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In This Edition

Matt Taibbi asks, "Trump Is A Dangerous Idiot. So Why Are We Pushing Him Toward War?"

Uri Avnery considers, "The Great Conspiracy."

Glen Ford is, "Going Down With The Bad Ship U.S.A.."

Glenn Greenwald finds, "Gina Haspel, Trump's Pick For CIA Director, Ran A Black Site For Torture."

Jim Hightower sees, "Hard Times (Still) In The Fields."

John Nichols reports, "The Koch Brothers Get Their Very Own Secretary Of State."

James Donahue wonders, "Are We Moving Toward A Police State?"

Norman Solomon says, "Those Who Controlled The Past Should Not Control The Future."

Heather Digby Parton examines, "The Most Powerful Man In The World."

Bobby Azarian reports, "Scientists Have Established A Link Between Brain Damage And Religious Fundamentalism."

Charles P. Pierce teaches, "Lessons, Unlearned."

Ted Rall returns with, "Why Won't The U.S. Give Peace A Chance?"

William Rivers Pitt exclaims, "Cochran, Corker, Flake And Hatch: The Great Senate 'See Ya!'"

US Senator Debbie Stabenow, D/Mi wins this week's coveted, "Vidkun Quisling Award!"

Robert Reich exposes, "America's Shkreli Problem."

Chris Hedges explores, "The Empty Piety Of The American Press."

And finally in the 'Parting Shots' department Will Durst warns, "The Cafeteria Lady Is Packing Heat" but first Uncle Ernie sings, "And Another One Bites The Dust."

This week we spotlight the cartoons of Jeff Darcy, with additional cartoons, photos and videos from Rubin Bolling, Mr. Fish, Dayrl Cagle, Aaron P. Bernstein, Alonzo Adams, Samuel Corum, Win McNamee, Tim O'Brien, The Atlantic, Reuters, Flickr, AP, Getty Images, Black Agenda Report, You Tube, and Issues & Alibis.Org.

Plus we have all of your favorite Departments...

The Quotable Quote...
The Vidkun Quisling Award...
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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And Another One Bites The Dust
By Ernest Stewart

"Trump's new nominee to be Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, has not expressed any moral opposition to torture. His nominee to be CIA Director, Gina Haspel, has done much worse including directly supervising the torture of detainees & helping destroy video evidence of those abuses!" ~~~ Tammy Duckworth

"Global warming is fake because it is cold where I am. No one in the world is starving because I have food in my kitchen. Poverty isn't real because I just got paid. And around we go. Forever." ~~~ Shaena Montanari

"Yes, people pull the trigger - but guns are the instrument of death. Gun control is necessary, and delay means more death and horror." ~~~ Eliot Spitzer

Help! I need somebody,
Help! Not just anybody
Help! You know I need someone
Help! ~~~ The Beatles

Well, another member of Trump's traveling clown circus is no more. Old Rex Tillerson has gone the way of the Dodo, as so many others of Trump's cabinet and members of his staff have. Is anyone surprised by Rex's passing? Anyone at all?

He lasted a lot longer than I thought he would. You may recall that last summer he called Trump a moron! That's usually the immediate kiss of death for daring to tell the truth about anything, especially about our fearless leader. How he lasted until Tuesday morning is beyond me. Trump didn't even bother to tell Rex before he made this toilet tweet:
His nomination to take over State is Mike Pompeo, who you may remember that Mike was the CIA director and is a global warming denier, who also believes in the power of persuasion, a.k.a. torture, not to mention being a religious loonie-toon. Did I mention that Mike is a Koch brother's puppet? It gets worse, as Trump brings in Gina Haspel to head the CIA. Gina you may recall is famous for torturing innocent people and then covering it up. She ran a notorious black site in Thailand, a place where prisoners were waterboarded. One man, who was later let go, was water boarded 87 times in a single week! You do remember that 97% of all the people that we've tortured down in Gitmo, as well as other black sites around the world, were determined to be innocent and were let go? Let go without so much as a "oops my bad;" that my friends is the American way!

In Other News

Last weekend during the World Ocean Summit held in Mexico, President of Iceland Guoni Th. Johannesson said it's time for Icelanders to stop joking about global warming. Instead, he said, "Icelanders need to start taking into account the serious consequences we'll face in the future if we don't act fast."

The event, which was organised by The Economist, was intended as a chance for political leaders, heads of international organisations, companies and specialists to discuss the future of our oceans.

"Global warming change is affecting all our countries, but the impact it has on the Nordic countries is particularly clear," Guoni said during the summit. "The ice caps around the North Pole are melting and our oceans are heating up fast." In particular, Guoni drew attention to the fact that the increasing temperature of the oceans is detrimental to biodiversity and fish stocks, as it often triggers acidification of sea water.

Meanwhile, back on the golf course, our fearless leader thinks that Global Warming is a Chinese plot to take away his money and loves to crack jokes about the most serious thing that mankind has ever had to deal with! Here's just a few of his many examples:
Your tax dollars at work, America!

And Finally

I've been watching the kids leaving classes to take a 17 minute break to remember the dead and protest the NRA for the various groups of victims that they've created. The NRA is just another American terrorist group like the Klu Klux Klan, the Nazis and various other white power groups. The main difference is one group has been bought and paid for by the American gun manufacturers to bribe Sin-ators and Con-gressmen to dance to their tune! Care to guess which one?

You may recall the Federal Assault Weapons Ban (AWB)-officially, the "Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act" is a subsection of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, a United States federal law that included a prohibition on the manufacture for civilian use of certain semi-automatic firearms, like the AR-15s and AK 47's just to name a few. Trouble is, that it was written with a 10 year sunset clause and was allowed to expire in 2004. Yippie! Not!!!

While the bill was far from perfect, it was at least an honest try to curtail some of the slaughter. There was also the "Brady Handgun Violence and Prevention Act," which instituted background checks and waiting periods for gun buyers, measures that gun control advocates today say should be "strengthened and expanded" and I'd add, and then some.

As you can see, gun-control can be done but in order to overcome the NRA i.e., the gun makers, we're going to have to get rid of our crooked lawmakers and that terrorist group the NRA and pass some common sense gun laws. It seems America's youth has clearly seen the light and who knows with some persistance, perhaps they can drag their parents, and their grand parents out of their NRA inspired Matrix nest and back to reality. Good luck with that!

Keepin' On

It's that time of year once again when those income tax checks come a rollin' in. If you're getting one, please think of us because we always think of you! We desperately need your help to keep publishing. Please send us what you can and not only will we be extremely grateful but we'll see that it goes to good use in the struggle to reclaim our Republic! Please, do whatever you can. We need your help!!!


10-31-1933 ~ 03-10-2018
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So how do you like Trump so far?
And more importantly, what are you planning on doing about it?

Until the next time, Peace!
(c) 2018 Ernest Stewart a.k.a. Uncle Ernie is an unabashed radical, author, stand-up comic, DJ, actor, political pundit and managing editor and publisher of Issues & Alibis magazine. Visit me on Facebook. and like us when you do. Follow me on Twitter.

The only thing about Donald Trump that any sane person ever had to be grateful
for was that he entered the White House claiming to be isolationist and war-averse.

Trump Is A Dangerous Idiot. So Why Are We Pushing Him Toward War?
In North Korea and in Syria, we should be encouraging Trump to mellow out - not the opposite
By Matt Taibbi

There's a big conference going on at the moment in Brussels, where the bipartisan Alliance for Securing Democracy - a group of journos, pols, and intelligence vets from around the West - is holding a conference to discuss how to rebuild the world order in a "time of distrust." Speakers like Madeline Albright, Senator Chris Murphy, New York Times correspondent Steven Erlanger, U.S. NATO Ambassador Kay Bailey Hutchinson, and a host of other CNN panelist types are getting together to discuss how to solve that whole "The people are revolting!" problem Beltway pols have been stumbling over for years now.

The Alliance is part of the German Marshall Fund, which in turn is the group that built Hamilton 68, whose "digital dashboard" blacklist site exists to remind us daily that Russians are lurking behind basically all unorthodox opinions here in the U.S. Such opinions apparently include any desire to not get into a nuclear war.

For instance, according to Hamilton 68, five of the Russian bots' current six "top trending topics" are "South Korea," "Kim Jong Un," "Kim," "Jong" and "Un."

This comes in the wake of Thursday evening's news that Trump met in the White House with South Korean envoys, who in turn announced that Trump would be meeting with Kim Jong Un "by May, to achieve permanent de-nuclearization."

I stupidly thought it was good news that Trump had been convinced to sit down with Kim Jong Un to negotiate an end to the nuclear standoff, as opposed to letting him continue to egg Kim on to launch via Freudian name-calling sessions and late-night tweets.

Obviously, whenever Donald Trump is involved in any meeting of import, and particularly a peace negotiation, it would be preferable to have him gagged, perhaps with the straitjacket-and-mask setup they used to allow Hannibal Lecter to speak with Senator Ruth Martin in Silence of the Lambs. Certainly you don't want him making any sudden movements toward the nuclear football in a meeting with Kim. But talking is for sure better than trading warheads. Right?

Nope. According to David Ignatius, the well-known Washington Post reporter who apparently is also on the board of this Alliance For Securing Democracy, Trump's negotiation plan is a sign of weakness.

Ignatius wrote as much in a column this morning called "Trump is Wile E. Coyote," in which the Post writer relayed that his CIA buddies think Trump is getting pantsed by Little Rocket Man. Here's the lede: "Beep beep" was the subject line of an email message I received a few weeks ago from former CIA analyst Robert Carlin, as Kim Jong Un was accelerating his diplomatic charm offensive. "So typical," wrote Carlin in his brief text. "The North Koreans as Road Runner, the U.S. as Wile E. Coyote."

So to recap: Russian bots are pushing Korean peninsula-related hashtags, according to the Alliance for Securing Democracy, whose board member David Ignatius is simultaneously telling America that negotiating an end to an unprecedented nuclear danger there makes us look like loser cartoon characters.

As Ignatius wrote: "We'll probably be chasing Kim around a negotiating table for a while, which is better than 'duck and cover.' But as Carlin says, 'Beep beep.'"

I wrote to Ignatius to ask him what would be good, if negotiating an end to a nuclear standoff is bad. He hasn't answered.

While the Trump White House has been fumbling to coordinate a response to the whole "The President of the United States apparently cheated on his wife with a porn star and then paid her off" problem, and fighting off the anaconda-like Mueller criminal probe, Trump's political opposition has been spending more and more time pushing our president into aggressive military stances.

Continuing a theme that really began last year with Trump's much-praised decision to lob missiles into Syria while eating cake with horrified Chinese leaders, Beltway voices continue to demand, for instance, that Trump escalate America's on-the-ground opposition to Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.

Both Ignatius and Kenneth Pollock of the American Enterprise Institute are examples of think-tankers arguing the widespread D.C. consensus, that Syria is the perfect place for American forces to dig in and take on Iran, Assad, and by extension Russia as well.

Americans seem to be in denial about the tinderbox nature of this lunatic Syrian situation.

Things took a serious turn in early February, when a mysterious news story suggested Russian contract fighters were killed by American weapons in a town called Deir al-Zour. The incident reportedly happened on the night of February 7th, as part of a counterattacking raid conducted across the Euphrates River by U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

News outlets in both the east and the west seriously buried the lede when this incident first took place. The BBC and the AP were classic examples. This was the second-to-last line in the BBC's February 8th article: The Russian defense ministry said the U.S. strike wounded 25 pro-government volunteers...

What? Were any of those "wounded" by our strike Russians? Were they planning to retaliate? What was going on?

The Russians similarly downplayed the incident at first. There were reports from the Russian government that first suggested "five Russian citizens" had died. That later became dozens "injured."

Then on February 14th, Novaya Gazeta, historically the most trustworthy and independent of Russian news outlets, ran a piece called "Mistake or Treason?" that asserted 13 Russians had died that night. The paper claimed Russian officials let private Russian "Wagner" contract fighters join pro-Assad forces in a troop advance Russian military leaders had assured their American counterparts would not take place.

Novaya Gazeta said the Russians died under fire from Apache helicopters, F-15s, drones, and ground batteries. There were later rumors that the casualties were in the hundreds, but subsequent investigations by outlets like Der Spiegel failed to bear that out.

Still, the mere fact that Russian citizens were killed by American forces in an ongoing proxy war that both sides seem determined to escalate should be absolutely terrifying to ordinary citizens here and there - especially given that aggressive rhetoric is at an all-time high, again on both sides.

Vladimir Putin recently gave a frightening speech in advance of the March 18 presidential "election" in which he spent most of his time boasting about the size, modernity, and potency of Russia's military.

Pooty-poot boasted of new "unlimited range" nuclear missiles. He paused mid-speech to show a pulled-straight-from-Dr.-Strangelove animated clip of a missile weaving through snow-covered mountains on its way to the American continent (the presentation ended up including simulated explosions over Florida).

"Nobody in the world has anything like this," Putin bragged.

Meanwhile here in the States we've had a constant drumbeat of "new Pearl Harbor" stories describing the troll farm indictment as an "act of war," with politicians and pundits alike calling for escalations of hostilities with Russia.

Putin's boasts are completely in line with what he's always been about, using nationalist rhetoric and military imagery to cover up his almost total incompetence as an economic leader. He's just the latest in a long line of Russian heads of state, dating back to the Soviet days, who reflexively try to cover up for empty shelves and crumbling infrastructure with marches and missile parades.

Meanwhile, in the States, the only thing about Donald Trump that any sane person ever had to be grateful for was that he entered the White House claiming to be isolationist and war-averse. That soon proved to be a lie like almost everything else about his campaign, but Jesus, do we have to help this clown down the road toward General Trump fantasies?

We have the dumbest, least competent White House in history. Whatever else anyone in America has as a goal for Trump's remaining time in office, the single most important priority must to be keeping this guy away from the nuclear button. Almost anything else would be survivable.

Which is why it makes no sense to be taunting Trump and basically calling him a wuss for negotiating with Kim Jong Un or being insufficiently aggressive in Syria. In the middle of a shooting conflict, our troops are currently stationed right across the river from large numbers of both private and official Russian forces. Who doesn't think this is crazy?

The rhetoric we're hearing now about Trump's weakness from the likes of Ignatius and Max Boot is essentially identical to the stuff we heard directed at Barack Obama when he had the temerity to express willingness to talk to leaders of nations like Iran.

There is a segment of D.C. thinkluencers who seem to think the U.S. is setting a bad precedent if it doesn't bomb and threaten its way through every foreign policy conundrum, from Libya to Yemen to Iran to Syria to, apparently, even Russia.

It seems like the smart thing to do would be to wait until we had someone with an IQ over 9 in office before we start demanding that the White House play war with nuclear opponents. Of course, I might be biased because I have kids and live in a major population center. Can we chill on the gunboat diplomacy for a couple of years at least? And if not, why not?
(c) 2018 Matt Taibbi is Rolling Stone's chief political reporter, Matt Taibbi's predecessors include the likes of journalistic giants Hunter S. Thompson and P.J. O'Rourke. Taibbi's 2004 campaign journal Spanking the Donkey cemented his status as an incisive, irreverent, zero-bullshit reporter. His books include Griftopia: A Story of Bankers, Politicians, and the Most Audacious Power Grab in American History, The Great Derangement: A Terrifying True Story of War, Politics, and Religion, Smells Like Dead Elephants: Dispatches from a Rotting Empire.

The Great Conspiracy
By Uri Avnery

The Great Conspiracy

IN THE Autumn of 1948, after some eight months of continuous fighting, I was promoted to the lofty rank of corporal. After taking part in a crash course for squad leaders, I was allowed to choose my new soldiers - new immigrants from Poland or Morocco.

(Everybody wanted Bulgarians, but the Bulgarians were already taken. They were known to be excellent fighters, disciplined and stoical.)

I chose the Moroccans. I also got two Tunisians and five Turks, altogether 15 men. All of them had just arrived by ship and not one spoke Hebrew. So how does one explain to them that a hand grenade has a high course of flight and a sharp angle of descent?

Fortunately one of them knew some Hebrew, so he translated into French, one of the Turks understood some French, and translated into Turkish, and so we got along.

It was not easy. There were a lot of psychological problems. But I decided to adapt myself as much as possible. For example: one day we got an order to go to the sea shore and fill a truck with sand, in order to enlarge our camp with more tents.

When we arrived on the beach, none of my soldiers moved. "We have come to this country to fight, not to work!" their spokesman explained.

I was nonplussed. What to do? The course had not prepared me for such a situation. Then I had an idea. I said: "You are quite right. So please sit under that tree and enjoy the shade!"

I took a spade and started to dig. I heard them whisper. Then one of them got up and took a spade. Then another. In the end we all worked happily.

UNHAPPILY, WE were an exception. Most Ashkenazis (Jews of European descent) who had been born in the country, or immigrated years before, thought that they had done their part and suffered enough, and that now it was up to the new Oriental immigrants to do theirs. Cultural difference were huge, but nobody paid much attention to them.

Soon after that scene, we were allowed leave for a few hours in Tel Aviv. When I got on the truck, I noticed that some of my men did not get on. "Are you crazy?" I cried. "Leave in Tel Aviv is paradise!"

"Not for us," they replied. "The girls in Tel Aviv won't go out with us. They call us Morroccan-Knives." There had indeed been a few cases of hot-headed Moroccans who had felt insulted and attacked people with knives.

My attitude towards "my Moroccans" paid off. When I was severely wounded, four of them brought me out, under heavy enemy fire. They granted me 70 more years of life (so far).

A few years later, when I was already the Chief Editor of a news magazine, I published a series of investigative articles under the title "They Fuck the Blacks". It contained revelations about the discrimination against the Oriental immigrants (nicknamed "blacks", though they are brown). It aroused a storm of anger throughout the country. The very suggestion of discrimination was vehemently denied.

At the end of the 1950s, a minor incident in the Wadi Salib quarter of Haifa triggered major disturbances by Oriental Jews. All the press took the side of the police, my magazine was the only one which justified the rebels.

I BRING UP all this ancient history because it has suddenly become very topical.

A TV series by an Oriental filmmaker is whipping up a storm in Israel. It is called "Salah, This is The Land of Israel", and claims to describe the experiences of his grandparents when they arrived in Israel in the early 1950s. Salah is an Arab first name.

They wanted to settle in Jerusalem, the only place in the country whose name they knew. Instead they were taken to a remote spot in the desert, thrown from the trucks, and left there to vegetate in tents, without work except for a few days per month of "emergency work", digging holes for trees.

According to the filmmaker, David Deri, it was a gigantic "conspiracy" (his word) by the Ashkenazis to have the Oriental Jews come here, to throw them into the desert and leave them there, prey to hunger and deprivation.

Deri is not making things up. He quotes extensively from secret official protocols in which the operation was discussed at length and explained as a national necessity in order to fill the empty areas (from which the Arabs had previously been expelled).

All the facts are right. Yet the overall picture is wrong. Deri did not try to describe this chapter in history objectively. He produced a propaganda piece.

LET ME cite again my personal experiences.

I was born in Germany to wealthy parents. When the Nazis assumed power, in 1933, my father immediately decided to leave Germany and go to Palestine.

No one received us with flowers. We were left to fend for ourselves. We brought with us a large sum of money. My father was not used to the commercial customs then prevailing in the country, and we lost all our money within a year.

Both my parents, who had never done any physical work in Germany, started to work very hard, 10-12 hours a day. Seeing this, I left elementary school after 7 classes and started to work at the age of 14, as did my brother and sisters. Not one of us complained. The happenings in Germany reminded us every day what we had escaped.

The lot of new immigrants is hard, and has always been so everywhere. We were intent on building "our" country. The immigrants who came from East and West after World War II were expected to do the same.

Much later I became friendly with one of the main organizers of the "absorption" of the immigrants in he 1950s, Lova Eliav. He told me how the immigrants, Eastern and Western, were brought to the empty Lakhish region, and when they refused to get off the trucks, the driver was told to operate the mechanism and literally pour the people onto the ground. He was not ashamed of it - for him it was a part of building the country.

Lova, by the way, was one of the country's great idealists. At an advanced age he himself went into the desert, near the Egyptian border, to live with the young people for whom he built a new village far from everywhere.

Deri discovered that police spies had infiltrated "Oriental" groups. That made me laugh out loud. Because it was an open secret that for many years the secret service had spied on every move of my editorial staff, especially mine.

Deri is not troubled by the fact that during those years the Communists were treated much worse, not to mention the Arab citizens, who suffered daily oppression under "military rule".

All in all, Deri did not actually falsify or invent anything. But he takes everything out of context. It is as if somebody took a painting of Michelangelo and removed one color - say red. It's still basically the same painting, but it's not the same.

DAVID DERI was born 43 years ago in Yeruham, one of those villages created by Lova Eliav and his colleagues in the middle of nowhere, south of Be'er Sheva.

Today, Yeruham is still one of the poorer townships. But it has advanced a lot. Politically it is, of course, solidly Likud.

Deri makes no attempt to paint a "balanced" picture. On the contrary, he quite openly tries to incite the Oriental Jews against the Ashkenazis.

I don't know his political outlook. But in today's reality, the film serves the incitement campaign of Binyamin Netanyahu against the imaginary "leftist Ashkenazi elite", which includes the media, the universities, the police and the courts (and me as well, of course).

By the way, Deri himself is the best evidence of how in two or three generations those poor Moroccans who were thrown into the desert are forming a new elite.
(c) 2018 Uri Avnery ~~~ Gush Shalom

Going Down With The Bad Ship U.S.A.
From the Clintons to Obama and Back Again
By Glen Ford

There is no mystery to the ideological collapse of U.S. ruling class politics under late stage capitalism and imperial decline. Simply put, the corporate duopoly parties have nothing to offer the masses of people except unrelenting austerity at home and endless wars abroad. A shrunken and privatized Detroit serves as the model for U.S. urban policy; Libya and Syria are the scorched-earth footprints of a demented and dying empire. The lengthening shadow of economic eclipse by the East leaves the U.S. Lords of Capital with no cards left to play but the threat of Armageddon.

As China reclaims its historic place at the center of the earth, alongside the huge and heavily armed landmass of Russia, Washington flails about in a frenzy of firewall-building, buying time with the blood of millions, hoping to somehow preserve its doomed hegemony. But the "exceptional" superpower has no Marshall Plan to rescue itself from the throes of systemic decay, and all that it can offer to the emerging nations of the world is a bad example and the threat of annihilation. Its own people tire of the "Great Game," finally realizing that they are the ones who have been played.

George Bush drawled the "last hurrah" of empire with his declaration of "Mission Accomplished," 15 years ago -- and was quickly contradicted. With the failure in Iraq, the pretense of "spreading democracy" came ingloriously undone. A refurbishing of the imperial brand was attempted, with a bright and shiny new face – a Black-ish one -- plus a new logo to justify invasion and regime-change: "humanitarian" intervention. But Obama's assault on Syria revealed that the U.S. and its junior partners could only project power in the region through an alliance with Islamic jihadist terror. The architects of the War on Terror were, in fact, the godfathers of al Qaida.

"Do you realize now what you've done?" Vladimir Putin demanded of the Americans, at the United Nations, in 2015. "It is hypocritical and irresponsible to make loud declarations about the threat of international terrorism while turning a blind eye to the channels of financing and supporting terrorists, including the process of trafficking and illicit trade in oil and arms. It would be equally irresponsible to try to manipulate extremist groups and place them at one's service in order to achieve one's own political goals in the hope of later dealing with them or, in other words, liquidating them."

Washington's jihadist strategy has rapidly unraveled ever since. The empire was unmasked in the world's most public forum, revealing the utter depravity of U.S. policy and, more importantly, the weakness of Washington's position in the region. The mighty fortress of global capital, the self-appointed defender of the world economic "order," was revealed as, not just in collusion with head-chopping, women-enslaving, sectarian mass-murdering terrorists, but militarily dependent on the very forces it claims to wage a twilight, "generational" battle to destroy. The U.S. has been spouting The Mother of All Lies, and most of humanity knows it. Deep down, most Americans suspect as much, too.

With its intervention in Syria as a stalwart foe of jihadism and in defense of the principle of national sovereignty, Russia spoke the language of international law and morality, presenting a fundamental challenge to U.S. imperial exceptionalism. By deploying his forces against Washington's jihadist proxies, in a region infested with American bases, Putin put muscle behind his call for a "multi-polar" world order.

China understands clearly that the ultimate U.S. aim is to block China's access to the region's energy and markets, at will. Beijing has praised Russia's military role in the war, and stood with Moscow in vetoing western Security Council resolutions targeting Damascus. China routinely joins with Russia – and most other nations on the planet -- in pursuit of a more "multi-polar world."

The U.S. now uses the desperate Kurdish militia as surrogates in Syria, in an attempt to justify its presence in the country, while continuing to arm, finance and train other "rebel" groups, reportedly including former ISIS fighters. The U.S. has always avoided targeting the al Qaida affiliate in Syria, formerly known as the al Nusra Front -- which, with ISIS on the run, remains the most effective anti-government force in the country.

The Trump administration declares that it will remain in Syria for the foreseeable future -- without even a fig leaf of legal cover. Although there is now no possibility for a jihadist victory, Washington seems intent on drawing out the war as long as possible. The truth is, Washington doesn't know how to extricate itself, because to do so would amount to yet another admission of defeat, and lead quickly to the dissolution of the jihadist networks the Pentagon has so long cultivated.

Withdrawal from Syria -- and, sooner rather than later, from Iraq, whose parliament this month called for a timetable for U.S. forces to vacate the country -- would totally unravel U.S. strategy to dominate events in the oil-rich region. Obama launched the jihadist war against the Syrian government in 2011 to force his way into the country. ISIS's seizure of Mosul, Iraq's second largest city, gave the U.S. the opportunity to return to that country, militarily. There will be no third chances, in Syria or Iraq.

The American people will not stand for another such adventure. They feel tainted by the experience in both Syria and Iraq, and don't trust what their government says about the "good guys" and the "bad guys" in the Arab world. If only for reasons of racism, they want out.

Everyone smells U.S. defeat, inside and outside the empire. It is a stink that only Americans that were conscious in the Vietnam era can remember. It makes folks anxious -- like the loss of a cocoon. Just as whites reaped a "psychological wage" from Jim Crow privileges, according to W.E.B. Dubois, even if they were poor, so do citizens of empire feel psychological benefits, even when the cost of the war machine is impoverishing the country. U.S. politics in the era of imperial decline will be nasty, stupid, petty and racist -- just as we are already experiencing. There must be scapegoats for the national de-exceptionalization. The Russians fit the bill, for now, and so does anybody that talks like a Russian, or a Chinese -- for example, people that would like to live in a "multi-polar world."

Do not expect the Republicans or the Democrats to make any sense of a world of diminishing empire. The duopolists are incapable of seeing any future beyond their rich patrons' vision - and the rich have no vision beyond continued accumulation of wealth, which requires a harsher and harsher austerity.

Most dangerous, they cannot imagine a world in which they are not on top. We will have to fight to keep them from blowing us all up, in rich man's despair.
(c) 2018 Glen Ford is the Black Agenda Report executive editor. He can be contacted at

An interrogation room at Camp Delta in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for detainees from the U.S. war in Afghanistan, April 7, 2004.

Gina Haspel, Trump's Pick For CIA Director, Ran A Black Site For Torture
By Glenn Greenwald

President Donald Trump nominated Gina Haspel as the new director of the CIA, announcing the news on Twitter. Mike Pompeo, the previous director, was nominated to run the State Department to replace the ousted Rex Tillerson.

IN MAY 2013, the Washington Post's Greg Miller reported that the head of the CIA's clandestine service was being shifted out of that position as a result of "a management shake-up" by then-Director John Brennan. As Miller documented, this official - whom the paper did not name because she was a covert agent at the time - was centrally involved in the worst abuses of the CIA's Bush-era torture regime.

As Miller put it, she was "directly involved in its controversial interrogation program" and had an "extensive role" in torturing detainees. Even more troubling, she "had run a secret prison in Thailand" - part of the CIA's network of "black sites" - "where two detainees were subjected to waterboarding and other harsh techniques." The Senate Intelligence Committee's report on torture also detailed the central role she played in the particularly gruesome torture of detainee Abu Zubaydah.

Beyond all that, she played a vital role in the destruction of interrogation videotapes that showed the torture of detainees both at the black site she ran and other secret agency locations. The concealment of those interrogation tapes, which violated multiple court orders as well as the demands of the 9/11 commission and the advice of White House lawyers, was condemned as "obstruction" by commission chairs Lee Hamilton and Thomas Keane. A special prosecutor and grand jury investigated those actions but ultimately chose not to prosecute.

The name of that CIA official whose torture activities the Post described is Gina Haspel. Today, as BuzzFeed's Jason Leopold noted, CIA Director Mike Pompeo announced that Haspel was selected by Trump to be deputy director of the CIA.

This should not come as much of a surprise given that Pompeo himself has said he is open to resurrecting Bush-era torture techniques (indeed, Obama's CIA director, John Brennan, was forced to withdraw from the running in late 2008 because of his support for some of those tactics only to be confirmed in 2013). That's part of why it was so controversial that 14 Democrats - including their Senate leader Chuck Schumer, Dianne Feinstein, Sheldon Whitehouse, and Tim Kaine - voted to confirm Pompeo.

That Haspel was the actual subject of the 2013 Post story was an open secret. As Leopold said after I named her on Twitter as the subject of that story: "All of us who covered CIA knew. She was undercover and agency asked us not to print her name." Gina Haspel is now slated to become the second-most powerful official at the CIA despite - or because of - the central, aggressive, sustained role she played in many of the most grotesque and shameful abuses of the war on terror.
(c) 2018 Glenn Greenwald. was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator in New York. His most recent book is, With Liberty and Justice for Some: How the Law Is Used to Destroy Equality and Protect the Powerful. 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. He is the recipient of the first annual I.F. Stone Award for Independent Journalism.

Hard Times (Still) In The Fields
By Jim Hightower

Every decade or so, America's mass media are surprised to discover that migrant farmworkers are still being miserably paid and despicably treated by the industry that profits from their labor. Stories run, the public is outraged (again), assorted officials pledge action, then... nothing changes.

Several news reports recently have re-documented that the shameful abuse of these hard-working, hard-traveling families continues. A Los Angeles Times report revealed that, even if they receive the legal minimum wage, many farm laborers earn less than $17,500 a year because of the low pay and the seasonal nature of their work. Moreover, they are often "housed" in shacks, old chicken coops, shipping containers, and squalid motels.

This year, though, multibillion-dollar agribusiness interests from Florida to California are uniting in a push for new assistance – not for workers, but themselves! While they backed Trump for president, many are now expressing shock that he may actually try to fulfill his campaign promise to cut off the flow of undocumented immigrants to their fields. They now admit that these immigrants make up as much as 70 percent of the industry's workforce, so they've rushed to Washington, demanding a special exemption from their president's planned lockout of Mexican laborers. In the process, they've suddenly recharacterized the very migrants they've been so callously mistreating as noble employees who're essential to the USA's food security.

BigAg deserves no special break at all, but if Trump and Congress give any help to them, they should be required to pay a living wage, provide decent family housing and health care, and treat all farmworkers with the respect due to people who really are essential to our food security. To help push for basic human justice, connect with the United Farm Workers at
(c) 2018 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. Jim writes The Hightower Lowdown, a monthly newsletter chronicling the ongoing fights by America's ordinary people against rule by plutocratic elites. Sign up at

Mike Pompeo testifies before the Senate Intelligence Committee on February 13, 2018.

The Koch Brothers Get Their Very Own Secretary Of State
Trump's pick to replace Rex Tillerson is an errand boy for billionaires.
By John Nichols

In the Republican wave election of 2010, when Charles and David Koch emerged as defining figures in American politics, the greatest beneficiary of Koch Industries largesse was a political newcomer named Mike Pompeo. After his election to the House eight years ago, Pompeo was referred to as the "Koch Brothers' Congressman" and "the congressman from Koch."

Now Pompeo is positioned to become the Koch brothers' Secretary of State.

After serving for a little more than a year as Donald Trump's top yes-man at the Central Intelligence Agency, Pompeo is Trump's pick to replace Rex Tillerson, the administration's listless placeholder at the Department of State.

In a measure of the extent to which Trump and Tillerson had disengaged from one another, the outgoing Secretary of State apparently learned of his firing via Twitter Tuesday morning-when an aide showed the nation's top diplomat a tweet from the president announcing the transition. A statement from the department indicated that Tillerson was "unaware of the reason" for his removal.

Tillerson displayed a measure of independence from Trump on issues ranging from Russian cyber attacks to the aggressive approach of Saudi Arabia to Qatar and other countries.

Pompeo's pattern of deference to his political benefactors is likely to make him a better fit with a self-absorbed president. He will also bring to the position an edge that Tillerson lacked. Pompeo is a foreign-policy hawk who fiercely opposed the Iran nuclear deal, stoked fears about Muslims in the United States and abroad, opposed closing the Guantanamo Bay detention camp, and defended National Security Agency's unconstitutional surveillance programs as "good and important work." He has even gone so far as to say that NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden "should be brought back from Russia and given due process, and I think the proper outcome would be that he would be given a death sentence." Pompeo's open disregard for privacy rights in particular and civil liberties in general, as well as his penchant for extreme language and more extreme policies are anything but diplomatic. That's likely to make him an even more troublesome Secretary of State than Tillerson, who was relentlessly corporate in his worldview but not generally inclined to pick fights-even when it came to standing up for a State Department that decayed on his watch.

In addition to being a hothead, Pompeo has long been one of the most conflicted political figures in the conflicted city of Washington, thanks to his ties to the privately held and secretive global business empire that has played a pivotal role in advancing his political career. Pompeo came out of the same Wichita, Kansas, business community where the Koch family's oil-and-gas conglomerate is headquartered. Indeed, Pompeo built his own company with seed money from Koch Venture Capital.

More important, from a political standpoint, is the fact that Pompeo made the leap from business to government with a big boost from the Koch brothers and their employees. "I'm sure he would vigorously dispute this, but it's hard not to characterize him as the congressman from Koch," says University of Kansas political science professor Burdett Loomis.

In fact, that's a strikingly appropriate characterization for the man whom Donald Trump wants "to serve as head of the United States intelligence community; act as the principal adviser to the President for intelligence matters related to the national security; and serve as head of the Central Intelligence Agency."

As the Center for Food Safety, which has wrangled with Pompeo on food-labeling issues that are of tremendous interest to the global agribusiness and grocery industries, noted in 2014:

Congressman Mike Pompeo was the single largest recipient of campaign funds from the Koch Brothers in 2010. After winning election with Koch money, Congressman Pompeo hired a Koch Industries lawyer to run his office. According to The Washington Post, Congressman Pompeo then introduced bills friendly to Koch Industries while Koch hired outside lobbyists to support them.
Recalling the 2010 election, the Center for Responsive Politics explained that:
Koch Industries had never spent as much on a candidate in a single cycle as it did on Pompeo that time around, giving him a total [of] $80,000. Koch outdid itself again in the 2012 cycle by ponying up $110,000 for Pompeo's campaign.
When Pompeo ran for reelection in 2014, he faced a tight primary contest with another local Republican who had Koch ties. One of the biggest turning points in that race came when the Kochs sided with Pompeo. "KOCHPAC is proud to support Mike Pompeo for Congress based on his strong support for market-based policies and economic freedom, which benefits society as a whole," Mark Nichols, the vice president of government and public affairs for Koch Industries, told Politico.

Just as the Kochs have been loyal to Pompeo, so Pompeo has been loyal to the Kochs. He's a regular at their behind-closed-doors gatherings, and he's outspoken in their defense, claiming that President Obama and "Nixonian" Democrats have unfairly "vilified" Charles and David Koch.

But, of course, the supposed vilification has simply involved the appropriate questioning of the influence wielded by billionaires in general and the Kochs in particular over American politics and governance. That's hardly an unreasonable concern, considering that, as one of the most prominent Koch-backed politicians in the country, Pompeo was called out just weeks after taking office for proposing legislative initiatives that "could benefit many of [the Kochs'] business interests."

"The measures include amendments approved in the House budget bill to eliminate funding for two major Obama administration programs: a database cataloguing consumer complaints about unsafe products and an Environmental Protection Agency registry of greenhouse-gas polluters," reported The Washington Post in 2011. "Both have been listed as top legislative priorities for Koch Industries, which has spent more than $37 million on Washington lobbying since 2008, according to disclosure records."

"It's the same old story-a member of Congress carrying water for his biggest campaign contributor," Common Cause's Mary Boyle complained at the time.

Now, however, it's a different story, because Donald Trump wants to put "the congressman from Koch" in charge of the State Department and, by extension, the engagement of the United States government with a world in which the brothers Koch have many, many interests.
(c) 2018 John Nichols writes about politics for The Nation magazine as its Washington correspondent. His book on protests and politics, Uprising: How Wisconsin Renewed the Politics of Protest, from Madison to Wall Street, is published by Nation Books. Follow John Nichols on Twitter @NicholsUprising.

Are We Moving Toward A Police State?
By James Donahue

It took action by President Barack Obama's Administration to put a stop to nationwide police abuse of a search and seizure policy instituted by the Bush Administration after 9-11. Two years ago former Attorney General Eric Holder barred state and local police agencies from using federal law to seize cash and personal property without warrants or filing criminal charges. Now Trump's boy, Attorney General Jeff Sessions is bringing that policy back.

Last week Sessions announced his decision to allow police to return to the "good old days" when many officers were enriching their units and their personal lives through the open seizure of personal property without court order. Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein told news reporters in Washington that the goal "is to empower our police and prosecutors with this important tool that can be used to combat crime, particularly drug abuse." The problem was, when the Obama Administration moved to put a stop to it, the criminal element appeared to have shifted from the drug abusers and crooks to the police themselves.

Research by reporters for the Washington Post in 2014 found that cops in the U.S. had seized nearly $2.5 billion in assets from motorists and individuals without warrants or indictments. This was all done since the 9-11 attacks. The paper printed a series of stories revealing that police were routinely stopping drivers for minor traffic infractions, pressuring them to allow searches without court orders, and then seizing large amounts of cash and property even when there was no evidence of wrongdoing. The police agencies where spending their cash windfall on drug task force equipment including weapons and armored cars. They also were buying luxury vehicles, boats and even new homes for themselves.

It was by then a $65 million forfeiture spigot that was literally robbing the public, without court sanctions.

Now the Trump Administration wants to turn that spigot back on.

Rosenstein told reporters the Justice Department will include more safeguards this time to prevent police from misusing this seizure module. He said police departments will be required to report to the Justice Department about probable cause and federal officials will be asked to inform property owners about their rights when seizures occur. But even if the authorities comply...which is an iffy thought . . . Rosenstein was vague about just what those rights might be once the property is grabbed.

Indeed, before Obama stepped in, police agencies and even the federal authorities were happily sharing in their legal right to steal. And they were doing it aggressively. In the final years of my personal reporting of police activity in Michigan, before I retired, I was troubled after I noticed that Sheriff's deputies and state troopers in my area were starting to live large. I knew their yearly salaries did not warrant the nice homes, power boats and mobile homes sitting in their yards. I suspected that this phenomenon was directly related to the local "drug war" and was working on a potential series of reports on this subject. Before my stories saw the light of day, however, my bureau was shut down and I was given financial incentive to take an early retirement at age 55.

Was this just by coincidence or did the graft go even deeper than I ever suspected? I had my suspicions but they remained unproven. With crooks like Trump and his gang now in charge of our nation's government, it looks like any effort to put a stop to this kind of mass extortion is over. Without protection from the men hired to protect us, are we not just one step from becoming a police state?
(c) 2018 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.

Katharine Gun

Those Who Controlled The Past Should Not Control The Future
By Norman Solomon

Daniel Ellsberg has a message that managers of the warfare state don't want people to hear.

"If you have information that bears on deception or illegality in pursuing wrongful policies or an aggressive war," he said in a statement released last week, "don't wait to put that out and think about it, consider acting in a timely way at whatever cost to yourself.... Do what Katharine Gun did."

If you don't know what Katharine Gun did, chalk that up to the media power of the war system.

Ellsberg's video statement went public as this month began, just before the 15th anniversary of when a British newspaper, the Observer, revealed a secret NSA memo -- thanks to Katharine Gun. At the UK's intelligence agency GCHQ, about 100 people received the same email memo from the National Security Agency on the last day of January 2003, seven weeks before the invasion of Iraq got underway. Only Katharine Gun, at great personal risk, decided to leak the document.

If more people had taken such risks in early 2003, the Iraq War might have been prevented. If more people were willing to take such risks in 2018, the current military slaughter in several nations, mainly funded by U.S. taxpayers, might be curtailed if not stopped. Blockage of information about past whistleblowing deprives the public of inspiring role models.

That's the kind of reality George Orwell was referring to when he wrote: "Who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past."

Fifteen years ago, "I find myself reading on my computer from the Observer the most extraordinary leak, or unauthorized disclosure, of classified information that I'd ever seen," Ellsberg recalled, "and that definitely included and surpassed my own disclosure of top-secret information, a history of U.S. decision-making in Vietnam years earlier." The Pentagon Papers whistleblower instantly recognized that, in the Observer article, "I was looking at something that was clearly classified much higher than top secret.... It was an operational cable having to do with how to conduct communications intelligence."

What Ellsberg read in the newspaper story "was a cable from the NSA asking GCHQ to help in the intercepting of communications, and that implied both office and home communications, of every member of the Security Council of the UN. Now, why would NSA need GCHQ to do that? Because a condition of having the UN headquarters and the Security Council in the U.S. in New York was that the U.S. intelligence agencies promised or were required not to conduct intelligence on members of the UN. Well, of course they want that. So, they rely on their allies, the buddies, in the British to commit these criminal acts for them. And with this clearly I thought someone very high in access in Britain intelligence services must dissent from what was already clear the path to an illegal war."

But actually, the leak didn't come from "someone very high" in GCHQ. The whistleblower turned out to be a 28-year-old linguist and analyst at the agency, Katharine Gun, who had chosen to intervene against the march to war.

As Gun has recounted, she and other GCHQ employees "received an email from a senior official at the National Security Agency. It said the agency was 'mounting a surge particularly directed at the UN Security Council members,' and that it wanted 'the whole gamut of information that could give U.S. policymakers an edge in obtaining results favorable to U.S. goals or to head off surprises.'"

In other words, the U.S. and British governments wanted to eavesdrop on key UN delegations and then manipulate or even blackmail them into voting for war.

Katharine Gun took action: "I was furious when I read that email and leaked it. Soon afterwards, when the Observer ran a front-page story -- 'U.S. dirty tricks to win vote on Iraq war' -- I confessed to the leak and was arrested on suspicion of the breach of section 1 of the Official Secrets Act."

The whistleblowing occurred in real time. "This was not history," as Ellsberg put it. "This was a current cable, I could see immediately from the date, and it was before the war had actually started against Iraq. And the clear purpose of it was to induce the support of the Security Council members to support a new UN resolution for the invasion of Iraq."

The eavesdropping was aimed at gaining a second -- and this time unequivocal -- Security Council resolution in support of an invasion. "British involvement in this would be illegal without a second resolution," Ellsberg said. "How are they going to get that? Obviously essentially by blackmail and intimidation, by knowing the private wants and embarrassments, possible embarrassments, of people on the Security Council, or their aides, and so forth. The idea was, in effect, to coerce their vote."

Katharine Gun foiled that plan. While scarcely reported in the U.S. media (despite cutting-edge news releases produced by my colleagues at the Institute for Public Accuracy beginning in early March of 2003), the revelations published by the Observer caused huge media coverage across much of the globe -- and sparked outrage in several countries with seats on the Security Council.
(c) 2018 Norman Solomon is co-founder of and founding director of the Institute for Public Accuracy. His books include "War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death" and "Made Love, Got War: Close Encounters with America's Warfare State."

The Most Powerful Man In The World
By Heather Digby Parton

The toddler will save the day:

Summoned to the Oval Office on the spur of the moment, the South Korean envoy found himself face to face with President Trump one afternoon last week at what he thought might be a hinge moment in history.

Chung Eui-yong had come to the White House bearing an invitation. But he opened with flattery, which diplomats have discovered is a key to approaching the volatile American leader. "We could come this far thanks to a great degree to President Trump," Mr. Chung said. "We highly appreciate this fact."

Then he got to the point: The United States, South Korea and their allies should not repeat their "past mistakes," but South Korea believed that North Korea's mercurial leader, Kim Jong-un, was "frank and sincere" when he said he wanted to talk with the Americans about giving up his nuclear program. Mr. Kim, he added, had told the South Koreans that if Mr. Trump would join him in an unprecedented summit meeting, the two could produce a historic breakthrough.

Mr. Trump accepted on the spot, stunning not only Mr. Chung and the other high-level South Koreans who were with him, but also the phalanx of American officials who were gathered in the Oval Office.

His advisers had assumed the president would take more time to discuss such a decision with them first. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, the president's national security adviser, both expressed caution. If you go ahead with this, they told Mr. Trump, there will be risks and downsides.

Mr. Trump brushed them off. I get it, I get it, he said.

Where others see flashing yellow lights and slow down, Mr. Trump speeds up. And just like that, in the course of 45 minutes in the Oval Office, Mr. Trump threw aside caution and dispensed with decades of convention to embark on a daring, high-wire diplomatic gambit aimed at resolving one of the world's most intractable standoffs.

The story of how this came about, assembled through interviews with officials and analysts from the United States, South Korea, Japan and China, is a case study in international relations in the Trump era.

A president with no prior foreign policy experience takes on a festering conflict that has vexed the world for years with a blend of impulse and improvisation, and with no certain outcome. One moment, he is hurling playground insults and threatening nuclear war, the next he is offering the validation of a presidential meeting.

Whether the high-stakes gamble ultimately pays off, no one can know. Given two unpredictable and highly combustible leaders, it seems just as likely that the meeting will never take place. If it does occur, the challenges are so steep, the gulf so wide and the history so fraught with misunderstanding, suspicion and broken promises that the prospect of an enduring resolution to the impasse seems remote.

But Mr. Trump has staked his reputation as a deal maker on the presumption that he can personally achieve what no other president has before him.

His "reputation" is bullshit hype that nobody really believes. I'd guess that Kim has probably done his homework on that too. So why anyone would write something that implies he is actually a great "deal maker" at this point is beyond me. Nonetheless, I recommend reading the whole piece because it shows just what a shambolic operation the White House really is and how close we could come to a major, very very dangerous, mistake at some point.

Trump is feeling pressure from the Russian investigation and he's lost many of his internal allies in the White House. He's also discovered that if he just decides to do something there's not much anyone can do about it. He's the president and he has tremendous power.

This is becoming more and more real:

(c) 2018 Heather Digby Parton, also known as "Digby," is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.

Scientists Have Established A Link Between Brain Damage And Religious Fundamentalism
This explains a lot about our current political situation.
By Bobby Azarian

A study published in the journal Neuropsychologia has shown that religious fundamentalism is, in part, the result of a functional impairment in a brain region known as the prefrontal cortex. The findings suggest that damage to particular areas of the prefrontal cortex indirectly promotes religious fundamentalism by diminishing cognitive flexibility and openness-a psychology term that describes a personality trait which involves dimensions like curiosity, creativity, and open-mindedness.

Religious beliefs can be thought of as socially transmitted mental representations that consist of supernatural events and entities assumed to be real. Religious beliefs differ from empirical beliefs, which are based on how the world appears to be and are updated as new evidence accumulates or when new theories with better predictive power emerge. On the other hand, religious beliefs are not usually updated in response to new evidence or scientific explanations, and are therefore strongly associated with conservatism. They are fixed and rigid, which helps promote predictability and coherence to the rules of society among individuals within the group.

Religious fundamentalism refers to an ideology that emphasizes traditional religious texts and rituals and discourages progressive thinking about religion and social issues. Fundamentalist groups generally oppose anything that questions or challenges their beliefs or way of life. For this reason, they are often aggressive towards anyone who does not share their specific set of supernatural beliefs, and towards science, as these things are seen as existential threats to their entire worldview.

Since religious beliefs play a massive role in driving and influencing human behavior throughout the world, it is important to understand the phenomenon of religious fundamentalism from a psychological and neurological perspective.

To investigate the cognitive and neural systems involved in religious fundamentalism, a team of researchers-led by Jordan Grafman of Northwestern University-conducted a study that utilized data from Vietnam War veterans that had been gathered previously. The vets were specifically chosen because a large number of them had damage to brain areas suspected of playing a critical role in functions related to religious fundamentalism. CT scans were analyzed comparing 119 vets with brain trauma to 30 healthy vets with no damage, and a survey that assessed religious fundamentalism was administered. While the majority of participants were Christians of some kind, 32.5% did not specify a particular religion.

Based on previous research, the experimenters predicted that the prefrontal cortex would play a role in religious fundamentalism, since this region is known to be associated with something called 'cognitive flexibility'. This term refers to the brain's ability to easily switch from thinking about one concept to another, and to think about multiple things simultaneously. Cognitive flexibility allows organisms to update beliefs in light of new evidence, and this trait likely emerged because of the obvious survival advantage such a skill provides. It is a crucial mental characteristic for adapting to new environments because it allows individuals to make more accurate predictions about the world under new and changing conditions.

Brain imaging research has shown that a major neural region associated with cognitive flexibility is the prefrontal cortex-specifically two areas known as the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (dlPFC) and the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC). Additionally, the vmPFC was of interest to the researchers because past studies have revealed its connection to fundamentalist-type beliefs. For example, one study showed individuals with vmPFC lesions rated radical political statements as more moderate than people with normal brains, while another showed a direct connection between vmPFC damage and religious fundamentalism. For these reasons, in the present study, researchers looked at patients with lesions in both the vmPFC and the dlPFC, and searched for correlations between damage in these areas and responses to religious fundamentalism questionnaires.

According to Dr. Grafman and his team, since religious fundamentalism involves a strict adherence to a rigid set of beliefs, cognitive flexibility and open-mindedness present a challenge for fundamentalists. As such, they predicted that participants with lesions to either the vmPFC or the dlPFC would score low on measures of cognitive flexibility and trait openness and high on measures of religious fundamentalism.

The results showed that, as expected, damage to the vmPFC and dlPFC was associated with religious fundamentalism. Further tests revealed that this increase in religious fundamentalism was caused by a reduction in cognitive flexibility and openness resulting from the prefrontal cortex impairment. Cognitive flexibility was assessed using a standard psychological card sorting test that involved categorizing cards with words and images according to rules. Openness was measured using a widely-used personality survey known as the NEO Personality Inventory. The data suggests that damage to the vmPFC indirectly promotes religious fundamentalism by suppressing both cognitive flexibility and openness.

These findings are important because they suggest that impaired functioning in the prefrontal cortex-whether from brain trauma, a psychological disorder, a drug or alcohol addiction, or simply a particular genetic profile-can make an individual susceptible to religious fundamentalism. And perhaps in other cases, extreme religious indoctrination harms the development or proper functioning of the prefrontal regions in a way that hinders cognitive flexibility and openness.

The authors emphasize that cognitive flexibility and openness aren't the only things that make brains vulnerable to religious fundamentalism. In fact, their analyses showed that these factors only accounted for a fifth of the variation in fundamentalism scores. Uncovering those additional causes, which could be anything from genetic predispositions to social influences, is a future research project that the researchers believe will occupy investigators for many decades to come, given how complex and widespread religious fundamentalism is and will likely continue to be for some time.

By investigating the cognitive and neural underpinnings of religious fundamentalism, we can better understand how the phenomenon is represented in the connectivity of the brain, which could allow us to someday inoculate against rigid or radical belief systems through various kinds of mental and cognitive exercises.
(c) 2018 Bobby Azarian is a cognitive neuroscientist, a researcher in the Visual Attention and Cognition Lab at George Mason University and a science writer whose work has been widely published.

Lessons, Unlearned
On Deepwater Horizon, and the flawed logic of "teachable moments."
By Charles P. Pierce

One of the 21st century newspeak words that particularly makes me smile is the notion of a "teachable moment." Some gargantuan news story breaks-an exotic disease breaks out in Houston, a gunman slaughters small children in Connecticut, an oil rig detonates in the Gulf of Mexico-and there simply is nothing going on in the news for several days. Once the initial media supernova cools, however, we get several more days of What Lessons Can We Take from this, our latest "teachable moment."

Solutions are proposed, some half-daffy, some utopian, and some simply impossible. Some of them make a kind of sense, though, but then the event sinks into the morass of our current politics and its significance is slowly suffocated while, sooner or later, something else comes along and we have another "teachable moment" from which, ultimately, we learn nothing. No progress is permanent, no achievement lasting. That is the lesson born in the great political retrenchment in the 1980s, when the retrograde was made new again, and it is the only lasting lesson that has been taught, over and over again, through the increasingly volatile politics of the age.

On April 10, 2010, the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded and sank in the Gulf of Mexico, 42 miles off the coast of Louisiana. Eleven people died. Oil belched into the waters of the Gulf until the end of July, some 3.19 million barrels of it. The dispersant used on the oil increased its toxicity.

The full impact of the spill is still not known but, in the aftermath, in the teachable moment, the country seemed to understand that something had gone terribly wrong in the way we regulated the extraction industries in delicate ecosystems. The Obama administration enacted new regulations regarding the oil industry's obligation to deal with old and obsolete drilling platforms. Over the six years after the BP catastrophe, the Obama administration fought for and won a new regulation mandating increased inspection of so-called "blowout protectors," the devices of the type that failed at Deepwater Horizon.

Lessons learned. A teachable moment fulfilled. A lasting achievement. Until, of course, the next presidential election, because all presidential elections, when the White House changes hands, are now Year Zero. From The New York Times:

While attention has been focused on President Trump's disputed decision in January to reverse drilling restrictions in nearly all United States coastal waters, the administration has also pursued a rollback of Obama-era regulations in the Gulf. Those rules include safety measures put in place after the explosion and sinking of the Deepwater Horizon rig in 2010, a disaster that killed 11 people and resulted in the largest marine oil spill in drilling history.

Smaller oil and gas companies, many backed by Wall Street and private equity firms, say they need the relief to survive financially, and the top safety official at the Interior Department appointed by Mr. Trump has appeared an enthusiastic ally.

"Help is on the way, help is on the way," the official, Scott Angelle, said in September at a gathering in Lafayette, La., of oil and gas executives from so-called independent companies, which focus on drilling alone rather than the extended drilling-to-gas-station operations of bigger competitors. But an analysis of federal inspection data by The New York Times found that several of the independent companies seeking the rollback, including Energy XXI, had been cited for workplace safety violations in recent years at a rate much higher than the industry average. Their offshore platforms suffer in some cases from years of poor maintenance, as well as equipment failures or metal fatigue on aging devices, records show.

By now, and especially in the case of the Interior Department, we should all know what's coming: officials put deliberately in place to hinder the operation of their departments or actively to convert them into vehicles the purposes of which are directly opposite of those for which the departments or agencies were intended originally.

Meet Scott Angelle, the head of Interior's Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement.

Mr. Angelle has close personal and recent ties to the oil and gas industry, particularly the smaller companies seeking his intervention. Earlier, as a state official, he worked with them to end a temporary moratorium on new offshore drilling imposed by the Obama administration after the Deepwater Horizon accident. Now he is the top official at the Interior Department's Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, a division created under President Obama to toughen safety standards and enforcement in offshore drilling because of problems exposed by Deepwater Horizon. Mr. Angelle spent his first months on the job, records show, traveling between Washington, Texas and his native Louisiana to meet with executives at most of the top offshore oil companies, including some repeatedly cited for safety violations. During the gatherings, most of which were behind closed doors, he asked for suggestions about how federal safety and environmental rules should be rewritten. Sometimes he offered up his cellphone number, urging attendees to call rather than send emails or text messages, which could be subject to public records requests.
As the Times story explains, we now have smaller companies, largely owned by hedge-fund desperadoes, buying up old drilling platforms in the shallower waters of the Gulf because there no longer are any regulations, nor anyone minding safety at the Interior Department. Many of these smaller companies have shoddy safety records themselves.
Approximately 240 platforms in the shallow waters of the Gulf, serving over 2,000 oil and gas wells as of last year, are listed by the Interior Department as "idle iron." This means that they are severely damaged, not operating and no longer economically viable, and that they pose environmental and safety hazards. Most of the platforms are controlled by independent companies like Energy XXI and are decades old.

Even as safety has improved for the industry as a whole, some independent operators have lagged significantly behind, the records show. Renaissance, which produced 1.5 million barrels last year, as well as 3.8 billion cubic feet of gas, received 47 safety warnings or citations in 48 inspections in 2017. Among these were 20 orders to immediately shut down malfunctioning or unsafe equipment on offshore platforms. Overall, Renaissance had a violation ratio that was nearly twice the average, according to a Times analysis of agency data obtained through a public records request.

One of these things is going to collapse, or blow, or leak, and the vain and impotent news cycle of the teachable moment will begin all over again. And from the next teachable moment we will learn nothing, because that's the only thing the country has decided is worth knowing.
(c) 2018 Charles P. Pierce has been a working journalist since 1976. He is the author of four books, most recently 'Idiot America.' He lives near Boston with his wife but no longer his three children.

The Quotable Quote...

"When even one American-who has done nothing wrong-is forced by fear to shut his mind and close his mouth-then all Americans are in peril"
~~~ Harry S. Truman

In a February article in The Wall Street Journal, former U.N. Ambassador
John Bolton, above, wrote a legal case for a first strike against North Korea.

Why Won't The U.S. Give Peace A Chance?
By Ted Rall

Give peace a chance, the song urges.

But the United States won't have it.

Olympic diplomacy seems to be working on the Korean peninsula. After a pair of South Korean envoys visited Pyongyang, they issued a promising communique. "The North Korean side clearly stated its willingness to denuclearize," the statement said. Considering that the Korean crisis and a derpy emergency management official had Hawaiians jumping down manholes a few months ago, this news comes as a relief.

Then comes the rub. The South Korean statement continued: "[North Korea] made it clear that it would have no reason to keep nuclear weapons if the military threat to the North was eliminated and its security guaranteed [my emphasis]."

In other words, the DPRK is saying-reasonably-we'll get rid of our nukes but only if you promise not to invade us. That guarantee would have to be issued by two countries: South Korea and the United States.

This would directly contradict long-standing U.S. foreign policy, which clearly and repeatedly states that the use of military force is always on the table when we don't get our way in an international dispute.

Kim Jong-On has good reasons to be afraid of us. In a speech to the UN President Trump threatened to "totally destroy" North Korea. President George W. Bush declared them a member of the "Axis of Evil"; we invaded and currently occupy Iraq, one of the two other supposed Evildoers. After deposing and enabling the execution of Iraq's president. Last week Bush's UN ambassador John Bolton published a legal argument for nuking North Korea without provocation.

Believe it or not, this is the soft side of U.S. foreign policy.

For decades South Korea has tried to deescalate its relationship with the North, not infrequently expressing its desire to end formal hostilities, which legally never ended after the Korean War, and move toward the long-term goal of a united Korea under a single government. And for decades the United States has stood in the way, awkwardly trying to look reasonable as it opposes peace. "We do not seek to accelerate reunification," a State Department spokesman said recently.

To say the least.

"South-North talks are inextricably related to North Korea-United States relations," South Korean President Kim Dae Jung said in 2001, after Bush canceled dialogue with the North. The South, dependent on more than 20,000 U.S. troops stationed along its northern border, was forced to suspend reunification talks too.

Nixon did the same thing in 1974. After Nixon's resignation later that year, President Gerald Ford opposed a UN resolution to demilitarize the border by withdrawing U.S. troops.

Even Mr. Reasonable, Barack Obama, refused to listen to South Koreans who want peace (and to visit long-lost relatives in North Korea). Celebrating the 60th anniversary of the Korean War Armistice, Obama threatened to loose the dogs of war: "The United States of America will maintain the strongest military the world has ever known, bar none, always. That is what we do." What Obama would not do was allow North and South Korea to sit down and work out their differences. Before talks, Obama said, North Korea would have to denuclearize. After which, of course, there would be no need for talks because, hey, regime change is fun!

Why, a sane person might ask at this point, would U.S. policymakers want to risk World War III over two countries that repeatedly say they want to make peace and get back together?

For my money a 2007 analysis by the geopolitical thinktank Stratfor comes closest to explaining what's really going on inside the Beltway: "The basic global situation can be described simply. The United States has overwhelming power. It is using that power to try to prevent the emergence of any competing powers. It is therefore constantly engaged in interventions on a political, economic and military level. The rest of the world is seeking to limit and control the United States. No nation can do it alone, and therefore there is a constant attempt to create coalitions to contain the United States. So far, these coalitions have tended to fail, because potential members can be leveraged out of the coalition by American threats or incentives."

The U.S. is the Great Global Disruptor. "As powers emerge, the United States follows a three-stage program. First, provide aid to weaker powers to contain and undermine emerging hegemons. Second, create more formal arrangements with these powers. Finally, if necessary, send relatively small numbers of U.S. troops to Eurasia to block major powers and destabilize regions." For example, Iran is the emerging hegemon in the Middle East. The U.S. undermines Iran with trade sanctions, props up rivals like Saudi Arabia with aid, and deploys U.S. troops next door in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Similarly the U.S. keeps China off-balance by propping up Taiwan and setting up new U.S. bases in the region. We play India against Pakistan, Europe against Russia.

A united Korea would create a new power center, potentially a new economic rival, to the U.S. in the Pacific Rim. So the U.S. uses threats ("totally destroy") against the North and incentivizes the South (free border security).

It would almost be funny if it wasn't so sick. Here's to the day the two Koreas see through us.
(c) 2018 Ted Rall, syndicated writer and the cartoonist for, is the author of the book "Snowden," the biography of the NSA whistleblower.

The U.S. Capitol is bathed in the light of the sun setting over the National Mall in Washington, USA on March 7, 2018.

Cochran, Corker, Flake And Hatch: The Great Senate 'See Ya!'
By Wiliam Rivers Pitt

When word first came that Sen. Thad Cochran, Republican of Tennessee, was retiring on April 1 for health reasons, I waited for the punch line. It had to be an April Fools' joke, right? The day Cochran became a Senator 40 years ago, Jimmy Carter was president and Grease had just hit the theaters. On the longevity scale, he's right up there with Sam Rayburn and Ted Kennedy. It was an odd thing to contemplate: How do you have a Senate without Thad Cochran?

Easy, I realized. You have a better one, maybe.

Thad Cochran is one of those occasional public servants whose conservative cruelty goes largely unnoted. Perhaps it's the luck of geography; with sincere apologies to the Magnolia State, the easiest deflection in politics is "Yeah, but he's from Mississippi." Having former Sen. Trent Lott as your wingman, as Cochran did for many years, certainly raises the bar for mendacity while taking off a good amount of heat. Lott enjoyed the cameras; Cochran was too busy.

Thad Cochran's desk, a gift he happily accepted, belonged to Jefferson Davis when Davis was president of the Confederacy. In his time as a senator, Cochran requested nearly half a billion dollars in earmarks, more than anyone in Congress. In 2005, the Senate formally apologized for not passing an anti-lynching law during the days of Jim Crow, a grimly necessary measure at the time. Cochran and Lott were not among the 80 senators who cosponsored the resolution.

That same year, Cochran voted against the Detainee Treatment Act, which would have prohibited the gross abuse of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere. Joining him in that vote favoring torture were today's right-wing all-Ssars: Jeff Cornyn, Ted Stevens, Jim Inhofe, Pat Roberts and then-Senator Jeff Sessions. In 2009, Cochran voted against the Affordable Care Act, and just last year signed a letter urging President Trump to abandon the Paris Agreement, which he did.

Four months after a gunman slaughtered 20 children and six staff members at a grammar school in Connecticut, Thad Cochran voted against a bill that expanded background checks for gun purchases. The bill was defeated despite having a national approval rating near 90 percent. Thad Cochran, to no one's surprise, enjoys an A+ legislative rating from the National Rifle Association.

The refrain, as ever: What if they elect someone worse than Cochran? Answer: They won't, because they can't. The thing about guys like Ted Cruz and Roy Moore is that they devour headlines and air time, but seldom actually get anything done. They're still quite dangerous, but we also need to recognize the danger of lower-profile lawmakers such as Cochran, who has been exceedingly effective in enacting his agenda. He was named one of the US's ten best senators by Time Magazine and dubbed "The Quiet Persuader" by his colleagues. The Roy Moores of the world can ruin dinner with their ranting, but Cochran will have already left you with the check.

Thad Cochran isn't the only marble statue that has chosen to pull up its roots and hit the road. Congress will be a very different place in 2018, no matter what the Democrats manage to accomplish, due to the departures of several seemingly eternal conservatives. Sen Jeff Flake, Republican of Arizona, is for the door when his term expires. Flake has warmed the cockles of many liberal hearts lately with his scathing attacks on Trump, but that doesn't make him Baelor the Blessed. He voted in favor of the Iraq war as a member of the House in 2002 but changed his mind and started voting against war appropriations five years later. In other words, when it became unpopular, Flake the fiscal conservative voted to stop paying for the war he'd voted for. In 2005, Flake voted against appropriating federal funds to address the unimaginable damage done by Hurricane Katrina, one of five times he has voted against disaster aid funding.

There are many Flake stories, but this one takes the cake. In April of 2013, he penned a note to the mother of a victim of the theater massacre in Aurora, Colorado. "Strengthening background checks," he wrote, "is something we agree on." A few days later, he voted with Cochran and the others against strengthening background checks. Flake's approval rating collapsed to 32 percent, making him at the time the most unpopular senator in the country.

They might elect someone worse? Hard to imagine.

Sen. Bob Corker, Republican of Tennessee, is likewise taking his leave of public office in 2018. Corker made some heavy waves after criticizing Trump's pro-fascist reaction to the violence in Charlottesville; when Trump inevitably bashed back, he called the White House "an adult day-care center." The left batted its eyes in approval until Corker went back to being Corker.

The frost between him and Trump didn't linger long. The two mended fences out of pure political expediency, and Corker the notorious fiscal hawk wound up supporting Trump's deficit-detonating tax bill. Notably, the bill carried a provision that will vastly enrich real estate moguls ... like Donald Trump and Bob Corker.

It's nice to retire after topping off the ol' bank account.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, Republican of Utah, is after 41 years the longest-serving senator in his party. That ends next year. Hatch has not let the legislative grass grow over the decades; when the notoriously conservative Salt Lake City Tribune denounces you for your "utter lack of integrity" and "unquenchable thirst for power," it means you've really been putting the work in.

Gadzooks, where to begin? Hatch voted in favor of the TARP bailout before voting against it, was instrumental in dismantling the Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears National Monuments, voted in favor of Trump's calamitous tax cuts, launched multiple investigations into subsidies for green energy production, opposed the ACA, was a leading voice in approving Clarence Thomas for the Supreme Court before helping to thwart Merrick Garland's nomination years later, once compared LGBTQ teachers to Nazis, and introduced the Ensuring Patient Access and Effective Drug Enforcement Act, which broadly loosened EPA controls over predatory drug companies and vastly exacerbated the national opioid crisis.

All in a day's work ... or in Hatch's case, 14,975 days' work.

No matter what happens during the 2018 midterm elections, the US Congress is going to be a whole new thing after the departure of this clutch of hard-right senators and their friends. If the GOP manages to maintain majority control in the upper chamber, they will still have a nifty little mud fight on their hands. Corker is chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, Hatch is chairman of both Finance and Judiciary, Cochran is chairman of Appropriations ...and those committees are where almost all the action (and almost all the money) is. They're all up for grabs no matter who prevails come November.

More than 30 Republican lawmakers are joining Cochran, Flake Corker and Hatch next year on their way to ports unknown, most of them from the House. August names like Issa, Gowdy, Barton, Chaffetz, Farenthold, Franks and Meehan will no longer be with us after January. Strange days indeed.

However, conservatives shouldn't be too nervous. When the chips are down and it matters most, leave it to the Democrats to fill the conservative gap left by any departing right-wing Republicans. Nancy Pelosi is already retreating on DACA and guns in the current budget debate. Meanwhile, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts, tore her own party to pieces this week for its support of a GOP-led push to roll back banking regulations put in place after the financial collapse of 2008.

"If Republicans and some Democrats are going to help the bank lobbyists roll back Wall Street reform, we're going to make sure the American people know about it," Warren wrote on social media. "This bill wouldn't be on the path to becoming law without the support of these Democrats."

The more things change, the more they stay the same.
(c) 2018 William Rivers Pitt is a senior editor and lead columnist at Truthout. He is also a New York Times and internationally bestselling author of three books: War on Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn't Want You to Know, The Greatest Sedition Is Silence and House of Ill Repute: Reflections on War, Lies, and America's Ravaged Reputation. His fourth book, The Mass Destruction of Iraq: Why It Is Happening, and Who Is Responsible, co-written with Dahr Jamail, is available now on Amazon. He lives and works in New Hampshire.

The Dead Letter Office...

Debbie gives the corporate salute!

Heil Trump,

Dear Uber Gruppenfuhrer Stabenow,

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 John (the enforcer) Roberts.

Without your lock step calling for the repeal of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, your desire to unchain the Banksterts and let them run wild until they destroy the economy again, Yemen, Syria, Iran and those many other profitable oil wars to come would have been impossible! With the help of our mutual friends, the other "Demoncratic 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 Trump at a gala celebration at "der Fuhrer Bunker," formally the "White House," on 04-28-2018. We salute you Frau Stabenow, Sieg Heil!

Signed by,
Vice Fuhrer Pence

Heil Trump

Martin gives the corporate salute

America's Shkreli Problem
By Robert Reich

On Friday, Martin Shkreli was sentenced to seven years in prison. What, if anything, does Shkreli's downfall tell us about modern America?

Shkreli's early life exemplified the rags-to-riches American success story. He was born in Brooklyn, New York, in April 1983, to parents who immigrated from Albania and worked as janitors in New York apartment buildings. Shkreli attended New York's Hunter College High School, a public school for intellectually gifted young people, and in 2005 received a bachelor's degree in business administration from Baruch College.

But soon thereafter, Shkreli turned toward shady deals. He started his own hedge fund, betting that the stock prices of certain biotech companies would drop. Then he used financial chat rooms on the Internet to savage those companies, causing their prices to drop and his bets to pay off.

In 2015, Shkreli founded and became CEO Turing Pharmaceuticals. Under his direction Turing spent $55 million for the U.S. rights to sell a drug called Daraprim. Developed in 1953, Daraprim is the only approved treatment for toxoplasmosis, a rare parasitic disease that can cause birth defects in unborn babies, and lead to seizures, blindness, and death in cancer patients and people with AIDS. Daraprim is on the World Health Organization's list of Essential Medicines.

Months after he bought the drug, Schkreli raised its price by over 5,000 percent, from $13.50 a pill to $750.00.

Shkreli was roundly criticized, but he was defiant: "No one wants to say it, no one's proud of it, but this is a capitalist society, a capitalist system and capitalist rules." He said he wished he had raised the price even higher, and would buy another essential drug and raise its price, too.

In February 2016, Shkreli was called before a congressional committee to justify his price increase on Daraprim. He refused to answer any questions, pleading the Fifth Amendment. After the hearing Shkreli tweeted, "Hard to accept that these imbeciles represent the people in our government."

Shkreli was subsequently arrested in connection with an unrelated scheme to defraud his former hedge fund investors. In anticipation of his criminal trial, Shkreli boasted to the New Yorker magazine, "I think they'll return a not-guilty verdict in two hours. There are going to be jurors who will be fans of mine. I walk down the streets of New York and people shake my hand. They say, 'I want to be just like you.'"

During his trial, Shkreli strolled into a room filled with reporters and made light of a particular witness, for which the trial judge rebuked him. On his Facebook page he mocked the prosecutors, and told news outlets they were a "junior varsity" team.

He retaliated against journalists who criticized him by purchasing internet domains associated with their names and ridiculing them on the sites. "I wouldn't call these people 'journalists,'" he wrote in an email to Business Insider. He said on Facebook that if he were acquitted he'd be able to have sex with a female journalist he often posted about online.

After his conviction, Shkreli called the case "a witch hunt of epic proportions, and maybe they found one or two broomsticks." As she imposed sentence last Friday, the judge cited Shkrili's "egregious multitude of lies," noting also that he "repeatedly minimized" his conduct.

Shkreli's story is tragic and pathetic, but I ask you: How different is Martin Shkreli from other figures who dominate American life today, even at the highest rungs?

Shkreli will do whatever it takes to win, regardless of the consequences for anyone else. He believes that the norms other people live by don't apply to him. His attitude toward the law is that anything he wants to do is okay unless it is clearly illegal - and even if illegal, it's okay if he can get away with it.

He's contemptuous of anyone who gets in his way - whether judges, prosecutors, members of Congress, or journalists. He remains unapologetic for what he did. He is utterly shameless.

Sound familiar? The Shkreli personality disorder can be found on Wall Street, in the executive suites of some of America's largest corporations, in Hollywood, in Silicon Valley, in some of our most prestigious universities, and in Washington. If you look hard enough, you might even find it in Trump's White House.

Face it: America has a Shkreli problem.

Martin Shkleri will spend the next seven years of his life in prison. But what will happen to the other unbridled narcissists now in positions of power in America, who also blatantly defy the common good?
(c) 2018 Robert B. Reich has served in three national administrations, most recently as secretary of labor under President Bill Clinton. His latest book is "Saving Capitalism: For the Many, Not the Few." His web site is

The Empty Piety Of The American Press
By Chris Hedges

The press, giddy with its newfound sense of mission and purpose, is carrying out a moral crusade against Donald Trump. The airwaves and print have shed their traditional claims of "impartiality" and "objectivity." They fulminate against Trump, charging-falsely-that he was elected because of Russian interference and calling him a liar, ignorant and incompetent. They give airtime to his bitterest critics and bizarre associates, such as Omarosa Manigault-Newman, a onetime star of "The Apprentice" and now a fired White House aide, and Stormy Daniels, the porn actress who says she had a sexual relationship with Trump. It is great entertainment. It is great for ratings. It is great for profits. But it is not moral, and it is not journalism.

The empty piety is a mask for self-interest. It is accompanied by the veneration of the establishment politicians, generals, intelligence chiefs, corporate heads and hired apologists who carried out the corporate coup d'etat that created our system of "inverted totalitarianism." The corporate structures that have a stranglehold on the country and have overseen deindustrialization and the evisceration of democratic institutions, plunging over half the country into chronic poverty and misery, are unassailable. They are portrayed as forces of progress. The criminals on Wall Street, including the heads of financial firms such as Goldman Sachs, are treated with reverence. Free trade is equated with freedom. Democratic politicians such as Barack Obama-who assaulted civil liberties, transferred trillions of dollars upward to reigning oligarchs, expanded the drone wars to include targeted assassinations of American citizens, and used the Espionage Act to silence investigative journalism-are hailed as champions of democracy. Deference is paid to democratic processes, liberties, electoral politics and rights enshrined in our Constitution, from due process to privacy, that no longer exist. It is a vast game of deception under the cover of a vacuous morality.

Those cast aside by corporate capitalism-Noam Chomsky calls them "unpeople"-are rendered invisible and reviled at the same time. The "experts" whose opinions are amplified on every issue, from economics to empire and politics, are drawn from corporate-funded think tanks, such as the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute, or are former military and intelligence officials or politicians who are responsible for the failure of our democracy and usually in the employ of corporations. Cable news also has the incestuous habit of interviewing its own news celebrities. Former CIA Director John Brennan, one of many former officials now on the airwaves, has morphed into a senior national security and intelligence analyst for NBC and MSNBC. Brennan was the architect of the disastrous attempt to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to arm "moderate" rebels in Syria, oversaw the huge expansion of our drone wars and instigated the canard that Russia stole the last U.S. presidential election. The most astute critics of empire, including Andrew Bacevich, are banished, as are critics of corporate power, including Ralph Nader and Chomsky. Those who decry the waste within the military, such as MIT Professor Emeritus Ted Postol, who has exposed the useless $13 billion anti-ballistic missile program, are unheard. Advocates of universal health care, such as Dr. Margaret Flowers, are locked out of national health care debates. There is a long list of the censored. The acceptable range of opinion is so narrow it is almost nonexistent.

Where is the flood of stories about families being evicted or losing their homes because of foreclosures and bank repossessions? Where are the stories about the banks and lending agencies that prey on recent college graduates burdened with crippling loans and unable to find work? Where are the stories about families going into bankruptcy because they cannot pay medical bills and the soaring premiums of for-profit health care? Where are the stories about the despair that drives middle-aged white men to suicide and millions of Americans into the deadly embrace of opioid addiction? Where are the stories on the cruelty of mass incarceration, the collapse of our court system and the reign of terror by police in marginal communities? Where are the investigative pieces on the fraud and the tax boycott that have been legalized for Wall Street, the poisoning of the ecosystem by the fossil fuel and animal agriculture industries? Why is climate change a forbidden subject, even as extreme weather devastates the nation and much of the rest of the planet? Why are the atrocities we commit or abet in Iraq, Afghanistan and Yemen ignored? Why are the war crimes carried out by Israel against the Palestinians erased from news coverage?

The relentless pillorying of Trump is news-as-reality-television. Trump fills in for Richard Hatch of the old "Survivor" show. Trump's imbecility, dishonesty, narcissism and incompetence are at once revolting and riveting. The press, ostensibly seeking a more polished brand to improve the public presentation of empire and corporate capitalism, is in fact further empowering the lunatics who will dominate the political landscape.

"America is ceasing to be a nation," reporter and author Matt Taibbi writes in his book "Insane Clown President: Dispatches From the 2016 Circus," "and turning into a giant television show."

The stunts pulled during the last presidential election-Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul wearing goggles as he chain-sawed the tax code in half, Trump inviting women who accused Bill Clinton of sexual assault to a presidential debate and Ben Carson having to defend himself against allegations he lied when he wrote that as a child he attempted to stab another boy-will become staples of political campaigning. Voters, stripped of all meaningful power or control over their own destiny, used only as stage props in rallies and at party conventions, are permitted to vote only for a system they hate. And the winners are those who can give the best and most entertaining expression of that hatred. "Trump found the flaw in the American Death Star," Taibbi writes. "It doesn't know how to turn the cameras off, even when it's filming its own demise."

If the press sided with citizens and exposed the corporate systems of power that hold them captive, its advertising income would dwindle and it would be treated as an enemy of the state. Since corporations own the airwaves and declining city newspapers, this will not happen. Journalism will remain burlesque. The Public Broadcasting System, along with National Public Radio dependent on corporate money, including the Koch brothers, is as loath to take on the corporate establishment as its for-profit competitors. Dissenters and critics exist only on the margins of the internet, and the abolition of net neutrality will see them silenced.

CNN's Jake Tapper, one of the high priests in the Trump Inquisition, was quite open about the narrowness of the assault. Being interviewed on "The Axe Files" podcast, hosted by former Obama White House aide David Axelrod, Tapper addressed charges that he opposes Trump's policies by saying, "Whenever anybody says that to me, I say, you can't find any evidence about what I think about his tax plan or repealing Obamacare or DACA or immigration or trade or any of these issues-terrorism or ISIS or Syria. I'm agnostic on that. I want to have full and interesting and provocative debates and call balls and strikes. But I'm not putting out there an immigration proposal."

The corporate airwaves have a depressing habit of taking political hacks like Axelrod or the former Clinton strategist George Stephanopoulos and transforming them into journalists. Even Chelsea Clinton got a shot at journalism, being paid $600,000 a year to do fluff pieces for NBC. The fusion of news and celebrity, with figures like Tapper appearing on late night talk shows, fits with the reality-television presidency the corporate press empowers.

The press, like the Democratic Party, is playing a very dangerous game. It is banking, as Hillary Clinton did, on Trump being so repugnant he and those who support him will be replaced with Democrats. It relies on polls to guide its tactics and strategy, forgetting that every national poll offered assurance that Trump would lose in 2016. This gamble may work. But it may not. Policy issues accounted for only 10 percent of the media coverage during the 2016 presidential race. News reports concentrated on the latest polls, scandals, publicity stunts, campaign tactics and strategy as well as Trump's bombastic remarks, according to a report issued by the Shorenstein Center at Harvard University. In short, there was little substance to the coverage. This will only get worse. The gossip, trivia and invective masquerading as news are not only irrelevant to most of the electorate but reinforce the image of liberal elites being out of touch with the pain and rage rippling across the nation.

Corporations that own the press look at news as a revenue stream. The news division competes against other revenue streams. If news does not produce comparable profits, its managers are replaced and its content is altered and distorted to draw in more viewers. Journalism is irrelevant. The disease of celebrity and greed, which warps and deforms the personality of Trump, warps and deforms celebrities in the media. They share Trump's most distasteful characteristics. The consequences are ominous. An ignored, impoverished and frustrated underclass will turn to increasingly bizarre politicians and more outlandish con artists and purveyors of hate. Trump is only the beginning. The grotesque mutations to come, ones that will make Trump look reasonable, are being spawned in newsrooms across the country
(c) 2018 Chris Hedges, the former Middle East bureau chief for The New York Times, spent seven years in the Middle East. He was part of the paper's team of reporters who won the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for coverage of global terrorism. Keep up with Chris Hedges' latest columns, interviews, tour dates and more at

The Cartoon Corner...

This edition we're proud to showcase the cartoons of
~~~ Jeff Darcy ~~~

To End On A Happy Note...

Have You Seen This...

Parting Shots...

The Cafeteria Lady Is Packing Heat
More presidential wacky nonsense: arm teachers
By Will Durst

President Donald Trump tossed out some wacky nonsense, saying we should arm teachers, which encouraged the press and public to go nuts debating this ludicrous suggestion, totally ignoring commonsense remedies like banning civilians from purchasing weapons whose sole function is to kill the most people in the shortest time. The man is not as dumb as he looks, which at last count was considerable.

That was just one of the president's multiple responses to the latest in a distressing series of school shootings. He was all over the map like a class of apprentice cartographers in the belly of a garbage scow during a category 4 typhoon.

First he said we should arm teachers, then yelled at the mainstream media for saying he said we should arm teachers, then he said we shouldn't just give teachers guns, but bonuses. And snacks. Not rulers. Or pencils. Stationary targets, yes. Stationery, no.

During a listening session with relatives and survivors of various school massacres he was photographed carrying a cheat sheet reminding him to say "I hear you." His staff is apparently aware that hearing people in a listening session is not his first instinct. Listen, is what people do to him, not he to them.

Trump also promised to focus on mental health issues, forgetting that one of his first moves as POTUS was erasing rules that restricted some mentally ill from purchasing firearms. Like Germany complaining they don't have any decent Jewish delis anymore.

"Now is not the time to politicize the gun issue." Why is the time to talk about guns always later? "Now?" "No, later." "Now?" "No, later." And repeat. Now is the time to talk about mental health issues. Voting to fund programs to deal with those issues is a different story.

The NRA says the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. The problem with good guys with guns is a lot of them believe in that whole "kill 'em all and let god sort 'em out" school of thought. Except that security guard outside the Parkland, Florida high school.

Giving guns to teachers, what a great idea. Probably cut down on tardiness, note passing and backtalk as well, not to mention making faculty meetings and parent teacher conferences a lot more interesting. The penalty for truancy is a flesh wound.

As with most of 45's ideas, details were murky, but this plan could easily lead to arming janitors, crossing guards and cafeteria ladies. Although many would argue that school lunches were already weaponized during the Reagan Administration.

Besides, 20% of American teachers equals 700,000 people. Do they all get the same gun? Would these teachers going heavy be appointed or volunteers? Or would most folks offered guns spontaneously develop bone spurs like somebody else we know?

Think back: how many of your high school teachers would you have confidently armed? The ex-Marine wrestling coach? The English teacher who spaced out during John Keats' "Ode on a Grecian Urn?" The librarian regularly hitting her flask behind the stacks? Sister Mary Uzi?

And you do realize that once teachers start carrying Roscoes, it's only a matter of time before kids themselves feel the need to start packing. "I'm going to study hall. Cover me."
(c) 2018 Will Durst is an award-winning, nationally acclaimed columnist, comedian and former Pizza Hut assistant manager. For a calendar of personal appearances, including his new one-man show, "Durst Case Scenario," please visit:

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