Issues & Alibis

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In This Edition

Chuck Collins & Sam Pizzigati remembers the words of the last good Republican, "The August Day Plutocracy Would Love Us To Forget."

Uri Avnery sees, "Red And Green."

Robert Scheer discovers, "Two Wars Don't Make A Right."

Sam Harris answers questions about, "The Moral Landscape."

Jim Hightower reports, "Mott's Workers Stand Up For America."

David Sirota with some, "Pollution And Waste Reducing Steps You Can Try."

James Donahue wonders, "Why Are They Rebuilding New Orleans?"

Robert Jensen hears, "Glenn Beck's Redemption Song."

Chris Floyd savors, "The Taste of Hope and Change."

Ted Rall says, "Nine Years Later, Afghanistan Looks Much the Same, A Mess."

Paul Krugman declares, "It's Witch-Hunt Season."

David Pratt follows, "The Trail Of Destruction."

David Michael Green considers, "Our Bloody Valentine."

Alan "Catfood" Simpson wins the coveted "Vidkun Quisling Award!"

Glenn Greenwald finds that, "Anti-Mosque Sentiment Rages Far From Ground Zero."

Greg Palast is, "Bush'd Again."

And finally in the 'Parting Shots' department Andy Borowitz returns with a new "Poll: One Out Of Five Americans Do Not Believe Obama Exists" but first Uncle Ernie examines, "The President's Debt Commission."

This week we spotlight the cartoons of Steve Benson, with additional cartoons, photos and videos from Tom The Dancing Bug, Radio Free Oz.Com, R.J. Matson, Stuart Carlson, Mikhaela Reid, Rob Rogers, Dave Fitzsimmons, Times Picayune, Free Press, The Sunday Herald/Scotland, Vincent Pinto and Issues & Alibis.Org.

Plus we have all of your favorite Departments...

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

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

The President's Debt Commission
By Ernest Stewart

"Social Security is a milk cow with 310 million tits. It's for the 'lesser people' of society." ~~~ Alan (Cat Food) Simpson.

"Yet no one can doubt President Bush's support for our troops, or his love of country and commitment to our security."
~~~ Barack Obama ~~~

The land of the boll weevil,
Where the laws are medieval,
Is callin' me to come and nevermore roam.

I wanna go back to the southland,
That "ya'll" and "hush-ma-mouth" land,
Be it ever so decadent,
There's no place like home.
I Wanna Go Back To Dixie ~~~ Tom Lehrer

Well I'm going down
Down, down, down, down, down
I'm going down
Down, down, down, down, down
I've got my head out the window
And my big feet on the ground

She's gone
Gone, gone, gone, gone, gone
She's gone
Gone, gone, gone, gone, gone
I've got my head out the window
And my big feet on the ground
Going Down ~~~ Jeff Beck

Old "Cat food" Simpson opened his cakehole the other day comparing Social Security to "a milk cow with 310 million tits" in a reply to Ashley Carson, executive director of the National Older Women's League. Alan's ramblings pissed off ladies and seniors from coast to coast. However, since Alan was a white Rethuglican and guilty as sin, he wasn't fired from his appointment like black and innocent Shirley Sherrod was. Alan will continue to scheme with fellow traveler Erskine Bowles in secret meetings behind closed doors to figure out ways of stealing all the lovely Social Security money. Thus sending grand pa and grand ma off to a "Happy Camps"(tm) for a diet of sawdust bread until they can take their turns in the "showers!" As Alan said it really doesn't matter because Social Security is for those "lesser people!" That's you and I folks!

You'll recall that Erskine was Slick Willie's point man for destroying Social Security. Erskine teamed up with another great thinker Newt Gingrich back in 1997 for a plan that would have privatized Social Security with the retirement funds placed into the stock market. Gosh that would have worked out just dandy for the seniors, huh? These are the folks that head up and were appointed by Barry for his debt reduction commission. They're handy so Barry can throw up his hands and plead he's just following this blue ribbon panels suggests to save America! Oh, and folks if you buy that, you might be interested in buying this bridge I own in Brooklyn, it's a major moneymaker!

There are 18 members on this panel, most all are a little to right of Darth Vader and were drawn from Big Business with a couple of exceptions, i.e., token liberals for window dressing and hence there is little chance that these captains of industry will recommend tax hikes for the wealthy and import fees for American jobs sent over seas to some slave shops. I'm willing to bet serious money that they won't recommend ending our needless, useless, imperial war crimes in the Middle East and elsewhere! Nor will they recommend spending money to put folks back to work, which with the increased taxes from more people working would do a whole lot more for debt reduction than stealing from programs like Social Security. Social Security and Medicare are programs that I might mention were already paid for by their recipients, whose funds have been stolen for the last 50 years to pay for imperial wars of aggression, Congressional salary raises, pork barrel projects on "Bridges to Nowhere" by draining the funds in the Social Security and Medicare accounts!

So will the committee come out with their recommendations before the November elections giving the Con-gress a chance to vote on this scheme and then face the people's righteous wrath at the voting booth? What do you think? I think that there is not a snowball's chance in hell of that happening. I wouldn't be surprised if they don't announce their decision until after January 20th when the Rethuglicans take back the house and make it just that much easier to screw the old folks and America.

In Other News

Before you ask the question you already know the answer, don't you? No I didn't watch Barry's speech, I read it online as doing it that way detaches my outrage more so then when Barry is lying right in my face. As political bullshit goes it was pretty much par for the course. That is to say, it left much of what was true and important out, was full of lies, half truths, sound and fury, while signifying nothing!

For example, Barry said:

Operation Iraqi Freedom is over, and the Iraqi people now have lead responsibility for the security of their country.

When the truth of the matter was that "Iraqi Freedom" ended on March 19th 2003 and may not return for 100 years!

Barry praised Bush instead of having him indicted for war crimes, crimes against humanity and hundreds of acts of treason and sedition. Of course, to do so would have left Barry open to many of those same charges as he adopted and expanded many of Bush's acts of treason and war crimes as his own.

As to what the future horrors hold for Iraq, Barry said without the slightest bit of tongue in cheek and with a perfectly straight face:

This new approach reflects our long-term partnership with Iraq -- one based upon mutual interest and mutual respect.

When did Iraq ask to be our partner in anything? I must have missed that in our search of those WMDs? Our only interest in Iraq is to stay there until their oil runs out and they better respect that or we'll turn lose those 50,000 trainers and the 100,000 soldiers of fortune against the few Iraqis that are still alive until they do respect it!

One other highlight is that Barry gave that 4400 number of Americans "who have given their lives in Iraq." The key bit there is "in Iraq." The real number is about 19 times that amount but they died after leaving Iraq, they died on the airplanes that flew them towards Germany. Many were brain dead but kept "alive" on heart/lung machines until the plane left the runway! Or they died in German hospitals or died after they got back to America from their wounds that they got in Iraq but didn't die "in Iraq!" You didn't really think that Bush's blackout of arriving coffins had anything to do with respect for the dead did you? It was to keep an accurate count of the bodies out of the press!

You can read this little song and dance, if you have the stomach for it, at the White House's site.

On the very same day August 31, exactly 100 years ago the last good Republican also made a speech. A speech most would agree is the best speech ever made by an ex-president maybe the best speech made by any president at any time. A speech rivaling the other great Republican president Abe Lincoln's speech's, The Gettysburg Address and the Emancipation Proclamation.

There was no bullshit in Teddy's speech and the very things that Teddy talked about became part of US law for everyone's benefit (well everyone except the ruling elites!), not a cover up of our greatest war crimes and war criminals. Teddy's speech did more than anything else to create an American Middle Class, something that has all but disappeared under every president since Ray-Guns! Teddy told it like it was in his speech. Please read, then compare and contrast these two speeches. Here's Theodore Roosevelt's New Nationalism Speech. For more information on Teddy's speech see Chuck Collins and Sam Pizzigati article just below this slot "The August Day Plutocracy Would Love Us To Forget." Which speech do you suppose will be remembered 100 years from now?

And Finally

Then there's Mississippi, which refuses to join us in the 21st century, or the 20th century or even the latter 19th century! Have you heard the strange tale of Nettleton, Mississippi? Nettleton is suburban Tupelo if you can imagine that and Nettleton middle school has carried on some strange traditions.

In 6th, 7th and 8th grade depending upon the color of your skin you are allowed to run for certain class offices, providing you are either black or white. If you're Asian or Indian or mixed well, just forget it as you can't even run. Here's the election instructions sent home to Nettleton middle school parents...

In 6th grade blacks can only be the reporter, while only whites can fill the other 3 offices. In seventh grade black children can only be elected to be the treasurer/secretary while white children fill the other offices. At last in 8th grade blacks can be the vice president while still only whites can be the president. Black folks can be the President of the United States but not the class president of Nettleton middle school!

I didn't bother writing the Neanderthals a letter because if I had I couldn't have published it in this magazine without some serious redacting. However, plenty of people did, not only write the principle and school board but Mississippi Governor Hailey Barber and Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood, etc. so when it hit the fan the Nettleton school superintendent, Russell Taylor, posted a statement on the district's web site announcing a review of the "processes, historical applications, compliance issues, as well as current implications and ramifications" of the student election system.

Followed by this announcement two days later:

The Nettleton school board today (August 27) voted unanimously to overhaul election rules so that "beginning immediately, student elections at Nettleton School District will no longer have a classification of ethnicity." In a statement, superintendent Russell Taylor acknowledged that the school system is "growing in ethnic diversity and that the classifications of Caucasian and African-American no longer reflect our entire student body." Future elections, he added, "will be monitored to help ensure that this change in process and procedure does not adversely affect minority representation in student elections."

WTF, America?

It's Over

Dear Readers,

I got my walking papers the other day! She wants me G.O.N.E. A.S.A.P.. Trouble is, I done spent all my money financing this magazine and I'm flat broke. I desperately need $1,000 to get me and my stuff back to Detroit and set up housekeeping, before it and I end up on the street walking the 700 miles back to Detroit, and with COPD I don't imagine I'll get very far. If you can help me please do so today. To say that I'm desperate is a vast understatement! HELP! Contact me at:

PS. Last week you donated 25% of what I desperately need, this week, zero, zip zilch. With just a couple of weeks to go before I'm out on the street time is fast running out. Please help me if you can, as soon as you can. To the doctors lawyers, PhDs and folks who have those big bank accounts who are weekly readers and to whom the money that I desperately need is little more than pocket change, please give a little help ya'll!

Oh and even more "good" news. The computer that I thought I had access to, I don't, which means I now have to raise another $1200 for a computer and software. Or the magazine will be closed until about the first of March, instead of for a week, as I'm going to be broke until I start getting social security checks in December. So as I write this I need about $2000. Anyone who can help in any way, i.e., transport, cash, a computer, please email me at once!


08-05-1934 ~ 09-01-2010
R.I.P. sweetie!


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


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

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

The August Day Plutocracy Would Love Us To Forget
Today marks the 100th anniversary of the most 'radical speech' an American ex-President has ever delivered.
By Chuck Collins and Sam Pizzigati

Ex-Presidents almost always follow a small number of well-worn scripts. Some rush to cash in on their celebrity. Some do charitable good deeds. Some just lay low.

Exactly one century ago, on August 31, 1910, we had an ex-President who took a brash and bold leap that took him far beyond these narrowly circumscribed roles. On that day, in the middle of Middle America, a former President - Theodore Roosevelt - essentially called on his fellow citizens to smash the nation's rich down to democratic size.

We need, Roosevelt told a massive assembly of 30,000 listeners, to "destroy privilege." Ruin for our democracy, he warned, will be "inevitable if our national life brings us nothing better than swollen fortunes for the few." Those listeners - in Osawatomie, Kansas - roared their approval. Back East, apologists for grand fortune would be aghast. Editorial writers would label Roosevelt "frankly socialistic," even "anarchistic." A later historian, George Mowry, would call TR's talk, soon to be known as his "New Nationalism" address, "the most radical speech ever given by an ex-President."

Time hasn't dimmed that radicalism. Indeed, TR's speech speaks powerfully to us today, mainly because we confront, a hundred years after he spoke in Osawatomie, the same concentrated wealth and power that TR so feared.

As President, between 1901 and early 1909, Roosevelt had taken on a plutocracy just as entrenched as ours today. He won some battles and ducked many others. But he left the White House feeling the nation, under his successor William Howard Taft, would be headed in the right direction. But Taft disappointed Roosevelt and outraged the progressive wing of Roosevelt's Republican Party. TR saw a burning need to spell out a clearer vision for his nation's future, and he jumped at the invitation from Osawatomie to help dedicate the historic small city's John Brown Memorial Park.

The event quickly figured to be the biggest in Kansas political history. Roosevelt had just finished a triumphal global tour. He ranked, observers agreed, as the "world's most popular citizen."

Kansans would pull out all the stops to set the stage for a memorable speech. By the appointed day, Osawatomie had never looked better. Bands and dignitaries would be everywhere.

"We are ready for plutocrat and peasant," wrote one local editor, "to honor the ground where John Brown made his decisive stand for freedom."

Plutocrats never did show. But average Kansans did. They started coming the day before TR's scheduled appearance, in a driving rain, via "foot, bicycles, motors, buggies, wagons, trains."

The rain, fortunately, would stop before the mud became too deep. Roosevelt would have open skies when he stepped up onto his podium, a kitchen table, to begin his address. The "surging throng, says historian Robert La Forte, "continually cheered" for the next hour and a half.

Most Americans today would cheer, too. Are you outraged by the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico? Our national resources, Roosevelt pronounced, "must be used for the benefit of all our people, and not monopolized for the benefit of the few."

Think corporations wield too much clout?

"The Constitution guarantees protections to property, and we must make that promise good,""But it does not give the right of suffrage to any corporation." We must "prohibit the use of corporate funds directly or indirectly for political purposes," TR enunciated, and hold corporate officials "personally responsible when any corporation breaks the law."

Again and again, Roosevelt urged his listeners to demand state "and, especially, national, restraint upon unfair money-getting." The absence of that restraint, he noted, "has tended to create a small class of enormously wealthy and economically powerful men, whose chief object is to hold and increase their power."

But TR didn't stop there. Restraining fortunes based on "unfair money-getting" had to be only a first step. A fortune "gained without doing damage to the community," he added, deserves no praise. Americans needed to set a higher standard. We should permit fortunes "to be gained only so long as the gaining represents benefit to the community."

And even those fortunes, Roosevelt added, needed to be checked, because the "really big fortune, the swollen fortune, by the mere fact of its size acquires qualities" that "differentiate it in kind as well as in degree from what is possessed by men of relatively small means," qualities that help ensure the "political domination of money."

To check the growth and limit the power of these fortunes, Roosevelt called for a progressive income tax and an "inheritance tax on big fortunes, properly safeguarded against evasion and increasing rapidly in amount with the sizes of the estate."

Three years after TR's Osawatomie speech, we would have an income tax in the United States. Six years later after Osawatomie, we would have an estate tax. By the middle of the 20th century, many of the corporate regulatory reforms that Roosevelt demanded on that August day a century ago would be the law of the land.

By that mid century, the plutocracy that Roosevelt decried had essentially disappeared. The United States had become a middle class nation where average workers, as TR envisioned in 1910, had "a wage more than sufficient to cover the bare cost of living, and hours of labor short enough" to leave them "time and energy" to bear their "share in the management of the community."

Now that mid 20th century middle class has disappeared. We live amid plutocracy once again. In fact, 2010 marks the first year since 1916 that we don't even have an estate tax on the books. The heirs of the super rich can this year inherit billions in inheritance totally tax-free.

A hundred years ago, Theodore Roosevelt refused to accept these sorts of concentrations of enormous wealth. At Osawatomie, he helped inspire a generation-long struggle to break up these concentrations. That struggle succeeded.

Our struggle has only just begun. We can succeed, too.
(c) 2010 Chuck Collins, a senior scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies, is the co-author, with Bill Gates Sr. of Wealth and Our Commonwealth: Why America Should Tax Accumulated Fortunes. Sam Pizzigati, an Institute associate fellow, edits Too Much, an online weekly on excess and inequality.

Red And Green
By Uri Avnery

Channel 10, one of Israel's three TV channels, aired a report this week that surely frightened a lot of viewers. Its title was "Who is Organizing the World-wide Hatred of Israel Movement?," and its subject: the dozens of groups in various countries which are conducting a vigorous propaganda campaign for the Palestinians and against Israel.

The activists interviewed, both male and female, young and old - quite a number of them Jews - demonstrate at supermarkets against the products of the settlements and/or of Israel in general, organize mass meetings, make speeches, mobilize trade unions, file lawsuits against Israeli politicians and generals.

According to the report, the various groups use similar methods, but there is no central leadership. It even quotes (without attribution, of course) the title of one of my recent articles, "The Protocols of the Elders of Anti-Zion" and it, too, asserts that there is no such thing. Indeed, there is no need for a world-wide organization, it says, because all over the place there is a spontaneous surge of pro-Palestinian and anti-Israeli feeling. Recently, following the "Cast Lead" operation and the flotilla affair, this process has gathered momentum.

In many places, the report discloses, there are now red-green coalitions: cooperation between leftist human-rights bodies and local groups of Muslim immigrants.

The conclusion of the story: this is a great danger to Israel and we must mobilize against it before it is too late.

THE FIRST question that arose in my mind was: what impact is this report going to have on the average Israeli?

I wish I could be sure that it will cause him or her to think again about the viability of the occupation. As one of the activists interviewed said: the Israelis must be brought to understand that the occupation has a price tag.

I wish I believed that this would be the reaction of most Israelis. However, I am afraid that the effect could be very different.

As the jolly song of the 70s goes:

"The whole world is against us / That's not so terrible, we shall overcome. / For we, too, don't give a damn / For them. // ... We have learned this song / From our forefathers / And we shall also sing it / To our sons. / And the grandchildren of our grandchildren will sing it / Here, in the Land of Israel, / And everybody who is against us / Can go to hell."

The writer of this song, Yoram Taharlev ("pure of heart") has succeeded in expressing a basic Jewish belief, crystallized during the centuries of persecution in Christian Europe which reached its climax in the Holocaust. Every Jewish child learns in school that when six million Jews were murdered, the entire world looked on and didn't lift a finger to save them.

This is not quite true. Many tens of thousands of non-Jews risked their lives and the lives of their families in order to save Jews - in Poland, Denmark, France, Holland and other countries, even in Germany itself. We all know about people who were saved this way - like former Supreme Court President Aharon Barak, who as a child was smuggled out of the ghetto by a Polish farmer, and Minister Yossi Peled, who was hidden for years by a Catholic Belgian family. Only a few of these largely unsung heroes were cited as "Righteous among the Nations" by Yad Vashem. (Between us, how many Israelis in a similar situation would risk their lives and the lives of their children in order to save a foreigner?)

But the belief that "the whole world is against us" is rooted deep in our national psyche. It enables us to ignore the world reaction to our behavior. It is very convenient. If the entire world hates us anyhow, the nature of our deeds, good or bad, doesn't really matter. They would hate Israel even if we were angels. The Goyim are just anti-Semitic.

It is easy to show that this is also untrue. The world loved us when we founded the State of Israel and defended it with our blood. A day after the Six-day War, the whole world applauded us. They loved us when we were David, they hate us when we are Goliath.

This does not convince the world-against-us people. Why is there no world-wide movement against the atrocities of the Russians in Chechnya or the Chinese in Tibet? Why only against us? Why do the Palestinians deserve more sympathy than the Kurds in Turkey?

One could answer that since Israel demands special treatment in all other matters, we are measured by special standards when it comes to the occupation and the settlements. But logic doesn't matter. It's the national myths that count.

Yesterday, Israel's third largest newspaper, Ma'ariv, published a story about our ambassador to the United Nations under the revealing headline: "Behind enemy lines."

I REMEMBER one of the clashes I had with Golda Meir in the Knesset, after the beginning of the settlement enterprise and the angry reactions throughout the world. As now, people put all the blame on our faulty "explaining". The Knesset held a general debate.

Speaker after speaker declaimed the usual clichˇs: the Arab propaganda is brilliant, our "explaining" is beneath contempt. When my turn came, I said: It's not the fault of the "explaining". The best "explaining" in the world cannot "explain" the occupation and the settlements. If we want to gain the sympathy of the world, it's not our words that must change, but our actions.

Throughout the debate, Golda Meir - as was her wont - stood at the door of the plenum hall, chain-smoking. Summing up, she answered every speaker in turn, ignoring my speech. I thought that she had decided to boycott me, when - after a dramatic pause - she turned in my direction. "Deputy Avnery thinks that they hate us because of what we do. He does not know the Goyim. The Goyim love the Jews when they are beaten and miserable. They hate the Jews when they are victorious and successful." If clapping were allowed in the Knesset, the whole House would have burst into thunderous applause.

There is a danger that the current worldwide protest will meet the same reaction: that the Israeli public will unite against the evil Goyim, instead of uniting against the settlers.

SOME OF the protest groups could not care less. Their actions are not addressed to the Israeli public, but to international opinion.

I don't mean the anti-Semites, who are trying to hitch a ride on this movement. They are a negligible force. Neither do I mean those who believe that the creation of the State of Israel was a historical mistake to start with, and that it should be dismantled.

I mean all the idealists who wish to put an end to the suffering of the Palestinian people and the stealing of their land by the settlers, and to help them to found the free State of Palestine.

These aims can be achieved only through peace between Palestine and Israel. And such a peace can come about only if the majority of Palestinians and the majority of Israelis support it. Outside pressure will not suffice.

Anyone who understands this must be interested in a world-wide protest that does not push the Israeli population into the arms of the settlers, but, on the contrary, isolates the settlers and turns the general public against them.

How can this be achieved?

THE FIRST thing is to clearly differentiate between the boycott of the settlements and a general boycott of Israel. The TV report suggested that many of the protesters do not see the border between the two. It showed a middle-aged British woman in a supermarket, waving some fruit over her head and shouting: "these come from a settlement!" Then it showed a demonstration against the Ahava cosmetic products that are extracted from the Palestinian part of the Dead Sea. But immediately after, there came a call for a boycott of all Israeli products. Perhaps many of the protesters - or the editors of the film - are not clear about the difference.

The Israeli right also blurs this distinction. For example: a recent bill in the Knesset wants to punish those who support a boycott on the products of Israel, including - as it states explicitly - the products of the settlements.

If the world protest is clearly focused on the settlements, it will indeed cause many Israelis to realize that there is a clear line between the legitimate State of Israel and the illegitimate occupation.

That is also true for other parts of the story. For example: the initiative to boycott the Caterpillar company, whose monstrous bulldozers are a major weapon of the occupation. When the heroic peace activist Rachel Corrie was crushed to death under one of them, the company should have stopped all further supplies unless assured that they would not be used for repression.

As long as suspected war criminals are not brought to justice in Israel itself, one cannot object to the initiatives to prosecute them abroad.

After this week's decision by the main Israeli theaters to perform in the settlements, it will be logical to boycott them abroad. If they are so keen to make money in Ariel, they can't complain about losing money in Paris and London.

THE SECOND thing is the connection between these groups and the Israeli public.

Today a large majority of Israelis say that they want peace and are ready to pay the price, but that, unfortunately, the Arabs don't want peace. The mainstream peace camp, which could once bring hundreds of thousands onto the street, is in a state of depression. It feels isolated. Among other things, its once close connection with the Palestinians, which was established at the time of Yasser Arafat after Oslo, has become very loose. So have relations with the protest forces abroad.

If people of goodwill want to speed up the end of the occupation, they must support the peace activists in Israel. They should build a close connection with them, break the conspiracy of silence against them in the world media and publicize their courageous actions, organize more and more international events in which Palestinian and Israeli peace activists will be present side by side. It would also be nice if for every ten billionaires who finance the extreme Right in Israel, there were at least one millionaire supporting action in pursuit of peace.

All this becomes impossible if there is a call for a boycott on all Israelis, irrespective of their views and actions, and Israel is presented as a monolithic monster. This picture is not only false, it is extremely harmful.

Many of the activists who appear in this report arouse respect and admiration. So much good will! So much courage! If they point their activities in the right direction, they can do a lot of good - good for the Palestinians, and good for us Israelis, too.
(c) 2010 Uri Avnery ~~~ Gush Shalom

Two Wars Don't Make A Right
By Robert Scheer

The carnage is not yet complete, and President Barack Obama's attempt to put the best face on the ignominious U.S. occupation of Iraq will not hide what he and the rest of the world well know. The lies that empowered George W. Bush to invade Iraq represent an enduring stain on the reputation of American democracy. Our much-vaunted system of checks and balances failed to temper the mendacity of the president who acted like a king and got away with it.

It is utter nonsense for Obama, who in the past has made clear his belief that the Bush administration's case for this war was a tissue of lies, to now state: "The United States has paid a huge price to put the future of Iraq in the hands of its people." We paid a huge price simply to assuage the arrogance of a president that was unfettered by the restraints of common sense expected in a functioning democracy. Particularly shameful was the betrayal by the Congress and the mass media of the obligations to challenge a president who exploited post-9/11 fears to go to war with a nation that had nothing whatsoever to do with that attack.

With hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and Americans dead and maimed and at a cost of $3 trillion to American taxpayers, the U.S. imperial adventure in Iraq has left that country in a horrible mess, controlled by a corrupt and deeply divided elite that shows no serious inclination to effectively govern. Nor can there be a claim of enhanced U.S. security when the real victors are the ayatollahs of Iran, whose influence in once bitterly hostile Iraq is now immense. The price in shattered lives and dollars will continue, as Iraq remains haunted by ethnic and religious conflict that we did so much to provoke.

Remember when most of the once respected mass media, and not just the obvious lunatics on cable, bought the Bush propaganda that democracy in Iraq, a harbinger of a new Middle East, was just around the corner? They based that absurd expectation on the fact that an Iraqi ayatollah disciple of the ones ruining Iran could order millions of his followers to hold up purple fingers. What a joke we have made of the ideal of representative democracy when Iraq is operating under an incomprehensible constitution, which our proconsul ordered, and is still without a functioning government six months after an election that our media once again dutifully celebrated.

Mark the obit on this disaster by John Simpson, the highly regarded BBC world affairs editor, writing Tuesday from Baghdad that "nowadays it is hard to find anyone who sees America as a friend or mentor." Dismissing the original American expectation that the overthrow of Saddam Hussein would expand democracy in the Middle East, Simpson concludes: "On the contrary, America's position in the Middle East has been visibly eroded. ... America seems to have shrunk as a direct result of its imperial adventure in Iraq."

The one positive outcome is that with the formal end of the U.S. occupation many Americans have finally learned the lesson that imperialism does not pay. While Bush fiddled with a nonexistent terrorist threat from Iraq, the U.S. economy burned and the oil loot that some thought would make it all worthwhile never materialized. Remember when the neoconservatives were riding high and Paul Wolfowitz assured a supine Congress that Iraqi oil would pay for it all?

Nor did the invasion even make more secure our access to Mideast oil while competitors like China were busily securing foreign energy rights to shore up their bustling economies. Obama acknowledged this reality in his speech when he stated, "We must jump-start industries that create jobs, and end our dependence on foreign oil."

For all his talk about turning our attention homeward, Obama reveals his obsession with the imperial adventure in Afghanistan, where "because of our drawdown in Iraq, we are now able to go on offense." Once again there is the expectation that the occupied will embrace the occupiers and that the deployment of massive military power "will disrupt, dismantle and defeat al-Qaida," as if that is any longer relevant to our deep involvement in a treacherous civil war in which we have no reliable partners.

Al-Qaida was never present in Iraq before we invaded, and according to Obama's own national security adviser, there are fewer than a hundred members of the group left in Afghanistan, unable to coordinate any actions. Obama deserves credit for extracting this country from a war in Iraq that he inherited, but it is mind-numbing that in his nation-building efforts in Afghanistan he is now repeating the same errors that were made in Iraq.
(c) 2010 Robert Scheer is the editor of Truthdig. A journalist with over 30 years experience, Scheer has built his reputation on the strength of his social and political writing. His columns have appeared in newspapers across the country, and his in-depth interviews have made headlines. He is the author, most recently, of "The Pornography of Power: How Defense Hawks Hijacked 9/11 and Weakened America," published by Twelve Books.

The Moral Landscape
Thinking About Human Values in Universal Terms
By Sam Harris

The following is a series of 12 questions relating to my forthcoming book, The Moral Landscape, and my answers to them.

1. Are there right and wrong answers to moral questions?

Morality must relate, at some level, to the well-being of conscious creatures. If there are more and less effective ways for us to seek happiness and to avoid misery in this world -- and there clearly are -- then there are right and wrong answers to questions of morality.

2. Are you saying that science can answer such questions?

Yes, in principle. Human well-being is not a random phenomenon. It depends on many factors -- ranging from genetics and neurobiology to sociology and economics. But, clearly, there are scientific truths to be known about how we can flourish in this world. Wherever we can have an impact on the well-being of others, questions of morality apply.

3. But can't moral claims be in conflict? Aren't there many situations in which one person's happiness means another's suffering?

There are some circumstances like this, and we call these contests "zero-sum." Generally speaking, however, the most important moral occasions are not like this. If we could eliminate war, nuclear proliferation, malaria, chronic hunger, child abuse, etc. -- these changes would be good, on balance, for everyone. There are surely neurobiological, psychological, and sociological reasons why this is so -- which is to say that science could potentially tell us exactly why a phenomenon like child abuse diminishes human well-being.

But we don't have to wait for science to do this. We already have very good reasons to believe that mistreating children is bad for everyone. I think it is important for us to admit that this is not a claim about our personal preferences, or merely something our culture has conditioned us to believe. It is a claim about the architecture of our minds and the social architecture of our world. Moral truths of this kind must find their place in any scientific understanding of human experience.

4. What if some people simply have different notions about what is truly important in life? How could science tell us that the actions of the Taliban are in fact immoral, when the Taliban think they are behaving morally?

As I discuss in my book, there may be different ways for people to thrive, but there are clearly many more ways for them not to thrive. The Taliban are a perfect example of a group of people who are struggling to build a society that is obviously less good than many of the other societies on offer. Afghan women have a 12% literacy rate and a life expectancy of 44 years. Afghanistan has nearly the highest maternal and infant mortality rates in the world. It also has one of the highest birthrates. Consequently, it is one of the best places on earth to watch women and infants die. And Afghanistan's GDP is currently lower than the world's average was in the year 1820. It is safe to say that the optimal response to this dire situation -- that is to say, the most moral response -- is not to throw battery acid in the faces of little girls for the crime of learning to read. This may seem like common sense to us -- and it is -- but I am saying that it is also, at bottom, a claim about biology, psychology, sociology, and economics. It is not, therefore, unscientific to say that the Taliban are wrong about morality. In fact, we must say this, the moment we admit that we know anything at all about human well-being.

5. But what if the Taliban simply have different goals in life?

Well, the short answer is -- they don't. They are clearly seeking happiness in this life, and, more importantly, they imagine that they are securing it in a life to come. They believe that they will enjoy an eternity of happiness after death by following the strictest interpretation of Islamic law here on earth. This is also a claim about which science should have an opinion -- as it is almost certainly untrue. There is no question, however, that the Taliban are seeking well-being, in some sense -- they just have some very strange beliefs about how to attain it.

In my book, I try to spell out why moral disagreements do not put the concept of moral truth in jeopardy. In the moral sphere, as in all others, some people don't know what they are missing. In fact, I suspect that most of us don't know what we are missing: It must be possible to change human experience in ways that would uncover levels of human flourishing that most of us cannot imagine. In every area of genuine discovery, there are horizons past which we cannot see.

6. What do you mean when you talk about a "moral landscape"?

This is the phrase I use to describe the space of all possible experience -- where the peaks correspond to the heights of well-being and valleys represent the worst possible suffering. We are all someplace on this landscape, faced with the prospect of moving up or down. Given that our experience is fully constrained by the laws of the universe, there must be scientific answers to the question of how best to move upwards, toward greater happiness.

This is not to say that there is only one right way for human beings to live. There might be many peaks on this landscape -- but there are clearly many ways not to be on a peak.

7. How could science guide us on the moral landscape?

In so far as we can understand human well-being, we will understand the conditions that best secure it. Some are obvious, of course. Positive social emotions like compassion and empathy are generally good for us, and we want to encourage them. But do we know how to most reliably raise children to care about the suffering of other people? I'm not sure we do. Are there genes that make certain people more compassionate than others? What social systems and institutions could maximize our sense of connectedness to the rest of humanity? These questions have answers, and only a science of morality could deliver them.

8. Why is it taboo for a scientist to attempt to answer moral questions?

I think there are two primary reasons why scientists hesitate to do this. The first, and most defensible, is borne of their appreciation for how difficult it is to understand complex systems. Our investigation of the human mind is in its infancy, even after nearly two centuries of studying the brain. So scientists fear that answers to specific questions about human well-being may be very difficult to come by, and confidence on many points is surely premature. This is true. But, as I argue in my book, mistaking no answers in practice for no answers in principle is a huge mistake.

The second reason is that many scientists have been misled by a combination of bad philosophy and political correctness. This leads them to feel that the only intellectually defensible position to take when in the presence of moral disagreement is to consider all opinions equally valid or equally nonsensical. On one level, this is an understandable and even noble over-correction for our history of racism, ethnocentrism, and imperialism. But it is an over-correction nonetheless. As I try to show in my book, it is not a sign of intolerance for us to notice that some cultures and sub-cultures do a terrible job of producing human lives worth living.

9. What is the difference between there being no answers in practice and no answers in principle, and why is this distinction important in understanding the relationship between human knowledge and human values?

There are an infinite number of questions that we will never answer, but which clearly have answers. How many fish are there in the world's oceans at this moment? We will never know. And yet, we know that this question, along with an infinite number of questions like it, have correct answers. We simply can't get access to the data in any practical way.

There are many questions about human subjectivity -- and about the experience of conscious creatures generally -- that have this same structure. Which causes more human suffering, stealing or lying? Questions like this are not at all meaningless, in that they must have answers, but it could be hopeless to try to answer them with any precision. Still, once we admit that any discussion of human values must relate to a larger reality in which actual answers exist, we can then reject many answers as obviously wrong. If, in response to the question about the world's fish, someone were to say, "There are exactly a thousand fish in the sea." We know that this person is not worth listening to. And many people who have strong opinions on moral questions have no more credibility than this. Anyone who thinks that gay marriage is the greatest problem of the 21st century, or that women should be forced to live in burqas, is not worth listening to on the subject of morality.

10. What do you think the role of religion is in determining human morality?

I think it is generally an unhelpful one. Religious ideas about good and evil tend to focus on how to achieve well-being in the next life, and this makes them terrible guides to securing it in this one. Of course, there are a few gems to be found in every religious tradition, but insofar as these precepts are wise and useful they are not, in principle, religious. You do not need to believe that the Bible was dictated by the Creator of the Universe, or that Jesus Christ was his son, to see the wisdom and utility of following the Golden Rule.

The problem with religious morality is that it often causes people to care about the wrong things, leading them to make choices that needlessly perpetuate human suffering. Consider the Catholic Church: This is an institution that excommunicates women who want to become priests, but it does not excommunicate male priests who rape children. The Church is more concerned about stopping contraception than stopping genocide. It is more worried about gay marriage than about nuclear proliferation. When we realize that morality relates to questions of human and animal well-being, we can see that the Catholic Church is as confused about morality as it is about cosmology. It is not offering an alternative moral framework; it is offering a false one.

11. So people don't need religion to live an ethical life?

No. And a glance at the lives of most atheists, and at the most atheistic societies on earth -- Denmark, Sweden, etc. -- proves that this is so. Even the faithful can't really get their deepest moral principles from religion -- because books like the Bible and the Qur'an are full of barbaric injunctions that all decent and sane people must now reinterpret or ignore. How is it that most Jews, Christians, and Muslims are opposed to slavery? You don't get this moral insight from scripture, because the God of Abraham expects us to keep slaves. Consequently, even religious fundamentalists draw many of their moral positions from a wider conversation about human values that is not, in principle, religious. We are the guarantors of the wisdom we find in scripture, such as it is. And we are the ones who must ignore God when he tells us to kill people for working on the Sabbath.

12. How will admitting that there are right and wrong answers to issues of human and animal flourishing transform the way we think and talk about morality?

What I've tried to do in my book is give a framework in which we can think about human values in universal terms. Currently, the most important questions in human life -- questions about what constitutes a good life, which wars we should fight or not fight, which diseases should be cured first, etc. -- are thought to lie outside the purview of science, in principle. Therefore, we have divorced the most important questions in human life from the context in which our most rigorous and intellectually honest thinking gets done.

Moral truth entirely depends on actual and potential changes in the well-being of conscious creatures. As such, there are things to be discovered about it through careful observation and honest reasoning. It seems to me that the only way we are going to build a global civilization based on shared values -- allowing us to converge on the same political, economic, and environmental goals -- is to admit that questions about right and wrong and good and evil have answers, in the same way the questions about human health do.
(c) 2010 Sam Harris is the author of "The End Of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason" and "Letter to a Christian Nation" and is the co-founder of The Reason Project, which promotes scientific knowledge and secular values. Follow Sam Harris on Twitter:

Mott's Workers Stand Up For America

Who'll take a stand for America's founding ethic of the common good? You won't get such leadership from Washington - and damned sure not from those in the corporate suites who're ruthlessly pushing an ethic of uncommon greed, saying to the middle class: "Adios chumps."

Instead, look to places like Williamson in upstate New York. This is apple country, home to a sprawling Mott's apple processing plant. But the Mott family is long gone - and so is the sense of shared purpose that had unified owners and workers.

In 2008, Mott's became a subsidiary of Dr. Pepper Snapple, a giant Texas conglomerate that also owns 7Up, Hawaiian Punch, and dozens of other brands. DPS, as it's known, is doing very well, having banked a record profit of half-a-billion dollars last year. But its honchos apparently missed that basic kindergarten lesson about sharing, so they introduced themselves to the area by eliminating the workers annual summer picnic, the children's Christmas party, and other community-building touches.

Then, this March, the new bosses abruptly demanded pay cuts (averaging about $3,000 per worker), slashed pensions, and hiked employee costs for health care. Why? Because they asserted that Mott's 300 workers were paid more than others in the area and should simply lower their standard of living accordingly. This from a corporation that paid its CEO $6.5 million last year! Adding insult to injury, the plant manager called workers "a commodity like soybeans" that can easily be replaced. Take the cuts - or else, demanded DPS

The workers chose "else," going on a strike that's now in its fourth month. This is not just about them, but about what America will be. It's a courageous stand for the middle class and our country's commitment to economic justice. To stand with them, go to
(c) 2010 Jim Hightower's latest book, "If The Gods Had Meant Us To Vote They Would Have Given Us Candidates," is available in a fully revised and updated paperback edition.

Pollution And Waste Reducing Steps You Can Try
By David Sirota

"Will you join me in lowering our impact?"

That was the subject line on a recent e-mail I sent out to family, friends, column readers and radio listeners, asking them to join me for a week in trying to reduce our individual environmental footprint. Inspired by Colin Beavan's prophetic book "No Impact Man," I proposed four pollution- and waste-reducing steps many people could try for a few days:

-- Stop consuming meat.

-- Devote one meal a day to eating only locally grown products.

-- Avoid producing nonrecyclable garbage.

-- Refrain from riding in a fossil-fuel burning vehicle with fewer than three people.

Having now completed this low-impact week, I can report that it was not easy and that I did not achieve perfection - not even close. However, I can also say I learned a few things beyond how to manage bicycle-seat discomfort.

For one, I discovered that you can find affordable food that isn't flown in at great energy expense - but it takes initiative. You have to check food labels at the grocery or hunt down a farmers' market.

I was also reminded that we waste an obscene amount of paper and plastic. Coffee cups, disposable utensils, food wrappers - this offal is everywhere, and most of it is used for less than 15 minutes and then discarded. Avoiding this trash for a week makes you think about the monstrous amount of energy used in producing, distributing and tossing it.

When it came to transportation, I discovered that the inconvenience of eco-friendly choices can come with unforeseen benefits. Sure, it took effort to get my bike working. Sure, my "not a morning person" gene didn't love sweating my way to the office at dawn. But my "I hate traffic" and "I like saving money" genes enjoyed avoiding congestion and gasoline bills.

These embarrassingly self-evident realizations led to my two biggest low-impact week epiphanies.

The first is that a lot of environmental pollution comes from our aversion to basic forethought and from our on-demand culture. Think about it: We use so many disposable products simply because we don't even think to bring our own. Many people have come to rely on cars - rather than public transit, bicycling or walking - in part because we're not willing to plan for train times, organize carpools or perspire a bit, and we like the idea of driving whenever we want to drive, rather than conforming to a schedule. And many don't eat locally grown food not because it's necessarily expensive but because we just don't enjoy inspecting labels - and because we feel entitled to eat whatever we desire, regardless of season.

My second realization is about the nature of environmental solutions. Dick Cheney famously told America that "conservation may be a sign of personal virtue, but it is not a sufficient basis for a sound, comprehensive energy policy." And lots of liberals will insist, as one reader recently did, that "do-gooder" attempts to reduce personal pollution harm environmental causes because they "make conservation a purely individual effort."

But with global temperatures rising and a Texas-size island of garbage in the Pacific Ocean, it's clear that we need both individual and collective action. Arguments to the contrary - claims that individual actions are insignificant and that the only important actions come from government - are self-interested cop-outs designed to let a nation of buck passers simultaneously feign conscientiousness and rationalize individual gluttony.

Accepting these truisms over the course of a week only makes me want to once again ask: Will you join me in lowering our impact? You can pretend that question isn't important, but the truth is obvious: Our planet's future rests on your answer.
(c) 2010 David Sirota is the author of the best-selling books "Hostile Takeover" and "The Uprising." He hosts the morning show on AM760 in Colorado and blogs at E-mail him at or follow him on Twitter @davidsirota. David is a former spokesperson for the House Appropriations Committee.

Why Are They Rebuilding New Orleans?
By James Donahue

President Barack Obama was in New Orleans this week to praise the city's leadership and state and federal agencies that have been actively rebuilding the place after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina five years ago. But is the restoration of that historic city worth the effort or a waste of money?

The City of New Orleans has been a national treasure. While the territory was under French rule in the early 18th Century, New Orleans was among the first established colonies in the new world. It grew to be a major port city for ships arriving from overseas and steamboats traveling on the Mississippi River.

New Orleans is a very old city, filled with the ghosts of the past. It was the home of the great jazz bands, the Marti Gras, and all of the colorful stories linked to the birth of the nation.

But New Orleans has been a city in trouble for a long time. Built on a river delta, the community was originally safe from hurricanes because of the miles of natural marshland surrounding it. Over the years, as the city grew, and channels were dug to allow larger and larger ships to enter and leave that port, things changed.

Developers used dykes, levies and pumps to keep the water out as they constructed new housing projects deep into areas that were protective marsh and below sea level. Even though the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers erected concrete levies that were supposed to hold back the surge waters from most hurricanes, everyone knew it was only a matter of time before a major storm overpowered the levies and flooded New Orleans.

What they did not know was that serious design flaws in some of those all-important levies intensified the probability of that disaster waiting to happen.

The hurricane that ravaged New Orleans was Katrina. And meteorologists are predicting more great storms of that magnitude or even worse looming in the future as global warming heats the Oceans. Also as the world glaciers and ice caps melt, the sea levels are rising . . . some estimates are as high as 13 to 20 feet above current levels. That means cities like New Orleans, Venice, Miami, and even New York may all be in danger of future flooding.

After New Orleans was left in ruins the logical question was why should we rebuild it? Sure, a lot of people have property ownership there. They also have memories of the great city that once was, and they longed to return to that city and that life style. But it hasn't quite worked out as the people had expected. Where construction has occurred, low income housing has been replaced with more costly facilities, thus making it impossible for many of the impoverished natives to return. The Corps of Engineers is spending billions on new and larger dykes and pumping systems. What is evolving there is something much different than the old historic New Orleans once known and loved.

And there remains that nagging question. Is there any guarantee . . . even with the government pouring billions of dollars into new and better levies to keep the water out . . . that the disaster of 2005 will not occur again this season, or next?

Because we did not heed the warnings of overpopulation, industrial pollution, deforestation and all of the other problems created by the rape of our planet, nothing can ever go back to life as we once knew it.

New Orleans may be another disaster in the making. Is it a foolhardy enterprise for us to be spending government tax dollars to rebuild a city in a hole at the edge of the sea? This is a hard question to ask the natives of that beloved city but it must be asked. Scientists tell us with all certainty that as the ice caps continue to melt, the sea levels will eventually be high enough that the looming storms from climate change will probably overpower the best of levies.

In fact, they warn that all ocean-front towns and cities may be facing a grim future. It is time for people to wake up to reality. We have severely damaged our environment. If we don't change our reckless way of ravaging the earth and polluting the land, seas and the air, nothing can ever be the same.
(c) 2010 James L. Donahue is a retired newspaper reporter, editor and columnist with more than 40 years of experience in professional writing. He is the published author of five books, all dealing with Michigan history, and several magazine articles. He currently produces daily articles for this web site.

Glenn Beck's Redemption Song
By Robert Jensen

About halfway through Saturday's "Restoring Honor" rally on the DC mall, I realized that I was starting to like Glenn Beck.

Before any friends of mine initiate involuntary commitment proceedings, let me explain. It's not that I really liked Beck, but more that I experienced his likeability. Whether or not he's sincere, I came to admire his ability to project sincerity and to create coherence out of his incoherent rambling about religion, race, and redemption.

As a result, I'm more afraid for our political future than ever.

First, to be clear: Beck is the embodiment of everything I dislike about the U.S. politics and contemporary culture. As a left/feminist with anti-capitalist and anti-empire politics, I disagree with most every policy position he takes. As a journalist and professor who values intellectual standards for political discourse, I find his willful ignorance and skillful deceit to be unconscionable.

So, I'm not looking for a charismatic leader to follow and I haven't been seduced by Beck's televisual charm, nor have I given up on radical politics. Instead, I'm trying to understand what happened when I sat down at my computer on Saturday morning and plugged into the live stream of the event. Expecting to see just another right-wing base-building extravaganza that would speak to a narrow audience, I planned to watch for a few minutes before getting onto other projects. I stayed glued to my chair for the three-hour event.

My conclusion: What I saw was the most rhetorically and visually sophisticated political spectacle in recent memory. Beck was able to both connect to a right-wing base while at the same time moving beyond the Republican Party and the Tea Party movement, potentially creating a new audience for his politics. It's foolish to make a prediction based on one rally, but I think Beck's performance marked his move from blowhard broadcaster to front man for a potentially game-changing political configuration.

My advice: Liberals, progressive, and leftists -- who may be tempted to denounce him as a demagogue and move on -- should take all this seriously and try to understand what he's doing. Here's my best attempt to understand it.


There's nothing new about mixing Christianity and right-wing politics in the United States, and Beck put forward a familiar framework: America is a Christian nation that honors religious freedom. Christians lead the way in the United States, but the way is open to all who believe in God. Anyone teaching the "lasting principles" found in all faiths is welcome, despite theological differences. "What they do agree on is God is the answer," Beck said in his call for a central role for religious institutions, whether they be churches, synagogues, or mosques.

But for all the religious rhetoric, Beck never talked about the hot-button issues that are important to conservative Christians. No mention of abortion or gays and lesbians. Theologically based arguments against evolution and global warming were not on the table. No one bashed Islam as a devilish faith.

Instead, Beck concentrated on basics on which he could easily get consensus. God has given us the pieces -- faith, hope, and charity -- and all we have to do is put them together. Rather than arrogantly assert that God is on our side, he said, we have to be on God's side.

Beck may eventually have to voice clear opposition to abortion and gay marriage to hold onto conservative Christian supporters, but on Saturday it was his apparent religious sincerity that mattered. I have no way to know how serious Beck's faith in a traditional conception of God really is, but it doesn't matter. He sounds sincere and moves sincere; he creates a feeling of sincerity. He brings an emotional candor to public discussion of religion that is unusual for someone in his line of work. When religious people believe that someone's profession of faith is real -- that it's rooted in a basic decency and is deeply felt -- then differences over doctrine become less crucial.

There has been some discussion of whether Beck, a convert to Mormonism, can really connect to Protestants and Catholics, some of whom view the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as a cult rather than an authentic Christian denomination. No doubt some evangelical/fundamentalist Christians will reject Beck, but his personal appeal could overcome those objections for many others.


There's also nothing new in Beck's analysis of race. Like most conservatives, he argues that America's racism is mostly a thing of the past, and that racial justice means a level playing field that offers equal opportunity but does not guarantee equal outcomes. Rather than come to terms with the way white supremacy continues to affect those outcomes through institutionalized racism and unconscious prejudices, folks like Beck prefer a simple story about personal transcendence and the end of racism.

What was different about Beck's version of this story was the supporting cast. There were a lot of non-white people on the stage, including a significant number of African Americans. The rally went well beyond the tokenism that we are used to seeing, not only in the Republican Party but also in institutions throughout society. Beck not only gave a featured speaking slot to Alveda King -- one of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s nieces, no doubt selected to bolster his claim to be speaking in the MLK tradition -- but also paid close attention to race throughout the day. Take a look at the lineup for the presenters of the three civilian badges of merit for faith, hope, and charity: An American Indian presenting to an African-American; a white man presenting to a Dominican; and a Mexican-American presenting to a white man, with a black woman accepting on his behalf.

Is it all cynical and symbolic? For those of us who are white, do we have a right to ask that question in the presence of so much passion from the people of color on stage? These weren't cardboard cutouts shoved in front of a camera to add color, but an eclectic mix of people, all espousing a fundamental faith that they seemed to share with Beck.

Whether a movement rooted in Beck's approach can gain wide acceptance in non-white communities is not the only question. For white people who are struggling with how to live (or, at least, appear to live) a commitment to racial justice, this kind of space will be attractive. Tea Party gatherings are weighed down by an overt racial ideology that limits their appeal; Beck may have a strategy that overcomes that problem, creating a movement that has a significant enough non-white component to make white people feel good about themselves without really challenging white dominance.


The key message of the "Restoring Honor" rally was redemption, personal and collective, the personal intertwined with the collective. Unlike some reactionary right-wingers, Beck spoke often about America's mistakes -- though all of them are set safely in the past. Rather than try to downplay slavery, he highlighted it. It is one of America's "scars," a term he repeated over and over, to emphasize that our moral and political failures are from history, not of this moment.

"America has been both terribly good and terribly bad," leaving us with a choice, he said. "We either let those scars crush us or redeem us." Just as all individuals sin, so do all nations. Just as in our personal life we seek redemption, so do we as a nation. Framed that way, who would not want to choose the path of redemption?

But while on one level America has sinned, on another level it is beyond reproach. "It's not just a country, it's an idea, that man can rule himself," Beck said. An idea remains pure, which means we don't have to wonder whether there's something about our political and economic systems that leads to failures; injustice must be the product of individual's mistakes, not flaws in the systems in which they operate.

This is all standard conservative ideology as well. The United States is not just a nation struggling to be more democratic, but is the essence of democracy. Our wars are, by definition, wars of liberation. The wealth-concentrating capitalist system is not an impediment to freedom but is the essence of freedom. How any of this jibes with the egalitarian and anti-imperial spirit of the Gospels is off the table, because the United States is a Christian country and the idea of the United States is beyond reproach.

But, again, the key to Beck's success is not just the ideology but the way he puts it all together. A nation whose wealth rests on genocide, slavery, and ongoing domination of the Third World is the nation that defines faith, hope, and charity? Beck "proves" it by connecting Moses to George Washington to Abraham Lincoln to Martin Luther King, Jr. All are part of the same tradition, the same striving for freedom.

Beck is the perfect person to sing this redemption song. He talks openly of the alcohol and drug abuse that ruled his life until he discovered his faith in God. Unlike George W. Bush, Beck tells the story with conviction. Perhaps both Bush and Beck tell the truth about their experience, but Beck makes you feel it is the truth in a way Bush could never pull off.


Wait a minute, you say, none of this makes a lick of sense. Beck tosses a confused and confusing word salad that rewrites history and ignores reality. Maybe it sounds good, if you throw in enough energetic music and inspirational personal stories from veterans, ministers, philanthropists, and skillful TV personalities. But it's really nothing but old right-wing ideology, no matter how slick and heartfelt the presentation.

What would Beck's supporters say? Probably something like this:

So, you are one of those who wants to keep picking at the scars. Why do you lack faith, reject hope, refuse to offer charity? Why do you turn away from the values and principles that made us great? Glenn said it: "We must advance or perish. I choose, advance." Glenn wants to help us advance, and you want us to perish.

I agree that Beck is wrong about almost everything. I agree that given his record of demagoguery and deception, he is unfit for work in the news media or political leadership. I agree that he may be one of those people incapable of sincerity, someone whose "real" personality is indistinguishable from his stage persona. I agree that he's a scary guy.

I agree with all that, which is why I don't really like Glenn Beck. If I ever got close to Beck I would probably like him even less. But after watching his performance on a screen over those three hours, I understand why it's so easy to like him, at least on a screen. His convoluted mix of arrogance and humility is likeable, so long as one doesn't look too closely at the details.

More than ever, people in the United States don't want to look at details, because the details are bleak. Beck is on the national stage at a time when we face real collapse. One need not be a Revelation-quoting end-timer to recognize that we are a nation on the way down, living on a planet that is no longer able to supply the endless bounty of our dreams. That's a difficult reality to face, one that many clamor to deny.

The danger of Beck is not just his appeal to fellow conservatives, but rather his appeal to anyone who wants to deny reality. My fear is not that he will galvanize a conservative base and make a bid for leadership of that part of the political spectrum, but that his message will resonate with moderates, maybe even some liberals, who despair over the future.

Does worrying about Beck's appeal beyond the far right seem far fetched? The most important rhetorical move Beck made on Saturday was to claim the rally "has nothing to do with politics." Many people across the ideological spectrum want desperately to escape from contemporary politics, which seems to be a source of endless frustration and heartbreak.

To those people, Glenn Beck's redemption song will be seductive.
(c) 2010 Robert Jensen is a journalism professor at the University of Texas at Austin and board member of the Third Coast Activist Resource Center in Austin. He is the author of All My Bones Shake: Seeking a Progressive Path to the Prophetic Voice, (Soft Skull Press, 2009); Getting Off: Pornography and the End of Masculinity (South End Press, 2007); and other books. Jensen is also co-producer of the documentary film "Abe Osheroff: One Foot in the Grave, the Other Still Dancing," which chronicles the life and philosophy of the longtime radical activist. Information about the film, distributed by the Media Education Foundation, and an extended interview Jensen conducted with Osheroff are online at

The Taste of Hope and Change
Progressive Sensitivity in U.S. Concentration Camp
By Chris Floyd

Never, ever let it be said that the Peacer Laureate's administration is not one of progressivistic enlightenment. I mean, just look at the sensitivity being displayed by the Obama administration toward its captives in its Guantanamo concentration camp. The Miami Herald reports:

Here's a new twist in the U.S. military's Islamic sensitivity effort in the prison camps for suspected terrorists at the Guant‡namo Bay Navy base: Military medical staff are force-feeding a secret number of prisoners on hunger strike between dusk and dawn during the Muslim fasting holiday of Ramadan.

The prison camps spokesman, Navy Cmdr. Bradley Fagan: ... "Detainees who are fasting get their meals before dawn,'' he said Wednesday, disclosing only the hours of that day's feeding "in observance of the Ramadan schedule'' -- before 5:26 a.m. and after 7:28 p.m."

Now what about that, all you progressive critics of Obama? He only force-feeds those held for years in indefinite captivity after the sun goes down during Ramadan. What exquisite tact, what a remarkable sensitivity to human rights, eh? Why, they ought to give this guy a Nobel Peace Prize or something!

And it doesn't stop there. Obama is now force-feeding his Gitmo captives -- those that have been so maddened by years of captivity without charges that they have adopted this desperate and self-destructive method of protest, the only act of individual volition that's been left to them by their captors -- with some really tasty flavors of liquid pumped into their stomachs by force:

To demystify it a bit, Navy prison camp hospital workers some years back created a display of different flavored supplements and let visiting reporters handle a sample yellow rubber feeding tube. By last summer, staff were pointing to Butter Pecan flavored Ensure as popular with the chair-shackled captives. Flavor made no difference going down, one nurse explained, but a captive could taste it if he burped later.

Think of that! The Peacer is pumping tasty butter pecan delicacies into the guts of his prisoners in perpetuity in his still unclosed Guantanamo concentration camp! Sure, they can't really taste the concoction as it pours down the hard rubber tube jammed into their orifices -- but if they happen to burp later, they can savor that deep, rich flavor.

That, my friends, is progressivism you can taste!
(c) 2010 Chris Floyd

Nine Years Later, Afghanistan Looks Much the Same, A Mess
By Ted Rall

HERAT, AFGHANISTAN--OK. The roads are impressive. Specifically, the fact that they exist. When the U.S. invaded Afghanistan in 2001, more than two decades of civil conflict had left the country bereft of basic infrastructure. Roads, bridges and tunnels had been bombed and mined. What didn't blow up got ground down by tanks. Maintenance? Don't be funny.

It took them too long to get started, but U.S. occupation forces deserve credit for slapping down asphalt. Brutal, bone-crushing ordeals that used to take four days can be measured in smooth, endless-grey-ribboned hours. Bridges have been replaced. Tunnels have been shored up. Most major highways and major city streets have been paved.

But that's about it.

As of 2008 the U.S. claimed to have spent $1.3 billion on construction projects in Afghanistan. Where'd it all go? Roads don't cost that much.

That's the Big Question here. As far as anyone can tell, the only sign of economic improvement is a building boomlet: green and pink Arab-style glass-and-marble McMansions, guarded by AK-47-toting guards and owned by politically connected goons, are going up on the outskirts of every Afghan city. Most Afghans still live in squalor that compares unfavorably to places like Mumbai and Karachi. Beggars are everywhere. Most people haven't gotten any help.

"Assistance is coming to Afghanistan, but we don't know how it is spent, where it is spent," Amin Farhang, the Afghan minister of economy, said at the time.

Afghan officials tell a similar story now. "When the Americans came after the 11th of September, we thought 'good, they will rebuild our country,'" Ghulam Naider Nekpor, commander of Torgundi, a dusty town near the Turkmen border, told me. "Instead of help, they send soldiers. And not only that, they send weapons and money to the other side--Pakistan." (Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency finances and arms the Taliban.)

"We thought Americans were to help. Now we see they came to take, and take, and take from us."

There are three big problems.

First: Instead of construction, money was wasted on troops. As of 2009--before the Obama surge--the Defense Department had blown through $227 billion in Afghanistan. Bear in mind, the World Bank estimated back in 2002 that the country could have been put on solid economic footing for about $18 billion.

"Please stop sending soldiers" is a standard plea here. "Can't you send help instead of soldiers?"

The money we wasted on blowing up wedding parties and killing Al Qaeda Number Twos could have rebuilt Afghanistan 12 times over--or transformed it into a First World country.

As for those soldiers, they aren't doing much. The Taliban range freely over the countryside, raiding and kidnapping at will. The Afghan National Police have ceded most of the country--everything outside the big cities--to the Taliban.

Ninety-nine percent of U.S. troops are either sitting on their butts on military bases surrounded by blast walls and concertina wire or fighting in remote areas along the sparsely populated border with Pakistan. There are supposedly 140,000 U.S. troops here. But most of the country never sees one.

Why aren't Predator drones being used to take out the Taliban bike gangs that rule the countryside and attack motorists? Why don't U.S. troops attack Taliban strongholds in the north, west and center of Afghanistan? If we're going to spend a quarter of a trillion bucks on troops here, they ought to provide security.

Afghan cops say they know where the bad guys are. But they don't even have the basic tools, like helicopters, needed to go after them. The U.S. military does--but they ignore Afghan requests for help.

Second problem: Corruption and American stupidity. They go together; stupid American organizations like US AID pick U.S. contractors or fly-by-night outfits connected to the Karzai regime and fail to audit their expenses. Bills are padded to spectacular extents. Work, when it gets done, is shoddy. Highways paved three years ago are already warped due to inferior roadbeds.

Moreover, work often takes place without consultation with, or the benefit of, locals. No one asks villagers what they want. Outsiders do the work; locals sit and watch. Areas that need a hospital get a road. Those that want a road get a school.

The Frontier Post, a Pakistani newspaper based in the Afghan border towns of Quetta and Peshawar, editorialized: "Afghans have little to be grateful to America for. It may have pumped in billions of dollars in aid--but only theoretically. Practically, much of that has been siphoned off and ploughed back by American contractors, making them rich while Afghans get only lollipops."

Third: The Afghan people are last priority.

In a war for hearts and minds, there's no place for the trickle-down approach. But that's what the U.S.--when it makes a serious effort, which is rare--does. I wouldn't have invaded Afghanistan in the first place, but if I were put in charge here I would deploy the "trickle up" approach: direct financial assistance to the people who need it most. Help subsistence farmers buy their own plots of land. Build new houses and apartment blocs for the homeless. Invite bright children to attend colleges and universities tuition-free. Above all, don't let people starve.

We have spent $229 billion here. Meals cost less than a dollar. No Afghan should be starving--yet millions are.
(c) 2010 Ted Rall is the author of the upcoming "The Anti-American Manifesto," to be published in September by Seven Stories Press.

It's Witch-Hunt Season
By Paul Krugman

The last time a Democrat sat in the White House, he faced a nonstop witch hunt by his political opponents. Prominent figures on the right accused Bill and Hillary Clinton of everything from drug smuggling to murder. And once Republicans took control of Congress, they subjected the Clinton administration to unrelenting harassment - at one point taking 140 hours of sworn testimony over accusations that the White House had misused its Christmas card list.

Now it's happening again - except that this time it's even worse. Let's turn the floor over to Rush Limbaugh: "Imam Hussein Obama," he recently declared, is "probably the best anti-American president we've ever had."

To get a sense of how much it matters when people like Mr. Limbaugh talk like this, bear in mind that he's an utterly mainstream figure within the Republican Party; bear in mind, too, that unless something changes the political dynamics, Republicans will soon control at least one house of Congress. This is going to be very, very ugly.

So where is this rage coming from? Why is it flourishing? What will it do to America?

Anyone who remembered the 1990s could have predicted something like the current political craziness. What we learned from the Clinton years is that a significant number of Americans just don't consider government by liberals - even very moderate liberals - legitimate. Mr. Obama's election would have enraged those people even if he were white. Of course, the fact that he isn't, and has an alien-sounding name, adds to the rage.

By the way, I'm not talking about the rage of the excluded and the dispossessed: Tea Partiers are relatively affluent, and nobody is angrier these days than the very, very rich. Wall Street has turned on Mr. Obama with a vengeance: last month Steve Schwarzman, the billionaire chairman of the Blackstone Group, the private equity giant, compared proposals to end tax loopholes for hedge fund managers with the Nazi invasion of Poland.

And powerful forces are promoting and exploiting this rage. Jane Mayer's new article in The New Yorker about the superrich Koch brothers and their war against Mr. Obama has generated much-justified attention, but as Ms. Mayer herself points out, only the scale of their effort is new: billionaires like Richard Mellon Scaife waged a similar war against Bill Clinton.

Meanwhile, the right-wing media are replaying their greatest hits. In the 1990s, Mr. Limbaugh used innuendo to feed anti-Clinton mythology, notably the insinuation that Hillary Clinton was complicit in the death of Vince Foster. Now, as we've just seen, he's doing his best to insinuate that Mr. Obama is a Muslim. Again, though, there's an extra level of craziness this time around: Mr. Limbaugh is the same as he always was, but now seems tame compared with Glenn Beck.

And where, in all of this, are the responsible Republicans, leaders who will stand up and say that some partisans are going too far? Nowhere to be found.

To take a prime example: the hysteria over the proposed Islamic center in lower Manhattan almost makes one long for the days when former President George W. Bush tried to soothe religious hatred, declaring Islam a religion of peace. There were good reasons for his position: there are a billion Muslims in the world, and America can't afford to make all of them its enemies.

But here's the thing: Mr. Bush is still around, as are many of his former officials. Where are the statements, from the former president or those in his inner circle, preaching tolerance and denouncing anti-Islam hysteria? On this issue, as on many others, the G.O.P. establishment is offering a nearly uniform profile in cowardice.

So what will happen if, as expected, Republicans win control of the House? We already know part of the answer: Politico reports that they're gearing up for a repeat performance of the 1990s, with a "wave of committee investigations" - several of them over supposed scandals that we already know are completely phony. We can expect the G.O.P. to play chicken over the federal budget, too; I'd put even odds on a 1995-type government shutdown sometime over the next couple of years.

It will be an ugly scene, and it will be dangerous, too. The 1990s were a time of peace and prosperity; this is a time of neither. In particular, we're still suffering the after-effects of the worst economic crisis since the 1930s, and we can't afford to have a federal government paralyzed by an opposition with no interest in helping the president govern. But that's what we're likely to get.

If I were President Obama, I'd be doing all I could to head off this prospect, offering some major new initiatives on the economic front in particular, if only to shake up the political dynamic. But my guess is that the president will continue to play it safe, all the way into catastrophe.
(c) 2010 Paul Krugman --- The New York Times

The Quotable Quote...

"In March, 1915, the J.P. Morgan interests, the steel, shipbuilding, and powder interest, and their subsidiary organizations, got together 12 men high up in the newspaper world and employed them to select the most influential newspapers in the United States and sufficient number of them to control generally the policy of the daily press....They found it was only necessary to purchase the control of 25 of the greatest papers. "An agreement was reached; the policy of the papers was bought, to be paid for by the month; an editor was furnished for each paper to properly supervise and edit information regarding the questions of preparedness, militarism, financial policies, and other things of national and international nature considered vital to the interests of the purchasers."
~~~ U.S. Congressman Oscar Callaway ~ 1917

The Trail Of Destruction
By David Pratt

The biggest drugs hoard in the world is in Afghanistan, controlled by the Taliban. Ninety per cent of the heroin on British streets originates in Afghanistan. ~~~ Tony Blair, Labour Party Conference, October 2, 2001

Smack, skag, horse - the street names for heroin in Scotland - are as familiar here as their Afghan counterparts - poder, mawad and gulbadan. For Scotland, like Afghanistan, has a deadly love affair with heroin. Out of 200 nations only five are ahead of us in drug abuse, and one of those, Afghanistan, supplies over 98% of the heroin that blights Scotland.

Heroin is all about winners and losers. If Scotland is the loser, then the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan are outright winners. Just consider the following chilling facts.

After the events of September 11 it emerged that it cost al al-Qaeda $500,000 to finance the attacks that changed the world that day.

Now, through the illegal heroin trade, it's estimated that terrorists like the Taliban and al-Qaeda can earn more than that sum every week. Indeed, up to 70% of the Taliban's entire funding now comes from the heroin trade; in other words, anything up to $300 million annually, of which a huge chunk buys the guns, bullets, rocket launchers and components for the roadside bombs that kill and maim our service personnel and Afghan civilians with terrible regularity.

"When an addict in Scotland uses Afghan heroin, when a dealer deals, or a trafficker smuggles a consignment, each and every one of them is playing their part in fuelling the insurgency and helping the Taliban," was how one senior official of the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) put it to me recently in Kabul.

By contrast, here at home, some of Scotland's own drug enforcement police officers seem reluctant to acknowledge the extent to which the Taliban - not just criminals - profit from international drug trafficking.

In research findings, Professor Neil McKeganey, a drug specialist at the University of Glasgow, established that police here seize just 1% of the heroin that enters Scotland each year.

In the union of narco traffickers, terrorist groups, and international criminals, a real axis of evil has been created. Perhaps most worrying of all is that many of the Afghan warlords and drug barons involved in this insidious international racketeering are people our own Government seems happy to do business with.

Surely, after almost a decade of sacrifice in Afghanistan, this is not good enough. The time is long overdue for proper answers from the Government and drug enforcement agencies as to why we have failed to stem the tide of heroin that flows from Afghanistan on to the streets of Glasgow, Edinburgh and elsewhere in the UK.

What are our troops dying for in Afghanistan if this narco-state is allowed to flourish and export its deadly produce? It is a tragedy and a travesty that while yet more Scots soldiers prepare to deploy to Afghanistan, here at home their countrymen and women continue to succumb to a drug derived from a trade on which the Taliban depends for its survival.

Having spent the last 30 years covering Afghanistan's conflicts and the political and strategic fallout that comes from them, I decided the time had come to return and investigate the extent of the country's heroin trade.

In the provinces and back streets of Kabul I talked to poppy farmers, heroin addicts, dealers and traffickers. On the frontline of the war on drugs, I spent time with the "door kickers" in the fight against heroin trafficking - a group of elite counter-narcotic commandos trained and mentored by DEA agents and former Special Forces troops.

I also journeyed to Afghanistan's remote Badakhshan province near the Tajikistan border. Here the northern Silk Route,_ _and the equally infamous Balkans Route, which runs through Iran, Turkey and south-eastern Europe, remain as two of the main trafficking conduits through which most of the heroin destined for Europe passes.

Back in Scotland, at the end of the Afghan heroin trafficking trail, I asked senior police officers tasked with stopping the drug's influx why their seizure record is so poor. And finally, just as my journey began in the alleys of Kabul with those whose lives have been blighted by heroin, I met users on our own streets.

From the Golden Crescent to Glasgow, this is the story of two nations blighted by one drug. Above all, it's an account of how heroin sustains the war in Afghanistan and makes big bucks for many.

Part One: Eyewitness in Afghanistan

I had thought this story started last month in the backstreets of a neighborhood in Kabul. But it didn't. It really began one day a few years ago, in the languid heat of a picturesque valley in Afghanistan's northern Takhar Province. In the peace of that afternoon, the gentle drone of spring insects was the only sound competing with the voice of an elderly poppy farmer called Mahmoud Yusef.

A genial elderly man with long, grey sideburns and beard, and wearing a woolen bobble hat, Mahmoud more resembled the cartoon image of one of Santa's little helpers than the cultivator and salesman of opium resin.

"This is only my first year, I've never grown poppy before,'' he assured me that day, his fingers nimbly drawing a wooden lancing tool across the skin of a poppy bulb. I remember watching as a trickle of brown, sticky sap oozed out. In a few days' time, once dried, it would be scraped into buckets, and sold on for what is known as "farm gate prices" to a shadowy group of collectors and smugglers. How much, I asked Mahmoud, was he likely to earn from this, his first yield?

Almost instantly, the old man's geniality dissolved and he became cagey. "I'm only a poor man, I don't even own this land," he insisted, before pausing for a moment. "But believe me when I tell you, the greed of those who get rich from poppy will bring pain to the people of Afghanistan."

It was a little over a month ago in a Kabul slum called Pole Sukhte, that the true meaning of Mahmoud's words were finally brought home to me.

One morning, along with my interpreter and two Kabul drugs workers, I found myself in a subterranean nightmare world beneath a bridge spanning a river full of grey sewerage.

Here, the pain that Mahmoud Yusef warned me about is now felt at its sharpest by the current generation of Afghan heroin addicts.

In this hellish place, hundreds of men, young and old, live among the rats and garbage, surrounded by discarded, bloodied syringes. Crouched in huddles they smoke and inject some of the purest heroin to be found anywhere in the word. So pure in fact, that a gram of the best heroin here, cut and mixed with other substances, could easily account for a number of the "tenner bags" of sub-standard "smack" to be found on Scotland's streets.

Kabul's version of that lesser quality heroin - still far superior to that in Europe - can now be picked up for the equivalent of as little as 75p a gram.

Such is Afghan heroin's reputation for strength and purity that its availability now in some parts of east Africa has resulted in addicts indulging in a practice known as "flashblooding" or "flushblooding": they inject themselves with blood from another user as a cheap way of sharing the high or staving off the pangs of withdrawal.

Entering the underground shooting galleries where Pole Sukhte's addicts are found is to come across equally disturbing horrors. It's like being shunted through a kaleidoscopic tunnel in which snapshots of human misery and psychosis twist and blur together.

Within a few seconds of entering I encounter a young ethnic Hazara, his eyes rolling as he staggers out of the gloom towards me, holding out his arms like some horror movie zombie. Both forearms are a mass of scars, abscesses and suppurating sores.

At first I fail to notice the syringe still hanging from his flesh, like a piece of macabre jewelery. The syringe is empty, and I ask Reza, my interpreter, why the young man still has it stuck in his arm.

"He says the longer he keeps it there, the longer the high will last," he says.

Seconds later, another man pushes his way angrily towards me. I brace myself for some kind of confrontation - only to watch him break into a bizarre dance, grinning, inches from my face.

Watching nearby, another addict, one of Kabul's many war amputees, teeters on his one leg, held up by a makeshift crutch, his loss and pain temporarily vanquished by the rush from the heroin he'd injected moments before.

Surreal as this place is, there is also tension in the air - barely 30 minutes before our arrival, local police had made one of their regular raids. Some drug users were beaten, others arrested. According to one of the outreach workers with me, the police had come the night before - only the presence of the drugs workers prevented a few of the youngest addicts, little more than boys, from being abducted by policemen intent on rape and sexual abuse.

Within walking distance of Pole Sukhte, in a bomb-struck building off Demahzang Square, lies another of Kabul's dark labyrinths where heroin addicts gather.

During the days of the Soviet occupation, it was the Russian Cultural Centre. Though still known by that name, today it is nothing more than a ruin, its walls pockmarked and punctured by the bullets and shells that ripped the district apart during the fighting between rival mujahideen groups that gripped the Afghan capital in the 1990s.

My memories of this place have always been bad ones. On one occasion around that time, I was injured here during rocket exchanges. A few years later in the same building I came across a homeless refugee family whose children had frozen to death while taking shelter from the bitter Afghan winter. Today, the building remains a magnet for the dispossessed. In every room, corridor and alcove strewn with feces and rubble, addicts cower.

Kabul has always had its heroin and opium users, but in the 30 years I have been coming to this city the numbers were never like this.

So just why have things become so bad, and how much worse can they get? If anyone could provide answers to those questions for me, it was Dr Zemoray Amin. An Afghan and citizen of Kabul, Amin has been working for years on behalf of the French humanitarian agency, Mˇdecins du Monde (Doctors of the World) at what can only be described as the Ground Zero of Afghanistan's heroin battlefield. Every day he has to deal with the trail of devastation wrought on the addicts of Pole Sukhte and Demahzang.

While any figures are at best only estimates, Amin tells me that in 2005 there were perhaps 50,000 heroin users in Afghanistan; by 2009 that number had risen to 120,000 and is continuing to escalate at a devastating rate.

Ironically, even these estimates of Afghan heroin user numbers have a resonance with Scotland. Here, there are now said to be something in the region of 55,000 users, with both the numbers and deaths resulting from drug abuse rising.

According to Amin, cheapness and easy availability of drugs, joblessness, displacement and, above all, the effects of the war are the main reasons for heroin's escalating impact in Afghanistan.

But, he argues, there is another, even more worrying root cause. It stems from the widespread corruption among those within the top tier of the Afghan establishment, and complicity by the international community in ignoring that crookedness in exchange for political allegiance and strategical leverage in the fight against the Taliban.

He insists: "There are many corrupt high-ranking officials in Afghanistan directly involved in the illegal heroin trade who are being supported from abroad and the international community. Believe me, I'm sure of it."

Asked as to who they are, he doggedly refuses to elaborate. It's hardly surprising, given that to name such individuals in Afghanistan these days would be tantamount to having a death wish.

Amin, though, points to the peculiar disparity between the intense levels of International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) military activity in some areas and that fact that many heroin traffickers in these same places go unchallenged.

"The international community are not honestly and truthfully pursuing a counter-narcotics policy," he tells me.

Asked what exactly he means by that, he will only say that ISAF are sometimes less than strenuous in their efforts even when confronted by irrefutable evidence that a local warlord or official is directly involved in heroin trafficking.

Time and again during my recent visits to Afghanistan I have heard similar suggestions from a wide range of individuals and representatives of various organizations. The prevailing take seems to be a case of better the devil you know, whereby ISAF is accused of turning a blind eye to the involvement of local warlords in the heroin trade, provided they in turn keep the local Taliban in check.

Some well-placed Afghans have gone even further: a political analyst from the Taliban stronghold of Wardak Province, who has acted as a negotiator with the insurgents, told me unequivocally that ISAF officers themselves were directly involved in the heroin trafficking trade.

Such accusations are difficult to prove, and so far there is no evidence to implicate ISAF personnel in criminal activity. But virtually every Afghan I talked to, be they government officials, law enforcement officers or street level drug dealers, believed that heroin trafficking provided as much financial support for a select group within the Afghan government and establishment as it did for the Taliban.

"Heroin production and trafficking is a life support system for the war in Afghanistan, and the war in turn is the life support machine for the heroin trade," was how Amin summed it up.

While the traffickers of the past almost exclusively were criminal mafias, for some time now other, arguably even more sinister, players have been at the sharp end of the business.

In 2003, after boarding two dhows in the Persian Gulf, US counter-narcotics agents discovered a couple of wanted al-Qaeda terrorists with a consignment of heroin worth $3 million. A few months later, agents in Kabul raided a traffickers' den where they found a satellite phone that had been used to call suspected terrorist cells in western Europe.

In Kabul a few weeks ago, I met one former smuggler called Rahim, who like many Afghan villagers found himself working for the Taliban in order to make some money.

"There was a group of us from our village, the Taliban regularly paid us about $250 and we carried many kilo bags of pure heroin over the border into Iran," admitted Rahim.

Later, in a dispute over a drugs deal that went wrong, Rahim stabbed a man to death in Iran. He served a 12-year prison sentence there before returning to Afghanistan and Kabul. On the streets of Scotland, that single haul would have been worth hundreds of thousands of pounds - a mark-up that this time went straight back into the Taliban's fighting fund.

In places as far flung as Dushanbe, Istanbul, Karachi and Amsterdam, an elaborate chain of traffickers help Afghan heroin on its long, convoluted journey to Scotland's streets. Sometimes after being collected from the poppy farmers the opium resin might simply stay as opium, but more often than not it is processed - using what are called precursor chemicals, such as acetic anhydride and sodium carbonate - into the drug that is the real money-spinner: heroin.

All this would most likely take place at one of countless makeshift laboratories in Afghanistan. Often rough-and-ready, they are nevertheless capable of producing heroin that is more than 90% pure. While lower quality goods might then head for the local marketplace, top quality heroin is packed in 1kg brown paper wraps, sealed in plastic and bound in white cotton to await export.

Once it is ready for shipment, the traffickers' ingenuity knows no bounds. Sometimes it is simply moved over the border into neighboring countries loaded on mules or hidden in lorries after bribes change hands. But at checkpoints in Iran the drug has been found hidden inside the stomachs of camels, and it has been layered into the bulkheads of boats in the Pakistani port of Karachi. Small quantities have even been found concealed in hollowed almond shells.

Stopping the traffickers is the task of a tangle of law enforcement agencies. Sitting at the foot of some dun-colored mountains adjacent to Kabul's international airport sits a well-guarded compound and hi-tech listening station that is home to the most elite of these agencies, an Afghan counter-narcotics commando team trained by members of the US Drugs Enforcement Administration (DEA) and former special forces soldiers. Known as the National Interdiction Unit or NIU, they are seen as Afghanistan's "untouchables" in the battle against the illegal heroin trade.

Dave Lopez, the US command adviser to the NIU, knows all about battling the entrenched corruption of the world's narco states. A former US special forces soldier with the elite 75th Ranger Regiment he joined the US army's counter-narcotics unit and took part in operations in places like Colombia and Iraq before coming to Afghanistan.

He said: "The NIU has actively arrested officials in the police force and are prepared to take it as far as the rule of law in Afghanistan will allow, even if it does go to the top."

He is also in no doubt that the Taliban are adept at using the trafficking trade in a way that has delivered massive financial and strategic gains for them.

"Once the Taliban realized that narcotic control was a major goal of the international coalition and Afghan government, they OK'd it to the farmers to grow poppy because they know it destabilizes the government. That's also the reason why we're seeing even more opium and heroin production."

Asked if he believed that by dealing in the drug, criminal gangs in Scotland and elsewhere in Europe were helping sustain the Taliban, Lopez was unequivocal. "I believe that to be absolutely accurate," he said, "and I think most people both in the military and law enforcement worldwide are truly understanding that the narcotic trade does support the insurgency."

While it may be viewed from a very different perspective, last week at the Paisley headquarters of Scotland's Serious Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency, I put much the same question to Detective Chief Superintendent Allan Moffat, head of investigations. His response echoed that of Lopez.

Moffat said: "There is some difficulty for me as a police officer here in Scotland to say it links directly to the Taliban. What I can say is that it does link back to Afghanistan, and certainly all the research, all the material I have looked at, absolutely supports that position."
(c) 2010 David Pratt is the foreign editor of The Herald/Scotland.

Our Bloody Valentine
By David Michael Green

So - mounting evidence to the contrary - we're being told that the American adventure in Iraq is coming to an end now.

All I can say is, "Damn fine war, damn fine war."

Yup. We sure showed 'em, didn't we? Showed 'em how to really fight a war. Showed 'em how to kick some Ay-rab ass. Showed 'em who's boss. You know, "shock and awe" and such.

Yeah, baby.

I'll tell you what. The only awe left around here is the awesome degree to which an entire nation is left stumbling through history in total shock. And it ain't Iraq I'm talking about, either.

It's in the nature of things that the more vociferously people assert a given point, the more likely they are to be doing so in order to counter their own fears of just the opposite. This week, Ken Mehlman, former head of the Republican Party and 2004 chairman of the Bush/Cheney campaign, revealed what just about everyone in Washington had known for a long time - that he is gay. Recall that one of the central strategies of that 2004 GOP campaign was to mobilize religious right voters via a series of state initiatives on banning gay marriage. Nice work, Kenny. Can you say "self-loathing"?

Similarly, when an empire has to label its military gang-rape of 25 million other people by the title "shock and awe", it's a safe bet that the folks who need convincing are the ones doing the giving, not the receiving.

Given this recurring motif, we probably ought to crank out some new Madison Avenue slogan to memorialize the occasion, as we (ostensibly) hit the Mesopotamian exit ramp. Prolly "Mission Accomplished" would not be a good choice, and not just because it wasn't. "Never Again" pops to mind, but then that one is already taken. Plus, it's a downer. And, given the general wisdom of the American electorate, it's hopelessly Pollyannaish. How likely does it seem that this country has now given up its penchant for invading third world countries with fourth-rate militaries and wasting a whole boat load of inconvenient brown people who don't even speak 'Murican? Not very, brother. Not very.

No, something else is needed. Something to divert our attention from the reality of this war. Something with a nice fall theme, perhaps. How about, "Are you ready for some football?!?!"

All wars are tragic. Most, by definition, entail the height of human stupidity. Many are rooted in the rudest lies of the grossest proportions. Iraq was among the worst of all wars for all these reasons. It was the most unnecessary conflagration imaginable, based on the biggest stack of lies - many overtly told, but just as many silently formed around the unspoken assumptions of conventional "wisdom" - ever told to a population, and one which absolutely should have known better.

Everything about this sick war was wrong from the start, which is precisely why it had to be sold as a wholesale marketing package of complete deceit. Indeed, it is why it had to be sold at all. If the war had really had anything whatsoever to do with national security, that never would have been necessary. It's not like FDR had to recruit a bunch of advertising suits to swing public opinion behind American entry into World War II. The Bush scum (I choose my words carefully - I can think of few other terms appropriate for those who could cause such carnage, on the basis of lies, for their own self-interested political purposes) understood this thoroughly, which is why they also understood that lies, intimidation, insulation of the public from the costs of the war, and false urgency were critical to their malevolent enterprise. They employed all of these and more, in spades. If the product of their campaign hadn't been so utterly lethal, we might even admire them for their amazing capacity to pull off a scam this stunning in its proportions.

They had a lot of help, of course, from a public that was stupid, lazy, and willfully stupid in order to facilitate their laziness. It was one thing for the Bush people to lie about WMD and get away with it. Americans rightly recognize that they are not in possession of reliable intelligence data about national security questions (not, as history has repeatedly shown, that the CIA is either - but that's another story). The public doesn't know WMD from BFD (hell, no one had even heard the acronym prior to 2002), and they understand that they have to, within certain bounds, rely on their government for that information. (This, by the way, is one of the great unspoken tragedies of the war, and a gift that is likely to keep giving for a long time. By lying so egregiously to the American public, the freaks on the right who are always telling us how the government is our enemy gave hundreds of millions of Americans every reason to spend the rest of their lives believing them.)

But people should still have known better, even if the government was boldly and baldly lying to them about the rationale given for the war. None of that remotely held up to scrutiny if one simply asked the most basic of logical questions. Why Iraq, if it had nothing to do with 9/11? Why Iraq if several dozen other countries in the world also had WMD? Why Iraq if it was neither attacking the US nor threatening to do so, nor molesting its neighbors? Why the unrelenting urgency to invade, especially since the weapons inspectors were asking for only another month or two to determine whether the country had WMD? Why, since they were assuring us beyond all doubt that Saddam did possess such weapons, didn't the Bush administration tell the inspectors where to find the WMD? Why wouldn't the deterrence doctrine of mutually assured destruction, which had worked for four decades against the Soviet Union, not also prevent puny Iraq from committing suicide by attacking the US? And, if Iraq surely had WMD and was anxious to use them against America, what was sure to be the outcome if the US attacked the regime, with the stated purpose of liquidating it entirely? What could be the only possible outcome of backing a WMD-possessing "madman" against the wall, with nothing left for him to lose?

Any one of these questions of basic logic alone individually called the premise of the invasion deeply into question, without the necessity of Joe Sixpack possessing classified national security estimates on the WMD threat. Together, all of them made the case for going to war against Iraq an obvious and massively overdetermined lie.

But the governing class has gotten really good at how to get the public out of the decision-making loop, overcoming the infuriating inconvenience of the few shreds of democracy remaining in the system, in order to continue feeding the military-industrial complex all the blood and bodies it requires for its sustenance. The Masters of War (as Bob Dylan aptly called them - before he went electric, before he went country, before he got religion, before he got a different religion, before he started selling women's underwear, and before he became just plain weird) got twenty years of good mileage out of Vietnam, and then only had to wait less than a decade for Reagan to come in and re-open the floodgates of spending. Nevertheless, I'm sure they were quite spooked that the public finally found a way to shut down the war and deny them their booty. So they figured out that - by killing the draft and saddling an all-volunteer military with outrageous burdens, by completely coopting the media, by giving the public tax cuts instead of traditional wartime tax increases, by banning Dover Air Force Base photos of the war dead, and by scaring the living shit out of the Democrats in Congress - they could still have their wars and more or less no one would notice. Which is pretty much how it has gone down. The vast majority of Americans are as insulated from America's wars as they are from the ones in Central Africa. Iraq might as well be Upper Volta for all it impacts the daily lives of most Americans.

As big as the lies were going into the war, so too are the ones coming out the back end. We are going to be told, for the third time now, that the war has been won - and this time it will be a new president spinning that tale. The first time came via the comic-tragic scene of George Bush, rich kid Vietnam War avoider, in full flight gear on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln, informing us that the mission had been accomplished - a sight that virtually defined the meaning of imperial hubris. This was actually less a lie than a miscalculation. The war was, for the Bush team, not even remotely about WMD, US national security, bringing democracy to the Middle East, freeing Iraqis from the jackboot of Saddam's tyranny, bringing stability to the region, fighting terrorism, or any of the other stated purposes for going in. So, in actuality, for them it really was a case of mission accomplished. They had gotten what they actually came for, and were absolutely too infatuated with their own fantasy power to see the boomerang bearing down hard on their Cro Magnon-shaped little regressive heads, like it was one of their beloved heat-seeking missiles. Call this one a hubris-seeking missile.

The second declaration of victory came in 2007 and 2008, when desperate regressives labeled the reduced violence of that time as a victory in the war, based on Bush's surge strategy. To make this leap, they of course neglected to account for every other causal factor that might have had influence on the outcome they noted, including the buying off of local combatants with profligate amounts of American dollars, courtesy of US taxpayers, the unfortunate success by that time of the neighborhood ethnic cleansing projects that had been the source of so much of the fighting, and the exhaustion of Iraqis from the relentless turmoil, which led them to turn against foreign fighters in country.

They also neglect to mention just what they were defining as success in order to make the surge leap as well. Think about it. If you were a leader of the insurgency and you were outgunned by a foe whom you knew would have to be leaving before too long, what would you do? Maybe hunker down a couple of years and wait for a better opportunity, knowing that the Americans were leaving and definitely not coming back? In this sense, I always thought it was as foolish and deceitful to claim victory in 2008 as it had been in 2003. And this is probably precisely what we're witnessing now, as political violence is once again ramping up in Iraq. According to the New York Times story reporting on the thirteen simultaneous strikes in as many Iraqi cities that occurred this week, a prominent insurgent Website posted this warning: "The countdown has begun to return Iraq to the embrace of Islam and its Sunnis, with God's permission". Oh joy. An Iraqi judge and former legislator is quoted in the same article as interpreting the attacks this way: "The message the insurgents want to deliver to the Iraqi people and the politicians is that we exist and we choose the time and place. They are carrying out such attacks when the Americans are still here, so just imagine what they can do after the Americans leave."

Evidently, all those regressives in America who claimed that the surge won the war didn't quite have those powers of imagination.

Moreover, that question of the degree of violence reduced points to another aspect of the great lie regarding the surge. Even if it was the extra troops that did the trick in 2007, rather than all the other factors, just what trick did they do? Reducing the level of sheer cataclysmic chaos and unmitigated violence from that of the all-but-full-blown-civil-war era of 2006 is something, indeed. But it ain't necessarily winning a war. Suppose someone in your family has been getting plastered and wrecking the family car on a weekly basis, but lately dried up enough to bring that rate down to 'merely' once a month instead. Just how good would you be likely to feel about that achievement? Twenty-five percent of Hell is still Hell. It gets worse from there. America was supposed to be bringing democracy to Iraq, which, in turn, would launch a virtuous domino effect in the Middle East. Leave aside what a disingenuous claim that always was. (What happened to Turkey, long an Islamic democracy in the heart of the region? And if democratization really was the true goal, why not - instead of starting wars - lean hard on our major clients there, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, which remain to this day as autocratic as ever?) But forget all that nettlesome logic stuff and just take a look at Iraq in 2010 to see the product of America's handiwork. Three clear and prominent facts about Iraqi national politics fundamentally undermine any neocon con about democratization. First, the country is deeply divided, and it is divided principally on ethnic grounds. When it comes to the nation of Iraq, there is no there there. How, then, can there be a democracy? Second, one of these three ethno-geographic polities has already all but left the building. The Kurds have become independent of Baghdad in everything but name, and they may indeed finish the job and formalize the process once the Americans are out of the picture. And finally, look at the government that exists, such as it is. Months after the last election, there is nothing in Iraq resembling a national government - just an endless series of bickering fights between creepy power junkies like Ahmad Chalabi and folks of that ilk.

Meanwhile, violence escalates, the military and the police are impotent to deal with it when they aren't actually in full-on corrupt collusion with the combatants, and nothing remotely works in the country - not power, not water, not sewage, not security, not infrastructure, not education, not government, not nothing. What a shock it is - no? - that the neighboring people of the Middle East haven't been clamoring for all the joys of freedom and democracy America has brought to Iraq with its invasion. Astonishingly, you don't see people marching in the streets of Cairo, Damascus or even Tehran (where they have in fact been marching for democracy), demanding that their countries become more like Iraq. Golly, could Paul Wolfowitz actually have been - gulp - wrong about his crap shoot with a million (of other people's) lives based on his elaborate but bogus ivory tower theory? Well, at least he had the decency to admit his error, apologize and decline Bush's subsequent offer for a nice plum job, saying, "Look, after Iraq I'm not fit to run anything from here on out, let alone the World Bank". Oh, wait a sec. I must be thinking of a different Paul Wolfowitz. This one actually did follow Robert McNamara into the ignominy of the World Bank presidency, where he stayed until they caught the great exponent of moral virtue with his hands in the cookie jar and finally threw his skanky ass out.

Bush's big adventure was also supposed to enhance American security. Uh, let's do the math here and see... Over 4,000 American soldiers are dead. Tens of thousands of them are gravely wounded. Perhaps hundreds of thousands are suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome effects, after the multiple tours in Hell that the cowards Bush, Cheney, Wolfowitz and the rest deployed them into. We now have a military that even the sell-out king of all time, Colin Powell, described as "broken" from all the stress and depletion. The war cost America a trillion bucks so far. When we get done - literally generations from now - providing expensive care to the wounded, replenishing the war materiel supplies expended, and paying off the debt for all the money borrowed to run this little party, that figure is likely to get closer to two trillion, or more. Iran - infinitely more the real adversary than Saddam ever was - is now vastly more powerful. Who knows how many anti-American Iraqis, crafted in the crucible of the disastrous occupation, seeking violent revenge. America's global reputation in the toilet.

Dang. When you add it all up, that's a pretty expensive little fling, all for the purposes of ameliorating George "Caligula" Bush's personal insecurity and Dick "Satan" Cheney's sociopathic lust for oil and blood. What did we get for our efforts? What's behind Door Number One, Carol Merrill, for which we traded all that money and lives and security and honor and reputation and morale and morality? One dead dictator who had fallen out of favor with us, after previously being our client (back when he actually was using WMD, requiring Republicans to cover for him in Congress and at the UN). That's it, pal. It sure ain't no democracy. It sure ain't no delivery from the peril of weapons that never existed. It sure ain't no improved national security. It sure ain't no peace in the region.

And, of course, the greatest irony is that what Iraq sadly really needs right now, what it will probably get one way or another, and what the US government will no doubt slap some lipstick on and call a democratic beauty, is simply another Saddam. Assuming, that is, that it is even possible to talk meaningfully about Iraq as a country anymore, given the breakaway tendencies of the Kurds and the unwillingness of either the Sunni or Shia to live under the authority of the other. If you can get past that, however - and likely the only way you can get past that - you're probably gonna need a brutal dictator to hold together this multi-ethnic state of bitter rivals, the creation of European imperialists and no more the better for it than is Belgium, which may suffer the same fate very soon now, though probably less violently.

The other thing to remember, of course, is that Obama's 'ending' of the war may prove to be every bit as legitimate and lasting as the last two were. I have often wondered what any president - let alone one so timid and so intimidated by the right as Obama - could get away with politically in presiding over the withdrawal of troops if Iraq was blowing up simultaneously, something I'd judge to be either quite likely to happen, or perhaps already happening as we speak. The right - these children of Joe McCarthy who make the old tail-gunner look tame by comparison - would undoubtedly wrap themselves in military garb and start in with the chorus of "Obama lost Iraq", hammering him for dishonoring and wasting all the lives already sacrificed.

What would happen next could go either way. On the one hand, it feels a lot like 1975, with the public now showing little stomach to remain in an endless overseas war for nothing. On the other hand, from what I can see, there is virtually no perceptible bottom to the pit of Barack Obama's political cowardice. If he caves to the sick right (once again), we may have 'win' the war yet a fourth time before we actually get out of there.

And get out we most certainly must. There is, after all, a real limit to what any nation can expend on exporting its virtues to the rest of the world. Altruism of the magnitude we've shown in the Middle East cannot be unlimited.

Much as we might like to generously continue donating so many more kindnesses to the (remaining, un-dead) people of Iraq, those resources are now needed more than ever here at home.

There are plenty of mosques to be stamped out, plenty of cab drivers to be stabbed, lots of Korans to be burned, and a frightening number of Muslims to be feared and loathed right here in the good ol' US of A.
(c) 2010 David Michael Green is a professor of political science at Hofstra University in New York. He is delighted to receive readers' reactions to his articles, but regrets that time constraints do not always allow him to respond. More of his work can be found at his website,

The Dead Letter Office...

Heil Obama,

Dear Hochkommissar Simpson,

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

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

Along with this award you will be given the the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Golden Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds, presented by our glorious Fuhrer, Herr Obama at a gala celebration at "der Fuhrer Bunker," formally the "White House," on 09-05-2010. We salute you Herr Simpson, Sieg Heil!

Signed by,
Vice Fuhrer Biden

Heil Obama

Anti-Mosque Sentiment Rages Far From Ground Zero
By Glenn Greenwald

One of the most under-reported political stories is the increasingly vehement, nationwide movement -- far from Ground Zero -- to oppose new mosques and Islamic community centers. These ugly campaigns are found across the country, in every region, and extend far beyond the warped extremists who are doing things such as sponsoring "Burn a Quran Day." And now, from CBS News last night, we have this:

Fire at Tenn. Mosque Building Site Ruled Arson

Federal officials are investigating a fire that started overnight at the site of a new Islamic center in a Nashville suburb.

Ben Goodwin of the Rutherford County Sheriff's Department confirmed to CBS Affiliate WTVF that the fire, which burned construction equipment at the future site of the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro, is being ruled as arson. . . .

The chair of the center's planning committee, Essim Fathy, said he drove to the site at around 5:30 a.m. Saturday morning after he was contacted by the sheriff's department.

"Our people and community are so worried of what else can happen," said Fathy. "They are so scared" . . .

Opponents of a new Islamic center say they believe the mosque will be more than a place of prayer; they are afraid the 15-acre site that was once farmland will be turned into a terrorist training ground for Muslim militants bent on overthrowing the U.S. government.

"They are not a religion. They are a political, militaristic group," Bob Shelton, a 76-year-old retiree who lives in the area, told The Associated Press.

Shelton was among several hundred demonstrators who recently wore "Vote for Jesus" T-shirts and carried signs that said "No Sharia law for USA!," referring to the Islamic code of law.

Others took their opposition further, spray painting a sign announcing the "Future site of the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro" and tearing it up.

Earlier this summer opponents criticized the planned mosque at hearings held by the Rutherford County Commission, as supporters held prayer vigils.

At one such prayer vigil, WTVF reported opponents speaking out against construction.

"No mosque in Murfreesboro. I don't want it. I don't want them here," Evy Summers said to WTVF. "Go start their own country overseas somewhere. This is a Christian country. It was based on Christianity."

The arsonists undoubtedly will be happy to tell you how much they hate Terrorism. And how there's a War on Christianity underway in the U.S. The harm from these actions are not merely the physical damage they cause, but the well-grounded fear it imposes on a minority of the American population. If you launch a nationwide, anti-Islamic campaign in Lower Manhattan based on the toxic premise that Muslims generally are responsible for 9/11 -- and spend a decade expanding American wars on one Muslim country after the next -- this is the inevitable, and obviously dangerous, outcome.

* * * * *

Three other items worth noting:

(1) Kudos to The New York Times for publishing this Op-Ed by Palestinian-American journalist Ali Abunimah, with views on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict -- and the role played by the U.S. -- which are typically excluded from the American debate on those issues.

(2) Reflecting the fact that primitive fundamentalism is found in all religions and is by no means unique to Islam, this Jerusalem Post article details how an Israel singer was sentenced by a rabbinical panel to receive 39 lashes for the crime of singing in front of an audience mixed with men and women. That article rather substantially exaggerates the punishment -- the video reflects that the "lashes" were essentially symbolic and undertaken voluntarily, fundamentally distinguishing it from involuntary, genuine punishment for moral "sins" -- but the notion that such an act merits punishment is nonetheless instructive.

(3) This short though important post documents how children are being trained to give up all privacy, and to be good, dutiful Surveillance State citizens, through constant, pervasive surveillance in schools. As I wrote recently here, what is lost from the societal elimination of privacy is difficult to describe but of incomparable value:

Many people are indifferent to the disappearance of privacy -- even with regard to government officials -- because they don't perceive any real value to it. The ways in which the loss of privacy destroys a society are somewhat abstract and difficult to articulate, though very real. A society in which people know they are constantly being monitored is one that breeds conformism and submission, and which squashes innovation, deviation, and real dissent.

The old cliche is often mocked though basically true: there's no reason to worry about surveillance if you have nothing to hide. That mindset creates the incentive to be as compliant and inconspicuous as possible: those who think that way decide it's in their best interests to provide authorities with as little reason as possible to care about them. That's accomplished by never stepping out of line. Those willing to live their lives that way will be indifferent to the loss of privacy because they feel that they lose nothing from it. Above all else, that's what a Surveillance State does: it breeds fear of doing anything out of the ordinary by creating a class of meek citizens who know they are being constantly watched.

Training children from an early age to have no expectation of privacy -- to live on the assumption that their every move and even thought (which is what Internet activity is) will be watched and recorded -- exacerbates these harms quite substantially.
(c) 2010 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.

Bush'd Again?
New Orleans, Mr. O and Mr. Go
By Greg Palast

Five years ago this week, a beast drowned New Orleans. Don't blame Katrina: the lady never, in fact, touched the city. The hurricane swept east of it.

You want to know the name of the S.O.B. who attacked New Orleans? Locals call him "Mr. Go" - the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet (MR-GO). MR-GO was undoubtedly the most bone-headed, deadly insane project ever built by the Army Corps of Engineers. It's a 76-mile long canal, straight as a gun barrel, running right up from the Gulf of Mexico to the heart of New Orleans.

In effect, MR-GO was a welcome mat to the city for Katrina. Experts call it "the Hurricane Highway."

[Note: The Palast Investigative Fund is offering a download free of charge for the half-hour documentary, Big Easy to Big Empty during this week of commemoration.]

Until the Army Corps made this crazy gash in the Mississippi Delta fifty years ago, Mother Nature protected the Crescent City with a green wreath of cypress and mangrove. The environmental slash-job caused the government's own hydrologist to raise alarms from Day One of construction.

Unless MR-GO was fixed or plugged, the Corps was inviting, "the possibility of catastrophic damage to urban areas by a hurricane surge coming up this waterway." (I'm quoting from a report issued 17 years before The Flood.)

A forensic analysis by Dr. John W. Day calculated that if the Corps had left just 6 miles of wetlands in place of the open canal, the surge caused by Katrina's wind would have been reduced by 4.5 feet and a lot of New Orleaneans would be alive today.

The Corps plugging its ears to the warnings was nothing less than "negligence, insouciance, myopia and shortsightedness."

That list of fancy epithets poured from the angry pen of Federal Judge Stanwood Duval who heard the evidence in a suit filed by the surviving residents of the Ninth Ward and St. Bernard's Parish. His Honor ruled that the drowning of the Ninth Ward and St. Bernard Parish was a man-made disaster.

"The Corp's lassitude and failure to fulfill its duties resulted in a catastrophic loss of human life and property in unprecedented proportions."

In November 2009, Judge Duval ordered the federal government to pay to rebuild homes, and compensate families of the dead.

The day Duval issued his verdict, I wrote in my notebook, "Barack Obama has before him a choice to make, one that will reveal the soul of his Presidency more than his choice of troop levels in Afghanistan: whether he will compensate the families who lost all they ever had, or appeal the court's decision, and thereby 'Bush' New Orleans once again."

But President Hope said 'Nope.' As the fifth anniversary of the drowning of the city approached, Obama's Attorney General Eric Holder flat out refused payment and filed a notice of appeal.

It was George W. Bush who gave the middle finger to the victims of the Corps' cruel negligence and fought the claims for compensation. Now, Obama has made Bush's pitiless renunciation of New Orleans his own policy just as Obama turned Bush's war in Afghanistan into his own.

In fact, other presidents have said, we owe, we pay.

In 1974, President Gerald Ford ordered payment to the victims of the collapse of the Army Corps' poorly built Teton Dam, Idaho, saying, "No government has the power to eliminate tragedy from human experience, but government can and government should act quickly to minimize the pain of a great disaster. Today, I am signing a bill which provides legislative authority for the compensation of personal and property damage sustained by the victims of the flood."

Jerry Ford!

Then, in 1994, after sea barriers built by the Army Corps failed in a storm washing away homes in Westhampton Dunes, New York, the Clinton Administration paid to rebuild every one of the $3 million mansions. Not only that: To insure that the hedge-fund sharks and media moguls in this wealthy Hamptons resort wouldn't get their beach blankets wet, the feds paid an extra $25 million for sand to recreate the beachfront.

But the Ninth Ward isn't the Hamptons, is it?

The facts are undeniable; even the government accepts that MR-GO threatened New Orleans. Congress has ordered the Army Corps to dump nearly half a million tons of rock into MR-GO to shut the damn thing.

Still, the Administration drags its feet on payment under the legal theory of "Discretionary Function." In lay terms, that means, "Nyah, nyah, nyah! You can't hold the Army Corps responsible for gross negligence." The Justice Department also argued that the court should not consider the number of people drowned. Ugh.

Judge Duval slapped away the government's cockamamie defense.

So then, Why oh why oh why would Obama, after his grandstanding about BP's responsibility to the people of the Gulf Coast, refuse to compensate some of the same people for the far greater damage caused by the Corps?

Let me tell you: it goes beyond the money. To "make things right" means Obama would have to face down powers fiercer than any Taliban: Big Oil.

The widening of Mr. Go drowned New Orleans; it was not an Act of God. It was an Act of Chevron. An Act of Shell Oil. And, yes, an Act of BP.

The Army Corps admitted that it used its "discretion" to put shipping above safety. The choice was made to help the Gulf oil giants move their crude.

I talked with Jonathan Andry yesterday, the litigator for the Katrina survivors. Obama's decision to appeal the verdict really set him off. "We gave $185 billion to AIG to pay off crooks. I represent people who lost their lives, their family homes, their jobs in one day."

He seemed far more upset than I expected from an experienced litigator. On a hunch, I said, "Did you lose your own home?"

Andry was quieter. "Evacuated in one car with four kids, three cats, one dog and one wife to Faraday." And they never came back. The home on Lake Pontchartrain, in the family for generations, was washed away. Just dirt there now.

Ever the reporter, I asked if he'd taken a photo of it. "Can't look. Too painful."

I think back to the river city where I once worked, where my own kids played and where I fell in love; and then I look at my President cowering behind his "discretionary function," and I too find that what I see is much too painful. ********* Investigator Greg Palast's film, Big Easy to Big Empty: The Untold Story of the Drowning of New Orleans [see trailer] was created for Democracy Now! and LinkTV.
(c) 2010 Greg Palast is author of the New York Times bestseller, "The Best Democracy Money Can Buy." His investigations for BBC TV and Democracy Now! can be seen by subscribing to Palast's reports at. Greg Palast investigated the Exxon Valdez disaster for the Chucagh Native villages of Alaska's Prince William Sound.

The Cartoon Corner...

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

To End On A Happy Note...

Texas Flood
By Stevie Ray Vaughn and Double Trouble

Well there's floodin' down in Texas
All of the telephone lines are down
Well there's floodin' down in Texas
All of the telephone lines are down
Well I've been tryin' to call my baby
Lord and I can't get a single sound

Well dark clouds are rollin' in
Man I'm standin' out in the rain
Well dark clouds are rollin' in
Man I'm standin' out in the rain
The flood water keep a rollin'
Man it's about to drive poor Stevie Ray insane

Well I'm leavin' you baby
Lord and I'm goin' back home to stay
Well I'm leavin' you baby
Lord and I'm goin' back home to stay
Well back home are no floods or tornados
Baby and the sun shines every day
(c) 1983/2010 Stevie Ray Vaughn and Double Trouble

Have You Seen This...

Parting Shots...

Poll: One Out Of Five Americans Do Not Believe Obama Exists
'Existers' Movement Gathers Steam
By Andy Borowitz

WASHINGTON: In what might be the most serious challenge to Barack Obama's legitimacy as President, a new poll shows that one out of five Americans are not convinced that Mr. Obama exists.

The poll, conducted by the University of Minnesota's Opinion Research Institute, reveals that 23 percent of those surveyed "strongly agreed" with the statement, "I believe that Barack Obama's birth was faked, just like the moon landing."

The poll results coincide with the recent rise of the so-called "Exister" movement, a group who believes that Mr. Obama is an optical illusion created by the Democratic Party to raise taxes and bail out banks.

"The Birthers say that Obama's lack of a birth certificate means he was born in Kenya," says Jerrilene Rance, a leading Exister. "We believe it's proof that he was never born."

Ms. Rance says that while President George W. Bush was criticized for disappearing every August, "Obama is never there to begin with."

Appearing Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press," Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) made comments about Mr. Obama's existence that only stoked the controversy.

I've spoken to him face-to-face, and I take him at his word that he exists. Unless of course I was talking to a hologram.

At the White House, spokesman Robert Gibbs brushed aside a question about the President's existence, saying that Mr. Obama had "no comment."

Exister leader Jerrilene Rance offered this response: "The reason he has no comment is that he has no mouth."
(c) 2010 Andy Borowitz

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