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In This Edition

Medea Benjamin recalls, "Ten Good Things About A (Not So) Bad Year."

Uri Avnery introduces, "The Duke Of Nablus."

Matt Taibbi exposes, "How Banks Cheat Taxpayers."

Randall Amster takes a, "Prism Break."

Jim Hightower says, "Give A Gift That Matters."

Helen Thomas explains why the, "Iraq War Ends, But Questions Remain."

James Donahue wonders, "2012 Is Here - Do We Dare Celebrate?"

David Sirota asks, "Was Iraq 'Worth It?'"

David Swanson examines, "Obama Again Unconstitutionally Claims Unconstitutional War Powers In A Signing Statement."

John LaForge may have found, "The Leading Cause of Breast Cancer?"

Paul Krugman sings, "Springtime For Toxics."

Glenn Greenwald reminds us to, "Vote Obama - If You Want a Centrist Republican For US President."

Amy Goodman returns with, "If You Can't Beat Them, Enjoin Them (From Voting)."

Illinois Republican Sin-ator Mark Kirk wins the coveted Vidkun Quisling Award!

John Nichols exclaims, "Out, Damn Newt!"

Ralph Nader demands we, "Stop the Public University Tuition Spiral."

And finally in the 'Parting Shots' department Andy Borowitz reports, "Gingrich Plummets In Polls As Voters Start Remembering Who He Is" but first Uncle Ernie sez, "That Was The Year That Was: 2011."

This week we spotlight the cartoons of Bob Gorrell, with additional cartoons, photos and videos from Derf City, Steve Greenberg, Clay Bennett, Bill Day, Micah Wright, Very Demotivational.Com, User Meds.Com, MSNBC, You Tube.Com and Issues & Alibis.Org.

Plus we have all of your favorite Departments...

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

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










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That Was The Year That Was: 2011
By Ernest Stewart

Our assessment is the Egyptian goverment is stable! ~~~ Hillary Clinton ~ 01-25-11

"Our science is solid and it proves unequivocally that the world is warming and that this warming is due to human activities."
~~~ WMO Deputy Secretary-General Jerry Lengoasa ~~~

"If they impose sanctions on Iran's oil exports, then even one drop of oil cannot flow from the Strait of Hormuz." ~~~ Mohammad-Reza Rahimi ~ Iranian first vice president

Fight the good fight every moment
Every minute every day
Fight the good fight every moment
Make it worth the price we pay
Fight The Good Fight ~~~ Triumph

It's that time of the year again when we look back at all that's gone down in the past year. As life is short this won't be all that detailed, so for a full detailed rehash visit the magazines archives section.

January:

We start the year with an attempted assassination of United States Con-gress woman Gabrielle Giffords. Teabagger Jared Lee Loughner shoots 17, murders six including a little girl and United States District Court Judge John Roll. Some of that compassionate conservatism no doubt. Not to be out done, Barry cuts aid to the poor -- including letting many freeze to death -- to assure tax cuts for the wealthy!

February:

Wisconsin's new governor Scott Walker declares war on the unions and middle class. Walker, the first of many Koch Brothers governor puppets, begins the task of destroying what's left of the middle class to return to the good old daze of slaves and masters. Similar ploys happen in Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, New Jersey, New York and California!

March:

Japan's massive earthquake and nuclear reactor melt down, i.e., the Brazil Syndrome that may have killed or will kill upwards of 15,000 Americans from fallout radiation was soon poo poo'd by Barry as not worth measuring. The reason for this was that Barry wants to build three reactors in Texas, giving the job to the same company that built the four failed rectors in Japan. The "green" President cut funding to most wind and solar projects, but kept funding a solar company that they knew would fail in order to decredit the industry!

April:

After letting the tea baggers go berserk for a year, Barry finally releases his long form birth certificate, proving that he was born in Hawaii and not created in a CIA lab as some tea baggers claimed. However, the damage was done, and many people to this day believe Barry isn't an American even though the former Republican Hawaiian governor Linda Lingle certainly looked into the controversy and yet said nothing, which should have been a clue to our brain-dead birther friends but apparently it wasn't!

May:

Rumor has it that on the first of May, CIA boogie man and agent Osama bin Laden was killed by a US army hit team in Abbottabad, Pakistan. I say rumored, as not a drop of evidence was ever produced to prove that it happened. Not a single photograph was forthcoming of the man that many say had been dead for seven years. If it is true then it was a very stupid thing to do, not to mention cold blooded murder of someone trying to surrender. Think of all the information we could have gotten out of him which would have brought Al Qaeda to an end. Of course, that may be the very reason that we killed him -- to keep Al Qaeda alive so we can spend trillions more killing all 100 of them. Or it could have been to keep him from telling the world of his work, past and present, for the CIA?

June:

In a rare showing of liberalism New York governor Andrew Cuomo (Mario's boy) pushed through a same sex marriage law, which gave homosexuals the same joys, sorrows and rights of marriage that Heterosexual America already enjoys and detests! New York is now the largest state in America for gay marriages. Apparently, the great wealth of the Mormon Church wasn't enough to stop it, but perhaps they can repeal it, as they did in California? Perhaps they can get some "souless darkies" to do it?

July:

With the takeover of the Republican party by the tea baggers and their several attempts to shut down the federal government came to a head in July when neither side would budge on the budget and time began to run out on an August 2nd shutdown and threats by credit rating agencies Moody's and Standard & Poor's which threaten to lower the US governments credit rating. Funny when the Republicans were running the government, there wasn't any talk of shutting down the government under Bush. Which is curious, is it not, considering that Barry is doing, for the most part, all the same things that Smirky did, and should therefore be a darling of the far right, and yet they've done all in their power to destroy him for doing those very same things. Kind of like replacing the RNC's leader Michael Steele just after he had brought the Republicans the biggest wins in their history? I wonder what these two men share that would cause them to be targets? Oh yeah, I almost forgot, they're both black!

August:

Con-gress makes an 11th-hour deal to prevent a national default. The deal raised the debt ceiling in two steps to $2.4 trillion and cuts an initial $1 trillion in spending over ten years. Also, a bipartisan committee was formed to recommend $1.5 trillion in additional budget cuts with a provision that if Congress failed to act on the committee's recommendations, automatic spending cuts will be enforced. The Pentagoon's budget would get a slap on the wrist while social programs are gutted to pay for tax breaks for billionaires.

For the first time in history, the U.S. has its credit rating lowered. Credit agency Standard & Poor's lowered the nation's credit rating from the top grade of AAA to AA+, removing the U.S. from its list of risk-free borrowers. Moody's and Fitch, the two other credit agencies, decided not to downgrade the nation's credit ratings.

September:

We saw the fruition of Barry's self-given powers to murder US citizens without counsel, charges, or trial by a jury of their peers. Anwar al-Awlaki was the first to be thusly murdered, but not the last as another American was murdered, too, while visiting Awlaki.

Occupy Wall Street and the occupy movement begins a three month run of peacefully assembling and protesting, which is our first amendment rights; the 1% make their plans to stop it once and for all.

October:

Hey Mo, nyuk, nyuk, nyuk! The beast of Lockerbie met his end in a US-led coup d'etat by gang rape and bullets. Our former good friend Muammar el-Qaddafi met the same fate as a lot of other US friends have met with our assistance. Ergo, the world should beware of Americans bearing gifts!

November:

November was when the ruling elite, with the help of Barry and the Feds, attacked, and all but destroyed, the Occupy movement. From coast to coast, we found out that local nuisance ordinances trump 1st amendment rights, which can be denied by groups of Jack Booted thugs, with clubs, tear gas, pepper spray, beanbag bullets, rubber bullets, and concussion grenades. They did it because they were concerned with our safety, which is why they beat peaceful demonstrators senseless, I guess it's better a concussion than peeing in the park!

And lets not forget the Penn State sex abuse scandal. Sure, I could understand it if it happened at Notre Dame or Boston College, but Penn State? What's up with that?

December:

The National Defense Authorization Act single-handedly pretty much wipes out the 4th, 5th and 6th Amendments of the Bill of Rights, the Posse Comitatus Act and habeas corpus. Rumor has it in the next Con-gress they'll be going after the 13th Amendment!

That was a brief tour of that was the year that was 2011. Is it just me or are things becoming progressively worse, year after year, decade after decade? Then just when you thought it couldn't get any worse, along comes 2012. Danger, danger, Will Robertson!

In Other News

So how do like that global warming thing, so far? Throughout most of Europe from Scotland to Switzerland 2011 was the hottest year on record, hotter even than 2010, which had been the hottest year on record just like here in the US where most localities experienced record heat, as well. Global Warming deniers, a.k.a. corpo-rat puppets, i.e., politicians, talking heads and Rush Limbaugh idiots are beginning to feel a little like a Christian Scientist with appendicitis! It's a pity that they're not the ones that have to suffer the effects by themselves but because of their stupidity the rest of us are along for the ride to oblivion too! Worldwide, 2011 is set to become the tenth-hottest year on record, and thirteen of the warmest years on record, in terms of average global temperature, have occurred within the past decade and a half. Whether or not this has been cause totally by man (it has), or only partially caused by our greed doesn't really matter as the effects are exactly the same! Floods, heat waves and blizzards are all caused by the same thing, global warming! Here's some highlights from this past year:

Groundhog Day Blizzard - 2 feet of snow fell over Chicago between January 29 and February 3. 36 people died in the storm.

Midwest/Southeast Tornadoes - 46 tornadoes touched down on April 4 and 5. 9 people died

Southeast/Midwest Tornadoes - April 8-11 brought another series of tornadoes with 59 touchdowns but no fatalities.

Midwest/Southwest Tornadoes - 38 people died when 177 tornadoes touched down from April 14 to 16.

Southeast/Ohio Valley/Midwest Tornadoes - 343 tornadoes touched down between April 25 and 28 killing 321 people.

Midwest/Southeast Tornadoes - Between May 22 and 27 180 tornadoes touched down, killing 177 people. This includes the EF-5 that hit Joplin, MO.

Midwest/Southeast Tornadoes and Severe Weather - Hail, damaging winds, and 81 tornadoes occurred between June 18 and 22 with 3 reported deaths.

Southern Plains/Southwest Drought and Heat Wave - Losses of livestock, crops, and timber mounted as head and drought gripped the area during the spring, summer, and fall. Temperatures remain above 100 degress for three months!

Mississippi River Flooding - Continuous rain and melting snowpack in the spring and early summer brought river levels to historic highs for many areas.

Upper Midwest Flooding - Above average snowpack melt along with above-average precipitation flooded the Missouri and Souris Rivers in the early summer months.

Hurricane Irene - It was an active hurricane season in the Atlantic, but only one hurricane hit the coastal United States. Irene soaked the East Coast from the Mid-Atlantic all the way to New England between August 20 to 29.

Texas/Arizona/New Mexico Wildfires - Drought and a heat wave set the stage for a record wildfire season. The Wallow Fire in the White Mountains of Arizona had the largest burn area on record at over 500,000 acres.

Areas that were fine are turning into deserts, deserts are turning into dustbowls, while other areas are getting more rain and snow than they've ever had before. There are a few winners but there are many times more losers. Most of the southwest will soon be out of water, and those tens of millions will have to hit the road, because water is something you can not live without! Nor can you live without food and without water you can not grow food. Isn't it about time we did something to correct this before it's too late?

And Finally

As Scotish poet and philospher Robert Burns once said, "The best-laid schemes o' mice an 'men. Gang aft agley." It's always something! I had planned to use this section of my column to take a look back at all the good folks we lost in the last year, but our criminal class in Foggy Bottom dancing to the tune of an Israeli piper is about to set us on the road to either a Depression that will make the "Great Depression" look like a Swiss Picnic by comparison or the start of WWIII, or most likely, both!

What Con-gress and their AIPAC masters want is to destroy the Iranian central bank and force Iran to lower its prices to the point of a depression for wanting to have nuclear reactors to generate electricity, and if they're not totally stupid run off a few atomic bombs to defend themselves from us and the zionazis in Tel Aviv. We can't have that less we're not able to control them for our own gain as well as Israel's, too. We also have our flunkies in Europe about to sign on to this disaster in the making.

Iran, having had enough of this with no help from the United Nations, has said in defiance if we do, they will close the Straights of Hormuz, which means somewhere around 25% of the world's supply of oil won't be coming to a service station near you!

This would no doubt cause gas prices to double and end any chance of this economy to recover. Are you willing to pay at the very least $6 a gallon for a start? Of course, we'll try and prevent this and sink a few of their ships, and in return, they'll sink of few of ours and launch everything they got at us, Saudi Arabia, and Israel, who will then launch nukes and kill a lot of Iranians and a few Russians and Chinese. The Russians have already said and the Chinese have implied that if Israel does they'll lob of few of their bigger and dirtier H-bombs Israel's way.

Barry, meanwhile, really doesn't want this to start as it would all but wipe out his chances for reelection and our chances of living to a ripe old age. We cannot afford another war; we cannot afford doubling or tripling of the already outrageous fuel prices, which jumped 2% in one day just on the heightening of tensions. All this is a gift from Sin-ator Mark Kirk, a Rethuglican from Illinois, who won Barry's seat with the help of Israeli intelligence and AIPAC! Did I mention that this was attached to that act of treason called "The National Defense Authorization Act" An act of treason that no doubt Barry will sign with a smug look of self assurance on his face. As Bette Davis said as Margo Channing in All About Eve: "Fasten your seatbelts, it's going to be a bumpy night," America!

Keepin' On

It's that time of the year again where I start begging for resources to keep the magazine going for another year. How'd you like the last couple of months of me not begging every week, but using that space to bring you more things that you need to know? I for one enjoyed it a whole lot more than I do writing this!

We can do this easy or we can do it hard, it's up to you. This year's bills after, what we make for advertising, will be somewhere around $5600, the cost of paying for columns and artwork copyrights. Some of the artwork and columns are free, some of them aren't! We charge no fee of any kind to read anything on the site, our best columns and works of art included! Most on-line ezines cost between $200,000 and $500,000 to produce; so needless to say, we're a bargain. No one here gets a salary of any kind; we are in this because we need to be in this, and I'll put up Issues & Alibis against any political magazine!

Therefore, if one of you would like to step up and pick up our bills for the year this will be the last time I come before you hat-in-hand and what a pleasant experience that will be for all of us, but it seems the folks that have that kind of money while giving lip-service to the cause won't open their big bank-books and kick out a little chump-change to get us through another year, so most likely we're going to have to do this the hard way! That means I'll be begging to you on a weekly basis and the usual suspects will be kicking in what they can afford and it may be the first of November again before we reach the break-even point. Since the 12-12-2000 coup d'etat when we got started, I picked up all the costs for the years 2001 - 2005, at which point I basically ran out of money to spare and had to come to you to keep us fighting the good fight.

As we begin our eleventh year I find that we are needed more now than ever before. If you agree, please send us what you can, when you can and I'll see to it it gets put to good use and we keep fighting for you and yours. Just go to our donations page and follow the instructions! Thanks again for all that you do!

*****


06-02-1931 ~ 12-24-2011
Thanks for the laughs!


09-02-1942 ~ 12-24-2011
Thanks for the thoughts!


05-08-1942 ~ 12-25-2011
Thanks for the music!


10-05-1950 ~ 12-26-2011
Thanks for the visions!


12-22-1928 ~ 12-27-2011
Thanks for the visions!


*****

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

Until the next time, Peace!
(c) 2011 Ernest Stewart a.k.a. Uncle Ernie is an unabashed radical, author, stand-up comic, DJ, actor, political pundit and for the last 10 years managing editor and publisher of Issues & Alibis magazine. Visit me on Face Book. Follow me on Twitter.












Ten Good Things About A (Not So) Bad Year
By Medea Benjamin

I had the privilege of starting out the year witnessing, firsthand, the unfolding of the Egyptian revolution in Tahrir Square. I saw people who had been muzzled their entire lives, especially women, suddenly discovering their collective voice. Singing, chanting, demanding, creating. And that became the hallmark of the entire year--people the world over becoming empowered and emboldened simply by watching each other. Courage, we learned in 2011, is contagious!

1. The Arab Spring protests were so astounding that even Time magazine recognized "The Protester" as Person of the Year. Sparked by Tunisian vendor Mohamed Bouazizi'sself-immolation to cry out against police corruption in December 2010, the protests swept across the Middle East and North Africa-including Egypt, Libya, Bahrain, Syria, Yemen, Algeria, Iraq, and Jordan. So far, uprisings have toppled Tunesian President Ben Ali, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, and Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi--with more shake-ups sure to come. And women have been on the front lines of these protests, highlighted recently by the incredibly brave, unprecedented demo of 10,000 Egyptian women protesting military abuse.

2. Wisconsin caught the Spring Fever, with Madison becoming home to some 100,000 protesters opposing Governor Walker's threat to destroy collective bargaining and blame the state's economic woes on public workers. Irate Wisconsinites took over the Capitol, turning it into a festival of democracy, while protests spread throughout the state. The workers managed to loosen the Republican stranglehold on Wisconsin state government and send a message to right-wing extremists across the country. This includes Ohio, where voters overwhelmingly rejected Governor Kasich's SB 5, a measure designed to restrict collective bargaining rights for more than 360,000 public employees. A humbled Kasich held a press conference shortly after the vote, saying: "The people have spoken clearly. You don't ignore the public."

3. On September 17 Occupy Wall Street was born in the heart of Manhattan's Financial District. Protesters railed against the banksters and corporate thieves responsible for the economic collapse. The movement against the greed of the richest 1% spread to over 1,400 cities in the United States and globally, with newly minted activists embracing--with gusto--people's assemblies, consensus decision-making, the people's mic, and upsparkles. Speaking in the name of the 99%, the occupiers changed the national debate from deficits to inequality and corporate abuse. Even after facing heightened police brutality, tent city evictions, and extreme winter weather, protesters are undeterred and continue to create bold actions--from port shut-downs to moving money out of big banks. As Occupy Wall Street said, "You can't evict an idea whose time has come." Stay tuned for lots more occupation news in 2012.

4. After 8 long years, U.S. troops were finally withdrawn from Iraq. Credit the Iraqis with forcing Obama to stick to an agreement signed under President Bush, and the peace movement here at home for 8 years of opposition to a war our government should never have started. The US invasion and occupation left the country devastated, and Obama's administration is keeping many thousands of State Department staff, spies and military contractors in the world's biggest "embassy" in Baghdad. But the withdrawal marks the end of a long, tragic war and for that we should give thanks. Now let's hold the war criminals accountable!

5. The 2011 Nobel Peace Prize was presented to three terrific women: Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the president of Liberia; Leymah Gbowee, the Liberian peace activist; and Yemeni pro-democracy campaigner Tawakkol Karman. A total of only 15 women have received the Nobel Peace Prize since it was first awarded in 1901.These three women were recognized for their non-violent struggle for women's safety and for women's rights to participate in peace-building work. Never before in history have three women been awarded the prize simultaneously. How inspiring!

6. The bloated Pentagon budget is no longer immune from budget cuts. The failure of the super-committee means the Pentagon budget could be cut by a total of $1 trillion over the next decade - which would amount to a 23 percent reduction in the defense budget. The hawks are trying to stop the cuts, but most people are more interested in rebuilding America than fattening the Pentagon. That's why the U.S. Conference of Mayors, for the first time since the Vietnam war, passed a resolution calling for the end to the hostilities and instead investing at home to create jobs, rebuild infrastructure and develop sustainable energy. 2011 pried open the Pentagon's lock box. Let's make the cuts in 2012!

7. Elizabeth Warren is running for Senate and Rep. Barbara Lee continues to inspire. After the financial meltdown in 2008, Warren was appointed chair of the Congressional Oversight Panel to investigate the bank bailout and oversee TARP--and investigate she did. She dressed down the banks and set up a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to protect borrowers. Warren became so popular that tens of thousands of people urged her to run for the Senate in Massachusetts, which she is doing. And let's give a shout out to Rep. Barbara Lee, who worked valiantly all year to push other issues with massive grassroots support: a bill to "only fund the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan" and a bill to repeal the 2001 Authorization of the Use of Force bill that continues to justify U.S. interventions anywhere in the world.

8. Burmese opposition leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi is running for Parliament! Released last year from nearly 15 years of house arrest, this year Suu Kyi held discussions with the Burmese junta. These talks led to a number of government concessions, including the release of many of Burma's political prisoners and the legalization of trade unions. In November 2011, Suu Kyi's party, the NLD, announced its intention to re-register as a political party in order run candidates in 48 by-elections. This puts Suu Kyi in the running and marks a major democratic opening after decades of abuse by the military regime.

9. Opposition to Keystone pipeline inspired thousands of new activists, together with a rockin' coalition of environment groups across the U.S. and Canada. They brought the issue of the climate-killing pipeline right to President Obama's door, with over 1,200 arrested in front of the White House. The administration heard them and ordered a new review of the project, but the Republican global warming deniers are trying to force Obama's hand. Whatever way this struggle ends, it has educated millions about the tar sands threat and trained a new generation of environmentalists in more effective, direct action tactics that will surely result in future "wins" for the planet.

10. Following the tragic meltdown at the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan, the growing appetite for nuclear energy has been reversed. Women in Japan are spearheading protests to shut down Japan's remaining plants and focus on green energy. Braving a cold winter, they have set up tents in front of the Ministry of Economic Affairs and pledged to continue their demonstration for 10 months and 10 days, traditionally considered in Japan as a full term that covers a pregnancy. "Our protests are aimed at achieving a rebirth in Japanese society," said Chieko Shina, a grandmother from Fukushima. Meanwhile Germany, which has been getting almost one quarter of its electricity from nuclear power, has pledged to shut down all 17 nuclear power plants by 2022. Chancellor Angela Merkel said she hopes Germany's transformation to more solar, wind and hydroelectric power will serve as a roadmap for other countries. Power (wind and solar, that is) to the people!

* * * * *

The common thread in the good news this year is the power of ordinary people to counter the abuse of privileged elites, whether corrupt politicians, banksters or greedy CEOs. People all over the globe are insisting that social inequality and environmental devastation are not inevitable features of our global landscape, but policy choices that can be--and must be--reversed. That certainly gives us a full plate for 2012!
(c) 2011 Medea Benjamin is cofounder of Global Exchange and CODEPINK, which has organized seven humanitarian delegations to Gaza. She is author of Don't Be Afraid Gringo: A Honduran Woman Speaks from the Heart.





The Duke Of Nablus
By Uri Avnery

THE NAME of Munib al-Masri has recently come up as a possible candidate for Prime Minister of a Palestinian national unity government. Not being a member of either Fatah or Hamas, he is acceptable to both.

Al-Masri himself denies any such ambition. He says that he is too old (77), and that a younger generation of Palestinians should take over.

He also says that he is quite content with his present situation.

And so would you be.

THE WEST BANK city of Nablus nestles in the valley between two tall mountains, Ebal and Gerizim. Mount Gerizim is the more famous one, because it is sacred to the Samaritan people, who believe that God commanded the Israelites to build his temple there. For them, Jerusalem is just an upstart.

Mount Gerizim, 881 meters above sea level, towers 330 meters above the center of Nablus. It is mentioned many times in the Bible. There Jotham, the son of the judge Gideon, made his famous speech comparing politicians to the bramble, a good-for-nothing plant that bears no fruit, has no scent and provides no shade, which agreed to be the king of the trees after all the other trees declined the honor. Perhaps Munib al-Masri agrees with this lesson, which seems strangely relevant in many countries today.

If you walk along the main street of Nablus and raise your eyes to heaven, you see on the top of the mountain an imposing building with a dome. This is the home of al-Masri.

Well, "home" may be slight understatement. Actually, it is the most imposing private residence in Palestine and Israel, if not - as has been claimed - from Morocco to the border of India.

The al-Masri villa is an exact reproduction of Villa Capra, also known as La Rotonda, a unique architectural masterpiece some 60 km from Venice. When you stand in front of the building, you can't believe your eyes. Actually, you don't even know where the front is - because it has four "fronts", all with identical entrances, pillars and steps. When you enter through any one of them, you come to a wide circular foyer, from which all the rooms branch out. In the center stands an ancient Greek statue of Hercules. Over this three-floor-high central space towers the dome.

The marble for the floor and all the other building materials were brought from abroad. An Italian expert has joked that the Palestinian palace looks more like the original, and the Italian palazzo like a convincing copy.

That would have been more than enough. But it isn't.

All the rooms of the palace are crammed with works of art, collected by al-Masri over some 40 years. They are enough to fill an impressive museum. Paintings from renaissance masters to the moderns, fireplaces from Versailles, classic tables and chairs from Spain, Tapestries from Flanders, chandeliers from Italy, and much, much more. Room after room.

Well, that should be more than enough. But it isn't.

When excavation work for the foundation started, three small ancient pottery sherds were discovered. The work was stopped and archeological diggings began. The results were staggering: a complete 4th century Byzantine monastery was uncovered. It stands there now with all its rooms, chapels and stables, surrounded by stout pillars on which the entire modern structure rests. One building on top of another.

Enough? Not nearly. The palace is surrounded by a huge estate, greenhouses, olive plantations, a pool and whatnot. But enough of that.

I MET al-Masri, a slim, tall gentleman, some twenty years ago, on one of my visits to Yasser Arafat in Tunis. Al-Masri belonged to the inner circle of the leader, and returned to Palestine with him.

Before that, he had served as a Jordanian cabinet minister and had been accused of helping Arafat and other Fatah leaders escape from Jordan during the bloody "Black September" of 1970.

Side by side with the masterpieces of art, the walls of the palace are covered with hundreds of photos of the owner with his American wife, his sons and daughters, and in the company of world figures. Among them, Yasser Arafat stands out. Al-Masri admires him.

Since that casual meeting in Tunis, I have followed his rare utterances. Every word he has said about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could have come from me, and vice versa. Our ideas about the solution are very close.

Remarkably, he has remained a man of peace even after tragedy hit his family: on Naqba day, a few months ago, his grandson, who was studying at the American University in Beirut, joined the protesters who came south to the border fence. Israeli troops opened fire, the grandson was hit by a bullet - a prohibited dumdum bullet, he says - which injured his spinal cord, liver and kidneys. The young man is now being treated in the US.

Since finishing the palazzo, al-Masri occupies himself with his many philanthrophies, especially supporting the universities of Nablus, East Jerusalem and Beirut, and his wide-flung businesses. But he remains a passionately political person.

He named the palace "Palestine House" and maintains that his main purpose in building it there was saving the area for the Palestinian people. By building on top of the mountain, he prevented the establishment of an Israeli settlement there. Nablus is already surrounded by a cluster of settlements - some of them belonging to the most extreme neo-fascist tendencies. In one of them resides the rabbi whose book advocates the killing of non-Jewish children in certain circumstances. From these settlements come the Jewish pogromists who regularly set fire to surrounding mosques. Talk about a villa in the jungle!

THE AL-MASRI family is one of the most distinguished in the country. Though the name means "the Egyptian", the family comes originally from the Hejaz, in what is today Saudi Arabia. For centuries, the family has lived in Hebron and Jerusalem and then, for the last two centuries, in Nablus. (Nablus is the Arabic version of Neapolis, the town founded by the Emperor Vespasian some 1940 years ago, after he destroyed the nearby Jewish town of Sichem or Shechem.)

If this were England, Munib al-Masri would be a lord, if not the Duke of Nablus.

My first contact with the family came a few days after the 1967 war. At the time, few people believed that Israel could hold on to the newly occupied territories for more than a few weeks. The general preference was to return the West Bank to the Jordanian king. In the Knesset, I tried to convince the government to enable the Palestinians, instead, to set up a state of their own.

For that purpose, I made the rounds of the local Palestinian leaders, mostly the heads of the great families. One of them was Hikmet al-Masri, Munib's uncle. I put to all of them in confidence the same question: if you had the choice of returning to Jordan or establishing a Palestinian state, which would you prefer? Their unanimous answer: Palestine, of course.

During a Knesset session, I advertised this fact, which was furiously denied by the Minister of Defense, Moshe Dayan. In the ensuing debate, this time with the Prime Minister, Levy Eshkol, I said that Dayan was consciously lying. Eshkol defended his minister heatedly, but being the person he was, the next day he sent me one of his chief advisors to ask what evidence I had. The protocol of this conversation, made by the advisor, stated: "There is no difference between deputy Avnery's information and my own. However, he agrees with me that no Palestinian state without East Jerusalem is possible. Since the Government of Israel has decided to annex East Jerusalem, deputy Avnery's proposal is impossible to realize."

When I recounted this to Munib al-Masri last week, he shook his head sadly.

HOW IS it, he asked me, that the Israelis know nothing about the Palestinians, while the Palestinians know so much about the Israelis?

The fact cannot be denied. Israeli schoolchildren learn practically nothing about the people with whom our existence is intertwined. Nothing about Islam, nothing about the Koran, nothing about the glories of Arab history.

Many years ago, in a Knesset debate on education, I put forward the idea that every pupil in Israel learn not only the history of his people - the Jewish or the Arab, respectively - but also the history of the country from ancient days to the present, Canaanites, Israelites, Samaritans, Jews, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Crusaders, Mamelukes, Turks, Palestinians, British, Israelis, as a way to see what unites us. For some reason, this amused the Minister of Education so much that from then on he called me "the Mameluke".

As it is, when a young Israeli joins the army at 18, he "knows" only that Islam is a barbaric, anti-Semitic religion, and that the Arabs want to kill him for no reason at all.

Perhaps that is natural. An oppressed people has a great incentive to know about the occupier, but the occupier has no incentive to study the occupied beyond the realm of military intelligence. The more so since an occupier tends to regard the occupied as an inferior race, in order to justify the occupation to the world and to himself.

Every conflict engenders mistrust, prejudice, stereotypes, hatred, demonization. When it goes on for generations, like this one, all these are multiplied. To make peace, they have to be overcome. That's why people like Munib al-Masri are so important. I wish that every Israeli could meet Palestinians like him.

I also hope he becomes Palestinian Prime Minister, presiding over a cabinet of national reconciliation between the Palestinian factions, ultimately leading to the reconciliation between our two peoples.
(c) 2011 Uri Avnery ~~~ Gush Shalom







How Banks Cheat Taxpayers
By Matt Taibbi

A good friend of mine sent me a link to a small story last week, something that deserves a little attention, post-factum.

The Bloomberg piece is about J.P. Morgan Chase winning a bid to be the lead underwriter on a $400 million bond issue by the state of Massachusetts. Chase was up against Merrill for the bid and won the race with an offer of a 2.57% interest rate, beating Merrill's bid of 2.79. The difference in the bid saved the state of Massachusetts $880,000.

Afterward, Massachusetts state treasurer Steven Grossman breezily played up the benefits of a competitive bid. "There's always a certain amount of competition going on out there," Grossman said in a telephone interview yesterday. "That's good. We like competition." Well … so what, right? Two banks fight over the right to be the government's underwriter, one submits a more competitive bid, the taxpayer saves money, and everyone wins. That's the way it ought to be, correct?

Correct. Except in four out of five cases, it still doesn't happen that way. From the same piece [emphasis mine]:

Nationwide, about 20 percent of debt issued by states and local governments is sold through competitive bids. Issuers post public notices asking banks to make proposals and award the debt to the bidder offering the lowest interest cost. The other 80 percent are done through negotiated underwriting, where municipalities select a bank to price and sell the bonds.

By "negotiated underwriting," what Bloomberg means is, "local governments just hand the bid over to the bank that tosses enough combined hard and soft money at the right politicians."

There is absolutely no good reason why all debt issues are not put up to competitive bids. This is not like defense contracting, where in some situations it is at least theoretically possible that X or Y company is the world's only competent manufacturer, say, of armor-plated Humvee doors, or some such thing. It's still wrong and perverse when companies like Halliburton or Blackwater get sole-source defense contracts, but at least there's some kind of theoretical justification there.

But this is a bond issue, not rocket science. In most cases, all the top investment banks will offer virtually the same service, with only the price varying. Towns and cities and states lose billions of dollars every year allowing financial services companies to overcharge them for underwriting.

It gets even worse in the derivatives markets, where banks routinely overcharge state and local governments for things like interest rate swaps, for one very obvious reason - swaps are not traded on open exchanges, so only the banks know how to price them.

Imagine what NFL gambling would be like if the casinos didn't publish the point spreads every week, and you'll get a rough idea of how the swap market works. If you couldn't look it up, how many points would you give the Dolphins against the Jets next week? Two? Five? Seven? The big casinos know, because they're taking all that action, that the real number is one point.

In the same vein, exactly how accurately do you think some local county treasurer might be able to guess the cost of an interest rate swap for his local school system? Answer: he'd probably do about as well as you or I would, guessing the odds on a Croatian soccer match.

The big banks know this, which is why there should never, ever be non-competitive bids for those sorts of financial services. In a sole-source contract for a swap deal, you're trusting a (probably corrupt) Too-Big-To-Fail bank to give you a good deal for a product whose price is not publicly listed anywhere.

There have been numerous investigations and lawsuits across the world connected with this sort of systematic overcharging, from Erie, Pennsylvania to the notorious Jefferson County, Alabama case, to Milan, Italy (which sued Chase and four other banks for misleading them about derivative prices).

In the Erie case, Chase recommended to the locals that they hire a financial adviser to review the deal. What they didn't tell the local government was that Chase had paid a fee to this adviser, a firm called Investment Management Advisory Group Inc., or IMAGE. They pulled the same scam with the school district of Butler County, Pennsylvania.

And in the oft-discussed Jefferson County case alone, Chase reportedly overcharged the locals $100 million for the crooked swap deals that, in a completely separate outrage, will probably leave Birmingham bankrupt for the next generation.

All of which is exactly what people like the OWS protesters are complaining about when they talk about greed and excess on Wall Street. Nobody is begrudging a bank's desire to make money, and nobody is saying a bank shouldn't be allowed to make money, even a lot of money, performing legitimate services for the state and the taxpayer.

But when you put a thumb on the scale in a financial services contract, the costs start to get outrageous very quickly. The banks would still do a very crisp, almost effortlessly lucrative business if they just stuck to submitting competitive bids for legitimate work - but instead of that, they for some reason have to game the system, grease politicians, rig bids, and stick the taxpayer with overpriced products. Which sucks, of course. Hopefully politicians will catch on and go the Massachusetts route more often.
(c) 2011 Matt Taibbi







Prism Break
Seeing Beyond the Shadows on the Walls Around Us
By Randall Amster

Social movements, when broadly construed and successfully applied, serve as something akin to elaborate filters. By holding a mirror up to society, a movement causes us to reconsider basic assumptions and structural processes that often exist invisibly yet pervasively in our collective midst. Social movement activities render such practices visible, and subject them to scrutiny in a manner that can become contagious in its breadth and depth alike. Movements make us question those things that we take for granted, assume are unchangeable, or benefit from without repercussions.

In this sense, a movement acts like a lens that sharpens and clarifies the reality we observe and participate in, making the strange familiar and the familiar strange all at once. When this movement consciousness begins to "go viral" and infuse the larger culture itself - as we have seen with Occupy - it has the initial effect of breaking down the facade of "consensus reality" that subsumes a great deal of "normal life" without much investigation or contestation. A viral movement perspective, in short, begins to erode the virtual prism that envelops the larger part of our daily existence. In this context, we can define a prism as "a medium that distorts, slants, or colors whatever is viewed through it." We carry this prism around with us throughout the spaces, places, relationships, and business of our lives, over time coming to embrace its distortions - even the obvious ones - as realities. Plato wrote about something quite like this millennia ago in his "allegory of the cave," in which people conditioned to face only in a particular direction fail to recognize that the images they take to be real are merely backlit projections onto the surface of the walls set in place around them.

A movement asks us to cast our gaze in all directions, to evaluate the source of the images we consume, to critically observe how many are unquestioningly taken to be tangible, and to bring the light of inquiry to bear in order to decide which of them can withstand genuine scrutiny. Despite at times appearing to make "all or nothing" arguments in which every aspect of society is being rejected, movements are more properly understood as intricate sociopolitical filtration mechanisms that are set up to allow people, both individually and collectively, to determine which pieces of the world around them will be kept in some form and which are outmoded and destined to go obsolete.

This selective mechanism is sometimes known simply as process, and it is why the claims articulated by movements are often processual more so than substantive, especially in the early days of a mobilization. People want their voices to be heard, they desire accountability and transparency in governance, and they evolve forms of decision making that model these values in real time. The distance between those deciding and those experiencing a course of action is sought to be narrowed or even eliminated, and perspectives often excluded from the dialogue are brought into the center of it. The central issue often devolves squarely upon who gets to chart the course of societal evolution.

For a long time, we have largely accepted a model in which wealthy, entrenched, powerful, and professional interests control these processes. More broadly, we have failed to exert sufficient popular influence to challenge those interests as they steadily put in place a system that preserves their uncontestable rule seemingly regardless of the particular individuals elected or appointed to manage it. The charade of partisan politics today may not be much different than it was in Plato's time, blending seamlessly in our modern world with sports, celebrity news, and infotainment to further accentuate its illusory nature. We have been functionally distracted and politically disempowered, with our attention diverted from actual reality to an aesthetic of faux real.

Such a system transcends the eloquence or goodness of specific individuals. It constrains popular debate by filtering all issues through a narrow ideological prism that falsely conveys a two-sided discourse despite the narrow margin of actual disagreement across the aisle. The dominant system reinforces itself at every turn, from politics and economics to culture and education. Our freedoms to express and associate remain reasonably unfettered within these structures - as long as we are engaging in a debate whose terms have already been set, and as long as we accept the validity and authority of the images that are perpetually broadcast on the wall.

And then along comes a movement that asks us to look at the source of those constructed images. First, it suggests to us that there is in fact such a source, which many among the masses will recoil at as being either hysterical or heretical. Then, it begins to reveal the source by physically occupying its more obvious locales and drawing societal attention directly toward it. This has the effect of making uncomfortable those seeking to keep the source cloaked, and they will utilize tactics ranging from artifice to force in order to cast the collective cultural gaze back toward the image-bearing cave wall and away from the shadow-making source that is always just out of people's field of vision. At this point, there is a contest between those who would uphold the prism and those who would break it.

Some who have seen the source for the first time will express their dismay, yet hope for it to win this contest because they fear the new and do not like the idea of things being broken. Some will try to broker a compromise that allows the dominant prism to remain in place with a few concessions, perhaps including an expansion of the range of images that will be allowed to appear on the walls in the future. Some will sense a long-awaited opening and agitate strenuously to smash the image-producing source altogether. Some will remain firmly glued to the cave walls, undistracted by the mild fracas happening over their shoulders and hoping it stops before their favorite show comes on. And some will hastily be creating new images for public consumption that include the "anti-images" of the movement as part of the spectacle, thus seeking to absorb it into the prism involuntarily.

And then a decisive crossroads is reached. If the movement cannot demonstrate that it is more than merely agitating against the dominant system and its false images, then many - even those who are sympathetic to it - will generally accept the projection of its claims as simply part of the larger spectacle. On the other hand, if the movement continues to remain dynamic, multifaceted, and constructive in its approach, it can resist easy cooptation and make itself interesting and relevant to those who are growing tired of being spectators at all. The aim is not to turn every single head, but to gather enough momentum in a new direction that begins to expand the range of people's vision.

Ultimately, if successful, the movement will reach a point where a critical mass of the members of a given society is no longer constrained by the prism of false images, values, and ideas. A new prism will be in the process of taking hold, one that works to remain malleable and open to constant correction by the collective power of everyone utilizing it - lest it become but another rigid lens for projecting pictures on the cave walls. Maybe it is actually a multitude of new prisms that gets produced, overlapping and interdependent to an extent yet subject to being determined by the unique individuals and communities that comprise the new society's foundations. Perhaps, in an even longer while, people may come to perceive reality itself without the need to filter it at all.

Until that day, we have a movement urging us to reevaluate the dominant prism, and with it an opportunity to remake the map of our world - or at least the image of it that is placed before us. That might not seem like a lot, but without it we have little hope of breaking free from the shadows.
(c) 2011 Randall Amster J.D., Ph.D., teaches peace studies at Prescott College and serves as the executive director of the Peace & Justice Studies Association. His most recent book is the co-edited volume "Building Cultures of Peace: Transdisciplinary Voices of Hope and Action" (Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2009).






Give A Gift That Matters

It wasn't that long ago that the act of "gift giving" didn't require a maddening trip to Wal-Mart or a desperate online search for this season's must-have toy. Rather, a gift implied something from within, a little piece of yourself, no matter how small, showing you care.

Could that old-fashioned concept possibly become new-fashioned? Yes. With today's working class depression severely restricting the ability of most people to splurge on "stuff," and with the public's rising unwillingness to keep shoveling their money at narcissistic corporate profiteers, a return to a more modest -but also deeper -spirit of gift-giving seems to be spreading. Realizing that buying globalized corporate crap is not really a gift, more and more people are putting their money where their values are. They're buying from local artisans, fair trade merchants, certified sweatshop-free manufacturers, recycling shops, co-ops, farmer's markets, homeless centers, church bazaars, charities, and other sources of the burgeoning non-corporate economy.

And what if you used your gifts as a way to inspire the recipients of your presents to tap into their own generosity? This is surprisingly easy to do. As proposed by a Methodist church group in Austin, Texas, just send a bit of cash to that grandson, niece, mother-in-law, or whomever -on the condition that they must donate the money to a charitable organization of their choosing. Yes, they might very well donate to some group that you don't like, but stimulating the philanthropic impulse in today's self-focused society is itself a radical act. Five dollars, fifty, a hundred, or whatever can make recipients think beyond their own possessions - and that alone is a social advancement.

We can all do our bit to spread the happy notion that the best gifts are not the ones we get, but the thoughtful ones we give.
(c) 2011 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.








Iraq War Ends, But Questions Remain
By Helen Thomas

While the death of North Korea's "Dear Leader" Kim Jong-il last week took the end of the Iraq War and the official farewells off the front pages, President Barack Obama marked the end of the war in a ceremony this week.

We declared victory in Iraq and departed after more than eight years. We left a few thousand troops to pick up the pieces. The combat troops are gone, but a few are holding the fort to train the Iraqi troops to fight against any remaining opposition and to guard against any possible leadership struggle that may occur.

(By the way, we still have troops in Germany, Japan and Korea left over from World War II and the Korean War.)

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said the war was not in vain. Tell that to the families who lost their loved ones, the maimed and wounded who have lost limbs, and those mentally traumatized as a result of killing strangers on order, commands which came from those safely on high.

Former President George W. Bush invaded Iraq in March 2003, dropping bombs on Baghdad. He has yet to give an honest reason for the war, but it is evident he wanted to be known as a war president.

Bush claimed that then Iraqi President Saddam Hussein had an arsenal of weapons of mass destruction. The claim was not true. Bush resisted U.N. appeals to allow a last inspection.

Mission accomplished, Bush said - prematurely, of course. But we should ask, "What was the mission?" Obama said we are leaving behind democracy and transparency.

Bush is home in Texas claiming his only mistake was not finding the weapons. What price glory?

Remember the propaganda in the lead up to the war? The war was to last for two weeks, and Iraqis were to shower the troops with flowers and candy. They did, until they realized the American troops were not liberators, but occupiers.

Obama, who followed Bush in the White House, had one chance to pull out of Iraq the day after he took over the presidency. At that time, he was very popular and he could have moved boldly to end the wars. Instead, he chose a losing policy.

The war toll for American servicemembers includes 4,700 dead and tens of thousands wounded. The American people have been passive to fact that thousands of men and women who have gone half way around the world to fight Iraqis - none of whom were involved in the 9-11 attacks.

Hussein was anathema to the United States and Israel, who targeted him as public enemy number one. Following Israel's footsteps, we have now turned our attention to Iran and its plans to become a nuclear power.

The financial cost of the war is estimated to be somewhere between $800 billion and $1 trillion.

We are leaving Iraq not with a bang but a whimper.

To this day, no authority has told us the truth about why we attacked Iraq to begin with. Take your pick: Could it have been avenging daddy (in this case, the Bush's father, former President George H.W. Bush), big oil (which Iraq has in abundance), or U.S. strategic interest in Iraq?

Was it worth the sacrifices made by the American people?

We have a presidential election coming up next November. Shouldn't our next President tell us why, the next time they decide to start a war? The American people have a right to know. Presidential candidates should finally tell us the truth.

We paid too high of a price for our ignorance this time around.
(c) 2011 Helen Thomas is a columnist for the Falls Church News-Press. Among other books she is the author of Front Row At The White House: My Life and Times.







2012 Is Here - Do We Dare Celebrate?
By James Donahue

It has been tradition as long as we can remember to celebrate the arrival of every New Year with singing, dancing and general rivalry. Fireworks, bells, shotguns and shouts of "Happy New Year" ring through the night sky at the mark of midnight.

There is usually a relief that we have just completed the previous year, having made a lot of blunders. Resolutions are made to try to do much better in the New Year. Indeed, every New Year gives us the glowing sense of a new beginning. It will be a year to set things right.

But the year 2012 comes with attached and pre-set adversity unlike anything mankind has ever faced in the past. Not only have world leaders apparently gone insane and protesters taken to the streets, but we are faced with an overcrowded and polluted world, extreme climate changes that threaten our quality of life and an obvious collapse of the world economic system.

Oh yes, and then there is that Mayan Calendar thing. There is a growing belief that because that ancient stone-carved calendar in the Middle American jungle comes to an abrupt stop on December 21, 2012, it was a warning that it may mark the end of the world as we know it.

Nobody has ever explained how the Mayan people might have been able to predict the end of the world with that kind of accuracy. But with more and more people believing that this date holds some kind of prophetic warning, and with world conditions deteriorating as quickly as they appear to be, the concern is that Jung's theory of collective consciousness may snap into play. With so many humans believing the end will arrive this year on that exact date, we might just make it happen.

(It apparently hasn't occurred to anyone that the stone carver that made the calendar ran out of room on the stone.)

There may, however, be a silver lining to all of this doomsday thinking. That we have so many people in the streets rising up in opposition to the oppression that has controlled nations and enslaved so many workers to a form of slave labor for so long, may be a sign of a world revolution now occurring before our eyes.

Astrologers, would-be prophets and self-proclaimed psychics are predicting that they believe change is coming . . . but it will not be the end of the world. It will be the end of the way the world has been operating for thousands of years. They are saying that something new is about to make itself known.

While December 21, 2012 may be the end of the world as we know it, it does not mean we are facing the end of the world and human extinction. If there is any good thing to come out of this change, we might express optimism and believe that perhaps a new world is about to emerge. But if it happens, we are going to have to do the work.

Christians are looking for a return of a messiah that will drop down out of the sky and save the world. Christian sects believe Jesus will rise from the dead and lead them in a great war against the forces of evil before establishing a world kingdom in Jerusalem. Undoubtedly many of them see 2012 as the year of this magical event.

The problem with the Christian story is that it is an extremely exclusive club. Only "born again believers" will be allowed in and everybody else in this world is excluded. This concept is obviously as flawed as the Islamic cult promise that those that blow themselves up for Allah are rewarded by 72 virgins in Heaven, and the Jewish belief that they and only they are God's "chosen" people.

Repairing this cock-eyed world may just take some common sense and a charismatic leader with the ability to bring some sanity back into the way people are thinking.

From our perspective, the best solution is found hidden all along in the heart of all of the world religions. It is that old four-letter word: LOVE. If the people of all creeds can bring themselves to set aside all of the nutty mythology attached to their books and stories, and practice love for our fellow humans, as taught by the prophets of old, the magic could really happen in 2012.

The solution is equality for everybody. That suggests a one-world socialistic government system and a fair and equal distribution of the wealth and resources. It is due time to put an end to unfair dictatorships, corporate controls, kingdoms and outdated religious systems that work together to enslave the people.

Most of all, it is time to do away with the wicket system of materialism and war under false pretenses that have drained the world's resources. We must learn to work together to save this planet and all of the creatures on it from the threat of a premature death and eventual extinction. It is not too late. December 21, 2012 is as good a time as any to start on this new path to a brighter future.
(c) 2011 James L. Donahue is a retired newspaper reporter, editor and columnist with more than 40 years of experience in professional writing. He is the published author of five books, all dealing with Michigan history, and several magazine articles. He currently produces daily articles for this web site.






Was Iraq "Worth It"?
The same cost-benefit analyses deployed against social programs should be applied to our military misadventures
By David Sirota

With the American occupation of Iraq officially coming to a close this week (and I stress "officially" because it's not actually ending), so begins the psychological battle for the memory of that military adventure. Just as the post-Vietnam period saw a sustained campaign by militarists to revise the history of that war and manufacture politicized stories about why it went badly -the 1980s told us it was lost because roops supposedly got spit on, politicians supposedly micromanaged the war, not because the war was a bad idea -the same militarists will seek to change our recollection of the Iraq adventure, so as to make sure a future adventure (perhaps against Iran) will be politically possible.

This will all undoubtedly play out in the crucible of the 2012 presidential campaign, where the foreign-policy gotcha question will be whether the candidates believe the war was "worth it." Already, leaders of both parties are breaking out the "in vain" cliche, reassuring America that its soldiers did not die as such. Yes, the crusade to reimagine the Iraq War is on -and with it comes a demand for us to suspend our disbelief. In the real-time myth-making, we are being asked to view the invasion's success through the prism of Saddam Hussein's death and fragile Iraqi self-governance, as if those objectives, rather than phantom WMD and supposed imminent threats, were the stated mission justifying such a huge expenditure of blood and treasure.

Such hagiography and post-facto revision aside, the only empirical way to determine whether Iraq was "worth it" -and thus, have a clue as to whether future adventurist invasions are worth it -is to perform some kind of cost-benefit analysis.

This wouldn't be all that difficult to do since our government is already fond of subjecting complex programs to such review. Indeed, federal agencies' cost-benefit analyses are so meticulous -and merciless -that they actually put prices on American lives (for instance, the EPA uses $9 million per life while the FDA uses $7.9 million). That kind of reductionism is not a partisan issue -it's a matter of transpartisan consensus in Washington, as presidents of both parties regularly install cost-benefit ideologues into top rule-making positions in government (for example, the White House's powerful Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs was headed by cost-benefit acolyte John Graham under President Bush, and is now headed by cost-benefit fetishist Cass Sunstein under President Obama).

Considering this, such retrospective scrutiny looking at past wars, or prospective scrutiny looking at future ones, would be a relatively simple proposition. Thanks to Iraq and Afghanistan, we have a basic sense of how many lives are lost and how much cash is spent in a given invasion. For those who insist those wars could result in big costs from terrorist retaliation, we now have a decade's worth of terrorism statistics during our post-9/11 wars to judge those potential costs, too. Additionally, our intelligence experts can likely estimate how many terrorist attacks we may have thwarted because of such wars. And they can estimate the possible future costs in retaliation and anti-Americanism of drone strikes that, according to the Brookings Institution, kill 10 innocent civilians for every one alleged militant.

But as straightforward as such cost-benefit analyses of war would be, and as much as they might tell us about whether waging war is the right call, there's a catch: While our government is quick to subject domestic and non-military priorities to dollars-and-cents scrutiny, that same government all but refuses to subject militarism to the same scrutiny. Indeed, the idea of actually trying to answer the simple "worth it" question about war through a cost-benefit analysis is now considered so radical -so unthinkable -in Washington, that President Bush's chief economic advisor, Lawrence Lindsey, set off a major firestorm when he dared to even ponder a reporter's hypothetical question about it.

Why the double standard between domestic programs and military affairs? Because like so many seemingly apolitical policy instruments in Washington today, cost-benefit analyses are primarily used as cudgels exclusively against middle-class programs, rather than employed as a dispassionate means of judging the worth of all initiatives. Put another way, cost-benefit analyses are selectively deployed against -or distorted to kill -programs that threaten powerful corporate interests, but they are often nowhere to be found when they might undermine those interests.

Two examples in 2011 highlight this reality.

One happened earlier this year, when Republicans blocked voluntary Federal Trade Commission guidelines to curb junk-food marketing aimed at kids. As recounted by the New York Times' Mark Bittman, Missouri Republican Rep. Jo Ann Emerson -who has taken big campaign contributions from PepsiCo, the American Beverage Association and the National Restaurant Association - "inserted language into an appropriations bill that would prohibit the F.T.C. from submitting a final draft of the guidelines before completing a full cost-benefit analysis." Emerson and her corporate allies obviously believe the cost-benefit analysis will kill the guidelines, because they know the government's analyses are sufficiently tilted toward overestimating business costs and underestimating societal benefits.

Then came news of the Obama administration politicizing and distorting cost-benefit concerns in killing EPA smog rules. As the New York Times reported, in pushing to enact the rules, EPA administrator Lisa Jackson worked up "a 500-page package with a detailed cost-benefit analysis" showing that "as many as 7,200 deaths, 11,000 emergency room visits and 38,000 acute cases of asthma would be avoided each year." But when she brought that analysis to former JPMorgan executive-turned-White House chief of staff Bill Daley, he "sens(ed) uproar from business" and then engaged in his own ad hoc cost-benefit scrutiny, "sharply question(ing) the costs and burdens" of the rule on industry. Eventually, he sided with the lobbyists at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, who convinced him to ignore "the lung thing, the asthma thing and the kids' health thing" and kill the rules because "your boss is up for re-election next year."

In the food guidelines case, a cost-benefit analysis was used as an obstacle. In the smog case, an empirical cost-benefit analysis of pollution controls was first distorted and then supplanted by a political cost-benefit analysis, as White House aides decided that the potential costs to President Obama's corporate fundraising outweighed the benefit of preventing two 9/11′s worth of casualties every year. Either way, the result was the same: The cost-benefit analysis, seemingly an impartial instrument of technocrats, was used as a potent political weapon.

No doubt, pointing such a powerful, program-killing weapon at the bloated Pentagon budget might sound great to those who oppose our military adventurism. And there's no doubt America would benefit from -or at least be better informed by -a sober cost-benefit analysis of our current state of Permanent War. But that's precisely why we don't get such an analysis on military matters -because it might bring an end to the very adventures and wars that continue to generate such largess for the Military-Industrial Complex.
(c) 2011 David Sirota is the author of the best-selling books "Hostile Takeover" and "The Uprising." He hosts the morning show on AM760 in Colorado and blogs at OpenLeft.com. E-mail him at ds@davidsirota.com. David Sirota is a former spokesperson for the House Appropriations Committee.








Obama Again Unconstitutionally Claims Unconstitutional War Powers In A Signing Statement
By David Swanson

As you know if you've been awake the past several years, Bush began the unconstitutional practice of rewriting laws with signing statements, there was a little scandal when people found out, candidate Obama promised not to do it, Obama did it, Obama declared it OK in an executive order, and now it's all perfectly fine.

As you know if you give a damn about the future of this country, it isn't really perfectly fine. Here's Obama's latest. This is from a signing statement on a spending bill, not the "Defense" Authorization Act which is yet to come:

"Section 113 of Division H requires the Secretary of Defense to notify the Appropriations Committees of both Houses of Congress 30 days in advance of "any proposed military exercise involving United States personnel" that is anticipated to involve expenditures of more than $100,000 on construction. Language in Division I, title I, under the headings International Organizations, Contributions for International Peacekeeping Activities, disallows the expenditure of funds "for any United Nations peacekeeping mission that will involve United States Armed Forces under the command or operational control of a foreign national," unless my military advisers have advised that such an involvement is in the national interest, and unless I have made the same recommendation to the Congress. In approving this bill, I reiterate the understanding, which I have communicated to the Congress, that I will apply these provisions in a manner consistent with my constitutional authority as Commander in Chief.

"Certain provisions in Division I, including sections 7013, 7025, 7029, 7033, 7043, 7046, 7049, 7059, 7062, and 7071, restrict or require particular diplomatic communications, negotiations, or interactions with foreign governments or international organizations. Others, including sections 7031, 7037, and 7086, hinder my ability to receive diplomatic representatives of foreign governments. Finally, section 7041 requires the disclosure to the Congress of information regarding ongoing diplomatic negotiations. I have advised the Congress that I will not treat these provisions as limiting my constitutional authorities in the area of foreign relations.

"Moreover, several provisions in this bill, including section 627 of Division C and section 512 of Division D, could prevent me from fulfilling my constitutional responsibilities, by denying me the assistance of senior advisers and by obstructing my supervision of executive branch officials in the execution of their statutory responsibilities. I have informed the Congress that I will interpret these provisions consistent with my constitutional duty to take care that the laws be faithfully executed.

"Additional provisions in this bill, including section 8013 of Division A and section 218 of Division F, purport to restrict the use of funds to advance certain legislative positions. I have advised the Congress that I will not construe these provisions as preventing me from fulfilling my constitutional responsibility to recommend to the Congress's consideration such measures as I shall judge necessary and expedient.

"Numerous provisions of this bill purport to condition the authority of executive branch officials to spend or reallocate funds on the approval of congressional committees. These are constitutionally impermissible forms of congressional aggrandizement in the execution of the laws. Although my Administration will notify the relevant committees before taking the specified actions, and will accord the recommendations of such committees appropriate and serious consideration, our spending decisions shall not be treated as dependent on the approval of congressional committees. In particular, section 1302 of Division G conditions the authority of the Librarian of Congress to transfer funds between sections of the Library upon the approval of the Committees on Appropriations of the House of Representatives and the Senate. I have advised the Congress of my understanding that this provision does not apply to funds for the Copyright Office, which performs an executive function in administering the copyright laws. ~~~ Barack Obama

I have bolded the Bush-speak lines that mean "Here are the parts of this law that I am signing into law rather than vetoing but fully intend not to comply with."

I have both bolded and colored red a bit wherein our Constitutional scholar in chief dictates to the First Branch of our government how spending decisions will be made.

Please don't ask me what a signing statement is or claim that Presidents Ray Gun and Clinton issued the same sort of thing that Bush and Obama have. I can't take it anymore. Instead, please catch up here.
(c) 2011 David Swanson is the author of "War Is A Lie."







The Leading Cause of Breast Cancer?
By John LaForge

Profiteers in the medical CT scan business took a big hit last week from a major new government report on the causes of breast cancer.

Published by the Institute of Medicine (IOM), the health arm of the National Academy of Sciences, the exhaustive analysis found that medical radiation, particularly the large radiation dose delivered by CT scans, is the foremost identifiable cause of breast cancer.

Almost 230,480 new cases of breast cancer will be diagnosed this year in the United States, and about 40,000 women will die of the disease, roughly one out of every 3,875 women.

The new Institute of Medicine report probably doesn't sit well with the industry, hospitals and clinics that make so many millions of dollars selling and over-using CT machines. The authors suggest that women avoid "unnecessary" or "inappropriate" medical radiation, a thinly veiled criticism of the industry that will give you a CT scan for a tooth ache if you don't object to it. In 1980, there were 3 million CT scans performed in this country. The number rose to 62 million in 2006, to about 70 million by 2007, and, according to NBC, to 72 million this year. It's a growth industry that doesn't care if it promotes tumor growth.

The IOM committee made several suggestions for preventive actions that women can take, and the very first one is to "avoid inappropriate medical radiation exposure." In the "Question & Answer" section of the IOM analysis online, the authors recommend "Avoiding medical radiation and hormone therapy, unless they are medically necessary, is a good idea."

This suggestion has a vexing corollary since so-called mammography is just a lower dose of X-radiation given directly to breast tissue. Yet the new IOM study's authors say in a footnote, "While recognizing the risks of ionizing radiation exposure, particularly for certain higher-dose methods (such as CT scans), it is not the committee's intent to dissuade women from routine mammography screening." Yet the advisability of mammography has been under attack ever since the British medical journal The Lancet in Oct. 2006 reported on a study by Dr. Peter Gotzsche that found the produced no health benefits. The late Dr. John Gofman argued for his entire career that X-rays caused more breast cancer then they detect, a position defended at length by Dr. Samuel Epstein in his book "The Politics of Cancer."

CT Scans may cause 29,000 cancers and 15,000 cancer deaths every year NBC News said in 2009 that each whole-body CT scan can deliver as much radiation in 10 minutes as 440 chest X-rays.

The IOM's authoritative warning against CT scans has to be considered in view of a 2009 study led by the National Cancer Institute which showed that CT scans administered in the year 2007 alone may have contributed to 29,000 new cancer cases and nearly 15,000 cancer deaths in the United States. NBC News noted the report in its Dec. 14, 2009 broadcast under the headline, "15,000 will die from CT scans done in 1 year."

Dr. Rita Redberg, U. of Calif. San Francisco, told NBC, "We're getting a lot of radiation from CT scans, there's a lot of variability in the radiation that we're getting from different types of CT scans, and there are a lot of excess cancers."

In view of the license to kill that CT scanners seem to have been given, patients considering medical radiation have to ask themselves Dirty Harry's famous question, "Do I feel lucky?"
(c) 2011 John LaForge works on the staff of Nukewatch, a nuclear watchdog group in Wisconsin, and edits its Quarterly newsletter.








Springtime For Toxics
By Paul Krugman

Here's what I wanted for Christmas: something that would make us both healthier and richer. And since I was just making a wish, why not ask that Americans get smarter, too?

Surprise: I got my wish, in the form of new Environmental Protection Agency standards on mercury and air toxics for power plants. These rules are long overdue: we were supposed to start regulating mercury more than 20 years ago. But the rules are finally here, and will deliver huge benefits at only modest cost.

So, naturally, Republicans are furious. But before I get to the politics, let's talk about what a good thing the E.P.A. just did.

As far as I can tell, even opponents of environmental regulation admit that mercury is nasty stuff. It's a potent neurotoxicant: the expression "mad as a hatter" emerged in the 19th century because hat makers of the time treated fur with mercury compounds, and often suffered nerve and mental damage as a result.

Hat makers no longer use mercury (and who wears hats these days?), but a lot of mercury gets into the atmosphere from old coal-burning power plants that lack modern pollution controls. From there it gets into the water, where microbes turn it into methylmercury, which builds up in fish. And what happens then? The E.P.A. explains: "Methylmercury exposure is a particular concern for women of childbearing age, unborn babies and young children, because studies have linked high levels of methylmercury to damage to the developing nervous system, which can impair children's ability to think and learn."

That sort of sounds like something we should regulate, doesn't it?

The new rules would also have the effect of reducing fine particle pollution, which is a known source of many health problems, from asthma to heart attacks. In fact, the benefits of reduced fine particle pollution account for most of the quantifiable gains from the new rules. The key word here is "quantifiable": E.P.A.'s cost-benefit analysis only considers one benefit of mercury regulation, the reduced loss in future wages for children whose I.Q.'s are damaged by eating fish caught by freshwater anglers. There are without doubt many other benefits to cutting mercury emissions, but at this point the agency doesn't know how to put a dollar figure on those benefits.

Even so, the payoff to the new rules is huge: up to $90 billion a year in benefits compared with around $10 billion a year of costs in the form of slightly higher electricity prices. This is, as David Roberts of Grist says, a very big deal.

And it's a deal Republicans very much want to kill.

With everything else that has been going on in U.S. politics recently, the G.O.P.'s radical anti-environmental turn hasn't gotten the attention it deserves. But something remarkable has happened on this front. Only a few years ago, it seemed possible to be both a Republican in good standing and a serious environmentalist; during the 2008 campaign John McCain warned of the dangers of global warming and proposed a cap-and-trade system for carbon emissions. Today, however, the party line is that we must not only avoid any new environmental regulations but roll back the protection we already have.

And I'm not exaggerating: during the fight over the debt ceiling, Republicans tried to attach riders that, as Time magazine put it, would essentially have blocked the E.P.A. and the Interior Department from doing their jobs.

Oh, by the way, you may have heard reports to the effect that Jon Huntsman is different. And he did indeed once say: "Conservation is conservative. I'm not ashamed to be a conservationist." Never mind: he, too, has been assimilated by the anti-environmental Borg, denouncing the E.P.A.'s "regulatory reign of terror," and predicting that the new rules will cause blackouts by next summer, which would be a neat trick considering that the rules won't even have taken effect yet.

More generally, whenever you hear dire predictions about the effects of pollution regulation, you should know that special interests always make such predictions, and are always wrong. For example, power companies claimed that rules on acid rain would disrupt electricity supply and lead to soaring rates; none of that happened, and the acid rain program has become a shining example of how environmentalism and economic growth can go hand in hand.

But again, never mind: mindless opposition to "job killing" regulations is now part of what it means to be a Republican. And I have to admit that this puts something of a damper on my mood: the E.P.A. has just done a very good thing, but if a Republican - any Republican - wins next year's election, he or she will surely try to undo this good work.

Still, for now at least, those who care about the health of their fellow citizens, and especially of the nation's children, have something to celebrate.
(c) 2011 Paul Krugman --- The New York Times






The Quotable Quote...



"Silence, they say, is the voice of complicity. But silence is impossible. Silence screams. Silence is a message, just as doing nothing is an act. Let who you are ring out & resonate in every word & every deed. Yes, become who you are. There's no sidestepping your own being or your own responsibility. What you do is who you are. You are your own comeuppance. You become your own message. You are the message. In the Spirit of Crazy Horse."
~~~ Leonard Peletier









Vote Obama - If You Want a Centrist Republican For US President
Because Barack Obama has adopted so many core Republican beliefs, the US opposition race is a shambles.
By Glenn Greenwald

American presidential elections are increasingly indistinguishable from the reality TV competitions drowning the nation's airwaves. Both are vapid, personality-driven and painfully protracted affairs, with the winners crowned by virtue of their ability to appear slightly more tolerable than the cast of annoying rejects whom the public eliminates one by one. When, earlier this year, America's tawdriest (and one of its most-watched) reality TV show hosts, Donald Trump, inserted himself into the campaign circus as a threatened contestant, he fitted right in, immediately catapulting to the top of audience polls before announcing he would not join the show.

The Republican presidential primaries - shortly to determine who will be the finalist to face off, and likely lose, against Barack Obama next November - has been a particularly base spectacle. That the contest has devolved into an embarrassing clown show has many causes, beginning with the fact that GOP voters loathe Mitt Romney, their belief-free, anointed-by-Wall-Street frontrunner who clearly has the best chance of defeating the president.

In a desperate attempt to find someone less slithery and soulless (not to mention less Mormon), party members have lurched manically from one ludicrous candidate to the next, only to watch in horror as each wilted the moment they were subjected to scrutiny. Incessant pleas to the party's ostensibly more respectable conservatives to enter the race have been repeatedly rebuffed. Now, only Romney remains viable. Republican voters are thus slowly resigning themselves to marching behind a vacant, supremely malleable technocrat whom they plainly detest.

In fairness to the much-maligned GOP field, they face a formidable hurdle: how to credibly attack Obama when he has adopted so many of their party's defining beliefs. Depicting the other party's president as a radical menace is one of the chief requirements for a candidate seeking to convince his party to crown him as the chosen challenger. Because Obama has governed as a centrist Republican, these GOP candidates are able to attack him as a leftist radical only by moving so far to the right in their rhetoric and policy prescriptions that they fall over the cliff of mainstream acceptability, or even basic sanity.

In July, the nation's most influential progressive domestic policy pundit, New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, declared that Obama is a "moderate conservative in practical terms". Last October, he wrote that "progressives who had their hearts set on Obama were engaged in a huge act of self-delusion," because the president - "once you get past the soaring rhetoric" - has "largely accepted the conservative storyline."

Krugman also pointed out that even the policy Democratic loyalists point to as proof of the president's progressive bona fides - his healthcare plan, which mandates the purchase of policies from the private health insurance industry - was designed by the Heritage Foundation, one of the nation's most right-wing thinktanks, and was advocated by conservative ideologues for many years (it also happens to be the same plan Romney implemented when he was governor of Massachusetts and which Newt Gingrich once promoted, underscoring the difficulty for the GOP in drawing real contrasts with Obama).

How do you scorn a president as a far-left socialist when he has stuffed his administration with Wall Street executives, had his last campaign funded by them, governed as a "centrist Republican", and presided over booming corporate profits even while the rest of the nation suffered economically?

But as slim as the pickings are for GOP candidates on the domestic policy front, at least there are some actual differences in that realm. The president's 2009 stimulus spending and Wall Street "reform" package - tepid and inadequate though they were - are genuinely at odds with right-wing dogma, as are Obama's progressive (albeit inconsistent) positions on social issues, such as equality for gay people and protecting a woman's right to choose. And the Supreme Court, perpetually plagued by a 5-4 partisan split, would be significantly affected by the outcome of the 2012 election.

It is in the realm of foreign policy, terrorism and civil liberties where Republicans encounter an insurmountable roadblock. A staple of GOP politics has long been to accuse Democratic presidents of coddling America's enemies (both real and imagined), being afraid to use violence, and subordinating US security to international bodies and leftwing conceptions of civil liberties.

But how can a GOP candidate invoke this time-tested caricature when Obama has embraced the vast bulk of George Bush's terrorism policies; waged a war against government whistleblowers as part of a campaign of obsessive secrecy; led efforts to overturn a global ban on cluster bombs; extinguished the lives not only of accused terrorists but of huge numbers of innocent civilians with cluster bombs and drones in Muslim countries; engineered a covert war against Iran; tried to extend the Iraq war; ignored Congress and the constitution to prosecute an unauthorized war in Libya; adopted the defining Bush/Cheney policy of indefinite detention without trial for accused terrorists; and even claimed and exercised the power to assassinate US citizens far from any battlefield and without due process?

Reflecting this difficulty for the GOP field is the fact that former Bush officials, including Dick Cheney, have taken to lavishing Obama with public praise for continuing his predecessor's once-controversial terrorism polices. In the last GOP foreign policy debate, the leading candidates found themselves issuing recommendations on the most contentious foreign policy question (Iran) that perfectly tracked what Obama is already doing, while issuing ringing endorsements of the president when asked about one of his most controversial civil liberties assaults (the due-process-free assassination of the American-Yemeni cleric Anwar Awlaki). Indeed, when it comes to the foreign policy and civil liberties values Democrats spent the Bush years claiming to defend, the only candidate in either party now touting them is the libertarian Ron Paul, who vehemently condemns Obama's policies of drone killings without oversight, covert wars, whistleblower persecutions, and civil liberties assaults in the name of terrorism.

In sum, how do you demonize Obama as a terrorist-loving secret Muslim intent on empowering US enemies when he has adopted, and in some cases extended, what was right-wing orthodoxy for the last decade? The core problem for GOP challengers is that they cannot be respectable Republicans because, as Krugman pointed out, Obama has that position occupied. They are forced to move so far to the right that they render themselves inherently absurd.
(c) 2011 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.




.




If You Can't Beat Them, Enjoin Them (From Voting)
By Amy Goodman

All eyes are on Iowa this week, as the hodgepodge field of Republican contenders gallivants across that farm state seeking a win, or at least "momentum," in the campaign for the party's presidential nomination. But behind the scenes, a battle is being waged by Republicans-not against each other, but against American voters. Across the country, state legislatures and governors are pushing laws that seek to restrict access to the voting booth, laws that will disproportionately harm people of color, low-income people, and young and elderly voters.

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund have just released a comprehensive report on the crisis, "Defending Democracy: Confronting Modern Barriers to Voting Rights in America." In it, they write:

"The heart of the modern block the vote campaign is a wave of restrictive government-issued photo identification requirements. In a coordinated effort, legislators in thirty-four states introduced bills imposing such requirements. Many of these bills were modeled on legislation drafted by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)-a conservative advocacy group whose founder explained: 'Our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.'"

It is interesting that the right wing, long an opponent of any type of national identification card, is very keen to impose photo-identification requirements at the state level. Why? Ben Jealous, president of the NAACP, calls the voter ID laws "a solution without a problem. ... It's not going to make the vote more secure. What it is going to do is put the first financial barrier between people and their ballot box since we got rid of the poll tax."

You don't have to look far for people impacted by this new wave of voter-purging laws. Darwin Spinks, an 86-year-old World War II veteran from Murfreesboro, Tenn., went to the Department of Motor Vehicles to get a photo ID for voting purposes, since drivers over 60 there are issued driver's licenses without photos. After waiting in two lines, he was told he had to pay $8. Requiring a voter to pay a fee to vote has been unconstitutional since the poll tax was outlawed in 1964. Over in Nashville, 93-year-old Thelma Mitchell had a state-issued ID-the one she used as a cleaner at the state Capitol building for more than 30 years. The ID had granted her access to the governor's office for decades, but now, she was told, it wasn't good enough to get her into the voting booth. She and her family are considering a lawsuit, an unfortunate turn of events for a woman who is older than the right of women to vote in this country.

It is not just the elderly being given the disenfranchisement runaround. The Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law points to "bills making voter registration drives extremely difficult and risky for volunteer groups, bills requiring voters to provide specific photo ID or citizenship documents ... bills cutting back on early and absentee voting, bills making it hard for students and active-duty members of the military to register to vote locally, and more."

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder recently spoke on this alarming trend. He said: "Our efforts honor the generations of Americans who have taken extraordinary risks, and willingly confronted hatred, bias and ignorance-as well as billy clubs and fire hoses, bullets and bombs-to ensure that their children, and all American citizens, would have the chance to participate in the work of their government. The right to vote is not only the cornerstone of our system of government-it is the lifeblood of our democracy."

Just this week, the Justice Department blocked South Carolina's new law requiring voters to show photo IDs at the polls, saying data submitted by South Carolina showed that minority voters were about 20 percent more likely to lack acceptable photo ID required at polling places.

By some estimates, the overall population that may be disenfranchised by this wave of legislation is upward of 5 million voters, most of whom would be expected to vote with the Democratic Party. The efforts to quash voter participation are not genuine, grass-roots movements. Rather, they rely on funding from people like the Koch brothers, David and Charles. That is why thousands of people, led by the NAACP, marched on the New York headquarters of Koch Industries two weeks ago en route to a rally for voting rights at the United Nations.

Despite the media attention showered on the Iowa caucuses, the real election outcomes in 2012 will likely hinge more on the contest between billionaire political funders like the Kochs and the thousands of people in the streets, demanding one person, one vote.
(c) 2011 Amy Goodman is the host of "Democracy Now!," a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on 750 stations in North America. She is the co-author of "Standing Up to the Madness: Ordinary Heroes in Extraordinary Times," recently released in paperback.





The Dead Letter Office...





Mark gives the white-power salute

Heil Obama,

Dear Uberfuhrer Kirk,

Congratulations, you have just been awarded the "Vidkun Quisling Award!" Your name will now live throughout history with such past award winners as Marcus Junius Brutus, Judas Iscariot, Benedict Arnold, George Stephanopoulos, George W. Bush, George H.W. Bush, Prescott Bush, Sam Bush, Fredo Bush, Kate Bush, Kyle Busch, Anheuser Busch, Vidkun Quisling and last year's winner Volksjudge Elena (Butch) Kagan.

Without your lock step calling for the repeal of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, your bill to give us a good reason to invade Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya and those many other profitable oil wars to come would have been impossible! With the help of our mutual friends, the other "Rethuglican Whores" you have made it possible for all of us to goose-step off to a brave new bank account!

Along with this award you will be given the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Golden Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds, presented by our glorious Fuhrer, Herr Obama at a gala celebration at "der Fuhrer Bunker," formally the "White House," on 12-31-2011. We salute you Herr Kirk, Sieg Heil!

Signed by,
Vice Fuhrer Biden

Heil Obama





Out, Damn Newt!
5 Reasons Why Gingrich is Headed for Footnote Status
By John Nichols

For a week or so, Newt Gingrich was riding high in Dubuque, Iowa. His poll numbers were great nationally. In battleground states such as New Hampshire and Florida, he elbowed more credible contenders -- and also Mitt Romney -- aside.

There really was a week there when Gingrich was the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination.

But that's all over now.

In the 2012 Republican race, everyone gets to be the front-runner for a week, and Gingrich has had his week.

Now, Gingrich is tumbling. Fast. The attacks ads paid for by super PACs associated with Romney and Rick Santorum have surely played a part in the former speaker's steep slide in the polls -- he's now running third, behind Ron Paul and Romney, in the Real Clear Politics survey of surveys from the past week. And in several polls he has fallen to low single digits, just above the man who might just finish ahead of Gingrich on Jan. 3: Santorum.

This is what happens when ideologues and partisans get serious about politics.

Despite the support and sympathy Gingrich has gotten from folks like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, his record was always going to disqualify him with grass-roots conservatives and Republican stalwarts who want to win elections.

Gingrich plans a 44-city bus tour of Iowa in order to grab as much free media and grass-roots face time as he can for his underfinanced campaign. But that will not renew his prospects.

When 2012 dawns, with the Jan. 3 Iowa caucuses, he will be last year's man.

Or, to be more precise, last decade's man.

Here, then, are the top five reasons why Newt Gingrich will not be anything more than a footnote to the 2012 presidential race:

1. GINGRICH REACHED HIS SELL-BY DATE IN 1996:

Born during Franklin Delano Roosevelt's third term, Gingrich would if elected next year assume the presidency on the cusp of his 70th birthday. And unlike the conservative movement's favorite septuagenarian president, Ronald Reagan, Gingrich has been a political player for his entire adult life. Barack Obama was 2 years old when Gingrich went to work on his first national campaign.

There are natural trajectories for politicians. Gingrich's had him running for president in 1996, as the dynamic conservative challenger to President Bill Clinton. That would have been a great race between a pair of similar Southerners -- smart, ambitious rascals with plenty of skeletons in their closets but also with real differences regarding the direction of the nation -- but Gingrich deferred to the party bosses (and their corporate overseers), who preferred the predictability of Bob Dole.

Gingrich blinked. He missed his chance.

The same thing happened to Mario Cuomo, who should have run in 1992. But at least Cuomo didn't try to run in 2008.

2. GINGRICH IS A QUITTER:

Stop making fun of Sarah Palin. Sure, she quit in the middle of her term as governor of Alaska, which was kind of pathetic. But Gingrich quit as speaker of the House on the eve of the Clinton impeachment. Talk about "seduced and abandoned." He set his fellow Republicans up for a fool's mission, then he exited stage right.

Why did Gingrich quit not just the speakership he had connived for a decade to obtain but his House seat? A looming scandal involving his own infidelity? Check. An inability to explain away the strategic missteps that led to the dismal finish of House Republicans in the 1998 election cycle? Check. But the real reason was that his fellow Republicans had lost faith in him as a leader.

That was a smart choice, rooted in actual experience and sincere concern about trusting the future of their party to Gingrich. Why would Republicans abandon it now?

3. GINGRICH HAS HISTORY AS A "ROCKEFELLER REPUBLICAN":

In a party that checks conservative credentials more seriously than they would have border guards check immigration papers, Gingrich committed the ultimate sin. In 1968, Gingrich was a young Republican operative looking to get his start in presidential politics. He could have signed on with the "Draft Ronald Reagan" campaign of that year. That's what a visionary conservative would have done. He could have worked for Richard Nixon. That's what a cautious Republican careerist would have done. But no. Gingrich served as the Southern regional coordinator for the campaign of New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller, the most liberal Republican in the field -- a big-government man who backed abortion rights, opposed the Vietnam War and provided right-wingers with their preferred term of derision ("Rockefeller Republican") for anyone who deviated from the ideologically pure path.

4. GINGRICH KEEPS GOING GREEN ON US:

When he first ran for Congress in 1974, and when he ran again in 1976, at a point when the Republican right was on the march (taking over the Republican platform-writing process and taking Reagan to the verge of the party's presidential nod in the latter year), Gingrich did so as a moderate, maybe even liberal. As Ed Kilgore, who was a young Georgia political player in those years, has noted: "Gingrich returned to Georgia and launched his electoral career, running for Congress in 1974 and again in 1976. His incumbent opponent was John Flynt, an old-fashioned conservative Democrat best known for being on the League of Conservation Voters' ‘Dirty Dozen' list of environmental reactionaries. Unlike many Georgia Republicans, who sought to outflank Dixiecrats by coming across as better-bred right-wing extremists, Gingrich ran to Flynt's left, emphasizing environmentalist and ‘reform' themes, and enlisting significant support from liberal Democrats. Unfortunately for him, these were the two worst election cycles for Georgia Republicans since the 1950s (the Watergate election of 1974 and Jimmy Carter's Georgia landslide of 1976), and he lost narrowly both times."

Environmentalist? Appealing to "liberal Democrats"? That was the old Gingrich. He's a conservative now. Sure, he was kinda green in 1976, but Republican purists can count on Newt now. Right? Well, er, um, he did appear three years ago with former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in an ad for Al Gore's Repower America Campaign, an ad that saw Gingrich chirping about how, while he and the liberal Democrat did not agree on many issues, "we do agree our country must take action to address climate change." That troubled members of a party that has made denial of global warming one of its basic precepts. So Gingrich claimed appearing with Pelosi was "the biggest mistake" of his four decades in politics. It wasn't the biggest mistake. But it was always going to be a disqualifier.

5. GINGRICH CAME UP WITH THE LAMEST EXCUSE EVER FOR CHEATING ON HIS WIVES:

To win the Republican nomination, a candidate needs to run well in Iowa and a whole bunch of Southern and Western states where evangelical Christians have been picking winners in caucuses and primaries for decades. These folks are supposed to take infidelity as seriously as they do banning abortion and denying rights to gays and lesbians. And some of them actually do.

So what will they make of the fact that Gingrich is on wife No. 3, and that he started dating her when he was still with wife No. 2, and that their affair played out at the same time that he was condemning Bill Clinton for Oval Office hijinks? And what will they think of Gingrich's excuse? Here, from an interview this year with the Christian Broadcasting Network, is the excuse: "There's no question at times in my life, partially driven by how passionately I felt about this country, that I worked too hard and things happened in my life that were not appropriate."

You see, it was patriotism -- the love of the country, not the love of the ladies -- that led him to stray.

That was always going to be a tough sell with those essential evangelical voters in Iowa.

They are ditching him in droves now. The only question is whether the evangelicals will coalesce around a candidate -- arguably Santorum or Michele Bachmann -- in sufficient numbers to push Gingrich into fourth or fifth place by the time the caucus count is done.

Then he really will be in footnote territory, where, conservatives and liberals ought to be able to agree, this most pompous of political grandstanders has always belonged.
(c) 2011 John Nichols writes about politics for The Nation magazine as its Washington correspondent. He is a contributing writer for The Progressive and In These Times and the associate editor of the Capital Times, the daily newspaper in Madison, Wisconsin. His articles have appeared in the New York Times, Chicago Tribune and dozens of other newspapers.







Stop the Public University Tuition Spiral
by Ralph Nader

Students of California, arise, you have nothing to lose but a crushing debt!

The corporate state of California, ever ready to seize its ideological and commercial hour during a recession, has a chokehold on California's public universities. With its tax-coddled plutocracy and a nod to further corporatization, the state government has taken the lid off tuition increases big time.

Students of the University of California at Berkeley may pay a proposed $23,000 in tuition by the 2015-2016 school year, up from $11,160 this year (2011) that in turn is up from $2,716 in the academic year 2001-2002. In short, tuition for resident undergraduates has more than quadrupled in ten years.

Before and right after World War II the idea of a public university included a then-called "educational fee" close to zero, from city college of New York to UC Berkeley. Old timers now look back at those days as economic life-savers toward a degree and a productive life for them and the American economy.

No more. Those gates of opportunity are crumbling at an accelerating pace. More street protests by students are focusing on relentless tuition hikes and years of repaying student debt loans while the rich get richer and the tax cuts for the rich are extended. As Mike Konzcal writes, "One of the Occupy movements' major objectives is combating the privatization of public higher education and its replacement with a debt-fueled economy of indenture."

So far the students have gotten nowhere in the Golden State. The Board of Regents rules with an iron hand. Their chancellors are enforcing the state government's unprecedented cutbacks of facilities, faculty, courses and maintenance-repairs.

Berkeley Professor Nancy Scheper-Hughes called the "current crisis" as being "fundamentally about privatization and the dismantling of a national public treasure."

But the students have a very powerful unused tool of direct democracy - thanks to Governor Hiram Johnson's enactment of the voters' initiative process nearly a hundred years ago. They can qualify an initiative on the ballot that would set tuition at affordable levels or even become like some leading European countries where free schooling extends through the university years.

Planning and implementing this people's legislation would be a rigorous course in law, political science and communications.

The effort invites the best minds from the faculty. The language of the initiative must be clear, persuasive and as devoid of ambiguity and openings for circumvention as possible.

Depending on whether the initiative amends the California Constitution or has statutory status, the students will have to collect as many as 810,000 or as few as 505,000 valid signatures on petitions to get on the November 2012 ballot. Ordinarily, without lots of money for paid petitioners, this can be a formidable challenge. But with millions of community college and university students reachable on campus, combined with their families, this should be a fast process and a piece of cake.

According to the eminent University of San Diego Law Professor Robert Fellmeth, there is no legal obstacle to a statutory initiative tied to the funding power of the legislature. It would stipulate, as a condition precedent to state general fund monies, specified tuition limits (perhaps at least a freeze), to provide equitable access to higher education opportunity.

Of course an initiative that is a constitutional amendment can be more supremely declarative.

There are other states where students can establish a legal protection for publically accessible universities by enacting statewide initiatives. All these tools of democracy should be obvious to any high school student were functional civics and democratic practices taught with the same fervor devoted to computer training.

So let's see if California's deteriorating public university systems can be rescued by their undergraduate and graduate students who place the priority of accessible, adequate public higher education where it belongs for the longer run.
(c) 2011 Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer, and author. His most recent book - and first novel - is, Only The Super Wealthy Can Save Us. His most recent work of non-fiction is The Seventeen Traditions.



The Cartoon Corner...

This edition we're proud to showcase the cartoons of
~~~ Bob Gorrell ~~~










To End On A Happy Note...





Have You Seen This...




Parting Shots...




Gingrich Plummets In Polls As Voters Start Remembering Who He Is
Dawning Awareness Threatens Campaign
By Andy Borowitz

DES MOINES (The Borowitz Report) - In a development that has imperiled his front-runner status in the Republican presidential race, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has plunged in the polls as voters have begun to remember who he is.

Mr. Gingrich had been surging in recent weeks, but according to pollster Davis Logsdon of the University of Minnesota's Opinion Research institute, "That was before people's memories of who New Gingrich is started gradually kicking in."

According to a new poll released today, Mr. Gingrich fared especially poorly among voters who agreed with the statement, "Wait a minute, that guy? He was an enormous dick."

"Newt Gingrich has got to do something fast to keep people from remembering who he is," pollster Logsdon said. "He might try growing a moustache or wearing an eye patch, but that might be too little, too late."

On the ground in Iowa, Gingrich campaign strategists are working overtime to confront the challenge posed by voters remembering who he is, aides to the former House Speaker said today.

According to one campaign source, the Gingrich campaign has begun seeking the support of people with mental disorders and other memory issues that make it hard for them to retain basic information.

"The problem is, most of those people are currently running for President," the source said.

In other political news, the Romney campaign unveiled a new slogan today: "You're Out of Other Options."
(c) 2011 Andy Borowitz




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Issues & Alibis Vol 11 # 51 (c) 12/30/2011


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