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In This Edition

Naomi Klein goes, "In Praise Of A Rocky Transition."

Uri Avnery remembers, "An Unforgettable Moment."

William Pfaff is, "Bracing For A Major Disappointment."

Jim Hightower considers, "The Biggest Bank Robbery Ever."

John Perlin on, "The History Of Solar Energy."

Cara Reynolds says, "Make Your Own Clean Water."

Chris Hedges explores, "America's Wars Of Self-Destruction."

Chris Floyd enters, "The Era Of Magical Thinking."

Stuart Archer Cohen answers the question, "What's Blackwater Doing In Alaska?"

Mike Folkerth finds, "It's All About The Ice Cream."

Stephanie Mencimer explains, "The Summum Of All Fears."

Dr. Robert M. Bowman with an open letter to Obama, "Dear President Obama."

Sin-ator Ted Stevens wins the coveted "Vidkun Quisling Award!"

Glenn Greenwald recalls, "John Brennan And Bush's Interrogation/Detention Policies."

Michael Grabell reports, "Exposed: Federal Air Marshals Too Busy Smuggling Coke And Molesting Kids To Protect You."

And finally in the 'Parting Shots' department 'The Landover Baptist Church' announces, "Teachers Punish Stupidest Students By Making Them Play Injuns In Thanksgiving Pageant" but first Uncle Ernie exclaims, "No Change Because Values Have Changed!"

This week we spotlight the cartoons of Jack Ohman with additional cartoons, photos and videos from Derf City, Rob Rogers, Ted Rall, Republican Elephant.Com, MoBuck.Com, Freaking News.Com, Eric Allie, Summum, Associated Press, Issues & Alibis.Org and Pink & Blue Films.

Plus we have all of your favorite Departments...

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

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

No Change Because Values Have Changed!
By Ernest Stewart

"In the United States, no. These things are not going to happen." ~~~ Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.
(When asked during a Vermont Public Radio interview if Bush administration officials would face war crimes.)

A man may die, nations may rise and fall, but an idea lives on. ~~~ John F. Kennedy

"Over Six Billion Served." ~~~ Issues & Alibis Magazine

I see that the Junta, whether it pardons itself for its thousands of acts of treason, sedition, torture, war crimes and crimes against humanity or not, has nothing to fear from Barry as like impeachment all those crimes are "off the table." Is anybody surprised that the fix is in and the American Sheeple fell for it again?

The most obvious reason for letting the Junta off the hook is that Barry and Joe are as guilty as Bush of being war criminals! As for torture, it's not really torture when we do it, right? Sure Barry said he may close Gitmo and prosecute those wretches in the US but the rest of our concentration camps, prison ships and black op sites will remain open with business as usual. Not much of a change, huh?

In fact, there will be no substantial change at all. Barry, being the neo-con that he is, embraced all of Bush's ideas so we'll be listened to and watched and the noose will continue to tighten until there is a camera on every corner and every conversation is recorded. The wars will continue in Iraq and Afghanistan with the latter getting a surge of its own. Both sides of the Hindu Kush will become embroiled in new attacks until a full-scale invasion of Pakistan brings nuclear weapons into the mix, which will no doubt begin WWIII.

Every new announcement from Barry's transition team has begun to sound like what we've heard from Bush during the last 8 years and most all members of Con-gress are backing this tragedy to the hilt. Voices that just a few weeks ago were calling for heads to roll are suddenly demanding we forget about the last eight years and move ahead and not look backwards! For example, old "Tailgunner Joe" Lieberman not only has escaped being nailed to a tree for his many acts of treason but was overwhelmingly voted to retain his chairmanship of the "Homeland Security" committee! That should erase any thoughts you had about Barry bringing any real change.

Yes, lets all roll over and go back to sleep. Everything is all right; the last eight years were just a bad dream, a nightmare and didn't really happen, America! All those war crimes and crimes against humanity were just figments of your imagination. The economy is great, those homeless people are homeless because they want to be that way and Barry will soon round up those lay-abouts and put them to work in a new Happy Camp for their own protection!

In Other News

There are three things that people my age share. We all remember what we were doing when we heard the news.

The last time was 911, something all of us share. (I was working on the magazine when I heard.)

The time before that was July 20, 1969 when Neal Armstrong tried to say about stepping on the Moon, "That's one small step for (A) man, one giant leap for mankind." (I went over to my dad's house to watch it with him, about 2 am.)

The time before that was November 22, 1963. (I was walking down the hall between classes at O.L. Smith Jr. High when my metal shop teacher Mr. Marx, who was "mui macho" came down the hall crying like a baby.)

It has been 45 years since the JFK sanction. It was my first coup d'etat and although I was 10 days shy of my 15th birthday, I knew there was something wrong. Any doubt that I might have had vanished two days later when as my grand-mother and I watched they killed their patsy, CIA stooge, Lee Harvey Oswald on national television. Knowledge that the official story was BS arrived in 1965 with the publication of the "Warren Report," a CIA fictional piece designed to cover up their involvement as well as the involvement of LBJ and others.

However, it wasn't until 1968 when the Zapruder film surfaced that the plot became obvious. One could see the Federal Marshals being pulled off the limo moments before the attack. One could see that Oswald in the Book Depository Building couldn't have fired the shot that hit Kennedy and the governor. Wrong angle. It came from a building across the street. And finally, one had proof positive that the killing shot came from in front of the limo, from the "grassy knoll" as Kennedy's head shot backwards and his brains spewed out in a V shape on the trunk of the Lincoln. You may recall Jackie picking up some of Jack's brain that lay on the trunk.

Years later out came the photo of Papa Smirk, who ran the CIA operation, standing beside the Book Depository Building just moments after the limo spend off. Meanwhile, down by the bridge stood three CIA agents (the CIA "hobos," E. Howard Hunt, Frank Sturgis and Harrelson) and across the street another agent stood, all who were the back up in case the other hit team failed. It didn't!

You may also recall that E. Howard copped to being a part of it on his death bed! As Papa Smirk once said, "If the American public found out what we Bushes have done, we'd be chased and hung on the streets."

Many have called Barry the new JFK. I wonder why, don't you?

And Finally

How time flies when you're having fun, eh? Actually it seems like centuries ago when I said "enough, is enough" and stopped my life in order to spend most all of my time fighting the Bush regime. As I sat and watched in horror the aftermath of the 2000 election and as it became obvious that the fix was in and another American coup d'etat was about to happen, I decided I would do whatever I could to stop what was about to happen and awaken the Sheeple from their long nights sleep! Some of you may recall that I dropped out of my masters program, just when I was to argue my thesis and became "America's favorite JD turned DJ." I did that because I didn't want to teach poli-sci for $100,000 a year because I can't really think of anything more depressing that poli-sci! So naturally, I've been doing just that for almost 8 years for $0 a year, life can be funny, eh? I had, however, worked for a couple of years while in school for two little newspaper chains, which taught me everything I needed to know about publishing. Although Uncle Sam was picking up the tab for school, books and things I still needed to work for pot and pizza money!

The coup went down on that black day of December 12, 2000 with the announcement that to count all the votes would deprive Smirky of his chance to ruin America. The Bush and Rayguns appointed "justices" declared, in an act of high treason and sedition, that our beloved prairie monkey and drunken, coke head was to be the corpo-rats' puppet. And I invented Issues & Alibis magazine. I wanted to get the truth out because the corpo-rat media wasn't gong to and without a source of the truth we were completely doomed.

Ergo on February 1st 2001, eleven days after Bush over threw the Gore presidency, we published our very first edition. At first we published only twice a month but as we developed sources and connections we were soon publishing every Friday. With this edition we have brought you 400 issues of news, opinion and humor, all without cost to you! Yes, we're all opinionated but we've never told you what to think or how to act. We present you the facts and let you make up your own mind.

Issues & Alibis isn't a Democratic or Republican magazine. From the beginning we have been Independent and have used articles from both the right and the left and everywhere in between. When asked about this I have maintained that if there was such a person as "the devil" and he had something honest and important to say I would gladly publish him, as I have publish the words of some famous neo-cons from time to time. Also, like it says at the bottom of the page, "All views expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily the views of Issues & Alibis.Org." We try to give you differing views from the left so you can make up your own mind.

How many more editions will we publish? That depends upon you, who read and support us. Oh, and also on the sense of humor over at "Homeland Insecurity!"


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

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

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

Ernest & Victoria Stewart


05-13-1927 ~ 11-19-2008
Those who can do, those who cannot critique!


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


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


So how do you like the 2nd coup d'etat so far?
And more importantly, what are you planning on doing about it?

Until the next time, Peace!
(c) 2008 Ernest Stewart a.k.a. Uncle Ernie is an unabashed radical, author, stand-up comic, DJ, actor, political pundit and for the last 7 years managing editor and publisher of Issues & Alibis magazine. In his spare time he is an actor, writer and an associate producer for the new motion picture "W The Movie."

In Praise Of A Rocky Transition
By Naomi Klein

The more details emerge, the clearer it becomes that Washington's handling of the Wall Street bailout is not merely incompetent. It is borderline criminal.

In a moment of high panic in late September, the US Treasury unilaterally pushed through a radical change in how bank mergers are taxed--a change long sought by the industry. Despite the fact that this move will deprive the government of as much as $140 billion in tax revenue, lawmakers found out only after the fact. According to the Washington Post, more than a dozen tax attorneys agree that "Treasury had no authority to issue the [tax change] notice."

Of equally dubious legality are the equity deals Treasury has negotiated with many of the country's banks. According to Congressman Barney Frank, one of the architects of the legislation that enables the deals, "Any use of these funds for any purpose other than lending--for bonuses, for severance pay, for dividends, for acquisitions of other institutions, etc.--is a violation of the act." Yet this is exactly how the funds are being used.

Then there is the nearly $2 trillion the Federal Reserve has handed out in emergency loans. Incredibly, the Fed will not reveal which corporations have received these loans or what it has accepted as collateral. Bloomberg News believes that this secrecy violates the law and has filed a federal suit demanding full disclosure.

Despite all of this potential lawlessness, the Democrats are either openly defending the administration or refusing to intervene. "There is only one president at a time," we hear from Barack Obama. That's true. But every sweetheart deal the lame-duck Bush administration makes threatens to hobble Obama's ability to make good on his promise of change. To cite just one example, that $140 billion in missing tax revenue is almost the same sum as Obama's renewable energy program. Obama owes it to the people who elected him to call this what it is: an attempt to undermine the electoral process by stealth.

Yes, there is only one president at a time, but that president needed the support of powerful Democrats, including Obama, to get the bailout passed. Now that it is clear that the Bush administration is violating the terms to which both parties agreed, the Democrats have not just the right but a grave responsibility to intervene forcefully.

I suspect that the real reason the Democrats are so far failing to act has less to do with presidential protocol than with fear: fear that the stock market, which has the temperament of an overindulged 2-year-old, will throw one of its world-shaking tantrums. Disclosing the truth about who is receiving federal loans, we are told, could cause the cranky market to bet against those banks. Question the legality of equity deals and the same thing will happen. Challenge the $140 billion tax giveaway and mergers could fall through. "None of us wants to be blamed for ruining these mergers and creating a new Great Depression," explained one unnamed Congressional aide.

More than that, the Democrats, including Obama, appear to believe that the need to soothe the market should govern all key economic decisions in the transition period. Which is why, just days after a euphoric victory for "change," the mantra abruptly shifted to "smooth transition" and "continuity."

Take Obama's pick for chief of staff. Despite the Republican braying about his partisanship, Rahm Emanuel, the House Democrat who received the most donations from the financial sector, sends an unmistakably reassuring message to Wall Street. When asked on This Week With George Stephanopoulos whether Obama would be moving quickly to increase taxes on the wealthy, as promised, Emanuel pointedly did not answer the question.

This same market-coddling logic should, we are told, guide Obama's selection of treasury secretary. Fox News's Stuart Varney explained that Larry Summers, who held the post under Clinton, and former Fed chair Paul Volcker would both "give great confidence to the market." We learned from MSNBC's Joe Scarborough that Summers is the man "the Street would like the most."

Let's be clear about why. "The Street" would cheer a Summers appointment for exactly the same reason the rest of us should fear it: because traders will assume that Summers, champion of financial deregulation under Clinton, will offer a transition from Henry Paulson so smooth we will barely know it happened. Someone like FDIC chair Sheila Bair, on the other hand, would spark fear on the Street--for all the right reasons.

One thing we know for certain is that the market will react violently to any signal that there is a new sheriff in town who will impose serious regulation, invest in people and cut off the free money for corporations. In short, the markets can be relied on to vote in precisely the opposite way that Americans have just voted. (A recent USA Today/Gallup poll found that 60 percent of Americans strongly favor "stricter regulations on financial institutions," while just 21 percent support aid to financial companies.)

There is no way to reconcile the public's vote for change with the market's foot-stomping for more of the same. Any and all moves to change course will be met with short-term market shocks. The good news is that once it is clear that the new rules will be applied across the board and with fairness, the market will stabilize and adjust. Furthermore, the timing for this turbulence has never been better. Over the past three months, we've been shocked so frequently that market stability would come as more of a surprise. That gives Obama a window to disregard the calls for a seamless transition and do the hard stuff first. Few will be able to blame him for a crisis that clearly predates him, or fault him for honoring the clearly expressed wishes of the electorate. The longer he waits, however, the more memories fade.

When transferring power from a functional, trustworthy regime, everyone favors a smooth transition. When exiting an era marked by criminality and bankrupt ideology, a little rockiness at the start would be a very good sign.
(c) 2008 Naomi Klein is the author of, "The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism."

An Unforgettable Moment
By Uri Avnery

WHEN I told this to Anwar Sadat, he laughed: "The moment the door of your airplane opened, all Israelis held their breath. I live on a main street in Tel-Aviv, and at that moment I looked out at the street below. It was totally empty. Nothing moved, except one cat which was probably hurrying home to the television."

The day after tomorrow, 31 years will have passed from that moment, one of the greatest in our lives.

THROUGH THE eyes of an Israeli, this is how it looked: Egypt and Israel were in a state of war. In the previous 30 years, four major campaigns had been fought, with thousands of Israelis and tens of thousands of Egyptians killed and maimed. The hatred between the two peoples was deep and bitter. Gamal Abd-al-Nasser, Sadat's predecessor, had been officially designated as "the Egyptian Tyrant," whose effigy Israeli children used to put on bonfires. Radio Cairo's incitement against Israel was vicious. Only four years earlier, the Egyptians had launched a surprise attack against Israel and dealt us a heavy blow.

And here, without any prelude, was the Egyptian president standing up in his Parliament and announcing that he intended to fly to Jerusalem and make peace. Many did not believe their ears. The Israeli Chief of Staff thought it was a trap. No one took it seriously.

And here he was. The unbelievable was happening before our eyes. A date to remember: November 17, 1977. The entire Israeli leadership stood in a row on the tarmac. The Egyptian airplane landed and slowly taxied towards the red carpet. The stairs were attached. For a moment the atmosphere was surreal. And then the door opened, and there stood the Egyptian leader, slim, erect and solemn. Israeli army buglers sounded the salute. An unforgettable moment.

I have looked for a historical parallel and found none. It could even be compared with the first steps of man on the moon.

Anwar Sadat had done something that was without precedent.

THIS WEEK, I remembered this event in a topical context, separate from its political significance.

I was sitting with a group of friends discussing, as usual, the chances of peace. Somebody said that the negotiations would not bear fruit if we could not change the attitude of most Israelis to the Palestinians. Another doubted that this would be possible and added that even a serious crisis would not help - after a crisis everybody returns to their original opinion as if nothing has happened.

I said that most opinions of people are not based on rational thought, but on emotion. If there is a contradiction between the two, then logical thought is subordinated to the existing emotional pattern. Therefore, in order to really change a person's opinion, one has to address his emotions, too.

I needed a real example, and that's where Sadat came in.

Sadat did it. He had addressed the emotions of every Israeli.

This bold deed was the shock to the emotions and consciousness, without which the peace with Egypt would not have been possible. Sadat captured the hearts of a whole people. Emotional attitudes that had been frozen for decades melted like butter in the midday sun, clearing the path for a completely different way of looking at things. People who hated the Egyptians - and, indeed, all Arabs - liked him on sight. From this moment on he could talk to the Israeli public and persuade it - they hung on his lips.

Until that moment, there was a complete consensus in Israel that we must not, under any circumstances, "give up" the Sinai Peninsula. That this would amount to national suicide. That we would lose our essential "strategic depth." Moshe Dayan, then serving as Defense Minister and national idol, declared that he "preferred Sharm-al-Sheikh without peace to peace without Sharm-al-Sheikh." Nobody was ready to give up the Sinai oil fields. The Labor Party ministers had built a large settlement bloc in North Sinai, centered on a new town, Yamit, considered our most beautiful and well-planned. And Sadat himself was known to have collaborated with the Nazis in World War II and to have spent time in prison for that.

Now, practically overnight, all this was wiped out. Who needs Sinai, who needs Sharm-al-Sheikh (and who remembers today that the place was known in Israel at the time as "Ophira"?), who needs the oil, who needs Yamit - when we can have peace instead? All was gone. All was evacuated. Nothing remained but the pictures of Tzachi Hanegbi's ridiculous last stand on a tower and Meir Kahane's unfulfilled promise to die in a bunker.

WITHOUT A DOUBT, Sadat was a genius. He had a specifically Egyptian wisdom, the 6000-year old wisdom of a people who have seen it all and lived through it all. That does not mean that he did not make serious mistakes, that he did not entertain illusions, that he did not say quite foolish things together with very wise things, sometimes in the same breath.

But no one who met him face to face could avoid the feeling that they were in the presence of a historic figure.

How did he arrive at his decision? As he told me (and many others), he had an almost mystic illumination. He was on his way back from a visit to the Romanian ruler. He had posed to his host two questions: Can one believe Menachem Begin? Will Begin be able to carry out his decisions? Nicolae Ceaucescu answered both questions in the affirmative.

Flying over Mount Ararat in Turkey he was struck by the idea: why not go to Jerusalem and speak directly to the Israelis at home?

That is a nice story. But it does not cover all the facts. Sadat was neither na´ve nor a gambler. Before he took his fateful step, he had secret negotiations with Begin. The Egyptian deputy prime minister, Hassan Tohami, was sent to Morocco to meet with Moshe Dayan, Begin's foreign minister at the time. Dayan assured him unequivocally that Begin was prepared to give back all of Sinai, to the last grain of sand.

(When I published this long ago, it was denied by both sides. Recently, however, General Binyamin Gibli, Dayan's confidant, confirmed it on his deathbed.)

In simple words: Before the dramatic gesture, before the start of the official negotiations, Sadat knew that he would get back all the Egyptian territory occupied by Israel. He was walking on solid ground.

THAT IS the reverse side of the coin, the Israeli side. Sadat's initiative would not have succeeded without Menachem Begin.

When I saw the two standing together, it struck me that no two people could be more different.

Sadat was an impulsive person, a man with a wide vision. He was not interested in details. He believed in people. He was a quintessential Egyptian, a village boy with a dark complexion (inherited from his Sudanese mother).

Begin was a quintessential East European Jew. He never quite became an Israeli. He was a lawyer by temperament, a stickler for details, suspicious by nature.

But they shared one crucial trait: they were both very dramatic types. They loved the great gesture and believed in its effectiveness. They were very conscious of being actors on the stage of history. They both had a gift for touching the deepest emotions of people.

Unlike Sadat, Begin had a fixed and rigid ideology. It was expressed by a specific map of the Land of Israel, the one drawn by the British when they received their mandate over the country. It had nothing to do with the map of the Holy Land as depicted in the Bible, but it was adopted by Vladimir Jabotinsky and incorporated in the emblem of the Irgun underground army long before Begin took over its command.

According to this map, the land beyond the Jordan (today's Hashemite Kingdom) belongs to Eretz Israel, too, but Sinai does not. Neither do the Golan Heights. Therefore it was easy for Begin to give back Sinai, and, I believe, it would have been easy for him to give back the Golan, if events had not taken another turn.

But Begin was unable to give back the West Bank. Autonomy to the inhabitants - yes. Fair treatment of the Arabs there - why not? After all, it was Jabotinsky himself who had laid down that if the president of the Jewish state was a Jew, the prime minister should be an Arab - and vice versa. But withdraw from the West Bank? Out of the question!

Sadat was certain that he could get Begin to agree to the establishment of a Palestinian state. Begin did indeed officially recognize the "Palestinian people,"M but added at once that what he meant was the "Arabs of Eretz Israel." The Egyptians later believed that Israel had betrayed their trust. Dayan resigned in protest when he realized that Begin had no intention of implementing the Palestinian aspect of the agreement. But anyone who knew Begin realized that he could not have behaved differently. (I spent some hours in an effort to explain to the Egyptian acting foreign minister, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, an extremely intelligent person, what Begin was, what his map of Eretz Israel signified and what "autonomy" meant in the Likud lexicon.)

The Palestinian issue was the stone of controversy which knocked the Egyptian-Israeli peace off course.

DEFLECTED PERHAPS, but immensely successful nevertheless.

It is enough for an Israeli to imagine what would have happened if Sadat had not undertaken his historic journey. How many wars would have broken out? How many soldiers and civilians on both sides would have been killed or maimed? How many hundreds of billions would we have been compelled to spend on the defense of our Southern border?

One small example should suffice: a few days ago the Egyptian navy held an exercise, the largest in its history. The Hebrew newspapers dismissed it in a few lines. If there had been no peace, all alarms in Israel would have sounded. The Egyptian navy is larger than ours, and in the past has dealt us some very painful blows.

It was said at the time: this is Sadat's peace. It will disappear when he goes. We have given back all of Sinai, and tomorrow a new Egyptian Pharaoh will attack us. Well, Sadat was assassinated, and his successor is keeping the peace.

BUT MUCH more important than even the change on the political map was the change on the psychological one. As Sadat himself used to say, the psychological dimension of the conflict is much more important than all the others put together.

True, Sadat did not succeed in getting the Israeli public to change its attitude towards the Arab world, and towards the Palestinian people in particular. The emotional opposition to that was too strong, and Begin's ideology reduced the momentum before it could reach the Palestinian issue. Also, the Israeli attitude towards the West Bank is unlike the attitude towards the Sinai desert. This part of the conflict is longer and deeper even than the bitter conflict with Egypt.

But Sadat proved one thing, which in my eyes is more important than anything else: one can change the emotional state of an entire people. One can cut the psychological knot with one bold stroke. For that one needs leaders, on both sides. Such leaders can appear quite suddenly, in the most unexpected place and at the most unexpected time. Barak Obama could prove to be a kind of American Sadat.

Personally, my most emotional experience connected with the Sadat visit took place in Cairo. Begin had invited me, as the editor of a news magazine, to take part in the gala state dinner given by Sadat in his palace. During the meal, my former brigade commander introduced me to an Egyptian general who in 1948, as a young captain, had been in command of the position from where I was shot and seriously wounded.

We shook hands.
(c) 2008 Uri Avnery ~~~ Gush Shalom

Bracing For A Major Disappointment
By William Pfaff

BRUSSELS-The Americans who voted for Barack Obama as president were promised change they could count on, but it rather looks as if they may actually be asked to make do with a mildly refurbished Clinton administration, with many of the same officials and nearly all of the same policies. The policies are drawn from the same centrist Democratic Party sources as those of Bill Clinton, and Obama's admirers might even find themselves with Hillary Rodham Clinton as secretary of state-which makes no sense whatsoever.

Are there no significant differences of view on war and peace between the two of them? Why did the American (and international) public have to endure a year and a half of Democratic Party primaries in addition to the national election contest if the Democratic race could have been settled by the flip of a coin between people who believed in the same policies and thought the same thoughts?

Where is the sweeping change Barack Obama was promising the electorate? Looking back, he was rarely specific about the changes he intended to make. He constantly invoked the principle of change, without going much into the messy details, for which-admittedly-he was criticized at the time.

Many who voted for him, as did this writer, relied upon his evident qualities, in comparison with his predecessor and most of his competitors, which were that he clearly was very intelligent, as well as balanced and mature: He was an adult, who spoke to his audiences as fellow adults. This was his great difference from Hillary Clinton. Personally very intelligent, she has spent too long in the shady political precincts of ambition and calculation. She could never have made the speech Obama made on race. (Possibly he will never again be able to make such a speech. He has himself said that we must settle down now to being disappointed by Obama.)

The disappointment problem is international. Because of the enormous expectations Obama's election has aroused abroad, above all among America's European allies, any Obama-Clinton restoration of Clintonism would be met with incomprehension and disappointment. This is not because the Clinton administration was so awful, but because it was so confused in perception and lacking in foreign policy direction that it was easy for George W. Bush to merge it into the Great War on Terror. He had simply to add fear, security hysteria, lies about mass destruction weapons, and torture.

Europeans had never thought of Americans as torturers. When it turned out that the sponsors and defenders of torture occupied the highest offices of government in the United States, with the chief legal enablers of torture in the White House counsel's office itself, and heading no less than the Department of Justice, a chill passed through the Western alliance. It was noted that the chosen euphemism for torture by the president, lawyers and the CIA was "enhanced measures," a direct translation of the term employed by the Gestapo.

I was just in Brussels to speak to the European Ideas Network, sponsored by the Christian Democratic-Center Right-Conservative group, the largest in the European Parliament. The audience seemed taken aback when I answered their question about what will change in European-American relations under Barack Obama by replying, "Probably not much."

The president-elect has said he will stop torture and extra-legal imprisonment, but on fundamental matters of transatlantic relations, he clearly has indicated that he wants an alliance in which the Europeans contribute more. (This will undoubtedly be a welcome change from the Bush effort to split the European Union by encouraging hostility toward the West Europeans by the pro-American former Warsaw Pact governments.)

The U.S. contribution to the Georgia fiasco has undermined its reputation among the East Europeans. In the future, there probably will be more American consultation and good will in transatlantic relations, and perhaps even in dealing with Russia (there certainly is nothing to gain from hostility). However, Barack Obama himself said in his Berlin speech that he expects the Europeans to contribute a lot more to "winning" the war in Afghanistan.

This is not a popular idea; the European governments have been encouraging regional diplomatic solutions for Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran. Most Americans may be surprised to know that there is West European concern (as French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner told a Brookings audience in Washington last week) that the new American administration might try to take all this over for itself, and thereby wreck the progress already made. After all, it was Barack Obama who said that he would himself talk to the Iranians.
(c) 2008 William Pfaff

The Biggest Bank Robbery Ever

Maybe you - like most of the media and most Congress Critters - think that the Bushites' bailout of their pals on Wall Street is limited to the sum that Congress approved: $700 billion.

If only. That's a pretty big wad in itself, but it's only the ante. There's also a secret bailout that Bloomberg News says has now topped $2 trillion! These are emergency rescue loans from U.S taxpayers that the Federal Reserve has quietly committed to America's biggest banks, investment firms, and insurance companies.

Which financial outfits got this money, and how much did each get? That's a secret, say the Bushites and the bankers. Well, what did the beneficiaries put up as collateral to protect taxpayers? None of your business, say the insiders. Excuse me. It's our money that's at risk, not the Fed's money.

Then there's Section 382. This is a tax-code provision passed by Congress 22 years ago that makes it illegal for big bank barons to play a shell game that uses dummy companies to dodge the taxes they owe. Good policy.

However, using today's financial meltdown as an excuse, Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson has unilaterally, autocratically, and illegally repealed Section 382. He didn't even inform Congress, much less consult with lawmakers, about his astonishing usurpation of power.

It seems Hank wanted big banks to be able to use these tax shelter scams as a way of financing their takeovers of smaller bank competitors - so, he simply vetoed the Congressional ban on such scams. This is a glorious taxpaid windfall for the bankers. For example, when Wells Fargo took over Wachovia this year, it got about $25 billion from Paulson's tax dodge. Over all, the giveaway is expected to cost tax payers another $140 billion.

This ever-more-odious bailout has become the biggest bank robbery ever.
(c) 2008 Jim Hightower's latest book, "If The Gods Had Meant Us To Vote They Would Have Given Us Candidates," is available in a fully revised and updated paperback edition.

The History of Solar Energy
By John Perlin


Bare Tank Heater

A cross-section of a hot box. Eighteenth- and nineteenth-century scientists used the hot box to test how much sunheat glass-covered enclosures could trap.

Horace de Saussure, a noted Swiss naturalist, observed in the 1760s, "It is a known fact, and a fact that has probably been known for a long time, that a room, a carriage, or any other place is hotter when the rays of the sun pass through glass. To determine the effectiveness of trapping heat with glass covers, de Saussure built a rectangular box out of half-inch pine, insulated the inside, and had the top covered with glass, and had two smaller boxes placed inside. When exposed to the sun, the bottom box heated to 228 degrees F (109 degrees C) or 16 degrees F (9 degrees C) above the boiling point of water. de Saussure was unsure of how the sun heated the glass boxes. Today we can better explain what happened. Sunshine penetrated the glass covers. The black inner lining absorbed the sunlight and converted it into heat. Though clear glass allows the rays of the sun to easily enter through it, it prevents heat from doing the same. As the glass trapped the solar heat in the box, it heated up. Its inventor realized that someday the hot box might have important practical applications, as "it is quite small, inexpensive and easy to make." Indeed, the hot box has become the prototype for the solar collectors that have provided sun-heated water to millions since 1892.

Early Heating Efforts

Bare Tank Heater

The first solar water heaters were bare metal tanks painted black containing water and tilted to face the sun.

In the nineteenth century, no easy way existed to heat water. People generally used a cook stove for this purpose. Wood had to be chopped or heavy hods of coal lifted, then the fuel had to be kindled and the fire periodically stocked. In cities, the wealthier heated their water with gas manufactured from coal. Still, the fuel didn't burn clean and the heater had to be lit each time someone wanted to heat water. If someone forgot to extinguish the flame, the tank would blow up. To add to the problem of heating water, in many areas, wood or coal or coal-gas cost a lot and many times could not be easily obtained. To circumvent these problems, many handy farmers or prospectors or other outdoors men devised a much safer, easier, and cheaper way to heat water - placing into the sun a metal water tank painted black to absorb as much solar energy as possible. These were the first solar water heaters on record. The downside was that even on clear, hot days it usually took from morning to early afternoon for the water to get hot. And as soon as the sun went down, the tanks rapidly lost their heat because they had no protection from the night air.

1891 - World's First Solar Solution

Climax Solar Water Heater

Advertisement for the Climax Solar-Water Heater, the world's first commercial solar water heater, patented in 1891.

The shortcomings of the bare tank solar water heaters came to the attention of Clarence Kemp, who sold, in Baltimore, Maryland, the latest home heating equipment. In 1891, Kemp patented a way to combine the old practice of exposing metal tanks to the sun with the scientific principle of the hot box, thereby increasing the tanks' capability to collect and retain solar heat. He called his new solar water heater the Climax - the world's first commercial solar water heater. Kemp originally marketed his invention to eastern gentlemen whose wives had gone off with their maids to summer at some resort, leaving their husbands to fend for themselves. The solar water heater, Kemp advertised, would simplify housekeeping duties for this class of men already burdened by their wives and domestic staffs absence and unaccustomed to such work as lighting the gas furnace or stove to heat water.

1896 - Sunshine States Use Advantage

The home of Walter van Rossem, overlooking the Pasadena Rose Bowl. In 1896, the van Rossem home had a Climax Solar Water Heater placed on the roof.

In California and other such temperate states, having greater amounts of sunshine throughout the year and higher fuel costs (than in places like Maryland) made it essential for residents to take their solar assets seriously and not waste them. The Climax sold well in such areas. Sixteen hundred had gone up in homes throughout Southern California by 1900, including the one installed for Walter van Rossem's mother in Pasadena where three years earlier a third of the households in this California city heated their water with the sun.

Early 1900s - New Invention Revolutionizes Business

Pomona Climax heater

This Pomona Valley, California family had switched in 1911 from the Climax tanks in a glass-covered box system to a solar panel for their hot water needs.

Cutaway drawing shows how the Pomona Valley installation worked. The sun-heated water flowing through pipes attached to metal backing inside a glass-covered box. The heated water, lighter than the incoming cold water, naturally and immediately rose through the pipes to an insulated storage tank where the sun-heated water was kept warm for use both day and night. Notice, too, the connection of the furnace to the storage tank, guaranteeing hot water even after several rainy days.

From the turn of the century to 1911, more than a dozen inventors filed patents that improved upon the Climax. But none changed the fact that the heating unit and the storage unit were one and the same and both laid exposed to the weather and the cold night air. Hence, water heated by the sun the night before never stayed hot enough to do the wash the next morning or to heat the bath. In 1909, William J. Bailey patented a solar water heater that revolutionized the business. He separated the solar water heater into two parts: a heating element exposed to the sun and an insulated storage unit tucked away in the house so families could have sun heated water day and night and early the next morning. The heating element consisted of pipes attached to a black-painted metal sheet placed in a glass-covered box. Because the water to be heated passed through narrow pipes rather than sat in a large tank, Bailey reduced the volume of water exposed to the sun at any single moment and therefore, the water heated up faster. Providing hotter water for longer periods put Bailey's solar hot water heater, called the Day and Night, at a great advantage over the competition. Soon the Climax went out of business. From 1909, when Bailey started up his business, through 1918, his company had sold more than 4,000 Day and Night Solar Hot Water Heaters.

1920s to 1940s

Nation's Use of Solar in Flux

Florida Workman installing solar water heater on the roof of the laundry room in a Florida subdivision going up in the 1930s. Like most housing in Florida, every house in this tract used solar energy to heat its water.

Because people had to rely on expensive imported coal or wood for fuel, many found solar a cheaper alternative. The huge discoveries of natural gas in the Los Angeles basin during the 1920s and 1930s killed the local solar water heater industry. Rather than lose money from the energy changes in the Southland, Bailey took the innovations he had made in solar and applied them to develop the thermostatically-controlled gas water. His Day and Night Gas Water Heater made him his second fortune. He also sold the patent rights of the Day and Night Solar Water Heater to a Florida firm. A building boom in Florida during the 1920s had tripled, but just as in California before the great oil strikes, people had to pay a pretty penny to heat water. The high cost of energy combined with the tropical climate and the great growth in housing stock created a big business for those selling solar water heaters. By 1941, more than half the population heated its water with the sun! Declining electric rates after World War II, in tandem with an aggressive campaign by Florida Power and Light to increase electrical consumption by offering electric water heaters at bargain prices, brought Florida's once flourishing solar water heater industry to a screeching halt.

1960s and 70s

Japanese Embrace the Sun

JapanCylindrically shaped metal water tanks, placed in glass-covered boxes, covered the roofs of almost four million Japanese homes by 1969.

Unlike America during the post World War II years, the Japanese lacked cheap and abundant energy to supply hot water on demand. Rice farmers in particular yearned for a hot bath after working long hours in the hot humid patties. But to heat water, they had to burn rice straw, which they could have otherwise used to feed their cattle or fertilize the earth. So when a Japanese company began marketing a simple solar water heater consisting of a basin with its top covered by glass, more than 100,000 were in use by the 1960s. People living in the towns and cities bought either a plastic solar water heater that resembled an inflated air mattress with a clear plastic canopy or a more expensive but longer lasting model that resembled the old Climax Solar Water Heaters - cylindrically shaped metal water tanks placed in a glass-covered box. Close to 4,000,000 of these solar water heaters sat on roof tops by 1969.

The advent of huge oil tankers in the 1960s allowed the Japanese access to new oil fields in the Middle East, supplying them with cheap, abundant fuel. As had happened in California and Florida, the solar water heater industry collapsed. But not for long. The Oil Embargo of 1973 and the subsequent dramatic increase in the price of petroleum revived the local solar water heater industry. Annual sales of greater than 100,000 units continued to hold steady from 1973 until the second oil shock of 1979. Sales then jumped to almost half a million that year and leaped to nearly a million the following year. By this time, the Japanese favored solar water heaters closely resembling the type introduced to California in 1909 by William J. Bailey with the heating and storage units separated. As the price of oil began to stabilize in 1985 and then drop sharply in subsequent years, so did the sales of solar water heaters; still the Japanese purchase around 250,000 each year. Today, more than 10,000,000 Japanese households heat their water with the sun.


Australia Hops Aboard

Solahart, the leading Australian manufacturer of solar water heaters, chose in the 1970s an integral collector-tank configuration for easy installation on pitched roofs commonly found in Australia. The new design also saved money by eliminating extensive piping and the need for a heavy storage tank in the attic.

From the 1950s to the early 1970s, a few thousand Australians relied on the sun to heat their water. The numbers grew phenomenally as a consequence of two huge spikes in oil prices in 1973 and 1979. Interestingly, purchasing of solar water heaters during these heady years varied from state to state. While 40 to 50% of those living in Australia's Northern Territory heated their water with the sun, the percentage dropped to around 15% in Western Australia and sunk to below 5% in the more populated eastern states. The sharp difference had more to do with the cost of electricity than the amount of sun available. People in the Northern Territory and Western Australia bought electricity generated by imported and increasingly costly petroleum while those in the eastern states of New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria had their electricity produced by locally mined and very cheap coal. In the late 1980s, the Australian solar water heater market began to stagnate. Pipelines bringing newly discovered natural gas to previously fuel-short regions such as the Northern Territory and Western Australia has braked any growth in these once fertile markets for solar water heaters. Exports now account for more than 50% of the sales made by Solahart, Australia's leading manufacturer of solar water heaters.

Israel Heats Up

Yissar Levi Yissar, who brought solar water heating to Israel, stands next to his prototype. It closely resembled the type introduced in California in the first decade of the twentieth century with heating and storage separated. The headline in the this 1953 issue of Israel's principle newspaper, Maariv, reads, "Heating Water by the Sun Begins."

Unlike the United States and much of Europe, Israel, like Japan, found itself without sufficient fuel supplies in the early 1950s. The power situation became so bleak in the early days of the Jewish State that the government had to forbid heating water between 10 p.m. and 6 p.m. Despite mandatory domestic rationing of electricity, power shortages worsened, causing pumping stations to fail and threatening factory closures. A special committee impaneled by the government could only suggest the purchase of more centralized generators to overcome the problem. This conclusion raised the ire of Israeli engineer, Levi Yissar, who complained, "How about an already existing energy source which our country has plenty of - the sun. Surely we need to change from electrical energy to solar energy, at least to heat our water." Yissar put his money where his mouth was, becoming Israel's first manufacturer of solar water heaters. By 1967 about one in twenty households heated their water with the sun. But cheap oil coming from Iran in the late 1960s as well from oil fields captured during the Six Day War drastically reduced the price of electricity and the number of people purchasing solar water heaters.

Israel Solar 4a

With the government of Israel mandating the use of the sun for heating water, solar waters have become a common sight on Israeli rooftops.

Israeli success in the Yom Kippur War brought on the infamous oil boycott of 1973. The Israelis responded by mass purchasing of solar water heaters. By 1983, 60% of the population heated their water with the sun. When the price of oil dropped in the mid 1980s, the Israeli government did not want people backsliding in their energy habits as has happened in the rest of the world. It therefore required its inhabitants to heat their water with the sun. Today, more than 90% of Israeli households own solar water heaters.

Pool Owners Get in the Swim

Climax Pool

Two swimmers enjoy pool water heated by the Climax Solar Water Heater.

Solar swimming pool water heaters rank as the most successful yet least heralded commercial solar application. The use of solar energy for pool heating and the equipment and need of pool owners make a perfect match. The storage unit for the solar heated water already exists - the swimming pool. The pump needed to push water through the solar collector also must be bought irrespective of the technology used to heat the water. The pool owner merely has to purchase the solar collectors. Since those using the pool only want the temperature of the pool to reach no greater than 80 or so degrees F (27 degrees C), the solar collector does not require a costly glass cover or expensive metal sheeting and piping. In fact, in the 1970s, American Freeman Ford developed low-cost plastic to act as the solar collector. Exposed to the sun, water would pass through narrow ducts in the plastic and heat up sufficiently to warm the pool. Of course, the outdoor swimming season harmoniously coincides with the maximum output of the solar collectors. Even with other forms of energy selling very cheaply, the pool owner buying a solar unit starts to save money very quickly. In the United States alone, solar swimming pool heaters have produced the energy output equivalent to running ten nuclear power plants.
(c) 2008 John Perlin lives in Santa Barbara, California and is the author of From Space to Earth - The Story of Solar Electricity, and co-author [with Ken Butti] A Golden Thread - 2500 years of Solar Architecture and Technology.

Non-Electric Water Distiller

Make Your Own Clean Water
By Cara Reynolds

Above is a non-electric water distiller that uses almost any heat source to distill pure water anywhere, anytime. Look, I am not saying you need one, just letting people know what one of their water distilling, non-electric options are.

The tap water is heated to boiling point so the impurities are separated from the water, and the water then becomes steam. This is then condensed back into pure liquid form. The impurities remain as residue and are removed leaving 100% pure, pH balanced water. That my friends, is how distilling water is done.

For $369 you can buy the one pictured above at Real Goods Dot Com. According to their site the water distiller is, "...a high output stove top water distiller that operates on a variety of heat sources for daily and emergency use. Distillate capacity, based on a 2,600W electric burner: 3.2 qt. in 1.2 hours; up to 16 gal. per day. Stainless steel with no moving parts or fan; digital timer with alarm, 12_H x 12_ Diameter. 9 lbs. Three-year limited warranty. China/USA".

Distilled water is literally water that has been boiled, evaporated and condensed - leaving all chemicals, toxins and waste behind and creating pure, clean water. Distillation will remove bacteria, viruses, cysts, heavy metals, radionuclides, organics, inorganics, and particulates. However, it does not remove substances that have boiling points at a lower temperature than water. Some of these substances are oils, petroleum, alcohol and similar substances, which in most cases don't mix with water. Also, remember that substances removed from water remain in the boiler, so you'll need to clean it up every once in awhile.

Zack Scott, makes a great video demonstrating how to make a mini solar water distiller.

I wonder if we'll have any hot days left this year to try.

Hmmm...I might think of a way to build a real distiller. I may need to move to a tropical island to turn up the heat. You never know when you may need to distill mucky water in the middle of nowhere. Now at least you have an idea what to do.


(c) 2008 Cara Reynolds

America's Wars Of Self-Destruction
By Chris Hedges

War is a poison. It is a poison that nations and groups must at times ingest to ensure their survival. But, like any poison, it can kill you just as surely as the disease it is meant to eradicate. The poison of war courses unchecked through the body politic of the United States. We believe that because we have the capacity to wage war we have the right to wage war. We embrace the dangerous self-delusion that we are on a providential mission to save the rest of the world from itself, to implant our virtues-which we see as superior to all other virtues-on others, and that we have a right to do this by force. This belief has corrupted Republicans and Democrats alike. And if Barack Obama drinks, as it appears he will, the dark elixir of war and imperial power offered to him by the national security state, he will accelerate the downward spiral of the American empire.

Obama and those around him embrace the folly of the "war on terror." They may want to shift the emphasis of this war to Afghanistan rather than Iraq, but this is a difference in strategy, not policy. By clinging to Iraq and expanding the war in Afghanistan, the poison will continue in deadly doses. These wars of occupation are doomed to failure. We cannot afford them. The rash of home foreclosures, the mounting job losses, the collapse of banks and the financial services industry, the poverty that is ripping apart the working class, our crumbling infrastructure and the killing of hapless Afghans in wedding parties and Iraqis by our iron fragmentation bombs are neatly interwoven. These events form a perfect circle. The costly forms of death we dispense on one side of the globe are hollowing us out from the inside at home.

The "war on terror" is an absurd war against a tactic. It posits the idea of perpetual, or what is now called "generational," war. It has no discernable end. There is no way to define victory. It is, in metaphysical terms, a war against evil, and evil, as any good seminarian can tell you, will always be with us. The most destructive evils, however, are not those that are externalized. The most destructive are those that are internal. These hidden evils, often defined as virtues, are unleashed by our hubris, self-delusion and ignorance. Evil masquerading as good is evil in its deadliest form.

The decline of American empire began long before the current economic meltdown or the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. It began before the first Gulf War or Ronald Reagan. It began when we shifted, in the words of the historian Charles Maier, from an "empire of production" to an "empire of consumption." By the end of the Vietnam War, when the costs of the war ate away at Lyndon Johnson's Great Society and domestic oil production began its steady, inexorable decline, we saw our country transformed from one that primarily produced to one that primarily consumed. We started borrowing to maintain a lifestyle we could no longer afford. We began to use force, especially in the Middle East, to feed our insatiable demand for cheap oil. The years after World War II, when the United States accounted for one-third of world exports and half of the world's manufacturing, gave way to huge trade imbalances, outsourced jobs, rusting hulks of abandoned factories, stagnant wages and personal and public debts that most of us cannot repay.

The bill is now due. America's most dangerous enemies are not Islamic radicals, but those who promote the perverted ideology of national security that, as Andrew Bacevich writes, is "our surrogate religion." If we continue to believe that we can expand our wars and go deeper into debt to maintain an unsustainable level of consumption, we will dynamite the foundations of our society.

"The Big Lies are not the pledge of tax cuts, universal health care, family values restored, or a world rendered peaceful through forceful demonstrations of American leadership," Bacevich writes in "The Limits of Power." "The Big Lies are the truths that remain unspoken: that freedom has an underside; that nations, like households, must ultimately live within their means; that history's purpose, the subject of so many confident pronouncements, remains inscrutable. Above all, there is this: Power is finite. Politicians pass over matters such as these in silence. As a consequence, the absence of self-awareness that forms such an enduring element of the American character persists."

Those clustered around Barack Obama, from Madeline Albright to Hillary Clinton to Dennis Ross to Colin Powell, have no interest in dismantling the structure of the imperial presidency or the vast national security state. They will keep these institutions intact and seek to increase their power. We have a childish belief that Obama will magically save us from economic free fall, restore our profligate levels of consumption and resurrect our imperial power. This na´ve belief is part of our disconnection with reality. The problems we face are structural. The old America is not coming back.

The corporate forces that control the state will never permit real reform. This is the Faustian bargain made between these corporate forces and the Republican and Democratic parties. We will never, under the current system, achieve energy independence. Energy independence would devastate the profits of the oil and gas industry. It would wipe out tens of billions of dollars in weapons contracts, spoil the financial health of a host of private contractors from Halliburton to Blackwater and render obsolete the existence of U.S. Central Command.

There are groups and people who seek to do us harm. The attacks of Sept. 11 will not be the last acts of terrorism on American soil. But the only way to defeat terrorism is to isolate terrorists within their own societies, to mount cultural and propaganda wars, to discredit their ideas, to seek concurrence even with those defined as our enemies. Force, while a part of this battle, is rarely necessary. The 2001 attacks that roused our fury and unleashed the "war on terror" also unleashed a worldwide revulsion against al-Qaida and Islamic terrorism, including throughout the Muslim world, where I was working as a reporter at the time. If we had had the courage to be vulnerable, to build on this empathy rather than drop explosive ordinance all over the Middle East, we would be far safer and more secure today. If we had reached out for allies and partners instead of arrogantly assuming that American military power would restore our sense of invulnerability and mitigate our collective humiliation, we would have done much to defeat al-Qaida. But we did not. We demanded that all kneel before us. And in our ruthless and indiscriminate use of violence and illegal wars of occupation, we resurrected the very forces that we could, under astute leadership, have marginalized. We forgot that fighting terrorism is a war of shadows, an intelligence war, not a conventional war. We forgot that, as strong as we may be militarily, no nation, including us, can survive isolated and alone.

The American empire, along with our wanton self-indulgence and gluttonous consumption, has come to an end. We are undergoing a period of profound economic, political and military decline. We can continue to dance to the tunes of self-delusion, circling the fire as we chant ridiculous mantras about our greatness, virtue and power, or we can face the painful reality that has engulfed us. We cannot reverse this decline. It will happen no matter what we do. But we can, if we break free from our self-delusion, dismantle our crumbling empire and the national security state with a minimum of damage to ourselves and others. If we refuse to accept our limitations, if we do not face the changes forced upon us by a bankrupt elite that has grossly mismanaged our economy, our military and our government, we will barrel forward toward internal and external collapse. Our self-delusion constitutes our greatest danger. We will either confront reality or plunge headlong into the minefields that lie before us.
(c) 2008 Chris Hedges, the former Middle East bureau chief for The New York Times, spent seven years in the Middle East. He was part of the paper's team of reporters who won the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for coverage of global terrorism. He is the author of War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning. His latest book is American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America.

The Era Of Magical Thinking
SOFA Smokescreens and Presidential Power
By Chris Floyd

The American media is by and large swallowing the propaganda line that the Iraqi cabinet's acquiescence to a "Status of Forces Agreement" (SOFA) with the U.S. occupation force means that the Iraq War will be over in 2011. This will further cement the conventional wisdom that the suppurating war crime in Iraq is now behind us, and the topic will be moved even further off the radar of public scrutiny. But as usual, there is a wide, yawning abyss between the packaged, freeze-dried pabulum for public consumption and the gritty, blood-flecked truth on the ground. As Jason Ditz reports at Antiwar.com, the so-called "deadline" in 2011 for the withdrawal of all U.S. forces remains, as ever, an "aspiration," not an iron-clad guarantee. The pace and size of the bruited "withdrawal" will remain, as ever, "conditions-based," say Pentagon and White House officials -- a position long echoed by the "anti-war" president-elect. And as we all know, "conditions" in a war zone are always subject to radical, unexpected change.

Ditz also hones in on a very important -- and almost entirely overlooked -- point: the ballyhooed "agreement" (which has yet to pass the Iraqi parliament, of course) "just covers the rules of US troops operating in Iraq from 2009-2011, and... nothing would prevent a future deal keeping the troops there past the scope of the SOFA." American negotiators had originally insisted on stating this point explicitly in the text of the agreement, but finally removed it to allow their oft-disgruntled puppet, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, to claim, falsely, that the SOFA will at last rid the country of the widely-loathed American presence.

It will not. If, by the end of 2011, America's bipartisan foreign policy elite -- and the profiteers of the vast, interlocking corporate conglomerate that fuels the War Machine -- decide that it is in "the national interest" (i.e., their interests) for the occupation to go on, it will go on. If they feel they have squeezed Iraq dry enough, then they may well move on to greener pastures -- in a newly "surging" Afghanistan, no doubt, and perhaps even Pakistan. But that decision will not be in the hands of the Iraqis.


Of course, going this far into the weeds on the details of the "agreement" ignores the fact that the entire process is actually a brutal sham. Disregarding for a moment the murderous nature of the Hitlerian war crime perpetrated on Iraq by the American government -- which removes the situation from any kind of "normal" considerations of diplomacy -- what we have here are negotiations dealing directly with the very essence of a nation's sovereignty, and America's continuing, intimate -- and armed -- involvement in that nation's life. It is absurd in the extreme to pretend that this is not a treaty-level matter, requiring full debate and a vote in the Senate, but simply a side issue to be left up to the President's discretion.

Yet that is the case. Bush makes the deal alone -- after all, as Obama continually reminds us, "we only have one president," and even if he is a twerpish, murdering, nation-gutting son of a bitch, we should all defer respectfully to his judgment. All Obama asks is that any agreement to extend the war crime in Iraq will provide "sufficient protections for our men and women in uniform." As for "sufficient protections" for the Iraqi men and women -- and children -- out of uniform, who have been killed and displaced by the millions, our singular president and his successor have little to say. As always, they play no part in these high affairs of state. And neither, apparently, do the American people, or their elected representatives.

But all of this is entirely in keeping with our cowed and craven post-Republic era, where in the end, all must yield to the prerogatives of the "commander-in-chief." The constant use of this title as a synonym for "the president" is yet another mark of our democratic degradation. For of course the president is only the commander-in-chief of the armed forces in wartime -- not the military commander of the entire country. It has been astonishing to see the erasure of this distinction not only in the popular mind but also among our powerful elites. It is one of the clearest expressions of the true state of the Union: a nation that has willingly submitted itself to rule by a military junta, surrendering, without a shot, the liberties it once claimed as its very raison d'etre.

So now we lurch from election to election, hoping that this time we will get a "good" commander, a benevolent tyrant. Witness the plethora of recent articles in our most august journals, wondering anxiously what Obama will do about the concentration camp in Guantanamo, and issue of "preventive" indefinite detention, and the torture techniques instituted by Bush, and the secret, warrantless wiretapping of the American people, and the "signing statements" that ignore the Constitutional authority of the elected legislature and impose the arbitrary will of the president, and all the other authoritarian powers now claimed by the Unitary Executive.

The unspoken assumption behind all the stories is that it is up to Obama, alone, to decide these issues. It is he who will now decide how we define torture. He will now decide what's to become of the captives in Gitmo and the other gulag hidey-holes around the world. He will decide whether or not to "re-visit" the spying powers that he voted to give the Executive just a few months ago. And so on down the line. All of the extraordinary hopes now invested in Obama boil down to this: the powerless wish that he will be a "good" king, well-intentioned and masterful, and not a cruel and bumbling ruler like the last "commander."

Magical thinking. Cringing and fawning. Looking to the Leader to make everything right. This is the state of American "democracy" today -- even after the historic "transformation" of Election 2008.

UPDATE: But as Chris Hedges points out (see above), even these pitiful, serf-like hopes are likely to be dashed, due in large part to the fatal flaw in the well-intentioned and masterful young commander in waiting: his embrace of the imperial system and its most malignant growth, the "War on Terror." Hedges:

Obama and those around him embrace the folly of the "war on terror." They may want to shift the emphasis of this war to Afghanistan rather than Iraq, but this is a difference in strategy, not policy. By clinging to Iraq and expanding the war in Afghanistan, the poison will continue in deadly doses. These wars of occupation are doomed to failure. We cannot afford them. The rash of home foreclosures, the mounting job losses, the collapse of banks and the financial services industry, the poverty that is ripping apart the working class, our crumbling infrastructure and the killing of hapless Afghans in wedding parties and Iraqis by our iron fragmentation bombs are neatly interwoven. These events form a perfect circle. The costly forms of death we dispense on one side of the globe are hollowing us out from the inside at home....

Those clustered around Barack Obama, from Madeline Albright to Hillary Clinton to Dennis Ross to Colin Powell, have no interest in dismantling the structure of the imperial presidency or the vast national security state. They will keep these institutions intact and seek to increase their power. We have a childish belief that Obama will magically save us from economic free fall, restore our profligate levels of consumption and resurrect our imperial power. This na´ve belief is part of our disconnection with reality. The problems we face are structural. The old America is not coming back.
(c) 2008 Chris Floyd

What's Blackwater Doing In Alaska?
By Stuart Archer Cohen

It was with great surprise that I woke up a few months ago and discovered that security units associated with Blackwater International are stationed here in my hometown of Juneau, Alaska. It's not like we're a terrorist hot-spot; it's been ages since the mayor felt compelled to go blasting down Front Street in an up-armored humvee. We 30,000 souls are surrounded by vast ice fields on one side and the cold North Pacific on the other, unconnected to any road system. In fact, the Department of Homeland Security rated Juneau dead last for risk of terrorism among 132 urban areas. Yet the presence of Blackwater in Juneau says a lot about America today and, if we're not vigilant and active, a very dark America of tomorrow.

Most readers know Blackwater as the go-to guys for mercenary firepower. Their business model is to recruit elite soldiers trained by the US military and rent them back to Uncle Sam at a premium. But Blackwater is a diverse company, and their aspirations go far beyond the present wars. They provide corporate security and training for law-enforcement officers. They hire mercenaries and trainers out to foreign governments such as Azerbaijan and Japan, and to corporations of their choosing. While the US Marines used to guard our embassies around the world, Blackwater guards are now manning many of those posts. Recently, Blackwater has recruited highly placed ex-government officials, such as former CIA Director of Counterterrorism Cofer Black, to head up a private intelligence agency. Blackwater, like others of its ilk, is penetrating every aspect of our military and intelligence services.

So, what's this global operation doing in tiny Juneau, Alaska?

Blackwater is here to guard a radar station for tests of the National Missile Defense system now officially deployed and operational here in Alaska. Don't let the words "deployed" and "operational" mislead you: the system can't really shoot down hostile missiles. It can barely shoot down a single test missile when provided with its exact take-off time and trajectory, let alone detect and destroy a surprise attack by multiple missiles. Unbiased experts, including the Union of Concerned Scientists, assert that because the system can be so easily and cheaply defeated by countermeasures such as decoys, or overwhelmed by the complexity of a real attack, that it will never be a practical defense. Nevertheless, our government continues to divert billions of dollars into the pockets of defense contractors on this wildly expensive high-tech version of France's Maginot Line, so gleefully outflanked by the Germans in 1940. This is more than just a constellation of pork barrel projects and misguided priorities. It's theft on a massive scale!

However, that sort of corruption has been around for a long time, and this is the Bush era, where a trip to the public piggy bank isn't considered complete unless you take plenty of friends with you. The Blackwater guards here are nominally employed by Chenega, an Alaska Native corporation associated with the Alaskan coastal village of Chenega Bay, population 86. Alaska Senator Ted Stevens, architect of the "Bridge to Nowhere" and now convicted of bribery, is one of the principal proponents of the anti-missile system and was also instrumental in writing laws which help secure government contracts for Alaska Native Corporations. Senator Stevens didn't invent these affirmative-action type laws: I remember my father grumbling about them in his plumbing business back in the Sixties. In this case, though, they've been refined and corporatized: Chenega gets contracts through the Small Business Administration, rakes off a percentage, then lets giant Blackwater provide the actual services. Since 2000 Chenega has received over $1.1 billion in sole-source or non-compete bids from the Army, Air Force and Department of Homeland Security.

The Bush Administration has turned over an unprecedented amount of government functions to its cronies in private industry, always at a big premium to the taxpayers. More deeply disturbing, though, they have surrendered elements of the military and intelligence services that for two hundred years have been considered the sole prerogative of the People's government. Where once we had soldiers and spies loyal only to our government, we now have mercenaries and corporate spooks loyal to . . . well, I'm not really sure. Their CEO? Whatever political party gives them the fattest contracts? Soldiers and policemen follow orders, and when things get shaky, the question of who is giving the orders can take on a whole new importance. It took a while for this new face of corporate government to get all the way to my home town, but it finally has. It's here, it's armed and it's wearing a Blackwater uniform.
(c) 2008 Stuart Archer Cohen

It's All About The Ice Cream
By Mike Folkerth

Good Morning Middle America, your King of Simple News is on the air.

I was just reading that President-elect Obama has determined that if more people had jobs, unemployment would be lower. This guy knows more about economics than I gave him credit for.

The job loses for last week were 516,000 and no you didn't read that wrong. The predictions from nearly all sources are that job losses will continue well into next year after which time they will level off.

How do they know that unemployment will level off? At the rate we are going, only government employees will remain working and there won't be anyone else to lay off. Most government jobs are considered to be in the asbestos sector; fire proof.

I'm holding to my long term prediction that we will see a New, New Deal unveiled in the not so distant future. But where will the money come from to support such a program?

This isn't 1929, the physical system was raring to go in "29_ and now it simply isn't. The resource cupboard is practically bare and the population is not nearly as prepared for hard times. Not to mention that this time around America is the largest DEBTOR nation on earth.

Alert reader Bill Arett, made the statement that many jobs merely represent indirect taxation due to their non-productive nature. The notorious Wall Street Gang, banking CEOs, top-heavy corporate management, massive government "make work" jobs, and the list is endless of those who take a lot and produce very little that is truly beneficial to society.

The producers of real goods and valuable services in America pay for the follies of our artificial hierarchy of needs and the false economy that has been built around the mantra of "growth is good." If growth is good, then more growth is even better, seems to go the tune; up to now that is.

So how has America reached this point of no return, the time when growth is no longer possible? We elect the person that promises the most and demands the least from us. Here is an excellent example, author unknown:

The most eye-opening civics lesson I ever had was while teaching third grade. The presidential election was heating up and some of the children showed an interest. I decided we would have an election for a class president.

We would choose our nominees. They would make a campaign speech and the class would vote.

To simplify the process, candidates were nominated by other class members. We discussed what kinds of characteristics these students should have. We got many nominations and from those, Jamie and Olivia were picked to run for the top spot.

The class had done a great job in their selections. Both candidates were good kids. I thought Jamie might have an advantage because he got lots of parental support. I had never seen Olivia's mother.

The day arrived when they were to make their speeches. Jamie went first. He had specific ideas about how to make our class a better place. He ended by promising to do his very best. Everyone applauded. He sat down and Olivia came to the podium.

Her speech was concise. She said, "If you will vote for me, I will give you ice cream." She sat down. The class went wild. "Yes! Yes! We want ice cream."

She surely would say more? She did not have to. A discussion followed. How did she plan to pay for the ice cream? She wasn't sure. Would her parents buy it or would the class pay for it. She didn't know. The class really didn't care. All they were thinking about was ice cream. Jamie was forgotten. Olivia won by a land slide. End of example.

And that my friends is how we elect politicians in the United States and how we have arrived at the point of diminishing returns. It's all about the ice cream.
(c) 2008 Mike Folkerth is not your run-of-the-mill author of economics. Nor does he write in boring lecture style. Not even close. The former real estate broker, developer, private real estate fund manager, auctioneer, Alaskan bush pilot, restaurateur, U.S. Navy veteran, heavy equipment operator, taxi cab driver, fishing guide, horse packer...(I won't go on, it's embarrassing) writes from experience and plain common sense. He is the author of "The Biggest Lie Ever Believed."

The Quotable Quote...

"If a nation values anything more than freedom, it will lose its freedom; and the irony of it is that if it is comfort or money that it values more, it will lose that too."
~~~ Somerset Maugham

The Summum Of All Fears
Can a fringe religious sect that believes in mummifying pets and their owners force a landmark Supreme Court decision on free speech?"
By Stephanie Mencimer

Reverend Fred Phelps, the infamous head of the Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas, runs a website called www.godhatesfags.com and wants to erect a monument in Casper, Wyoming's Historical Monument Plaza depicting Matthew Shepard, the gay University of Wyoming student who was murdered in 1998. The caption would read, "Matthew Shepard entered Hell October 12, 1998, in defiance of God's warning 'thou shalt not lie with mankind as with womankind; it is abomination.'"

The city of Casper has declined to host Phelps' monument. But whether the city can keep it out hinges on how the US Supreme Court decides a major free speech case involving a fringe religious sect that specializes in mummification of its adherents and, occasionally, their pets. If the court comes to the rescue of the religious group, whose cause civil libertarians would normally support, cities and towns across the country might have no choice but to showcase all manner of bizarre or hateful monuments, like the one proposed by Phelps.

On Wednesday, the court heard oral arguments in Pleasant Grove City v. Summum, a case that is essentially forcing the justices to decide which is worse: letting the likes of Phelps fill public plazas with a parade of horrors, or allowing governments like Pleasant Grove to discriminate against religious minorities when it comes to adorning public space. The case got its start in Utah, a perennial hotbed of church/state separation litigation, and centers on a Ten Commandments monument in Pleasant Grove's Pioneer Park. The monument is one of many erected around the country by the Fraternal Order of Eagles in the 1960s and '70s with backing from Cecile B. DeMille, who was promoting his Charlton Heston movie. The monuments have generated a host of litigation in the past few years, and at least one previous Supreme Court decision.

Summum is a small religious sect founded in 1975 by the late Summum Bonum Amon Ra (who also went by Corky). The group operates out of a pyramid in Salt Lake City and is most famous for carrying on the Egyptian tradition of mummification, a practice that is also the sect's primary source of income. Over the past 15 years, the group has become a thorn in the side of Mormon Utah towns that have public displays of the Ten Commandments. Summum first sued several towns to have the monuments removed in the mid-1990s. When those efforts failed, the group sought to erect monuments of its own, displaying its "Seven Aphorisms." Summum believe that God gave Moses the Aphorisms before he handed down the Ten Commandments, but that Moses destroyed the original tablets because the people weren't ready for the received wisdom. The Aphorisms, in the shortened version, are "Psychokinesis, Correspondence, Vibration, Opposition, Rhythm, Cause and Effect, and Gender."

As you might expect, the Utah towns, including Pleasant Grove, all said no to the Aphorism monuments. In response, Summum sued them for violating the Establishment Clause, the constitutional wall between church and state that bars the government from favoring one religion over another. These would normally be slam-dunk cases because the towns so clearly discriminated against the sect. (In Pleasant Grove's case, the town elders made up new rules for monuments after Summum's request that conveniently excluded the Aphorisms.) This being Utah, where other nontraditional religious theories are mainstream, the case is anything but simple.

In 1973, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers Utah, ruled in Anderson v. Salt Lake City that the Ten Commandments aren't a religious symbol at all but are principally secular in nature, so governments can display them at will without any fear of violating the Establishment Clause. The case was one of the first to challenge a religious display and has remained the law of the Land of Zion ever since, even though the Supreme Court has found otherwise since then. That's why Summum's original attempts to eradicate these monuments initially failed.

Stymied, the Summum changed tactics. To get around the 10th Circuit's finding, the group argued that favoring one faith over another in public monument selection constitutes not religious discrimination under the Establishment Clause but "viewpoint discrimination," a free speech violation. That decision proved pivotal, and timely, as it was the same argument that many Christian-right groups were using to score big victories in the Supreme Court to win permission for religious groups to use public school facilities, among other things. Under its free speech argument, Summum won a trio of lawsuits, though still failed to get the Aphorisms installed. The cities of Ogden and Salt Lake chose to remove the Ten Commandments rather than install the Aphorisms. In 2003, the city of Duchesne took the extraordinary measure of privatizing a 10-by-10-foot square around its Ten Commandments monument to prevent a Summum installation.

In 2003, the group sued Pleasant Grove for violating its free speech rights. Again, the case went to federal court. But this time, the court ruled against Summum. The group appealed to the 10th Circuit, where a three-judge panel ordered Pleasant Grove to let Summum install their monument. Pleasant Grove asked for a rehearing on the case by the full circuit, which was denied. But the conflicting opinions of the judges on the rehearing issue, particularly that of Judge Michael McConnell, who is regarded as one of the country's leading experts on religion and the law, practically begged the Supreme Court to take up the case. (The decision also emboldened Reverend Phelps to make his request for the Matthew Shepard monument.) The case attracted the attention of the religious right and its leading public interest law firm, the American Center for Law & Justice, which had pioneered the use of free speech arguments to expand religion into the public sphere. But in this case it took the exact opposite position, coming out against the sect. With help from the well-known ACLJ lawyer Jay Sekulow, Pleasant Grove appealed, and Wednesday, Sekulow argued the case before the Supreme Court.

Sekulow's position in the case conflicts with his earlier arguments against religious discrimination. Based on his litigation record, you'd think he'd support more religion in public space, not less. But Sekulow and his supporters don't want just any religion in public space-just their own. They want the government to be able to discriminate among religious faiths. Christian-right groups also fear that if Pleasant Grove loses this case, Ten Commandment monuments nationwide will be threatened, and ultimately removed, as they were in Ogden and Salt Lake. Hence the brief in Summum filed by Roy Moore, the former Alabama Supreme Court chief justice who lost his job after he ignored a federal court order to remove an enormous Decalogue from his courthouse. Now head of the Foundation for Moral Law, Moore issued a statement on the Summum case saying, "Neither the U.S. Constitution nor the radical opinions of federal courts give judges a right to act as park managers to install the beliefs of a new age religion foreign to our culture and heritage."

You'd think that in a case like this, civil liberties groups would be eager to defend Summum's free speech rights from the right wingers in the high court. Instead, the case has totally befuddled the usual defenders of religious minorities. Sadly for Summum, most of those groups are sitting this one out. Americans United for Separation of Church and State and other civil liberties groups filed amicus briefs, but supporting neither side. They simply argued that the case should not be decided on free speech grounds at all and suggested that the court instead correct the 10th Circuit's screwy 1970s-era decision on the Establishment Clause that said the Ten Commandments weren't a religious icon. The ACLU chose to abstain from the case altogether. Summum's supporters are few and far between. The reason, of course, is Fred Phelps. A win for Summum would bar governments from discriminating in its choice of monuments in places like the National Mall, and essentially force federal and state authorities to either let everyone in or get rid of the monuments altogether.

As much as the ACLU and Americans United oppose the government's discrimination against a religious minority, in this case, there is simply no good outcome for them. "You're dammed if you do, you're dammed if you don't," says Ayesha Khan, the lawyer for Americans United.

The only hope for Summum is Chief Justice John Roberts' prediction in oral arguments on Wednesday: They'll be back. The current case only involves the First Amendment free speech rights. Summum never asked the court to consider whether Pleasant Grove had violated the Establishment Clause by turning down its Seven Aphorisms, which it appears the city clearly did. Roberts noted that the court could expect to see Summum before the court in about five years after it litigates the other issue. After all, Roberts asked, "What is the government doing supporting the Ten Commandments?"
(c) 2008 Stephanie Mencimer is a reporter in Mother Jones' Washington, DC, bureau and the author of Blocking the Courthouse Door: How the Republican Party and Its Corporate Allies Are Taking Away Your Right to Sue (Free Press, 2006).

Dear President Obama
Here is the Change We Need ... and You can Make. YES, YOU CAN!
(An open letter to our new President outlining the real changes this country needs.)
By Lt. Col. Robert M. Bowman, Ph.D

First, we would like to congratulate you on your historic victory. You face incredible challenges. At the same time, you have the unprecedented opportunity to bring about changes we have needed for a long time. We know there are those who will advise you to go slowly and govern "from the center." On the other hand, most real change in any administration gets done in the first 100 days - the "honeymoon" period. Seldom has a new President had the mandate for change that you have been given. And never in our history have we needed real change like we need it now. So please act resolutely, boldly, and quickly to bring about the changes you know this country is yearning for.

You are absolutely correct that the first order of business is the financial crisis facing all of us. You are also correct in seeing that throwing money at the top in hopes of it "trickling down" is not the solution - never was and never will be. Recovery will come from providing security and prosperity to working Americans, who will then feel free to spend, fueling the economy from the bottom up. We are with you 100% on that.

You have also correctly pointed out that one-time bailout checks are not the answer. Financial security and prosperity only come from regular paychecks you can count on and freedom from the fear of catastrophic medical expenses. The major causes of personal bankruptcy and foreclosure are medical expenses and job loss. The fear of these two are therefore the reason for loss of consumer confidence. Therefore the way to instill confidence and resurrect the economy is to alleviate these two fears.


We applaud your emphasis on providing jobs by repairing our nation's crumbling infrastructure and building a new green energy system. A vibrant economy comes from full employment and decent paychecks. The goal must be a nation in which every family can be supported by one wage earner, with one job paying a living wage. Of course this cannot be achieved overnight. But it can and must be brought about quickly. Productivity in this country has doubled over and over again since the 1950s. Yet wages are a fraction of what they were then! In real terms, family income is about where it was in the 1950s, but the number of hours worked per family has tripled! This means that real wages per hour worked are roughly a third of what they were in the 1950s. If workers today got the same portion of the wealth they create with their labor as we did who entered the work force in the 1950s, they could support their families with one job ... working two days a week! Instead, that wealth has been pumped to the top - to executives and investors. While the ratio between CEO pay and worker pay used to be 20 to 1, it is now over 600 to 1. Talk about redistribution of wealth! You have been criticized for wanting to "spread the wealth." But you're right! We need to undo some of the enormous concentration of wealth that has made the gap between rich and poor bigger than it has ever been since the robber barons of the 19th century. We MUST tax the profits of the corporations and wealthy enough to provide paychecks to working Americans through an FDR-style jobs program ... and we must do it quickly. The irony is that by stimulating the economy from the bottom up, the end result will be more profits and prosperity for the wealthy. If they can't understand that, you must proceed without them. We the people are behind you all the way.


Here again, you are absolutely correct in insisting on the need for universal health care. Those with no insurance or inadequate insurance tend to put off seeing a doctor with medical problems when they could be nipped in the bud. Instead they wind up in the emergency room with an illness out of control. Emergency room care is the most expensive kind of care, and the added burden of those costs falls on the rest of us. As you have pointed out, the total cost of medical care will be reduced substantially if everyone has access to affordable care, including preventive care.

Like you, Bill and Hillary Clinton recognized this in 1992 and had a mandate to fix the system. That they failed, I feel, is because they were pushed into including the insurance companies in the mix, and wound up with a complex nightmare of a system that was mercifully voted down. As a conservative, I believe that the only fiscally-responsible way to provide health care is to eliminate the profit, overhead, red tape, and interference between doctor and patient of the insurance companies by kicking them out of health care altogether with a single-payer national health system. Now, we know you couldn't say that during the campaign. (Only my old friend Dennis Kucinich had the chutzpah to openly challenge the insurance companies.) But the campaign is over, and you won. Most of your supporters are in favor of a single-payer system. It is not just an idea from the left wing of the Democratic Party. My organization (The Patriots) of 23,000 includes both conservatives and liberals of all political parties, and a great many independents. And we are nearly unanimous in favor of single payer. It can be achieved by a gradual expansion of Medicare to include all ages and all types of care. The first step is to include pre-natal care and infants up to age five. Then include all those over 55. Include prescription drugs, scrapping the crazy Part D (for Disaster), and negotiating for lower prices. Greatly reduce the 20% copay. Gradually include everyone, and expand it to include dental care, eye care, and long-term care. Sooner or later, we MUST join the rest of the civilized world and make health care a right. This would not only free working Americans from the fear of catastrophic medical costs, it would eliminate the health care burden on American corporations, making them more competitive in world markets. Please consider Single Payer seriously, and take the first step in your first 100 days. We the people will support you.


One of the major reasons so many of us supported you is that you had the judgment to be against the Iraq war from the beginning. You understood that it was a corporate war having nothing to do with our national security, and that it was predicated on a pack of lies. We applaud your desire to end our involvement in Iraq as quickly as possible. Opposing demands for "victory" ring hollow. You can't "win" an occupation.

A great many of us are military. Our Advisory Board includes generals and admirals from all the services. We include combat veterans from all the wars from World War II to the present. And we plead with you to reconsider your characterization of Afghanistan as a war of necessity which requires expansion. We consider the war in Afghanistan as just as unnecessary and wrong as that in Iraq. Let me try to explain why.

The reason given for the invasion of Afghanistan was that they were harboring Osama bin Laden who (they said) was behind 9/11. But the Taliban leaders of Afghanistan offered to give us Osama bin Laden for trial if we had evidence against him. The Bush Administration ignored that offer because (1) we had no evidence linking bin Laden to 9/11 (and we still don't) and (2) the attack on Afghanistan had been planned BEFORE 9/11 because the Taliban had refused to let Unocal build a gas pipeline through their country. The truth is that the entire "War on Terror" is phony.

If you had been President in 2001, 9/11 would not have happened. (I can give you dozens of reasons why that is true, but they are beyond the scope of this brief letter.) But if something like that HAD happened on your watch, you would have led an international police investigation to determine those responsible and bring them to justice. If your investigation determined that Osama bin Laden were guilty, you would have used diplomacy to secure his extradition and trial. You would not have given the perpetrators of this horrendous crime the honor and prestige bestowed upon them by declaring it an "act of war." You would not have used this crime as an excuse for an unprovoked attack upon a sovereign nation (Afghanistan). And of course you certainly would not have used it as an excuse to attack another sovereign nation (Iraq) which did not have the slightest connection with the crime.

Well, now you are about to BECOME the President, and you have the opportunity to restore the honor and dignity of the United States by repudiating the actions of the Bush Administration, ending the carnage, and bringing home what's left of our troops while they are still alive - from both Iraq AND Afghanistan. You can then do what should have been done in 2001 - conduct a truly independent investigation of the crimes of 9/11 to determine responsibility (something the Kean-Hamilton-Zelikow Commission was not tasked with doing). Then if Osama bin Laden turns out to be among the guilty parties, you can use diplomacy with Afghanistan and Pakistan to secure his extradition for trial in the International Court of Justice or in the United States. That's what you would have done if you had been President in 2001, so why not do it in 2009?

Never think that one man can not make all the difference in the world. Ask yourself what would have happened if George W. Bush had been President at the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis! Scary, isn't it? Fortunately for the whole world, John F. Kennedy was President then. We weren't so fortunate in September, 2001. The wrong man being in the oval office at that time led to the deaths of about 3,000 people on September 11, 2001, the deaths of about 5,000 of America's finest in two unnecessary wars, and the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis and Afghans. It has also led to the loss of our civil liberties through the Patriot Act, the Military Commissions Act, Presidential Directives 20 and 51, and other atrocities which we are confident you can reverse. Finally, it led to the wasting of hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars on wars which Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz has proven will ultimately cost at least three trillion dollars - a figure which includes the cost of caring for the resultant disabled veterans for the rest of their lives.

So in a real way, we have come full circle. The wars which you can now end have played a major role in doubling our national debt and bringing on the financial crisis which is your top worry at the moment. Thus, by ending the disastrous occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, you can make a major step toward solving the financial crisis and freeing up funds for your initiatives to provide Americans with the jobs and health care they need, rebuild our infrastructure, and move us into a green, clean energy future. You have given us hope, and we look to you for bold leadership. The Patriots have long demanded a government which follows the Constitution, honors the truth, and serves the people. With your leadership, we can have such a government. Yes, we can!
(c) 2008 Dr. Robert M. Bowman, Lt. Col., USAF, ret.; National Commander, The Patriots

The Dead Letter Office...

Heil Bush,

Dear Uber Gruppenfuhrer Stevens,

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, Vidkun Quisling and last year's winner Volksjudge Anthony (Fat Tony) Kennedy.

Without your lock-step calling for the repeal of the Constitution, your support of our two coup d'etats, your building bridges to nowhere and taking bribes, i.e., upholding Republican traditions no matter what the cost, Iraq and these many other profitable oil wars to come would have been impossible! With the help of our mutual friends, the other "Republican Whores" you have made it possible for all of us to goose-step off to a brave new bank account!

Along with this award you will be given the Iron Cross 1st class with diamond clusters presented by our glorious Fuhrer, Herr Bush at a gala celebration at "der Fuhrer Bunker," formally "The White House," on 11-29-2008. We salute you Herr Stevens, Sieg Heil!

Vice Fuhrer Cheney

Heil Bush

John Brennan And Bush's Interrogation/Detention Policies
By Glen Greenwald

Last Wednesday, I wrote:

It simply is noteworthy of comment and cause for concern -- though far from conclusive about what Obama will do -- that Obama's transition chief for intelligence policy, John Brennan, was an ardent supporter of torture and one of the most emphatic advocates of FISA expansions and telecom immunity.

Yesterday, Andrew Sullivan noted that observation but then linked to this post from James Gordon Meek of the Counterrorism blog, which reported that Brennan -- a top CIA aide to George Tenet during most of the Bush administration -- is a leading candidate to replace Mike McConnell and become Obama's Director of National Intelligence. Meek, not providing any links or citations, wrote: "Among many things Democrats like about the softspoken Brennan are his anti-torture views" (emphasis added). Andrew is right when he says: "They both can't be right."

My statement about Brennan was based on several pieces of compelling evidence. First, there is this detailed New Yorker article on Bush's secret interrogation programs by Jane Mayer, unquestionably one of the nation's best and most reliable reporters on these matters. She wrote:

Without more transparency, the value of the C.I.A.'s interrogation and detention program is impossible to evaluate. Setting aside the moral, ethical, and legal issues, even supporters, such as John Brennan, acknowledge that much of the information that coercion produces is unreliable. As he put it, "All these methods produced useful information, but there was also a lot that was bogus.

Mayer explicitly identified Brennan --with whom she spoke concerning these programs -- as a "supporter."

Then there is Brennan's December 5, 2005 appearance on The News Hour with Jim Lehrer, in which he vehemently defended the Bush administration's use of rendition -- one of the key tools to subject detainees to torture:

JOHN BRENNAN: I think over the past decade it has picked up some speed because of the nature of the terrorist threat right now but essentially it's a practice the United States and other countries have used to transport suspected terrorists from a country, usually where they're captured to another country, either their country of origin or a country where they can be questioned, detained or brought to justice. . . .

MARGARET WARNER: So was Secretary Rice correct today when she called it a vital tool in combating terrorism?

JOHN BRENNAN: I think it's an absolutely vital tool. I have been intimately familiar now over the past decade with the cases of rendition that the U.S. Government has been involved in. And I can say without a doubt that it has been very successful as far as producing intelligence that has saved lives.

MARGARET WARNER: So is it -- are you saying both in two ways -- both in getting terrorists off the streets and also in the interrogation?

JOHN BRENNAN: Yes. The rendition is the practice or the process of rendering somebody from one place to another place. It is moving them and the U.S. Government will frequently facilitate that movement from one country to another. . . .

Also I think it's rather arrogant to think we're the only country that respects human rights. I think that we have a lot of assurances from these countries that we hand over terrorists to that they will, in fact, respect human rights. And there are different ways to gain those assurances. But also let's say an individual goes to Egypt because they're an Egyptian citizen and the Egyptians then have a longer history in terms of dealing with them, and they have family members and others that they can bring in, in fact, to be part of the whole interrogation process.

Even when CBS News -- for which Brennan was serving as an intelligence analyst -- was reporting on the dreadful case of Maher Arar, the Canadian citizen whom the Bush administration abducted at JFK Airport and rendered to Sryia for 10 months to be tortured only for it to then be revealed that he had no connection whatsoever to terrorism, Brennan was defending the rendition program:

CBS NEWS: Despite Arar's experience, this former counterterrorism official says "rendition" does have its place.

Mr. JOHN BRENNAN (CBS News Terrorism Analyst, Former Director, National Counterterrorism Center): I think it allows us to have the option to move a person who is involved in terrorism or terrorism-related activities to a country where they can be effectively questioned or prosecuted.

In November, 2007, Brennan -- in an interview with CBS News' Harry Smith -- issued a ringing endorsement for so-called "enhanced interrogation tactics" short of waterboarding:

SMITH: You know, this all becomes such a giant issue because the president has gone on record so many times saying the United States does not torture. If we acknowledge that this kind of activity [waterboarding] goes on, you know, what does that mean, exactly, I guess?

Mr. BRENNAN: Well, the CIA has acknowledged that it has detained about 100 terrorists since 9/11, and about a third of them have been subjected to what the CIA refers to as enhanced interrogation tactics, and only a small proportion of those have in fact been subjected to the most serious types of enhanced procedures.

SMITH: Right. And you say some of this has born fruit.

Mr. BRENNAN: There have been a lot of information that has come out from these interrogation procedures that the agency has in fact used against the real hard-core terrorists. It has saved lives. And let's not forget, these are hardened terrorists who have been responsible for 9/11, who have shown no remorse at all for the deaths of 3,000 innocents.

In the same interview, Brennan even defended -- or at least justified -- Michael Mukasey's refusal to say whether waterboarding was "torture," on the ground that by doing so, Mukasey would be admitting that the President broke the law (as though that is a valid reason for a prospective Attorney General to refuse to opine on a legal matter):

But I think Judge Mukasey is in a very difficult position right now as the attorney general nominee, to be asked whether or not this is torture. And if torture, then, is unconstitutional or illegal, they're asking whether or not waterboarding is illegal and whether or not the individuals, which includes the president and others--if it was used, who authorized and actually used this type of procedure may be subject to some type of judicial action.

And in July, 2008, NPR attributed Obama's reversal on FISA and telecom immunity to the fact that he was relying on the advice of Brennan, an emphatic supporter of those policies:

What's important here is Obama's reference to the information he's received. He's advised on intelligence matters by John Brennan, the former director of the National Counterterrorism Center. Like many intelligence professionals, Brennan says the FISA program is essential to the fight against terrorism. By adopting Brennan's view, Obama improves his standing with the intelligence community. For someone looking ahead to a presidential administration, that's important.

In fairness, Brennan, over the last couple of years, as he's become more attached to Obama's campaign, has several times said that waterboarding specifically is wrong, that it is "inconsistent with American values and it's something that should be prohibited." In a 2006 PBS interview, he said that "the dark side has its limits"; that "we're going to look back on this time and regret some of the things that we did, because it is not in keeping with our values"; and, to his credit, he urged that there be much greater openness in debating policies such as eavesdropping and interrogation.

As I noted the other day, Obama is going to have a wide panoply of advisers and, especially now before they're appointed, it's important not to draw unwarranted conclusions or to believe the endless parade of gossip about who is going to be appointed to what positions. Still, Brennan has been and continues to be an extremely important adviser for Obama on intelligence issues. His views on past administration conduct are, in many important instances, clearly disturbing and bear watching.

* * * * *

Last month, I interviewed Harper's Scott Horton regarding a piece he had written on the efforts of several PBS officials, including Jay Rockefeller's wife (the CEO of Washington's PBS affiliate) to block broadcast of the documentary Torturing Democracy, which compellingly documents how virtually all of the torture and other illegalities and abuses of America's interrogation programs were authorized and ordered at the highest levels of the Bush administration (of which waterboarding is but one small example).

That documentary is now available to be viewed in its entirety online -- here -- and I can't recommend it highly enough. Though it includes a few standard documentary tactics that I could do without (ominous music, grave-toned narration, black-and-white up-close photos of the villains), it is an extraordinarily well-documented account of America's torture program over the last seven years and, most informatively, the role that top Bush officials played in those programs. Notably, most of the sources on which it relies are former U.S. military and Bush administration officials who waged courageous though ultimately unsuccessful battles to halt these programs.

I'm particularly amazed that someone could be aware of this set of facts -- could know that our highest government officials deliberately and knowingly authorized torture techniques that are war crimes under both U.S. law and international treaties to which we are a party -- and still argue, as so many do, that it would be wrong to hold these political officials accountable for the laws they systematically violated. It's easy to say how horrendous one finds torture to be. But those who simultaneously advocate that American political leaders should be immunized from the consequences of their criminality -- that, in essence, we should refrain from enforcing these laws -- are proving that those are empty words indeed.

UPDATE: The aforementioned James Gordon Meek, who is the Washington correspondent for The New York Daily News, sent me a reply this morning by email, which is posted here. My response to him is also posted there.
(c) 2008 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.

Exposed: Federal Air Marshals Too Busy Smuggling Coke And Molesting Kids To Protect You
By Michael Grabell

Shawn Nguyen bragged that he could sneak anything past airport security using his top-secret clearance as a federal air marshal. And for months, he smuggled cocaine and drug money onto flights across the country, boasting to an FBI informant that he was "the man with the golden badge."

Michael McGowan used his position as an air marshal to lure a young boy to his hotel room, where he showed him child porn, took pictures of him naked and sexually abused him.

And when Brian "Cooter" Phelps wanted his ex-wife to disappear, he called a fellow air marshal and tried to hire a hit man nicknamed "the Crucifixer."

Since 9/11, more than three dozen federal air marshals have been charged with crimes, and hundreds more have been accused of misconduct, an investigation by ProPublica has found. Cases range from drunken driving and domestic violence to aiding a human trafficking ring and trying to smuggle explosives from Afghanistan.

The Federal Air Marshal Service presents the image of an elite undercover force charged with making split-second decisions that could mean the difference between stopping a terrorist and shooting an innocent passenger.

But an examination of police reports, court records, government reports, memos and e-mails shows that 18 air marshals have been charged with felonies, including at least three who were hired despite prior criminal records or being fired from law enforcement jobs. A fourth air marshal was hired while under FBI investigation. Another stayed on the job despite alarming a flight attendant with his behavior.

This spring, after U.S. embassies, airlines and foreign police agencies complained about air marshal misconduct overseas, the agency director dispatched supervisors on international missions.

From 33 to 3,000

Before 9/11, the Air Marshal Service was a nearly forgotten force of 33 agents with a $4.4 million annual budget. Now housed in the Transportation Security Administration, the agency has a $786 million budget and an estimated 3,000 to 4,000 air marshals, although the official number is classified.

Only a fraction of them have been charged with crimes, and some degree of misconduct occurs at all law enforcement agencies. But for air marshals, the stakes are uniquely high. Their beat is a confined cabin with hundreds of passengers in firing range. There are no calls for backup at 30,000 feet, putting a premium on sound judgment and swift action.

Since 9/11, air marshals have taken bribes, committed bank fraud, hired an escort while on layover and doctored hotel receipts to pad expenses, records show. They've been found sleeping on planes and lost the travel documents of U.S. diplomats while on a whiskey-tasting trip in Scotland.

The Air Marshal Service says it has the highest firearms qualification standard among federal law enforcement agencies. Yet police and court records show some marshals have used their weapons imprudently:

In 2003, a New York air marshal pulled his gun in a dispute over a parking space. Another failed to turn over his ammunition on an international trip, as required by diplomatic agreements, and was detained by Israeli airport security in 2004. That same year, a Las Vegas air marshal "discharged" his gun in a hotel room, penetrating a wall and shattering a mirror. In April, a Phoenix air marshal fired his during a fight outside a bar.

Still another left his handgun in the plane's lavatory in 2001, according to court papers. He realized it was missing only after a teenager found it.

Robert Bray, director of the Air Marshal Service, says the misconduct cases don't represent the exemplary work done by the vast majority of air marshals.

"We can reassure the public that these dedicated professionals go out there every day and put their lives on the line to make sure that everyone is safe," Bray says. "I don't want them to be tarred by...a few allegations from a few years ago."

Bray and other officials declined to discuss specific cases, citing privacy laws.

Under government policies, air marshals found guilty of felonies were fired or forced to resign. But 10 air marshals convicted of misdemeanors, mostly drunken driving, were allowed to keep their jobs. And even after notice that background checks were poor, the agency failed to root out air marshals with troubled pasts before they committed felonies.

Current and former air marshals say the misconduct cases show that the agency continues to struggle with policing its own ranks, a problem that first surfaced in its post-9/11 buildup. Since then, the service has had three leaders, been moved four times to different parent agencies and been blasted by Congress for, among other things, failing to cover enough flights and enforcing a dress code that many air marshals felt blew their cover.

Don Strange, the former special agent in charge of the Atlanta office and a finalist to lead the agency in 2006, says turmoil and low morale have led good air marshals to quit and made it harder for managers to maintain the highest standards.

"It starts with the urgency (to hire and train recruits) in a ridiculous amount of time," he says. "Things start to spin out of control."

Recruiting Rush

Under heavy congressional pressure, the government rushed to hire thousands of air marshals after 9/11. Partly motivated by enduring images of planes hitting the World Trade Center, the Pentagon aflame and a charred Pennsylvania field, 200,000 applied. With limited spots, the Air Marshal Service had an acceptance rate of about one in 40 -- four times as tough as Harvard's.

"We're getting the cream of the crop," then-TSA spokesman David Steigman told reporters. "The people who are going into the air marshal program are the best of the best."

But that wasn't necessarily the case.

Shortly after joining the agency, three air marshals were indicted in corruption investigations at their former police departments. One, Louis Pirani, was hired in early 2002, despite being under FBI investigation for months on suspicion of skimming profits from drug couriers as a sheriff's deputy in Arkansas. He eventually was convicted and went to prison for lying to investigators.

Just two weeks after joining the air marshals in April 2002, Shawn Nguyen filed for bankruptcy, claiming $200,000 in debts. Three years later, the former narcotics officer began carrying cash and cocaine past airport security for a man he knew as a drug trafficker, but who'd already turned to the FBI.

"I don't care what's in the [expletive] package, you know what I mean? Just tell me how much it is and what I'm getting in money," Nguyen told the informant in a recorded conversation recounted in court records. "I'm the man with the golden badge." Nguyen was sentenced to seven years in prison.

Before becoming an air marshal, Brian Phelps had worked at five small police departments in Alabama, but none for more than a year. He was fired from the job he held longest for losing his temper and acting "irrationally" before thinking things through, prosecutors said. He quit another job in lieu of being fired for misconduct while on duty, says Mayor Paula Phillips of Douglas, Ala.

In 2005, Phelps, known as "Cooter" among fellow air marshals, told a colleague that he wanted to see his wife's picture on a milk carton, court transcripts say. He asked the air marshal, who'd worked in Chicago's housing projects, if he knew of anyone who could help. The colleague said he did: The Crucifixer. The colleague told the Air Marshal Service, and after numerous contacts with FBI agents posing as hit men, Phelps was arrested and sentenced to 25 years in prison.

Another air marshal, David Kellerman, was arrested on felony charges for dealing in stolen property in 1983 and for carrying a concealed weapon in 1990. Although judgment was withheld in both cases, Kellerman was sentenced each time to probation, according to Florida Department of Law Enforcement records.

In September, Kellerman -- a Green Beret and Purple Heart recipient -- was sentenced to 27 months in prison after being caught hiding a cache of weapons that included AK-47s and a grenade launcher stolen while he was on leave for a military tour in Afghanistan. Kellerman told investigators that he was bringing back training aids for his job as an air marshal firearms instructor.

Background Checks

Because air marshals receive top-secret security clearances, background checks are supposed to include criminal history searches going back 10 years, credit reports and interviews with relatives, neighbors and employers. Checks are conducted by the federal Office of Personnel Management, a separate agency, which forwards results to the Air Marshal Service.

Kellerman's charges predated the 10-year check period. But in Phelps' case, three officials -- Justice Ashley, former assistant police chief in Guntersville, Ala.; Chad Long, the current Douglas police chief, and Phillips -- say they couldn't recall the air marshals contacting anyone to make a background check. It's unclear whether Pirani's FBI scrutiny and Nguyen's bankruptcy were missed or disregarded.

A 2004 report (PDF) by the Department of Homeland Security's inspector general also flagged gaps in the background checks. The report cited 504 applicants who were recommended for hire and awaiting offers, noting that nearly a third had potentially disqualifying problems, including past arrests, bankruptcies or disciplinary problems.

"Many (air marshals) were granted access to classified information after displaying questionable judgment, irresponsibility and emotionally unstable behavior," the report said.

This summer, after a Houston TV station reported that three air marshals had been charged with drunken driving, including one with a prior DWI conviction, Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas, grilled TSA Administrator Kip Hawley at a congressional hearing.

In a subsequent letter to Poe, Hawley said that 28 air marshals had been hired with misdemeanors on their records, and nine more kept their jobs after a drunken-driving conviction.

TSA policies state that employees who drive drunk "demonstrate a disregard for TSA's mission" and raise questions about their ability to deal with security threats. Yet the policy allows drunken driving to be punished with a letter of reprimand, one of the lowest penalties.

By comparison, the FBI mandates at least a 30-day suspension without pay for drunken driving. Although other federal police agencies generally allow for flexibility in discipline, many big-city departments, such as New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, mandate a suspension or loss of pay for a first offense.

"It's more serious than a letter saying, 'Don't do it again, try to do better,'" Poe said in an interview. "I don't think a person should have a criminal record and keep their job with the Air Marshal Service -- including a DWI."

The flying public agrees. In a national survey for ProPublica conducted by Harris Interactive, 86 percent of those who'd taken a commercial flight in the past year said it was unacceptable for someone convicted of driving under the influence to become an air marshal. (Check out the complete results (PDF).)

No office compiles uniform statistics on arrests of federal law officers, making it difficult to compare agencies. The 2004 inspector general's report found 753 documented cases of misconduct by air marshals over 20 months, with offenses from sleeping on duty to flunking drug tests.

After the report, the agency said it tightened its background procedures. When misconduct occurred, the agency said, it had acted "swiftly and decisively," terminating 101 air marshals over two years and taking resignations from 32 others.

But problems continued -- Kellerman, Phelps and Nguyen all committed their crimes after the 2004 report. The service declined to say what's been done since to check for cases that fell through the cracks.

Hiring Standards Erode

Over the years, the service has loosened some hiring practices:

In 2002, the agency decided that recruits no longer had to pass a rigorous firearms test requiring them to prove speed and accuracy in close quarters similar to an airplane. The test is still used in training but is no longer a hiring qualification.

In late 2005, the agency began hiring TSA screeners, few college grads and others with no law enforcement experience. The change departed from practice during the 9/11 ramp-up, when air marshals almost uniformly were chosen from law enforcement, such as the Border Patrol, federal Bureau of Prisons and police and sheriff's departments.

Two years ago, officials suspended a requirement that air marshals pass a written psychological test and an interview with a psychologist or psychiatrist. Instead, the agency relies on recruits to self-report mental conditions on medical history forms.

Bray, the director, says the changes did not lower hiring standards and that it's unfair to suggest a TSA screener or a recent college grad could not be up to par after training.

In the ProPublica survey, 87 percent said air marshals should be required to pass a psychological stress test, and 77 percent said they should have prior experience in law enforcement.

Two cases show why psychological testing might be valuable.

Orlando air marshal Marcus Rogozinski was on a mission from New York to Dallas in 2006 when he walked to the galley and showed a flight attendant a book with some pictures of blue crystals, his supervisor, Richard Lozada, wrote in an e-mail introduced at a competency hearing.

If she had good thoughts, Rogozinski told her, the water could be turned clear, Lozada recounted. But if she had bad thoughts, it would turn murky.

When Rogozinski went to the lavatory, the alarmed flight attendant walked back to his partner, Paul Steward.

"I can't believe he is able to carry a gun!" she said, according to an account written by Steward.

In 2007, another flight attendant complained that Rogozinski "was talking about all kinds of crazy stuff like outer space," according to a memo from air marshal David Cameron.

"No (air marshal) should have to pay more attention to their partner than to the passengers," Cameron wrote. Afterward, Rogozinski failed a psych exam and was put on leave.

In June, Rogozinski was convicted of bank fraud for trying to cash a $10.9 million check from a woman he said he believed was Cambodian royalty. The money, he told prosecutors, was partial settlement for a "personal lawsuit" after he was scratched by the woman's cat.

Then there's the case of Michael McGowan, who joined the air marshals after 9/11. Before he was sentenced to a sex-offenders unit in 2006, his lawyer pleaded with a judge for help for his client. "He is taking the position 'I have a serious problem, I'm sick,'" said attorney Joel Weiss, according to a court transcript.

McGowan had been caught two years earlier trying to buy pornography of children as young as 7 over the Internet. Investigators discovered he'd been molesting a Texas boy since 2002 and had enticed the boy by saying he was staying at a nearby hotel on air marshal business.

Even after his conviction, court records show, McGowan called the boy from prison and engaged him in sexual conversations.

'Impact on Our Reputation'

Earlier this year, a rash of complaints about air marshal misconduct on overseas missions set off new alarms.

The agency would not provide details of the incidents. But ProPublica obtained an April 15 internal memo from Dana Brown, then director of the Air Marshal Service, warning the rank and file that the behavior threatened to create diplomatic problems for the agency on international routes, "some of the most important we fly."

"In foreign countries, some have behaved in a manner that may jeopardize our ability to continue to operate effectively," Brown wrote. "The negative impact on our reputation and that of the American government has the potential to cause significant harm."

To put a stop to it, Brown ordered "Quality Assurance Teams" of supervisors to monitor air marshals on international missions and act as liaisons with host countries.

"These are highly trained federal air marshals with guns on planes. If they need chaperones, then we're all in serious trouble," says P. Jeffrey Black, a Las Vegas air marshal who in the past has testified before Congress about agency policies in 2004.

Bray says the agency was not able to substantiate the allegations of overseas misconduct and that Brown was simply being proactive.

Black says the job shouldn't be entry-level. New hires need the experience and judgment learned from making decisions on the street, he says.

Poe, a former judge and prosecutor who sits on the House aviation subcommittee, says the unique nature of the job demands the highest recruiting standards. He says he wants to address the issue of air marshal misconduct further when the new Congress is seated next year.

Air marshals "all have to be of high quality, not most of them," Poe says. "We can't take a chance that they will make a mistake."

Six of Cincinnati air marshal David Slaughter's colleagues wrote character references for him after his arrest in 2006, according to court records.

"A man of impeccable character," wrote one. "An outstanding employee." "Polite," wrote another. "His character around the office is one of example." "Dave's demeanor and professionalism reflect favorably on the field office as well as the agency as a whole."

Slaughter was convicted of abducting a female escort during a July 2006 layover in the Washington, D.C., area.

In an interview, he said he hired the escort because he was having marital problems and wanted a woman's perspective. As they talked about how to spend their time, he went into the bedroom of his hotel suite and returned with his gun and handcuffs. The woman tried to flee, but he prevented her from leaving and unplugged the phone, prosecutors said.

The two struggled, and when the woman got the door open, Slaughter pinned her to the ground, held her in a chokehold and handcuffed her, according to prosecutors and the woman, Cherith Zorbas.

Despite his colleagues' support, Slaughter lost his job and got 15 days in jail. Zorbas called the outcome "horrific," and said the public should be scared.

"He's the only one on an airplane with a freakin' weapon," she said, "and he's supposed to have it to be protecting us."
(c) 2008 Michael Grabell covers transportation for ProPublica.

The Cartoon Corner...

This edition we're proud to showcase the cartoons of
~~~ Jack Ohman ~~~

W The Movie Trailer

To End On A Happy Note...

Buffalo Soldier
By Bob Marley

Buffalo soldier, dreadlock rasta:
There was a buffalo soldier in the heart of America,
Stolen from Africa, brought to America,
Fighting on arrival, fighting for survival.

I mean it, when I analyze the stench -
To me it makes a lot of sense:
How the dreadlock rasta was the buffalo soldier,
And he was taken from Africa, brought to America,
Fighting on arrival, fighting for survival.

Said he was a buffalo soldier, dreadlock rasta -
Buffalo soldier in the heart of America.

If you know your history,
Then you would know where you coming from,
Then you wouldn't have to ask me,
Who the heck do I think I am.

Im just a buffalo soldier in the heart of America,
Stolen from Africa, brought to America,
Said he was fighting on arrival, fighting for survival;
Said he was a buffalo soldier win the war for America.

Dreadie, woy yoy yoy, woy yoy-yoy yoy,
Woy yoy yoy yoy, yoy yoy-yoy yoy!
Woy yoy yoy, woy yoy-yoy yoy,
Woy yoy yoy yoy, yoy yoy-yoy yoy!
Buffalo soldier troddin through the land, wo-ho-ooh!
Said he wanna ran, then you wanna hand,
Troddin through the land, yea-hea, yea-ea.

Said he was a buffalo soldier win the war for America;
Buffalo soldier, dreadlock rasta,
Fighting on arrival, fighting for survival;
Driven from the mainland to the heart of the Caribbean.

Singing, woy yoy yoy, woy yoy-yoy yoy,
Woy yoy yoy yoy, yoy yoy-yoy yoy!
Woy yoy yoy, woy yoy-yoy yoy,
Woy yoy yoy yoy, yoy yoy-yoy yoy!

Troddin through san juan in the arms of America,
Troddin through Jamaica, a buffalo soldier,
Fighting on arrival, fighting for survival:
Buffalo soldier, dreadlock rasta.

Woy yoy yoy, woy yoy-yoy yoy,
Woy yoy yoy yoy, yoy yoy-yoy yoy!
Woy yoy yoy, woy yoy-yoy yoy,
Woy yoy yoy yoy, yoy yoy-yoy yoy!
(c) 1969/2008 Bob Marley

Have You Seen This...

New York Times Special Edition Video News Release

Parting Shots...

Teachers Punish Stupidest Students By Making Them Play Injuns In Thanksgiving Pageant

Child Rearing

Freehold, Iowa - In order to teach Junior High School students at the Landover Baptist Academy for the Saved a valuable lesson in humility, teachers will force all disruptive, failing, and below average students to dress up and play the role of savages in this year's Thanksgiving play. "This is going to be a real hoot for all the Godly students who have worked so hard to get good grades," said Junior High School youth group president, Jimmy Higglesworth. "We're going to paint their behinds red, and laugh till we can't breathe while they jump around on stage like stupid monkeys, going -'woo whoo whoo! I'm a stupid Injun who wants to rape a white woman and get drunk for the rest of my life!"

"This is just an absolutely wonderful way of teaching young people what happens to lazy failures who expect everything to be handed to them on a silver platter," said Pastor Deacon Fred. "American Injuns, who have been troublemakers for centuries are the best representation to teach these little fools a lesson!"

"It isn't enough that the Injuns gave our Godly ancestors the small pox virus," says teacher, Becky-Sue Cordell, "We still have to deal with these terrorists today as they continue to plauge our society with alcholism, gambling addiction, incest, drug abuse, and just plain everything that ain't about Jesus! I hope my stupid students learn a lesson from all of this! Study hard and follow the rules you rebellious little morons! or as I always say - end up like a lazy Injun!"

"Maybe standing around in front of their little classmates naked, throwing corn cobs at the Baby Jesus and chewing on raw squirrels will teach these lazy students what happens to unmotivated people," says another teacher. "They wind up drunks with all their land taken away from them! The hell-bound heathens!"

The Landover Baptist Junior High School Thanksgiving Play will take place in the main auditorium for ten consecutive nights beginning on November 14th. Parents of students who performed below average this year will be asked to attend each showing. At the end of each performance, the parent will be required to stand on stage and apologize that their child has performed and acted like a lazy, stupid Injun in school and they will let the audience know that they will hire a Jewish tutor over the next semester so their child doesn't end up gambling their life away like a bare-footed, feather-headed, savage!
(c) 2008 The Landover Baptist Church


The Gross National Debt

Zeitgeist The Movie...

Issues & Alibis Vol 8 # 45 (c) 11/21/2008

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