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In This Edition

Cindy Sheehan takes us from, "From 'Vulnerable' To Invincible."

Uri Avnery exposes, "The Settler State."

David Sirota watches, "Ikea Joins The Race To The Bottom."

Joel S. Hirschhorn finds that, "Inflation Hits Money And Lies."

Jim Hightower reviews, "Paul Ryan's Rocky 'Path To Prosperity.'"

Helen Thomas reminds Barry about, "Being Our Brother’s Keeper."

James Donahue wonders, "Will Christians Disappear On May 21?"

Sam Harris with a must watch debate video, "The God Debate."

Chris Floyd introduces the, "Three Amigos."

Phil Rochstroh considers, "Interstates And States Of Grief."

Paul Krugman says, "Let’s Not Be Civil."

Chris Hedges orates, "Throw Out The Money Changers."

David Michael Green finds that, "Barack Had A Ball."

Florida State Senator Thad Altman wins the coveted "Vidkun Quisling Award!"

John Nichols reports, "Palin's Madison Rally Is Overwhelmed By Protest Crowd."

Glenn Greenwald examines, "Obama v. Obama On Signing Statements."

And finally in the 'Parting Shots' department Will Durst discovers, "Armageddon At The D.C. Corral" but first, Uncle Ernie exclaims, "We Have Met The Enemy, Again!"

This week we spotlight the cartoons of Bill Mutranowski, with additional cartoons, photos and videos from Ted McLaughlin, Married To The Sea.Com, Phil & Angela Rockstroh, Walt Kelly, Canary Pete, Bob Kirk, Dan Wasserman, William Adolphe Bouguereau, HBO, Salon.Com, 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."

We Have Met The Enemy, Again!
By Ernest Stewart

"We have met the enemy and he is us! ~~~ Pogo ~ Walt Kelly

"Anytime a bunch of holy people wanna kill each other, I'm a happy guy." ~~~ George Carlin

"Abraham Lincoln didn't die in vain! He died in Washington D.C.!" ~~~ The Firesign Theatre

So when you see your neighbor carryin' somethin'
Help him with his load
The Ballard of Frankie Lee & Judas Priest ~~~ Bob Dylan

What ever happened to Earth Day? I've looked high and low for it and I haven't seen it mentioned! I remember back in 1970 when it first got started, it was a big deal. It was almost an official holiday; there were major events and speeches made all over the country. The papers were full of stories about the various poisons in our air and water. Back in the daze when you could tell what city you were in just by the color of its air! That's not a joke, folks; well, maybe just a little one.

A good example was when I was working at Great Lakes Steel as a radical provocateur. I don't think that was the job description, but that's what I did! It was a summer job to pay for school and they'd do the darndest things there. One of the results of manufacturing steel was a huge amount of red ash, like volcano ash, but thicker, and a bright red color. When the wind was just right, out of the north, they'd open up the precipitators on the roof, about 300 ft in the air, and blow tons of that nasty stuff across the Detroit River into Canada and turn the lovely Canadian countryside from green and healthy into a brilliant, scarlet nightmare landscape--something out of the mind of Edgar Alan Poe! Needless to say, the Canadians went absolutely ballistic, and righteously so, but nothing was ever done, because we had the bomb, and they didn't! I'd long been an ecologist before that day, but the impact of a red Canada really drove the point home for me! In fact, like many other industrial rivers in America the river that flowed by Great Lakes Steel, the Rouge River caught on fire and burned for several hours in between the Ford Rouge plant and Great Lakes Steel, just above where it flowed into the Detroit River.

Then, with the coming of Earth Day, things actually started to change for the better. Even "the Trick" himself (Nixon) gave a pro-ecology speech. Iron Eyes Cody's "crying Indian" commercials were everywhere, with new ones every year.

It really looked like we might turn around our self-destructive ways and save America from us, but what with the various commercial, capitalistic, corpo-rat stooges being spotlighted by this, our masters did everything they could to put a stop to it, and with the coming of Ray-Gun, they got their way, and we began the slow slide back down the hill into the flatlands! What's wrong with that, you might ask? Well, I'll tell you! I used to live up in the Hollywood Hills with an overlook of L. A., all the way to downtown and beyond, and when the Santa Anna winds blew, all that vista went away till all you could see was the very tops of the skyscrapers downtown--everything else was buried under a thick, greenish-orange, cloud-bank of smog--700 feet deep!

As I wrote in "Uncle Ernie's Hollywood Daze:

"L. A. is a city surrounded on three sides by mountains. The open side is south. When the Santa Anna winds blow, the pollution has no way to go but up. When the winds blow, L. A. disappears under a green-orange blanket. This is no time to be a "flat lander," unless you have no need to breathe. From the Hollywood Hills, all you can see is a green-orange sea, with the tops of the downtown skyscrapers poking through. Beneath this ocean are five million small, dying creatures. ~~~ Chapter 2, Hollywood, page 29

How are you going to celebrate Earth Day? I think I'll clean up my front yard from all the neighborhood trash that's blown there in the last couple of days. Now where did I leave the yard waste bags?

In Other News

Then there is the strange case of Terry Jones, the Florida cultist from the "Dove World Outreach Center." Pastor Jones, you'll recall, threatened to burn a copy of the Koran, just to piss off the Muslim community and make himself famous--much like the lunatics out in Kansas have at the "Westboro Baptist Church." That's your American Taliban, folks!

Well, Terry finally made good on his threat, and burned a copy of the Koran, which sent the Muslims into a tizzy as they murdered a dozen or so folks who had absolutely nothing to do with it in revenge. This Friday, Terry will be appearing in my hometown of Dearborn, Michigan to burn another copy of the Koran in front of one of the largest mosques around, viz., Islamic Center of America. He will, if he can post a big enough bond so the city of Dearborn can send out the troopers to protect Mr. Jones from becoming a plate of kibbe and hummus! Major counter demonstrations are planned, and I'll try and get down there if I can get close enough....

The trouble with Terry and Fred Phelps and his traveling circus, and all the other Holy Joes that come out from under their rocks whenever a TV camera appears, is that they're not very good Christians, they don't obey the Bible and god's word, huh?

While I'm an Atheist and have read the Bible several times, I'm pretty sure the mythologists haven't or don't believe in what they preach. For example, from the King James Bible--the version that my great, great, etc Uncle James had rewritten to his liking--says in the Book of Leviticus:

Leviticus 19:18 Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself: I am the LORD.

Leviticus 19:34 But the stranger that dwelleth with you shall be unto you as one born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.

Some more generic verses that all Holy Joes overlook are from the book of Matthew:

"And when you prayest, thou shall not be as the hypocrites are, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say to you, they have their reward.

But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.

But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.

Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him. ... Matthew, Chapter 6, Verses 5 - 8 KJV

I agree with Matthew, and think it's time for the above-mentioned and their TV preacher pals to go back inside their closets where they belong! Not everyone should come out of the closet, eh?

And Finally

Just a few stray thoughts on the Civil War since it's being made much of of late, with many on both sides celebrating its 150th anniversary without any real thoughts given to the whys and wherefores.

First, it goes by many names. The first and most bizarre is, "The Civil War." Where to begin? There's nothing civil about this war or any other as William Tecumseh Sherman proved on his various marches. As for the other meaning of civil, that's just a euphemism, provided by our masters to soothe our wrinkled brows and make us all roll over and go back to sleep so that they can go on killing us and robbing us blind.

It's often called by Northerners "The War Between the States," but that's a misnomer as well as it wasn't the states that were fighting one another, but the Federali's fighting the Confederation. Maine didn't declare war on Georgia--Washington D.C. did!

Southerners are fond of calling it "The War of Northern Aggressions" or "The War of Yankee Agression." Usually followed by, "those god damn Yankee $#$^ ^& )(+***™ £¢§¶_* _(^&$ª!

There are as many reasons for the war as there are pundits with their own agendas.

It was about slavery, but not really; that was just a tool that Lincoln used against the secessionists, some 18 months after the start of the war. The Emancipation Proclamation set free only the slaves in the "rebellion" states! And any rebel state that rejoined the Union within 100 days of it taking effect, i.e., January 1, 1863, would be allowed to keep their slaves! It was a war begun by the Northern Banks which stood to lose a bundle if the South was allowed to secede--which is a lot closer to the truth!

But nowhere have I read that the South succeeded because they refused to live under a Rethuglican president--the first Rethuglican President! (The South, they say, left because of Lincoln, not the party.) Seems to me that would have been reason enough, having seen how Rethuglicans have acted ever since then! Remember, the first thing Lincoln did on assuming office was to suspend habeas corpus, just like Bush did! And like Bush, Lincoln started building Happy Camps™, not for rebel soldiers, but for Yankee protestors!

Keepin' On

Someone once called Issues & Alibis a mixture of verbiage and visuals, and that couldn't be truer in this week's edition. We've eight videos--three of which are by our authors:

Sam Harris with his debate video, "The God Debate II."

Phil and Angela Rockstroh's, "Interstates And States Of Grief"is as always, a must-experience!

Chris Hedges' "Speech In Union Square Park!"

Plus, a couple more must-see videos by Spirit, "Natures Way" and George Carlin's "Religion Is Bullshit!"

Our dear old friend Cindy Sheehan returns with a must-read, "From 'Vulnerable' To Invincible," and joins the usual suspects, David Michael Green, Helen Thomas, Jim Hightower and the rest. Where else are you going to find this? Nowhere else! If all this means something to you, then help us out if you can. Send us what you can, when you can, and you won't have to search the worldwide web to find these ideas, essays and lectures. They're right here, week after week, year after year, just for you and yours!

Once again we are in "Ernie from Ontario's" debt. Thanks for your help, my brother. Rest assured, we'll put it to good use! Ya'll give Ernie a helping hand, won't you?


08-14-1934 ~ 04-14-2011
Thanks for the laughs!

05-22-1940 ~ 04-17-2011
Thanks for the film!

02-01-1948 ~ 04-19-2011
Thanks for the film!

12-05-1970 ~ 04-20-2011
Thanks for the photos and film!


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) 2011 Ernest Stewart a.k.a. Uncle Ernie is an unabashed radical, author, stand-up comic, DJ, actor, political pundit and for the last 10 years managing editor and publisher of Issues & Alibis magazine. Visit me on Face Book. Follow me on Twitter.

"There’s class warfare, all right but it’s my class the rich
class, that's making war, and we're winning." ~~~ Warren Buffett

From "Vulnerable" To Invincible
A program and action for economic health.
“Mayday! Mayday!
By Cindy Sheehan

“Our problems stem from acceptance of this filthy, rotten system.” ~~~ Dorothy Day

Once upon a time, many years ago, when things weren’t quite so f’ed up here in Duh-merica, the Democratic candidate for president from Nowhereville, Arkansas made the expression, “It’s the economy, stupid,” a catch-phrase for his successful bid to unseat the incumbent, George H.W. Bush. Pappy Bush had been wildly popular (we love our “successful wars” here) after his attack on Iraq but had not addressed the recession we were suffering under at the time.

Now, as we all know, Bill Clinton was elected and enacted NAFTA, GATT and other so-called Free trade agreements, which had the affect of sending our decent paying jobs with benefits to other countries that didn’t have such “horrible” restrictions on them such as minimum wage laws, collective bargaining, worker safety, and environmental protection.

Besides the “free” trade agreements, Clinton’s administration all but made it a crime to be poor by publicly chastising and further impoverishing “welfare Queens” so his regime could repeal the Glass-Steagall Act to make the fat banker cats morbidly obese. Clinton was not and is not politically identified (by name) as one of them evil Republicans—but his regime advanced the neoliberalism of our economy further than Bush I could have.

The Glass-Steagall Act was one of the financial reforms enacted during the Great Depression to prevent just what happened in 2008 when the derivative and housing markets crashed on the poor, again. Glass-Steagall prevented financial institutions from going into partnerships that would make them “too big to fail.” When there is a failure of these “too big” cabals, it can be catastrophic—as witnessed in 2008. However, although many people in the working class lost pensions, savings, homes and jobs, the people who created the problem, however, received welfare from the US government in the form of “bailouts.” Barry O. is a big fan of bailing out his largest donor: Goldman Sachs.

I am bringing back these bad old times to remind everyone that the class war waged on us from above just didn’t start in 2009, or 2000, or 1776, even. This war has been being waged for centuries by the wealthy who treat the rest of us like slaves who are allowed to have just enough to be able to minimally nourish ourselves and keep ourselves just healthy enough to work for the peanut shells they toss us.

Here in the US we did enjoy a brief historical moment where it seemed like we got a small respite and we began to grow stronger with the democratization of the work place by unions that fought for labor rights, not for the bosses. Through the GI Bill and the advancement of free, or heavily subsidized state university education our access to education began to equalize. Everyone knows that knowledge is power. The GI Bill also provided vets with the opportunity to participate in the “American Dream” of home ownership that has steadily descended into a nightmare.

The constant wars (both foreign and domestic) began to take a toll on our nation’s soul and the sweet smell of uprising was in the air until we descended into a false “peace dividend” and the somnambulance of the “Me” decade.” The crimes of Reagan/Bush began to pull us kicking and fighting out of our slumber until a plain-talking, intelligent, and charismatic savior for Capitalism took over and dramatically escalated the attacks on labor that began in earnest during Reagan’s years. Yet, Clinton was a Democrat, so those that should have been paying attention cut him an incredible amount of slack like (sometimes the same) people are doing for Obama, now.

So, for the last ten years, our nation has been waging a Global War of Terror against the world and the first person of color to occupy the Oval Office is dropping bombs on an African nation. Another military misadventure is plunging our nation further into economic despair, but Obama and the Congress just collaborated to cut 38 billion from Federal social programs and ZERO from the Pentagon and war budgets while retaining about 44 billion dollars in tax cuts for the wealthy. This is not just a Federal problem it is a state problem, too, as recently highlighted by the battle in Madison—where labor was pitted against a Republican governor and legislature. Are all 50 states ruled by Republicans? Are even the 46/50 states that are in budget crisis and cutting social services ruled by Republicans? No and NO!

I was driving on a treacherous road from Ukiah, Ca to Mendocino one treacherously rainy day and I heard my Democratic governor come on the car’s radio to congratulate the “courageous” California state legislature that had the courage to cut 13 billion from California’s 26 billion dollar deficit—but Jerry Brown’s voice became appropriately grave when he “regretted” the fact that the cuts were going to affect California’s most “vulnerable” citizens the most harshly.

Peace of the Action, Bay Area CODEPINK and many other endorsing organizations are calling for a March from San Francisco beginning on May 1st to conclude in Sacramento on May 9th, where we will construct a tent city on the grounds of the state capitol building calling for solidarity actions and demanding our People's Agenda be instituted, including, but not limited to these points:

A) It doesn’t take “courage” to attack the already poor. Many “vulnerable” Californians from the disabled to the elderly to the young will suffer under Brown’s savage austerity measures.

B) I highly doubt that Brown is “sorry” about cutting more money from these people who have almost zero political clout in Sacramento, obviously.

C) Why don’t we try “savage austerity” measures for the rich? According to a 2009 report, the state of California “boasts” the most millionaires of any other state, by far—over 662,000 “millionaire households” in the Golden State. Instead of penalizing the already poor, how about an “excess wealth” tax to spread a little of the pain around? The rich won’t be deprived of any necessity and not having to cut back even more will benefit the poor immensely!

D) End California’s participation in the US’s global war of terror against the world. According to the of the National Priorities Project, since 2001, Californian’s have ponied up 150 billion (that’s billion with a “b”) dollars to the Feds for these evil wars of aggression. Fifteen billion a year would go far to helping relieve our deficit.

E) Institute a state banking system. (See: Bank of North Dakota)

F) Retool our advanced weapon’s industry here in Cali for public transportation, environmental clean-up, and alternative forms of energy.

G) A moratorium on home foreclosures and evictions. Admittedly, this is an aggressive pro-humanity agenda, but unless WE propose it and fight for it, the status quo will eat us alive.

Why aren’t labor unions and other social justice activists already camping on Jerry Browns’ state house lawn? Is it because he is a Democrat and unions just financially line the coffers of Democrats without expecting anything in return? Is it because most people don’t realize that an “Injury to one is an injury to all,” and that even though one is not jobless or homeless today, all that could easily change in a heartbeat? Whose side are you on? Are you on the side of the people who attack our basic human rights with every move they make, or are you on the side of the people who are being attacked?

The organizers of this march and strike have been warned by some in the “Peace Industrial Complex” that we are not allowed to camp on the lawn of OUR State Capitol—but we are bringing our agenda and demands to the “belly of the beast,” and if Jerry Brown wants to be a jackass and have us arrested, or removed, that’s better for our cause—it will highlight the fraudulence of the “two” party system. There are also many tent cities in or near Sacramento that hide their poverty and forced-vulnerability under bridges or near the river—bring your problems to the lawn of the people who caused them—join us.

One of my favorite protest signs of all time reads, “THEY only call it class warfare when we fight back.”

Well, it’s way past time to fight back. We need to extend the protests in Madison against the repeal of the right to collective bargaining to the cuts against even people who don’t belong to unions—the most “vulnerable” of our society.

If anything, Jerry Brown and the California legislature are brilliant strategists who went after the vulnerable and not the ones who already know they have power—(Scott Walker screwed up on that one)—in this economy we are all vulnerable and we have to stick up for each other! "An injury to one is an injury to all" and we are all brothers and sisters even if we don’t carry a union membership card in our wallets or purses.

Let's make the '10s the WE decade. (WEBSITE UNDER CONSTRUCTION)
© 2011 Cindy Sheehan is the mother of Specialist Casey A. Sheehan, who was killed in Iraq on April 4, 2004. Since then, she has been an activist for peace and human rights. She has published five books, has her own Internet radio show, Cindy Sheehan's Soapbox, and has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. You can learn more about Cindy at Peace of the Action.

The Settler State
By Uri Avnery

THE OTHER day, the almighty General Security Service (Shabak, formerly Shin Bet) needed a new boss. It is a hugely important job, because no minister ever dares to contradict the advice of the Shabak chief in cabinet meetings.

There was an obvious candidate, known only as J. But at the last moment, the settlers’ lobby was mobilized. As director of the “Jewish department” J. had put some Jewish terrorists in prison. So his candidature was rejected and Yoram Cohen, a kippah-wearing darling of the settlers was appointed instead.

That happened last month. Just before that, The National Security Council also needed a new chief. Under pressure from the settlers, General Yaakov Amidror, formerly the highest kippah-wearing officer in the army, a man of openly ultra-ultra nationalist views, got the job.

The Deputy Chief of Staff of the army is a kippah-wearing officer dear to the settlers, a former head of Central Command, which includes the West Bank.

Some weeks ago I wrote that the problem may not be the annexation of the West Bank by Israel, but the annexation of Israel by the West Bank settlers.

Some readers reacted with a chuckle. It looked like a humorous aside.

It was not.

The time has come to examine this process seriously: Is Israel falling victim to a hostile takeover by the settlers?

FIRST OF all, the term “settlers” itself must be examined.

Formally, there is no question. The settlers are Israelis living beyond the 1967 border, the Green Line. (“Green” in this case has no ideological connotation. This just happened to be the color chosen to distinguish the line on the maps.

Numbers are inflated or deflated according to propaganda needs. But it is can be assumed that there are about 300,000 settlers in the West Bank, and an additional 200,000 or so in East Jerusalem. Israelis usually don’t call the Jerusalemites “settlers”, putting them into a different category. But of course, settlers they are.

But when we speak of Settlers in the political context, we speak of a much bigger community.

True, not all settlers are Settlers. Many people in the West Bank settlements went there without any ideological motive, just because they could build their dream villas for practically nothing, with a picturesque view of Arab minarets to boot. It is these the Settler Council chairman, Danny Dayan, meant, when, in a (recently leaked) secret conversation with a US diplomat, he conceded that they could easily be persuaded to return to Israel if the money was right.

However, all these people have an interest in the status quo, and therefore will support the real Settlers in the political fight. As the Jewish proverb goes, if you start fulfilling a commandment for the wrong reasons, you will end up fulfilling it for the right ones.

BUT THE camp of the “settlers” is much, much bigger.

The entire so-called “national religious” movement is in total support of the settlers, their ideology and their aims. And no wonder – the settlement enterprise sprung from its loins.

This must be explained. The “national religious” were originally a tiny splinter of religious Jewry. The big Orthodox camp saw in Zionism an aberration and heinous sin. Since God had exiled the Jews from His land because of their sins, only He – through His Messiah - had the right to bring them back. The Zionists thus position themselves above God and prevent the coming of the Messiah. For the Orthodox, the Zionist idea of a secular Jewish “nation” still is an abomination.

However, a few religious Jews did join the nascent Zionist movement. They remained a curiosity. The Zionists held the Jewish religion in contempt, like everything else belonging to the Jewish Diaspora (“Galut” – exile, a derogatory term in Zionist parlance). Children who (like myself) were brought up in Zionist schools in Palestine before the Holocaust were taught to look down with pity on people who were “still” religious.

This also colored our attitude towards the religious Zionists. The real work of building our future “Hebrew State” (we never spoke about a “Jewish State”) was done by socialist atheists. The kibbutzim and moshavim, communal and cooperative villages, as well as the “pioneer” youth movements, which were the foundation of the whole enterprise, were mostly Tolstoyan socialist, some of them even Marxist. The few that were religious were considered marginal.

At that time, in the 30s and 40s, few young people wore a kippah in public. I don’t remember a single member of the Irgun, the clandestine military (“terrorist”) organization to which I belonged, wearing a kippah – though there were quite a number of religious members. They preferred a less conspicuous cap or beret.

The national-religious party (originally called Mizrahi – Eastern) played a minor role in Zionist politics. It was decidedly moderate in national affairs. In the historic confrontations between the “activist” David Ben-Gurion and the “moderate” Moshe Sharett in the 50s, they almost always sided with Sharett, driving Ben Gurion up the wall.

Nobody paid much attention, however, to what was happening under the surface – in the national-religious youth movement, Bnei Akiva, and their Yeshivot. There, out of sight of the general public, a dangerous cocktail of ultra-nationalist Zionism and an aggressive tribal “messianic” religion was being brewed.

THE ASTOUNDING victory of the Israeli army in the 1967 Six-day War, after three weeks of extreme anxiety, marked a turning point for this movement.

Here was everything they had dreamed of: a God-given miracle, the heartland of historical Eretz Israel (alias the West Bank) occupied, “The Temple Mount Is In Our Hands!” as a one general breathlessly reported.

As if somebody had drawn a cork, the national-religious youth movement escaped its bottle and became a national force. They created Gush Emunim (“Bloc of the Faithful”), the center of the dynamic settlement enterprise in the newly “liberated territories”.

This must be well understood: for the national-religious camp, 1967 was also a moment of liberation within the Zionist camp. As the Bible (Psalm 117) prophesied: “The stone the builders despised has become the cornerstone”. The despised national-religious youth movement and kibbutzim suddenly jumped to center stage.

While the old socialist kibbutz movement was dying of ideological exhaustion, its members becoming rich by selling agricultural land to real estate sharks, the national religious sprang up in full ideological vigor, imbued with spiritual and national fervor, preaching a pagan Jewish creed of holy places, holy stones and holy tombs, mixed with the conviction that the whole country belongs to the Jews and that “foreigners” (meaning the Palestinians, who have lived here for at least 1300, if not 5000 years) should be kicked out.

MOST OF today’s Israelis were born or have immigrated after 1967. The occupation-state is the only reality they know. The settlers’ creed looks to them like self-evident truth. Polls show a growing number of young Israelis for whom democracy and human rights are empty phrases. A Jewish State means a state that belongs to the Jews and to the Jews only, nobody else has any business to be here.

This climate has created a political scene dominated by a set of right-wing parties, from Avigdor Lieberman’s racists to the outright fascist followers of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane – all of them totally subservient to the settlers.

If it is true that the US Congress is controlled by the Israel lobby, then this lobby is controlled by the Israeli government, which is controlled by the settlers. (Like the joke about the dictator who said: The world is afraid of our country, the country is afraid of me, I am afraid of my wife, my wife is afraid of a mouse. So who rules the world?)

So the settlers can do whatever they want: build new settlements and enlarge existing ones, ignore the Supreme Court, give orders to the Knesset and the government, attack their “neighbors” whenever they like, kill Arab children who throw stones, uproot olive groves, burn mosques. And their power is growing by leaps and bounds.

THE TAKEOVER of a civilized country by hardier border fighters is by no means extraordinary. On the contrary, it is a frequent historical phenomenon. The historian Arnold Toynbee provided a long list.

Germany was for a long time dominated by the Ostmark (“Eastern marches”), which became Austria. The culturally advanced German heartland fell under the sway of the more primitive but hardier Prussians, whose homeland was not a part of Germany at all. The Russian Empire was formed by Moscow, originally a primitive town on the fringes.

The rule seems to be that when the people of a civilized country become spoiled by culture and riches, a hardier, less pampered and more primitive race on the fringes takes over, as Greece was taken over by the Romans, and Rome by the barbarians.

This can happen to us. But it need not. Israeli secular democracy still has a lot of strength in it. The settlements can still be removed. (In a future article, I shall try to show how.) The religious right can still be repulsed. The occupation, which is the mother of all evil, can still be terminated.

But for that we have to recognize the danger - and do something about it.
(c) 2011 Uri Avnery ~~~ Gush Shalom

Ikea Joins The Race To The Bottom
We thought the Swedish furniture chain was the anti-Walmart. Turns out we were very wrong
By David Sirota

When it comes to ubiquitous symbols of mass American culture, the 1999 movie "Fight Club" aptly reminded us that bland Ikea furniture is now on par with Mom and Apple Pie.

The film, of course, was lamenting more the ennui of homogenization than Ikea's particular business model, because Ikea's market saturation was always considered somewhat laudable thanks to the company's seemingly special ethos. Based in Sweden, the blue-and-yellow behemoth was known to consumers as one of the few courageous anti-Walmarts in the big-box world -- a firm whose Scandinavian-socialist flavor appeared to assure us that it was probably treating its workers better than most multinationals, thus giving America a rare haven of guilt-free shopping.

Or so it seemed, until the Los Angeles Times this week published a damning story about Ikea's manufacturing plant in Danville, Va.

The piece looks at racial discrimination charges against the company, airs employees' complaints of workplace mistreatment, and examines Ikea's Walton-like efforts to bust union-organizing drives. Taken together, the allegations undermine one of Ikea's unique selling propositions and, in the process, lay bare a disturbing new economic dynamic -- one that now ensnares even the companies we think are the most socially conscious of all.

Buried in the Times report is the troubling story of why Ikea opened a plant in the United States in the first place. No, the decision wasn't made to take advantage of superior workforce skills or productivity -- positive attributes that once drove our manufacturing sector and built our middle class. Instead, it was made to exploit our decreasing wage levels and weak worker protections.

Though company factories in Sweden produce the same bookcases as the plant in Virginia, the Times notes that "the big difference is that the Europeans enjoy a minimum wage of about $19 an hour and a government-mandated five weeks of paid vacation (while) full-time employees in Danville start at $8 an hour with 12 vacation days" -- and that doesn't count the one-third of Danville workers who are paid even less because they are deliberately subcontracted through temp agencies.

Ikea’s exploitation motive evokes memories of General Electric's Jack Welch. He famously said that in an era without strong international unions and with standards-free trade pacts, profit-maximizing companies would end up putting "every plant you own on a barge" and trolling the world for the lowest wages and workplace conditions, knowing they would no longer face tariff costs.

That's what so many formerly American manufacturers did when they picked up and left the United States after NAFTA and the China trade deal reduced tariffs, and what more will likely do if the Obama administration's new Colombia free-trade pact passes Congress. That's what companies are doing by leaving China for the even lower wages of Vietnam and North Korea. And that's what Ikea did in moving Swedish production facilities to Virginia (and probably somewhere else if Danville workers dare demand some respect).

Sure, Danville has seen new jobs in this particular situation -- but those jobs replaced the city's higher-paying manufacturing jobs that were previously eliminated by the same dynamic. That means workers in Danville have lost ground in the overall transaction -- just as workers in the rest of America and around the world are losing ground in what has become a destructive wage-cutting race to the bottom.

When even the seemingly benevolent holdouts like Ikea join that competition, it's a sign that workers in all countries need something different than simply more "free" trade.
(c) 2010 David Sirota is the author of the best-selling books "Hostile Takeover" and "The Uprising." He hosts the morning show on AM760 in Colorado and blogs at E-mail him at David Sirota is a former spokesperson for the House Appropriations Committee.

Inflation Hits Money And Lies
By Joel S. Hirschhorn

How do the powerful keep the US population dumb and distracted? A key tactic has been using methodologies that produce totally misleading underestimates of key economic factors. First we learned that official unemployment figures are too low by a factor of two. Now, understand that the official rate of inflation hitting consumers is even more inaccurate. You will hear about a low inflation rate of less than 3 percent. In reality, it is closer to 10 percent, according to the highly regarded analysis by John Williams.

It is difficult for any one of us to have first hand evidence that unemployment nationally is really much higher than what the government says, even though most of us know people who are out of work or taking part time work out of sheer necessity. But when it comes to rising prices hitting our pockets, credit cards and checkbooks we have a much clearer sense of what is really happening. Gasoline prices have jumped more than 10 percent in recent weeks and for most of us is about a dollar more a gallon than a year ago or so. Some experts are predicting that $4 gas will soon hit most of the nation and, even worse, that $5 gas may hit us this summer.

Food prices are also jumping like a frog on crack cocaine. Many of them are masked by smaller weight packaging. Health care costs, especially insurance premiums and drugs, have also hit many Americans substantially and painfully. High inflation especially hits hard those people who have seen their incomes decline. Those on Social Security receiving no cost-of-living increase have every right to be angry.

The federal government is manipulating statistics to intentionally get a low number for inflation as well as unemployment in order to mask just how awful and unfair the economy really is. Political leaders in both major parties use this propaganda strategy, as if there are simply too few intelligent Americans to see through the lies. Sadly, they seem to be correct. And the mass media push the propaganda strategy by continually hyping and spreading the intentionally false data.

“We have inflation now. If you go to the shop, whether it’s groceries, or education or insurance or health care, prices are going up for everything. The government lies about it in the US,” said Jim Rogers back in June, 2010. It has only gotten worse.

At this time John Williams has correctly described economic reality: “Near-term circumstances generally have continued to deteriorate. Though not yet commonly recognized, there is both an intensifying double-dip recession and a rapidly escalating inflation problem.” Wow! How does that compare to all the glib recovery talk by President Obama and just about everyone else in government?

In addition to banks and financial companies too big to fail that benefit the rich, when it comes to the economy plutocrats think it is too bad to tell the truth.

Who is falling for the economic propaganda? Gallup measures optimism about the economy as a function of age, income and political party affiliation. Worst of all are Democrats and the young.

Meanwhile the Federal Reserve keeps printing money to cope with the budget deficit and national debt problems, which is a major reason for the sharp increases in gasoline prices.

None of any of this, of course, matters much to the rich and powerful Upper Class that is doing just fine and buying more luxury things. And the fat cats on Wall Street and in the financial sector are giving themselves huge bonuses and salaries. Dr. Phil of television fame is selling his $15 million mansion estate so he can buy an even bigger one for $30 million.

Over at Ford, the chief exec recently received $56.5 million in stock and last year pulled down an additional $26.5 million in annual compensation. The latter amounts to 910 times the annual pay of entry-level Ford workers.

In 2011, Americans who make over $1 million will pay just 23.1 percent of their incomes in federal income tax. In 1961, the Institute for Policy Studies notes in its newly released annual Tax Day report, Americans who made over $1 million — in our current dollars — paid 43.1 percent of their incomes to the IRS. That was when the middle class was prospering.

If congressional Republicans get their way, the middle class will feel considerable pain from program-cutting tactics to curb the national debt, while the rich Upper Class gets more tax breaks and keeps sapping the wealth of the nation as Democrats lack the courage to fight hard for increasing their taxes. With rising economic inequality the US is rapidly becoming a two-class society: 20 percent rich and 80 percent poor.

Meanwhile, whenever I listen to Obama and congressional leaders it is like watching a skit on Saturday Night Live or the Daily Show. They are that absurd.

How many more millions of Americans must experience more pain and suffering, go hungry, lose their homes, lose their jobs, postpone retirement, and go without decent health care before the public snaps out of their stupor? Not that there is very much optimism among Americans. In a University of Michigan March survey just 11 percent expect inflation-adjusted income gains during the year ahead, barely above the all-time low of 8 percent in 1980, and only 21 percent expect the economy to improve over the coming year. But where is the loud political outrage? Loud enough to scare the hell out of politicians and the rich.

When will Americans rise up as those in Tunisia and Egypt did and before that in former Soviet-bloc nations and tear down their corrupt and dysfunctional government?

Unemployment at 20 percent, inflation at 10 percent, a multi-trillion dollar national debt, and nothing but lies from politicians. Have you had enough? Do you still believe that voting in different Republicans or Democrats will fix things?
(c) 2011 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.

Paul Ryan's Rocky 'Path To Prosperity'

So much fanfare, so little fare. And once you see it without the dazzling neon lights rippling across it, you won't be a fan. Unless you're a millionaire corporate executive.

"It" is the highly-ballyhooed Republican budget proposal. It was unleashed on us a few days ago in a high-voltage press conference by Paul Ryan, the GOP's wonky ideologue who now chairs the House budget committee. Ryan dubbed his plan – Ta, TaTa-dah! – "Path to Prosperity." And indeed it is... but prosperity for whom? That is the core question that should be asked about all prosperity claims.

Ryan's budgetary offering turns out to be deja voodoo all over again. Two-thirds of the $4 trillion in budget cuts in his proposal comes out of the hides of the middle class and the poor. Take Medicare – which Ryan does. He would defund and privatize this effective, efficient, and wildly-popular program of universal health care for seniors, replacing it with insurance vouchers that put seniors at the mercy of profiteering health care vultures. The vouchers would be worth about a third of what Medicare covers, so good-bye and good luck, old folks.

But health care coverage is not all that Ryan's Republican "prosperity" plan cuts. The rich and corporations – poor babies – need another break, and the chairman delivers. Rather than paying a 35 percent tax rate on their fabulous incomes, Ryan generously cuts their rate to 25 percent – less than common working stiffs must pay. After all, promises the GOP's new voodoo priest, this governmental giveaway to those at the top would naturally tinkle down to the masses, generating prosperity for every American – just at it did in the reign of George W's presidency. You remember those golden years, don't you?

As we say in Texas, never sign nothing by neon.
(c) 2011 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.

Being Our Brother’s Keeper
By Helen Thomas

Lincoln said, "Government should do for people what they cannot do for themselves."

Tell that to the Republicans in Congress who want to chip away at government's role in helping the poor, the elderly and the disabled. With their new empowerment, the GOP leaders want to tackle deficit reduction at the pain of the deprived in this country.

The sad part is that President Obama is willing to play ball with cuts to programs including Medicare, Medicaid, Head Start, Pell Grants and a host of other Great Society projects. Lyndon B. Johnson must be rolling over in his grave.

Johnson's programs, enacted in the early 1960s, were designed to set a floor in this country beyond which no one starves or lacks for shelter. His poverty, housing and civil rights legislation made us a more equal society.

Now the Republicans, including the tea partiers, are determined to bring back the pre-Great Depression laissez-faire policies. If you can't make it - tough.

Obama should tear a page out of Johnson's legacy - not Vietnam, of course, but his compassionate domestic policies.

I often have wondered, are all Republicans rich? Are they aware of the human suffering as they wallow in their tax havens? We have a lot of billionaires in this country, and millions more who are hungry and living far below the poverty line.

Are we becoming a nation of haves and have nots? It appears so, with unemployment at 8 percent and slow economic growth.

Pentagon defense spending is currently at $2 million a minute, according to the American Friends Service Committee (Quakers), for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Throw in spending for Pakistan, Libya and Yemen involvement, and some 700 military bases around the world, and it is even more. But somehow war money is never mentioned in recent election campaigns, nor in budget stories.

I guess the wars are financed by manna from heaven.

Obama, whose re-election drive is moving him to the right, should start fighting for the people who are needy, or he will lose his own parties' support. Democrats care about the welfare of school teachers and other public servants, and have traditionally been a party that would protect the collective bargaining rights of government union workers. Watch out for Social Security - another bête noire for the GOP. It used to be sacrosanct.

When he ran for the presidency, Obama lit a fire among America's younger generation by raising their hopes for a better world. But who blew out the flame?

If he keeps caving and bending to the right, Obama will disappoint his loyal fans and constituency who still have to believe he has the right stuff. They are smart to question, in view of the President's recent move to the right.

Obama has lost his way. He has forgotten, "we are our brother's keeper."

Why has he followed the mindless war policies of George W. Bush? Why are Americans being asked to kill and die halfway around the world? At least the Middle Eastern and North African uprisings have found the meaning of their struggle - it's called freedom. What are Americans being told to meet at the barricades for? "If we don't go there, they'll all come here." What a battle cry. Hardly one heard around the world. There's only one big way to raise revenues - raise taxes on the super rich. They can afford it. As for the cuts in government spending, start with slicing the salaries of the lawmakers and take away their healthcare and travel perks.

Charity begins at home. A big battle over the budget and the debt limits (for government spending) looms ahead. Let's hope the President will remember we are our brother's keeper.

David Plouffe, senior advisor to the President, said on a round of last Sunday's talk shows, that Obama would propose "significant debt reduction," mentioning Medicare and Social Security. "Every corner of the federal government has to be looked at," Plouffe said.

The President ran up the steps at the Lincoln Memorial last Saturday, in what he considered a victory lap after he caved to the GOP during budget negotiations, and talked to tourists. A beleaguered Richard Nixon ran up the same steps during the height of the Vietnam War - and he rapped with the anti-war protestors.
(c) 2011 Helen Thomas is a columnist for the Falls Church News-Press. Among other books she is the author of Front Row At The White House: My Life and Times.

Will Christians Disappear On May 21?
By James Donahue

There has been a lot of ballyhoo lately about a predicted new date of the so-called “rapture of the church.” Many church prognosticators, sparked by a strange math formula developed by Harold Camping, President of Family Radio, are saying that the long awaited rapture of believers is going to happen on May 21, this year.

There appears to be a growing excitement among the fundamentalists as this date approaches. We wouldn’t be surprised to see many of them quitting their jobs, selling all of their belongings and going to a hill or mountain top to welcome Jesus when he supposedly returns in the clouds to call his people home in the sky. This kind of behavior has been witnessed several times in the past.

Indeed, the rapture event has been a malicious story that has hooked Christian believers into doing . . . or not doing the things they ought to have been doing to make things right on this planet for a very long time. Why worry about the pollution of our environment, the depletion of drinking water, oil, forests and the air they reason if believers in Jesus are going to be whisked magically off into the clouds?

The Book of the Revelation suggests that after they disappear, all the believers will be coming back wearing white robes and following their Savior as they do battle with the heathen armies on the plain of Megiddo, Israel. In doing this they expect to leave a field of blood across the landscape. Yippee! The Savior of the world is going to commit mass mayhem and slaughter all the soldiers of the great armies of the world during what is identified as the Battle of Armageddon.

After this, the conquering Jesus is supposed to rule the world from his throne in Jerusalem. Apparently he will be assisted in running his one-world government by the “saints” that return with him to assist in the mass slaughter. After a 1,000-year reign, old Satan is supposed to break from his chains, cause another stir before he is put down one last time. In the end God will build a “new Heaven and a new Earth” and everything will be just fine.

It is a grand thing to believe in if you are a Christian. For those of us who question such a story, we think it might be wonderful if something really did come along on May 21 and “scoop” up all the Christians and make them disappear. Then, if they would just stay away and not come flying back in those white robes to start another world war, those of us left behind might be better off.

Christians have been the force behind all of the great wars, much of the civil strife, the witch hunts and mass murders for the past 2,000 years. Some of the worst serial killers in recent years were clearly motivated by the Christian story. For example John Wayne Gacy raped and murdered 33 young boys, one for each year that Jesus lived.

It was Christianity that sparked the infamous Salem witch trials, drove Andrea Yates to drown her four beautiful children, stirred the Irish Catholics and Protestants to war against each other, and launched the great Crusades.

It has been a pack of Christian Armageddonists controlling the military keys in Washington and the Pentagon that has knowingly or subconsciously resurrected the old concept of the Crusades in the Middle East. The Crusades was a 200-year-long series of wars between the Christian (Roman Catholic) driven armies of Europe against the Moslem "Turks" who controlled the so-called "Holy Land" stretching from Constantinople to Jerusalem.

Although they historically came to an end in 1291, the seven Crusades left scars between the Islamic people, especially throughout the Middle East, that still influence the thinking of many Moslems. To them, Christians are considered "infidels" and representatives of Satan himself.

This is why the Moslem world reacted so harshly to a quote by Pope Benedict XVI in September, 2006, drawn from the writings of a Byzantine emperor of that era. That writing stated that Muhammad brought things "only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached."

What that old man of the Christian cloth did, by rekindling such an ancient quote that should have been left to smolder in the rotting books of history, was remind everyone, in the midst of the unjust and illegal Bush war against the Iraqi people, just how much the actions by our Christian-driven government paralleled those of Pope Urban II, who along with some French Christian blue-bloods, triggered the first Crusade in 1095.

In a sense the Pope tossed gasoline on flames that were already burning out of control. Indeed, we find ourselves today in the midst of an Eighth Crusade.

The Iraq war itself, stirred by a Christian right-wing conservative faction bought and paid-for by big business interests that profit from war, plus a consideration that control of that nation's oil is vital to our national security, was founded on a lie

We have always wondered if President Bush and his Christian friends in Washington redirected our "War On Terror" originally launched in Afghanistan against a band of rebels that claimed responsibility for the 9-11 attack, into Iraq, as a way of triggering events that might start that final world conflict described in Bible prophecy.

Fundamental Christians believe that this final world war, centered in the Middle East, would bring their god Jesus back to life and get this mess we have made of our planet, and our governments, repaired in one final swoop.

Sadly, President Barack Obama, who came into power on a promise of change that included shutting down those senseless wars, has not only escalated the Afghanistan conflict, but has now gotten the U.S. involved in a civil war in Libya. Mr. Obama also professes to be a “burn-again” Christian.

Jesus had an important message for the world. But that message called for us to love one another, not declare war. He never advocated the terrible things the Christians have done in his name over the past 2,000 years.

Jesus would have surely wept if he knew that accused "witches" would be murdered in his name, or that hundreds of thousands of innocent men, women and children would be slaughtered by swords, bombs and bullets in wars fought in his name throughout the Middle East, or that unnatural sexual suppression would drive so many people to violent and abnormal deviant sexual behavior.

Jesus would have been astounded if he had known the extreme divisions that developed between religious groups, all launched by foolish people who believed that four wonderful "prophets" and teachers, sent to our planet to shift human consciousness on a new spiritual path during a magical period in history, turned entire nations against one another with the stain of bigotry and hatred.

He would have been sad to see Protestant Christians warring against Catholic Christians in Europe and Ireland. Muhammad would have been equally sad to see Christians and Hindu people warring against Islamic believers or the various sects of Islam killing one another in his name.

These prophets of great wisdom were gifts to humanity. They rose among us in an effort to get us all evolving on a higher spiritual path. Instead of learning from their teachings, we made religious cults out of the fact that they lived among us. Each cult believes itself to have the ultimate truth and is intolerant of the others.

There is something very wrong with the way most humans are thinking. If we don't figure this out, and find a way to fix the error, we may soon blow ourselves to smithereens.
(c) 2011 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.

The God Debate
By Sam Harris

The official video of my debate with the inimitable William Lane Craig is now online and can be viewed above.

While I believe I answered (or preempted) all of Craig’s substantive challenges, I’ve received a fair amount of criticism for not rebutting his remarks point for point. Generally speaking, my critics seem to have been duped by Craig’s opening statement, in which he presumed to narrow the topic of our debate (I later learned that he insisted upon speaking first and made many other demands. You can read an amusing, behind-the-scenes account here.) Those who expected me to follow the path Craig cut in his opening remarks don’t seem to understand the game he was playing. He knew that if he began, “Here are 5 (bogus) points that Sam Harris must answer if he has a shred of self-respect,” this would leave me with a choice between delivering my prepared remarks, which I believed to be crucial, or wasting my time putting out the small fires he had set. If I stuck to my argument, as I mostly did, he could return in the next round to say, “You will notice that Dr. Harris entirely failed to address points 2 and 5. It is no wonder, because they make a mockery of his entire philosophy.”

As I observed once during the debate, but should have probably mentioned again, Craig employs other high school debating tricks to mislead the audience: He falsely summarizes what his opponent has said; he falsely claims that certain points have been conceded; and, in our debate, he falsely charged me with having wandered from the agreed upon topic. The fact that such tricks often work is a real weakness of the debate format, especially one in which the participants are unable to address one another directly. Nevertheless, I believe I was right not to waste much time rebutting irrelevancies, correcting Craig’s distortions of my published work, or taking his words out of my mouth. Instead, I simply argued for a scientific conception of moral truth and against one based on the biblical God. This was, after all, the argument that the organizer’s at Notre Dame had invited me to make.
(c) 2011 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.

Three Amigos
Barack and Buddies Pledge the West to Open-Ended War of Aggression
By Chris Floyd

Dear Good Concerned Engaged Enlightened Rule-of-Law Liberal Progressives: Is it clear enough for you now? Does he have to spell it out for you, slowly, using short and simple words, and maybe some cartoons to make it clear? Your noble Nobel Peace Laureate – bringer of hope and change, restorer of the rule of law, world-historical paradigm-shifter, etc., etc. – has just publicly (not to mention arbitrarily) committed the nation to “the supreme international crime”: aggressive war.

He has pledged the blood and treasure of the United States to "regime change" in Libya: that is to say, an act of military aggression designed to overthrow the government of a sovereign nation which has not attacked your own country nor posed the slightest threat to it. This is, of course, precisely the same blatantly illegal posture taken by that great monstrous bogey-man of all good concerned engaged enlightened rule-of-law liberal progressives everywhere, George W. Bush, in his invasion of Iraq.

On Friday, Barack Obama scribbled his name at the bottom of a newspaper article written by hired minions of the leaders of Britain and France, pledging to keep killing people in Libya until Moamar Gadafy is driven from power. Nothing short of "regime change" will satisfy these towering colossi of world statesmanship; as the Guardian reports, they utterly reject any calls "for an immediate ceasefire, or a negotiated exit for the Libyan dictator."

Peace? Pah! No, it will be war, war, and more war until these leaders of the great Western democracies get the outcome they demand: the ouster of their clapped-out former client-tyrant, and his replacement by what they hope will be more amenable operators. Or is that too cynical? Surely what these Three Amigos of the Apocalypse are seeking is nothing less -- and nothing other -- than the "freedom of the Libyan people," right?

You know, the kind of freedom where your leader can take your country into an open-ended campaign of military action without the consent of the people or the people's representatives -- and then escalate the conflict far beyond the mandate of an already rubbery UN resolution into outright, undeniable aggressive war, through the oh-so-constitutional method of ... an op-ed piece in the Washington Post.

That's real freedom, baby! Can't you feel it in the air? Can't you feel it all over your body -- like a rash?

Now, you might think that such a brazen act of criminality would raise one or two hackles somewhere out there in God's shining city on the hill. (That is, you might think that -- if you'd been in a deep, dark cave the last ten years and hadn't seen the veritable tsunami of atrocity, deceit and lawlessness that the American people have swallowed without complaint.) In any case, across the length and breadth of freedom's land, scarcely a bit of notice has been paid to this open commitment to a policy that was unequivocally condemned as a "supreme" evil back in the Nuremberg Trials. It seems that nobody bats an eye anymore when an American president adopts Hitler's policies.

No, instead of offering blastments of moral outrage at yet another president launching yet another illegal regime change operation in yet another Muslim country, our Good Concerned Engaged Progressives have nothing to say. They are still too wiggly about Obama's meaningless expectoration of blather on the "budget battle" -- that ludicrous puppet-show where two factions of hirelings strut and bellow over the few infinitesimal differences in their techniques of corporate whoredom. This is what seems to be the most pressing matter of the day to the Good and Engaged -- because of course it may have some bearing on what is their Tillichian "ultimate concern": the re-election of a man who is now embarked on his first wholly-owned war of aggression. That's right, the Peace Laureate is no longer simply following (and extending) the Terror Wars of his predecessor -- he's done gone and started one of his very own! Reason enough to fight tooth and nail to get him another term; after all, you don't want one of those militarist Republicans in there, do you?

(Of course, we don't mean to imply that the Laureate's new war of aggression is some kind of radical departure. Heaven forefend! An arch-conservative like Obama would ever do anything that was not deeply rooted in American tradition. His killing spree in Libya is an echo -- perhaps even an homage -- to similar actions undertaken by one of the presidents that he most admires: Ronald Reagan.)

The Three Amigos' joint declaration of aggressive war notes ominously that Gadafy is so evil that "the international criminal court is rightly investigating [his] crimes committed against civilians and the grievous violations of international law." This would, of course, be the same international criminal court that the Peace Laureate's own government refuses to recognize -- for fear that its own leaders and minions might rightly end up in its dock for "crimes committed against civilians and grievous violations of international law." Such as, oh, say, waging an aggressive war of regime change that blatantly violates your UN mandate.

But of course, that "mandate" was, as usual, just a threadbare fig leaf to mask the hardcore machinations of power politics -- which these days consists largely of soft, weedy cowards finding ways to prove how tough and "credible" they are by shedding other people's blood. Thus you will not be surprised to learn that the Amigos' diplomatic minions are now feverishly "considering how the language of the United Nations mandate can accommodate a more active role on the ground."

So this is where we've come to: from earnest, knitted-brow assurances of a "limited intervention" to outright declarations of open-ended war for regime change -- and "accommodations" to bring in more boots, bullets and bombs "on the ground." This is a crime, "the supreme international crime, differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole," and it's being committed, openly, proudly, by the Democrat in the White House.

But precisely because this "accumulated evil" is being committed by a Democrat in the White House, the "progressive" movement is silent. They don't care. Aggressive war? They don't care. International law? They don't care. A blanket refusal of ceasefires and peace plans that could spare countless civilian lives? They don't care. An "active role on the ground" -- new mounds of Iraq-style "collateral damage," corpses, chaos, breakdown, extremism, brutality, suffering? They don't care.

And so we end with another address to our Good Concerned Engaged Enlightened Rule-of-Law Liberal Progressives: If you will stand for this, what won't you stand for? And further: If you will stand for this -- what do you stand for?
(c) 2011 Chris Floyd

Interstates and States of Grief from Phil & Angela Rockstroh on Vimeo.

Interstates And States Of Grief
By Phil Rockstroh

I’m in Atlanta, Georgia, at present, among the scent of pine trees and the reek of southern denial. The moribund economy has thwarted the city’s manic drive to silence its resentful ghosts by means of constant motion … Below the lilting southern accents here, one detects rage … Not simply the ubiquitous hate-speak on right-wing talk radio. But an animus bred by truth-deferred … that southern pride is a lie of the mind — a blown banner … foisted skyward to distract the minds of my fellow southerners from the ground level truths of a system rigged to enrich the privileged few and keep the many working for their benefit. (How do you think they filled the ranks of the Confederate Army to kill and die for the rights of rich men to own slaves.)

I arrived in Georgia by route of the US interstate system.

Traveling US interstate highways one suffers a confluence of so much contemporary madness and tragedy extant in the land … so much suppressed fear and aggression. Yet, through it all, the heart still yearns to see what lies over the next horizon. Although, lamentably, what is revealed, all to often, proves to be as sterile, inhospitable, ugly, and inhuman as what was beheld at the last.

"Who has twisted us around like this, so that no matter what we do, we are in the posture of someone going away?" ~~~ Rainer Maria Rilke

Any situation, as is the case with interstate highway travel, in which to momentarily stop or even to slow down, one risks death should be regarded as an affront (if not anathema) to common sense and the longings of the heart. When the landscape we pass through has been reduced to a meaningless blur, our lives grow indistinct as well.

The apologists of the present system tell us ad nauseam, and have convinced most, that a similar disastrous fate will befall the nation if the engines of global capitalism were to slow down even a bit. Interstate travel is emblematic of the manner a system based on ceaseless production and manic consumption degrades the senses and inflicts a dehumanizing assault upon the psyche.

When stopped at an anonymous interstate service island or some off-the-exit-ramp retail strip — those inhospitable nether regions evincing a paradoxical mix of sterility and toxicity — the permeating odor of exhaust fumes and processed food makes us woozy. These places, only distinct for their ugliness, reek of how soul-numbing and joyless travel has become . . . now a task nearly devoid of any sense of the mystery, the option of exploration, or the possibility of serendipity travel once offered.

Travel has been reduced to a tedious ordeal, whereby our inchoate longings to escape the quotidian prison of our economically circumscribed existence are mangled and suppressed, only to rise as the hollow appetite of reflexive consumerism and the ineffable sense of unease, so evident in the troubled American psyche.

Enclosed in our vehicles, we hurdle from one sterile, impersonal location to the next sterile, impersonal location, and then on to the next. As forbiddingly huge trucks, loaded with the cargo of extinction, bear down on us, we grip the steering wheel -- we know to stop is to risk death therefore we continue onward, believing we must drive and consume and drive and consume in order to survive. Yet the knowledge nettles, just below the surface of our harried minds, that to continue down this road will, in turn, cause the world to die.

Even the landscape itself of the US is stretched to the breaking point: Cluttered upon it are gigantic islands of garish light that torment the night …scouring away the stars. As, all the while, SUVs and oversized pickup trucks -- the overgrown clown cars of the demented circus of decaying empire trundle past -- the extravagant size of the vehicles vainly compensating for how diminished and powerless those within feel in relationship to the course of their fates.

The corporate empire is imprinted in us. If one listens one can hear arias of decay -- a death-swoon operatic in scale. Manifested before us, it is as visible as the noxious vapors of pollutants veiling the horizon line at sunset; it shimmers like heat spires above traffic-stalled interstates; it reeks like the endless archipelagos of overflowing landfills spanning the length of the land. Yet, as mortifying as it is, the vales and vistas of the US spread before us … are as horrible and beautiful as a great cry of grief.

Manifested en mass, as our collective way of existing in the world -- the flickering of our tiny desires have set the vast world aflame … There is needless suffering and death that history will affix to own names … We are destroying our planet and her exquisite, irreplaceable creatures, as well as, our own sanity.

Feeling the full implications of this, how does one make it through the day and sleep throughout the night?

Following their defeat at the Battle of Shiloh, the shattered Confederate ranks fled for their lives. General A.S. Johnston, desperate to restore order and rally his men to return to battle, commanded a fleeing soldier to stop, demanding, "Private, why are you running?" The soldier replied, "General, I'm running 'cause I can't fly."

The act of being in perpetual flight (even the somnambulant variety) from consequences requires a great amount of energy; one must have the endurance of a marathoner sleepwalker to keep ahead of the sound of the fast approaching footfalls of reality at one's rear.

Depression is what catches us.

I have been accused being a poet … I know I am a wanderer through the landscape of the heart. I navigate by narrative, by words and feelings: It occurs to me: the term depression is a misnomer for feelings of despair brought on by powerlessness i.e., disconsolation over the death of an internal verity -- or having our will thwarted by inexorable, outer forces. Grief is a living prayer of our vulnerable hearts.

The salesmen of the eternal, big happy ... are just that -- salesmen ... One is required to respond to the intoxication of the sales pitch and is not to question the condition of their heart ... The commercial come-ons insist that the heart's grief and a lost soul's emptiness and panic can be fixed by some new bright and shiny: a new appliance, therapy, "hope and change". By the incessant promotion of the gospels of the hyper-capitalist sects of Happiness Uber Alles, the implicit message imparted is … suffering is a character flaw that can be mitigated, elevated -- even redeemed by consumerism, antidepressants, acquiring a positive attitude -- all the uttered homilies and donned vestments of the consumer state.

"The foundation of all mental illness is the unwillingness to experience legitimate suffering." ~~~ Carl Jung.

What kind of miserable malcontent would resist changing this social milieu and personal mode of being: Sitting stuck in commuter traffic; eating high fat, low quality food from a drive-thru window; languishing in a cubical … stranded in a low benefits, little chance of advancement job -- until, of course, the job is outsourced; waddling around the mall ... clad in off-the-rack, sweatshop sown clothing; dozing off in front of the TEEVEE with Cheetos crumbs stippled in the folds of one's jowls. Aint that the life -- or what? By any means possible, we preserve the death-styles of empire.

This mode of being is far removed from the norms of nature and the revelries and attendant sublimations necessary to engage in civic life ... Here, ruthlessness and rationalization banish reason; ambition trumps merit; expediency pushes aside wisdom; and empty sensation masquerades as experience.

Like interstate travel, the collective mind of the consumer state propels us forward to the next empty agenda, the next perfunctory task, the next meaningless purchase … But depression slows us down, inducing us to feel the grief inherent in our alienation … to cease the incessant, habitual hurdling forward and striving upward … to stop and investigate the mysteries of our hearts … to feel the sadness of the suffering earth …

"I can't go on. I'll go on." ~~~ Samuel Beckett

But we must slow down: We are destroying our planet and her exquisite, irreplaceable creatures, as well as our own sanity.

Two weeks before the Deepwater Horizon, Macondo Well "spill" (what a dishonest word for that noxious, bleeding gash) into the waters of the Gulf of Mexico, I dreamed of a badly injured fish who had had half his face torn off by some brutal method employed by the practitioners of industrial scale fishing operations to exploit the world's oceans … The fish had worked himself upon a rock on a craggy shoreline; holding an eternity of suffering in his one remaining eye, the fish turned to face me … Ever since, this dream image has lived within me ... I carry the fish's suffering and I bear his dark rage regarding what our species has done to his/our home -- this complex, mysterious, beguiling, dangerous, sublime, monstrous, and magnificent world we were cast into ... My sense of sorrow, at times, seems unbearable; my rage … bottomless ... Who will speak for the voiceless -- who will make amends for their suffering?

In childhood, I loved this body of water … loved it as one can love any living thing (which it is). I swam in it, collected jewel-like shells on its beaches of bleached sand, and went deep sea fishing with my father in its azure waters … Wherein, I was in awe of its (seemingly endless) bounty and abundance. Its winds and waves intimated to me the nature of eternity and the Gulf's living things drew me into the beauty and terrors of the living moment.

Approximately, ninety percent of the large fish (Tuna, Mackerel) in the world's oceans are gone due to overfishing. Oceanographers predict in 50 years time the oceans and seas the earth over will be dead. (And these are conservative estimates.)

Much like the denizens of late Cretaceous looking dumbly at the sky and barely giving a second thought to that bright, shining thingy that appeared above, this is a calamity so large in scale and so all-encompassing in its implications that we human beings just can't wrap our minds around it … In fact, by our elevation of willful ignorance and mindless consumerism to a cultural imperative, we human beings, acting collectively, are the equivalent the planet-decimating Cretaceous comet.

I try to resist losing myself to misanthropic rage when I read statistics such as this one. Yet I am enraged at the waste -- the sheer stupidity, mendacity, and hubris of it all. I want to grab the human race by the lapels and shout, "Stop it. God damn it. Just stop it. How could you destroy something so beautiful and then just continue to go through your sub-cretinous day? What the hell is wrong with you? Didn't anyone ever teach you the meaning of decency?

This is not a political debate. This is a choice between sanity and mass suffering; perhaps, even the survival of our species and a mass die off.

But listening to the pronouncements of Washington's political class and the mainstream media's ceaselessly shallow, miss-the-point narratives is like eavesdropping on the palaver from a petri dish.

Excuse my sense of fatalism: At this point, the system is too far-gone to be redeemed; it is in the process of systemic breakdown. Although, this is not as awful as it sounds, for one must let the old go and let a natural process of decay take over. When the rot is this advanced, at best, what you have is culture as a compost heap. Yet that doesn't mean in times of decay, there cannot be meaning and beauty, because life itself becomes vivid and alive in contrast to the extant ugliness.

Without decay, there is no change. The world would be as pointless as paradise. If you wish to find the future forest, look to the humus upon its floor. The future is decay; and decay is the future. The old ego must sing, even within the compost heap of its own putrefied concepts.

And, as it does, it must sing of its suffering and the sorrows of the earth … singing like the severed head of Orpheus floating to Lesbos.

Arias of compost sing of new understandings but you cannot skip the singing school of grief.

Frank O’Hara suggests:

“In times of crisis we must all decide again and again whom we love.”

Things are going to work out -- but not in ways we can predict.

There is a mournful beauty, even a providential utility, attendant to living through at time of putrefaction: Compost (the anti-Astroturf) nourishes fledgling life and novel forms. A new paradigm will morph from the remnants of the old, putrefied system.

If Confederate ghosts could shout through the prison of their enshrinement — they would call out to us, “Don’t believe it. Having seen the meaningless waste of war, we know now that we would have chosen to live out our lives, breathing in the humid, Georgia air, having our troubles softened by the sight of dappled light filtered through pine needles, and being lulled to sleep at night by the song of crickets and cicada.

Don’t you believe the lie, as we did, that dying in a rich man’s war is a virtue; don’t buy into the fraud that working all your life for a greedy few is a sound way to proceed through the fleeting and finite years of your time upon this earth."
(c) 2011 Phil Rockstroh, is a poet, lyricist and philosopher bard living in New York City. Visit Phil's website, and at FaceBook.

Let’s Not Be Civil
By Paul Krugman

Last week, President Obama offered a spirited defense of his party’s values — in effect, of the legacy of the New Deal and the Great Society. Immediately thereafter, as always happens when Democrats take a stand, the civility police came out in force. The president, we were told, was being too partisan; he needs to treat his opponents with respect; he should have lunch with them, and work out a consensus.

That’s a bad idea. Equally important, it’s an undemocratic idea.

Let’s review the story so far.

Two weeks ago, House Republicans released their big budget proposal, selling it to credulous pundits as a statement of necessity, not ideology — a document telling America What Must Be Done.

But it was, in fact, a deeply partisan document, which you might have guessed from the opening sentence: “Where the president has failed, House Republicans will lead.” It hyped the danger of deficits, yet even on its own (not at all credible) accounting, spending cuts were used mainly to pay for tax cuts rather than deficit reduction. The transparent and obvious goal was to use deficit fears to impose a vision of small government and low taxes, especially on the wealthy.

So the House budget proposal revealed a yawning gap between the two parties’ priorities. And it revealed a deep difference in views about how the world works.

When the proposal was released, it was praised as a “wonk-approved” plan that had been run by the experts. But the “experts” in question, it turned out, were at the Heritage Foundation, and few people outside the hard right found their conclusions credible. In the words of the consulting firm Macroeconomic Advisers — which makes its living telling businesses what they need to know, not telling politicians what they want to hear — the Heritage analysis was “both flawed and contrived.” Basically, Heritage went all in on the much-refuted claim that cutting taxes on the wealthy produces miraculous economic results, including a surge in revenue that actually reduces the deficit.

By the way, Heritage is always like this. Whenever there’s something the G.O.P. doesn’t like — say, environmental protection — Heritage can be counted on to produce a report, based on no economic model anyone else recognizes, claiming that this policy would cause huge job losses. Correspondingly, whenever there’s something Republicans want, like tax cuts for the wealthy or for corporations, Heritage can be counted on to claim that this policy would yield immense economic benefits.

The point is that the two parties don’t just live in different moral universes, they also live in different intellectual universes, with Republicans in particular having a stable of supposed experts who reliably endorse whatever they propose.

So when pundits call on the parties to sit down together and talk, the obvious question is, what are they supposed to talk about? Where’s the common ground?

Eventually, of course, America must choose between these differing visions. And we have a way of doing that. It’s called democracy.

Now, Republicans claim that last year’s midterms gave them a mandate for the vision embodied in their budget. But last year the G.O.P. ran against what it called the “massive Medicare cuts” contained in the health reform law. How, then, can the election have provided a mandate for a plan that not only would preserve all of those cuts, but would go on, over time, to dismantle Medicare completely?

For what it’s worth, polls suggest that the public’s priorities are nothing like those embodied in the Republican budget. Large majorities support higher, not lower, taxes on the wealthy. Large majorities — including a majority of Republicans — also oppose major changes to Medicare. Of course, the poll that matters is the one on Election Day. But that’s all the more reason to make the 2012 election a clear choice between visions.

Which brings me to those calls for a bipartisan solution. Sorry to be cynical, but right now “bipartisan” is usually code for assembling some conservative Democrats and ultraconservative Republicans — all of them with close ties to the wealthy, and many who are wealthy themselves — and having them proclaim that low taxes on high incomes and drastic cuts in social insurance are the only possible solution.

This would be a corrupt, undemocratic way to make decisions about the shape of our society even if those involved really were wise men with a deep grasp of the issues. It’s much worse when many of those at the table are the sort of people who solicit and believe the kind of policy analyses that the Heritage Foundation supplies.

So let’s not be civil. Instead, let’s have a frank discussion of our differences. In particular, if Democrats believe that Republicans are talking cruel nonsense, they should say so — and take their case to the voters.
(c) 2011 Paul Krugman --- The New York Times

The Quotable Quote...

"Most ignorance is vincible ignorance. We don't know because we don't want to know."
~~~ Aldous Huxley

Throw Out The Money Changers
By Chris Hedges

Editors Note: These are remarks Chris Hedges made in Union Square in New York City last Friday during a protest outside a branch office of the Bank of America.

We stand today before the gates of one of our temples of finance. It is a temple where greed and profit are the highest good, where self-worth is determined by the ability to amass wealth and power at the expense of others, where laws are manipulated, rewritten and broken, where the endless treadmill of consumption defines human progress, where fraud and crimes are the tools of business.

The two most destructive forces of human nature—greed and envy—drive the financiers, the bankers, the corporate mandarins and the leaders of our two major political parties, all of whom profit from this system. They place themselves at the center of creation. They disdain or ignore the cries of those below them. They take from us our rights, our dignity and thwart our capacity for resistance. They seek to make us prisoners in our own land. They view human beings and the natural world as mere commodities to exploit until exhaustion or collapse. Human suffering, wars, climate change, poverty, it is all the price of business. Nothing is sacred. The Lord of Profit is the Lord of Death.

The pharisees of high finance who can see us this morning from their cubicles and corner officers mock virtue. Life for them is solely about self-gain. The suffering of the poor is not their concern. The 6 million families thrown out of their homes are not their concern. The tens of millions of pensioners whose retirement savings were wiped out because of the fraud and dishonesty of Wall Street are not their concern. The failure to halt carbon emissions is not their concern. Justice is not their concern. Truth is not their concern. A hungry child is not their concern.

Fyodor Dostoyevsky in “Crime and Punishment” understood the radical evil behind the human yearning not to be ordinary but to be extraordinary, the desire that allows men and women to serve systems of self-glorification and naked greed. Raskolnikov in the novel believes—like those in this temple—that humankind can be divided into two groups. The first is composed of ordinary people. These ordinary people are meek and submissive. They do little more than reproduce other human beings in their own likeness, grow old and die. And Raskolnikov is dismissive of these lesser forms of human life.

The second group, he believes, is extraordinary. These are, according to Raskolnikov, the Napoleons of the world, those who flout law and custom, those who shred conventions and traditions to create a finer, more glorious future. Raskolnikov argues that, although we live in the world, we can free ourselves from the consequences of living with others, consequences that will not always be in our favor. The Raskolnikovs of the world place unbridled and total faith in the human intellect. They disdain the attributes of compassion, empathy, beauty, justice and truth. And this demented vision of human existence leads Raskolnikov to murder a pawnbroker and steal her money.

The priests in these corporate temples, in the name of profit, kill with even more ruthlessness, finesse and cunning than Raskolnikov. Corporations let 50,000 people die last year because they could not pay them for proper medical care. They have killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and Afghanis, Palestinians and Pakistanis, and gleefully watched as the stock price of weapons contractors quadrupled. They have turned cancer into an epidemic in the coal fields of West Virginia where families breathe polluted air, drink poisoned water and watch the Appalachian Mountains blasted into a desolate wasteland while coal companies can make billions. And after looting the U.S. treasury these corporations demand, in the name of austerity, that we abolish food programs for children, heating assistance and medical care for our elderly, and good public education. They demand that we tolerate a permanent underclass that will leave one in six workers without jobs, that condemns tens of millions of Americans to poverty and tosses our mentally ill onto heating grates. Those without power, those whom these corporations deem to be ordinary, are cast aside like human refuse. It is what the god of the market demands.

When Dante enters the “city of woes” in the Inferno he hears the cries of “those whose lives earned neither honor nor bad fame,” those rejected by Heaven and Hell, those who dedicated their lives solely to the pursuit of happiness. These are all the “good” people, the ones who never made a fuss, who filled their lives with vain and empty pursuits, harmless perhaps, to amuse themselves, who never took a stand for anything, never risked anything, who went along. They never looked hard at their lives, never felt the need, never wanted to look.

Those who chase the glittering rainbows of the consumer society, who buy into the perverted ideology of consumer culture, become, as Dante knew, moral cowards. They are indoctrinated by our corporate systems of information and remain passive as our legislative, executive and judicial branches of government—tools of the corporate state—strip us of the capacity to resist. Democrat or Republican. Liberal or conservative. It makes no difference. Barack Obama serves corporate interests as assiduously as did George W. Bush. And to place our faith in any party or established institution as a mechanism for reform is to be entranced by the celluloid shadows on the wall of Plato’s cave.

We must defy the cant of consumer culture and recover the primacy in our lives of mercy and justice. And this requires courage, not just physical courage but the harder moral courage of listening to our conscience. If we are to save our country, and our planet, we must turn from exalting the self, to subsuming of the self for our neighbor. Self-sacrifice defies the sickness of corporate ideology. Self-sacrifice mocks opportunities for advancement, money and power. Self-sacrifice smashes the idols of greed and envy. Self-sacrifice demands that we rise up against the abuse, injury and injustice forced upon us by the mandarins of corporate power. There is a profound truth in the biblical admonition “He who loves his life will lose it.”

Life is not only about us. We can never have justice until our neighbor has justice. And we can never recover our freedom until we are willing to sacrifice our comfort for open rebellion. The president has failed us. The Congress has failed us. The courts have failed us. The press has failed us. The universities have failed us. Our process of electoral democracy has failed us. There are no structures or institutions left that have not been contaminated or destroyed by corporations. And this means it is up to us. Civil disobedience, which will entail hardship and suffering, which will be long and difficult, which at its core means self-sacrifice, is the only mechanism left.

The bankers and hedge fund managers, the corporate and governmental elites, are the modern version of the misguided Israelites who prostrated themselves before the golden calf. The sparkle of wealth glitters before them, spurring them faster and faster on the treadmill towards destruction. And they seek to make us worship at their altar. As long as greed inspires us, greed keeps us complicit and silent. But once we defy the religion of unfettered capitalism, once we demand that a society serve the needs of citizens and the ecosystem that sustains life, rather than the needs of the marketplace, once we learn to speak with a new humility and live with a new simplicity, once we love our neighbor as ourself, we break our chains and make hope visible.
(c) 2011 Chris Hedges, the former Middle East bureau chief for The New York Times, spent seven years in the Middle East. He was part of the paper's team of reporters who won the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for coverage of global terrorism. He is the author of War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning and American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America. His latest book is, "“Death Of The Liberal Class.”

Barack Had A Ball
By David Michael Green

The old Obama reappeared this week.

Well, sorta, anyhow.

He gave a speech that liberals could find inspiring.

Again, sorta. And only if you don’t pay attention to a few gigantic caveats.

Let’s come back to that. First, though, the good news. The president got closer than he has in a very long to time to drawing serious lines of distinction between two very different approaches to the social compact in American society. This is work he has desperately needed to do these last two years, and work that has been wholly lacking from this most anemic of presidencies. When I and others criticize Obama for failing to present to the American people an overarching narrative that helps to define for us where the battle lines are drawn, who the good and bad guys are, and what we should believe in and fight for, this is what we critics are talking about. The absence of this narrative (and the gaping vacuum that absence has created for others to fill) is one of the main reasons that this presidency has failed so miserably.

Of course, the deeper problem may well be that such a clarion call is lacking from the president because any underlying convictions of that sort are equally absent. Every meaningful indicator suggests that if you pull back the facade of the anti-war, minority, young, community organizer Democrat, what you get are the politics of Dick Cheney, and sometimes worse.

But apart from that most serious of problems, Obama has fundamentally misunderstood the nature of the office he occupies. Even with all the power he has to push buttons that would destroy the planet, and even with all the millions of people who work underneath him in the federal government, and even with his trusty veto pen, any president’s greatest weapon in a system of separated powers is the bully pulpit. This soapbox is crucial not only for purposes of persuasion, but also for the deeper task of framing (which does most of the heavy lifting when it comes to persuading, anyhow). A smart and effective president gets what he wants by using the bully pulpit to set the agenda of what is debated, by framing how issues are perceived (to use the classic example – is it an ‘estate tax’ or a ‘death tax’?), by selling the public on his position regarding the issue, and then by persuading them to demand that Congress get on-board.

This president almost never does any of that. Worse, he sits by passively while others do exactly that sort of work instead, on their terms. The full measure of Obama’s failures in this respect can be taken by the sheer outrageousness of what Republicans get away with saying. If Harry Truman was in the White House, there’d be no death panel bullshit or birthers, and anyone stupid enough to talk that smack at the president’s expense would pay the heavy burden of being ridiculed for the drooling imbeciles they absolutely are. If FDR was president, we’d be sufficiently reminded that the same kleptocratic elite who crashed the global economy in order to steal from the vast majority of Americans should not be given remotely serious consideration with regard to anything they say (indeed, they should count their blessings just to be on the happy side of prison walls), especially when these thieves call for more of the exact same policies.

Ah, but that was back when Democrats were Democrats. We, instead, get Barack Obama.

Still, for those of us who have so much lamented the absence of political courage in this president, he appears to have taken a step in the right direction this week. A step. Nobody should get overexcited here. You wouldn’t exactly say that his speech showed balls. Well, maybe one. Or two-thirds, perhaps, rounded up to one. In any case it’s fair to say that this week, finally, Barack had a ball.

Or so it appeared, when the president actually went so far as to do the vision thing in his speech. Here’s the key excerpt, where he discussed the Republican plans for America’s future:

“Worst of all, this is a vision that says even though America can’t afford to invest in education or clean energy, even though we can’t afford to care for seniors and poor children, we can somehow afford more than $1 trillion in new tax breaks for the wealthy. Think about it. In the last decade, the average income of the bottom 90% of all working Americans actually declined. The top 1% saw their income rise by an average of more than a quarter of a million dollars each. And that’s who needs to pay less taxes? They want to give people like me a two hundred thousand dollar tax cut that’s paid for by asking thirty three seniors to each pay six thousand dollars more in health costs? That’s not right, and it’s not going to happen as long as I’m president. The fact is, their vision is less about reducing the deficit than it is about changing the basic social compact in America. As Ronald Reagan’s own budget director said, there’s nothing “serious” or “courageous” about this plan. There’s nothing serious about a plan that claims to reduce the deficit by spending a trillion dollars on tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires. There’s nothing courageous about asking for sacrifice from those who can least afford it and don’t have any clout on Capitol Hill. And this is not a vision of the America I know. The America I know is generous and compassionate; a land of opportunity and optimism. We take responsibility for ourselves and each other, for the country we want and the future we share. We are the nation that built a railroad across a continent and brought light to communities shrouded in darkness. We sent a generation to college on the GI bill and saved millions of seniors from poverty with Social Security and Medicare. We have led the world in scientific research and technological breakthroughs that have transformed millions of lives.”

Oh look, America. It lives! Finally the president speaks out about something. Finally he portrays a contrast between the forces of darkness and the rest of us. Finally he draws a line in the sand. Finally he awakens from his long slumber.

Well, like I said. Sorta. I despise Obama and feel passionately that he has betrayed the country. That said, I’ll give him (or even Sarah Palin) credit for getting it right when they do, should that miraculously happen. I do that because my biggest loyalty is to something grossly missing from American politics, and that is a little dose of honesty. So give the president his due for what he did. But while we’re at it, let’s also recognize this for what it is – and what it isn’t – in all its full glory.

The most important single observation to make about this speech is that the president has lost before he’s begun – his newfound willingness to make (mostly oblique) contrasts, notwithstanding. Or, more accurately, it is we who have lost before he’s begun. Anyhow, this is pure Obama. Yield, yield, yield. Then go into negotiations with vicious thugs where – shockingly – you wind up yielding more. That the president could end up in such a position on this particular issue is the most astounding example of this pattern yet. Have we really forgotten, already, who made this mountain of debt, which is now presented by the very same people as the implacable imperative requiring us to slash social spending? Was it liberals who insisted on tax cuts for the wealthy these last thirty years, saying ti would raise federal revenues? Was it liberals who decided to invade Iraq on the basis of lies, and not pay for a nickel of those trillions spent with increased taxes or spending cuts? Was it progressives who created a needlessly overly-expensive new prescription drug benefit? Was it liberals who blew the doors off of domestic boondoggle spending when they controlled Congress last decade? Was it liberals who deregulated the finance industry, then bailed Wall Street bankers out one hundred pennies on the dollar after they imploded the global economy? Was it progressives who funneled hundreds of billions of dollars in federal subsidies to giant oil and agricultural corporations? Was it liberals who massively expanded spending on so-called national defense, even though the US has no serious national enemies anywhere on the planet?

No, it was not. It was the exact same set of freaks and monsters who now demand that we must push poor and elderly Americans into the gutter, because the effects of their policies have now drowned us in an ocean of debt, and so that we can do even more of all of the above. It doesn’t get more obvious than this. The point is, if you can’t negotiate from strength on this issue, you can’t negotiate from strength, period. Need I say more about this president?

But negotiating to win appears to be the last thing on Obama’s mind, anyhow. I’m not the first armchair psychologist to note that the guy seems to prize being liked above all other virtues, quite literally including among those others the health and welfare of the nation, a responsibility which he himself sought. And he desperately seeks this social approval even when the people whose kind feelings he covets are spitting in his face, and rolling him, and trouncing him in elections by saying the most outrageous things about him personally, and – most importantly – not at all liking him at the end of the day, despite his very best efforts.

You could see Obama’s craving for acceptance in the content of this speech, and in what he left out. When he talked about how things had gone wrong in the past, he didn’t name names, leaving listeners to believe the Great Republican Lie that everyone is equally culpable. Or even worse, that theirs is, as they claim, the party of fiscal responsibility – a lie of astonishing proportions. You could see it when Obama was delivering the toughest lines of his speech. He kept doing this strange thing with his mouth and chin that made it look very much like he was in pain getting out those words. And you could tell by how he ad-libbed – both what he included, and what he omitted. At one point, he was supposed to say “Finally, there are those who believe we shouldn’t make any reforms to Medicare, Medicaid, or Social Security out of a fear that any talk of change to these programs will usher in the sort of radical steps that House Republicans have proposed.” And he did say that. It’s just that he dropped the word “radical” when he delivered the line. At another point, he spontaneously added the following to the prepared text: “And even those Republicans I disagree with most strongly I believe are sincere about wanting to do right by their country. We may disagree on our visions, but I truly believe they want to do the right thing.”

The guy obviously has a hard time confronting people. Which is fine with me, if that’s how he wants to run his personal life. I don’t care if Michelle makes him dress up in a Bozo The Clown costume and rides him like a pony in the East Room, and he’s too wimpy to object. That’s up to him. But I’m not okay with Mr. Happy for my president. I don’t want Tom Hanks in the White House, man, I want George Foreman. Or, as former San Francisco mayor Art Agnos once put it, I want somebody “with a Peace Corps heart and linebacker eyes.” I can’t tell whether Obama has any sort of heart at all, but if he does, it’s a Wall Street heart. And as for the rest of his anatomy, I don’t think he’s quite pro football material, do you? Do they take people with cupcake eyes in the NFL?

Obama’s ad-libbed statement is telling in another crucial respect, as well. I don’t know if he really believes that ridiculous shit he mouthed about “those Republicans I disagree with most strongly,” but if he does we are in such a major world of hurt. I’m sorry, Barack, but John Boehner and Mitch McConnell and Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin and George Bush and Dick Cheney and Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck and the rest of that ugly crew – they’re not sincere patriots who really want to do right for the people of America, but who just happen to have a bit of a different vision than most folks do. That particular lie – almost the biggest in the entirely of American politics, a sport with more lies than an endless-loop video of a marathon golf tournament – is such a huge part of our problem, and such a big chunk of the explanation as to why this country is in the state it’s in. These are not patriots, Fool. These are predators. If heroin dealers wrapped themselves in the flag, would you “truly believe they want to do the right thing”? If Hitler belted out the Star Spangled Banner right before the Battle of the Bulge, would you have believed he was “sincere about wanting to do right” by America? Y’know, I could very well be the world’s worst poker player that ever lived, but by god almighty I’d like to sit across the table from this guy for half an hour. Meanwhile, if we have any hope of saving this country, it’s got to start with some truth in advertising. Difficult as it might be for certain Harvard graduates to comprehend, kleptocratic sociopathic marionette politicians crushing the American public by ruthlessly doing the bidding of an insanely greedy corporate oligarchy are not exactly what you’d call patriots. Is it too much to demand a president who can sort out something that basic?

Obama was also vague in offering his supposed alternative to the Republican plan. You can see that, especially in the way he contradicted himself regarding one of the cheapest ploys commonly used by Washington politicians. He rightly pointed out that “Because all this spending is popular with both Republicans and Democrats alike, and because nobody wants to pay higher taxes, politicians are often eager to feed the impression that solving the problem is just a matter of eliminating waste and abuse – that tackling the deficit issue won’t require tough choices.” Good point, Barack. The old “waste and fraud” ruse is as tedious as it is unfortunately effective. But how is that you then, later in the very same speech, tell us that “Over the last two years, Secretary Gates has courageously taken on wasteful spending, saving $400 billion in current and future spending. I believe we can do that again”? Or that “We will reduce wasteful subsidies and erroneous payments” in healthcare? Isn’t this precisely the sort of nonsense you just got done criticizing others for doing?

Obama also throws out grandiose vagaries like this one about the cost of the US military, saying we need to: “conduct a fundamental review of America’s missions, capabilities, and our role in a changing world.” Really? Let’s me see here now. You’re two-and-a-half years into your presidency, your fighting that same number of meaningless wars abroad, your country is drowning in debt, and you’re just now figuring out that we need to rethink the bloody empire? And you’re proposing that some unspecified person is to begin this process, somehow or another, at some unknown future date? Maybe it’ll be like the Deficit Commission Obama created. He put the truly scary Alan Simpson in charge of that abortion. Given that George W. Bush’s Secretary of Defense is also serving as Obama’s Secretary of Defense, I wonder how this would turn out. And when. After years – years, not months – of being a senator, running for the presidency and being the president, couldn’t we expect somebody to be able to articulate a real plan here?

There are gigantic opportunities sitting there for anyone who genuinely would want to chop federal spending. Opportunities that would not only permit real benefits to the country, and would not only be popular with the public, but would represent incredibly astute politics, forcing the Republicans to defend the worst monsters on the landscape, and forcing them to twist themselves into gruesome pretzels, indulging in the worst forms of overt and high comedic hypocrisy. We’re not talking about low-hanging fruit here, people. We’re talking about peaches, pears and plums that have been picked, cleaned, shipped, purchased, sliced and delivered to the president’s dining room table, sitting there in his expensive china fruit salad bowl that Nancy Reagan bought. Can we not agree to end massive taxpayer subsides to giant corporations making record profits? Can we not agree to have a genuine minimum tax for all well-to-do individuals and corporations, so that GE can’t make $17 billion in profit and still wind up being owed money by the US treasury? Can we not agree to end tax incentives for exporting American jobs overseas? And wouldn’t it look really embarrassing to oppose any of these initiatives? I mean, come on.

And then there’s the whole tough guy routine. Even when Obama says stuff like, “But let me be absolutely clear: I will preserve these health care programs as a promise we make to each other in this society. I will not allow Medicare to become a voucher program that leaves seniors at the mercy of the insurance industry, with a shrinking benefit to pay for rising costs. I will not tell families with children who have disabilities that they have to fend for themselves,” or, “In December, I agreed to extend the tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans because it was the only way I could prevent a tax hike on middle-class Americans. But we cannot afford $1 trillion worth of tax cuts for every millionaire and billionaire in our society. And I refuse to renew them again.” – even when he talks tough like that, does anyone, especially Republicans, take this guy seriously? Isn’t he the guy who said he’d for sure close Guantánamo? And who wanted the public option? Why doesn’t he think Republicans will try the same game of chicken with him on tax cuts for the wealthy that they did last time? And why should we expect that the Capitulation Kid will have a better solution to their gambit than he did last time? And if he does have one, why didn’t he freakin’ whip it out in December? Face it, nobody folds like Obama. He’s the origami president.

Which means that I’ve given up believing his pretty words in speeches like this. Indeed, I suspect that this speech is actually just a bunch of pretty words meant to bring people like me back into the fold. People whom Obama will need a year from now, especially if jobs do not reappear, and if the GOP nominates Twit Romney, who then makes a case to a credulous and bleeding public that he’s got the ol’ private-sector-jobs-creating-know-how-magic in his fingers (you know, just like the kind that the ridiculously flush private sector is using right now, as we speak, to not create jobs). Obama knows he will be vulnerable in 2012, and he needs to bring his base back home, after two-and-a-half years bitch-slapping us with all the regularity of German train schedules, and some of the politics too.

This was not a real speech about progressive values. This was not the resurrection of Harry Truman, a fighter battling for the public interest, a pugilist willing to name names and bloody faces.

This was a campaign speech.

And even if it wasn’t, it is the measure of Obama’s abysmal presidency that people like me believe that it was.
(c) 2011 David Michael Green is a professor of political science at Hofstra University in New York. He is delighted to receive readers' reactions to his articles, but regrets that time constraints do not always allow him to respond. More of his work can be found at his website,

The Dead Letter Office...

Heil Obama,

Dear Staat Uber Fuhrer Altman,

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, Vidkun Quisling and last year's winner Volksjudge Elena (Butch) Kagan.

Without your lock step calling for the repeal of the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, your bill to permit the state funding of religion, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and those many other profitable oil wars to come would have been impossible! With the help of our mutual friends, the other "Rethuglican Whores" you have made it possible for all of us to goose-step off to a brave new bank account!

Along with this award you will be given the Iron Cross 1st class with diamond clusters, presented by our glorious Fuhrer, Herr Obama at a gala celebration at "der Fuhrer Bunker," formally the "White House," on 07-04-2011. We salute you Herr Altman, Sieg Heil!

Signed by,
Vice Fuhrer Biden

Heil Obama

Palin's Madison Rally Is Overwhelmed By Protest Crowd
By John Nichols

Tom Paine wrote at the toughest moment of the American revolutionary struggle: "These are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman."

On Saturday, in Madison, Wisconsin, there was plenty to be thankful for.

Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, the paid spokeswoman for the tepid Tea Party movement, jetted into Madison, Wisconsin, for what was supposed to be a victory party. Unofficial returns released Friday for the state's highly-controversial Supreme Court race show the candidate of conservative Republican Governor Scott Walker leading his until-recently unknown challenger by a 50.2 to 49.8 margin prior to an anticipated recount. And, though implementation of Walker's anti-union agenda remains stymied by a court order, the governor is freshly returned from a star turn before a congressional committee in Washington where every effort was made to suggest that he had effectively overwhelmed the mass opposition that his proposals have inspired in Wisconsin.

That's not much in the way of good news for Walker, whose personal approval ratings have tanked, and whose Republican legislative allies now face recall elections that could cost the party control of the state Senate. But the spin doctors were ready to claim some kind of momentum.

All that was needed was a great big rally to seal the deal, or so Walker's allies and funders -- particularly the billionaire Koch Brothers, who paid for Saturday's event via their generous donations to the group Americans for Prosperity. And Palin was brought in to pull the crowd.

As it happened, she did pull a crowd -- but not for Governor Walker and his agenda.

Walker may have had Palin -- even if the governor chose to attend a bridge-naming event outside Madison, rather than be photographed with the Alaskan. But Walker's critics had the numbers.

Madison's ABC News affiliate reported that, "pro-union labor supporters surrounded smaller groups of tea party members waiting for former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin to appear outside the Wisconsin Capitol" while the NBC affiliate reported: "A solid core of tea partiers were near the stage, but they were flanked on all sides by union protesters who have dominated protests at the Capitol for months. The tea party folks had the microphone, but the crowd had the volume, literally and figuratively."

What happened? Wasn't Palin supposed to be the rock star that rallied conservatives on what she called "the frontlines in the battle for our country"? When Palin got to the frontlines, she was greeted not with a warm embrace but with a throngs of Wisconsinites holding signs that read: "Grizzlies Are Not a Native Species," "The Mad Hatter Called... He Wants His Tea Party Back," "I Can See Stupid From My Condo" and "Wisconsin Loves Tina Fey!" -- a reference to the comic who famously parodied Palin on NBC's "Saturday Night Live."

To be clear, there were some Palinites present. Just not a lot of them.

After a week of relatively mild weather, Saturday came wind-blown and bitter cold with freezing rain turning to snow by the time Palin wearing designer clothes and a grimace. Instead of the masses of Tea Partisans that had been predicted, the group the former governor addressed outside the state Capitol filled a 20-foot by 35-foot space between a riser packed with television cameras and a stage area where organizers with money to burn had erected an entirely unnecessary big-screen TV and concert speakers.

Even if the Tea Partisans packed into the space as tightly as possible, they could not have numbered more than 600 or 700. Local concert promoter Tag Evers, who has organized hundreds of events over the years (including some of the recent rallies at the Capitol) and has an eye for crowds, put the number of Palin enthusiasts at 500. Defending Wisconsin PAC's Jeremy Ryan announced after rallying against Palin that: "There were probably about 500 of them... and 5,000 of us... Even when they bus people in from other states, they still can't form a majority."

But let's be generous. Let's say that, with the smattering of Tea Partisans who were outside the enclosed and heavily-policed area where Palin spoke, the supporters of Governor Walker's agenda numbered 1,000.

That would mean that the Tea Partisans were outnumbered more than 5-1 by the mass of anti-Walker protesters that surrounded the Palin event, ringing cowbells and shouting "Shame! Shame! Shame!" so loudly that many of the Tea Partisans who gathered in the Palin pit complained they could not hear the Alaskan deliver a listless speech that focused mainly on national issues. In her rare references to Wisconsin, Palin offered Orwellian rewrites of reality, such as a claim that: "(Walker's) not trying to hurt union members. Hey, folks he's trying to save your jobs and your pensions."

Though it was organized in only a matter of hours, the protest against Palin and Walker easily overwhelmed the gathering of those who came to support the former Alaska governor and the recall-threatened Wisconsin governor. Police estimated that roughly 6,500 people were on the Capitol Square Saturday, and the vast majority of them were the firefighters, police officers, teachers, public employees, farmers, small business owners and their allies who had come to wave signs that read: "Scott -- Pull a Palin -- Quit!"

Worried that the media might miss the real story of Saturday, Madisonian Bill Bunke said, "I hope the cameras they've got focused on Palin turn around and tell the real story of what happened today."

That's a tall order, as Palin and the Tea Party continue to enjoy inflated coverage not just from conservative media outlets such as Fox News -- the subject of posters carried by union activists that read "Fox Will Lie About This" and "According to Fox I'm Not Here" -- but also mainstream national media outlets that present Palin, a failed vice presidential candidate who resigned her governorship, as a serious spokesperson for the right.

But the crowd that surrounded the Tea Party event knew how things played out Saturday on Palin's "frontlines." They were declaring victory as the Alaskan was jetting out of town. "Who would have thought that Sarah Palin would give this movement a boost?" joked Terry Fritter, a veteran United Food and Commercial Workers union activist who has attended most of the anti-Walker rallies at the Capitol.

Fritter started his day at a rally on the opposite side of the Capitol from the Palin event. Organized by the Wisconsin Wave coalition that brings together union, environmental and community groups, the rally featured all Wisconsin speakers -- unlike the Tea Party event -- and was addressed by newly-elected Madison Mayor Paul Soglin, who noted the dramatically larger turnout by union members and their allies.

Soglin was not alone in noting the distinction. The energy and volume of the thousands who came to protest Palin (and Walker) unsettled many of the speakers at the Tea Party event. A local consrvative talk-radio host shouted from the stage that union backers should "shut up." The controversial blogger Andrew Breitbart, one of many national conservative figures flown in for th event, told the union members and their allies to "go to hell."

But while the sunshine patriots huddled near the Palin stage may have taken some solace from the taunts, the winter soldiers were unbothered and unbowed. "They're mad because we outnumber them," said Fritter. "They're mad because we're not backing down."

That is as Paine would have it. The Wisconsin democracy movement is young and there will be plenty of setbacks as it develops energy and focus. But, as the pamphleteer noted in The Crisis, "Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as FREEDOM should not be highly rated."
(c) 2011 John Nichols writes about politics for The Nation magazine as its Washington correspondent. He is a contributing writer for The Progressive and In These Times and the associate editor of the Capital Times, the daily newspaper in Madison, Wisconsin. His articles have appeared in the New York Times, Chicago Tribune and dozens of other newspapers.

Obama v. Obama On Signing Statements
By Glenn Greenwald

The issue of signing statements is more complex than the political controversy over them suggests. When condemning Bush/Cheney lawlessness, I rarely focused on their use of signing statements. That was true for several reasons.

There's nothing inherently illegitimate about a President's expressing his view on various laws. It's vastly preferable for a President to openly declare his intent to violate the law than to do so secretly. Signing statements themselves are just instruments for conveying constitutional views of the law; whether they're truly odious depends upon the view that is being expressed (what made Bush so radical were the theories of executive omnipotence he embraced, not his use of signing statements to express those views).

And a reasonable argument can be made (though it's not one I share) that a President's duty to uphold the Constitution can sometimes be advanced more by refusing to execute an unconstitutional law than by enforcing it; that view, at least for some, is a critical part of the formal definition of the "unitary theory of the executive" and is something right-wing theorists (and now Obama supporters) have long maintained (I ultimately reject that view because the constitutionally legitimate means for a President to object to an unconstitutional law is to veto it, not violate it; moreover, the power to declare laws unconstitutional lies with courts, not the President). But all of those issues introduce nuance into the question of signing statements that is often lacking in the political discussions they've triggered.

But there was no such nuance present when Barack Obama, during a 2008 campaign rally, made his position known on signing statements. After being asked by an audience member whether he would "promise" not to use signing statements to override Congressional statutes, he stated simply "yes," and then elaborated as follows:

There is no ambiguity in that vow: none at all. He explicitly promised not to use signing statements to nullify Congressional statutes he thought were invalid. Citing his credentials as a Constitutional Law professor, Obama explained that "Congress' job is to pass legislation," and when that happens, a President has only two options: "the President can veto it or sign it." In contrast to Bush -- who, Obama said, "has been saying 'I can change what Congress passed by attaching a statement saying I don't agree with this part, I'm going to choose to interpret it this way or that way'" -- Obama said he, by contrast, believes "that's not part of [the President's] power." He punctuated his answer as follows: "we're not going to use signing statements as a way of doing an end run around Congress." It just doesn't get any clearer than that.

But on Friday, Obama did exactly that which he vowed in that answer he would never do. When signing the budget bill into law, he attached a signing statement objecting to some provisions as an encroachment on executive power but still vowing to obey them (such as restrictions on transferring Guantanamo detainees), but then explicitly stated that he would ignore the provision of this new law that de-funds his so-called "czars" (which are really little more than glorified presidential advisers). Declaring that the Executive has the unfettered "authority to supervise and oversee the executive branch" -- i.e., asserting another critical aspect of the "unitary theory of the Executive" -- Obama declared that "the executive branch will construe [the de-funding provision] not to abrogate these Presidential prerogatives." In other words, we're going to ignore that mandate because we believe it's unconstitutional: he's going to use funds for exactly the purpose that Congress, in a bill he signed into law, flatly prohibited.

It is true that there's a reasonable argument to make about the unconstitutionality of that de-funding provision. It's a close call, as Article II does vest the executive power in the President, which presumably includes the power to decide how to structure his team of advisers. But even the most ardent defenders of executive power have always maintained that Congress' most potent Constitutional power is to de-fund what it dislikes without restriction (even John Yoo -- the ultimate defender of Executive authority -- acknowledged during the Bush years that the Democratic Congress had the power to de-fund the Iraq War and any other Bush policies it disliked: "The fact is, Congress has every power to end the war -- if it really wanted to. It has the power of the purse," Yoo wrote).

It's also true that Obama has, in other instances, provided slightly more nuanced answers about his views of signing statements than the one he gave in the clip above; when answering the executive power campaign questionnaire from The Boston Globe's Charlie Savage, for example, Obama vaguely asserted that "no one doubts that it is appropriate to use signing statements to protect a president's constitutional prerogatives," but then added: "it is a clear abuse of power to use such statements as a license to evade laws that the president does not like or as an end-run around provisions designed to foster accountability" and explicitly vowed: "I will not use signing statements to nullify or undermine congressional instructions as enacted into law." That, too, seems clear -- he will not use signing statements to ignore laws -- but at least there was a bit of rhetorical nuance there.

But the vow he made in that campaign speech was unambiguous: he said the only two options a President has when faced with a bill is to sign or veto it, and that "we're not going to use signing statements as a way of doing an end run around Congress." Regardless of one's views on signing statements or the "czar" de-funding law, then, there is simply no question that Obama is now asserting exactly the power that, when demagoguing this issue during the campaign, he insisted was illegitimate and he would not exercise. What kind of person would justify that?

It's exactly the same issue as his decision to order U.S. involvement in the attack on Libya without Congressional approval. I firmly believe that a President lacks the authority to order the U.S. to participate in a war without Congressional approval, but many people differ on that. There's a reasonable debate (barely) to be had on that question. But what is 100% clear and indisputable is that Obama, when trying to convince Americans to elect him as President, took the exact opposite position as the one he now maintains. He said in that Boston Globe questionnaire, as clearly as possible, that "the President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation;" he added that only "in instances of self-defense" would "the President be within his constitutional authority to act before advising Congress or seeking its consent."

No minimally honest or rational person can reconcile the President's Friday signing statement with the vow he gave during that campaign event, nor can any such person reconcile his claimed war powers regarding Libya with the view he emphatically expressed during the campaign. And, of course, the list of similar departures from his own claimed views during the campaign is depressingly long: from railing against the evils of habeas corpus denial to fighting to deny habeas review to Bagram detainees; from vowing to protect whistleblowers to waging the most aggressive war in American history against them; from condemning the evils of writing bills via secret meetings with industry lobbyists to writing his health care bill using exactly that process; from insisting that Presidents have no power to detain or even eavesdrop on Americans without due process to asserting the power to assassinate Americans without due process, etc. etc. etc.

It would be one thing if these full-scale reversals were on ancillary issues. But these are fundamental. They're about the powers of that office and the nature of our government. And Obama made these issues the centerpiece of his campaign. These campaign statements are nothing less than vows made to voters about how he would exercise the power he was seeking if they voted for him. To insist during the campaign that Presidents have no power to start wars without Congress or to ignore laws the President believes are unconstitutional -- and then do exactly that once he's been vested with that power -- is a form of fraud. And, ironically, it's exactly this behavior that breeds the cynicism that he has repeatedly identified as the central poison in our political culture. Whatever one thinks about the policies in question on the merits, it should be impossible to defend or justify the radical inconsistency between what he pretended to believe and what he's doing.
(c) 2011 Glenn Greenwald. was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator in New York. He is the author of the New York Times Bestselling book "How Would a Patriot Act?," a critique of the Bush administration's use of executive power, released in May 2006. His second book, "A Tragic Legacy," examines the Bush legacy.

The Cartoon Corner...

This edition we're proud to showcase the cartoons of
~~~ Bill Mutranowski ~~~

To End On A Happy Note...

Natures Way
By Spirit

It's nature's way of telling you something's wrong
It's nature's way of telling you in a song
It's nature's way of receiving you
It's nature's way of retrieving you
It's nature's way of telling you
Something's wrong

It's nature's way of telling you, summer breeze
It's nature's way of telling you, dying trees
It's nature's way of receiving you
It's nature's way of retrieving you
It's nature's way of telling you
Something's wrong

It's nature's way, it's nature's way
It's nature's way, it's nature's way

It's nature's way of telling you
Something's wrong
It's nature's way of telling you
In a song, oh-h
It's nature's way of receiving you
It's nature's way
It's nature's way of retrieving you
It's nature's way
It's nature's way of telling you
Something's wrong, something's wrong, something's wrong
© 1970/2011 Spirit

Have You Seen This...

Parting Shots...

Armageddon At The D.C. Corral
By Will Durst

It’s way too early to sort out the winners and the losers in the big budget showdown on Capitol Hill the last couple weeks. They’re still extricating bodies from behind the hay bales of the Gunfight at the DC Corral and will be for months. It’ll take even longer to identify the white- hatted good guys from the no- good- rustlers- of- the- public- trust. All depends on your point of view. Everybody thinks he’s Wyatt Earp.

Neither the Republicans nor the Democrats got exactly what they wanted which normally indicates a win for the country, but the Tea Party is still madder than hell. The word compromise is not in their vocabulary. Then consider their plans to finance further tax cuts for the rich by laying off Head Start teachers, and apparently neither are the words “community,” “compatible” or “unanimity.”

This ideological strife did prove the perfect opportunity for President Obama to show off his abilities to accommodate, negotiate, placate and facilitate. He’s smoother than a baby’s butt dipped in a polyurethane bath. Like phlegm on Teflon. Flexibility, never his Achilles Heel. Gumption, however, was. The question had less to do with the existence of a backbone, and more with the rigid ingredients in its makeup. The boniness, so to speak. What level of bonacity in his spine. How petrified the vertebrae.

Was it the consistency of a Tupperware dish full of lime Jell- O with carrot shreds forgotten in the back seat of a station wagon in New Mexico on an August afternoon, or made of sterner stuff? The question cries out for the NSF to develop a scale of bone and organ density. On one end you’d have Charlie Sheen’s liver and on the other, Rand Paul’s skull.

Above and astride the fray, the president exhibited unambiguous signs of calcium augmentation signing a bill that calls for budget cuts of 38 billion, 62% less than the symbolic ground of 100 billion the Tea Party staked their tent posts of revolution on last fall. Nevertheless, a figure significantly larger than the progressive wing of his party desired, which can best be measured in multiples of zero.

But if you think the passage of this legislation signals a respite from these budget battles, you’re more misguided than the poor sap trying to finance a new wing of Vegas condos with adjustable mortgages and no money down. The confrontations intensify from here on out. Just like the Broadway production of “Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark,” this struggle was but a preview.

Oh sure, choreography will be tinkered with and some higher- flying rigging secured, and a few minor plot points might change but underneath it’ll be the same old cast mouthing the same tired dialogue. “We are good and right and true and just while they are attempting to destroy the country by killing the elderly with red hot forks to the eyes and blah, blah, blah.”

Next up: raising the national debt ceiling, then a long term budget deal, both of which promise to make this encounter look like a slap fight in a Catholic School girl’s locker room. Got to remember, approaching an election year, any war of words inevitably escalates from conventional into the nuclear exchange variety. Say hello to our old friend, Mutually Assured Destruction; back and tan and rested. As Doc Holliday exits left, Dr. Strangelove moves down stage front.
(c) 2011 Will Durst, is a San Francisco based political comedian, Will Durst, often writes. Such as the previous frivolity. Don't forget his new CD, "Raging Moderate" from Stand-Up Records now available on both iTunes and Amazon. Coming soon from Ulysses Press: “Where the Rogue Things Go!” Pre-order your copy at Amazon.

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Issues & Alibis Vol 11 # 16 (c) 04/22/2011

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