“Khorasan Group” flap-du-jour Explained

Fox News, The National Review, and Rush Limbaugh all say The Khorasan group doesn’t exist. Most right wing commentators tell us this is further proof the Obama Administration lied, just to justify, Bush-style, the anti-ISIS air war over Iraq and Syria.

I saw a Facebook newspaper scan purporting to be from a Canadian journalist, but I couldn’t find it again when I went back to look for it. It said and suggested the same thing.

They’re pimping opinion from more respected sources.

Glen Greenwald says the media vastly over-hyped this. “Literally within a matter of days, we went from “perhaps in its final stages of planning its attack” (CNN) to “plotting as ‘aspirational’” and “there did not yet seem to be a concrete plan in the works” (NYT).”

Al Jazeera, which employs reporters who are actually very smart, says “Something about the name Khorasan, which the US says is a group of al-Qaeda veterans, doesn’t feel right.” They had contacts, whom they couldn’t name either of course, who said “Khorasan? I don’t know that name. I don’t know who they are.”

Writing for Yahoo, Kaye Foley said “It is a small network of an estimated 50 or so al-Qaida veterans who set up shop in Syria, benefiting from the cover of civil war and the protection of the Syrian al-Qaida affiliate al-Nusra Front. Although the group was brought to public attention in the past week, Attorney General Eric Holder said in an exclusive interview with Yahoo Global News Anchor Katie Couric the U.S. has been watching Khorasan for two years.”

Even the Administration seems to be downplaying early claims US fighter planes severely crippled a “Khorasan Group” cell operating in the region. It seems a group, actually calling itself “Khorasan,” may not even exist.

What further proof do we need, you say? Ask yourself first: what do we really know?

None of the partisan news sources above have cited their sources, if they have any, or disclosed any documentation to substantiate their claims, on either side. So the attacks from the right and the antiwar left are speculative.

No one doubts that Al Qaeda has attacked the United States before and would like to try it again. We also know there are hundreds of Al Qaeda splinter groups, including ISIS. ISIS was disowned because it refused to follow orders of the Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al Zawahir, currently trying to muster the parent group.

“The Khorasan Region” may refer to an ancient historical area including Afghanistan, Iran, Turkmenistan and Pakistan, or to a military terrorist area of current interest in Syria.

If Al Qaeda is operating a secret group in the Khorasan region – “DUH” – and if national or international security agencies have identified a specific threat, and that splinter group does not have a name, “Khorasan Group” would be a logical working name for US intelligence services to specifically identify that group of interest.

Why would that secret group, if it exists, keep its identity and existence secret? – “DUH!”

But neither our security forces nor the US Administration can afford to reveal their sources without compromising intelligence “assets.” There will be no hard intelligence sources outside the intelligence community, and they cannot reveal that. I think everyone, left and right, understands that.

I conclude no civilian sources have any bona-fide hard intelligence and aren’t likely to get any. The US intelligence services and top level Administration may have it, but they’re not likely to say so.

Media hype, yes. Fox News and right-wing partisanship, yes. Any hit against Al Qaeda is a good hit. As for the rest of the hype, for the rest of us, we may never know.

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Big Government vs. Big Business

“There is a legitimate concern about large institutions, be they government or others, who haven’t really delivered the America everybody thought we were on our way to,” acknowledged John R. McKernan Jr., a former Maine governor who leads the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation. But, he said, that fear is “totally misplaced” when it comes to the Common Core.

~~ New York Times, “Republicans See Wedge in Common Core,” April 20, 2014.

This interesting article mainly focuses on the opposition to the Common Core educational approach, which is opposed by Tea Party conservatives who want to replace public schools wholesale with privately funded schools whose curricula they can control, and by some liberal groups, such as teachers, who want to see a divorce between educational testing and onerous teacher performance evaluations.

The larger issue is growing mistrust of Big Government, and/or Big Business.

The opposition to the Common Core also captures another shift since the Bush administration: While long contemptuous of an expanding federal government, some Republican activists are growing wary of big business, too, including figures like Bill Gates, the billionaire Microsoft founder whose foundation supported the development of the standards.

The facts of the matter are clear. Government hasn’t adequately delivered on its promises of equality, fairness, equal access, and equal opportunity for all to achieve the American Dream.

The elephant in the room here is Big Business. Somewhat arbitrarily, we can map the start of The Big Rip with the dismantling of the old Anti-trust laws, which happened, counterintuitively, in the Democratic Clinton Administration. This breached the geologist’s “angle of repose,” that steepest angle of a debris slope at which a boulder, or a massive pileup, will not slide downhill.

We’ve watched the buildup of a new breed of corporate and financial giants who dwarfed the old “military-industrial complex,” about which Eisenhower warned our nation. We saw monster rogue corporations like Enron. In 2008 we saw the established premier banking cartels of the country almost bring the country and economy to its knees, and the world with it: Chase-JP Morgan, Bank of America, Citibank, Lehman Brothers, AIG, Countrywide, almost every big name financial institution you can think of, and more that you can’t.

Recently, the right-biased Supreme Court handed down its infamous Citizens United and McCutcheon  decisions. The decision was manna from heaven for the Charles G. Koch and David H. Koch (“Mr. Coal Is Your Friend”) billionaires and their corporate empires. The Kochs can contribute half a trillion dollars to state and federal election campaigns, and I can contribute $25 annually.

The law, in its majesty, has decreed that corporations, being people, are finally able to participate equally with me and you.

Big Government has not delivered on all its promises; NO. But Big Business has delivered on its promise to dismantle democracy, freedom of speech, and the American Dream. If anybody had been listening, they’ve been warning us all along.

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“Inside Washington,” 1988-2015

For those of us who watched this weekly news commentary round-table regularly, Inside Washington aired its last show today, after 25 continuous years. It will be greatly missed.

Host Gordon Peterson ably anchored the program. In my opinion, and in the opinion of many, the fair and level-headed Peterson stood head and shoulders above most other anchors on many similar shows that attempt to bring us the same thing.

Regular panelists Colbert “Colby” King, Charles Krauthammer, Mark Shields, Evan Thomas, and Nina Totenberg all contributed incisive commentary, reflecting news of the day from their respective political perspectives. Given the often strong views of most panelists, and their ability to defend same, I would say I have never seen any other show where panelists were so likeably civil, and generally stayed on-topic, even in the heat of debate.

All panelists, including Charles Krauthammer (with whom I might most often have taken a different view), supplied valued and principled discussion. They could be counted on to bring to us succinct points, and entertaining commentary, and they were all genuinely interesting and likable human beings – not to mention, outstanding journalists.

News shows come and go over the years, but the loss of Inside Washington seemed to me a particularly heavy blow to balanced and to-the-point news analysis. It is truly rare to find commentary articulating both sides of an issue so well that we can gain a clear and unbiased grasp of the positions of each party to a dialog. I can only add that I will always miss this show, and I wish to express my own gratitude to host Peterson and all of the panelists for bringing us 25 years of superlative broadcasts.

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Occupy Wall Street: Gone Rogue?

I picked up a free San Mateo Daily Journal yesterday when I joined a friend for lunch. There was a nice story on page 1 about some civic-minded Redwood City high school girls who decided to join a regional Occupy demonstration. They thought, by participating, they could make a difference.

“Students deserve the opportunity to discuss what they care about,” an organizer said. “Once you leave high school, life hits you like a ton of bricks and these students need to know about the troubles with the banking system and why cuts are made to education.”

There was some isolated violence. The real violence was in Oakland, Seattle and elsewhere in the nation. Banks were vandalized, windows were smashed, police cars were burned, police were assaulted, and police and the crowd were at one point bombarded by a roof-top crazy hurling down long sections of heavy steel piping. There was no follow-up story on the high school girls, but I bet most were disappointed.

Occupy Wall Street, what the hell do you think you’re doing? Continue reading

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Contraception: Controversial Health Care Mandate

The U.S. Health and Human Services department (HHS) recently announced a controversial ruling that would compel most religious organizations to offer contraceptive services as part of their basic health care package. Churches themselves would be granted the “religious exemption.”

Sometimes it may seem hard to defend organizations which in many cases push intrusive meddling upon the rights and private lives of American citizens. Here we have a case where the exact same wrong is being perpetrated upon some of those religious groups. The danger in each case is that the wrongs are perpetrated through the offices of the United States government.

What was HHS thinking? Who would be beneficiaries of this new ruling? PBS reports that while churches themselves are exempt from the new rules, Catholic hospitals and universities must comply. Continue reading

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“Occupy:” Say What?

We all dimly remember when some targets of the Occupy movement’s scorn struck some resonant chord with most of us. The popular spotlight on the vast 99%-1% gap was launched by Occupy. Public resentment against the unholy bank/investment bank consortiums who brought the economy to its knees in 2008 was brought into sharp focus by Occupy.

The cities of Oakland and Washington, D.C. are current newsworthy Occupy targets (among many others), further straining the resources of already financially beleaguered cities and their residents. And why Oakland, indeed? We don’t just have cities to house large law enforcement repositories. Believe it or not, ordinary citizens also try to live in cities, raise kids, and, if possible, earn a living.

Besides discovering that some police departments have learned nothing at all about police brutality vs. effective and humane crowd control in half a century, we don’t hear as much about Occupy these days because the question “how’s your poison oak” is only interesting to most of us for about the first week of the infection.

But they’re still here. What the hell do they really want?

To inspect the horse’s mouth – that part of the equine anatomy presented to those inspecting its teeth – I checked out an actual Occupy web site, OccupyWallStreet.

That site issues a disclaimer on the posted list of demands, “This content is user submitted and not an official statement,” but alas, I could not locate an “official” list. Here’s a smattering of the wackier zany demands I did find:

  • Repeal the Taft-Hartley Act. Unionize ALL workers immediately. [Return of the 1923 “Wobblies?”]
  • Open the borders to all immigrants, legal or illegal. Offer immediate, unconditional amnesty, to all undocumented residents of the US. [Oh, sure]
  • Lower the retirement age to 55. Increase Social Security benefits. [Pie in the sky, a chicken in every pot]
  • Ban the private ownership of land [Nyet, komrade]
  • Make homeschooling illegal. Religious fanatics use it to feed their children propaganda. [Regular parents use it to give their kids real educations, too. Even Hippie parents couldn’t have sanctioned this proposal.]

So much for the notion “Occupy” is for increased freedom.

Looking up “Wobblie” in Wikipedia, I find the following wording in their preamble to the “current IWW Constitution:”

The working class and the employing class have nothing in common. There can be no peace so long as hunger and want are found among millions of the working people and the few, who make up the employing class, have all the good things of life. Between these two classes a struggle must go on until the workers of the world organize as a class, take possession of the means of production, abolish the wage system, and live in harmony with the Earth.

Sound familiar? Occupy needs to re-focus or disband. I believe union and popular social movements that address social problems by hurling walls of human bodies into the maw are short-selling the potential of the 99% to conceptualize and debate real issues. “Let’s protest police brutality by seeing if we can provoke it” is not a solution. It’s a shopworn, coldly calculated gambit to manufacture martyrs for a cause that often doesn’t bear up well under closer scrutiny. Rather than performing public-service educational functions, why do these movements invariably send their supporters into the failed strategic equivalent of World War I trench warfare?

Occupy can jolly well get out of the cities and try a 21st-century communications solution, like the Internet.

Occupying Oakland makes about as much sense as picketing “Elmo & Oscar’s Kiddie Daycare Center” to force Assad to democratize Syria, or to induce North Korea to enthusiastically embrace free speech and elected government.

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Ron Paul, Libertarianism and 2012 Issues

by Alex Forbes

“The time has come,” the Walrus said,
“To talk of many things:
Of shoes–and ships–and sealing-wax–
Of cabbages–and kings–
And why the sea is boiling hot–
And whether pigs have wings.”

– The Walrus and The Carpenter, Lewis Carroll

How long will our existing two-party system last? What do the parties really stand for? When will elected officials stop governing on the one-way, top-down model? Everybody wants to know, and no one has the answers. All we can do here is look at the one party that continues to change and surprise, even if those come as unpleasant surprises to so many of us. What’s going on?

Republicans are scrambling to find someone articulate enough to stand up to Barack Obama in debate, yet look good wearing the party’s ultraconservative new clothes. Gingrich has a tarnished past and is viewed as somewhat volatile and unpredictable, but he can certainly handle debate. Ron Paul by all accounts would have been viewed as a crackpot only a few short years ago, and the more you look at his platform and ask the question “so how would this work?” the more dubious it looks.

But Ron Paul has an unaccountably strong following. Why? Ron Paul is articulate; he can explain things all of the other candidates fumble, even though they are generally all sipping from the same slipper. Why is only Ron Paul giving answers that seem to make sense to the Republican base, even if they only make sense when we don’t ask what would happen next?

Ron Paul has been called the “godfather of libertarianism.” How did we get from a fringe backwater political philosophy to a serious national candidacy?

This isn’t the forum to discuss libertarianism, a generalized political philosophy with 18th century roots which anchors the individual (not governments) as the unit of all social transactions, advocates minimization of government, prohibits the use of force in settling disputes, and usually has a strong platform on individual rights. A “free market” is viewed not just as an adjunct to those principles, but as indispensably rooted in them. In the U.S., libertarianism is more apt to affiliate with “right wing” policy, where in Europe one may still see variants such as “libertarian socialism.”

The old-time U.S. Libertarian Party never expected to win popular acceptance, so they didn’t have any identifiable next-step plan in the event that should ever happen. What seems odd is that, under the present success of the Paul candidacy, which may properly be regarded as a huge and unexpected popularity boost for the libertarian philosophy, they still don’t.

Over the years I’ve come to see how nations succeed by creating a culture and environment that brings all their citizenry into the participatory fold. Nations that leave their children under-educated, create exclusionary castes, shelter their elite classes, and cut loose their middle classes are, historically, nations on their way out. As corporations use to spout, “people are our most important asset.” What conservatives have forgotten in the past 50 years is that squandering people is not like squandering money. You cannot simply go out and get more. The just society is also the most efficient when everybody is a player. And efficiency is exactly what capitalism was supposed to be all about, was it not?

2012 is the first election year in memory when we the electorate could actually really use a primer to better understand some of the libertarian political tenets. First, we’ll survey some snippets of libertarian ideology. Afterwards, we’ll sample some of what Paul would like to do to implement them.

1. The Theoreticians

In 2012 we’ll face another contest between the two main US political parties. The Democratic Party seems to be the last safe haven for the moderate, leaving the old-school liberal in a kerfuffle. The Republican Party is the new, mean, aggressive soldier force for corporate America and the wealthy. Many people who are neither corporate not wealthy still believe this is a good cause that will trickle down for the rest of us.

Ron Paul breaks the mold.

This means, uh-oh doodie, talking about the last vestiges of capitalism’s theoretical underpinnings, as preserved through the dark ages of participatory democracy by the high priests of old Ayn Rand style libertarianism. That would be Ron Paul if it were anyone. Paul is the one candidate who most closely explains most platform positions of all the others, because he appears to be the only one who understands the theory, and he’s the only one advocating it. Continue reading

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The Fallacy of False Equivalence

I was reading a convoluted article in The Nation entitled ‘The Proud Liar Mitt Romney Claimed Today‘ when I came across the phrase ‘the time-honored MSM tactic of false equivalence.’

I never did figure out author Eric Alterman’s reference to ‘MSM.’ Clearly not Methylsulfonylmethane, probably not Manhattan School of Music, even more clearly not Men Who Have Sex With Men. Ironically, Alterman is profiled as ‘a Distinguished Professor of English, Brooklyn College, City University of New York, and Professor of Journalism at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism.”

But I did think I knew what the Fallacy of False Equivalence means. Or should mean … I looked it up too, of course. I fancy myself a student of rhetoric. I once even wrote a series of articles on rhetoric and persuasive writing. I found no really solid definition.

I think the fallacy of false equivalence is a modern composite re-invention of several older classical fallacies. It also seems to be endemic to political journalism. In my day we were trained to just call these non sequiturs (Latin, “doesn’t follow”).

The general structure of the false equivalence fallacy (and its variants) would have a structure similar to the following:

Deadly nightshade is a member of the potato family. Paprika and chili peppers are members of the same family. We must regard paprika and chili peppers as poisonous.

Or, one of the more family-friendly examples found in a blog by a gentleman named Wally who wrote a 2005 post called Generalized definition of ‘false equivalence’

I didn’t pay you back once when you lent me a dollar, you stole a dollar from my wallet, therefore we’re even.”

What statement actually got The Nation contributor Eric Alterman’s goat?

The most recent punditocracy kerfuffle involves Mitt Romney’s first paid presidential television advertisement. Ironically titled keep talking about the economy, we’re going to lose.” Deliberately left out of the ad were the preceding words: “Senator McCain’s campaign actually said, and I quote…”

I bring this topic up because we’re going to see a lot more real-life examples. For more information (and some examples that use cuss words) see the article The fallacy of false equivalence by Furry Brown Dog. He does an interesting analysis of the Bush v. Kerry campaign misuse of the Swift Boat furor, about which I happen to agree with the author: Bush’s stance boiled down to the claim Kerry’s Department of Defense documentation lied, whereas Bush’s anecdotal version was the contextually more accurate if you happened to be serious about voting Republican.

No, it’s not just Republicans. We need to watch election statements more critically, rather than blindly applauding anything which makes our side look better, no matter how egregious the misrepresentation. Non sequitur arguments are so embedded in the political culture that the discerning reader should have no trouble spotting them in either camp. But, as Guardian writer Michael Tomasky posts in his blog Can you play False Equivalency!?:

And no, people, I’m not saying liberals never do anything bad. I am saying (read slowly now): this. is. a. constant. habit. of. conservatives. in. a. way. it. is. not. quite. with. liberals.

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Social Security Not a Ponzi Scheme

Many Americans were surprised to hear any frontrunner candidate for President, even Texas Gov. Rick Perry, say recently in the GOP candidate debates that Social Security is a Ponzi scheme. As quoted by the Washington Post on August 29, [1] Perry claimed:

It is a Ponzi scheme for these young people. The idea that they’re working and paying into Social Security today, that the current program is going to be there for them, is a lie,” Perry said. “It is a monstrous lie on this generation, and we can’t do that to them.”

It’s a lie only if and when Congress reneges on a solemn US government promise and obligation. Seniors who have paid into the Social Security fund all their working lives should be outraged. The young and those who are only beginning working careers might well find cause for alarm in those words. I believe we can set the record straight here while still bypassing 95% of the partisan rhetoric. The status of Social Security as a “Ponzi scheme” begins and ends with the intent of Congress.

Merriam-Webster defines ‘Ponzi scheme’ as:

an investment swindle in which some early investors are paid off with money put up by later ones in order to encourage more and bigger risks.

For more information on Ponzi scheme, see Wikipedia [2]. It is true that the money you’re depositing into your SSI account goes into the Social Security Trust Fund. It’s true that the money credited to “your account” goes not into the purchasing of equities to build a nest egg for your own eventual retirement, but to pay off obligations to the current generation of retirees. Just like most private pension funds, Social Security obligations pose a long and growing debt “tail” of outgo which is micro-managed by Congress in periodic fits of oversight.

According to OMB, the Office of Management and Budget as quoted in Wikipedia [3]:

These [Trust Fund] balances are available to finance future benefit payments and other Trust Fund expenditures – but only in a bookkeeping sense…. They do not consist of real economic assets that can be drawn down in the future to fund benefits. Instead, they are claims on the Treasury that, when redeemed, will have to be financed by raising taxes, borrowing from the public, or reducing benefits or other expenditures. The existence of large Trust Fund balances, therefore, does not, by itself, have any impact on the Government’s ability to pay benefits. (from FY 2000 Budget, Analytical Perspectives, p. 337)

The Wiki article quoted Dr. Alan Greenspan as saying: “The crucial question: Are they ultimate claims on real resources? And the answer is yes.”

The devil’s in the details. All the worrisome arguments about how those dollar bill notes paid to you out of the fund come from the current cycle of depositors, and are not “your” dollar bills, could equally well be applied to any checking or savings bank account you own. This out-of-context argument makes no sense. The thing to remember is that it’s YOUR account, and the source of the physical greenbacks is an irrelevant distraction. The obligation to make good on your account is indeed YOUR asset, and morally it should certainly not be subject to the discretion of Congress, any more than your bank can legally decide whether your savings withdrawals coincide with the bank’s current priorities.

It’s a well know fact that the Baby Boomers are putting a heavy strain on the Social Security system. We’ve known that was coming for half a century. As we face a looming cash flow problem with Social Security, I think Congress and not individual Americans deserve full blame and responsibility for that.

Personally, I was trained in classical laissez-faire economics, and I’m very conversant with all the theoretical arguments why Social Security was a mistake in the first place. They’re just another political case of “that may work in practice, but it won’t hold up in theory.”  In my twenties I resented Social Security bitterly. After a lifetime paying into the fund, and a lifetime observing corporate practice in the American workplace where I worked for over forty years, I saw I’d be a fool to trust any “privatized” solution. Neither am I amused when I hear my account dismissively called an “entitlement.”

Reasonable people will conclude that Social Security is NOT a Ponzi scheme because, among other things, it is NOT a get-rich investment scheme and, for better or for worse, the “real resources” backing the fund are United States Treasury bonds. One could, if one wished, even argue that Perry was really calling into question the full faith and credit of the United States government. After all, it was his party that shook world confidence in our national will to pay our just debts and obligations in the first place.

© Alex Forbes 2011

Further Reading

[1] Washington Post, “Perry’s Ponzi scheme rhetoric” by Jonathan Bernstein
[2] Wikipedia, Ponzi scheme
[3] Wikipedia, Social Security Trust Fund

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The Tea Party on Hurricane Irene

And finally, the party that has a political take on everything. Where is the Tea Party in the wake of Hurricane Irene?

Well, in the St. Petersburg Times article “Michele Bachmann rally draws over 1,000 in Sarasota, but some prefer Rick Perry” we’re hearing from a couple of their candidates:

“I spoke to Rick Perry Thursday night,” said Wes Maddox, a GOP activist in Tampa who went to Texas A&M with Perry, who is expected to make his first Florida stop Sept. 13 in Tampa Bay. “He said, ‘You tell them (in Florida) help is on the way.’ That’s what the governor’s message is – help is on the way.”

And according to the same source, Michele Bachmann said:

“I don’t know how much God has to do to get the attention of the politicians. We’ve had an earthquake; we’ve had a hurricane. He said, ‘Are you going to start listening to me here?’ Listen to the American people because the American people are roaring right now. They know government is on a morbid obesity diet and we’ve got to rein in the spending.”

How fatuous. Does Bachmann really think God has joined her Tea Party to intervene in partisan politics? If so, doesn’t that make her Tea Party The Party of God? How ironic she’d paint their god as an obsessive-compulsive klepto.

Millions of Americans who have paid into the Social Security fund their entire working lifetimes were angered to hear this new breed of political opportunist call Social Security benefits “entitlements.” That was just a warning shot across our bow.

Where is the consistency in a Tea Party that mocks the working class, our once and former middle class, with taunts of “entitlement?” Millions of unemployed and displaced were ruined by the ongoing global financial hurricane, itself spawned by corporate carpetbaggers masquerading as “free enterprisers.” Newly poor Americans may soon find themselves in the ranks of the chronically unemployable and dispossessed. They will be dependent wards of the welfare state that those carpetbaggers, who helped create the very conditions that fuel the poverty/welfare cycle, detest. Those Americans might be surprised to hear themselves called welfare cheats and social parasites.

Who is next? When do we get to hear Tea Party rants about “entitlements” for the victims of Irene, Katrina, mine disasters, victims of wacko shootings, and other “nanny state parasites?”

Give me your poor, your tired, your huddled masses yearning to breath free … if “help is on the way,” as Perry, who as governor of Texas lacks jurisdiction over the Eastern Seaboard, was said to promise: let the Almighty sweep the carpetbaggers out to sea like cockroaches in a storm drain. In the long run, marginalizing our fellow citizens with outsourcing, corporate mismanagement and rampant corruption, toxic assets and Bernie Madoff style investment schemes, all the while painting us as bloodsucking socialist parasites, just won’t cut it. Heed the roar of reality. “Arab Spring” won’t begin to cover the revolt.

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