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In This Edition

Seymour M. Hersh hears, "Syria Calling."

Uri Avnery watches, "Biberman & Co.."

Victoria Stewart investigates, "Grave Mistakes."

Jim Hightower reviews, "Bankers In The Know."

Rick Perlstein considers, "Our American Common Sense."

Barbara Peterson explores, "Transition Towns."

Paul Krugman explains, "America The Tarnished."

Chris Floyd finds it's, "Fundamentally Flawed."

Case Wagenvoord is, "Snorting Toad Dust To The Greater Glory Of God And Country."

Mike Folkerth casts, "Mr. Ayres Vs. Mr Obama."

Chris Hedges studies, "Obstruction Of Justice."

Cynthia McKinney returns with a, "Report From London."

Indiana Sin-ator Evan Bayh wins the coveted "Vidkun Quisling Award!"

Glenn Greenwald uncovers, "Newsweek's Unintentionally Revealed, Central Truth."

Shirley Braverman with water tips for, "A Nation Of Small Farmers."

And finally in the 'Parting Shots' department Andy Borowitz reports, "White House Replaces 'War on Terror' With Symbol" but first Uncle Ernie warns, "The Hour Is Getting Late."

This week we spotlight the cartoons of Dan Wasserman with additional cartoons, photos and videos from Derf City, The Heretik, Nick Gazin, Cameron Cardow, Kevin Fox, Alfred Stieglitz, Time, Newsweek, The New Yorker, MGM, Issues & Alibis.Org and Pink & Blue Films.

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...
Zeitgeist The Movie...

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

The Hour Is Getting Late
By Ernest Stewart

"No reason to get excited," the thief, he kindly spoke,
"There are many here among us who feel that life is but a joke.
But you and I, we've been through that, and this is not our fate,
So let us not talk falsely now, the hour is getting late."
All Along The Watchtower ~~~ Bob Dylan

"Nail'em up I say! Nail some sense into them!"
The Life Of Brian ~~~ Michael Palin's character "Ben"

"It was the least thing for an Iraqi to do to Bush, the tyrant criminal who has killed two million people in Iraq and Afghanistan."

"Our defence of Zaidi will be based on the fact that the United States is occupying Iraq, and resistance is legitimate by all means, including shoes." ~~~ Khalil al-Dulaimi ~ Muntader al-Zaisi's attorney

The Changeling and wife have left the building and are out and about Europe for a little shopping. She for the latest fashions, he to see who'll buy his BS!

First stop was the G20 summit in London where he was met by protestors protesting his bailout plans for America and for them! The protestors battled police and took over an office of the Bank of Scotland while sending the opposing police a nice lunch of organic hens' eggs and fruit!

Barry met with fellow war criminal, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown who exuded optimism about a global deal to help pull the world out of recession while downplaying a rift with French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Barry said there was "enormous consensus" between the world's rich and emerging countries on plans to kick-start the global economy. However, Sarkozy warned that neither his country nor Germany would align with any "false compromises."

Barry and Michelle then headed off to a Buckingham Palace audience with Queen Elizabeth II where they'll discuss the latest European fashions with Liz.

Then they're off to the continent where he'll give speeches in France and attend the NATO summit meeting where Albania and Croatia are the newest members. Doesn't it give you peace of mind to know that Albania and Croatia now have their fingers on the button, too? The summit marks 60 years of wasting huge sums of money on NATO and guarantees that we will continue to do the same in the future!

Then it's off to Turkey, providing, of course, that Avigdor Lieberman gives his approval. Barry will host a round-table session with students while becoming the first US President to visit a Muslim country without first bombing it to rubble!

During his eight-day, five-country trip, Obama is scheduled to meet with European leaders who split with the United States over the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan and the torture of our kidnap victims being held down in sunny Gitmo and other locations. After Bush's many road trip shenanigans, this trip will be considered a success if Barry manages to keep his hands off the German Prime Minister's shoulders and doesn't cause Russia to nuke Poland!

In Other News

I see where the best laid plans of mice and men gang aft agley! So goes Barry's plans to ignore the last Junta's many war crimes and such. Barry may have to change his plans as criminal proceedings have begun in Spain against six senior officials in the Bush administration for the use of torture against detainees in Guantanamo Bay and at other locations. Baltasar Garzon, the counter-terrorism judge whose prosecution of General Augusto Pinochet led to his arrest in Britain in 1998, has referred the case to the chief prosecutor before deciding whether to proceed.

The case is bound to threaten Spain's relations with the new administration in Washington, but Gonzalo Boye, one of the four lawyers who wrote the lawsuit, said the prosecutor would have little choice under Spanish law but to approve the prosecution.

"The only route of escape the prosecutor might have is to ask whether there is ongoing process in the US against these people," Boye said. "This case will go ahead. It will be against the law not to go ahead."

The six officials named in the case include the most senior legal minds in the Bush administration. They are: Alberto Gonzales, a former White House counsel and Attorney General. David Addington, former Vice-President Dick Cheney's chief of staff. Douglas Feith, who was under-secretary of defense. William Haynes, formerly the Pentagon's general counsel, and John Yoo and Jay Bybee, who were both senior justice department legal advisers. I know there are so many more deserving traitors but at least this is a start in the right direction! Pity is that it had to come from Spain!

Court documents say that, without their legal advice in a series of internal administration memos, "it would have been impossible to structure a legal framework that supported what happened [in Guantanamo]."

Boye predicted that Garzon would issue subpoenas in the next two weeks, summoning the six former officials to present evidence: "If I were them, I would search for a good lawyer."

If Garzon decided to go further and issued arrest warrants against the six, it would mean they would risk detention and extradition if they traveled outside the US. It would also present Barry with a serious dilemma. He would have to either open proceedings against the accused or fight an extradition request from Spain.

Administration officials have confirmed that they believe torture was committed by American interrogators. The president has not ruled out a criminal inquiry, but has signaled he is reluctant to do so for political reasons.

"Obviously we're going to be looking at past practices, and I don't believe that anybody is above the law," said Obama with tongue firmly held against cheek! "But my orientation's going to be to move forward." After all what's a few hundred acts of treason, sedition, war crimes, and crimes against humanity as long as they were done my members of the elite? LetĚs forgive forget and move on, eh America?

Philippe Sands, whose book Torture Team first made the case against the Bush lawyers and which Boye said was instrumental in formulating the Spanish case, recently said...

"What this does is force the Obama administration to come to terms with the fact that torture has happened and to decide, sooner rather than later, whether it is going to criminally investigate. If it decides not to investigate, then inevitably the Garzon investigation, and no doubt many others, will be given the green light."

The lawsuit also points to a direct link with Spain, as six Spaniards were held at Guantanamo and are argued to have suffered directly from the Bush administration's use of torture in violation of international law.

The lawsuit claims that the six former aides "participated actively and decisively in the creation, approval and execution of a judicial framework that allowed for the deprivation of fundamental rights of a large number of prisoners, the implementation of new interrogation techniques including torture, the legal cover for the treatment of those prisoners, the protection of the people who participated in illegal tortures and, above all, the establishment of impunity for all the government workers, military personnel, doctors and others who participated in the detention center at Guantanamo."

"All the accused are members of what they themselves called the 'war council,'" court documents allege. "This group met almost weekly either in Gonzales's or Haynes's offices."

In a notorious legal opinion signed in August 2002, Yoo and Bybee argued that torture occurred only when pain was inflicted "equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death."

Another key document cited in the Spanish case is a November 2002 "action memo" written by Haynes, in which he recommends that Rumsfeld give "blanket approval" to 15 forms of aggressive interrogation, including stress positions, isolation, hooding, 20-hour interrogations and nudity. Rumsfeld, being the kinky sadist that he is, approved the document.

The 1984 UN Convention against Torture, signed and ratified by the US, requires states to investigate allegations of torture committed on their territory or by their nationals, or extradite them to stand trial elsewhere. I can hardly wait to see how Barry worms his way out of this one!

And Finally

Don't you just love certain customs and traditions? Gathering the family together for Thanksgiving. Coming together to watch the 4th of July fireworks. I see that our neighbors to the north adopted an old Iraqi custom. Colette Lemieux of the Canadian Peace Alliance reports upon this new Canadian "tradition."

Colette reported that...

"Three Canadians were arrested and others threw shoes in protest against George W. Bush on Tuesday when he gave his first post-presidential speech in western Canada's oil patch.

The footwear was tossed at an effigy of the 43rd US president outside a Calgary conference center where Bush was to speak to some 1,500 people at a luncheon, said Colette.

Some 200 protestors from across the country had gathered for the demonstration against Bush's invasion of Iraq and rendition of terror suspects, she said in a telephone interview.

They traded insults with guests lined up around the building, and "three people were taken away by police," she said. "It was a heated rally, but not a violent rally," she added.

A Calgary police spokeswoman said one protestor had been charged with obstruction and assaulting a policeman. Charges against two others were not announced.

"We had shoes sent in (to us) from across the country," Lemieux said, charging Bush is a "war criminal" who must be prosecuted for his former administration's policies in the US "war on terror."

"It doesn't matter that he is no longer president," she added. "A bank robber who stops holding up banks can and must still be prosecuted for his crimes." The same applies for Bush, she said."

The address, billed as "A Conversation with George W. Bush," was the first of at least 10 speeches to be announced in Canada, Asia and Europe, so expect to see more shoes sailing majestically through the air!

Bush's booking agency Washington Speaker's Bureau, which is organizing his post-presidential speaking tour, listed the Calgary event simply as "Remarks by George W. Bush."

In its profile of the former president, it says: "President during a momentous period in American history, George W. Bush offers his thoughts on eight years in the Oval Office, the challenges facing our nation in the 21st century, the power of freedom, the role of faith, and other pressing issues."

Local media said guests paid as much as $400 Canadian dollars ($315 US) each to attend.

Instead of staring vacant eyed at his cell room walls as he awaits the headsman's axe George is off on a world tour to gain more from his many war crimes and such. Seems a pity that Muntader al-Zaidi just lobbed shoes at Smirky instead of bricks, does it not?


We don't sell our readers new cars, fancy homes or designer clothes. We don't advocate consumerism nor do we offer facile solutions to serious problems. We do, however, bring together every week writers and activists who are not afraid to speak the truth about our country and our world. The articles we print are not for the faint of heart.

As access to accurate information becomes more difficult and free speech and the exchange of ideas becomes more restricted and controlled, small publications and alternative presses disappear. Issues and Alibis may soon join that list.

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Ernest & Victoria Stewart


08-26-1922 ~ 03-26-2009
To close to be news!

08-04-1975 ~ 03-29-2009
Later Lorne!


The "W" theatre trailers are up along with the new movie poster and screen shots from the film. They are all available at the all-new "W" movie site: Both trailers are on site and may be downloaded; the new trailer can be seen with Flash on site. You can download in either PC or Mac formats. I'm in the new trailer as myself but don't blink or you'll miss me! The trailers are also available on YouTube along with a short scene from the film.


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


So how do you like the 2nd coup d'etat so far?
And more importantly, what are you planning on doing about it?

Until the next time, Peace!
(c) 2009 Ernest Stewart a.k.a. Uncle Ernie is an unabashed radical, author, stand-up comic, DJ, actor, political pundit and for the last 8 years managing editor and publisher of Issues & Alibis magazine. In his spare time he is an actor, writer and an associate producer for the new motion picture "W The Movie."

Iran is a crucial factor motivating
renewed Israeli-Syrian negotiations.

Syria Calling
The Obama Administration's chance to engage in a Middle East peace.
By Seymour M. Hersh

When the Israelis' controversial twenty-two-day military campaign in Gaza ended, on January 18th, it also seemed to end the promising peace talks between Israel and Syria. The two countries had been engaged for almost a year in negotiations through intermediaries in Istanbul. Many complicated technical matters had been resolved, and there were agreements in principle on the normalization of diplomatic relations. The consensus, as an ambassador now serving in Tel Aviv put it, was that the two sides had been "a lot closer than you might think."

At an Arab summit in Qatar in mid-January, however, Bashar Assad, the President of Syria, angrily declared that Israel's bombing of Gaza and the resulting civilian deaths showed that the Israelis spoke only "the language of blood." He called on the Arab world to boycott Israel, close any Israeli embassies in the region, and sever all "direct or indirect ties with Israel." Syria, Assad said, had ended its talks over the Golan Heights.

Nonetheless, a few days after the Israeli ceasefire in Gaza, Assad said in an e-mail to me that although Israel was "doing everything possible to undermine the prospects for peace," he was still very interested in closing the deal. "We have to wait a little while to see how things will evolve and how the situation will change," Assad said. "We still believe that we need to conclude a serious dialogue to lead us to peace."

American and foreign government officials, intelligence officers, diplomats, and politicians said in interviews that renewed Israeli-Syrian negotiations over the Golan Heights are now highly likely, despite Gaza and the elections in Israel in February, which left the Likud Party leader, Benjamin Netanyahu, at the head of a coalition that includes both the far right and Labor. Those talks would depend largely on America's willingness to act as the mediator, a role that could offer Barack Obama his first-and perhaps best-chance for engagement in the Middle East peace process.

A senior Syrian official explained that Israel's failure to unseat Hamas from power in Gaza, despite the scale of the war, gave Assad enough political room to continue the negotiations without losing credibility in the Arab world. Assad also has the support of Arab leaders who are invested in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Sheikh Hamid bin Khalifa al-Thani, the ruler of Qatar, said last month when I saw him in Doha that Assad must take any reasonable steps he can to keep the talks going. "Syria is eager to engage with the West," he said, "an eagerness that was never perceived by the Bush White House. Anything is possible, as long as peace is being pursued."

A major change in American policy toward Syria is clearly under way. "The return of the Golan Heights is part of a broader strategy for peace in the Middle East that includes countering Iran's influence," Martin Indyk, a former American Ambassador to Israel, who is now the director of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy, at the Brookings Institution, said. "Syria is a strategic linchpin for dealing with Iran and the Palestinian issue. Don't forget, everything in the Middle East is connected, as Obama once said."

A former American diplomat who has been involved in the Middle East peace process said, "There are a lot of people going back and forth to Damascus from Washington saying there is low-hanging fruit waiting for someone to harvest." A treaty between Syria and Israel "would be the start of a wide-reaching peace-implementation process that will unfold over time." He added, "The Syrians have been ready since the 1993 Oslo Accords to do a separate deal." The new Administration now has to conduct "due diligence": "Get an ambassador there, or a Presidential envoy. Talk to Bashar, and speak in specifics so you'll know whether or not you've actually got what you've asked for. If you're vague, don't be surprised if it comes back to bite you."

Many Israelis and Americans involved in the process believe that a deal on the Golan Heights could be a way to isolate Iran, one of Syria's closest allies, and to moderate Syria's support for Hamas and for Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite group. Both Hamas and Hezbollah are listed as terrorist organizations by the U.S. State Department. There is a competing view: that Assad's ultimate goal is not to marginalize Iran but to bring it, too, into regional talks that involve America-and perhaps Israel. In either scenario, Iran is a crucial factor motivating each side.

These diplomatic possibilities were suggested by Senator John Kerry, of Massachusetts, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, who met with Assad in Damascus in February-his third visit since Assad took office, in 2000. "He wants to engage with the West," Kerry said in an interview in his Senate office. "Our latest conversation gave me a much greater sense that Assad is willing to do the things that he needs to do in order to change his relationship with the United States. He told me he's willing to engage positively with Iraq, and have direct discussions with Israel over the Golan Heights-with Americans at the table. I will encourage the Administration to take him up on it.

"Of course, Syria will not suddenly move against Iran," Kerry said. "But the Syrians will act in their best interest, as they did in their indirect negotiations with Israel with Turkey's assistance-and over the objections of Iran."

President Assad was full of confidence and was impatiently anticipating the new Administration in Washington when I spoke to him late last year in Damascus. Trained as an ophthalmologist, partly in London, he took over the Presidency in 2000, after the death of his father, Hafez Assad, who amassed enormous personal power in thirty years of brutal rule. Bashar had not expected a life as the Syrian leader-his older brother, Basil, who was killed in an accident in 1994, had been groomed to replace their father. Bashar, thirty-four when he became President, was said to be a lesser figure than either of them. He has since consolidated his position-both by modernizing the economy and by suppressing domestic opposition-and, when we spoke, it was clear that he had come to relish the exercise of power.

Assad said that if America's leaders "are seeking peace they have to deal with Syria and they have to deal with our rights, which is the Golan Heights." In the Six-Day War, in 1967, Israel seized the Golan Heights, about four hundred and fifty square miles of territory that is rich in Biblical history and, crucially, in water. It includes part of the Jordan River Valley and a plateau overlooking the river which extends to Mt. Hermon, in the north. Syria was left with no access to the Sea of Galilee and the upper Jordan River. Roughly twenty thousand Israeli settlers live there, and they have built towns, vineyards, and boutique hotels in its valleys and strategic heights.

Assad said, "The land is not negotiable, and the Israelis know that we are not going to negotiate the line of 1967." But he suggested that compromises were possible. "We only demarcate the line," he said. "We negotiate the relations, the water, and everything else." Many who are close to the process assume that an Israeli-Syrian settlement would include reparations for the Israelis in the Golan Heights, and, for a time, the right of access to the land. Assad said, "You discuss everything after the peace and getting your land. Not before."

If Israel wants a settlement that goes beyond the Golan Heights, Assad said, it will have to "deal with the core issue"-the situation in the West Bank and Gaza-"and not waste time talking about who is going to send arms to Hezbollah or Hamas. Wherever you have resistance in the region, they will have armaments somehow. It is very simple." He added, "Hezbollah is in Lebanon and Hamas is in Palestine. . . . If they want to solve the problem of Hezbollah, they have to deal with Lebanon. For Hamas, they have to deal with Gaza. For Iran, it is not part of the peace process anyway." Assad went on, "This peace is about peace between Syria and Israel."

In his e-mail after the Gaza war, Assad emphasized that it was more than ever "essential that the United States play a prominent and active role in the peace process." What he needed, Assad said, was direct contact with Obama. A conference would not be enough: "It is most natural to want a meeting with President Obama."

If the Netanyahu government is to trade land for peace, it needs to be assured of domestic political support-and help from Washington. In September, 2007, Israel destroyed what it claimed was a potential Syrian nuclear-weapons reactor during a cross-border raid, an action that won the approval of the Israeli public. (Syria insisted there was no reactor on the site.) At the time, the two countries were already laying the groundwork for the indirect negotiations. In December, 2008, Ehud Olmert, who was then Prime Minister, flew to Ankara, Turkey, and conducted more than five hours of intense talks on the return of the Golan Heights, with the mediation of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who was often in direct telephone contact with Bashar Assad. But Olmert's standing was tarnished, both inside Israel, by a series of criminal investigations that led to his resignation (he has denied any wrongdoing), and outside Israel, by the Gaza war, which began days after he left Ankara.

Netanyahu's coalition government will include, as Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, the head of the Israel Beytenu Party, who has argued for a measure, aimed at Israeli-Arabs, requiring citizens to take loyalty oaths or forfeit many of their rights, and has rejected any land-for-peace agreement with Syria (though he is open to trading other territories); and, as Defense Minister, Ehud Barak, the Labor Party leader, who has consistently supported talks with Syria. Current opinion polls indicate that the majority of Israelis do not support a full withdrawal from the Golan Heights. Netanyahu himself-in what was widely seen as a plea for votes-declared two days before the elections that he would not return the Golan Heights.

Daniel Levy, a senior fellow at the New America Foundation, who served on Israeli peace delegations in 1995 and 2001 and also as an adviser to Prime Minister Barak, said that Netanyahu "may have huge coalition problems, not least within his own Likud Party," and that he "may have to publicly disavow any land-for-peace agreement, given his political position. Can the Syrians swallow that? If they can't, it means that the only option left will be secret talks." Levy added, "Barak's appointment does not change the fundamental dynamics of the coalition, but it means that Bibi [Netanyahu] has a Defense Minister who will be on board for dealing with Syria, who wants to deal with Syria-and who also will be on board for doing it in secret."

Itamar Rabinovich, a former Israeli Ambassador to Washington, who was Israel's chief negotiator with Syria under Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and informally advises his government on Syrian issues, argued that the war in Gaza had not changed Israel's essential interest in a Golan Heights settlement: "Gaza is Gaza, and I say that Bashar Assad definitely wants to go ahead with the talks. And he may find a partner in Bibi Netanyahu. Bibi would prefer to make a deal with Syria rather than with the Palestinians."

But if the talks are to proceed, Rabinovich said, "they will have to be transformed to direct negotiations." This would require the support and involvement of the Obama Administration. Rabinovich said that he thought Obama, like Netanyahu, "after weighing the pros and cons, will see a Golan Heights settlement as being more feasible" than a deal with the Palestinians. "The talks are serious, and there is a partner."

The former American diplomat, who is an expert on the Golan Heights, said that it would take between three and five years to evacuate Israelis living there. "During that time, if there is a party moderating the agreement-the U.S., perhaps-it would be necessary for that party to stay engaged, to make sure that the process stays on course," he said. This factor may explain why Assad wants the U.S. involved. "The key point is that the signing of an agreement is just the beginning-and third parties are needed to reinforce the agreement."

Obama's Middle East strategy is still under review in the State Department and the National Security Council. The Administration has been distracted by the economic crisis, and impeded by the large number of key foreign- and domestic-policy positions yet to be filled. Obama's appointment of former Senator George Mitchell as his special envoy for Middle East diplomacy, on January 22nd, won widespread praise, but Mitchell has yet to visit Syria. Diplomatic contacts with Damascus were expanded in late February, and informal exchanges with Syria have already taken place. According to involved diplomats, the Administration's tone was one of dialogue and respect-and not a series of demands. For negotiations to begin, the Syrians understood that Washington would no longer insist that Syria shut down the Hamas liaison office in Damascus and oust its political leader, Khaled Meshal. Syria, instead, will be asked to play a moderating role with the Hamas leadership, and urge a peaceful resolution of Hamas's ongoing disputes with Israel and the Palestinian Authority. The Syrians were also told that the Obama Administration was reevaluating the extent of Syria's control over Hezbollah. (The White House did not respond to requests for comment.)

The United States has been involved in negotiations over the Golan Heights before, notably those brokered by Bill Clinton in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, in 2000. Those talks, despite their last-minute collapse over border disputes, among other issues, provided the backbone for the recent indirect negotiations. Martin Indyk, who advised Clinton at Shepherdstown, said that those talks were about "territory for peace." Now, he said, "it's about territory for peace and strategic realignment."

During the long campaign for the White House, Obama often criticized Syria for its links to terrorism, its "pursuit of weapons of mass destruction," and its interference in Lebanon, where Syria had troops until 2005 and still plays a political role. (Assad dismissed the criticisms in his talk with me: "We do not bet on speeches during the campaign.") But Obama said that he would be willing to sit down with Assad in the first year of his Presidency without preconditions. He also endorsed the Syrian peace talks with Israel. "We must never force Israel to the negotiating table, but neither should we ever block negotiations when Israel's leaders decide that they may serve Israeli interests," he said at the annual conference, last June, of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). "As President, I will do whatever I can to help Israel succeed in these negotiations."

The differences between Obama's Syria policies and those of the Administration of George W. Bush have attracted relatively little attention. In December, 2006, the Iraq Study Group called for direct talks with Syria. In a speech soon afterward, Bush explained why he disagreed. "I think it would be counterproductive at this point to sit down with the Syrians, because Syria knows exactly what it takes to get better relations," he said. The President then provided a list: stop its support for Hamas and Hezbollah; stop meddling in Lebanon; cooperate in the investigation of the murder, in 2005, of Rafik Hariri, Lebanon's former Prime Minister; and stop serving as "a transit way for suicide bombers heading into Iraq." (The Bush Administration accused Syria of failing to monitor its long border with Iraq, and, last October, staged a raid into Syria, killing eight people, one of whom was said to be a senior Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia operative. A huge number of Iraqi refugees have also fled to Syria, straining the economy.) Bush added dismissively, "When people go sit down with Bashar Assad, the President of Syria, he walks out and holds a press conference, and says, 'Look how important I am. People are coming to see me; people think I'm vital.'"

An official who served with the Bush Administration said that late last year the Administration thought it was unrealistic to engage Syria on the Golan Heights. "The Bush view was, if we support the talks, with no preconditions, what are we going to say to our supporters in Lebanon who are standing up to Hezbollah? 'You stood up to Hezbollah'-and where are we?"

Assad noted late last year that the Bush White House did not "have to trust me, because they are not involved in peace anyway. . . .They created a lot of problems around the world and they exacerbated the situation in every hot spot [and] made the world more vulnerable to terrorism. This is the most important thing," he said. "Nobody can say the opposite."

As the Bush era wound down, U.S. allies were making their own openings to Syria. In mid-November, David Miliband, the British Foreign Secretary, distressed the White House by flying to Damascus for a meeting with Assad. They agreed that Britain and Syria would establish a high-level exchange of intelligence. Vice-President Dick Cheney viewed the move by Britain-"perfidious Albion," as he put it-as "a stab in the back," according to a former senior intelligence official.

In his e-mail, Assad praised the diplomatic efforts of former President Jimmy Carter. "Carter is most knowledgeable about the Middle East and he does not try to dictate or give sermons," Assad said. "He sincerely is trying to think creatively and find solutions that are outside the box." Carter's calls for engagement with Hamas have angered many in Israel and America. In "We Can Have Peace in the Holy Land," published in January, Carter described Syria as "a key factor in any overall regional peace." Last December, Carter visited Syria, and met not only with President Assad but with Khaled Meshal, the Hamas leader.

A senior White House official confirmed that the Obama transition team had been informed in advance of Carter's trip to Syria, and that Carter met with Obama shortly before the Inauguration. The two men-Obama was accompanied only by David Axelrod, the President's senior adviser, who helped arrange the meeting; and Carter by his wife, Rosalynn-discussed the Middle East for an hour. Carter declined to discuss his meeting with Obama, but he did write in an e-mail that he hoped the new President "would pursue a wide-ranging dialogue as soon as possible with the Assad government." An understanding between Washington and Damascus, he said, "could set the stage for successful Israeli-Syrian talks."

The Obama transition team also helped persuade Israel to end the bombing of Gaza and to withdraw its ground troops before the Inauguration. According to the former senior intelligence official, who has access to sensitive information, "Cheney began getting messages from the Israelis about pressure from Obama" when he was President-elect. Cheney, who worked closely with the Israeli leadership in the lead-up to the Gaza war, portrayed Obama to the Israelis as a "pro-Palestinian," who would not support their efforts (and, in private, disparaged Obama, referring to him at one point as someone who would "never make it in the major leagues"). But the Obama team let it be known that it would not object to the planned resupply of "smart bombs" and other high-tech ordnance that was already flowing to Israel. "It was Jones"-retired Marine General James Jones, at the time designated to be the President's national-security adviser-"who came up with the solution and told Obama, 'You just can't tell the Israelis to get out.'" (General Jones said that he could not verify this account; Cheney's office declined to comment.)

Syria's relationship with Iran will emerge as the crucial issue in the diplomatic reviews now under way in Washington. A settlement, the Israelis believe, would reduce Iran's regional standing and influence. "I'd love to be a fly on the wall when Bashar goes to Tehran and explains to the Supreme Leader that he wants to mediate a bilateral relationship with the United States," the former American diplomat said, referring to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

An Israeli official acknowledged that his government had learned of "tensions between Syria and Iran in recent months." Before Gaza, he said, there had been a noticeable change in the Syrian tone during informal contacts-"an element of openness, candor, and civility." He cautioned, however, "You can move diplomatically with the Syrians, but you cannot ignore Syria's major role in arming Hamas and Hezbollah, or the fact that it has intimate relations with Iran, whose nuclear program is still going forward." He added, with a smile, "No one in Israel is running out to buy a new suit for the peace ceremony on the White House lawn."

Martin Indyk said, "If the White House engages with Syria, it immediately puts pressure on Iran, Hamas, and Hezbollah." He said that he had repeatedly sought, without success, to convince the Bush Administration that it was possible to draw Syria away from Iran. In his recent memoir, "Innocent Abroad," Indyk wrote, "There is a deep divergence between Iran and Syria, captured in the fact that at the same time as Iran's president threatens to wipe Israel off the map, his Syrian ally is attempting to make peace with Israel. . . . Should negotiations yield a peace agreement, it would likely cause the breakup of the Iranian-Syrian axis." When we spoke, he added, referring to Assad, "It will not be easy for him to break with Hezbollah, Hamas, and Iran, but he cannot get a peace deal unless he does. But, if he feels that things are moving in the Middle East, he will not want to be left behind."

Thomas Dine, who served as the executive director of AIPAC in Washington for thirteen years, said, "You don't have to be Kissingerian to realize that this is the way to peel the onion from Iran." Dine went on, "Get what you can get and take one step at a time. The agenda is to get Syria to begin thinking about its relationships with Iran, Hamas, and Hezbollah." A Pentagon consultant said, "If we ever really took yes for an answer from Syria, the Iranians would go nuts."

The official Syrian position toward Iran, which Assad repeated to me, is that Iran did not object to the Golan Heights talks, on the principle that any return of sovereign land was to be applauded: "They announced this publicly . . . and I went to Iran and I heard the same." But there is some evidence that the Syrians may be, in Dine's terms, reassessing the relationship. The senior Syrian official said that an opening to the West would bring the country increased tourism, trade, and investment, and a higher standard of living-progress that would eventually make it less reliant on Iran. If Israel then attacked Iran, he asked, "what will Syria do?" His answer was that Syria wouldn't do more than condemn the attack. "What else could we do?"

In an interview in Berlin, Joschka Fischer, the former German Foreign Minister, who has continued to closely monitor Middle Eastern affairs, argued that the Iranians would "have to make a public move" after a settlement. "Yes, they will react to an Israeli-Syria deal, because they do not want to be isolated, and do not want to lose their last ally to the West." In other words, serious regional diplomacy could be possible.

However, Alastair Crooke, a former British intelligence officer who operated in the Middle East and later served as an adviser to the European Union and a staff member for a fact-finding committee on the Middle East headed by Mitchell, said that the new Administration should not assume that Bashar Assad could be separated easily from Iran, or persuaded to give up support for Hamas and Hezbollah. "Bashar now has enormous standing in the Arab world, and it comes from these pillars-he was among the first to oppose the American war in Iraq and his continued support for Iran, Hezbollah, and Hamas," Crooke said. "He cannot trade the Golan Heights for peace with Israel, and cut off his allies. What Syria can do is offer its good standing and credentials to lead a comprehensive regional settlement." But, he said, "the Obama Administration is going to make it really painful for Syria. There will be no bouquets for Syria."

He went on, "The real goal of Assad is not necessarily an agreement on the Golan but to begin to engage America and slice away the American demonization of his state." The changed political landscape in Israel would complicate this process for the Syrians. He said, "They're starting all these processes to break their isolation and change their strategy. It's going to be bloody difficult for them to manage this."

Robert Pastor, a former National Security Council official who has visited Damascus with former President Carter, similarly said that he believed the Syrians had no intention of ending their relationship with Iran. "The Syrians want bilateral talks with Washington and they also want America to be involved in their talks with Israel on the Golan Heights," Pastor said. "They also believe their relationship with Iran could be of help to the Obama Administration. They believe they could be a bridge between Washington and Tehran."

Khaled Meshal, the leader of Hamas, works in an office in a well-protected, tranquil residential area of Damascus. In recent years, he has met privately with Jewish leaders and Americans. Meshal is seen by Israel as a sponsor of suicide bombers and other terrorist activity. In 1997, he survived a botched assassination-by-poisoning attempt by Israeli intelligence which Netanyahu, then the Prime Minister, had ordered. Under pressure from Jordan and the U.S., the Israelis handed over the poison's antidote, saving Meshal's life.

Speaking through a translator, Meshal said that he believed that the Iranians would not interfere with negotiations between Israel and Syria, although they were not enthusiastic about them. Meshal also said he doubted that Israel intended to return the Golan Heights to Syrian control. But, he said, "If we suppose that Israel is serious, we support the right of Syria to negotiate with Israel to attain its legitimate rights."

Hamas's presence in Damascus had, he knew, been a contentious issue in Syria's relations with both the United States and Israel. "Bashar would never ask us to leave," he said. "There are some who believe that Hamas would react defensively to an agreement, because of our presence in Syria. But it does not make a difference where our offices are. We are a street movement and our real power is inside Palestine, and nothing can affect that. We are confident about Bashar Assad, and we would never risk being a burden to him. . . . We can move at any time, and move lightly. The Hamas movement will not work against the interests of any other country, and any agreement can be concluded, whether we like it or not. But, also, we don't want anyone to interfere in our affairs."

Farouk al-Shara, the Vice-President of Syria, was, as Foreign Minister, his nation's chief negotiator at Shepherdstown. When he was asked whether Syria's relationship with Iran would change if the Golan Heights issue was resolved, he said, "Do you think a man only goes to bed with a woman he deeply loves?" Shara laughed, and added, "That's my answer to your question about Iran."

There are other impediments to a new relationship between the United States and Syria, including the still unresolved question of who killed Rafik Hariri, the former Lebanese Prime Minister, who was assassinated in February, 2005. Years of investigation have produced no criminal charges. The Bush Administration suggested that the Syrians were at least indirectly responsible for Hariri's death-he had been a sharp critic of Syria's involvement in Lebanon-and it wasn't alone; Hariri's murder exacerbated tensions between Syria and France and Saudi Arabia. But the case is clearly less important to French President Nicolas Sarkozy than it was to his predecessor, Jacques Chirac, who was close to Hariri. ("This was personal for Chirac, and not political," Joschka Fischer said.) An adviser to the Saudi government said that King Abdullah did not accept Assad's assurances that he had nothing to do with the murder. But there has recently been a flurry of renewed diplomatic contacts between Damascus and Riyadh.

One issue that may be a casualty of an Obama rapprochement with Syria is human rights. Syrians are still being jailed for speaking out against the policies of their government. Sarah Leah Whitson, the Middle East director for Human Rights Watch, said that Assad "has been offering fig leafs to the Americans for a long time and thinks if he makes nice in Lebanon and with Hamas and Hezbollah he will no longer be an outcast. We believe that no amount of diplomatic success will solve his internal problems." The authorities, Whitson said, are "going after ordinary Syrians-like people chatting in cafes. Everyone is looking over their shoulder."

Assad, in his interview with me, acknowledged, "We do not say that we are a democratic country. We do not say that we are perfect, but we are moving forward." And he focussed on what he had to offer. He said that he had a message for Obama: Syria, as a secular state, and the United States faced a common enemy in Al Qaeda and Islamic extremism. The Bush White House, he said, had viewed the fundamentalists as groups "that you should go and chase, and then you will accomplish your mission, as Bush says. It is not that simple. How do you deal with a state of mind? You can deal with it in many different ways-except for the army." Speaking of Obama, he said in his e-mail, "We are happy that he has said that diplomacy-and not war-is the means of conducting international policy."

Assad's goal in seeking to engage with America and Israel is clearly more far-reaching than merely to regain the Golan Heights. His ultimate aim appears to be to persuade Obama to abandon the Bush Administration's strategy of aligning America with the so-called "moderate" Arab Sunni states-Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan-in a coordinated front against Shiite Iran, Shiite Hezbollah, and Hamas.

"Of course, the Iranians are nervous about the talks, because they don't fully trust the Syrians," Itamar Rabinovich said. "But the Assad family does not believe in taking chances-they're very hard bargainers. They will try to get what they want without breaking fully from Iran, and they will tell us and Washington, 'It's to your advantage not to isolate Iran.'" Rabinovich added, "Both Israel and the United States will insist on a change in Syria's relationship with Iran. This can only be worked out-or not-in head-to-head talks."

The White House has tough diplomatic choices to make in the next few months. Assad has told the Obama Administration that his nation can ease the American withdrawal in Iraq. Syria also can help the U.S. engage with Iran, and the Iranians, in turn, could become an ally in neighboring Afghanistan, as the Obama Administration struggles to deal with the Taliban threat and its deepening involvement in that country-and to maintain its long-standing commitment to the well-being of Israel. Each of these scenarios has potential downsides. Resolving all of them will be formidable, and will involve sophisticated and intelligent diplomacy-the kind of diplomacy that disappeared during the past eight years, and that the Obama team has to prove it possesses.
(c) 2009 Seymour Hersh ... The New Yorker

Biberman & Co.
By Uri Avnery

IS THIS the government of Biberman (Bibi Netanyahu and Avigdor Liberman) or perhaps of Bibarak (Bibi and Ehud Barak)?

Neither. It is the government of Bibiyahu.

Binyamin Netanyahu has proven that he is a consummate politician. He has realized the dream of every politician (and theatergoer): a good place in the middle. In his new government he can play off the fascists on the right against the socialists on the left, Liberman's secularists against the orthodox of Shas. An ideal situation.

The coalition is large enough to be immune from blackmail by any of its component parties. If some Labor members break coalition discipline, Netanyahu will still command a majority. Or if the rightists make trouble. Or if the orthodox try to stick a knife in his back.

This government is committed to nothing. Its written "Basic Guidelines" - a document signed by all partners of a new Israeli government - are completely nebulous. (And anyhow, Basic Guidelines are worthless. All Israeli governments have broken their agreed Basic Guidelines without batting an eyelid. They always prove to be rubber checks.)

All this was acquired by Netanyahu on the cheap - a few billions of economic promises that he would not dream of fulfilling. The treasury is empty. As one of his predecessors in the Prime Minister's office, Levy Eshkol, famously said: "I promised, but I did not promise to keep my promises."

He also bestowed ministries on all and sundry. This little country will have 27 ministers and six deputy ministers. So what? If necessary, Netanyahu would have given a ministerial chair to each of the 74 members of the coalition.

THE PINNACLE of his achievement was the acquisition of the Labor party for his government.

In one stroke he turned a government of lepers, which would have been viewed by the whole world as a crazy bunch of ultra-nationalists, racists and fascists, into a sane and balanced government of the center. All this without changing its character in the least.

The most ardent supporter of this feat was Liberman, the new Foreign Minister of Israel. This extreme racist, this spiritual brother of the French Jean-Marie Le Pen and the Austrian Joerg Haider (I hope both, the living and the dead, will not feel insulted), was very anxious about what was awaiting him. In his imagination he saw himself extending his hand to Hillary Clinton and being left with his arm dangling in the air. Leaning forward to kiss Angela Merkel only to see her draw back in horror. Unpleasant.

The addition of the Labor Party solves everybody's problem. If the social democrats are joining the government, all this talk of fascism must be nonsense. Obviously, Liberman has been misunderstood. He has been misrepresented. He is not a fascist at all, God forbid. He is not a racist. He is just a traditional right-wing demagogue who exploits the primitive emotions of the masses to garner votes. Which elected politician could object to that?

Indeed, the whole government has been given a kosher certificate by Ehud Barak. He continues the glorious Labor Party tradition of political prostitution. In 1977, Moshe Dayan entered the new government of Menachem Begin and gave it a kosher certificate, when the entire world considered Begin a dangerous nationalist adventurer. In 2001, Shimon Peres entered the new government of Ariel Sharon and gave him a kosher certificate, when the entire world saw in Sharon the man responsible for the Sabra and Shatila massacre.

WHY DID Barak do this? And why did the majority of the Labor Party support him?

Labor is a government party. It has never been anything else. As early as 1933 it took over the Zionist movement, and since than it ruled the Yishuv (the pre-1948 Jewish community in Palestine) and the state without interruption until Begin's ascent to power in 1977. For 44 consecutive years it held unchallenged power over the economy, the army, the police, the security services, the education system, the health system and the Histadrut, the then all-powerful labor federation.

Power is encoded in the party's DNA. It's much more than a political matter - it's its whole character, its mentality, its world view. The party is unable to be an opposition. It does not know what that is, and even less what to do with it.

I observed the Labor members in the Knesset, during the short periods they were stuck in opposition. They were downcast and mournful. Dozens of them were wandering forlornly around the corridors, like phantoms, lost souls. When they went up to the rostrum, they sounded like government spokesmen.

The Likud suffers from the opposite syndrome. Their predecessors were in opposition throughout the days of the Yishuv and during the first 29 years of the state. Opposition is in the blood of Likudniks. Even now, after many years (with interruptions) in government, they behave like an opposition. They are the eternal discriminated-against, miserable and bitter, people from the outside looking in, full of hate and envy.

Ehud Barak personifies the syndrome of his party. Everything is owed to him. Power is owed to him, the Ministry of Defense is owed to him. I would not have been surprised if he had insisted on a clause in the coalition agreement appointing him Minister of Defense for life (and his yeoman, Shalom Simchon, Minister of Agriculture for life). Governments come and governments go, but Ehud Barak must be the Minister of Defense - be the government rightist or leftist, fascist or communist, atheist or theocratic. It does not matter how he functions in his job - his appraisal can be nothing less than perfect.

SO WHAT will this government do? What can it do?

As far as the most important matter is concerned, there is complete unanimity. Liberman, Netanyahu, Barak, Ellie Yishai of Shas and Danny Hershkovitz of the "Jewish Home" party are in total agreement about the Palestinians. All of them agree on the need to prevent the establishment of a real Palestinian state. All of them agree not to talk with Hamas. All of them support the settlement enterprise. During Barak's stint as Prime Minister, the settlements grew even faster than during Netanyahu's tenure. Liberman is himself a settler, Hershkovitz's party represents the settlers. All of them believe that there is no need for peace, that peace is bad for us. (After all, it was Barak, not Netanyahu or Liberman, who coined the phrase "We Have No Partner for Peace".)

So what will be the real platform of this government?

In four words: Deception for the fatherland.

ON THIS government's chosen path there lies a huge rock: the United States of America.

While Israel made a big leap to the right, the US has made a big leap to the left. One can hardly imagine a greater contrast than that between Binyamin Netanyahu and Barack Obama. Or between the two Bara(c)ks - Barack Obama and Ehud Barak

Netanyahu is conscious of this problem, perhaps more than any other Israeli leader. He grew up in the US, after his father, a history professor in Jerusalem, felt himself deprived of his rightful place in academia because of his extreme right-wing views and went to America. There Binyamin attended high-school and university. He speaks the fluent American English of a traveling salesman.

If there is one thing that unites practically all Israelis, from right to left, it is the conviction that the relationship between Israel and the US is critical for the security of the state. Netanyahu's main concern is, therefore, to prevent a serious break between the two countries.

Barak was admitted to the government precisely in order to avoid such a clash. Netanyahu wants to visit the White House with Barak, not Liberman, at his side.

The clash seems inevitable. Obama wants to create a new order in the Middle East. He knows that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict poisons the atmosphere against America in the Arab, and indeed in the entire Muslim world. He wants a solution to the conflict - exactly what Netanyahu and his partners want to prevent at any price, except the price of a breach with the US.

How to do this?

The solution is written in the Bible (Proverbs 24:6): "For by ruses thou shalt make thy war."

(In the King James version, the Hebrew word Takhbulot is translated as "wise counsel." In Modern Hebrew it means ruses, tricks, ploys - and that is the way it is understood by all Hebrew-speakers today.)

FROM THE beginnings of Zionism, its leaders have known that their vision necessitates a large measure of make-belief. It is impossible to take over a country inhabited by another people without disguising the aim, diverting attention, hiding the acts on the ground behind a screen of flowery words.

All states lie, of course. 400 years ago, a British diplomat, Sir Henry Wotton, observed: "An ambassador is an honest man sent to lie abroad for the good of his country." Because of the special circumstances of their enterprise, the Zionists have had to use deceit perhaps a bit more than usual.

Now the task is to present to the world, and especially the US and Europe, a false picture, pretending that our new government is yearning for peace, acting for peace, indeed turning every stone in search of peace - while doing the exact opposite. The world will be submerged by a deluge of declarations and promises, accompanied by lots of meaningless gestures, conferences and meetings.

People with good ears are already hearing Netanyahu, Liberman and Barak starting to play around with the "Arab Peace Initiative." They will talk about it, interpret it, accept it ostensibly while attaching conditions that empty it of all content.

The great advantage of this initiative is that it does not come from the Palestinians, and therefore does not require negotiations with the Palestinians. Like the deceased "Jordanian Option" and others of its kind, it serves as a substitute for a dialogue with the Palestinians. The Arab League includes 22 governments, some of which cooperate on the sly with the Israeli leadership. They can be relied on not to agree among themselves on anything practical.

BUT DECEIVING, like dancing the tango, takes two: one who deceives and one who wants to be deceived.

Netanyahu believes that Obama will want to be deceived. Why would he want to quarrel with Israel, confront the mighty pro-Israel lobby and the US Congress, when he can settle for soothing words from Netanyahu? Not to mention Europe, divided and ridden by Holocaust guilt, and the pathetic Tony Blair moving around like a restless ghost.

Is Obama ready to play, like most of his predecessors, the role of the deceived lover?

The Biberman/Bibarak/Bibiyahu government believes that the answer is a resounding yes. I hope that it will be a resounding No.
(c) 2009 Uri Avnery ~~~ Gush Shalom

Grave Mistakes
By Victoria Stewart

In the secret hours of the night, I lie awake. Headlights of the occasional passing car throw shadows across the walls and the whispering of the dead ceases for those moments. For it is the dead who keep me company in that still time when primal memories and personal experiences fuse in the passion of fear.

History is not the dry recitation of dates and battles but rather the stained and brilliant tapestry of individual lives. History is the personal stories of women and families, children and men. It is the lingering cloud of tragedy, the sharp light of joy, the lessons of elders and poets.

We have become disconnected from our history in America. The slaves who enriched the shipping magnates and plantation owners, the men who built the railroads, the women and children who starved while working in the factories of New England, the families who clung stubbornly to life as the wealthy stole their futures and their government during the last Great Depression-these people left stories and insights and wisdom that could have guided us to a place different than the one we inhabit today. The names on the banks which have stolen our children's futures are names our grands and great-grands knew and loathed. The bankers who stood so ignorantly shameless in front of the White House last week, belong to a group, had we continued to pass on the histories of our families, we could have recognized as enemies of humanity. They are men who have no compunction about destroying lives.

Not everyone, of course, wants to visit with the unquiet dead. The fierce voices of illiterate ancestors do not lend themselves to reality tv. The backbreaking, forced labors of our immigrant forbearers frighten and somehow shame us, but it is only from recognition of our membership in the vast collective of the unwashed that we can find hope. And it is only in an unwavering willingness to face uncomfortable truths about the nature of survival and power that we can find the will to transform hope into action.

As we became separated from our family histories, Americans lost essential tools for survival. We no longer understand our pasts and that is costing us the future. Large numbers of Americans desperately cling to the belief that a financial order which benefits the middle class will be restored, but the middle class, while it may stumble along for a while, feeding on itself and the crumbs left by the robber barons, has been effectively destroyed. It was an illusory class, anyway, fueled by consumerism and bad education and created to generate more wealth for the truly rich. And it has completed its mission. It is no longer needed and it won't be coming back. The unions and the jobs they once guaranteed are gone along with health care, pensions and retirement.

Much as we try to repress the cultural memories, most of us are descended from the poor and the powerless and we know in a visceral way that we are chattel and tools for the rich and powerful. Stripped of our history, we are conditioned to believe we are neither worthy nor capable of understanding and influencing the world in which we live. We are undeserving of a past and so it becomes unsettling to realize we are living through one of the great changes in human civilization. It almost seems grandiose to contemplate that these are days that could beget the next Dark Age or a new sort of renaissance. And it is certainly dangerous and jumped up to expect we might have rights and purpose, to demand that the common good be placed above profit. We are insignificant, confused, misled and none too smart. We cannot understand the complexity of our world.

Or it so we are told.

As the rich and famous gather in London to secure their fortunes and plot ways to further disenfranchise and oppress the rest of us, Americans seem content to wait in comparative silence and hope for cheery news. The country seems to be holding its breath, still trusting in the Obama administration to find safe passage through the darkness. Even as the president makes nice to Wall Street bankers, stacks his cabinet with corporate advisors and tax evaders and counters criticisms with an insincere challenge to give him a better plan, Americans continue to passively hope.

But we are the huddled masses warehoused below decks. We are in the steerage compartments on the Titanic just before it begins to sink. We are no more important to the Masters of the Universe today than we were a hundred years ago or a thousand years ago.

It is the very lives of our children which are at stake.

So when you find yourself alone in the night, worrying about your job and your money, still your mind. Open yourself to the voices of your past. Feel the blood of slaves and indentured servants, shop girls and prostitutes, orphans, millworkers, sharecroppers and miners, the blood of your genetic line, flow through your body and remember who you are and where you are from. Listen to the history that lives in you. See the enemy for who he truly is and use this knowledge and power to bring about the salvation we all need.

You know...up the revolution!
(c) 2009 Victoria Stewart is the editor of Issues & Alibis magazine.

Bankers In The Know

The former geniuses who crashed Wall Street are now pushing a line to excuse them from any and all responsibility. It was a tsunami, they explain.

Yes, a once-in-a-lifetime, system-wide collapse that no one could've foreseen - not bankers, not Washington, not the media, not the Weather Channel. No one. It was "The Thing That Came From Nowhere," say wide-eyed Wall Street chieftains. For example, Dick Fuld, former honcho of Lehman Brothers, says, "I wake up every single night thinking, 'What could I have done differently?'" his answer: Nothing.

Bovine excrement! First of all, these guys were paid to know. Mr. Fuld, for instance, was considered so knowledgeable about the financial system that he was paid $350 million by Lehman in the five years before - poof! - his policies imploded the bank. Banksters like him literally invented the scam that created the tsunami - namely, the flim flam of global trading in computerized bets, irredeemable promises, puffs of air, and other figments of financial imagination.

Second, they are the ones who disbursed campaign cash and deployed an army of lobbyists to get Washington to create the "dark market" that allowed them to play their get-rich-quick casino games without public scrutiny, much less regulation. Indeed, a group called Wall Street Watch has just issued a report showing that, in the past decade, the finance industry donated $1.7 billion to Washington politicians and spent $3.4 billion on lobbyists (they had 3,000 of them on the industry payroll in 2007 alone). In return, Washington gave a dozen specific, deregulatory rule changes to Wall Street that led directly to today's financial meltdown.

The report is titled, "Sold Out: How Wall Street and Washington Betrayed America." To see it go to
(c) 2009 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.

Our American Common Sense
By Rick Perlstein

Our pundits worry that a populist rage is loose in the land-pitchforks everywhere! My first reaction upon hearing that was to dismiss the word "populist" as a distraction, an epithet meant to recall episodes in which mass rage made sound policy deliberation impossible. Think of dispossessed 19th-century farmers letting their righteous rage at bankers tumble easily into free-floating anger at "Jewish bankers" and then simply at Jews; of 1970s white South Boston parents stabbing busing advocates with American flags. My second reaction was to dismiss the word as inaccurate. What makes this rage "populist"? This is ordinary rage, rational and focused. The lead pitchfork bearers, after all, are people like New York Times business columnist Joe Nocera, who wrote that AIG's Financial Practices Group was guilty of a "scam" at which "we should be furious." You might more accurately call that common sense.

Casting my eye over the broader sweep of history, though, I no longer fear populism. The habit of messily dividing the world into "the people" and "the elite"-whether it's left calling out right, or right calling out left-is distinctively, ineluctably American. It's not going away. And there's much more to it than the name-calling of angry political factions. It is the governing folk wisdom of a nation without an inherited aristocracy, distrustful of privilege that is not "earned." It is our American common sense.

The first Americans to call themselves populists, in the 1890s, were the first to base a political program on the explicit principle that wealth properly belongs to those who produce it. They believed farmers to be the truest "producers"; what financial speculators did was not properly "work" at all. We're past that now; those categories no longer make sense in our present deskbound world. But the moral intuition behind separating out "productive",/I> and "unproductive" classes, while often badly abused by demagogues (bad American populists include the Ku Klux Klan and the Weather Underground), is evergreen. It was best summarized in a maxim by, ironically, a Brit, John Maynard Keynes: "Nothing corrupts society more than to disconnect effort and reward."

That has been the operative assumption of all of America's many populisms, left and right, good and bad, for well over a century. Sure, you can borrow something from an American that he believes belongs to him-so long as he doesn't feel dispossessed from the deliberations. You can't just take it. That was what happened when the anger of draft-age Americans overflowed into violence in the Vietnam years: the war they were to be sent to fight had been planned far from public scrutiny, by unaccountable "experts." Populist anger in America is the anger of dispossession.

That's how most Americans are thinking now about the bonuses paid to feckless financial engineers. AIG and its elite supporters will argue that to demand their return would violate a kindred moral principle: robbed of their reward, employees would no longer want to work-even though, according to New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, 11 of the employees awarded bonuses already are no longer employed at AIG. The delinking of effort and reward has become all too manifest. That always makes Americans angry. We do not like to reward those who do not produce. Here populists have the better of the moral argument.

Even more, populism has the better of the policy argument. Yes, the meltdown is complex. So will be the decision making. But if it happens only in antiseptic back rooms, government experts negotiating with corporate experts, proud to tune out the public's righteously simplifying indignation, those policies will fail. That's what happens even, or perhaps especially, when the issues are complex. Take away taxpayers' sense of ownership stake in an issue (especially, as with AIG, when taxpayers literally own the company) and their rage will not go away. It festers. Quagmires result. And that's when the "bad" kind of populism-the hateful kind; the violent kind; the demagogic kind-can flourish.
(c) 2009 Rick Perlstein is the author most recently of "Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America" and Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus.

Rob Hopkins' Transition Handbook

Transition Towns
A Sustainable Solution to the Economic Crisis
By Barbara Peterson

Whether you believe in Global Warming or not, one thing that I believe we can all get behind and support is independence on a local level.

Some towns in Europe and even the U.S. are creating local communities that support local food, business, energy, labor, supplies, and even local currency. These are known as Transition Towns. If you want to get a good overview of what this movement is, please read the description HERE, and view the above short video.

Michael Lusk from Sweden contacted me the other day. He is a member of a "core group of seven people who are working to establish transition culture locally." I asked him if he could tell me a little about this "transition culture" that he is working on, and he has this to say:

The transition idea began around five years ago in Ireland and England as a community-based response to peak oil and climate change. Its leading text is permaculture designer Rob Hopkins' book The Transition Handbook.

The transition movement is a large-scale self-organizing social experiment whose participants bring a great diversity of interrelated concerns revolving around local resilience. There are indications that restoring local food security is becoming the movement's primary short-term goal. Local monetary systems are also very important both as a practical measure promoting economic stability and as a means of restoring sovereign power to the people.

The transition movement is growing quickly and is already well established in the US. Here in Jarna, Sweden, we've got a core group of seven people who are working to establish transition culture locally. We want to become as effective as the Totnes group, the original transition town in county Devon, England. One of our group's members, Peter Hagerrot, is visiting Rob's group in Totnes right now. He's arranged to give an interview on Swedish National Radio and contribute an article to Sweden's Nature when he returns.

Jarna is the main centre of anthroposophy in Sweden, with many biodynamic farms, Waldorf schools and alternative medicine practitioners. Present and proposed regulation at transnational level is threatening all these activities that define our town's culture. Swedish national regulations implementing Codex Alimentarius are being used to threaten with closure our local clinic offering anthroposophical medical treatment. Swedish national regulations implementing EU-educational standards are being used to exclude important elements of the Waldorf curriculum. Experience in Europe - not to mention the Americas - makes it abundantly clear that proposed GMO "trials" will disastrously impact biodynamic farming.

Our initiative is the first transition initiative in Sweden - although we're linking with several organizations, which have been doing aspects of transition work here for many years and also Greenpeace Sweden, which is leading the fight against GMOs in our country. Our group met for the first time around two months ago. The initiative is still in the consciousness-raising stage. That's why we're on the lookout for public speakers right now. We don't have a page at yet - for the moment you just have to mail us individually.

Lokalisera dig! = Localize Yourself!

Michael Lusk"

So, whether the motivation behind these communities is to address climate change, peak oil, to be able to eat healthy, non-GMO food in the middle of a depression, or to just plain get away from big government and scale down to a local level, the foundation is good. We need to combat rampant globalization with localization. This means taking responsibility for changing our lives drastically for the good. The more localized we are, the more resilient we become when the bottom completely drops out of the economy. If we are not dependent on getting our food from another country, or even 1000 miles away, we will eat when the trucks stop running. If we look to the neighbor's kids to do the chores that we cannot do ourselves, and pay him/her with a form of local currency that can be cashed in for tomatoes at the local food stand, or for Sterling like the Totnes Pounds, we are sustainable. We become resilient. We will survive.

Remember; even if we do not all agree on every little thing, we can still come together in a common goal of survival. Join the movement to localize. Let this movement become the driving force of an alternate economic solution to a growing era of increasing debt. Are you ready for a change? Lokalisera dig! Localize yourself! NOW!

(c) 2009 Barbara H. Peterson lives on a small ranch in Oregon with her husband, where they raise geese, chickens, Navajo Churro sheep, Oggie Dog, a variety of cats, and an opinionated Macaw named Rita. She believes that self-sufficiency and localization of food sources is necessary to survive the coming depression. To this end, she hopes that sharing information with others of like mind will lead to a brighter future where people reach out to each other and form small communities in which food is grown locally, and trade is established between neighbors.

America The Tarnished
By Paul Krugman

Ten years ago the cover of Time magazine featured Robert Rubin, then Treasury secretary, Alan Greenspan, then chairman of the Federal Reserve, and Lawrence Summers, then deputy Treasury secretary. Time dubbed the three "the committee to save the world," crediting them with leading the global financial system through a crisis that seemed terrifying at the time, although it was a small blip compared with what we're going through now.

All the men on that cover were Americans, but nobody considered that odd. After all, in 1999 the United States was the unquestioned leader of the global crisis response. That leadership role was only partly based on American wealth; it also, to an important degree, reflected America's stature as a role model. The United States, everyone thought, was the country that knew how to do finance right.

How times have changed.

Never mind the fact that two members of the committee have since succumbed to the magazine cover curse, the plunge in reputation that so often follows lionization in the media. (Mr. Summers, now the head of the National Economic Council, is still going strong.) Far more important is the extent to which our claims of financial soundness - claims often invoked as we lectured other countries on the need to change their ways - have proved hollow.

Indeed, these days America is looking like the Bernie Madoff of economies: for many years it was held in respect, even awe, but it turns out to have been a fraud all along.

It's painful now to read a lecture that Mr. Summers gave in early 2000, as the economic crisis of the 1990s was winding down. Discussing the causes of that crisis, Mr. Summers pointed to things that the crisis countries lacked - and that, by implication, the United States had. These things included "well-capitalized and supervised banks" and reliable, transparent corporate accounting. Oh well.

One of the analysts Mr. Summers cited in that lecture, by the way, was the economist Simon Johnson. In an article in the current issue of The Atlantic, Mr. Johnson, who served as the chief economist at the I.M.F. and is now a professor at M.I.T., declares that America's current difficulties are "shockingly reminiscent" of crises in places like Russia and Argentina - including the key role played by crony capitalists.

In America as in the third world, he writes, "elite business interests - financiers, in the case of the U.S. - played a central role in creating the crisis, making ever-larger gambles, with the implicit backing of the government, until the inevitable collapse. More alarming, they are now using their influence to prevent precisely the sorts of reforms that are needed, and fast, to pull the economy out of its nosedive."

It's no wonder, then, that an article in yesterday's Times about the response President Obama will receive in Europe was titled "English-Speaking Capitalism on Trial."

Now, in fairness we have to say that the United States was far from being the only nation in which banks ran wild. Many European leaders are still in denial about the continent's economic and financial troubles, which arguably run as deep as our own - although their nations' much stronger social safety nets mean that we're likely to experience far more human suffering. Still, it's a fact that the crisis has cost America much of its credibility, and with it much of its ability to lead.

And that's a very bad thing.

Like many other economists, I've been revisiting the Great Depression, looking for lessons that might help us avoid a repeat performance. And one thing that stands out from the history of the early 1930s is the extent to which the world's response to crisis was crippled by the inability of the world's major economies to cooperate.

The details of our current crisis are very different, but the need for cooperation is no less. President Obama got it exactly right last week when he declared: "All of us are going to have to take steps in order to lift the economy. We don't want a situation in which some countries are making extraordinary efforts and other countries aren't."

Yet that is exactly the situation we're in. I don't believe that even America's economic efforts are adequate, but they're far more than most other wealthy countries have been willing to undertake. And by rights this week's G-20 summit ought to be an occasion for Mr. Obama to chide and chivy European leaders, in particular, into pulling their weight.

But these days foreign leaders are in no mood to be lectured by American officials, even when - as in this case - the Americans are right.

The financial crisis has had many costs. And one of those costs is the damage to America's reputation, an asset we've lost just when we, and the world, need it most.
(c) 2009 Paul Krugman --- The New York Times

Fundamentally Flawed
Militant Religion and Modern Atrocity
By Chris Floyd

The fighters gather to celebrate their victory in a recent campaign against the enemy infidels. Singers are called in to raise an anthem in praise of the warriors.

Suddenly, there is outrage, consternation. Dozens of the fighters get up and stalk out of the celebration, along with their commanders. They are all deeply insulted, their religious faith has been assaulted, they have been exposed to a filthy evil which they cannot, will not, abide:

Some of the singers are.... women.

Just another day in a Taliban encampment? Another example of the virulent woman-hatred and primitive fanaticism of Islamofascist zealots? Of course not. These were Israeli soldiers and officers, who fled the celebration because of "their belief that halakha, or Jewish religious law, prohibits them from hearing a woman sing," Haaretz reports.

The Paratroop Brigade had come together in Haifa to mark its service in the glorious triumph of "Operation Cast Lead" -- Israel's all-out military assault on the densely populated Gaza strip, which killed hundreds of innocent civilians, many of them deliberately, as revealed by reams of testimony now emerging from Israeli soldiers themselves. But the program featured the brief appearance of a few women among a group of singers -- a gross insult to God Almighty that triggered the righteous walkout.

Although the action was a breach of military discipline, Israel's military rabbinate fully supports the soldiers' manly refusal to hear the siren songs of the demonic, she-hag Liliths, and "urged commanders to show sensitivity in such situations and either to excuse religious soldiers in advance from attending any portion of a ceremony that poses a problem or to simply not feature female singers at such programs."

Or better yet, why not put the harpies in a burqa and be done with it? Oh wait: a growing movement of extremists in Israel is already doing that: see here and here. The veilers are part of the haredim, an expansive, belligerent sect of extremists seeking to impose their, well, primitive fanaticism on Israel's secular society. The haredim have even banned broadcasts of the songs of a young male singer -- a yeshiva student -- because his voice sounds "too feminine," as Shmarya Rosenberg reports. (For more on how Israel's ever-more powerful religious extremists treat women, see this at Rosenberg's site.)

Oddly enough, the sluts who sought to tempt the pure-hearted he-men in Haifa were themselves members of the Paratroop Brigade. In this regard, at least, the military rabbinate shows admirable modernity: it is OK for women to carry guns and kill people -- but for God's sake, don't let them sing where someone with a penis can hear them! This would be highly displeasing to the Creator of the entire universe, you see.


But the aforementioned slaughter of innocent Palestinians in Gaza was definitely not displeasing unto the Lord. In fact, the massacre was encouraged, even demanded by extremist clergymen in Israel's military rabbinate. Haaretz again:

An overview of some of the army rabbinate's publications made available during the fighting reflects the tone of nationalist propaganda that steps blatantly into politics, sounds racist and can be interpreted as a call to challenge international law when it comes to dealing with enemy civilians....

"[There is] a biblical ban on surrendering a single millimeter of it [the Land of Israel] to gentiles, though all sorts of impure distortions and foolishness of autonomy, enclaves and other national weaknesses. We will not abandon it to the hands of another nation, not a finger, not a nail of it." This is an excerpt from a publication entitled "Daily Torah studies for the soldier and the commander in Operation Cast Lead," issued by the IDF rabbinate...

The IDF rabbinate, also quoting Rabbi Aviner, describes the appropriate code of conduct in the field: "When you show mercy to a cruel enemy, you are being cruel to pure and honest soldiers. This is terribly immoral. These are not games at the amusement park where sportsmanship teaches one to make concessions. This is a war on murderers. 'A la guerre comme a la guerre.'"

This view is also echoed in publications signed by Rabbis Chen Halamish and Yuval Freund on Jewish consciousness. Freund argues that "our enemies took advantage of the broad and merciful Israeli heart" and warns that "we will show no mercy on the cruel."

In addition to the official publications, extreme right-wing groups managed to bring pamphlets with racist messages into IDF bases. One such flyer is attributed to "the pupils of Rabbi Yitzhak Ginsburg" - the former rabbi at Joseph's Tomb and author of the article "Baruch the Man," which praises Baruch Goldstein, who massacred unarmed Palestinians in Hebron. It calls on "soldiers of Israel to spare your lives and the lives of your friends and not to show concern for a population that surrounds us and harms us. We call on you ... to function according to the law 'kill the one who comes to kill you.' As for the population, it is not innocent ... We call on you to ignore any strange doctrines and orders that confuse the logical way of fighting the enemy."

As the Chicago Tribune reports, this infidel-slaughtering radical jihadism was rampant throughout the officially supported military rabbinate:

The winter assault on the Gaza Strip was officially portrayed in Israel as an attempt to quell rocket fire by militants of Hamas. But some soldiers say they also were lectured about a more ambitious aim: to banish non-Jews from the biblical land of Israel.

"This rabbi comes to us and says the fight is between the children of light and the children of darkness," a reserve sergeant said, recalling a training camp encounter. "His message was clear: 'This is a war against an entire people, not against specific terrorists.' The whole thing was turned into something very religious and messianic."

...In testimony reported by Israeli news media and in interviews with The Times, Gaza veterans said rabbis advised army units to show the enemy no mercy and called for resettlement of the Palestinian enclave by Jews.

"The rabbis were all over, in every unit," said Yehuda Shaul, a retired army officer whose human rights group, Breaking the Silence, has taken testimony from dozens of Gaza veterans. "It was quite well organized."

The army, which conscripts almost every Israeli Jew at 18, has been dominated for most of its history by secular officers. But over the last 15 years, as secular Israelis have soured on the occupation of Palestinian territory, religious nationalists have taken over senior positions in elite combat brigades.

With them have come hundreds of volunteer rabbis, who teach at pre-military academies for religious youths and serve side by side with the troops.

This same process is also occurring in the United States, of course. Extremist, militarist, nationalist Christians have been pushing inexorably to seize domination over the American military, with remarkable success. A few people, like Mikey Weinstein and Chris Hedges, have been sounding the alarm of the militant theists. I've written a fair bit on it myself; here, for instance. (Actually, I've been writing about it for almost 30 years, as in this piece from 2004. In fact, one of my first appearances in print was about the right-wing takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention, converting this quietist organization into a juggernaut of political agitprop and kulturkampf.) And bizarre extremism on a par with anything promoted by the haredim or bin Laden can be found on the commanding heights of the American power structure -- with literally deadly results. As I noted way in another column from 2004:

The dogma of Bush's godliness is no rhetorical flourish; it has been forged with blood and iron. Consider General Jerry Boykin, who, in uniform, toured churches across the United States, declaring openly that "George W. Bush was not elected by the majority of the American people; he was appointed by God" to lead his "Christian nation" against Satan and the "idol-worshippers" of Islam, as reports. Bush then made Boykin the Pentagon's chief of military intelligence - the point man for wringing information out of Islamic captives in the "war on terror." The result - confirmed even by the Pentagon's own anemic investigations - was a military intelligence system gone berserk, systematically torturing and occasionally murdering prisoners who, as the Red Cross notes, were overwhelmingly innocent of any crime. Bush signed orders removing these prisoners from the protection of U.S. and international law; Boykin's boys then visited divine wrath upon the heathens. But these atrocities cannot be crimes, because Bush and Boykin are, in the general's phraseology, "Kingdom warriors" in the "Army of God."

One need only look to the virulent dominionism in the political theology of Sarah Palin to see that this kind of thing will by no means pass from the American political scene anytime soon. And the Bushist bigwig that Barack Obama has retained to run his brand-new "surge" in Afghanistan and other fronts of the Terror War (now given the Orwellian new moniker of "Overseas Contingency Operations"), General David "Pre-President" Petraeus, is certainly has no problem with spreading Christianist doctrine in -- and through -- the military, as Chris Rodda reported last year.


Religious extremism has been on the rise in many cultures and nations during the past few decades, greatly aided by the spread of technology (especially communications technology) and, even more so, by the willing connivance (and, frequently, the funding) of elitist factions both inside and outside of state governments. As I noted in a piece first published in the Moscow Times in July 2006:

The history of almost every religion is a tragedy of betrayal: the betrayal of the radical, egalitarian vision of its founders by generations of powerful elites, who twist and pervert the original principles in order to augment their own status, wealth and dominion. It has always been thus, but is nowhere more marked than among the "People of the Book" - Christians, Muslims and Jews - whose elites have for centuries led their followers away from the sparks of light that shone in the beginning, dragging them deeper into darkness and error, until today the world finds itself mired in a new Jahiliyyah, the time of ignorance....

The degeneration of these faiths into aggressive obscurantism should of course be a matter solely for their adherents; why should anyone else be concerned with the feverish hair-splitting, manic control-freakery and sexual obsessions of rabid fundamentalists? Unfortunately, these now-degraded sects dominate the lives of billions of people. Professed believers - or, even worse, sincere believers - from the three "Abrahamic faiths" control the governments of many nations, with bristling nuclear arsenals under Christian, Jewish and Muslim command. The fundamentalists' stunted, ignorant and at times demented interpretations of ancient texts, dubious traditions and their own blood-soaked histories cannot be ignored. They are the driving force behind every conflict today that threatens to wrap the earth in flames of literal hellfire.

But what these modern-day "believers" believe - and do - has almost no connection to the religions they profess. Karen Armstrong provides clear evidence of this in "The Great Transformation," her sweeping new scholarly study of the "Axial Age," the tremendous, centuries-long, worldwide eruption of human consciousness (roughly 900-200 BCE) that gave rise to the major traditions still existing today: Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Daoism, Greek rationalist thought and the monotheism of Israel, from which later sprang the three sibling faiths whose family quarrels have so poisoned the last two millennia.

As Armstrong notes, the "Axial sages" - prophets, mystics, philosophers, poets - achieved a remarkable consensus across centuries and cultures in the essence of their teachings. "All the sages preached a spirituality of empathy and compassion; they insisted that people abandon their egotism and greed, their violence and unkindness," and that this radical compassion "must somehow extend to the entire world." Indeed, "as far as the Axial sages were concerned, respect for the sacred rights of all beings - not orthodox belief - was religion."

The contrast with the hidebound ignorance of our day could hardly be greater. Or, as Bob Dylan once put it: "Easy to see without looking too far/That not much is really sacred." Certainly not the rights, or lives, of individual human beings, now being shredded everywhere you look by self-declared lovers of God. The fundamentalists have been steeped in murk for so long that they mistake their darkness for the light.

No doubt every well-wadded, White House-connected televangelist justifying aggressive war, pimping for tax cuts and frothing with anxiety about homosexuals thinks he's walking in the footsteps of the backwoods preacher from Galilee, who spent his entire ministry serving the poor and the despised, the powerless and the discarded, the sexual outcasts and the victims of wealth, and was finally killed by the satraps of what was then the world's only hyperpower.

No doubt every Kalashnikov-toting enforcer of Islamic "virtue" - schooled in a hatemongering madrasa funded by cynical Saudi potentates glutted with U.S. oil money - who beats "unruly" women and slaughters ice cream vendors and CD hawkers because "they didn't have such things in the Prophet's time" thinks he's following the example of Muhammad, who forbade the imposition of Islam on others, continually refined his thought and married an independent female merchant who hired him as an agent for her caravan business, then proposed to him, in defiance of ancient custom.

No doubt every "settler rabbi" issuing edicts approving the killing of Arab civilians or blessing a cruise missile bound for a Beirut apartment complex believes he is a worthy heir of Rabbi Hillel, the great Pharisee who, when challenged to reduce God's law to a single statement, replied: "What is hateful to yourself, do not do to others. That is the whole law; the rest is commentary. Go and study." This formulation, the Golden Rule later adapted by Jesus, was in fact a powerful distillation - and revival - of the Axial sages' core teaching.

But this core been lost once again, washed away in the blood being shed by the People of the Book in their global war of terror: state terror, sectarian terror, death squads, black ops, "asymmetrical attacks" and "disproportionate force" - an orgy of egotism and greed, violence and unkindness, with the name of God being invoked at every turn.

What the sages knew thousands of years ago - in the mud of the Ganges, in the cattle yards of Qufu, by the waters of Babylon - we no longer know. We only know the grunt of ignorant bluster and the frenzied call to war: holy war, culture war, "long war." We are strangling on the blood clot of betrayal.

As the United States (led, we must note, by yet another loudly proclaimed, deeply believing Christian) embarks on an escalation of its deadly crusade to force Afghanistan, Pakistan and other recalcitrant Muslim nations to "transform their societies" -- while continuing its staunch support for Israel's increasingly frenzied berserking against the Palestinians -- that blood clot will only grow to even more monstrous proportions.
(c) 2009 Chris Floyd

Snorting Toad Dust To The Greater Glory Of God And Country
By Case Wagenvoord

Insights and inspiration from America's only right wing stoner, Belacqua Jones

Greek Drama and the Halls of Congress

If nothing else, the Beltway is a real turn-on. Where else can you see American enterprise etched out in such dramatic detail? It is here that egos and ideologies clash in the epic struggles that are hallmarks of a democratic society hard at work.

Tucked inside the cracked cocoon of my neocon ideology run amok, I am given a unique perspective on the epic clashes, confrontations and crusades that rattle the marbled halls of power. And I can tell you this...

It's all an act; it's f*cking theater played out for the benefit of the masses to give the impression that policies that have already been decided on are still being vigorously debated. (The reason Hamlet didn't kill his stepfather in Act III had nothing to do with his neurosis or lack of resolve; it had everything to do with the fact that Shakespeare had two more acts to fill.)

I stumbled across a prime example of this in yesterday's Times. It seems good ol' Tim is going to shake up financial capitalism with a set of draconian reforms. He wants to regulate derivatives and bring the shadow banking system under SEC control. He wants Treasury to have the power to takeover any institution that threatens our fragile economy.

And the finance industry is rending its garments and rubbing ashes in their hair as they beg Tim to regulate the hell out of them, for they have sinned and must be made whole again.


...and this is one of those big buts that keeps the Beltway from overreacting to a real crisis, the Times reassures us that, "...industry groups are already mobilizing to block restrictions they oppose and win new protections they have wanted for years."

Yes, it's another carefully choreographed Greek drama complete with a congressional chorus that will chant its scripted strophes, antistrophes and epodes as it moves across the stage. Even now you can hear the sound of industry lobbyists sharpening their gelding knives as Congress prepares to do the "peoples'" business.

To give you one example of this democracy at work, the Times tells us that one of the "reforms" the American Banking Association is pushing for is to allow banks to mark their toxic assets to book instead of being forced to mark them to market.

Say a bank is holding a piece of toxic paper with a book value of $100. In today's market it could be worth anything from $10 to $30, and this is how the banks must carry it on their books. The banks complaint is that it weakens their financial position by being forced to value assets for what they are actually worth rather than valuing them as they might be worth someday in Never-Never Land.

I am four-square behind this reform. As a matter of fact, I'd like to see this reform expanded to cover us all, so that when I am forced back into the job market, exercising my unique skill set of collecting shopping carts from a supermarket parking lot, my salary won't be marked to market (the minimum wage) but will be marked to my potential earnings (book) once I have my MBA from Harvard and am running my own hedge fund. (What the hell, with the dollar as a fiat currency, prosperity is but an illusion.)

What tickles me is that all of this drama is taking place over a 250-year-old industrial and financial bubble that, on a geological timeline, will barely amount to a cosmic fart.

I suppose its redeeming quality is that it keeps all the nuts holed up in the Beltway. God knows what would happen if they were allowed to run wild.

--Belacqua Jones
(c) 2009 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

Mr. Ayres Vs. Mr Obama
By Mike Folkerth

Good Morning all of you free thinkers out there; your King of Simple News is on the air.

I often have to ground myself in reality, lest I get caught up in all the diversions that our leadership and main stream news dish up daily. To do so, I go back and read the boring lessons of history and the brilliant foundational material that was written by those who had been there, done that, and remembered most of it.

One such name has graced these pages many times and that is Leonard Ayres who wrote, "The Chief Cause of this and Other Depressions."

Boring stuff? Not really. Here is a reminder of what Mr. Ayres tried to tell us in 1934, six long years into the Great Depression. That is, he tried to tell those who wished to forgo another Great Depression, which apparently did not include our Federal Government.

"Operating in a stable and predicable environment is the key to our economic woes." Mr. Ayres so well stated, "That kind of fundamental stability is the product of the drab and un-dramatic exercise of national integrity and self-restraint." In other words, we have already failed miserably on the first principal.

Following are the points that Mr. Ayers suggests would keep our economy on an even keel. He begins, "It involves persistent adherence to at least seven national policies." 1. Peace, and the enduring prospect of peace. (So much for this one).

2. A sound money in which both our citizens and those of other countries have full confidence. (He's gotta be kidding).

3. Balanced national budgets. (SAY WHAT; CAN YOU SPELL A TRILLION)?

4. A sound banking system, independent of political influence. (Oh sure).

5. The limitation of bank credit to loans fully justified by the demonstrated earning power of the assets on which the loans are based. (Where is this man's head. What's next, a down payment)?

6. The restriction of speculation financed by credit. (Is he crazy? We live on speculation and credit).

7. Such negative regulation of business operations as experience may have proved necessary to prevent abuses, dishonest competition, and exploitation, but with a minimum of positive regulation designed to control wage and price competition, or to favor special group interest. (I bet he was talking about banks, insurance companies and the auto industry).

That Mr. Ayres was one sharp cookie huh? He also makes the statement, "The fact that it is extremely difficult to induce a business recovery by increasing the purchasing power of the individual consumers is being impressively demonstrated in this depression." (If Mr. Ayres thought it was an impressive demonstration in "34" he should be here now).

Wow, I wonder is Mr. Obama and Hank Paulson have ever read this thing?

As a people in general, we believe that we are sooooo powerful (and gullible), that our leadership can snooker the natural sciences on top of defying all of Mr. Ayres advice. How's that workin' for ya so far?

That is the problem ya know? We are attempting to push a rope. Anything that can't go on forever doesn't.

The bailouts are having the desired affect of allowing the "top suits" to get their money back through taxation without representation. After all, the taxes to repay these enormous bailout dollars will be paid by people who have yet to be born; how could they possibly be represented?

We don't have to go back to Thomas Jefferson to see our government totally ignoring historical lessons and teachings. Consider where we would be today had we heeded Mr. Ayres' wisdom. We certainly wouldn't be having this conversation.

It's our job to represent the future generations, not the dunderheads that we send to Congress. You remember that document that starts out "We the People," don't you?
(c) 2009 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...

"Beware of the fish people, they are the true enemy!"
~~~ Frank Zappa

Former University of South Florida professor
Sami Al-Arian, right, with his attorney
Jonathan Turley leaves federal court in
Alexandria, Va.

Obstruction Of Justice
By Chris Hedges

U.S. District Judge Leonie M. Brinkema is scheduled to issue a ruling in the Eastern District of Virginia at the end of April in a case that will send a signal to the Muslim world and beyond whether the American judicial system has regained its independence after eight years of flagrant manipulation and intimidation by the Bush administration. Brinkema will decide whether the Palestinian activist Dr. Sami Amin Al-Arian, held for over six years in prison and under house arrest in Virginia since Sept 2, is guilty or innocent of two counts of criminal contempt.

Brinkema's ruling will have ramifications that will extend far beyond Virginia and the United States. The trial of Al-Arian is a cause celebre in the Muslim world. A documentary film was made about the case in Europe. He has become the poster child for judicial abuse and persecution of Muslims in the United States by the Bush administration. The facts surrounding the trial and imprisonment of the former university professor have severely tarnished the integrity of the American judicial system and made the government's vaunted campaign against terrorism look capricious, inept and overtly racist.

Government lawyers made wild assertions that showed a profound ignorance of the Middle East and exposed a gross stereotyping of the Muslim world. It called on the FBI case agent, for example, who testified as an expert witness that Islamic terrorists were routinely smuggled over the border from Iran into Syria, apparently unaware that Syria is separated from Iran by a large land mass called Iraq. The transcripts of the case against Al-Arian-which read like a bad Gilbert and Sullivan opera-are stupefying in their idiocy. The government wiretaps picked up nothing of substance; taxpayer dollars were used to record and transcribe 21,000 hours of banal chatter, including members of the Al-Arian household ordering pizza delivery. During the trial the government called 80 witnesses and subjected the jury to inane phone transcriptions and recordings, made over a 10-year period, which the jury curtly dismissed as "gossip." It would be comical if the consequences were not so dire for the defendant.

A jury, on Dec. 6, 2005, acquitted Dr. Al-Arian on eight of the counts in the superseding indictment after a six-month trial in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida. On the 94 charges made against the four defendants, there were no convictions. Of the 17 charges against Al-Arian-including "conspiracy to murder and maim persons abroad"-the jury acquitted him of eight and was hung on the rest. The jurors, who voted 10 to 2 to acquit on the remaining charges, could not reach a unanimous decision calling for his full acquittal. Two others in the case, Ghassan Ballut and Sameeh Hammoudeh, were acquitted of all charges.

The trial result was a public relations disaster for the Bush White House and especially then-Attorney General John Ashcroft, who had personally announced the indictment and reportedly spent more than $50 million on the case. The government prosecutors threatened to retry Al-Arian. The Palestinian professor accepted a plea bargain that would spare him a second trial, agreeing that he had helped people associated with Palestinian Islamic Jihad with immigration matters. It was a very minor charge given the high profile of the case. The U.S. Attorney's Office for the Middle District of Florida and the counterterrorism section of the Justice Department agreed to recommend to the judge the minimum sentence of 46 months. But U.S. District Judge James S. Moody Jr., who made a series of comments during the trial that seemed to condemn all Muslims, sentenced Al-Arian to the maximum 57 months. In referring to Al-Arian's contention, for example, that he had only raised money for Palestinian Islamic Jihad's charity for widows and orphans, the judge told the professor that "your only connection to orphans and widows is that you create them."

I spent an afternoon with Dr. Al-Arian in his small apartment in Arlington, Va., on Friday. His lawyers have asked that he make no public statements about his case. But we talked widely about the Middle East, the new Israeli government, the siege of Gaza, our families and the changes he hopes will come with an Obama administration. He sat on a couch wearing an electronic monitoring bracelet on his ankle, thankful to be with his wife and children after being shuttled between jails across the South and kept for 45 months in solitary confinement during his five-and-a-half-year ordeal. But he remains perplexed, as are many, by the gross miscarriage of justice and the ferocity of the government's campaign to smear him with terrorism charges.

The government originally sought a standard cooperation provision as part of the final plea agreement. Al-Arian objected. He refused to plead guilty if he had to cooperate with the Justice Department. The Justice Department-including lawyers from the counterterrorism section of Main Justice-then negotiated to take out the cooperation provision in return for a longer sentence on the one count. That was the deal. He was to have been held in jail until April 2007 and then deported. But that never happened.

Right-wing ideologues, led by Assistant United States Attorney Gordon Kromberg, had no intention of letting him leave the country. Kromberg, a staunch supporter of Israel, arranged to keep Dr. Al-Arian behind bars even after he had finished serving his sentence. He blocked the deportation and subpoenaed Al-Arian to appear in Virginia to testify in an unrelated investigation of a Muslim think tank. This subpoena was a clear violation of the original plea bargain, and Al-Arian, heeding the advice of his lawyers, refused to give in to Kromberg's demands. This led Kromberg to set in motion the newest charges of criminal contempt. Criminal contempt, bolstered by something called terrorism enhancement under Patriot Act II, is the only charge in U.S. statutes that does not carry a maximum penalty. The enhanced criminal contempt charge increases Al-Arian's sentence from the usual 14 to 21 months for criminal contempt to a staggering 17 to 24 years for obstructing a state terrorism investigation. A handful of members of the House, including Jim Moran and Dennis Kucinich, have denounced Kromberg's newest attempt to orchestrate a judicial lynching.

Kromberg, like many involved in the case, has also repeatedly made derogatory and insulting comments about Muslims. When Al-Arian's lawyers asked Kromberg to delay the transfer of the professor to Virginia, for example, because of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, they were told "if they can kill each other during Ramadan they can appear before the grand jury." Kromberg, according to an affidavit signed by Al-Arian's attorney, Jack Fernandez, also said: "I am not going to put off Dr. Al-Arian's grand jury appearance just to assist in what is becoming the Islamization of America."

Judge Brinkema, in one of the rare examples of judicial courage during this saga, defied the government to allow Al-Arian out on bail.

The case against Al-Arian, in the eyes of the grand inquisitors like Kromberg, is a battle against a culture and a religion that they openly denigrate and despise. This racism, the driving engine behind the campaign against Al-Arian, mocks the integrity of the American judicial system. Let us hope that in a few weeks we will witness a new era. Justice delayed is better than justice denied. We owe Dr. Al-Arian, and ourselves, a return to the rule of law.
(c) 2009 Chris Hedges, the former Middle East bureau chief for The New York Times, spent seven years in the Middle East. He was part of the paper's team of reporters who won the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for coverage of global terrorism. He is the author of War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning. His latest book is American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America.

Report From London
By Cynthia McKinney


What an impressive Conference put on by the Government of Malaysia and the Kuala Lumpur Foundation to Criminalise War (KLFCW). Absolutely incredible. And the audience was packed with information. I will definitely make a more detailed report later and include the information learned at this Conference in my next economics report, too, on the state of our economy and common sense solutions as I promised you.

The Malaysian Foreign Minister, Dr. Rais Yatim, spoke passionately this morning about the need for accountability in the face of war crimes. And so too, did the founder of the KLFCW, Tun Dr. Mahathir. Dr. Mahathir spoke of the long history of Zionism, starting with the Balfour Declaration, and explained that we were in London because there had been a request from a British citizen in Malaysia attending our Forum for Palestine there, to take this information to the source of the problem--England. Dr. Mahathir recommended that we remember the Balfour Declaration and all the events leading up to the creation of the state of Israel for a better understanding of the challenges we face on our road to peace.

Dr. Mahathir knows a lot about what's happening in our economy, too. Remember, he faced down George Soros and the currency speculators and was vilified (by them) for keeping Malaysia out of their snares. Today, Malaysia has a public Central Bank and a national system of public banks. Needless to say, the ringgit is doing just fine. Malaysia is strong to take a stand today because Dr. Mahathir took the unpopular stand yesterday--unpopular that is, with the monied interests of the world. More on that, later.

After our tea break (of course, we were in London), Lauren Booth, PressTV reporter who was trapped in Gaza for one month, reported on her experiences with individual life stories of how life is made unbearable by the Israelis as they deny health care and education to Palestinian women and children. Lauren is also a Free Gaza Movement success story as she was on one of the boats that successfully challenged the Israeli seige. Unlike me, she made it into Gaza and received a hero's welcome. She was also with George Galloway as he successfully entered Gaza City by land in a convoy of over 100 vehicles.

Then I spoke. My comments are included at the end of this report.

Former M.P. Tony Benn delivered wonderful historical context and gave us hope for the future. All day, for some reason, speakers kept calling him Tony Blair, instead of Benn. It was quite funny, since I think Blair is Lauren Booth's brother-in-law and was pretty much reviled roundly by everyone in the audience. At one point, Benn leaned over to me and asked wryly, "You think I can win the Nobel Peace Prize?" And at that point, I remembered that I was the sole vote against honoring him for his support of the "Global War on Terror."

And Rabbi Aharon Cohen of Naturei Karta explained to us what their perspective is on Israel. Paraphrasing, Rabbi Cohen said that Zionism is the root of the problem and until Zionism is addressed, there will continue to be a problem. Even in the panel discussion, he brought us back to the problem of Zionism, itself. He made it clear that Zionism is not Judaism. His remarks were particularly educational since I had never had the opportunity to dialog with member of Naturei Karta before. He also gave the significance of the name that means, protectors of the city. For when the Zionists came to the land, Jews and non-Jews lived together in harmony. But the Zionists came to steal the land from the non-Jews and the Jews joined with the non-Jews to protect the City, thus, Naturei Karta--protectors of the City. I will defintely read more about them.

Finally, Sir Gerald Bernard Kaufman basically said that Israel, by its actions, is becoming indefensible. He said this: "The Israeli electorate have proven themselves incorrigible," noting that only 3% of Israelis voted for peace in Israel's last election. He has said as much on the Floor of the House of Commons, and a tape was played at the Conference of him saying it. He talked about his hate mail. Well, I think we could go toe-to-toe on the hate mail. Only, in the mail he receives, they call him a self-hating Jew.

Finally, there was a panel discussion where the audience asked questions of the speakers. And just before people left the room, I was able to make an announcement. When the gentleman showed me his blackberry, I was sure he was joking. That he was playing some kind of cruel joke on me. That is was a hoax. Because all the night before and in my remarks, as you will see, I touted the judges of Spain and their courage as one of our hopes for justice in the legal arena. And when I didn't believe him, he showed his blackberry to me and I could see that it was a real news item: Spain had agreed to investigate Bush and his cronies for war crimes. Hallelujah!! What a wonderful end to a wonderful Conference. What a wonderful way to welcome the G20 into town!!!!

For those of you who are new to my messages and are not on my e-list, please send a message authorizing me to add you to my e-list and you can get these messages from me all the time. Let me hear from you!

Here are my remarks:

Cynthia McKinney
Forum for Palestine
London/March 31, 2009

Not too long ago, I received an invitation to participate in the Malaysia Peace Organization's effort to Criminalize War and establish a tribunal to try the heads of state who violated the peace and led their countries into war and occupation.

When I was in Kuala Lumpur, I had the opportunity to meet one of my heroes, Tun Dr. Mahathir, who stood up against the very same individuals who are today wreaking havoc on the U.S. economy in a feeding frenzy on the imperial carcass. As a result, Malaysia became an outpost of resistance in Asia. Dr. Mahathir's bold action was the first time I came to know Malaysia, and that was by way of the news reports. And when I had the opportunity to travel there for the purpose of fashioning a world without war, I dubbed Kuala Lumpur the world capital of peace. Thank you, Malaysia, for showing the world, along with Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Paraguay, and others, that national dignity is possible.

For dignity depends on peace, and peace depends on justice, and justice depends on truth. So, our charge today is to help the world attain dignity.

At that 2007 Kuala Lumpur peace conference, I met victims of war crimes, torture, and crimes against humanity, all made possible because of U.S. policy and U.S. taxpayers. It was an emotional Conference for me, because I came face to face with the scars borne by victims of war.

The next year, I spent International Human Rights Day 2008 in Havana, Cuba with family members of victims of U.S. aggression against that fiercely independent island country. And while I was there, over and over and over again I heard the word "dignity." And how there is dignity in resistance.

I can't help but remember that it was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who, forty years ago, said that the United States was the greatest purveyor of violence on the planet. Sadly, violence sponsored by the U.S. directly or indirectly has only intensified.

And because I stand in London right now, where tens of thousands of people are about to take to the streets in protest of war and occupation, I must not omit the roles that London and Europe have played in promoting this worldwide violence.

The world is rising up against the lies that we've been told. People are reclaiming their dignity. Against the greed, corruption, and theft that have been committed in our name, with our tax dollars. In the streets, you will hear the word dignity.

That's what the U.S. civil rights movement was all about. And its spirit of resistance to injustice shaped my childhood experiences. I saw what is possible when people stand up.

On the night before his murder, Dr. King said that he was proud to be alive at the end of the 20th Century when people were rising up saying, "We want to be free."

Today, we are rising up and saying that we want to be free from hatred, division, oppression, and war.

I admire those stood up on the national stage, and I've tried to do my part to take a stand, too.

Thus, in 1991, as a Member of the Georgia Legislature, when President George Herbert Walker Bush bombed Baghdad, I asked the Speaker of the House if I could speak on a point of Personal Privilege to explain my opposition to Operation Desert Storm. My colleagues stood up and walked out on me during my remarks.

And then, when I decided to run for the United States Congress, I knew that the foundation of all U.S. policy-whether domestic or foreign--had to be: respect for human rights.

So, when the marginalized and dispossessed of the world came to me, I did my best to help them.

There was no room in my view for policies promoting nuclear weapons, NATO expansion, or discrimination against any person, group, or country. I voted against every Pentagon budget that came before Congress.

I introduced legislation to stop the transfer of U.S. weapons to regimes that did not respect human rights and to eliminate the use of depleted uranium.

I spoke out against President Clinton's sanctions against Iraq, and President George W. Bush's war against and occupation of Iraq.

I represented the Congressional Black Caucus at the Durban World Conference Against Racism, despite intense pressure to not attend in order to avoid a discussion of Zionism.

I worked with a team of internationally-respected lawyers to prosecute Sharon, Barak, and Netanyahu for war crimes as well as those responsible for incitement of genocide in Gujurat, India.

I even turned down a politician's dream: fame, fortune, and re-election if I would just get arrested in front of the Sudan Embassy and let a famous Zionist lawyer bail me out of jail.

Underlying it all was my belief that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights ought to have universal application. Afterall, it was Dr. King who reminded us that justice is indivisible: injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

But when the subject was justice for Palestine, while I stood my ground, the political resolve underneath me dissolved beneath my feet.

When the pro-Israel Lobby targeted me for defeat, even lifelong family friends abandoned me and those I thought stood for principle, shrank in utter fear.

For all the talk about justice, the principles underlying the Universal Declaration of Human Rights melted away when the topic was Palestine. Or any other project of the pro-Israel Lobby. Like Durban, Sudan, Rwanda, Congo, or protecting their interests in Blood Diamonds. Unfortunately for me, all the issues I had taken on with great enthusiasm pitted me for the people, but against the interests of the powerful pro-Israel Lobby.

And then, they decided in 2002 that I had to go.

That came after I questioned the Bush Administration's version of what happened on September 11, 2001. The pro-Israel lobby activated its operatives inside both the Republican and Democratic Parties, and I lost my campaign for re-election to Congress.

Even though, two years later, in 2004, I ran again and regained my seat, I still wore a target on my forehead. And again, pro-Israel, pro-war Democrats and Republicans joined to oust me from Congress in 2006, when I was the only Democratic Member of Congress to lose reelection. The significance of the 2006 election was this:

The very first bill to fund the war came up for a vote and passed with exactly the number of votes required. Had I been there to cast my no vote, the bill would have failed. It became clear to me that the "War Party" inside the United States, that consists of pro-war elements inside both the Democratic and Republican parties, do a darn good job of making sure they control enough Congressional votes to keep our country at war.

So, after leaving Congress in January of 2007, I declared my independence from every bomb dropped, every child killed, and every veteran maimed as a part of the U.S. war machine.

In 2008, the Green Party, the largest of the small parties in the U.S., nominated me to lead their ticket and I ran for President.

And now, I'm trying to launch "Dignity," a movement for peace and justice inside the United States as a counter to the war party.

So, the day after Israel began bombing Gaza, the co-founder of the Free Gaza Movement asked me to travel the next day to Gaza with some doctors and deliver 3 tons of medical supplies. It didn't take me 5 minutes to say yes.

And so began my voyage aboard the pleasure boat, Dignity, that was rammed in international waters by an Israeli warship and that almost cost me my life.

Onboard the Dignity was Sami El-Hajj-the Al Jazeera reporter from Sudan who, while covering the U.S. military operation in Afghanistan, was captured and became known as prisoner 345 in Guantanamo for six years. Once again, I came face to face with a victim of U.S. war policy, against Afghanistan and also against his home country of Sudan. I apologized to him.

Dr. David Halpin is here. Stand up Dr. Halpin. He was onboard the Dignity with me and is the one who told me to prepare myself mentally to die after the Israelis attacked us. He also noticed that I had my life jacket on upside down and helped me put it on right side up after we had been rammed.

It is clear that those who favor war use every trick in the book to rob us of our human dignity. And then, feeling powerless, we allow them to do to us what they want.

But effective resistance requires that perpetrators of crime, especially torture, genocide, war crimes, and crimes against the peace, be brought to justice.

It's a shame that I have to even say that. But currently, we have a situation in which the killer of one might go to jail, but the killer of one hundred thousand is invited to peace talks. It seems that in this upside down world, the more one kills, the more impunity one acquires. But true justice requires the absence of impunity.

And that's what brings us here today. We want to criminalize war. Many people's tribunals have been initiated precisely because of the lack of justice in the politicized courts of the United States, and increasingly, in the world Courts. Those with political power have been able to seize these courts and manipulate them to favor injustice.

This includes the conduct of the International Criminal Court, which to date, has not engendered hope. In his piece entitled "White Collar War Crimes, Black African Fall Guys," investigative journalist Keith Snow writes:

"First note that the ICC can now be viewed as a tool of hegemonic U.S. foreign policy, where the weapons deployed by the U.S. and its allies include the accusations of, and indictments for, human rights violations, war crimes and crimes against humanity. To understand this, we can ask why no white man has yet been charged with these or other offenses at the ICC, which now holds five black African warlords and seeks to incarcerate and bring to trial another black man, also an Arab, Omar Bashir. Why hasn't George W. Bush been indicted? Or what about Donald Rumsfeld? Dick Cheney? Henry Kissinger? Ehud Olmert? Tony Blair?"

The sad fact is that the International Criminal Court has become terribly politicized, as has the entire international justice apparatus. The ICC has issued indictments, for the first time in history, against a sitting head of state. Meanwhile, according to Snow, an Israeli weapons dealer, also a reputed Mossad operative, is revealed to be shipping weapons into Sudan with Pentagon support.

And Belgium changed its law rather than prosecute Ariel Sharon for war crimes. The double standard cries out to us.

One country in the West, however, increasingly stands out as a place where justice can be found-and that is Spain. With its landmark indictment of Pinochet and its current consideration of Israeli war crimes in Lebanon and U.S. torture in Guantanamo, we increasingly look to the Spanish Courts with hope. It was the Spanish courts that returned indictments against Rwandan soldiers for genocide even as the world coddles U.S. proxy Rwanda and its leader, Paul Kagame.

Now, why is curbing impunity important? Just this week Israel and the US admitted that Israel murdered approximately 800 refugees as Israel attacked Sudan in January and February using unmanned killer drones.

Israel unleashed death squads to commit targeted assassinations all over the world.

To save the Palestinians from Israel, is to save the rest of us from Israeli abuse, and of course, saves the Israelis from themselves. Even Israeli soldiers are telling the sad truth about Gaza. Doctors tell us that Gaza was a weapons testing laboratory. The world is rightly outraged about Israeli Operation Cast Lead. And of the Sudan operation, of which we are only just now learning, Olmert is reported to have said: "There is no place where Israel cannot operate. There is no such place."

Now, I've been questioned about my passion because I'm not Arab; I'm not Muslim; why do I care so much about justice in Palestine?

My answer is this: I struggle every day for the human rights and dignity of blacks, Latinos, Native Americans, Muslims, Arabs, the poor and others discriminated against in America.

I learned from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who broke with his friends in the civil rights movement because they did not want to alienate themselves from President Johnson by criticizing the Vietnam War. Dr. King decided that conscience compelled him to speak out against the war even if it meant losing his friends. Even if it meant losing his life. And when asked about it, Dr. King said that he had fought segregation too long to segregate his moral concerns.

The people of the world want war criminals held accountable. Bolivia wants to hold Israeli leaders accountable for their crimes in Gaza. The International Criminal Court says it is investigating whether Israel committed war crimes in Gaza. Now is the time for us to stand firm.

That's why I support the Malaysia Peace Organization, the Brussels Tribunal, the Hurricane Katrina Tribunal, and other efforts to hold national leadership accountable for their actions. And I specifically support Malaysia's efforts to criminalize war.

Because of what happened to our Dignity boat while in international waters, the Free Gaza Movement wants to bring Israel to justice for its war crime against us.

I applaud George Galloway's success in entering Gaza by land. The Free Gaza Movement will try again by sea.

I paid the ultimate political price for standing by the idea that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights ought to have universal application. You can rest assured that I will do all I can to promote dignity, a vision of peace that relies on truth and justice for all of us.

Thank you.
(c) 2009 Cynthia McKinney

The Dead Letter Office...

Evan & Hillary sing, "Got dem ole blue dog blues!"

Heil Obama,

Dear Uberfuhrer Bayh,

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, Vidkun Quisling and last year's winner Volksjudge Clarence (slappy) Thomas.

Without your lock step calling for the repeal of the Constitution, your coalition of blue dogs that can be blamed and otherwise used to keep the heat off the executive, Iraq, Afghanistan and these many other profitable oil wars to come would have been impossible! With the help of our mutual friends, the other "Democratic Whores" you have made it possible for all of us to goose-step off to a brave new bank account!

Along with this award you will be given the Iron Cross, first class, with diamond clusters presented by our glorious Fuhrer, Herr Obama at a gala celebration at "der Fuhrer Bunker," formally the "White House," on 05-23-2009. We salute you Herr Bayh, Sieg Heil!

Signed by,
Vice Fuhrer Biden

Heil Obama

Newsweek's Unintentionally Revealed, Central Truth
By Glenn Greenwald

In his just-released cover story on Paul Krugman's status as Obama critic, Newsweek's Evan Thomas includes these observations:

By definition, establishments believe in propping up the existing order. Members of the ruling class have a vested interest in keeping things pretty much the way they are. Safeguarding the status quo, protecting traditional institutions, can be healthy and useful, stabilizing and reassuring.

Thomas then acknowledges what is glaringly obvious not only about himself but also most of his media-star colleagues: "If you are of the establishment persuasion (and I am) . . ."

One day in the near future, Thomas should have a luncheon or perhaps a nice Sunday brunch at his home, invite over all of his journalist friends who work in the media divisions of our largest corporations, and they should spend 15 minutes or so assembling these sentences together, and then examine what these facts mean for the actual role played by establishment journalists, the functions they fulfill, whose interests they serve, and the vast, vast disparities between (a) those answers and (b) the pretenses about their profession and themselves which they continue, ludicrously, to maintain. To make the discussion less strenuous on the guests' brains, Thomas, as a good host, could provide visual illustrations such as this and this.

Also, in the name of consumer protection, television news shows and the largest newspapers ought to place that above-excerpted paragraph by Thomas as a warning at the top of every product they produce.
(c) 2009 Glenn Greenwald. was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator in New York. He is the author of the New York Times Bestselling book "How Would a Patriot Act?," a critique of the Bush administration's use of executive power, released in May 2006. His second book, "A Tragic Legacy," examines the Bush legacy.

A Nation Of Small Farmers
By Shirley Braverman

Gardening On the Cheap

Of course, it isn't enough to garden. Your garden has to be economical. It has to produce ten to 100 times the amount of food you would get if you spent the money on food instead of the garden. That's where the gardening "tricks" come in. The "special knowledge" that people absorb when they have spent their lives gardening.

So far, I have spent $20 for seeds and starter plants for my garden. I expect to harvest over $200 in tomatoes, squash (all kinds,) cucumbers, zucchini, peppers, chives, green onions and salad greens.

You can save money by harvesting your own seeds, but I mostly use hybrid seeds, so they won't reproduce, but they grow well in the desert. I have rich soil already. I work on it all year round, but that's another article. But whether you save or buy your seeds, mulch or buy some fertilizers, that all depends on where you live and your individual soil situations. I guarantee you that none of those things will be your greatest expense. No, your greatest gardening expense will probably be water!

Whose Water Is It Anyway?

In the South Western United States - Southern California, New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona and Texas, we have what they blithely call: "A water shortage." i.e. We're running out of water!!! That tends to make our very expensive!! Watering once a week in the winter with my drip system just to keep my shrubs and vines alive costs from 10 to 30$-depending upon the rainfall. But when the temperatures hit 110 and I need to water daily, the bill could easily go to $80 a month. Ignoring the facts that my own veggies taste better and are less likely to make me sick, without a few tricks, my garden would be a financial loss.

When I was a child, I used to watch my grandparents struggle to carry their wash water out of the basement to water their garden. Their basement, with walls four feet thick build with natural stones was warm in the winter, cool in the summer and safe against cyclones. But, alas, it had no drains.

During the summer, my grandmother would bring her little rick-a-dink washing machine up on the back patio under the elm tree to do her washing. Then she'd just attach a hose to the tub and let the water drain into the garden.

When I raised my four kids in Southern California, my washing machine was by a window, so I simply moved the drain hose to the top of the window and let it drain into a tub, with a hose connection to the bottom. The wash water drained out into my garden and since I washed at least every other day, that was sufficient. It drained naturally since the garden was lower than the tub. The tub was needed because water from washing machines often rushes out too fast for a small hose to carry and the waste water backs up in the machine. Draining into the tub solved that problem.

Grey Water Vs Toilet Water

Every home has two water systems. The sewer connected to the toilets is a closed system which runs straight to your city's sanitation facilities to be treated These are the pipes the city always keeps digging up in Las Vegas. For a regular residential district a 3 to 4 foot diameter drainage pipe is sufficient. But then, build a six-story apartment building and the sewage could overflow. The casino hotels have toilet sewer pipes over twelve feet tall.

You mess with these sewer pipes under threat of death. February before last the Orleans Casino's toilet sewer line was blocked. Instead of calling the company that usually dealt with these problems, and in spite of worker's warnings and the noxious odors, a supervisor ordered two men to get into the sewer to check for blockage. Both men died almost instantly and another man who bent over to try to pull them out, got severe lung damage. That's probably why most cities state that only plumbers can work on your drainage systems.

But the gray water system gets the waste water from your showers, your kitchen and bathroom sinks and your washing machine. This runs straight into your Street surface runoff system often called the Storm water Runoff System. It is not treated and in Las Vegas, it runs through the washes into Lake Mead. - evaporating as it goes. In your city or state, it could run straight into your rivers.

That's why the Federal Clean Water Act forbids anyone to dump anything in this runoff system except natural urban run off. The biggest residential polluters are fertilizers and pesticide sprays. But since I use only organic soaps in my showers, sinks and washing machine (with a smattering of vinegar for the rinse,) none of this harms my garden plants. Indeed the soaps act as a lubricant and enrich the soil.

My son, the contractor, found it easy to divert his grey water into his garden. My plumber only charged me $25 and some tomatoes and squash from the garden, since crawling under my mobile home is not my strong point. It's a rather simple procedure.

Water Wars And Water Laws

And yes, it's against the law. But an unenforceable law. And then there's water harvesting. That's also against the law as Kris Holstrom of Denver, Colorado learned. 2. Every time it rains, Kris places fancifully painted 55-gallon buckets underneath the gutters of her farmhouse located on a mesa 15 miles from the resort town of Telluride. The barrels catch rain and snowmelt, which Kris uses to irrigate the small vegetable garden she and her husband maintain.

But according to the state of Colorado, the rain that falls on Holstrom's property is not hers to keep. It should be allowed to fall to the ground and flow unimpeded into surrounding creeks and streams, the law states, to become the property of farmers, ranchers, developers and water agencies that have bought the rights to those waterways.

Kris knows about these laws since she teaches a class on water harvesting. When she called her state water department last summer they assured her harvesting was technically illegal, though it was unlikely that she would be cited.

Like Kris, I look at these laws with exasperated amusement. Environmentalist groups want to change these ridiculous water laws. And they probably will be changed as the Kitchen garden becomes more popular. Until they do, most of us, in-the-know gardeners will continue to break the law. It's my water, I bought and paid for it and after my shower, I still want to use it. I need it to make my garden profitable. So there's a bit of "special knowledge." Use it if you dare.

(c) 2009 Shirley Braverman is 77 years young, and was a nurse for 25 years. She used to write health articles until the editors just wanted her to rave about whatever their advertisers were hawking at the time. She watches for the newly developing diseases and watches in fear as TB and MARSA spread like wildfire and no one pays attention. She has 8 grandkids and worries about them. She is starting gardening projects to help.

The Cartoon Corner...

This edition we're proud to showcase the cartoons of
~~~ Dan Wasserman ~~~

2009 Greeting card to George W. Bush (& Oliver Stone) from The Alternative "W the Movie"

To End On A Happy Note...

Troubled Land
By John Mellencamp

I got a pain in my side
But I keep traveling on
Bring peace to this troubled land
Well it's dark out here
I can't read those signs
Bring peace to the troubled land
Hurricane on the horizon
The judgment getting closer all the time
I can't find tomorrow
We need peace in this troubled land

Well there's two men a walking
Down the same dirty road
Bring peace to this troubled land
They stand shoulder to shoulder
Carrying the same heavy load
Winning peace to this troubled land
One man's eyes are full of sorrow
The other man's belly full of unbearable pain
They keep getting closer
To bring peace to this troubled land

I've got many screaming children
Ten million rows to hoe
Bringing peace to this troubled land
Deader than an hammer
But I can't let go
Bring peace to this troubled land

The eyes of heaven are upon you
But so is the soul from down below
They'll cut off your fingers
To bring peace to this troubled land

Well you can stand up and holler
You can lay down and die
Bring peace to this troubled land
We can turn up our collars
And never even try
To bring peace to this troubled land
Beware of those who want to harm you
And drag you down to a lower game
Just know the truth is coming
We need peace in this troubled land

I got a pain in my side
But I keep traveling on
(c) 2008/2009 John Mellencamp

Have You Seen This...

Ring of Fire Radio - Mike Pap and Greg Palast on Exxon

Parting Shots...

White House Replaces 'War on Terror' With Symbol
Acquires Cryptic Icon From Funk Rocker Prince
By Andy Borowitz

The White House today announced today that it would no longer use the phrase "war on terror" and would instead replace it with a cryptic symbol once used by the funk rocker known as Prince.

The new symbol made its first appearance today at a White House press conference in which spokesman Robert Gibbs answered a question about the war on terror by holding up a picture of the newly acquired icon.

Mr. Gibbs said that the White House had decided to replace the phrase with the symbol after determining that its first-choice euphemism, "overseas contingency operations," was too much of a mouthful.

"In the years that Prince used the symbol, it was totally confusing and no one knew what it meant," he said. "It should work perfectly for us."

To acquire the rights to the symbol, however, the White House had to outbid an unlikely suitor, the insurance giant AIG.

The embattled company, which recently stripped its corporate headquarters of its logo in the hopes of throwing protesters off its scent, had intended to replace it with the mysterious icon coveted by the White House.

It was hoping to rebrand itself as "The Insurance Giant Formerly Known as AIG," a company spokesman said.

AIG Chairman Edward Liddy was philosophical about being outbid by the White House for Prince's symbol: "All of our efforts were a total and abject failure, but on the plus side, that means we're entitled to a bonus."
(c) 2009 Andy Borowitz

The Gross National Debt

Zeitgeist The Movie...

Issues & Alibis Vol 9 # 14 (c) 04/03/2009

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