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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Politics of a Potential Pandemic
From Sebelius to Smithfield

by Josh Nelson
April 28, 2009

Several political dynamics are running immediately beneath the surface of news coverage of the swine flu outbreak. First and foremost, the confirmation of Kathleen Sebelius as Health and Human Services Secretary is being held up by GOP Senators because she is - GASP - pro-choice. More importantly, a growing chorus of bloggers and Mexican media outlets are pointing to an American-based company, Smithfield, as 50% owner of the Mexican farm where the swine flu is believed to have originated.

Sebelius Confirmation as Health and Human Services Secretary

This story will receive significant attention today as the Senate prepares to vote sometime in the afternoon or evening. Joe Sudbay has the text of the unanimous consent agreement, which indicates that we could see a vote by 6pm today. Sudbay’s critique of the GOP obstructionism on this is a thing of beauty.

SEIU has a petition running and I’m assuming that won’t be all we’ll hear from them on this. Greg Sargent has a bit of a back and forth between spokespeople for Senators Reid and McConnell, and his conclusion hits the mark: “The filibuster over an abortion controversy is still throwing a hurdle in the way of this nomination, despite the flu epidemic.”

Of greater immediate consequence than the Sebelius confirmation, are the dozens of other top officials at the Departments of Homeland Security and Health and Human Services who have also not yet been confirmed.

The Post notes that:

Vacant positions include the department’s assistant secretary for health affairs and chief medical officer, and the leaders of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Transportation Security Administration and U.S. Customs and Border Protection, all of which would play significant roles in battling a pandemic.

The administration, understandably, is stressing that they are fully prepared and are quite happy with the team they have in place. While I applaud Mr. Gibbs’ ability to say this with a straight face, there is no denying that they would be better prepared than they are now if their full team for handling these types of situations was in place. GOP obstruction is literally interfering with the functioning of the Federal government during a time of crisis.

Evidence points toward Smithfield-owned Farm as source of Swine Flu. Tom Philpott at Grist was way out in front of this one on Saturday morning. He points to several great sources which I’ll summarize below, but I want to stress that you should read his excellent piece on this.

A timeline (originally published April 6th) on the disease-tracking blog Biosurveillance indicates that residents in heavily affected areas suspect a farm operated by Granjas Carroll (50% owned by American company Smithfield) is the source. According to residents, Granjas Carroll attributed the flu to… “the flu.”

An article in a Vera Cruz paper, La Marcha, declares: “Granjas Carroll, causa de epidemia en La Gloria.” The translation of the headline, as well as the sub-headline that follows it, according to this Babelfish translation: Carroll farms, cause of epidemic in the Gloria: Settlers ask the intervention of the state government so that the federal authorities supervise the porcícolas faecal remainders that company generates.”

The last paragraph of the article notes that the Mexican Secretary of Health dismissed the notion.

An article in La Journada, (English version), paints an ugly picture of the farming practices Granjas Carrol apparently participates in.

For their part, Smithfield took a pummeling on the stock market and in the court of opinion Monday, but is currently denying all wrong doing: “[We have] no reason to believe that the virus is in any way connected to its operations in Mexico.” Natasha Chart, who has been all over this story as well, doesn’t buy it. She reminds us that “the food industry is notorious for trying to cover up problems with their products as was revealed during the peanut contamination fiasco.”

I’ll be following the story at EnviroKnow as I am able, but here are some folks you should really be reading on this topic:
James M. Wilson at Biosurveillance
Natasha Chart at Sustainable Food
Tom Philpott at Grist
Paul Revere at Effect Measure
Charles Lemos at MyDD


Tuesday, April 28, 2009

3 vials of virus samples missing from Maryland Army facility

April 22, 2009

Missing vials of a potentially dangerous virus have prompted an Army investigation into the disappearance from a lab in Maryland. Fort Detrick is the home of the Army's top biological research facility.

The Army's Criminal Investigation Command agents have been visiting Fort Detrick in Frederick, Maryland, to investigate the disappearance of the vials. Christopher Grey, spokesman for the command, said this latest investigation has found "no evidence of criminal activity."

The vials contained samples of Venezuelan Equine Encephalitis, a virus that sickens horses and can be spread to humans by mosquitoes. In 97 percent of cases, humans with the virus suffer flu-like symptoms, but it can be deadly in about 1 out of 100 cases, according to Caree Vander Linden, a spokeswoman for the Army's Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases. There is an effective vaccine for the disease and there hasn't been an outbreak in the United States since 1971.

The vials had been at the research institute's facility at Fort Detrick, home of the Army's top biological research facility, for more than a decade. The three missing vials were among thousands of vials that were under the control of a senior scientist who retired in 2004. When another Fort Detrick scientist recently inventoried the retired scientist's biological samples, he discovered that the three vials of the virus were missing. The original scientist's records about his vials dated back to the days of paper-and-pen inventories.

During the investigation, the retired scientist and another former Fort Detrick researcher cooperated with investigating agents and, according to Vander Linden, they came back to the facility to help look for the vials.

Vander Linden said the investigators know that several years ago an entire freezer full of biological samples broke down and all the samples had to be safely destroyed. But a complete inventory of what was in the freezer was not done before the samples were destroyed. Vander Linden said there's a "strong possibility" the vials were in that freezer and destroyed, but that isn't known for sure.

This investigation comes two months after all research at the research institute facility at Fort Detrick was halted for a complete computer-based inventory of all disease samples at the fort. That inventory is expected to be complete before summer and may help solve the mystery of the three missing vials, officials said.

The Army investigation is in its final stages and is expected to be closed soon.


Sunday, April 26, 2009

Rumsfeld To Profit From Avian Flu Hoax

(Remember this?)
Oct. 19, 2005

Finally, the pieces of the puzzle start to add up. Last week, President Bush sought to instill panic in this country by telling us a minimum of 200,000 people will die from the avian flu pandemic but it could be as bad as 2 million deaths in this country alone.

This hoax is then used to justify the immediate purchase of 80 million doses of Tamiflu, a worthless drug that in no way shape or form treats the avian flu, but only decreases the amount of days one is sick and can actually contribute to the virus having more lethal mutations.

So the U.S. placed an order for 20 million doses of this worthless drug at a price of $100 per dose. That comes to a staggering $2 billion.

We are being told that Roche manufactures Tamiflu and, in yesterday's New York Times, they were battling whether or not they would allow generic drug companies to help increase their production.

But if you dig further you will find that a drug was actually developed by a company called Gilead that 10 years ago gave Roche the exclusive rights to market and sell Tamiflu.

Ahh, The Plot Thickens...

If you read the link below from Gilead, you'll discover Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was made the chairman of Gilead in 1997.

Since Rumsfeld holds major portions of stock in Gilead, he will handsomely profit from the scare tactics of the government that is being used to justify the purchase of $2 billion of Tamiflu.

For more on the nonsense of the avian flu hoax, you'll want to read my new book, The Great Bird Flu Hoax: The Truth They Don't Want You to Know About the "Next Big Pandemic". This book explains in a clear and compelling manner the real science that proves this is indeed the biggest hoax of our time.

More importantly, The Great Bird Flu Hoax exposes what you should REALLY be worried about (truths that have a profound impact on the health and safety of you and your loved ones) and provides you with health solutions to optimize your immune system ... so you need not worry about bird flu hype or about the real health threats such as cancer, heart disease and other genuine health issues.


Saturday, April 25, 2009

Putting MADD in Charge of America's Highways

President Obama's troubling nominee to head the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

By Radley Balko
April 24, 2009

Earlier this month, President Barack Obama nominated Mothers Against Drunk Driving CEO Chuck Hurley to head up the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

Hurley's pending appointment is bad news for social drinkers, motorists, and anyone interested in freedom of movement and less hassle on the roadways. Hurley is an anti-alcohol zealot, and a longtime proponent of just about any highway regulation that's sold under the guise of public safety. He's a supporter of primary seat belt laws, which allow police to pull motorists over solely for seat belt infractions.

In addition to being a questionable use of law enforcement resources (people who don’t wear seat belts aren’t a threat to anyone other than themselves), primary seat belt laws have been criticized for giving police officers the pretext to engage in racial profiling, or to commit asset forfeiture abuse. Hurley has also supported the proliferation of red light cameras, despite studies showing that they're little more than revenue generators for local government, and may actually cause more accidents than they prevent.

Longtime automotive writer Eric Peters wrote recently in the Detroit Free Press that motorists have much to fear from a Hurley-led NHTSA, including a possible return to federally-mandated speed limits, a national blood alcohol count as low as .04, federally-mandated speed and red light cameras, and even the installation of GPS responders on vehicles for the possible implementation of future "pay as you go" driving taxes (Britain already keeps tabs on the whereabouts of every driver in the country).

But Hurley's record is most troubling when it comes to overly aggressive measures allegedly aimed at preventing drunken driving. MADD's top priority during Hurley's stint as CEO was to get state legislatures to pass laws mandating ignition interlock devices in the cars of all first-time DWI offenders.

The device requires you to blow into a tube before starting your car, then blow again at set intervals as you’re driving (which, come to think of it, doesn't really seem all that safe). Under Hurley’s watch, MADD gave a “qualified endorsement for bills in the New York and New Mexico legislatures that would have required the devices in all cars sold in those states. Fortunately, neither bill became law.

Hurley and MADD were also at the heart of the effort to force the states to adopt the .08 minimum blood alcohol standard back in the late 1990s, under penalty of losing federal highway funds for noncompliance. Studies show that both significant impairment and most DWI fatalities occur at much higher blood-alcohol concentrations.

Hurley has also aggressively pushed for the use of constitutionally-dubious roadblock sobriety checkpoints to enforce the new standard, even though there's convincing evidence these invasive tactics have actually made the roads more dangerous. DWI deaths began inching upward again as the roadblocks were implemented in the early 2000s.

It isn't difficult to see why. Roadblocks are designed to catch motorists who aren't driving erratically enough to be caught with conventional law enforcement methods. The officers who staff them would otherwise be out on the streets, looking for actual drunks who pose an actual threat to highway safety.

With Hurley in charge, MADD’s goals will become NHTSA’s goals. That's troubling because at heart, MADD is an activist organization. The groups once-admirable goal of raising public awareness about drunk driving has over the last several years morphed into a zealous, evangelical teatotaling campaign.

When a coalition of college presidents recently asked for nothing more than a new debate over the federal drinking age last year, for example, MADD called on parents to boycott the presidents' schools. MADD has supported prison sentences for parents who allow alcohol consumption at chaperoned parties for underage teens, and fought efforts to allow underage veterans to have a beer on base after returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. Even MADD's founder, Candace Lightner, has renounced the group, calling them "neo-prohibitionists."

MADD is no longer merely a group of concerned mothers raising awareness. They've become very powerful, pushing for laws based on questionable data and that involve real trade-offs between safety, privacy, and individual freedom. That's what makes the organization's close relationship with the government so troubling.

Hurley isn't the first MADD exec to make the jump to NHTSA—or the other way around. MADD regularly receives funding from the federal government. Members of MADD have even been known to help man and run sobriety checkpoints. MADD also runs many of the mandatory classes DWI convicts are forced to attend (and pay for).

Hurley would take NHTSA in a much more activist direction. States could expect to see more federal mandates about how they manage their roads, and motorists could expect expensive new mandatory safety add-ons to new vehicles; more reasons for to get pulled over; and lots more red light and speed cameras. NHTSA needs a director who will balance safety with freedom, who will look at data dispassionately, and who will consider unintended consequences before ushering in sweeping new policies.

Chuck Hurley isn't that person.

Radley Balko is a senior editor at Reason magazine.


Sunday, April 19, 2009

Obama gives government criminals a free pass

Disappointment with US for not prosecuting CIA

By Rebecca Santana
April 16, 2009

We shouldn't base the future on "hope." Following the rule of law would be a better foundation.
Obama has decreed that where torture is concerned,the rule of law is not worth pursuing. The criminals who operated the US torture program are being given a free pass.

"Just following orders"

Nothing could be more important than going after the criminals who engaged in torture in the name of the US. Obama has decided to give them a pass. Torture is immoral, it doesn't work and it puts Americans at risk.

The government officials who operated the torture program need to see the inside of a courtroom - and the inside of a jail.

CAIRO (AP) — Human rights groups and former detainees in U.S. custody expressed disappointment Friday with the decision by President Barack Obama not to prosecute CIA operatives who used interrogation practices described by many as torture.

Obama sought to turn a page on what he called "a dark and painful chapter" with his announcement a day earlier. He condemned the aggressive techniques — including waterboarding, shackling and stripping — used on terror suspects while promising not to legally pursue the perpetrators.

But the decision left some bitter in the Muslim world, where there was widespread anger over abuse of detained terror suspects. It could tarnish somewhat Obama's growing popularity among Arabs and Muslims, who have cheered his promises to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facilities and withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq.

"All of us in Guantanamo never had hope or faith in the American government," said Jomaa al-Dosari, a Saudi who spent six years in Guantanamo before being released last year. "We only ask God for our rights and to demand justice for the wrongs we experience in this life. There will be a time in history when every person who committed a wrong will be punished."

The editor of the Saudi Arabia-based Arab News daily, Khaled Almaeena, said the decision not to prosecute "sends the wrong message."

"They destroyed people's lives ... Unfortunately, they're allowed to go scot free," he said of operatives who carried out the techniques.

The Obama administration Thursday released secret CIA memos detailing interrogation tactics sanctioned under the Bush administration. As well as waterboarding, the memos authorized keeping detainees naked, in painful standing positions and in cold cells for long periods of time.

Other techniques included depriving them of solid food and slapping them. Sleep deprivation, prolonged shackling and threats to a detainee's family also were used.

Obama's attorney general offered CIA operatives legal help if anyone else takes them to court, although the administration's offer of help did not extend to those outside the CIA who approved the so-called enhanced interrogation methods or any CIA officers who may have gone beyond what was allowed.

Many human rights groups condemned the decision, saying that it was necessary to have a full accounting of what took place.

"The release of CIA memos on interrogation methods by the U.S. Department of Justice appears to have offered a get-out-of-jail-free card to people involved in torture," Amnesty International said in a statement on its Web site. "Torture is never acceptable and those who conduct it should not escape justice."

In Egypt, Hafez Abu Saada, of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights in Cairo, said the decision would encourage other nations to let abuses pass.

"Obama told us he will hold to account the people who committed a crime or a human rights violation," he said. "So this is a wrong signal to the perpetrators of human rights — especially third world countries — and also a wrong signal to the international community."

Moazzam Begg, a British resident who spent more than two years in Guantanamo, said he wasn't surprised by the tactics revealed, saying "we witnessed" most of the techniques.

"It's the unwritten things — the things that happened in the heat of the moment on the battlefield like tying people up with chains and dragging them around — that are worrying and will likely never come out," he said.

The International Commission of Jurists, a widely respected Geneva-based organization of legal experts from around the world, issued a scathing statement saying Obama should thoroughly investigate and prosecute officials who authorized and engaged in torture.

"Without holding to account the authors of a policy of torture and those executing it, there cannot be a return to the rule of law," said Wilder Tayler, acting secretary-general of the ICJ.

Clara Gutteridge, a researcher with British human rights group Reprieve, which represents several Guantanamo inmates, said she was struck by the amount of time and effort apparently poured into drawing up the memos and justifying the use of what she called torture.

"It shows us the man hours that have gone into this program, and making people believe that they are following the law," Gutteridge said.

In Islamabad, Pakistan, Saad Iqbal Madni, released from Guantanamo Bay last summer after seven years in detention, said sleep deprivation techniques were used on him. For months, he said, he was moved from cell to cell every two hours while shackled in an attempt to keep him awake.

"I believe that God will take care of anyone who did a wrong thing to me," said Madni.

Associated Press writers Hadeel al-Shalchi in Cairo; Paisley Dodds and Raphael G. Satter in London; and Shafika Mattar in Amman, Jordan contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.


Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Real Unemployment rate?
Try 15.6%

The official US jobless rate, now 8.5%, excludes millions of people -- among them those who have given up on finding work and those forced into working fewer hours than they'd like.

By Catherine Holahan
April 3, 2009
MSN Money

An 8.5% unemployment rate is unmistakably bad. It's the highest rate since 1983 -- a year that saw double-digit unemployment, nearly 30 commercial bank failures and more than 15% of Americans living below the poverty line.

But the real national unemployment rate is far worse than the U.S. Department of Labor's March figure, announced today, shows.

That's because the official rate doesn't include the 3.7 million-plus people who are reluctantly working only part time because of the poor labor market.

And it doesn't include the workers who have given up scouring want ads for seemingly nonexistent jobs.

When those folks are added to the numbers, the unemployment rate rises to 15.6%. In March 2008, that number was 9.3%. The Bureau of Labor Statistics began tracking this alternative measure (.pdf file) in 1995.

"The situation out there is very grim," says Heather Boushey, a senior economist at the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning think tank. "We have seen the mounting of job losses faster than any point since World War II. I have never seen anything escalate this bad."

Even the Department of Labor's expanded unemployment measure doesn't fully capture how difficult the job market is for American workers. It doesn't include self-employed workers whose incomes have shriveled. It doesn't look at former full-time staff employees who have accepted short-term contracts, without benefits, and at a fraction of their former salaries. And it doesn't count the many would-be workers who are going back to school, taking on more debt, in hopes that an advanced degree will improve their chances of landing a job.

Here's another way to look at the unemployment figures: More than 5 million people have lost their jobs since the start of the recession in December 2007. And more than 13 million people are unemployed. That's the highest number the U.S. has seen since it began tracking unemployment after World War II. For every job out there, more than four people are competing for it, says Boushey.

Mitch Feldman has seen the results of such intense competition firsthand. As president of New York executive placement firm A.E. Feldman Associates, he has watched lawyers accept paralegal jobs after failing to find any companies that are hiring. He has seen Ivy League-educated financial professionals accept lower-paid contract work after searching in vain for banking jobs.

"When some of the big investment banking firms had layoffs a year ago, those people were looking for permanent jobs," but now they're taking six-month and yearlong contracts, says Feldman. "And they're competing with other contractors who were on contract before. More supply, less demand, and the prices go down."

Some unemployed workers have become so frustrated by the difficulty of landing a job that they're exiting the labor market altogether. Prior recessions saw a spike in the number of women choosing to be stay-at-home moms rather than continue to compete for work. This recession has seen a large spike in the number of laid-off men opting to become stay-at-home dads -- or at least stay at home.

Once people stop looking for work, they're no longer entitled to unemployment benefits.

Unemployment to worsen? The employment situation on the horizon looks even worse.

Typically, unemployment peaks six months to a year after the economy starts to recover, says Rebecca Blank, an economist with the Brookings Institution, a Washington, D.C., public policy think tank. Boushey believes the unemployment rate could reach double digits by the end of the year.

So, even if the recent stock market rally is a harbinger of economic recovery, that doesn't mean that unemployment rates will fall soon. Nor is an economic recovery a guarantee that unemployment will drop below 4%, as it did during the boom in 2000.

The way some economists see it, the U.S. has entered a downward spiral that could result in higher unemployment for the foreseeable future.

Right now, unemployment has helped fuel consumer cutbacks that have, in turn, pinched businesses' revenues. That has forced them to cut jobs in an effort to stem profit losses, continuing the cycle. Eventually, the hope is that government spending will employ more people and give businesses more revenue, leading to more spending and more hiring -- reversing the cycle.

But it might not happen that way. Spooked consumers, still reeling from an attack on all their assets, may simply not spend like they once did -- regardless of how much money the government pushes into the economy. Instead, they might save money in preparation for the tax increases they assume are inevitable or put it in safe assets like long-term Treasury bonds.

Businesses might also curb their spending. Instead of responding to sales increases with hiring, they could invest in relatively cheaper technology to replace eliminated positions.

Economists don't have to go back very far to find an example of a recovery that didn't push unemployment back to its prior lows. The lowest unemployment fell after the 2001 recession was 4.4% in December 2006 (it hit that number again in March 2007). That was significantly lower than the 6.5% high in 2003. But it wasn't close to the sub-4% rates seen in 2000.

That sort of recovery was what economists call a jobless recovery. "We weren't really growing wages and income for people in the bottom half of the economic distribution," says Alan Berube, an economist with the Brookings Institution.


Monday, April 13, 2009

Escape from the Zombie Food Court

By Joe Bageant
Smirking Chimp
April 6, 2009

Joe Bageant recently spoke at Berea College in Berea, Kentucky, Eastern Kentucky University at Lexington, and the Adler School of Professional Psychology in Chicago, where he was invited to speak on American consciousness and what he dubbed "The American Hologram," in his book, Deer Hunting With Jesus. Here is a text version of the talks, assembled from his remarks at all three schools.

I just returned from several months in Central America. And the day I returned I had iguana eggs for breakfast, airline pretzels for lunch and a $7 shot of Jack Daniels for dinner at the Houston Airport, where I spent two hours listening to a Christian religious fanatic tell about Obama running a worldwide child porn ring out of the White House. Entering the country shoeless through airport homeland security, holding up my pants because they don't let old men wear suspenders through security, well, I knew I was back home in the land of the free.

Anyway, here I am with you good people asking myself the first logical question: What the hell is a redneck writer supposed to say to a prestigious school of psychology? Why of all places am I here? It is intimidating as hell. But as Janna Henning and Sharrod Taylor here have reassured me that all I need to do is talk about is what I write about. And what I write about is Americans, and why we think and behave the way we so. To do that here today I am forced to talk about three things -- corporations, television and human spirituality.No matter how smart we may think we are, the larger world cannot and does not exist for most of us in this room, except through media and maybe through the shallow experience of tourism, or in the minority instance, we may know of it through higher education.

The world however, is not a cultural history course, a National Geographic special or recreational destination. It is a real place with many fast developing disasters, economic and ecological collapse being just two. The more aware among us grasp that there is much at stake. Yet, even the most informed and educated Americans have cultural conditioning working against them round the clock.

As psych students, most of you understand that there is no way you can escape being conditioned by your society, one way or another. You are as conditioned as any trained chicken in a carnival. So am I. When we go to the ATM machine and punch the buttons to make cash fall out, we are doing the same thing as the chickens that peck the colored buttons make corn drop from the feeder. You will not do a single thing today, tomorrow or the next day that you have not been generally indoctrinated and deeply conditioned to do -- mostly along class lines.

For instance, as university students, you are among the 20% or so of Americans indoctrinated and conditioned to be the administrating and operating class of the American Empire in some form or another. In the business of managing the other 75% in innumerable ways. Psychologists, teachers, lawyers, social workers, doctors, accountants, sociologists, mental health workers, clergy -- all are in the business of coordinating and managing the greater mass of working class citizenry by the Empire's approved methods, and toward the same end: Maximum profitability for a corporate based state.

Yet it all seems so normal. Certainly the psychologists who have prescribed so much Prozac that it now shows up in the piss of penguins, saw what they did as necessary. And the doctors who enable the profitable blackmail practiced by the medical industries see it all as part of the most technologically advanced medical system in the world. And the teacher, who sees no problem with 20% of her fourth graders being on Ritalin, in the name of "appropriate behavior," is happy to have control of her classroom. None of these feel like dupes or pawns of a corporate state. It seems like just the way things are. Just modern American reality. Which is a corporate generated reality.

Given the financialization of all aspects of our culture and lives, even our so-called leisure time, it is not an exaggeration to say that true democracy is dead and a corporate financial state has now arrived. If you can get your head around that, it's not hard to see an ever merging global corporate system masquerading electronically and digitally as a nation called the United States. Or Japan for that matter. The corporation now animates us from within our very selves through management of the need hierarchy in goods and information.

As students, even in such an enlightened institution as this one, you are being subjected to the at least some of pedagogy of the corporate management of society for maximum profit. Unarguably your training will help many fellow human beings. But in the larger scheme of things, you are part of an institution, the American Psycho-socio-medical complex, and thus authorized to manage public consciousness, one person at a time. Remember that the entire pedagogy in which you are immersed is itself immersed in a corporate financial state. Even if some of what you do is alternative psychology, that is a reaction to the state, and therefore a result of it. It's still part of the financialization of consciousness. And, I might add that none you expect to work for nothing.

This financialization of our consciousness under American style capitalism has become all we know. That's why we fear its loss. Hence the bailouts of the thousands of "zombie banks," dead but still walking, thanks to the people's taxpayer offerings to the money god so that banks will not die. We believe that we dare not let corporations die. Corporations feed us. They entertain us. Corporations occupy one full half of our waking hours of our lives, through employment, either directly or indirectly. They heal us when we are sick. So it's easy to see why the corporations feel like a friendly benevolent entity in the larger American consciousness.

Corporations are, of course, deathless and faceless machines, and have no soul or human emotions. That we look to them for so much makes us a corporate cult, and makes corporations a fetish of our culture. Yet to us, they are like the weather just there.

All of us live together in this corporate fetish cult. We agree upon and consent to its reality, just as the Aztecs agreed upon Quetzalcoatl and the lost people of Easter Island agreed that the great stone effigies of their remote island had significance.

We are not unique

Strangely enough, even as a population mass operating under unified corporate management machinery, most Americans believe they are unique individuals, significantly different from every other person around them. More than any other people I have met, Americans fear loss of uniqueness. Yet you and I are not unique in the least. Despite the American yada yada about individualism, you are not special. Nor am I. Just because we come from the manufacturer equipped with individual consciousness, does not make us the center of any unique world, private or public, material, intellectual or spiritual.

The fact is, you will seldom if ever make any significant material or lifestyle choices of your own in your entire life. If you don't buy that house, someone else will. If you don't marry him, someone else will. If you don't become a psychologist, lawyer or a clergyman or a telemarketer, someone else will.

We are all replaceable parts in the machinery of a capitalist economy. "Oh but we have unique feelings and emotions that are important," we say. Psychologists specialize in this notion. Yet I venture to say that none of us will ever feel an emotion that someone long dead has not felt, or some as yet unborn person will not feel. We are swimmers in an ancient rushing river of humanity. You, me, the people in my Central American village, the child in Bangladesh, and the millionaire frat boys who run our financial and governmental institutions with such adolescent carelessness. All of our lives will eventually be absorbed without leaving a trace.

Still though, for Western peoples in particular, there is the restless inner cultural need to differentiate our lives from the other swimmers. Most of us, especially as educated people in the Western World, will never beat that one.

Fortunately though, we can meaningfully differentiate our lives (at least in the Western sense) in the way we choose to employ our consciousness. Which is to say, to own our consciousness. If we exercise enough personal courage, we can possess the freedom to discover real meaning and value in our all-too-brief lives. We either wake up to life, or we do not. We are either in charge of our own awareness or we let someone else manage it by default. That we have a choice is damned good news.

The bad news is that we nevertheless remain one of the most controlled peoples on the planet, especially regarding control of our consciousness, public and private. And the control is tightening. I know it doesn't feel like that to most Americans. But therein rests the proof.

Everything feels normal; everybody else around us is doing the same things, so it must be OK.

This is a sort of Stockholm Syndrome of the soul, in which the prisoner identifies with the values of his or her captors, which in our case is of course, the American corporate state and its manufactured popular culture.

When we feel that such a life is normal, even desirable, and we act accordingly, we become helpless. Learned helplessness. For instance, most Americans believe there is little they can do in personally dealing with the most important moral and material crises ever faced, both in America and across the planet, beginning with ecocide, war making, and the grotesque deformation of the democratic process we have settled for.

Citizenship has been reduced to simple consumer group consciousness. Consequently, even though Americans are only six percent of the planet's population, we use 36% of the planet's resources. And we interpret that experience as normal and desirable and as evidence of being the most advanced nation in the world. Despite that our lives have been reduced to a mere marketing demographic.

Let me digress for just a moment, to tell you about how life is outside the marketing demographic. I live much of the year in the Third World country of Belize, Central America, a nation so damned poor that our cash bounces. True, it ain't Zimbabwe, or the Sudan -- there are no dying people in the streets. But food security is easily the biggest problem and growing by the day.

Yet, despite our meager and diminishing resources down there, and much government corruption, people are still citizens, not marketing demographics, not yet anyway. Citizens who struggle toward a just society. They have made more progress than the United States in some respects. For instance, we have: A level of free medical care for the poor, though we lack much equipment and facilities. Maternity pay if either you or your spouse are employed. Retirement on Social Security at age 60. Worker rights, such as mandatory accrued severance pay for workers, even temporary workers. Most Belizeans own their homes outright, and all citizens are entitled to a free piece of land upon which to build one. Employment is scarce, and that has a down side: Many folks waste a lot of valuable time having sex , perhaps because they have too much time on their hands. The Jehovah's Witnesses missionaries are working hard to fix that problem.

Anyway, American and Canadian tourists drive by in their rented SUVs and you can see by their expressions they are scared as hell of those bare footed black folks in the sand around them. Central America sure as hell ain't heaven. But lives there are not what we Americans are told about the Third World either. It's not a flyblown, dangerous place run by murdering drug lords, and full of miserable people. It's just a whole lot of very poor people trying to get by and make a decent society.

I mention these things because it's a good example of how North Americans live in a parallel universe in which they are conditioned to see everything in terms of consumer goods and "safety," as defined by police control. Conditioned to believe they have the best lives on the planet by every measure. So when they see our village and its veneer of "tropical grunge," they experience fear. Anything outside of the parameters of the cultural hallucination they call "the first world" represents fear and psychological free fall.

Yet, even if we think in that sort of outdated terminology, first, second and Third World, and most Americans do, then America is a second world nation. We have no universal free health care (don't kid yourself about the plan underway), no guarantee of anything really, except competitive struggle with one another for work and money and career status, if you are one of those conditioned to think of your job and feudal debt enslavement as a "career." High infant mortality rates, abysmal educational scores, poor diet, no national public transportation system, crumbling infrastructure, a collapsed economy, even by our own definition we are a second world nation.

Learning to love shiny objects

But there is a shiny commercial skin that covers everything American, a thin layer of glossy throwaway technology, that leads the citizenry to believe otherwise. That slick commercial skin, the bright colored signs for Circuit City and The Gap (rest in peace), the clear plastic that covers every product from CDs to pre-cut vegetables, the friendly yellow and red wrapper on the burger inside its bright red paper box, the glossy branding of every item and experience. These things are the supposed tangible evidence that the slick conditioned illusion, the one I call The American Hologram, is indeed real. If it's bright and shiny and new, it must be better. Right? It's the complete opposite of tropical grunge.

Last week when I got back to the States I took a shower in an American friend's new $30,000 gleaming remodeled bathroom. It felt like a surgical operating room experience, compared to wading into the Caribbean surf in the tropical dusk with a bar of soap. Like a parallel universe straight out of The Matrix.

Meat space versus the parallel universe

So how is it that we Americans came to live in such a parallel universe? How is it that we prefer such things as Facebook (don't get me wrong, I'm on Facebook too), and riding around the suburbs with an iPod plugged into our brain looking for fried chicken in a Styrofoam box? Why prefer these expensive earth destroying things over love and laughter with real people, and making real human music together with other human beings -- lifting our voices together, dancing and enjoying the world that was given to us? Absolutely for free.

And the answer is this: We suffer under a mass national hallucination. Americans, regardless of income or social position, now live in a culture entirely perceived inside a self-referential media hologram of a nation and world that does not exist. Our national reality is staged and held together by media, chiefly movie and television images. We live in a "theater state."

In our theater state, we know the world through media productions which are edited and shaped to instruct us on how to look and behave and view the outside world. As in all staged productions and illusions, everyone we see is an actor. There are the television actors portraying what supposedly represents reality. Non-actors in Congress perform in front of the cameras, as the American empire's cultural machinery weaves and spins out our cultural mythology.

Cultural myth production is an enormous industry in America. It is very similar to the national projects of pyramid-building in Egypt, or cathedral-building in medieval Europe. And in our obsession with violence and punishment, two characteristics of a consensual police state reality, we are certainly similar to prison camp building in Stalinist Russia. Actually, we're pretty good in that department too. Consider that one fourth of all the incarcerated people on earth are in U.S. prisons. U.S. citizens imprisoned by their own government.

Good guys and bad guys at the chariot races

In any case, the media culture's production of martyrs, good guys and bad guys, fallen heroes and concept outlaws, is not just big corporate business. It is the armature of our cultural behavior. It tells us who to fear (Middle Eastern terrorists, Mr. Chavez in Venezuela, and foreign made pharmaceuticals), who to scorn (again the same candidates, along with Brittney Spears for her lousy child rearing skills). Our daily news is the modern version of Roman coliseum shows.

Elections are personality combat, chariot races, not examinations of solutions being offered.

None are offered.

What are being offered are monkey models. Man as a social animal necessarily mimics the behavior he sees around him, whether it be by real people or moving images of people. This eye-to-brain to mimicry connection does not care. Consequently, we know how to act and what the things around us are because television and media tell us. Television is the software, the operating instructions for our society. Thus, social realism for us is a television commercial for the American lifestyle: what's new to wear, what to eat, who's cool (Obama), what and whom to fear (that perennial evil booger, Castro) or who to admire (Bill Gates, pure American genius at work).

This societal media software tells us what music our digitized corporate complex is selling, but you never see images of ordinary families sitting around in the evenings making music together, or creating songs of their own based upon their own lives and from their own hearts.

Because that music cannot be bought and sold, and is not profitable. I think about that when the children and their parents sing and dance on the sand in front of my shack in Central America.

We Americans are not offered that choice.

Managing mythology

So instead of a daily life in the flesh, belly to belly and soul to soul, lived out in the streets, and parks and public places, in love and the workplace, we get 40-inch televisions, YouTube, Cineplexes, and the myths spun out by Hollywood.

Now for a national mythology to work, it has to be accessible to everyone all the time, it has to be all in one bundle. For example, in North Korea, it is wrapped up in a single man, Kim. In America, as we have said, it is the media and Hollywood in particular. Hollywood accommodates Imperial myths, melting pot myths, and hegemonic military masculinity myths, and glamour myths. It articulates our culture's social imaginary: "the prevailing images a society needs to project about itself in order to maintain certain features of its organization." And the features of our media mythology are terrifying when you think about them.

As a writer friend says, It is watching "Man on Fire," with Denzel Washington's tragic pose and his truthful bullets, and his willingness to saw the fingers off of Mexicans to get the information on time to protect us from The Evil. It is the absorption of that electronic mythology that allowed us to co-sign the torture at Abu Ghraib.

Incidentally, speaking of Abu Ghraib, I am a friend of Ray Hardy, lawyer to Lynndie England, the leash girl of Abu Ghraib. He has copies of thousands of other, far more grisly Abu Ghraib photos. Believe me, they picked the gentlest ones to release. Anyway, when the media and government people in power made that selection, they were managing your consciousness. What you know and don't know. Keeping you calmer by withholding the truth. Rather like not upsetting little children so they will continue to quietly behave the way you want.

But, like children, the American public got bored with the subject of torture long ago, so we quit seeing the victims. Plenty of new evidence has been coming out for years since Lynndie's famous pics from Abu Ghraib. But the short American attention span, created by our rapid fire media, says, "Move on to the next hologram please. Whoa! Stop the remote. Nice butt shot of Sarah Palin there!"

The result is that Americans cannot achieve the cathexis we need. Cathexis is the ground zero psychic and emotional attachment to the world that cannot be argued. It is "beyond ideological challenge because it is called into existence affectively." Americans are conditioned to reject any affective attachment that does not have a happy ending. And in that, we remain mostly a nation of children. We never get to grow up.

So we tell ourselves the Little Golden Book fairy tales -- that we are a great and compassionate people, and that we are personally innocent of any of our government's horrific crimes abroad. Guiltless as individuals. And we do remain innocent, in a sense, as long as we cannot see beyond the media hologram. But it is a terrible kind of self-inflicted innocence that can come to no good.

We are a nation latch key kids babysat by an electronic hallucination, the national hologram.

The TV goldfish bowl

You may or may not watch much television, but the average American spends almost one-third of his or her waking life doing so. The neurological implications of this are so profound that they cannot even be comprehended in words, much less described by them. Television constitutes our reality in the same fashion that water constitutes the environment in a goldfish bowl. It's everywhere and affects everything, even when we are not watching it. Television regulates our national perceptions and our interior ideations of who we Americans are. It schedules our cultural illusions of choice. It pre-selects candidates in our elections.

By the way, as much as I like Obama, I fully understand he is there because he was selected by the illusion producing machinery of television, and citizens under its influence. It is hard to underestimate the strength of these illusions.

TV regulates holiday marketing opportunities and the national neurological seasons. It tells us, "It's Christmas! Time to shop!" Or "it's election season, time to vote." Or "it's football season, let us rally passions and buy beer and cheer." Or that America's major deity, "The Economy," is suffering badly. "Sacred temples on Wall Street make great sickness upon the land!" Or most ominous of all, "It's time to make war! Again."

It is fair to say that television and the American culture are the same thing. More than any other factor, it is the glue of society and the mediator of our experience. American culture is stone cold dead without it. If all the TVs in America went black, so would most of America's collective consciousness and knowledge. Because corporate media have replaced nearly all other previous forms of accumulated knowledge.

Especially the ancient forms, such as contemplation of the natural world, study and care of the soul. And I do not mean soul in the religious sense either. I mean the deeper self, the one you go to sleep with every night.

The media have colonized our inner lives like a virus. The virus is not going away. This commoditization of our human consciousness is probably the most astounding, most chilling accomplishment of American capitalist culture.

Escape from the zombie food court

Capitalist society however, can only survive by defying the laws of thermodynamics, through endlessly expanding growth, buying and using more of everything, every year and forever. Thus the cult of radical consumerism. It has been the deadliest cult of all because, so far, it has always triumphed, and has now spread around the earth and its nations.

Why has it been so viral, so attractive to so many for so long? How did it come to grip the consciousness of so much of mankind, from Beijing to Bangladesh? Thuggish enforcement accounts for part of it, of course. But it has succeeded too because it requires no effort. No critical thinking. Not even literacy. Just passive consumption. That the easy addiction to consumption is probably hard wired into us.

Every one of us will go right out this door tonight and continue to play out our lives as contributors to ecocide and global warming, mainly because it's easier. And besides, we are not offered any other real options, and we don't know any other way. Nor can we ever know any other way without making a great effort.

How to make that effort? (Assuming you even want to.) As we said, consuming images, goods or buying your identity at Old Navy or a retro clothing shop takes no real effort or thought. Just money. Text messaging your whereabouts at the mall may be a technological wonder, but you're still absolutely nowhere if you are just one more oral grooved organism in the food court at the mall moving in a swarm toward Quiznos.

So how do you escape the programming of the food court, and, I might include, escape even those parts of this school that may serve more to indoctrinate than enlighten you? All pedagogy, even the best, is nevertheless about control. How does one escape such a total system?

In a word, service.

Humble and thoughtful service to the world. It is heartening that we do have concerned Americans studying to alleviate the great suffering of so much of humanity. I have no proof of it, but it seems like earnest idealism is making a comeback since its decline following the optimistic 1960s. People and institutions such as this one are attempting to move American society forward again, heal us of our national sickness to the extent you can, after decades of regression, not to mention repression. Of course, to solve problems you must first identify them.

Let me say here that one of the most profound things I have learned from the Third World, perhaps the only thing I have learned, and as psychologists you've surely heard it before, is this:

The diagnosis is not the disease. Which is why our prescribed treatment never seems to work in places like Africa. Or even in the Bronx or South Philly.

Even our most well intentioned thinking and study of the afflictions of Africa and Latin America, American inner cities or Appalachia, suffers from hubris, because they are necessarily the products of western propertized and monetized thinking that cause the problem. So now we study our victims with great piety. And supposedly teach them solutions to the problems we continue to cause for them. Western people studying globalization's horrific effects, or rape in Africa, or world poverty are doing so under the assumption that such things can be dealt with through some social mechanistic means, through analysis and unbiased reason and rational value-free science. Or by a network of officially sanctioned agencies.

For years I have wanted to see the opposite take place. To see well fed, educated Americans learn from the poor of the earth. Do what Gandhi advised, let the poor be the teachers. Go among them with nothing, one set of clothing and no money, keep your mouth shut, and do your best not to affect anything (which is impossible, I know. But you can come, as they say, "close enough for government work.")

Then just let the world happen to you, like they do in the so-called "passive societies," instead of trying to happen to it in typical Western fashion. Not trying to "improve" things. Maybe practice milpa agriculture with Mayans on the Guatemalan border, watching corn grow for three months. Fish in a lonely dugout, sun-up to sun-down, in the dying reefs of the Caribbean, with only a meal or two of fish as your reward. Do such things for a month or two.

First you will experience boredom, then comes an internal psychic violence and anger, much like the experience of zazen, or sitting meditation, as the layers of your mind conditioning peel away.

Don't quit, keep at it, endure it, to the end. And when you return you will find that deeply experiencing a non-conditioned reality changes things forever. What you have experienced will animate whatever intellectual life you have developed. Or negate much of it. But in serious, intelligent people, experiencing non-manufactured reality usually gives lifelong meaning and insight to the work. You will have experienced the eternal verities of the world and mankind at ground zero. And you will find that the healthy social structures our well intentioned Western minds seek are already inherent in the psyche of mankind, but imprisoned. And the startling realization that you and I are the unknowing captors.

In conclusion, I would point out that the high technological imprisonment of our consciousness has been fairly recent. There are still those among us who remember when it was not so entrapped. A few of us still know what it was like to experience non-manufactured realities -- life outside our mass produced kitsch culture.

Particularly some aging Sixties types, who sought to pass through the doors of perception. Many made it through. But in my travels to places such as this one, I also meet a new breed of younger people, who get it completely. I meet them in the more advanced psychological venues such as Adler. And especially in the ecological movement.

They seem to already know what it took me a lifetime to learn: that each of us is but one strand in the vast organic web of flesh and blood chlorophyll. All things and all beings are inextricably connected at the most profound level. Any physicist will confirm this. We are bound by its every wave and particle, all of us -- the lonely night clerk at Motel 6 and the leviathans of the deep, the sleeping grandmother in New Haven, Connecticut and the maimed Iraqi child in Kirkuk. It can be understood by anyone though, simply by owning one's own consciousness. And in doing so we find that ownership and domination are both temporary and meaningless. And that the animating spirit of the earth is real and within us and claimable.

The purpose of life is to know this. Einstein glimpsed it. Lao-Tzu knew it. So did St. Francis. But you and I are not supposed to. It would shatter the revered, digitized, super-sized, utterly meaningless hologram. The one that mesmerizes us, and mediates our every experience, but isolates us from universal humanness and its coursing energies. Such as love. Or mercy.

Compassion. Existential pain. Hunger. Or the unmitigated joy of simply being alive one finds in children everywhere, even among the poorest. Most of the human race still lives in that realm.

Blessed is the one who joins them. Because he or she learns that the truth is not relative, and that because the human mind seeks balance, social justice is not only inescapable in the long run, but inevitable. I won't be around for that, but on a clear day if I squint real hard I can see down that road ahead. And on that road I can see the long chain of decent human beings like yourselves walking toward the light. And for your very presence on this earth and in this room, I am grateful. Thank you all from the bottom of my heart.

Joe Bageant is author of the book, Deer Hunting With Jesus: Dispatches from America's Class War (Random House Crown), about working class America. A complete archive of Joe's essays can be found at [1].


Monday, April 06, 2009

Obama adviser paid millions as hedge fund director

April 5, 2009

Lawrence Summers, President Barack Obama's top economic adviser, earned millions over the past year as managing director of the hedge fund D.E. Shaw Group and through speaking fees, some from financial institutions now at the center of the government's rescue program.

Financial disclosure reports released by the White House show that Summers received $5.2 million from D.E. Shaw. He also reported payments for appearances before institutions such as J.P. Morgan, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs and Lehman Brothers.

Overall, Summers was paid $2.7 million for more than 40 appearances before different organizations and companies, including financial institutions.

"Given that Dr. Summers is widely recognized as one of the country's most distinguished economists and formerly served as treasury Secretary, there was considerable interest in hearing his economic insights from companies across various industries," White House spokesman Ben LaBolt said.

Obama has enacted strict rules against hiring lobbyists for administration positions that would have influence over their former clients. A White House official said Summers will not work on issues specifically related to D.E. Shaw for two years. The official noted that Summers was not an adviser or an employee of the firms that paid him to give speeches.

Another top White House aide, senior adviser David Axelrod, disclosed that he sold his share of two campaign and media strategy businesses last year for $3 million. The money will be paid to him in annual installments over the next five years, beginning Dec. 31. Axelrod also reported income of more than $1 million last year from the two companies, David Axelrod & Associates and ASK Public Strategies.

Summers began as managing director at D.E. Shaw Group in October 2006. A company press release at the time said Summers would be involved part time to offer advice on strategic initiatives, provide high-level research and advise the executive committee. His income from the firm included deferred compensation from 2007 and 2008 that he was paid this year.

D.E. Shaw is a global investment and technology development firm with about $36 billion in investment capital.

LaBolt said the administration has worked to tighten accountability over banks and altered conditions for the receipt of government financial bailout funds "so that taxpayers can see how their money is being spent, the influence of lobbyists is curbed, executive compensation is reined in, and firms are required to show how they will preserve or expand lending using government funds."

He said Summers "has been at the forefront of this administrations work to shore up our nations financial system and to put in place a regulatory framework that will strengthen the financial system and its oversight — all in an effort to help the families across America who have paid a very steep price for risky decisions made by Wall Street executives."


Thursday, April 02, 2009

If Americans Don't Push For it, There Will Be No Accountability for Bush's Crimes

By Dan DeWalt and Charlotte Dennett and John Nirenberg and Martha Hennessy
After Downing Street
April 2, 2009

On March 30, Senator Patrick Leahy gave five Vermonters a half hour of his time. We were: Martha Hennessy, a peace activist from Weathersfield, John Nirenberg, a Brattleboro man who walked from Boston to Washington D.C. in 2007 to call for impeachment, Charlotte Dennett from Cambridge, who ran for Attorney General in Vermont in 2008 on a pledge to prosecute Bush, Kurt Daims, the author of the Brattleboro indictment resolution passed in 2008 and Dan DeWalt of Newfane, who has been active promoting impeachment and accountability.

We were there to discuss the Senator's idea for a “truth commission” to investigate criminality by the Bush/Cheney administration, and our ideas about why only prosecutions of the culpable will give us a chance to prevent a recurrence of these crimes and abuses of the Constitution.

America, due to Bush/Cheney policy, has added torture to our standard operating procedure, even if it is now held in abeyance by the Obama administration. That morally reprehensible act, while now out of favor, is essentially legal and Constitutional because no Congressional objection has been made and no one has been held accountable.

We pointed out that we are a nation with a well established judicial system and it should be used as it was intended to be, or the American people will become forever estranged from the Congress and our ideals.

And we noted that commissions are usually inadequate when it comes to fully understanding events and their origins.

“We come here not out of anger," DeWalt began – and Leahy interrupted by saying, "I don’t blame you if you are angry" – “but out of concern for the future of our country. We are deeply concerned about dangers to our democracy, with the trend going to executive power and damaging our constitution. We are a nation of laws. If we have a system of justice, why not let it take its course? It seems to many Americans that the rich and powerful don’t have the same system of justice, and they’re getting away with torture, murder, fraud, and Ponzi schemes.”

This contrasts starkly with the plight of the poor and the powerless who are daily paying the price of a failing system.

DeWalt handed him a copy of a complaint that will be filed by the Robert Jackson Steering Committee of the Massachusetts School of Law. Leahy said he was aware of that. He acknowledged that a judge in Spain was doing something similar.

The Senator didn't mince his words when it came to condemning some of the actions of Bush's “justice” department, but his response was more muted on the question of just how to effectively redress the damage.

“I’ll keep going. I’m getting lots of information through subpoenas that many people told me we would never get.” He was referring to memos coming out of the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC). “Opinions from the OLC have the weight of law,” he said. Before Bush/Cheney, administrations had honored the content of those memos, even if they came from an earlier administration, but the OLC under Bush seems to have operated differently.

Leahy bemoaned the fact that he has not received enough support in Congress to implement his idea of a truth commission. “I can't get a single Republican to support it," he said, and doesn't think that it will happen. We responded by asking why not hold hearings in the judiciary committee into many of these nefarious actions and let that course of action lead to wherever it leads, including prosecutions if applicable.

He didn't respond directly, but instead referred to his success at holding Attorney General Gonzales' feet to the fire until he was finally eased out of office by Bush. Leahy reminded us that the prosecutions for abuses at Abu-Garib only led to convictions of some low ranking soldiers, but offered no remedy as to how to hold accountable those who enacted the policy at the higher levels of power.

Martha Hennessy shared a personal story. She read from a letter from an inmate at Guantanamo that had been released through the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR). The letter had been classified and then declassified. The prisoner said that he thought there was a double standard for those who get justice and those who don’t. Some of the detainees, many of whom have been tortured, have been waiting for seven years to either be put on trial or be released. Reports now indicate that most of the detainees at Guantanamo were innocent. “We need to put a personal face on the issue.” said Hennessy.

Leahy acknowledged Martha's point, but had no response. He didn't acknowledge that the Constitution has been quietly amended as a result of Congressional inaction over the usurpation of unconstitutional power by the executive over the last eight years.

Indeed, the strongest impression he gave was that he is a senator who, while sharing our general beliefs about justice, can pragmatically only really operate within the parameters that are available to him in Washington. There was no indication that we would be seeing any more bold and daring moves like when he revealed classified information to a reporter in the Reagan era, putting at risk his own position on the Judiciary Committee in order to alert the nation to something he knew to be wrong.

Afterwards, his aide, Chuck Ross, returned to the group, took down names and then tried to explain that “with meetings like these,” he didn’t want us to think that the senator abruptly left as if he didn’t care about what we had said. “He has been persistent in the face of obfuscation. He got rid of Gonzalez. I would challenge you to find someone who has done more to defend the Constitution.” Ross said that Leahy had to function in a pragmatic way, saying “you should see what it’s like to take leadership in an unfriendly environment.”

DeWalt replied, "Understood, but he’s our senator, and who else can we turn to? When you’re down in the engine room and the boat is sinking, it doesn't matter how good of an engineer you are. You need to get up on top and do some steering. This is no ordinary time with no ordinary future."

This Patrick Leahy still clearly cares about what is right, but he has the air of a man who is being beaten down by the system. If we do not want him to recede into the twilight as a noble voice in the wilderness, then we had better figure out how to get him the support he needs to re-gird himself to battle for justice and honor in the halls of Congress. Meanwhile, the accountability ball is now in the court of those who want to press the Attorney General to appoint a special prosecutor. To make that happen, there must be a concerted show of political will. Remember what Obama said: "It's not up to me, it's up to you."

© 2009 After Downing Street All rights reserved.

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