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Wednesday, 5 March 2008
Gandhi revisited
Topic: politics

New chapters are being added to the Arun Gandhi story.

It’s mostly Gandhi’s critics who are writing these chapters; the defense has mostly fallen silent. But I believe Gandhi has once again shot himself in the foot, to use an expression quite alien to his philosophy of nonviolence. I think he has failed to clarify sufficiently the views that resulted in so many guns trained on him. (See my comments in a blogpost below.) Still, he did not deserve to be forced into resigning from the institute he founded and led – and certainly it’s a shame his work as a true man of peace will be hobbled, at a minimum.

It’s also shameful that local media are looking the other way regarding certain things his critics have said - things that go way beyond the bounds of “misstatement,” over-generalization, and other venial sins Gandhi was guilty of. These critics are purveying myths and factoids that lend a false legitimacy to Israeli/US government military policies, thus almost ensuring that Israel, with indispensable US support, will commit further war crimes against Palestinians (civilians and combatants) in Gaza, vastly out of proportion to the rocket attacks launched against Israeli communities by some Palestinian fighters. (For up-to-date information on casualties and atrocities on both sides, and thus for an understanding of the huge asymmetry of suffering, consult the preeminent Israeli human rights monitoring group B’tselem, www.btselem.org.)

Foolish critic number one: the Democrat and Chronicle. In a critique of Arun Gandhi that read like a parody of satygraha, the D&C editors claimed Israel has been driven historically by “desires… not unlike those of Mahatma Gandhi.” I’m accustomed to whoppers and knee-slappers from the D&C, but this one takes the prize. I doubt any serious Israeli journalist would attempt such a rhetorical high-jump. Indeed, the serious Israeli press is full of pieces deploring the nation’s militarism and regular resort to violence instead of diplomacy. See, for example, the excellent work of writers Gideon Levy and Amira Hass in Ha’aretz.

The D&C poses as centrist in the Gandhi affair, but some liberals, too, have perhaps unwittingly provided cover for IDF atrocities in Gaza. Take a letter that appeared - without comment or rebuttal - in City Newspaper late last month. The letter, from a noteworthy local activist, did raise some good points about Arun Gandhi’s missteps and flubs. But one paragraph credited the Israeli government with “one of the largest acts of nonviolence in military history.”

If you understand the history not just of Israel but of any nation-state, you may now be rubbing your eyes and asking yourself just what this nonviolent act might have been. Well, the writer was talking about former Israeli PM Ariel Sharon’s so-called unilateral disengagement from the Gaza Strip. But Sharon’s maneuver – it was surely no more than this – wasn’t remotely nonviolent in execution or intent.

One leading analyst, Phyllis Bennis of the Insitute for Policy Studies, has offered an analysis that debunks the conservative-liberal US elite consensus on Gaza, a consensus which accommodates the Sharon-as-peacemaker fallacy and similar dreck. Consider the following from Bennis, who begins with obvious foundational facts that almost never are mentioned in American media:

Disengagement?

By Phyllis Bennis, July 27, 2005 (via Znet)

“Israel has a unilateral obligation to withdraw its troops and settlers and end its occupation of Gaza as well as of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. But the Gaza ‘disengagement’ is not designed to, and will not result in an end to occupation.

“The ‘disengagement’ will leave Gazans worse off economically, socially and politically than they are now, isolating the 1.2 million Palestinians in a besieged prison surrounded and controlled on all sides by Israel.

“Sharon's goal is to maximize the chaos and televised scenes of Israeli pain and division, so he can refuse any U.S. or international demands that he withdraw from the West Bank and Jerusalem, claiming that the price Israel is paying is too high to go further. ‘Gaza first’ will become Gaza last.

“The construction of Israel's Wall continues despite the rulings of the International Court of Justice finding it illegal; it will soon be completed, locking West Bank Palestinians into tiny cantons separated from each other and from their own land.

“All Israeli settlements - from tiny ‘outposts’ to the largest settlement cities such as Ma'ale Adumim and Ariel - are illegal, violating the Fourth Geneva Convention's prohibition against moving any population from the occupying country into the occupied territory.

“There is no question that Israel, as the illegal occupying power, bears full responsibility under international law to end its occupation of Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem. But Sharon's planned "disengagement" from Gaza is not a step towards ending occupation; it is designed to change the character of Gaza’s occupation from direct troops-in-the-streets and settlers-on-the-land occupation to a kind of occupation-by-siege, in which Gaza will be completely encircled by an Israeli fence, as well as Israeli troops and military force. All entry and exit to and from Gaza will be controlled by Israel. The Israeli military will control all crossing points, Israel will control Gaza's skies and seas, the building and operation of any future port or airport will be under Israeli permission (or denied permission), and the people of Gaza will have no ability to move in and out of their land, to ship agricultural products out or bring crucial medicines in, except under intrusive Israeli control.

“Although the "disengagement" may well result in the withdrawal of all settlers out of Gaza, and the redeployment of all Israeli soldiers to the Gazan borders (though not completely out of Palestinian territory), Gaza will be far from independent. Israel has announced that it retains what it calls the "right" to reoccupy Gaza at any time it sees fit. Further, Gaza is an inseparable part of the Occupied Palestinian Territories; withdrawing from one sector of that land, while the military occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem remains, does not constitute an end to occupation.

“Sharon has announced that once the settlers and soldiers are out of Gaza (a process which may take months, because of soldiers remaining throughout the process of demolishing settler houses) Israel will no longer have any responsibility towards the people of Gaza. This is a false claim. Under international law, a besieging power has exactly the same obligations as any other occupying power - to provide for the humanitarian needs of the occupied population, including provision of food, health care, education, etc. Whatever Sharon may claim, "disengaging" from Gaza does not constitute an end to occupation. The end of occupation was defined by the post-World War II Nuremberg Tribunal: "The test for application of the legal regime of occupation is not whether the occupying power fails to exercise effective control over the territory, but whether it has the ability to exercise such power." As long as Israel surrounds Gaza, controlling its borders, skies and seas, it "has the ability" to control the territory. Israel's plan for Gaza will turn the Strip into a big prison, surrounded by guards, in which the 1.2 million Palestinian inmates may be allowed to move on their own within the walls but will remain imprisoned…”


Posted by jackbradiganspula at 21:39 EST
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Thursday, 28 February 2008
The health of the state?
Topic: politics

Like many of you, I’ve been watching with dismay as the remaining Democratic candidates, those with enough cash to be contenders in an ultimate World Series, attack each other’s health plans. It’s not the attacks that bother me, though. (It’s amazing how little tolerance Americans have for substantive disagreement.) It’s that the plans in question are so anemic.

It should obvious by now – especially to those who’ve experienced the tender mercies of our current profit-oriented system – that only something like “Medicare for All” can succeed. Yet politicians posing as reformers continue working mightily to preserve the status quo.

That’s why it’s so important to support groups like Physicians for a National Health Program (http://pnhp.org), which haven’t let up on fighting for a single-payer system. Check out the open letter below and, as PNHP suggests, send it to the candidates, your reps and friends.

 
PHYSICIANS FOR A NATIONAL HEALTH PROGRAM

An Open Letter to the Candidates on Single Payer Health Reform

America's health care system is failing. It denies care to many in need and is expensive, error-prone, and increasingly bureaucratic. The misfortune of illness is often amplified by financial ruin. Despite abundant medical resources, care is often inadequate because of the irrationality of our insurance system. Yet our political leaders seem intent on reprising failed schemes from the past, rejecting the single payer national health insurance model that is the sole hope for affordable, comprehensive coverage.

Leading Republicans propose tax incentives to encourage the uninsured to buy coverage, but these subsidies fall far short of the cost of adequate insurance. For cost control, they suggest high co-payments and deductibles. Yet these selectively burden the sick and poor, discourage preventive and primary care, and have little effect on costs, since seriously ill patients - who account for most health spending - quickly exceed their deductibles and are in no position to forgo expensive care.

The incremental changes suggested by most Democrats cannot solve our problems; further pursuit of market-based strategies, as advocated by Republicans, will exacerbate them. What needs to be changed is the system itself.

Most leading Democrats offer a mandate model for reform. Under this model, the government would require people (or their employers) to buy private coverage, while offering an expanded Medicaid-like program for the poor and near-poor.

Variants of the mandate model, first proposed by Richard Nixon, were passed with great fanfare in Massachusetts (1988), Oregon (1989) and Washington State (1993). All died quiet deaths. As costs soared, legislators backed off from enforcing the mandates or funding new coverage for the poor. Massachusetts' recent reform, which largely excuses employers from the mandate but imposes steep fines on the uninsured, appears poised to follow a similar path. Of the middle-income uninsured who are required to pay the full premium for coverage, few have signed up. Meanwhile, the state has already announced a $147 million shortfall in funding for subsidies for the poor.

Mandates and tax incentives can add coverage only by increasing costs. They augment the role (and profits) of private insurers, whose overhead is four times Medicare's, and whose efforts to avoid payment impose a costly paperwork burden on doctors and hospitals. The cost cutting measures often appended to such reforms - computerization,
care management and medical prevention - have repeatedly failed to yield savings.

In contrast, single payer reform could realize administrative savings of more than $300 billion annually - enough to cover the uninsured, and to eliminate co-payments and deductibles for all Americans. It would also slow cost increases by fostering coordination and planning.

Political calculus favors mandates or tax incentives, which accommodate insurers, drug firms and other medical entrepreneurs. But such reforms are economically wasteful and medically dangerous. The incremental changes suggested by most Democrats cannot solve our problems; further pursuit of market-based strategies, as advocated by Republicans, will exacerbate them. What needs to be changed is the system itself.

We urge our political leaders to stand up for the health of the American people and implement a non-profit, single payer national health insurance system.


Posted by jackbradiganspula at 15:48 EST
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Saturday, 23 February 2008
Brooks strikes again
Topic: politics

Under former county executive Jack Doyle - to whom Al Franken’s epithet for Rush Limbaugh, “big fat idiot,” so precisely applies – Rochesterians got almost weekly reminders of how vicious and ignorant the local Republican ruling clique can be.

Then came Maggie Brooks, whose stage presence, honed by years as a TV “personality,” put a human face on the GOP machine. But every once in a while, the velvet glove slips off the raised iron fist.

And so it was late this week, when Brooks said the county would appeal a recent decision by a state Appellate Court (one step below the highest state court, the Court of Appeals) in favor of marriage rights for two local women, one of whom is a Monroe Community College employee. The Appellate Court decided that this couple’s marriage, performed a few years ago in the province of Ontario, Canada, where same-sex marriages are legal, must be recognized in New York State.

The legal principle is straightforward: New York has long recognized legal marriages from other states and countries that use different criteria from those obtaining here.

Brooks has couched her appeal, or at least her advance PR, in “moderate” language. In effect, she pleads she’s only doing the right thing – preserving the commonly understood definition of marriage and the sanctity of the law - not harming anyone or sowing hatred and division. But oh yeah, there are financial considerations: she hints that Monroe County can’t afford to give marriage-related benefits to the hordes of sodomites on the county payroll who will now demand them.

The county exec always adopts a pleading tone when she does this kind of damage. Take her insistent claims that her “FAIR” tax-shifting scheme was so, so equitable – and wouldn’t take candy from babies. In that case, of course, she just ignored the numbers, as she has right from the beginning of her years at 39 West Main Street. (Remember how she ran for county exec the first time on a plan that would cut taxes yet not gut any popular programs? That was a most painful exercise in the new conservative math.)

Nobody will ever call Brooks a big, fat anything. No, she’s more subtly dangerous than the Limbaughs of the world, mostly because she gets things done for the Limbaughs behind the scenes – like Steve Minarik, who by the way is married to Judge (!) Renee Forgensi Minarik, who ran for Congress against Louise Slaughter on the (hold your breath, or nose) Contract With America.

You might therefore say Brooks is just working on contract now: imposing the moral vision of the neo-Reaganites on us at the local rather than the federal level.

And it’s all perfectly legal! So far.

Let's hope the Court of Appeals sees the light and does the right thing.


Posted by jackbradiganspula at 11:51 EST
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Thursday, 7 February 2008
Winter biking for the hell of it
Topic: bicycling

I loved reading Adam Durand’s recent post (rocbike.com) about, shall we say, spontaneous ice-biking. It can happen to anyone: the evening begins with a warm breeze, but then comes the rain, which soon turns to sleet; and as the temperature keeps dipping, the whole visible world becomes as slick as a “greenwashed” ad from Big Oil. And there you are, the intrepid bicyclist, faced with riding when even walking is a challenge.

The scenario is one of many arguments in favor of studded tires for winter riding. I’ve been using a pair of Nokians this year, after an apprenticeship in past winters with some cheaper but less durable Innovas. The Nokians are peerless (well, maybe equaled by Schwalbe, about whose studded tires I know very little) and well worth the price (the model I have runs about $60 apiece).

When the latest ice storm struck the other day, I had to do my usual commute to the RIT campus, about seven miles one-way from my place, through varied conditions: level streets, a couple gentle hills, some parking-lot-shortcuts, and a good length of untended multi-use trail. After the ice had landed, these surfaces were slippery as all get-out, and worse, textured by a wind-driven splattering effect (the elements as a sort of environmental Jackson Pollock) that added a little bounce to the ride. Still, the tires worked nicely. There were a few times when I felt a bit insecure, as when I went up and then down a steep pedestrian bridge over the Erie Canal. But for the most part, the tires kept me upright and going forward on ice that would have stopped a pedestrian cold.

I’ve got a lot of winter riding under my belt, and the experiences have included more than a few wipe-outs on unexpected or unseen ice. I remember one afternoon a few years back on the Genesee River Trail near the UR campus: it was about 10 degrees F, sunny and clear, and the ground and trail were almost bare. But as I swooped down and around a curve under a railroad bridge, I “encountered” a patch of black ice maybe 20 feet long that covered the full width of the trail. By the time I understood what was ahead, it was too late to take evasive action – or even let out a good ole Tarzan yodel. Down I went, sliding along on my left side as various add-ons from my bike tinkled and scattered on the cold, cold ground. (I instantly recalled an earlier fall on ice, this one at night, when it took me a while to find and reassemble all the little pieces of my headlamp, some of which had skittered under a parked car.) But my bike and I escaped without real injury. And I was glad nobody had been around to witness a most uncool maneuver.

Now cycling life is boring: my studded tires keep me from having more experiences like the above. So what stories am I going to tell my great-grandkids? Surely if you embellish it enough, you can make an absolutely uneventful ride into a heroic journey. I’ll give it a try.

 


Posted by jackbradiganspula at 23:04 EST
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Tuesday, 5 February 2008
Common sense

I'm now teaching Tom Paine in my writing courses. But I chose the title of this piece to reflect the views of another real mensch, who, as seen below, speaks truth to power while demonstrating what musicians can achieve in their "leisure time." (Credit: I actually found the piece on the website of scholar-activist Norman G. Finkelstein, www.normanfinkelstein.com.)

 

Passports to progress

Israelis and Palestinians alike should join me in taking dual citizenship - for we share one destiny


Daniel Barenboim
Wednesday January 30, 2008
The Guardian


I have often said that the destinies of the Israeli and Palestinian people are inextricably linked and that there is no military solution to the conflict. My recent acceptance of Palestinian nationality has given me the opportunity to demonstrate this more tangibly.

When my family moved to Israel from Argentina in the 1950s, one of my parents' intentions was to spare me the experience of growing up as part of a minority - a Jewish minority. They wanted to me to grow up as part of a majority - a Jewish majority. The tragedy of this is that my generation, despite having been educated in a society whose positive aspects and human values have greatly enriched my thinking, ignored the existence of a minority within Israel - a non-Jewish minority - which had been the majority in the whole of Palestine until the creation of the state of Israel in 1948. Part of the non-Jewish population remained in Israel, and other parts left out of fear or were forcefully displaced.

In the Israeli-Palestinian conflict there was and still is an inability to admit the interdependence of their two voices. The creation of the state of Israel was the result of a Jewish-European idea which, if it is to extend its leitmotif into the future, must accept the Palestinian identity as an equally valid leitmotif. The demographic development is impossible to ignore; the Palestinians within Israel are a minority but a rapidly growing one, and their voice needs to be heard now more than ever. They now make up approximately 22% of the population of Israel. This is a larger percentage than was ever represented by a Jewish minority in any country in any period of history. The total number of Palestinians living within Israel and in the occupied territories (that is, greater Israel for the Israelis or greater Palestine for the Palestinians) is already larger than the Jewish population.

At present Israel is confronted with three problems: the nature of the modern democratic Jewish state - its very identity; the problem of Palestinian identity within Israel; and the problem of the creation of a Palestinian state outside of Israel. With Jordan and Egypt it was possible to attain what can best be described as an ice-cold peace without questioning Israel's existence as a Jewish state. The problem of the Palestinians within Israel is a much more challenging one to solve, theoretically and practically. For Israel it means, among other things, coming to terms with the fact that the land was not barren or empty, "a land without a people" - an idea that was propagated at the time of its creation. For the Palestinians, it means accepting the fact that Israel is a Jewish state and is here to stay.

Israelis must accept the integration of the Palestinian minority, even if it means changing certain aspects of the nature of Israel; they must also accept the justification for and necessity of the creation of a Palestinian state next to the state of Israel. Not only is there no alternative, or magic wand, that will make the Palestinians disappear, but their integration is an indispensable condition - on moral, social, and political grounds - for the very survival of Israel.

The longer the occupation continues and Palestinian dissatisfaction remains unaddressed, the more difficult it is to find even elementary common ground. We have seen so often in the modern history of the Middle East that missed opportunities for reconciliation have had extremely negative results for both sides.

For my part, when the Palestinian passport was offered to me, I accepted it in the spirit of acknowledging the Palestinian destiny which I, as an Israeli, share. A true citizen of Israel must reach out to the Palestinian people with openness, and at the very least an attempt to understand what the creation of the state of Israel has meant to them.

May 15 1948 is the day of independence for the Jews, but the same day is al-Nakba, the catastrophe, for the Palestinians. A true citizen of Israel must ask himself what the Jews, known as an intelligent people of learning and culture, have done to share their cultural heritage with the Palestinians. A true citizen of Israel must also ask himself why the Palestinians have been condemned to live in slums and accept lower standards of education and medical care, rather than being provided by the occupying force with decent, dignified and liveable conditions - a right common to all human beings.

In any occupied territory, the occupiers are responsible for the quality of life of the occupied, and in the case of the Palestinians, the different Israeli governments over the past 40 years have failed miserably. The Palestinians, naturally, must continue to resist the occupation and all attempts to deny them basic individual needs and statehood. However, for their own sake, this resistance must not express itself through violence. Crossing the boundary from adamant resistance (including non-violent demonstrations and protests) to violence only results in more innocent victims, and does not serve the long-term interests of the Palestinian people.

At the same time, the citizens of Israel have just as much cause to be alert to the needs and rights of the Palestinian people (both within and outside Israel) as they have to their own. After all, in the sense that we share one land and one destiny, we should all have dual citizenship.

· Daniel Barenboim is a conductor and pianist, and co-author with Edward Said of Parallels and Paradoxes: Explorations in Music and Society danielbarenboim.com

 


Posted by jackbradiganspula at 14:13 EST
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