Issues & Alibis

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In This Edition

Noam Chomsky explores the, "Season Of Travesties."

Uri Avnery in a, "Matter Of The Heart."

Joe Conason examines, "Pelosi's Toothless 'Commission.'"

Jim Hightower calculates, "The Interminable Price Of War."

Ted Rall discovers, "Obama Covers Up A Dozen My Lais."

Greg Palast explains, "How McNamara Lost World War II."

Paul Krugman is, "Boiling The Frog."

Chris Floyd says to, "Keep The Change."

Case Wagenvoord sees, "Hollowed Out Power."

Mike Folkerth asks, "Safety Net? What Safety Net?"

Chris Hedges shows us, "The Man In The Mirror."

Cynthia McKinney reports from Cairo, "Viva Palestina USA Requests Obama Support In Getting To Gaza."

Illinois Con-gressman Mark Kirk wins the coveted "Vidkun Quisling Award!"

Glenn Greenwald looks at, "The Holder Trial Balloon: Abu Ghraib Redux."

Amy Goodman finds, "Health Insurance Whistle-Blower Knows Where The Bodies Are Buried."

And finally in the 'Parting Shots' department the fabulous Betty Bowers returns with, "It's Not You - It's God!" but first Uncle Ernie sez of Obama. "He Could Have Been A Hero."

This week we spotlight the cartoons of Steve Benson, with additional cartoons, photos and videos from Keith Tucker, Daryl Cagle, K. Bendib, Carlos Latuff, Dr. X, Lisa Haney, Rice N Peas.Com, Jeff Parker, Freaking News.Com, Issues & Alibis.Org and Pink & Blue Films.

Plus we have all of your favorite Departments...

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

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

He Could Have Been A Hero
Instead of a Zero
By Ernest Stewart

I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender.
I coulda been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am, let's face it.
On The Waterfront ~~~ Terry

"With my academic achievement in high school I was accepted rather readily at Princeton and equally as fast at Yale, but my test scores were not comparable to that of my classmates. And that's been shown by statistics, there are reasons for that - there are cultural biases built into testing, and that was one of the motivations for the concept of affirmative action to try to balance out those effects." ~~~ Sonia Sotomayor

"Be afraid. Be very afraid."
The Addams Family ~~~ Wednesday Addams

He looked so very promising in the beginning, even considering his Senate voting record. One could almost overlook that and listen to his apologists and their excuses for what he had done. After 8 years of the Bush Junta, surprisingly, we were going to be given the chance to actually elect the next president or so it seemed. Not only replace Bush but all, or at least most, of his appointees and replace them with folks who were at least partially on our side. If ever there was a presidential candidate welcomed with open arms, it was the Changeling!

America didn't put to many demands on Barry. Just two in fact. The rest of his campaign promises, to have an open government, to look into and fix NAFTA, to be a president to all the people, etc., etc., etc., while important, were not of an overriding concern. As for the reasons for his election, he has yet to open up the government and has defended most all of Bush's programs with great vigor. There will be no changes for NAFTA and he hasn't put a single leftist into any position of power. So much for a president for all the people.

Had he but done what the people elected him to do he would have left office as one our very best presidents. He would have been compared with Lincoln, FDR, Jefferson or JFK. As a devout, "Christian" it would have been a no-brainer to do what we asked of him, simple as pie and a demand from the very god that he worships! There is no asterisk next to it in the Ten Commandments. See for yourself, Exodus chapter 20, verse 13. Do you see an asterisk there?

Why he didn't and why he won't can be explained for the same reasons that he bailed out the filthy rich bankers and let the telecommunication companies off the hook for their acts of treason. So why didn't he do those two things that we all ask him to do? Why didn't he end our illegal, immoral, imperialistic wars and bring our children home? Why didn't he bring the Crime Family Bush and their pals to justice? One can only conclude it's because they're getting way too much money and power from it!

As long as the corpo-rat shekels keep flowing, America's youth and Muslim men, women, and children will continue to be slaughtered. As long as Barry can keep those treasonous laws on the books, he can use them. Not to mention the fact that his hands are covered with blood from what he allowed to happen as a Senator under Bush. The status quo isn't about to change. There will be no important changes from the changeling unless they can find a way to continue to screw the Sheeple by changing something! Only if a new bill or law is to their advantage, not ours, will anything important change. Who knows, if he keeps this up he may well steal away Smirky's title as the worst president. Pity is, he could have been somebody!

In Other News

Barry keeps sending me letters, here's the latest...

The White House, Washington

Good Morning Ernest,

Yesterday, Judge Sonia Sotomayor made her opening statement to the Senate Judiciary Committee and moved another step closer to taking a seat on the United States Supreme Court. In case you missed it, watch the video of her opening statement here:

As President, there are few responsibilities more serious or consequential than the naming of a Supreme Court Justice, so I want to take this opportunity to tell you about the qualifications and character that informed my decision to nominate Judge Sotomayor.

Judge Sotomayor's brilliant legal mind is complemented by the practical lessons that can only be learned by applying the law to real world situations.

In the coming days, the hearings will cover an incredible body of work from a judge who has more experience on the federal bench than any incoming Supreme Court Justice in the last 100 years. Judge Sotomayor's professional background spans our judicial system - from her time as a big-city prosecutor and a corporate litigator, to her work as a federal trial judge on the U.S. District Court, and an appellate judge on the Second Circuit Court of Appeals.

And then there is Judge Sotomayor's incredible personal story. She grew up in a housing project in the South Bronx - her parents coming to New York from Puerto Rico during the Second World War. At the age of nine, she lost her father, and her mother worked six days a week just to put food on the table. It takes a certain resilience and determination to rise up out of such circumstances, focus, work hard and achieve the American dream.

This character shined through in yesterday's opening statement: Watch the video.

In Judge Sotomayor, our nation will have a Justice who will never forget her humble beginnings, will always apply the rule of law, and will be a protector of the Constitution that made her American dream and the dreams of millions of others possible. As she said so clearly yesterday, Judge Sotomayor's decisions on the bench "have been made not to serve the interests of any one litigant, but always to serve the larger interest of impartial justice."

In anticipation of today's first round of questioning, I hope you'll share this email widely, because Judge Sotomayor's confirmation is something that affects every American. It's important for these hearings to be about Judge Sotomayor's own record and her capacity for the job - not any political back and forth that some in Washington may use to distract you. What members of the Judiciary Committee, and the American people, will see today is a sharp and fearless jurist who does not let powerful interests bully her into breaking from the rule of law.

Thank you,
Barack Obama

A thought and a few questions Mr. President, if you please? As a white male I'm not looking forward to your bigoted choice for the Extreme Court being seated.

I was wondering when you are going to be my president? Not a single leftist has been appointed to anything, just the same old tired fascist criminals from Bush I & II and Clinton. So when are you going to bring us in? Paul Krugman was an obvious choice but I'm guessing he was out as he made way to much sense and might have saved the day and your banker pals wouldn't have stolen all of our money, huh?

And the imperialistic wars go on and on. How many more children must die until your blood lust is stated? I don't suppose you remember Exodus chapter 20, verse 13? Do you see an asterisk beside that anywhere?

Unless there are two sets of laws, one for the ruling elite and one for us peons, you really ought to bring the Crime Family Bush and their corpo-rat pals to justice and make examples out of all of them or open up all the cells in America and let everyone in them out, because if you totaled up all of their crimes and compared them to the last Junta's they wouldn't be ten percent of what Bush, Cheney, and the rest are getting away with.

Your radical pal,
Ernest Stewart

And Finally

Have no doubt Ya'll I'm on Barry's mailing list. Here's a letter from Kathleen, Janet and little Arne. Be afraid, America. Be very afraid! Here's the terrible trio...

The White House, Washington

As the President's advisor on Homeland Security, I am passing along the following message from Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services, Janet Napolitano, Secretary of Homeland Security, and Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education, who are leading the efforts to prepare our Nation for the coming flu season.

Fellow Americans,

This spring we were confronted with an outbreak of a troubling flu virus called 2009-H1N1. As the fall flu season approaches, it is critical that we reinvigorate our preparedness efforts across the country in order to mitigate the effects of this virus on our communities.

Today, we are holding an H1N1 Influenza Preparedness Summit in conjunction with the White House to discuss our Nation's preparedness. We are working together to monitor the spread of 2009-H1N1 and to prepare to initiate a voluntary fall vaccination program against the 2009-H1N1 flu virus, assuming we have a safe vaccine and do not see changes in the virus that would render the vaccine ineffective.

But the most critical steps to mitigating the effects of 2009-H1N1 won't take place in Washington - they will take place in your homes, schools and community businesses.

Taking precautions for this fall's flu season is a responsibility we all share. Visit to make sure you are ready and learn how you can help promote public awareness. We are making every effort to have a safe and effective vaccine available for distribution as soon as possible, but our current estimate is that it won't be ready before mid-October. This makes individual prevention even more critical. Wash your hands regularly. Take the necessary precautions to stay healthy and if you do get sick, stay home from work or school.

We are doing everything possible to prepare for the fall flu season and encourage all Americans to do the same - this is a shared responsibility and now is the time to prepare. Please visit to learn what steps you can take to prepare and do your part to mitigate the effects of H1N1.

Take Care,

Kathleen, Janet and Arne

What's wrong with this picture? Why the "much ado about nothing" that keeps being drilled into us, the fear and terror of this latest swine flu? Relax folks, this is just a test run for the real horror still in its CIA beakers.

Have you ever known the federal government to give more than a passing glance at flu before? (Even though on average 36,000 people die in the US each and every year from regular flu. This flu still hasn't killed 500 world wide since December 2008, more people die in this country in a weeks time from flu!) Well actually, I can recall two instances where the government got real interested.

The last time was back in 2005/2006 and it was the bird flu that was going to kill us all. It killed a few dozen farmers in Asia who slept with their chickens. However, with all the hype created by the Crime Family Bush our beloved Deputy-Fuhrer Von Rumsfeld made a killing out of the bird flu. He made upwards of $20 million in capital gains from selling shares in the biotechnology firm that discovered and developed Tamiflu, the drug being bought in massive amounts by Governments all over the world to treat a possible human pandemic of the disease. You may recall that Rummy was on the board of Gilead Sciences, the company that makes the drug. Imagine that!

Then the other time that the government got involved in a swine fly scare was back in the winter of 1976 when a soldier died in February at Ft. Dix, New Jersey or at least that's what the medical report said. Gerald (the Traitor) Ford sprang into action and soon people were dropping dead by the score! Within weeks, reports surfaced of people developing Guillain-Barré syndrome, a paralyzing nerve disease that was caused by the Swine Flu vaccine. Knowing this they kept on inoculating an unknowing public as there was way too much money to be made until the truth finally came out and they ceased murdering Americans on December 16th, 1976. They knew it was poison for eight months and did nothing to warn the public! Oh, and did I mention that once again the epidemic failed to materialize.

You may recall that Kathllen, Janet and little Arne had plans of inoculating all of America's children when they returned from summer vacation but fortunately the W.H.O. just announced there won't be a vaccine before at least December so there will be a short reprieve for the kids! Who knows what will be in the next batch? This time, my guess is that it will be far more dangerous than Guillain-Barré syndrome. As for me, I'll take my chances and forgo the vaccine!


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

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

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Ernest & Victoria Stewart


07-19-1919 ~~~ 07-14-2009
Goodbye Gumby!

05-09-1959 ~~~ 07-15-2009
Find the cost of Freedom!


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


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


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

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

Israel Hi-jacks ships and kidnaps crews

Season Of Travesties
Freedom and Democracy in mid-2009
By Noam Chomsky

June 2009 was marked by a number of significant events, including two elections in the Middle East: in Lebanon, then Iran. The events are significant, and the reactions to them, highly instructive.

The election in Lebanon was greeted with euphoria. New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman gushed that he is "a sucker for free and fair elections," so "it warms my heart to watch" what happened in Lebanon in an election that "was indeed free and fair and not like the pretend election you are about to see in Iran, where only candidates approved by the Supreme Leader can run. No, in Lebanon it was the real deal, and the results were fascinating: President Barack Obama defeated President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran." Crucially, "a solid majority of all Lebanese -- Muslims, Christians and Druse -- voted for the March 14 coalition led by Saad Hariri," the US-backed candidate and son of the murdered ex-Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, so that "to the extent that anyone came out of this election with the moral authority to lead the next government, it was the coalition that wants Lebanon to be run by and for the Lebanese -- not for Iran, not for Syria and not for fighting Israel." We must give credit where it is due for this triumph of free elections (and of Washington): "Without George Bush standing up to the Syrians in 2005 -- and forcing them to get out of Lebanon after the Hariri killing -- this free election would not have happened. Mr. Bush helped create the space. Power matters. Mr. Obama helped stir the hope. Words also matter."

Two days later Friedman's views were echoed by Eliott Abrams, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign relations, formerly a high official of the Reagan and Bush I administrations. Under the heading "Lebanon's Triumph, Iran's Travesty," Abrams compared these "twin tests of [US] efforts to spread democracy to the Muslim world." The lesson is clear: "What the United States should be promoting is not elections, but free elections, and the voting in Lebanon passed any realistic test. ... the majority of Lebanese have rejected Hezbollah's claim that it is not a terrorist group but a 'national resistance' ... The Lebanese had a chance to vote against Hezbollah, and took the opportunity."

Reactions were similar throughout the mainstream. There are, however, a few flies in the ointment.

The most prominent of them, apparently unreported in the US, is the actual vote. The Hezbollah-based March 8 coalition won handily, by approximately the same figure as Obama vs. McCain in November 2008, about 54% of the popular vote, according Ministry of Interior figures. Hence by the Friedman-Abrams argument, we should be lamenting Ahmadinejad's defeat of President Obama, and the "moral authority" won by Hezbollah, as "the majority of Lebanese ... took the opportunity" to reject the charges Abrams repeats from Washington propaganda.

Like others, Friedman and Abrams are referring to representatives in Parliament. These numbers are skewed by the confessional voting system, which sharply reduces the seats granted to the largest of the sects, the Shi'ites, who overwhelmingly back Hizbollah and its Amal ally. But as serious analysts have pointed out, the confessional ground rules undermine "free and fair elections" in even more significant ways than this. Assaf Kfoury observes that they leave no space for non-sectarian parties and erect a barrier to introducing socioeconomic policies and other real issues into the electoral system. They also open the door to "massive external interference," low voter turnout, and "vote-rigging and vote-buying," all features of the June election, even more so than before. Thus in Beirut, home of more than half the population, less than a fourth of eligible voters could vote without returning to their usually remote districts of origin. The effect is that migrant workers and the poorer classes are effectively disenfranchised in "a form of extreme gerrymandering, Lebanese style," favoring the privileged and pro-Western classes.

In Iran, the electoral results issued by the Interior Ministry lacked credibility both by the manner in which they were released and by the figures themselves. An enormous popular protest followed, brutally suppressed by the armed forces of the ruling clerics. Perhaps Ahmadinejad might have won a majority if votes had been fairly counted, but it appears that the rulers were unwilling to take that chance. From the streets, correspondent Reese Erlich, who has had considerable experience with popular uprisings and bitter repression in US domains, writes that "It's a genuine Iranian mass movement made up of students, workers, women, and middle class folks" -- and possibly much of the rural population. Eric Hooglund, a respected scholar who has studied rural Iran intensively, dismisses standard speculations about rural support for Ahmadinejad, describing "overwhelming" support for Mousavi in regions he has studied, and outrage over what the large majority there regard as a stolen election.

It is highly unlikely that the protest will damage the clerical-military regime in the short term, but as Erlich observes, it "is sowing the seeds for future struggles."

As in Lebanon, the electoral system itself violates basic rights. Candidates have to be approved by the ruling clerics, who can and do bar policies of which they disapprove. And though repression overall may not be as harsh as in the US-backed dictatorships of the region, it is ugly enough, and in June 2009, very visibly so.

One can argue that Iranian "guided democracy" has structural analogues in the US, where elections are largely bought, and candidates and programs are effectively "vetted" by concentrations of capital. A striking illustration is being played out right now. It is hardly controversial that the disastrous US health system is a high priority for the public, which, for a long time, has favored national health care, an option that has been kept off the agenda by private power. In a limited shift towards the public will, Congress is now debating whether to allow a public option to compete with insurers, a proposal with overwhelming popular support. The opposition, who regard themselves as free market advocates, charge that the proposal would be unfair to the private sector, which will be unable to compete with a more efficient public system. Though a bit odd, the argument is plausible. As economist Dean Baker points out, "We know that private insurers can't compete because we already had this experiment with the Medicare program. When private insurers had to compete on a level playing field with the traditional government-run plan they were almost driven from the market." Savings from a government program would be even greater if, as in other countries, the government were permitted to negotiate prices with pharmaceutical corporations, an option supported by 85% of the population but also not on the agenda. "Unless Congress creates a serious public plan," Baker writes, Americans "can expect to be hit with the largest tax increase in the history of the world -- all of it going into the pockets of the health care industry." That is a likely outcome, once again, in the American form of "guided democracy." And it is hardly the only example.

While our thoughts are turned to elections, we should not forget one recent authentically "free and fair" election in the Middle East region, in Palestine in January 2006, to which the US and its allies at once responded with harsh punishment for the population that voted "the wrong way." The pretexts offered were laughable, and the response caused scarcely a ripple on the flood of commentary on Washington's noble "efforts to spread democracy to the Muslim world," a feat that reveals impressive subordination to authority.

No less impressive is the readiness to agree that Israel is justified in imposing a harsh and destructive siege on Gaza, and attacking it with merciless violence using US equipment and diplomatic support, as it did last winter. There of course is a pretext: "the right to self-defense." The pretext has been almost universally accepted in the West, though Israeli actions are sometimes condemned as "disproportionate." The reaction is remarkable, because the pretext collapses on the most cursory inspection. The issue is the right TO USE FORCE in self-defense, and a state has that right only if it has exhausted peaceful means. In this case, Israel has simply refused to use the peaceful means that have readily available. All of this has been amply discussed elsewhere, and it should be unnecessary to review the simple facts once again. Once again relying on the impunity it receives as a US client, Israel brought the month of June 2009 to a close by enforcing the siege with a brazen act of hijacking. On June 30, the Israeli navy hijacked the Free Gaza movement boat "Spirit of Humanity" -- in international waters, according to those aboard -- and forced it to the Israeli port of Ashdod. The boat had left from Cyprus, where the cargo was inspected: it consisted of medicines, reconstruction supplies, and toys. The human rights workers aboard included Nobel Laureate Mairead Maguire and former congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, who was sent to Ramleh prison in Israel -- apparently without a word from the Obama administration. The crime scarcely elicited a yawn -- with some justice, one might argue, since Israel has been hijacking boats traveling between Cyprus and Lebanon for decades, kidnapping and sometimes killing passengers or sending them in Israeli prisons without charge where they join thousands of others, in some cases held for many years as hostages. So why even bother to report this latest outrage by a rogue state and its patron, for whom law is a theme for 4th of July speeches and a weapon against enemies?

Israel's hijacking is a far more extreme crime than anything carried out by Somalis driven to piracy by poverty and despair, and destruction of their fishing grounds by robbery and dumping of toxic wastes -- not to speak of the destruction of their economy by a Bush counter-terror operation conceded to have been fraudulent, and a US-backed Ethiopian invasion. The Israeli hijacking is also in violation of a March 1988 international Convention on safety of maritime navigation to which the US is a party, hence required by the Convention to assist in enforcing it. Israel, however, is not a party -- which, of course, in no way mitigates the crime or the obligation to enforce the Convention against violators. Israel's failure to join is particularly interesting, since the Convention was partially inspired by the hijacking of the Achille Lauro in 1985. That crime ranks high in Israel and the West among terrorist atrocities -- unlike Israel's US-backed bombing of Tunis a week earlier, killing 75 people, as usual with no credible pretext, but again tolerated under the grant of impunity for the US and its clients.

Possibly Israel chose not to join the Convention because of its regular practice of hijacking boats in international waters at that time. Also worth investigating in connection with the June 2009 hijacking is that since 2000, after the discovery of apparently substantial reserves of natural gas in Gaza's territorial waters by British Gas, Israel has been steadily forcing Gazan fishing boats towards shore, often violently, ruining an industry vital to Gaza's survival. At the same time, Israel has been entering into negotiations with BG to obtain gas from these sources, thus stealing the meager resources of the population it is mercilessly crushing.

The Western hemisphere also witnessed an election-related crime at the month's end. A military coup in Honduras ousted President Manuel Zelaya and expelled him to Costa Rica. As observed by economist Mark Weisbrot, an experienced analyst of Latin American affairs, the social structure of the coup is "a recurrent story in Latin America," pitting "a reform president who is supported by labor unions and social organizations against a mafia-like, drug-ridden, corrupt political elite who is accustomed to choosing not only the Supreme Court and the Congress, but also the president."

Mainstream commentary described the coup as an unfortunate return to the bad days of decades ago. But that is mistaken. This is the third military coup in the past decade, all conforming to the "recurrent story." The first, in Venezuela in 2002, was supported by the Bush administration, which, however, backed down after sharp Latin American condemnation and restoration of the elected government by a popular uprising. The second, in Haiti in 2004, was carried out by Haiti's traditional torturers, France and the US. The elected President, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, was spirited to Central Africa and kept at a safe distance from Haiti by the master of the hemisphere.

What is novel in the Honduras coup is that the US has not lent it support. Rather, the US joined with the Organization of American States in opposing the coup, though with a more reserved condemnation than others, and with no any action, unlike the neighboring states and much of the rest of Latin America. Alone in the region, the US has not withdrawn its ambassador, as did France, Spain and Italy along with Latin American states.

It was reported that Washington had advance information about a possible coup, and tried to prevent it. It surpasses imagination that Washington did not have close knowledge of what was underway in Honduras, which is highly dependent on US aid, and whose military is armed, trained, and advised by Washington. Military relations have been particularly close since the 1980s, when Honduras was the base for Reagan's terrorist war against Nicaragua.

Whether this will play out as another chapter of the "recurrent story" remains to be seen, and will depend in no small measure on reactions within the United States.
(c) 2009 Noam Chomsky is emeritus professor of linguistics and philosophy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and is co-author, with Gilbert Achcar, of Perilous Power: The Middle East & U.S. Foreign Policy: Dialogues on Terror, Democracy, War, and Justice. His most recent book is Hegemony or Survival Americas Quest for Global Dominance. His writings on linguistics and politics have just been collected in The Essential Noam Chomsky, edited by Anthony Arnove, from the New Press.

Matter Of The Heart
By Uri Avnery

EVERY GERMAN child knows the story of the Captain of Koepenick.

The scene is 1908 Germany, with the Second Reich at the peak of its power, ruled by a Kaiser who is almost always decked out in a splendid military uniform.

A shoemaker named Wilhelm Voigt is released from prison, after doing time for fraud. He needs a passport to get a job, but felons cannot obtain a passport.

The shoemaker goes to a masquerade shop and puts on the uniform of an army captain. He commandeers a squad of soldiers that happens to be passing in the street. They do notice some irregularities in his outfit but dare not disobey an officer.

The "captain" marches the soldiers to the little town of Koepenick, a suburb of Berlin, arrests the mayor and confiscates the safe, which contains blank passports. Later the police have no great difficulty making out who committed the outrage, and it is not long before he is arrested.

When an adjutant announces the news to the Kaiser, the court holds its breath. After a tense moment or two, His Majesty bursts out laughing. All of Germany laughs with him, along with the rest of Europe.

The "Hauptmann von Koepenick" became a legend, because his adventure threw into relief the very essence of the regime: in the militarist Germany of the time, just before World War I, military rank meant unquestioned authority.

PERHAPS IT is true that every country has an episode of this kind, highlighting with one stroke the main foibles of its regime. In Israel it was - until this week - the affair of the "Ramat Gan Light Bulb."

In March 1982 the Economy Minister Yaacov Meridor, a leading member of the Likud, announced that a scientist by the name of Danny Berman had come up with an invention that would cause a revolution throughout the world. By a simple chemical process he was able to produce energy sufficient to light all of Ramat Gan with one single light bulb. Ramat Gan is a sister town of Tel Aviv, and almost as big.

Yaacov Meridor (no relation of the current minister Dan Meridor) was not just anybody. He had been the commander of the Irgun before the arrival of Menachem Begin, and later had set up major economic enterprises in Africa. He was the No. 2 Likud leader and it was no secret that Begin considered him his heir and successor.

Before Meridor's announcement, a senior reporter of my news magazine, Haolam Hazeh, came to me and told me breathlessly about the wondrous invention. I responded with one word: Nonsense. My years as an investigative magazine editor had honed my nose for detecting phony stories. But the whole country was ecstatic.

In the following days, the revolutionary invention was exposed as a simple fraud. Berman, the genius who posed as a former Air Force officer, was exposed as an impostor with a criminal record. Meridor lost his political future. But a small band of True Believers, including my senior reporter, continued to swear that Berman was indeed a misunderstood genius.

How could a completely nonsensical story, without any foundation at all, capture a whole country and elicit general acceptance, at least at the beginning? Very simple: it expressed one of the deeply-held beliefs of the Israeli public - that Jews are the most intelligent people in the world.

That, by the way, is a conviction held both by many Jews and by anti-Semites. The infamous tract "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion," which discloses a Jewish conspiracy to take over the world, relies on this belief.

There are many theories which profess to explain the alleged superiority of the "Jewish Brain." One asserts that in the thousands of years of persecution, the Jews were compelled to develop their brainpower just in order to survive. Another theory goes like this: in medieval Catholic Europe, the most intelligent men became priests or monks whose vocational celibacy prevented the transmission of their genes to offspring, while it was the habit in the Jewish communities for rich parents to marry their daughters to the most outstanding young scholars.

THIS WEEK, the Ramat Gan Light Bulb was trumped by an even more magnificent invention: the Heart Sticker.

The economic supplement of Haaretz published a sensational scoop: a virtually unknown Israeli company had sold a third of its shares to a Taiwan-British corporation for 370 million dollars, raising its own value to a billion. All this owing to a revolutionary invention: a small sticker that, when put on the breast, can foretell a heart attack a crucial half hour before it actually happens. The sticker sends out warnings by cellular phone and satellite, thus introducing the possibility of saving countless lives.

That evening, one of the chiefs of the happy firm appeared on TV and disclosed that the wonder-sticker could do much more: for example, it could measure the amount of sugar in the blood without invading the body.

My nose immediately began to twitch.

And indeed, a day later the media started to investigate the matter, revealing one curious fact after another. Nobody had actually seen the wonder sticker. No patent had been registered. No cardiologist or other expert had examined it. No scientific paper had mentioned it. And, it seems, no scientific experiment had been conducted.

The Taiwan-British company had sent no representative to Israel to examine the invention for which it had allegedly paid a huge sum. The negotiations had been conducted entirely by email, without any personal contact. The lawyers involved refused to show the signed agreement.

When reporters contacted the foreign company, they denied any knowledge of the matter. It appeared that the inventor had registered a computer domain with a similar name and thus actually sold the shares to himself.

At this stage, the house of cards started to fall apart. It was revealed that the inventor had twice done time in prison for fraud. But his partners still insisted that the matter was serious and that within days, if not hours, the genius of the invention would be revealed to all, and the critics would be compelled to eat their hats.

The hats remained uneaten, and the partners deserted the ship one after the other.

WHAT TRANSFORMED the affair from an amusing "sting" operation into a matter of national importance was the readiness of the whole country, for a whole day, to accept the story as another proof of Jewish genius.

No less typical was the identity of its heroes. No. 1 was the inventor himself, who continues to protest that this time, this of all times, he is not an impostor. No. 2 was his partner, the businessman, who was or was not an accomplice to the fraud. But the interesting characters are the other two main protagonists.

No. 3 has been for many years the closest friend of Binyamin Netanyahu, and especially of his wife, Sarah (known to everybody by the childish diminutive Sara'le). At the height of the scandal he resigned his job as CEO, after failing to obtain a copy of the famous contract. If it is assumed that this friend of Netanyahu's is indeed innocent, his level of intelligence must be subject to grave doubts. However, it may not be intelligence that the Netanyahu family looks for in close friends.

That is even more true for No. 4: Haggai Hadas. The exact nature of his involvement is not entirely clear. At the beginning, he vigorously defended the invention and seemed to be involved from head to foot, but when the thing blew up he desperately tried to distance himself from it.

Why is this any more important than the usual gossip? Because Haggai Hadas, apart from enjoying Netanyahu's confidence and being, reportedly, a personal friend of his wife, has served in the past as chief of the operations department of the Mossad, the third most important post in the spy agency. He could by now have been the Mossad chief, if the incumbent had not actively prevented everybody else from coming even close.

Some weeks ago, Netanyahu appointed Hadas to one of the most sensitive positions in the security establishment: to coordinate all the efforts to free the "kidnapped" soldier Gilad Shalit.

If we do not want to assume that this man, a confidante of the Prime Minister and a former senior officer of the Mossad, who has been responsible for life-and-death decisions, was an accomplice to a vile fraud, there is no escape from the conclusion that his judgment is grievously impaired and that he fell into a trap that any person with common sense could have spotted a mile off.

How can such a person possibly be entrusted with such a sensitive task as the negotiation for a prisoner exchange with Hamas, in which sophisticated Egyptian mediators are involved?

And what does this say about the judgment of Netanyahu, who appointed him to this task, especially assuming that his wife had demanded it?

THIS WEEK also marked a milestone: the end of the first 100 days of Netanyahu's second term as Prime Minister.

The Kadima people have invented a catchy slogan: "100 days, 0 achievements."

To start with, Netanyahu appointed a bloated government in which a third of all Knesset members serve as ministers or deputy ministers, many of them without any apparent duties. Two of the three most important ministries were allotted to totally unsuited persons: the Treasury to an economic toddler and the Foreign Office to a racist who is openly shunned by many of the world's most prominent leaders.

Then there came a series of laws and measures that were announced with great fanfare, only to be dropped very quietly. The latest example: the levying of VAT on fruits and vegetables, which was abandoned at the last moment.

But the epitome of inefficiency was the inability to put together the Prime Minister's staff. The Advisor for National Security, Uzi Arad, is not interested in peace with either the Palestinians or the Syrians, and wants to deal only with the Iranian issue. (This week President Barack Obama issued a public and unequivocal prohibition on any Israeli military attack on Iran.) The Chief of Cabinet, the Director General of the Prime Minister's office, the Political Advisor and other members of the staff detest each other and do not make any effort to hide it. The Press Advisor has already been replaced, and this week a female friend of Sarah Netanyahu was appointed as advisor for "Branding the State" (Anyone know what that means??)

In the meantime, Sara'le has returned to the spotlight. A former airline stewardess who met Netanyahu in an airport duty-free shop when he was still married to his second wife, she was universally disliked and served as a butt of jokes during her husband's first term. This time, efforts were made to keep her in the background. When the Prime Minister still insisted on taking her with him to Washington, Michelle Obama avoided meeting her. When he was due to visit several European capitals, she was struck from the list at the last moment. But it seems that she is very active behind the scenes, especially as far as crucial senior appointments are concerned.

Perhaps this country really does need a wonder sticker?
(c) 2009 Uri Avnery ~~~ Gush Shalom

Pelosi's Toothless 'Commission'
By Joe Conason

Very soon, congressional leaders are expected to announce the creation of a new commission to investigate the causes of America's crippling financial disaster. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has reportedly told Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner that this investigative panel will be modeled on the legendary "Pecora Commission," which held a series of hearings on Capitol Hill in 1933 that arraigned the nation's biggest bankers and stock swindlers before an angry and suffering people. Named for Ferdinand Pecora, the cigar-chomping New York prosecutor who oversaw the proceedings, those confrontations mobilized public support for the financial reforms of the New Deal-which curbed the excesses of Wall Street's overclass until a decade ago when the reforms were undone.

But unless the speaker and her colleagues summon much greater courage than they have displayed to date, any comparisons to the Pecora investigation will only highlight the failure of the Democrats to live up to their heritage. The way to begin to understand that incipient disappointment is with a short history lesson, and the way to start that lesson is to note that the Pecora "commission" was not really a commission at all, in the sense that we have come to understand that term-meaning an excuse for politicians to avoid their responsibilities by palming them off on a group of unelected appointees.

No, the Pecora commission was nothing like that. The so-called commission was in fact the Senate Banking and Currency Committee itself, which under Republican leadership had undertaken a desultory investigation of the 1929 Crash and the onset of the Great Depression, an investigation that had dragged on for a year or so without much progress. That changed with the election of 1932, which sent Franklin Delano Roosevelt to the White House and gave control of the United States Senate, including the Banking Committee, to the Democrats. In January 1933, Pecora was appointed to write up the weak and incomplete findings of his three predecessors-but the Senate Democrats, with the encouragement of the new president, encouraged him to continue and extend the committee's investigation.

Armed with full subpoena power, Pecora summoned many of the nation's most important bankers, brokers and financial operators to the witness table, including J.P. Morgan II, where they endured his harsh and sometimes humiliating public examination. When Morgan confessed that he and many of his partners in the most powerful investment bank routinely paid no income taxes, the furious reaction of the public armed FDR with the political power to enforce reforms, despite the bitter opposition of the bankers. Tax avoidance by the wealthiest men on Wall Street was merely a tantalizing bagatelle in the trove of abuses uncovered by Pecora, whose findings ranged from the underwriting of bad securities to pay off unsound loans (which may sound familiar) to the inflation of banking stocks through deceptive practices (which may sound familiar, too).

What Pelosi and her colleagues appear to be preparing, with the apparent assent of President Obama, is much weaker stuff. She has said that we need to find out what really happened to the nation's finances in order "to make sure something like this never happens again." But if the stakes are so high, why should this grave responsibility be turned over to retired politicians, former federal appointees and academics, as now seems most likely? Reuters has reported that the new commission's members will probably include former Sens. Fred Thompson, Jake Garn and Bob Graham, along with former Commodity Futures Trading Commission Chair Brooksley Born (the most impressive name floated so far) and Alex Pollock, a conservative economist from the American Enterprise Institute. Is anyone yawning yet?

By consigning this historic investigation to an unelected panel, the congressional Democrats are running away from the mission of change that they were elected to fulfill-and the president who popularized that message is implicated in that error as well. What the nation needs now is a serious investigation, backed by the full authority of a joint congressional committee and spearheaded by a professional prosecutor like the brilliant Pecora-not a cowardly evasion and a mush-mouthed "bipartisan" report.
(c) 2009 Joe Conason writes for The New York Observer. You may reach Joe via email at: Joe Conason

The Interminable Price Of War

Well, we finally got that Iraq thing done, right?

On the last day of June, the U.S. commander in Iraq transferred military authority to the government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, who promptly held a day of national celebration. Then, America skedaddled. It wasn't pretty. After six years and 4,300 American deaths, we got no "mission accomplished" moment, and things are still a big mess over there, both militarily and politically - but at least we're through with it.

Only... we're not. Not by a long shot. First, only about 30,000 of America's soldiers in Iraq have actually left, and the Pentagon says it plans to keep 50,000 troops stationed there for years to come.

Then there's the little matter of being stuck with the bill for this reckless misadventure. Rather than paying for the war as we went, George W and Congress put the whole thing on the nation's credit card. According to two top economic analysts, Linda Bilmes and Joseph Stiglitz, the direct tab for that war is already at a trillion dollars. But that doesn't count such things as interest payments on the war debt, replenishment of military equipment, and longterm care for the 80,000 troops who've been wounded or traumatized. These items raise the monetary cost to some $3 trillion, so we'll not be "through" with Iraq for generations to come.

Meanwhile, since our military machine was diverted to Iraq in 2003, Afghanistan's Taliban was freed to regain power and grow stronger than ever, so Obama and Congress are now headed down that bloody and costly war trail. About 60,000 US troops and $24 billion have been committed this year to the carnage in this harsh land.

While America is officially "out" of Iraq, we'll be mired in its consequences for a long time. It's a hell of a price to pay for... Well , for what, exactly?
(c) 2009 Jim Hightower's latest book, "If The Gods Had Meant Us To Vote They Would Have Given Us Candidates," is available in a fully revised and updated paperback edition.

Obama Covers Up A Dozen My Lais
Were 3,000 Afghans Murdered As U.S. Troops Stood By?
By Ted Rall

NEW YORK: "I've asked my national security team to...collect the facts," President Obama told CNN. Then, he said, "we'll probably make a decision in terms of how to approach it once we have all the facts together."


Such was Obama's tepid reaction to a New York Times cover story about an alleged "mass killing of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Taliban prisoners of war by the forces of an American-backed warlord during the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan."

Obama sounds so reasonable. Doesn't he always? But his reaction to the massacre in the Dasht-i-Leili desert is nothing more than the latest case of his administration refusing to investigate a Bush-era war crime.

There are two things Obama doesn't want you to know about Dasht-i-Leili. First, the political class and U.S. state-controlled media have sat on this story for six to seven years. Second, U.S. troops are accused of participating in the atrocities, which involved 12 times as many murders as My Lai.

The last major battle for northern Afghanistan took place in the city of Kunduz. After a weeks-long siege marked by treachery--at one point, the Taliban pretended to surrender, then turned their weapons on advancing Northern Alliance solders--at least 8,000 Taliban POWs fell under the control of General Abdul Rashid Dostum, an Uzbek warlord with a long record of exceptional brutality.

I described what happened next in my column dated January 28, 2003:

"Five thousand of the 8,000 prisoners made the trip to Sheberghan prison in the backs of open-air Soviet-era pick-up trucks...They stopped and commandeered private container trucks to transport the other 3,000 prisoners. 'It was awful,' Irfan Azgar Ali, a survivor of the trip, told England's Guardian newspaper. 'They crammed us into sealed shipping containers. We had no water for 20 hours. We banged on the side of the container. There was no air and it was very hot. There were 300 of us in my container. By the time we arrived in Sheberghan, only ten of us were alive.'

"One Afghan trucker, forced to drive one such container, says that the prisoners began to beg for air. Northern Alliance commanders 'told us to stop the trucks, and we came down. After that, they shot into the containers [to make air holes]. Blood came pouring out. They were screaming inside.' Another driver in the convoy estimates that an average of 150 to 160 people died in each container."

According to Scottish filmmaker Jamie Doran, the butchery continued for three days.

Doran's documentary about these events, "Afghan Massacre: The Convoy of Death," was shown in 50 countries but couldn't get a U.S. release by a media wallowing in the amped-up pseudo-patriotism that marked 2002. Doran's film broke the story. (You can watch it online at) My column brought it to a mainstream American audience:

"When the containers were unlocked at Sheberghan," I wrote in 2003, "the bodies of the dead tumbled out. A 12-man U.S. Fifth Special Forces Group unit, Operational Detachment Alpha (ODA) 595, guarded the prison's front gates...' Everything was under the control of the American commanders,' a Northern Alliance soldier tells Doran in the film. American troops searched the bodies for Al Qaeda identification cards. But, says another driver, 'Some of [the prisoners] were alive. They were shot' while 'maybe 30 or 40' American soldiers watched."

The Northern Alliance witness told Doran that American commanders advised him to "get rid of them [the bodies] before satellite pictures could be taken." Indeed, satellite photos reveal that Afghan President Hamid Karzai's government dispatched bulldozers to the mass grave site in 2006 and removed most of the bodies.

World's Most Dangerous Places writer Robert Young Pelton, a colleague who (like me) was in and around Kunduz in November 2001, denies that Dostum's men or U.S. Special Forces killed more than a few hundred Taliban prisoners. However, the U.S. government started receiving firsthand accounts of the events at Dasht-i-Leili in early 2002. According to the Times "Dell Spry, the FBI's senior representative at...Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, heard accounts of the deaths from agents he supervised there. Separately, 10 or so prisoners brought from Afghanistan reported that they had been 'stacked like cordwood' in shipping containers and had to lick the perspiration off one another to survive, Mr. Spry recalled."
(c) 2009
Ted Rall is the author of the new book "Silk Road to Ruin: Is Central Asia the New Middle East?" an in-depth prose and graphic novel analysis of America's next big foreign policy challenge.)

How McNamara Lost World War II
By Greg Palast

It's been a good week. Robert McNamara's dead and my book, Armed Madhouse, was released in translation in Vietnam.

I don't blame McNamara for losing the war in Vietnam. After all, the good guys won. I do, however, blame him for losing World War II.

In 1995, in Chicago, veterans of Silver Post No. 282 celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of their victory over Japan, marching around a catering hall wearing their old service caps, pins, ribbons and medals. My father sat at his table, silent. He did not wear his medals.

He had given them to me thirty years earlier. I can figure it exactly: March 8, 1965. That day, like every other, we walked to the newsstand near the dime store to get the LA Times. He was a Times man. Never read the Examiner.

He looked at the headline: U.S. Marines had landed on the beach at Danang, Vietnam.

Vietnamese gun boats had attacked American ships in the Gulf of Tonkin. The Times said so. President Johnson said so. His Defense Secretary Robert McNamara said so.

But on the Oval Office tapes, Johnson said, "Hell, those damn stupid [US] sailors were just shooting at flying fish." McNamara corrected him later. They were shooting at their own "sonar shadow." But that, of course, wouldn't be mentioned in the Times.

My dad didn't need LBJ's tape to know: they lied.

As a kid, I was fascinated by my dad's medals. One, embossed with an eagle and soldiers under a palm tree, said "Asiatic Pacific Campaign." It had three bronze stars and an arrowhead.

My father always found flag-wavers a bit suspect. But he was a patriot, nurturing this deep and intelligent patriotism. To him, America stood for Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Four Freedoms.

My father's army had liberated Hitler's concentration camps and later protected Martin Luther King's marchers on the road to Birmingham. His America put its strong arm around the world's shoulder as protector. On the back of the medal, it read "Freedom from Want and Fear."

His victory over Japan was a victory of principles over imperial power, of freedom over tyranny, of right over Japan's raw military might. A song he taught me from the early days of the war, when Japan had the guns and we had only ideals, went,

We have no bombers to attack with . . .
But Eagles, American Eagles,
fight for the rights we adore!

"That's it," he said that day in 1965, and folded the newspaper.

The politicians had ordered his army, with its fierce postwar industrial killing machines, to set upon Asia's poor. Too well read in history and too experienced in battle, he knew what was coming. He could see right then what it would take other Americans ten years of that war in Vietnam to see: American bombers dropping napalm on straw huts, burning the same villages Hirohito's invaders had burned twenty years earlier.

Johnson and McNamara had taken away his victory over Japan.

They stole his victory over tyranny. When we returned home, he dropped his medals into my twelve-year-old hands to play with and to lose among my toys.

A few years ago, my wife Linda and I went to Vietnam to help out rural credit unions lending a few dollars to farmers so they could buy pigs and chickens.

On March 8, 1995, while in Danang, I walked up a long stone stairway from the beach to a shrine where Vietnamese honor their parents and ancestors.

Halfway up, a man about my age had stopped to rest, exhausted from his difficult, hot climb on one leg and crutches. I sat next to him, but he turned his head away, ashamed of his ragged clothes, parts of an old, dirty uniform.

The two of us watched the fishermen at work on the boats below. I put one of my father's medals down next to him. I don't know what he thought I was doing. I don't know myself.

In '45, on the battleship Missouri, Douglas MacArthur accepted the surrender of Imperial Japan. I never thought much of General MacArthur, but he said something that stuck with me. "It is for us, both victors and vanquished, to rise to that higher dignity which alone benefits the sacred purposes we are about to serve."

Excerpted from "The Best Democracy Money Can Buy" (Penguin 2003).
(c) 2009 Greg Palast is a Puffin Foundation Writing Fellow for Investigative Reporting at the Nation Institute, New York. Read the rest of this story by picking up his New York Times bestseller, Armed Madhouse Join Palast's Network on MySpace, on FaceBook or on YouTube.

Boiling The Frog
By Paul Krugman

Is America on its way to becoming a boiled frog?

I'm referring, of course, to the proverbial frog that, placed in a pot of cold water that is gradually heated, never realizes the danger it's in and is boiled alive. Real frogs will, in fact, jump out of the pot - but never mind. The hypothetical boiled frog is a useful metaphor for a very real problem: the difficulty of responding to disasters that creep up on you a bit at a time.

And creeping disasters are what we mostly face these days.

I started thinking about boiled frogs recently as I watched the depressing state of debate over both economic and environmental policy. These are both areas in which there is a substantial lag before policy actions have their full effect - a year or more in the case of the economy, decades in the case of the planet - yet in which it's very hard to get people to do what it takes to head off a catastrophe foretold.

And right now, both the economic and the environmental frogs are sitting still while the water gets hotter.

Start with economics: last winter the economy was in acute crisis, with a replay of the Great Depression seeming all too possible. And there was a fairly strong policy response in the form of the Obama stimulus plan, even if that plan wasn't as strong as some of us thought it should have been.

At this point, however, the acute crisis has given way to a much more insidious threat. Most economic forecasters now expect gross domestic product to start growing soon, if it hasn't already. But all the signs point to a "jobless recovery": on average, forecasters surveyed by The Wall Street Journal believe that the unemployment rate will keep rising into next year, and that it will be as high at the end of 2010 as it is now.

Now, it's bad enough to be jobless for a few weeks; it's much worse being unemployed for months or years. Yet that's exactly what will happen to millions of Americans if the average forecast is right - which means that many of the unemployed will lose their savings, their homes and more.

To head off this outcome - and remember, this isn't what economic Cassandras are saying; it's the forecasting consensus - we'd need to get another round of fiscal stimulus under way very soon. But neither Congress nor, alas, the Obama administration is showing any inclination to act. Now that the free fall is over, all sense of urgency seems to have vanished.

This will probably change once the reality of the jobless recovery becomes all too apparent. But by then it will be too late to avoid a slow-motion human and social disaster.

Still, the boiled-frog problem on the economy is nothing compared with the problem of getting action on climate change.

Put it this way: if the consensus of the economic experts is grim, the consensus of the climate experts is utterly terrifying. At this point, the central forecast of leading climate models - not the worst-case scenario but the most likely outcome - is utter catastrophe, a rise in temperatures that will totally disrupt life as we know it, if we continue along our present path. How to head off that catastrophe should be the dominant policy issue of our time.

But it isn't, because climate change is a creeping threat rather than an attention-grabbing crisis. The full dimensions of the catastrophe won't be apparent for decades, perhaps generations. In fact, it will probably be many years before the upward trend in temperatures is so obvious to casual observers that it silences the skeptics. Unfortunately, if we wait to act until the climate crisis is that obvious, catastrophe will already have become inevitable.

And while a major environmental bill has passed the House, which was an amazing and inspiring political achievement, the bill fell well short of what the planet really needs - and despite this faces steep odds in the Senate.

What makes the apparent paralysis of policy especially alarming is that so little is happening when the political situation seems, on the surface, to be so favorable to action.

After all, supply-siders and climate-change-deniers no longer control the White House and key Congressional committees. Democrats have a popular president to lead them, a large majority in the House of Representatives and 60 votes in the Senate. And this isn't the old Democratic majority, which was an awkward coalition between Northern liberals and Southern conservatives; this is, by historical standards, a relatively solid progressive bloc.

And let's be clear: both the president and the party's Congressional leadership understand the economic and environmental issues perfectly well. So if we can't get action to head off disaster now, what would it take?

I don't know the answer. And that's why I keep thinking about boiling frogs.
(c) 2009 Paul Krugman --- The New York Times

Keep The Change
Obama Backs Bush's Political Prisoner Operation
By Chris Floyd

We all know about the vaunted -- not to mention shameless -- "continuity" between the Bush and Obama administrations in foreign policy and "national security," with Bush's generals, and even Bush's Pentagon honcho, still running -- and expanding -- the Terror War under Barack Obama's orders, while he also wages legal war in the courts to uphold Bush's authoritarian perversions of the Constitution, and defend the war criminals in Bush's gulag -- some of whom Obama has elevated to even greater heights of power.

But surely there is some real "change" going on elsewhere in government, isn't there? How about at the thoroughly rotted Justice Department, where Bush cronies turned federal law into a partisan weapon, even jailing opposition political figures on trumped-up charges, like the worst kind of third-rate, tinpot tyranny? Surely Obama and his highly progressive Attorney General, Eric Holder, are going to clean out the fetid swamp of lawlessness at Justice, aren't they?

Er, no.

As Scott Horton notes at Harper's, the Obama Justice Department has just fired a courageous federal attorney who had sent a letter to the highly progressive Holder detailing more of the unbelievably brazen machinations of Karl Rove's cronies who put former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman in prison on specious charges after a trial before a highly partisan, interest-conflicted judge. As Horton reports:

In a nine-page June 1, 2009 letter to her boss, Attorney General Eric Holder, Tamarah Grimes, a member of the Justice Department team that prosecuted former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman, itemized an astonishing list of acts of misconduct by her colleagues as they developed what they called "the Big Case."

* [These included]: Two key witnesses were cajoled, coached, and pressured to change their testimony to better support the charges. This specifically included the key evidence given by one witness on which Siegelman was convicted. But, as Grimes notes, the witness in fact had no recollection of the events-he was pressured to recount them in a way that suited the prosecutors....

* Members of the prosecution team communicated directly with a pro-prosecution juror while the case was pending and afterwards...

* Every aspect of the case was overseen by U.S. Attorney Canary. She had nominally recused herself from the case because her husband, a friend of Karl Rove and the most prominent G.O.P. elections advisor in Alabama, was advising a campaign against Siegelman for which the prosecution provided essential grist.

Eight days after submitting these meticulously documented complaints, many of which echo concerns stated by others in the U.S. Attorney's office in Montgomery, Grimes received a reply of sorts. She was fired. Grimes notes in a press release that she was informed of her dismissal in a letter from Terry Derden of the Executive Office of U.S. Attorneys.

Read the whole post for more dirty details. Horton goes on to note that just as Obama has promoted top Bush officials intimately involved in CIA torture, he has also retained "the clever consigliere of the Bush Justice Department, who amazingly continue to control all aspects of the case involving Siegelman five months into a new Democratic administration (including Leura Canary, who is still on the job in Montgomery)." As Horton puts it: "The Justice Department's conduct looks increasingly like a Sicilian mob group: you commit the crimes the bosses order and you keep quiet about it, or the consequences will be fearsome."

That's very true; but it doesn't just apply to the Justice Department. The whole imperial court is run more and more like a crime syndicate, with periodic battles to determine which faction will be in charge of divvying up the loot. The Chicago gang has temporarily supplanted the Texas boys, but both pay obesiance to the big bosses back East, with the Bush-Obama "bailout" plans funneling trillions of dollars of public money to the mob kings of Wall Street. And of course, in classic gangster fashion, our bipartisan foreign policy elite use murder, violence -- and the constant threat of murder and violence -- to impose their will on the global neighborhood.

In any case, Don Siegelman remains a political prisoner of the United States of America -- unlike former Republican senator Ted Stevens, whom the Obama Justice Department swiftly released due to prosecutorial misconduct that comes nowhere near the brazen fixing of Canary and her crew.

As it (almost) saith in the Scriptures: They cry 'change, change,' but there is no change.
(c) 2009 Chris Floyd

Hollowed Out Power
By Case Wagenvoord

Sometimes it looks hopeless. The corruption is so ingrained that it is institutionalized. We have a Congress operated by K Street lobbyists and a White House that is a subsidiary of Goldman Sachs. The beltway sits in a vacuum-sealed bell jar that mutes the cries of the poor and the suffering.

Corporate America had a lock on our republic and it's not about to let the fetid fumes of democracy seep in and corrupt the heady air of pure power that is its aphrodisiac.

It is at times like this that we must remember that change, truly revolutionary change, the change that is deep and systemic, first forms in a tiny crack or seam buried so deeply in the shadows of a damp basement that neither the oppressed nor the oppressor are aware of its existence.

The sixteenth-century Roman Catholic Church was convinced it had a lock on power until, in 1517, an obscure monk by the name of Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany.

We have our own example here in America.

As World War II ended, MGM appeared to be untouchable. It was the biggest studio with the biggest stars, churning our movie after movie. Movie attendance was booming and MGM was riding the crest of the wave. Its momentum seemed unstoppable.

But even as its hits flooded the nation's theaters, a flickering grey light in a darkened living room, probably somewhere on the east coast, was about to change all that. The light was coming from a large box topped by a tiny screen. It was one of the first televisions, and it was only a matter of time before the tube bumped the movie theater from its pedestal and MGM would never be the same.

It is when power is at its peak and seems invincible that is ready to crumble Power corrupts and rots from within until what appears to be a solid fortress is little more than a hollowed-out shell ready to collapse. We are discovering that Wall Street is not the impregnable castle we once thought it was. Its well-polished wingtips are feet of clay.

We have no way of knowing just what the catalyst of this change will be. Perhaps our empire will collapse because is bankrupt. It might be an obscure idea that gives rise to an insurrection. It might be something we can't even comprehend at this point in time.

No matter how tight the corporate grip on power is, no matter how corrupt the system has become, it is important to remember one thing-nothing is forever. With power comes hubris and with hubris comes blindness. It is because of this blindness that power eventually stumbles off the edge of a cliff. The fall may take decades or generations, but it is inevitable.
(c) 2009 Case Wagenvoord. Some years ago, Case Wagenvoord turned off the tube and picked up a book. He's been trouble ever since. His articles have been posted at The Smirking Chimp, Countercurrents and Issues & Alibis. When he's not writing or brooding, he is carving hardwood bowls that have been displayed in galleries and shows across the country. He lives in New Jersey with his wife and two cats. His book, Open Letters to George W. Bush is available at

Safety Net? What Safety Net?
By Mike Folkerth

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

With unemployment in the United States now approaching 20 Million, it's a good time for me to rerun a portion of an article that I originally wrote many years ago. It's a short, thought provoking piece for those who want to understand the reality of America's predicament.

Part of my back porch education, includes a memorable conversation with an older friend who is very bright and very realistic. Although this conversation occurred many years in the past while sitting in the Fairview Inn at Talkeetna, Alaska, I can recall nearly every word.

My friend explained to me in no uncertain terms that the U.S. could become a third world economy in the blink of an eye. I wanted to believe that he was crazy; but I knew better.

He explained that once a person loses his or her job, it's a short trip to 3rd world status. That being said, employment then, is all that separates us from that unfortunate state. That and the social safety net that currently exists to supposedly create a floor for the level that one could sink.

But who supports that safety net? The remaining job holders; so with declining jobs and tax collection, is there a safety net? The short answer is no. At the date of this writing the State of California has a $26 BILLION budget shortfall. What services will be cut?

I want you to do something for me. Come on, pacify me for just a moment. I want you to stop reading and pretend that you are unemployed. Not only unemployed, but unemployable, as in, there are no jobs available. How long would it be before you personally reached third world status?

How long would it take before you couldn't make your house and car payments or even purchase food? What would you do for medical care?

Don't just dismiss this as, "It won't happen to me." That is what those in manufacturing, banking, home building, and the mortgage lending industries thought.

What would you do? Where would you go? I can tell you; in a short time you would go broke and reach third world status.

Scary huh? But you say you're in management and life is good. Here's a prediction. I hope I'm wrong. I believe the next huge round of layoffs in the U.S. will be in upper middle management. Companies in trouble will jettison their heaviest baggage first to save top management.

What are the job prospects to reemploy 20,000,000 people and at the same time to absorb the more than 200,000 new job seekers per month? It may help to remember that the #1 job in the United States is that of a sales clerk and number two, a cashier.

Our current basic employment in the U.S. is not creating wealth, it's creating debt!

Think about all that I've just said. These may be dark thoughts, but unfortunately, all too true. Third world status is just a pink slip away. And what are your main stream politicians doing for you? They're helping you pack for the trip!

"If you find you're on the wrong train, get off at the next stop, it's a much shorter trip back home." _~~~ Mike Folkerth

Wake up Middle America; this is your final boarding call.
(c) 2009 Mike Folkerth is not your run-of-the-mill author of economics. Nor does he write in boring lecture style. Not even close. The former real estate broker, developer, private real estate fund manager, auctioneer, Alaskan bush pilot, restaurateur, U.S. Navy veteran, heavy equipment operator, taxi cab driver, fishing guide, horse packer...(I won't go on, it's embarrassing) writes from experience and plain common sense. He is the author of "The Biggest Lie Ever Believed."

The Quotable Quote...

"Immorality: the morality of those who are having a better time."
~~~ H.L. Mencken

The Man In The Mirror
By Chris Hedges

In celebrity culture we destroy what we worship. The commercial exploitation of Michael Jackson's death was orchestrated by the corporate forces that rendered Jackson insane. Jackson, robbed of his childhood and surrounded by vultures that preyed on his fears and weaknesses, was so consumed by self-loathing he carved his African-American face into an ever changing Caucasian death mask and hid his apparent pedophilia behind a Peter Pan illusion of eternal childhood. He could not disentangle his public and his private self. He became a commodity, a product, one to be sold, used and manipulated. He was infected by the moral nihilism and personal disintegration that are at the core of our corporate culture. And his fantasies of eternal youth, delusions of majesty, and desperate, disfiguring quests for physical transformation were expressions of our own yearning. He was a reflection of us in the extreme.

His memorial service-a variety show with a coffin-had an estimated 31.1 million television viewers. The ceremony, which featured performances or tributes from Stevie Wonder, Brooke Shields and other celebrities, was carried live on 19 networks, including the major broadcast and cable news outlets. It was the final episode of the long-running Michael Jackson series. And it concluded with Jackson's daughter, Paris, being prodded to stand in front of a microphone to speak about her father. Janet Jackson, before the girl could get a few words out, told Paris to "speak up." As the child broke down, the adults around her adjusted the microphone so we could hear the sobs. The crowd clapped. It was a haunting echo of what destroyed her father.

The stories we like best are "real life" stories-early fame, wild success and then a long, bizarre and macabre emotional train wreck. O.J Simpson offered a tamer version of the same plot. So does Britney Spears. Jackson, by the end, was heavily in debt and had weathered a $22 million out-of-court settlement payment to Jordy Chandler, as well as seven counts of child sexual abuse and two counts of administering an intoxicating agent in order to commit a felony. We fed on his physical and psychological disintegration, especially since many Americans are struggling with their own descent into overwhelming debt, loss of status and personal disintegration.

The lurid drama of Jackson's personal life meshed perfectly with the ongoing dramas on television, in movies and in the news. News thrives on "real life" stories, especially those involving celebrities. News reports on television are mini-dramas complete with a star, a villain, a supporting cast, a good-looking host and a dramatic, if often unexpected, ending. The public greedily consumed "news" about Jackson, especially in his exile and decline, which often outdid most works of fiction. In "Fahrenheit 451," Ray Bradbury's novel about a future dystopia, people spend most of the day watching giant television screens that show endless scenes of police chases and criminal apprehensions. Life, Bradbury understood, once it was packaged, scripted, given a narrative and filmed, became the most compelling form of entertainment. And Jackson was a great show. He deserved a great finale.

Those who created Jackson's public persona and turned him into a piece of property, first as a child and finally as a corpse encased in a $15,000 gold-plated casket, are the agents, publicists, marketing people, promoters, script writers, television and movie producers, advertisers, video technicians, photographers, bodyguards, recording executives, wardrobe consultants, fitness trainers, pollsters, public announcers and television news personalities who create the vast stage of celebrity for profit. They are the puppet masters. No one achieves celebrity status, no cultural illusion is swallowed as reality, without these armies of cultural enablers and intermediaries. The producers at the Staples Center in Los Angeles made sure the 18,000 attendees and the television audience (even the BBC devoted three hours to the tribute) watched a funeral that was turned into another maudlin form of uplifting popular entertainment.

The memorial service for Jackson was a celebration of celebrity. There was the queasy sight of groups of children, including his own, singing over the coffin. Magic Johnson put in a plug for Kentucky Fried Chicken. Shields, fighting back tears, recalled how she and a 33-year-old Jackson-who always maintained that he was straight-broke into Elizabeth Taylor's room the night before her last wedding to "get the first peek of the [wedding] dress." Shields and Jackson, at Taylor's wedding, then joked that they were "the mother and father of the bride." "Yes, it may have seemed very odd to the outside," Shields said, "but we made it fun and we made it real." There were photo montages in which a shot of Jackson shaking hands with Nelson Mandela was immediately followed by one of him with Kermit the Frog. Fame reduces all of the famous to the same level. Fame is its own denominator. And every anecdote seemed to confirm that when you spend your life as a celebrity you have no idea who you are.

We measure our lives by these celebrities. We seek to be like them. We emulate their look and behavior. We escape the messiness of real life through the fantasy of their stardom. We, too, long to attract admiring audiences for our grand, ongoing life movie. We try to see ourselves moving through our lives as a camera would see us, mindful of how we hold ourselves, how we dress, what we say. We invent movies that play inside our heads with us as stars. We wonder how an audience would react. Celebrity culture has taught us, almost unconsciously, to generate interior personal screenplays. We have learned ways of speaking and thinking that grossly disfigure the way we relate to the world and those around us. Neal Gabler, who has written wisely about this, argues that celebrity culture is not a convergence of consumer culture and religion so much as a hostile takeover of religion by consumer culture.

Jackson desperately feared growing old. He believed he could control race and gender. He transformed himself through surgery and perhaps female hormones from a brown-skinned African-American male to a chalk-faced androgynous ghoul with no clear sexual identity. And while he pushed these boundaries to the extreme, he did only what many Americans do. There were 12 million cosmetic plastic surgery procedures performed last year in the United States. They were performed because, in America, most human beings, rich and poor, famous and obscure, have been conditioned to view themselves as marketable commodities. They are objects, like consumer products. They have no intrinsic value. They must look fabulous and live on fabulous sets. They must remain young. They must achieve notoriety and money, or the illusion of it, to be a success. And it does not matter how they get there.

The moral nihilism of our culture licenses a dark voyeurism into other people's humiliation, pain, weakness and betrayal. Education, building community, honesty, transparency and sharing are qualities that will see you, in a gross perversion of democracy and morality, ridiculed and voted off any reality show. Fellow competitors for prize money and a chance for fleeting fame elect to "disappear" the unwanted. In the final credits of the reality show "America's Next Top Model," a picture of the woman expelled during the episode vanishes from the group portrait on the screen. Those cast aside become, at least to the television audience, nonpersons. Celebrities who can no longer generate publicity, good or bad, vanish. Life, these shows teach, is a brutal world of unadulterated competition and constant quest for notoriety and attention. And life is about the personal humiliation of those who oppose us. Those who win are the best. Those who lose deserve to be erased. Those who fail, those who are ugly or poor, are belittled and mocked. Human beings are used, betrayed and discarded in a commodity culture, which is pretty much the story of Jackson's life, although he experienced the equivalent of celebrity resurrection. This has been very good for his music sales and perhaps for his father's new recording company, which Joe Jackson made sure to plug at public events after his son's death. Compassion, competence, intelligence and solidarity are useless assets when human beings are commodities. Those who do not achieve celebrity status, who do not win the prize money or make millions in Wall Street firms, deserve their fate.

The cult of self, which Jackson embodied, dominates our culture. This cult shares within it the classic traits of psychopaths: superficial charm, grandiosity and self-importance; a need for constant stimulation, a penchant for lying, deception and manipulation; and the incapacity for remorse or guilt. Jackson, from his phony marriages to his questionable relationships with young boys, had all these qualities. This is also the ethic promoted by corporations. It is the ethic of unfettered capitalism. It is the misguided belief that personal style and personal advancement, mistaken for individualism, are the same as democratic equality. It is the celebration of image over substance.

We have a right, in the cult of the self, to get whatever we desire. We can do anything, even belittle and destroy those around us, including our friends, to make money, to be happy and to become famous. Once fame and wealth are achieved, they become their own justification, their own morality. How one gets there is irrelevant. It is this perverted ethic that gave us Wall Street banks and investment houses that willfully trashed the nation's economy, stole money from tens of millions of small shareholders who had bought stocks to finance their retirement or the college expenses of their children. The heads of these corporations, like the winners on a reality television program who lied and manipulated others to succeed, walked away with hundreds of millions of dollars in compensation and bonuses. The ethic of Wall Street is the ethic of celebrity.

The saturation coverage of Jackson's death is an example of our collective flight into illusion. The obsession with the trivia of his life conceals the despair, meaninglessness and emptiness of our own lives. It deflects the moral questions arising from mounting social injustice, growing inequalities, costly imperial wars, economic collapse and political corruption. The wild pursuit of status, wealth and fame has destroyed our souls, as it destroyed Jackson, and it has destroyed our economy.

The fame of celebrities masks the identities of those who possess true power-corporations and the oligarchic elite. And as we sink into an economic and political morass, as we barrel toward a crisis that will create more misery than the Great Depression, we are controlled, manipulated and distracted by the celluloid shadows on the wall of Plato's cave. The fantasy of celebrity culture is not designed simply to entertain. It is designed to drain us emotionally, confuse us about our identity, make us blame ourselves for our predicament, condition us to chase illusions of fame and happiness and keep us from fighting back. And in the end, that is all the Jackson coverage was really about, another tawdry and tasteless spectacle to divert a dying culture from the howling wolf at the gate.
(c) 2009 Chris Hedges, the former Middle East bureau chief for The New York Times, spent seven years in the Middle East. He was part of the paper's team of reporters who won the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for coverage of global terrorism. He is the author of War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning. His latest book is American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America.

Viva Palestina USA Requests Obama Support In Getting To Gaza
By Cynthia McKinney

Cairo (July 14, 2009) - Today, one day after its expected arrival in Gaza from Cairo, Viva Palestina USA announced that it will depart for Gaza as soon as it receives the necessary clearances from the Egyptian government with whom it currently is in direct negotiation. Viva Palestina USA today contacted White House and Secretary of State offices and calls on President Barack Obama to speak to Egyptian authorities and ask that its convoy be allowed to proceed to Gaza. Viva Palestina USA yesterday provided additional information requested on the same day by the Egyptian government, such as serial numbers and expiration dates for the medical aid.

In addition to Egyptian requests for supplemental information, all U.S. participants were required to sign and pay for an affidavit acknowledging individual participant assumption of risk for travel to Gaza with the understanding that consular services will not be provided by the State Department during Viva Palestina USA's presence in the Gaza Strip. According to those knowledgeable about recent U.S. citizen travel to Gaza, the affidavit is an entirely new procedure never before required by the U.S. State Department for U.S. nationals traveling to Gaza. Viva Palestina USA has met this last-minute requirement.

Viva Palestina USA is ready to meet all requirements in order to get its humanitarian assistance to Gaza. However, Viva Palestina USA has bright lines that it cannot cross. One of those bright lines concerns the fate of some one half million dollars worth of vehicles that Viva Palestina USA purchased in Egypt and planned to deliver to hospitals and charitable organizations in Gaza. Those vehicles are now stranded at the Egyptian Freeport in Alexandria while negotiations take place.

Viva Palestina USA remains hopeful that all remaining issues will be resolved in the next few hours as negotiations continue.

The following message was sent to the White House and State Department today by Viva Palestina USA:

Dear Mr. President

Dear Madam Secretary

Viva Palestina USA, a humanitarian relief effort for Gaza, is now in Egypt and requests your immediate assistance. We were supposed to have arrived in Gaza on Monday, July 13, 2009, but our arrival into Gaza was delayed because our departure from Cairo, Egypt was delayed by at least two days. Last-minute bureaucratic questions and additional requirements caused the delay. The people of Gaza can't wait.

You have noted that Israel's siege of Gaza should be eased and medical supplies should be allowed in. We are implementing what you reportedly put into writing. The people of Gaza need your help and we have important assistance for them. Please contact the Egyptian authorities and ask them to let Viva Palestina USA humanitarian assistance proceed through the Rafah crossing. We need your help today so that we can help the people of Gaza rebuild their lives devastated by occupation and brutal invasion.

Charles Barron

Cynthia McKinney

(on behalf of 200 Viva Palestina USA volunteers and thousands of Viva Palestina USA donors)


I Finally Made it to Gaza; No Wonder the Israelis Didn't Want Photos Taken.

The Viva Palestina convoy, led by George Galloway, is about to leave Gaza after having been permitted to enter for a period of 24 hours after waiting 11 days in Cairo for permission to enter Gaza. That in and of itself is a major story when expanded to include the inability of Gazans to exit The Strip--even if only to enter another part of their country, the West Bank or to move about freely in the fictional "Palestinian State." I say fictional because it continues to dwindle even while peace talks are underway. Fictional, because Palestinian elections deemed by international observers to be free and fair, don't count if the US- and Israel-approved party loses, and the winners get to sit for years in an Israeli jail. Fictional, because they use Israel's currency here, the shekel, and the international roaming on our US cell phones indicates calls are from Israel.

Gaza is beautiful. Gaza is full of life, despite Israel's Operation Cast Lead. And now, I have seen, Gaza has been bombed to smithereens. I think I've mastered my video camera enough to share some images with you. I'll post them on the sites below when I return. In the meantime, my fellow Americans and citizens of the world, we have a lot to do to put right all the wrong things done in our name. Much love to all of you who helped me, guided me, prayed for me, to make this successful entry into Gaza happen.
(c) 2009 Cynthia McKinney is a former U.S. Congresswoman, Green Party presidential candidate, and an outspoken advocate for human rights and social justice. The first African-American woman to represent the state of Georgia, McKinney served six terms in the U.S. House of Representatives, from 1993-2003, and from 2005-2007. She was arrested and forcibly abducted to Israel while attempting to take humanitarian and reconstruction supplies to Gaza on June 30th. For more information, please see Free Gaza.

The Dead Letter Office...

Con-gressman Mark Kirk

Heil Obama,

Dear Unter-Fuhrer Kirk,

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

Without your lock step calling for the repeal of the Constitution, your demanding tougher penalties for pot possession certain to fill up the Happy Camps(tm) and drive our profits up, Afghanistan, Pakistan and these many other profitable oil wars to come would have been impossible! With the help of our mutual friends, the other "Demoncratic Whores" you have made it possible for all of us to goose-step off to a brave new bank account!

Along with this award you will be given the Iron Cross with diamond clusters presented by our glorious Fuhrer, Herr Obama at a gala celebration at "der Fuhrer Bunker," formally the "White House," on 08-29-2009. We salute you Herr Kirk, Sieg Heil!

Signed by,
Vice Fuhrer Biden

Heil Obama

The Holder Trial Balloon: Abu Ghraib Redux
By Glenn Greenwald

Yesterday, I treated this new Newsweek report that Eric Holder is "leaning toward appointing a prosecutor to investigate the Bush administration's brutal interrogation practices" as something to celebrate. But new facts about what that investigation would entail and, more importantly, would exclude -- facts added by today's Washington Post -- strongly suggest it's the opposite. At least if that article is to be believed -- and it seems clear that Holder dispatched his allies to leak his plans in order to gauge reaction -- the investigation will only target "rogue" CIA interrogators who exceeded the limits of what John Yoo authorized, and would not include high-level policy makers who authorized the torture tactics and implemented America's torture regime:

Any criminal inquiry could face challenges, including potent legal defenses by CIA employees who could argue that attorneys in the Bush Justice Department authorized a wide range of harsh conduct. But the sources said an inquiry would apply only to activities by interrogators, working in bad faith, that fell outside the "four corners" of the legal memos. . . . The actions of higher-level Bush policymakers are not under consideration for possible investigation.

Balloon-Juice's Tim F. is absolutely right that such an approach -- targeting low-level interrogators while shielding high-level policy-makers from prosecution -- would be "something close to the worst of both worlds." That's true not only because it would replicate the disgraceful whitewashing of the Abu Ghraib prosecutions. It would do that, but even worse, it would bolster the principal instrument of executive lawlessness -- the Beltway orthodoxy that any time a President can find a low-level DOJ functionary to authorize what he wants to do, then it is, by definition, "legal" and he's immune from prosecution when he does it, no matter how blatantly criminal it is. As Tim put it:

Hard to believe as it may seem, Holder's probe will take John Yoo's work . . . and treat them as the settled law of the time. Already clear and public evidence that DOJ lawyers drafted those memos entirely in bad faith, on orders from Bush officials who literally dictated what they wanted the memos to say, will be similarly ignored.

It's worth emphasizing here that all of these reports are preliminary and from anonymous DOJ sources, so it's a bit premature to get too worked up over a prosecution approach which Holder hasn't even announced yet. Still, given how many DOJ sources went to multiple newspapers at the same time to disclose Holder's plans, it seems clear that this was a coordinated, approved effort to disseminate Holder's intentions as a "trial balloon" to gauge public reaction. If this is the approach Holder takes -- one that, yet again, shields high-level Bush officials while targeting low-level "rogue" agents -- one can make a strong argument that it is worse than doing nothing, that this will actually further subvert the rule of law rather than strengthen it.

Yesterday, in the context of discussing John Yoo's painfully frivolous justifications for Bush's illegal surveillance programs, I wrote at length of the dangers of this prevailing view that a President is free to do whatever he wants as long he finds some DOJ employee somewhere willing to say it's legal (see point 4). Digby elaborated yesterday on that point:

If it is the case that the president can designate an Office of Legal Counsel functionary to immunize government officials and employees against criminal behavior, then it is true, to all intents and purposes, that "if the president does it it's not illegal."

One could make the argument that the political fallout would be so huge if it were ever revealed that no president would ever attempt it, but we are proving right now that this is a very remote possibility. Ever since Nixon, the political class has reaffirmed the idea that anything the president does as a political leader or in his official capacity is unpunishable. And more recently we've seen that anyone who carries out his orders is also immune, which wasn't always the case. Nixon's people did do time.

If that was the intention of the revolutionaries who broke away from despotic monarchical rule, they could have saved themselves a lot of trouble. At this point, both political parties agree that if the president has a low level lawyer in the Justice Department write a secret memo authorizing him to break the law then all those who broke those laws are legally immunized from any punishment . . . .

All other things being equal, individual CIA agents who brutalized detainees, using unapproved methods, ought to be prosecuted. If nothing else, our treaty obligations compel that. Even for a country that has rejected the idea of accountability as resoundingly as we have, it seems inconceivable to decide to prosecute nobody in the face of scores of detainee deaths. How can we know that we tortured to death numerous detainees and do nothing? If you were Eric Holder, would you want that decision attached to your name by history?

But just as was true for the Abu Ghraib abuses, many of the worst instances of detainee abuse cannot be extricated from -- but rather are directly attributable to -- the torture policies authorized at the highest levels of the government. To target low-level interrogators while shielding high-level policy makers would further bolster America's two-tiered system of justice, in which ordinary Americans are subjected to merciless punishment while the most powerful elites are vested with virtual immunity from the consequences of their lawbreaking. As Hilzoy put it:

I'd give up all hope of any prosecutions of CIA officials for prosecution of the people who set policy -- people like Cheney and Addington. They created the Bush administration's interrogation policy. They decided to set aside law, morality, and basic humanity. They should bear the consequences.

Prosecuting only obscure "rogue" interrogators while immunizing powerful, high-level officials would not be an act of courage but of cowardice. It would not strengthen the rule of law but would pervert it further. And rather than deter future lawbreaking, it would signal -- yet again -- that our most powerful political officials are free to break the law with impunity. If Holder is too frightened to include the parties truly responsible for America's torture regime in the scope of the investigation he orders, then he ought simply to appoint a strong and independent prosecutor with the mandate to investigate anyone and everyone who might have broken our nation's torture laws, and leave it to the prosecutor to make all decisions without interference (and if a well-regarded prosecutor decided based on standard factors of prosecutorial discretion, rather than as a matter of pre-ordained DOJ "fairness" policy, that the DOJ memos made prosecution too difficult as a practical matter, then so be it). But whatever else is true, the tactics authorized by George Bush and Dick Cheney were patently criminal regardless of how many memos they directed John Yoo to write.

UPDATE: Harper's Scott Horton, who has been working on this story for a couple of weeks using DOJ sources of his, now reports at The Daily Beast that Holder's investigation would be broader than suggested by other reports today:

As he read through the latter two documents, my sources said, Holder came to realize the focal and instrumental role that Department of Justice lawyers had played in constructing the torture regime and in pushing it through when career lawyers raised objection. He also took note of how the entire process was orchestrated from within the Bush White House-so that more-senior lawyers in Justice, sometimes even the attorney general, did not know what was being done. And he noted the fact that the United Nations Convention Against Torture, to which the United States is a party, requires that a criminal inquiry be undertaken whenever credible allegations of torture are presented. . . .

For now, however, it appears that Holder's current decision focuses only on the development of new interrogation techniques and their use at the direction of the Bush administration. Under these terms, the prosecutor would be tasked to look at the role played by Justice Department figures and other government lawyers at various stages of the process; but criminal investigations usually target specific crimes, not individuals, and this would be no exception. The regulations require a "specific factual statement" concerning the matter to be investigated, but drafting such a statement may be difficult. One major issue would be whether the ultimate policy-making echelons in the White House would be affected. One source told me that he would be surprised if Holder "set blinders" on the special prosecutor. Still, the scope of the investigation would clearly be limited to the authorization and use of Bush-era "enhanced interrogation techniques" such as waterboarding, longtime standing, stress positions, and prolonged sleep deprivation. Moreover, President Obama's assurance to CIA officials who relied on the opinions of government lawyers in implementing these programs, an assurance that Holder himself repeated, would have to be worked in. That suggests that the focus would likely be on the lawyers and policymakers who authorized use of the new techniques.

That is virtually the opposite of the reports today suggesting that the DOJ lawyers and policymakers would be excluded from the investigation, which would focus only on rogue interrogators. That's why I cautioned that these preliminary, anonymous reports not be assumed to be the final truth (and the conflicting reports could reflect that the scope of the investigation is still unclear and could be shaped by public reaction). Still, given our political culture, I'll believe that there is a real criminal investigation underway that includes high-level, lawbreaking political leaders only when I see it.
(c) 2009 Glenn Greenwald. was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator in New York. He is the author of the New York Times Bestselling book "How Would a Patriot Act?," a critique of the Bush administration's use of executive power, released in May 2006. His second book, "A Tragic Legacy," examines the Bush legacy.

Health Insurance Whistle-Blower Knows Where The Bodies Are Buried
By Amy Goodman

Wendell Potter is the health insurance industry's worst nightmare. He's a whistle-blower. Potter, the former chief spokesperson for insurance giant CIGNA, recently testified before Congress, "I saw how they confuse their customers and dump the sick-all so they can satisfy their Wall Street investors."

Potter was deeply involved in CIGNA and industry wide strategies for maintaining their profitable grip on U.S. health care. He told me: "The thing they fear most is a single-payer plan. They fear even the public insurance option being proposed; they'll pull out all the stops they can to defeat that to try to scare people into thinking that embracing a public health insurance option would lead down the slippery slope toward socialism ... putting a government bureaucrat between you and your doctor. They've used those talking points for years, and they've always worked."

In 2007, CIGNA denied a California teenager, Nataline Sarkisyan, coverage for a liver transplant. Her family went to the media. The California Nurses Association joined in. Under mounting pressure, CIGNA finally granted coverage for the procedure. But it was too late. Two hours later, Nataline died.

While visiting family in Tennessee, Potter stopped at a "medical expedition" in Wise, Va. People drove hours for free care from temporary clinics set up in animal stalls at the local fairground. Potter told me that weeks later, flying on a CIGNA corporate jet with the CEO: "I realized that someone's premiums were helping me to travel that way ... paying for my lunch on gold-trimmed china. I thought about those men and women I had seen in Wise County ... not having any idea [how] insurance executives lived." He decided he couldn't be an industry PR hack anymore.

Insurance executives and their Wall Street investors are addicted to massive profits and double-digit annual rate increases. To squeeze more profit, Potter says, if a person makes a major claim for coverage, the insurer will often scrutinize the person's original application, looking for any error that would allow it to cancel the policy. Likewise, if a small company's employees make too many claims, the insurer, Potter says, "very likely will jack up the rates so much that your employer has no alternative but to leave you and your co-workers without insurance."

This week, as the House and Senate introduce their health care bills, Potter warns, "One thing to remember is that the health insurance industry has been anticipating this debate on health care for many years ... they've been positioning themselves to get very close to influential members of Congress in both parties." Montana Sen. Max Baucus chairs the Senate Finance Committee, key for health care reform. Potter went on, "[T]he insurance industry, the pharmaceutical industry and others in health care have donated ... millions of dollars to his campaigns over the past few years. But aside from money, it's relationships that count ... the insurance industry has hired scores and scores of lobbyists, many of whom have worked for members of Congress, and some who are former members of Congress."

The insurance industry and other health care interests are lobbying hard against a government-sponsored, nonprofit, public health insurance option, and are spending, according to The Washington Post, up to $1.4 million per day to sway Congress and public opinion.

Don't be fooled. Profit-driven insurance claim denials actually kill people, and Wendell Potter knows where the bodies are buried. His whistle-blowing may be just what's needed to dump what's sick in our health care system.
(c) 2009 Amy Goodman is the host of "Democracy Now!," a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on 750 stations in North America. She is the co-author of "Standing Up to the Madness: Ordinary Heroes in Extraordinary Times," recently released in paperback.

The Cartoon Corner...

This edition we're proud to showcase the cartoons of
~~~ Steve Benson ~~~

W the Movie Music Video DJ Monkey's 3rd World War

To End On A Happy Note...

We Don't Need Another Hero
By Tina Turner

Out of the ruins
Out from the wreckage
Can't make the same mistake this time
We are the children
The last generation
We are the ones they left behind
And I wonder when we are ever gonna change, change
Living under the fear till nothing else remains

We don't need another hero
We don't need to know the way home
All we want is life beyond the Thunderdome

Looking for something we can rely on
There's got to be something better out there
Love and compassion, their day is coming
All else are castles built in the air
And I wonder when we are ever gonna change, change
Living under the fear till nothing else remains

All the children say...
We don't need another hero
We don't need to know the way home
All we want is life beyond the Thunderdome

So what do we do with our lives
We leave only a mark
Will our story shine like a life
Or end in the dark
Give it all or nothing

We don't need another hero
We don't need to know the way home
All we want is life beyond the Thunderdome

All the children say...
We don't need another hero
We don't need to know the way home
All we want is life beyond the Thunderdome
(c) 1985/2009 Tina Turner

Have You Seen This...

Americana: 2nd Revolutionary War

Parting Shots...

"It's Not You - It's God!"
By Betty Bowers

Republican Senator John Ensign is a ripe study in shameless sanctimony. He isn't quite godly enough to keep his penis out of his good friend's wife, but he is unctuous enough not to be able to keep God out of a cowardly toss of the troublesome plaything to the curb. His break-up note, equal parts self-indulgent piety and self-serving pomposity, breaks the news to the other woman that the relationship is over, not because of the wife, but because of yet one more relationship outside of his careless marriage. "It's not you! It's God!"

Frankly, I'm more concerned about the sincerity of John's "relationship" with his God in the sky than his harlot on the payroll. It smacks of portentous presumption on its mortal half. After all, John doesn't know God well enough to guess He was actually serious about those Ten Commandments things, something everyone can read, but John does know the Lord well enough to speak for Him, doling out divine matchmaking advice, something only John hears. How wonderfully convenient! And how purely fortuitous that God's giddy romantic wishes coincide so seamlessly with John's sudden need to ditch an unwanted tart! I just wonder who John will use as an excuse to break-up with God . . .

(c) 2008 Mrs. Betty Bowers

The Gross National Debt

View my page on

Issues & Alibis Vol 9 # 27 (c) 07/17/2009

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