Issues & Alibis

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In This Edition

Naomi Wolf goes inside the belly of the beast, "Guantanamo Bay: The Inside Story."

Uri Avnery asks, "Whose Acre?"

Joe Conason reminds us that, "Winston Churchill Was A Bolshevik."

Jim Hightower announces, "Gooberheads, Blimps And Earmarks."

Robert Scheer covers, "UBS Money Laundering."

Wendell Potter wonders, "Is Obama Planning to Sign Congress' Health Care Reform Bill With Lipstick?"

Paul Krugman explains, "The Swiss Menace."

Chris Floyd reports on, "Baby Talk: Mark Steyn Strikes Back For Islamophobia."

Case Wagenvoord considers, "The Mother Of All Wars."

Mike Folkerth recalls, "The Brilliance Of M. King Hubbert."

Ted Rall sadly concludes that, "Violence Works. Incrementalism Doesn't."

Amy Goodman explores, "Troy Davis And The Meaning Of 'Actual Innocence.'"

Glenn Beck wins the coveted "Vidkun Quisling Award!"

Glenn Greenwald recites Mike's words of treason in, "Mike Huckabee Bashes America On Foreign Soil."

Frank Scott warns of, "Political And Economic Disabilities."

And finally in the 'Parting Shots' department 'Monty Python's' Terry Jones returns with, "He's Not A Very Naughty Boy" but first Uncle Ernie quotes "the bard" in, "A Tale Told By An Idiot."

This week we spotlight the cartoons of Chris Britt, with additional cartoons, photos and videos from Derf City, Mike Wrathell, All Hat No Cattle.Com, Ted Rall, Tom Tomorrow, Khalil Bendib, Ed Stein, MoFo Politics.Com, Nonnie 9999, UPI, Jason Beler, KMBZ, AP, 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."

A Tale Told By An Idiot
By Ernest Stewart

" is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."
~~~ MacBeth ~ Act 5, Scene 5 ~~~

"What's important is choice and competition, the public option itself is not the essential element."
~~~ Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius ~~~

"Conservatives can have fun, too, you know. Conservatives can let their hair down and open their collar and put on some dancing shoes. ... I'm in it to win it." ~~~ Tom Delay on "Dancing With the Stars."

As Vic Mizzy once said about the Addams Family:

They're creepy and they're kooky,
Mysterious and spooky,
They're all together ooky,

One could say the same thing about the Freepers, Tea Baggers and such that have been crawling out from under their rocks and showing up at town hall meetings since the recess in Con-gress! I'm not talking about the paid actors that the insurance companies have sent out or the old brain deads that have come out to rally against socialism while demanding the government lay off of Medicare, not realizing that Medicare and Social Security are socialism.

I'm talking about the rat-wing gun kooks who keep showing up at presidential speeches armed to the teeth with openly displayed hand guns and assault rifles. Now I've got nothing against Americans owning various guns. I have a rather substantial collection myself but a political rally isn't the place to "use it or lose it" as one closet Nazi said!

While what they are doing is technically legal, it is rather bad taste nevertheless. It's bad enough to I know I'm surrounded by armed government goons if I attend but to face a lot of armed crazies as well might be considered by most to be intimidation, not what should be happening at a political discussion. When the NRA doesn't stand up for this kind of action you know these kooks have stepped way over the line.

As you no doubt know, I'm not a fan of Barry's but can you imagine what would have happened had you shown up at a Bush rally with a loaded assault rifle, no matter it's legality? People were arrested for wearing Kerry pins, were strip-searched and otherwise harassed for having a paper anti-war sign. People were arrested for wearing a left leaning t-shirt. And let's not forget those hideous "Free Speech Zones" surrounded by barbed wire fences and guarded by Jack Booted Thugs miles away from the "town hall."

Everything is ok with the secret service over this, not to mention the local Gestapo. If I were Barry I'd check into this as I'm sure he remembers how the secret service was in on the Kennedy sanction. If they allowed the CIA under Bush to kill Kennedy, and they did, can Obama's sanction be far away? Of course, it may be that all of this is in conjunction with Obama's plans? But if not, I'd be on my toes if I were traveling with Obama!

In Other News

I see where health secretary Kathleen Sebelius is saying the White House is ready to accept nonprofit insurance cooperatives instead of a government-run public option in a health overhaul plan. Therefore, the real reason behind this is finally seeping out!

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius says Obama "still believes there should be choice and competition" in the health insurance market -- but that a public option is "not the essential element."

Barry has supposedly been pressing the government to run a health insurance organization to help cover the nation's 50 million uninsured. But he had not seen a not-for-profit co-op as sufficient to offer consumers choice and competition that would bring down the costs of private insurance, until now. Yeah, right!

I wrote Kathy a short note on the subject I asked her if this was just a sellout to big insurance and was given a song and a dance so in reply I wrote:

"Was your answer to my question helpful? No, it wasn't helpful but was what I expected from you. So, it was all about getting rid of Medicare and Medicaid, huh? We don't need any government health insurance do we? Let a few traitorous Rethuglicans howl and there goes that option. I'm guessing you never meant to offer government insurance but this was just another corpo-rat song and dance for the Sheeple's benefit, huh? So much for any real change, eh? Why am I not surprised, just another mandatory sellout to some corpo-rat goons. Thanks! And if we don't need any government insurance for the average person then them oldies don't need none either. The corpo-rats can provide what they need to, right?"

Then AARP said this new insurance wasn't socialized medicine, as if socialized medicine was a bad thing, so I wrote asking:

"You seem to think socialized medicine is a bad thing? Why? Medicare and Medicaid are socialized medicine. Why would giving everyone the same thing be bad? Would it be that you couldn't make a buck off of it? You know, like you did with the 'prescription scam?'"

What it's going to come down to is simply you'll be required to buy insurance from the insurance goons and if you don't, well they have "Vays of making you cooperate!" Can't afford it, America? Too bad. Once they got you hooked to some corpo-rat goon, the fun really begins. The cost will go up and the coverage will be nonexistent. Which is what all the brouhaha was about in the first place. Just wait and see!

And Finally

I think I've just seen two signs of the Christian Apocalypse? Being an Atheist, I could be wrong but I seem to remember something about it from my bible studying youth.

Wasn't one of those signs that the dark one would be cast down from Earth? Call it a coincidence if you like but wouldn't the death of the "Prince of Darkness" be a certain sign? No, I don't mean Ozzy Osbourne, Ozzy is fine. I refer, of course, to Robert Novak who bit the big one on August 18th from brain cancer. Victoria and I got into an argument about whether it was the brain cancer that caused Robert to be such a fascist moron or whether being a fascist moron caused the brain cancer? (I think she was right, being bigoted, nasty and mean causes disease!) I could be wrong, but I think the Bible mentioned something about Novak in 2nd Timothy, or was that Matthew 24? It's been a long time, folks!

Another sure sign of the Apocalypse is that the former Republican whip of the House, Tom (sticky fingers) DeLay, will soon be on "Dancing With the Stars." Is this just another case of a Republican coming out of the closet or is there a more sinister reason? Can't you just see Tom in ballet shoes dancing to "I Feel Pretty" or "Tonight" from "West Side Story?" Doesn't that thought just make your skin crawl? Or perhaps he'll choose to dance to "Black Sabbath" by Black Sabbath or "Heaven And Hell" by Dio? I can hardy wait to see if Tom dances to "Show Tunes" or "Heavy Metal," how about you?


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.

We aren't asking for much-not thousands of dollars a month, not tens of thousands a year. What we need is simply enough money to cover expenses for the magazine. A few thousand dollars a year. A few hundred dollars a month. We cannot continue to go into debt to publish Issues and Alibis but at the same time we cannot, in good conscience, go quietly about our daily lives, remaining silent in face of the injustices perpetrated by our leaders and our government. So we need your help. We need your spare change. A dollar, five dollars, whatever you can contribute. Every penny makes a difference.

Ernest & Victoria Stewart


10-26-1912 ~ 08-16-2009
Thanks for the memories!

02-26-1931 ~ 08-18-2009
Burn Prince of Darkness burn!

12-14-1922 ~ 08-19-2009
Your "60 Minutes" are up!


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: All five "W" trailers are available along with the trailer from our first movie "Jesus and her Gospel of Yes" at the Pink & Blue Films site on YouTube.


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."

Two Guantanamo banana rats playing

Guantanamo Bay: The Inside Story
By Naomi Wolf

Six months ago this week President Obama, on his second day in office, promised to close the Guantanamo detention camp within a year, and to undo the secretive and coercive detention and interrogation policies of George W. Bush. But has Obama been as good as his word?

I went to Guantanamo last month to see for myself what difference, if any, Obama's election had made. My trip was surreal from start to end. I was in line for the rotating junket to the island, and had been given a date by a nervous-sounding and very young Lieutenant Cody Starken. I signed papers that committed me to not reporting classified information - on pain of prosecution. Then I got on a tiny aircraft - unmarked on any announcement board - out of Fort Lauderdale airport.

On the aircraft were bland-looking contractors, male and female, who deflected my small talk, and two young staffers from the Centre for Constitutional Rights, the organization representing the detainees when no one else would touch the work, and which now co-ordinates hundreds of lawyers from across the country doing so: Pardis Kebriaei, a staff lawyer, and Jess Baen, a legal worker, tried to answer all my questions until my military handler determinedly parted us on our arrival. Lawyers are kept in a compound on one side of the military base at Guantanamo, journalists housed on the other side; they may never communicate with or run into one another. As a journalist, a handler sticks within 18 inches of you at all times, standing outside when you go to the bathroom and near by when you buy personal items at the commissary; your phone calls and e-mail are monitored.

Passport check was followed by our descent over the glittering curve of the sea on to the edge of Cuba, which was studded with lights. A tired, courtly Navy media specialist, MC1 Mapp, whisked me through security checks; I took in the heat, humidity, mosquitoes and languid crowds of Filipino and Jamaican contractors. We stepped into a ferry; then a young, chipper Sergeant Hillegass - in his other life, a 911 dispatcher - met us in a van and drove us to a street of identical townhouses. I was left alone in the house.

My mobile phone could not call out directly, my Black Berry did not work, there was no internet access for my computer. My press kit had a scene of a lush sunset on the cover, and a speedboat.

Breakfast - with a TV crew from Poland and another from Russia, and our military handlers - was at a lively mess hall that looked like something out of summer camp, except that all the tired, strapping young people were in pressed fatigues. Then two African American soldiers, Petty Officer Bennet, a genial woman in her thirties who wanted to be a graphic designer, and a charming man a bit older, Petty Officer Dwight, took us to our first stop, Camp X-Ray.

As the military handlers made pleasant jokes about the heat, I took in a low-tech vision of Hell. This was the site of the first scenes from Guantanamo, where men sweltered in kennel-like cages. These were the cages themselves: about 50, each about 8ft x 12ft, an aisle down the centre for guards to move in, a slab of corrugated iron on top of each cell, and a pipe with a funnel at groin level, in which to urinate; open to the elements; no walls, no true shade. Concrete floors. There had been buckets for defecation, MC1 Dwight told us; but the prisoners had thrown the feces at the guards. There was a communal shower, now crumbling - but the prisoners had not liked to shower in groups, naked.

The scene was being reclaimed by nature: vines and brambles were swallowing the wire, twisting around the doors. At 10 a.m. the humidity was so intense that sweat was pouring down our faces. The temperature was close to 40C. I went into a cell; grinding heat, drenching humidity, pure exposure to the sun. It was as if you were being cooked in a man-sized convection oven. "Look out!" shouted Petty Officer Dwight. "Banana rats!"

I looked up and shrieked, staggering to my feet: climbing across the wire walls and on to the roof of the cell was a 40 lb rodent, with a long wiry tail, the size of a bulldog. Another one scurried along the base of the wall, a baby on its back; a third made itself at home in the undergrowth of the neighboring cell - big, grotesque creatures with no fear. I imagined what it must have been like to try to sleep in that black heat, these animals slipping in and out of the cages with their great claws and teeth.

Behind the cages was the interrogation hut - a plywood shack painted with a red cross. A one-man cage stood near by. From Human Rights Watch reports and documents in Michael Ratner's book Guantanamo: What the World Should Know, I knew that this was the notorious isolation cell. Prisoners in a detention camp are so cowed by the sight of the isolation cell and those held in it that they become compliant, since isolation is far more damaging psychologically to many prisoners than anything else.

"This is the isolation cell?" I asked Petty Officer Dwight. "Yes," he said. Then he advised us that the detainees themselves had requested it. "They asked that other detainees who were disruptive and disturbing them be taken here for a 'time out'. This was a 'time-out' area ... if someone was to act up and they needed a 'time-out'."

It was the first of many times I would look at PO Dwight - a decent guy whose true passion was hairstyling - and wonder if he believed what he had been trained to say. But he gave this, and other "facts," with a kind of innocence. He took us into the interrogation rooms. About 25 chairs were stacked in a corner - unusual chairs for a military setting. The seats were padded; the structure itself was made of a bamboo material; and, oddest of all, each of the arms of the chairs curled into an elaborate spiral. I leant in more closely: on each chair's arms was a clear mark from what appeared to have been several layers of gaffer tape. I looked at the legs of the chairs, where a prisoner's ankles would be: the same apparent gaffer-tape marks.

I went into the interrogation room. A table, two chairs. Gaffer tape remained in long strips on the plywood walls, not holding anything together, but positioned near by like an office supply; a pile of wadded-up grey gaffer tape remained on the floor.

PO Dwight reminded us of the scenes we had witnessed on TV of prisoners at Camp X-Ray being transported restrained, lying on stretchers - though no one had asked about it; the stretchers were, he said, for the wellbeing of the prisoners; to move them more easily. It was not, he was keen to assure us, that they had been sick, or hurt.

On to lunch at the mess hall. After lunch, we were taken on a bizarre tour of a baking facility, where an exuberant, smiling South Korean woman in a hairnet ("I love food service! I love my job!") showed off trays of hot, fragrant buns and baklava. We heard for the third or fourth time from our military handlers that they, too, wished that they could have that delicious baklava, but that it was reserved for the prisoners' discerning palates.

The food-service employee displayed a set table of detainees' actual meals - meat, rice, sauce, salad, and those tasty buns and pastries. She pressed us to try them: the ground meat was spiced in a "culturally appropriate" Middle Eastern style and was not bad. Then she showed off a dozen fridges filled with fresh produce - strawberries, watermelon, maple syrup.

She politely refused to answer questions about what her role was, or who employed her. Private-sector contractors take care of the manual, building, cleaning and service work: to a casual observer, it is they, and not the military, who run Gauntanamo. Military men and women have, if minimally, to answer reporters' questions; contractors do not even have to identify themselves. Contractors work in medical facilities; clear journalists' video; deal with classified material; but they are answerable only to their employers. Their houses are far more luxurious, on the island, than are those of the military.

Military spokespeople must give answers, but the answers are maddeningly evasive. Can detainees get mail from their loved ones? I asked often. What if someone dies of natural causes, who notifies the family? If a loved one calls, can prisoners take the call? What happens to care packages from loved ones? What if a spouse asks to visit? Can I see the letter that tells her that she can't? I put these questions "in writing" and asked them at least five times up the chain of command, and followed up multiple times on my return. Most of my questions were met - from higher-level "media specialists" such as Lieutenant-Commander Brook DeWalt or Major Haynie - with non-answers. "I don't know, but I can ask for you." "That is above my pay grade."

The detainee handlers and the lawyers for detainees often flatly contradict each other. The handlers and my press kit claim that "Detainees get a call every couple of months" or quarterly, and that "they make phone calls on a regular basis - every few weeks." But Kebriaei says that her clients can make calls "every six months if they are lucky." "Detainees get mail all the time," the handlers claim. "Care packages are destroyed," says Kebriaei, who described the security-driven destruction of the orthopedic shoes that her elderly client needed for his swollen feet.

And so, on we went in the afternoon, to Camps 5 and 6 - hulking state-of-the-art maximum-security prison edifices. But with a difference, as a smiling nameless blonde soldier said to us (name tags are stripped from uniforms when soldiers are inside the detention centers - the process is called "sterilizing" - and the prisoners themselves are addressed by number, never by name). These soldiers looked as if they had been chosen from the coolest fraternity and sorority on campus. They were unusually physically attractive. Our guide, Lieutenant Fulghum, was a bright, charming Irishman with a twinkle in his eye and killer abs. When he greeted the twenty something blonde soldier with the phrase, "Honor bound, Ma'am," it was as good as a wink. ("Honor Bound to Defend Freedom" is the motto). "Honor bound, Lieutenant," she smiled back.

As we moved down the corridor the weird intimacy of the place - which had, according to many detainees and reports such as Broken Laws, Broken Lives, a study by Physicians for Human Rights, been the scene of so much abuse - hit me.

There in front of me was a shower stall fully fronted with glass, facing into a public central hallway where military men and women passed regularly. It forced male prisoners daily into a state of public nudity, which is illegal according to US and international law.

The guards showed us a demonstration cell: it was spotless. Hooks folded down so that no one could hang himself; there was a toilet in a corner, a plastic wedge of a bed, and high-tech mechanical doors that shut of their own accord. No sun, no sightlines, no natural light. I noted the guards' use of facemasks. "Facemasks are to help protect soldiers," our tour guide said. "We do have assaults - spitting, throwing feces and urine."

Another diorama was set up in another cell, of "comfort items." It looked unchanged from photos of Guantanamo that I had seen in the Bush era. Here was a Koran; toiletries; a padded mattress the thickness of a yoga mat, for those who "co-operated;" a thinner mattress, fewer "comforts," for those who did not.

Opposite this room was yet another cell, which the military handlers were most proud of. "The TV room is a big change," one of the handlers said. There was a big blue squishy sofa facing a nice big flat-screen TV. We were told that the detainees get to watch TV three hours a day; that their favorite TV show is The Deadliest Catch, about fishing; and that they also love Harry Potter. There was a tray table where prisoners could eat baklava while watching Harry Potter - and there, at the base of the sofa, were leg shackles, bolted to the concrete floor.

At the end of the hall I opened a door. Before me was an unused cell, packed halfway to the ceiling with hundreds of cans of Ensure, the liquid nutrient used in force-feeding. (Jen Nessel, of the Center for Constitutional Rights, had told me that 24 detainees were being force-fed daily, in restraining chairs, because they were on hunger strike.) Lieutenant Fulghum came to get me, annoyed. "No one is supposed to go this far down the hall," he snapped. I asked if anybody was on hunger strike. "We are not allowed to say. The medical staff handles that," Lieutenant Fulghum said.

We were taken outside to Camp 6: there was a modest-sized recreation area surrounded by wire; and there they were, the causal heart of the whole monster. The detainees - Pakistani, Afghan, Iraqi and Yemeni men in their twenties, thirties and forties, wearing white T-shirts and khaki shorts - milled about; one or two threw a basketball out of range. The journalists were moved back down the hallway before they could see us, as if we were on safari. I asked if I could speak to them. My handler smiled. "No way."

Our handlers took us out of the first structure to the grassy area between the buildings. In the second building, our handlers promised, we would see - since Obama had taken office - art classes; English classes. A library.

Outside, all around us, we saw a facility - one scheduled to be closed by December 2009 - under massive new construction: dozens of laborers were digging, surrounded by the grinding noise of building. A facility that Congress thinks it is discussing the "how" of closing - and that the President has claimed for six months is already slated for closure - was metastasizing under our very eyes. When I asked about this I was told that the money had been allocated already and so it would be more expensive to stop construction than to keep it going. Through that open causeway of construction, the detainees in their central cage caught sight of us.

A sharp, sudden roar arose from the knot of men who spotted us. One of the prisoners looked straight at me and, his face twisted with an emotion that I could not read, screamed: "Go! Go!"

"Why are they saying 'Go?'" I asked.

The handler looked at me. The Muslim men in the cage were being managed by guards who were mostly African American, and who shouted in colloquial English to get their attention: "Yo! 289! Stop that!" "They learn English from the guards," he explained. "They aren't saying 'Go.'"

What they had screamed out to us - across the greatest possible distance - was: "Yo!"

After these camps, our handlers showed us Camp 4, part of Camp Delta, used to house "more compliant" detainees. A dozen prisoners milled about in a bigger central space ("We call this 'The Patio' or 'The Lanai'," our handler said; the new talking points also refer to communal meals as "feast days.") This cage, too, was surrounded by mesh and guards.

I asked a guard if he had formed any personal opinions about the men he was guarding. He paused for a moment. "They don't complain. They are needy," he said. I asked what he meant. "Emotionally needy," he said. "It comes out as asking for things all the time - a certain brand of shampoo, extra blankets ... it is a kind of dependency." The guard was suddenly whisked away. We were then taken to a medical bay. In the white-on-white bay was a military nurse - her name removed from her uniform; she refused to identify herself. And a psychologist stood ready to brief us, next to yet another diorama. Before us was a display of Ensure fanned out across a medical tray table. The nurse, a pleasant, pretty white middle-aged woman with a soft hairstyle and a rueful smile, gestured at the display like a car showroom model. She gave us a rundown of how they feed the prisoners who were on hunger strike.

The nurse confirmed that some detainees were on hunger strike and said that they were fed forcibly "when they refuse to take feeding fluids." But she didn't call it force-feeding: "We call it 'internal feeding'," she corrected me. "It goes down the nose and into the stomach. The patients are given a variety of flavors," she said, going back to her infomercial-style presentation and gesturing at the cartons. "Strawberry, French vanilla, butter pecan - they have a choice. Our admiral did this for a week and he gained four pounds," she said fondly.

I turned to the psychologist, a dark-haired man in his late forties, heavily muscled, with the same featureless area on his chest where name tags ordinarily are. He, too, refused to give me his name when I asked. I asked him what happens if a detainee is depressed. "We will go see them. They can request the Behavioral Health Unit." He said that they get "talk therapy" if they need it. "I can empathize," he said. "I see it as being very similar to people who are detained in any correctional facility."

I pointed out to the man that perhaps his patients were "depressed and anxious" because of what they had suffered in Guantanamo. (It is now well documented that detainees were subjected to "stress positions," sleep deprivation, water boarding and extremes of hot and cold. But for those working at Guantanamo, the talking points on torture seem to be that "abuse may or may not have happened, there is no way to know:" A Department of Defense spokesman, Joe Della Vedova, had called the claim that prisoners had been tortured at Guantanamo, "a posture of the defense;" Petty Officer Dwight called it "a matter of opinion." And Lieutenant-Commander DeWalt called it "an assertion" and "a point of view.") I would subsequently discover that the day before I met the psychologist and the nurse, a detainee, Muhammad al-Hanashi, had died, in what the Joint Task Force Guantanamo press office reported as an "alleged suicide." Six weeks later, that death still has not have been investigated by an independent body.

But Andrew Selsky, of Associated Press, interviewed Binyam Mohamed, a former prisoner who knew the young man; Mr Mohamed said that suicide was "totally out of character" for Mr al-Hanashi. He was, according to Mr Mohamed, a positive person who had been elected by the prisoners as their representative. Associated Press reported that on January 17, 2009, Mr alHanashi had been summoned to a meeting with Admiral David Thomas, Commander of JTF Guantanamo, and the head of the Guantanamo guard force; Mr al-Hanashi never returned to his cell, but was taken directly to the psychiatric ward. Elizabeth Gilson, a lawyer for a detainee who was also in the ward, knows more about what happened; but she can't tell anyone; it is classified.

The JTF Guantanamo press release reporting the death would be terse; the details nonexistent; there would be little follow-up in the media - because there was nothing the Guantanamo press office would release that would give anything to go on. His body would, presumably, go somewhere - but Mr al-Hanashi himself would, during the days I was at Guantanamo, simply disappear.

There was a final stop: another trailer inside the same area as Camp Delta, where the Combat Status Review Board takes place. There were security cameras in the corners of the room covered with towels for, we were told, "classification reasons." There Captain Dan Bauer, another handsome, dark-haired, pleasant man, explained the combat status review tribunal (CSRT) process. Twenty serious-looking high-ranking military men sat to our right watching his presentation to us. In the room was his desk: and two chairs facing it. I turned on my little Flip camera and started recording. Captain Bauer claimed in his talk that witnesses were brought in from outside "whenever reasonable." I looked at the base of both chairs. Both chairs had shackles. The process had been "formed," Captain Bauer explained, "to afford the detainees the opportunity to attend and provide witness statements that were relevant and readily available on behalf of their own defense." The system, he repeated several times, sorts them into those who are "enemy combatants" and those who are "no longer enemy combatants."

He explained that "about 520 detainees were designated as enemy combatants, the remaining 40 or so are no longer enemy combatants." Why, I wondered, was there no category for "never been enemy combatants?" A Russian reporter with us asked if the detainees have access to telephones or the internet, so that they can communicate with people in their country, to get documents and witnesses. "No," Captain Bauer said. "In that case what would happen is that there was something that - if there was a process by which if they felt made their case, then what the board would do is the Dept of Defense works with the Department of State to contact, er . . . the nations of detainees to try to make arrangements just to get whatever information - er, that they need." He said that detainees are taken "in the heat of the battlefield" and that there they "put the pieces together".

I asked if everyone in the room with the detainee was employed by the US Government. Captain Bauer confirmed that.

"As I understand the process," the Polish reporter said, "it is the detainee alone against the US Government?"

"I don't understand the question," Captain Bauer replied.

I asked why there were two different chairs with shackles. Captain Bauer explained that if the detainee had another detainee as his witness, then he would be present. In sources provided by Human Rights Watch, Amnesty and the American Civil Liberties Union I had read that prisoners had been abused to provide false confessions implicating other prisoners, in just this setting, and that their "enemy combatant" status had been based on these false confessions. Testimony of witnesses who were not from within the prison system, so not subjected to coercion, was of course crucial for the review to be effective. Have there ever been any, or were any witnesses there, on the island right now?

"I can't confirm whether there have or not."

"Would you fly them here?"

"The Department of Defense, the Department of State, work with foreign agencies to make those arrangements."

"Have they made those arrangements - ever?" "Ummm ... we afford the opportunity. Whether it's been done or how often it's been done, I don't, I don't know the answer."

That afternoon we got to Guantanamo's main street, which was like a main street anywhere in the US - McDonald's, a Wal-Mart-style store: T-shirts for sale reading "It Don't Gitmo Better Than This", "Guantanamo Resort and Spa" and "Guantanamo, Pearl of the Antilles." You could get postcards of the banana rats.

Dinner was more salad displays; a pasta fiesta; a make-your-own sundae bar. It was like a food court in a really good mall. I tried to watch the sunset, under the scrutiny of my handler.

At six the next morning we awoke, dressed and convened outside, but - something was wrong. Petty Officers Dwight and Bennet were looking sadly at a flat tire on the white van in the driveway that was to transport us. I tried my computer in the backyard for the hell of it, and to my surprise found that I got a thin thread of access to the outside world. A friend in Egypt had sent me a bombshell news clipping about Mr al-Hashani's alleged suicide. While we had been at the medical bay, the Guantanamo press office had been scrambling to word a bland press release. The whole world knew about this death.

Only we, the journalists actually present at the scene, had had no idea. Petty Officers Dwight and Bennet eventually got us on wheels - taking us through the chic, upscale neighborhoods of the contractors, with their barbecues, play structures and verandas, through the boxy, hut-like quarters of the enlisted men and women - and back to the site of the military commissions.

There a new set of handlers showed us another sterile portable cell where detainees conferred with their lawyers. I asked our guide if there was lawyer-client privilege, or was the cell under surveillance? "I can't answer that," the guide said. (The defense lawyer Wells Dixon said that he always assumed that his conversations with his client were being listened in to.) We were taken in to the state-of-the art "courtroom" itself, where the ill-starred military tribunals meet. It is unbelievably expensive-looking: rows of gleaming wooden tables for the lawyers of the detainees - and seats with shackles at the base for the detainees at the end of each table; a raised dais where the "panel" - about 20 members of the military - sits facing the tables; and a raised platform in the front of the room, where the "judge" sits in the middle and on one side sits the detainee and on the other, the witness for the defense. Two contractors showed me around. One, "Mo," showed me how you can put a $5 note under a light on a desk and it shows up onscreen behind the judge's chair much magnified. I looked up: "In God We Trust," the motto read.

Then he showed me the stop-motion button system on the audio feed that means that a censor can redact any information that comes out that he wishes to cut - so the press in the galley area behind glass at the back of the room, and down in the hangar, will never know what was redacted. The button system is in the same area as the "witness chair," which seemed odd to me.

I asked if the chair had ever been used.

"Well ... no," he said. Not to his knowledge. Then he showed me again with great pride the live feed that was hooked up directly into the "courtroom" that could "transmit witness testimony into the courtroom from anywhere in the world."

"Has it ever been used to transmit actual witness testimony?" I asked.

"No," he replied. "But we have the capability."

At the end of the trip, I asked Deputy Press Officer Major Haynie to respond to the statement that no witnesses had ever been called to the CSRT process. I did not get an answer. Five weeks later I asked the Pentagon spokesman Vedova for a response - no answer - and six weeks later I called Lieutenant-Commander DeWalt to confirm or deny that external witnesses had never been called to the CSRT process.

He said that the 9/11 families were coming down to witness motions at the military tribunals and they would be housed in townhouses or officers' quarters. I asked if the families of defendants would be allowed to observe the motions as well. "I don't believe there are defendants' families on this visit." I asked him if defendants' families have ever been brought in. "Not to my knowledge," he conceded. I asked DeWalt if, in the rebranded military commissions under Obama's Administration, real witnesses will be flown in from outside the prison system. "It's a fair question - I'll get back to you," he said. So far, he has not done so.

The next morning I was due to depart when word came that the one flight out was cancelled. Instead, I was to fly out on military transport. On the aircraft I chatted with those seated around me. To my right was a military doctor, who acknowledged that he had been flown to the island to attend to the post-mortem of the dead prisoner.

"Will there be an investigation?" I asked.

That was the investigation, he explained. When I later asked Lieutenant-Commander DeWalt about the death of Mr al-Hanashi, he said that there was an ongoing investigation, and that he could not give "details of that situation - we are holding off on any speculation - because it would get in the way of investigators doing their job." Sitting behind the doctor on the aircraft was a genial young clergyman, Chaplain Mubarak, who turned out to be one of four Muslim chaplains in the Navy. He, too, had been flown in for the death - from Chicago. He had been tasked with "culturally sensitive" treatment of the corpse. He explained that in Islam only another Muslim could wash the dead man's body. Had he been allowed to give spiritual support to Mr al-Hanashi's fellow prisoners? No.

I made my way down the aisle to join another lawyer, whom I had met in the waiting room: George Clarke, a corporate lawyer with Miller and Chevalier, a big law firm in Washington. He works pro bono for his clients who are detainees. "I represent two of the 17 Uighurs that are still here. They were all cleared to go - by the Department of Defense, by the courts, by the military . . . innocent guys. But they have been here for seven years."

To explain why the detainees are not permitted to speak to reporters, Clarke says, the Department of Defense is citing the Geneva Conventions. "Which is kind of interesting because their position has been that the Geneva Conventions don't apply to these guys. If the Geneva Conventions applied they would be able to have a canteen from which to buy things, tobacco that they could have, a right to organize themselves and have a representative."

"Remember," Clarke says, "for a lot of these guys, there's no evidence." The military said that of the 240 guys left here maybe 80 will eventually be 'tried' in some form. What about the rest? A lot of these people have been held because they stayed at a guest house or they had some supposed connections or affiliations [with al-Qaeda]. 'Connections' are like ... someone's brother was a member. Or allegedly a member. The whole world has a misconception that these guys were picked up on the battlefield. And a whole lot of them were not.

"This country is based on the rule of law," Clarke continued quietly. "If you truly have no reason to hold someone, you can't hold them. National security cannot override freedom.

"At the end of the day our freedom is more important. If we lose our freedom - what are we trying to secure?"

What, indeed?

We landed, the lights of Washington now twinkling brightly below us, but the answer is still unclear.
(c) 2009 Naomi Wolf is the author of "Give Me Liberty" (Simon and Schuster, 2008), the sequel to the New York Times best-seller "The End of America: A Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot" (Chelsea Green, 2007).

Whose Acre?
By Uri Avnery

THE ANCIENT port of Acre is now the object of a fierce battle. The Arab inhabitants of the town want the port to bear the name of an Arab hero, Issa al Awam, a general under Saladin, the Muslim leader who defeated the Crusaders. The municipality of Acre, which of course is dominated by the Jewish inhabitants, has decided to give the port the name of an Israeli functionary.

The Arab citizens set up a monument for their hero. The municipality declared it to be an "illegal structure" and decided to destroy it.

This could have been a small local conflict, one of many in this mixed and quarrelsome town, if it did not have such profound ideological and political implications.

I LOVE old Acre. For me, it is the most beautiful and interesting town in the country, after East Jerusalem.

It is one of the most ancient towns in the country, perhaps in the whole world. It is mentioned in the Bible In the first chapter of Judges (which, by the way, completely contradicts the genocidal Book of Joshua.) The chapter enumerates the Canaanite towns which were not conquered by the Children of Israel. It remained a Phoenician town, one of the port towns from which intrepid Hebrew-speaking sailors went forth and colonized the shores of the Mediterranean Sea, from Tyre to Carthage.

The fortunes of Acre reached their zenith during the times of the Crusaders. It was then the only port in the country that could be used during all the seasons of the year. The Crusaders succeeded in taking it after a stubborn defense. A hundred years later, when the great Salah-ad-Din (Saladin) put an end to the Crusaders' rule in Jerusalem, he drove them out of Acre, too. The Knights of the Cross recaptured it, and for another hundred years it served as the capital of the reduced Crusader state. In 1291, when the remnants of the Crusader kingdom were wiped out, Acre was the last Crusader town to fall to the Muslims. The image of the last Crusaders and their women jumping from the quays of Acre has been engraved in the memory of the age and has given birth to the expression still current: "to throw into the sea."

Later, too, the town had a checkered history. A Bedouin chieftain, Daher al-Omar, took it over and created a kind of independent semi-state of Galilee. Even Napoleon, one of the Great Captains of history, came from Egypt in 1799 and laid siege to it, but was roundly defeated by the Arabs, with the help of British sailors.

When the British became the lords of the land in 1917, they turned the imposing Crusader fortress of Acre into a prison, in which the leaders of the Hebrew underground organizations, among others, were incarcerated. In one of its most daring exploits, the Irgun broke into the fortress and freed its prisoners. In 1947, the Israeli army conquered the town, which was until then entirely Arab.

The ancient part of the town, with its beautiful minarets and Crusader fortifications, continued to be Arab. So did the port, which now serves fishermen. But around this quarter, Jewish neighborhoods have sprung up, faceless like many hundreds of such neighborhoods throughout Israel, and their inhabitants now constitute the majority. They do not like their Arab neighbors very much.

From time to time, quarrels break out between the two populations. The Arab inhabitants believe that Acre has been their town since ancient times and consider the Jews intruders. The Jews are convinced that the town belongs to them and that the Arabs are, at best, a tolerated minority that should shut up.

The current dispute can well turn violent.

IN EVERY conflict between Jews and Arabs in this country, the rather childish question arises: Who was here first?

The Arabs conquered the country, which they then called Jund Filistin (military district Palestine) in 635 AD, and since then it has been under Muslim rule (apart from the Crusader period) until the arrival of the British. They claim "We were first." The Zionist version is different. In Biblical times, most of the country belonged to the kingdoms of Judea and Israel, even though the coast belonged to the Phoenicians in the North and the Philistines in the South. (In spite of all the frantic efforts of a hundred years, no archaeological evidence has been found that there ever was an exodus from Egypt, a conquest of Canaan by the Children of Israel or a kingdom of David and Solomon.) Since the kingdom of Ahab, around 870 BC, Israel has been on the well-attested historical map. After the Babylonian exile, the Jews dominated parts of the country, with constantly changing borders, until Roman times. Ergo: "We were first."

If the Israelites were here before the Muslims, who was here before the Israelites? The Canaanites, of course. "They were first." But who represents them?

I once wrote a satirical piece about the "First Canaanite Congress" which takes place somewhere in the world. The participants declare that they are the descendents of the original inhabitants of the country and claim it for themselves.

That is not entirely a joke. In the first years of the last century Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, who was to become the second president of Israel, tried to harness the Canaanites to Zionism. He researched and found that the population of this country has not really changed from the earliest times. The Canaanites mixed with the Israelites, became Jews and Hellenists, and when the Byzantine empire, which then ruled this country, adopted Christianity, they too became Christians. After the Muslim conquest, they gradually became Arabs.

In other words, the same village was Canaanite, became Israelite, passed through all the stages and in the end, became Arab. Nowadays it is Palestinian, unless it was wiped out in 1948 and replaced by an Israeli settlement. Throughout, the population did not really change. Many of the place names did not change either. Every new conqueror brought with him a new set of beliefs and a new elite, but the population itself did not change much. No conqueror was interested in driving out the inhabitants, who provided him with food and revenue. In the opinion of Ben-Zvi, the Palestinian Arabs are really the descendents of the ancient Israelites. But when the Israeli-Palestinian conflict gathered momentum, this theory was forgotten.

Recently, some Palestinians adopted a rather similar theory. By the same historical logic, they claim that the Palestinian Arabs are the descendents of the ancient Canaanites, and therefore "they were first," even before the Children of Israel of Biblical times. It was only the Zionist conquest that, for the first time in history, radically changed the composition of the population.

The Canaanites and the ancient Israelites spoke different dialects of the same Semitic language, which is nowadays called Hebrew. Later on, Aramaic became the language of the country, and later on Arabic. Last week, new research was published, showing that the vernacular Syrian-Palestinian Arabic dialect includes many words that have their origin in ancient Hebrew and Aramaic, and which do not appear in the dialect of other Arab countries. Clearly, they were absorbed by the native Arab dialect many centuries ago. They are mainly day-to-day agricultural words, and it is logical to assume that they entered the Arabic language from the Aramaic that it replaced.

WHY IS that important? How does it affect the Acre dispute?

Many years ago I read a book by the late American-Arab scholar, Philip Hitti, a Maronite Christian from Lebanon, entitled "History of Syria".According to the Arab historical view, Syria (a-Sham in classical Arabic) includes today's Syria as well as well as present-day Lebanon. Jordan, Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

The book made a lasting impression on me. It recounts the history of this country from prehistoric times to the present, with all its stages, as one continuous story, which includes Canaanites and Israelites, Phoenicians and Philistines, Aramaeans and Arabs, Crusaders and Mamluks, Turks and Britons, Muslims, Christians and Jews. They all belong to the history of the country, all of them contributed to its culture, language and architecture, palaces and fortresses, synagogues and churches, mosques and cemeteries.

Anyone thinking about peace and reconciliation should absorb this picture.

WHAT KIND of history is taught now in the schools of the two peoples? Both have a mobile history which is wandering about the landscape.

Jewish history starts with "Abraham Our Father" in present-day Iraq and the exodus from Egypt, the receiving of the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai in present-day Egypt, the Conquest of Canaan, King David and the other legends of the Bible, which are taught as actual history. It continues in the country until the destruction of the Temple by Titus and the Bar Kokhba rebellion against the Romans, when it goes into "exile," concentrating on the chain of expulsions and persecutions, only returning to the country with the early Zionist settlers.

This history ignores not only all that happened in the country before the Israelite era, but also everything that happened during the 1747 years between the Bar Kokhba uprising in 135 AD and the start of the pre-Zionist settlement in 1882. An alumnus of the Israeli education system knows next to nothing about the country during these eras.

On the Arab side, things are no better. The Palestinian-Arab historical picture starts in the Arab peninsula with the advent of the Prophet Mohammad, mentioning the era of Jahiliyah ("ignorance") before that, and comes to Palestine with the Muslim conquerors. What happened here before 635 AD does not interest it.

The pupils of these two education systems - the Jewish-Israeli and the Palestinian-Arab - grow up with two entirely different historical narratives.

I DREAM of the day when in every school in this country, in Israel and in Palestine, Jews and Arabs will learn not only these two histories, but also the complete history of the country which includes all the periods and cultures.

They will learn, for example, that when the crusaders invaded the country, Muslims and Jews stood together against the cruel invader and were massacred together. They will learn that in Haifa, the local Jews led the defense and were admired for their heroism, until they were slaughtered side by side with the Muslims. Such identification with the history of the country can serve as a solid basis for a reconciliation between the peoples.

A dozen years ago, inspired by the unforgettable Feisal al-Husseini, I drew up a Manifesto on Jerusalem for Gush Shalom. One of its paragraphs reads: "Our Jerusalem is a mosaic of all the cultures, all the religions and all the periods that enriched the city, from earliest antiquity to this very day - Canaanites and Jebusites and Israelites, Jews and Hellenes, Romans and Byzantines, Christians and Muslims, Arabs and Mamluks, Ottomans and Britons, Palestinians and Israelis. They and all the others who made their contribution to the city have a place in the spiritual and physical landscape of Jerusalem."

In this list, the Crusaders are missing, and not by mistake. They were in our original text. But when I asked the renowned Arab-Israeli writer Emil Habibi to be the first to sign, he exclaimed: "I shall not sign any document that mentions these abominable murderers!"

Almost everything that can be said about Jerusalem is true for Acre, too. Its history is also continuous from prehistoric times until today, and the Arab general Issa al Awam belongs to it as much as the English Crusader Richard the Lionheart and the Etzel fighters who broke the prison walls.
(c) 2009 Uri Avnery ~~~ Gush Shalom

Winston Churchill Was A Bolshevik
Guess who helped launch socialized healthcare in the U.K.? The ultimate conservative icon -- and he was proud of it
By Joe Conason

Long before many of today's frothing right-wing demagogues were born, American conservatives came to idolize Winston Churchill, the late Tory prime minister whose wartime leadership of the British people transformed into the living symbol of democracy armed. That reputation was cemented by his legendary Missouri speech in 1946 warning of the "Iron Curtain" drawn by the Soviet Communists across Eastern Europe. Indeed, journalists and bloggers on the right admire the old warhorse so much that he has even outpolled Ronald Reagan as their "Man of the Century."

Yet by the standards of the present moment, as these same conservatives mobilize against health care reform to "stop socialism," that same great man was actually a raving Bolshevik. For among his most enduring legacies was the founding and sustenance of the system that became the National Health Service. Arguably as much as any other British politician, it was Churchill who established "socialized medicine."

Perhaps it is a forlorn hope that facts and history can make any impression on the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Chuck Grassley, or Bill Kristol, but let's try anyway -- because it is worth understanding that despite the low quality of our own so-called conservatives, there was once another kind.

Churchill was renowned as a politician who put country and civilization above party. The government he led during World War II was a broad coalition of the British parties, from his own Conservatives to the democratic socialists of Labor. Midway through the war, Churchill's government asked Sir William Beveridge, a Liberal Party social reformer and economist to study systems of social insurance that could reduce poverty, disease, unemployment and illiteracy in Britain.

In 1942, Beveridge issued an far-reaching report that proposed a national health service to provide medical care to every man, woman and child, regardless of means -- much as the coalition government had done during the medical emergency brought on by the German bombings of their cities, hospitals and clinics.

Although Churchill endorsed the idea of a national health system, his party lost the first post-war general election in 1945, partly because British voters didn't trust the Tories to implement the Beveridge report. Instead a Labor government established universal care under the NHS in 1948.

Only three years later, the Tories returned to power with Churchill restored as prime minister. At that point, the NHS could still have been killed -- and many members of the Tory party, not to mention the British Medical Association, were eager to do so.

But Churchill asked Claude Guillebaud, a Cambridge economist, to head a committee to study the performance and efficiency of the NHS. The Gillebaud committee found that the NHS was highly effective - and needed additional funding to insure that effectiveness would continue. There was no more talk of dismantling the very popular service, and instead the Tories under Churchill and his immediate successors allocated more money to build additional clinics and hospitals. Even Margaret Thatcher, the most ideological Tory prime minister of modern times, promised voters that "the NHS is safe in our hands."

As a lifelong conservative with a strong dedication to enterprise and merit (and a host of less admirable right-wing prejudices), Churchill would have bristled at anyone who dared to describe him as a socialist. Why then did he promote and protect the NHS? Partly out of political expediency, no doubt, but also because he felt an ethical obligation that seems not to trouble the contemporary conservatives who profess to admire him.

In March 1944, he eloquently explained his views on medicine and society to the members of Royal College of Physicians in London:

The discoveries of healing science must be the inheritance of all. That is clear. Disease must be attacked, whether it occurs in the poorest or the richest man or woman simply on the ground that it is the enemy; and it must be attacked just in the same way as the fire brigade will give its full assistance to the humblest cottage as readily as to the most important mansion. Our policy is to create a national health service in order to ensure that everybody in the country, irrespective of means, age, sex, or occupation, shall have equal opportunities to benefit from the best and most up-to-date medical and allied services available.

That is what he helped to do -- and for the rest of his life, he fought against the impression that his old adversaries in Labor had established the system alone.

Lately, the subject of the NHS erupted into the American debate over health care when Investors Business Daily, a hard-line right-wing financial publication based in New York, suggested in an editorial that a statist system like Britain's would have left Stephen Hawking, the Nobel physicist and popular author, to die of Lou Gehrig's disease, which has afflicted him since he was 21 years old. That ignorant screed prompted Hawking -- who has of course lived in Britain all his life -- to declare that the NHS had saved his life. Furious Britons of all political parties leaped forward to defend their medical system, mocking the dumb American right-wingers and overwhelming Twitter with messages hashmarked "I love the NHS."

Whatever the marvels and defects of the NHS may be - and most experts agree that it does a superb job despite inadequate funding -- its importance for the debate over American health care reform may be moral rather than practical. Imagine what kind of country we would inhabit if those who claim to represent conservatism in America possessed even a small measure of the human compassion and political decency of Churchill at his best. It is a standard that they do not even attempt to achieve these days.
(c) 2009 Joe Conason writes for The New York Observer. You may reach Joe via email at: Joe Conason

Gooberheads, Blimps And Earmarks

Time for another Gooberhead Award - presented periodically to those in the news who've got their tongues going 100 miles per hour, but forgot to put their brains in gear.

Today's Goober is Pete Sessions, a little-known, run-of-the-mill, Republican congress critter from Dallas. Like many of his GOP colleagues, Pete has been on his ethical high-horse this year, pointing a finger of shame at the new Democratic majority for continuing to let special-interest earmarks slip into appropriations bills. On his website, Sessions piously posits that these backroom giveaways of tax dollars are "a symbol of a broken Washington."

Yes, they are! And Pete should know, because he's an earmarker himself. Last year, he quietly moved $1.6 million out of our public treasury into the hands of Jim Ferguson & Associates for the stated purpose of doing research on - get this - dirigibles.

The Ferguson firm is a father-son duo, Jim III and Jim IV. Are they renowned blimp builders? No. They concede they have no background whatsoever in dirigibles, aviation, engineering, or government contracting. Instead, they say that they are "business people." Well, is congressman Pete so involved because this is a Dallas project? No, the Fergusons are based in Chicago. Oh, Sessions did use a Dallas address for his earmark, but that turned out to he the home address of a friend of the Fergusons.

The connection to Sessions is that Jim IV is a friend, and now a client of a Washington lobbyist and former Congressional aid to Rep. Sessions. The lobbyist has collected $446,000 in fees from the Fergusons to push their dirigible dreams, including urging the congressman to back the dream.

The real symbol of a broken Washington is the cynical hypocrisy of Gooberheads like Pete Sessions.
(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.

UBS Money Laundering
What Did Phil Gramm Know?
By Robert Scheer

In recent days yet another wealthy private customer of the Swiss-based banking conglomerate UBS admitted to criminal fraud in a growing parade of perp walks that could extend into the thousands. It is a case that threatens to ensnare former Sen. Phil Gramm, the Texas Republican who is vice chairman of UBS' investment banking business. Given the widespread involvement of UBS in what the Justice Department alleges were systematic efforts to violate U.S. tax laws, it must be asked: Did Gramm as a top executive have no inkling about what was going on?

Perhaps, but for Gramm this has to be a moment that at the very least tests his ideological commitment to the radical deregulation of banking that he championed during his 24 years in Congress. He joined UBS soon after the bank acquired Enron, a company that had gone bankrupt after jumping through the "Enron loophole" in the Commodity Futures Modernization Act, which Gramm had pushed though Congress. Gramm's wife, Wendy, had been an Enron board member and head of its audit committee but failed to sound the alarm before the Houston-based company collapsed. Then UBS itself ran into big trouble because of $37 billion in bad mortgage debt made possible by derivatives market deregulation engineered by then-Sen. Gramm. U.S. taxpayers have had to pony up money to heal UBS' self-inflicted wound. But the bank's involvement with tens of thousands of secret accounts tied to allegations of tax evasion raises starker issues-of possible criminal fraud through practices that Gramm as a senator helped keep opaque.

In his last years in the Senate, Gramm succeeded in blocking legislation that, as The New York Times editorialized, would have made it easier "to crack down on offshore tax havens" and "would have expanded rules that require banks to find out more about individuals and foreign jurisdictions they are dealing with." The Times noted, "The legislation won bipartisan support but was blocked by Senator Gramm of Texas, a foe of government regulation. ... "

Following that victory, Gramm stepped into a top position at UBS, stating: "It will provide me with an opportunity to practice what I've always preached. ... I have a strange combination of experiences that a lot of people don't have ... knowledge of economics, a knowledge of government policy." Given that knowledge, it is legitimate to ask just how Gramm could have been unaware of the extensive efforts of his new employer, UBS, to thwart the IRS. In court cases involving UBS over the past year, witnesses have provided extensive details of the bank's alleged practices in abetting tax avoidance.

As The Wall Street Journal said of the federal government's campaign against UBS clients evading U.S. tax laws, "plea agreements ... are providing a clearer picture of UBS's sophisticated efforts to help Americans hide income or the existence of foreign bank accounts."

In agreeing in a U.S. district court last week to plead guilty, Los Angeles businessman John McCarthy disclosed how UBS facilitated his defrauding of the U.S. government through secret offshore accounts set up by the bank. "While banking with UBS Cayman Islands, the defendant was advised by UBS representatives that a lot of United States' clients don't report their income and just take it off the top," according to the court filing. Now that the Swiss-based bank has agreed to turn over the names of upward of 10,000 secret account holders, the arraignment of those charged with breaking U.S. tax laws could extend very high into the ranks of the affluent.

As The Wall Street Journal reported, "The U.S. crackdown on clients of UBS AG is widening into a global hunt, with the government detailing in court documents how the Swiss bank and outside advisers helped Americans hide money using enterprises set up in Hong Kong."

Was Gramm truly unaware of the widespread efforts at UBS to defraud the U.S. Treasury? Did extreme ideologically driven naivetÚ lead him to believe that the bank would never engage in such chicanery? In the past he was the first to deny any hint of business naivetÚ and indeed defended his being hired by a bank that benefited from his legislation. Deflecting any suggestion of a conflict of interests, Gramm told a reporter: "You know, there is something to be said for not hiring people who just came in off a turnip truck. I have always believed that when I left the Senate that I would go into financial services as something that I know something about."

Well, what exactly did he know about those offshore tax shelters that caused a revenue shortfall of at least $100 billion that honest taxpayers have to make up?
(c) 2009 Robert Scheer is the editor of Truthdig. A journalist with over 30 years experience, Scheer has built his reputation on the strength of his social and political writing. His columns have appeared in newspapers across the country, and his in-depth interviews have made headlines. He is the author, most recently, of "The Pornography of Power: How Defense Hawks Hijacked 9/11 and Weakened America," published by Twelve Books.

Is Obama Planning to Sign Congress' Health Care Reform Bill With Lipstick?
By Wendell Potter

Over the coming weeks, Americans will find out whether the man they elected their president is just a great orator and politician or whether he is also a great leader.

Of the central features of candidate Barack Obama's health care proposal, he said one thing was essential -- a public insurance option to compete with the private insurance industry that is now dominated by a cartel of Wall Street-driven, for-profit behemoths. Another thing Obama said he would not support -- a requirement that all of us be forced by law to buy overpriced health coverage from private insurance companies.

Many of the people who voted for Obama did so because they believed his health care proposal was the best among the field of Democratic candidates and -- no contest here -- far better than the insurance industry-backed plans advocated by the Republicans.

Obama was not alone in calling for a public insurance option. So did Hillary Clinton, among others. About the only thing that distinguished Obama's plan from Clinton's, in fact, was his opposition to forcing all of us to buy health insurance. "Why should we force people to buy something they can't afford?" he asked repeatedly on the campaign trail.

After listening to the speeches he made in Montana and Arizona and to comments made by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and his press secretary, Robert Gibbs, on the Sunday morning talk shows, I'm wondering what happened to the guy Americans elected.

Having worked in the health insurance industry for nearly 20 years, I know Obama and Clinton were right in insisting that a public health insurance plan is vital to reform. A public plan not only will serve to "keep the private insurers honest," as Obama used to say before he started waffling, but it will also provide millions of people who now have no insurance at all with good coverage at a more affordable price. That's because the big for-profit insurers waste increasingly big chunks of your premium dollars on nonessential things like exorbitant CEO salaries and profits for the big institutional investors who own them. A public plan would not waste your precious dollars that way.

But unless I missed it -- and I even read the transcript of his comments to make sure I didn't -- Obama never even mentioned the public insurance option in his opening remarks in Montana, where he stood just a few feet away from one of the insurance industry's biggest friends in Congress, Senator Max Baucus.

The president finally seemed obligated to mention it in the Q&A session. In response to a question from a man who lost his insurance when he lost his job, Obama said this of the public insurance option, using language that would make you think some well-meaning but na´ve freshman congressman just recently came up with the idea:

And one of the options that's being debated is, should there be a public option, all right? (Applause.) And I want to -- I want to just explain this briefly, because this is where the whole myth of a government takeover of health care comes from. And not everybody -- not even every Democrat -- agrees on the public option, but I just want at least people to be informed about what the debate is about.

The idea is, if you go to that marketplace and you're choosing from a bunch of different options, should one of the options be a government-run plan that still charges you premiums? You still have to pay for it just like private insurance, but government would not -- this government option would not have the same profit motive. It would be obviously like a non-for-profit. It would have potentially lower overhead, so it might be able to give you a better deal, should you be able to choose from that option among many others. That's what the debate is about. (Applause.)

Now, what the opponents of a public option will argue is, you can't have a level playing field; if government gets into the business of providing health insurance, they will drive private insurers out of the health insurance market. That's the argument that's made. (Applause.) And I -- that is a legitimate, it's a fair concern, especially if the public option was being subsidized by taxpayers, right? I mean, if they didn't -- if they could just keep on losing money and still stay in business, after a while they would run everybody else out. And that's why any discussion of a public option has said that it's got to pay for itself, it's not subsidized by private insurers.

I don't know about you, but to me that sounds an awful lot like a guy who is trying to talk himself -- and us -- out of the best idea he and many others in the Democratic party have come up with to reform our badly broken, profit-driven health care system.

Less than 48 hours after setting us up for his soon-to-be-even-more-obvious capitulation to the demands of the insurance industry, the New York Times reported in its online edition that the Obama administration had begun sending signals "that it has backed away from its once-firm vision of a government organization to provide for the nation's 50 million uninsured and is now open to using nonprofit cooperatives instead."

Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said on Sunday morning that an additional government insurer is "not the essential element" of the administration's plan to overhaul the country's health care system. "I think there will be a competitor to private insurers," she said on CNN's State of the Union. "That's really the essential part, is you don't turn over the whole new marketplace to private insurance companies and trust them to do the right thing. We need some choices, we need some competition."

Her less-than-forceful insistence on a government insurance organization was paralleled by Robert Gibbs, the president's press secretary. "What I am saying is the bottom line for this for the president is, what we have to have is choice and competition in the insurance market," he said on CBS's Face the Nation.

Not only is Obama clearly ready to throw the public option overboard, he is embracing the requirement that we all be forced to buy insurance from private insurers. That means your tax dollars and mine will be used to pay subsidies to the big insurers to provide coverage to people who can't afford to buy their policies, because the big insurers charge far more than they should because Wall Street investors demand that they do.

One of the people who undoubtedly talked Obama away from the public option and into supporting this mandate is his new BFF, Aetna CEO Ron Williams. Williams, who made $65 million off of Aetna's policyholders' premiums over the past two years and who was the mastermind behind Aetna's shedding of eight million members a few years ago to meet Wall Street's demands, is the insurance industry's leading champion of requiring us all to buy insurance. And, of course, without a public option, we'll all be forced to buy coverage from Aetna or one of the other private insurers.

According to a recent article in Forbes, Williams has been to the White House a half a dozen times recently to advise the president and his staff on health care reform. That same article quoted a Wall Street analyst as saying that Aetna likely will dump about 600,000 policyholders during the coming months to satisfy its investors' unrelenting profit demands.

During his speech in Montana, Obama talked a lot of trash about the insurance industry. Don't be fooled by that tough talk. It's all part of a strategy to try get us to believe we'll get the reform he promised during the campaign. Industry leaders are in fact delighted he's denouncing their behavior, because they believe most of his supporters -- who were hopeful the stars might finally have aligned for real reform -- will be fooled into thinking the reform bill that reaches his desk will benefit them more than the special interests with their armies of lobbyists. And they know the nonprofit cooperatives Sebelius and Gibbs are now trying to sell us on don't have a prayer of succeeding. The big for-profits will never let them get off the ground in any meaningful way.

Sadly, I believe the fat cats are winning and that the bill Congress sends the president will be one that gives an industry with an unsustainable business model a new lease on life and a guarantee of unprecedented future profits.

So I hope the president's aides are buying lots of lipstick. He'll need all he can get to put on that pig of a bill.
(c) 2009 Wendell Potter is the Senior Fellow on Health Care for the Center for Media and Democracy in Madison, Wisconsin.

The Swiss Menace
By Paul Krugman

It was the blooper heard round the world. In an editorial denouncing Democratic health reform plans, Investor's Business Daily tried to frighten its readers by declaring that in Britain, where the government runs health care, the handicapped physicist Stephen Hawking "wouldn't have a chance," because the National Health Service would consider his life "essentially worthless."

Professor Hawking, who was born in Britain, has lived there all his life, and has been well cared for by the National Health Service, was not amused.

Besides being vile and stupid, however, the editorial was beside the point. Investor's Business Daily would like you to believe that Obamacare would turn America into Britain - or, rather, a dystopian fantasy version of Britain. The screamers on talk radio and Fox News would have you believe that the plan is to turn America into the Soviet Union. But the truth is that the plans on the table would, roughly speaking, turn America into Switzerland - which may be occupied by lederhosen-wearing holey-cheese eaters, but wasn't a socialist hellhole the last time I looked.

Let's talk about health care around the advanced world.

Every wealthy country other than the United States guarantees essential care to all its citizens. There are, however, wide variations in the specifics, with three main approaches taken.

In Britain, the government itself runs the hospitals and employs the doctors. We've all heard scare stories about how that works in practice; these stories are false. Like every system, the National Health Service has problems, but over all it appears to provide quite good care while spending only about 40 percent as much per person as we do. By the way, our own Veterans Health Administration, which is run somewhat like the British health service, also manages to combine quality care with low costs.

The second route to universal coverage leaves the actual delivery of health care in private hands, but the government pays most of the bills. That's how Canada and, in a more complex fashion, France do it. It's also a system familiar to most Americans, since even those of us not yet on Medicare have parents and relatives who are.

Again, you hear a lot of horror stories about such systems, most of them false. French health care is excellent. Canadians with chronic conditions are more satisfied with their system than their U.S. counterparts. And Medicare is highly popular, as evidenced by the tendency of town-hall protesters to demand that the government keep its hands off the program.

Finally, the third route to universal coverage relies on private insurance companies, using a combination of regulation and subsidies to ensure that everyone is covered. Switzerland offers the clearest example: everyone is required to buy insurance, insurers can't discriminate based on medical history or pre-existing conditions, and lower-income citizens get government help in paying for their policies.

In this country, the Massachusetts health reform more or less follows the Swiss model; costs are running higher than expected, but the reform has greatly reduced the number of uninsured. And the most common form of health insurance in America, employment-based coverage, actually has some "Swiss" aspects: to avoid making benefits taxable, employers have to follow rules that effectively rule out discrimination based on medical history and subsidize care for lower-wage workers.

So where does Obamacare fit into all this? Basically, it's a plan to Swissify America, using regulation and subsidies to ensure universal coverage.

If we were starting from scratch we probably wouldn't have chosen this route. True "socialized medicine" would undoubtedly cost less, and a straightforward extension of Medicare-type coverage to all Americans would probably be cheaper than a Swiss-style system. That's why I and others believe that a true public option competing with private insurers is extremely important: otherwise, rising costs could all too easily undermine the whole effort.

But a Swiss-style system of universal coverage would be a vast improvement on what we have now. And we already know that such systems work.

So we can do this. At this point, all that stands in the way of universal health care in America are the greed of the medical-industrial complex, the lies of the right-wing propaganda machine, and the gullibility of voters who believe those lies.
(c) 2009 Paul Krugman --- The New York Times

Baby Talk: Mark Steyn Strikes Back For Islamophobia
By Chris Floyd

In that august forum of serious, respectable conservatism, "The Corner," Mark "Mandingo" Steyn has responded to the post here yesterday taking him and his fellow Islamophobes to task for the "psychosexual panic" they evince in the face of their self-concocted vision of a "takeover" of Europe by prodigiously breeding Muslims. It goes without saying that Steyn (and a few of his fanboys in the comments section here) make no genuine reply to the substance of the piece, which drew heavily on a long, detailed essay on Islamophobia by Pankaj Mishra in the Guardian.

Instead, Mandingo comes up with what he obviously believes is the "smoking gun" to prove that a monolithic, undifferentiated, hive-minded Muslim horde is procreating its way to domination over the cowardly "pantywaists" of white Europe. And what is this killer evidence? (And "killer" is certainly the right term; for as we reported here yesterday, Steyn is on record as saying that Europeans will soon figure out how to "buck" the Muslim demographic surge: "If you can't outbreed the enemy, cull 'em.") Anyway, Mandingo's proof of Muslim overbreeding is -- brace yourself:

List of the most popular names for newborn boys.

Yes, Steyn -- the scholar's scholar, statistician extraordinaire -- has perused the popular names for babies in two whole European cities, and has discovered -- gasp! -- that they are headed by "Mohammed," and also have other Islam-derived names among the top ranks. This, he says, should convince "even the squishiest multiculti pantywaist" that there is sure enough an evil Ay-rab in the woodpile out there, and that, as he put it in one of his shaky-kneed screeds, it's "the end of the world as we know it."

Now, I would never put my meager learning up against an intellectual giant like Herr Professor Mandingo, but I would like to offer a few layman's observations on these earth-shattering revelations.

First, Herr Professor does not seem to realize that, as general rule, those of Muslim heritage tend to draw their children's first names from a small pool of historic Islamic names; and that variations of "Mohammed" are far and away the top choice from this small pool. Hence, in a list of baby's names, you will find a preponderance of a few Islamic monikers skewing the statistics.

At the same time, it is now the general fashion among those of Christian heritage in Europe (and the United States and Canada) to draw upon a far larger and more diverse pool of first names for their children. A few generations ago, most of these too would have come from a small pool of historic Christian names: saints, apostles, Biblical figures, etc. Now, they come from everywhere -- when they are not simply made up out of whole cloth. In other words, if it were the fashion today for Europeans of Christian heritage to name their children after, say, the four evangelists, then those same lists would be teeming with Matthews, Johns, Lukes -- and even Marks. I myself am a fairly prodigious breeder of offspring, and my four children have names drawn from Russian literature, Celtic myth, a Jane Austen novel and the Jewish scriptures. And this is typical of millions of other parents of Christian heritage.

Second, Professor Mandingo and his allies and acolytes also seem blissfully unaware that not every little baby named Mohammed is going to grow up to be one of the zealous, monolithic Muslims of their imagination. That boy is more likely to grow up to be a largely if not wholly secular guy, at home in the culture of the nation where he was born. (The same goes for girls too, of course, but as Steyn's little two-city lists deal only with boys, we'll confine the discussion to males.) And if he does grow up to be a practicing Muslim, again he will not be a member of some mythical zombie-like monolith, but will find have to find his own individual path in a faith that is every bit as variegated, diverse, fractured and conflicted as Christianity, if not more so. But Mandingoism blinds its adherents to the fact that Muslims are actual, individual human beings, with all the inherent complexities and conflicts thereof. They can only see a dark, undifferentiated mass spreading like an oil slick over the pristine marble surface of European "civilization."

Finally, there is the embarrassing fact that Muslims constitute a miniscule minority in Europe: as Mishra pointed out only yesterday, "Muslims account for only 3% to 4% of the EU's total population of 493 million." In the UK, there are an estimated 2 million people who call themselves Muslim, out of a total population of around 61 million. And many if not most of the "statistics" on the "Muslim takeover" of Europe used by the Mandingoist panic-merchants are, to use strict academic nomenclature, bullshit. As the BBC reported this month, in a story about a YouTube video (already seen by 10 million viewers) detailing the supposed "Muslim demographic time-bomb:"

This seven-and-a-half minute video "Muslim Demographics" uses slick graphics, punctuated with dramatic music, to make some surprising claims, asserting that much of Europe will be majority Muslim in just a few decades... But are any of the video's statistics true?

...The video says that a typical French family has 1.8 children but that French Muslim families have 8.1 children. No source is given for this information and the French government doesn't collect statistics by religion. So it is impossible to say what the precise fertility rates among different religious groups in France are. But no country on earth has such a high fertility rate and in Algeria and Morocco, the two nations which send the largest numbers of Muslim immigrants to France, the fertility rate is 2.38, according to the UN's 2008 figures.

In the Netherlands, according to the video, half of all newborns are Muslim, and in 15 years half the population will be Muslim. But the Dutch office of statistics estimates that Muslims make up only 5% of the population. For Dutch Muslim women to produce half the nation's babies, they would have to be giving birth at least 14 times the rate of their non-Muslim neighbours.

And yes, in the feverish, night-sweating brainpans of the Mandingoists, they really do believe that them hot Muslim mamas and those big Islamic bucks are breeding 14 times faster than their white compatriots, who have had the vim and vigor drained out of them by all that sissy-mary multiculti nonsense.

Is 25% of the Belgian population Muslim, as the video asserts? No. The Belgian office of statistics points to a 2008 study which suggests the real figure is just 6%.

...But the video doesn't just rely on statistics, it also uses an official Government statement. It quotes it as saying: "The fall in German population can no longer be stopped. Its downward spiral is no longer reversible. It will be a Muslim state by the year 2050."

The statement in question was made by then vice-president of the Federal Statistics Office, Walter Radermacher, who is now chief statistician of the European Union. He says that while it is true he said Germany's population was in decline, the last part of the quote [in italics] is just an invention. He said nothing about Germany becoming a Muslim state. "The quotation which reads as if the German government believed that Germany will become a Muslim state is simply not true," he says.

The video also claims the German government believes the number of Muslims in Europe will double to 104 million. Mr Radermacher adds: "That is not true. The German government does not believe that the Muslim population will double in the next 40 or 50 years. There are no reliable sources that give a proof for that assumption."

Well, as Ronald Reagan once said, facts are stupid things. Lies are so much more fun -- and more profitable. (Go write a book about "The Non-Threat of a Muslim Europe" and see if any wingut welfare outfits like Regnery Publishing will write you a check.) The fact that Muslims are a small minority in Europe, that their birthrate is falling, that Islam is not a blank, seething, monolithic mass, that Muslims are human beings who live, work, love, strive, suffer and play alongside and with their fellow compatriots without violence or conflict on a daily basis across Europe and the world -- none of this means anything to those whose blood runs hot at the sound of those Mandingo tom-toms beating in their minds.

But, despite everything, we must give Mark Steyn his due. In his baby-name riposte, he does step up and manfully admit that we should "take it as read" that he and Martin Amis and other allies "are all xenophobic racist rightwing nuts suffering from psychosexual panic." I think that here, at last, Herr Professor is standing on solid factual ground.
(c) 2009 Chris Floyd

This cartoon is from 10-26-1994.
Here's that "History Repeating Itself Again" thingie!

The Mother Of All Wars
By Case Wagenvoord

It's a new war, another in the unbroken string of wars that have captured our collective imagination since the end of World War II.

There was the Cold War, the War on Poverty, the War on Crime, the War on Drugs and the Global War on Terror.

However, this new war is different from the others. Previous "wars" were announced with a great deal of hoopla and spin. We were assured that this war was the beginning of the end for communism, poverty, crime, drugs and terrorism, all of which are still with us.

The new war, the War on Middle Class Prosperity, is an insurgent action, conducted with little fanfare and even less transparency. Its metanarrative is that the many must suffer and sacrifice so the few may prosper.

The unspoken argument goes like this: The postwar prosperity of the fifties and the sixties was a fluke for two reasons. At the end of World War II, the United States was the only industrial power that hadn't been bombed into oblivion. Coupled with that was the fact that all those workers in the war industry had been earning big bucks and had no place to spend them because of rationing.

With the end of the war, they began to spend, spend, spend. American industry was working 24/7. Everything boomed, everybody prospered, except the poor who didn't count.

Alas, it has all come to an end. The factories are shuttered, the middle class is tapped out and the party is over. We are in the midst of a great devolution.

There's one gaping hole in this narrative. If we are going through an economic contraction, then it should be across the board, it should touch all classes, from the richest to the poorest. Okay, so how many CEOs are selling their villas in the south of France? How many mega yachts are on the block? Instead of an across the board devolution, we are seeing an upward movement of capital to our kleptrocracy, a movement they tell us is necessary to create jobs. And jobs are created-in China, in Mexico, in India and anywhere where the desperate poor are willing to work for pennies.

In the prosperity that followed World War II, our oligarchs made a painful discovery-a viable middle class is a pain in the ass. It agitated for civil rights; it marched against nuclear weapons; it demonstrated against the wars that were so necessary to keep our economy strong; its children gave us the terrors of the sixties with its love, sex and drugs.

How wonderful it would be if that class could only vanish. That proved to be easy enough. Globalize. Send their high paying jobs overseas. Any reform movement is a child of job security. People who live in fear of losing their jobs and their benefits are not going to rock the boat. Instead, they will sit quietly and grasp the gunnels even as the boat nears the falls.

And this silence is enforced by making the poor souls feel guilty for have dared to live so well.

They should have known better.
(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

The Brilliance Of M. King Hubbert
By Mike Folkerth

Good Morning to you; your King of Simple News is on the air.

I often talk with you about paradigms, or more aptly, "a paradigm shift." Three definitions of "paradigm" are:

1. One that serves as a pattern or model.

2. A set or list of all the inflectional forms of a word or of one of its grammatical categories: the paradigm of an irregular verb.

3. A set of assumptions, concepts, values, and practices that constitutes a way of viewing reality for the community that shares them, especially in an intellectual discipline.

In the case of a paradigm shift, I'm referring the 1st and 3rd definitions. As you can see with the 3rd description, paradigms simply refer to certain beliefs and practices that steer our ship of state. But what if the paradigms that we hold near and dear are wrong?

If our core beliefs are wrong, then shifting to a more correct set of paradigms would behoove us.

Let me touch on a couple of widely held paradigms that once ruled the planet; "The earth is flat." How about, "If a person were to reach 60 miles per hour, the speed would kill the human." Or perhaps, "Human flight is impossible."

As regular readers of this blog know, I believe that the American geophysicist M. King Hubbert 1903 - 1989, was the perhaps the most unsung intellectual of modern times. And there is good reason that Dr. Hubbert was written off as a quack; he suggested that we shift our paradigms in ways that were counter to human population growth. But more importantly, he suggested a future that was counter to the grand plan of the top members of our hierarchy. Therefore, the good Dr. Hubbert was most certainly deemed a nut case.

In 1949, Hubbert stated that the fossil energy era would be of short duration. His most famous writing of 1956, now known as Hubbert's Curve, was that the U.S. would reach peak net oil in 1970 after which we would go into permanent decline. Such news was not well received by the motoring public and Hubbert was once more considered by our leadership to be a total loony tune. Of course, as they say in England, "The proof's in the pudding."

As most know, the U.S. did in fact hit peak net oil in 1970 and today we produce some 40% less crude than in that pivotal year. Huh, what do ya know about that? Also included in Hubbert's Curve was the pronouncement that the planet would reach peak oil around the turn of the century. Most sane geophysicist's today agree that our big space ship has indeed reached peak net oil.

How many people do you know who recognize the name Ronald McDonald? How many recognize the name, Dr. Marion King Hubbert? How can that be? How can the American who accurately made brilliant, world class, life altering, accurate predictions, be unknown to most fellow Americans while an advertising clown is known to all?

The answer to the above question is the exact opposite of the reason that Barrack Obama, a young inexperienced poorly prepared man is now known to most American's as the President of the United States; Obama promised the false paradigm of an easy button. Dr. Hubbert on the other hand, promised the harsh reality of science and physics, which is not what we wanted to hear, so not so coincidental, most people have never heard of Dr. M. King Hubbert.

I suppose such abstract reasoning follows the drift of, "If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all." Lie to me....PLEASE don't confuse me with the facts.

Hubbert's studies went well beyond oil, but once more, he revealed unsympathetic truths that humans had no interest in hearing and therefore one of the greatest minds in American history doesn't even appear in our high school text books.

For me, the most compelling of Dr. Hubbert's studies was not his studies of oil, but of the false paradigms of human development which can read in the following paragraph:

"A non-catastrophic solution is impossible unless society is made stable. This means abandoning two axioms of our culture . . . the work ethic and the idea that growth is the normal state of affairs." Hubbert challenges the latter mathematically and concludes the exponential growth of the last two centuries is the opposite of the normal situation.

In short, the brilliant man who seems to have rarely been wrong, asserted that we have followed a false set of paradigms for the past two centuries. But then, maybe the world is flat after all.
(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...

"Only in the last moment in history has the delusion arisen that people can flourish apart from the rest of the living world."
~~~ E.O. Wilson

Violence Works. Incrementalism Doesn't.
Lessons of the Death of Obamacare
By Ted Rall

"What worries me: time and time again," writes Brendan Skwire in the Philadelphia Weekly about the circuses which are currently passing for Democrats' town hall meetings on healthcare, "[is that] the needs of the stupid and disingenuous are not only treated as valid concerns, but as the greatest concerns." Well, yes. This being the United States, one of the most gleefully anti-intellectual nations on earth, stupid people aren't pathetic dolts to be pitied or perhaps sent to a reeducation camp. They're the shining example we're supposed to look up to.

Obamacare, whatever it is or was going to be once the President saw fit to share it with the public, is dead. That it would die a dog's death was predictable, so predictable that I predicted it a couple of months ago. "No one is going to call their Congressman, much less march in the streets, to demand action for a half-measure--or, in this case, a quarter-measure," I wrote then. "Without public pressure to push back against drug and insurance company lobbyists, nothing will change."

The latest Rasmussen Poll shows most Americans are against Obama's vague "public option," 53 percent to 42.

There was public pressure, all right--from the right. Limbaugh and Hannity stirred up a hornet's nest of frenzied morons, throwing around words like "fascist" and "Nazi" as if they didn't know that they referred to themselves, which of course they didn't. They turned out, bigger and louder than the president's supporters, who were handicapped by (a) not exactly knowing what they were being shouted over about and (b) not really caring that much because there wasn't much in it for them.

I pay $800 a month for private health insurance. That's $10,000 a year, or about $14,000 in pre-tax earnings. If Obama had proposed European-style socialized medicine, wherein doctors and nurses are government employees, I would have stood to have been $14,000 a year richer. As for workers who get healthcare insurance through their employers, Obama could have required all bosses to pass along the savings by giving their employees a $14,000-a-year raise.

$14,000 is definitely motivation enough to pry me away from my usual Netflix evening in order to outshout the rednecks at my local town hall. How about you?

Now Obamacare is dead. The good part is that, because it wouldn't have made much difference in our lives anyway, it doesn't much matter.

Still, there are political lessons to be learned:

Lesson One: Violence Works. The more rambunctious right-wingers showed up with assault rifles outside halls where the president was speaking. Can you imagine what would have happened if lefties had brought their AK-47s to anti-Iraq War rallies? The cops would have killed them. Their friends and relatives would have disappeared into some Bushie secret prison in Romania. Or maybe the Bush junta would have gotten so scared the war would never have happened.

The death of half-assed Obamacare is merely the latest evidence of a fact that the left, in thrall to militant pacifism, refuses to see. Only two means exist in order to effect change: violence, or the credible threat thereof. The charged atmosphere of imminent violence permeating the town hall meetings intimidated liberal wimps from the grassroots to the Oval Office.

Lesson Two: Incrementalism Never Works. The Bush Administration, which barely controlled the Senate and was widely viewed as electorially illegitimate, managed to ram through dozens of pieces of radical, sweeping legislation and start two wars from thin air. Obama's Democrats have a presidential mandate, a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate and a commanding lead in the House--yet they still haven't pushed through a single significant bit of liberal legislation. The difference is strategy: Republicans under Karl Rove shored up the base, declared themselves the only "real" Americans and ran roughshod over the Democrats.

Obama, on the other hand, didn't so much lose the healthcare debate to right-wing attack ads as he argued with himself so long that he ended up winning--and therefore losing. Rather than demand socialized medicine, he proposed a "public option," whatever that meant, in a doomed bid to gain political cover by convincing a few moderate Republicans to break ranks. Now he's given that up in favor of some "co-op" thing. Forgotten in all the noise: there hasn't even been a vote on a healthcare bill.

Lesson Three: It's Easier to Motivate Stupid People. Democrats, led by their professorial boy president, thought they would win the healthcare battle with logic and charts. Republicans understood the truth: there are more stupid Americans than smart ones, and it's easy to stir them up by threatening to take away their guns and kill God (socialism).

Old-school Democrats like FDR and LBJ didn't bother to appeal to Americans' non-existent intellects. They rammed through laws that improved people's lives. People like to live better. So they stuck. Obama should have done the same.
(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.)

Troy Davis And The Meaning Of 'Actual Innocence'
By Amy Goodman

Sitting on death row in Georgia, Troy Davis has won a key victory against his own execution. On Aug. 17, the U.S. Supreme Court instructed a federal court in Georgia to consider, for the first time in a formal court proceeding, significant evidence of Davis' innocence that surfaced after his conviction. This is the first such order from the U.S. Supreme Court in almost 50 years. Remarkably, the Supreme Court has never ruled on whether it is unconstitutional to execute an innocent person.

The order read, in part, "The District Court should receive testimony and make findings of fact as to whether evidence that could not have been obtained at the time of trial clearly establishes petitioner's innocence." Behind the order lay a stunning array of recantations from those who originally testified as eyewitnesses to the murder of off-duty Savannah police officer Mark Allen MacPhail on Aug. 19, 1989. Seven of the nine non-police witnesses who originally identified Davis as the murderer of MacPhail have since recanted, some alleging police coercion and intimidation in obtaining their testimony. Of the remaining two witnesses, one, Sylvester "Redd" Coles, is accused by others as the shooter and identified Davis as the perpetrator probably to save himself from arrest.

On the night of the murder, MacPhail was off duty, working as a security guard at a Burger King. A homeless man was being beaten in the parking lot. The altercation drew Davis and others to the scene, along with MacPhail. MacPhail intervened, and was shot fatally with a .38-caliber gun. Later, Coles arrived at the police station, accompanied by a lawyer, and identified Davis as the shooter. The police engaged in a high-profile manhunt, with Davis' picture splayed across the newspapers and television stations. Davis turned himself in. With no physical evidence linking him to the crime, Davis was convicted and sentenced to death.

Jeffrey Sapp is typical of those in the case who recanted their eyewitness testimony. He said in an affidavit:

"The police ... put a lot of pressure on me to say 'Troy said this' or 'Troy said that.' They wanted me to tell them that Troy confessed to me about killing that officer ... they made it clear that the only way they would leave me alone is if I told them what they wanted to hear."

Despite the seven recantations, Georgia's parole commission has refused to commute Davis' sentence. Courts have refused to hear the evidence, mostly on procedural grounds. Conservatives like former Georgia Congressman and prosecutor Bob Barr and former FBI Director William Sessions have called for justice in his case, along with Pope Benedict XVI, President Jimmy Carter, the NAACP and Amnesty International.

Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens wrote for the majority, "The substantial risk of putting an innocent man to death clearly provides an adequate justification for holding an evidentiary hearing." Yet conservative Justice Antonin Scalia dissented (with Justice Clarence Thomas), writing that Davis' case "is a sure loser," and "[t]his Court has never held that the Constitution forbids the execution of a convicted defendant who has had a full and fair trial but is later able to convince a habeas court that he is 'actually' innocent."

Davis has had three execution dates, and in one instance was within two hours of lethal injection. Now he will finally have his day in court. With the courageous support of his sister, Martina Correia (who has been fighting for his life as well as her own-she has stage 4 breast cancer), and his nephew, Antone De'Jaun Correia, who at 15 is a budding human rights activist, Davis may yet defy death. That could lead to a long-overdue precedent in U.S. law: It is unconstitutional to execute an innocent person.
(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 Dead Letter Office...

Glenn comes out of the closet!

Heil Obama,

Dear Propaganda Ansager Beck,

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 obvious lies about health care and your racist remarks dividing the Sheeple while we keep going to the bank and which may eventually lead to Martial Law, Afghanistan, Pakistan and these many other profitable oil wars to come would have been impossible! With the help of our mutual friends, the other "Rethuglican Whores" you have made it possible for all of us to goose-step off to a brave new bank account!

Along with this award you will be given the Iron Cross, first class, with diamonds 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 Beck, Sieg Heil!

Signed by,
Vice Fuhrer Biden

Heil Obama

Mike Huckabee Bashes America On Foreign Soil
By Glenn Greenwald

Mike Huckabee this week traveled to a foreign country and, speaking on foreign soil, is now bashing America in front of a foreign audience:

Former Arkansas governor and presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee says the US has taken too harsh a stance against Israel on the issue of settlements.

Huckabee said Monday the US should not "be telling Jewish people in Israel where they should and should not live."

Huckabee made the comment Monday while visiting Jewish enclaves in east Jerusalem. Affiliated with the conservative wing of the Republican Party, Huckabee has been touted as a possible candidate in 2012.

According to Haaretz, Huckabee is joined on this trip by "prominent Jewish and Republican activists from the United States" and "is also planning to visit the Jewish section of Hebron, Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, and Ma'aleh Adumim, the largest settlement in the West Bank." One of Huckabee's traveling companions, New York State Assemblyman Dov Hikind, says the purpose of the foreign trip is "to shine the spotlight on Obama's policy in Jerusalem, which has just been a horror."

Apparently, insisting that Israel stop occupying and building settlements in land that doesn't belong to it is "telling Jewish people where they should and should not live." Every country should invoke that standard -- Russia should have responded to American objections to its 2008 invasion of Georgia by insisting that the U.S. has no right to "tell Russians where they should and should not live." It was terrible how the U.S., opposed to Saddam's 1991 invasion of Kuwait, tried to tell Iraqis where they should and should not live. And immigration opponents in the U.S. should really stop telling Mexicans where they should and should not live. Isn't there some righteous Washington prohibition on criticizing America's foreign policy while on dreaded "foreign soil"? Here's what happened in 2006 when Al Gore gave a speech at a conference in Saudi Arabia in which he criticized Bush policies towards the Muslim world -- as summarized by The New York Times' Chris Sullentrop:

As House Democrats David Bonior and Jim McDermott may recall from their trip to Baghdad on the eve of the Iraq war, nothing sets conservative opinion mongers on edge like a speech made by a Democrat on foreign soil. Al Gore traveled to Saudi Arabia last week, and in a speech there on Sunday he criticized "abuses" committed by the U.S. government against Arabs after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. A burst of flabbergasted conservative blogging followed the Associated Press dispatch about the speech, with the most clever remark coming from Mark Steyn, who called the former vice president "Sheikh al-Gore." The editorial page of Investor's Business Daily accused Gore of "supreme disloyalty to his country". . . .

TigerHawk does the best job of explaining why speeches like this get some people so worked up:

There is simply no defense for what Gore has done here, for he is deliberately undermining the United States during a time of war, in a part of the world crucial to our success in that war, in front of an audience that does not vote in American elections. Gore's speech is both destructive and disloyal, not because of its content - which is as silly as it is subversive - but because of its location and its intended audience.

The Wall St. Journal's James Taranto accused Gore of "denouncing his own government on foreign soil" and quoted the above accusation of "disloyality." Commentary was abundant all but accusing Gore of treason for criticizing the U.S. in a foreign land. That, of course, is exactly what Mike Huckabee and his pro-settlement contingent is doing today -- particularly since a freeze on settlement growth is a central prong in Obama's U.S. strategy in the Middle East.

Will there be an outcry from any precincts over Huckabee's conduct? Highly doubtful. Rules governing what one can and cannot do with regard to "foreign countries" tend to be waived very quickly when it comes to Israel -- and America's Right. Indeed, Israel-centric former Bush officials such as Elliot Abrams have been continuously attempting to undercut U.S. policy towards the Middle East, publicly justifying Israeli anger towards Obama and explicitly siding with Israel over their own country in a dispute over whether Israel has the "right" to expand West Bank settlements (apparently, Israel possesses this "right" because Elliot Abrams secretly told Israelis that it was OK to take more Palestinian land if they wanted to).

What has been most bizarre about the increased tensions and even hostilities between the U.S. and Israel is that it arises out of the most minimal shift in American policy: merely demanding that Israel comply with a small subset of what virtually the entire world, all U.S. past administrations, and U.N. resolutions all agree are its obligations. And the impetus for the Obama administration's focus on these demands is clear and obvious: Israel's continued settlement growth in land that is not theirs harms U.S. interests in multiple, substantial ways, even as the U.S. pours enormous resources into aiding Israel. Yet large swaths of the American Right side with that foreign country over their own, and in Huckabee's case, even travel to that foreign country in order to oppose American policy. ,P> When "liberals" like Al Gore criticize U.S. foreign policy in Muslim countries, that is an act of virtual treason that spawns intense controversy. When leading members of the American Right do the same in and on behalf of Israel, the silence is deafening. Within that disparity lies many of the explanations for why America's foreign policy in the Middle East has wrought so much destruction.

UPDATE: As CarolynC notes in comments, House Minority Whip Eric Cantor, earlier this month, also made a pilgrimage to Israel where -- like Huckabee -- he bashed his own President and his own country for being too harsh toward Israel. As The Hill delicately put it:

Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) took a swipe at President Barack Obama's Mideast policy in Jerusalem on Thursday, telling reporters he was worried about the administration's direction in its attempts to forge a settlement in the region.

"We're here to try and make things better; we are here because we are concerned," Cantor said. "We are concerned about what the White House has been signaling as of late in their desire to push through in terms of a Middle East peace plan."

To its credit, The Hill article actually noted that "Cantor's comments leave the high-ranking Republican open to Democratic criticism for criticizing the president while on foreign soil." Last May during the presidential campaign, when he was still President, George Bush also went to Israel to implicitly criticize Obama for wanting to negotiate with Iran. The banal command that "politics stop at the water's edge" apparently contains an unspoken exemption for right-wing "bashing" of the U.S. and its leaders while in Israel.

UPDATE II: To clarify what I thought was already clear: I'm not criticizing Mike Huckabee for speaking ill of American policy while in a foreign country. I'm not one who embraces the dictate that it's sinful to criticize the U.S. Government unless one is standing squarely within America's borders. The point here is the inconsistent and selective application of that "principle" by those who do purport to believe in that.
(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.

Political And Economic Disabilities
By Frank Scott

We're told the recession is nearly over, again, but our system's foundation reveals more weakness at each structural repair attempt by capital's construction crew, also known as our government. This particular crisis will pass, but soon lead to others more serious until we make the economy work for the betterment of all, and not just benefit some at ever more deadly cost to everyone else.

Corporate America has increased profits by reducing its work force and their salaries, then forcing them to borrow money they should have been paid, and compounding the felony by collecting interest on that debt. The present recession is part of that attack on the working middle class, as millions bought homes at rates they could not afford. The hustlers who sold them mortgages based on invisible assets built a financial pyramid which only existed in their electronic religious temples. When material bills came due and capital had to produce substance for its own debts, what happened?

Corporate government rushed to the aid of corporate finance with trillions of taxpayer dollars, which could then be loaned back to taxpayers at even higher interest rates. As the system becomes more severely crippled, measures to save it become more blatantly outrageous, often bordering on madness. And reactions to this massive welfare program to save capitalism have produced outbursts of near lunacy.

For the first time in history America has a president who is only half white, causing mental agony for the still significant racist minority. Along with those who still believe Obama represents substantial change, they are near the breaking point. This despite the fact that Obama was selected by America's rulers, to be elected by America's ruled, to save private capital, and make that salvation seem a positive change for the public taxpayers. As if Obama's sincere but often hallucinating supporters weren't bad enough, the situation has led the barely conscious opposition into a passionate crusade approaching mass hysteria. They charge Obama with being a socialist, or of having been born in another country. This reinforces the notion that America is the world's leading producer of weapons, garbage and imbeciles, but severe mental stress doesn't lead to clear reasoning, and we are an extremely stressed population.

All of us are disoriented by the distortions and lies we get from our mind managers, and starry eyed believers who thought this hybrid speech maker was some agent of change in anything but rhetoric have little right to laugh at anyone else. We all need a wake up call.

The latest scheme to "change" our blood-for-profit health care system will do nothing more than provide public assurance for the continued domination of private insurance. The president disregards the majority's desire for a system like Medicare to cover everyone, and obeys the dictates of insurers and pharmaceutical monopolies. The politically brain dead who call him a Marxist should know that's closer to the corporate socialism of Mussolini and Hitler, than the democratic theory of Marx. This health care hustle is another scheme to save the minority at the expense of the majority, accompanied by rhetoric from our designated reformer that says we're getting "change we can believe in." That's if we believe in the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy. Like everything else in the marketplace, political control is a purchased commodity, and organized corporate capital has far more buying power in the electoral mall than the disorganized public. That kind of power cannot be overcome by combining our dollars to compete with national lobbies, but only by combining our democratic actions to run the money changers out of the political temple. To affect real transformation we need to wrest control from interests so unprincipled they are selling humanity's future in pursuit of their own private gain. And driving some of us crazy in the process.

Our heads are filled with stories of unjust treatment in Iran, while emptied of the daily atrocity that is Israel's treatment of Gaza. We increase murder in Afghanistan as it continues in Iraq and spreads to Pakistan, and we're told democracy is on the rise. We are warned about elected leaders in South America who oppose global capital, but we hear little about the elected leader in Honduras, exiled for the sin of disobeying his oligarchs on behalf of his people. Meanwhile, we have many here in a near psychotic state which has them rallying against an economy which does not exist but might work for their best interests if it did, or passionately supporting the economy which really does exist but works against all their individual and collective interests, because it does.

We need homeland security, but that has nothing to do with any outside threat. We have to control the political economic terrorists at home who are pushing us closer to disaster, while their media distracts with horror stories either far from our ability to affect, or directly attributable to our unconscious support for their continuation. We can neither remain enamored of a photogenic figure smoothly offering us loans with our own money in order to keep the banks in power, nor sink to the depths of hateful ignorance which finds us at each others throats because those throats are at our economic level or below, while our real enemies are so far above that economic level they can seem invisible.

Democracy is not simply attending a meeting, raising funds or voting in an election. It is the combined actions of citizens taking control of their destiny, by any means necessary, demanding, and getting, government answerable to them, and not entrenched wealth or foreign interests. The last election misled many to feel that democracy was finally achieved, but the present situation should make it clear that was not even remotely the case. We have a long way to go, and for our own good, we'd better get there soon.
(c) 2009 Frank Scott writes political commentary which appears in the Coastal Post, a monthly publication from Marin County, California, on numerous web sites and his shared blog.

The Cartoon Corner...

This edition we're proud to showcase the cartoons of
~~~ Chris Britt ~~~

Jesus and her Gospel of Yes trailer

To End On A Happy Note...

It's The End Of The World As We Know It

That's great, it starts with an earthquake
Birds and snakes, an aeroplane
Lenny Bruce is not afraid

Eye of a hurricane, listen to yourself churn
World serves it's own needs, don't mis-serve your own needs
Feed it up a knock, speed, grunt, no strength
No ladder structure, clatter with fear of height, down height

Wire in a fire, representing seven games in a
Government for hire and a combat site left her
Wasn't coming in a hurry with the
Furies breathing down your neck

Team by team reporters baffled, trump, tethered, crop
Look at that low plane, fine, then
Uh, oh, overflow, population, common group
But it'll do, save yourself, serve yourself

World serves it's own needs listen to your heart bleed
Tell me with the rapture and the revered and the right
Right you vitriolic, patriotic, slam, fight, bright light
Feeling pretty psyched

It's the end of the world as we know it
It's the end of the world as we know it
It's the end of the world as we know it
And I feel fine

Six o'clock, TV hour, don't get caught in foreign towers
Slash and burn, return, listen to yourself churn
Lock him in uniform and book burning, blood letting
Every motive escalate, automotive incinerate

Light a candle, light a motive, step down, step down
Watch your heel crush, crush, uh, oh, this means
No fear, cavalier, renegade, steer clear
A tournament, a tournament, a tournament of lies
Offer me solutions, offer me alternatives and I decline

It's the end of the world as we know it
It's the end of the world as we know it
(It's time I had some time alone)
It's the end of the world as we know it
(It's time I had some time alone)
And I feel fine, I feel fine

It's the end of the world as we know it
(It's time I had some time alone)
It's the end of the world as we know it
(It's time I had some time alone)
It's the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine
(It's time I had some time alone)

The other night I tripped a nice continental drift divide
Mountains sit in a line, Leonard Bernstein
Leonid Brezhnev, Lenny Bruce and Lester Bangs
Birthday party, cheesecake, jelly bean, boom
You symbiotic, patriotic, slam, but neck, right? Right!

It's the end of the world as we know it
(It's time I had some time alone)
It's the end of the world as we know it
(It's time I had some time alone)
It's the end of the world as we know it
(It's time I had some time alone)
And I feel fine

It's the end of the world as we know it
It's the end of the world as we know it
It's the end of the world as we know it
(It's time I had some time alone)
And I feel fine

It's the end of the world as we know it
(It's time I had some time alone)
It's the end of the world as we know it
(It's time I had some time alone)
It's the end of the world as we know it
(It's time I had some time alone)
And I feel fine

It's the end of the world as we know it
(It's time I had some time alone)
It's the end of the world as we know it
(It's time I had some time alone)
It's the end of the world as we know it
(It's time I had some time alone)
And I feel fine, fine

It's time I had some time alone
(c) 1987/2009 REM

Have You Seen This...

Reality Check with Cary Harrison

Parting Shots...

He's Not A Very Naughty Boy
He's just been led astray by that Cheney kid. Or so Tony Blair's mother would have it ...
By Terry Jones

Tony Blair's mother writes ...

I'm so worried about Tony. I kept warning him about those rough American kids he used to hang out with when he was prime minister, but he wouldn't listen.

"I wish I were in their gang," he used to say. "It's the toughest in the 'hood."

"Fine, Tony," I'd say. "As long as they don't get up to mischief."

Well, it's beginning to look as if I were right all along, and they were not only getting up to mischief but were doing things that were actually illegal, and I'm worried stiff that it might rebound on Tony.

First of all, it turns out that that chubby boy, Dick - you know, the one with the shifty eyes and the mouth like a barracuda - set up a secret intelligence program and told the CIA not to say anything about it to Congress. At least that's what Leon Pancetta, who took over as director of the CIA, told Congress on 24 June. Leon says he immediately cancelled the program, I assume on the grounds that it's illegal to set up something like that without Congress knowing. That's what Dianne Feinstein, the chairwoman of the Senate intelligence committee says anyway. And she should know.

Then there's the mass killings of prisoners in Afghanistan by local forces allied with the US. It turns out that George - that lazy, good-for-nothing boy who pretended to be gang leader - blocked any investigation into what happened there.

It also turns out that Tony's chums in the States were listening in on people's phone conversations when they shouldn't have been. That could get them into trouble too.

But worst of all, it's looking increasingly likely that the attorney general, Eric Holder, will assign a prosecutor to investigate the way Dick and George and Donald started doing unspeakable things to anyone they got their hands on.

I always thought they were a lot of bullies from the way they treated my poor Tony. When he stuck up for them and was so eager to help, they just treated him like dirt. You remember how he'd spent all that time and effort in making it look really urgent for the UK to invade Iraq, and then just before our troops were sent in that dreadful Donald pulled the rug from under his feet by saying that British troops weren't really necessary anyway. I could have given him a good spanking that Donald. They none of them treated my Tony with the respect he wanted. "Yo, Blair!" You remember how that got picked up by the mikes at the St Petersburg summit in 2006? They just treated him with contempt, and yet Tony, bless him, kept helping them any way he could.

But I wish he hadn't. Just suppose President Obama, despite his saying he wants to forget the past, is forced to start inquiries into the possibly criminal activities of the Bush Gang, then Tony might find himself in hot water too.

As Tony's mother it's hard for me to say this, but I'm afraid that Tony is rather easily led. He always did just whatever his American chums did or - at least - whatever he thought they wanted him to do. I suppose he just wanted them to like him and to be one of them. After all, to keep in with George and Dick and Donald, he sent our boys into Iraq to kill an awful lot of Iraqis, for no good reason, and of course a lot of our boys got killed too. Now if that isn't being a good friend what is, I ask you?

But those American kids never did anything to help him - except give him a medal I suppose. But then who wants a medal if it turns out to have been given to you by a bunch of criminals?
(c) 2009 Terry Jones is a writer, film director, actor and Python.

The Gross National Debt

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Issues & Alibis Vol 9 # 32 (c) 08/21/2009

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