Issues & Alibis

Please visit our sponsor!

In This Edition

Sam Harris takes us, "Toward A Science Of Morality."

Uri Avnery has, "A Fantasy."

David Sirota considers, "The Motto Of Mad Men."

Robert Scheer exclaims, "Verify, Baby, Verify!"

Jim Hightower watches BP, "Adding Toxic Chemicals To A Toxic Spill."

Robert Dreyfuss goes over, "The Push To Isolate Iran."

James Donahue examines, "The Stripping Of Personal Freedom."

Randall Amster concludes, "Black Gold -- The Lifeblood Of War."

Chris Floyd explains, "Cold Irons Bound."

Case Wagenvoord wonders, "When Is A Conspiracy Not?"

Mike Folkerth says, "Greek Troubles Reduced To Mikeronomics."

Chris Hedges goes over the edge in, "After Religion Fizzles, We're Stuck With Nietzsche."

David Michael Green witnesses, "The Age Of Ennui."

U. S. Attorney General Eric Holder wins the coveted "Vidkun Quisling Award!"

Greg Palast explores a, "Slick Operator."

Norman Solomon puts, "Kagan In Context."

And finally in the 'Parting Shots' department Will Durst ponders, "Brainless Pinheads" but first Uncle Ernie sees, "The Slow And Steady Zionization Of America."

This week we spotlight the cartoons of Kevin Siers, with additional cartoons, photos and videos from Derf City, Married To The Sea, Clay Bennett, Nate Beeler, John Darkow, R.P. Overmyer, James McAlpine, Left Wing Conspiracy.Com, D.Becnel, Rahmat Gul, ITN News and Issues & Alibis.Org.

Plus we have all of your favorite Departments...

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

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

The Slow And Steady Zionization Of America
By Ernest Stewart

And what my constitutional values are, are wholly irrelevant to the job,
and so neither you nor anyone else will know what they are. ~~~ Elena Kagan

"The underlying motive was the desire to help individuals who could not help themselves and were thus prolonging their lives in torment. ... To quote Hippocrates today is to proclaim that invalids and persons in great pain should never be given poison. But any modern doctor who makes so rhetorical a declaration without qualification is either a liar or a hypocrite. ... I never intended anything more than or believed I was doing anything but abbreviating the tortured existence of such unhappy creatures."
~~~ Dr. Karl Brandt, testifying at his trial in Nuremburg ~~~

"It's a highly engaging program that we have, and it's unfortunate that the state Legislature would go so far as to censor these classes." ~~~ Sean Arce, ~ director of the Tucson district's Mexican-American Studies program ~~~

I see where our fearless leader has been at it again, making life in these here United Snakes just a little bit worse. Barry has chosen U.S. Solicitor General Elena Kagan to replace retiring Justice John Paul Stevens on the Extreme Court! What is wrong with that, I can hear you ask? Where, oh where, to begin?

First off Stevens, who was a liberal in conservative clothing appointed by the traitor Gerald Ford, surprised not only Jerry but most of the Rethuglicans as well. Not the "conservative" that they thought but someone who voted to the left as much as he did to the right! He will now be replaced by someone a little to the right of Darth Vader. We know this in part because Fox Spews supports her nomination and calls her a "brilliant woman!" Did that just send a chill down your spine? It should. And she has no problem at all with throwing your few remaining rights down the drain.

For example, she has said, according to the New York Times, "that someone suspected of helping finance Al Qaeda should be subject to battlefield law -- indefinite detention without a trial -- even if he were captured in a place like the Philippines rather than a physical battle zone." No proof required just being suspected or perhaps labeled as a terrorist by Obama, Biden, or Clinton. No proof needed! Just what we need on the court, a judge who believes that laws don't apply to some people, including you and me!

Trouble is when it comes down to it, as when the 911 victims sued the Saudi royal family for sending billions to Al Qaeda, Kagan, acting as President Obama's Solicitor General, argued that the case should not be heard even if evidence proved that the Saudis helped underwrite al Qaeda, because "it would interfere with US foreign policy." She continued "that the princes are immune from petitioners' claims" because of "the potentially significant foreign relations consequences of subjecting another sovereign state to suit." So if you're insanely rich, battlefield law doesn't apply to you. Who would have thought? Well since Barry will be meeting with the Saudi king next week, I did! I wonder if Barry will hold hands and French kiss Abdullah like Bush did? Oh, and did I mention, that she is not qualified to hold the position of Extreme Court Justice? Yes, she was the dean of Harvard Law School and the Charles Hamilton Houston Professor of Law at Harvard University, the place that gave us such deep thinkers as Henry Kissinger and George W. Bush, not to mention Barry, so I won't! However, she has never, ever, ever, been so much as a traffic court judge, i.e., she has zero experience on the bench!

So why pick her when there are many more experienced judges with decades of experience? Because, as I'm sure you know, to get anywhere in this country it's not what you know but who you know or who you blow and Elena is an old chum of Barry's from their days together at the University of Chicago Law School! Not to mention being a consigliere for Slick Willie's mob!

Did I mention she's just a bit of a Zionazi? Unlike Stephen Breyer, the pragmaticist, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg the only leftist on the court, she'll be taking her orders from Tel Aviv. The same folks who currently control the other two thirds of our government, the House and Senate and, of course, Barry and all of his cabinet. While Jews are 3% of the population, they'll soon be 33% of the court. So much for equal representation, huh? For example, Atheists make up 18% of the population and aren't represented anywhere, by anyone. Talk about taxation without representation! How is it that 3% of America controls America? Sure, there are a lot of rich Jews but even so, they are still a small minority in the power elite. Still they wield much more power than any other group! As in other groups, Jews, for the most part, are good people, however the Zionazis give Jews a real bad name and for real good reasons, too!

At 50 years of age, we goyim can look forward to two or three decades of Elena's unique points of view! As I said in the edition after Barry took power, "We Are So F*cked!

In Other News

As Meatloaf once sang, It's always something! There's always something going wrong! Those loveable knuckleheads over at The American Academy of Pediatrics have a suggestion for a new way to fight female genital mutilation in the United States. If you guessed have the parents arrested and the children taken away from them you'd be wrong! They want to allow doctors to give girls a "nick" on the clitoris. In a policy statement titled "Ritual Genital Cutting of Female Minors," the Committee suggests that allowing such a ritual slice could serve as a way to "build trust" with immigrant families and prevent parents from sending their girls overseas for far more extensive, and potentially life-threatening, procedures. It's a "possible compromise to avoid greater harm," the statement said. Now what could be wrong with that? Hmmm? Isn't there some sort of requirement that doctors are supposed to notify the police at any signs of child abuse not join in some stone-age ritual?

I seem to recall that German doctors thought sterilizing people with asthma, or any genetic disease, (a trick they picked up from American eugenics) was the proper thing to do. They also believed that euthanizing the handicapped was a good thing too, as it freed the spirit from being trapped in a horrible condition. This is, of course, nothing new for the AMA, a group which condoned infecting innocent people with syphilis and leaving it untreated until the patients died in order to study the effects. Now who does that remind you of? So if you're wondering when Dr. Mengele took over the American Academy of Pediatrics, I was to and wrote them the following letter...

Dear Doctor Whiplash,

So much for that "I will do no harm" bullshit, eh doc?

Yes, let's turn America into a third world country! So instead of turning these Looney Toons into the authorities you want to help them mutilate their children! Consider instead neutering the male and spaying the female adults, or isn't that part of the stone-age traditions you're helping to uphold? I thought you were required by law to report this kind atrocity to the police, not take part in their insane rituals?

Anyone who came out in favor of this should loose their license and have their genitals mutilated with "just a nick" or two! So exactly when was it that Dr. Mengele took over the American Academy of Pediatrics? I'm guessing it was during the reign of King George the second, sometime after 911, in 2002 or 2003?

However, I would like to thank everyone on the committee for writing next Friday's editorial for me!

Ernest Stewart
Managing editor
Issues & Alibis Magazine

Suddenly Freddy Krueger isn't so scary when compared to reality, huh?

And Finally

Big Brother and the Holding Co, a.k.a. the Arizona legislature, are at it again. This time Arizona Governor Jan Brewer has signed off on a bill targeting Arizona school districts' ethnic studies programs.

For example, the Tucson Unified School District program offers specialized courses in African-American, Mexican-American and Native-American studies which focus on history and literature and include information about the influence of a particular ethnic group. Basically allowing the kids to learn about their ethnic roots and history. Naturally Jan couldn't have any of that!

State schools chief Tom Horne, who has pushed this bill for years, said he believes the Tucson school district's Mexican-American studies program "teaches Latino students that they are oppressed by white people." I'm pretty sure they already knew that, Tom, and if they didn't, that last bill Jan signed sort of slapped them in the face with the fact!

Tom went on to say:

Public schools should not be encouraging students to resent a particular race. It's just like the old South, and it's long past time that we prohibited it.

Horne, a Republican running for attorney general, said the program promotes "ethnic chauvinism and racial resentment toward whites while segregating students by race." He's been trying to restrict it ever since he learned that Hispanic civil rights activist Dolores Huerta told students in 2006 that "Republicans hate Latinos." Well duh? Gosh, I didn't know that white folks have been giving Latinos, Blacks and Indians a hard time, did you? Thanks for clearing that up, Tom! I wonder if Tom is going to ban white studies, i.e., American History programs as well? What do you think, America? Are white studies programs included in the ban too?

Oh And One More Thing

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


01-20-1937 ~ 04-25-2010
Thanks for the films!

08-18-1919 ~ 05-07-2010
Burn Baby Burn

06-30-1917 ~ 05-09-2010
Thanks for everything!

02-09-1928 ~ 05-10-2010
Thanks for the visions!

03-14-1904 ~ 05-11-2010
Thanks for the dance!


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


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

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

Toward A Science Of Morality
By Sam Harris

Over the past couple of months, I seem to have conducted a public experiment in the manufacture of philosophical and scientific ideas. In February, I spoke at the 2010 TED conference, where I briefly argued that morality should be considered an undeveloped branch of science. Normally, when one speaks at a conference the resulting feedback amounts to a few conversations in the lobby during a coffee break. I had these conversations at TED, of course, and they were useful. As luck would have it, however, my talk was broadcast on the internet just as I was finishing a book on the relationship between science and human values, and this produced a blizzard of criticism at a moment when criticism could actually do me some good. I made a few efforts to direct and focus this feedback, and the result has been that for the last few weeks I have had literally thousands of people commenting upon my work, more or less in real time. I can't say that the experience has been entirely pleasant, but there is no question that it has been useful.

If nothing else, the response to my TED talk proves that many smart people believe that something in the last few centuries of intellectual progress prevents us from making cross-cultural moral judgments -- or moral judgments at all. Thousands of highly educated men and women have now written to inform me that morality is a myth, that statements about human values are without truth conditions and, therefore, nonsensical, and that concepts like "well-being" and "misery" are so poorly defined, or so susceptible to personal whim and cultural influence, that it is impossible to know anything about them. Many people also claim that a scientific foundation for morality would serve no purpose, because we can combat human evil while knowing that our notions of "good" and "evil" are unwarranted. It is always amusing when these same people then hesitate to condemn specific instances of patently abominable behavior. I don't think one has fully enjoyed the life of the mind until one has seen a celebrated scholar defend the "contextual" legitimacy of the burqa, or a practice like female genital excision, a mere thirty seconds after announcing that his moral relativism does nothing to diminish his commitment to making the world a better place. Given my experience as a critic of religion, I must say that it has been disconcerting to see the caricature of the over-educated, atheistic moral nihilist regularly appearing in my inbox and on the blogs. I sincerely hope that people like Rick Warren have not been paying attention.

First, a disclaimer and non-apology: Many of my critics fault me for not engaging more directly with the academic literature on moral philosophy. There are two reasons why I haven't done this: First, while I have read a fair amount of this literature, I did not arrive at my position on the relationship between human values and the rest of human knowledge by reading the work of moral philosophers; I came to it by considering the logical implications of our making continued progress in the sciences of mind. Second, I am convinced that every appearance of terms like "metaethics," "deontology," "noncognitivism," "anti-realism," "emotivism," and the like, directly increases the amount of boredom in the universe. My goal, both in speaking at conferences like TED and in writing my book, is to start a conversation that a wider audience can engage with and find helpful. Few things would make this goal harder to achieve than for me to speak and write like an academic philosopher. Of course, some discussion of philosophy is unavoidable, but my approach is to generally make an end run around many of the views and conceptual distinctions that make academic discussions of human values so inaccessible. While this is guaranteed to annoy a few people, the prominent philosophers I've consulted seem to understand and support what I am doing.

Many people believe that the problem with talking about moral truth, or with asserting that there is a necessary connection between morality and well-being, is that concepts like "morality" and "well-being" must be defined with reference to specific goals and other criteria -- and nothing prevents people from disagreeing about these definitions. I might claim that morality is really about maximizing well-being and that well-being entails a wide range of cognitive/emotional virtues and wholesome pleasures, but someone else will be free to say that morality depends upon worshipping the gods of the Aztecs and that well-being entails always having a terrified person locked in one's basement, waiting to be sacrificed.

Of course, goals and conceptual definitions matter. But this holds for all phenomena and for every method we use to study them. My father, for instance, has been dead for 25 years. What do I mean by "dead"? Do I mean "dead" with reference to specific goals? Well, if you must, yes -- goals like respiration, energy metabolism, responsiveness to stimuli, etc. The definition of "life" remains, to this day, difficult to pin down. Does this mean we can't study life scientifically? No. The science of biology thrives despite such ambiguities. The concept of "health" is looser still: it, too, must be defined with reference to specific goals -- not suffering chronic pain, not always vomiting, etc. -- and these goals are continually changing. Our notion of "health" may one day be defined by goals that we cannot currently entertain with a straight face (like the goal of spontaneously regenerating a lost limb). Does this mean we can't study health scientifically?

I wonder if there is anyone on earth who would be tempted to attack the philosophical underpinnings of medicine with questions like: "What about all the people who don't share your goal of avoiding disease and early death? Who is to say that living a long life free of pain and debilitating illness is 'healthy'? What makes you think that you could convince a person suffering from fatal gangrene that he is not as healthy you are?" And yet, these are precisely the kinds of objections I face when I speak about morality in terms of human and animal well-being. Is it possible to voice such doubts in human speech? Yes. But that doesn't mean we should take them seriously.

The physicist Sean Carroll has written another essay in response to my TED talk, further arguing that one cannot derive "ought" from "is" and that a science of morality is impossible. Carroll's essay is worth reading on its own, but in the hopes of making the difference between our views as clear as possible, I have I excerpted his main points in their entirety, and followed them with my comments.

Carroll begins:

I want to start with a hopefully non-controversial statement about what science is. Namely: science deals with empirical reality -- with what happens in the world. (I.e. what "is.") Two scientific theories may disagree in some way -- "the observable universe began in a hot, dense state about 14 billion years ago" vs. "the universe has always existed at more or less the present temperature and density." Whenever that happens, we can always imagine some sort of experiment or observation that would let us decide which one is right. The observation might be difficult or even impossible to carry out, but we can always imagine what it would entail. (Statements about the contents of the Great Library of Alexandria are perfectly empirical, even if we can't actually go back in time to look at them.) If you have a dispute that cannot in principle be decided by recourse to observable facts about the world, your dispute is not one of science.

I agree with Carroll's definition of "science" here -- though some of his subsequent thinking seems to depend on a more restrictive definition. I especially like his point about the Library of Alexandria. Clearly, any claims we make about the contents of this library will be right or wrong, and the truth does not depend on our being able to verify such claims. We can also dismiss an infinite number of claims as obviously wrong without getting access to the relevant data. We know, for instance, that this library did not contain a copy of The Catcher in the Rye. When I speak about there being facts about human and animal well-being, this includes facts that are quantifiable and conventionally "scientific" (e.g., facts about human neurophysiology) as well as facts that we will never have access to (e.g., how happy would I have been if I had decided not to spend the evening responding to Carroll's essay?).

With that in mind, let's think about morality. What would it mean to have a science of morality? I think it would look have to look something like this:

Human beings seek to maximize something we choose to call "well-being" (although it might be called "utility" or "happiness" or "flourishing" or something else). The amount of well-being in a single person is a function of what is happening in that person's brain, or at least in their body as a whole. That function can in principle be empirically measured. The total amount of well-being is a function of what happens in all of the human brains in the world, which again can in principle be measured. The job of morality is to specify what that function is, measure it, and derive conditions in the world under which it is maximized.

Good enough. I would simply broaden picture to include animals and any other conscious systems that can experience gradations of happiness and suffering -- and weight them to the degree that they can experience such states. Do monkeys suffer more than mice from medical experiments? (The answer is almost surely "yes.") If so, all other things being equal, it is worse to run experiments on monkeys than on mice.

Skipping ahead a little, Carroll makes the following claims:

I want to argue that this program is simply not possible. I'm not saying it would be difficult -- I'm saying it's impossible in principle. Morality is not part of science, however much we would like it to be. There are a large number of arguments one could advance for in support of this claim, but I'll stick to three.

1. There's no single definition of well-being.

People disagree about what really constitutes "well-being" (or whatever it is you think they should be maximizing). This is so perfectly obvious, it's hard to know what to defend. Anyone who wants to argue that we can ground morality on a scientific basis has to jump through some hoops.

First, there are people who aren't that interested in universal well-being at all. There are serial killers, and sociopaths, and racial supremacists. We don't need to go to extremes, but the extremes certainly exist. The natural response is to simply separate out such people; "we need not worry about them," in Harris's formulation. Surely all right-thinking people agree on the primacy of well-being. But how do we draw the line between right-thinkers and the rest? Where precisely do we draw the line, in terms of measurable quantities? And why there? On which side of the line do we place people who believe that it's right to torture prisoners for the greater good, or who cherish the rituals of fraternity hazing? Most particularly, what experiment can we imagine doing that tells us where to draw the line?

This is where Carroll and I begin to diverge. He also seems to be conflating two separate issues: (1) He is asking how we can determine who is worth listening to. This is a reasonable question, but there is no way Carroll could answer it "precisely" and "in terms of measurable quantities" for his own field, much less for a nascent science of morality. How flakey can a Nobel laureate in physics become before he is no longer worth listening to -- indeed, how many crazy things could he say about matter and space-time before he would no longer even count as a "physicist"? Hard question. But I doubt Carroll means to suggest that we must answer such questions experimentally. I assume that he can make a reasonably principled decision about whom to put on a panel at the next conference on Dark Matter without finding a neuroscientist from the year 2075 to scan every candidate's brain and assess it for neurophysiological competence in the relevant physics. (2) Carroll also seems worried about how we can assess people's claims regarding their inner lives, given that questions about morality and well-being necessarily refer to the character subjective experience. He even asserts that there is no possible experiment that could allow us to define well-being or to resolve differences of opinion about it. Would he say this for other mental phenomena as well? What about depression? Is it impossible to define or study this state of mind empirically? I'm not sure how deep Carroll's skepticism runs, but much of psychology now appears to hang in the balance. Of course, Carroll might want to say that the problem of access to the data of first-person experience is what makes psychology often seem to teeter at the margin of science. He might have a point -- but, if so, it would be a methodological point, not a point about the limits of scientific truth. Remember, the science of determining exactly which books were in the Library of Alexandria is stillborn and going absolutely nowhere, methodologically speaking. But this doesn't mean we can't be absolutely right or absolutely wrong about the relevant facts.

As for there being many people who "aren't interested in universal well-being," I would say that more or less everyone, myself included, is insufficiently interested in it. But we are seeking well-being in some form nonetheless, whatever we choose to call it and however narrowly we draw the circle of our moral concern. Clearly many of us (most? all?) are not doing as good a job of this as we might. In fact, if science did nothing more than help people align their own selfish priorities -- so that those who really wanted to lose weight, or spend more time with their kids, or learn another language, etc., could get what they most desired -- it would surely increase the well-being of humanity. And this is to say nothing of what would happen if science could reveal depths of well-being that most of us are unaware of, thereby changing our priorities.

Carroll continues:

More importantly, it's equally obvious that even right-thinking people don't really agree about well-being, or how to maximize it. Here, the response is apparently that most people are simply confused (which is on the face of it perfectly plausible). Deep down they all want the same thing, but they misunderstand how to get there; hippies who believe in giving peace a chance and stern parents who believe in corporal punishment for their kids all want to maximize human flourishing, they simply haven't been given the proper scientific resources for attaining that goal.

While I'm happy to admit that people are morally confused, I see no evidence whatsoever that they all ultimately want the same thing. The position doesn't even seem coherent. Is it a priori necessary that people ultimately have the same idea about human well-being, or is it a contingent truth about actual human beings? Can we not even imagine people with fundamentally incompatible views of the good? (I think I can.) And if we can, what is the reason for the cosmic accident that we all happen to agree? And if that happy cosmic accident exists, it's still merely an empirical fact; by itself, the existence of universal agreement on what is good doesn't necessarily imply that it is good. We could all be mistaken, after all.

In the real world, right-thinking people have a lot of overlap in how they think of well-being. But the overlap isn't exact, nor is the lack of agreement wholly a matter of misunderstanding. When two people have different views about what constitutes real well-being, there is no experiment we can imagine doing that would prove one of them to be wrong. It doesn't mean that moral conversation is impossible, just that it's not science.

Imagine that we had a machine that could produce any possible brain state (this would be the ultimate virtual reality device, more or less like the Matrix). This machine would allow every human being to sample all available mental states (some would not be available without changing a person's brain, however). I think we can ignore most of the philosophical and scientific wrinkles here and simply stipulate that it is possible, or even likely, that given an infinite amount of time and perfect recall, we would agree about a range of brain states that qualify as good (as in, "Wow, that was so great, I can't imagine anything better") and bad (as in, "I'd rather die than experience that again.") There might be controversy over specific states -- after all, some people do like Marmite -- but being members of the same species with very similar brains, we are likely to converge to remarkable degree. I might find that brain state X242358B is my absolute favorite, and Carroll might prefer X979793L, but the fear that we will radically diverge in our judgments about what constitutes well-being seems pretty far-fetched. The possibility that my hell will be someone else's heaven, and vice versa, seems hardly worth considering. And yet, whatever divergence did occur must also depend on facts about the brains in question.

Even if there were ten thousand different ways for groups of human beings to maximally thrive (all trade-offs and personal idiosyncrasies considered), there will be many ways for them not to thrive -- and the difference between luxuriating on a peak of the moral landscape and languishing in a valley of internecine horror will translate into facts that can be scientifically understood.

2. It's not self-evident that maximizing well-being, however defined, is the proper goal of morality.

Maximizing a hypothetical well-being function is an effective way of thinking about many possible approaches to morality. But not every possible approach. In particular, it's a manifestly consequentialist idea -- what matters is the outcome, in terms of particular mental states of conscious beings. There are certainly non-consequentialist ways of approaching morality; in deontological theories, the moral good inheres in actions themselves, not in their ultimate consequences. Now, you may think that you have good arguments in favor of consequentialism. But are those truly empirical arguments? You're going to get bored of me asking this, but: what is the experiment I could do that would distinguish which was true, consequentialism or deontological ethics?

It is true that many people believe that "there are non-consequentialist ways of approaching morality," but I think that they are wrong. In my experience, when you scratch the surface on any deontologist, you find a consequentialist just waiting to get out. For instance, I think that Kant's Categorical Imperative only qualifies as a rational standard of morality given the assumption that it will be generally beneficial (as J.S. Mill pointed out at the beginning of Utilitarianism). Ditto for religious morality. This is a logical point before it is an empirical one, but yes, I do think we might be able to design experiments to show that people are concerned about consequences, even when they say they aren't. While my view of the moral landscape can be classed as "consequentialist," this term comes with fair amount of philosophical baggage, and there are many traditional quibbles with consequentialism that do not apply to my account of morality.

The emphasis on the mental states of conscious beings, while seemingly natural, opens up many cans of worms that moral philosophers have tussled with for centuries. Imagine that we are able to quantify precisely some particular mental state that corresponds to a high level of well-being; the exact configuration of neuronal activity in which someone is healthy, in love, and enjoying a hot-fudge sundae. Clearly achieving such a state is a moral good. Now imagine that we achieve it by drugging a person so that they are unconscious, and then manipulating their central nervous system at a neuron-by-neuron level, until they share exactly the mental state of the conscious person in those conditions. Is that an equal moral good to the conditions in which they actually are healthy and in love etc.? If we make everyone happy by means of drugs or hypnosis or direct electronic stimulation of their pleasure centers, have we achieved moral perfection? If not, then clearly our definition of "well-being" is not simply a function of conscious mental states. And if not, what is it?

Clearly, we want our conscious states to track the reality of our lives. We want to be happy, but we want to be happy for the right reasons. And if we occasionally want to uncouple our mental state from our actual situation in the world (e.g. by taking powerful drugs, drinking great quantities of alcohol, etc.) we don't want this to render us permanently delusional, however pleasant such delusion might be. There are some obvious reasons for this: We need our conscious states to be well synched to their material context, otherwise we forget to eat, ramble incoherently, and step in front of speeding cars. And most of what we value in our lives, like our connection to other people, is predicated on our being in touch with external reality and with the probable consequences of our behavior. Yes, I might be able to take a drug that would make me feel good while watching my young daughter drown in the bathtub -- but I am perfectly capable of judging that I do not want to take such a drug out of concern for my (and her) well-being. Such a judgment still takes place in my conscious mind, with reference to other conscious mental states (both real and imagined). For instance, my judgment that it would be wrong to take such a drug has a lot to do with the horror I would expect to feel upon discovering that I had happily let my daughter drown. Of course, I am also thinking about the potential happiness that my daughter's death would diminish -- her own, obviously, but also that of everyone who is now, and would have been, close to her. There is nothing mysterious about this: Morality still relates to consciousness and to its changes, both actual and potential. What else could it relate to?

3. There's no simple way to aggregate well-being over different individuals.

The big problems of morality, to state the obvious, come about because the interests of different individuals come into conflict. Even if we somehow agreed perfectly on what constituted the well-being of a single individual -- or, more properly, even if we somehow "objectively measured" well-being, whatever that is supposed to mean -- it would generically be the case that no achievable configuration of the world provided perfect happiness for everyone. People will typically have to sacrifice for the good of others; by paying taxes, if nothing else.

So how are we to decide how to balance one person's well-being against another's? To do this scientifically, we need to be able to make sense of statements like "this person's well-being is precisely 0.762 times the well-being of that person." What is that supposed to mean? Do we measure well-being on a linear scale, or is it logarithmic? Do we simply add up the well-beings of every individual person, or do we take the average? And would that be the arithmetic mean, or the geometric mean? Do more individuals with equal well-being each mean greater well-being overall? Who counts as an individual? Do embryos? What about dolphins? Artificially intelligent robots?

These are all good questions: Some admit of straightforward answers; others plunge us into moral paradox; none, however, proves that there are no right or wrong answers to questions of human and animal wellbeing. I discuss these issues at some length in my forthcoming book. For those who want to confront how difficult it can be to think about aggregating human well-being, I recommend Derek Parfit's masterpiece, Reasons and Persons. I do not claim to have solved all the puzzles raised by Parfit -- but I don't think we have to.

Practically speaking, I think we have some very useful intuitions on this front. We care more about creatures that can experience a greater range of suffering and happiness -- and we are right to, because suffering and happiness (defined in the widest possible sense) are all that can be cared about. Are all animal lives equivalent? No. Are all human lives equivalent? No. I have no problem admitting that certain people's lives are more valuable than mine -- I need only imagine a person whose death would create much greater suffering and foreclose much greater happiness. However, it also seems quite rational for us to collectively act as though all human lives were equally valuable. Hence, most of our laws and social institutions generally ignore differences between people. I suspect that this is a very good thing. Of course, I could be wrong about this -- and that is precisely the point. If we didn't behave this way, our world would be different, and these differences would either affect the totality of human well-being, or they wouldn't. Once again, there are answers to such questions, whether we can ever answer them in practice.

I believe that covers the heart of Carroll's argument. Skipping ahead to final point:

And finally: pointing out that people disagree about morality is not analogous to the fact that some people are radical epistemic skeptics who don't agree with ordinary science. That's mixing levels of description. It is true that the tools of science cannot be used to change the mind of a committed solipsist who believes they are a brain in a vat, manipulated by an evil demon; yet, those of us who accept the presuppositions of empirical science are able to make progress. But here we are concerned only with people who have agreed to buy into all the epistemic assumptions of reality-based science -- they still disagree about morality. That's the problem. If the project of deriving ought from is were realistic, disagreements about morality would be precisely analogous to disagreements about the state of the universe fourteen billion years ago. There would be things we could imagine observing about the universe that would enable us to decide which position was right. But as far as morality is concerned, there aren't.

The biologist P.Z. Myers has thrown his lot in with Carroll on a similar point:

I don't think Harris's criterion -- that we can use science to justify maximizing the well-being of individuals -- is valid. We can't... Harris is smuggling in an unscientific prior in his category of well-being.

It seems to me that these two quotations converge on the core issue. Of course, it is easy enough for Carroll to assert that moral skepticism isn't analogous to scientific skepticism, but I think he is simply wrong about this. To use Myer's formulation, we must smuggle in an "unscientific prior" to justify any branch of science. If this isn't a problem for physics, why should it be a problem of a science of morality? Can we prove, without recourse to any prior assumptions, that our definition of "physics" is the right one? No, because our standards of proof will be built into any definition we provide. We might observe that standard physics is better at predicting the behavior of matter than Voodoo "physics" is, but what could we say to a "physicist" whose only goal is to appease the spiritual hunger of his dead ancestors? Here, we seem to reach an impasse. And yet, no one thinks that the failure of standard physics to silence all possible dissent has any significance whatsoever; why should we demand more of a science of morality?

So, while it is possible to say that one can't move from "is" to "ought," we should be honest about how we get to "is" in the first place. Scientific "is" statements rest on implicit "oughts" all the way down. When I say, "Water is two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen," I have uttered a quintessential statement of scientific fact. But what if someone doubts this statement? I can appeal to data from chemistry, describing the outcome of simple experiments. But in so doing, I implicitly appeal to the values of empiricism and logic. What if my interlocutor doesn't share these values? What can I say then? What evidence could prove that we should value evidence? What logic could demonstrate the importance of logic? As it turns out, these are the wrong questions. The right question is, why should we care what such a person thinks in the first place?

So it is with the linkage between morality and well-being: To say that morality is arbitrary (or culturally constructed, or merely personal), because we must first assume that the well-being of conscious creatures is good, is exactly like saying that science is arbitrary (or culturally constructed, or merely personal), because we must first assume that a rational understanding of the universe is good. We need not enter either of these philosophical cul-de-sacs.

Carroll and Myers both believe nothing much turns on whether we find a universal foundation for morality. I disagree. Granted, the practical effects cannot be our reason for linking morality and science -- we have to form our beliefs about reality based on what we think is actually true. But the consequences of moral relativism have been disastrous. And science's failure to address the most important questions in human life has made it seem like little more than an incubator for technology. It has also given faith-based religion -- that great engine of ignorance and bigotry -- a nearly uncontested claim to being the only source of moral wisdom. This has been bad for everyone. What is more, it has been unnecessary -- because we can speak about the well-being of conscious creatures rationally, and in the context of science. I think it is time we tried.
(c) 2010 Sam Harris is the author of "The End Of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason" and "Letter to a Christian Nation" and is the co-founder of The Reason Project, which promotes scientific knowledge and secular values.

A Fantasy
By Uri Avnery

I ADMIRE Prof. John Mearsheimer. His rigorous logic. His lucid presentation. His rare moral courage.

I was very honored to host him and his colleague, Prof. Stephen Walt, in Tel Aviv, after their book about the Israel lobby in the US provoked a furor.

And I don't agree with his conclusions.

A FEW days ago, Prof. Mearsheimer delivered an impressive lecture in Washington DC. He presented a profound analysis of the chances of Israel surviving in the long term. Every Israeli who is concerned about the future of his state should grapple with this analysis.

The professor himself sums up his conclusions as follows:

"Contrary to the wishes of the Obama administration and most Americans - to include many American Jews - Israel is not going to allow the Palestinians to have a viable state of their own in Gaza and the West Bank. Regrettably, the two-state solution is now a fantasy. Instead, those territories will be incorporated into a "Greater Israel," which will be an apartheid state bearing a marked resemblance to white-ruled South Africa. Nevertheless, a Jewish apartheid state is not politically viable over the long term. In the end, it will become a democratic bi-national state, whose politics will be dominated by its Palestinian citizens. In other words, it will cease being a Jewish state, which will mean the end of the Zionist dream."

WHY DOES the professor believe that the two-state solution has become a fantasy? Because, in his opinion, most Israelis are not ready to make the "sacrifices" necessary for its implementation. The 480 thousand settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem have immense power. Many of them will offer armed resistance to any solution. Binyamin Netanyahu is not prepared to accept a Palestinian state. The Israeli public has shifted sharply to the right. No effective pro-peace party exists in Israel now. No leader of stature, who would be able to remove the settlers, can be seen. And most importantly: "Zionism's core beliefs are deeply hostile to the very notion of a Palestinian state."

No salvation will come from Barack Obama. The immensely powerful pro-Israel lobby will crush any attempt of his to exert pressure on Israel. Obama has already capitulated to Netanyahu, and he will continue to do so in the future.

The professor does not hide his opinion that the two-state solution is by far the best. But he believes that it is "dead". Greater Israel, ruling over all the territory between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, already exists. It is an apartheid state that will steadily become more consolidated and more brutal - until its collapse.

THIS IS a frightening prognosis. It is also very logical. If current developments continue in a straight line, this is exactly what will happen.

But I do not believe in straight lines. There are very few straight lines in nature, and there are no straight lines in the life of nations and states.

In the 86 years of my life, innumerable unforeseen things have happened, and innumerable expected things have not come about. The fate of nations is governed by unexpected factors. They are shaped by human beings, who are by nature unpredictable creatures.

Who foresaw in 1928 that Adolf Hitler would come to power in Germany? Who in 1941 foresaw that the Red Army would stop the invincible Wehrmacht? Who in 1939 foresaw the Holocaust? Who in 1945 foresaw the creation of the State of Israel? Who in 1989 foresaw the collapse of the Soviet Union? Who foresaw, the day before it happened, the fall of the Berlin wall? Who foresaw the Khomeini revolution? Who foresaw the election of a black US president?

Of course, one cannot build plans on the unexpected. But it should be taken into account. It is irrational to discount the irrational.

I do not accept the professor's judgment that "most Israelis are opposed to making the sacrifices that would be necessary to create a viable Palestinian state." As an Israeli living and fighting in Israel, I am convinced that the great majority of Israelis are ready to accept the necessary conditions, which are well-know to all: a Palestinian state with its capital in East Jerusalem, the 1967 borders with minimal land swaps, a mutually acceptable solution for the refugee problem.

The real problem is that most Israelis do not believe that peace is possible. Dozens of years of propaganda have convinced them that "we have no partner for peace". Events on the ground (as seen through Israeli eyes) have confirmed this view. If this perception is dissolved, everything is possible.

In this, President Obama could play a big role. I believe that this is his real mission: to prove that it is possible. That there is a partner out there. That there is a guarantee for the security of Israel. And - yes - that the alternative is frightening.

CAN THE settlements be removed? Will there ever be an Israeli government that will have the guts to do so? Where is the leader who will undertake this Herculean task?

The professor is right that "there is nobody with that kind of standing in Israeli politics today." And that "there is no sizable pro-peace party or movement."

Yet history shows that exceptional leaders often appear when they are needed. I have seen in my own lifetime a failed and generally detested politician called Winston Churchill become a national hero. And a reactionary general called Charles de Gaulle liberate Algeria. And a grey communist apparatchik called Mikhail Gorbachev dismantle a huge empire without a drop of blood being shed. And the election of a guy called Barack Obama.

I have also seen a brutal general called Ariel Sharon, the father of the settlements, destroying a series of settlements. His intentions may be debatable, but the facts cannot be disputed: he challenged the settlers' movement - which Prof. Mearsheimer describes in all its fearful menace - and won easily. In face of the total opposition of the settlers and their allies, he evacuated some twenty settlements in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Not a single military unit mutinied. Not a single person was killed or seriously injured.

Sure, there is a quantitative and qualitative difference between Sharon's "separation" and that task in front of us. But it is a big mistake to view the "settlers" as a monolithic structure. They are split into several different sectors - the inhabitants of the East Jerusalem neighborhoods do not resemble the West Bank settlers, the buyers of cheap apartments in Ariel and Ma'aleh-Adumim do not resemble the zealots of Yitzhar and Tapuach, the Orthodox in Modi'in-Illit and Immanuel do not resemble the "Youth of the Hills".

If a peace agreement is achieved, it will be necessary to approach the evacuation job with determination, but also with finesse. For the inhabitants of the East Jerusalem neighborhoods, a solution will be found in the framework of the agreement about Jerusalem. A large number of settlers near the Green Line will remain where they are in the framework of a fair exchange of territory. Another large part will return home, if they know that apartments are ready and waiting for them in the Tel Aviv metropolitan area. For some of them there may be a possibility to find an accommodation with the Palestinian government. In the end, the hard core of Messianic settlers will not give up easily. They may use arms. But a strong leader will stand the test, if the great majority of the Israeli public support the peace agreement.

THE TWO-STATE solution is not the best solution. It is the only solution.

The alternative is not a democratic, secular bi-national state, because such a state will not come into being. Neither people wants it.

As the professor rightly maintains, in the absence of peace, Israel will rule from the sea to the river. The present situation will go on and become worse: the sovereign State of Israel holding on to the occupied territories.

Except for a tiny group of dreamers, who can be gathered in a medium-sized room, there are no Israelis who dream of living in a bi-national state, in which the Arabs constitute the majority. If such a state came into being, Israeli Jews would just emigrate. But it is much more plausible that the reverse would happen: the Palestinians would emigrate long before that.

Ethnic cleansing does not have to take the form of a dramatic expulsion, as in 1948. It can take place quietly, in a creeping process, when more and more Palestinians simply give up. That is the great dream of the settlers and their partners: to make life for the Palestinians so miserable that they take their families and leave.

Either way, life in this country will turn into hell. Not for one year, but for dozens of years. Both sides will be violent. The idea of Palestinian "non-violent resistance" is a pipe-dream. The professor's hope that in the putative bi-national state, the Palestinians would not treat the Jews as the Jews are treating them now has been disproved by the Jews themselves - the persecution they have suffered throughout the ages has not inoculated them against becoming persecutors themselves.

THERE IS a gap in the professor's analysis: he does not explain how the violent Israeli apartheid state will "develop" into an ideal bi-national state. In his opinion, this will come about "eventually", after "some years". How many"? And how?

OK, there will be pressures. World public opinion will turn against Israel. The Jews in the Diaspora will distance themselves. But how will all this bring about a bi-national state?

Any comparison with South Africa is unsound. There is no real similarity between the situation that prevailed there and the situation that exists - or will exist in the future - here. Except for some methods of persecution, all the circumstances, in all fields, are vastly different.

(To mention just one: the apartheid regime was finally brought down not by international pressure, but by the massive and crippling strikes of the black work force. In this country, the occupation authorities do everything to prevent Palestinians from coming to work in Israel.)

In the end, it is a matter of logic: if international pressure does not succeed in convincing the Israelis to accept the two-state solution, which does no harm to their national identity, how will it compel them to give up everything they have - their state, their identity, their culture, their economy, all they have built in a huge endeavor of 120 years?

Is it not much more plausible to assume that long before their state collapses under all the pressures, Israelis would embrace the two-state solution?

I COMPLETELY agree with the professor: the main obstacle to peace is psychological. What is needed is a profound change of perceptions, before the Israeli public can be brought to recognize reality and accept peace, with all it entails.

That is the main task facing the Israeli peace camp: to change the basic perceptions of the public. I am certain that this is possible. We have already traveled a long road from the days of "There are no Palestinians!" and "Jerusalem united for all eternity!". Professor Mearsheimer's analysis may well contribute to this process.

An apartheid state or a bi-national state? Neither. But the free State of Palestine side by side with the free State of Israel, in the common homeland.
(c) 2010 Uri Avnery ~~~ Gush Shalom

The Motto Of Mad Men
By David Sirota

For most of us, conjuring concise and cogent catchphrases is nearly impossible. In fact, the skill can seem like the black magic of mystical mad men.

During the 1960s, the most influential of these Svengalis were the executives working in Madison Avenue advertising firms. By contrast, 2010's most effective mad men come from Main Street and are literally angry men -- specifically, the tea party crowd that is, according to new polls, more wealthy, more white, more male, more Republican and more motivated by racial resentment than the general population. And though their jeans and baseball caps are less stylish than Don Draper's suits and fedoras, these anti-government activists deserve recognition: They have crafted a motto as succinctly expressive and manipulative as the best Sterling Cooper innovation.

"I Want My Country Back" -- this ubiquitous tea party mantra belongs next to Nike's "Just Do It" on Ad Age's list of the most transcendent idioms. In just five words, it perfectly captures the era's conservative backlash. Take a moment to ponder the slogan's phrase-by-phrase etymology:

"I Want" -- Humanity's most atavistic exclamation of selfishness -- and thus an appropriate introduction for a tea party motto -- this caveman grunt may end up being the epitaph on the nation's tombstone. America once flourished by valuing what "we" -- as in We the People -- need (food, shelter, infrastructure, etc.). Conversely, today's America teeters thanks to a Reagan-infused zeitgeist that reoriented us to worship whatever I the Person wants. High-income tax breaks, smog-belching SUVs, cavernous McMansions carved into pristine wilderness -- it doesn't matter how frivolous the individual craving or how detached it is from necessity. What matters is that the "I" now assumes an entitled right to any desire irrespective of its affront to the allegedly Marxist "we."

"My Country" -- In his quintessentially American ditty, Woody Guthrie said, "This land was made for you and me." It made sense. In a democracy, the country is We the People's -- i.e., everybody's. If, over time, our diversifying complexion and changing attitude creates political shifts, that's OK -- because it's not "my country" or "your country"; it's all of ours. Apparently, though, this principle is no longer sacred. Following two elections that saw conservative ideology rejected, tea party activists have resorted to declaring that there can only be one kind of country -- theirs.

"Back" -- To underscore feelings of grievance and nostalgia, the slogan ends with a word deliberately implying both theft and resurrection. In tea party mythology, "back" means taking back a political system that was supposedly pilfered (even though it was taken via legitimate elections) and then going back to a time that seems ideal. As one tea party leader told The New York Times: "Things we had in the '50s were better."

To the tea party demographic, this certainly rings true. Yes, in apartheid America circa 1950, rich white males were more socially and economically privileged relative to other groups than they are even now. Of course, for those least likely to support the tea party -- read: minorities -- the '50s were, ahem, not so great, considering the decade's brutal intensification of Jim Crow.

But then, that's the marketing virtuosity of the "I Want My Country Back" slogan. A motto that would be called treasonous if uttered by throngs of blacks, Latinos or Native Americans has been deftly sculpted by conservatives into an accepted clarion call for white power. Cloaked in the proud patois of patriotism and protest, the refrain has become a dog whistle to a Caucasian population that feels threatened by impending demographic and public policy changes.

As a marketing masterpiece, the slogan would certainly impress the old Madison Avenue mavens. The trouble is that as a larger political ideology, its hateful and divisive message is encouraging ever more misguided madness.
(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

Verify, Baby, Verify!
By Robert Scheer

"Drill, baby, drill!" Those were the words that Sarah Palin used to electrify the 2008 Republican National Convention. But while she popularized that environment-be-damned slogan, it had already defined the eight years of oil-drilling policy that prevailed during the presidency of George W. Bush.

Those red state voters of Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana whose livelihood is now threatened by the idiocy of that unfettered deregulatory stance might well be having second thoughts. So, too, those Democratic Party opportunists who had prevailed on President Barack Obama to one-up the GOP by vastly increasing the scope of offshore drilling.

Not so Palin, who last week took to Twitter to defend such inanities, blaming the oil spill problem not on lax regulation but rather on those damn foreigners. Ignoring the fact that her target alien company, British Petroleum, had employed her own husband, Palin tweeted: "Gulf: learn from Alaska's lesson w/foreign oil co's: don't naively trust-VERIFY."

Great, except that it is beyond the power of any one state to adequately verify what is going on deep down offshore, and as Tuesday's Senate testimony of top executives from the three companies implicated in this spill made clear, there is plenty of blame for the Brits to share with their good ol' American counterparts. What could be more American than Dick Cheney's former company, Halliburton, which constructed the well? Or Transocean, which operated the rig and is a homegrown product of the Southwestern energy industry?

But they are all three exactly the same: multinational corporations that couldn't care less about the countries where their home offices happen to be based. Recall Halliburton's controversial corporate relocation to Dubai three years ago and Transocean's registration in the Cayman Islands. What they are loyal to is the bottom line and the executive bonuses that it portends. They fly the flag of a particular nation only for convenience, and it is their threat to shift their base of operations that is used to effectively thwart government regulation.

As her recent tweet confirms, Palin admits verification is necessary, and in a Facebook posting, she bases that on her state's experience with the Exxon Valdez disaster. In the case of the Gulf oil spill, verification was the responsibility of the U.S. Department of Interior's Mineral Management Service. That's the same pathetic industry-whipped outfit whose personnel were literally in bed with representatives of various companies they were supposed to be regulating.

But far beyond such racy incentives to look the other way, the MMS, over the last decade of deregulation mania, had been encouraged to become a handmaiden of the industry rather than its supervisor in any meaningful sense of that term. That is the inescapable conclusion of a devastating Wall Street Journal report last week that concluded, "The small U.S agency that oversees offshore drilling doesn't write or implement most safety regulations, having gradually shifted such responsibilities to the oil industry itself for more than a decade."

That was a Republican-led decade in which regulation became a dirty word, and as with the financial meltdown, we are now witnessing, in the oil spill catastrophe, the dire consequences of radical free-market ideology run amok. If offshore drilling is required for our economic well-being, a questionable enough proposition given the inherent risks, it is a cause that will be set back dramatically by the current disaster.

The Obama administration, which was about to launch a vast expansion of such efforts, has had to pull back, and there are few in either party who will now question that a much more prudent course is in order. Hence the administration's recent decision to revamp the MMS by splitting its regulator function from its other role of collecting tax revenue from the oil companies it was supposed to be regulating.

After noting that the safety record of U.S. offshore drilling "compares unfavorably" to that of other nations, the WSJ observed that the key focus of the MMS was not safety enforcement, but rather maximizing oil production from which the government took a share of the profits. Hopefully that built-in and glaring, but heretofore largely unnoticed, contradiction between the government as a regulator and as a partner in oil profits will now be ended.

So, too, the illusion, as with the radical deregulation of the financial industry, that unbridled corporate greed can also provide for the common good. Greed needs a timeout with adult supervision for these out-of-control conglomerates messing with every aspect of our lives. But that won't happen until government regulation of multinational corporations is made respectable once again with adequately funded agencies pursuing an uncompromised public interest agenda.
(c) 2010 Robert Scheer is the editor of Truthdig. A journalist with over 30 years experience, Scheer has built his reputation on the strength of his social and political writing. His columns have appeared in newspapers across the country, and his in-depth interviews have made headlines. He is the author, most recently, of "The Pornography of Power: How Defense Hawks Hijacked 9/11 and Weakened America," published by Twelve Books.

Adding Toxic Chemicals To A Toxic Spill

Let's say that you have a water well, and a leak from an underground tank at a nearby gasoline station has contaminated your water. Not to worry, says the station owner, for he can fix the problem by dumping a secret mixture of toxic chemicals into your well.

Would you say "thank you" - or immediately dial 911 to tell authorities to come quickly with a large net and a straightjacket?

Astonishingly, this insane scenario is playing right now. The "water well" is the Gulf of Mexico, the gas station contaminator is BP, and the toxic fix is called "dispersants."

With BP's disastrous oil slick filling the Gulf and sliming our shores, the oil giant has already bought a third of the world's supply of dispersants and is spraying them onto the slick. The chemical mixture supposedly breaks the floating oil into tiny droplets that then sink to the sea floor. The good news is that this treatment can minimize the volume of oil that would hit the Gulf coast.

The bad news is that the toxic oil, now mixed with toxic dispersants, doesn't go away - it remains on the seabed or suspended in deep water, where it can migrate great distances, kill fish, be consumed by microscopic organisms... and move up the food chain to our tables. reports that manufacturers refuse to release the exact contents of those dispersants, claiming they're a trade secret. Defenders of Wildlife, however, have analyses showing that dispersants have a chemical toxicity "that in many ways is worse than oil."

The industry is literally trying to bury its toxic disaster on the Gulf floor, hoping that by putting it out of sight, we'll put it out of mind. These destructive spills are inevitable and essentially uncontrollable - another reason for emergency action to break America's oil addiction.
(c) 2010 Jim Hightower's latest book, "If The Gods Had Meant Us To Vote They Would Have Given Us Candidates," is available in a fully revised and updated paperback edition.

The Push To Isolate Iran
By Robert Dreyfuss

Sometime this month, various branches of the government will orchestrate a series of measures to further isolate Iran economically. President Obama is pushing for a fourth round of international sanctions against Iran at the UN Security Council, resulting in what is widely expected to be a series of targeted measures aimed at Iran's nuclear program and its sponsors in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), and it's likely that the Security Council will act by June. In Congress a bill aimed at cutting off Iran's imports of gasoline and refined petroleum products is expected to land on the president's desk by the end of May. And at the Treasury Department officials are reportedly planning another round of unilateral American sanctions targeting Iran's financial sector, including both its private banks and even Bank Markazi, the Iranian central bank.

Behind all these actions-which will, in fact, inflict real suffering on ordinary Iranians-is a dirty little secret, however: virtually no one, including the proponents of sanctions, thinks they can work as intended, namely, to compel Iran to change its policy, suspend its uranium enrichment program and accept stricter oversight by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Inside the Obama administration, it's widely recognized that no combination of economic sanctions is likely to succeed. In Congress, even the most hawkish backers of the gasoline sanctions bill expect that it will fail. "Even crushing sanctions might not do the job," says Representative Ed Royce, a California Republican who is a chief sponsor of the measure. Around Washington, in think tanks and in interviews with Iran experts, it's taken for granted that sanctions as a tool aren't effective. "Most Iran analysts are skeptical that economic pressure will produce the desired results," says Suzanne Maloney of the Brookings Institution. Even a senior Israeli diplomat, who strongly supports sanctions and spoke on condition of anonymity, told The Nation that the world simply isn't ready to impose the sort of extreme economic measures that just might force Iran's hand. "The determination of Iran to continue its process seems to me to be more than the determination of the international community to stop it," he said.

Even if they don't achieve the desired goal, that doesn't mean sanctions won't have any effect. Sanctions are guaranteed to strengthen the hand of hawks and hardliners, including President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who will be able to blame various Great Satans for Iran's woes. A tighter economic noose will enrich the sanctions-busting smugglers in the IRGC. The additional sanctions will put the United States and Iran back on a path of confrontation, reversing or undoing much of the progress that was achieved by Obama's outreach to Tehran in 2009. And, worst of all, as it becomes clear over time that the new sanctions have failed to compel Iran to halt its nuclear program, that failure will underline the arguments of hawks in the United States and Israel who say that it's time for military action against Iran.

The administration's decision to adopt sanctions-the so-called "pressure track"-is a signal that President Obama has run out of ideas about how to handle Iran.

His effort began with great promise. In 2009 Obama reached out to Iran in his inaugural address; in a taped greeting on Iran's New Year; in two letters to Ali Khamenei, Iran's Supreme Leader; and in his June 4 Cairo speech about rebuilding relations with the Muslim world. In so doing, Obama inspired many supporters of the reformist opposition in Iran in advance of the disputed presidential election on June 12. Obama's opening also led to a series of diplomatic exchanges that culminated in a deal, last October, in which Iran promised to send the bulk of its enriched uranium to Russia and France, where it was to have been reprocessed for civilian-use fuel rods. But that deal fell apart. Inside Iran it fell victim to the poisonous post-June 12 political atmosphere. And in the United States Republican hardliners, neoconservatives and allies of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) made it difficult for Obama to sweeten the deal in order to coax Iran back to the bargaining table.

The administration deserves plaudits for its constructive approach to Iran last year. But, under pressure from Israel's Benjamin Netanyahu and from hawks and AIPAC at home, Obama foolishly declared last spring that if the talks with Iran didn't succeed by the end of 2009, he'd rally world powers to pressure Iran, and Secretary of State Clinton began talking about "crippling sanctions." But nearly all experts on Iran, from left to right, knew that it was exceedingly unlikely that talks could succeed quickly. To no one's surprise, they stalemated. And Obama began pushing Russia, China and other reluctant countries, such as Brazil, India and Turkey, to climb aboard the sanctions bandwagon, with varying degrees of success. Yet even as Moscow and Beijing wearily moved to support another round of anti-Iran steps at the Security Council, they made it clear that the harsher penalties sought by Washington wouldn't fly.

And then what? According to insiders, the administration is playing it by ear, hoping for the best-and there's no evidence that it has a strategy going forward.

Can diplomacy get back on track? Some suggest that even though talks on the nuclear issue probably aren't going anywhere, it might be more productive to start talking to Iran about Afghanistan, Iraq and drug trafficking. Last fall John Limbert, a former US diplomat who was one of those held hostage in 1979-81 after the US Embassy in Tehran was seized, and who was recently appointed as the State Department's top Iran officer, said, "If we have negotiations where the only thing we care about is the nuclear issue, we will fail." Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian American Council, urges Obama to avoid setting arbitrary deadlines on talks and to consider reopening last October's accord for modifications.

But just as Iran's negotiators are operating under severe domestic political constraints, so too is Obama. Most worrisome is the anti-Iran legislation working its way through Congress-the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability and Divestment Act, backed by Representative Howard Berman, the California Democrat who chairs the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, and Senator Chris Dodd, chair of the Senate Banking Committee. The bill, AIPAC's top priority since it was introduced, requires the administration to examine any and all contracts between Iran and foreign suppliers of gasoline and refined petroleum products. Any that exceed a tiny threshold-just $200,000-trigger a US crackdown, and the president is required to place the offending company on a blacklist. He must then take strong action against the company, up to and including seizing its US assets. The bill, in slightly different versions, passed the Senate and House with overwhelming, veto-proof majorities.

The bill ties the president's hands by making many of its measures mandatory, so the administration is seeking to modify it by expanding White House leeway to waive or postpone penalties. The administration has not condemned the bill outright, however, and it appears to be sending mixed messages to Congress. One top White House official, Dennis Ross-a close ally of the Israel lobby and a fierce supporter of sanctions and military bluster vis-ˆ-vis Iran who most recently worked at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, an AIPAC spinoff-has reportedly told some in Congress to move the bill forward [see Dreyfuss, "Dennis Ross's Iran Plan," April 27, 2009].

Even that bill, in its harshest version, will only lead Iran to evade sanctions by smuggling and by dealing with sanctions-evading firms in China, the United Arab Emirates and elsewhere. The IRGC, which already operates a vast smuggling network, will gain. Meanwhile, the Security Council sanctions, certain to be watered down by Russian and Chinese foot-dragging, will have only symbolic impact. Most punishing for Iran will be the unilateral measures by the United States and its allies, coordinated by the Treasury Department's under secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, Stuart Levey-measures referred to inside the State Department as "Stuart Levey's jihad"-which target foreign investment and financial transactions between Iran and Western companies, including banks.

For the hawks, the hope is that sanctions are merely a way station for an eventual military showdown between Iran and the United States, though the chances that either the United States or Israel will bomb Iran are close to zero. For other supporters of sanctions, the idea is that causing further economic pain for Iran's population will inspire Iranians to revolt, perhaps re-igniting the stalled Green Movement, which formed before last summer's election. But that's unlikely-the government, increasingly relying on the IRGC, the paramilitary basijis and the intelligence service, has shown that it is ready to suppress dissent ruthlessly. As for the Obama administration, which hasn't entirely given up on diplomacy but apparently has no idea how to revive it, its support for the sanctions push seems to be a fingers-crossed effort to placate the hawks, the Republicans and AIPAC while buying time in the hope that something, anything, will allow diplomacy to resume.

But sanctions, pressure and confrontation are risky. To regain the high ground, President Obama must once again emphasize his readiness to talk with Iran on any and all issues. To calm the waters at home, he should take pains to emphasize that the problem with Iran is not an immediate crisis-that Iran does not have a bomb; that it is at least several years from acquiring one, even if that's what it intends to do; and that even if it does plan to acquire a bomb, Iran has developed neither a warhead nor a missile that can deliver such a weapon. Obama should explore creative ways to revive the deal that was signed last October, perhaps via intermediaries like Turkey; indeed, during the early May UN conference on nuclear nonproliferation, Ahmadinejad reiterated Iran's acceptance of the deal, and both Turkey and Brazil are offering to mediate a renewal of the October accord. In addition, Obama should signal that ultimately he is prepared to accept Iran's right to enrich uranium, under appropriate IAEA safeguards. (So far, Obama has said that Iran has the right to peaceful use of nuclear energy, but he has never acknowledged its right to enrichment as a signatory of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.) And he'll have to rally US allies, along with Russia and China, for a long and frustrating diplomatic adventure, with more false starts and roadblocks to come.
(c) 2010 Robert Dreyfuss is an investigative journalist in Alexandria, Virginia, specializing in politics and national security. He is the author of "Devil's Game: How the United States Helped Unleash Fundamentalist Islam" (Henry Holt/Metropolitan Books).

The Stripping Of Personal Freedom
By James Donahue

Everybody who watches television or movies about police stories knows about the Miranda warning. Because of a 1966 Supreme Court ruling, police officers have been required to read a list of personal civil liberties as a part of police arrest and questioning.

The very first line of that document reads: "You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you . . ."

If you have been alert you may also have noticed that there has been a controversy over the reading of the Miranda warning to people charged with cases linked to terrorism or attempted terrorism. Some of our legislators are trying to introduce laws stripping anyone accused of plotting against the country of their citizenship and their Constitutional rights.

The assault against the Miranda ruling began as early as 1984 when law enforcement agencies won a "public safety exemption" that gave them the right to interrogate suspects without reading them their rights if they believed a serious threat was imminent.

And now, in the wake of the recent high-profile arrests of the failed Times Square car bomber and the failed Detroit underwear bomber, U. S. Attorney General Eric Holder is asking Congress for an even broader relaxation of the ruling when interrogating terror suspects.

White House political advisor David Axelrod told CNN this week that President Obama is amenable to Holder's idea. He said the president is "open to looking at" changes in the Miranda rule." Holder is reportedly asking for a new law that lets interrogators question terrorism suspects for lengthy periods before informing them of their rights.

There has been a strange argument that reading a would-be terrorist his or her rights will cause this person to clam-up and not give authorities the information they need to find the dastardly thugs who put him or her up to whatever it is this person is accused of doing. This is assuming, prior to due process, that the accused person is guilty of doing something wrong. Is something wrong with this picture?

This twisted way of thinking appears to be gaining popularity throughout Washington. To date, Senators Joe Lieberman, Lindsey Graham and John McCain and Congressman Peter King are all proposing legislation that would strip people of their citizenship if they have been merely accused of an act of terrorism or being associated with a foreign terrorist organization. Such legislation, they argue, not only would relieve law enforcement of having to apply the Miranda warnings, but would strip such people of all of the rights guaranteed in the U. S. Constitution and allow "quick justice" for all.

In other words, it appears that they would like to strip our nation of everything that has made it great and turn America into a banana republic.

In an essay on this subject recently published on his personal blog page, Vinay Lal, history professor at UCLA, warned against such legislation. He wrote:

"When anti-terrorist legislation is 'normalized,' treated just like other proposed changes and additions to the law, the consequences for democracies must be perilous. This legislation becomes fraught with hazards greater than the perils from which it is supposed to rescue the nation."

Factions of the Miranda ruling have especially been under attack since 9-11. The Supreme Court in 2004, for example, upheld laws in 21 states that give police the right to ask people their name and to jail anyone that fails to cooperate. In other words, police now can turn our "right to be silent" into a criminal offense.

Privacy rights advocates say that the ruling forces anybody, even innocent people questioned randomly on the street, to give authorities information that can be used in broad data searches.

A name opens the door to police computer searches that produce driver's license numbers, social security numbers, credit card numbers, past arrest and conviction statistics, debt information, bank records, and even medical records.

That court decision hinged on a case brought by Nevada rancher Larry Hiibel, charged with a misdemeanor because he refused to give a deputy his name and show identification. Hiibel claimed it was a violation of his civil rights.

The Fifth Amendment protects people from giving testimony against themselves in criminal proceedings. That usually applies to court testimony but it might be expanded to include the right of free citizens from being required to randomly turn over information to police officers without due process of law.

The Fourth Amendment protects people from unreasonable search and seizure of property.

The court narrowly ruled, however, that forcing someone to give police their name does not violate their Fourth Amendment from unreasonable searches, and that name requests do not violate Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination.

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, writing for the majority, stated that "one's identity is, by definition, unique; yet it is, in another sense, a universal characteristic. Answering a request to disclose a name is likely to be so insignificant in the scheme of things as to be incriminating only in unusual circumstances." On the dissenting side, Justice Paul Stevens wrote that forcing people to divulge their name goes too far. "A name can provide the key to a broad array of information about the person, particularly in the hands of a police officer with access to a range of law enforcement databases."

Justice Stevens is retiring from the court this year and the process of selecting a successor is only now beginning. We expect a fierce battle by legislative conservatives to prevent President Obama from appointing anyone offering the kind of balance that Stevens provided in that court.

At the heart of the Hilbel decision was, as previously stated, the nation's paranoid-based war on terrorism. Lawyers for the justice groups argued that a decision in favor of the rancher would have protected terrorists and encouraged people to refuse to cooperate with police.

In their haste to clamp down on terrorist acts, and because of the mass fear being perpetuated by the media, a lot of people in this country appear to be going along with a willingness to surrender our long cherished rights. These rights include the right to remain silent, the right to be represented by an attorney and the right to be considered innocent until proven guilty and the right to a fair trial before an impartial jury of our peers before we are judged for alleged criminal acts.

Indeed, whatever happened to our old way of thinking? Whatever happened to the way the media once reported on arrests of suspects in a criminal case? We can remember when the very names of suspects were withheld from publication until the accused appeared before a judge. Today the media publishes pictures and blasts names of "persons of interest" on our television screens before they are formally charged. Trial by media is ugly and unfair.

Terrorist attacks, while despicable and senseless acts of murder of innocent people caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, are not a new phenomenon. They have occurred on a small scale even in the United States for about as long as the nation has existed. But attacks as massive and well-orchestrated as the Oklahoma City Bombing and the events of 9-11 were extreme acts of terror that has added a new element of fear to the nation.

We fear the terrorist bomb attacks because the media has taught us to fear them. In reality, the odds of getting killed in such an attack are very low compared to other potential accidental ways in which we all may be killed. A single airline crash, train wreck or a violent act of nature can be just as deadly. Over ten times as many people died in automobile crashes in 2009 than all those who were killed on 9-11.

When looking at these attacks from this perspective, we ask why it is necessary for us to give up our freedoms in exchange for government protection from something that we can't be protected from. All of the information gleamed from would-be terrorist suspects has only helped lock a barn door after the horse escapes. No matter how hard we try to make sure "they" never use that form of attack again, new and more ingenious ways of attacking us are devised. Every anti-terrorism law generated from the halls of Congress strips us all of more and more of our Constitutional freedoms.

Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda organization has succeeded in not only scaring the bejesus out of America, but causing us to turn our once free society into a form of a prison for everyone.
(c) 2010 James L. Donahue is a retired newspaper reporter, editor and columnist with more than 40 years of experience in professional writing. He is the published author of five books, all dealing with Michigan history, and several magazine articles. He currently produces daily articles for this web site.

Black Gold -- The Lifeblood Of War
By Randall Amster

Speculation has been running rampant among certain sectors of the web-world lately about the true origins of the massive oil spill that has engulfed the Gulf and threatens marine, plant, animal, and human health in a region already beset by natural disasters and toxic industries. Unwilling to accept the mainstream media version of the story (namely that it was the result of off-shore drilling activities) and suspicious of the timing of the calamity (namely that it occurred right on the cusp of Earth Day and during a period of political contentiousness over drilling), this faction has surmised that the "trigger event" in this instance may have been (choose your favorite) either: an attack by the North Koreans; an act of homegrown eco-terrorism by leftwing environmentalists; or something to do with Venezuela, China, and/or other Communist (machi)nations. With little more than a hint from an online Russian source, the theory of a North Korean attack in particular has been gaining virulence among certain fox-trotters.

Here's a great overview of the argument from the self-avowedly conservative Dakota Voice:

"Rush Limbaugh pointed out that the explosion occurred on April 21st, the day before 'Earth Day.' He also reminded us that Al Gore had previously encouraged environmental nutjobs to engage in civil disobedience against the construction of coal plants that don't have carbon capture technology. 'Eco-terrorists' exist and have done millions of dollars worth of criminal damage. Fire is one of the main tools of their evil trade. I'm not claiming the Deep Horizon was bombed by eco-terrorists, although I don't believe it's out of the realm of possibility. But, it would take some serious money and ability to pull off an attack like that, so I would tend to think much bigger than college hippie eco-wackos with some money-backing -- a foreign government, perhaps. Of course, before I could finish writing my thoughts here, I just heard Michael Savage posing the same questions. He also said there is a theory on a Russian website that claims North Korea is behind this. The article claims that North Korea torpedoed the Deepwater Horizon, which was apparently built and financed by South Korea. Torpedoes would make sense for the results we see.... There are a number of international 'suspects' who might want to do something like this. They range from Muslim terrorists to the Red Chinese, Venezuela and beyond. Remember that China and Russia are drilling out there, as well, and they would benefit from America cutting back on our own drilling."

The article at the root of this savagery appears on the site, and is titled "US Orders Media Blackout Over North Korean Torpedoing of Gulf of Mexico Oil Rig" -- which pretty much eliminates any suspense about the gist of it. The piece is attributed to one "Sorcha Faal," who either exists or does not depending upon whether you believe the link arguing a bit too strenuously that she in fact does. The article cites as its source, without further attribution, "a grim report circulating in the Kremlin today written by Russia's Northern Fleet," and argues that "the reason for North Korea attacking the Deepwater Horizon, these reports say, was to present US President Obama with an 'impossible dilemma' prior to the opening of the United Nations Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons set to begin May 3rd in New York. This 'impossible dilemma' facing Obama is indeed real as the decision he is faced with is either to allow the continuation of this massive oil leak catastrophe to continue for months, or immediately stop it by the only known and proven means possible, the detonation of a thermonuclear device."

In other words, all of this was designed to force Obama to use a nuclear device to seal the leak ahead of an upcoming conference on nonproliferation. Ingenious! James Bond is alive and well, apparently. Missing from the calculus (along with good sense, credibility, and verifiability) is any explanation of why the logic of this scenario will automatically result in Obama deploying a nuke, and what exactly would be gained by him doing so except (by implication) making the U.S. look like hypocrites at the negotiating table. Those dastardly cowards! Everyone knows that we don't need any help from foreign entities to hypocritically attempt to force others to hold to international standards that we will ourselves proceed to flagrantly ignore. I mean, duh.

Hey, I'm all for a good conspiracy theory as much as the next guy/gal. We certainly ought to question the "consensus reality" version of any major event communicated back to us by the corporate media. And we can logically surmise that the government keeps us on a "need to know" basis under the rubric of a closely-held "national security" ethos. So there's always reason to dig deeper, ask hard questions, check with non-U.S sources, and formulate one's opinion independent of the herd. But in this case, the impetus for the tale is so vague and thinly rendered that it strains the limits of credulity, yet it still seems to be gaining traction each day. In fact, there are even more solid reasons to suspect that this miserable episode -- which will inflict more suffering on an already-battered region -- was contributed to by the activities of a certain homegrown corporation and not any eco-nuts or commies. While the premise is thus wholly wrong, the conclusion that this was a putative act of war might actually hold water. To wit:

Oil and War: Are there any two concepts in the realm of geopolitics more closely associated than resources and warfare? Oil in particular, as the primary lubricant of the global economy, earns special status as a sine qua non of our profligate lifestyles and simultaneously as an overt security interest that triggers our military mobilizations. We know about Iraq of course, and Afghanistan to a lesser extent for its strategic pipelining location, but don't overlook places such as Venezuela, Central Africa, and the Caribbean shelf around countries like Haiti as potential sites of future conflict over Black Gold. Indeed, it might be said that wherever there's oil, there's war -- or at least the seeds of conflict over a dwindling commodity that draws the interest of governments and corporations alike. The past decade has shown, and our national security documents reflect, that the U.S. will essentially do anything in its power to control as much of the world's remaining oil supplies as it possibly can, either through direct intervention or by proxy. There's nothing light or sweet about any of this; it is almost wholly crude.

Drilling and the 'War on Terra': Without overly editorializing the point, since at least the advent of industrialization it appears that humanity has made a Faustian bargain that renders us the enemies of the earth in order to survive. Notions of complementarity and sustainability have been supplanted by consumption and separation instead. The cruel joke is that our willingness to continually flout nature's laws leaves us in a perpetual state of scarcity and requires a regular doubling-down on the very same logic that made things scarce in the first place. Thus, in order to extend the life of the petroleum economy and provide the massive energy inputs that we rely upon, we have to drill deeper and deeper to procure the substance at ever-increasing energy costs in the process. This literal sense of "diminishing returns" is compounded by the attendant toll exacted on our collective health via fossil fuels, as well as the concomitant stratification of wealth and power that subverts any pretense we still hold of democracy. Massive spills and other calamities are part and parcel of this normalization of a warlike attitude toward nature (and thus ourselves), and are blithely considered little more than business as usual by the ruling elites, as intimated in an article on "All this is the result of dangerous and unnecessary offshore drilling, yet in a statement Friday, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said the explosion was no reason to give up plans to expand offshore drilling. 'In all honesty I doubt this is the first accident that has happened and I doubt it will be the last,' Gibbs told reporters."

Halliburton IS the War Machine: Finally, we come to the most likely culprit in all of this, and a sure sign that indeed this is an act of war. Wherever Halliburton goes, so goes the war machine, and vice versa. From no-bid and no-account contracts in Iraq (and post-Katrina New Orleans, by the way) to a massive corporate presence in the Gulf region, these folks seem to have an acute capacity for making a buck on cataclysms of all sorts. Perhaps more to the point, they appear to be at the nexus of most disaster zones, including the erstwhile Bush Presidency and now the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. As a recent article in the Huffington Post notes:

"Giant oil-services provider Halliburton may be a primary suspect in the investigation into the oil rig explosion that has devastated the Gulf Coast, the Wall Street Journal reports. Though the investigation into the explosion that sank the Deepwater Horizon site is still in its early stages, drilling experts agree that blame probably lies with flaws in the 'cementing' process -- that is, plugging holes in the pipeline seal by pumping cement into it from the rig. Halliburton was in charge of cementing for Deepwater Horizon."

The Los Angeles Times subsequently reported that members of Congress have called on Halliburton A YouTube video (which is actually mostly audio) more bluntly asserts that "Halliburton Caused Oil Spill," and notes the fact -- confirmed by Halliburton's own press release -- that its employees had worked on the final cementing "approximately 20 hours prior to the incident." Interestingly, one commenter on the YouTube video notes how "that would conveniently explain the North Korean story; [Halliburton] may have leaked this story to the press to divert attention away from alleged negligence." Wouldn't that just be the ultimate? Halliburton spawns the calamity but pins it on North Korea, and then the nation goes to war whereby Halliburton "cleans up" through billions in war-servicing contracts. It's almost too perfect, and might be funny if it didn't seem so plausible. (The only thing funnier is picturing Dick Cheney in the role of Exxon Valdez fall guy Joseph Hazelwood.)

But hey, there's no need to get conspiratorial about all of this. And what's happening in the Gulf -- now spreading into the Atlantic -- isn't funny at all. Indeed, war hardly ever is, and that's what we've got on our collective hands here, in one form or another. As Isaac Asimov once said, "It is not only the living who are killed in war." Cherished ideals, future generations, hopefulness, the earth itself -- all are among war's many casualties. The sooner we recognize the sense of pervasive warfare in our midst, embedded in the flow of our everyday lives, the sooner we can intentionally turn that essential corner toward peace, as Martin Luther King, Jr. alluded to in his Nobel speech:

"I refuse to accept the idea that man is mere flotsam and jetsam in the river of life, unable to influence the unfolding events which surround him. I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality."

Waking up to war may in fact be the first genuine step toward peace, both among ourselves and with the environment.
(c) 2010 Randall Amster J.D., Ph.D., teaches peace studies at Prescott College and serves as the executive director of the Peace & Justice Studies Association. His most recent book is the co-edited volume "Building Cultures of Peace: Transdisciplinary Voices of Hope and Action" (Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2009).

Afghans burn tires during a protest in Surkh Rod district
of Nangarhar province, east of Kabul, Afghanistan,
Thursday, April 29, 2010. Hundreds of people protested
Thursday in eastern Afghanistan after a military raid resulted
in the death of an Afghan lawmaker's brother-in-law.

Cold Irons Bound
All Together on the Road to Ruin
By Chris Floyd

"The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, But in ourselves, that we are underlings." ~~~ Shakespeare, Julius Caesar

"Just because I don't care doesn't mean I don't understand." ~~~ Homer Simpson

Our text today is from Tom Englehardt, who is on the case with yet another ignored atrocity by our super-duper Special Ops boys in the goodest good war of them all out in Afghanistan. (See the original for the many links):

"Afghan lawmaker says relative killed after U.S. soldiers raided her home." ...

[H]ere it is in a nutshell: there was a U.S. night raid somewhere near the Afghan city of Jalalabad. American forces (Special Operations forces, undoubtedly), supposedly searching for a "Taliban facilitator," came across a man they claimed was armed in a country in which the unarmed man is evidently like the proverbial needle in a haystack. They shot him down. His name was Amanullah. He was a 30-year-old auto mechanic and the father of five. As it happened, he was also the brother-in-law of Safia Siddiqi, a sitting member of the Afghan Parliament. He had, as she explained, called her in a panic, thinking that brigands were attacking his home compound.

And here was the nice touch for those U.S. Special Operations guys, who seem to have learning abilities somewhat lower than those of a hungry mouse in a maze when it comes to hearts-and-minds-style counterinsurgency warfare. True, in this case they didn't shoot two pregnant mothers and a teenage girl, dig the bullets out of the bodies, and claim they had stumbled across "honor killings," as Special Operations troops did in a village near Gardez in eastern Afghanistan in March; nor did they handcuff seven schoolboys and a shepherd and execute them, as evidently happened in Kunar Province in late December 2009; nor had they shot a popular imam in his car with his seven-year-old son in the backseat, as a passing NATO convoy did in Kabul, the Afghan capital, back in January; nor had they shadowed a three-vehicle convoy by helicopter on a road near the city of Kandahar and killed 21 while wounding 13 via rocket fire, as U.S. Special Forces troops did in February. They didn't wipe out a wedding party - a common enough occurrence in our Afghan War - or a funeral, or a baby-naming ceremony (as they did in Paktia Province, also in February), or shoot up any one of a number of cars, trucks, and buses loaded with innocent civilians at a checkpoint.

In this case, they killed only one man, who was unfortunately - from their point of view - reasonably well connected. Then, having shot him, they reportedly forced the 15 inhabitants in his family compound out, handcuffed and blindfolded them (including the women and children), and here was that nice touch: they sent in the dogs, animals considered unclean in Islamic society, undoubtedly to sniff out explosives. Brilliant! "They disgraced our pride and our religion by letting their dogs sniff the holy Koran, our food, and the kitchen," Ms. Siddiqi said angrily. And then, the American military began to lie about what had happened, which is par for the course. After the angry legislator let them have it (" one in Afghanistan is safe - not even parliamentarians and the president himself") and the locals began to protest, blocking the main road out of Jalalabad and chanting "Death to America!," they finally launched an investigation. Yawn.

If I had a few bucks for every "investigation" the U.S. military launched in Iraq and Afghanistan over the years after some civilian or set of civilians died under questionable circumstances, I might be on vacation year around.

The U.S. military can, however, count on one crucial factor in its repetitive war-making: kill some pregnant mothers, kill some schoolboys, gun down a good Samaritan with two children in his car trying to transport Iraqis wounded in an Apache helicopter attack to a hospital, loose a whirlwind that results in hundreds of thousands of deaths - and still Americans at home largely don't care. After all, for all intents and purposes, it's as if some other country were doing this on another planet entirely, and "for our safety" at that.

In that sense, the American public licenses its soldiers to kill civilians repetitively in distant frontier wars. As a people - with the exception of relatively small numbers of Americans directly connected to the hundreds of thousands of American troops abroad - we couldn't be more detached from "our" wars.

This is a theme, a reality, that is emerging more clearly as the years of the never-ending Terror War drag on: by and large, the American people do not care about the innocent people being killed, in their names, all over the world. They don't care about "the children's limbs hanging in trees," as war's eyewitness John Pilger puts it.

They don't care -- even as the inevitable, predictable blowback from these murderous polices comes home to roost on their own streets, the icy voice of revenge that says: "You come to our countries and kill our people; we will come to your country and kill yours." The former is considered a high and noble calling; the latter an act of unspeakable evil. That violence is not the answer -- that it only perpetuates the endless cycle of murder and vengeance that has marked our humankind since our mutation out of apehood -- is of no moment to those who see their loved ones shredded to death unjustly before their eyes.

What would I do if I came home from an ordinary day at work to find my children -- my children -- dead beneath the ruins of my drone-struck house? What would I do if saw my ailing father muscled from his home by masked goons who beat him and humiliate him then drag him off, bleeding, dying, to some iron-fronted dungeon? I hope I would have the strength to hold onto my belief in non-violence as the only hope to one day evolve our natures, and our cultures, beyond their deep-dyed savagery. But how likely is it that I would be that extraordinary, that I would have the extra measure of wisdom to know that more death and destruction would not bring back my loved ones, but only keep the cycle going to devour more innocents? How likely is it that I would have the moral courage to fight off the "cloud of blood and hormones" that drives the craving for revenge?

Not too likely, I fear; not in my case, nor in that of most others. Yet every day -- day in, day out, week after week, month after month, year after year -- atrocities like those described above are being carried out, in the name of the American people, in the name of civilization, in the name of our "way of life." Every day, day after day, some father or mother finds their children's limbs hanging in the trees, some child finds his parent's broken bodies smoking in the rubble, some ordinary, innocent human being sees their loved ones beaten, chained, abused and killed. Every day, day after day.

Only a fool -- a bloody-minded, arrogant, puffed-up, pig-ignorant fool -- could not see the horrific harvest of hate and destruction that will spring from such evil seeds. Only a fool -- or an elitist so wadded in wealth and privilege that he believes these monstrous fruits will never touch him personally, and doesn't care what happens to the rabble below, as long as his profits -- and his primitive, psychosexual lust for forcible dominion -- remain safe.

We are ruled today by just such fools, together with just such cold, deadened, malevolent spirits. But we seem to be content with this. Indeed, the most vociferous, active dissent we see these days comes from those who feel the system is not cruel enough -- who rage at the very thought that tax money might be spent to help someone in need, or that the borders have not yet been laced with radioactive razor-wire, or that accused criminals still have their rights read to them, or that Iran has not been destroyed, or that the power of Big Money might in any way be hedged with light restrictions.

These things bring thousands out in anger: but murder, aggression, torture, atrocity, and corruption on a scale unseen and hitherto unimaginable in human history -- these leave them cold ... as cold as the malevolent spirits who with their useful fools accelerate our degradation.

*This piece has been edited since its original posting.
(c) 2010 Chris Floyd

When Is A Conspiracy Not?
By Case Wagenvoord

Where does a policy end and a conspiracy begin? Mike Whitney raises this question in a perceptive analysis of the run up to the 2008 financial meltdown. His thesis is that there was no conspiracy, per se, but a consistent policy of maximizing profits in the financial sector of the economy through the deliberate creation of asset bubbles, be they or housing.

Whitney sees this as a sign of decay in a mature capitalist system. He argues that "it's far more damaging than any conspiracy, because it insures that the economy will continue to stagnate, that inequality will continue to grow, and that the gigantic upward transfer of wealth will continue without a pause."

Now, if a policy produces negative consequences for the many while benefiting a few, is it still a policy or does it fall into the sphere of the illegal? A conspiracy is defined as "a secret plan by a group to do something unlawful or harmful." By that criterion, both the Iraq and Afghanistan enterprises could be considered conspiracies because both are eminently harmful and both, under international law, are illegal.

Of course, when dealing with the American empire we must remember that the benchmark for action is not legality but "reality creation." As Karl Rove is reputed to have said, "We're an empire, now, and when we act we create our own reality." The problem is that an empire doesn't create reality, it creates a fantasy world that it mistakes for reality because, being powerful, an empire believes its fantasies to be real when they rarely are.

The bigger question is when you move beyond the execution of a bank robbery or any other specific crime, is a conspiracy possible? When it comes to grand conspiracies, I confess to being a skeptic. I simply don't believe Homo sapiens has the intellectual capacity to carry one out on a large scale. Human nature doesn't lend itself to mega plots. Somewhere, someone would have one drink too many or would want to impress his mistress and the cat would be out of the bag.

Rather than conspiracies I see passing convergences of interest grounded in life's contingencies, contingencies that are constantly in motion. These convergences are reactions to events and not their creators. This is why terrorist activity tends to be made up of isolated incidents rather than parts of some sort of overall strategy. Experts tell us that al-Qaeda isn't so much a formal organization as an ideology.

A good analogy for these convergences can be found in chaos theory. If you sit by a fountain for a period of time, a pattern emerges. Most of the time the droplets of water fall in a random and chaotic pattern, but occasionally the drops fall in unison, a unity that is quickly dispersed as the droplets resume their random pattern. It's the same with convergences. A disparate group of individuals come together to take advantage of a specific situation and then disperse.

Was 9/11 an inside job plotted and executed by the Bush administration? Absolutely not! Was the administration aware that such a plot was in the works and choose to let it happen? Possibly. Did every neocon and wingnut rejoice when the planes slammed into the twin towers because this breathed new life into our militarized security state? Absolutely! It was a passing convergence of interests.

Grand conspiracies have their appeal because of our need to impose some sort of order event that are, by nature, chaotic and unpredictable. We want to believe a single mastermind is behind them and that once this mastermind is neutralized the threat will vanish. Such a belief is the mindset of a technician who believes that there isn't a problem that can't be solved by changing a battery or tightening a bolt. The trouble is that life isn't a machine and it rarely behaves like one.

The real problem arises when a criminal activity morphs into a hardened policy because of an ongoing convergence of interests between government and the private sector that takes on a life of its own. Then the problem is not one of conspiracy but one of a nocent policy supported by a de jure government, and the only solution to that is revolution.
(c) 2010 Case Wagenvoord. Some years ago, Case Wagenvoord turned off the tube and picked up a book. He's been trouble ever since. His articles have been posted at The Smirking Chimp, Countercurrents and Issues & Alibis. When he's not writing or brooding, he is carving hardwood bowls that have been displayed in galleries and shows across the country. He lives in New Jersey with his wife and two cats. His book, Open Letters to George W. Bush is available at

Greek Troubles Reduced To Mikeronomics
By Mike Folkerth

Good Morning all of you free thinkers out there in reality land; your King of Simple World News is coming to you direct from our global headquarters. In other words, I'm hanging out in my home office here in beautiful downtown Cedaredge, Colorado.

Let's do a little "Mikeronomics" this morning to determine what is happening way over there in Greece that is upsetting the entire financial world.

Since debt represents nothing more than a claim against future economic growth, and since it is impossible to grow exponentially in a finite environment, at some point the claims on future growth will outrun the physical possibilities of supporting the past debt. What I'm telling you is that Greece is broke.

But in reality, the total Greek government debt is only about $274 Billion U.S. dollars. Heck we bail out failed banks and insurance companies for more than that, so what's the big deal? Give 'em some more loans and let's get back to normal.

The "big deal" is that Greece can't pay back any more loans; ever. Greece represents the old adage of an unstoppable force (debt) hitting an immovable object (physical science). Okay, so who really cares about a little outfit like Greece anyway; forgive the loans and let's get back to normal.

Getting back to "normal" would mean reversing the forces of natural physics. Brace yourself for some really bad news here; there is no reverse in the natural physics transmission. Yeah, I knew that would bum you out. What I'm saying is that, this is normal, and accumulating more debt than the physical world could provide for was abnormal; okay, impossible.

Therefore, the hullabaloo over Greece is that those Greek folks represent the canary in the coal mine. When that bird is doing the six toes up routine on the bottom of the cage, everyone heads for the exits.

Greece is nothing more than a microcosm of the same problem that exists in all fiat-currency, compounding-interest, debt-based, growth structures. The United States has one big advantage over Greece, we can print more money and Greece can't. Let me put that another way, we can hit the immovable object at a much greater speed. Oh joy.
(c) 2010 Mike Folkerth is not your run-of-the-mill author of economics. Nor does he write in boring lecture style. Not even close. The former real estate broker, developer, private real estate fund manager, auctioneer, Alaskan bush pilot, restaurateur, U.S. Navy veteran, heavy equipment operator, taxi cab driver, fishing guide, horse packer...(I won't go on, it's embarrassing) writes from experience and plain common sense. He is the author of "The Biggest Lie Ever Believed."

The Quotable Quote...

"Today, America would be outraged if U.N. troops entered Los Angeles to restore order [referring to the 1991 LA Riot]. Tomorrow they will be grateful! This is especially true if they were told that there were an outside threat from beyond whether real or promulgated, that threatened our very existence. It is then that all peoples of the world will plead to deliver them from this evil. The one thing every man fears is the unknown. When presented with this scenario, individual rights will be willingly relinquished for the guarantee of their well-being granted to them by the World Government."
~~~ Dr. Henry Kissinger ~ Bilderberger Conference, Evians, France, 1991 ~~~

After Religion Fizzles, We're Stuck With Nietzsche
By Chris Hedges

It is hard to muster much sympathy over the implosion of the Catholic Church, traditional Protestant denominations or Jewish synagogues. These institutions were passive as the Christian right, which peddles magical thinking and a Jesus-as-warrior philosophy, hijacked the language and iconography of traditional Christianity. They have busied themselves with the boutique activism of the culture wars. They have failed to unequivocally denounce unfettered capitalism, globalization and pre-emptive war. The obsession with personal piety and "How-is-it-with-me?" spirituality that permeates most congregations is narcissism. And while the Protestant church and reformed Judaism have not replicated the perfidiousness of the Catholic bishops, who protect child-molesting priests, they have little to say in an age when we desperately need moral guidance.

I grew up in the church and graduated from a seminary. It is an institution whose cruelty, inflicted on my father, who was a Presbyterian minister, I know intimately. I do not attend church. The cloying, feel-your-pain language of the average clergy member makes me run for the door. The debates in most churches-whether revolving around homosexuality or biblical interpretation-are a waste of energy. I have no desire to belong to any organization, religious or otherwise, which discriminates, nor will I spend my time trying to convince someone that the raw anti-Semitism in the Gospel of John might not be the word of God. It makes no difference to me if Jesus existed or not. There is no historical evidence that he did. Fairy tales about heaven and hell, angels, miracles, saints, divine intervention and God's beneficent plan for us are repeatedly mocked in the brutality and indiscriminate killing in war zones, where I witnessed children murdered for sport and psychopathic gangsters elevated to demigods. The Bible works only as metaphor.

The institutional church, when it does speak, mutters pious non-statements that mean nothing. "Given the complexity of factors involved, many of which understandably remain confidential, it is altogether appropriate for members of our armed forces to presume the integrity of our leadership and its judgments, and therefore to carry out their military duties in good conscience," Archbishop Edwin F. O'Brien, head of the Archdiocese for the Military Services, wrote about the Iraq war. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, on the eve of the invasion, told believers that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was a menace, and that reasonable people could disagree about the necessity of using force to overthrow him. It assured those who supported the war that God would not object. B'nai B'rith supported a congressional resolution to authorize the 2003 attack on Iraq. The Union of American Hebrew Congregations, which represents Reform Judaism, agreed it would back unilateral action, as long as Congress approved and the president sought support from other nations. The National Council of Churches, which represents 36 different faith groups, in a typical bromide, urged President George W. Bush to "do all possible" to avoid war with Iraq and to stop "demonizing adversaries or enemies" with good-versus-evil rhetoric, but, like the other liberal religious institutions, did not condemn the war.

A Gallup poll in 2006 found that "the more frequently an American attends church, the less likely he or she is to say the war was a mistake." Given that Jesus was a pacifist, and given that all of us who graduated from seminary rigorously studied Just War doctrine, which was flagrantly violated by the invasion of Iraq, this is a rather startling statistic.

But I cannot rejoice in the collapse of these institutions. We are not going to be saved by faith in reason, science and technology, which the dead zone of oil forming in the Gulf of Mexico and our production of costly and redundant weapons systems illustrate. Frederick Nietzsche's †bermensch, or "Superman"-our secular religion-is as fantasy-driven as religious magical thinking.

There remain, in spite of the leaders of these institutions, religiously motivated people toiling in the inner city and the slums of the developing world. They remain true to the core religious and moral values ignored by these institutions. The essential teachings of the monotheistic traditions are now lost in the muck of church dogma, hollow creeds and the banal bureaucracy of institutional religion. These teachings helped create the concept of the individual. The belief that we can exist as distinct beings from the tribe, or the crowd, and that we are called on as individuals to make moral decisions that can defy the clamor of the nation is one of the gifts of religious thought. This call for individual responsibility is coupled with the constant injunctions in Islam, Judaism and Christianity for compassion, especially for the weak, the impoverished, the sick and the outcast.

We are rapidly losing the capacity for the moral life. We reject the anxiety of individual responsibility that laid the foundations for the open society. We are enjoined, after all, to love our neighbor, not our tribe. This empowerment of individual conscience was the starting point of the great ethical systems of all civilizations. Those who championed this radical individualism, from Confucius to Socrates to Jesus, fostered not obedience and conformity, but dissent and self-criticism. They initiated the separation of individual responsibility from the demands of the state. They taught that culture and society were not the sole prerogative of the powerful, that freedom and indeed the religious and moral life required us to often oppose and challenge those in authority, even at great personal cost. Immanuel Kant built his ethics upon this radical individualism. And Kant's injunction to "always recognize that human individuals are ends, and do not use them as mere means" runs in a direct line from the Socratic ideal and the Christian Gospels.

The great religions set free the critical powers of humankind. They broke with the older Greek and Roman traditions that gods and Destiny ruled human fate-a belief that, when challenged by Socrates, saw him condemned to death. They challenged the power of the tribe, the closed society. They offered up the possibility that human beings, although limited by circumstance and human weakness, could shape and give direction to society and their own lives. These religious thinkers were our first ethicists. And it is perhaps not accidental that the current pope, as well as the last one, drove out of the Catholic Church thousands of clergy and religious leaders who embodied these qualities, elevating the dregs to positions of leadership and leaving the pedophiles to run the Sunday schools.

These religious institutions are in irreversible decline. They are ruled by moral and intellectual trolls. They have become arrogant and self-absorbed. Their sins are many. They protected criminals. They pandered to the lowest common denominator and illusions of personal fulfillment and surrendered their moral authority. They did not fight the corporate tyrants who have impoverished us. They refused to denounce a caste of Christian heretics embodied by the Christian right and have, for their cowardice, been usurped by bizarre proto-fascists clutching the Christian cross. They have nothing left to say. And their aging congregants, who are fleeing the church in droves, know it. But don't think the world will be a better place for their demise.

As we devolve into a commodity culture, in which celebrity, power and money reign, the older, dimming values of another era are being replaced. We are becoming objects, consumer products and marketable commodities. We have no intrinsic value. We are obsessed with self-presentation. We must remain youthful. We must achieve notoriety and money or the illusion of it. And it does not matter what we do to get there. Success, as Goldman Sachs illustrates, is its own morality. Other people's humiliation, pain and weakness become the fodder for popular entertainment. Education, building community, honesty, transparency and sharing see contestants disappeared from any reality television show or laughed out of any Wall Street firm.

We live in the age of the "†bermensch who rejects the sentimental tenets of traditional religion. The †bermensch creates his own morality based on human instincts, drive and will. We worship the "will to power" and think we have gone "beyond good and evil." We spurn virtue. We think we have the moral fortitude and wisdom to create our own moral code. The high priests of our new religion run Wall Street, the Pentagon and the corporate state. They flood our airwaves with the tawdry and the salacious. They, too, promise a utopia. They redefine truth, beauty, morality, desire and goodness. And we imbibe their poison as blind followers once imbibed the poison of the medieval church.

Nietzsche had his doubts. He suspected that this new secular faith might prefigure an endless middle-class charade. Nietzsche feared the deadening effects of the constant search for material possessions and personal hedonism. Science and technology might rather bring about a new, distorted character Nietzsche called "the Last Man." The Last Man, Nietzsche feared, would engage in the worst kinds of provincialism, believing he had nothing to learn from history. The Last Man would wallow and revel in his ignorance and quest for personal fulfillment. He would be satisfied with everything that he had done and become, and would seek to become nothing more. He would be intellectually and morally stagnant, incapable of growth, and become part of an easily manipulated herd. The Last Man would mistake cynicism for knowledge.

"The time is coming when man will give birth to no more stars," Nietzsche wrote about the Last Man in the prologue of "Thus Spoke Zarathustra." "Alas! The time of the most contemptible man is coming, the man who can no longer despise himself."

"They are clever and know everything that has ever happened: so there is no end to their mockery." The Last Men indulge in "their little pleasure for the day, and their little pleasure for the night."

The consumer culture, as Nietzsche feared, has turned us into what Chalmers Johnson calls a "consumerist Sparta." The immigrants and the poor, all but invisible to us, work as serfs in this new temple of greed and imperialism. Curtis White in "The Middle Mind" argues that most Americans are aware of the brutality and injustice used to maintain the excesses of their consumer society and empire. He suspects they do not care. They don't want to see what is done in their name. They do not want to look at the rows of flag-draped coffins or the horribly maimed bodies and faces of veterans or the human suffering in the blighted and deserted former manufacturing centers. It is too upsetting. Government and corporate censorship is welcomed and appreciated. It ensures that we remain Last Men. And the death of religious institutions will only cement into place the new secular religion of the Last Man, the one that worships military power, personal advancement, hedonism and greed, the one that justifies our callousness toward the weak and the poor.
(c) 2010 Chris Hedges, the former Middle East bureau chief for The New York Times, spent seven years in the Middle East. He was part of the paper's team of reporters who won the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for coverage of global terrorism. He is the author of War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning and American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America. His latest book is, "Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle."

The Age Of Ennui
By David Michael Green

Watching the British electorate in action (inaction?) during this campaign cycle I'm reminded of... well, the American electorate.

This is nothing new. There's been enormous parallels between the two countries for decades now, even if the timing of that link has gotten a bit skewed of late.

Trading back and forth between two centrist parties in the first post-war decades, in both countries the center-left party, exhausted in spirit if not ideas, had its head handed to it at the end of the 1970s by the center-right party. Only now that starboard party was under the leadership of the radical right - in Britain Margaret Thatcher, and in the US her ideological soul-mate, Ronald Reagan. They governed for a decade and bloody well wore out their welcome (notwithstanding the regressive hagiography of Reagan since he left office, their attempt to turn him into latter day deity).

Then, in the election which followed (1988 in the US and 1992 in the UK), the watered-down version of the far-right candidate (John Major and Bush the Elder) somehow, surprisingly, managed to thrash out the weakest imaginable endorsement and hold the keys to government for another term. After that came the other party with an even weaker version of the same politics. Just as Thatcher and Reagan were like peas in a pod, and just as Major and HW were nothingburger clones, so too the backward and oleaginous Tony Blair and Bill Clinton were twin sons of different mothers. Now it looks like Britain may be getting its barely-endorsed 'compassionate conservative' to match our George W. Bush, in the form of the polished-up-to-seem-less-abrasive Tory David Cameron.

Looking at the two polities, only three things seem terribly clear:

First, in these confused political times, people don't really know what they want.

Second, except that they definitely want everything.

And, third, no single item on the menu of political parties looks terribly appetizing.

Oh, and one other thing: there's that small matter of gross incompetence at voting stations (taking the most benign interpretation).

Nor are these tendencies, in their broadest sense, hugely different from other Western democracies. It's the Age of Ennui, really. Nothing seems to be working, and no solutions seem to be on the horizon. To be honest, the moment feels considerably volatile - well beyond the scale of the hardly insubstantial problems facing these societies and the planet as a whole.

People are simultaneously looking for societal change, and yet desperately holding on to the status quo. People are simultaneously hungry for different party choices, and yet continuing to vote for the existing bums in office. People are simultaneously hungry for something very different in politics, and yet clinging on to the same old same-old.

In the UK, it looked for a while like they just might get a bit of some real shake-up, both small and large. The biggest development of this election cycle was the introduction of US-style televised debates, and the biggest product of that, at least initially, was that the leader of the half-party Liberal Democrats, who was allowed to share the stage with the Big Two, knocked them both sideways with his "they're-endlessly-petty-and-to-blame-for-everything-but-I'm-above-all-that" act. It worked for a while, though it had already lost its punch by the third debate.

Were the Liberal Democrats to come to power as junior partners in a coalition government, owing to the failure of either Labour or the Tories to win an outright majority of seats in Parliament, that alone would only represent minor change. Politically, there is little about the party that is remarkably different from the two majors. And that's before they get into government, when the drill is to promise the world. Imagine what it would be like afterwards, when instead it's all about figuring out ways to not deliver on your promises.

The big potential change entailed in these dynamics, however, would revolve around what the Lib-Dems, acting as king-makers, might extract from either other party in exchange for forming a coalition that would allow one of them to govern. Presumably, that price would be a change in - or at least a referendum on the question of - the country's electoral system. Like the US, Britain uses a district system to choose members of the national legislature. And like the US (though not as severely), this results in a huge obstacle for third parties to ever gain traction, and makes it almost impossible for them to ever govern. (The reason is basically mathematical. Unless we're talking about regional ethnic parties, as in Scotland or Wales (but not in the US), third parties could theoretically win a whopping 25 or 30 percent of the vote nationally, but continue to come in second place in every district, and thus have minimal or even zero parliamentary representation).

The big change in the UK could entail the use of a proportional representation system to replace - or partially replace using a hybrid system - the district model. That could have very significant longer term repercussions with respect to the distribution of parties in the British Parliament, and the possibility for smaller ones to not only flourish, but perhaps even govern at some point.

None of that will happen in the US, however. First, because there is no significant third party to hold some other major party hostage in exchange for a restructuring of the national electoral system. But more importantly, because it would be far less relevant even if there were, since the executive branch of American government does not require any form of legislative majority to be elected. Such a system might work in determining the leadership of one or both houses of Congress, but the president - unlike the British prime minister - is elected entirely separately. If the US kept its Electoral College system, the only way third parties would matter is if no candidate hit the magic number and the parties then got into some serious horse-trading for electoral votes. And if we moved to a system of electing presidents directly, on the basis of winning a plurality of the popular vote, or even a majority run-off system, third parties would have little or no effect.

I'd love to see a lot more choice in America for voters, as an abstract principle, but before we get ourselves all worked up about what we're missing, it's worth reminding ourselves of what else we might also be missing, were we to move in this direction. Three not so happy other consequences come to mind.

First, it's worth asking who these third parties would be. They could be anybody, and they might be everybody (that is, there would surely be a number of them). But the sad truth in the US is that the serious alternative political energy in this country is generally either on the nutty-scary extreme right, or the libertarian right. In addition to the fact that a certain party led by a certain fellow named Hitler once rose to power via precisely these means in a certain country which then had similar regressive political tendencies, I think we can say with some assurance that a multiparty system in America is only going to tug the country's politics even further to the right. Much as it pains me to say it, if we did engineer a multiparty system, many progressives could wind up - after, say, Social Security and Medicare were chucked overboard in the name of small government - pining for the good old days of the two-party monopoly.

The Nazi analogy also reminds of a second liability of multiparty systems, which is that they tend to be less stable. In moderate doses, that's usually not a hugely bad thing. But in more severe cases, especially during times of duress (like, well, now), it can be catastrophic. Another reason that the Nazis came to power is because voters got sick of a Weimar Republic where governments hardly lasted five minutes at a pop. That's bad enough ordinarily, but when the economic wheels are coming off the wagon, as they were then, the situation is enormously ripe for someone to come along promising to make the trains run on time. Sound like a familiar scenario? Again, for every bit as abysmal as Bush and Cheney were, we need to think carefully about what we wish for. History is quite emphatic in reminding us that it can get a lot, lot worse than that.

The third problem with reform of the party structure is that it is - like term limits and sundry constitutional amendment proposals - at some level just another attempt to avoid a serious reckoning with the hard work of seriously governing and being governed. Like I said, I'd like to see American voters have more choice in elections, especially because what they now have is just about zero. But I suspect for most people this electoral system reform project represents a quintessentially American quick-fix panacea to make the big ugly problem of not being able to have everything all at once just go away. And, therefore, people will only be disappointed to find that the problem doesn't go away. It might even get worse. And, worst of all, the notion of multiparty democracy could even get discredited by association, just as it in the Weimar case, or post-Soviet Russia.

The hard but profoundly simple truth is that Americans can't have giant tax cuts, substantial entitlement programs and a ridiculously bloated military all it once. It's called math, and it's just about as simple as a little basic addition and subtraction. (The alternative choice, by the way, goes by the name of voodoo economics.) But recognizing that and making the (seemingly) difficult choices involved is less appealing than searching for a magic bullet that can be achieved by showing up for a vote in a referendum. Then we can all go home, pop open a beer, watch the ball game and allow the government to take care of business for us.

Sorry, but that's a world that never was and never will be. And, indeed, never should be either. The real problem with American society is that we're supremely greedy, stupid and lazy when it comes to our politics and government. Most of us invest next to nothing in thinking about issues and voting intelligently, let alone other more robust forms of political participation. Heck, nearly half of us can't be bothered to show up and vote every four years.

There's no mystery here. People that disengaged are going to get precisely what they deserve when it comes to their government. It's like if you were raising your kids by popping your head into their lives once or twice a decade to check in, and then you're startled to find out that they've grown up to be disastrous little delinquents. What a surprise, eh?

The weirdest thing about our times is that the solution to so many of our problems are really astonishingly manifest, and would often involve little real sacrifice. America had actually found its way to many of those solutions during its mild experiment with progressive politics in the middle of the twentieth century, learning from the meltdown of regressive Hooverism which preceded it, and would have found more had it taken the right lessons from the subsequent Vietnam disaster. Unfortunately, we've essentially unlearned the former and never did get the latter.

But its really not that hard to get out from under the Atlas-sized burden we've piled on our own shoulders, if we wanted to. To wit, if we simply dramatically scaled down military spending and dramatically increased investment on alternative energy research and development, we could make a huge dent in our indebtedness, environmental, unemployment and foreign policy problems in one fell swoop, and with little cost in terms of dreaded change for most Americans. Few of us would have to give up the big flat-screen TVs or the reclining chair. We could still engorge our way into obesity and diabetes if we wanted to, and occasionally invade some little country full of brown people whenever our insecurities flared up to especially high levels. And yet we could still radically improve our lot in the meantime, with just these easy steps.

For the meanwhile, though, voters in the UK have given us a paradigmatic sampling of our political times. They don't know where to turn. They vaguely remember that letting the right have the keys to government is a prescription for disaster, but the so-called left has not only lost its nerve and purpose, it's lost its leftiness too. Hence an electorate all over the map in this week's election, and a hung parliament. Look for more of the same in America this November and again in 2012.

The great irony is that solutions are so close by. It's as if one crawled across the desert for ten days, only to die of thirst a hundred yards from an oasis.

Well, maybe that metaphor gives us too much credit.

Maybe it's more like dying of thirst sitting on your couch, because you got too lazy even to traipse over to the fridge to grab a Coors.
(c) 2010 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 Generalbundesanwalt Holder,

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

Without your lock step calling for the repeal of the Constitution and Bill of Rights, your demand to modify Miranda for anyone we designate, 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 "Cabinet 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 Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Golden Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds, presented by our glorious Fuhrer, Herr Obama at a gala celebration at "der Fuhrer Bunker," formally the "White House," on 05-30-2010. We salute you Herr Holder, Sieg Heil!

Signed by,
Vice Fuhrer Biden

Heil Obama

Deepwater Horizon in flames before sinking.

Slick Operator
The BP I've known too well
By Greg Palast

I've seen this movie before. In 1989, I was a fraud investigator hired to dig into the cause of the Exxon Valdez disaster. Despite Exxon's name on that boat, I found the party most to blame for the destruction was ... British Petroleum. That's important to know, because the way BP caused devastation in Alaska is exactly the way BP is now sliming the entire Gulf Coast.

Tankers run aground, wells blow out, pipes burst. It shouldn't happen but it does. And when it does, the name of the game is containment. Both in Alaska, when the Exxon Valdez grounded, and in the Gulf over a week ago, when the Deepwater Horizon platform blew, it was British Petroleum that was charged with carrying out the Oil Spill Response Plans ("OSRP") which the company itself drafted and filed with the government.

What's so insane, when I look over that sickening slick moving toward the Delta, is that containing spilled oil is really quite simple and easy. And from my investigation, BP has figured out a very low cost way to prepare for this task: BP lies. BP prevaricates, BP fabricates and BP obfuscates.

That's because responding to a spill may be easy and simple, but not at all cheap. And BP is cheap. Deadly cheap. To contain a spill, the main thing you need is a lot of rubber, long skirts of it called "boom." Quickly surround a spill or leak or burst, then pump it out into skimmers or disperse it, sink it or burn it. Simple.

But there's one thing about the rubber skirts: you've got to have lots of it at the ready, with crews on standby in helicopters and on containment barges ready to roll. They have to be in place round the clock, all the time, just like a fire department; even when all is operating A-OK. Because rapid response is the key. In Alaska, that was BP's job, as principal owner of the pipeline consortium Alyeska. It is, as well, BP's job in the Gulf, as principal lessee of the deepwater oil concession.

Chugach Natives of Alaska clean Exxon Valdez oil
off their beach, five years after the spill.

Before the Exxon Valdez grounding, BP's Alyeska group claimed it had these full-time oil spill response crews. Alyeska had hired Alaskan Natives, trained them to drop from helicopters into the freezing water and set boom in case of emergency. Alyeska also certified in writing that a containment barge with equipment was within five hours sailing of any point in the Prince William Sound. Alyeska also told the state and federal government it had plenty of boom and equipment cached on Bligh Island.

But it was all a lie. On that March night in 1989 when the Exxon Valdez hit Bligh Reef in the Prince William Sound, the BP group had, in fact, not a lick of boom there. And Alyeska had fired the Natives who had manned the full-time response teams, replacing them with phantom crews, lists of untrained employees with no idea how to control a spill. And that containment barge at the ready was, in fact, laid up in a drydock in Cordova, locked under ice, 12 hours away.

As a result, the oil from the Exxon Valdez, which could have and should have been contained around the ship, spread out in a sludge tide that wrecked 1,200 miles of shoreline. And here we go again. Valdez goes Cajun.

BP's CEO Tony Hayward reportedly asked, "What the hell did we do to deserve this?"

It's what you didn't do, Mr. Hayward. Where was BP's containment barge and response crew? Why was the containment boom laid so damn late, too late and too little? Why is it that the US Navy is hauling in 12 miles of rubber boom and fielding seven skimmers, instead of BP?

Last year, CEO Hayward boasted that, despite increased oil production in exotic deep waters, he had cut BP's costs by an extra one billion dollars a year. Now we know how he did it.

As chance would have it, I was meeting last week with Louisiana lawyer Daniel Becnel Jr. when word came in of the platform explosion. Daniel represents oil workers on those platforms; now he'll represent their bereaved families. The Coast Guard called him. They had found the emergency evacuation capsule floating in the sea and were afraid to open it and disturb the cooked bodies.

I wonder if BP painted the capsule green, like they paint their gas stations.

Becnel, yesterday by phone from his office from the town of Reserve, LA, said the spill response crews were told they weren't needed because the company had already sealed the well. Like everything else from BP mouthpieces, it was a lie.

In the end, this is bigger than BP and its policy of cheaping-out and skiving the rules. This is about the anti-regulatory mania which has infected the American body politic. While the "tea baggers" are simply its extreme expression, US politicians of all stripes love to attack "the little bureaucrat with the fat rule book." It began with Ronald Reagan and was promoted, most vociferously, by Bill Clinton and the head of Clinton's de-regulation committee, one Al Gore.

Americans want government off our backs ... that is, until a folding crib crushes the skull of our baby; Toyota accelerators speed us to our death; banks blow our savings on gambling sprees; and crude oil smothers the Mississippi.

Then, suddenly, it's, "where was hell was the Government!" Why didn't the government do something to stop it?

The answer is, because government took you at your word they should get out of the way of business, that business could be trusted to police itself. It was only last month that BP, lobbying for new deepwater drilling, testified to Congress that additional equipment and inspection wasn't needed.

You should meet some of these little bureaucrats with the fat rulebooks. Like Dan Lawn, the inspector from the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation who warned and warned and warned, before the Exxon Valdez grounding, that BP and Alyeska were courting disaster in their arrogant disregard of the rulebook. In 2006, I printed his latest warnings about BP's culture of negligence.

When the choice is between Dan Lawn's rule book and a bag of tea, Dan's my man.

This just in: Becnel tells me that one of the platform workers has informed him that the BP well was apparently deeper than the 18,000 feet depth reported. BP failed to communicate that additional depth to Halliburton crews who therefore poured in too small a cement cap for the additional pressure caused by the extra depth. So it blew.

Why didn't Halliburton check? "Gross negligence on everyone's part," says Becnel. Negligence driven by penny-pinching bottom-line squeezing. BP says its worker is lying. Someone's lying here: the man on the platform - or the company that has practiced prevarication from Alaska to Louisiana?
(c) 2010 Greg Palast is author of the New York Times bestseller, "The Best Democracy Money Can Buy." His investigations for BBC TV and Democracy Now! can be seen by subscribing to Palast's reports at. Greg Palast investigated the Exxon Valdez disaster for the Chucagh Native villages of Alaska's Prince William Sound.

Kagan In Context
Shafting Progressive Values
By Norman Solomon

If President Obama has his way, Elena Kagan will replace John Paul Stevens -- and the Supreme Court will move rightward. The nomination is very disturbing, especially because it's part of a pattern.

The White House is in the grip of conventional centrist wisdom. Grim results stretch from Afghanistan to the Gulf of Mexico to communities across the USA.

"It turns out, by the way, that oil rigs today generally don't cause spills," President Obama said in support of offshore oil drilling, less than three weeks before the April 20 blowout in the Gulf. "They are technologically very advanced."

On numerous policy fronts, such conformity to a centrist baseline has smothered hopes for moving this country in a progressive direction. Now, the president has taken a step that jeopardizes civil liberties and other basic constitutional principles.

"During the course of her Senate confirmation hearings as Solicitor General, Kagan explicitly endorsed the Bush administration's bogus category of 'enemy combatant,' whose implementation has been a war crime in its own right," University of Illinois law professor Francis Boyle noted last month. "Now, in her current job as U.S. Solicitor General, Kagan is quarterbacking the continuation of the Bush administration's illegal and unconstitutional positions in U.S. federal court litigation around the country, including in the U.S. Supreme Court."

Boyle added: "Kagan has said 'I love the Federalist Society.' This is a right-wing group; almost all of the Bush administration lawyers responsible for its war and torture memos are members of the Federalist Society."

The departing Justice Stevens was a defender of civil liberties. Unless the Senate refuses to approve Kagan for the Supreme Court, the nation's top court is very likely to become more hostile to civil liberties and less inclined to put limits on presidential power.

Here is yet another clear indication that progressives must mobilize to challenge the White House on matters of principle. Otherwise, history will judge us harshly -- and it should.

For more than 15 months, evidence has mounted that President Obama routinely combines progressive rhetoric with contrary actions. As one bad decision after another has emanated from the Oval Office, some progressives have favored denial -- even though, if the name "Bush" or "McCain" had been attached to the same presidential policies, the same progressives would have been screaming bloody murder.

But enabling bad policies, with silent acquiescence or anemic dissent, encourages more of them. At this point, progressive groups and individuals who pretend that Obama's policies merely need a few tweaks, or just suffer from a few anomalous deficiencies, are whistling past a political graveyard.

At the same time, with less than six months to go before Election Day, there are very real prospects of a big Republican victory that could shift majority control of Congress. Progressives have a huge stake in averting a GOP takeover on Capitol Hill.

The corporate-military centrism of the Obama administration has demoralized and demobilized the Democratic Party's largely progressive base -- the same base that swept Nancy Pelosi into the House Speaker's office and then Barack Obama into the White House. National polls now show Democrats to be much less enthusiastic about voting in November than their Republican counterparts.

The conventional political wisdom (about as accurate as the claim that "oil rigs today generally don't cause spills") is that when a Democratic president moves rightward, his party gains strength against Republicans. But Democrats reaped the whirlwind of that pseudo-logic in 1994 -- after President Clinton shafted much of the Democratic base by pushing through the corporate NAFTA trade pact against the wishes of labor, environmental and human-rights constituencies. That's how Newt Gingrich and other right-wing zealots got to run Congress starting in January 1995.

For progressives, giving the Obama administration one benefit of the doubt after another has not prevented matters from getting worse.

At the moment, U.S. troop levels are nearing 100,000 in Afghanistan.

Massive quantities of oil are belching into the Gulf of Mexico.

The White House has signaled de facto acceptance of a high unemployment rate for several more years, while offering weak GOP-lite countermeasures like tax breaks for businesses.

Nuclear power subsidies are getting powerful support from both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, while meaningful action against global warming is nowhere in sight.

The Justice Department continues to backtrack on civil liberties.

And now, if the president's nomination of Elena Kagan is successful, the result will move the Supreme Court to the right.

Progressives should fight the Kagan nomination.
(c) 2010 Norman Solomon's latest book is "Made Love, Got War: Close Encounters with America's Warfare State." The foreword is by Daniel Ellsberg. For more information, go to: The documentary film "War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death," based on Norman Solomon's book of the same name. He is a national co-chair of the Healthcare NOT Warfare campaign. In California, he is co-chair of the Commission on a Green New Deal for the North Bay; and was a major supporter of Obama in 2008!

The Cartoon Corner...

This edition we're proud to showcase the cartoons of
~~~ Kevin Siers ~~~

To End On A Happy Note...

Ballad Of Medgar Evers
By Phil Ochs

In the state of Mississippi many years ago
A boy of 14 years got a taste of southern law
He saw his friend a hanging, his color was his crime
And the blood upon his jacket left a brand upon his mind

Too many martyrs and too many dead
Too many lies too many empty words were said
Too many times for too many angry men
Oh let it never be again

Then the boy became a man, the man became a cause
The cause became a hope for the country and it's laws
They tried to burn his home and they beat him to the ground
But deep inside they both knew what it took to bring him down

Too many martyrs and too many dead
Too many lies too many empty words were said
Too many times for too many angry men
Oh let it never be again

The killer waited by his home hidden by the night
As Evers stepped out from his car into the rifle sight
He slowly squeezed the trigger, the bullet left his side
It struck the heart of every man when Evers fell and died.

Too many martyrs and too many dead
Too many lies too many empty words were said
Too many times for too many angry men
Oh let it never be again

They laid him in his grave while the bugle sounded clear
They laid him in his grave while the victory was near
While we waited for the future for freedom through the land
The country gained a killer and the country lost a man

Too many martyrs and too many dead
Too many lies too many empty words were said
Too many times for too many angry men
Oh let it never be again
Oh let it never be again
(c) 1966/2010 Phil Ochs

Have You Seen This...

Parting Shots...

Brainless Pinheads
By Will Durst

They've tried fire and robots and domes and booms and drones and boxes and rosary beads and even panty hose stuffed with human hair but so far nothing has slowed the Deepwater Horizon oil spill from creeping towards our Southern Coast like a drunken lobbyist staggering towards a free seafood buffet. And almost as ugly. This maritime miasma promises to be the most monumental attack of sludge to hit American shores since Ann Coulter's most recent book.

Hard to say what frightens Gulf Coast residents more- the toxic slick bearing down on their shore or the Administration's guarantee that our government is poised and ready to swoop in with federal assistance. It worked so well after Katrina. The kind of news that prompts residents to wake screaming- bathed in sweat- from nightmares of FEMA loading trucks full of mutant hair sausages never to be delivered. And ice. But never let it be said that Congress doesn't know how to exploit a crisis. They've leaped into action and appointed a panel.

The one positive to come out of this amphibious affliction (besides never hearing another New Orleans restaurant say they are out of blackened redfish) is we can expect to hear a lot fewer of those strident rallying cries of "Drill Baby Drill" this election year. They've already given way to the more muted "Cap, Baby, Cap," and threaten to digress into "Tax, Baby, Tax." Right now though, those responsible seem to be sticking like shrimp to otter fur with "Prevaricate, Baby, Prevaricate."

BP, which apparently stands for Brainless Pinheads, first announced the seepage from the MC252 well (isn't that cute) was barely a couple of drips. Nothing to worry about. More oil pooled on your average garage floor. Then it bounced up to 1,000 barrels a day, then 2,000 and now that we're obviously in gushing territory, estimates are not really useful anymore. Numbers can be so misleading.

Chemicals were sprayed on the leak to disperse it, but that was curtailed because the dispersant might be doing more harm than good. They don't know. Oh good. Turns out, these guys don't know a lot. They won't even say what's in the dispersant because it's proprietory. All they can reveal is its not harmful. However, if you do happen to get a smidgeon on your skin, you immediately want to flush it with a bleach bath. That they know.

You'd think a company that makes its living poking holes in the bottom of seas would have a plan to close them back up, wouldn't you? Well, you'd be wrong. Actually, you'd be half wrong. They do have means. Using technology they're required to install when drilling in other countries. Not here though. We encourage voluntary participation. And let the industry write the regs. And then pray to the oil fairies.

Maybe this will signal an end to our bowing down to the fossil fuel gods. Maybe Obama will seize this reprehensible moment to carve out an anti carbon strategy and the whole country will rise as one and demand a national policy based on clean energies and shared sacrifice. Yeah. And maybe ring-tailed squirrel monkeys will replace hockey referees during playoff games. Its times like these that make you wish hari-kari had become a corporate CEO global tradition.
(c) 2010 Will Durst , is a San Francisco based political comic, who often writes. This being a dazzling example. Catch his one man show "The Lieutenant Governor from the State of Confusion" on Friday, May 14, at the Holly Springs Cultural Arts Center. 300 West Ballentine St/ Holly Springs NC. 27540. 919.577.1660. And don't forget his new CD, "Raging Moderate" from Stand-Up Records now available on both iTunes and Amazon.

The Gross National Debt

Iraq Deaths Estimator

The Animal Rescue Site

View my page on

Issues & Alibis Vol 10 # 20 (c) 05/14/2010

Issues & Alibis is published in America every Friday. We are not affiliated with, nor do we accept funds from any political party. We are a non-profit group that is dedicated to the restoration of the American Republic. All views expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily the views of Issues & Alibis.Org.

In regards to copying anything from this site remember that everything here is copyrighted. Issues & Alibis has been given permission to publish everything on this site. When this isn't possible we rely on the "Fair Use" copyright law provisions. If you copy anything from this site to reprint make sure that you do too. We ask that you get our permission to reprint anything from this site and that you provide a link back to us. Here is the "Fair Use" provision.

"Notwithstanding the provisions of sections 106 and 106A, the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phonorecords or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright.

In determining whether the use made of a work in any particular case is a fair use the factors to be considered shall include:

(1) the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
(2) the nature of the copyrighted work;
(3) the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
(4) the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work. The fact that a work is unpublished shall not itself bar a finding of fair use if such finding is made upon consideration of all the above factors."