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In This Edition

David Suzuki warns, "We Can't Just Geoengineer Our Way Out Of Climate Change."

Uri Avnery sees, "A Counter-Coalition."

Glen Ford reports, "U.S. Prepares To Gas Russia Into Submission."

Pepe Escobar returns with, "Obama And The West's Ukraine Gambit Has Fizzled, And Now Putin's In The Driver's Seat."

Jim Hightower explores, "The Millionaires' Congress Vs. The People."

David Swanson recalls, "The Genius Of Erasmus."

James Donahue exposes, "Hiding Corruption In Broad Daylight."

John Nichols remembers, "Tony Benn And The Five Essential Questions Of Democracy."

Chris Hedges examines, "Israel's War On American Universities."

David Sirota wonders, "Do Companies Have A First Amendment Right To Track You?"

Paul Krugman hears, "That Old-Time Whistle."

Phil Donahue tells, "Congress, It's Time To Clean Up Your Iraq War Mess."

William Rivers Pitt screams, "The Answer Is Turnout: Vote, You Jackass."

MSNBC talking head Abigail Huntsman wins this week's coveted, "Vidkun Quisling Award!"

Robert Reich considers, "The 'Paid-What-You're-Worth' Myth."

Joel S. Hirschhorn returns with an absolute must read for seniors, "Medicare Madness - How Americans Can Lose Benefits In A Hospital."

And finally in the 'Parting Shots' department Will Durst says, "It's Not The Hate, It's The Stupidity" but first, Uncle Ernie is, "Living In The Day Of The Eagle."

This week we spotlight the cartoons of Mr. Fish, with additional cartoons, photos and videos from Tom Tomorrow, Tom Arthur, Kirk Anderson, Carolyn Kaster, John Auchter, Hans Holbein, Flickr, I-Sight.Com, Parker Brothers, Shutterstock.Com, A.P., NASA, Black Agenda Report, You Tube.Com and Issues & Alibis.Org.

Plus we have all of your favorite Departments...

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

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

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Living In The Day Of The Eagle
By Ernest Stewart

But I watch for the love
I'm living in the day of the eagle, the eagle, not the dove
Day Of The Eagle ~~~ Robin Trower

"For some, the phrase 'Dust Bowl' conjures a place: the Great Plains, but a Great Plains of abandoned homes, ruined lives, dead and dying crops and sand, sand, sand. For others, the phrase denotes not a region but an era: the mid- to late-1930s in America, when countless farms were lost; dust storms raced across thousands of miles of once-fertile land, so huge and unremitting that they often blotted out the sun; and millions of American men, women and children took to the road, leaving behind everything they knew and everything they’d built, heading west, seeking work, food, shelter, new lives, new hope...." ~~~ Alfred Eisenstaedt

"Hey, what about raising the retirement age to 70 or even 75?" ~~~ Abby Huntsman

"Success follows those who champion a cause greater than themselves." ~~~ George Alexiou

I'm having a deja vu all over again, how about you? While I'm not exactly singing "Crimea River," I do get what just went down in the Ukraine. Ya'll remember the Austrian anschluss? You know, when Hitler decided to include his old homeland Austria in the new greater Germany? That was pretty much what Putin just pulled in the Ukraine.

Just like Hitler, Putin knows we'll do absolutely nothing about it. Europe, for all it's bluster, won't do anything that really displeases Putin, or he'll cut off their natural gas supplies -- which would do more than play "freeze-out;" it'd destroy their shaky economies, as well.

As much as our President likes to bomb and kill people, mostly innocent people, he knows what attacking Russia would result in, viz., a couple of thousand H-bombs heading our way; so that's off the table. Funny how our nuclear threats are made only against nations that don't have the bomb; funny thing that, huh?

Still our Zionazi puppet masters in Tel Aviv have no problems setting up scenarios, that, if followed, could lead to WWIII; and, as long as they remain our masters, that threat remains viable.

Of course, being of my age and time, we were indoctrinated from early childhood of the possibilities of nuclear war. Some of you may remember "duck & cover?" They taught five-year olds to duck under their desks, put their arms over their eyes, and put their head between their legs. What they left out, of course, was, the final step -- kiss your ass goodbye! If McCain and his ilk get their ways, those daze may be coming back with a vengeance!

In Other News

I got to talking with a friend the other night about the environment and whether or not it's too late to do something about it. We talked about the various ways the Canadians are trying their best to destroy most of our ground water with their heavy oil and various pipelines that they want to snake through America to sell their gas and oil overseas with none of it going to us; and the several pipelines, in particular, that they've planned to snake throughout the Great Lakes, which equates to a possible poisoning of 80% of our drinking water.

They're finding out in California how global warming is changing, amongst other things, the rain patterns turning once-fertile valleys into deserts. Which is fine if you don't live in the Southwest, except, of course, that most of the fruits, vegetables, nuts that we eat come from there -- and it's about that time of the year when they're due for the harvest of their winter crops. Winter crops in California -- which normally feed us for the next six months until the fall harvest -- have mostly dried up and blown away including the winter crops; ergo, you can expect to see prices doubling or tripling at the super market real soon. And that's just the tip of the iceberg.

Some 25 million people could soon be out of water in the Southwest; reservoirs from north to south are drying up at an alarming rate. The rain that swept through California and the region in general did little to stop that; it did manage to wipe out the few crops that had barely been hanging on when floods and mud slides swept the area. Let's not forget about those fracking wells that are poisoning what ground water is left. For those tens of millions who moved out to the southwest not realizing that the Eden they moved to was only an Eden for as long as the rains and snows in the mountains held out; without that water, Eden is turning itself back into a barren desert that it was before they built those damns. All those big cities out west may soon be turning into ghost towns. There've been major dust storms that turn the noon day sun black as night; and those storms are beginning to extend their way into the America's "bread basket." Remember what happened in the "dust bowl" back in the 30's? I thought not!

Couple all that with all the GMO poisonous plants being grown throughout the "bread basket" now with the record heat waves, which fry them up as their various chemical add-ons are turning out to be both poisonous and greatly weakening the plants -- not to mention growing a whole new crop of "super bugs" which not only attack those crops, but other crops as well; and what you are left with is perhaps the hardest thing we've ever had to face, as the human race, extinction! Of course, the 1% will still be eating good as they can afford what's left at whatever the price; but the rest of us are going to have to go bye-bye. Global warming isn't a joke, as a lot of Americans are soon going to find out!

And Finally

I see where the other day, MSNBC has slid a little farther to the right -- if you can imagine that. They let their talking head Abigail Huntsman attack Social Security with nothing said by the bosses. That old Rethuglican pipe dream about raising the age up to where no one lives long enough to get it, Abby recommends age 75 -- while cutting benefits back to 80% of current levels. That's the only way that she can figure out how to save it for her generation. Methinks taking the cap off of it and taxing the billionaires like the rest of us are taxed might do the trick, and then some!

Of course, Abby hasn't a clue about the elderly, being 27 -- nor about being poor, being the daughter of Jon Huntsman, Jr., a billionaire former governor of Utah who ran as a Rethuglican for President in 2012.

You may recall that any liberal who worked for MSNBC soon found themselves fired for daring to criticize the right? Ask Keith Olberman, Martin Bashir or Alec Baldwin how working for MSNBC worked out for them! Sure, they're still allowing their token lesbian Rachel Maddow to keep her job -- as long as she doesn't cross certain lines -- to prove how liberal they are; they're not!

Ergo, Abby wins this week's Vidkun Quisling Award! I betcha daddy is proud as punch for his little girl's rat-wing thoughts!

Keepin' On

As that great, wise, American philosopher, Yogi Berra once said, "The future ain't what it used to be" and I'm beginning to understand what Yogi meant! While we fought the Crime Family Bush tooth-and-nail, our support was never in doubt. But since we fought the same fight against Obama for doing exactly as Bush did, only sometimes a lot worse, our support has dwindled to the point that the next few months may be our last months of operation.

In our 13 years of being, I've seen most all of the liberal blogosphere disappear with Bartcop being the latest example! Some, like Terry, were caused by death; but most were caused by lack of finances. Zeus knows we've been just barely scraping by since 2009; and even though Barry's support has fallen to an all-time low, ours hasn't risen accordingly. I know a lot of people have given up the political fight to concentrate on the fight to keep a roof over their family's head, and food on the table; believe me, I know how that works!

I'm not doing this for myself; I know what's happening -- having studied Political Science since 1960; we do it to hip others to our political plight! Not one of our writers, artists, or staff have ever made a dime out of this; we have one of the lowest cost business plans around. Half of our bills are paid for by advertisers; and if I could pick up a few more, they'd pay the total cost; but you'd be surprised by how many companies don't want to be associated with a magazine that dares to tell the truth! Which is where you come in. If you think it is a good idea to know whats happening, then please won't you support our efforts to keep you informed so that you can deal with it? If so, then please send us whatever you can, as often as you can -- and we'll keep fighting the good fight for you!


04-03-1935 ~ 03-14-2014
Thanks for fighting the good fight!

02-04-1936 ~ 03-15-2014
Thanks for the laughs!

08-16-1949 ~ 03-15-2014
Thanks for the jams!

11-13-1929 ~ 03-19-2014
Burn Baby Burn!!


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


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

Until the next time, Peace!
(c) 2014 Ernest Stewart a.k.a. Uncle Ernie is an unabashed radical, author, stand-up comic, DJ, actor, political pundit and for the last 13 years managing editor and publisher of Issues & Alibis magazine. Visit me on Facebook. Visit the Magazine's page on Facebook and like us when you do. Follow me on Twitter.

A view of Earth from the International Space Station.

We Can't Just Geoengineer Our Way Out Of Climate Change
By David Suzuki

Because nature doesn't always behave the same in a lab, test tube or computer program as it does in the real world, scientists and engineers have come up with ideas that didn't turn out as expected.

DDT was considered a panacea for a range of insect pest issues, from controlling disease to helping farmers. But we didn't understand bioaccumulation back then -- toxins concentrating up the food chain, risking the health and survival of animals from birds to humans. Chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs, seemed so terrific we put them in everything from aerosol cans to refrigerators. Then we learned they damage the ozone layer, which protects us from harmful solar radiation.

These unintended consequences come partly from our tendency to view things in isolation, without understanding how all nature is interconnected. We're now facing the most serious unintended consequence ever: climate change from burning fossil fuels. Some proposed solutions may also result in unforeseen outcomes.

Oil, gas and coal are miraculous substances -- energy absorbed from the sun by plants and animals hundreds of millions of years ago, retained after they died and concentrated as the decaying life became buried deeper into the earth. Burning them to harness and release this energy opened up possibilities unimaginable to our ancestors. We could create machines and technologies to reduce our toil, heat and light our homes, build modern cities for growing populations and provide accessible transport for greater mobility and freedom. And because the stuff seemed so plentiful and easy to obtain, we could build vehicles and roads for everyone -- big cars that used lots of gas -- so that enormous profits would fuel prosperous, consumer-driven societies.

We knew fairly early that pollution affected human health, but that didn't seem insurmountable. We just needed to improve fuel efficiency and create better pollution-control standards. That reduced rather than eliminated the problem and only partly addressed an issue that appears to have caught us off-guard: the limited availability of these fuels. But the trade-offs seemed worthwhile.

Then, for the past few decades, a catastrophic consequence of our profligate use of fossil fuels has loomed. Burning them has released excessive amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, creating a thick, heat-trapping blanket. Along with our destruction of natural carbon-storing environments, such as forests and wetlands, this has steadily increased global average temperatures, causing climate change.

We're now faced with ever-increasing extreme weather-related events and phenomena such as ocean acidification, which affects myriad marine life, from shellfish to corals to plankton. The latter produce oxygen and are at the very foundation of the food chain.

Had we addressed the problem from the outset, we could have solutions in place. We could have found ways to burn less fossil fuel without massively disrupting our economies and ways of life. But we've become addicted to the lavish benefits that fossil fuels have offered, and the wealth and power they've provided to industrialists and governments. And so there's been a concerted effort to stall or avoid corrective action, with industry paying front groups, "experts" and governments to deny or downplay the problem.

Now that climate change has become undeniable, with consequences getting worse daily, many experts are eyeing solutions. Some are touting massive technological fixes, such as dumping large amounts of iron filings into the seas to facilitate carbon absorption, pumping nutrient-rich cold waters from the ocean depths to the surface, building giant reflectors to bounce sunlight back into space and irrigating vast deserts.

But we're still running up against those pesky unintended consequences. Scientists at the Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research in Kiel, Germany, studied five geoengineering schemes and concluded they're "either relatively ineffective with limited warming reductions, or they have potentially severe side effects and cannot be stopped without causing rapid climate change." That's partly because we don't fully understand climate and weather systems and their interactions.

That doesn't mean we should rule out geoengineering. Climate change is so serious that we'll need to marshal everything we have to confront it, and some methods appear to be more benign than others. But geoengineering isn't the solution. And it's no excuse to go on wastefully burning fossil fuels. We must conserve energy and find ways to quickly shift to cleaner sources.
(c) 2014 David Suzuki is a well-known Canadian scientist, broadcaster and environmental activist.

A Counter-Coalition
By Uri Avnery

SOMETHING VERY important happened this week in the most unlikely of places: the Knesset.

On the agenda were three laws, one worse than the other.

One was about "governance." Its main provision raises the "electoral threshold" - i.e. the minimum an election list needs to enter the Knesset - from 2% to 3.25%. The obvious intention is to expel the three lists which derive their votes from the Arab sector, and which hover around this level.

The second was about "sharing the load equally". Its declared aim is to compel thousands of orthodox youth to serve in the army, from which they are now exempted. In practice, the new law exempts them for another four years. Israelis call this "Israbluff."

The third is about peace, or the lack of. It says that any agreement that would give up territory which is at present controlled by Israel would need affirmation by a referendum. Until now, referendums have been unknown in Israel. This law would apply to all territorial changes, no matter how minor.

What is the connection between these three bills? None whatsoever, except that they are printed on paper. However, each of them is disliked by at least one of the six factions that support the government, which could make its adoption impossible.

In order to have them all passed, the government coalition has imposed on its members a draconian measure: they have to vote for all three of them together, one after the other.

This has never happened before. It is another symptom of the creeping right-wing crudity that is the hallmark of this Knesset.

IN SELF-DEFENCE, the opposition parties have done something that is also unprecedented in Israel: they have declared a boycott of the Knesset plenum. Not a single opposition member attended the plenum during the debate on these bills and the vote on them. They set up an "alternative plenum", where they held a lively debate.

The opposition consists of diverse elements, which do not ordinarily cooperate.

There are the left-wing Zionist parties: the Labor party and Meretz.

There are the two orthodox religious factions: the Torah Jewish faction (consisting of two separate parties) and the Oriental orthodox party, Shas.

And there are the three "Arab" parties: the nationalist Balad party, the moderate Islamic party and the Communist party, which has also a small Jewish component.

All these diverse political groupings have come together to express their outrage about the dictatorial measures of the Right. Their unprecedented boycott of the Knesset votes underlines the seriousness of the parliamentary crisis, though it did not prevent the laws being adopted.

The media excitement about the crisis hid, however, a much more serious aspect, one that may have a fundamental impact on the future of Israel.

ALL THREE Israeli TV networks devoted only a few minutes to what was happening in the Knesset plenum, and concentrated on the much more interesting happenings in the counter-plenum.

They showed, for example, the Shas leader, Ariyeh Deri, rubbing heads with a prominent Labor deputy. It was more than a brotherly gesture. It was a political statement.

From the first day of the State of Israel, for 29 consecutive years, the country was governed by the Labor party, in close cooperation with the religious Jewish parties. (Before that, this same coalition had "ruled" the Jewish community in Palestine since 1933.)

The historic turn-about of 1977, which brought the Likud to power, happened when the religious parties turned their back on the Labor party and joined the new right-wing coalition of Menachem Begin. This was more than a political maneuver. It was a tectonic shift that changed the landscape of Israel.

Since then, the right-wing-religious coalition has ruled Israel (with short intermissions). It seemed unshakable, and condemned Israel to a dark future of apartheid, occupation and settlements.

It also seemed natural. Jewish religion asserts that God personally promised the whole of the Holy Land to the Israelites. Religious schools teach a wholly judeo-centered outlook, ignoring the rights of others. The products of this education seem to be the natural allies of the Likud's the-Whole-of-Eretz-Israel ideology.

The events of this week show that it ain't necessarily so. The orthodox anti-Zionists can shake hands with secular Zionists and - incredibly - also with Arabs.

It brought into focus the basic rift between the orthodox, whose Judaism is the old-time religion of the shtetl, and the Zionist "nationalist-religious", whose Judaism is a tribal mix of blood and earth. For the orthodox, Judaism is not the enemy of peace. On the contrary, Shalom and the good treatment of foreigners are commanded by God.

If this three-cornered secular-orthodox-Arab idyll holds, it may be the forerunner of a new political turn-about, the end of the era that started in 1977.

IN ORDER to understand what is happening, one has to understand the importance of Understanding. Understanding others.

The orthodox community is a separate section of Israel, much like the Arab section, and perhaps even more so. They are different from mainstream Israelis in almost everything - cultural outlook, historical orientation, language (many speak Yiddish), clothing, even body language. They are rather like the Amish in the US. - except that they constitute about 15% of the population.

The present crisis is not caused by their dislike of the army and the entire Zionist ideology. It goes much deeper. Their main aim is survival in an increasingly hostile world. They need to keep absolute control of their sons and daughters from birth to death, not allowing them to come into contact with the non-orthodox at any stage of their life. Therefore they cannot be allowed to attend ordinary schools, join the army, work at ordinary working places, live in secular neighborhoods. They cannot eat in non-orthodox company, nor - God forbid!!! - meet secular members of the opposite sex. Total isolation is their recipe for survival.

Israeli right-wingers, with their fixed and self-centered outlook, are quite unable to understand this, much as they are unable to understand the mind of the Arab citizens. What the hell! Why should an Israeli Jewish mother spend sleepless nights worrying about her soldier son, while these shirkers enjoy life?

For an orthodox boy, of course, it is as unthinkable to stop studying the Talmud as it is for an Arab boy to shoot at his Palestinian brothers.

The army chiefs, by the way, do not want to have either. They shudder at the thought of training and arming Arab youth, except for a few Bedouin and Druze mercenaries. They shudder at the thought of absorbing thousands of orthodox, who would need separate camps, so as not to come in contact, including eye-contact, with girls. Not to mention their need for synagogues, ritual baths, special kosher food and their own rabbis, who could countermand any order by an ordinary officer.

However, no army officer will say so openly. The old Zionist vision forbids it. Our army is a Citizen's Army, everybody serves in it without discrimination, equality in the defense of the homeland is sacred.

Because of this, convoluted legal tricks of self-deceit have been in place for decades. Now the country has to face them.

To my mind, we should face reality: the orthodox (and the Arab citizens) are special minorities, who need a special status. The present actual situation should be legalized, without tricks and ploys. The orthodox (and the Arabs) should be officially exempted. Perhaps our army should follow western examples and turn altogether into a professional, volunteer army.

BUT THIS is a side point. The main question is this:

Can the old alliance between the left-wing and the orthodox be renewed?

Can there be a fundamental change in the distribution of political forces?

Can the coalition of the Right and the "nationalist-religious" messianic camp, including its fascist fringes, become a political minority again?

Can a counter-coalition of the Left and the orthodox (yes, with the Arab citizens) come to power?

It is not impossible, yet you have to be an optimist to believe so.

However, you have to be an optimist to believe in anything good.
(c) 2014 Uri Avnery ~~~ Gush Shalom

Dr. Monteiro

U.S. Prepares To Gas Russia Into Submission
By Glen Ford

The massive - and desperate - American offensive against world order is entering a new phase, as the U.S. prepares to resume its historical status as global energy superpower. The Obama administration's brazen implantation of a rabidly anti-Russian, fascist-led regime in Ukraine places U.S. proxies astride pipelines that carry much of Siberia's gas to Europe and beyond. Seventy-six percent of Russia's natural gas exports are bound for Europe, the bulk of it to Germany, Italy, France and the United Kingdom. Russia's weight in the world is largely derived, not from its economically burdensome nuclear arsenal, but as an energy giant. The U.S.-engineered coup in Kiev sets the stage for a protracted assault on Russia's energy trade, which accounts for more than half of Moscow's federal expenditures. Without its huge oil and gas exports, Russia deflates like a leaky dirigible.

Even the Americans were not so stupid as to believe that their neo-Nazi friends in Kiev could somehow pry Russia from its naval base in Crimea. Such was never the plan. Rather, Moscow's response to the overthrow of Ukraine's elected government was predictable, as was that of the Russian-speaking Crimean majority. Washington's strategy is to permanently ratchet up tensions to "new cold war" levels to justify sanctions against Russian energy exports while exploiting America's own natural gas "surplus" as an enhanced weapon of global hegemony.

Thanks to shale fracking, the United States recently surpassed Russia as the world's number one exporter of natural gas, and will next year become the top oil producer. As the New York Times reported on March 5, "The administration's strategy is to move aggressively to deploy the advantages of its new resources to undercut Russian natural gas sales to Ukraine and Europe." That's not the half of it. When Moscow stood up to U.S.-backed jihadists in Syria, the Obama administration understood that the U.S.-Russia button could not be "reset" to Washington's satisfaction under current conditions. An assertive Russia, increasingly coordinated with China, must be taken out of international contention. Washington will move to crush, or at least seriously disrupt, Russia under its "sanctions as war by other means" machine, by targeting its energy exports, while simultaneously boosting the foreign markets for U.S. natural gas.

The U.S. government tells its people that it spends more on weaponry than the rest of the world's nations, combined, in order to, among other things, maintain the free flow of energy throughout the planet. But, that didn't stop Washington from attempting to cripple Venezuela's oil production in 2003, or from preventing Iran, once the world's fourth largest exporter, from marketing more than a fraction of her production under the current U.S. sanctions regime. U.S. rulers have never been guardians of free oil flow. Rather, American policy is designed to ensure that U.S.-based corporations and financiers dominate the global energy trade, and that the dollar remains central to energy transactions, regardless of where the oil and gas comes from.

Russia also plays a key role as the energy giant among the BRIC bloc, which is the most likely venue for hatching alternatives to dollar hegemony. Venezuela, which barters oil with some of its Latin American partners and uses the proceeds of its dollar-denominated exports to build structures of resistance to U.S. imperialism, must also be forced back into line, or taken out of the game.

Ever since the Arab oil embargo of 1973, U.S. presidents have trumpeted the quest for "energy self-sufficiency" as a national security imperative, requiring subsidies for domestic energy production. Richard Nixon proclaimed: "In the last third of this century, our independence will depend on maintaining and achieving self-sufficiency in energy." In truth, oil producers enjoyed bounteous subsidies when the U.S. was indisputably the oil production king of the world, from 1925, when U.S. oil fields accounted form more than 70 percent of total global production, to the early 70s. Citizens assumed self-sufficiency meant drilling for domestic development. "Self-sufficiency" - and jobs - is what makes fracking "worth it" in the eyes of many Americans. Now that the aquifers of much of the country have been fouled by shale-frackers intent on cornering gas markets around the globe, the script must be flipped, so that the surplus can be exported. As George Washington University law professor Richard Pierce told Al Jazeera, last year, "The US is now 100 percent independent in natural gas and within the next half a dozen years [North America] will be independent in oil. It will become a global supplier, rather than a demander, in a hurry."

Room must be made for this global supplier in an energy-glutted world. Russia's gas sales to Europe need to be "undercut," as the Times puts it. Sanctions can reshape the global markets to the advantage of the new energy superpower - war by other means. Corporate media mask the historical moment with juvenile jibes at Putin, as Washington prepares to subdue the planet with gushing oil and burning water.
(c) 2014 Glen Ford is the Black Agenda Report executive editor. He can be contacted at

Obama And The West's Ukraine Gambit Has Fizzled, And Now Putin's In The Driver's Seat
By Pepe Escobar

Let's cut to the chase - short and sweet.

(1) The Obama administration's "strategic" gambit to extricate Ukraine from the Russian sphere of influence - and ultimately annex it to NATO is in utter shambles.

(2) The referendum in Crimea - 85 percent of turnout, roughly 93 percent voting for re-joining Russia, according to exit polls - is a done deal, as much as the oh-so-democratic European Union (E.U.) keeps threatening to punish people in Crimea for exercising their basic democratic rights. (By the way, when the U.S. got Kosovo to secede from Serbia, Serbians were offered no referendum).

(3) The main rationale for the whole U.S. "strategic" advance - cancel Ukraine's agreement for the Russian naval base in Sevastopol - is up in smoke. Moscow remains present in the Black Sea and with full access to the Eastern Mediterranean.

All Aboard the Finland Station

The U.S. State Department has practically agreed to a federal and in fact 'Finlandized' Ukraine which, by the way, is the solution being proposed by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov right from the start, as this Russian white paper attests. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry - as when Moscow saved the "red line" Obama administration from bombing Syria - will go on overdrive to steal all the credit from the Russians. U.S. corporate media will duly buy it, but not independents such as Moon of Alabama.

This "sensible" road map implies, among other crucial points: strong autonomous regions; Russian reinstated as an official language, alongside Ukrainian; and most of all political/military neutrality - that is, Finlandization. To get there will be the mission of a support group - once again, proposed by Moscow from the start - with the U.S., E.U. and Russia as members.

All that finally sanctified by a U.N. Security Council resolution (true, it could go spectacularly wrong, and most of all sabotaged by the "West.") And all that, as well, without Moscow having to officially recognize the regime changers in Kiev. In a nutshell; Moscow called Washington's bluff - and won.

So after that barrage of ominous threats including everyone from Obama, Kerry and assorted neo-con bomb-firsters down to minions such as Cameron, Hague and Fabius, the meat of the matter is that the Obama administration concluded it would not risk a nuclear war with Russia for the Khaganate of Nulands - especially after Moscow made it known, discreetly, that it would create the conditions for eastern and southern Ukraine to also secede.

Sweden, for instance, proposed an arms embargo on sales to Moscow. Paris took a quick glance at its industrial-military complex interests and immediately said no. Only the brain dead entertain the notion that Paris and Berlin are willing to jeopardize their trade relations with Russia. As well as the notion that Beijing would ever join sanctions against its fellow Group of 20, BRICS and Shanghai Cooperation Organization member Russia just because of what they perceive as an increasingly irrational - and dangerous - Washington said so.

And, yet, Western hysteria of course will persist unabated. In the U.S., where it matters, the meme of the subsequent days will be, inevitably, who lost Syria and who lost Ukraine.

Here's the record: Dubya launched two wars. He (miserably) lost both.

Obama attempted to launch two wars (Syria and Ukraine). He - lucky for him - lost both even at the "attempt" stage. Assorted neo-cons and the whole exceptionalist brigade are predictably livid. Expect the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal to go ballistic. And expect U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Samantha "R2P" Power to wish she were Sinead O'Connor singing "Nothing Compares to You."

It's a Gas, Gas, Gas, Not!

The Kiev regime-changers are already announcing their intentions, as in Right Sector capo and confirmed neo-Nazi Dmytro Yarosh saying, " ... Russia makes money sending its oil through our pipelines to the West. We will destroy these pipelines and deprive our enemy of its source of income."

That's a brilliant strategy straight from the Khaganate of Nulands playbook. So homes and the whole industrial base in Ukraine should be out of (cheap, discounted) gas, not to mention great swaths of Germany, so the neo-Nazis can claim "victory." With friends like these ...

Gazprom's executives are not exactly raising an eyebrow. Russia is already shipping roughly half of its gas to Europe bypassing Ukraine, and after South Stream is completed in 2015, that percentage will increase (E.U. "sanctions" against South Stream are just empty rhetoric).

The regime changers will be trying to wreak havoc in other fronts as well. The new Ukrainian parliament has voted to assemble a 60,000-strong National Guard crammed with "activists." Guess who will be in charge? The new security chief, Andriy Parubiy, one of the founders of the neo-nazi Social-National Party. And his deputy happens to be none other than Yarosh, the leader of the paramilitary Right Sector. Feel free to add your own custom-made Hitlerian metaphors - even as the risk persists of Ukraine breaking apart. Which is not necessarily a bad deal. Let the "democratic" E.U. pay Ukraine's gas bills.
(c) 2014 Pepe Escobar is the roving correspondent for Asia Times. His latest book is "Obama Does Globalistan." He may be reached at


The Millionaires' Congress Vs. The People

The rich truly are different from you and me - they tend to become congress critters.

You don't find many plumbers, mine workers, dirt farmers, Walmart associates, beauty parlor operators, taxi drivers, or other "get-the-job-done" Americans among the 535 members of the US House and Senate. What you do find is an over-supply of lawmakers drawn from a very thin strata of America's population: Millionaires. The Center for Responsive Politics reports that last year - for the first time in history - more than half of our senators and House members are in the Millionaires Club. Indeed, the average net worth (the value of what they own minus what they owe) for all lawmakers now totals more than $7 million.

The world in which our "representatives" live is light years from where the majority of people live, and the divide between the governors and the governees is especially stark for the 40 percent of people whose net worth is zero (or, technically, less than zero, since their income and other assets are far exceeded by their debts). This widening chasm is not just a matter of wealth, but most significantly a literal separation of the privileged few from the experiences, needs, and aspirations of the many who're struggling to make ends meet and worried that opportunities for their children to get ahead are no longer available to them.

The harsh reality is that most Americans are no longer represented in Washington. Chances are that their own members of Congress don't know any struggling and worried people, share nothing in common with them, and can't relate to their real-life needs, Thus, Congress is content to play ideological games with such basics as health care, minimum wage, joblessness, food stamps, and Social Security. America's wealth divide has become a chasm, creating a looming social and political crisis for America that undermines any pretense that ours is a democratic society.
(c) 2014 Jim Hightower's latest book, "If The Gods Had Meant Us To Vote They Would Have Given Us Candidates," is available in a fully revised and updated paperback edition.

The Genius Of Erasmus
By David Swanson

Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus, who lived from October 27, 1466, to July 12, 1536, faced censorship in his day, and has never been as popular among the rich and powerful as has his contemporary Niccolo di Bernardo dei Machiavelli. But at a distance of half a millennium, we ought to be able to judge work on its merit -- and we ought to have regular celebrations of Erasmus around the world. Some of his ideas are catching on. His name is familiar in Europe as that of the EU's student exchange program, named in his honor. We ought perhaps to wonder what oddball ideas these days might catch on in the 2500s -- if humanity is around then.

In 1517, Erasmus wrote The Complaint of Peace, in which Peace, speaking in the first-person, complains about how humanity treats her. She claims to offer "the source of all human blessings" and to be scorned by people who "go in quest of evils infinite in number."

The Complaint is not a contemporary twenty-first century piece of thinking; its outdatedness in any number of areas is immediately obvious. But that's to be expected in an essay written 500 years ago in Latin for a readership made up of what we would call creationists, astrologers, monarchists, and Eurocentric bigots.

What ought to amaze us is the extent to which the Complaint does address the same troubles we face today and the same bad arguments used today in defense of wars. The Complaint offers rebuttals to such arguments that have never been surpassed. Its text could serve as the basis for dozens of important sermons were some preacher inclined to favor peace on earth.

Peace, in her complaint to us, begins by imagining that humans must be insane to pursue war instead of her. She does not complain out of indignation, but weeps over people who actively bring so much harm on themselves and are incapable of even realizing it. The first step, Erasmus/Peace says, is recognizing that you have a problem. Or rather, "It is one great step to convalescence to know the extent and inveteracy of a disease."

War was deemed to be the supreme international crime at Nuremberg following World War II, because it includes all other evils within it. Erasmus defined war in that manner a good four-and-a-half centuries earlier, calling war an ocean "of all the united plagues and pestilences in nature."

Erasmus (in the voice of Peace) notes that many other types of animals do not wage war on their own species. And he notes the universal presence of love and cooperation among humans, animals born unarmed and obliged to find safety in numbers.

Erasmus proposes that we think of ourselves as humans, and thereby become unwilling to make war on any of our brother and sister humans anywhere. Admittedly, 500 years may be a little rushed for some people to catch on to that idea.

On a search for peacefulness, Peace hunts in vain among seemingly polite and amicable princes, among academics whom she finds as corrupted by war as we find ours today, among religious leaders whom she denounces as the hypocrites we've come to know so well, and even among secluded monks. Peace looks into family life and into the internal mental life of an individual and finds no devotion to peace.

Erasmus points Christian readers toward the words supporting peace in the New Testament. One might accuse him of hand-picking his quotes and avoiding those that don't support his goal, except that Erasmus quite openly says that that's what he's doing and advises others to do the same. The vengeful God of the Old Testament should be ignored in favor of the peaceful God of Jesus, Erasmus writes. And those who can't so ignore Him, writes Erasmus, should re-interpret him as peaceful. Let "God of vengeance" mean vengeance "on those sins which rob us of repose."

Solomon the peace-maker was more worthy than David the war-maker, Peace says, despite David's war-making being at the bidding of God. So, imagine, Peace argues, if David's divinely commanded wars rendered him unholy, "what will be the effect of wars of ambition, wars of revenge, and wars of furious anger" -- i.e. the wars of Erasmus' day and our own.

The cause of wars, Erasmus finds, is kings and their war-hungry chickenhawk advisors. The term in Latin is not exactly "chickenhawk" but the meaning comes through. Erasmus advises addressing the causes of war in greed and the pursuit of power, glory, and revenge. And he credits Jesus with having done the same, with having taught love and forgiveness as the basis for peace.

Kings, writes Erasmus, start wars to seize territory when they would be better off improving the territory they have now. Or they start wars out of a personal grudge. Or they start wars to disrupt popular opposition to themselves at home. Such kings, Erasmus writes, should be exiled for life to the remotest islands. And not just the kings but their privileged advisors. Ordinary people don't create wars, says Peace, those in power impose wars on them.

Powerful people calling themselves Christian have created such a climate, says Peace, that speaking up for Christian forgiveness is taken to be treasonous and evil, while promoting war is understood to be good and loyal and directed at a nation's happiness. Erasmus has little tolerance for Orwellian propaganda about "supporting the troops" and proposes that clergy refuse to bury in consecrated ground anyone slain in battle:

"The unfeeling mercenary soldier, hired by a few pieces of paltry coin, to do the work of man-butcher, carries before him the standard of the cross; and that very figure becomes the symbol of war, which alone ought to teach every one that looks at it, that war ought to be utterly abolished. What hast thou to do with the cross of Christ on thy banners, thou blood-stained soldier? With such a disposition as thine; with deeds like thine, of robbery and murder, thy proper standard would be a dragon, a tiger, or wolf!"

" . . . If you detest robbery and pillage, remember these are among the duties of war; and that, to learn how to commit them adroitly, is a part of military discipline. Do you shudder at the idea of murder? You cannot require to be told, that to commit it with dispatch, and by wholesale, constitutes the celebrated art of war."

Peace proposes in her complaint that kings submit their grievances to wise and impartial arbiters, and points out that even if the arbiters are unjust neither side will suffer to remotely the extent that they would from war. Perhaps peace must be purchased -- but compare the price to the cost of a war! For the price of destroying a town you could have built one, Peace says.

For arbitration to replace war, Peace says, we will need better kings and better courtiers. You can't get any more timely and relevant than that.
(c) 2014 David Swanson is the author of "War Is A Lie."

Hiding Corruption In Broad Daylight
By James Donahue

It was back in 1987 that I was yanked off of my Sanilac County bureau beat to fill in for one of my newspaper's copy editors who was recovering from a serious heart attack. It was there, during the stress of learning a new job and learning to work with the old MS-DOS operating system (a complex computer program that ran the entire building) that I first heard about the Iran-Contra Affair.

We couldn't miss the story. The editorial room was a large enclosure at the heart of the second floor of our new block-long newspaper office. It was filled with reporters desks, editor's desks, book shelves and storage cabinets, and a maze of computers, telephones and televisions. You can imagine the daily chaos that went on in that big room. And because the Iran-Contra Affair was considered "big news" at that time, every television set in the room was operating and all of them were tuned to CNN News.

While my desk was located right below one of those operating television sets, I have to admit that the significance of Iran-Contra totally escaped me. I think it escaped everybody else in the room, although nobody wanted to admit it. It was one of the most confusing political corruption stories ever broadcast. Looking back on it now, I think it was done on purpose. Somebody high up in the Reagan Administration did not want the American people to understand what was going on.

It was strange political corruption so buried in its complexities that I am not sure the reporters at CNN or the National Press Corp really grasped the full implications. Because of its vast size, its rich oil reserves and its location bordering China on the East, Russia on the North, Turkey on the West, the Arabian Sea on the South, Iran has remained a key player in world politics. Iran's former ruler, Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, known to us as the Shaw of Iran, was considered an ally to the United States during his reign from 1941 to 1979.

When the Shaw was overthrown in the Islamic Revolution in 1979 and Ayatollah Ruhallah Khomenini became supreme leader of Iran our relations with that country quickly soured. It was in 1979 that Iranian students seized the U.S. embassy and held 52 American workers hostage for 444 days. Khomrnini who was always pictured with a black turbin on his head and a scowl on his face, referred to the United States as "The Great Satan." It didn't take Americans long to realize that the new leader of Iran was not our friend.

So when Iran got involved in a deadly war with Iraq nobody cared much although it was curious to me that we joined Russia, China, Egypt and several other nations in supporting Iraq in what turned out to be an eight-year war. Saddam Hussein rose to power in Iraq at that time and chemical weapons were used. Iranian casualties were estimated up to nearly a million people.

While that ugly war was raging, another Islamic rebel group known as the Hezbollah reared its ugly head in Lebanon where the Marine barracks in Beirot was attacked and 21 hostages, mostly American and western European officials, were captured. The Hezbollah were believed to have been closely linked to Iran and Syria. (See how complex this puzzle was getting?) Meanwhile in Central America, the Sandinista National Liberation Front of Nicaragua was raging a guerrilla war with a socialist rebel group based in Honduras known as the Contras. It was part of a socialist politicial movement then sweeping through the Latin-American states. The United States officially remained unsupportive of both the Contras and the Iranians, but secret wheeling and dealing was being conducted by the CIA and other government agencies for political reasons.

There was an agreement to secretly arm and train the Contras, who in turn supplied arms to Iran in a covert operation called "The Enterprise." Purpose of the arms sales to Iran was an odd attempt to negotiate with the enemy for the release of the hostages in Beirot.

At the same time the secret arms sales were going on, there also was a lot of secret narcotics sales happening throughout Latin America, The United States, the Middle East and other parts of the world.

Several investigative journalists wrote stories about the involvement of the CIA in the cocaine trafficking in Central America during those years. One Contra leader said his group was being paid $50,000 by Colombian traffickers for a 100-kilo cocaine shipment and the money would support the Contra fighters.

You might imagine all of the double-talk and "I don't recall's" spewing from the lips of the people like Oliver North and John Poindexter during those weeks of televised hearings. The investigations never found their way to President Reagan's door and I always found that odd. Several arrests were made but all of the wrongdoers were pardoned by Presidents Reagan or H. W. Bush.

Thus in the end, the hearings were a lot of noise about nothing.

If they were attentive, however, what the American people learned was that the CIA has been, and may still be deeply involved in drug trafficking in South America, Middle America and the Middle East, and nobody has ever revealed why, or where all of the money has gone.

The story might help explain the heavy drug cartel connections with Latin America, and reason US troops remain active in Afghanistan where most of the poppy plants that produce heroin in the world are grown, and why there appears to be so much corruption in high goverenment places.
(c) 2014 James L. Donahue is a retired newspaper reporter, editor and columnist with more than 40 years of experience in professional writing. He is the published author of five books, all dealing with Michigan history, and several magazine articles. He currently produces daily articles for this web site.

Tony Benn And The Five Essential Questions Of Democracy
By John Nichols

Tony Benn met Mahatma Gandhi when he was 12, knew and defended Nelson Mandela when the embrace of the anti-apartheid struggle was seen as a radical act, began his fifty years of service in the British Parliament when Winston Churchill was the leader of the conservative opposition and left after Tony Blair became prime minister, renounced his inherited title as the 2nd Viscount Stansgate so that he could continue to serve in the people's parliament (declaring "I am not a reluctant peer but a persistent commoner"), ushered in a new age of popular communications and connectivity as Britain's pioneering Minister of Technology in the 1960s and 1970s, championed cooperatives and worker ownership as Britain's Minister of Industry in the 1970s, battled not just Margaret Thatcher but the compromising leaders of his own Labour Party on behalf of the working class in the 1980s and finished his almost 60 years of public life as an international leader of the opposition to the wars of whim and folly that have stolen so much of the promise of our time.

Benn was a proud radical, an anti-colonialist, a socialist without apology and the inspiration for generations of activists, organizers, parliamentarians, presidents and prime ministers around the world-including the current leader of the Labour Party, Ed Miliband, who responded to Benn's death Friday at age 88 with mourning for the loss of an "iconic figure of our age."

Yet, across the quarter-century that I knew him, Benn identified most proudly as a small "d" democrat, a tireless promoter of a power-to-the-people ethic that placed its faith in the great mass of humanity rather than billionaires, media moguls and political powerbrokers.

The last time that Tony and I appeared together at a public event-a symposium in London put on by Britain's brilliant Campaign for Press and Broadcast Freedom that recalled his famous declaration that "broadcasting is really too important to be left to the broadcasters"-he reminded me of his belief that those in positions of economic, social and political power should always be asked five questions:

"What power have you got?"

"Where did you get it from?"

"In whose interests do you use it?"

"To whom are you accountable?"

"How do we get rid of you?"

Benn asked these questions everywhere he went. I saw him write them on the chalkboards of classrooms and lecture halls. I heard him repeat them at rallies, protests and marches.

I think his favorite of the questions-as a political figure who delighted the give and take of campaigning, the debates, the canvasses, the counts in his initial constituency of Bristol South East and in the historic mining constituency of Chesterfield that he represented in the final decades of his remarkable career-was: "How do we get rid of you?"

"Anyone who cannot answer the last of those questions does not live in a democratic system," Benn explained.

"Only democracy gives us that right. That is why no one with power likes democracy," he would continue. "And that is why every generation must struggle to win it and keep it-including you and me, here and now."

In fairness, it was not quite true that "no one with power likes democracy."

Benn held power, as a revered parliamentarian, a minister of state, a competitor for the leadership of his party and a figure of international prominence who traveled in the circles of heads of state. Yet, he was happiest when he was in the street, marching, speaking truth to power, challenging prime ministers and presidents.

To Tony's view, citizens could not be spectators.

This is why he championed media and political reform, embracing structural changes that would take power away from unelected billionaires and their political pawns and give it to the people. The great historical struggle, he argued, was always over the scope and character of democracy.

When I was with Tony in Chesterfield and London and too many other locations to count over the decades of our friendship, we always spoke of Tom Paine, the English radical who inspired an American revolution. Tony was passionate about Paine and about all the other dissenters, be they British or American or Indian or South African, suffragists and civil rights marchers, anticolonialists and anti-apartheid campaigners, who suffered, struggled and persevered in the cause of democracy.

"A historical perspective is the key to democratic politics, which if denied can bury the real issues and confine news coverage to high-level gossip about the rich and the powerful, reducing us to the role of spectators of our fate, rather than active participants," he explained. "The obliteration of the past strengthens the short-term calculations that pass for political thought, and for me the real heroes are those few who try to explain the world in order to help us to understand what we can best do to improve our lot."

Tony Benn explained the world, better than anyone I knew. And he was never, ever willing to accept the role of spectator in the great democratic debate, and the great democratic life, that he sought. We honor him best by asking his questions, and by recognizing that every generation must struggle to win democracy -- and to keep it.
(c) 2014 John Nichols writes about politics for The Nation magazine as its Washington correspondent. His new book on protests and politics, Uprising: How Wisconsin Renewed the Politics of Protest, from Madison to Wall Street, has just been published by Nation Books. Follow John Nichols on Twitter @NicholsUprising.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to the AIPAC meeting in Washington

Israel's War On American Universities
By Chris Hedges

The banning of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) at Northeastern University in Boston on March 7, along with a university threat of disciplinary measures against some of its members, replicates sanctions being imposed against numerous student Palestinian rights groups across the country. The attacks, and the disturbingly similar forms of punishment, appear to be part of a coordinated effort by the Israeli government and the Israel lobby to blacklist all student groups that challenge the official Israeli narrative.

Northeastern banned the SJP chapter after it posted on campus replicas of eviction notices that are routinely put up on Palestinian homes set for Israeli demolition. The university notice of suspension says that if the SJP petitions for reinstatement next year, "No current member of the Students for Justice in Palestine executive board may serve on the inaugural board of the new organization" and that representatives from the organization must attend university-sanctioned "trainings."

In 2011 in California, 10 students who had disrupted a speech at UC Irvine by Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren were found guilty, put on informal probation and sentenced to perform community service. Oren, an Israeli citizen who has since been hired by CNN as a contributor, has called on Congress to blacklist supporters of the campaign of boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel and to prosecute those who protest at appearances by Israeli officials. Some activists at Florida Atlantic University were stripped of student leadership positions after they walked out of a talk by an Israeli army officer and were ordered by school administrators to attend re-education seminars designed by the Anti-Defamation League. Columbia Students for Justice in Palestine (CSJP) was abruptly placed on suspension in the spring of 2011 and barred from reserving rooms and hosting events on campus. The university administration, before the ban, had a practice of notifying the campus Hillel in advance of any CSJP event. The suspension was eventually lifted after a protest led by attorneys for the CSJP.

Max Geller, a law student and a SJP member at Northeastern whom I reached by phone in Boston, accused the university of responding "to outside pressures," including that of alumnus Robert Shillman, who is the CEO of Cognex Corp., and hedge fund billionaire Seth Klarman, both supporters of right-wing Israeli causes.

"To prohibit students from holding leadership roles and student groups simply because they engaged in a peaceful political protest is antithetical to the university's mission to educate students," he said. "It erases any pedagogical value disciplinary process might seek."

"In the last year," Geller went on, "I have received death threats, been publicly and unfairly maligned, and have been threatened with disciplinary measures. This has made engaging in speech about an issue about which I care deeply, both as a Jew and an American, a fear- and anxiety-causing prospect."

Israel's heavy-handed reaction to these campus organizations is symptomatic of its increasing isolation and concern about waning American support. The decades-long occupation and seizure of Palestinian land and the massive military assaults against a defenseless population in Gaza that has left hundreds dead, along with growing malnutrition among Palestinian children and enforced poverty, have alienated traditional supporters of Israel, including many young American Jews. Israel, at the same time, has turned into a pariah in the global community. If it were to become devoid of American support, which it largely buys with political campaign contributions funneled through groups such as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), Israel would be adrift. There are a growing number of banks and other companies, especially in the European Union, joining the boycott movement, which refuses to do business with Israeli concerns in the occupied territories. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, speaking before AIPAC on March 4, surprisingly devoted much of his talk to attacking the nascent BDS movement, which he said stood for "Bigotry, Dishonesty and Shame." He called for BDS supporters to "be treated exactly as we treat any anti-Semite or bigot." He warned that "naive and ignorant" people are being recruited as "gullible fellow travelers" in an anti-Semitic campaign.

Israeli officials are also apparently attempting to infiltrate the BDS movement and are using subterfuge to link it to Islamic extremism, according to The Times of London. The Israeli government in addition is pushing censorious, anti-democratic bills in the state legislatures of New York, Maryland and Illinois that would impose financial sanctions on academic organizations that boycott Israeli institutions. Meanwhile, the United States and others enthusiastically impose sanctions on Russia for an occupation that is much less draconian than Israel's long defiance of international law.

The ADL-designed indoctrination classes for university activists are, according to those who have been required to take them, shabby attempts to equate any criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism.

"Myself and two other members of SJP were forced to attend the ADL-sponsored 'diversity training' course or we would have violated the terms of our probation and in turn we would be suspended and/or expelled," said Nadine Aly, a Florida Atlantic student activist who with other activists walked out of a lecture given at the university by an Israeli army officer, Col. Bentzi Gruber, who had helped devise the rules of engagement for Operation Cast Lead, the horrific attack on Gaza in late 2008 and early 2009. I reached her by phone at the Florida campus. "The very idea that the administration is implying that it is racist to criticize Israeli policy is ludicrous. We were put on 'indefinite probation,' banning us from holding leadership positions in any recognized student organizations, including student government, at the university until our graduation. I was stripped of my position as president of SJP as well as a student senator, and the former vice president of the SJP lost her position as a Student House representative. It is a shame that this university, like most universities, bows to the pressure of the Zionist lobby and wealthy Zionist donors, when they should be protecting the rights of their students."

The persecution of scholars such as Joseph Massad and Norman Finkelstein who challenge the official Israeli narrative has long been a feature of Israeli intervention in American academic life. And the eagerness of university presidents to denounce the American Studies Association call for an academic boycott of Israel is a window into the insatiable hunger for money that seems to govern university policy. The current effort to shut down student groups, however, raises traditional Israeli censorship and interference to a new level. Israel seeks now to openly silence free speech on American college campuses-all of these student groups have steadfastly engaged in nonviolent protests-and has enlisted our bankrupt liberal elites and college administrators as thought police.

The failure among academics to stand up for the right of these student groups to express dissenting views and engage in political activism is a sad commentary on how irrelevant most academics have become. Where, in this fight, are the constitutional law professors defending the right to free speech? Where are the professors of ethics, religion and philosophy reminding students about the right of all to a dignified life free of oppression? Where are the Middle Eastern studies professors explaining the historical consequences of Israel's violent seizure of Palestinian land? Where are the journalism professors defending the right of dissidents and victims to a fair hearing in the press? Where are the professors of queer and gender studies, African-American studies, Native American studies or Chicano studies acting to protect the voices and dignity of the marginalized and oppressed?

This assault will not end with groups such as Students for Justice in Palestine. The refusal to hear the cries of the Palestinian people, especially those 1.5 million-60 percent of them children-who are trapped by the Israeli military in Gaza, is part of the wider campaign by right-wing operatives like Lynne Cheney and billionaires such as the Koch brothers to stamp out all programs and academic disciplines that give voice to the marginalized, especially those who are not privileged and white. Latinos, African-Americans, feminists, those in queer and gender studies also feel this pressure. Under a bill signed by Republican Gov. Jan Brewer, books by leading Chicano authors have been banned from public schools in Tucson and elsewhere in Arizona on the ground that such ethnic studies promote "resentment toward a race or people." It is language similar to what Ambassador Oren has used to justify his call for criminal prosecutions of BDS activists-that they are advancing "bigotry." The neoconservatism that grips Israel has its toxic counterpart within American culture. And if other marginalized groups within the university remain silent while Palestine solidarity activists are persecuted on campuses, there will be fewer allies when these right-wing forces come for them. And come they will.

Those of us who denounce the suffering caused by Israel and its war crimes against the Palestinians and who support the BDS movement are accustomed to sleazy Israeli smear campaigns. I have been repeatedly branded as an anti-Semite by the Israeli lobby, including for my book "War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning." That some of these dissident voices, such as Max Blumenthal, who wrote "Goliath: Fear and Loathing in Greater Israel," one of the best accounts of contemporary Israel, are Jewish does not seem to perturb right-wing Israeli propagandists who see any deviation from the Israeli government line as a form of religious heresy.

"I have been on tour discussing my book, 'Goliath,' since October 2013," said Blumenthal, with whom I spoke by phone. "And on numerous occasions, Israel lobby groups and pro-Israel activists have attempted to pressure organizations into canceling my events before they took place. I have been slandered by teenage pro-Israel students, prominent magazine columnists and even Alan Dershowitz as an anti-Semite, and my family has been attacked in right-wing media simply for hosting a book party for me. The absurd lengths pro-Israel activists have gone to stop my journalism and analysis from reaching a wide audience perfectly illustrate their intellectual exhaustion and moral poverty. All they have left is loads of money to buy off politicians and the unlimited will to defend the only nuclearized apartheid state in the Middle East. As young Arabs and Muslims assert their presence on campuses across the country and Jewish Americans reel in disgust at Netanyahu's Israel, we are witnessing pro-Israel forces wage a fighting retreat. The question is not whether they will win or lose, but how much damage they can do to free-speech rights on their way towards a reckoning with justice."

"It would be heartening if prominent liberal intellectuals would agree with all of my conclusions, or would accept the legitimacy of BDS," Blumenthal went on. "But the only reasonable expectation we can hold for them is that they speak up in defense of those whose free-speech rights and rights to organize are being crushed by powerful forces. Unfortunately, when those forces are arrayed in defense of Israel, too many liberal intellectuals are silent or, as in the case of Michael Kazin, Eric Alterman, Cary Nelson and a who's who of major university presidents, they actively collaborate with fellow elites determined to crush Palestine solidarity activism through anti-democratic means."

Hillel chapters, sadly, often function as little more than Israeli government and AIPAC campus outposts. This is true at Northeastern as well as at schools such as Barnard College and Columbia. And university presidents such as Barnard's Debora Spar see nothing wrong with accepting Israel-lobby tours of Israel while Palestinian students must risk imprisonment and even death to study in the United States. The launching of campuswide defamation campaigns from supposedly religious houses is a sacrilege to the Jewish religion. In seminary I read enough of the great Hebrew prophets, whose singular concern was for the oppressed and the poor, to know that they would not be found today in Hillel centers but would instead be protesting with SJP activists.

The campus Hillel centers, with lavish budgets and gleaming buildings on campuses often situated in centers of urban blight, offer running events, lectures and programs to promote official Israeli policy. They arrange free trips to Israel for Jewish students as part of the "Taglit Birthright" program, functioning as an Israeli government travel agency. While Jewish students, often with no familial connection to Israel, are escorted in these well-choreographed propaganda tours of Israel, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who remain trapped in squalid refugee camps cannot go home although their families may have lived for centuries on what is now Israeli land.

Israel has for decades been able to frame the discussion about the Palestinians. But its control of the narrative is coming to an end. As Israel loses ground it will viciously and irrationally attack all truth tellers, even if they are American students, and especially if they are Jews. There will come a day, and that day will come sooner than Israel and its paid lackeys expect, when the whole edifice will crumble, when even students at Hillel will no longer have the stomach to defend the continuous dispossession and random murder of Palestinians. Israel, by ruthlessly silencing others, now risks silencing itself.
(c) 2014 Chris Hedges, the former Middle East bureau chief for The New York Times, spent seven years in the Middle East. He was part of the paper's team of reporters who won the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for coverage of global terrorism. He is the author of War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning and American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America. His latest book is, ""Death Of The Liberal Class."

Do Companies Have A First Amendment Right To Track You?
By David Sirota

Do corporations have a legal right to track your car? If you think that is a purely academic question, think again. Working with groups like the American Civil Liberties Union, states are considering laws to prevent private companies from continuing to mass photograph license plates.

This is one of the backlashes to the news about mass surveillance. However, this backlash is now facing legal pushback from the corporations that take the photographs and then sell the data gleaned from the images.

In a lawsuit against the state of Utah, Digital Recognition Network, Inc. and Vigilant Solutions are attempting to appropriate the ACLU's own pro-free speech arguments for themselves. They argue that a recent Utah law banning them from using automated cameras to collect images, locations and times of license plates is a violation of their own free speech rights. Indeed, in an interview, DRN's counsel Michael Carvin defends this practice by noting, "Everyone has a First Amendment right to take these photographs and disseminate this information."

He argues that a license plate is an inherently public piece of information.

"The only purpose of license plate information is to identify a vehicle to members of the public," he says. "The government has no problem with people taking pictures of license plates in a particular location. But for some irrational reason it has a problem with people taking high speed photographs of those license plates."

The analogy to an individual's right to take photos only goes so far, though. Vigilant's website notes that "DRN fuels a national network of more than 550 affiliates," its tracking "technology is used in every major metropolitan area" and it "captures data on over 50 million vehicles each month."

"This is a complicated area where we are going to need to carefully balance First Amendment rights of corporations versus individuals privacy rights," says ACLU attorney Catherine Crump. "The mere fact that an individual has a First Amendment right doesn't mean that right is unlimited.

There are circumstances under which the government is free to regulate speech."

Crump cited the Fair Credit Reporting Act and laws regulating the dissemination of health information as examples of legal privacy-related restrictions of speech rights.

"One could argue that the privacy implications of a private individual taking a picture of a public place is sufficiently less than a company collecting millions of license plate images," Crump says. "Especially with technology becoming more widespread and databases going back in time, there may be justification for regulation."

The Wall Street Journal reports that DRN's own website boasted to its corporate clients that it can "combine automotive data such as where millions of people drive their cars ... with household income and other valuable information" so companies can "pinpoint consumers more effectively." Yet, in announcing its lawsuit, DRN and Vigilant argue that their methods do not violate individual privacy because the "data collected, stored or provided to private companies (and) to law enforcement ... is anonymous, in the sense that it does not contain personally identifiable information."

In response, Crump says: "This is the same argument that the NSA made in the face of public outcry about its collection of telephone metadata, The argument was essentially, we're not collecting information about people, we are collecting info about telephone numbers. But every telephone number is associated with an individual, just like a license plate is."

The courts could follow corporate personhood precedents and strengthen First Amendment protections for private firms. Alternately, the courts could more narrowly rule on whether individuals' license plate information is entitled to any minimal privacy protections.

Either way, the spat epitomizes how the collision of free speech rights, the desire for private and the expansion of data-collecting technology is raising huge questions about what is - and is not - public.
(c) 2014 David Sirota is a nationally syndicated newspaper columnist, magazine journalist, a staff writer at PandoDaily and the best-selling author of "Hostile Takeover" and "The Uprising." He hosts the morning show on AM760 in Colorado and blogs at E-mail him at David Sirota is a former spokesperson for the House Appropriations Committee. Follow him on Twitter @davidsirota.

That Old-Time Whistle
By Paul Krugman

There are many negative things you can say about Paul Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee and the G.O.P.'s de facto intellectual leader. But you have to admit that he's a very articulate guy, an expert at sounding as if he knows what he's talking about.

So it's comical, in a way, to see Mr. Ryan trying to explain away some recent remarks in which he attributed persistent poverty to a "culture, in our inner cities in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working." He was, he says, simply being "inarticulate." How could anyone suggest that it was a racial dog-whistle? Why, he even cited the work of serious scholars - people like Charles Murray, most famous for arguing that blacks are genetically inferior to whites. Oh, wait.

Just to be clear, there's no evidence that Mr. Ryan is personally a racist, and his dog-whistle may not even have been deliberate. But it doesn't matter. He said what he said because that's the kind of thing conservatives say to each other all the time. And why do they say such things? Because American conservatism is still, after all these years, largely driven by claims that liberals are taking away your hard-earned money and giving it to Those People.

Indeed, race is the Rosetta Stone that makes sense of many otherwise incomprehensible aspects of U.S. politics.

We are told, for example, that conservatives are against big government and high spending. Yet even as Republican governors and state legislatures block the expansion of Medicaid, the G.O.P. angrily denounces modest cost-saving measures for Medicare. How can this contradiction be explained? Well, what do many Medicaid recipients look like - and I'm talking about the color of their skin, not the content of their character - and how does that compare with the typical Medicare beneficiary? Mystery solved.

Or we're told that conservatives, the Tea Party in particular, oppose handouts because they believe in personal responsibility, in a society in which people must bear the consequences of their actions. Yet it's hard to find angry Tea Party denunciations of huge Wall Street bailouts, of huge bonuses paid to executives who were saved from disaster by government backing and guarantees. Instead, all the movement's passion, starting with Rick Santelli's famous rant on CNBC, has been directed against any hint of financial relief for low-income borrowers. And what is it about these borrowers that makes them such targets of ire? You know the answer.

One odd consequence of our still-racialized politics is that conservatives are still, in effect, mobilizing against the bums on welfare even though both the bums and the welfare are long gone or never existed. Mr. Santelli's fury was directed against mortgage relief that never actually happened. Right-wingers rage against tales of food stamp abuse that almost always turn out to be false or at least greatly exaggerated. And Mr. Ryan's black-men-don't-want-to-work theory of poverty is decades out of date.

In the 1970s it was still possible to claim in good faith that there was plenty of opportunity in America, and that poverty persisted only because of cultural breakdown among African-Americans. Back then, after all, blue-collar jobs still paid well, and unemployment was low. The reality was that opportunity was much more limited than affluent Americans imagined; as the sociologist William Julius Wilson has documented, the flight of industry from urban centers meant that minority workers literally couldn't get to those good jobs, and the supposed cultural causes of poverty were actually effects of that lack of opportunity. Still, you could understand why many observers failed to see this.

But over the past 40 years good jobs for ordinary workers have disappeared, not just from inner cities but everywhere: adjusted for inflation, wages have fallen for 60 percent of working American men. And as economic opportunity has shriveled for half the population, many behaviors that used to be held up as demonstrations of black cultural breakdown - the breakdown of marriage, drug abuse, and so on - have spread among working-class whites too.

These awkward facts have not, however, penetrated the world of conservative ideology. Earlier this month the House Budget Committee, under Mr. Ryan's direction, released a 205-page report on the alleged failure of the War on Poverty. What does the report have to say about the impact of falling real wages? It never mentions the subject at all.

And since conservatives can't bring themselves to acknowledge the reality of what's happening to opportunity in America, they're left with nothing but that old-time dog whistle. Mr. Ryan wasn't being inarticulate - he said what he said because it's all that he's got.
(c) 2014 Paul Krugman --- The New York Times

The Quotable Quote...

"One cannot wage war under present conditions without the support of public opinion, which is tremendously molded by the press and other forms of propaganda."
~~~ Douglas MacArthur

Congress, It's Time To Clean Up Your Iraq War Mess
By Phil Donahue

Eleven years have passed since the United States invaded Iraq in an unprovoked, unnecessary, unconstitutional action that violated international law.

Not long after the March 2003 military blunder began, journalist Tim Russert asked then-Sen. John Kerry, "Are you sorry you voted for the war?" He answered in a word, "Profoundly."

Only 23 U.S. senators voted no. If there are others among the 77 aye voters who, like now-Secretary of State Kerry, have publicly offered remorse for their misguided vote, kindly notify the Center for Constitutional Rights. Acknowledging a mistake is "manning up" in its finest expression, and the center will publish your mea culpa promptly.

The White House Iraq Group, headed by Karl Rove, brilliantly executed its pre-war propaganda. Rove and his aides summoned select members of Congress to the White House for flattering "private" briefings and given talking points.

Like obedient third graders, these politicians took the floor of their respective chambers and read the prepared alarms aloud, often with identical wording:

"A smoking gun will become a mushroom cloud."

"A gun smokes after it's been fired."

"Saddam has more weapons of mass destruction than Hitler ever had."

"The longer we wait the more dangerous he becomes."

"Saddam is training al-Qaida in bomb making."

The beat went on, the breathing became more rapid and the drums of war grew louder.

Overwhelming support at first

In the end, Congress gave the power to declare war to one man. President Bush took the legislative branch and the American public by the ear and led this nation right into the sword. And just about every major metropolitan newspaper in America supported the decision.

Now, even though the troops have been withdrawn, the impacts of the war will be felt for generations on both sides. Iraq lost anywhere between 100,000 and 1 million civilians. And we lost 4,486 of our soldiers, while more than 100,000 Iraq War veterans are dealing with brain injuries.

I've been lucky enough to join the efforts of some people fighting back against what this misguided war did to them and their families.

They are not members of Congress, but the people most directly affected: the American men and women who served in the armed forces, along with groups in Iraq representing women, children and workers.

They have all been traumatized, but the U.S. government is doing nothing about it. In Iraq, cancer rates and birth defects have skyrocketed in areas polluted by toxic U.S. munitions, and the invasion and occupation led to massive sectarian violence and a new constitution that strips women and workers of their rights.

Insufficient care for veterans

Here at home, American veterans aren't getting the care they need.

On this anniversary of the Iraq War, I'll be in Washington with the Right to Heal Initiative for a People's Hearing, and together with these brave survivors we will ask the U.S. government to take action.

For all the members of Congress who voted aye, now it's your responsibility to clean up the mess you created.
(c) 2014 Phil Donahue is a journalist and former TV show host. In 2008, he co-produced the documentary film, Body of War, an "intimate and transformational feature" look at the true face of the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq.

The Answer Is Turnout: Vote, You Jackass
By William Rivers Pitt

My mother is an official for a town nearby, and this past week was a voting week on what are called "Warrant Articles," which is New Hampshire-ese for ballot initiatives and budget proposals. The town she works for has a small but very vocal and very active contingent of Free Staters who believe in conspiracy theories like the UN is seeking to take over the town by way of Agenda 21. They show up at every town meeting, and always always always always vote.

...and they win, more often than not, because the people with their heads screwed on right don't bother to summon the energy to raise their hand once a year. The Agenda 21 people are a small segment of the populace, but they always show up.

Bill Clinton, in his first inauguration speech, said, "There is nothing wrong with America that cannot be fixed by what is right with America." One of the things that is right with America is your right to vote, and when I hear people say voting does not matter, does not make a difference, it makes me want to tear my teeth out.

Math: the coocoobirds who think dinosaurs don't exist because they aren't mentioned in the Bible comprise, give or take, about 12% of the voting population in America. They are a small minority within a minority party. When only 50% of the voting population shows up to vote in a presidential election year, that 12% doubles to 25%, because those 12%-ers go to the polls even if it is raining live jaguars outside...which means any right-wing candidate who says the right things about Jesus, fetuses and guns is halfway to the 50.1% needed for victory before they put their pants on come election day. To call that an enormous advantage is to devalue the definition of "enormous."

...and in midterm elections - the ones that decide the entire House and a third of the Senate - turnout tends to sit somewhere around 35%, which means that 12% dead-bang guaranteed turnout actually flexes to about 40%. Which explains the current House of Representatives pretty succinctly.

So don't don't don't don't just don't you dare tell me that voting doesn't matter. That is a heaping crock of lazy crap. In point of fact, the decline this nation has endured over the last fifty years, the empowerment of the moneyed few over the many, and the rise in power of Taliban Christianity, exactly and precisely matches the dwindling turnout numbers on election day...which, by the bye, has a direct relationship to the "lesser of two evils" candidates you holier-than-thous refuse to turn out for. If you don't like your choices, it's because you didn't make a choice in the last election, and the one before, and the one before. Nature, and politics, abhor a vacuum. If you don't like what has filled it, non-voter, find a mirror and stare into the eyes of the reason why.

If you don't vote, you are responsible for this. If you vote, you can fix this. I have a fever-dream involving 80-90% turnout across the board in two consecutive elections, midterm and then general. Such a one-two punch event would change the country overnight, and these candidates you can't stomach would scurry back to the dark corners they came from. That kind of turnout would obliterate the power of money in politics in one fell swoop.

There is nothing wrong with America that cannot be solved by what is right with America. Voting, every time, is what is right with America, is an incredibly simple solution involving minimal effort expended one Tuesday every two years, and would change everything if enough people did it.

Occam's Razor: the simplest explanation is more often than not the correct one.
(c) 2014 William Rivers Pitt is a New York Times and internationally bestselling author of three books: "War on Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn't Want You to Know" and "The Greatest Sedition Is Silence." His newest book, "House of Ill Repute: Reflections on War, Lies, and America's Ravaged Reputation." He lives and works in Boston.

The Dead Letter Office...

Heil Obama,

Dear propaganda ansager Huntsman,

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

Without your lock step calling for the repeal of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, your demand that Social Security benefits start at age 75, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Syria, Iran and those many other profitable oil wars to come would have been impossible! With the help of our mutual friends, the other "Rethuglican whores" you have made it possible for all of us to goose-step off to a brave new bank account!

Along with this award you will be given the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Golden Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds presented by our glorious Fuhrer, Herr Obama at a gala celebration at "der Fuhrer Bunker," formally the "White House," on 05-24-2014. We salute you Frau Huntsman, Sieg Heil!

Signed by,
Vice Fuhrer Biden

Heil Obama

The 'Paid-What-You're-Worth' Myth
By Robert Reich

It's often assumed that people are paid what they're worth. According to this logic, minimum wage workers aren't worth more than the $7.25 an hour they now receive. If they were worth more, they'd earn more. Any attempt to force employers to pay them more will only kill jobs.

According to this same logic, CEOs of big companies are worth their giant compensation packages, now averaging 300 times pay of the typical American worker. They must be worth it or they wouldn't be paid this much. Any attempt to limit their pay is fruitless because their pay will only take some other form.

"Paid-what-you're-worth" is a dangerous myth.

Fifty years ago, when General Motors was the largest employer in America, the typical GM worker got paid $35 an hour in today's dollars. Today, America's largest employer is Walmart, and the typical Walmart workers earns $8.80 an hour.

Does this mean the typical GM employee a half-century ago was worth four times what today's typical Walmart employee is worth? Not at all. Yes, that GM worker helped produce cars rather than retail sales. But he wasn't much better educated or even that much more productive. He often hadn't graduated from high school. And he worked on a slow-moving assembly line. Today's Walmart worker is surrounded by digital gadgets - mobile inventory controls, instant checkout devices, retail search engines - making him or her quite productive.

The real difference is the GM worker a half-century ago had a strong union behind him that summoned the collective bargaining power of all autoworkers to get a substantial share of company revenues for its members. And because more than a third of workers across America belonged to a labor union, the bargains those unions struck with employers raised the wages and benefits of non-unionized workers as well. Non-union firms knew they'd be unionized if they didn't come close to matching the union contracts.

Today's Walmart workers don't have a union to negotiate a better deal. They're on their own. And because fewer than 7 percent of today's private-sector workers are unionized, non-union employers across America don't have to match union contracts. This puts unionized firms at a competitive disadvantage. The result has been a race to the bottom.

By the same token, today's CEOs don't rake in 300 times the pay of average workers because they're "worth" it. They get these humongous pay packages because they appoint the compensation committees on their boards that decide executive pay. Or their boards don't want to be seen by investors as having hired a "second-string" CEO who's paid less than the CEOs of their major competitors. Either way, the result has been a race to the top.

If you still believe people are paid what they're worth, take a look at Wall Street bonuses. Last year's average bonus was up 15 percent over the year before, to more than $164,000. It was the largest average Wall Street bonus since the 2008 financial crisis and the third highest on record, according to New York's state comptroller. Remember, we're talking bonuses, above and beyond salaries. All told, the Street paid out a whopping $26.7 billion in bonuses last year. Are Wall Street bankers really worth it? Not if you figure in the hidden subsidy flowing to the big Wall Street banks that ever since the bailout of 2008 have been considered too big to fail.

People who park their savings in these banks accept a lower interest rate on deposits or loans than they require from America's smaller banks. That's because smaller banks are riskier places to park money. Unlike the big banks, the smaller ones won't be bailed out if they get into trouble.

This hidden subsidy gives Wall Street banks a competitive advantage over the smaller banks, which means Wall Street makes more money. And as their profits grow, the big banks keep getting bigger.

How large is this hidden subsidy? Two researchers, Kenichi Ueda of the International Monetary Fund and Beatrice Weder di Mauro of the University of Mainz, have calculated it's about eight tenths of a percentage point.

This may not sound like much but multiply it by the total amount of money parked in the ten biggest Wall Street banks and you get a huge amount - roughly $83 billion a year.

Recall that the Street paid out $26.7 billion in bonuses last year. You don't have to be a rocket scientist or even a Wall Street banker to see that the hidden subsidy the Wall Street banks enjoy because they're too big to fail is about three times what Wall Street paid out in bonuses.

Without the subsidy, no bonus pool. By the way, the lion's share of that subsidy ($64 billion a year) goes to the top five banks - JPMorgan, Bank of America, Citigroup, Wells Fargo. and Goldman Sachs. This amount just about equals these banks' typical annual profits. In other words, take away the subsidy and not only does the bonus pool disappear, but so do all the profits.

The reason Wall Street bankers got fat paychecks plus a total of $26.7 billion in bonuses last year wasn't because they worked so much harder or were so much more clever or insightful than most other Americans. They cleaned up because they happen to work in institutions - big Wall Street banks - that hold a privileged place in the American political economy.

And why, exactly, do these institutions continue to have such privileges? Why hasn't Congress used the antitrust laws to cut them down to size so they're not too big to fail, or at least taxed away their hidden subsidy (which, after all, results from their taxpayer-financed bailout)?

Perhaps it's because Wall Street also accounts for a large proportion of campaign donations to major candidates for Congress and the presidency of both parties.

America's low-wage workers don't have privileged positions. They work very hard - many holding down two or more jobs. But they can't afford to make major campaign contributions and they have no political clout.

According to the Institute for Policy Studies, the $26.7 billion of bonuses Wall Street banks paid out last year would be enough to more than double the pay of every one of America's 1,085,000 full-time minimum wage workers.

The remainder of the $83 billion of hidden subsidy going to those same banks would almost be enough to double what the government now provides low-wage workers in the form of wage subsidies under the Earned Income Tax Credit.

But I don't expect Congress to make these sorts of adjustments any time soon.

The "paid-what-your-worth" argument is fundamentally misleading because it ignores power, overlooks institutions, and disregards politics. As such, it lures the unsuspecting into thinking nothing whatever should be done to change what people are paid, because nothing can be done.

Don't buy it.
(c) 2014 Robert Reich is Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley. He has served in three national administrations, most recently as secretary of labor under President Bill Clinton. He has written twelve books, including The Work of Nations, Locked in the Cabinet, and his most recent book, "Beyond Outrage," is now out in paperback. He is also a founding editor of the American Prospect magazine and chairman of Common Cause. His new film, "Inequality for All," will be out September 27.

The Hospital Bill

Medicare Madness - How Americans Can Lose Benefits In A Hospital
By Joel S. Hirschhorn

Tuck away the many horror stories of the wrong limbs being amputated, things being left in surgery patients, terrible infections picked up in hospitals and totally wrong diagnoses. More relevant is a bureaucratic hospitalization horror that far too few Americans covered by Medicare are aware of.

Odds are that you do not know a key question to ask if you ever find yourself in a hospital for an overnight stay that could last from one or two days, or perhaps much more. What you and anyone accompanying you want to know is whether you are being classified as "under observation." This means that legally you are not an inpatient. If the former, then you are likely to find yourself owing the hospital a large amount of money, because your Medicare or other health insurance will not provide the benefits associated with inpatient status. Many, many Americans nationwide that were classified as under observation have faced unexpected bills of many tens of thousands of dollars.

So pay very close attention to what you are about to read.

If you in a hospital, possibly in an emergency room, then you or family or friends should ask some tough questions of hospital staff if you are kept in the hospital after being handled in the emergency room. Ask if you will be kept in as an inpatient. If told that you will be in the observation category, then you might seriously consider whether you should stay in that hospital, or perhaps seek another one if you are not in immediate need of medical attention beyond what was received in the emergency department.

Indeed, ordinary Americans should recognize what Medicare does, namely that the decision made by the hospital to classify a patient as under observation for billing purposes is a "complex medical judgment." What that means is that different interpretations and decisions can be made, either by someone else in the hospital or professionals in a different hospital. The critical decision to use the observation classification, with so much potential negative impact for patients, is "open to widely variable interpretation" as physician Steven J. Myerson has noted.

Because you may be in a very stressful state resulting from facing some medical condition, it is imperative that family and friends also need to become educated. Realistically, you may not be in a clear enough mental state when you enter a hospital to ask questions and demand good answers about how the hospital is classifying your stay.

Understand this: Nothing is crazier than entering a hospital for one or more nights and being designated as under observation, which amounts to being an outpatient, rather than an inpatient. Despite coverage by Medicare you will not have expected benefits.

Beyond hours in the emergency department, you can spend days in a hospital bed, receive regular nursing care, be given drugs and all kinds of tests. You might even spend time in a critical care or intensive care unit. But you can still be officially designated an outpatient in observation status. Even though you might stay in the hospital for more than just one or two nights, unless officially designated an inpatient you face major financial liability.

Under Medicare this means you are not covered by Part A which provides the best hospital coverage, but rather covered under Part B with far inferior coverage. This practice is as bad as anything you have ever heard about awful health insurance coverage. Furthermore, Medicare does not cover post-discharge care for Part B observation stays. For example, a patient in observation status for a broken bone will have to pay the full cost of rehabilitation or a nursing home. But for an inpatient Medicare pays for skilled nursing care following at least three consecutive inpatient days. Also, observation patients pay out-of-pocket for the medication they receive in the hospital and Subtitle D drug coverage may not cover these costs.

Hard to believe but your personal physician may not know that their patient has been classified by the hospital as outpatient or under observation. Though it would be very smart for you to raise this issue and make it clear that you do not want to stay in a hospital unless you are being admitted as an inpatient. But starting in an emergency room makes it difficult to push this issue, but not impossible.

Even the key public document from Medicare makes clear that ,i."You're an outpatient if you're getting emergency department services, observation services, outpatient surgery, lab tests, or X-rays, and the doctor hasn't written an order to admit you to the hospital as an inpatient." Regardless of what a doctor has said, however, hospitals have the power to classify you as under observation. The government advises "If you're in the hospital more than a few hours, always ask your doctor or the hospital staff if you're an inpatient or an outpatient." Note the word "always." That is terrific, critically important advice.

You or your accompanying relative or friend must be prepared to challenge a decision of observation status and even raise the possibility of immediately leaving the hospital. Remember, this is after any actions given in an emergency department. Being prepared to challenge an observation status decision requires that you fully understand the considerable downside of this hospital classification.

Actually, Medicare maintains a one way communication street. Medicare doesn't require hospitals to tell patients they are "under observation," though many will do so. It only requires hospitals to tell patients they have been downgraded from inpatient to observation.

To be clear, if you are not classified as an inpatient, then you officially have not been admitted to the hospital though you have entered it. Toby Edelman of the Center for Medicare Advocacy has noted that "People have no way of knowing they have not been admitted to the hospital. They go upstairs to a bed, they get a band on their wrist, nurses and doctors come to see them, they get treatment and tests, they fill out a meal chart - and they assume that they have been admitted to the hospital."

How much of a problem is observation status? In recent years, hospitals have increasingly classified Medicare beneficiaries as observation patients instead of admitting them, according to a Brown University nationwide analysis of Medicare claims. From 2007 through 2009, the ratio of Medicare observation patients to those admitted as inpatients rose by 34 percent. Worse, more than 10 percent of patients in observation were kept there for more than 48 hours, and more than 44,800 were kept in observation for 72 hours or longer in 2009 - an increase of 88 percent since 2007.

A recent New York Times article noted that under Medicare: "the number of seniors entering the hospital for observation increased 69 percent over five years, to 1.6 million in 2011." And from 2004 to 2011, the number of observation services administered per Medicare beneficiary rose by almost 34 percent, according to the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission, while admissions per beneficiary declined 7.8 percent. In other words, this observation issue is not a trivial or minor issue affecting just a few people.

Data showing far greater use of the observation status option than widely reported were in a 2013 report to Medicare by the Health and Human Services Inspector General for 2012 hospitalizations. Some 2.1 million hospitalizations were designated observation status with 11 percent three nights or more and 80 percent originating in emergency departments, but another 1.4 million were long term outpatient stays that could and perhaps should have been coded as observation status. There were also 1.1 million short term inpatient stays (less than two nights) that also could have been coded as observation status. With increased enforcement by Medicare and penalties for hospitals, therefore, there is the possibility of 4.6 million or more annual observation status stays. Medicare patients should be aware of large differences among hospitals.

AARP did its own study and found that from 2001 to 2009 both the frequency and duration of observation status increased. Although only about 3.5 percent of Medicare beneficiaries were in this class in 2009, Medicare claims for observation patients grew by more than 100 percent, with the greatest increase occurring in cases not leading to an inpatient admission. The duration of observation visits also increased dramatically. Observation service visits lasting 48 hours or longer were the least common, but had the greatest increase, almost 250 percent for observation only and more than 100 percent for observation with inpatient admission.

According to a survey by the National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers (NAPGCM) in 2013 more than 80 percent of US geriatric care managers reported that "inappropriate hospital Observation Status determinations were a significant problem in their communities and 75 percent noted that the problem was growing worse."

A University of Wisconsin study found that 10.4 percent of hospitalizations in 2010 and 2011 were in the observation status category and 16.5 percent of them exceeded 48 hours and concluded "observation care in clinical practice is very different than what CMS [the Medicare agency] initially envisioned and creates insurance loopholes that adversely affect patients, health care providers, and hospitals." In an Invited Commentary on the Wisconsin study, physician Robert M. Wachter of the Department of Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, summed up the observation issue as having "morphed into madness."

Note that Medicare guidelines recommend that observation stays be no longer than 24 hours and only "in rare and exceptional cases" extend past 48 hours. Obviously, this is nearly meaningless in the real world.

Why are hospitals placing more patients in observation status?

Like so much in American society, the answer is money.

Hospitals are at risk from Medicare audits that declare patients wrongly defined as inpatients. Payment is then rejected, potentially large amounts of money. The government has increased audits to such a degree that since 2009 four recovery firms have reviewed bills from hospitals and physicians nationwide and recuperated $1.9 billion in overpayments. Billion!

Two physicians writing in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine said: "When observation is used as a billing status in inpatient areas without changes in care delivery, it's largely a cost-shifting exercise - relieving the hospital of the risk of adverse action by the RAC [Recovery Audit Contractor] but increasing the patient's financial burden."

To cut its spending, Medicare has accused hospitals of over-charging by "admitting" patients instead of putting them on "observation" status. For example, in July 2013, Beth Israel New England Deaconess Hospital in Boston paid Medicare $5.3 million to settle claims over this issue.

A new wrinkle under Obamacare is that hospitals can be penalized for readmitting patients in less than 30 days. But observation patients cannot be counted as readmissions if they happen to return because they were not officially admitted in the first place. To avoid this risk of financial loss, more patients can be classified as under observation.

A new Medicare rule taking effect April 1, 2014 requires doctors to admit people they anticipate staying for longer than two midnights, but to list those expected to stay for less time as observation patients. Many medical professionals doubt that this will improve things. Physician Ann Sheehy of the University of Wisconsin closely examined how this rule will work and concluded: "We found that four of five diagnosis codes were the same across length of stay, indicating that the cut point is arbitrary and really does not distinguish different patient groups, even though insurance benefits will be different based on length of stay." Time, not medical condition or hospital actions, is being used. She also noted that the government will not count nights spent at different hospitals, and that 9 percent of their observation were transfers.

Dr. Sheehy made this great point: "Observation is an outpatient designation, which implies all services delivered could be done in an outpatient setting. This is totally not the case, which is why observation status is so frustrating."

Because there is essentially no upside to being put into observation status, it is critically important for you or your advocate to be very assertive when entering the hospital. What actions can you take after you are in the hospital and you are likely in a better mental state to address this problem? Nothing that is likely to work for you.

The imperative is to check your status each day you are in the hospital and remember that it can be changed (from inpatient to observation, or vice versa) at any time by various hospital doctors or officials. Sadly, in many cases a patient may not be informed that they have been in observation status until the discharge process. That is why it is very important to ask the hospital, either through a doctor or nursing staff, what your status is and, if observation, to formally reconsider your case. Ask if there is a hospital committee that could review your status. Definitely ask your own doctor whether they are willing to press your case for inpatient status based on medical factors. In theory, you could appeal observation status with Medicare after you leave the hospital, but that is difficult and few have succeeded.

The Center for Medicare Advocacy makes available a Self Help Packet for Medicare "Observation Status." This is definitely worth keeping handy and it would be great if hospitals distributed it. This group has an active legal case challenging the government's policy of allowing hospitalized Medicare beneficiaries to be placed in "observation status," rather than formally admitting them, and depriving them of their Part A coverage in violation of the Medicare statute and other laws. This group makes this important observation: "Neither the Medicare statute nor the Medicare regulations define observation services. The only definition appears in various CMS manuals."

What is really needed is action by Congress to eliminate observation status for any overnight stay, but this is unlikely unless many millions of Medicare beneficiaries demand it. The ugly truth is that this observation status was a bureaucratic tactic to reduce Medicare spending. It puts hospitals in the difficult position of putting their patients in a very bad financial situation. In a real sense hospitals are being blackmailed into serving as agents to implement this awful observation policy. A vigorous national campaign by AARP demanding congressional action is needed.
(c) 2014 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.

The Cartoon Corner...

This edition we're proud to showcase the cartoons of
~~~ Mr. Fish ~~~

To End On A Happy Note...

Have You Seen This...

Parting Shots...

It's Not The Hate, It's The Stupidity
By Will Durst

Alright. Woo-hoo. We're partying now. With the kind of enthusiasm normally reserved for sorting Phillips head screws from flat head screws, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer publicly vetoed SB 1062, legislation that would provide legal cover to businesses denying services based on the operator's religious beliefs. The return of Jim Crow with a cactus beat.

Yes, the finger jabbing governess banged down the brakes of the bigot bill. And the disappointment rumbling through the evangelical community caused snakes to be mishandled all the way to Eastern Tennessee.

Give the lady credit. She hemmed. She hawed. She deliberated. Took her time like a molasses coated snail slogging up Everest against the wind in the dead of winter. The right thing was done; for the wrong reasons. The same way deciding not to drink that 8th beer was a smart move whether the cause was self-restraint or misplacing the bottle opener under the front seat.

Mostly it was the threat of another state-wide economic boycott including the possibility of losing a second Super Bowl that did the trick. Once again, the NFL trumps religion. Of course, if those darn liberals hadn't put up such a stink, she would have signed it so fast it would make a roadrunner's head spin, mid beep-beep.

Ironically, Brewer's painstakingly lackadaisical response was responsible for ratcheting up the backlash that inflamed the country. She inadvertently gave the press time to trumpet the story. And the resulting uproar bodes as well for the umpteen other states considering similar legislation as a dead gila monster head in your Frosted Flakes.

This is what happens when the tourist industry, the business community, the state's two GOP U.S. Senators and even some of the bill's co-sponsors turn against it. With friends like these, who needs enemies?

You'd think that vetoing a bill that sanctioned discrimination would be a no- brainer, but no- brainers aren't quite the sure thing in Arizona. This is the state famous for voting against recognizing Martin Luther King's birthday as a holiday and encouraging local police to stop anybody with a tan on both their arms. Not to mention Alice Cooper.

Perhaps Arizona legislators are unaware that religions other than Christianity exist, because depending on the faith of the business owner, this bill would have allowed folks to refuse service not just for sexual orientation but for sporting nail polish, fastening pants with zippers or eating shellfish. The burning hunger for desert shellfish having been dealt with many millennia ago.

Not wearing a hat offends some gods. While the wearing of hats offends others. The gods, they are sartorially conflicted. Suspected of engaging in premarital sex, no ice cream for you. Divorced patrons can purchase their organic rutabagas somewhere else, thank you very much. Wear a turban? Don't need a couch. Customers would need to take a urine test every time they dropped something off at the dry cleaners.

With every piece of ludicrous legislation, it becomes increasingly apparent that AZ -- the postal abbreviation for the Grand Canyon State -- stands for Angry Zenophobes. And yes, xenophobe is actually spelled with an X, but the insensible and intolerant denizens of Arizona are probably unaware of that. Arizona: the American Uganda. It's not the hate, it's the stupidity.
(c) 2014 Will Durst, is a nationally acclaimed, award- winning political comic. Go to to find about more about his new CD, "Elect to Laugh" and calendar of personal appearances.

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Issues & Alibis Vol 14 # 11 (c) 03/21/2014

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