the just and the good. "Oh my soul," the ancient Greek poet Pindar wrote, "do not aspire to immortal life, but exhaust the limits of the possible." We differ with Camus only in that we have faith that rebellion is not ultimately meaningless. Rebellion allows us to be free and independent human beings, but rebellion also chips away, however imperceptibly, at the edifice of the oppressor and sustains the dim flames of hope and love. And in moments of profound human despair these flames are never insignificant. They keep alive the capacity to be human. We must become, as Camus said, so absolutely free that "existence is an act of rebellion." Those who do not rebel in our age of totalitarian capitalism and who convince themselves that there is no alternative to collaboration are complicit in their own enslavement. They commit spiritual and moral suicide.
(c) 2010 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. His latest book is American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America. His latest book is, "Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle."

To Hell In A Handbasket
By David Michael Green

I live in New York. To say that the politics of my state are dysfunctional would be like saying that Adolph Hitler could sometimes be not such a nice fellow. It's all true, of course. It just doesn't do just justice to the scope of the crimes committed.

We have a governor (as of this writing, anyhow) who just got blasted by the New York State Commission on Public Integrity for lying to them under oath in their investigation of him. But that's okay. Before that, he accepted the favor of free tickets to the World Series, which is what he lied about. But that's okay. Before that he was putting pressure on a woman who was the victim of domestic violence to go away and shut up. But that's okay. The person who was beating and choking her was one of his top staffers. But that's okay, before that he and his wife were involved in all sorts of tawdry but unspecified sex and drug related scandalous behavior. But that's okay. He's the governor who came in after the last governor had to resign because he was laundering money in order to visit high-priced hookers. But that's okay. Everybody in Albany is out of control, including one state senator who cut his girlfriend's face open with broken glass, and a former leader of the Senate on trial for wholesale corruption. But that's okay, because none of them actually do anything, anyhow.

Which, considering the sheer scumminess of this lot, could very well be a good thing.

It's certainly a common thing. I grew up in California, which seems determined not to be eclipsed by New York or anybody in the dyfunctionality department. California once had the nation's top school system. But it cost money, so they gutted property tax revenues and made it nearly impossible for the state to ever raise taxes again. Now the schools are making Mississippi's look good. California once had a great Supreme Court, too, which was the envy of other states in the union. But the justices weren't killing enough inmates, so some nice folks engineered a then-unheard of thing and got the public to recall half the bench, replacing them with pro-death penalty (oh, and incidentally, pro-corporate) new judges. California also once had a decent and politically very moderate governor. But then Enron came in and created power black-outs in order to drive up electricity prices on the grid, and so he to was blamed and then recalled too, replaced by a movie actor who played a tough but loving cyborg from the future. Now, in his new role as governor of California, he plays the leader of a nascent third world country, fiscally so chaotic it's about ready to qualify for IMF bailouts.

As for Texas, I don't live there and I didn't grow up there, either. (I did kinda like Stevie Ray Vaughan, though. I don't know if that counts for anything.) But them folks are about to re-elect a governor who just last year was talking about how so very heavy is the yoke of the federal government that Texas just might have to secede from the union. Er, rather, secede again, I should say. Funny, though. He didn't mention how the states where you find the most tea-partiest type of politics tend to be the ones bringing home the bulk of the federal bacon. As the Seattle Post-Intelligencer noted in 2005, only five blue states are net recipients of federal subsidies, while only two red states are net payers of federal taxes. Imagine my surprise at the hypocrisy of it all, and at recent revelations that lots of the Neanderthal Party's members fulminated in Congress expressing their outrage at the stimulus bill, while simultaneously bragging at home about how many federal dollars from it they were able to funnel into fat local projects.

And then, of course, nominally presiding over New York, California and Texas is the United States federal government, about as pathetic a sight as one is ever likely to see. Groaning under the weight of enormous problems, almost all of them entirely of its own making, it is completely unable to act in any fashion other then to exacerbate those problems further while denying their existence. It's true that the Founders of this country set out to create a system of government that would almost never be able to do anything, and boy were those fellas good. Just in case, though, the current lot of kleptocrats in the Republican Party have done them one better, grinding a system that's already ground to a halt all the way into reverse. Except when they have the keys to the government, of course. At which point they employ the legislative equivalent of bunker buster bombs to kick out the jambs and rape the country with impunity.

Meanwhile, there's another party in Washington, too. You may have heard of them. Heck, they even control the government, though you'd never know it. They're pretty much committed to not doing anything, ever. And, if by some inadvertent mistake they actually do take action of some sort, they're equally devoted to doing it ineptly, ineffectively, and on the terms of their adversaries.

Well, really, nominal adversaries would be a more accurate way to put it, since the party that once actually used to do something for the public interest every once in a while has now joined the other party in full-on devotion to the feeding and care of oligarchs, 24/7. The only difference is the masks they wear. If you're merely a sick puppy, you put on the disguise of ineptitude and frustration as you do the bidding of your corporate masters. If you are, on the other hand, absolutely sociopathic, you work for the same folks, but you sell it to the numb-nuts you affectionately refer to as your constituents in the form of protection from fur'ners and fags, instead. Oh, and a bit of wholesale violence with the invasion of some third world country every other year or so.

A very good measure of the health of a given polity - especially in a democracy - is given by the quality of leadership running the joint. That measure is incredibly telling in the case of the United States, and what it is telling us is grim indeed. Consider the last three presidents against the comparative backdrop of one of our greats, and his response to the country's most serious existential crisis ever, excepting the Civil War. When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, and the Germans soon thereafter declared war on the US as well, Franklin Roosevelt led the country into a massive national response and a four-year-plus effort combining full-on public support, massive military, industrial and societal mobilization, masterful diplomacy and stellar strategic vision in order to defeat the genuine threat of global fascism.

If Bill Clinton had been president, on the other hand, he would have responded by trying to cop a feel off the Japanese ambassador's daughter. If George W. Bush had been president, he would invaded Mexico, bungled the war for seven years, then invaded Botswana, and sapped the military's strength by simultaneously bungling that irrelevant war for six years, all while the Japanese and Germans rampaged freely, coming closer to American shores every day. And if Barack Obama had been president, he would have studied the matter for a year, offered to bargain away half of Europe and Asia in a deal with the Axis Powers, and then, when they spit in his face for the thirty-seventh time, deployed a half-dozen or so unarmed marines in a rubber dinghy as America's military response to the attack.

Our so-called leaders are bad enough, but it gets almost worse at the level of the American public, who of course also bear the burden of choosing these abysmal presidents, on top of their own crimes. These latter include utter negligence in maintaining the gift of American democracy, complete laziness in the most basic of civic duties, mass corruption of social, political and personal values, and a reliance upon every form of cheap magic or distraction to avoid basic personal and civic responsibilities.

And, always, it's about having everything. At once. For nothing. The same idiots who have been seduced by cigarette-money-sized tax cuts for themselves, used to justify a massive slashing of the burden once carried by the rich, are now bitching as government services implode. The New York Times is reporting that citizens of Arizona - one of the most regressive states in the union - are now unhappy because their highway rest stops have been eliminated due to the state's fiscal crisis. I just want to grab these people and shake them by the shoulders, politely suggesting to them that next time they have to pull over in the desert sands between Tucson and Phoenix and squat by the side of the road, they might want to give a thought or two to all the money they pissed away in another desert, this one in Mesopotamia. Likewise, people are now also starting to whine about schools closing and prisoners being released from jail, also because of budget slashing. And I just want to ask those bright folks whether they still think all those tax cuts for the already outrageously wealthy plutocracy were such a good idea in retrospect, after all.

This is just the tip of the spear. American government is in the process of imploding, and it won't be long until the pathetically minuscule social safety net that we have will be shredded as well. Stupid voters who turn to the Republican Party in the next two election cycles will be outraged at the GOP if it does what it says it will do and slashes social spending. And, of course, they will be equally outraged if the Republicans don't. It just doesn't seem to occur to these folks that you have to pay for government services. And why should it, really? The GOP have been selling the magic of free government since Ronald Reagan brought voodoo economics to the national stage in 1980, nearly quadrupling the national debt in the process.

And when the financial voodoo remedies somehow amazingly fail to entice the gods sufficiently to redeem the disaster that is American fiscal policy, desperate political invocations and supplications to the deities du jour are sure to follow. In fact, they began long ago. Term limits? Swell! No tax increase pledges? Cool! Tea parties? What a great idea! Ross Perot and his binders full of government plans gathering dusts on the shelves of bureaucracies all across Washington? Brilliant! Deregulation? Of course! Let the market fix everything! Privatization? Why have a government when you can buy a lousier one for a lot more money, so that profits can be extracted? Hey, and while we're at it, why not pretend to fund our schools as the pretext for government-sponsored gambling through lotteries? Excellent! That's a threefer! Bad schools, government-induced addiction, and a rip-off of the public's money.

The American public is in oscillating parachute mode right now, and my guess is that it's going to get worse. Like a desperate patient with a potentially terminal illness, we careen from one panacea to the next, hoping that the laws of political physics can somehow be suspended if we just wish it earnestly enough. In observing this pathetic sight, I am reminded of nothing so much as a cranky adolescent who expends ten times the energy and grief to avoid doing his math assignment as it would take to just sit down for twenty minutes and crank it out.

That's the funny thing about the American political malaise. Some of the changes most necessary for our rescue would not only be easy, they'd be way cheaper than free. This country could solve ninety percent of its problems by the simple act of getting money out of politics and thereby (re)turning the American government into being an instrument for the benefit of the public, rather than a servant for aggregating wealth on behalf of a predatory plutocracy. Among the immediate benefits such a change might be expected to realize would be precipitous drops in military spending and corporate welfare, along with a serious rise in revenues from a tax system that required the rich to actually pay their share. In other words, for no cost to the individual American other than getting up off their couches and actually demanding government for the people rather than for the people's vampires, the public could right the ship of state and probably even get a beloved tax cut out of the deal. But, alas, there is that couch to keep warm...

Really, I'm afraid the kindest thing you can say about America today is that it is so not a serious country anymore. Churchill joked that you can always count on America to do the right thing, after it has exhausted all the other possibilities. I'm down with the second half of the equation, but unfortunately growing increasingly dubious about the first.

Let's assume, for the sake of argument, that there is no substantial economic recovery - measured in jobs, not GDP or the Dow or Wall Street bonuses - in the coming years. I regret to say that I think that's a pretty safe assumption. The abandonment of workers in America that we're seeing today is a the final (we hope) result of a decades-long relentless pursuit of profits in the name of overclass greed über alles. Who cares about American workers if you can do a job cheaper with a machine? Why give a shit about shutting down entire communities if you can export those jobs overseas at a fraction of the cost? Sorry too about those trade treaties that only helped to exacerbate that tendency! Oh, and too bad we don't have any money to dump into community redevelopment or schools or infrastructure. Gots to do tax cuts for the rich instead. Gots to keep our priorities straight, you know?

In short, we've worked pretty hard these last decades to destroy the American middle class and to hammer the working class and poor, all because the folks who were really rich decided about thirty years ago that they instead deserved to be fantastically rich. And, lo and behold, it's worked! The good years of the mid-twentieth century in America are now going, in the long view of history, from being a foundation to a continuing and improved future to instead becoming an historical anomaly. It was a blip, in between the normal of gross disparities of wealth that came before it and after it. A thirty year party. A generational experiment that went badly awry for the boss class, 'til they returned to clean up the mess.

But it's hard to give it up, especially since nobody told us it was a one-time deal. Ironically, our decline based on class thievery soon became become the perfect condition for its own amplified replication, as the regressive movement in America, starting with Reagan, began marketing an exacerbation of this effect, masked as just its opposite and channeling the fear and rage of economic insecurity into hatred and violence toward brown people, gays, women, etc. Aided and abetted by an 'opposition' party that went from consternation to crash to concussion to confusion to compliance to co-optation to collaboration and then finally to clones, the process has been really quite remarkable for its diabolical ingeniousness and its near complete success.

Emphasis on the word 'near', though. It's not over yet, and this is where I think we begin to get into some really scary territory, and where Churchill's formula may well break down. This is a country steeped in violence, political stupidity, racism, sexism, homophobia, and beliefs in every kind of magic, including - especially - religion. It feels in my gut, right now, like a very combustible collection of tinder, and I don't imagine the revolution, if it comes, will be a particularly progressive one.

I would expect the Democratic Party to get annihilated in the next two election cycles. Assuming people will even wait that long for serious change, that brings Sarah Palin, or her equivalent, and gang to power three years from now.

Consider their choices as they take control of the government.

If this new regime does nothing, or reverts to the GOP's previous form of spending more, taxing less and borrowing like crazy, they will solve nothing, and will be tossed out (again) like the Democrats before them.

If they govern like they actually say they will, they will slash spending on social programs, angering the public furiously, and completely alienating their only real remaining base, old white people.

Which leaves, to my mind, only a third option, kinda like the one Hitler brought to the Weimar Republic, then suffering from similar tendencies toward economic despair, political oscillation and ineffective governance.

That's pretty drastic, but I guess it comes down to the question of just what one thinks these people are capable of.

As for me, I say keep you passport current.
(c) 2010 David Michael Green is a professor of political science at Hofstra University in New York. He is delighted to receive readers' reactions to his articles, but regrets that time constraints do not always allow him to respond. More of his work can be found at his website,

The Dead Letter Office...

Here's Ken without his hood.

Heil Obama,

Dear Generalstaatsanwalt Cuccinelli,

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

Without your lock step calling for the repeal of the Constitution and Bill of Rights, your demand to end rights for gay college students in all Virginia colleges, 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 "Republican Whores" you have made it possible for all of us to goose-step off to a brave new bank account!

Along with this award you will be given the Iron Cross, first class with diamond clusters presented by our glorious Fuhrer, Herr Obama at a gala celebration at "der Fuhrer Bunker," formally the "White House," on 03-15-2010. We salute you Herr Cuccinelli, Sieg Heil!

Signed by,
Vice Fuhrer Biden

Heil Obama

Why Probe Charlie Rangel -- But Not Mitch McConnell?
Rangel faces charges over fundraising for a center named after him. Didn't the Senate GOP leader do the same thing?
By Joe Conason

The House Ethics Committee is far from concluding its investigation of Rep. Charles Rangel, despite his resignation from the Ways and Means chairmanship, as the Republicans will no doubt remind everyone repeatedly in the months ahead.

Near the top of the ethics docket, they are sure to mention, are allegations concerning the Harlem congressman's fundraising for the Charles B. Rangel Center for Public Service at City College of New York, a $30 million project at his alma mater. Rangel has acknowledged using his congressional stationery to solicit funds for the center, a violation of House rules. But he has denied more serious charges -- based on an investigative report in the New York Times -- that he may have exchanged legislative favors for corporate donations to the center.

When ranting on about Rangel, however, what the Republicans surely won't mention is that he's not alone in questionable fundraising for a vanity academic institution that bears his name. Leaders on both sides of Capitol Hill have done likewise for years -- notably including the odious Trent Lott -- but the most troubling example is none other than Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who now holds Lott's former post. If the term "Senate Ethics Committee" weren't an oxymoron, he would be enduring an intense investigation, too.

McConnell is a graduate of the University of Louisville, a place of higher learning that he is seeking to transform into a display case for his limitless narcissism (as well as that of his wife, former Bush Labor Secretary Elaine Chao). Lots of nice things at the university are named after him, but above all there is the McConnell Center for Political Leadership, a special program much like the Rangel Center at CCNY. In such places, young and idealistic scholars are introduced to the tradition of public service represented by these great men, etc.

According to Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, which has named both Rangel and McConnell to its annual lists of the "most corrupt" legislators, the list of donors to the McConnell Center was kept hidden by university administrators. When the Louisville Courier-Journal sued to obtain the names of those donors, the Kentucky Supreme Court handed down a curious decision. Future donors to the center would have to be revealed, the court ruled in August 2008, but 62 past donors could remain anonymous.

But thanks to the newspaper's diligent reporting, names of several of the bigger donors have emerged over the past several years. They include Toyota, which gave $833,000 to the McConnell Center and considers the Kentucky senator among its main Washington assets during its current crisis; RJ Reynolds and Phillip Morris, which gave $150,000 and $450,000, respectively, and which know they can count on him as a staunch backer of tobacco interests; and Yum Inc., the huge KFC/Pizza Hut/Taco Bell franchiser and a $250,000 donor, whose management was surely pleased when McConnell sponsored a special-interest bill protecting the fast-food industry against lawsuits alleging that their products cause obesity, heart disease and diabetes.

Yet of all the dubious donors to the McConnell Center, the worst smell emanates from BAE Systems, the British-based defense firm that just settled a years-long, transatlantic bribery investigation last month by paying a record $450 million fine negotiated by prosecutors in London and Washington. BAE subsidiary United Defense Industries gave $500,000 to the McConnell Center because, as a spokesman proudly explained to the Courier-Journal, "We have a very good relationship with Senator McConnell. We appreciate all he's done for our company and our employees in Louisville."

What has he done for BAE? In the fall of 2007, to cite just one notorious instance, he secured three earmarks worth $25 million for the firm in the defense appropriations bill for programs that the Pentagon had not requested. By then, everyone knew that BAE was crooked and under investigation by the Justice Department, but McConnell continued to perform favors for the company and accept donations from its political action committee.

"Most politicians decide that a scandal is a good time to stop doing business with a company, at least until the scandal is over," remarked CREW executive director Melanie Sloan at the time. "Particularly when we're talking about a criminal investigation over bribery. You would think that a member of Congress would want to steer clear of anyone accused of bribery."

Unless you're Mitch McConnell, that is, who can rely on his fellow senators to do nothing about his corrupt earmarking -- and on the mainstream media, whose deep thinkers will swoon over Rangel's wrongdoing while McConnell's trespasses are simply never mentioned.
(c) 2010 Joe Conason writes for The New York Observer and Salon. You may reach Joe via email at: Joe Conason

The Rising Tide Of Anger In America
By James Donahue

My personal anger was boiling from the day the Supreme Court put George W. Bush in the White House. Most American's didn't seem to share my sentiment until near the end of Bush's eight-year-long tenure, when they began to realize that they had been ripped-off by the crime bosses who had taken over Washington.

There was hope when voters rejected the Republicans, put Barack Obama in the Oval Office and gave him a Democratic Party majority in both houses to make the big changes Mr. Obama promised during his campaign. We thought it possible that something good was about to happen to make America shine throughout the world once again.

But something happened. Both Mr. Obama and the Democrats in the House and Senate were either brought down by the crime syndicate that operates the Federal Reserve, the big banks and lending institutions, plus the military industrial machine, or maybe they were so intimidated they lost their nerve. For sure they found themselves set up for disaster by the Bush Administration before Bush left the White House.

Obama found himself president of a nation fighting to head-off a massive economic crash, a deficit of incredible proportions created by a massive financial bail-out of the banks, insurance giants and mortgage institutions, and the cost of fighting two wars in the Middle East. There were massive layoffs occurring that were getting worse by the day. We were facing a crumbling infrastructure, a growing global climate change crisis, and an eroded sense of prestige on the world stage. It was almost too much for one new president to resolve, although Mr. Obama certainly appeared to be doing what he could.

The battle with Republicans over the health care issue, one of the major efforts taken on by Mr. Obama during his first year in office, has literally raged for most of his first year in office. The advertising campaign financed by the big insurance companies, and the money paid out by an army of lobbyists that invaded Washington, took their toll.

It wasn't the first time this kind of a battle was fought in Washington. But it appears to be the first time that any administration has come this close to getting some kind of a bill passed that will help a lot of people in desperate need for medical services they cannot pay for.

The fight, however, has taken a terrible toll. A lot of Americans have become confused about just what the health care bill is going to provide. Many are convinced that they will no longer qualify for medical care at all. And they are getting mad about all of the massive government spending, the failure of Mr. Obama to generate the jobs they desperately need to restore their old life styles, and the fact that they are losing their homes through bank foreclosures.

The people know they have been cheated. But they don't know exactly who to blame for what has happened to them. They see the politicians wrangling over these issues in Washington without producing solutions. And they cannot see the silent manipulators of high finance hiding in the shadows in the Capitol Building.

The fact that we have the first black president in office in American history has regretfully stirred racial tensions as the anger builds. For many it is easy to want to pin the blame on President Obama, only because of the color of his skin.

The early signs of big trouble may have been the Tea Bag movement, stirred by the Fox News hate-monger Glenn Beck during the summer of 2009. The movement was then designed to invade the legislative community meetings when members of Congress attempted to sell the public on the need for a health care revision. The Tea Baggers have since moved on to become an organization that appears to simply resist everything President Obama is attempting to accomplish.

The Republicans in both the House and Senate have banned together to do the same thing, although the Tea Baggers seem strangely unwilling to join the Republican side in all of this. They have even split among themselves, not exactly forming a political party and not having a specific cause. The only thing that seems certain is that the group is comprised of a lot of angry people who do not understand why they are in their present dilemma, but they are lashing out against government in general.

And that seems to be what is happening all over America. The two recent attacks on IRS buildings and personnel appear to be the first signs of violence stemming from the growing tide of anger. There are indications that it could get worse.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, an organization that tracks violent extremist acts, has just released a quarterly intelligence report that identifies an alarming increase in "nativist extremist" and anti-government "Patriot" and militia groups occurring throughout the country.

The SPLC report said the number of extremist groups jumped from 173 in 2008 to 512 in 2009. The report said the increase in such groups is "cause for grave concern" because such groups have been known to spew violent acts like the bombing attack on the federal building in Oklahoma City in the 1990s.

The SPLC report paints an alarming portrait of what it calls "a radical ethos" that is becoming institutionalized in American politics. These groups, fueled by such hate messengers as Beck, Rush Limbaugh and numerous others who get quality air time on both radio and television, see the federal government "as part of a plot to impose a one-world government on the United States."

This and all of the insane rhetoric emerging these days from the very floor of the Senate as conservative legislators make startling accusations and resort to out-and-out lying about what is right and what is wrong also is stirring the emotions of people at the grass root level. There is talk by television commentators about our "broken government" that no longer can act to fix anything. And from all appearances, this appears to be somewhat true.

It is no secret that government by committee, which our forefathers established when they wrote the Constitution, is not an efficient way of getting things done. There was wisdom in the decision to shift to a somewhat dictatorial form of operating when the nation finds itself in a state of war, because decisions must be made quickly and not wait for Congress.

America is not in a real state of war now, even though we are fighting two wars overseas. But we are in a crisis as severe as if we were battling to save the homeland from an invading enemy. Thus there is a need for leadership to agree to work together to fix whatever is wrong.

Instead of doing what seems natural, however, our legislators and the two existing parties have turned on one another. We consequently have a polarized form of government that cannot function fast enough to meet the crying needs of the people. And this, in turn, is generating the anger.

Our fear is that voters will express their extreme anger without reason at the polls this year as many of the members of the house and senate seek election to expiring terms.

We can predict voters will cast ballots out of a desire to "clean house" and toss out the people now in power. There will be a movement to send new blood to Washington. But in the process, and because they will be fooled by the expected deluge of corporate funded political advertising for a new band of paid-off candidates, they may pick an even more radical pack of legislators than we already have in office.

If they stack the two houses with a Republican majority, or conservative Democrats acting as wolves in sheep's clothing, Mr. Obama will find it impossible to see any of his programs brought to fruitarian.

Even worse, if Obama achieves a health care bill this spring, it could be rescinded. Also at risk would be the extensions of unemployment benefits for millions of jobless Americans, stimulus budget plans designed to put people to work rebuilding infrastructure with federal dollars, and the movement to shut down the Iraq War and bring our troops home.

It will seem like the ghosts of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, and the big business interests that operated freely from behind the curtain, are back for business as usual.

If this happens, and the mood of the people gets any darker, we fear severe acts of violence may threaten to bring us all down.
(c) 2010 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, several magazine articles, and he has two other books in production. He currently produces an estimated five articles weekly for this web site.

The Cartoon Corner...

This edition we're proud to showcase the cartoons of
~~~ R. P. Overmyer ~~~

To End On A Happy Note...

Sam Stone
By John Prine

Sam Stone came home,
To his wife and family
After serving in the conflict overseas.
And the time that he served,
Had shattered all his nerves,
And left a little shrapnel in his knee.
But the morphine eased the pain,
And the grass grew round his brain,
And gave him all the confidence he lacked,
With a Purple Heart and a monkey on his back.

There's a hole in daddy's arm where all the money goes,
Jesus Christ died for nothin' I suppose.
Little pitchers have big ears,
Don't stop to count the years,
Sweet songs never last too long on broken radios.

Sam Stone's welcome home
Didn't last too long.
He went to work when he'd spent his last dime
And Sammy took to stealing
When he got that empty feeling
For a hundred dollar habit without overtime.
And the gold rolled through his veins
Like a thousand railroad trains,
And eased his mind in the hours that he chose,
While the kids ran around wearin' other peoples' clothes...

There's a hole in daddy's arm where all the money goes,
Jesus Christ died for nothin' I suppose.
Little pitchers have big ears,
Don't stop to count the years,
Sweet songs never last too long on broken radios.

Sam Stone was alone
When he popped his last balloon
Climbing walls while sitting in a chair
Well, he played his last request
While the room smelled just like death
With an overdose hovering in the air
But life had lost its fun
And there was nothing to be done
But trade his house that he bought on the G, I. Bill
For a flag draped casket on a local heroes' hill

There's a hole in daddy's arm where all the money goes,
Jesus Christ died for nothin' I suppose.
Little pitchers have big ears,
Don't stop to count the years,
Sweet songs never last too long on broken radios.
(c) 1971/2010 John Prine

Have You Seen This...

Parting Shots...

Those Palin supporters not swallowed up by sudden fissures
in the earth's crust remained to chant anti-Democratic slogans.

Latest Sarah Palin Speech Opens Sixth Seal

IDAHO FALLS, ID-Speaking unto an audience of anti-immigration advocates, global-warming deniers, and members of the Tea Party Nation, former Alaska governor and vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin gave forth utterances Monday that reportedly opened the sixth seal of the Book of the Apocalypse.

"Wow, it's good to be here, just shootin' the breeze with a bunch of real, hardworking Americans who love their freedom," said Palin, her words echoing across the Idaho Falls Civic Auditorium as mighty tremors caused great unrest beneath the land and the sea. "So are the little guys like you and me gonna fight these Washington insiders with their big government agenda? You betcha we are!"

And lo, there was then a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair; and the moon became as blood; and "gosh" was spoken repeatedly; and the stars of heaven fell upon the earth, even as a fig tree casteth her untimely figs, when she is shaken by a mighty wind.

And the 10th mention of "small town folk" brought forth
a great belching chasm of death and dust.

These disturbances reportedly went unnoticed by the audience, however, as their thunderous applause drowned out the sound of the foretold cataclysm.

"This Tea Party movement just goes to show ya that America is ready for another revolution," Palin said as things long ago divined came finally to pass. "Who do you think is gonna stand up for the freedoms promised by our Founding Fathers? Folks like us, or some socialist professor of constitutional law in the Oval Office?"

It was then, witnesses claim, that there was a tearing of the heavens, and the skies receded as does a scroll when it is rolled up, and anecdotes about everyday middle-class Alaskan families were enunciated in down-to-earth tones.

"That's right, partner," Palin said, as every mountain and island moved from its place, and flames overtook the lakes and the rivers and the seas. "Thanks, but no thanks."

According to biblical scholars, the opening of the seven seals described in the Book of Revelation will usher in the End Times, the Tribulation, the reign of the Antichrist, and the eventual salvation of the 144,000 chosen few. It is thought that the sixth seal's opening will bring about the full fury of God, leading ultimately to the Day of Wrath.

"Admittedly, this is not what we were expecting," said Robert Harwood, a doctor of divinity at the University of Cambridge. "The Bible speaks of a beast with seven horns and seven eyes, not a raven-haired woman from the north who knows not what foolishness she speaks of."

"Still, there's no denying it," Harwood added. "The End of Days is upon us."

One member of the crowd not torn apart by swarming harpies told reporters he feared living in a country where his daughters would grow up speaking Spanish and not be allowed to carry handguns.

"Palin for president!" Bill Coleman, 37, of Topeka, KS chanted, and the stench of flesh rotting in the belly of Satan rose up, and the stench of death rose up. "Sarah Palin for president!"

"Small town folks-the folks who grow our food, run our small businesses, and teach our kids-are getting pretty riled up by President Obama's big socialist ideas," Palin spoke as the stage upon which she stood was rent apart by an unseen hand, opening as unto a great chasm, whose gaping void she narrowly escaped by clinging to the podium.

"'s that hopey-changey stuff workin' out for ya?" Palin added.

Chaos and disorder then spread across hill and valley to every corner of the earth, eyewitnesses reported, and as the minions of the Antichrist prepared for their millennium of world dominion, even the teeming masses of heathens could not in their hearts deny that the final phase of Armageddon was close at hand, and that you're darn right Joe Six-Pack pays too many taxes already.

The Antichrist, whose true identity remained unknown as of press time, will reportedly come to torment the sinners of humanity as soon as the seventh and last remaining seal is opened.

"I'm so happy that we've got the liberal left running scared," Palin concluded. "Because whatever the TV pundits might want you to think, from where I'm standing, the future looks really good."
(c) 2010 The Onion

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Iraq Deaths Estimator

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Issues & Alibis Vol 10 # 11 (c) 03/12/2010

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(2) the nature of the copyrighted work;
(3) the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
(4) the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work. The fact that a work is unpublished shall not itself bar a finding of fair use if such finding is made upon consideration of all the above factors."