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In This Edition

Noam Chomsky explores, "The Assault On Public Education."

Uri Avnery lectures on history and reality in, "Pour Out Your Wrath!"

Matt Taibbi tells, "Why Obama's JOBS Act Couldn't Suck Worse."

Sam Harris counterpoints, "Free Will and 'Free Will.'"

Jim Hightower considers, "Newt, The Supremes, Big Money, And The Dogs."

Joel Hirschhorn says, "Numbing Numbers Explain US Frog Revolution."

James Donahue warns we're, "Flirting With Disaster On Our Electric Grid."

Seymour Hersh wonders, "Our Men In Iran?"

Naomi Wolf explains, "How The US Uses Sexual Humiliation As A Political Tool To Control The Masses ."

Phil Rockstroh tries, "To Undo The Folded Lie."

Paul Krugman observes, "The Gullible Center."

Bill Moyers and Michael Winship discover, "The Best Congress The Banks' Money Can Buy."

Robert Reich describes, "What Today's Job Numbers Mean."

The City Of Roswell, Georgia wins the coveted, "Vidkun Quisling Award!"

Dave Lindorff joins us with, "Kurt Vonnegut And The American Police State."

Chris Floyd follows, "The Lawless Roads."

And finally in the 'Parting Shots' department The Onion reports, "Poll Shows Best Part Of Primary Season Has Been Really Getting To Know, Spend Time With 4 Great Guys" but first Uncle Ernie sez, "America Wins!"

This week we spotlight the cartoons of Jimmy Margulies, with additional cartoons, photos and videos from Derf City, Daryl Cagle, Steve Breen, Rob Rogers, R.J. Matson, h.koppdelaney, Guy Billout, Brendan Snialowski, AFP, Getty Images, You Tube.Com and Issues & Alibis.Org.

Plus we have all of your favorite Departments...

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

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

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America Wins!
Rick Santorum drops out of the race
By Ernest Stewart

"One of the things I will talk about that no President has talked about before is I think the dangers of contraception in this country -- the whole sexual libertine idea. Many in the Christian faith have said, "Well, that's okay. Contraception's okay.

It's not okay, because it's a license to do things in the sexual realm that is [ are ] counter to how things are supposed to be. They're supposed to be within marriage; they are supposed to be for purposes that are, yes, conjugal, but also [inaudible], but also procreative. That's the perfect way that a sexual union should happen. We take any part of that out, we diminish the act. And if you can take one part out that's not for purposes of procreation, that's not one of the reasons, then you diminish this very special bond between men and women, so why can't you take other parts of that out? And all of a sudden, it becomes deconstructed to the point where it's simply pleasure. And that's certainly a part of it and it's an important part of it, don't get me wrong but there's a lot of things we do for pleasure, and this is special, and it needs to be seen as special." ~~~ Rick Santorum

"Sometimes I think violence is underrated." ~~~ Andrew Wordes

"Like such measures in other states, the Tennessee bill contains beguiling language about the importance of helping students to develop critical thinking skills. That is a vital part of education, especially in the more interactive atmosphere of a high school (though it is often opposed by religious conservatives who decry 'relativism' in the classroom). But even in high school, and especially in science class, teachers have an obligation to the truth. The truth in this case, discomfiting as it may be to some Tennesseans, is that evolution is not 'just a theory.'" ~~~ Michael Simpson

Help, I need somebody,
Help, not just anybody,
Help, you know I need someone, help.
Help ~~~ The Beatles

I see that the boy who would be Pope, or, at least Tomas de Torquemada has dropped out of the race. Rick Santorum called it quits after it dawned on him that staying was going to be a colossal waste of time, money, and any shreds still left of his name as Rick has never been one to shut-the-fuck-up and let people imagine him an idiot, instead of jacking his jaws and removing all doubt!

Rick, who has always been a few light years to the right of Darth Vader, and even a couple of yards beyond Willard Romney, which worked to his advantage in the Red state of Pennsylvania until he went further to the right than the average neo-Nazi in Harrisburg, and lost his Senate seat has only his self to blame!

Rick who went head to head with the braindead Texas governor Rick "Good Hair" Perry over which of them was dumber, and came out the hands down winner (quite an accomplishment, considering)! Rick's hatred of the poor, gays, all non-Catholics made him quite popular with the fascist fringe, tea baggers and the like couldn't appeal to the rest of the not-so-insane right and hence, lagged far behind Willard in the nomination race, threw in the towel, and backed Romney -- perhaps hoping to at least become Vice President.

Still, Rick made a lot of folks laugh, when that wasn't his intention, and at least kept people turning in to see what garbage would flow from his lips. Looking back on his campaign, here's few examples of Rick's wisdom and wit:

"If the Supreme Court says that you have the right to consensual [gay] sex within your home, then you have the right to bigamy; you have the right to polygamy; you have the right to incest; you have the right to adultery. You have the right to anything. Does that undermine the fabric of our society? I would argue, yes; it does. It all comes from, I would argue, this right to privacy that doesn't exist in my opinion in the United States Constitution."

"There are no Palestinians. All the people who live in the West Bank are Israelis. There are no Palestinians. This is Israeli land."

"I believe the earth gets warmer and I also believe the earth gets cooler. And I think history points out that it does that and that the idea that man, through the production of CO2 - which is a trace gas in the atmosphere, and the man-made part of that trace gas is itself a trace gas - is somehow responsible for climate change is, I think, just patently absurd when you consider all the other factors."

"The idea is that the state doesn't have rights to limit individuals- wants and passions. I disagree with that. I think we absolutely have rights because there are consequences to letting people live out whatever wants or passions they desire."

"I support the Ryan budget plan. I think it's the right direction on the major points. I can't say I've read all of it; but on the major thrust of what he's doing, I support what he wants to do with Medicare, Medicaid. The only thing I would do, frankly, as I've said publicly many times, I think we should implement a lot of these things sooner than what he's suggesting."

"Yeah, remember, under the Bush administration, welfare - I mean, excuse me, poverty among African Americans and among single unmarried women, poverty was at the lowest rate ever in the history of this country. So Obama's policies are not working; Bush polices worked! For a long time, as a matter of fact."

"I don't want to go to a trade war; I want to beat China. I want to go to war with China and make America the most attractive place in the world to do business."

Yes, Rick wouldn't know a fact if it jumped up and bit him on the ass! Yeah, we're going to miss you, Rick. NOT!

In Other News

We have a first this week for our Vidkun Quisling Award. For the first time, an entire city government, i.e., Roswell, Georgia wins the Award. I realize we stand on the brink of a very slippery slope as if one got into it deeply enough that's all that would ever win the award. In fairness to Roswell, peek into almost any city administration and you'll find horror stories similar, and no doubt worse than what happened in Roswell. New York City and Chicago are good examples of criminal government; but after reading the facts about what happened there, their fate was sealed! Like our one non-American winner, an educational power tripper from Canada, we haven't revisited monsters outside our own borders, as there are plenty here in these good old United Snakes to last a lifetime and beyond!

What happen in Roswell is unfortunately typical of tiny-minded people who went power-mad for the 1% and totally destroyed someone for their benefit! Andrew Wordes was know locally as "The Chicken-Man." On his 1 acre property, he legally raised about a dozen chickens; he was what is known as a chicken fancier. A mild mannered, milk-and-toast sort of fellow who had broken no law when the city decided back in 2005 they wanted him and his birds gone. After all, the sleepy little town had been discovered by the 1%, and subs of multi-million dollar homes were going up all over, adding about one third more to the population in one-percenters. They grabbed more land from folks and increased in size by about 25%, with property values going from about $3 billion to $11 billion dollars. Get the picture?

What the city council, code enforcement and police department (all with the approval of the Mayor's office) did is seriously criminal. Crimes such as allowing floods to devastate his property, by withholding flood prevention devices, which is a federal crime. Not allowing him free council to fight the various illegal charges against him (which is a guaranteed right in his case), that they devised time and time again -- even passing new laws that applied to him alone. The cops followed him wherever he went, writing countless illegal tickets. They poisoned all of his birds. Illegally locking him up under made up laws until his mortgage went belly up.

Have no doubt that he had local supporters, including the former governor of Georgia, Roy Barnes who acted as Andrew's attorney and had many illegal laws overturned in court. Like Jean Valjean in Victor Hugo's Les Miserables, Andrew was hounded unto his death by the city. Of course, the difference was that Andrew never broke any existing laws, but had the courage to fight the city, a.k.a. Police Inspector Javert until he couldn't stand the pain. What I've described is just the tip of the iceberg of what Andrew went through for seven years. When they came to evict him he blew up his house and killed himself.

Roswell, Georgia is indicative of what's going on at every level of government everywhere today in this country. Think of all the laws they've passed in the last 20 years that do nothing but illegally steal our rights until today the Bill of Rights is just a joke like that "God Damn Piece Of Paper" the Constitution! All you occupiers be prepared this time to be strip searched and finger-raped by the Gestapo, thanks to the "gang of five" on the Extreme Court!

Yes, you know, I wrote the Mayor Jere Wood a letter:

Hey Jere,

Congratulations are in order, for the first time in our magazine's history, a town and not a person, wins the Vidkun Quisling Award! This is the weekly award for the biggest, in this case, group of traitors, in America! After what you all did to Andrew Wordes, the lot of you should be nailed to trees. What a nightmare Roswell must be with a group like you and Viki Barclay, the city council and police department, conspiring in grand theft and murder on totally innocent citizens! Pity we didn't find out about this outrage until Andrew was dead as we would have put a quick stop to it. Still, a little rooting around by the FBI, there might turn up a dozen or so arrest warrants for the town fathers and mothers and some life-without-parole sentences! Not to mention a billion dollar lawsuit against the city! That should make Roswell stand out from the rest! You'll be pleased to hear I'm going to give Roswell a few million dollars worth of free advertising; however, you probably won't like it. Before I write that editorial would you like to explain how this was allowed to happen with you at the helm and what, if anything, was done about it?


Ernest Stewart
Managing editor
Issues & Alibis Magazine

If you'd like to give Jere a piece of your mind:

And Finally

Every time you think that Florida or Oklahoma or Arizona is the most backward, redneck, fascist state in America, Tennessee comes along and proves you wrong. The out-and-out creationism of the monkey bill has now passed both the House and Senate in Tennessee, and just awaits the governor's signature to be made into law. You would have thought that maybe they would have learned something from the Scopes trial; they obviously haven't! So you know what I did, don't you? No, let's not see the same hands all the time... that's right, I wrote the Senate sponsor and the governor of Tennessee emails.

Here's the one I wrote to Governor Bill Haslam.

Dear Monkey Bill,

How'd you like to be tarred with that epithet for the rest of your days? Sign the Monkey Bill and make Tennessee the laughing stock of America once again and that name will stick to you like glue. You should really insist that Tennessee remain in the 21st century -- and not slide back to the 18th! Sign the bill and you'll soon be presented with bills demanding the unbelievers be tried as witches and a slew of legislation bringing back slavery! The choice is yours, Monkey Bill!

Ernest Stewart
Managing editor
Issues & Alibis Magazine

Then I wrote this to Senator Bo Watson the sponsor of the bill.

Dear Monkey Bo,

How do you like the epithet? Better get used to it, not to mention being laughed at for the rest of your life. You should really join us here in the 21st century and leave the 18th century behind you. What's next, Monkey Bo, some Salem-styled witch trials? Perhaps you'd like to bring back slavery? How does it feel to have made Tennessee the national laughing stock again?

I'm guessing just brainwashing your mythology on defenseless children on the weekends wasn't enough; now mythology will be taught in public schools. If you were an honorable man, you'd fall on your sword; but we both know that will never happen, huh, Monkey Bo? Do explain your need to destroy the 1st amendment to the Constitution with this act of treason, please. My many readers would really like to know why, Monkey Bo!

Ernest Stewart
Managing editor
Issues & Alibis Magazine

If you'd like to write them a piece of your mind, here's their addys:

As always, if they write me back, I'll post it here!

P.S. Governor Monkey Bill decided not to sign the law nor to veto it but to let it become law without his signature in 10 days time.

Keepin' On

We're about $500 short of where we were last year in our fundraising goals, and it took us until November to reach the break-even point and pay back the money I had borrowed to keep the magazine afloat. This does not bode well for 2012!

Of course, if the Mayans were right, then it really doesn't matter who takes over the White House, House and Senate come January 20th! However, if the Mayans -- like many Christian cults predicting the end of the world -- are wrong, then we could be in a world of hurt come January -- no matter who "wins" in November!

If you'd like to keep this information flowing to your computer, then isn't it about time that you lend a financial helping hand? Send us what you can, whenever you can, and we'll keep fighting the good fight in your honor for your family's benefit. Just head on over to the donations page, and follow the instructions!


05-09-1918 ~ 04-07-2012
Thanks for the news!


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


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

Until the next time, Peace!
(c) 2012 Ernest Stewart a.k.a. Uncle Ernie is an unabashed radical, author, stand-up comic, DJ, actor, political pundit and for the last 11 years managing editor and publisher of Issues & Alibis magazine. Visit me on Face Book. Follow me on Twitter.

The Assault On Public Education
By Noam Chomsky

Public education is under attack around the world, and in response, student protests have recently been held in Britain, Canada, Chile, Taiwan and elsewhere.

California is also a battleground. The Los Angeles Times reports on another chapter in the campaign to destroy what had been the greatest public higher education system in the world: "California State University officials announced plans to freeze enrollment next spring at most campuses and to wait-list all applicants the following fall pending the outcome of a proposed tax initiative on the November ballot."

Similar defunding is under way nationwide. "In most states," The New York Times reports, "it is now tuition payments, not state appropriations, that cover most of the budget," so that "the era of affordable four-year public universities, heavily subsidized by the state, may be over."

Community colleges increasingly face similar prospects - and the shortfalls extend to grades K-12.

"There has been a shift from the belief that we as a nation benefit from higher education, to a belief that it's the people receiving the education who primarily benefit and so they should foot the bill," concludes Ronald G. Ehrenberg, a trustee of the State University system of New York and director of the Cornell Higher Education Research Institute.

A more accurate description, I think, is "Failure by Design," the title of a recent study by the Economic Policy Institute, which has long been a major source of reliable information and analysis on the state of the economy.

The EPI study reviews the consequences of the transformation of the economy a generation ago from domestic production to financialization and offshoring. By design; there have always been alternatives.

One primary justification for the design is what Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz called the "religion" that "markets lead to efficient outcomes," which was recently dealt yet another crushing blow by the collapse of the housing bubble that was ignored on doctrinal grounds, triggering the current financial crisis.

Claims are also made about the alleged benefits of the radical expansion of financial institutions since the 1970s. A more convincing description was provided by Martin Wolf, senior economic correspondent for The Financial Times: "An out-of-control financial sector is eating out the modern market economy from inside, just as the larva of the spider wasp eats out the host in which it has been laid."

The EPI study observes that the "Failure of Design" is class-based. For the designers, it has been a stunning success, as revealed by the astonishing concentration of wealth in the top 1 percent, in fact the top 0.1 percent, while the majority has been reduced to virtual stagnation or decline.

In short, when they have the opportunity, "the Masters of Mankind" pursue their "vile maxim a(euro) [ all for ourselves and nothing for other people," as Adam Smith explained long ago.

Mass public education is one of the great achievements of American society. It has had many dimensions. One purpose was to prepare independent farmers for life as wage laborers who would tolerate what they regarded as virtual slavery.

The coercive element did not pass without notice. Ralph Waldo Emerson observed that political leaders call for popular education because they fear that "This country is filling up with thousands and millions of voters, and you must educate them to keep them from our throats." But educated the right way: Limit their perspectives and understanding, discourage free and independent thought, and train them for obedience.

The "vile maxim" and its implementation have regularly called forth resistance, which in turn evokes the same fears among the elite. Forty years ago there was deep concern that the population was breaking free of apathy and obedience.

At the liberal internationalist extreme, the Trilateral Commission - the nongovernmental policy group from which the Carter Administration was largely drawn - issued stern warnings in 1975 that there is too much democracy, in part due to the failures of the institutions responsible for "the indoctrination of the young." On the right, an important 1971 memorandum by Lewis Powell, directed to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the main business lobby, wailed that radicals were taking over everything - universities, media, government, etc. - and called on the business community to use its economic power to reverse the attack on our prized way of life - which he knew well. As a lobbyist for the tobacco industry, he was quite familiar with the workings of the nanny state for the rich that he called "the free market."

Since then, many measures have been taken to restore discipline. One is the crusade for privatization - placing control in reliable hands.

Another is sharp increases in tuition, up nearly 600 percent since 1980. These produce a higher education system with "far more economic stratification than is true of any other country," according to Jane Wellman, former director of the Delta Cost Project, which monitors these issues. Tuition increases trap students into long-term debt and hence subordination to private power.

Justifications are offered on economic grounds, but are singularly unconvincing. In countries rich to poor, including Mexico next-door, tuition remains free or nominal. That was true as well in the United States itself when it was a much poorer country after World War II and huge numbers of students were able to enter college under the GI bill - a factor in uniquely high economic growth, even putting aside the significance in improving lives.

Another device is the corporatization of the universities. That has led to a dramatic increase in layers of administration, often professional instead of drawn from the faculty as before; and to imposition of a business culture of "efficiency" - an ideological notion, not just an economic one.

One illustration is the decision of state colleges to eliminate programs in nursing, engineering and computer science, because they are costly - and happen to be the professions where there is a labor shortage, as The New York Times reports. The decision harms the society but conforms to the business ideology of short-term gain without regard for human consequences, in accord with the vile maxim.

Some of the most insidious effects are on teaching and monitoring. The Enlightenment ideal of education was captured in the image of education as laying down a string ^ @that students follow in their own ways, developing their creativity and independence of mind.

The alternative, to be rejected, is the image of pouring water into a vessel - and a very leaky one, as all of us know from experience. The latter approach includes teaching to test and other mechanisms that destroy students' interest and seek to fit them into a mold, easily controlled. All too familiar today.
(c) 2012 Noam Chomsky is emeritus professor of linguistics and philosophy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and is co-author, with Gilbert Achcar, of Perilous Power: The Middle East & U.S. Foreign Policy: Dialogues on Terror, Democracy, War, and Justice. His most recent book is "Making the Future: Occupations, Interventions, Empire and Resistance," a collection of his columns for The New York Times Syndicate.

"Pour Out Your Wrath!"
By Uri Avnery

I AM writing this on Friday night, the eve of Passover. At this moment, all over the world, millions of Jews are gathered around the family table, observing the Seder, reading aloud from the same book: the Haggadah, which tells the story of the Exodus from Egypt.

The impact of this book on Jewish life is immense. Every Jew takes part in this ceremony from earliest childhood and plays an active part in the ritual. Wherever a Jewish man or woman goes in later life, they will take with them a memory of the warmth and togetherness of the family, the magical atmosphere - and the overt and subliminal message conveyed by the text.

Whoever invented the Seder ("order") ritual, many centuries ago, was a genius. All human senses are involved: seeing, hearing, smelling, touching, tasting. It includes eating a ritualized meal, drinking four glasses of wine, touching various symbolic objects, playing a game with the children (searching for a hidden piece of Matzo). It ends with singing several religious songs together. The accumulated effect is magical.

More than any other Jewish text, the Haggadah forms the Jewish conscious - or, rather, unconscious - mind today, as in the past, influencing our collective behavior and Israeli national policy.

There are many different ways to view this book.

LITERATURE: As a literary work, the Haggadah is rather inferior. The text is devoid of beauty, full of repetitions, platitudes and banalities.

This may cause wonderment. The Hebrew Bible - the Bible in Hebrew - is a work of unique beauty. In many places, its beauty is intoxicating. The peaks of Western culture - Homer, Shakespeare, Goethe, Tolstoy - are not its equal. Even the later Jewish religious texts - Mishnah, Talmud and so forth - while not so uplifting, contain passages of literary merit. The Haggadah has none. It is a text devised purely for indoctrination.

HISTORY: It's not. Though it claims to tell history, the Haggadah has nothing to do with real history.

There can no longer be the slightest doubt that the Exodus never happened. Neither the Exodus, nor the wandering in the desert, nor the conquest of Canaan.

The Egyptians were obsessive chroniclers. Many tens of thousands of tablets have already been deciphered. It would have been impossible for an event like the exodus to pass without being reported at length. Not if 600,000 people left, as the Bible tells it, or 60,000, or even 6000. Especially if during the flight a whole Egyptian army contingent, including war chariots, was drowned.

The same goes for the Conquest. Because of acute security concerns, after being invaded once from there, the Egyptians employed a host of spies, - travelers, merchants and others - to follow closely the events in neighboring Canaan, in every single one of its towns and at all times. An invasion of Canaan, even a minor one, would have been reported. Except for the periodic incursions of Bedouin tribes, nothing was recorded.

Moreover, the Egyptian towns mentioned in the Bible did not exist at the time the event is supposed to have happened. They did exist, however, when the Bible was written, in the first or second century BC.

There is no need to point out that after a hundred years of frantic archaeological searching by devout Christians and Zionist zealots, not a shred of concrete evidence for the conquest of Canaan has been found (nor that the Kingdoms of Saul, David or Salomon ever existed).

But is this really important? Not a bit of it!

The Passover story does not derive its immense power from any claim to be history. It is a myth that grips the human imagination, a myth that is the basis of a great religion, a myth that directs the behavior of people to this very day. Without the Exodus story, there would probably be no State of Israel today - and certainly not in Palestine.

THE GLORY: One can read the Exodus story as a shining example of all that is good and inspiring in the annals of humanity.

Here is the story of a small and powerless people that rises up against a brutal tyranny, throws off its chains and gains a new homeland, creating a revolutionary new moral code on the way.

Seen in this way, the Exodus is a victory of the human spirit, an inspiration for all downtrodden peoples. And indeed, it has served this purpose many times in the past. The Pilgrim Fathers, the founders of the American nation, were inspired by it, and so were many rebels throughout history.

THE OTHER SIDE: When one reads the Biblical text attentively , without religious blinkers, some aspects gives us food for other thoughts.

Let's take the Ten Plagues. Why were the entire Egyptian people punished for the misdeeds of one tyrant, Pharaoh? Why did God, like a divine Security Council, levy on them cruel sanctions, polluting their water with blood, destroying their livelihood with hail and locusts? And, even more gruesome, how could a merciful God send his angels to murder every single Egyptian firstborn child?

On leaving Egypt, the Israelites were encouraged to steal their neighbors' property. It is rather curious that the Biblical story-teller, who was certainly deeply religious, did not omit this detail. And this just a few weeks before the Ten Commandments were handed down to the Israelites by God personally, including "Thou Shalt Not Steal".

No one seems ever to have given much thought to the ethical side of the conquest of Canaan. God promised the Children of Israel a land which was the home of other peoples. He told them to kill these peoples, expressly commanding them to commit genocide. For some reason, He singled out the people of Amalek, ordering the Israelites to eradicate them altogether. Later, the glorious King Saul was dethroned by His prophet because he showed mercy and did not murder his Amalekite prisoners-of-war, men, women and children.

Of course, these texts were written by people living in times long past, when the ethics of individuals and nations were different, as were the rules of war. But the Haggadah is recited - today as before - uncritically, without any reflection on these horrible aspects. Especially in religious schools in Israel today , the commandment to commit genocide against the non-Jewish population of Palestine is taken by many teachers and pupils quite literally.

INDOCTRINATION: This is the real point of these reflections.

There are two sentences in the Haggadah that always had - and still have - a profound impact on the present.

One is the central idea on which almost all Jews base their historical outlook: "In every generation they rise against us to destroy us". This does not apply to a specific time or to a specific place. It is regarded as an eternal truth that applies to all places, all times. "They" is the entire outside world, all non-Jews everywhere. Children hear this on Seder evening on their father's knee, long before they are able to read and write, and from then on they hear or recite it every year for decades. It expresses the total conscious or unconscious conviction of almost all Jews, whether in Los Angeles, California, or in Lod, Israel. It certainly directs the policy of the State of Israel.

The second sentence, which complements the first, is a cry to God: "Pour out your wrath upon the nations that do not know you...for they have devoured Jacob and desolated his home...Pour out your wrath on them! May your blazing anger overtake them! Pursue them from under the heavens of the Lord!..."

The word "nations" in this text has a double meaning. The Hebrew word is "goyim", an ancient Hebrew term for "peoples". Even the ancient Children of Israel were called a "Holy Goy". But over the centuries, the word has taken on another meaning, and is understood to refer to all non-Jews, in a very derogatory way. (As in the Yiddish song "Oy, Oy, Oy, / Drunk is the Goy.")

To understand this text properly, one has to remember that it was written as a cry from the heart of a defenseless, persecuted people who had no means to take revenge on their torturers. To raise their spirits on the joyful Seder evening, they had to put their trust in God, crying out to Him that he should take revenge in their stead.

(During the Seder ritual, the door is always left open. Officially, that is to allow the Prophet Elias to enter, if he should miraculously rise from the dead. In reality it was to allow the Goyim to look in, so as to disprove the anti-Semitic libel that Jews baked their unleavened Pesach bread with the blood of kidnapped Christian children.)

THE LESSON: In the Diaspora, this craving for revenge was both understandable and ineffective. But the founding of the State of Israel has changed the situation completely. In Israel, Jews are far from being defenseless. We don't have to rely on God to take revenge for the evils done unto us, past or present, real or imagined. We can pour out our wrath ourselves, on our neighbors, the Palestinians and other Arabs, on our minorities, on our victims.

That is the real danger of the Haggadah, as I see it. It was written by and for helpless Jews living in perpetual danger. It raised their spirits once a year, when they felt safe for a moment, protected by their God, surrounded by their families.

Taken out of this context and applied to a new, completely different situation, it can set us on an evil course. Telling ourselves that everybody is out to destroy us, yesterday and most certainly tomorrow, we consider the grandiloquent bombast of an Iranian bigmouth as a living proof of the validity of the old maxim. They are out to kill us, so we must - according to another ancient Jewish injunction - kill them first.

So, on this Seder evening, let our feelings be guided by the noble, inspiring part of the Haggadah , the part about the slaves who rose up against tyranny and took their fate in their own hands - and not the part about pouring out our wrath.
(c) 2012 Uri Avnery ~~~ Gush Shalom

President Barack Obama signs the Bill for the HR 3606,
the 'Jump start Our Business Startups (JOBS) Act.

Why Obama's JOBS Act Couldn't Suck Worse
By Matt Taibbi

Boy, do I feel like an idiot. I've been out there on radio and TV in the last few months saying that I thought there was a chance Barack Obama was listening to the popular anger against Wall Street that drove the Occupy movement, that decisions like putting a for-real law enforcement guy like New York AG Eric Schneiderman in charge of a mortgage fraud task force meant he was at least willing to pay lip service to public outrage against the banks.

Then the JOBS Act happened.

The "Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act" (in addition to everything else, the Act has an annoying, redundant title) will very nearly legalize fraud in the stock market.

In fact, one could say this law is not just a sweeping piece of deregulation that will have an increase in securities fraud as an accidental, ancillary consequence. No, this law actually appears to have been specifically written to encourage fraud in the stock markets.

Ostensibly, the law makes it easier for startup companies (particularly tech companies, whose lobbyists were a driving force behind its passage) attract capital by, among other things, exempting them from independent accounting requirements for up to five years after they first begin selling shares in the stock market.

The law also rolls back rules designed to prevent bank analysts from talking up a stock just to win business, a practice that was so pervasive in the tech-boom years as to be almost industry standard.

Even worse, the JOBS Act, incredibly, will allow executives to give "pre-prospectus" presentations to investors using PowerPoint and other tools in which they will not be held liable for misrepresentations. These firms will still be obligated to submit prospectuses before their IPOs, and they'll still be held liable for what's in those. But it'll be up to the investor to check and make sure that the prospectus matches the "pre-presentation."

The JOBS Act also loosens a whole range of other reporting requirements, and expands stock investment beyond "accredited investors," giving official sanction to the internet-based fundraising activity known as "crowdfunding."

But the big one, to me, is the bit about exempting firms from real independent tests of internal controls for five years.

When I first read this, I asked myself: how does a law exempting a Silicon Valley startup from independent accounting actually encourage investment? If American companies have to post real, independently-verified numbers when they go public, doesn't that give investors all around the world a big reason to put their money here, instead of investing in, say, Mobbed-Up Siberian Aluminum LLC, or Bangalore Sweatshop Inc.?

In other words, how does letting go to market (and stay on the market for five years!) without publishing real numbers actually help the industry attract more financing in general, when the whole point of all of these controls is to make investment a less risky experience for the investor?

Get ready for the ostensible answer, because you won't believe it. Here's how CNN explained the reasoning behind that exemption:<>

Having 500 investors or raising $5 million previously forced a company to register with the SEC -- a costly endeavor. Filling out stacks of legal forms and undergoing independent accounting audits can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. The law loosens requirements for most companies by raising several thresholds.

We needed Barack Obama and the congress to compromise the entire U.S. stock market because it's too expensive for a publicly-listed company with billion-dollar ambitions to hire an accountant? That almost sounds like a comedy routine:

SILICON VALLEY EXECUTIVE: Listen, is the hottest thing on the internet. We're so huge it hurts... I can't even walk to my corner bodega without women throwing me their phone numbers!

INVESTOR: I'd love to invest. Can I see your numbers from last year?

SILICON VALLEY EXECUTIVE: Well, that's just the thing. We painted the bathrooms last March, and then we also had that Vitamin Water machine put in the lounge. You know, the one next to the ping-pong table? So we just didn't have any money left over for an accountant. But I estimate our revenues for 2014 to be $4.2 billion.

INVESTOR: Sounds hot! Where do I send the check?

There's just no benefit that the JOBS Act brings to an honest startup company. In fact, it puts an honest company at a severe disadvantage, because now it has to compete against other, less scrupulous companies that can simply make their projections up on the backs of envelopes.

The JOBS Act seems like it will invite a replay of the disastrous tech-stock bubble of the late nineties. That mess was made possible by a historic collapse in accounting standards, with the great investment banks the pioneers of the collapse.

This is like formally eliminating steroid testing for the first five years of a baseball player's career. Yes, you can pretty much bet that you'll see a lot of home runs in the first few years after you institute a rule like that. But you'd better be ready to stick a lot asterisks in the record books ten or fifteen years down the line.

In the same way, get ready for an avalanche of shareholder suits ten years from now, since post-factum civil litigation will be the only real regulation of the startup market. In fact, there are already supporters talking up future lawsuits as an appropriate tool to replace the regulations being wiped out by this bill.

The JOBS Act seems like it will invite a replay of the disastrous tech-stock bubble of the late nineties. That mess was made possible by a historic collapse in accounting standards, with the great investment banks the pioneers of the collapse. In the old days, in the fifties and sixties for instance, you would never take a company public that wasn't profitable at the time of the IPO, or didn't have a multi-year track record of solid revenues.

When the banks stopped insisting on proven track records or real profitability before taking a company public, there was a sudden explosion of stock-market investment into heretofore unknown internet firms. Companies with no track records went from having literally no revenues at all to having five or six billion dollars' worth of market capitalization overnight. Banks explained that the new way to measure a company was by the quality of its ideas, not boring old indicators like revenues.

Even Alan Greenspan told the world that technology had made such great advances that the traditional laws of economics no longer applied, that there was "new paradigm," and that it was possible to have long-term growth without inflation. He essentially told the world that the bubble wasn't a bubble, because all that phony growth was not phony at all, it was just a whole bunch of people properly evaluating great new ideas, albeit before they had actually performed.

And we later found out, of course, a lot of that value wasn't value at all. And a lot of that sharp growth in the nineties was actually caused by complex fraud schemes like "spinning" and "laddering,", wherein banks artificially pumped up startup stocks in exchange for future business, or rigged the IPOs so that they would have fake "bumps" in investment at pre-arranged times.

Sometimes the companies themselves were the victims in the fraud scams, and sometimes the company executives were beneficiaries of fraud. But in virtually all of these schemes, the casual investor was the big dupe in the con. When the dot-com bubble finally collapsed, costing the world about $5 trillion in losses, the major victims were ordinary people. We can expect a replay of the same thing now, only on a much bigger scale.

The finance world is buzzing over this bill. The reactions I've heard so far range from minutes-long guffaws of dark laughter to bloodcurdling, I-can't-freaking-believe-they-went-this-far outrage. "I thought I had lost the ability to be shocked," one friend of mine, a former regulator, told me this weekend, chuckling at the sheer stones it took to push the law. "But this thing is just inspired. They broke the mold with this one."

There are some crazy side-stories that I'll get to later in the week, including the hilarious influence certain preposterous individuals had in pushing this bill (most notably Steve Case, former co-founder of AOL and a veteran of multiple accounting fraud scandals, who was recruited by both parties to lobby the bill). There are also some remarkable contradictions in the arguments the bill's supporters made when they pushed for the bill's passage. Anyway, more on this to come.

In the meantime, let's just say this is a dramatic step taken by Barack Obama. Nobody should have any illusions about where he stands on Wall Street corruption after this thing. Boss Tweed himself couldn't have done any worse.
(c) 2012 Matt Taibbi

Free Will and "Free Will"
How my view differs from Daniel Dennett's
By Sam Harris

I have noticed that some readers continue to find my argument about the illusoriness of free will difficult to accept. Apart from religious believers who simply "know" that they have free will and that life would be meaningless without it, my most energetic critics seem to be fans of my friend Dan Dennett's account of the subject, as laid out in his books Elbow Room and Freedom Evolves and in his public talks. As I mention in Free Will, I don't happen to agree with Dan's approach, but rather than argue with him at length in a very short book, I decided to simply present my own view. I am hopeful that Dan and I will have a public discussion about these matters at some point in the future.

Dan and I agree on several fundamental points: The conventional (libertarian) idea of free will makes no sense and cannot be brought into register with our scientific picture of the world. We also agree that determinism need not imply fatalism and that indeterminism would give us no more freedom than we would have in a deterministic universe.

These points of agreement can be easily illustrated: Imagine that I want to learn Mandarin. I attend classes, hire a native-speaking tutor, and vacation in China. My efforts in this regard, should they persist, will be the cause of my speaking Mandarin (badly, no doubt) at some point in the future. It's not that I was destined to speak Mandarin regardless of my thoughts and actions. Choice, reasoning, discipline, etc., play important roles in our lives despite the fact that they are determined by prior causes-and adding a measure of randomness to this clockwork, however spooky, would do nothing to accentuate their powers.

Biological evolution and cultural progress have increased people's ability to get what they want out of life and to avoid what they don't want. A person who can reason effectively, plan for the future, choose his words carefully, regulate his negative emotions, play fair with strangers, and partake of the wisdom of various cultural institutions is very different from a person who cannot do these things. Dan and I fully agree on this point. However, I think it is important to emphasize that these abilities do not lend credence to the traditional idea of free will. And, unlike Dan, I believe that popular confusion on this point is worth lingering over, because certain moral impulses-for vengeance, say-depend upon a view of human agency that is both conceptually incoherent and empirically false. I also believe that the conventional illusion of free will can be dispelled-not merely ignored, tinkered with, or set on new foundations. I do not know whether Dan agrees with this final point or not.

Fans of Dan's account-and there are many-seem to miss my primary purpose in writing about free will. My goal is to show how the traditional notion is flawed, and to point out the consequences of our being taken in by it. Whenever Dan discusses free will, he bypasses the traditional idea and offers a revised version that he believes to be the only one "worth wanting." Dan insists that this conceptual refinement is a great strength of his approach, analogous to other maneuvers in science and philosophy that allow us to get past how things seem so that we can discover how they actually are. I do not agree. From my point of view, he has simply changed the subject in a way that either confuses people or lets them off the hook too easily.

It is true that how things seem is often misleading, and popular beliefs about physical and mental processes do not always map smoothly onto reality. Consider the phenomenon of color: At the level of conscious perception, objects appear to come in a variety of colors, but we now know that colors do not exist "out there" in the way they seem to. Explaining our experience of color in terms of the color-free facts of physics and neurophysiology requires that we make a few adjustments in our thinking-but this doesn't mean color is merely "an illusion." Rather, it must be understood in terms of lower-level facts that are not themselves "colored."

Nothing changes at the level of our vision when we understand what color really is-and we can still talk about "blue skies" and "red apples" without any sense of contradiction. There are certain anomalies to be reconciled (for instance, two objects reflecting light at the same wavelength can appear to be different colors depending on the context), but we are not mistaken in believing that we see red apples and blue skies. We really do experience the world this way, and one job of vision science is to tell us why.

Dan seems to think that free will is like color: People might have some erroneous beliefs about it, but the experience of freedom and its attendant moral responsibilities can be understood in a similarly straightforward way through science. I think that free will is an illusion and that analogies to phenomena like color do not run through. A better analogy, also taken from the domain of vision, would liken free will to the sense that most of us have of visual continuity.

Take a moment to survey your immediate surroundings. Your experience of seeing will probably seem unified-a single field in which everything appears all at once and seamlessly. But the act of seeing is not quite what it seems. The first thing to notice is that most of what you see in every instant is a blur, because you have only a narrow region of sharp focus in the center of your visual field. This area of foveal vision is also where you perceive colors most clearly; your ability to distinguish one color from another falls away completely as you reach the periphery in each eye. You continuously compensate for these limitations by allowing your gaze to lurch from point to point (executing what are known as "saccades"), but you tend not to notice these movements. Nor are you aware that your visual perception appears interrupted while your eyes are moving (otherwise you would see a continuous blurring of the scene). It was once believed that saccades caused the active suppression of vision, but recent experiments suggest that the post-saccadic image (i.e. whatever you next focus on) probably just masks the preceding blur.

There is also a region in each visual field where you receive no input at all, because the optic nerve creates a blind spot where it passes through the retina. Many of us learned to perceive the subjective consequences of this unintelligent design as children, by marking a piece of paper, closing one eye, and then moving the paper into a position where the mark disappeared. Close one eye now and look out at the world: You will probably not notice your blind spot-and yet, if you are in a crowded room, someone could well be missing his head. Most people are surely unaware that the optic blind spot exists, and even those of us who know about it can go for decades without noticing it.

While color vision survives close inspection, our conventional sense of visual continuity does not. The impression we have of seeing everything all at once, clearly, and without interruption is based on our not paying close attention to what it is like to see. I argue that the illusory nature of free will can also be noticed in this way. As with the illusion of visual continuity, the evidence of our confusion is neither far away nor deep within; rather, it is right on the surface of experience, almost too near to us to be seen.

Of course, we could take Dan's approach and adjust the notion of "continuity" so that it better reflected the properties of human vision, giving us a new concept of seamless visual perception that is "worth wanting." But if erroneous beliefs about visual continuity caused drivers to regularly mow down pedestrians and police sharpshooters to accidentally kill hostages, merely changing the meaning of "continuity" would not do. I believe that this is the situation we are in with the illusion of free will: False beliefs about human freedom skew our moral intuitions and anchor our system of criminal justice to a primitive ethic of retribution. And as we continue to make advances in understanding the human mind through science, our current practices will come to seem even less enlightened.

Ordinary people want to feel philosophically justified in hating evildoers and viewing them as the ultimate authors of their evil. This moral attitude has always been vulnerable to our learning more about the causes of human behavior-and in situations where the origins of a person's actions become absolutely clear, our feelings about his responsibility begin to change. What is more, they should change. We should admit that a person is unlucky to inherit the genes and life experience that will doom him to psychopathy. That doesn't mean we can't lock him up, or kill him in self-defense, but hating him is not rational, given a complete understanding of how he came to be who he is. Natural, yes; rational, no. Feeling compassion for him would be rational, however-or so I have argued.

We can acknowledge the difference between voluntary and involuntary action, the responsibilities of an adult and those of a child, sanity and insanity, a troubled conscience and a clear one, without indulging the illusion of free will. We can also admit that in certain contexts, punishment might be the best way to motivate people to behave themselves. The utility of punishment is an empirical question that is well worth answering-and nothing in my account of free will requires that I deny this.

How can we ask that other people behave themselves (and even punish them for not behaving) when they are not the ultimate cause of their actions? We can (and should) make such demands when doing so has the desired effect-namely, increasing the well-being of all concerned. The demands we place upon one another are part of the totality of causes that determine human behavior. Making such demands on children, for instance, is a necessary part of their learning to regulate their selfish impulses and function in society. We need not imagine that children possess free will to value the difference between a child who is considerate of the feelings of others and one who behaves like a wild animal.

In Free Will, I argue that people are mistaken in believing that they are free in the usual sense. I claim that this realization has consequences-good ones, for the most part-and for that reason we should not gloss over it by revising our definition of "free will" too quickly. Dan believes that his adjustment of the concept has allowed him to provide a description of human agency and moral responsibility that preserves many of our intuitions about ourselves and still fits the facts. I agree, for the most part, but I think that other problems need to be solved. That is why I have focused on the scope and consequences of popular confusion. Dan does not appear to see this confusion the way I do: Either he doesn't agree about its scope or he doesn't see the same consequences. But, again, I am hopeful we will be able to sort out our differences in the future...
(c) 2012 Sam Harris is the author of "The End Of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason" and "Letter to a Christian Nation" and is the co-founder of The Reason Project, which promotes scientific knowledge and secular values. Follow Sam Harris on Twitter.

Newt, The Supremes, Big Money, And The Dogs

Poor Newt Gingrich. For reasons that completely befuddle him, the disgraced former-House Speaker and ludicrously-pompous presidential pretender just hasn't caught on with voters in this year's GOP primaries.

The Newt was essentially done in January - yet, there he is - still preening around, still posing as America's most visionary thinker, still blurting perverse right-wing poppycock, still hogging the political limelight he loves. If the people would just listen, damn them!

But who needs actual voters to be a presidential player these days? Gingrich's entire campaign consists of six men: Justices Alito, Kennedy, Roberts, Scalia, and Thomas of the Supreme Court, and Sheldon Adelson of the Sands casino empire in Las Vegas. The five Supremes are the ones who unleashed the plague of democracy-destroying corporate cash on our elections, and Adelson is the multibillionaire Republican extremist who has taken rich advantage of the Court's 2010 ruling and foisted Newt upon us.

The casino baron put down a stunning $5 million on Gingrich in South Carolina, then upped the stakes with an eye-popping $5 million more on Newt in Florida, and since then has wagered yet another $6 million on his boy. One man, three months, $16 million. Never mind that Gingrich is way too daffy and detestable to win, Adelson has used him and an unprecedented pile of self-interested money to help shove the GOP and the national debate from the right-wing edge of politics over into the plutocratic/autocratic abyss.

Now through with Gingrich, though, Sheldon is moving his bottomless stash of cash over to Mitt Romney. Trying to stay afloat, poor Newt is asking supporters to go online and buy such campaign ticky-tacky as $7.50 bandanas for their dogs.

Yes, thanks to the Supreme Court, our elections have gone to the dogs.
(c) 2012 Jim Hightower's latest book, "If The Gods Had Meant Us To Vote They Would Have Given Us Candidates," is available in a fully revised and updated paperback edition.

Numbing Numbers Explain US Frog Revolution
By Joel S. Hirschhorn

Believing in the classic American Dream that hard work will deliver prosperity is like believing that buying super lottery tickets is a smart way to become wealthy. Both are delusional beliefs because both are bets on incredible long shots that will disappoint nearly everyone who believes this garbage. The American Dream has been destroyed by a revolution from the top.

Americans have been watching authentic bottom-up revolutions in other countries but remain oblivious to a very different kind of revolution by elites that has been in progress for over three decades in the US. It has not destroyed the government or Constitution, merely bought control of both. Our government was not overthrown in a bloody revolution. It was purchased to win the class war against the 99 percent.

Call it the frog revolution. It is best understood by the parable of the frog in water that stays in it as the temperature is raised, ultimately to the boiling point, killing the frog. The key indicator of the US frog revolution is a mountain of data showing the rise in economic inequality, the loss of upward economic mobility, and the killing of the middle class. The vast majority of Americans, the 99 percent of frogs, remain ignorant of how they are being destroyed by that infamous rich and powerful one percent.

Note that in a poll released by Pew, 19 percent of Americans agreed with the statement that "success in life is pretty much determined by forces outside of our control," the highest number since 1994. It would be much higher if there was not an epidemic of delusional thinking. But more on target, 40 percent of Americans — also the highest number since 1994 — agreed with the statement that "hard work and determination are no guarantee of success for most people." For the counter-revolution we need that number must get much higher.

Consider new data about American reality from a study by University of California economist Emmanuel Saez. In 2010, despite non healed wounds from the great recession, an amazing 93 percent of the additional income created in the country that year, compared to 2009 — $288 billion — went to the top 1 percent of taxpayers, those with at least $352,000 in income. That delivered an average single-year pay increase of 11.6 percent to each of these households. Yes, the rich are getting richer.

But there is more to this depressing story. All the talk about the top 1 percent misses the truth about the super rich. In 2010, 37 percent of these additional earnings went to just the top 0.01 percent, a miniscule collection of about 15,000 households with average incomes of $23.8 million. They saw their incomes rise by 21.5 percent. The richer you are the richer you get.

What about ordinary Americans? The bottom 99 percent received a microscopic $80 increase in pay per person in 2010, after adjusting for inflation. The top 1 percent, whose average income was $1,019,089, saw an 11.6 percent increase in income. Most Americans are no longer sharing in economic recovery or growth.

Consider this finding: David Madland and Nick Bunker of the Center for American Progress recently found that in pre-frog revolution 1968, when 28 percent of the workforce was unionized, 53 percent of the nation's income went to the middle class. In 2010, when only 11.9 percent of the nation's workers were unionized, the fraction earned by the middle class had fallen to 46.5 percent. And if current efforts to destroy unions are successful the vast majority of non-unionized workers will suffer more.

Still more numbing numbers: Over time the top 1 percent has done better in successive economic recoveries of the past two decades. In the Clinton era expansion, 45 percent of the total income gains went to the top 1 percent; in the Bush recovery, it was 65 percent; now it is 93 percent. How much more negative impacts of the frog revolution will it take for a counter-revolution to take back our country?

Add to all this: Research by Julia Isaacs of the Brookings Institution, as part of the Economic Mobility Project, has shown that intergenerational mobility in the United States has fallen far below the levels in Germany, Finland, Denmark and other more social democratic nations of Northern Europe. In other words, the American Dream really is nothing more than a big, delusional lie that far too many Americans still cling to and that mainstream politicians still boast about. Those politicians enable the elites to sustain the top-down frog revolution.

Listen, all around the 99 percent the socioeconomic waters are still being heated up more by the rich and powerful 1 percent that runs the two-party plutocracy. Delusional frog-citizens are mostly blind to the hot water they are in. Far too many are still clinging to the myth that voting for one party or the other will somehow make things better. Wrong. Both major parties have allowed and sustained the top-down frog revolution. What we need for the counter-revolution is finding a way to overturn the status quo political system.

A major opportunity is using what the Founders gave us in the Constitution: an Article V convention of state delegates with the power to propose reform constitutional amendments. This should be a priority for both the Tea Party and Occupy movements and any candidate coming through the Americans Elect nomination process on the Internet should also support using the convention option.

What is at risk without effective rebellion is much more than dollars. Harold Meyerson got it right: "If belief and participation in democracy are sustained by people's conviction that democracy produces good economic outcomes, then the growing concentration of wealth and income in the United States is a long-term threat to everything we profess to stand for."
(c) 2012 Joel S. Hirschhorn observed our corrupt federal government firsthand as a senior official with the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment and the National Governors Association and is the author of Delusional Democracy - Fixing the Republic Without Overthrowing the Government. To discuss issues write the author. The author has a Ph.D. in Materials Engineering and was formerly a full professor of metallurgical engineering at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

Flirting With Disaster On Our Electric Grid
By James Donahue

As we were during the days of cheap oil, Americans appear blindly unaware of a potential looming disaster that looms on the nation's electric grid. Yet when the lights go out for even a few hours, all life as we know it grinds to a halt.

Consider how cities clogged with millions of people might deal with a black-out lasting weeks or even years.

After several major blackouts that knocked out portions of the nation's decaying grid system in recent years, the nuclear disasters at Fukushima, Chernobyl and Three Mile Island, and the growing number of natural disasters from tornados, hurricanes and flooding, analysts are warning that there is a crying need for a general overhaul and improvement of the U.S. electrical grid.

Indeed, most of the nation's power is coming from old and outdated coal-fired generating plants. This has been considered a problem because the coal fires are among the major sources of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas blamed as a contributing factor in climate change. Since Fukushima, Japan has lost more than half of its source of power from nuclear generating plants. Thus the country is resorting to the older coal-fired plants. One report stated that "with just two of its 54 nuclear reactors in operation, Japan is importing coal and oil as if there is no tomorrow." And consequently, Japan is no longer meeting its plan to reduce carbon emissions under the Kyoto protocol.

In the United States there are 104 nuclear generating plants on line, nearly all of them at least 30 years old. Because of the extent of the disasters at Fukushima and Chernobyl, there has been continued controversy over whether any new plants will ever be constructed in this country.

A new report from the Vermont Law School Institute for Energy and the Environment determines that the cost of the safety measures needed for existing and new nuclear generating plants will make this power source too costly without government subsidies. With the mood of Congress this election year, the concept of subsidizing nuclear plants is probably off the table.

After coming to power, President Barack Obama has called for a major overhaul of the nation's electrical grid system as well as a restoration of a general infrastructure of roads, bridges, sewer and water systems that are in a serious state of decay. But a Republican dominated Congress has been caught up in the politics of high finance and is vowing to reduce government spending. Money for such projects has been blocked. Because of all this, the United States is a nation on the brink of a possible electrical meltdown.

A copyright report by Matthew Stein that recently appeared on the Truthout website warned that the new extreme solar activity may be an unexpected threat to the nation's electric grid system. Stein wrote that some solar storms, like the extreme storm that swept the Earth in 1921, might have the potential of collapsing much of the nation's grid.

Stein also notes that a nuclear bomb attack from the air also would knock out the grid system.

The grid system, just for the record, is a complex linking of all of the nation's electric power systems designed to provide back-up power in the event of a regional disaster or system break-down.

People are more dependent on the grid than they may realize. It maintains food production and distribution, telecommunications, Internet, medical services, military defense, transportation, government, operation of water and sewage treatment systems, refrigeration, pumping gasoline at the local service station, and powering our homes and businesses. If the grid goes down, all of this comes to an abrupt stop.

As engineers sadly discovered at the Fukushima facility, after the plants were hit by both a major earthquake and destructive tsunami, even nuclear power plants are critically dependant on the grid. Backup generators kept the reactor cores cooled until the diesel oil ran out, then the pumps stopped, the cooling system failed, and the reactor cores went into catastrophic meltdown.

Structural engineers are now realizing that the disaster at Fukushima could also have happened at any of the U.S. plants if the grid fails because of natural disaster.

One problem is that the electrical grid system and the various power plants are all dependant on modern computers to remain strategically connected and coordinated. And the computers are equipped with sensitive microchips that could be fried by any kind of power surge delivered via those interconnected wire circuits. This is why Stein worries about an airborne nuclear attack or a major solar storm's possible effect on the grid system.

There are solutions, and the cost, when compared to the money Congress is willing to spend on military bombers, ships and its massive war machine is ridiculously low.

During his first term, President Obama successful got Congress to pass a stimulus bill that included $4.5 billion to upgrade the nation's electricity grid. Part of the money was used for technological research at ways to protect the system from cyber attacks. But this was just a fraction of the money needed to get our electrical system upgraded to meet modern demands.

A study by the Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) Commission has determined that it would cost about $1 billion to install protective devices and procedures to protect the US grid and protect its extra high voltage (EHV) transformers from this kind of damage.

Stein explained: "For the cost of a single B-2 bomber or a tiny fraction of the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) bank bailout, we could invest in preventative measures to avert what might well become the end of life as we know it." The nation is now facing harsh economic times, with a large number of people either out of work, working part time or on low paying jobs. Our national debt is counted in the trillions. Congressional Republicans are demanding a roll-back in federal expenditures. With looming cuts in education, health care, welfare and other basic needs, there is little chance in 2013, or possibly years to come for federal dollars to help rebuild any part of the crumbling infrastructure.
(c) 2012 James L. Donahue is a retired newspaper reporter, editor and columnist with more than 40 years of experience in professional writing. He is the published author of five books, all dealing with Michigan history, and several magazine articles. He currently produces daily articles for this web site

Our Men In Iran?
By Seymour M. Hersh

From the air, the terrain of the Department of Energy's Nevada National Security Site, with its arid high plains and remote mountain peaks, has the look of northwest Iran. The site, some sixty-five miles northwest of Las Vegas, was once used for nuclear testing, and now includes a counterintelligence training facility and a private airport capable of handling Boeing 737 aircraft. It's a restricted area, and inhospitable-in certain sections, the curious are warned that the site's security personnel are authorized to use deadly force, if necessary, against intruders.

It was here that the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) conducted training, beginning in 2005, for members of the Mujahideen-e-Khalq, a dissident Iranian opposition group known in the West as the M.E.K. The M.E.K. had its beginnings as a Marxist-Islamist student-led group and, in the nineteen-seventies, it was linked to the assassination of six American citizens. It was initially part of the broad-based revolution that led to the 1979 overthrow of the Shah of Iran. But, within a few years, the group was waging a bloody internal war with the ruling clerics, and, in 1997, it was listed as a foreign terrorist organization by the State Department. In 2002, the M.E.K. earned some international credibility by publicly revealing-accurately-that Iran had begun enriching uranium at a secret underground location. Mohamed ElBaradei, who at the time was the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations' nuclear monitoring agency, told me later that he had been informed that the information was supplied by the Mossad. The M.E.K.'s ties with Western intelligence deepened after the fall of the Iraqi regime in 2003, and JSOC began operating inside Iran in an effort to substantiate the Bush Administration's fears that Iran was building the bomb at one or more secret underground locations. Funds were covertly passed to a number of dissident organizations, for intelligence collection and, ultimately, for anti-regime terrorist activities. Directly, or indirectly, the M.E.K. ended up with resources like arms and intelligence. Some American-supported covert operations continue in Iran today, according to past and present intelligence officials and military consultants.

Despite the growing ties, and a much-intensified lobbying effort organized by its advocates, M.E.K. has remained on the State Department's list of foreign terrorist organizations-which meant that secrecy was essential in the Nevada training. "We did train them here, and washed them through the Energy Department because the D.O.E. owns all this land in southern Nevada," a former senior American intelligence official told me. "We were deploying them over long distances in the desert and mountains, and building their capacity in communications-coordinating commo is a big deal." (A spokesman for J.S.O.C. said that "U.S. Special Operations Forces were neither aware of nor involved in the training of M.E.K. members.')

The training ended sometime before President Obama took office, the former official said. In a separate interview, a retired four-star general, who has advised the Bush and Obama Administrations on national-security issues, said that he had been privately briefed in 2005 about the training of Iranians associated with the M.E.K. in Nevada by an American involved in the program. They got "the standard training," he said, "in commo, crypto [cryptography], small-unit tactics, and weaponry-that went on for six months," the retired general said. "They were kept in little pods." He also was told, he said, that the men doing the training were from JSOC, which, by 2005, had become a major instrument in the Bush Administration's global war on terror. "The JSOC trainers were not front-line guys who had been in the field, but second- and third-tier guys-trainers and the like-and they started going off the reservation. ‘If we're going to teach you tactics, let me show you some really sexy stuff...' "

It was the ad-hoc training that provoked the worried telephone calls to him, the former general said. "I told one of the guys who called me that they were all in over their heads, and all of them could end up trouble unless they got something in writing. The Iranians are very, very good at counterintelligence, and stuff like this is just too hard to contain." The site in Nevada was being utilized at the same time, he said, for advanced training of elite Iraqi combat units. (The retired general said he only knew of the one M.E.K.-affiliated group that went though the training course; the former senior intelligence official said that he was aware of training that went on through 2007.)

Allan Gerson, a Washington attorney for the M.E.K., notes that the M.E.K. has publicly and repeatedly renounced terror. Gerson said he would not comment on the alleged training in Nevada. But such training, if true, he said, would be "especially incongruent with the State Department's decision to continue to maintain the M.E.K. on the terrorist list. How can the U.S. train those on State's foreign terrorist list, when others face criminal penalties for providing a nickel to the same organization?"

Robert Baer, a retired C.I.A. agent who is fluent in Arabic and had worked under cover in Kurdistan and throughout the Middle East in his career, initially had told me in early 2004 of being recruited by a private American company-working, so he believed, on behalf of the Bush Administration-to return to Iraq. "They wanted me to help the M.E.K. collect intelligence on Iran's nuclear program," Baer recalled. "They thought I knew Farsi, which I did not. I said I'd get back to them, but never did." Baer, now living in California, recalled that it was made clear to him at the time that the operation was "a long-term thing-not just a one-shot deal."

Massoud Khodabandeh, an I.T. expert now living in England who consults for the Iraqi government, was an official with the M.E.K. before defecting in 1996. In a telephone interview, he acknowledged that he is an avowed enemy of the M.E.K., and has advocated against the group. Khodabandeh said that he had been with the group since before the fall of the Shah and, as a computer expert, was deeply involved in intelligence activities as well as providing security for the M.E.K. leadership. For the past decade, he and his English wife have run a support program for other defectors. Khodabandeh told me that he had heard from more recent defectors about the training in Nevada. He was told that the communications training in Nevada involved more than teaching how to keep in contact during attacks-it also involved communication intercepts. The United States, he said, at one point found a way to penetrate some major Iranian communications systems. At the time, he said, the U.S. provided M.E.K. operatives with the ability to intercept telephone calls and text messages inside Iran-which M.E.K. operatives translated and shared with American signals intelligence experts. He does not know whether this activity is ongoing.

Five Iranian nuclear scientists have been assassinated since 2007. M.E.K. spokesmen have denied any involvement in the killings, but early last month NBC News quoted two senior Obama Administration officials as confirming that the attacks were carried out by M.E.K. units that were financed and trained by Mossad, the Israeli secret service. NBC further quoted the Administration officials as denying any American involvement in the M.E.K. activities. The former senior intelligence official I spoke with seconded the NBC report that the Israelis were working with the M.E.K., adding that the operations benefitted from American intelligence. He said that the targets were not "Einsteins"; "The goal is to affect Iranian psychology and morale," he said, and to "demoralize the whole system-nuclear delivery vehicles, nuclear enrichment facilities, power plants." Attacks have also been carried out on pipelines. He added that the operations are "primarily being done by M.E.K. through liaison with the Israelis, but the United States is now providing the intelligence." An adviser to the special-operations community told me that the links between the United States and M.E.K. activities inside Iran had been long-standing. "Everything being done inside Iran now is being done with surrogates," he said.

The sources I spoke to were unable to say whether the people trained in Nevada were now involved in operations in Iran or elsewhere. But they pointed to the general benefit of American support. "The M.E.K. was a total joke," the senior Pentagon consultant said, "and now it's a real network inside Iran. How did the M.E.K. get so much more efficient?" he asked rhetorically. "Part of it is the training in Nevada. Part of it is logistical support in Kurdistan, and part of it is inside Iran. M.E.K. now has a capacity for efficient operations that it never had before."

In mid-January, a few days after an assassination by car bomb of an Iranian nuclear scientist in Tehran, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, at a town-hall meeting of soldiers at Fort Bliss, Texas, acknowledged that the U.S. government has "some ideas as to who might be involved, but we don't know exactly who was involved." He added, "But I can tell you one thing: the United States was not involved in that kind of effort. That's not what the United States does."
(c) 2012 Seymour Hersh

How The US Uses Sexual Humiliation As A Political Tool To Control The Masses
By Naomi Wolf

In a five-four ruling this week, the supreme court decided that anyone can be strip-searched upon arrest for any offense, however minor, at any time. This horror show ruling joins two recent horror show laws: the NDAA, which lets anyone be arrested forever at any time, and HR 347, the "trespass bill", which gives you a 10-year sentence for protesting anywhere near someone with secret service protection. These criminalizations of being human follow, of course, the mini-uprising of the Occupy movement.

Is American strip-searching benign? The man who had brought the initial suit, Albert Florence, described having been told to "turn around. Squat and cough. Spread your cheeks." He said he felt humiliated: "It made me feel like less of a man."

In surreal reasoning, justice Anthony Kennedy explained that this ruling is necessary because the 9/11 bomber could have been stopped for speeding. How would strip searching him have prevented the attack? Did justice Kennedy imagine that plans to blow up the twin towers had been concealed in a body cavity? In still more bizarre non-logic, his and the other justices' decision rests on concerns about weapons and contraband in prison systems. But people under arrest - that is, who are not yet convicted - haven't been introduced into a prison population.

Our surveillance state shown considerable determination to intrude on citizens sexually. There's the sexual abuse of prisoners at Bagram - der Spiegel reports that "former inmates report incidents of ... various forms of sexual humiliation. In some cases, an interrogator would place his penis along the face of the detainee while he was being questioned. Other inmates were raped with sticks or threatened with anal sex." There was the stripping of Bradley Manning is solitary confinement. And there's the policy set up after the story of the "underwear bomber" to grope US travelers genitally or else force them to go through a machine - made by a company, Rapiscan, owned by terror profiteer and former DHA czar Michael Chertoff - with images so vivid that it has been called the "pornoscanner."

Believe me: you don't want the state having the power to strip your clothes off. History shows that the use of forced nudity by a state that is descending into fascism is powerfully effective in controlling and subduing populations.

The political use of forced nudity by anti-democratic regimes is long established. Forcing people to undress is the first step in breaking down their sense of individuality and dignity and reinforcing their powerlessness. Enslaved women were sold naked on the blocks in the American south, and adolescent male slaves served young white ladies at table in the south, while they themselves were naked: their invisible humiliation was a trope for their emasculation. Jewish prisoners herded into concentration camps were stripped of clothing and photographed naked, as iconic images of that Holocaust reiterated.

One of the most terrifying moments for me when I visited Guantanamo prison in 2009 was seeing the way the architecture of the building positioned glass-fronted shower cubicles facing intentionally right into the central atrium - where young female guards stood watch over the forced nakedness of Muslim prisoners, who had no way to conceal themselves. Laws and rulings such as this are clearly designed to bring the conditions of Guantanamo, and abusive detention, home.

I have watched male police and TSA members standing by side by side salaciously observing women as they have been "patted down" in airports. I have experienced the weirdly phrased, sexually perverse intrusiveness of the state during an airport "pat-down", which is always phrased in the words of a steamy paperback ("do you have any sensitive areas? ... I will use the back of my hands under your breasts ..."). One of my Facebook commentators suggested, I think plausibly, that more women are about to be found liable for arrest for petty reasons (scarily enough, the TSA is advertising for more female officers).

I interviewed the equivalent of TSA workers in Britain and found that the genital groping that is obligatory in the US is illegal in Britain. I believe that the genital groping policy in America, too, is designed to psychologically habituate US citizens to a condition in which they are demeaned and sexually intruded upon by the state - at any moment.

The most terrifying phrase of all in the decision is justice Kennedy's striking use of the term "detainees" for "United States citizens under arrest". Some members of Occupy who were arrested in Los Angeles also reported having been referred to by police as such. Justice Kennedy's new use of what looks like a deliberate activation of that phrase is illuminating.

Ten years of association have given "detainee" the synonymous meaning in America as those to whom no rights apply - especially in prison. It has been long in use in America, habituating us to link it with a condition in which random Muslims far away may be stripped by the American state of any rights. Now the term - with its associations of "those to whom anything may be done" - is being deployed systematically in the direction of ... any old American citizen.

Where are we headed? Why? These recent laws criminalizing protest, and giving local police - who, recall, are now infused with DHS money, military hardware and personnel - powers to terrify and traumatise people who have not gone through due process or trial, are being set up to work in concert with a see-all-all-the-time surveillance state. A facility is being set up in Utah by the NSA to monitor everything all the time: James Bamford wrote in Wired magazine that the new facility in Bluffdale, Utah, is being built, where the NSA will look at billions of emails, texts and phone calls. Similar legislation is being pushed forward in the UK.

With that Big Brother eye in place, working alongside these strip-search laws, - between the all-seeing data-mining technology and the terrifying police powers to sexually abuse and humiliate you at will - no one will need a formal coup to have a cowed and compliant citizenry. If you say anything controversial online or on the phone, will you face arrest and sexual humiliation?

Remember, you don't need to have done anything wrong to be arrested in America any longer. You can be arrested for walking your dog without a leash. The man who was forced to spread his buttocks was stopped for a driving infraction. I was told by an NYPD sergeant that "safety" issues allow the NYPD to make arrests at will. So nothing prevents thousands of Occupy protesters - if there will be any left after these laws start to bite - from being rounded up and stripped naked under intimidating conditions.

Why is this happening? I used to think the push was just led by those who profited from endless war and surveillance - but now I see the struggle as larger. As one internet advocate said to me: "There is a race against time: they realise the internet is a tool of empowerment that will work against their interests, and they need to race to turn it into a tool of control."

As Chris Hedges wrote in his riveting account of the NDAA: "There are now 1,271 government agencies and 1,931 private companies that work on programs related to counterterrorism, homeland security and intelligence in about 10,000 locations across the United States, the Washington Post reported in a 2010 series by Dana Priest and William M Arken. There are 854,000 people with top-secret security clearances, the reporters wrote, and in Washington, DC, and the surrounding area 33 building complexes for top-secret intelligence work are under construction or have been built since September 2011."

This enormous new sector of the economy has a multi-billion-dollar vested interest in setting up a system to surveil, physically intimidate and prey upon the rest of American society.

Now they can do so by threatening to demean you sexually - a potent tool in the hands of any bully.
(c) 2012 Naomi Wolf author, social critic, and political activist is the author of The New York Times bestseller "The End of America" (Chelsea Green) and, more recently, Give Me Liberty: A Handbook for American Revolutionaries. Wolf's landmark international bestseller, The Beauty Myth, challenged the cosmetics industry and the marketing of unrealistic standards of beauty, launching a new wave of feminism in the early 1990s.

"To Undo The Folded Lie"
Resisting palliatives in an age of oligarchic excess and Anthropocene Age devastation
By Phil Rockstroh

Wall Street is again flush with the electronic facsimile of the stuff once known as money. But this is a Botox Recovery: A superficial procedure, accomplished with a nerve paralyzing poison, reserved for the wealthy whose vanity has driven them to transform their faces into caricatures of acquiring a countenance, frozen as a creepy doll, incapable of showing emotion -- a grotesque simulacrum of the human face.

A Botox-distorted face reveals an individual with a distorted view of existence: that life's limits, in this case the process of aging, must be hidden, and by doing so, artifice trumps reality. In a similar manner, life under our current Botoxed economic and political structure seems a gruesome distortion of life itself -- a desperate gambit to veil the carnage inflicted by the monstrous excesses of oligarchic and Anthropocene Age exploitation of populace and planet.

Upon seeing the face of a narcissist whose features have been willingly disfigured by Botox, one wonders the obvious: Does he even look in the mirror?

Yes. But, as is the case with the One Percent, he only sees what he is desperate to see. He has succeeded in fooling himself, thus he believes he fools all who have the misfortune to gaze upon him.

A stammered truth is more resonate to the heart than a well-told lie. Unfortunately, a habitually dissembling mindset will view the situation in reverse. All too often, internalized systems of viewing an unfolding event will determine an individual's take on a given situation. If the institutions (e.g., familial, religious, governmental, mass media) that have influenced one's method of perception are themselves compromised by internalized, self-resonating biases, then a type of carnival funhouse mirror effect comes into play (both on an individual and culture-wide basis) whereby distortions reflect distortions that, in turn, reflect those infinitum.

Reality is made grotesque, and gross distortions are perceived as reality.

This is why it is essential, on an individual basis, to develop a method of viewing that includes the heart, the gut, and all of one's senses. A lie only fools the mind; in contrast, truth reverberates throughout one's entire being.

"All I have is a voice / To undo the folded lie." -- W.H. Auden

At present, only slightly more than 40% of the population of the U.S. accepts the verifiable reality of global climate chaos. A constant barrage of propaganda in the form of fake science, contrived and propagated by massive, obscenely wealthy multi-national energy corporations, is one reason for the dismal and still declining number of the populace who cannot discern truth-seeking scientific inquiry from the dissembling of a big money-bribed cadre of hacks and PR flacks.

This development, troubling enough on its own, is emblematic of a larger dilemma. The pervasive false consciousness, engendered by the atomized, artificial nature of existence within the corporate/consumer state -- e.g., the Media Age usurping of the innate longings of the human heart by transmuting desire into consumer craving -- has not only left consumerist true believers bereft of the ability to honestly process information -- but has rendered all too many unable to locate the source of their own suffering.

It is impossible to sate empty appetite by more empty consumption. Conversely, the hollowness at the core of consumer state anomie can only be remedied by an awakening of the heart.

How does one take this course of action? The answer is neither recondite nor inaccessible: by the time honored methods of grief, gratitude, and embracing an enthusiasm for social and political engagement. At present, the current societal and governmental arrangements give us ample opportunity for practice.

Begin by: grieving for our abuse of the flora and fauna of this living planet; then, grieve for the suffering we bring to ourselves by these callous actions. Because, as long as we believe it is our birthright to exploit the planet, it follows that we will continue to believe it permissible to ruthlessly exploit one another by the same heartless methods.

There is no need for a vengeful god above to punish us for our transgressions...we're doing just fine on our own. Trudging through life devoid of the warmth bestowed by a compassionate heart amounts to divesting one's self of soul -- i.e., rendering oneself not fully alive within life. What an awful form of punishment this is: to construct in the place within yourself where your heart should be positioned, a dungeon where you have become both the torturer and the tortured -- all ordered by a merciless despot (your willful mind, untempered by the counsel of a compassionate heart) who lords over the wasteland of misapprehensions that you have mistaken for the whole of existence.

Both economic depression and so-called psychological depression are engendered by some of the same sources: clinging to a dying system of belief (such as the death cult of late capitalism) and refusing to embrace the end of things; the gripping grief of one who refuses to honor the dead by the closure provided by a decent burial. Thus not allowing the departed to rest...engaging them in an obsessive, one-sided conversation...demanding of the dead to do what they cannot do...rise and bring comfort to the living.

Also, depression can originate from being made subject to dehumanizing repression vis-a-vis demeaning forces of exploitation. Often, individuals who are subject to depression, by force of habit, press down anger, imagination, eros - vital sources of propulsion and purpose. Hence, feelings of hopelessness will descend upon the psyche.

 Contrary to the highly profitable propaganda of pharmaceutical industry giants, depression, in the vast majority of cases, is not caused by a chemical imbalance. Anti-Depressants serve as palliatives for the demoralized workforce of the capitalist state. 

And these compounds are ineffective to boot. Study after study reveals antidepressants (SSRIs, in particular) are no more effective than a placebo. Although, these substances are not as harmless as sugar pills. Withal, anti-depressants are addictive. Withdrawal from these drugs is as painful and dangerous as with any other overused drug.

The neurological model has proven to be a self-serving reductionist fallacy. Regardless of abstruse (demonstrably false) jargon involving neuron receptors, depression is a state of mind -- the stuff of subjective imaginings -- a means of giving shape to and describing the mysteries of the self and the world.

Once depression (more accurately, sadness or grief or melancholia or ennui or the blues) is accepted as a changeable condition of the multi-verse of the human mind, its grip loosens...One's grieving soul simply longed for leave its decrepit tower (after a necessary period of mourning, of course) and journey among other regions of the psyche; only it, in its isolation, had forgotten how to do so.

 If you're depressed to the point of contemplating suicide, your soul is not advising you to kill yourself... It is suggesting you kill the false consciousness that has tricked you into believing its imprisoning concepts apply to the totality of yourself and to your conception of life. Do not commit suicide; instead, expose and depose the usurper who schemes in the throne room of your heart.

Send out dispatches from both the cityscape of your soul and its most remote regions. Give voice to your spirit's elations and your heart's suffering. The sterile nothingscape of depression blooms to vivid life by the embrace of the living images that rise from an open heart. And decaying beliefs make excellent compost.

If not, desperation arrives. For example, the despair-engendered fantasy...of being raptured heavenward, or its secular be relieved of the stress and uncertainties, inflicted by commodified life, by winning the lottery. Deep within, one realizes that one has little prospect of escaping the stultifying, exploitative nature of the present order; as a consequence, citizens of the corporate state seize upon these desperate fantasies of release from its all-encompassing demands and burdens.

Under late capitalism, people feel imprisoned by their social and financial circumstances; large numbers no longer believe they can change the course of their lives by means of their initiative and labor. The operatives of the One Percent (the shapers of cultural awareness) are dream twisters...usurpers of yearning. They are well aware that the heart's language is expressed in the lexicon of transformation...of the deep-dwelling human longing to find the sublime in quotidian experience...a mode of being we term freedom i.e., a desire to have one's unique character forged by one's choices in life, as one negotiates the happenstance of unfolding fate.

Lottery mania and End Time fantasies reveal that the central premise of capitalism is a lie. Ergo, people realize under the current set-up that they will never be unburdened financially enough to pursue their heart's calling...only a highly unlikely spin of Fortuna's Wheel or a fairy tale-like summoning to a burden-free Heaven will ever set them free.

These are the fantasies of a shattered people -- the craven beliefs and palliative remedies that are seized upon by a populace governed by entropy-ridden institutions that have lost any purpose other than self-perpetuation. Therefore, one has to be prepared to act as the structure crumbles.

Accordingly, construct within yourself an authentic inner structure, as outwardly you do your part to help imagine and to create new political and cultural models...In short, act as if the inevitable collapse has already occurred.
(c) 2012 Phil Rockstroh, is a poet, lyricist and philosopher bard living in New York City. Visit Phil's website, and at FaceBook.

Congressan Paul Ryan (R-WI)

The Gullible Center
By Paul Krugman

So, can we talk about the Paul Ryan phenomenon?

And yes, I mean the phenomenon, not the man. Mr. Ryan, the chairman of the House Budget Committee and the principal author of the last two Congressional Republican budget proposals, isn't especially interesting. He's a garden-variety modern G.O.P. extremist, an Ayn Rand devotee who believes that the answer to all problems is to cut taxes on the rich and slash benefits for the poor and middle class. No, what's interesting is the cult that has grown up around Mr. Ryan - and in particular the way self-proclaimed centrists elevated him into an icon of fiscal responsibility, and even now can't seem to let go of their fantasy.

The Ryan cult was very much on display last week, after President Obama said the obvious: the latest Republican budget proposal, a proposal that Mitt Romney has avidly embraced, is a "Trojan horse" - that is, it is essentially a fraud. "Disguised as deficit reduction plans, it is really an attempt to impose a radical vision on our country."

The reaction from many commentators was a howl of outrage. The president was being rude; he was being partisan; he was being a big meanie. Yet what he said about the Ryan proposal was completely accurate.

Actually, there are many problems with that proposal. But you can get the gist if you understand two numbers: $4.6 trillion and 14 million.

Of these, $4.6 trillion is the revenue cost over the next decade of the tax cuts embodied in the plan, as estimated by the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center. These cuts - which are, by the way, cuts over and above those involved in making the Bush tax cuts permanent - would disproportionately benefit the wealthy, with the average member of the top 1 percent receiving a tax break of $238,000 a year.

Mr. Ryan insists that despite these tax cuts his proposal is "revenue neutral," that he would make up for the lost revenue by closing loopholes. But he has refused to specify a single loophole he would close. And if we assess the proposal without his secret (and probably nonexistent) plan to raise revenue, it turns out to involve running bigger deficits than we would run under the Obama administration's proposals.

Meanwhile, 14 million is a minimum estimate of the number of Americans who would lose health insurance under Mr. Ryan's proposed cuts in Medicaid; estimates by the Urban Institute actually put the number at between 14 million and 27 million.

So the proposal is exactly as President Obama described it: a proposal to deny health care (and many other essentials) to millions of Americans, while lavishing tax cuts on corporations and the wealthy - all while failing to reduce the budget deficit, unless you believe in Mr. Ryan's secret revenue sauce. So why are centrists rising to Mr. Ryan's defense?

Well, ask yourself the following: What does it mean to be a centrist, anyway?

It could mean supporting politicians who actually are relatively nonideological, who are willing, for example, to seek Democratic support for health reforms originally devised by Republicans, to support deficit-reduction plans that rely on both spending cuts and revenue increases. And by that standard, centrists should be lavishing praise on the leading politician who best fits that description - a fellow named Barack Obama.

But the "centrists" who weigh in on policy debates are playing a different game. Their self-image, and to a large extent their professional selling point, depends on posing as high-minded types standing between the partisan extremes, bringing together reasonable people from both parties - even if these reasonable people don't actually exist. And this leaves them unable either to admit how moderate Mr. Obama is or to acknowledge the more or less universal extremism of his opponents on the right.

Enter Mr. Ryan, an ordinary G.O.P. extremist, but a mild-mannered one. The "centrists" needed to pretend that there are reasonable Republicans, so they nominated him for the role, crediting him with virtues he has never shown any sign of possessing. Indeed, back in 2010 Mr. Ryan, who has never once produced a credible deficit-reduction plan, received an award for fiscal responsibility from a committee representing several prominent centrist organizations.

So you can see the problem these commentators face. To admit that the president's critique is right would be to admit that they were snookered by Mr. Ryan, who is the same as he ever was. More than that, it would call into question their whole centrist shtick - for the moral of my story is that Mr. Ryan isn't the only emperor who turns out, on closer examination, to be naked.

Hence the howls of outrage, and the attacks on the president for being "partisan." For that is what people in Washington say when they want to shout down someone who is telling the truth.
(c) 2012 Paul Krugman --- The New York Times

The Quotable Quote...

"We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason, if we dig deep in our history and our doctrine; and remember that we are not descended from fearful men. Not from men who feared to write, to speak, to associate, and to defend causes that were for the moment unpopular. This is no time for men . . . to keep silent, or for those who approve. We can deny our heritage and our history, but we cannot escape responsibility for the result. There is no way for a citizen of a republic to abdicate his responsibilities."
~~~ Edward R. Murrow

The Best Congress The Banks' Money Can Buy
By Bill Moyers and Michael Winship

Here we go again. Another round of the game we call Congressional Creep. After months of haggling and debate, Congress finally passes reform legislation to fix a serious rupture in the body politic, and the President signs it into law. But the fight's just begun, because the special interests immediately set out to win back what they lost when the reform became law.

They spread money like manure on the campaign trails of key members of Congress. They unleash hordes of lobbyists on Capitol Hill, cozy up to columnists and editorial writers, spend millions on lawyers who relentlessly pick at the law, trying to rewrite or water down the regulations required for enforcement. Before you know it, what once was an attempt at genuine reform creeps back toward business as usual.

It's happening right now with the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act -- passed two years ago in the wake of our disastrous financial meltdown. Just last week, for example, both parties in the House overwhelmingly approved two bills that already would change Dodd-Frank's rules on derivatives -- those convoluted trading deals recently described by the chairman of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission as "the largest dark pool in our financial markets."

Especially vulnerable is a key provision of Dodd-Frank known as the Volcker Rule, so named by President Obama after the former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker. It's an attempt to keep the banks in which you deposit your money from gambling your savings on the bank's own, sometime risky investments.

It will come as no surprise that the financial sector hates the Volcker Rule and is fighting back hard.

On March 26, Robert Schmidt and Phil Mattingly at Bloomberg News published an extensive account on the coordinated campaign being waged by the banking industry to persuade regulators to scale back reform. Headlined, "Bank Lobby's Onslaught Shifts Debate on Volcker Rule," their report chronicles the many ways in which banks are turning up the heat, enlisting the help of clients, customers, and other companies, among others.

"Some banks recommended consultants and law firms," they write, "... to help clients write letters arguing that the proposed language defines proprietary trading too broadly. Partnering with trade associations, the banks also commissioned studies, tested messages with focus groups, distributed talking points and set up a phone hotline for Capitol Hill staffers."

The banks found another ally in the US Chamber of Commerce, the biggest pro-business lobby in America, which helped put together a coalition of companies, including Boeing, DuPont, Caterpillar and Macy's department stores.

In one instance, the banking behemoth Credit Suisse got an assist from a man named Robert Auwaerter, who oversees hundreds of billions as the fellow in charge of the fixed income group at Vanguard Group, a mutual fund company. He came to a briefing Credit Suisse held for three congressmen who belong to the New Democrats, a group of House members known "for their centrist and pro-business leanings."

Auwaerter led the 90-minute meeting and said the three Democrats "were really receptive to our comments." We'll just bet. According to the Bloomberg News reporters, one of them, Joe Crowley of New York, "pushed back at one point, telling the group that he'd recently marched in a Lunar New Year parade in Queens with Thomas DiNapoli, the New York State Comptroller who oversees a state retirement fund of about $140 billion. Why wasn't DiNapoli complaining about Volcker?

"The asset managers told Crowley they have a closer view of how the markets work than the pension funds that hire them. The proposed rule, they said, would slow bond trading, making it harder for them to execute their strategies. They predicted that would mean lower returns for funds like DiNapoli's, as well as for 401(k) plans and individual investors.

"Less than two weeks after the Credit Suisse visit, 26 New Democrats signed a letter to regulators noting that 'millions of public school teachers, police officers and private employees depend on liquid markets and low transaction costs' to retire with ‘dignity and ease.'"

In other words, fellow members and regulators, lighten up on the Volcker Rule! A thick wallet helps, of course -- lobbyists for the financial sector spent nearly half a billion dollars last year. And the congressional newspaper The Hill reports, "Members of Congress pressuring regulators to go easy on the 'Volcker Rule' received roughly four times as much on average in contributions from the financial industry than lawmakers pushing for a stronger rule since the 2010 election cycle, according to Public Citizen, a left-leaning group advocating for strict implementation.

"When it is all added up, opponents of a tough Volcker Rule received over 35 times as much from the financial industry -- $66.7 million -- than advocates for a strong stance, who received $1.9 million."

All of which makes it darkly amusing to read in the April 4 edition of the financial newspaper The American Banker that, in the words of Roger Beverage, president and CEO of the Oklahoma Bankers Association, "Congress isn't afraid of bankers. They don't think we'll do anything to kick them out of office. We are trying to change that perception."

Which is why Beverage and his colleague are creating the industry's first Super PAC. They're calling it -- we're not making this up -- "Friends of Traditional Banking," a smokescreen of a sobriquet if we ever heard one, vaguely reminiscent of the Chicago mobsters in Billy Wilder's Some Like It Hot who dub themselves "Friends of Italian Opera."

Matt Packard, the Super PAC's chairman, told The American Banker, "If someone says I am going to give your opponent $5,000 or $10,000, you might say, 'Yea, okay.' But if you say the bankers are going to put in $100,000 or $500,000 or $1 million into your opponent's campaign, that starts to draw some attention." Don Childears, president and CEO of the Colorado Bankers Association chimed in, >I?"It would be nice to sit on the sidelines or sit on our hands and say, 'Oh we don't get involved in that stuff,' but that just means you get run over. We need to get more deeply involved as an industry in supporting friends and trying to replace enemies."

All of which demonstrates, as per Bloomberg News, "that four years after Wall Street helped cause the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression and prompted a $700 billion taxpayer bailout, its lobby is regaining its power to blunt or deflect efforts to rein in the banks."

Nonetheless, just last week, The Wall Street Journal reported on how a movement to challenge big banks at the local level has gained momentum around the country. Activists want to restructure Wall Street from the bottom up. As a result, the Los Angeles City Council is considering an ordinance that would gather foreclosure and other data on banks that do business with the city. Officials in Kansas, City, Missouri, passed a resolution directing the city manager to do business only with banks that are responsive to the community. And here in New York City, legislation is pending to require banks to reinvest in local neighborhoods if they want to hold city deposits. Similar actions are underway in other cities.

They're turning up the heat. You can, too.
(c) 2012 Bill Moyers is the host of the new show Moyers & Company, a weekly series of smart talk and new ideas aimed at helping viewers make sense of our tumultuous times through the insight of America's strongest thinkers.. His previous shows on PBS included NOW with Bill Moyers and Bill Moyers Journal.
(c) 2012 Michael Winship is senior writing fellow at Demos, president of the Writers Guild of America, East, and former senior writer of Bill Moyers Journal on PBS.

What Today's Job Numbers Mean
By Robert Reich

The economy added only 120,000 jobs in March - down from the rate of more than 200,000 in each of the preceding three months. The rate of unemployment dropped from 8.3 to 8.2 percent mainly because fewer people were searching for jobs - and that rate depends on how many people are actively looking.

It's way too early to conclude the jobs recovery is stalling, but there's reason for concern.

Remember: Consumer spending is 70 percent of the economy. Employers won't hire without enough sales to justify the additional hires. It's up to consumers to make it worth their while.

But real spending (adjusted to remove price changes) this year hasn't been going anywhere. It increased just .5 percent in February after an anemic .2 percent increase in January.

The reason consumers aren't spending more is they don't have the money. Personal income was up just .2 percent in February - barely enough to keep up with inflation. As a result, personal saving as a percent of disposable income tumbled to 3.7 percent in February from 4.3 percent in January.

Personal saving is now at its lowest level since March 2009.

American consumers, in short, are hitting a wall. They don't dare save much less because their jobs are still insecure. They can't borrow much more. Their home values are still dropping, and many are underwater - owing more on their homes than the homes are worth.

The economy has been growing but almost all the gains have gone to the very top. As I've noted, this is the most lopsided recovery on record.

You will hear other theories about the hiring slowdown, but they don't wash.

It's not due to "uncertainty" about the economy. That's a tautology - the economy's future is always uncertain, especially when consumers don't have the dough to keep it going.

It's not because of fears about a European recession. Europe has been in the skids for some time now. Besides, the American economy doesn't really depend on exports to Europe.

And it's not about gas prices or the rise in healthcare insurance premiums. Both are up, but they've been trending up for many months.

It's because consumers' pockets are almost empty.

We'll avoid a double-dip, but the most likely scenario in coming months is a continuation of the same - an anemic jobs recovery.

President Obama will claim the economy is improving - and, technically, it is. Growth this year will most likely average around 2 percent. The problem is, most Americans aren't feeling it in their paychecks.

Mitt Romney will claim the economy is in terrible shape - and there will be enough evidence to justify his "cup-half-empty" rhetoric.

But when it comes to explaining what's really wrong with the economy, Romney is the perfect foil for Obama because Romney represents the richest of the rich - a man who raked in more than $20 million last year, and paid a tax rate of just 13.9 percent (lower than much of the middle class).

He made that money by buying up "under-performing" companies - that is, companies that employed more people than they needed to, and carried less debt than was necessary to show big profits (interest on debt is deductible from company income). Romney's firm, Bain Capital, made him and his colleagues fortunes by firing workers and loading companies up with debt.

And there's America's economic problem in a nutshell.

Romney and his ilk are doing wonderfully well, but the rest of the nation is still in deep trouble. Yet the U.S. economy can't fully recover on the spending of millionaires.

The President has already announced that this election is about America's surge toward ever-greater inequality. He's right. And this painful recovery shows it.

It would be sadly ironic if Obama lost the election because the economy responded to widening inequality exactly as expected.
(c) 2012 Robert Reich is Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley. He has served in three national administrations, most recently as secretary of labor under President Bill Clinton. He has written twelve books, including The Work of Nations, Locked in the Cabinet, and his most recent book, Supercapitalism. His "Marketplace" commentaries can be found on and iTunes.

The Dead Letter Office...

Heil Obama,

Dear City of Roswell, Georgia,

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

Without your lock step calling for the repeal of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, your crimes against humnaity on behalf of the 1%, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya and those many other profitable oil wars to come would have been impossible! With the help of our mutual friends, the other "American traitors" you have made it possible for all of us to goose-step off to a brave new bank account!

Along with this award you will be given the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Golden Oak Leaves, Swords, and Diamonds, presented by our glorious Fuhrer, Herr Obama at a gala celebration at "der Fuhrer Bunker," formally the "White House," on 05-28-2012. We salute you Roswell, Georgia, Sieg Heil!

Signed by,
Vice Fuhrer Biden

Heil Obama

The Dept. of Homeland Security (sic) has purchased 750 million rounds of deadly ammo.
Why and for whose security? (Hint: That's 1500 rounds for each illegal immigrant
captured crossing the border last year, 75 bullets for each undocumented person
currently in the US or...two bullets for every American citizen!)

Kurt Vonnegut And The American Police State
By Dave Lindorff

Back in the early 1980s, I had the extraordinary good fortune to get to meet one of my literary heroes, Kurt Vonnegut, up close and personal. We shared a police wagon, sitting next to each other for a ride to the station to be booked for blocking the door to the South African consulate in a demonstration against that country's then policy of white rule and apartheid.

I can't say I got to know the author very well, but he was quite friendly and interesting to talk to, and after our arrest and booking was over, and we were released, I shared a cab as far as his house.

I got to thinking that thanks to the latest outrageous 5-4 decision by the US Supreme Court (supported fully by our Constitutional law-teacher President Barack Obama and his Solicitor General), which says it is now perfectly okay for police to strip-search innocent people picked up on any charge - even a traffic offense or a leash-law violation, or alleged failure to clear a warrant for a bald tire - had Kurt and I been busted for the same kind of protest today, we'd "know" each other much more intimately. For example I'd probably know if Vonnegut had hemorrhoids, and he'd know about a patch of skin discoloration on my balls.

Is this a great country or what?

But seriously, we have really reached a pretty grim point when the court that is supposed to be protecting our rights under the Constitution, and the president, who is supposed to uphold and defend that document, collude in saying that once a person has been taken into custody by police, she or he really has no rights. The 4th Amendment about being "secure in your person?" Forget it. The cops can now strip you, grope you, check your butthole and humiliate you all they want, even if you are innocent of any charge. And by the way, they can lock you up with hardened convicts and hold you after they do that, until you get a lawyer or post bail. No "cruel and unusual punishment"? Well, I think most people would agree that getting stripped and intimately searched by some leering cop when you hadn't done anything would qualify as punishment, and it certainly is cruel, so the Eighth Amendment is in the toilet too. (We already knew the First Amendment - the one about freedom of speech and assembly and the right to petition over grievances - was toast. Just ask Mayor Mike Bloomberg or any of the other mayors who ordered the brutal crushing of dozens of Occupation encampments over the past half year.)

As for that old relic of British Common Law, "innocent until proven guilty," which supposedly is imbedded in our legal system, forget it, too. Justice (sic) Anthony Kennedy, who wrote the court's majority opinion, drove a stake through that foundation principle of jurisprudence when he wrote that "The search procedures [at issue in the trial] struck a reasonable balance between inmate privacy and the needs of the institutions." Kennedy's opinion, which must have jurists like Earl Warren, Thurgood Marshall and William O. Douglas puking in their graves, leaves me wondering what horrible alternative this legal midget thought was being balanced against the alternative of not strip searching the appellant, Albert Florence. A black New Jersey resident who was stopped for no reason by while driving with his wife and two small kids, was arrested by a New Jersey traffic cop who ran a "make" and found a court contempt warrant for an allegedly unpaid fine. Though the fine had actually been paid two years earlier, Florence was strip-searched by prison guards before being locked up in a cell together with convicted criminals.

I guess the other side of Kennedy's legal teeter-totter must have been having Florence get raped by a broom handle, as some sick New York City cops did to Haitian immigrant Abner Loima after arresting him outside a Brooklyn bar where he had tried to intercede to break up a sidewalk fight.

We are reaching the point where I suspect Occupy movement and anti-war activists who protest against Wall Street crimes and planned war crimes by the the US government against Iran should be prepared to be strip-searched if they get hauled off to jail.

That would have sure changed my first experience of being arrested, back during the 1967 Mobilization against the War march on the Pentagon. Along with several hundred other protesters who occupied the Mall of the Pentagon overnight back in October of that year, I was clubbed by US Marshals and then hauled off to Occoquan Federal Prison in Virginia, where I spent three days in a dormitory cell with about 100 other guys. It was a radicalizing experience for me to be locked up as an 18-year-old kid with people were veterans of the Freedom Riders in Mississippi and other early civil rights struggles. Today, we'd probably all have been strip-searched, which would have made the whole experience a lot more negative. It probably would have radicalized me even more, but I surely wouldn't have quite the same fond memories of my incarceration.

Other arrests would have been less fondly remembered too, if Kennedy's strip-searching were the rule, including my night in a Concord jail on a charge of "trespassing" at night (actually trying to camp out) at the park at Walden Pond, my bust for panhandling (actually playing guitar for tips tossed in my case) in the Yosemite Park main parking lot), and of course, my anti-apartheid arrest with Vonnegut.

The country seems to have crossed over a dark threshold. We are now a police state in all but name. Cops and wannabe cops are shooting innocent people and nothing gets done - the latest being the tragic slaying, by a shot to the head, of Rekia Boyd, a young black woman in Chicago. In this case, we had a drive-by shooting of a completely innocent person, not by a gang member but by an off-duty cop, who claims he was "threatened" by a man in a group of people who had a cell-phone to his ear. The likelihood of this out-of-uniform killer's being charged with anything is small, and of his being convicted of anything for this outrage, virtually zero.

Many white people may think that they don't have to worry, because it's mostly blacks and Latinos and other minorities who suffer this kind of treatment and abuse, but they are deceiving themselves. As a white guy who got plenty of cop abuse back in the ‘60s and ‘70s just for having a beard and long hair, I can assure you that when police are given a free rein, they use it against everybody except the rich white guy in a fancy suit and an expensive car, and even then, he'd better not mouth off.

There is a dangerous change in the wind, and it's not just strip searches and random shootings of innocents by rogue cops. Police across the country, since 9-11, have morphed from public safety workers to paramilitary occupiers, and from law enforcement officers to The Law.

Consider that we have word that the Department of Homeland Security, a mega umbrella agency created in the wake of the 9-11 attacks which oversees most of the federal security apparatus, and which supplies state and local police through federal grants, along with the FBI, have purchased an astonishing 750 million rounds of ultra-deadly hollow-point bullets and 40 caliber ammo. As well, Homeland Security has reportedly purchased a large number of semi-portable steel checkpoint guardhouses, complete with high-impact bulletproof glass windows and doors.

What is an agency that is responsible not for war but for domestic security doing buying such lethal gear and structures that would clearly be used for controlling free transit?

One can only wonder. I spoke with a government flak at Homeland Security, and was told he couldn't have an answer for me until Monday regarding those contracts.

And of course, there is also the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012, signed by President Obama when nobody was looking, or even sober, on Dec. 31. That act, among other things, says that for the first time, the military can arrest people within the borders of the US, including US citizens, and allows them to be held indefinitely without trial, which is about as far from any Constitutional government and Bill of Rights as you can get.

Meanwhile, as my friend and co-author of The Case for Impeachment, Barbara Olshansky, once said, after being strip-searched repeatedly by Transportation Security Administration goons during her travels by air on business for the Center for Constitutional Rights where she was an assistant director, it might be a good idea to buy some new clean underwear, "just to make sure you look good for your next arrest."

If he were still around to see this day, my old paddy wagon colleague Kurt Vonnegut would probably just smile wryly and say, "Hi-ho!"
(c) 2012 Dave Lindorff is a founder of This Can't Be Happening and a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, forthcoming from AK Press. He lives in Philadelphia.

The Lawless Roads
America's Ever-Expanding Torture Matrix
By Chris Floyd

In two brief posts over the past week, Scott Horton at Harper's gives us a harrowing sketch of the entrenchment and ever-spreading expansion of the Torture Matrix that now sits enthroned at the very heart of the American state. This entrenchment and expansion has been carried out -- enthusiastically, energetically, relentlessly -- by the current president of the United States: a progressive Democrat and recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize.

Horton notes the uncovering of the Zelikow Memo, written by one of the chief factotums of the Bush Administration, Philip Zelikow. While serving as a State Department lawyer in 2006, Zelikow wrote a legal brief that demolished the written-to-order "torture memos" by White House lawyers, which sanctioned the widespread use of torture techniques that were -- and still are -- clearly war crimes. As Horton points out, the Zelikow did not even address the most brutal tortures instigated by the Bush administration, but confined itself to the so-called 'torture lite' methods (many of which are still in use today). Yet even here, Zelikow clearly demonstrated "that the use of these techniques would constitute prosecutable felonies - war crimes." The existence of the Zelikow memo proves that there was indeed official recognition throughout the highest reaches of government that war crimes were being committed at the order of the White House and the intelligence agencies. Horton goes on:

In order for a prosecution to succeed, a prosecutor would have to show that the accused understood that what he was doing was a crime. In United States v. Altstoetter, a case in which government lawyers were prosecuted for their role in, among other things, providing a legal pretext for the torture and mistreatment of prisoners, the court fashioned a similar rule, saying that the law requires "proof before conviction that the accused knew or should have known that in matters of international concern he was guilty of participation in a nationally organized system of injustice and persecution shocking to the moral sense of mankind, and that he knew or should have known that he would be subject to punishment if caught."

The Zelikow memo satisfies both of these elements-it makes clear that the techniques the Justice Department endorsed constituted criminal conduct, and it applied the "shock the conscience" test of American constitutional law to help reach that conclusion. It could therefore be introduced as Exhibit A by prosecutors bringing future charges.

Horton also provides a succinct background to the other "torture memos" that Bush attorneys wrote in support of the criminal operation -- a perpetrators' paper trail that is actually much more extensive than is usually known.

This memo has been in the possession of the Obama Administration since its first day in office. It was in the possession of the special prosecutor that Obama's Justice Department appointed to look into the torture system -- a special prosecutor who found that there was nothing to prosecute. Horton writes:

Spencer Ackerman, whose persistence is to be credited for the publication of Zelikow's memo, astutely pressed its author to answer this question: Why, in light of Zelikow's findings, did the special prosecutor appointed by Eric Holder to investigate the legality of CIA interrogation techniques fail to bring charges?

"I don't know why Mr. Durham came to the conclusions he did," Zelikow says, referring to the Justice Department special prosecutor for the CIA torture inquiry, John Durham. "I'm not impugning them, I just literally don't know why, because he never published any details about either the factual analysis or legal analysis that led to those conclusions."

To reiterate: one of the chief insiders of the right-wing Republican Bush White House believes that the war crimes ordered by the Bush White House deserve prosecution. The chief insiders of the progressive Democratic Obama White House believe these war crimes should not be prosecuted.

Then again, why should Barack Obama want to prosecute torture -- when he is successfully arguing for it to be applied not only to the American population at large? In another post, Horton writes of Obama's great success at the Supreme Court: the ruling that allows all Americans to be strip-searched when taken into custody for even the most minor infractions. The purpose of this, as Horton points out, is clearly to humiliate and "break" the citizen -- who is, you might recall, entirely innocent in the eyes of the law at that point. In fact, as Horton notes, the U.S. military itself recognizes the strip search as a torture technique that American pilots might face if captured by heinous rogue states. Horton:

...the Supreme Court has decided on the claim of Albert Florence, a man apprehended for the well-known offense of traveling in an automobile while being black. Florence was hustled off to jail over a couple of bench warrants involving minor fines that had in fact been paid-evidence of which he produced to unimpressed police officers. He was then twice subjected to humiliating strip searches involving the inspection of body cavities. Florence sued, arguing that this process violated his rights.

There is very little doubt under the law about the right of prison authorities to subject a person convicted or suspected of a serious crime to conduct a strip search before introducing someone to the general prison population. But does the right to conduct a strip search outweigh the right to dignity and bodily integrity of a person who committed no crime whatsoever, who is apprehended based on a false suspicion that he hadn't discharged a petty fine-for walking a dog without a leash, say, or turning a car from the wrong lane? Yes. In a 5-4 decision, the Court backed the position advocated by President Obama's Justice Department, upholding the power of jailers against the interests of innocent citizens. As Justice Anthony Kennedy reasons in his majority opinion (in terms that would be familiar to anyone who has lived in a police state), who is to say that innocent citizens are really innocent? "[P]eople detained for minor offenses," he writes, "can turn out to be the most devious and dangerous criminals." ....

The decision reflects the elevation of the prison industry's interest in maintaining order in its facilities above the interests of individuals. And it does so by systematically misunderstanding the reasons behind strip searches. Kennedy insists that they are all done for the aim of fostering order, and he backs up this position with exemplary bits of pretzel logic. For instance, he suggests that a person stopped for failing to yield at an intersection may well have heroin taped to his scrotum, and may attempt to bring it into the prison to which he is taken. In advancing such rationales, the Court ignores the darker truth about strip searches: they are employed for the conscious humiliation and psychological preparation of prisoners, as part of a practice designed to break them down and render them submissive.

Just as the Florence decision was being prepared, the Department of Defense released a previously classified training manual used to prepare American pilots for resistance to foreign governments that might use illegal and immoral techniques to render them cooperative. Key in this manual are the precise practices highlighted in Florence. Body-cavity searches are performed, it explains, to make the prisoner "feel uncomfortable and degraded." Forced nudity and invasion of the body make the prisoner feel helpless, by removing all items that provide the prisoner with psychological support. In other words, the strip search is an essential step in efforts to destroy an individual's sense of self-confidence, well-being, and even his or her identity. The value of this tool has been recognized by authoritarian governments around the world, and now, thanks to the Roberts Court, it will belong to the standard jailhouse repertoire in the United States.

To reiterate: the Obama Administration vigorously defended the introduction of this authoritarian practice into every place of incarceration in the United States. The fact that this draconian stricture will fall most heavily on African-Americans cut no ice with the historic, epoch-shaking first minority president in American history. (But why should it? By almost every measure -- employment, housing, wealth, poverty programs, community support, voting rights, civil rights, etc. -- African-Americans have been sent reeling backwards by the policies of the Obama Administration.)

Obama has adamantly refused to prosecute clear, credible and copious allegations of war crimes by his predecessor. He is now applying acknowledged torture techniques to the general American population. And as William Blum reminds us in his latest "Anti-Empire Report," Obama is still carrying out torture on a massive, systematic scale in the gulag he commands -- despite the pervasive progressive myth that he has formally ended "torture" in the American system. Blum:

...the executive order concerning torture, issued January 22, 2009 - "Executive Order 13491 - Ensuring Lawful Interrogations" - leaves loopholes, such as being applicable only "in any armed conflict". Thus, torture by Americans outside environments of "armed conflict", which is where much torture in the world happens anyway, is not prohibited. And what about torture in a "counter-terrorism" environment?

One of Mr. Obama's orders required the CIA to use only the interrogation methods outlined in a revised Army Field Manual. However, using the Army Field Manual as a guide to prisoner treatment and interrogation still allows solitary confinement, perceptual or sensory deprivation, sleep deprivation, the induction of fear and hopelessness, mind-altering drugs, environmental manipulation such as temperature and perhaps noise, and possibly stress positions and sensory overload. ...

Just as no one in the Bush and Obama administrations has been punished in any way for war crimes in Iraq, Afghanistan and the other countries they waged illegal war against, no one has been punished for torture. And, it could be added, no American bankster has been punished for their indispensable role in the world-wide financial torture. What a marvelously forgiving land is America. This, however, does not apply to Julian Assange and Bradley Manning. ...

I'd like at this point to remind my dear readers of the words of the "Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment", which was drafted by the United Nations in 1984, came into force in 1987, and ratified by the United States in 1994. Article 2, section 2 of the Convention states: "No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture."

Such marvelously clear, unequivocal, and principled language, to set a single standard for a world that makes it increasingly difficult for one to feel proud of humanity. We cannot slide back.

No exceptions whatsoever -- not even an eternal "War on Terror." This is indeed clear language -- and it is indisputably the law of the land, as the constitutional law professor in the White House well knows. But this no longer means anything. As we noted here a couple of years ago, in an excerpt from a "conversation during Civil War":

"But in days past, I was a lawyer. Yes, a lawyer, can you believe it? It seems ... ridiculous now, doesn't it? An orderly system meant to govern human society, to establish justice, to advance the progress and enlightenment of the human race. Yet that system, that civil cosmos - to which I was so passionately committed - embraced and protected the most wretched evils, entrenched the powerful in their unjust privilege, oppressed the poor and weak most relentlessly and wickedly, yet at every step - at every step - sang hosannas to itself as some kind of divinity. The "Law" - oh, what a hush of reverence surrounded that word, how deeply that reverence and respect penetrated the heart. Well, my heart, anyway. But in these last few years we have seen - in intense, concentrated, microscopic view - the truth about the law, a truth which too often escaped us in the slow unrolling of peacetime. The truth that there is no law, no Platonic Form out there to which we give paltry representation. There is only power: power in conflict with power, power seeking to drive out power, to establish its dominance, maintain its privilege. Power...acquiesces to law - sometimes - but it never, never bows to it. Power goes along with the law when it is convenient to do so, when it is not too restrictive, when it demands little more than the occasional sacrifice - for the powerful are certainly not above throwing one of their own to the mob when circumstances require. But when it comes to the crisis, power shreds the law like a filthy rag and has its own way. And then you see that the law is nothing but a rag, to be torn and patched and fitted to power's aims. The worst atrocities I have seen or heard of in this war have been committed wholly and completely under the law. This thing I held in such reverence was, is, nothing but a scrap soaked with blood and shit."

Or, pertaining more directly to the case at hand, and undergirding some of Blum's points, including his insights on rendition, is a piece I wrote in 2011:

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

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

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

(c) 2012 Chris Floyd

The Cartoon Corner...

This edition we're proud to showcase the cartoons of
~~~ Jimmy Margulies ~~~

To End On A Happy Note...

Have You Seen This...

Parting Shots...

Poll Shows Best Part Of Primary Season Has Been Really Getting To Know, Spend Time With 4 Great Guys

WASHINGTON-According to a Gallup poll released Thursday, a majority of Americans believe the best and most satisfying aspect of the entire 2012 presidential primary experience has been the opportunity to spend extended time in the company of four just really terrific guys.

Calling Republican candidates Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, and Ron Paul "truly great individuals right down the line," and a group they had long wanted to get to know better, citizens across the country expressed deep gratitude for the chance not only to be around the four men, but to really learn more about who they are as people.

"The thing I'll miss most about the primaries, once they've sadly drawn to a close, won't be the process of figuring out who should be our next president, but getting to see my four new friends every day and have them in my life," said poll respondent Marie Sedran, echoing the sentiments of millions nationwide. "I mean, how many opportunities do you get in life to spend quality time with even one smart, charming, likable, sensitive, and downright lovely human being, let alone four at once!"

"Honestly, all through this entire primary season I've been pinching myself," Sedran added. "What did we do to deserve these four fantastic gentlemen?"

According to poll participants, a number of factors have made this year's widely cherished presidential contest "an utter joy from day one," such as hearing Newt Gingrich's voice on a regular basis; learning more about Rick Santorum's opinions on a variety of topics; getting a nice, full picture of Mitt Romney's personal and political history; and enjoying Ron Paul's "bright, winning smile and regular-guy charm."

Several respondents also remarked that over time, the group of men had stopped being "Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, and Ron Paul: presidential candidates," and had simply become "Mitt, Newt, Ricky, and Ron: just a great bunch of fellas."

While each candidate was singled out for individual adoration in the poll results, a majority of Americans said that when the four men appeared together, in a debate format, the whole of the GOP field became even more pleasant and admirable than the sum of its parts.<> "The only problem I had watching the four of them on stage together-and I mean the only problem-was trying to figure out which one I liked the best!" poll participant Tom Yardley, 45, told reporters. "Between Mitt's relatability, Rick's charm, Newt's soulfulness, and Ron's lovable sense of fun and good cheer, how could I pick a favorite, really? Eventually I decided to just relax, not worry about it, and enjoy hanging with these guys, because they're all great, they're all special, and they're all a blast to be around."

"Heck, can't they all just be president?" Yardley added.

While the poll reflects the joy and high spirits voters feel toward the candidates, it was also tinged with a slight bittersweet note, owing largely to the knowledge among respondents that the race would eventually come to an end, and that the experience of seeing the four men with such regularity, either together or apart, would be over one day soon.

"How do you say goodbye to a group of guys who started as four virtual strangers, and have since become something more akin to the four best pals you ever had?" said wistful poll respondent Diane Westhead, tears welling up in her eyes. "Kind of makes you stop and think a little bit about the impermanence of life, doesn't it? And how all good times must eventually come to an end."

"One thing's for sure: I will forever cherish these past few months, when four right-wing friends named Mitt, Ricky, Newt, and Ron came into our lives, touched our hearts, and made our world a little less gray and a little more full of wonder," Westhead continued. "No matter what happens from here on out, they really are the best group of guys a country ever had, aren't they?"
(c) 2012 The Onion

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Issues & Alibis Vol 12 # 15 (c) 04/13/2012

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