Issues & Alibis

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In This Edition

Sam Harris explores, "Moral Confusion In The Name Of 'Science.'"

Uri Avnery travels, "On The Road To Canossa."

David Sirota explains, "The Difference Between Liberalism And Progressivism."

Joel S. Hirschhorn considers, "9/11 Reconstruction."

Jim Hightower exposes, "Wal-Mart's Mechanical Inhumanity."

Randall Amster finds, "Silent Spring Has Sprung."

James Donahue examines, "The Financial Dilemma Facing Local Governments."

John Pilger says, "Have a Nice World War, Folks."

Chris Floyd studies, "An Unaccustomed Truth."

Belacqua Jones sees, "Our Visionary Quants."

Mike Folkerth discovers, "Healthcare Reform; Totally Missed The Mark."

Chris Hedges wonders, "Is America 'Yearning For Fascism?'"

Kathy Kelly asks why we're, "Pacified."

Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn wins the coveted "Vidkun Quisling Award!"

Greg Palast is, "Getting Into Massa's Drawers."

Mary Pitt observes, "The Real Legacy Of G.W. Bush."

And finally in the 'Parting Shots' department The Landover Baptist Church reports, "Pastors and Deacons Descend Upon Easter Bunny Farm With Shotguns!" but first Uncle Ernie visits, "The Matrix Reality."

This week we spotlight the cartoons of Bruce Plante, with additional cartoons, photos and videos from Gary Trudeau, John Chuckman, Daryl Cagle, Freaking News.Com, Destonio, Mike Lester, Gill, Landover Baptist.Org, Jared Rodriguez/NASA, Business Week 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."

The Matrix Reality
By Ernest Stewart

"My new bill will provide real competition to the private health insurance companies. Those companies make money by denying people the care they need. My Medicare You Can Buy Into Act will go even further toward saving money and saving lives. The bill already has 80 cosponsors in the House." ~~~ Con-gressman Alan Grayson

"We have shot an amazing number of people, but to my knowledge, none has ever proven to be a threat!"
~~~ Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal ~~~

"The only thing on earth to save the testimony and those who follow it, are the members of the testimony, till the return of Christ in the clouds. We, the Hutaree, are prepared to defend all those who belong to Christ and save those who aren't. We will still spread the word, and fight to keep it, up to the time of the great coming." ~~~ The Hutaree

If you are a Demoncrat or have ever been a Demoncrat or if you know a Demoncrat then you have no doubt been getting tons of email as of late from the Demoncrats begging for your money.

Most of them are asking you to give them money so they can either pass a new bill to allow us to buy Medicare or something like it rather than the for-profit insurance we are currently required to buy from their masters the Insurance Lords, or they want money to protect them from the Rethuglicans in the fall elections. They're beginning to have second thoughts about how the Insurance Company Protection Act of 2010 will play at the polls. Belatedly, after taking their 30 pieces of silver from their corpo-rat puppet masters, they're beginning to understand that we're not all as dumb as they thought. The Rethuglicans will benefit greatly from ObamaCare. This bill is a direct sellout to the insurance goons the Rethuglicans love and, by not voting for the bill, they can use the passage of this sellout against the Demoncrats come election day. Talk about having your cake and eating it, too! Ergo the Demoncrats are all running for cover for selling us out with this phony Medicare pledge. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice... NO WAY, JOSE! The Rethuglicans, who a few months ago were looking to have a going-out-of-business sale, look to take back the House and Senate come November.

Old Benedict Grayson wants to fix the bill that he voted for and has all of 80 sponsors in the house. At last count, Benedict, you need 216 votes to pass it and all you can get is 80. Seems like an incredible waste of money to pay for something the Demoncrats could have done to begin with, having a lock in both houses and all. Any Senator could have put it back in for a vote that the Rethuglicans couldn't have stopped but not one of them did. How does that make you feel, America? However, our representatives, who have taken $billions in bribe money from the 35,000 lobbyists in DC, still need more. That's right, America. There are 35,000 registered crooks working around the clock to buy the votes from the folks who were elected to help us! As old Will Rogers said almost a century ago, "We have the best Congress money can buy!"

Of course, the Demoncrats are doing this now because after this disastrous bill takes effect, most Americans won't have any money to throw away. They'll be lucky to have food to eat and a car to sleep in! While the insurance goons buy that new yacht and the new mansion in Aruba off of our blood, sweat and tears!

Don't worry about the fate of our congressional critters if we run them out of office. They'll all get jobs fronting for the same folks that they sold us out to or there will be 35,535 lobbyists in Foggy Bottom to corrupt the new batch that we elect!

I see one of the rewards that Fredo Kucinich got for selling us out is the position as a front-man for the DNC. From party outsider to party insider just for selling his soul to Obama. It doesn't seem like a lot for selling out your name, word and honor, does it?

In Other News

Our Nobel Peace Prize winning war criminal Barry was off on a midnight visit to Afghanistan the other day to tell Afghan president Karzai to get in line or else. Basically the same speech he gave to Fredo Kucinich two weeks before about his sell out to the insurance lords.

Barry flew around the world, arriving after dark to avoid seeing the destruction that he's caused by adopting the "Crime Family Bush's" war and leaving before dawn so as not to be seen by and perhaps made to pay for his war crimes by the Afghanis.

You'll recall that a coalition of India, Russia and Iran got together with us in March of 2001 to plan this disaster. The Indians got on board so as to surround their runaway province of Pakistan. The Iranians joined to stop the violence in the area caused by the CIA sponsored Al-Qaeda. The Russians joined to see that we got mired down in Afghanistan until the war destroyed our empire like it did theirs, and the British and Persian!

We're 8 1/2 years into a war without an end. Considering we beat the Germans, Japanese, and Italians in WWII in about 3 1/2 years, this speaks volumes about either our incompetence and the military/industrial complex's greed.

Every day that we're there we slaughter more innocents and make more enemies. We do this on purpose to keep our troops there fighting for our corpo-rat masters benefit. You cannot win the people's hearts by purposely slaughtering their old folks, women and children!

What with the new insurance scam, ObamaCare, outlawing abortions for poor women, the military will be guaranteed a constant supply of new recruits, a self-perpetuating system, perpetual motion at last! With no one being drafted, who cares? It's only the poor being slaughtered for Wall Street's benefit! Those cannons are always hungry and demand new fodder on a daily basis! With ObamaCare and Afghanistan, the huge war profits will continue to flow for decades to come. Isn't capitalism wonderful?

And Finally

A Hutaree video

One of the reasons I was happy to leave Michigan for warmer, greener pastures is because of all the good old boy lunatics running loose. You may recall the Michigan connect to the Murrah Federal Building bombing. Bad as it was, that is but the tip of the iceberg, my friends. Now Jesus is telling them to kill, yippee! The other day they rounded up a few of the many who were planning some destructive fun and games. US Department of Justice Barbara L. McQuade, United States Attorney and FBI Special Agent in Charge Andrew Arena announced that nine members of the Christian militia group Hutaree have been indicted on multiple charges involving an alleged plot to attack police, including seditious conspiracy and attempted use of weapons of mass destruction.

"NINE MEMBERS OF A MILITIA GROUP CHARGED WITH SEDITIOUS CONSPIRACY AND RELATED CHARGES Six Michigan residents, along with two residents of Ohio and a resident of Indiana, were indicted by a federal grand jury in Detroit on charges of seditious conspiracy, attempted use of weapons of mass destruction, teaching the use of explosive materials, and possessing a firearm during a crime of violence.

The five count indictment, which was unsealed today, charges that between August 2008 and the present, the defendants, David Brian Stone, 45, his wife, Tina Stone, 44, his son, Joshua Matthew Stone, 21, of Clayton, Michigan, and his other son, David Brian Stone, Jr., 19, of Adrian, Michigan, Joshua Clough, 28, of Blissfield, Michigan, Michael Meeks, 40 of Manchester, Michigan, Thomas Piatek, 46, of Whiting, Indiana, Kristopher Sickles, 27, of Sandusky, Ohio, and Jacob Ward, 33, of Huron, Ohio, acting as a Lenawee County Michigan militia group called the Hutaree, conspired to oppose by force the authority of the U.S. government. According to the indictment, Hutaree members view local, state, and federal law enforcement as the "brotherhood", their enemy, and have been preparing to engage them in armed conflict.

The indictment further alleges that the Hutaree planned to kill an unidentified member of local law enforcement and then attack the law enforcement officers who gather in Michigan for the funeral. According to the plan, the Hutaree would attack law enforcement vehicles during the funeral procession with Improvised Explosive Devices with Explosively Formed Projectiles constitute weapons of mass destruction. Subsequently, and in furtherance of this plan, David Brian Stone, the Hutaree's leader, obtained information about such devices over the internet and emailed diagrams of such devices to a person he believed capable of manufacturing the devices. He then had his son, Joshua Matthew Stone, and others gather materials necessary for the manufacturing of such devices.

According to the indictment, in June 2009, David Brian Stone and his son, David Brian Stone, Jr., taught other Hutaree members how to make and use explosive devices intending or knowing that the information would be used to further a crime of violence. In addition, the grand jury charged all nine defendants with carrying or possessing a firearm during a crime of violence on at least one occasion.

U.S. Attorney McQuade said:

"Because the Hutaree had planned a covert reconnaissance operation for April which had the potential of placing an unsuspecting member of the public at risk, the safety of the public and of the law enforcement community demanded intervention at this time."

Andrew Arena, FBI Special Agent in Charge, said:

"This is an example of radical and extremist fringe groups which can be found throughout our society. The FBI takes such extremist groups seriously, especially those who would target innocent citizens and the law enforcement officers who protect the citizens of the United States. The FBI would like to thank our federal, state, and local law enforcement partners who are member of the Joint Terrorism Task Force, for their assistance in this case."

These folks were the incredibly obvious ones, as normally the FBI couldn't catch a cold; ask Theodore Kaczynski how that works! Someone had to rat them out. Trouble is, there are millions more of these lunatics out there making their own little plans! Many of which, we'll never know about until they strike and some of them will be false flag attacks by our own government. Fasten your seatbelts, America, it's going to be a bumpy night!

Oh And One More Thing

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


11-08-1913 ~ 03-28-2010
Thanks for the memories!


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


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

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

Moral Confusion In The Name Of 'Science'
By Sam Harris

Last month, I had the privilege of speaking at the 2010 TED conference for exactly 18 minutes. The short format of these talks is a brilliant innovation and surely the reason for their potent half-life on the Internet. However, 18 minutes is not a lot of time in which to present a detailed argument. My intent was to begin a conversation about how we can understand morality in universal, scientific terms. Many people who loved my talk, misunderstood what I was saying, and loved it for the wrong reasons; and many of my critics were right to think that I had said something extremely controversial. I was not suggesting that science can give us an evolutionary or neurobiological account of what people do in the name of "morality." Nor was I merely saying that science can help us get what we want out of life. Both of these would have been quite banal claims to make (unless one happens to doubt the truth of evolution or the mind's dependency on the brain). Rather I was suggesting that science can, in principle, help us understand what we should do and should want-and, perforce, what other people should do and want in order to live the best lives possible. My claim is that there are right and wrong answers to moral questions, just as there are right and wrong answers to questions of physics, and such answers may one day fall within reach of the maturing sciences of mind. As the response to my TED talk indicates, it is taboo for a scientist to think such things, much less say them public.

Most educated, secular people (and this includes most scientists, academics, and journalists) seem to believe that there is no such thing as moral truth-only moral preference, moral opinion, and emotional reactions that we mistake for genuine knowledge of right and wrong, or good and evil. While I make the case for a universal conception of morality in much greater depth in my forthcoming book, The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values, I'd like to address the most common criticisms I've received thus far in response to my remarks at TED.

Some of my critics got off the train before it even left the station, by defining "science" in exceedingly narrow terms. Many think that science is synonymous with mathematical modeling, or with immediate access to experimental data. However, this is to mistake science for a few of its tools. Science simply represents our best effort to understand what is going on in this universe, and the boundary between it and the rest of rational thought cannot always be drawn. There are many tools one must get in hand to think scientifically-ideas about cause and effect, respect for evidence and logical coherence, a dash of curiosity and intellectual honesty, the inclination to make falsifiable predictions, etc.-and many come long before one starts worrying about mathematical models or specific data.

There is also much confusion about what it means to speak with scientific "objectivity." As the philosopher John Searle once pointed out, there are two very different senses of the terms "objective" and "subjective." The first relates to how we know (i.e. epistemology), the second to what there is to know (i.e. ontology). When we say that we are reasoning or speaking "objectively," we mean that we are free of obvious bias, open to counter-arguments, cognizant of the relevant facts, etc. There is no impediment to our doing this with regard to subjective (i.e. third-person) facts. It is, for instance, true to say that I am experiencing tinnitus (ringing in my ears) at this moment. This is a subjective fact about me. I am not lying about it. I have been to an otologist and had the associated hearing loss in the upper frequencies in my right ear confirmed. There is simply no question that I can speak about my tinnitus in the spirit of scientific objectivity. And, no doubt, this experience must have some objective (third-person) correlates, like damage to my cochlea. Many people seem to think that because moral facts relate entirely to our experience (and are, therefore, ontologically "subjective"), all talk of morality must be "subjective" in the epistemological sense (i.e. biased, merely personal, etc.). This is simply untrue.

Many of my critics also fail to distinguish between there being no answers in practice and no answers in principle to certain questions about the nature of reality. Only the latter questions are "unscientific," and there are countless facts to be known in principle that we will never know in practice. Exactly how many birds are in flight over the surface of the earth at this instant? What is their combined weight in grams? We cannot possibly answer such questions, but they have simple, numerical answers. Does our inability to gather the relevant data oblige us to respect all opinions equally? For instance, how seriously should we take the claim that there are exactly 23,000 birds in flight at this moment, and, as they are all hummingbirds weighing exactly 2 grams, their total weight is 46,000 grams? It should be obvious that this is a ridiculous assertion. We can, therefore, decisively reject answers to questions that we cannot possibly answer in practice. This is a perfectly reasonable, scientific, and often necessary thing to do. And yet, many scientists will say that moral truths do not exist, simply because certain facts about human experience cannot be readily known, or may never be known. As I hope to show, this blind spot has created tremendous confusion about the relationship between human knowledge and human values.

When I speak of there being right and wrong answers to questions of morality, I am saying that there are facts about human and animal wellbeing that we can, in principle, know-simply because wellbeing (and states of consciousness altogether) must lawfully relate to states of the brain and to states of the world.

And here is where the real controversy begins: for many people strongly objected to my claim that values (and hence morality) relate to facts about the wellbeing of conscious creatures. My critics seem to think that consciousness and its states hold no special place where values are concerned, or that any state of consciousness stands the same chance of being valued as any other. While maximizing the wellbeing of conscious creatures may be what I value, other people are perfectly free to define their values differently, and there will be no rational or scientific basis to argue with them. Thus, by starting my talk with the assertion that values depend upon actual or potential changes in consciousness, and that some changes are better than others, I merely assumed what I set out to prove. This is what philosophers call "begging the question." I am, therefore, an idiot. And given that my notion of objective values must be a mere product of my own personal and cultural biases, and these led me to disparage traditional religious values from the stage at TED, I am also a bigot. While these charges are often leveled separately, they are actually connected.

I've now had these basic objections hurled at me a thousand different ways-from YouTube comments that end by calling me "a Mossad agent" to scarcely more serious efforts by scientists like Sean Carroll which attempt to debunk my reasoning as circular or otherwise based on unwarranted assumptions. Many of my critics piously cite Hume's is/ought distinction as though it were well known to be the last word on the subject of morality until the end of time. Indeed, Carroll appears to think that Hume's lazy analysis of facts and values is so compelling that he elevates it to the status of mathematical truth:

Attempts to derive ought from is [values from facts] are like attempts to reach an odd number by adding together even numbers. If someone claims that they've done it, you don't have to check their math; you know that they've made a mistake.

This is an amazingly wrongheaded response coming from a very smart scientist. I wonder how Carroll would react if I breezily dismissed his physics with a reference to something Robert Oppenheimer once wrote, on the assumption that it was now an unmovable object around which all future human thought must flow. Happily, that's not how physics works. But neither is it how philosophy works. Frankly, it's not how anything that works, works.

Carroll appears to be confused about the foundations of human knowledge. For instance, he clearly misunderstands the relationship between scientific truth and scientific consensus. He imagines that scientific consensus signifies the existence of scientific truth (while scientific controversy just means that there is more work to be done). And yet, he takes moral controversy to mean that there is no such thing as moral truth (while moral consensus just means that people are deeply conditioned for certain preferences). This is a double standard that I pointed out in my talk, and it clearly rigs the game against moral truth. The deeper issue, however, is that truth has nothing, in principle, to do with consensus: It is, after all, quite possible for everyone to be wrong, or for one lone person to be right. Consensus is surely a guide to discovering what is going on in the world, but that is all that it is. Its presence or absence in no way constrains what may or may not be true.

Strangely, Carroll also imagines that there is greater consensus about scientific truth than about moral truth. Taking humanity as a whole, I am quite certain that he is mistaken about this. There is no question that there is a greater consensus that cruelty is generally wrong (a common moral intuition) than that the passage of time varies with velocity (special relativity) or that humans and lobsters share an ancestor (evolution). Needless to say, I'm not inclined to make too much of this consensus, but it is worth noting that scientists like Carroll imagine far more moral diversity than actually exists. While certain people believe some very weird things about morality, principles like the Golden Rule are very well subscribed. If we wanted to ground the epistemology of science on democratic principles, as Carroll suggests we might, the science of morality would have an impressive head start over the science of physics.

The real problem, however, is that critics like Carroll think that there is no deep intellectual or moral issue here to worry about. Carroll encourages us to just admit that a universal conception of human values is a pipe dream. Thereafter, those of us who want to make life on earth better, or at least not worse, can happily collaborate, knowing all the while that we are seeking to further our merely provincial, culturally constructed notions of moral goodness. Once we have our values in hand, and cease to worry about their relationship to the Truth, science can help us get what we want out of life.

There are many things wrong with this approach. The deepest problem is that it strikes me as patently mistaken about the nature of reality and about what we can reasonably mean by words like "good," "bad," "right," and "wrong." In fact, I believe that we can know, through reason alone, that consciousness is the only intelligible domain of value. What's the alternative? Imagine some genius comes forward and says, "I have found a source of value/morality that has absolutely nothing to do with the (actual or potential) experience of conscious beings." Take a moment to think about what this claim actually means. Here's the problem: whatever this person has found cannot, by definition, be of interest to anyone (in this life or in any other). Put this thing in a box, and what you have in that box is-again, by definition-the least interesting thing in the universe.

So how much time should we spend worrying about such a transcendent source of value? I think the time I will spend typing this sentence is already far too much. All other notions of value will bear some relationship to the actual or potential experience of conscious beings. So my claim that consciousness is the basis of values does not appear to me to be an arbitrary starting point.

Now that we have consciousness on the table, my further claim is that wellbeing is what we can intelligibly value-and "morality" (whatever people's associations with this term happen to be) really relates to the intentions and behaviors that affect the wellbeing of conscious creatures. And, as I pointed out at TED, all the people who claim to have alternative sources of morality (like the Word of God) are, in every case that I am aware of, only concerned about wellbeing anyway: They just happen to believe that the universe functions in such a way as to place the really important changes in conscious experience after death (i.e. in heaven or hell). And those philosophical efforts that seek to put morality in terms of duty, fairness, justice, or some other principle that is not explicitly tied to the wellbeing of conscious creatures-are, nevertheless, parasitic on some notion of wellbeing in the end (I argue this point at greater length in my book. And yes, I've read Rawls, Nozick, and Parfit). The doubts that immediately erupt on this point seem to invariably depend on extremely unimaginative ideas about what the term "wellbeing" could mean, altogether, or on mistaken beliefs about what science is.

Those who assumed that any emphasis on human "wellbeing" would lead us to enslave half of humanity, or harvest the organs of the bottom ten percent, or nuke the developing world, or nurture our children a continuous drip of heroin are, it seems to me, not really thinking about these issues seriously. It seems rather obvious that fairness, justice, compassion, and a general awareness of terrestrial reality have rather a lot to do with our creating a thriving global civilization-and, therefore, with the greater wellbeing of humanity. And, as I emphasized in my talk, there may be many different ways for individuals and communities to thrive-many peaks on the moral landscape-so if there is real diversity in how people can be deeply fulfilled in life, this diversity can be accounted for and honored in the context of science. As I said in my talk, the concept of "wellbeing," like the concept of "health," is truly open for revision and discovery. Just how happy is it possible for us to be, personally and collectively? What are the conditions-ranging from changes in the genome to changes in economic systems-that will produce such happiness? We simply do not know.

But the deeper objection raised by scientists like Carroll is that the link I have drawn between values and wellbeing seems arbitrary, or otherwise in need of justification. What if certain people insist that their "values" or "morality" have nothing to do with wellbeing? What if a man like Jefferey Dahmer says, "The only peaks on the moral landscape that interest me are ones where I get to murder young men and have sex with their corpses." This possibility-the prospect of radically different moral preferences-seems to be at the heart of many people's concerns. In response to one of his readers, Carroll writes:

[W]e have to distinguish between choosing a goal and choosing the best way to get there. But when we do science we all basically agree on what the goals are - we want to find a concise, powerful explanation of the empirical facts we observe. Sure, someone can choose to disagree with those goals - but then they're not doing science, they're doing philosophy of science. Which is interesting in its own right, but not the same thing.

When it comes to morality, there is nowhere near the unanimity of goals that there is in science. That's not a minor quibble, that's the crucial difference! If we all agreed on the goals, we would indeed expend our intellectual effort on the well-grounded program of figuring out how best to achieve those goals. That would be great, but it's not the world in which we live.

Again, we encounter this confusion about the significance of consensus. But we should also remember that there are trained "scientists" who are Biblical Creationists, and their scientific thinking is purposed not toward a dispassionate study of the universe, but toward interpreting the data of science to fit the Biblical account of creation. Such people claim to be doing "science," of course-but real scientists are free, and indeed obligated, to point out that they are misusing the term. Similarly, there are people who claim to be highly concerned about "morality" and "human values," but when we see that they are more concerned about condom use than they are about child rape (e.g. the Catholic Church), we should feel free to say that they are misusing the term "morality," or that their values are distorted. As I asked at TED, how have we convinced ourselves that on the subject of morality, all views must count equally?

Everyone has an intuitive "physics," but much of our intuitive physics is wrong (with respect to the goal of describing the behavior of matter), and only physicists have a deep understanding of the laws that govern the behavior of matter in our universe. Everyone also has an intuitive "morality," but much intuitive morality is wrong (with respect to the goal of maximizing personal and collective wellbeing) and only genuine moral experts would have a deep understanding of the causes and conditions of human and animal wellbeing. Yes, we must have a goal to define what counts as "right" or "wrong" in a given domain, but this criterion is equally true in both domains.

So what about people who think that morality has nothing to do with anyone's wellbeing? I am saying that we need not worry about them-just as we don't worry about the people who think that their "physics" is synonymous with astrology, or sympathetic magic, or Vedanta. We are free to define "physics" any way we want. Some definitions will be useless, or worse. We are free to define "morality" any way we want. Some definitions will be useless, or worse-and many are so bad that we can know, far in advance of any breakthrough in the sciences of mind, that they have no place in a serious conversation about human values.

One of my critics put the concern this way: "Why should human wellbeing matter to us?" Well, why should logical coherence matter to us? Why should historical veracity matter to us? Why should experimental evidence matter to us? These are profound and profoundly stupid questions. No framework of knowledge can withstand such skepticism, for none is perfectly self-justifying. Without being able to stand entirely outside of a framework, one is always open to the charge that the framework rests on nothing, that its axioms are wrong, or that there are foundational questions it cannot answer. So what? Science and rationality generally are based on intuitions and concepts that cannot be reduced or justified. Just try defining "causation" in non-circular terms. If you manage it, I really want hear from you . Or try to justify transitivity in logic: if A = B and B = C, then A = C. A skeptic could say that this is nothing more than an assumption that we've built into the definition of "equality." Others will be free to define "equality" differently. Yes, they will. And we will be free to call them "imbeciles." Seen in this light, moral relativism should be no more tempting than physical, biological, mathematical, or logical relativism. There are better and worse ways to define our terms; there are more and less coherent ways to think about reality; and there are-is there any doubt about this?-many ways to seek fulfillment in this life and not find it.

On a related point, the philosopher Russell Blackford wrote, "I've never yet seen an argument that shows that psychopaths are necessarily mistaken about some fact about the world. Moreover, I don't see how the argument could run..." Well, here it is in brief: We already know that psychopaths have brain damage that prevents them from having certain deeply satisfying experiences (like empathy) which seem good for people both personally and collectively (in that they tend to increase wellbeing on both counts). Psychopaths, therefore, don't know what they are missing (but we do). The position of a psychopath also cannot be generalized; it is not, therefore, an alternative view of how human beings should live (this is one point Kant got right: even a psychopath couldn't want to live in a world filled with psychopaths). We should also realize that the psychopath we are envisioning is a straw man: Watch interviews with real psychopaths, and you will find that they do not tend to claim to be in possession of an alternative morality or to be living deeply fulfilling lives. These people are generally ruled by compulsions that they don't understand and cannot resist. It absolutely clear that, whatever they might believe about what they are doing, psychopaths are seeking some form of wellbeing (excitement, ecstasy, feelings of power, etc.), but because of their neurological deficits, they are doing a very bad job of it. We can say that a psychopath like Ted Bundy takes satisfaction in the wrong things, because living a life purposed toward raping and killing women does not allow for deeper and more generalizable forms of human flourishing. Compare Bundy's deficits to those of a delusional physicist who finds meaningful patterns and mathematical significance in the wrong places (John Nash might have been a good example, while suffering the positive symptoms of his schizophrenia). His "Eureka!" detectors are poorly coupled to reality; he sees meaningful patterns where most people would not-and these patterns will be a very poor guide to the proper goals of physics (i.e. understanding the physical world). Is there any doubt that Ted Bundy's "Yes! I love this!" detectors were poorly coupled to the possibilities of finding deep fulfillment in this life, or that his overriding obsession with raping and killing young women was a poor guide to the proper goals of morality (i.e. living a fulfilling life with others)?

And while people like Bundy may want some very weird things out of life, no one wants utter, interminable misery. And if someone claims to want this, we are free to treat them like someone who claims to believe that 2 + 2 = 5 or that all events are self-caused. On the subject of morality, as on every other subject, some people are not worth listening to.

The moment we admit that consciousness is the context in which any discussion of values makes sense, we must admit that there are facts to be known about how the experience of conscious creatures can change-and these facts can be studied, in principle, with the tools of science. Do pigs suffer more than cows do when being led to slaughter? Would humanity suffer more or less, on balance, if the U.S. unilaterally gave up all its nuclear weapons? Questions like these are very difficult to answer. But this does not mean that they don't have answers. Carroll writes:

But what if I believe that the highest moral good is to be found in the autonomy of the individual, while you believe that the highest good is to maximize the utility of some societal group? What are the data we can point to in order to adjudicate this disagreement? We might use empirical means to measure whether one preference or the other leads to systems that give people more successful lives on some particular scale - but that's presuming the answer, not deriving it. Who decides what is a successful life? It's ultimately a personal choice, not an objective truth to be found simply by looking closely at the world. How are we to balance individual rights against the collective good? You can do all the experiments you like and never find an answer to that question.

Again, we see the confusion between no answers in practice and no answers in principle. The fact that it could difficult or impossible to know exactly how to maximize human wellbeing, does not mean that there are no right or wrong ways to do this-nor does it mean that we cannot exclude certain answers as obviously bad. The fact that it might be difficult to decide exactly how to balance individual rights against collective good, or that there might be a thousand equivalent ways of doing this, does not mean that we must hesitate to condemn the morality of the Taliban, or the Nazis, or the Ku Klux Klan-not just personally, but from the point of view of science. As I said at TED, the moment we admit that there is anything to know about human wellbeing, we must admit that certain individuals or cultures might not know it.

It is also worth noticing that Carroll has set the epistemological bar higher for morality than he has for any other branch of science. He asks, "Who decides what is a successful life?" Well, who decides what is coherent argument? Who decides what constitutes empirical evidence? Who decides when our memories can be trusted? The answer is, "we do." And if you are not satisfied with this answer, you have just wiped out all of science, mathematics, history, journalism, and every other human effort to make sense of reality.

And the philosophical skepticism that brought us the division between facts and values can be used in many other ways that smart people like Carroll would never countenance. In fact, I could use another of Hume's arguments, the case against induction, to torpedo Carroll's entire field, or science generally. The scientific assumption that the future will lawfully relate to the past is just that-an assumption. Other people are free to assume that it won't. In fact, I'm free to assume that the apparent laws of nature will expire on the first Tuesday of the year 3459. Is this assumption just as good as any other? If so, we can say goodbye to physics.

There are also very practical, moral concerns that follow from the glib idea that anyone is free to value anything-the most consequential being that it is precisely what allows highly educated, secular, and otherwise well-intentioned people to pause thoughtfully, and often interminably, before condemning practices like compulsory veiling, genital excision, bride-burning, forced marriage, and the other cheerful products of alternative "morality" found elsewhere in the world. Fanciers of Hume's is/ought distinction never seem to realize what the stakes are, and they do not see what an abject failure of compassion their intellectual "tolerance" of moral difference amounts to. While much of this debate must be had in academic terms, this is not merely an academic debate. There are women and girls getting their faces burned off with acid at this moment for daring to learn to read, or for not consenting to marry men they have never met, or even for the crime of getting raped. Look into their eyes, and tell me that what has been done to them is the product of an alternative moral code every bit as authentic and philosophically justifiable as your own. And if you actually believe this, I would like to publish your views on my website.

The amazing thing is that some people won't even blink before plunging into this intellectual and moral crevasse-and most of these enlightened souls are highly educated. I once spoke at an academic conference on themes similar to those I discussed at TED-my basic claim being that once we have a more complete understanding of human wellbeing, ranging from its underlying neurophysiology to the political systems and economic policies that best safeguard it, we will be able to make strong claims about which cultural practices are good for humanity and which aren't. I then made what I thought would be a quite incontestable assertion: we already have good reason to believe that certain cultures are less suited to maximizing wellbeing than others. I cited the ruthless misogyny and religious bamboozlement of the Taliban as an example of a worldview that seems less than perfectly conducive to human flourishing.

As it turns out, to denigrate the Taliban at a scientific meeting is to court controversy (after all, "Who decides what is a successful life?") At the conclusion of my talk, I fell into debate with another invited speaker, who seemed, at first glance, to be very well positioned to reason effectively about the implications of science for our understanding of morality. She holds a degree in genetics from Dartmouth, a masters in biology from Harvard, and a law degree, another masters, and a Ph.D. in the philosophy of biology from Duke. This scholar is now a recognized authority on the intersection between criminal law, genetics, neuroscience and philosophy. Here is a snippet of our conversation, more or less verbatim:

She: What makes you think that science will ever be able to say that forcing women to wear burqas is wrong?

Me: Because I think that right and wrong are a matter of increasing or decreasing wellbeing-and it is obvious that forcing half the population to live in cloth bags, and beating or killing them if they refuse, is not a good strategy for maximizing human wellbeing.

She: But that's only your opinion.

Me: Okay... Let's make it even simpler. What if we found a culture that ritually blinded every third child by literally plucking out his or her eyes at birth, would you then agree that we had found a culture that was needlessly diminishing human wellbeing?

She: It would depend on why they were doing it.

Me (slowly returning my eyebrows from the back of my head): Let's say they were doing it on the basis of religious superstition. In their scripture, God says, "Every third must walk in darkness."

She: Then you could never say that they were wrong.

Such opinions are not uncommon in the Ivory Tower. I was talking to a woman (it's hard not to feel that her gender makes her views all the more disconcerting) who had just delivered an entirely lucid lecture on the moral implications of neuroscience for the law. She was concerned that our intelligence services might one day use neuroimaging technology for the purposes of lie detection, which she considered a likely violation of cognitive liberty. She was especially exercised over rumors that our government might have exposed captured terrorists to aerosols containing the hormone oxytocin in an effort to make them more cooperative. Though she did not say it, I suspect that she would even have opposed subjecting these prisoners to the smell of freshly baked bread, which has been shown to have a similar effect. While listening to her talk, as yet unaware of her liberal views on compulsory veiling and ritual enucleation, I thought her slightly over-cautious, but a basically sane and eloquent authority on the premature use of neuroscience in our courts. I confess that once we did speak, and I peered into the terrible gulf that separated us on these issues, I found that I could not utter another word to her. In fact, our conversation ended with my blindly enacting two, neurological cliches: my jaw quite literally dropped open, and I spun on my heels before walking away.

Moral relativism is clearly an attempt to pay intellectual reparations for the crimes of western colonialism, ethnocentrism, and racism. This is, I think, the only charitable thing to be said about it. Needless to say, it was not my purpose at TED to defend the idiosyncrasies of the West as any more enlightened, in principle, than those of any other culture. Rather, I was arguing that the most basic facts about human flourishing must transcend culture, just as most other facts do. And if there are facts which are truly a matter of cultural construction-if, for instance, learning a specific language or tattooing your face fundamentally alters the possibilities of human experience-well, then these facts also arise from (neurophysiological) processes that transcend culture.

I must say, the vehemence and condescension with which the is/ought objection has been thrown in my face astounds me. And it confirms my sense that this bit of bad philosophy has done tremendous harm to the thinking of smart (and not so smart) people. The categorical distinction between facts and values helped open a sinkhole beneath liberalism long ago-leading to moral relativism and to masochistic depths of political correctness. Think of the champions of "tolerance" who reflexively blamed Salman Rushdie for his fatwa, or Ayaan Hirsi Ali for her ongoing security concerns, or the Danish cartoonists for their "controversy," and you will understand what happens when educated liberals think there is no universal foundation for human values. Among conservatives in the West, the same skepticism about the power of reason leads, more often than not, directly to the feet of Jesus Christ, Savior of the Universe. Indeed, the most common defense one now hears for religious faith is not that there is compelling evidence for God's existence, but that a belief in Him is the only basis for a universal conception of human values. And it is decidedly unhelpful that the moral relativism of liberals so often seems to prove the conservative case.

Of course, there is more to be said on the relationship between facts and values-more details to consider and objections to counter-and I will do my best to tackle these issues in my forthcoming book. As always, if you feel that you have found flaws in my argument, I sincerely encourage you to point them out to me, and to everyone else, in the comment thread following this article.

Perhaps Carroll will want to say that scientists agree about science more than ordinary people agree about morality (I'm not even sure this is true). But this is an empty claim, for at least two reasons: 1) it is circular, because anyone who insufficiently agrees with the principles of science as Carroll knows them, won't count as a scientist in his book (so the definition of "scientist" is question begging). 2) Scientists are an elite group, by definition. "Moral experts" would also constitute an elite group, and the existence of such experts is completely in line with my argument.
(c) 2010 Sam Harris is the author of "The End Of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason" and "Letter to a Christian Nation" and is the co-founder of The Reason Project, which promotes scientific knowledge and secular values.

On The Road To Canossa
By Uri Avnery

IN JANUARY 1077, King Henry IV walked to Canossa. He crossed the snow-covered Alps barefoot, wearing a penitent monk's hair shirt, and reached the North-Italian fortress in which the Vicar of God had found refuge.

Pope Gregory VII had excommunicated him after a conflict over the right to invest bishops throughout the German Reich. The excommunication endangered the position of the king, and he decided to do everything possible to get it lifted.

The king waited for three days outside the gates of Canossa, fasting and wearing the hair shirt, until the pope agreed to open the gate. After the king knelt before the pope, the ban was lifted and the conflict came to an end - at least for the time being.

THIS WEEK, the Netanyahu went to Canossa in the United States, in order to prevent Pope Obama I from putting a ban on him.

Contrary to the German king, Bibi I did not walk barefoot in the snow, did not exchange his expensive suit for a hair shirt and did not forgo his sumptuous meals. But he, too, was compelled to wait for several days at the gates of the White House, before the pope deigned to receive him.

The German king knew that he had to pay the full price for the pardon. He knelt. The Israeli king thought that he could get off cheap. As is his wont, he tried all kinds of subterfuges. He did not kneel, but barely bowed. The pope was not satisfied.

This time, the walk to Canossa did not succeed. On the contrary, it made the situation worse. The deadly sword of American excommunication continues to hang above Netanyahu's head.

IN ISRAEL, Binyamin Netanyahu is considered the expert No. 1 on the USA. He was brought there as a child, attended high school and university there and speaks fluent - even if rather shallow - American.

But this time he was mistaken, and in a big way.

Netanyahu's heart is with the American right. His closest friends there are neoconservatives, right-wing Republicans and evangelist preachers. It seems that these had assured him that Obama would lose the big battle for health care and would soon be a lame duck until inevitably losing the next presidential elections.

It was a gamble, and Netanyahu lost.

At the beginning of the crisis over construction in East Jerusalem, Netanyahu was still sure of himself. Obama's people rebuked him, but not too severely. I seemed that the conflict would end like all the previous ones: Jerusalem would pay lip service, Washington would pretend that the spit was rain.

A less arrogant person would have told himself: let's not rush things. Let's wait at home until it becomes clear who will win the health insurance battle. Then we shall think again and make a decision.

But Netanyahu knew that he was assured an enthusiastic welcome at the AIPAC conference, and AIPAC, after all, rules Washington. Without thinking much he flew there, made a speech and harvested thunderous applause. Drunk with success he waited for the meeting in the White House, where Obama was supposed to embrace him before the cameras.

But in the meantime, something absolutely awful had happened: the health law was adopted by Congress. Obama won a victory that has been called "historic". Netanyahu was not facing a beaten and beleaguered pope, but a Prince of the Church in all his splendor.

ACCORDING TO an Israeli joke, the shortest unit in time is the moment between the light turning green and the driver behind you starting to honk. My late friend, General Matti Peled, insisted that there was a shorter moment: the time it takes for a newly promoted officer to get used to his new rank. But it appears that there is an even shorter period of time.

George Mitchell, the hopping mediator, handed Netanyahu Obama's invitation to the White House. The cameras showed everything: Smiling from ear to ear, Mitchell extended his hand for the handshake, he even stretched out his other hand to hold Netanyahu's arm. And then, the moment he thought that the cameras had stopped recording, the smile disappeared from his face at a dizzying speed, as if a mask had fallen, and a sour and angry expression appeared.

If Netanyahu had perceived that moment, he would have been cautious from there on. But caution is not one of his most outstanding qualities. Completely ignoring Obama, he told the thousands of cheering AIPAC-sters that he would go on building in East Jerusalem, that there is no difference between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, and that all successive Israeli governments have built there.

That is quite true. The most energetic settler in East Jerusalem was Teddy Kollek, the Labor Party's mayor of West Jerusalem at the time of the annexation. But Teddy was a genius. He succeeded in fooling the whole world, appearing as a shining peace activist, gathering all possible peace prizes (except the Nobel Price), and between prizes established a huge area of Israeli settlement all over East Jerusalem. (Once I talked in Jerusalem with Lord Caradon, the father of UN Security Council resolution 242, a sober British statesman who was very critical of Israel. After our conversation, he met with Teddy, who devoted the whole day to him and toured Jerusalem in his company. By the evening, the noble lord had become Teddy's devoted admirer.) Teddy's slogan was: Build and don't talk! Build and don't make noises!

But Netanyahu can't keep quiet. It is said of Sabras, the native-born Israelis, that they "finish quickly" because they have to run and tell the boys. Netanyahu is a Sabra.

Perhaps Obama would have been ready to apply to Jerusalem the rule used by the US armed forces about gays: Don't ask, Don't tell. But for Netanyahu, the telling is the most important part of it, the more so since all the preceding governments had indeed built there.

NETANYAHU'S OTHER argument is also interesting. He said that there is a consensus about the new Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem. Bill Clinton's peace plan provided that "what is Jewish in Jerusalem will go to Israel, what is Arab will go to Palestine". Since everybody agrees that in the final agreement the Jewish neighborhoods would be joined to Israel anyhow, why not build there now?

This sheds light on a tried and tested Zionist method. When an unofficial consensus about the division of the land between Israel and Palestine is reached, the Israeli government says: OK, now that there is agreement about the land we are getting, let's talk about the rest of the land. Mine is mine, now let's negotiate about what is yours. The existing Jewish neighborhoods are ours already. There we are free to build without limitation. It remains only to decide upon the Arab neighborhoods, where we also intend to build.

Actually, Netanyahu should be thanked. For decades, everybody made a distinction between the "settlements" in the West Bank and Gaza and the "Jewish neighborhoods" in East Jerusalem. Now this distinction has been eradicated, and everybody speaks about the settlements in East Jerusalem.

SO NETANYAHU went to Canossa. He entered the gate of the White House. Obama listened to his proposals and told him that they were not sufficient. Netanyahu huddled with his advisors in a side room in the building and went back to Obama. Again Obama told him that his proposals were insufficient. That's how it ended: no agreement, no joint statement, no photos.

That is not just a "crisis" anymore. It is something really momentous: a basic change in the policy of the US. The American ship in the Middle East is making a large turn, and this is taking a long time. There have been many disappointments for peace-lovers on the way. But now it is happening at last.

The President of the United States wants to end the conflict, which is threatening the vital national interests of the US. He wants a peace agreement. Not at the end of time, not in the next generation, but now, within two years.

The change finds its expression in East Jerusalem, because there can be no peace without East Jerusalem becoming the capital of Palestine. The Israeli building activity there is designed to prevent just this. Therefore, it is the test.

Up to now, Netanyahu has played a double game. At one moment he leans towards the US, the next he leans towards the settlers. Aluf Ben, the senior political editor of Haaretz, this week asked him to choose "between Benny Begin and Uri Avnery" - meaning, between Greater Israel and the two-state solution.

I feel flattered by the formula, but the political choice is now between Lieberman-Yishai and Tzipi Livni.

Netanyahu has no chance of escaping Obama's excommunication as long as he is a hostage of the present government coalition. It is said that a clever person knows how to get out of a trap into which a wise person would not have fallen in the first place. If Netanyahu had been wise, he would not have set up this coalition. Now we shall see if he is clever.

Kadima is far from being a peace party. Its countenance is blurred. During the whole year in opposition it has not proven itself in any way and has not taken part in any principled struggle. But the public considers it a moderate party, unlike Netanyahu's overtly extremist partners. According to the latest polls, Kadima has recently extended its slight advantage over Likud.

In order to enter into serious negotiations with the Palestinians, as demanded by Obama, Netanyahu will have to dismantle the existing coalition and invite Livni in. Until that happens, he will be left standing at the gate of Canossa.

The struggle between the king and the pope did not end with the humiliating scene at Canossa. It went on for a long time. The battle between Netanyahu and Obama will be decided much more quickly.
(c) 2010 Uri Avnery ~~~ Gush Shalom

The Difference Between Liberalism And Progressivism
By David Sirota

As a progressive, I'm often asked if there is a real difference between progressivism and liberalism, or if progressivism is merely a nicer-sounding term for the less popular L-word.

It's a fair question, considering that Democratic politicians regularly substitute "progressive" for "liberal" in news releases and speeches. Predictably, Republicans call their opponents' linguistic shift a craven branding maneuver, and frankly, they're right: Most Democrats make no distinction between the two words.

However, that doesn't mean the ideologies are synonymous. In fact, if the last decade of economic policy proves anything, it is that even as the word "progressive" is now ubiquitous, a perverted form of liberalism has almost completely snuffed out genuine progressivism.

Some background: Economic liberalism has typically focused on using the government's Treasury as a means to ends, whether those ends are better health care (Medicare/Medicaid), stronger job growth (tax credits) or more robust export businesses (corporate subsidies). The idea is that taxpayer dollars can help individuals afford bare necessities and entice institutions to support the common good.

Economic progressivism, by contrast, has historically trumpeted the government fiat as the best instrument of social change - think food safety, minimum wage and labor laws, and also post-Depression financial rules and enforcement agencies. Progressivism's central theory is that government, as the nation's supreme authority, can set parameters channeling capitalism's profit motive into societal priorities - and preventing that profit motive from spinning out of control.

Looked at this way, liberalism and progressivism once operated in tandem. But regardless of which of the two economic ideologies you particularly favor (if either), three of the recent epoch's most far-reaching initiatives make clear the former now dominates both parties.

It started in 2003 with Republicans' Medicare drug benefit. Rather than go the progressive route - imposing price controls, permitting government to negotiate lower bulk prices or letting wholesalers buy drugs at cheaper foreign prices - the bill hinged on taxpayer money. Essentially, the government gave $1.2 trillion to the pharmaceutical industry in exchange for the industry providing medicines to seniors.

This became the bank bailout's model. Instead of first responding to the Wall Street crisis with progressive, New Deal-style regulations, Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama opted for liberal bribe theory: Specifically, they bet that giving banks trillions in loans, subsidies and guarantees would convince financial institutions to halt their riskiest behavior and start lending to small businesses again.

Now, it's health care.

The Democratic bill began as a hybrid. On the liberal side, it proposed growing Medicaid and trading subsidies to insurance companies for expanded coverage. On the progressive side, the original legislation included measures like premium regulation and a government-run insurer to compete with private firms. But save for a few fairly weak consumer protections, the final bill was stripped of most major progressive provisions. Ultimately, the celebrated "reform" is based primarily on a liberal wager that Medicaid plus subsidies will equal universal health care.

Which, for a short time, may be the case.

The trouble, though, is what The Washington Post reports: "The (subsidies') buying power could erode over time in an era of rapid medical inflation."

There, of course, is the rub.

Liberalism sans progressivism - i.e., public money sans regulation - turns the Treasury into an unlimited gift card for whichever private interests are being sponsored.

In this era of corporate-tethered lawmakers, such public-to-private transfers often face less congressional opposition than progressivism's inherent confrontations. But the inevitable result is taxpayers being bilked, as subsidized industries freely raise prices and continue engaging in destructive behavior, knowing government and/or captive consumers will keep financing the binge.

So to answer the question - is there a difference between liberalism and progressivism? Yes - and without both, we end up paying a steep price.
(c) 2010 David Sirota is the author of the best-selling books "Hostile Takeover" and "The Uprising." He hosts the morning show on AM760 in Colorado and blogs at E-mail him at

9/11 Reconstruction
Mental Before Physical
By Joel S. Hirschhorn

The failure to rebuild the World Trade Center site in Manhattan has received endless attention. But public anger about this failed reconstruction should not been seen so negatively. After all, mental reconstruction has also still not been successful and is surely more needed, with too many Americans still accepting the official government story about 9/11. This, despite a huge amount of compelling evidence that elements of the US government played some role, despite a very large, active 9/11 truth movement, and despite an impressive number of highly credible people demanding a new investigation as documented at

In the recent Angus Reid Public Opinion survey of a representative national sample of American adults, 62 per cent of respondents disagree with the view that the "Sept. 11 incident was a big fabrication as a pretext for the campaign against terrorism and a prelude for staging an invasion against Afghanistan." Far more Republicans disagree at 80 percent, compared to 66 percent of Independents and 55 percent of Democrats.

Consistent with this is that two-thirds of Americans (67 percent) agree with the government commission that investigated the events of Sept. 11, 2001, which concluded that an attack was carried out by 19 hijackers who were members of the al-Qaeda terrorist organization, led by Osama bin Laden. Though 12 per cent of respondents reject the commission's findings, one-in-five Americans (21 percent) are undecided. In particular, 35 percent of Independents and 34 percent of Democrats do not accept the official version, compared to just 20 percent of Republicans.

These figures translate to about 100 million Americans that question or find fault with the official 9/11 story, far from a trivial number and far too many to dismiss as conspiracy nuts and part of the lunatic fringe. This is the important message that merits public appreciation.

That the mainstream media refuses to acknowledge this kind of public sentiment reflects on their lack of courage to dig deep into the role of the government and face the truth. This behavior does nothing to improve American democracy and trust in government. True patriots must acknowledge that government through the terrible acts of some individuals can carry out hideous acts; there is a bipartisan history of this. Truth is the best way to stop such behavior.

Clearly, Republicans have blocked out the painful possibility that the Bush-Cheney administration played a role in 9/11. This may also explain why the large tea party movement that results from strong disillusionment with government does not embrace the 9/11 truth movement.

Here is my perspective: If far more Americans rejected or questioned the official government story and demanded a new investigation, we would get the mental reconstruction sorely needed to ensure that the government never again uses a false flag operation to advance a policy (wars in Iraq and Afghanistan) that would not otherwise receive public support, especially one that kills thousands of Americans, both civilians and soldiers.

That the reconstruction at ground zero in Manhattan has still not succeeded symbolizes that the wounds of 9/11 are not healed, which means that we still have some chance of demanding and discovering the full truth, regardless of how painful it is. The cost of a first-rate new investigation might be $50 million, far less than the billions of dollars to reconstruct the Manhattan site.

In the end, truth is more important than new buildings. Worse than a hole in the ground is a hole in our national soul. We need Congress to authorize and fund a new 9/11 investigation. The highly fragmented 9/11 truth movement must unite behind a political strategy to make this happen. The only reason to fear a new investigation is the likely unsettling finding that, indeed, the US government was a lot more than incompetent and negligent.
(c) 2010 Joel S. Hirschhorn observed our corrupt federal government firsthand as a senior official with the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment and the National Governors Association and is the author of Delusional Democracy - Fixing the Republic Without Overthrowing the Government. To discuss issues write the author.

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

Wal-Mart's Mechanical Inhumanity

The Supreme Court has decreed that a corporation is a "person," but apparently the justices never met Mr. Wal-Mart. If they had, they'd have to admit that there's nothing at all human about this bloodless, heartless, and brainless money-grubbing machine.

Members of the Court should get to know Joseph Casias, a 29-year-old former employee of a Wal-Mart in Battle Creek, Michigan. Hard-working, loyal, and diligent, Casias was an excellent employee during his five years with the retail behemoth, even earning "Associate Of The Year" honors at his store in 2008. "I gave them everything," he says. "One-hundred-ten percent every day. Anything they asked me to do I did. More than they asked me to do. Twelve to 14 hours a day."

However, Wal-Mart-the-Person abruptly fired Casias last November for testing positive for marijuana during a routine drug test. Did the guy have a reason? I'll say - Casias has sinus cancer and an inoperable brain tumor! Yet he's been able to do his work every day by using doctor-prescribed marijuana doses to control his pain - a prescription that is perfectly legal under Michigan's medical marijuana law. He never came to work under the influence, and certainly never took the medicine on the job.

He showed his state medical marijuana permit to the Wal-Mart cogs, but instead of common sense, they only had cold corporate policy to guide them. As a PR flack later put it, "We believe our [termination] policy complies with the law and we support decisions based on the policy."

To add more injury to the injury already inflected on Casias, Wal-Mart even tried to cut off his unemployment benefits. "It's not fair," Casias says simply.

It's worse than not fair - it's inhuman. Tell that to Mr. Wall-Mart. Reach "him" at 1-800-963-8442.
(c) 2010 Jim Hightower's latest book, "If The Gods Had Meant Us To Vote They Would Have Given Us Candidates," is available in a fully revised and updated paperback edition.

Silent Spring Has Sprung
By Randall Amster J.D., Ph.D.

Seasons change, yet some things remain the same. Nearly half a century ago, Rachel Carson debuted the first serial installment of what would eventually become one of the landmark works of the 20th century, "Silent Spring." In that book, Carson famously argued that the pesticide DDT was responsible for negative impacts on the environment, animals and humans alike, despite disinformation spread by industry and government officials about its purported safety and utility in agribusiness. "Silent Spring" is often credited with starting the modern environmental movement, yet today we are facing equivalent challenges and similar campaigns to conceal the potential dangers of toxic chemicals in our midst.

In particular, the pervasive use of the herbicide atrazine raises a host of ecological and political questions that are strikingly reminiscent of those confronted by Carson. Perhaps coincidentally, the widespread use of atrazine in American agriculture dates to almost precisely the time that "Silent Spring" was beginning to take shape as a withering indictment of the chemical industry's blatant disregard for emerging health warnings and its concomitant influence over politicians and regulators. While DDT was eventually banned for use as a pesticide in 1972, atrazine has enjoyed decades of unfettered use as (according to its maker, Syngenta) "one of the most effective, affordable and trusted products in agriculture." This promotional Web site includes personal testimonials from farmers as well as press releases intended to debunk "baseless activist claims" about atrazine's safety.

Interestingly, a similar pattern was evident in the early days of Carson's work to expose the dangers of DDT, in which her perspective was considered so "heretical and controversial" that she couldn't readily find a willing publisher to bring the story to light. When "Silent Spring" was finally published in 1962, there was an immediate backlash from the chemical industry and its proponents in the Department of Agriculture, equal parts of which were aimed at debunking Carson's science and attacking her personally in an attempt to discredit her views. In a thinly-veiled invocation of the Enlightenment gendered view of nature, one prominent industry spokesman remarked as part of a concerted public relations effort: "If man were to follow the teachings of Miss Carson, we would return to the Dark Ages, and the insects and diseases and vermin would once again inherit the earth."

Despite such dire predictions and ad hominem recriminations, Carson never wavered in her views. One of the most powerful aspects of her analysis was the recognition that environmental issues are necessarily socio-political ones as well. Most of us (myself included) are not able to follow the purely scientific components of any debate about the safety and efficacy of a given industrial chemical. Indeed, it is likely that competing research claims will be made, with industry oftentimes directly employing "think tanks" to generate or recast findings to undermine the force of contrary claims about its products. To sort these contests out and protect the population's interests, we generally must rely on regulatory bodies such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which actually traces part of its roots back to Carson and even has been referred to as "the extended shadow of 'Silent Spring.'"

Unfortunately, the EPA frequently aligns itself with commercial interests in the face of studies suggesting problematic effects of highly profitable and widespread agricultural chemicals such as atrazine. In 2003, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) reported that the EPA had decided not to regulate or otherwise limit the use of atrazine despite growing concerns about its potential effects on humans and the environment, including its impact on water systems from agricultural runoff. The NRDC, in a manner that will figure into the current debate, described these concerns as follows:

"Several recent studies show that atrazine causes sexual abnormalities in frogs, and another revealed elevated levels of prostate cancer in workers at an atrazine manufacturing plant. Some of the findings resulted from research funded by the manufacturer itself.... One of the first of several studies to turn up evidence of sexual deformities in frogs exposed to atrazine was conducted by Dr. Tyrone Hayes [who] conducted initial research with funding from Syngenta, and the deformities he found in the frogs included hermaphroditism. Syngenta responded by repeatedly sending him back to rerun his research, and apparently did not submit the findings about hermaphroditism to the EPA. Frustrated by the delays, Dr. Hayes eventually gave up his Syngenta funding, ran the experiments again independently, and found the same results. Since then, Syngenta-funded researcher Tim Gross has reported similarly damaging effects to a different species of frogs exposed to atrazine...."

This 2003 report further cited a study from the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine that suggested a link between atrazine and prostate cancer in humans. In light of such potential issues arising from groundwater contamination, in 2005 the European Union banned the use of atrazine as a precautionary measure. Nonetheless, in 2006 the EPA reregistered its use in the United States. In recent weeks, however, a number of new studies have emerged that cast further doubt upon atrazine's safety, including (as reported by Reuters) studies indicating increased rates of birth defects:

"Atrazine ... upped the risk of nine birth defects in babies born to mothers whose last menstrual period was from April to July - that is, when surface water levels of the pesticide were highest. The US Department of Health and Human Services' Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry has also reported that high levels of the chemical have been shown to cause birth defects in animals."

Predictably, Syngenta issued a press release arguing that there was "no direct or credible link" between atrazine and the observed incidences of birth defects. The company's atrazine Web site continues to laud its agricultural benefits and the purportedly "overwhelming evidence" of its safety. In 2009, The New York Times reported that the EPA generally has sided with Syngenta in rejecting calls for regulation in light of emerging critical studies, but that it "is likely to be reexamined" by the new EPA administrator due to its widespread usage (not only agriculturally but on lawns, parks and golf courses) as well as concerns voiced by officials in other agencies such as the Department of Health and Human Services. Still, the EPA is perceived as a relatively weak and highly politicized agency, casting doubt as to whether the so-called "extended shadow of 'Silent Spring'" will in fact strive to uphold her legacy.

The mounting pressure may be difficult for the EPA to ignore, however, as indicated by news reports that "forty-three water systems in six states - Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Mississippi and Ohio - recently sued atrazine's manufacturers to force them to pay for removing the chemical from drinking water." Indeed, in 2009 the NRDC issued a comprehensive report on the presence of atrazine in watersheds, concluding that "approximately 75 percent of stream water and about 40 percent of all groundwater samples from agricultural areas tested in an extensive US Geological Survey study contained atrazine." This in-depth report explores atrazine's endocrine-disrupting qualities, its pervasive appearance in high levels in drinking water systems, and the EPA's permissive standards and general neglect of the problem. The recommendations offered by the NRDC include "phasing out the use of atrazine, more effective atrazine monitoring, the adoption of farming techniques that can help minimize the use of atrazine and prevent it from running into waterways, and the use of home filtration systems by consumers." A follow-up article by one of the report's authors further notes that atrazine "can be detected in most streams and rivers of the US," and that eventually much of it makes its way to the Gulf of Mexico, "where it continues its plant-killing spree of algae and other beneficial water plants that provide food and oxygen for aquatic life."

Equally compelling are recent studies - including those directed by former Syngenta researcher Dr. Tyrone Hayes of the University of California at Berkeley - indicating that frogs absorbing atrazine through their skin can be feminized even to the point where males are "functionally female" enough to lay eggs. According to Hayes, as reported in the Washington Post, even at trace levels that are within drinking water standards, male fertility rates among subject frogs are significantly diminished. Hayes has been conducting these studies and finding similar results for many years, and recently told me that further research has found that "atrazine induces infertility, prostate cancer and breast cancer in rats and is associated with these diseases in humans in several published studies." In words that echo the spirit of "Silent Spring," Hayes told the Post that atrazine is a chemical "that causes hormone havoc. You need to look at things that are affecting wildlife, and realize that, biologically, we're not that different."

The company of course rejects such notions, and referred the Post reporter to a professor who questioned Hayes's findings even as it was noted that this professor "had received funding from Syngenta for previous research, but that it had not biased his work." Respected publications such as Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and the Journal of Experimental Biology, however, have carried Hayes's reports and thus given imprimatur to his operative conclusion that "atrazine is a likely contributor to worldwide amphibian declines." In a recent email interview with me, Dr. Hayes further noted that these results have been confirmed by "independent labs," and that "the induction of aromatase and estrogen production has been demonstrated ... in fish, frogs, alligators, birds, turtles, rats and human cells." As a recent article in Science Daily explains:

"Some 80 million pounds of the herbicide atrazine are applied annually in the United States on corn and sorghum to control weeds and increase crop yield, but such widespread use also makes atrazine the most common pesticide contaminant of ground and surface water, according to various studies. More and more research, however, is showing that atrazine interferes with endocrine hormones, such as estrogen and testosterone - in fish, amphibians, birds, reptiles, laboratory rodents and even human cell lines at levels of parts per billion. Recent studies also found a possible link between human birth defects and low birth weight and atrazine exposure in the womb. As a result of these studies, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is reviewing its regulations on use of the pesticide. Several states are considering banning atrazine, and six class-action lawsuits have been filed seeking to eliminate its use. The European Union already bars the use of atrazine."

In response, Syngenta issued a press release, remarkably claiming that a "growing body of research shows that atrazine has no effects on amphibians" and that "scientists around the world have shown that atrazine is safe to use - providing farmers an important tool to bring us safe, abundant and nutritious food." In an attempt to discredit Hayes in particular, the release contends that his work "has many shortcomings that undercut its usefulness, including its inconsistency with prior findings by the author." Hayes flatly rejects this, telling me that he has no doubt about the consistency of his findings: "Our previous studies showed that metamorphs (juveniles) were demasculinized and partially feminized (hermaphrodites). Our new data shows that when these animals reach sexual maturity they continue to be demasculinized and some which probably start out as hermaphrodites are completely feminized. I have no idea what their proposed contradiction is." While no further details are offered by Syngenta about Hayes's results, which have been published in noteworthy journals for many years, the company concludes its press release with a self-promotional blurb that is full of its own contradictions:

"Syngenta is a responsible company. We take the stewardship of all our products seriously - and atrazine is no exception. Our 4,500 employees across the United States share a common purpose - bringing plant potential to life. We all have families, so we are all interested in seeing that atrazine is properly regulated in the water we drink. We are convinced that it is. We all enjoy the safe and abundant supply of food that our products bring to our tables. Syngenta is one of the world's leading companies with more than 25,000 employees in over 90 countries dedicated to our purpose: Bringing plant potential to life. Through world-class science, global reach and commitment to our customers we help to increase crop productivity, protect the environment and improve health and quality of life."

Indeed, contesting research methodologies and asserting that there are "problems" with any studies contradicting its marketing line have been standard practices for Syngenta, as The New York Times noted in 2009: "In written statements, the E.P.A. and Syngenta argued there were problems with all of the studies suggesting health risks from low doses of atrazine. Agency officials pointed out that epidemiological findings cannot fully differentiate between multiple influences, and that they only highlight associations, and do not demonstrate a cause-and-effect relationship...." The Times, however, asked six leading researchers to review the epidemiological studies, and they concluded that the results were troubling. "These suggest real reasons for concern," said Melissa Perry, an associate professor at the Harvard School of Public Health. "The results need to be replicated, but they suggest there are real questions for policy makers about what constitutes safe levels of atrazine."

The article continued:

"Recent studies suggest that when adults and fetuses are exposed to even small doses of atrazine, like those allowed under law, they may suffer serious health effects. In particular, some scientists worry that atrazine may be safe during many periods of life but dangerous during brief windows of development, like when a fetus is growing and pregnant women are told to drink lots of water.... In recent years, five epidemiological studies published in peer-reviewed journals have found evidence suggesting that small amounts of atrazine in drinking water, including levels considered safe by federal standards, may be associated with birth defects - including skull and facial malformations and misshapen limbs - as well as low birth weights in newborns and premature births.... Some of those studies suggest that as atrazine concentrations rise, the incidence of birth defects grows."

Like most of us, I'm not a biological scientist and thus must rely on others to bring their expertise to bear on important issues such as this. I do know that corporate obfuscation and regulatory cronyism have been recurrent features of the post-"Silent Spring" landscape. If there is even a chance that one of the most widely-used agricultural chemicals is contributing to increased rates of cancer and birth defects, plus decreased fertility rates in numerous species, it warrants serious scrutiny. As Hayes related to me: "I believe that the preponderance of the evidence shows atrazine to be a risk to wildlife and humans. I would not want to be exposed to it, nor do I think it should be released into the environment." If a former corporate-funded and well-respected researcher continually warns of its usage, the US should consider following the EU's example and ban atrazine's use even if only as a precautionary measure. If our food and water supplies indeed are increasingly becoming toxic, we need to step back and consider the implications for the potential survival of the species itself. "We are subjecting whole populations to exposure to chemicals which animal experiments have proved to be extremely poisonous and in many cases cumulative in their effects," Carson wrote in "Silent Spring." "These exposures now begin at or before birth and - unless we change our methods - will continue through the lifetime of those now living." We can, and must, change our methods before it's too late.

While her landmark book was inspired in its title (from a line in a John Keats poem) by the notion of waking up to a spring season in which no bird songs could be heard, Carson was likewise motivated by the toll that industrial chemicals could take on human life as well. This spring, in recognition of Carson's legacy, let us vow not to remain silent in the face of increasing threats to our health and wellbeing. We owe at least this much to ourselves and to the world we'll leave behind for our children. Let's hope that the future is filled with clamorous and boisterous springs from here on out.
(c) 2010 Randall Amster J.D., Ph.D., teaches peace studies at Prescott College and serves as the executive director of the Peace & Justice Studies Association. His most recent book is the co-edited volume "Building Cultures of Peace: Transdisciplinary Voices of Hope and Action" (Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2009).

The Financial Dilemma Facing Local Governments
By James Donahue

The financial crunch sweeping the nation, the increasing numbers of people out of work and the dropping values on real estate is having an unprecedented impact on local governments that depend heavily on money raised from taxes on property, income and business.

The local boards of review are even now struggling with assessment values of properties in towns, townships and counties all across the land. They represent government boards that are struggling against deficit budgets which are illegal in most states. Thus the boards of review are reluctant to approve value reductions even when owners can prove the current market values are sliding. Property taxes are calculated on something called millage. A mill is an amount of tax assessed against every $1,000 of state equalized value of the property. States allow local governments to assess a certain number of mills against property, but up to a certain level.

Governments that want to collect additional taxes must go to the voters and get their approval before extra millage can be collected. When times are good, and people are earning what they need to provide a comfortable way of life, they are usually willing to approve extra millage issues to build new schools, buy new fire trucks, pay to operate local libraries and keep public bus systems operating.

State, county and local governments were set up for trouble when Lyndon B. Johnson's landslide victory into the presidency in 1964 filled both the House and Senate with an overwhelming majority of Democrats. That election gave Johnson almost unlimited powers; whatever he wanted he usually got from the House and Senate. That administration established what Johnson called The Great Society. That was the beginning of the federal revenue sharing programs and the Comprehensive Employment Training Act (CETA), which funneled billions in federal dollars into state and into local coffers.

Those federal dollars came with strings attached. Local governments were required to jump through a lot of hoops that included hiring companies to draft master plans for future developments and the creation of zoning laws and boards to direct cities, villages and townships toward a utopian life style. The programs also included the creation of community block grants to finance urban renewal programs and other financial assistance programs that local governments managed to work into their annual budgets. Most cities shifted to City Manager forms of government and had the money to hire new staff people.

The CETA programs filtered dollars to counties and city budgets to create new jobs for the unemployed. Thus cities that were getting by very nicely with one police officer suddenly had a staff of several police officers and sometimes more than one police car. Counties hired special deputies to provide additional road patrol, and later special officers were put on staff to handle cases of child and family abuse and the war on drugs. Under President Nixon, entire Drug Task Forces were created in every county in the land.

Counties created new jobs and expanded public services. Some got extra millage to expand or build new and larger court houses to house all of the new offices. It was a time of imaginary wealth. What was happening was that the income tax money collected by Washington was being filtered back to us through state coffers. Because they were required to find ways to spend all of this excess money or risk losing it the following year, unnecessary jobs and government offices that were never needed were created. Now these positions are so deeply entrenched in our governments, they are going to be difficult to eliminate.

Now that federal coffers are deep in the red the revenue sharing money has dried up. At the same time local property values are falling, people are either out of work or earning less than they did in prior years, and consequently they are not buying big ticket items and generated sales tax revenues. Local governments are looking for new sources of revenue while also going through the agony of cutting services and laying off workers. The National Conference of State Legislatures reports that 36 states are grappling with budget deficits by cutting spending and closing offices.

Some are raising taxes in creative ways. Many are raising fees for everything from the price of fishing and hunting licenses to marriage licenses. Some cities and states are taxing hotel room rentals and car rentals, thus slamming out-of-town visitors with unexpected fees. Additional local taxes are being added for the sale of tobacco and liquor. All of this is having an effect on the nation's tourist industry, which already is hurting due to the choked financial situation.

The states of Arizona, New Jersey, New York and Colorado have suspended property tax exemptions, including special exemptions for senior citizens.

Some state and local governments have been devious in thinking up new ways to collect money through traffic court. One idea that is catching on has been automatic surveillance cameras to monitor red lights and speed zones. Some cities have even gone so far as to reduce the time the yellow warning light shows, giving drivers less time to choose between stopping or going through the intersection. If the light turns red before they get through, there could be an automatic ticket with a big fine attached arriving in the mail.

The State of Georgia is trying a new "super speeder" law that assesses drivers caught driving at 85 miles an hour or faster to pay a special $200 state fine in addition to the local fine.

The tragedy is that the extra fees, fines and taxes are being slapped against a public that is already down on its luck. Many people are either out of work or working at low paying jobs and barely living from paycheck to paycheck. Any large fine for a driving or parking infraction, or an extra tax for something they need to purchase or use, only intensifies their personal financial hardship.

To make the situation even scarier, some urban economists are calling for relaxed laws restricting local government's ability to raise property taxes and other fees to remain solvent. David Brunori, contributing editor for State Tax Notes magazine and research professor of public policy at The George Washington University, warns in a recent publication that the existence of local governments will be in jeopardy without these increased sources of revenue.
(c) 2010 James L. Donahue is a retired newspaper reporter, editor and columnist with more than 40 years of experience in professional writing. He is the published author of five books, all dealing with Michigan history, and several magazine articles. He currently produces daily articles for this web site.

Have a Nice World War, Folks
By John Pilger

Here is news of the Third World War. The United States has invaded Africa. US troops have entered Somalia, extending their war front from Afghanistan and Pakistan to Yemen and, now, the Horn of Africa. In preparation for an attack on Iran, American missiles have been placed in four Persian Gulf states, and "bunker-buster" bombs are said to be arriving at the US base on the British island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean.

In Gaza, the sick and abandoned population, mostly children, is being entombed behind underground American-supplied walls in order to reinforce a criminal siege. In Latin America, the Obama administration has secured seven bases in Colombia, from which to wage a war of attrition against the popular democracies in Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador and Paraguay. Meanwhile, the Secretary of "Defense" Robert Gates complains that "the general [European] public and the political class" are so opposed to war they are an "impediment" to peace. Remember this is the month of the March hare.

According to an American general, the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan is not so much a real war as a "war of perception." Thus, the recent "liberation of the city of Marja" from the Taliban's "command and control structure" was pure Hollywood. Marja is not a city; there was no Taliban command and control. The heroic liberators killed the usual civilians, poorest of the poor. Otherwise, it was fake. A war of perception is meant to provide fake news for the folks back home, to make a failed colonial adventure seem worthwhile and patriotic, as if "The Hurt Locker" were real, and parades of flag-wrapped coffins through the Wiltshire town of Wooten Basset were not a cynical propaganda exercise.

"War is fun," the helmets in Vietnam used to say with bleakest irony, meaning that if a war is revealed as having no purpose other than to justify voracious power in the cause of lucrative fanaticisms, such as the weapons industry, the danger of truth beckons. This danger can be illustrated by the liberal perception of Tony Blair in 1997 as one "who wants to create a world [where] ideology has surrendered entirely to values" (Hugo Young, the Guardian) compared with today's public reckoning of a liar and war criminal.

Western war states such as the US and Britain are not threatened by the Taliban or any other introverted tribesmen in faraway places, but by the antiwar instincts of their own citizens. Consider the draconian sentences handed down in London to scores of young people who protested Israel's assault on Gaza in January last year. Following demonstrations in which paramilitary police "kettled" (corralled) thousands, first-offenders have received two and a half years in prison for minor offences that would not normally carry custodial sentences. On both sides of the Atlantic, serious dissent exposing illegal war has become a serious crime.

Silence in other high places allows this moral travesty. Across the arts, literature, journalism and the law, liberal elites, having hurried away from the debris of Blair and, now, Obama, continue to fudge their indifference to the barbarism and aims of Western state crimes by promoting retrospectively the evils of their convenient demons, like Saddam Hussein. With Harold Pinter gone, try compiling a list of famous writers, artists and advocates whose principles are not consumed by the "market" or neutered by their celebrity. Who among them have spoken out about the holocaust in Iraq during almost 20 years of lethal blockade and assault? And all of it has been deliberate. On January 22, 1991, the US defense Intelligence Agency predicted in impressive detail how a blockade would systematically destroy Iraq's clean water system and lead to "increased incidences, if not epidemics of disease." So, the US set about eliminating clean water for the Iraqi population: one of the causes, noted UNICEF, of the deaths of half a million Iraqi infants under the age of five. But this extremism apparently has no name.

Norman Mailer once said he believed the United States, in its endless pursuit of war and domination, had entered a "pre-fascist era." Mailer seemed tentative, as if trying to warn about something even he could not quite define. "Fascism" is not right, for it invokes lazy historical precedents, conjuring yet again the iconography of German and Italian repression. On the other hand, American authoritarianism, as the cultural critic Henry Giroux pointed out recently, is "more nuance, less theatrical, more cunning, less concerned with repressive modes of control than with manipulative modes of consent."

This is Americanism, the only predatory ideology to deny that it is an ideology. The rise of tentacular corporations that are dictatorships in their own right and of a military that is now a state with the state, set behind the facade of the best democracy 35,000 Washington lobbyists can buy, and a popular culture programmed to divert and stultify, is without precedent. More nuanced perhaps, but the results are both unambiguous and familiar. Denis Halliday and Hans von Sponeck, the senior United Nations officials in Iraq during the American and British-led blockade, are in no doubt they witnessed genocide. They saw no gas chambers. Insidious, undeclared, even presented wittily as enlightenment on the march, the Third World War and its genocide proceeded, human being by human being.

In the coming election campaign in Britain, the candidates will refer to this war only to laud "our boys." The candidates are almost identical political mummies shrouded in the Union Jack and the Stars and Stripes. As Blair demonstrated a bit too eagerly, the British elite love America because America allows it to barrack and bomb the natives and call itself a "partner." We should interrupt their fun.
(c) 2010 John Pilger

General Stanley "Black Ops" McChrystal

An Unaccustomed Truth
American Commander Admits Afghan Atrocities
By Chris Floyd

Well, John the Baptist after torturing a thief
Looks up at his hero the Commander-in-Chief
Saying, "Tell me great hero, but please make it brief
Is there a hole for me to get sick in?
Tombstone Blues ~~~ Bob Dylan

One can only assume that the regular editors of the New York Times were all out at a party, or left early for a weekend in the Hamptons, or something -- but somehow, the paper published a front webpage story that stated -- without the usual thousand excuses and extenuations -- that American troops are routinely slaughtering Afghan civilians at checkpoints. What's more, the story unequivocally ties the civilian killings to the "surge" ordered by the noble Nobel Peace laureate, Barack Obama.

Here's what the Times says:

American and NATO troops firing from passing convoys and military checkpoints have killed 30 Afghans and wounded 80 others since last summer, but in no instance did the victims prove to be a danger to troops, according to military officials in Kabul.

And what is the paper's authority for this astounding admission of atrocity? Not the usual "unnamed sources" or "senior official in a position to have knowledge of the situation," but none other than Obama's hand-picked commander on the Af-Pak front, General Stanley "Black Ops" McChrystal his own self:

"We have shot an amazing number of people, but to my knowledge, none has ever proven to be a threat," said Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, who became the senior American and NATO commander in Afghanistan last year. His comments came during a recent videoconference to answer questions from troops in the field about civilian casualties.

Let's repeat the much-media-lauded general's statement again: "We have shot an amazing number of people, but to my knowledge, none has ever proven to be a threat." Now, what would the authorities say if you or I shot "an amazing number of people who have never proven to be a threat?" Why, they would call us murderers -- even mass murderers. Yet this is precisely what "the senior American and NATO commander in Afghanistan" has just declared, on videotape.

The story goes on to make the extraordinarily straight -- and indisputable -- point that these wanton killings of civilians who have never even "proven to be a threat" is fanning the very "insurgency" (which is the Beltway term of art for any resistance to American military presence") whose quelling is the ostensible reason for the Laureate's "surge" in the first place:

Failure to reduce checkpoint and convoy shootings, known in the military as "escalation of force" episodes, has emerged as a major frustration for military commanders who believe that civilian casualties deeply undermine the American and NATO campaign in Afghanistan.

Many of the detainees at the military prison at Bagram Air Base joined the insurgency after the shootings of people they knew, said the senior NATO enlisted man in Afghanistan, Command Sgt. Maj. Michael Hall.

"There are stories after stories about how these people are turned into insurgents," Sergeant Major Hall told troops during the videoconference. "Every time there is an escalation of force we are finding that innocents are being killed," he said.

The story even states plainly that the official figures of admitted killing of unthreatening civilians -- already unconscionably high -- might not be the true extent of these atrocities:

Shootings from convoys and checkpoints involving American, NATO and Afghan forces accounted for 36 civilian deaths last year, down from 41 in 2008, according to the United Nations. With at least 30 Afghans killed since last June in 95 such shootings, according to military statistics, the rate shows no signs of abating.

And those numbers do not include shooting deaths caused by convoys guarded by private security contractors. Some tallies have put the total number of escalation of force deaths far higher.

A spokesman for the Afghan Interior Ministry, Zemary Bashary, said private security contractors sometimes killed civilians during escalation of force episodes, but he said he did not know the number of instances.

The story also presents an example of one slaughter of civilians, and shows how it leads directly to the rise of resistance against the American military presence:

One such case was the death of Mohammed Yonus, a 36-year-old imam and a respected religious authority, who was killed two months ago in eastern Kabul while commuting to a madrasa where he taught 150 students.

A passing military convoy raked his car with bullets, ripping open his chest as his two sons sat in the car. The shooting inflamed residents and turned his neighborhood against the occupation, elders there say.

"The people are tired of all these cruel actions by the foreigners, and we can't suffer it anymore," said Naqibullah Samim, a village elder from Hodkail, where Mr. Yonus lived. "The people do not have any other choice, they will rise against the government and fight them and the foreigners. There are a lot of cases of killing of innocent people."

Finally, the story depicts McChrystal -- again, the handpicked commander of the commander-in-chief -- stating flatly when it comes to the widely ballyhooed "counterinsurgency doctrine" that is supposedly now governing the military occupation of Afghanistan, the right hand does not know what the left hand is doing. In other words, it's a full-scale, four-star FUBAR:

More recently, General McChrystal moved to bring nearly all Special Operations forces in Afghanistan under his control. NATO officials said concern about civilian casualties caused by these forces was partly behind the decision, along with the need to better coordinate units and ensure that local commanders were aware of what was happening.

One unit could be doing counterinsurgency, while another carried out "a raid that might in fact upset progress," General McChrystal explained during the videoconference.

Beyond the bare facts reported by the story -- i.e., the top American commanders acknowledge that their forces are killing scores of innocent civilians who pose no threat to the occupiers, and that their own incompetent policies are actually breeding more hatred and resistance -- there is also the astonishing circumstance that we have a story on the Laureate's "good war" in Afghanistan that is almost entirely nothing but bare facts.

Of course, the story appeared late on a Friday, and will no doubt disappear down the memory hole in short order. (What, you think the Sunday talk shows will be filled with heated discussions about "McChrystal's astounding admission"?) Still, I must admit that when I read the piece, I honestly did a double-take; I thought it was a hoax -- or perhaps a hack. Not because the story seemed implausible -- but precisely because it didn't, and because it was shorn of most of the self-serving, empire-justifying bullshit that surrounds accounts of the "Peace Prize Surge."

Again, just think of it, let it sink in, attend to the word of the commander: "We have shot an amazing number of people, but to my knowledge, none has ever proven to be a threat." Again: "We have shot an amazing number of people, but to my knowledge, none has ever proven to be a threat." Again: "We have shot an amazing number of people, but to my knowledge, none has ever proven to be a threat."

Again: what do you call it when innocent, unarmed, defenseless people who "have never proven to be a threat" are gunned down in cold blood? What do you call such an act?
(c) 2010 Chris Floyd

Our Visionary Quants
By Belacqua Jones

Let me tell you about "Quants." These are people who have done more for America than all the soldiers and marines whose body parts litter the sands of Iraq or the mountains of Afghanistan.. Without the Quants, America would still be a backwater capitalist economy mired in manufacturing and corporate responsibility. The Quants have freed us from this economic tar pit and given us the wings of Icarus with which we are soaring towards the Sun.

Quants are the quantative specialists who reduce reality to raw numbers dancing across a screen, numbers that transcend all that makes life such a hotbed of emotion, chaos and unpredictability.

Quants are convinced that neither death nor life, nor angles nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor all of creation can separate them from the neutered sterility of their numbers and formulae.

They have freed capital from the crude matter of manufactured goods, from the international borders than once held it captive; they have freed capital from society, from community, from all responsibility for those it exploits. Without the Quants, there would be no empire, no imperial wars, and no world dominance. They have replaced long-term vision with shot-term greed.

Their discipline is total; in place of souls, they have tightly wired programs that tolerate neither thought nor emotion. Their numbers are above criticism because they have convinced our corporatist elites that there is no reality outside of the number.

And they are the greatest pranksters the world has ever known because the numbers represent nothing: not gold, not silver not goods-nothing, nada! Theirs is Zen financing in which form is emptiness and emptiness is form.

However, America still awaits the immaculate conception of the ultimate Quant, the enlightened One who can walk on numbers and whose dedication is to total that he is the numbers dancing across a screen.

How will he know this Messiah is among us?

Simple. One day he will leave his Wall Street office and take the train home to his McMansion in Basking Ridge, NJ. When he arrives home, he will give his wife a peck on the cheek and tiptoe into the nursery where his baby sleeps in its crib. He will then murder the infant because he had crunched some numbers at the office and discovered that by killing the child, he has increased his family's net worth by $1.6 million, given the cost of prestige nursery schools, private day schools, an elite high school, an Ivy League college, not to mention food, clothing, doctor bills and all the other incidental expenses that come with raising a child.

He will be our Savior, our Moses leading us to a Land flowing with debits and credits.
(c) 2010 Case Wagenvoord. Some years ago, Case Wagenvoord turned off the tube and picked up a book. He's been trouble ever since. His articles have been posted at The Smirking Chimp, Countercurrents and Issues & Alibis. When he's not writing or brooding, he is carving hardwood bowls that have been displayed in galleries and shows across the country. He lives in New Jersey with his wife and two cats. His book, Open Letters to George W. Bush is available at He sometimes writes under his nom de plume Belacqua Jones, this is one of those times!

Healthcare Reform; Totally Missed The Mark
By Mike Folkerth

The pro's and con's of healthcare reform will be debated for months and years to come with each side's opinion seeming to have been derived from reading totally different documents. Twenty six hundred lawyer written pages have that effect.

While it was inevitable that a great transformation was going to take place in America's second largest problem area, the current version of healthcare reform is not the solution. And, was probably never considered as such.

The idea was more likely the camel's nose under the tent approach. Get what you can now and change it to what you want later.

In my opinion the greatest injustice in this attempt at reform is the requirement of purchasing mandatory insurance. We're not talking about any old mandatory insurance here; we're referring to for-profit mandatory insurance. If this works out for the feds, I'm thinkin' the next thing to come will mandatory purchases of GM (Government Motors) products.

There are several bones of contention that I take great issue with in the forced insurance portion of the program. One is that the rich people don't really care what it costs, the poor people will have it paid for them, and therefore, that leaves the recurring sacrificial lamb of Middle America to take yet another fleecing. Perhaps in this instance, bloodletting, would be a more descriptive term for what is about to occur.

My reasoning lies in the fact that the cost of for-profit health insurance is not being curtailed by the new program. In fact, the insurance companies will raise their premiums to account for having to now accept the folks with pre-existing conditions. (I'm not arguing right and wrong here, just stating the economics).

We must remember that looking at only the profits of health insurers doesn't tell the whole story. What does it cost them to operate the insurance company? Obviously that cost is part and parcel of the premiums.

The insurance company-owned skyscrapers, private jets, corporate getaways in the Caribbean, ample perks and privileges, golden parachutes for the executives, and overall high pay for the thousands of employee's, must be funded before there are any profits. And those costs, along with profits demanded by millions of stock holders, are reflected in the cost of our healthcare policies.

The for-profit drug companies also made out big time on this new plan. They will now have millions of new customers using their drugs now that the government is paying the bill. Drug companies also received a longer grace period for their most profitable drugs before generic makers are allowed to compete with them.

Lastly, the president's plan for immigration reform is expected to provide insurance for more than 11 million illegal aliens already in the U.S. The word is, if you're thinking about sneaking in, hurry up and do it, the benefits are about to be raised substantially.

The Democrat's healthcare plan and that of the former Republican administration are really not that much different. The Republican's maintained for years that the solution was for everyone to purchase for-profit health insurance to pay for a for-profit medical system regardless of cost.

Those who were too poor to purchase the insurance could then report to the emergency room or die in the streets, whichever came first.

Simply put, the Democrats plan is to force everyone to buy for-profit healthcare insurance to support an out of control sick care system and to provide free insurance cards to the poor and illegal's in order to slow down the congestion in the emergency room lobby. Why did it take 2600 pages to say that?

As stated on this site many weeks ago, this is not a healthcare plan but rather a mandatory insurance program that has little to do with the original problem of our medical system being too costly for the folks that use it.

The most interesting, and eerily similar element of both the Democrat and Republican programs, is; neither one will work.
(c) 2010 Mike Folkerth is not your run-of-the-mill author of economics. Nor does he write in boring lecture style. Not even close. The former real estate broker, developer, private real estate fund manager, auctioneer, Alaskan bush pilot, restaurateur, U.S. Navy veteran, heavy equipment operator, taxi cab driver, fishing guide, horse packer...(I won't go on, it's embarrassing) writes from experience and plain common sense. He is the author of "The Biggest Lie Ever Believed."

The Quotable Quote...

"The most dangerous man to any government is the man who is able to think things out for himself, without regard to the prevailing superstitions and taboos. Almost inevitably he comes to the conclusion that the government he lives under is dishonest, insane, and intolerable."
~~~ H.L.Mencken

Is America 'Yearning For Fascism?'
By Chris Hedges

The language of violence always presages violence. I watched it in war after war from Latin America to the Balkans. The impoverishment of a working class and the snuffing out of hope and opportunity always produce angry mobs ready to kill and be killed. A bankrupt, liberal elite, which proves ineffectual against the rich and the criminal, always gets swept aside, in times of economic collapse, before thugs and demagogues emerge to play to the passions of the crowd. I have seen this drama. I know each act. I know how it ends. I have heard it in other tongues in other lands. I recognize the same stock characters, the buffoons, charlatans and fools, the same confused crowds and the same impotent and despised liberal class that deserves the hatred it engenders.

"We are ruled not by two parties but one party," Cynthia McKinney, who ran for president on the Green Party ticket, told me. "It is the party of money and war. Our country has been hijacked. And we have to take the country away from those who have hijacked it. The only question now is whose revolution gets funded."

The Democrats and their liberal apologists are so oblivious to the profound personal and economic despair sweeping through this country that they think offering unemployed people the right to keep their unemployed children on their nonexistent health care policies is a step forward. They think that passing a jobs bill that will give tax credits to corporations is a rational response to an unemployment rate that is, in real terms, close to 20 percent. They think that making ordinary Americans, one in eight of whom depends on food stamps to eat, fork over trillions in taxpayer dollars to pay for the crimes of Wall Street and war is acceptable. They think that the refusal to save the estimated 2.4 million people who will be forced out of their homes by foreclosure this year is justified by the bloodless language of fiscal austerity. The message is clear. Laws do not apply to the power elite. Our government does not work. And the longer we stand by and do nothing, the longer we refuse to embrace and recognize the legitimate rage of the working class, the faster we will see our anemic democracy die.

The unraveling of America mirrors the unraveling of Yugoslavia. The Balkan war was not caused by ancient ethnic hatreds. It was caused by the economic collapse of Yugoslavia. The petty criminals and goons who took power harnessed the anger and despair of the unemployed and the desperate. They singled out convenient scapegoats from ethnic Croats to Muslims to Albanians to Gypsies. They set in motion movements that unleashed a feeding frenzy leading to war and self-immolation. There is little difference between the ludicrous would-be poet Radovan Karadzic, who was a figure of ridicule in Sarajevo before the war, and the moronic Glenn Beck or Sarah Palin. There is little difference between the Oath Keepers and the Serbian militias. We can laugh at these people, but they are not the fools. We are.

The longer we appeal to the Democrats, who are servants of corporate interests, the more stupid and ineffectual we become. Sixty-one percent of Americans believe the country is in decline, according to a recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, and they are right. Only 25 percent of those polled said the government can be trusted to protect the interests of the American people. If we do not embrace this outrage and distrust as our own it will be expressed through a terrifying right-wing backlash.

"It is time for us to stop talking about right and left," McKinney told me. "The old political paradigm that serves the interests of the people who put us in this predicament will not be the paradigm that gets us out of this. I am a child of the South. Janet Napolitano tells me I need to be afraid of people who are labeled white supremacists but I was raised around white supremacists. I am not afraid of white supremacists. I am concerned about my own government. The Patriot Act did not come from the white supremacists, it came from the White House and Congress. Citizens United did not come from white supremacists, it came from the Supreme Court. Our problem is a problem of governance. I am willing to reach across traditional barriers that have been skillfully constructed by people who benefit from the way the system is organized."

We are bound to a party that has betrayed every principle we claim to espouse, from universal health care to an end to our permanent war economy, to a demand for quality and affordable public education, to a concern for the jobs of the working class. And the hatred expressed within right-wing movements for the college-educated elite, who created or at least did nothing to halt the financial debacle, is not misplaced. Our educated elite, wallowing in self-righteousness, wasted its time in the boutique activism of political correctness as tens of millions of workers lost their jobs. The shouting of racist and bigoted words at black and gay members of Congress, the spitting on a black member of the House, the tossing of bricks through the windows of legislators' offices, are part of the language of rebellion. It is as much a revolt against the educated elite as it is against the government. The blame lies with us. We created the monster.

When someone like Palin posts a map with cross hairs on the districts of Democrats, when she says "Don't Retreat, Instead-RELOAD!" there are desperate people cleaning their weapons who listen. When Christian fascists stand in the pulpits of megachurches and denounce Barack Obama as the Antichrist, there are messianic believers who listen. When a Republican lawmaker shouts "baby killer" at Michigan Democrat Bart Stupak, there are violent extremists who see the mission of saving the unborn as a sacred duty. They have little left to lose. We made sure of that. And the violence they inflict is an expression of the violence they endure.

These movements are not yet full-blown fascist movements. They do not openly call for the extermination of ethnic or religious groups. They do not openly advocate violence. But, as I was told by Fritz Stern, a scholar of fascism who has written about the origins of Nazism, "In Germany there was a yearning for fascism before fascism was invented." It is the yearning that we now see, and it is dangerous. If we do not immediately reincorporate the unemployed and the poor back into the economy, giving them jobs and relief from crippling debt, then the nascent racism and violence that are leaping up around the edges of American society will become a full-blown conflagration.

Left unchecked, the hatred for radical Islam will transform itself into a hatred for Muslims. The hatred for undocumented workers will become a hatred for Mexicans and Central Americans. The hatred for those not defined by this largely white movement as American patriots will become a hatred for African-Americans. The hatred for liberals will morph into a hatred for all democratic institutions, from universities to government agencies to the press. Our continued impotence and cowardice, our refusal to articulate this anger and stand up in open defiance to the Democrats and the Republicans, will see us swept aside for an age of terror and blood.
(c) 2010 Chris Hedges, the former Middle East bureau chief for The New York Times, spent seven years in the Middle East. He was part of the paper's team of reporters who won the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for coverage of global terrorism. He is the author of War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning and American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America. His latest book is, "Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle."

By Kathy Kelly

If the U.S. public looked long and hard into a mirror reflecting the civilian atrocities that have occurred in Afghanistan, over the past ten months, we would see ourselves as people who have collaborated with and paid for war crimes committed against innocent civilians who meant us no harm.

Two reporters, Jerome Starkey (the Times UK), and David Lindorff, (Common Dreams), have persistently drawn attention to U.S. war crimes committed in Afghanistan. Makers of the film "Rethinking Afghanistan" have steadily provided updates about the suffering endured by Afghan civilians. Here is a short list of atrocities that have occurred in the months since General McChrystal assumed his post in Afghanistan.

December 26th, 2009: US-led forces, (whether soldiers or "security contractors" (mercenaries) is still uncertain), raided a home in Kunar Province and pulled eight young men out of their beds, handcuffed them, and gunned them down execution-style. The Pentagon initially reported that the victims had been running a bomb factory, although distraught villagers were willing to swear that the victims, youngsters, aged 11 - 18, were just seven normal schoolboys and one shepherd boy. Following courageous reporting by Jerome Starkey, the U.S. military carried out its own investigation and on February 24th, 2010, issued an apology, attesting the boys' innocence.

February 12, 2010: U.S. and Afghan forces raided a home during a party and killed five people, including a local district attorney, a local police commander two pregnant mothers and a teenaged girl engaged to be married. Neither Commander Dawood, shot in the doorway of his home while pleading for calm waving his badge, nor the teenaged Gulalai, died immediately, but the gunmen refused to allow relatives to take them to the hospital. Instead, they forced them to wait for hours barefoot in the winter cold outside.

Despite crowds of witnesses on the scene, the NATO report insisted that the two pregnant women at the party had been found bound and gagged, murdered by the male victims in an honor killing. A March 16, 2010 U.N. report, following on further reporting by Starkey, exposed the deception, to meager American press attention.

Two weeks later: February 21st, 2010: A three-car convoy of Afghans was traveling to the market in Kandahar with plans to proceed from there to a hospital in Kabul where some of the party could be taken for much-needed medical treatment. U.S. forces saw Afghans travelling together and launched an air-to-ground attack on the first car. Women in the second car immediately jumped out waving their scarves, trying desperately to communicate that they were civilians. The U.S. helicopter gunships continued firing on the now unshielded women. 21 people were killed and 13 were wounded.

There was press attention for this atrocity, and U.S. General Stanley McChrystal would issue a videotaped apology for his soldiers' tragic mistake. Broad consensus among the press accepted this as a gracious gesture, with no consequences for the helicopter crew ever demanded or announced.

Whether having that gunship in the country was a mistake - or a crime - was never raised as a question.

And who would want it raised? Set amidst the horrors of an ongoing eight-year war, how many Americans think twice about these atrocities, hearing them on the news.

So I'm baffled to learn that in Germany, a western, relatively comfortable country, citizens raised a sustained protest when their leaders misled them regarding an atrocity that cost many dozens of civilian lives in Afghanistan.

The air strike was conducted by US planes but called in by German forces. On September 4, 2009, Taleban fighters in Kunduz province had hijacked two trucks filled with petrol, but then gotten stuck in a quagmire where the trucks had sank. Locals, realizing that the trucks carried valuable fuel, had arrived in large numbers to siphon it off, but when a German officer at the nearest NATO station learned that over 100 people had assembled in an area under his supervision, he decided they must be insurgents and a threat to Germans under his command. At his call, a U.S. fighter jet bombed the tankers, incinerating 142 people, dozens of them confirmable as civilians.

On September 6, 2009, Germany's Defense Minister at the time, Franz Josef Jung, held a press conference in which he defended the attack, playing down the presence of civilians. He wasn't aware that video footage from a US F15 fighter jet showed that most of the people present were unarmed civilians gathering to fill containers with fuel.

On November 27, 2009, after a steady outcry on the part of the German public, the Defense Minister was withdrawn from his post, (he is now a Labor Minister), and two German military officials, one of them Germany's top military commander Wolfgang Schneiderhan, were forced to resign.

I felt uneasy and sad when I realized that my first response to this story was a feeling of curiosity as to how the public of another country could manage to raise such a furor over deaths of people in faraway Afghanistan. How odd to have grown up wondering how anyone could ever have been an uninvolved bystander allowing Nazi atrocities to develop and to find myself, four decades later, puzzling over how German people or any country's citizenship could exercise so much control over their governance.

Today, in the US, attacks on civilians are frequently discussed in terms of the "war for hearts and minds."

Close to ten months ago, Defense Secretary Robert Gates told reporters at a June 12, 2009 press conference in Brussels that General Stanley McChrystal "would work to minimize Afghan civilian casualties, a source of growing public anger within Afghanistan."

"Every civilian casualty -- however caused -- is a defeat for us," Gates continued, "and a setback for the Afghan government."

On March 23rd, 2010, McChrystal was interviewed by the Daily Telegraph. "Your security comes from the people," he said. "You don't need to be secured away from the people. You need to be secured by the people. So as you win their support, it's in their interests to secure you, .... This can mean patrolling without armored vehicles or even flak jackets. It means accepting greater short-term risk - and higher casualties - in the hope of winning a "battle of perceptions and perspectives" that will result in longer-term security."

And on March 2nd, 2010, he told Gail McCabe "What we're trying to do now is to increase their confidence in us and their confidence in their government. But you can't do that through smoke and mirrors, you have to do that through real things you do - because they've been through thirty-one years of war now, they've seen so much, they're not going to be beguiled by a message."

We're obliged as Americans to ask ourselves whether we will be guided by a message such as McChrystal's or by evidence. Americans have not been through thirty-one years of war, and we have managed to see very little of the consequences of decades of warmaking in Afghanistan.

According to a March 3, 2010 Save the Children report, "The world is ignoring the daily deaths of more than 850 Afghan children from treatable diseases like diarrhea and pneumonia, focusing on fighting the insurgency rather than providing humanitarian aid." The report notes that a quarter of all children born in the country die before the age of five, while nearly 60 percent of children are malnourished and suffer physical or mental problems. The UN Human Development Index in 2009 says that Afghanistan is one of the poorest countries in the world, second only to Niger in sub-Saharan Africa.

The proposed US defense budget will cost the U.S. public two billion dollars per day. President Obama's administration is seeking a 33 billion dollar supplemental to fund wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Most U.S. people are aware of Taleban atrocities, and many may believe the U.S. troops are in Afghanistan to protect Afghan villagers from Taleban human rights abuses. At least the mainstream news media in Germany and the UK will air stories of atrocities. The U.S. people are disadvantaged inasmuch as the media and the Pentagon attempt to pacify us, winning our hearts and minds to bankroll ongoing warfare and troop escalation in Afghanistan. Yet it isn't very difficult to pacify U.S. people. We're easily distracted from the war, and when we do note that an atrocity has happened, we seem more likely to respond with a shrug of dismay than with a sustained protest.

At the Winter Soldier hearings, future presidential hopeful John Kerry movingly asked Congress how it could ask a soldier "To be the last man to die for a mistake," while contemporary polls showed less prominent Americans far more willing to call the Vietnam war an evil - a crime - a sin - than "a mistake." The purpose of that war, as of Obama's favored war in Afghanistan, was to pacify dangerous populations - to make them peaceful, to win the battle of hearts and minds.

Afghan civilian deaths no longer occur at the rate seen in the war's first few months, in which the civilian toll of our September 11 attacks, pretext for the war then as it is now, was so rapidly exceeded.

But every week we hear - if we are listening very carefully to the news, if we are still reading that final paragraph on page A16 - or if we are following the work of brave souls like Jerome Starkey - of tragic mistakes. We are used to tragic mistakes. Attacking a country militarily means planning for countless tragic mistakes.

Some of us still let ourselves believe that the war can do some good in Afghanistan, that our leaders' motives for escalating the war, however dominated by strategic economic concerns and geopolitical rivalries, still in some small part include the interests of the Afghan people.

There are others who know where this war will lead and know that our leaders know, and have simply become too fatigued, too drained of frightened tears by this long decade of nightmare, to hold those leaders accountable anymore for moral choices.

It's worthwhile to wonder, how did we become this pacified? But far more important is our collective effort to approach the mirror, to stay in front of it, unflinching, and see the consequences of our mistaken acquiescence to the tragic mistakes of war, and then work, work hard, to correct our mistakes and nonviolently resist collaboration with war crimes.
(c) 2010 Kathy Kelly, is a co-coordinator of Voices for Creative Nonviolence.

The Dead Letter Office...

Heil Obama,

Dear Uberfuhrer Coburn,

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

Without your lock step calling for the repeal of the Constitution and Bill of Rights, your holding up people's unemployment benefits because you can, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and those many other profitable oil wars to come would have been impossible! With the help of our mutual friends, the other "Rethuglican Whores" you have made it possible for all of us to goose-step off to a brave new bank account!

Along with this award you will be given the Iron Cross first class with ruby clusters, presented by our glorious Fuhrer, Herr Obama at a gala celebration at "der Fuhrer Bunker," formally the "White House," on 04-15-2010. We salute you Herr Coburn, Sieg Heil!

Signed by,
Vice Fuhrer Biden

Heil Obama

Getting Into Massa's Drawers
Truly Creepy Details about the Congressman
By Greg Palast

For the two weeks before tickle-and-grope charges busted open on him, and before his resignation from Congress, our BBC Television investigations team was hunting for Representative Eric Massa.

We wanted to know what he had hidden in his drawers. Not his knickers, which have captivated America's peep-show media, but Massa's file drawers where he keeps his dirtier secrets.

Frankly, I don't give a rat's ass about Massa's creepy little peccadilloes. But I care an awful lot about creeps that quietly backed him.

Massa plays himself as a two-fisted Progressive Democrat, telling the President to jam his fake health care bill where the Rahm don't shine, and he gave the Iraq war his middle finger. I mean, the guy was on Rachel Maddow.

That's the television Massa. But what about the Congressman Massa? And why was he ducking us?

I specifically wanted to ask the New York Congressman about Paul Singer: "Swift Boat" Singer, the guy who funded the vile attacks on Presidential Candidate John Kerry. "Swift Boat" Singer - reportedly the biggest funder of the Republican Party in New York. Our information was that the demi-billionaire Singer was backing Massa.

Singer's nickname isn't really Swift Boat. It's "The Vulture."

Singer is a speculator, the predator-in-chief of the flock of financiers, collectively known as "vultures," who buy up the right to collect on old loans made to the world's poorest nations. Vultures use law suits, political muscle, and in some cases, bribery, to get nations like Congo and Liberia to pay these hedge funds up to 100 times what the vulture originally paid for the debt.

As you can imagine, vultures don't have lots of friends; and those they have they must purchase.

The vultures had been looking for some morally challenged congressperson to front a bill to help them crank billions from the budgets of Third World nations. The law that could make demi-billionaire Singer a billionaire is called, "The Judgment Evading Foreign States Accountability Act" (H.R. 2493).

In effect, the bill says that if Argentina (and other Third World nations) don't pay Mr. Singer and his vulture buddies the billions they demand, then the US government will act as Singer's enforcement arm, hanging out Argentina to dry, cutting off trade between our countries.

Now, as Mr. Singer became Mr. Checkbook to the Republican Party in New York, you'd assume that his make-me-richer bill would be sponsored by some right-wing GOP troglodyte. Wrong: the rent-boy, the chief sponsor of Singer's bill, was, to our amazement, the "liberal" Democrat Eric Massa.

Two sources tell us that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was not amused at Massa's weirdo attack on the financial lifeblood of US allies, nor does the White House favor a law which would provoke seizures of US assets abroad.

Our information was that Massa, crazy-desperate for campaign cash, was now getting juice from Singer and other vultures. I wanted to ask the Republican-turned-Democrat about his funding and about how he ended up in a political tryst with vultures.

The normally television-hungry Congressman refused our every attempt to get him on camera. And Singer's PR flack told me his own boss would speak to me "never, ever."

But we do know the cover story. Massa's bill was promoted by a benign-sounding group called, "The American Task Force Argentina." The ATFA website says their goal is, "Pursuing a Fair Reconciliation of the Argentine Debt Default."

There are some very progressive folk on ATFA's payroll. Its masthead lists "Ambassador Nancy Soderberg." Nancy's not actually an ambassador, but she did hold that title a decade ago under Bill Clinton, and she even worked for Ted Kennedy. The other co-Chair is listed as "The Honorable Dr. Robert J. Shapiro." Shapiro's no longer an "Honorable," but, back in the day, he held that title under Clinton as Undersecretary of Commerce. Now he's a lobbyist.

Liberian under vulture attack

These good liberals charge mucho bucks per hour for their influence. Who picked up the tab? Well, there was FH International and Montreux Capital, vulture funds that tormented West Africa's poorest nation, Liberia.

Those are the vulture funds that, when I came to question them in their New York offices last month, unbolted their name plaque from the building wall and locked their employees inside to hide from our camera crew. Also behind ATFA: Elliot Associates -- Paul Singer, proprietor.

I wanted to ask Bob Shapiro what he and these other good Democrats were doing with vulture feathers in their wallets. (The Honorable Bob leaped at the chance to appear on BBC TV ... until he was told that the reporter would be Greg Palast. Instantly, Dr. Shapiro became unavailable.)

I'm sure Shapiro would have told me that, unlike Republicans, you can't buy Democrats. True, but apparently, you can rent them.

So, that's the cover. A "liberal" group funded by a right-wing Republican fronting for those trying to shake down Argentina to pay on bogus "loans" that Singer and FH International bought for next to nothing.

If Bob Shapiro will front for predators for cash, that's his business. But if Massa took campaign loot in a quid pro quo for legislation, that's our business.

I don't know the answer. But Massa does. And he won't talk to me. Nor will he talk to the House Ethics Committee.

On March 5, Massa abruptly resigned from Congress - which put an immediate end to the Ethics investigation of his activities.

At first, he said he was quitting Congress because he has cancer. Then he said he resigned because a buck-naked Rahm Emanuel bullied him in the Congressional shower-room and then threatened him over his health care vote. (Foxhole wing-nut Glenn Beck fell for that canard.) Then Massa said he resigned because of an aide's accusation that the Congressman tickled the aide in an "inappropriate" manner. (The mainstream press swallowed that one whole.)

I don't believe any of it. (Senator David Vitter (R-LA), known as "Vitter The hitter," was caught getting diapered by the Washington Madame, and still remains in the Senate voting against what he calls Obama's "immoral" program.)

Would the real Eric Massa please step forward and tell us the real reason he's resigning? Eric, my door's open and my microphone's on.

I don't want to talk about your zipper. I do want to ask you about any connection between speculator money and your save-the-vultures bill.

Unfortunately, despite our many pleas, Mr. Massa, you won't speak to us on camera or off. Apparently the subject of your financier buddies is a little too ticklish.
(c) 2010 Greg Palast is author of the New York Times bestseller, "The Best Democracy Money Can Buy." His investigations for BBC TV and Democracy Now! can be seen by subscribing to Palast's reports at.

The Real Legacy Of G.W. Bush
By Mary Pitt

The only thing we have to fear is fear itself. ~~~ Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Toward the end of the reign of the Bush regime, Mr. Bush began to consider the "legacy" of his presidency; setting up a library to hold his papers and to assure that this nation would never forget his term in office. However, there is no way that the real legacy of his two-term rule would ever be memorialized in any facility bought and paid for by his political machine. He has made a mark on our American soul that will remain a very long time; like a large scar from an almost-fatal wound.

On September 11, 2001, the whole nation saw the awesome destruction of the World Trade Center. If not actually on the site, we saw it live on television or played and re-played on the news. The actual deed, followed by the speeches by President Bush and his followers and assistants, drove the knife of that legacy deep into the hearts of Americans everywhere. That legacy was a paralyzing fear; gut-wrenching, breath-taking, spine-tingling, blood-chilling FEAR!

To a generation that grew up with air-raid drills, stop-drop-and-cover admonitions pounded into our young consciousness, the horrors of Korea and Vietnam, and the seemingly never-ending Cold War, it took little chain-rattling for the fight-or-flight instinct to become activated. Add to that the patriotic adages that we have learned from history, "The Red, White, and Blue don't run!" and you have a compliant herd of sheep that will do as commanded by whomever is in charge.

Under that impetus Congress, for the first time in history, granted the President the unmitigated authority to go to war without a Constitutional mandate. In addition, as he did precisely this, not once but twice, they also handed him the national credit card with no limit. Nobody asked how much it would cost. Nobody asked whether our "all-volunteer military" was strong enough to fight a two-front war. Nobody dared suggest the reinstatement of the draft, which had served this nation so well in the past. Instead, the National Guard was taken from their traditional obligations to protect the "home front" and sent to war. Armed militias were hired to supplement our forces and contracts were let for the furnishing of meals, transport, and other essential services, paid for by "credit card" and which remain unpaid.

The nation as a whole was deeply committed to the commands of The Ogre Under the Bed. Nobody but the few with immunity dared question any decision from the White House upon hearing the rattle of the chains. The Bill of Rights was shredded and the Constitution crumpled and tossed into the wastebasket as Congress obediently passed the Patriot Act. All law enforcement in the country was bundled into a Department of Homeland Security and their focus was changed from one of catching crooks to catching "spooks". If you spoke out against the policies of the administration, you might find yourself restrained from receiving a passport or prevented from boarding an airplane. The Ogre was under your bed and he was listening and waiting for you to offend!

In addition, the Holy Ghost was implicated as the President roamed the world proclaiming that he was doing The Lord's Work. His words were accepted as the Word of God in churches throughout the land and the fear of retaliation according to the Good Book reinforced the Ogre Under the Bed. If you had not sufficient fear of the Ogre, the Devil would get you.

Eight years later, with a new President and a new spirit in the land, it was determined that the wars have reached their end and may be systematically ended. Now the people are suffering as the result of economic collapse brought on by the free-spending and the neglect of the previous administration, so that the "spooks" that must be vanquished are of the more psychological perspective.

The Republican members of Congress are still under the spell of the Ogre as they struggle against the programs that are needed to place the nation back on the right track, to bind up the wounds of war, attend to the long-neglected workers as they lose their jobs due to the Wall Street-instigated crash, and go about the business of caring for the citizens. Only now they are "afraid" that we will not be able to pay our bills and are "worried about the future." They seem lost and leaderless, unwilling or unable to resume their responsibilities of steering the nation without a real leader to tell them what to do.

The current President sees the world as it is rather than as it was in the middle of the last century and tries to move our gaze forward to building a better future. But first we must struggle with the Holy-Word-according-to-G-W-Bush as well as the Ogre Under the Bed. We must take off our tinfoil hats, open the closet door, and look around. The sun is shining, the future awaits and we must dust ourselves off and get to work restoring our nation and becoming, once again, a nation where the future is a promise and, together, we can resume the upward trek toward what we know that it can be.

We can place our trust in our personal God and, thus cheered, tread with a smile and a song toward that promised "Shining City on a Hill" of legend, treasuring the Brotherhood of Man. Together we can banish that Ogre of the Bush Legacy, shine the brave light of day on our fears and realize that we have been left with the greatest gift of the Bush Legacy; "Thank God it's over!"
(c) 2010 Mary Pitt is eighty years old and has spent a half century working with handicapped and deprived people and advocating on their behalf while caring for her own working-class family. She spends her "Sunset Years" in writing and struggling with The System. Huzzahs and whiney complaints may be sent to

The Cartoon Corner...

This edition we're proud to showcase the cartoons of
~~~ Bruce Plante ~~~

To End On A Happy Note...

White Rabbit
Jefferson Airplane

One pill makes you larger
And one pill makes you small
And the ones that mother gives you
Don't do anything at all

Go ask Alice
When she's ten feet tall

And if you go chasing rabbits
And you know you're going to fall
Tell 'em a hookah smoking caterpillar
Has given you the call

Poor Alice
When she was just small

When men on the chessboard
Get up and tell you where to go
And you've just had some kind of mushroom
And your mind is moving slow

Go ask Alice
I think she'll know

When logic and proportion
Have fallen sloppy dead
And the White Knight is talking backwards
And the Red Queen's "off with her head!"
Remember what the dormouse said;
Feed your head
Feed Your Head!
(c) 1967/2010 Grace Slick/Jefferson Airplane

Have You Seen This...

Parting Shots...

Pastors and Deacons Descend Upon Easter Bunny Farm With Shotguns!

Satanic Substitutes for Christ

Baptist Pastors and Deacons Survey the Handiwork of the Living God on Easter Sunday Freehold, Iowa - The Dillard Henderson family were in the middle of a lovely Stouffer's Sunday dinner last week when a sin posse of twenty church Deacons burst into their kitchen armed with shotguns and several dozen gallons of gasoline. There was a great commotion as the Deacons demanded to know where 12-year-old Stewart Henderson was hiding his bunny rabbit, "Mr. Cottonelle Tail."

As new church members, not even officially recognized as "Truly Saved(tm)," the Henderson family had only settled their lovely Christian estate in Exodus Acres two weeks before they were visited by the church's Salvation Squad. The fact that the Henderson's made their initial down payment for church membership* did not absolve the probationary-Christian family from their responsibility to completely familiarize themselves with church regulations. So when little Stewart Henderson's Sunday school teacher overheard the boy talking to another child about having a bunny rabbit, she immediately took up the cross of Jesus Christ and alerted church authorities. The Deacons on call discussed the matter and raised the religious threat level from dark orange to honeysuckle. They then shattered the glass rifle cases in the church lobby, armed themselves to the teeth and hopped into the Salvation Glory Bus. They arrived at the Henderson estate in under 10-minutes.

The Hendersons, once they realized that Deacon Tomkins was not holding a Granny Smith apple, but a plump hand grenade, were cooperative and directed the Deacons to a shed in the back yard where they found not just one, but two dozen little furry white bunny rabbits! Deacon Wilkins phoned Pastor Deacon Fred at that point and within one hour Pastor's smaller helicopter landed in the cul-de-sac at the end of Second King's Way. Over one hundred curious Christian neighbors had already gathered there enjoying convivial speculation about the Hendersons' unlikely salvation, as well as fried chicken and prayer. The crowd followed Pastor as he made his way, Bible and church regulation book in hand, to the Henderson family's backyard.

By the time Pastor arrived, the rabbits had already had their lovely pelts ripped from their fornicating bodies with pairs of pliers and been dipped in gasoline. Some bunnies died in the earmuff-fur extraction process; some drowned in the Rubbermaid containers holding the Amoco unleaded; "but a few were still hopping about," said Pastor. "No doubt, obsessed with grabbing another piece of moist, furry rabbit crotch, as those licentious creatures are wont to do." Pastor noticed that there was a large white rabbit in the corner who appeared to be unaffected. "Bring me the big one, and set fire to this prayer shed!" yelled Pastor. When Pastor had the large rabbit in his hands, he held it by its extended ears and stared directly into its eyes. "I know you're in there Lucifer... you can't fool a man of God! Usually you hide in cute little stray pussies, but now you are hiding in this adorable little bunny," Pastor muttered. As the rabbit's left ear gave way, Pastor cleared his throat and spit a wad of bilious phlegm into the rabbit's face. It was of sufficient viscosity that it stuck like a piece of lint to Velcro.

"You dirty old fuzzy demon!" Pastor yelled. He then held the rabbit by its hind legs and swung it against the wall of the now burning shed, thrashing its head repeatedly. After another eight minutes of crazed swirling and imprecatory invective, to ensure that the beast was dead, Pastor tore the right back leg off of the bunny with his teeth and handed it to little Stewart Henderson. "Since you mock Jesus by believing superstitions that aren't Christian, why don't you hang on to this? It's supposed to bring good luck to you people. Until you get to Hell, that is! You rebellious little sissy!"

Pastors and Deacons Descend Upon Easter Bunny Farm With Shoguns and Gasoline! The neighbors present at the scene then burst into a joyful song of praise and hymns, contributing both buckshot and gasoline. Many were screaming in the delirium of the righteous, "We're clearing the Temple!" as they moved through the Henderson's property.

The Henderson family and Deacons joined them in a celebration of songs, scripture reading and praise, right there in the Henderson's backyard until the last embers from the prayer shed and all of its ungodly contents had burnt out. It was also God's Will that the east wing and the prayer-solarium of the Hendersons' 13,450 square-foot middle-class home was taken in a blaze of righteous glory.

While watching the Hendersons' Colonial home serve as kindling to the Lord's displeasure, Pastor took the entire family aside during the celebration to pray, read scriptures and ask just how long it takes for their out-of-state bank to clear a cotton-picking check. He also took the time to familiarize them with the following passages from the Landover Baptist Book of Rules and Regulations:

Excerpted With Legal Permission From the Landover Baptist & U.S. Independent Baptist Manual for Regulatory Christian Policies and Procedures Chapter 83 | Holidays | Section 4: Springtime Idolatry | Subsection R - Easter | Page 723-724 | Paragraphs 4 and 5:

The So-Called "Easter Bunny":

Satan's Cunning Tool to Steal Away the True Meaning of Easter!

Paragraph 4 -

Of all the Pagan symbols created by Satan to steal the True Christian History(tm) of religious holidays, none, save Santa Claus is more dangerous than the Easter Bunny. Painted pagan eggs, Easter baskets, and yellow marshmallow chickens don't hold a candle to this furry four legged demonic spawn, forged in the fires of Hell by Lucifer himself, for the sole purpose of distracting innocent little snow white children from the true meaning behind Easter Sunday. As the former angel of light, the Devil is an expert in trickery! This has been evident from 1923 to present time in modern churches where so-called "Christians" display the Easter bunny or pictures of bunnies in their Easter Sunday service programs. Sadly, many pastors have been seduced by the Devil's seemingly innocent long eared, hopping hellion. But do not be mistaken! Underneath that silky soft white coat of hair lay the tight red skin and pulsing veins of a miniature demon. And there are millions of them! Have you ever heard the term, "breed like rabbits?" Well, the Devil is laughing right at YOU! If you don't understand that Satan's job is breeding minions and the bunny rabbit is the ultimate symbol of minion breeding, then please close this book now and find another place of worship, for you are not welcome here.

Paragraph 5 -

Since 1923, Church authorities have not permitted the presence of rabbits on the Landover Baptist Church campus. Any family found possessing or breeding rabbits will have the rabbits terminated and suffer public humiliation. In addition, they will receive immediate counseling from a Deacon or Pastor (fine accrual not to exceed $2,800). [AMENDMENT - 1957 - Church members found to be watching television programs where rabbits are depicted, including the popular pornographic cartoon, Bugs Bunny, where the rabbit is made to appear human in nature (i.e.: walking on two hind legs) and unclothed are subject to severe discipline at the Pastor's whim, and fines not to exceed $4,300]. [AMENDMENT: 1962 - Pastor has reviewed the popular film, Harvey, starring Christian actor, James Stewart, and deemed the material inappropriate for Landover Baptist Church members (as are any picture house films). See Chapter 42 | Motion Pictures | Section 43 | Pages 305-450 for extensive details on discipline and monetary fines]. [AMENDMENT: 1974 - No church member is permitted to consume or digest the product, "Trix." With the slogan, "Silly Rabbit, Trix are for kids! Satan has revealed himself to the blind world of unsaved morons, but still they refuse to believe! (See Chapter 42 | Motion Pictures | Section 43 | Pages 305-450 for extensive details on discipline and monetary fines)]. [AMENDMENT - 1984 - Pastor has viewed the film, Roger Rabbit and has instructed that no further edicts be made to this section - any and all forms of rabbits in any form of media or reality are unacceptable until Armageddon (See Chapter 42 | Motion Pictures | Section 43 | Pages 305-450 for extensive details on discipline and monetary fines)].

*The Henderson's initial check for church membership drew suspicion because it was made with a too-colorful, coy secular check that failed to depict Jesus being tortured on a cross. It was drawn from a bank Landover does not normally do business with in accordance with a confidential out-of-court settlement of a credit card fraud matter that Landover Baptist was 100% innocent of -- in spite of the deranged ramblings of demon-stacked grand juries in several states.
(c) 2010The Landover Baptist Church

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Issues & Alibis Vol 10 # 14 (c) 04/02/2010

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