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In This Edition

Phil Rockstroh sings a chorus of dem ole, "Police State Blues."

Uri Avnery says it's, "All Quiet On The Southern Front."

Matt Taibbi discovers, "Another Hidden Bailout."

William Pfaff reports, "U.S. And NATO Make Afghanistan Plans Beyond 2014."

Jim Hightower uncovers, "Greed So Bad That It'll Gag A Banker."

Randall Amster with a must read, "Waking Life."

James Donahue states the obvious in, "Yes World, American Voters Are Really Dumb."

Frank Scott wonders, "Social Or Anti-Social Media?"

David Swanson orates on Iraq and the future in, "Nine Years Later."

Bill McKibben warns of global warming in, "90 Degrees In Winter."

Bill Maher asks that we, "Please Stop Apologizing."

Robert Kuttner visits, "The Age Of Double Standards."

Robert Reich explains, "What Republicans Argue When They Have Nothing Left To Say."

Tennessee state representative Mathew Hill wins the coveted, "Vidkun Quisling Award!"

John Nichols concludes, "Ryan Budget Creates Political Peril For GOP Candidates, Including Paul Ryan."

George Zornick examines, "The Patriot Act You Don't Know About."

And finally in the 'Parting Shots' department Will Durst says, "We're All Muppets Here" but first Uncle Ernie exclaims, "And The Primary's Go On And On And On!"

This week we spotlight the cartoons of Gary Trudeau, with additional cartoons, photos and videos from Married To The Sea, Micah Wright, The 99 Spring.Com, Justin Sullivan, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientist, Ornamentalillness.Com, Ivan Alvarado, Reuters, Getty Images, Daily Mirror, 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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And The Primary's Go On And On And On!
By Ernest Stewart

"No amount of charters, direct primaries, or short ballots will make a democracy out of an illiterate people." ~~~ Walter Lippmann

The difference is that the first Green Revolution was public sector-driven. It was driven by government agencies, and the government agencies controlled the research. The second 'Green Revolution' is driven by Monsanto; it is a Monsanto-driven revolution. The second big difference is that the first Green Revolution did have a hidden objective of selling more chemicals; but it's first objective was providing food -- it was food security... The second Green Revolution has nothing to do with food security. It's not about food security; it is about returns to Monsanto's profits, that's all it is about. - They've always said that genetic engineering is the way to get to patenting, but patenting is the real aim. If you look at Monsanto's research agenda, they're testing at this point something like 20 crops with BT-genes in it. There's nothing they're leaving untouched. The mustard, the okra, the brinjal, the rice, the cauliflower. - Once they have established the norm that seed can be owned as their property and royalties can be collected, we will depend on them for every seed we grow of every crop we grow. If they control seed, they control food, they know it, it's strategic. It's more powerful than bombs, it's more powerful than guns. This is the best way to control the populations of the world. ~~~ Vandana Shiva

"President Obama has once again blocked the Keystone XL pipeline today. He personally lobbied Senate Democrats to vote against the project, asking them to eliminate jobs and reroute desperately needed Canadian oil away from the United States and toward China. This decision makes a mockery of his so-called 'all-of-the-above' energy strategy and is the latest reminder that he has taken unprecedented steps to stifle energy production and drive up energy prices in this country, all while wasting billions of dollars on failed green projects. His political strategists may think that he can continue saying one thing about energy while doing exactly the opposite, but I will spend this campaign reminding the American people." ~~~ Willard Romney

And we would all go down together.
We said we'd all go down together.
Yes we would all go down together.
Goodnight Saigon ~~~ Billy Joel

How are you holding up, America? We are slightly more than halfway through the traveling clown circus that is the Rethuglican primary process. That's right -- with Illinois, we're 54 % of the way through. We've still got another 23 states and the District of Columbia to go until it wraps up in Utah on June 26th. There's still a billion hate-filled attack ads to go though until November. Perhaps it's time to turn the TV and radio off and read a few good books, or go for some long walks!

Yes, I know, you want to tear your hair out and beat your head against the wall, especially you Rethuglicans; meanwhile, the folks on the left are laughing themselves silly every time one of the candidates opens up his cake hole and pretends to give a rat's ass about America. What we fear on the left is laughing ourselves to death over the antics of Willard, Rick, and "the usual suspects'" merry high jinx. While the centralist Rethuglican candidate, Barack Obama, isn't all that funny!

Willard did manage to win Illinois over Rick by about 100,000 votes, and now has 563 delegates to Rick's 263, Newt's 135 and Ron's 50. In order to win the nomination outright, Willard needs to win at least 46% of the remaining delegates to cross that magic 1144 delegate threshold. There is only one more primary this month. The next one is in Louisiana on the 24th.

At this time, it's doubtful that Willard will have enough delegates to win the nomination on the first ballot -- which is where a lot of would-be king makers hope to have their say, and perhaps nominate themselves to save the party's unity. Issues & Alibis hopes to have a delegate on the inside, reporting for us, down in Tampa, come August. Meanwhile, you might want to fasten your seatbelts, America -- it's going to be a rather bumpy ride until November 6th!

In Other News

I see that a spotlight is finally being turned onto Monsanto overcoming all the billions of bribes paid to the FDA and USDA and to various members of Con-gress and Presidents. Whether or not this is in time to stop the mass destruction caused by Monsanto is the question.

The EPA for example has finally recognized that Monsanto's GMO corn and chemical poison Roundup combine to make the corn create its own poison called Bacillus Thuringiensis a.k.a., BT which has caused the corn rootworm to evolve into something that can not only eat the GMO corn, but thrive more than ever -- which is all but wiping out this Frankenfood in Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota, and Nebraska. And since in commercial crops this BT corn is now about 75% of all corn grown, this will soon all but wipe corn production; and this is just the tip of the iceberg. With Obamahood placing a Monsanto VP in a powerful position in the FDA -- even with the EPA uncovering the truth -- little is likely to be done before it's too late.

Not to be outdone, German giants Bayer and BASF, amongst others, are producing neonicotinoids, a poison produced naturally in tobacco plants and often used on non-Monsanto corn throughout the world, as Monsanto products are pretty much banned everywhere except in these United Snakes. Scientists have discovered that neonicotinoids are wiping out the honey bees and are the chief cause of Colony Collapse Disorder. I only mention this if you've been wondering what was destroying the honey bee populations, populations without which about 1/3 of food crops and hundreds of varieties of flowers would cease to exist? Did I mention that they both also kill earthworms!??!

President Obama has appointed the former Monsanto Vice President and lobbyist Michael R. Taylor to the FDA. This is the same man who was Food Safety Czar for the FDA when GMOs were allowed into the US food supply without undergoing a single test to determine their safety or risks. "This is like putting a terrorist in charge of the world's food supply!" Now Barry has promoted Taylor from US Food Safety Czar to Senior Advisor to the Commissioner of the FDA. This has allowed Taylor to start to go after and destroy America's organic farms and dairies so soon the only organic food you'll be able to get is the food you grow yourself and they already have laws on the books that may soon be used to outlaw even that!

I only mention this in case you were wondering how the 1% is going to reduce the population of the Earth by some 6 billion people without nuclear war or at least without an all-out nuclear war! Got your heirloom seeds ready?

And Finally

Apparently, I forgot the number one thing that one must do if one is to understand political maneuverings about the once-and-future Canadian Keystone XL pipeline, i.e., follow the money! Had I remembered to do this most basic piece of detective work, I wouldn't have felt so silly about what was presented to me; because now that I know what's happening, it's blatantly obvious.

Did you wonder with all the refiners that are closer than Texas and therefore would be easier to get approval to build this disaster in the making, why they it had to be in Texas and not, say, in Michigan? It's simple, really; because they need a port like the twin ports or Houston and Port Arthur, Texas which are the twin ends to the pipeline to send all that gooey, nasty, polluting oil overseas; and I bet you thought it would go to fill up American gas tanks -- like all the Rethuglicans imply -- nope; it's all bound for other nations, overseas.

Isn't it funny, i.e., strange, that all of our political leaders on both sides of the aisle have never mentioned this fact, be they for or against Keystone? I found out by reading reports from the oil companies that stand to make billions both in Canada and in Texas.

Are you supporters still willing to take those risks of polluting half the country and the water tables of even more of America to make some one per-center S.O.B.s a few billions more, and keep the oil flowing to everyone except us? Is that what you want Willard, Rick, Newt and Barry? If so, please have the cojanes to say so!

Ooops, I spoke too soon; I see where Barry is set to announce, by the time we publish, that his administration will expedite the permit for the southern half of the Keystone XL pipeline. A White House official confirmed Tuesday that the president on Thursday will "reiterate his administration's commitment to expediting the construction of a pipeline from Cushing, Okla., to the Gulf of Mexico, relieving a bottleneck of oil and bringing domestic resources to market." Also establishing, with his foot in the door, the complete boondoggle right after the election. With many areas along the pipeline suffering water shortages, why not pollute what little water there's left?

Keepin' On

Thanks to a generous donation from Carl in California we have enough to pay April's bill, but to do so broke our bank again. And with major bills arriving in June, July and September, and another small one due in October, this is no time to quit, ya'll!

Considering what's going down this year, from end-of-the-world weather, to a sustained war against our mothers, wives and daughters by the Rethuglicans, a choice for President of either the boy who would be a god or the boy who would be Tomas de Torquemada, or George W. Bush Lite, you have to ask yourself, is this the time to lose one of the very few sources for the truth? Well, is this the time, America? I think not!

If you want to keep us publishing the truth and the facts that your family really needs to know (not to mention your neighbors and seven billion other souls, for example you can still read us in China and Russia), then please help us continue the fight. Folks, we're all of us in this together; when it comes down to it, we're all from Nairobi, and we'll all go down together, or we will all live and prosper together! You can be the problem, or you can be the solution! What's it going to be? If you're with us, then send in what you can, whenever you can; and we'll keep fighting the good fight for you and yours!


04-03-1920 ~ 03-17-2012
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) 2012 Ernest Stewart a.k.a. Uncle Ernie is an unabashed radical, author, stand-up comic, DJ, actor, political pundit and for the last 11 years managing editor and publisher of Issues & Alibis magazine. Visit me on Face Book. Follow me on Twitter.

Police State Blues
"Our rights do not end where the caprice of authoritarian bullies begins."
By Phil Rockstroh

At mid-evening, on Saturday, March 17, upon the six-month anniversary of the occupation of Zuccotti Park in Lower Manhattan, the NYPD -- because the department suffered no ill consequences from their search and destroy mission launched, in the late fall of 2011, to scour Liberty Square of liberty -- initiated another brutal operation to expel OWS activists from the premises, and to discourage, in general, those who might venture attempts to exercise their right to free assembly and free expression across the whole of the city of New York as winter proceeds into spring.

In a police state, unjust actions by authoritarian bullies, operating at the behest of privileged bullies in power, act by caprice and will escalate their level of brutality by the degree that the public at large reacts with support and indifference to the state's assaults on civil liberties and common decency.

Bear in mind, police agencies, devoid of oversight, comprise a legal form of gang activity; therefore, when one is witness to their acts of brutality, and, as outraged protesters are apt to do, shower their ranks with taunts of "shame, shame, shame" -- rather than experiencing feelings of remorse, brutish individual officers regard the scolding as a badge of honor.

Why? Because they view OWS as a rival gang -- not a force of democratic passion and outrage.

The defining creed of a violent gang, such as the NYPD, is to ensure their own survival by the modus operandi of violently crushing perceived rivals.

If rank and file police officers ever surrender their arms and change sides, this event will have come to pass because the institutions of power that direct their actions (and that issue their paychecks) will begin to collapse. Anything you can do to challenge and to help facilitate the end of the reign of exploitation and terror that is the neoliberal international superstate will, in turn, prove helpful in achieving the goal of ceasing the brutality inherent to the U.S. police state.

But, and I hope I'm wrong in positing this dismal augury, there will be much blood lacquering the pavements of the city of New York, and scores of other municipalities, worldwide, before that day arrives.

At our best, as a species, we human beings use our minds and imaginations to bring less suffering to the world; at our worst, we use said attributes to rationalize causing so much of it.

Although not widely acknowledged by mainstream opinion shapers, the struggle to retake the public commons by activists facing hostile local municipalities and their police enforcers and the imperative to reduce mankind's destruction of the ecological balance of the earth are related issues, of which the implications extend far beyond the political realm. The unfolding of these matters determines how you spend your days...from when you rise in the morning, to what you eat, to which locations you proceed during the day, to when and how you sleep at night...right down to the state of your health and the condition of your soul. To those who proffer the excuse, "in my heart, I know you're right, but I have to be a realist about this": you're letting a crackpot realist mindset falsely frame the matter. Given that the heart is more than a pump -- it is the alpha and omega point of the soul of the world i.e., animus mundi, perhaps, you are confused regarding the nature of reality.

Moreover, you sound like George F. a book report on Hannah Arrent's conception of the banality of evil from Eichmann in Jerusalem, and you have missed the point. Apropos: Evil is maintained by mundane means, by people who see themselves as normal and who live ordinary lives.

And it seems to be what you're actually trying to express is closer to the following: I feel overwhelmed and powerless about the situation. Addressing it makes me feel uncomfortable, so I'll just accept the matter, maybe grouse about it a bit, but I'll continue to accept the small comforts the system proffers and I'll hope that will serve as balm to my empty, troubled soul.

The Cartesian fallacy that one's joy and suffering are almost exclusively a private matter -- the idea that the process all takes place in one's own mind and body and has no connection to any larger order -- has diminished perception and has stressed the environment to the tipping point. This is the dismal litany of Industrial/Commercial Age false consciousness: the paramount function of the intellect is to reduce the vast and proliferate criteria of life down to the "bottom line."

But anyone who posits the concept that life can and should be reduced to only self-serving, mechanistically controllable verities has much to learn from 20th century death camps, and, moreover, should take note of our present day analogs of Auschwitz: the so-called industrial "farming industry"; the practices of deep sea "fishing" by trawlers (i.e, strip-mining the world's oceans); deep water oil-drilling practices; and fracking. The list goes on and on, and finds an analog in the mechanistic suppression of dissent by militarized police forces.

Yet the agenda of the corporate/police/commercial/militarist state is to preserve and expand these practices, the very practices that keep its populace alienated, locked into benumbing, destructive habits that leave individuals hollow, anomie-prone, and addicted to distraction. Withal, the acceptance of a way of life that is dependent on a habitual disengagement from the very acts that maintain one's culture necessitates the construction of an imprisoning wall of psychological separation between oneself and reality.

To awaken to reality is to suffer...allowing oneself to experience feelings of despair, powerlessness, and rage. Speaking the truth sets you free, because emotion engenders motion.

If witnessing peaceful protesters being beaten by police, manacled with zip cuffs (a device that by its structural makeup ensures a loss of circulation) and transported to jail on trumped-up charges, fails to get your blood up, then your absent soul can be located exchanging banalities at a mental dinner party with Adolf Eichmann.

To express indifference or to be an apologist for the quotidian evils of our time is reprehensible. Like the "good Germans" of the 1930's, you might believe your codified hatreds and commodified longings, manifested by the industrial and military power of the state, will deliver and preserve freedom...but these beliefs, maintained by systems of mechanized force, will, in time, come to debase everything you hold dear.

How can an individual gain a modicum of empathy for the plight of the planet and for those brutalized by the operatives of state oppression when he refuses to gaze upon his own degraded condition?

At this point, the awakening of your heart comes down to a cultural imperative. Even if you don't quite know where you're going at first, by moving in the direction of what your heart yearns for, you begin to reveal to yourself who you are. Thus, you wander off the banal path of empty obligation and self-serving rationalization -- then, even in moments of doubt and confusion, you can make a home in being lost.

"Show your wounds," exhorted artist Joseph Bueys. The wound becomes the womb, poets tell us.

Pain and sorrow can induce one to seek out and to join the chorus of a larger give full-throated sorrow to songs emanating from the suffering earth.

You can join this chorus or elect to be self-cast as a supernumerary in a lethal farce that assigns you the dubious role of being both oppressor and oppressed.

The earth's song, at this juncture, is one of soul-rending lamentation and sacred vehemence.

This song needs you to lend your voice.

And I submit this lyric as the song's refrain, a riff of the blues inspired by the less than inspired acts of our men and woman uniformed in blue: "Our rights do not end where the caprice of authoritarian bullies begins."
(c) 2012 Phil Rockstroh, is a poet, lyricist and philosopher bard living in New York City. Visit Phil's website, and at FaceBook.

All Quiet On The Southern Front
By Uri Avnery

"What have you learned in school today, my son?"

"There was no school today. There is an emergency!"

"And what have you learned from that, my son?"


This week's "round", as the army likes to call it, followed a well-established pattern, as formal as a religious ritual.

It started with the assassination (or "targeted elimination") of a hitherto unknown Palestinian resistance ("terrorist") leader in the Gaza Strip.

The Palestinians responded with a rain of missiles, which lasted for four whole days. More than a million Israelis around Gaza stopped working and stayed with their children near their shelters or "protected areas" (meaning nothing more than relatively safe rooms in their homes.) One million Israelis roughly equate to 10 million Germans or 40 million Americans, in relation to the population.

A proportion of these rockets were intercepted in their flight by the three batteries of the "Iron Dome" anti-missile defense. There were some Israeli injured and some minor material damage, but no Israeli dead.

Israeli manned and unmanned aircraft struck and there were 26 Palestinian dead in the Gaza Strip.

After four days and nights, both sides had had enough, and Egyptian mediators achieved an unwritten Tahdiyeh (Arabic for "Quiet").

Everything as usual.

EXCEPT FOR the details, of course.

It all started with the killing of one Zuhair al-Qaisi , the General Secretary of the "Popular Committees". He has been in this position for only a few months.

The "Popular Committees" are a minor resistance/terrorist group, the third by size in the Strip. They are overshadowed by Hamas, which did not take part in this round, and "Islamic Jihad", which took up the cause of the "committees" and launched most of the rockets.

The number of launches was a surprise. During the four days, 200 rockets were launched - an average of some 50 per day. 169 fell in Israel. There was no sign that the Jihad was running out of stock. Hamas, of course, is a much larger organization, with a much bigger arsenal. In the Gaza Strip, one must assume, there are now huge quantities of missiles, almost all the more sophisticated ones provided by Iran. How they made the long journey can only be guessed.

One must assume that in Hizbollah-dominated South Lebanon, the stockpiles of missiles are even greater.

On the other side (ours) the Iron Dome has chalked up a huge success, a source of great pride for the contractor, the army and the country at large.

This is a sophisticated system, made in Israel, which initially evoked a lot of skepticism. For that reason, there are at this moment only three batteries in action, each protecting one city (Ashkelon, Ashdod, Beer Sheva). A fourth battery is scheduled to be provided soon.

The system does not intercept every rocket, which would be enormously costly. Instead, the system itself calculates whether a rocket would fall in open space (and could be ignored) or on a populated area (when the interceptor would be launched), all in seconds. Of these, more than 70% were intercepted and destroyed, a great success by any reckoning.

The sting is that one of the Palestinian rockets costs only a few hundred shekels, while one single Iron Dome missile costs 315 thousand shekels. During the four days, 17.6 million shekels' worth of missiles was spent by the Israeli side. This apart from the very high price tag of the batteries themselves.

The Air Force sorties over the Gaza Strip cost another tens of millions - one hour of flight costs some 100 thousand shekels (almost 25 thousand dollars).

THE FIRST question to be asked was therefore: was the whole exercise worthwhile?

Israelis rarely ask themselves such questions. They believe that those in charge know what they are doing.

But do they?

It all hinges on the necessity to kill al-Qaisi, even for those who believe in such killings as a solution.

Al-Qaisi was in his position as leader of the "Popular Committees" only since the assassination of his predecessor in similar circumstances. A replacement will easily be found. He may be better or worse, but will hardly make much difference.

The Minister of Defense, Ehud Barak, gave a strangely convoluted explanation for the assassination: "(al-Qaisi) was one of the heads of Popular Committees who were, it seems, busy preparing a large attack. I cannot yet say whether this attack was averted." It seems. I cannot say.

Unofficially it was said that al-Qaisi may have been involved in sending a group of militants from Gaza to the Egyptian Sinai, to attack Israeli territory from there. Last year there was such an attack near Eilat, with several Israeli dead, al-Qaisi's predecessor was blamed for that and killed before an investigation had even started.

So was it worthwhile to endanger the lives of so many people, send a million people to the shelters and spend tens of millions of shekels on such grounds?

My guess is that al-Qaisi was killed because an opportunity presented itself to do so - such as information on his movements.

WHO MADE the decision?

Targeted assassinations are based on information received from the Shabak (aka Shin Bet). In practice, it is this security service that makes the decision to kill people - acting as gatherer of the information, the assessor of it, and the judge at the same time. No independent analysis of the information, no review, no judicial process of any kind. Questioning the Shabak almost amounts to treason, no politician and no journalist would dare to do so, even if he were so inclined- which he or she is not.

After the Shabak has decided to kill somebody, this is brought to a tiny group of men: the Prime Minister, the Minister of Defense, the army Chief of Staff and perhaps the officer commanding. Nobody with an independent outlook.

Did any of these people ask the relevant questions? I doubt it.

For example: Binyamin Netanyahu prides himself on his huge success in America, indeed in the entire world: he has managed to get everybody deeply concerned about the (not yet existing) Iranian nuclear bomb. The Palestinian issue has been completely wiped off the map. And here he sets in motion another round of fighting that reminds people everywhere that the Palestinian issue is alive and kicking, and that it may explode at any moment. Does that make sense even from the point of view of a Netanyahu or a Barak?

ANOTHER INTESTING political aspect of this "round" was the role Hamas played in it, or, rather, didn't.

Hamas rules the Gaza Strip. The Israeli government does not officially recognize this rule, but somehow still considers Hamas responsible for everything that happens in the Strip, whether Hamas was involved or not.

Until now Hamas entered the fight whenever Israel attacked objects in Gaza. This time, it stayed outside the fray, and even emphasized this fact in telephone interviews on Israeli TV.

Why? Hamas is closely connected with the Muslim Brotherhood, which now dominates the Egyptian parliament. It is under pressure to create a unity government with Fatah in Palestine and join the PLO. Taking part in the armed fight against Israel at this moment would jeopardize this effort. The more so as the Islamic Jihad is closely connected with Iran, the rival of Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

ISRAELI TV correspondents have the annoying habit of concluding their reports with a disturbingly banal sentence. For example, a report about a fatal road accident will almost invariably end with the words: "...and he (or she) only wanted to get safely home."

This week, almost all the final reports about the mess in the south ended with the words: "Quiet has returned to the South - until the next time!"

Everybody assumes that "next time" the rockets coming out of Gaza will have a greater range and perhaps reach the outskirts of Tel Aviv, and everybody in Israel hopes that the Iron Dome missile will become even more effective.

Until then, All Quiet on the Southern Front.
(c) 2012 Uri Avnery ~~~ Gush Shalom

A foreclosure sign sits in front of a home for sale in Stockton, California.

Another Hidden Bailout
Helping Wall Street Collect Your Rent
By Matt Taibbi

Here's yet another form of hidden bailout the federal government doles out to our big banks, without the public having much of a clue.

This is from the WSJ this morning:

Some of the biggest names on Wall Street are lining up to become landlords to cash-strapped Americans by bidding on pools of foreclosed properties being sold by Fannie Mae...

While the current approach of selling homes one-by-one has its own high costs and is sometimes inefficient, selling properties in bulk to large investors could require Fannie Mae to sell at a big discount, leading to larger initial costs.

In con artistry parlance, they call this the "reload." That's when you hit the same mark twice - typically with a second scam designed to "fix" the damage caused by the first scam. Someone robs your house, then comes by the next day and sells you a fancy alarm system, that's the reload.

In this case, banks pumped up the real estate market by creating huge volumes of subprime loans, then dumped a lot of them on, among others, Fannie and Freddie, the ever-ready enthusiastic state customer. Now the loans have crashed in value, yet the GSEs (Government Sponsored Enterprises) are still out there feeding the banks money through two continuous bailouts.

One, they continue to buy mortgages from the big banks (until recently, even from Bank of America, whom the GSEs were already suing for sales of toxic MBS), giving the banks a permanent market for home loans.

And secondly, they conduct these quiet bulk sales of mortgages, in which huge packets of home loans are sold to banks at a "big discount."

By now we've come full circle. Banks create the loans, make money selling them off on the market at high prices, then come back and buy them again when they're low. When the GSEs are in the middle of this transaction, it makes mortgage lending a basically risk-free proposition: Banks get paid for creating home loans and they end up owning valuable property on the cheap, but in between, they offshore the market risk to a government entity and/or to the idiot individual who bought the home mortgage in the first place.

Even better, many of the banks/investors who buy these home loans back from Fannie/Freddie will rent out their properties instead of reselling them, which can vastly increase their revenue streams. From the WSJ:

Economists at Goldman Sachs estimate the annual yield on an investment on rental property nationwide averages about 6.3%, but can exceed 8% in cities that were hit hard during the housing bust, including Las Vegas, Detroit and Tampa. By contrast, mortgage bonds have average yields of just over 3%, and investment-grade corporate bonds are yielding about 3.5%, according the Barclays Capital U.S. Investment-Grade Index.

It gets better:

Warren Buffett, considered a sage investor and chief executive of Berkshire Hathaway Inc., said in an interview with CNBC-TV last month that he would buy up "a couple hundred thousand" single-family homes if he could do so easily, given the high yields on rental investments.

Another potential buyer, according to the article, is John Paulson, the pillaging hedge-fund billionaire who was behnd Goldman's notorious "Abacus" deal (in which Goldman allowed Paulson to pack a portfolio full of loser mortgages he was shorting before those same mortgages were dumped on a pair of Euro banks).

So congratulations, America, your quasi-governmental housing entity is about to subcontract out mass-landlording/slumlording jobs to the likes of John Paulson and Warren Buffett, so that they can add to their bottom lines collecting rent payments in the middle of a nationwide housing slump.

As one hedge fund analyst put it to me this morning: "Help inflate the bubble, create a foreclosure crisis, buy homes in bulk, and rent them out to the same average homeowner."

Is this what we had in mind when we created the "ownership society" - helping billionaires collect your rent?
(c) 2012 Matt Taibbi

U.S. And NATO Make Afghanistan Plans Beyond 2014
By William Pfaff

The United States has since the 1990s become increasingly the victim of an "exceptionalist" ideology that claims world leadership for the nation and an obdurate militarism, corrupting to American historical institutions and values.

Terminating the Afghanistan War and ending the global projection of American military power of which it is a part are indispensable steps to saving the nation. Those who object say that the present policy of pre-emptive wars and global strategic projection by means of worldwide military bases is essential to national security. Thus a lasting American presence in Afghanistan is held to be crucial for installing new American strongholds in proximity to China, contributing to an encirclement and system of intimidation that has begun already. If this leads to war with China, well, that will prove that the American policy preparations were justified.

In mid-March, in Kabul, NATO officials made known to allied and other ambassadors, and to the U.N. high representative in Afghanistan, the NATO alliance's program for that country after the projected handover to Afghan army and police, supposed to take place by 2014.

This is very large supposition indeed, as everyone knows. The new program will be presented at the NATO summit in Chicago in May. It is an American-written program, as the war has been American-initiated and controlled since the beginning.

The Kabul announcement fixes the cost of security forces in Afghanistan after 2014 as $4.1 billion annually.

Washington proposes to put up $2.3 billion each year, and the Afghan government supposedly will contribute $500 million annually. Other nations, without having been consulted, will be informed of what they are expected to pay. French sources say the French government learned of its assigned annual contribution of $1.3 billion only in January, from the Afghans.

One might reasonably think drafting this program a futile exercise since the French and others have already announced accelerated withdrawals of their troops, and not many people believe that the United States' own promises will be kept concerning what will happen before 2014. U.S. forces even now are unwelcome in Afghanistan, except by President Hamid Karzai-torn between his desire to get rid of what his countrymen now see as an imposed, unsuccessful and seemingly endless American occupation, and what could happen to him if the United States should indeed pull out its troops. The United States, its forces and its drones are feared and loathed in Pakistan, our ally.

Washington does not know what to do about this, paralyzed by policy disagreement, at best, and at worst by the cowardice of politicians-prepared to feed American troops and Afghan civilians and insurgents into the maw of destruction so long as this suits the purposes of political partisanship.

The president promised to fight this war-"the right war"-not knowing what he was doing; it seemed a good campaign platform plank. In office, he was-as he should have expected-completely at the mercy of the military. How could he, a civic organizer from the streets of Chicago and part-time law professor, with no military experience or qualifications, tell the generals what to do? They told him. He had to obey. They were totally wrong, and the war now is a disaster. David Petraeus, promoted as the military genius of his generation, has escaped to the CIA directorship. His colleagues-and President Obama-are left holding the empty bag.

Can the president simply leave Afghanistan, leaving the Afghans to look after their own country?

The Republican opposition and the press would disembowel him. The Pentagon would do everything in its power to make him responsible for every mistake it ever made.

The Nixon administration had the wit to get out of Vietnam before everything collapsed. It is too late to "Vietnamize" Afghanistan.

Withdrawal would cause every enemy of America in the world to cry "America Defeated!" The Republicans would cry, "Obama Surrendered!"

They would promise that Afghanistan would be overrun by the Taliban. Al-Qaida would create "nests" of terrorists all over the non-Western world, in Canada and Mexico, and in every European capital. The United States would collapse. Chinese troops would land in California. President Obama's staff would place a pistol on his desk, together with a bottle of whiskey, and quietly close the door.

Consider matters in another light. There is no possibility of NATO defeating the Taliban if the government's own forces are unable or unwilling to do so. The Taliban live there.

Americans and Europeans do not. We wish the Afghans well.

Would withdrawal be victory for the Taliban? Of course. If the United States remained in Afghanistan for 100 years, and then left, this would still be called a victory for the Taliban-and it would be. Alexander the Great and the British Empire at the peak of its power were defeated in Afghanistan, unable to impose their will.

Would the president's enemies, the Republicans and the opposition press cry "Surrender!" and "Defeat"? Of course they would.

They will say anything, no matter what the political and human costs might be. Obama could retaliate by inviting those Americans who want to fight wars to elect the current crop of Republicans-and take the consequences.

As departing gifts to the American people, the president might then issue executive orders disbanding the professional army, and reinstating selective service, with all sons of national politicians deemed 1-A for service (highest qualifications). History would remember him as the nation's savior.
(c) 2012 Visit William Pfaff's website for more on his latest book, "The Irony of Manifest Destiny: The Tragedy of America's Foreign Policy."

Greed So Bad That It'll Gag A Banker

Lloyd Blankfein, a Wall Street baron who has garnered a multimillion-dollar personal fortune as CEO of Goldman Sachs, says he does "God's work."

Whoa - that would be one very mean god! Blankfein actually is an un-godly angel for avarice who turned the once-proud investment house into a casino of greed that was a central player in Wall Street's crash of our economy. But don't take my word for it. Blankfein has now been burned by one of his own - a top Goldman Sachs executive who got so fed up with the "toxic and destructive" culture fostered by Blankfein that he has resigned and gone public with the banking giant's internal ugliness.

Greg Smith, a 12-year veteran with Goldman and head of one of its major divisions, penned a March 14 New York Times op-ed piece declaring: "It makes me ill how callously [Goldman bankers] talk about ripping their clients off." Forget about the quaint notion that banks are meant to serve the public good, Smith confirms that his outfit no longer serves the good of its own customers, instead focusing laser-like on enriching the bankers themselves.

Rather than helping clients, he writes, "It's purely about how we can make the most possible money off of them." He points out that this crass selfishness all comes from the top, noting that it's now common to hear Goldman's managing directors privately deride their own clients as "muppets" - stupid people who're easily manipulated. The ruling ethic is "show me the money" - by hook or crook, says Smith, if you haul in enough gold for Goldman "(and are not currently an ax murderer) you will be promoted into a position of influence."

Remember, these are the people you and I were forced to bail out, yet far from showing even a modicum of humility, their narcissism is now so extreme and pervasive that it's even causing bankers to gag!
(c) 2012 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.

Waking Life
You Don't Need a Clock to Know What Time It Is
By Randall Amster

With each passing day, the news grows increasingly grim. In recent weeks alone, we've seen women's rights under assault as reactionary forces seek to turn the clock back by decades. Half a world away in Afghanistan, corpses are defiled and more are brutally created, without even their ages or innocence sufficient to protect them. Meanwhile, back at home, Congress passes and President Obama signs a new law that further restricts the ability of "we the people" to say or do anything that might stem the tide of the insanity. It's all such a familiar tune, one that plays out with flawless precision in nearly every turn of the news cycle.

Meanwhile, the blogosphere buzzes along, chronicling the morass and the madness with vigor. The headlines read like an excruciating autopsy of democracy and justice in the late, great United States -- and a horrifying blueprint for how to decimate that portion of the planet's inhabitants who have the misfortune of living atop, amid, or around something that we covet. Naked fascism here and wanton destruction there, with each solidifying the other in our hearts and minds as the gears of consumer culture blithely grind about their business with clocklike precision. Tick: the Dow Jones goes up! Tock: another celebrity melts down! And hardly anyone seems to really know what time it is...

Or maybe everyone does, at least on some level, with a great many simply choosing to ignore the alarm bells in favor of the bells and whistles on their latest consumer gadget. The rising tide (both literal and figurative) that threatens to consume us all is best confronted by ignoring it. The blood on one's hands comes right off with the newest antibacterial, sanitizing, scented concoction. The news may be forbidding, but it's merely a minor inconvenience since there are so many creature comforts expressly not forbidden. Tales of disease, despair, and destruction are little more than reality noir stories told to occasionally add a touch of macabre and cinema verite to one's halcyon Netflix queue.

Swipe across that touchscreen, scroll down with that mouse, click that ad banner, pull that lever in the booth, change that channel repeatedly, post a link to that viral video, accept that new credit card offer, text while in that drive-through line, gas up the car and eat up from the microwave. Modern life is a veritable hall of mirrors for narcissists, complete with the rush of affirmation from every "like" attained and text message received with a sonorous chime. It's all so smooth and slick and seamless, how we've gone in less than one generation from people having time to ones being had by it. Yes, you can buy time, share it on vacation, put it on a sheet at work, use it for making a bomb, or turn it into an uncritical magazine -- but at the end of the day, there is no longer an end of the day.

We are on the clock, all the time, everywhere we go. The line between work and play has blurred to such an extent that there's a likely gym at your office and (if there's not) people are closing deals on handheld devices while at the gym, giving new meaning to the notion of "working out." Even on social calls one can hear the faint "tap tap" of keystrokes in the background, as an overworked friend multitasks while you're busy baring your soul between your own multiple, endless tasks. It's all just so routinely riveting, so crassly compelling, so miraculously mundane, so five minutes ago. Forever a step behind, never quite catching up, no bottom to that inbox, no time to stop and think.

Yet it's strangely comfortable, after all, ceaselessly cascading from one inconsequential calamity to the next. Can we keep this up, culturally or individually? It's a new survival-of-the-fittest motif: those who are more cognitively dissonant and functionally distracted will succeed in this brave new world, while those with slower chronometers, active consciences, or stop-and-smell-the-roses ethics are consigned to the breakdown lane on the information superhighway. The fortunate ones whizzing by at 4G (or more) might be tempted into rubbernecking as the broken-down vehicles pile up on the side, but they're probably too busy texting while driving to notice.

And so it goes. Nero may have fiddled while Rome burned, but we've got him beat by a micro-processed mile. The apocalypse is already being televised, routinized, digitized. It's not coming; it already came and went, and hardly anyone even looked up to take notice. The world ended not with a whimper but a tweet: #IMoverIT. Heck, there's not even time for punctuation anymore, unless it's part of an emoticon. theres prolly no need 4 an ! aftr yr doomsday anyway LOL :>)

Seriously? It's like everyone is pushing toward the bow of the Titanic to snap a photo of that massive iceberg up ahead with their cellphone cameras. Yeah, post that iceberg to your profile, and caption it something ironic like: "Super chunk of ice, way cool!" No matter that the Doomsday Clock stands at five minutes to midnight -- that's an eternity when things move at the speed of micro-circuitry. It's all an abstraction anyway, a live-action film version of reality; even war is played with joysticks like a cutting-edge video game. There's no there there anymore; it's all right here in the palm of your hand. Hickory dickory dock, just mouse over the clock icon for a free music download!

Hey, I love science fiction as much as anyone, and I'm not averse to technology altogether. But technology should be a tool for us to use, not the other way around. Let's face it: we're losing the texture of reality, and not even the blatant brutality of ongoing genocide, ethnocide, and ecocide is able to shake us free from our self-imposed slumber at this point in time. Is it too late, in any event? I think not -- but the day is dawning and time is running out. We can still correct our course, by learning to use technology for liberatory rather than repressive ends, and by striving to decouple our actual selves from our virtual selves more and more each day. Go on a digital diet, and stick to it.

Ultimately, this move by itself still won't turn the tide, but at least it puts us back in the mix. The impetus of "forced obsolescence" is a contrivance of the power-mad in our midst, yet we need not stand idly by while their actuaries place us in the "liabilities" column. Come on folks, Christmas morning is over and we need to clean up the living room and put the toys away for a while. Read a book, take a walk, tell a story, share a home-cooked meal, converse with friends and family -- anything but the incessant, obsessive, stupefying machinations of the virtual veil. The clock is ticking, the hour is late, the alarm is sounding, and it's time to wake up and meet the world anew.
(c) 2012 Randall Amster J.D., Ph.D., teaches peace studies at Prescott College and serves as the executive director of the Peace & Justice Studies Association. His most recent book is the co-edited volume "Building Cultures of Peace: Transdisciplinary Voices of Hope and Action" (Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2009).

Yes World, American Voters Are Really Dumb
By James Donahue

After the 2004 elections, the front page of the Daily Mirror in London announced the re-election of George W. Bush with the question: "How Can 59,054,087 People Be So Dumb?"

Most of us agree that Bush was the wrong choice for the presidency that election year. But was the Mirror's accusation true? When the general intelligence of Americans was conducted the results were surprisng.

Essays and books have been written in recent years about what some intellectuals and conspiracy theorists believe has been a deliberate "dumbing down of America." Until the 2004 election and a subsequent published study of average intelligence of Americans by state, I didn't really believe the problem to be as severe as it is.

There recently appeared a chart that indicated an average intelligence quota per state and claims the states with people of lower average IQ chose Bush. The states with higher average IQs leaned toward John Kerry. It claimed that the average IQ in America is 98, far lower than we might have expected.

Was the data on the chart accurate?

From IQ data taken from a book by university professors Richard Lynn and Tatu Vanhanen called "IQ and the Wealth of Nations" and a website that showed IQ data calculated from state SAT and ACT scores, there is an indication that this, indeed, is the average level of intellect in the US.

The latter chart offered a breakdown that correlated IQs and incomes in each state, but someone took the trouble since the election to tag on how the state voted for the two presidential candidates. Thus we have a chart with a relatively correct assessment of average intellect of the voters by each state.

It seems that the smartest people in the nation live in New Hampshire, where they score at 104, and Oregon, Massachusetts and Wisconsin, where they test average at 103. All four states, by the way, supported Kerry.

The lowest IQ scores were rated at 94 in both Mississippi and South Carolina. These states went for Bush.

Of these, 17 of the 35 states averaging an IQ of 100 or more voted for Kerry. Three of the 16 states on the bottom of the rung voted for Kerry. The rest of them swung to Bush with flags waving from the windows and bumpers of their cars.

Thus the conclusion can be reached that states where people averaged a higher intelligence level supported Kerry.

According to international IQ charts, the United States rates 18 behind other nations in average intellectual levels. At the top is Hong Kong at 107; South Korea, 106; Japan, 105; Taiwan and Singapore, 104; Austria, Germany, Italy and The Netherlands, 102; Sweden and Switzerland at 101; Belgium, China, New Zealand and the United Kingdom at 100; Hungary, Poland and Spain at 99.

According to the Mensa IQ group, these numbers are not bad, although they could be much better, especially in the United States where educational opportunities have been touted as among the best, and our universities have excelled for years.

People in the IQ range of 90 to 110 are considered good learners and hands-on people well adapted for public service jobs. They make good secretaries, bank tellers, police officers, machinists and sales clerks. That just about describes the American people today. Where are the artists, the writers, the great mathematicians, inventors? We don't seem to be producing them anymore.

Remember that these numbers are "average," which means that some are much lower, while others are higher. People at 70 to 80 IQ are thought of as slow, simple-minded individuals that need supervision just to function. Those at 120 and above are the creative ones, the leaders.

The bottom line to all of this is that Americans are falling behind. Either we are producing dumber people, or something has gone very wrong with our education system. The masses are turning out to be bungling robots, content on their menial 9-5 job, their nightly ration of beer and Saturday afternoon football. They will raise the flag and go to war when the nation's leaders tell them to, and they won't question the order.

The big business interests have people right where they want them. They have turned Americans into a nation of slaves, content to work for minimum wages with no benefits so the wealthy landowners get even richer.

The people who voted for Bush are most likely the low wage earners, with sons and daughters off fighting an unjust war, struggling to make ends meet, and desperate for health benefits promised but that they will never have again.

What is worse, they lack the intelligence to understand their plight. And if this is true, they might actually allow themselves to be led like sheep to the slaughter in November, 2012.
(c) 2012 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

Social Or Anti-Social Media?
By Frank Scott

"If we want to save life and humanity, we are obliged to end the capitalist system." ~~~ Bolivian President Evo Morales

We hear and read that the economy is rebounding - again - and this during a multi billion dollar presidential campaign. Gee. Threats of more foreign wars are also unrelated to politics , nor are the signs of mental and physical breakdowns in our military which shouldn't worry anyone now that the economy is rebounding. Again. Unfortunately, the corporate perspective from which everything is looking so good still rules our consciousness but among many subjects of the system, critical thinking is advancing. Though sometimes very slowly, as when decent people are swept up in emotional tsunamis by a manipulation device called social media.

An online phenomena about Invisible Children recently caused an offline tragedy among Invisible Adult Mentalities. The same social media that help provoke changes among people seeking democracy also offer opportunities for an opposition to maintain an anti-social minority's control. By using new manipulation devices they can confuse massive populations in seemingly individual ways that feed into self obsessed, ego centered consumers of culture. Personal messages for individuals who are urged to share them almost without limits can be even more persuasive than older one-way mass broadcasting media. But even as they help bring people together texting, tweeting or twiddling in ways still not understood by most users of electronic devices, they offer advantages to controllers of this system taking an increasing toll on the planet and all it's inhabitants. The time to heed the words of Morales has never been more urgent.

Present campaigns to militarily intervene in Syria and attack Iran are stress signs in a global economy wildly enriching fewer people while reducing greater majorities to indebtedness, warfare and poverty. Popular confusion is not only due to major corporate media but also to weapons of mass disinformation that can be sent directly into our heads by the new social media. And whether in the Middle East or the Middle West, suffering increases for many so that a few can live in luxury.

Palestinians continue to endure an apartheid settler state financed with massive tax payer aid from the American public, but no tweeted online miracle seems to bring that information into the personal lives of celebrities and millions of other people with no lives of their own but to follow celebrities.

Meanwhile, the supposed rebirth of the auto industry in the USA is entirely due to a tax payer financed public bailout of a private industry which has hired many new workers, but at half the wages of its old work force. In Tel Aviv, Detroit or Wall Street this is great for minority investors but it's bad for a global majority. And that is how all alleged foreign threats and supposed recoveries in stock markets should be seen: they profit very few at enormous loss to the great majority and in doing so they increase danger to everyone's future.

The American election will offer voters their usual choice of lesser evil and thereby guarantee continued evil, but needed social policies to transform reality will not be on the ballot. Calls for public banks, a maximum wage, a tax on wealth, health insurance for all, much more social spending and much less warfare waste, will continue to come from outside what is called mainstream politics but is really two wings of one corporate party representing minority capital. The understandably angry majority divided into a tea party , an occupy movement and mistaken identity groups needs to ultimately find common ground in shaping a democracy that meets the needs of an entire population and not just a cabal of billionaires. That may seem impossible to people schooled in double standards, elitist division and contempt for others but most of them are neither believers in nor can they ever be practitioners of democracy. They support the minority rule of master race/chosen people doctrines with cosmetic language to cover that reality under a cloak of perverted democratic politics and the patriarchal religion of capitalist free markets.

Domination over public thinking is fading, even if not at a fast enough speed to assure a positive outcome. But once people gain control of their lives, their communities and their environment, progress can be achieved far more quickly than the regressive destruction that has taken so long to reveal its cause. What is most important is that democracy seekers not succumb to the terrible negativity of social doctrines that thrive on division, opposition, combat and profit for national minorities only at tremendous loss to the global majority.

This capitalist political economic disease has brought humanity to a point of no return, but one that also offers a road to a better world for all and not just some. That will take real democracy which isn't something we murder foreigners to achieve but have to create in our own homelands by organizing and uniting with fellow citizens. This calls for more respect than we have been anti-socialized to give one another but once we realize individual freedom is not possible in isolation but only in community it may not be so difficult to achieve.

First, the talk of war must be stopped before it leads to actual war, and the power of minority money over the global system must be countered by the power of majority people. That will not happen as the result of a November election and certainly not by allowing social media to be used for anti-social purposes, but it needs to happen soon.
(c) 2012 Frank Scott writes political commentary and satire which appears in print in The Independent Monitor and online at the blog Legalienate

Nine Years Later
More Shocked, Less Awed
By David Swanson

Remarks at the Left Forum

When I lived in New York 20 years ago, the United States was beginning a 20-year war on Iraq. We protested at the United Nations. The Miami Herald depicted Saddam Hussein as a giant fanged spider attacking the United States. Hussein was frequently compared to Adolf Hitler. On October 9, 1990, a 15-year-old Kuwaiti girl told a U.S. congressional committee that she'd seen Iraqi soldiers take 15 babies out of an incubator in a Kuwaiti hospital and leave them on the cold floor to die. Some congress members, including the late Tom Lantos (D., Calif.), knew but did not tell the U.S. public that the girl was the daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador to the United States, that she'd been coached by a major U.S. public relations company paid by the Kuwaiti government, and that there was no other evidence for the story. President George H. W. Bush used the dead babies story 10 times in the next 40 days, and seven senators used it in the Senate debate on whether to approve military action. The Kuwaiti disinformation campaign for the Gulf War would be successfully reprised by Iraqi groups favoring the overthrow of the Iraqi government twelve years later.

My Congressman in Virginia from 2008 to 2010 Tom Perriello, who was beloved by all the national progressive groups for reasons never explained and who is now president of the Center for American Progress Action Fund and one of the founders of Avaaz, holds up the first Gulf War as a model of a good and humanitarian war, while Avaaz pushes for war in Syria as philanthropy and Senator John McCain pushes for it as a way to overthrow a government that is allied with Iran, the same Iran strengthened by 20 years of war and sanctions against Iraq.

Are the lies that have to be told to get these wars going a necessary part of the process of stirring up weak souls' emotions for the truly necessary and noble work of war? Are we all, each and every one of us, wise and knowing insiders who must tolerate being lied to because others just don't understand? This line of thinking would be more persuasive if wars did any good that could not be done without them and if they did it without all the harm. Two intense wars and many years of bombing and deprivation later, the evil ruler of Iraq, and former U.S. ally, Saddam Hussein is gone, but we've spent trillions of dollars; a million Iraqis are dead; four million have been displaced and left desperate and abandoned; violence is everywhere; sex trafficking is on the rise; the basic infrastructure of electricity, water, sewage, and healthcare is in ruins (in part because of the U.S. intention to privatize Iraq's resources for profit); life expectancy has dropped; cancer rates in Fallujah have surpassed those in Hiroshima; anti-U.S. terrorist groups are using the occupation of Iraq as a recruiting tool; there is no functioning government in Iraq; and most Iraqis say they were better off with Saddam Hussein in power. We have to be lied to for this? Really?

I was back in New York on February 15th 2003 to oppose a new assault on Iraq. That effort, the single biggest day of protest in history, created international alliances, prevented the United Nations from sanctioning the war, dragged non anti-war groups into the anti-war effort at least as long as the president was a Republican, discouraged military recruitment, and kicked off a movement that -- along with other factors -- eventually ended a war in Iraq, is about to end a war in Afghanistan, and has thus far prevented a war on Iran -- a war that the masters of war have tried very hard to start a number of times in the past 9 years. Of course, the war on Iraq has neither ended completely nor ended in the way people are often told.

I got an email last fall from the Huffington Post telling me that Obama was keeping his campaign promise to get U.S. troops out of Iraq. Not quite. Obama said, "I will promise you this: that if we have not gotten our troops out by the time I am president, it is the first thing I will do. I will get our troops home. We will bring an end to this war. You can take that to the bank." Here's how the Huffington Post claimed this promise was kept: "Fulfilling a long-held campaign promise, President Barack Obama announced Friday that he will pull all U.S. troops out of Iraq by the end of the year, as conditioned by the Status of Forces Agreement with the country." What exactly is a long-held campaign promise? Is it one that it takes you a long time to keep? Does that work even if the promise was specifically what your first action would be? Was this somehow Obama's belated first action? Of course, not. This was compliance with a treaty that Bush and Maliki had made three years earlier, which the Iraqi government had refused to modify to accommodate Obama's desire to keep troops in Iraq longer. That refusal, specifically the refusal to allow mercenaries and troops immunity from Iraqi law, was apparently motivated in part by the release of the collateral murder video allegedly given to Wikileaks by Bradley Manning, whom Obama kept in solitary confinement for a year and whom Obama's subordinates will now provide with the pretense of a trial following Obama's public declaration of his guilt.

The vast bulk of the U.S. occupation of Iraq is gone, much to the credit of the Iraqis and of the peace movement that existed in the United States three, four, and five years ago when peace groups were joined by Democratic groups that saw an advantage in opposing a particular war. But the United States had already built the world's largest so-called embassy, until it completes a bigger one in Afghanistan, and the treaty that Bush and Maliki rammed through without the Congress, as Obama consequently believes he can do for Afghanistan, only required the removal of troops employed by the U.S. Department of so-called Defense. Mercenaries employed by the State Department, as well as the CIA, can stay. In February, the State Department said it would be cutting its staff from 16,000 to 8,000. Thousands of those staff will be nothing other than armed mercenaries. The U.S. Army has also hired mercenaries to escort shipments of supplies from Kuwait into Iraq, although it also has use of an airport in Iraq. The United States has a military presence in Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Oman, Eritrea, Djibouti, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, the Persian Gulf, and the Mediterranean, plus a closely aligned and U.S. funded military in Israel, and there are those in the U.S. government who want to bring back a larger occupation of Iraq, while President Obama does not hesitate to send drones anywhere.

As U.S. troops have been withdrawn from Iraq a number of things have not happened:

· Iraq has not descended into the worst hell imaginable, many times worse then the hell we've helped to create there.

· The reputation of the U.S. military has not collapsed to the point where every little nation with a grudge to settle has attacked Washington.

· The people of Iraq have not risen up to demand a longer occupation.

· The U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq have not come back from their graves to insist that their memories require additional years of pointless killing and dying by others, and

· The rule of law has not suffered a fatal blow (partly because it was already dead).

All of this suggests a few of things. One, it is possible that sometimes Fox News is wrong. Two, it is possible that the two-thirds of us who favor withdrawing from Afghanistan are right about that one as well. Three, maybe keeping the peace movement going would have been a good idea, and maybe we should revive it.

Not gone from Iraq are Exxon Mobil, BP, and Shell. They didn't get everything they'd hoped for, and Chinese, Russian, and Singaporean companies are in there too. But they got hugely valuable contracts that give them far more profit and the Iraqi people far less than is the norm. They also raked in huge profits from the increased price of oil during the war, as during the current threat of war with Iran. Also profiting, of course, have been the direct war profiteers, the weapons makers and other military contractors and mercenary firms. But outside of that group, which tends to profit enormously from military spending whether or not there's a war, the U.S. economy as a whole has been badly hurt -- from the 99% to the 1%. Even Donald Trump wants out of Afghanistan. This kind of madness doesn't benefit the conquering nation -- even if the threat of war facilitates the exploitation of other countries. I recently read an article about Iraq choosing to buy crops from nations other than the United States that quoted U.S. farmers who were absolutely furious that Iraq would choose not to buy their products after the United States had gone to so much trouble bombing and occupying Iraq. Michael Froomkin recently wrote: "The population of Iraq is about 32,000,000. So that means the war cost us about $25,000 per Iraqi. I think my suggestion back in 2003 that instead of staying in Iraq we just give every Iraqi $3000 per year for the next year or two is looking awfully good in retrospect." Of course, that model could be enlarged. Far more Afghan children starve and freeze to death than any soldiers massacre, and it would cost a lot less to feed and clothe them than it does to massacre them. And doing so would create a lot more peace and stability. A trillion-dollar army cannot win an occupation. There's no such thing as winning. That's what Iraq ought to have shown them. There will be no nuclear weapons moved into Afghanistan and no U.S. controlled pipelines. Apart from the weapons makers and mercenary profiteers, nobody gains.

We in the United States didn't just lose money in Iraq. We lost our civil liberties at home, our representative government, our vestigial restrictions on presidential war powers. Obama went into Libya without even bothering to lie to Congress, and Panetta just told Senator Sessions that Obama can go into Syria without Congress or the United Nations. We lost our prohibitions on torture, murder, and lawless imprisonment. We lost religious tolerance. And we lost the idea that there is anything a president can do, other than sex, that can get him impeached. We created temporary despots.

The authorizations to use military force from 2001 and the one for Iraq from 2003 are still on the books. Obama or another president or Congress could send drones or troops into Iraq. The Iraq AUMF is broader than the Afghanistan one. Bush and Obama have used it to justify worldwide war on people they label terrorists who do not have any plausible connection to September 11th, and to wiretap the rest of us.

We also lost in Iraq all credibility as supporters of the rule of law. Those who had seen immunity effectively given to the killers of Haditha knew what to expect when the Afghan government demanded an open trial in Afghanistan for the killer of Kandahar.

We lost all sense of gratitude and requirement of protection for whistleblowers, as Obama has expanded on Bush's approach of treating them as traitors.

We lost the good will of much of the world. We became hated, loathed, despised, and detested. Some of those in power in the United States recovered a reluctance to launch huge wars and lose lots of U.S. military lives. But they found an alternative in bombs and drones. And if relatively few drone pilots lose their minds or kill themselves, that doesn't mean there won't be blowback or that there is not a direct cost to our culture in becoming an empire that uses robots to kill.

The damage to U.S. veterans, their families, and those around them will go on for decades. The brain damage, PTSD, and suicide epidemics just begin to tell the story of human and financial cost. The divorce, child neglect, and child abuse will be very long lasting, not to mention the desire of many of those children to please their parents by going to war themselves.

Unbeknownst to the U.S. media of course the bulk of the cost of a war is born by the nation where the war is fought. On the question of what has been done to Iraq I recommend Michael Otterman's book "Erasing Iraq: The Human Costs of Carnage."

Last year we watched the people of Egypt overthrow a U.S.-backed dictator in three weeks at a cost of 300 deaths. They only overthrew that one individual, not the corrupt military government. They have a long ways to go. But compare Iraq. Over 20 years the United States has replaced a dictator with a corrupt military government at a cost of millions of lives, trillions of dollars spent, trillions of dollars in infrastructure destroyed, a regional refugee crisis, ethnic and religious strife, segregated towns and neighborhoods, empowered religious fanatics. We've set back women's rights horribly, effectively eliminated gay and lesbian rights, nearly killed off some minority groups, decimated the nation's cultural heritage, and created a generation of people without the experience of peace, without education, without proper nutrition, without tolerance, without proper healthcare, without a functioning government, and without affection for or even indifference to the United States. What a bargain. Surely nonviolence could never have done so much. Or as Obama put it, when accepting his Nobel Peace Prize, just after rejecting the model of Martin Luther King, Jr., "Negotiations cannot convince al Qaeda's leaders to lay down their arms. To say that force is sometimes necessary is not a call to cynicism - it is a recognition of history; the imperfections of man and the limits of reason."

In place of reason, the war on Iraq gave us this, as recounted by U.S. soldier Ethan McCord: "We had a pretty gung-ho commander, who decided that because we were getting hit by IEDs a lot, there would be a new battalion SOP [standard operating procedure]. He goes, 'If someone in your line gets hit with an IED, 360 rotational fire. You kill every motherfucker on the street.'"

Another way to kill "every motherfucker on the street" is to destroy water supplies, sewage plants, hospitals, and bridges. This we have done most extensively in 1991 and 2003. On the first occasion, a U.S. Air force planning officer justified these criminal acts as no worse and having no other purpose than economic sanctions: "People say, 'You didn't recognize that it was going to have an effect on water or sewage.' Well, what were we trying to do with sanctions -- help out the Iraqi people? No. What we were doing with the attacks on infrastructure was to accelerate the effect of the sanctions."

Sanctions on Iran are for the same purpose. Either they will provoke Iran, just as they did Japan so many years ago. Or they will create a logic that explains war on the grounds that the sanctions haven't succeeded in overthrowing a sovereign government that we haven't overthrown since 1953.

The Madeleine Albrights of the world who thought that killing a half-million Iraqi children was a price worth paying for some strategic purpose need to be asked now, now that the strategic purpose has presumably been achieved or been abandoned, why in the hell are we not making reparations to the Iraqi people?

We haven't built them a nation. We haven't built anyone a nation, unless you count Germany and Japan which we first burned to the ground and have since never left. Supposedly we built a nation in Grenada and another, over a mere 23 years in Panama, although I'm not convinced that both wouldn't have been better off left alone. Nobody claims we built a nation in Cuba, Nicaragua, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Vietnam, Cambodia, Afghanistan, or Iraq. Well, maybe some do, but they don't live there. Half the world's refugees are from Afghanistan and Iraq. Possibly half the world's torture victims are from Afghanistan and Iraq. We owe reparations.

Instead, with the crime ending in Iraq, its architects are on book tours instead of on trial, and their successor in the White House has embraced the lies, the lie that invading Iraq was about so-called weapons of mass destruction, and the lie that escalating the war on Iraq helped to win it. These lies are carried over as lessons for Afghanistan and elsewhere. It is critical that we continue to counter them. U.S. polling on belief that the Iraq War was based on lies paralleled and led polling on opposition to that war. But memories are short. We have a great deal to be gained from continually reminding our country of the lies.

George Galloway, the great former British Member of Parliament recently wrote, "I told Tony Blair – outside the men's lavatory in the library corridor of the House of Commons, to be precise – that the fall of Baghdad would be not the beginning of the end, but merely the end of the beginning. And that the Iraqis would fight them, with their teeth if necessary, until they had driven them from their land. I told Blair that there was no al-Qaida in Iraq, but that if he and Bush were to invade there would be thousands of them. But two things, as George Bush would put it, I 'mis-underestimated'. First, that when the tower of lies on which the case for the Iraq war had been constructed was exposed, the credibility of the political systems of the two main liars would collapse under the weight. And second, that the example of the Iraqi resistance would trigger seismic changes in the Arabian landscape from Marrakesh to Bahrain. Almost nobody in Britain or America any longer believes a word their politicians say. This profound change is not wholly the result of the Iraq war, but it moved into top gear following the war and the militarised mendacity that paved the way to it. In America this malaise has fuelled both the Tea Party phenomenon and the Occupy movement alike, even if the word Iraq seldom crosses their lips. And from the Atlantic Ocean to the Persian Gulf the plates are moving still."

Yes, but here in the Land of Free people have a tendency to believe their government lies about everything except war. That it lies about war too we need constantly to remind each other. In that spirit, I have drafted what I take to be the top 10 lying scheming reasons to treat Iran as we treated Iraq:

1. Iran has threatened to fight back if attacked, and that's a war crime. War crimes must be punished.

2. My television says Iran has nukes. I'm sure it's true this time. Just like with North Korea. I'm sure they're next. We only bomb places that really truly have nukes and are in the Axis of Evil. Except Iraq, which was different.

3. Iraq didn't go so badly. Considering how lousy its government is, the place is better off with so many people having left or died. Really, that one couldn't have worked out better if we'd planned it.

4. When we threaten to cut off Iran's oil, Iran threatens to cut off Iran's oil, which is absolutely intolerable. What would we do without that oil? And what good is buying it if they want to sell it?

5. Iran was secretly behind 9-11. I read it online. And if it wasn't, that's worse. Iran hasn't attacked another nation in centuries, which means its next attack is guaranteed to be coming very soon.

6. Iranians are religious nuts, unlike Israelis and Americans. Most Israelis don't want to attack Iran, but the Holy Israeli government does. To oppose that decision would be to sin against God.

7. Iranians are so stupid that when we murder their scientists they try to hire a car dealer in Texas to hire a drug gang in Mexico to murder a Saudi ambassador in Washington, and then they don't do it -- just to make us look bad for catching them.

7. b. Oh, and stupid people should be bombed. They're not civilized.

8. War is good for the U.S. economy, and the Iranian economy too. Troops stationed in Iran would buy stuff. And women who survived the war would have more rights. Like in Virginia. We owe Iranians this after that little mishap in 1953.

9. This is the only way to unite the region. Either we bomb Iran and it swears its eternal love to us. Or, if necessary, we occupy Iran to liberate it like its neighbors. Which shouldn't take long. Look how well Afghanistan is going already.

10. They won't give our drone back. Enough said.

(c) 2012 David Swanson is the author of "War Is A Lie."

A view of the Runge reservoir in the town of Runge, some 37 miles north of Santiago February 3, 2012.

90 Degrees In Winter
This Is What Climate Change Looks Like
By Bill McKibben

The National Weather Service is kind of the anti-Mike Daisey, a just-the-facts operation that grinds on hour after hour, day after day. It's collected billions of records (I've seen the vast vaults where early handwritten weather reports from observers across the country are stored in endless rows of ledgers and files) on countless rainstorms, blizzards, and pleasant summer days. So the odds that you could shock the NWS are pretty slim.

Beginning in mid-March, however, its various offices began issuing bulletins that sounded slightly shaken. "There's extremes in weather, but seeing something like this is impressive and unprecedented," Chicago NWS meteorologist Richard Castro said. "It's extraordinarily rare for climate locations with 100+ year long periods of records to break records day after day after day," the office added in an official statement.

It wasn't just Chicago, of course. A huge swath of the nation simmered under bizarre heat. International Falls, MN, the "icebox of the nation," broke its old temperature records-by 22 degrees, which according to weather historians may be the largest margin ever for any station with a century's worth of records. Winner, South Dakota reached 94 degrees on the second-to-last day of winter. That's in the Dakotas, two days before the close of winter. Jeff Masters, founder of WeatherUnderground, the web's go-to site for meteorological information, watched an eerie early morning outside his Michigan home and wrote "this is not the atmosphere I grew up with," a fact confirmed later that day when the state recorded the earliest F-3 strength tornado in its history. Other weathermen were more...weathermanish. Veteran Minneapolis broadcaster Paul Douglas, after noting that Sunday's low temperature in Rochester broke the previous record high, blogged "this is OFF THE SCALE WEIRD even for Minnesota."

It's hard to overstate how impossible this weather is-when you have nearly a century and a half of records, they should be hard to break, much less smash. But this is like Barry Bonds on steroids if his steroids were on steroids, an early season outbreak of heat completely without precedent in its scale and spread. I live in Vermont, where we should be starting to slowly thaw out-but as the heat moved steadily east ski areas shut down and golf courses opened.

And truth be told, it felt pretty good. Most people caught in the torrid zones probably reacted pretty much like President Obama: "It gets you a little nervous about what is happening to global temperatures," he told the audience assembled at a fundraiser at Tyler Perry's Atlanta mansion (records were falling in Georgia too). "On the other hand I have really enjoyed the nice weather."

Anyone thinking about the seasons ahead was at least as ambivalent, and most were scared. Here are a few of the things that could happen with staggering warmth like this early in the year:

The plants that have budded out prematurely (there's fruit budding across the nation's apple belt) can be easily killed by the freezes that will come if temperatures revert to anything like normal. (Frost is common here, for instance, late into May).

The soils left exposed by the early retreat of snow will dry out much earlier in the growing season, raising dramatically the risk of drought

Forests dry out too. In recent years three-quarters of the big fires across the West have come in years when snow melted well ahead of schedule. Across the East the next six or eight weeks, before trees are fully leafed out, will be scary for forest rangers unless we get heavy rains.

One could go on: mild winters and early springs allow ticks to spread into new places, carrying disease. Reservoirs can start evaporating early. We see wickedly strong storms along the frontal boundaries of these record-setting zones. But the real fears are the things we can't anticipate, simply because we are moving into uncharted territory. We know that we can make a normal seasonal cycle, with variations within a typical range, work-we know, because we've done it as long as we've been here. But we've never seen anything like what we're seeing this week.

Except, of course, in the models that the climatologists have been printing out on their supercomputers for the last two decades. This is what climate change looks like, just like last year's new record for multi-billion dollar weather disasters is what climate change looks like. As Masters put it in a recent blog post, notable for its understatement, "it is very unlikely that the intensity of the heat would have been so great unless we were in a warming climate."

One could make some sad jokes about the coincidence of Chicago's record heat with the Illinois primary, or with the president's tour this week of drilling rigs to convince Americans that he's a great champion of fossil fuel (with a visit to a solar production facility thrown in for good measure). But the power of our politics seems puny this week compared to the power of the carbon we've unleashed for a century.

Still, one's compelled to make a witness and put up a fight. On May 5, all around the world, is organizing a day for people to testify to the impacts of climate change. There will be Pakistanis forced from their homes in the worst flooding the country's ever seen, and Somalians dealing with a drought horrible even by the standards of the Horn of Africa. Thais, who watched floods do damage last fall equal to 18 percent of the country's GDP, and El Salvadorans who watched 15 years worth of development wash away in a week of record rains. Lots of Americans were already planning to join in-Texans who watched drought kill half a billion trees there last year, Vermonters who saw the state damn near wash away in the wake of Irene. But now they'll have more company.
(c) 2012 Bill McKibben is Schumann Distinguished Scholar at Middlebury College, co-founder of His most recent book is Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet.

Please Stop Apologizing
By Bill Maher

THIS week, Robert De Niro made a joke about first ladies, and Newt Gingrich said it was "inexcusable and the president should apologize for him." Of course, if something is "inexcusable," an apology doesn't make any difference, but then again, neither does Newt Gingrich.

Mr. De Niro was speaking at a fund-raiser with the first lady, Michelle Obama. Here's the joke: "Callista Gingrich. Karen Santorum. Ann Romney. Now do you really think our country is ready for a white first lady?"

The first lady's press secretary declared the joke "inappropriate," and Mr. De Niro said his remarks were "not meant to offend." So, as these things go, even if the terrible damage can never be undone, at least the healing can begin. And we can move on to the next time we choose sides and pretend to be outraged about nothing.

When did we get it in our heads that we have the right to never hear anything we don't like? In the last year, we've been shocked and appalled by the unbelievable insensitivity of Nike shoes, the Fighting Sioux, Hank Williams Jr., Cee Lo Green, Ashton Kutcher, Tracy Morgan, Don Imus, Kirk Cameron, Gilbert Gottfried, the Super Bowl halftime show and the ESPN guys who used the wrong cliche for Jeremy Lin after everyone else used all the others. Who can keep up?

This week, President Obama's chief political strategist, David Axelrod, described Mitt Romney's constant advertising barrage in Illinois as a "Mittzkrieg," and instantly the Republican Jewish Coalition was outraged and called out Mr. Axelrod's "Holocaust and Nazi imagery" as "disturbing." Because the message of "Mittzkrieg" was clear: Kill all the Jews. Then the coalition demanded not only that Mr. Axelrod apologize immediately but also that Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz "publicly rebuke" him. For a pun! For punning against humanity!

The right side of America is mad at President Obama because he hugged the late Derrick Bell, a law professor who believed we live in a racist country, 22 years ago; the left side of America is mad at Rush Limbaugh for seemingly proving him right.

If it weren't for throwing conniption fits, we wouldn't get any exercise at all.

I have a better idea. Let's have an amnesty — from the left and the right — on every made-up, fake, totally insincere, playacted hurt, insult, slight and affront. Let's make this Sunday the National Day of No Outrage. One day a year when you will not find some tiny thing someone did or said and pretend you can barely continue functioning until they apologize.

If that doesn't work, what about this: If you see or hear something you don't like in the media, just go on with your life. Turn the page or flip the dial or pick up your roll of quarters and leave the booth.

The answer to whenever another human being annoys you is not "make them go away forever." We need to learn to coexist, and it's actually pretty easy to do. For example, I find Rush Limbaugh obnoxious, but I've been able to coexist comfortably with him for 20 years by using this simple method: I never listen to his program. The only time I hear him is when I'm at a stoplight next to a pickup truck.

When the lady at Costco gives you a free sample of its new ham pudding and you don't like it, you spit it into a napkin and keep shopping. You don't declare a holy war on ham.

I don't want to live in a country where no one ever says anything that offends anyone. That's why we have Canada. That's not us. If we sand down our rough edges and drain all the color, emotion and spontaneity out of our discourse, we'll end up with political candidates who never say anything but the safest, blandest, emptiest, most unctuous focus-grouped platitudes and cant. In other words, we'll get Mitt Romney.
(c) 2012 Bill Maher is host of "Real Time With Bill Maher" on HBO.

The Quotable Quote...

"Hell, there are no rules here - we're trying to accomplish something."
~~~ Thomas A. Edison

The Age Of Double Standards
American Airlines can declare bankruptcy and wipe away debt. But you can't-and that's just the beginning.
By Robert Kuttner

"But, Yossarian, suppose everyone felt that way."

"Then," said Yossarian, "I'd certainly be a damned fool to feel any other way, wouldn't I?" ~~~ Joseph Heller, Catch-22

Last November 29, American Airlines declared bankruptcy under Chapter 11, the provision of the bankruptcy code that allows a corporation to stiff its creditors, break contracts, and keep operating under the supervision of a judge. This maneuver, politely termed a "reorganization," ends with the corporation exiting bankruptcy cleansed of old debts. In opting for Chapter 11, American joined every other major airline, including Delta, Northwest, United, and US Airways, which has been in and out of Chapter 11 twice since 2002. No fewer than 189 airlines have declared bankruptcy since 1990. As the sole large carrier that had not gone bankrupt, American missed out on savings available to its rivals and thus was increasingly uncompetitive.

Bankruptcy is intended to give a fresh start to persons and enterprises overwhelmed by creditors. In the case of American (like other airlines before it), the main "creditors" are its employees. The costs of American's bankruptcy will be borne mainly by its workers and secondarily by taxpayers. The contracts being broken are union contracts and legal promises to honor pension obligations. American is laying off 13,000 workers, slashing wages, and reducing its annual pension contribution from $97 million to $6.5 million. The airline hopes to stick the federal Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation with liability for much of the $6.5 billion that it owes its workers and retirees.

This national indulgence for corporate bankruptcy has a certain logic. The Wall Street Journal editorial page recently termed bankruptcy "one of the better ways in which American capitalism encourages risk-taking," and that is the prevailing view. Thanks to Chapter 11, a potentially viable insolvent enterprise is given a fresh start as a going concern, rather than being cannibalized for the benefit of its creditors.

However, what's good for corporate capitalism is evidently too good for the rest of us. Suppose everyone felt that way?

Wall Street has convinced lawmakers that relief for the masses, even in a deflationary economic emergency, would not only inflict unacceptable costs to bank balance sheets; it would also promote "moral hazard"-the economist's term for rewarding and thereby inviting improvident behavior. Thanks to a revision in the bankruptcy law passed in 2005 and signed by President George W. Bush after nearly a decade of furious lobbying by the credit-card industry and the banks, consumers generally face far more onerous bankruptcy terms than do corporations.

The housing collapse, depressing trillions of dollars of consumer assets, is the single biggest drag on the recovery. But underwater mortgage holders, unlike submerged corporations, have never been eligible for bankruptcy relief. Homeowners are explicitly prohibited from using the bankruptcy code to reduce the amount of the mortgage to the present value of the house or to a monthly payment that could enable them to keep their home.

The selective privileges of bankruptcy display yet another facet of the convenient concept of corporate personhood. Some persons are evidently more equal than others. The gross disparity in the way that bankruptcy law treats corporate persons and actual people is only one of multiple double standards that increasingly define our age.

Petty felons and 200,000 small-time drug users do prison time, while corporate criminals whose frauds cost the rest of the economy trillions of dollars are permitted to settle civil suits for small fines, with shareholders bearing the expenses. Ordinary families pay tax at a higher rate than billionaires. When fracking contaminates a property and makes a home uninhabitable, the homeowner rather than the natural-gas company suffers the loss. The mother of all double standards is taxpayer aid and Federal Reserve advances-running into the trillions of dollars-that went to the banks that caused the collapse, while the bankers avoided prosecution, and the rest of the society got to eat austerity.

Linking all of these disparities between citizens and corporations is the political power of a new American plutocracy. Until our politics connects these dots and citizens start resisting, the financial elite will rule. Despite the Occupy movement, most regular people have yet to experience the sudden enlightenment of Captain Yossarian, who decided, unpatriotically, that he didn't want to die. In the face of economic pillaging, we are behaving like damned fools.

Bankruptcy privileges for the elite have been with us for centuries. On October 29, 1692, Daniel Defoe, merchant, pamphleteer, and the future best-selling author of Robinson Crusoe, was committed to London's King's Bench Prison because he could not pay debts that totaled some 17,000 pounds. Before Defoe was declared bankrupt, his far-flung ventures had included underwriting marine insurance, importing wine from Portugal, buying a diving bell to search for buried treasure, and investing in 70 civet cats whose musk secretions were prized for the manufacture of perfume.

In that era, there was no Chapter 11. Bankrupts like Defoe ended up in debtors prison, an institution that would persist well into the 19th century. Typically, creditors could obtain a writ of seizure of the debtor's assets (historians record that Defoe's civet cats were taken by the sheriff's men); if the assets were insufficient to settle the debt, another writ would send the bankrupt to prison, from which he could win release only by negotiating a deal with his creditors. Defoe had no fewer than 140 creditors. However, he managed to negotiate his freedom by February 1693, though he dodged debt collectors for the next decade. His misadventures later informed Robinson Crusoe, whose fictional protagonist faces financial ruin as "an overseas trader" and lands bankrupt in prison four times, deeply in "remorse at having ruined his loyal and loving wife."

It gradually dawned on enlightened opinion that putting debtors in prison might be economically irrational. Once behind bars, a debtor stripped of his remaining assets had no means of resuming productive economic life, much less satisfying his debts. In this insight was the germ of Chapter 11.

With the accession of President George W. Bush and Republican control of Congress in 2001, the banking industry increased its efforts to tilt the bankruptcy code against consumers, spending about $100 million in lobbying over eight years. In 2005, Bush signed the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act. Its key provisions made it more difficult for consumers to file under Chapter 7, under which most debts are paid out of only existing assets and then forgiven, and compelled more people to file under Chapter 13, which requires a partial repayment plan over three to five years. The act introduced for the first time a means test, in which only debtors with income below the state's median are exempt from the more onerous provisions of the law. If a citizen has above-median income, there is a "presumption" of abuse, and future income is partly attached in order to satisfy past creditor claims, no matter what the circumstances. Many states have a "homestead exemption" protecting an owner-occupied home, up to a dollar limit, from creditor claims. This, too, is overridden by the 2005 federal act.

In promoting the law, financial executives testified that if losses could be reduced, savings would be passed along to the public in the form of lower interest rates. But after the law passed, the credit-card industry increased its efforts to market high-interest-rate credit cards to consumers, including those with poor credit ratings. Adding insult to injury, the industry invented new fees. Thanks to the "reform," when overburdened consumers did go broke, credit-card companies now had far more latitude to squeeze them for repayment.

Testifying against the bill, Elizabeth Warren warned:

Women trying to collect alimony or child support will more often be forced to compete with credit-card companies that can have more of their debts declared non--dischargeable. All these provisions apply whether a person earns $20,000 a year or $200,000 a year.

But the means test as written has another, more basic problem: It treats all families alike. It assumes that everyone is in bankruptcy for the same reason-too much unnecessary spending. A family driven to bankruptcy by the increased costs of caring for an elderly parent with Alzheimer's disease is treated the same as someone who maxed out his credit cards at a casino. A person who had a heart attack is treated the same as someone who had a spending spree at the shopping mall. A mother who works two jobs and who cannot manage the prescription drugs needed for a child with diabetes is treated the same as someone who charged a bunch of credit cards with only a vague intent to repay. A person cheated by a subprime mortgage lender and lied to by a credit-counseling agency is treated the same as a person who gamed the system in every possible way.

At bottom, this trend was a rendezvous between flat or falling wages and banks making it ever easier for consumers to go more deeply into debt. Inflated assets-which turned out to be a bubble-were advertised as a substitute for income. Are your earnings down? Just borrow against your home. Between 1989 and 2004, credit-card debt tripled, to $800 billion, while earnings stagnated. Homeowners borrowed trillions more against the supposed value of their home. The moral vocabulary of debt is filled with denunciations about improvident borrowers, but who ever heard of an improvident lender? Yet it was the recklessness of banks that caused the financial collapse.

The financial crash that began rumbling in 2007 had numerous consequences, but in many ways the most durable and destructive one is the continuing undertow of the housing collapse. The collapse began with a housing bubble pumped up by subprime mortgages. It is being prolonged by the loss of several trillion dollars in household assets representing the collapse of housing prices. With about one homeowner in five holding a mortgage that exceeds the value of the house, and more than a million homeowners defaulting every year, the result is forced sales into a depressed housing market. This puts further downward pressure on prices, prolonging and deepening a classic deflationary spiral.

The housing deflation is such a widely recognized cause of the persistent economic slump that even the Federal Reserve has publicly criticized the Obama administration for its feeble response to the housing/mortgage crisis. Bill Dudley, president of the New York Federal Reserve, recently told a bankers' convention, "The ongoing weakness in housing has made it more difficult to achieve a vigorous economic recovery. With additional housing-policy interventions, we could achieve a better set of economic outcomes."

The administration's housing policy has been built on two programs of shallow relief, both intended to avoid direct reduction in principal owed and both widely dismissed as failures. The first, the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP), gives mortgage servicers bonus payments for voluntarily reducing monthly payments. It has helped fewer than one underwater homeowner in ten, and as many as half of those who get HAMP relief go right back into default. The program is a well-documented bureaucratic nightmare for the homeowner. The second, more recent program, known as HARP, for Home Affordable Refinance Program, allows moderately underwater homeowners to refinance mortgages held by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, as long as the debt is not more than 125 percent of the value of the home. But HARP does not reduce the principal owed, and its terms exclude those most in need of relief. The much-touted legal deal announced February 1, supposedly worth $26 billion, would actually give homeowners about $3 billion in mortgage write-downs (the rest is accounting changes and counseling outlays), compared to a $700 billion gap between the market value of homes and the mortgages against them.

The more straightforward solution, analogous to a corporate Chapter 11, would be to give a bankruptcy judge the power to adjust the outstanding mortgage debt. When congressional progressives proposed this as part of the legislation creating HAMP, Wall Street fiercely resisted. Several Democrats as well as nearly all Republicans ended up voting against it. Direct relief, from the perspective of the financial industry and its allies in the Treasury, is odious because it would require banks to acknowledge the actual, as opposed to nominal, condition of their balance sheets.

So while corporations continue to get a fresh start under Chapter 11, the aftermath of the financial crisis continues to sandbag millions of homeowners and the economy as a whole. This double standard is not just a question of fairness. The selective relief for corporations and banks, but not for the 99 percent, is killing the recovery. None of this will change until the citizenry builds a politics that demands a single standard.
(c) 2012 Robert Kuttner is co-founder and co-editor of The American Prospect magazine, as well as a Distinguished Senior Fellow of the think tank Demos. He was a longtime columnist for Business Week, and continues to write columns in the Boston Globe and Huffington Post. He is the author of A Presidency in Peril: The Inside Story of Obama's Promise, Wall Street's Power, and the Struggle to Control our Economic Future, Obama's Challenge, and other books.

What Republicans Argue When They Have Nothing Left To Say
By Robert Reich

Republicans are desperate. They can't attack Obama on jobs because the jobs picture is improving.

Their attack on the Administration's rule requiring insurers to cover contraception has backfired, raising hackles even among many Republican women.

Their attack on Obama for raising gas prices has elicited scorn from economists of all persuasions who know oil prices are set in global markets and that demand in the United States has actually fallen.

Their presidential ambitions are being trampled in a furious fraternal war among Republican candidates.

Their Tea Party wing wants to reopen the budget deal forged with Democrats after Republicans got bloodied by threatening to block an increase in the debt limit.

So what are Republicans to do now? What they always do when they have nothing else to say.

Call for a tax cut, of course.

It doesn't matter that their new "tax reform" plan (leaked to the Wall Street Journal late Monday, to be released Tuesday morning) has as much chance of being enacted as Herman Cain has of being elected president.

It doesn't matter than the plan doesn't detail how they plan to pay for the tax cuts. Or whether an even bigger whack would have to be taken out of Medicare than Paul Ryan's original voucher plan - which would drowned many elderly under rising medical costs.

It doesn't even matter that the plan would probably raise taxes on many lower-income Americans.

All that matters is the headlines.

"House Republican Budget to Propose Lower Income Tax Rates," says Bloomberg Businessweek. "Republican Budget Plan Seeks to Play Up Tax Reform," says Reuters. "GOP's Budget Targets Taxes," blares the Wall Street Journal.

Presto. Republicans have gotten what they wanted on the basis of saying absolutely nothing.
(c) 2012 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, Supercapitalism. His "Marketplace" commentaries can be found on and iTunes.

The Dead Letter Office...

Heil Obama,

Dear Tennessee Unterfuhrer Hill,

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 Elena (Butch) Kagan.

Without your lock step calling for the repeal of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, your bill to publish the names and address of women's health doctors as well the names and addresses of women who've had an abortion, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya and those many other profitable oil wars to come would have been impossible! With the help of our mutual friends, the other "Rethuglican Whores" you have made it possible for all of us to goose-step off to a brave new bank account!

Along with this award you will be given the Iron Cross 1st class, presented by our glorious Fuhrer, Herr Obama at a gala celebration at "der Fuhrer Bunker," formally the "White House," on 05-28-2012. We salute you Frau Lesko, Sieg Heil!

Signed by,
Vice Fuhrer Biden

Heil Obama

Ryan Budget Creates Political Peril For GOP Candidates, Including Paul Ryan
By John Nichols

House Budget Commitee chairman Paul Ryan, the fiscal-policy pointman for the Republican Party, did not roll out his 2012 budget plan on the main streets of the factory towns and crossroads communities of southeastern Wisconson that he is supposed to represent.

Rather, Ryan made the announcement directly to his core constituency: the readers of the Wall Street Journal.

Describing the choice between his austerity budget-which would begin dismantling the social safety net in order to maintain tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans-and President Obama's modest proposal for a more balanced approach as a definitional struggle in American politics, the congressman wrote: "It is rare in American politics to arrive at a moment in which the debate revolves around the fundamental nature of American democracy and the social contract. But that is where we are. And no two documents illustrate this choice of two futures better than the president's budget and the one put forward by House Republicans."

Ryan, a veteran of more than twenty years on Capitol Hill (as a Congressional aide and then a congressman), knows a good deal about economics, and a good deal about politics. And he is right when he suggests that his budget is forcing a choice.

But which choice?

Catholics United, the national Catholic social tradition advocacy organization, suggested Tuesday that another choice is playing out. Noting Ryan's oft-expressed admiration for objectivist author Ayn Rand, the group declared: "Paul Ryan's 2013 Budget Reflects the Teachings of Ayn Rand, Not Jesus Christ."

"Ryan's budget emulates Randian principles by decimating safety net programs and turning them into voucher-based systems, ostensibly ignoring the human dignity of the most vulnerable in society. Catholics United calls on Congressman Ryan to sincerely examine his conscience and recognize the devastating impact his Rand-inspired budget will have on the most vulnerable in society. The social Darwinist teachings of Ayn Rand have consistently been denounced by major Catholic leaders as antithetical to Catholic doctrine," argued Catholics United, while the group's executive director, James Salt, said: "This is not the time for political ideology to trump human dignity. The recently-released budget saddens me as it's clear Congressman Ryan continues to follow the teachings of Ayn Rand, not Jesus Christ. For Catholics, there is no debate on this issue: the needs of the poor and vulnerable take preference over the needs of the wealthy and powerful-period. It's puzzling and frustrating Congressman Ryan and so many self-proclaimed Catholics in Congress ignore this fundamental Catholic teaching."

But the real referendum on Ryan's budget plan is not likely to play out along the moral lines so well outlined by Catholics United.

Nor will it take the form of an honest debate with Obama-as Ryan remains, despite the pleadings of conservatives such as Bill Kristol, on the sidelines of the presidential race. (There's a reason for this: polling suggests that 65 percent of Americans oppose Ryan's approach to balancing the budget, and that the number rise to 84 percent when voters learn about the full economic impact on the next generation of seniors.)

The real referendum will play out in the neglected cities and towns of Ryan's Wisconsin Congressional district.

There, Ryan's Democratic opponent, Rob Zerban, is mounting the most determined challenge the congressman has seen since his initial election-after many years spent in Washington as a Congressional aide and think-tank acolyte-in 1998.

And Zerban is pulling no punches with regard to the Ryan budget.

"In yet another misguided handout to Wall Street at the expense of Main Street, Congressman Paul Ryan today introduced his latest budget plan, designed to place the blame for his fourteen years of poor decisions squarely on the backs of our hardworking families," said Zerban, a successful businessman and local elected official in Kenosha, Wisconsin. "Continuing to choose the millionaires who fund his campaigns instead of the people of Wisconsin to whom he swore an oath to represent, Paul Ryan has once again shown that his Washington political priorities are grossly out of touch with our Wisconsin values. From raising healthcare costs for our seniors by privatizing Medicare, to reducing Pell Grants and Stafford Loans for our students, Paul Ryan is single-handedly working to dismantle each and every program that people of all generations count on. Instead of a laser focus on creating jobs, he focused solely on removing safety nets for our most vulnerable populations."

Ryan's got most of the advantages in his race with Zerban. But if their contest becomes a real referendum on the congressman's 2013 budget plan, the challenger's got a real chance to stir things up. Because, while the Ryan plan may go over well on Wall Street, it's going to be a tough sell on Main Street.
(c) 2012 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 publshed by Nation Books. Follow John Nichols on Twitter @NicholsUprising.

The Patriot Act You Don't Know About
By George Zornick

When the federal government wants some information under Section 215 of the Patriot Act-which allows agents to access "tangible things" like business records-it goes to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. This much we know.

What we don't know is how broadly FISA interprets Section 215-what information it allows federal agents to access, and to what extent the government must prove "relevance" to a terrorism investigation.

Two men who do know, however-Senators Mark Udall and Ron Wyden of the Senate Intelligence Committee-have consistently sounded alarms about what FISA is allowing under Section 215. While unable to reveal specifically what they have learned, the two Senators have repeatedly said that the public would be shocked if it knew what information was being collected with the help of FISA and the Patriot Act.

This week, Udall and Wyden wrote to Attorney General Eric Holder asking him to address this issue (emphasis is theirs):

We believe most Americans would be stunned to learn the details of how these secret court opinions have interpreted section 215 of the Patriot Act. As we see it, there is now a significant gap between what most Americans think the law allows and what the government secretly claims the law allows. This is a problem, because it is impossible to have an informed public debate about what the law should say when the public doesn't know what its government thinks the law says.

The two senators were spurred to write after learning the Justice Department wants to dismiss lawsuits filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and the New York Times that seek to find out exactly how the government is interpreting Section 215.

But it's not the first time they've raised the issue, to Holder nor publicly-we've flagged it before here, and Wyden gave a dramatic speech on the Senate floor about this last year, see video above.

In 2009, the administration promised it would establish a process for "reviewing, redacting and releasing significant opinions" of FISA, but as the letter from Udall and Wyden notes, this hasn't happened once.

One has to assume Udall and Wyden are legitimately disturbed by what they know-it's extremely unusual for two senators to go so public about secret information they are privy to, and especially to prod a president (and former Senate colleague) from their own party. Will we ever know what has alarmed them?
(c) 2012 George Zornick

The Cartoon Corner...

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

To End On A Happy Note...

Have You Seen This...

Parting Shots...

We're All Muppets Here
By Will Durst

Not easy being a Muppet. Referring to Greg Smith, formerly of Goldman Sachs, who wrote an op- ed in the New York Times about getting the hell out of Dodge, due to his company's relentlessly spiraling moral depravity. According to Smith, associates are encouraged to pursue profit above all else, and that includes ripping out the eyeballs of their own billion- dollar clients at the same time they mockingly scorn them as Muppets.

Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. A complete shocker- big time brokerage firm with little or no conscience. My God. What next? High school prom parties where beer is served? Charley Sheen coming to, on the floor of a Vegas hotel after noon? Drive- through food that tastes like hot damp glued- together bar coasters? Mitt Romney making his own Robo- Calls?

Romney loves to hype his history as a private equity investment banker, so it's not difficult to imagine him as another of the sucking pods on a waving tentacle of the vampire squid. Wrapped so tightly in the "Me First," and "Success at any Cost" culture that he squeaks money when he moves. A sound that surely acts as a predatory mating call.

We're all Muppets to him. On a daily basis Mr. Bain Capital will say or do whatever he thinks might possibly help on the campaign trail. "Pro- choice, I got your pro- choice. Oh wait, not pro- choice, well, then neither am I." "What happens in the sanctity of one's own bedroom is nobody's business. Oh, Yes It Is!" Surprised every time he's not photographed wearing one of those whiplash neck braces from the twisting and turning necessary to cover his wide panoply of paradoxical convictions.

Recently, this shape shifter comically sucked up to the South pretending to like cheesy grits. Mitt, nothing personal, but if ever there were a non- cheesy grits eating kind of a dude, it's you. Even while referring to your NASCAR and NFL owner buddies, you still don't have a song in your heart. Probably consider them nothing more than slightly better constructed sock puppets. More realistic button eyes.

That's it, isn't it? We're all annoying obstacles to be overcome in order to better provide for your family. Who would be well advised not to get too comfortable, if there is anything to be learned from the fate of your valiant Irish Setter, Seamus. Is that going to be your solution to everything: hose us down?

The Politicrats even have a name for our particular kind of Muppetism, They call us Low Information Voters. People not paying too close attention. The ones that pretty much believe every ounce of slop our leaders shovel at us while greedy fingers fiddle at our orbital sockets.

Consider the 50% of Republicans in Mississippi and 45% in Alabama who still believe President Obama is a Muslim. While the hard of hearing think he's muslin, a loosely woven cotton fabric.

Maybe that's the ultimate goal of Republican Kingmakers like the Koch Brothers. Get rid of the messy unpredictable human element and create their own Muppet mouthpiece. Fold a spool of muslin into a head shaped ball, stick a hand up it and have it say exactly what they think we Low Information Voters, LIVers, want to hear. Or did they already do that and call it... Rush Limbaugh.
(c) 2012 Will Durst, is a San Francisco based political comedian, Will Durst, often writes: this is an example. Don't forget his new CD, "Raging Moderate" from Stand-Up Records now available on both iTunes and Amazon. The New York Times says Emmy-nominated comedian and writer Will Durst "is quite possibly the best political satirist working in the country today." Check out his website: to find out about upcoming stand-up performances or to buy his book, "The All-American Sport of Bipartisan Bashing."

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Issues & Alibis Vol 12 # 12 (c) 03/23/2012

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