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Tuesday, 2 January 2007
New Year winces and wishes
Topic: politics

Planet Earth being what it is, no New Year can begin without a supreme offense to basic morality and contempt toward the actual historical record. And so it is with the death of Gerald Ford.

Yes, we should be as generous as possible to the dead. And so we all extend our sympathy to Ford’s family and friends, who must be feeling a deep loss. We also should concede that Ford was better than his immediate predecessors, and probably most of the presidential pack up to this day – and sure, he was a “nice guy” in the usual strained sense of the term, much as with the Chief Frat Boy who still manages to hold off his political day of reckoning.

But Ford, who’s sometimes credited with steering US foreign policy temporarily away from mass murder and indiscriminate destruction, really did have a lot of blood on his hands. It’s fun to read Alexander Cockburn’s view that the man from Grand Rapids (actually East Grand Rapids, a separate municipality that still is an island of privilege within a sorely stressed Rust Belt city) was our “greatest president,” but of course that’s because the competition is gutter level.

For a quick recap of Ford’s foreign policy career, check out Stephen Zunes’ fine piece posted on commondreams.org. There you’ll read about Ford’s collusion with Pinochet, the Shah of Iran, Ferdinand Marcos, Mobutu, and other butchers and torturers - most grievously, Indonesia’s Suharto, who infamously got the “green light” from Ford and henchman Henry Kissinger to invade and occupy East Timor, an adventure that cost more than 200,000 innocent lives.

Henry the K is scheduled to eulogize Ford at the latter’s state funeral. Just goes to show you, old war criminals don’t die, or even fade away; they recline on the puffy clouds of high punditry and elder statesmanship.

Now, why doesn’t the nation hold a solemn funeral for the 3,000 American servicemembers killed in Iraq (the 3,000th was felled by an IED while Ford’s official mourning period began and Bush’s Iraq policy renovation crew was meeting in what must have been sober cluelessness) and then use this tip-of-the-iceberg statistical milestone as prelude to a commemoration of the half million Iraqi dead?

I don’t mean a commemoration with vain prayers, slow marches, and lying sacks of garbage at the lectern. I mean one that starts with getting the US the fuck out of Iraq.


Posted by jackbradiganspula at 17:24 EST
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Saturday, 23 December 2006
Apartheid redux - and action plan
Topic: politics

Usually I’m not drawn to designer olive oil in small fancy bottles - and with large fancy prices. And I don’t much like the concept of a “Holy Land” (though the idea that all land/earth is sacred sounds pretty good).

 

But I’m making exceptions on both counts to push Holy Land Olive Oil, a high-end fair-trade product from farmer cooperatives in the still-occupied West Bank. Some proceeds from sales of this extra virgin, first cold press oil - made from hand-picked olives grown without pesticides and other such chemicals - are directly re-invested in Palestinian communities that have long struggled to maintain their orchards; and this re-investment is vital now, as the Palestinian economy suffers even greater stress than “normal.”

 

I’ve got an armful of 500 ml bottles of this fine oil in front of me right now; they make great stocking stuffers. You can buy Holy Land at Abundance Cooperative Market, 62 Marshall St., right off Monroe Ave. near the Inner Loop. (Disclosure, if one is necessary: I serve on the Abundance board of directors.)  And you can learn more about the product at www.palestineoliveoil.org.

 

You can also get a taste of the conditions under which such oil is produced by following the work of the Christian Peacemaker Team in the West Bank city of Hebron (www.cpt.org), where a small group of extremist “settlers” seek to dominate and dispossess a large Palestinian population - often with tacit or overt support from Israeli troops on hand. (Check out relevant reports from Israeli human rights groups like B’tselem, www.btselem.org.) Below is a recent CPT report from the trenches:

 

CPT monitors olive harvesting

6 November 2006
By Abigail Ozanne

The olive harvest in Al Khalil (Hebron) began 26 October, following the end of Ramadan. During the harvest, Christian Peacemaker Team (CPT) members have observed trends in the reactions of Israeli forces and settlers to Palestinians harvesting olives. In several cases, Israeli authorities have allowed Palestinians to pick olives if they have a permit and have protected them from Israeli settlers. Sometimes, at the land close to the settlement enclave of Tel Rumeida, Israeli forces have not allowed internationals to pick with the Palestinians and have required the Palestinians to get permission from the Israeli District Command Officer (DCO).

On 26 October, a Palestinian who lives directly below the settlement enclave of Tel Rumeida, received a permit to harvest his olives. At the family's request, about a dozen internationals and Israeli human rights workers arrived to help with the picking, while local press observed. The group had to cut razor wire in order to clear the path to the olive trees. Soon after the group began picking olives, Israeli settlers entered the grove and others watched from settler mobile homes.

One settler woman holding a baby began yelling at the Palestinian owner, "You are all terrorists! You want to kill the Jews! You killed my father!" He replied, "No, I'm not a terrorist. I haven't killed any Jews, and my family protected Jews during the massacre of 1929." Then the woman claimed the olive trees belonged to her and shouted at him, "If you want to pick olives, go to Tel Aviv to pick olives!" She kicked one of the olive pickers, causing him to lose his balance and fall. Another settler hit a Palestinian nonviolent activist in the face, injuring him slightly. The young man did not retaliate.

Later, the Israeli police came. They said that the Palestinians could pick olives but the internationals could not help and only journalists and Temporary International Presence in Hebron (TIPH) members could observe. When picking resumed, Israeli soldiers and police stood nearby and the settlers watched from a distance.

On Friday 27 October, CPTers and internationals joined another Palestinian family picking olives on their land. After the group had been picking for several hours, a settler boy came down from the settlement caravans and threw a stone at the olive pickers. Israeli military units-after determining that the family had a permit-monitored for the rest of the day. Every time settlers threw stones or tried to approach too close, the officers chased them away.

On 26 June 2006, the High Court of Justice in Israel ruled that Palestinians have the right to enter and work their land, and the military commander is obligated to protect this right. In five cases where CPTers witnessed families harvesting their olives, Israeli authorities prevented setters from interfering with the harvest. In four of those cases, the family had to show their permit to pick the olives on their own land.


Posted by jackbradiganspula at 08:59 EST
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Sunday, 17 December 2006
Carter's apartheid
Topic: politics

With its recent (and belated) review of Jimmy Carter’s new book, the downstate daily that veteran journalist John Hess used to call “The Nouveau York Times” plumbed new depths of rag-dom.

Carter’s Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid has generally brought out the worst in American journalism, which is pretty lame under the best circumstances. You’d think this book – by a former president who’s won the Nobel Peace Prize, garnered praise worldwide as an election observer and stateside as a benefactor of low-income housing, and on the flip side, jettisoned a strongly pro-military and interventionist record as president in favor of a touchy-feely-preachy image as born-again conscience of the nation – would inspire deep respect, if not genuflection. But no. Carter has really stepped in it this time, mostly because he dared to use the “A” word in his subtitle. References to apartheid, and extended analogies with the South African racist regime, appear frequently in Israeli media, but such daring is not allowed in the US.

Which brings us back to the Times, whose review of the book (12/14) was dominated by concern over the admittedly provocative term. The reviewer used five named sources who trashed Carter – including the centrist Michael Kinsley, the faintly liberal Dennis Ross (who specializes in distorting the record of Clinton-era talks between Israeli and Palestinian leaders), and the far-right contortionist Abraham Foxman of the justly discredited Anti-Defamation League (whose latest caper was a covert attack on esteemed historian Tony Judt). And for balance? Well, the reviewer quoted Carter himself.

The review also quoted The Jerusalem Post, surely one of the worst of Israeli papers – certainly overrated among US readers, though in this regard it can be seen as a worthy companion to the NY Times. For a better grasp of informed Israeli opinion, one can turn to Ha’aretz of 12/15 and historian Tom Segev’s largely positive review of the book.

After a few quibbles, Segev, one of the pioneering “new historians” whose reality-based recasting of Middle East history is now unexceptionable, addresses “the uproar… over the word apartheid”:

“That's another thing I would have recommended that Carter forgo, if he'd asked me,” says Segev. “It's  not necessary; the situation is terrible as it is.” But Segev’s take on terminology is much different than that of Kinsley, Foxman, et al. “Now everyone's busy arguing about the use of the term `apartheid` instead of focusing on the horrors of the occupation in the territories… But [Carter’s] principal argument is well-founded, and backed up by the reports from B'Tselem, Peace Now, Israeli newspapers and even many articles that appear in The New York Times (as opposed to the theory, which Carter cites, that says Israel's critics are being silenced). Like many others, Carter points out the ongoing and systematic violation of the Palestinians` human rights; the injustices of the oppression perpetuate the conflict. It's bad for everyone, the United States included.”

I believe the apartheid analogy is right on – and that the American people need precisely this kind of wake-up call. Analogies are intrinsically and notoriously inexact, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have great value. For many years the Israeli left has drawn comparisons between Israel/Palestine and the old South Africa – not just with the “A” word, but by using the word “bantustans” to describe the archipelago of West Bank cantons that Israeli and US negotiators want the Palestinians to accept in lieu of a viable, governable state.

I’ve long been critical of Jimmy Carter, from way to his left. And frankly, his thesis about Israel/Palestine, as opposed to his book’s bracing title, doesn’t move us leftward enough from the “moderate” consensus. But I’m glad to see the “A” word entering the American lexicon in this context, where it surely belongs.


Posted by jackbradiganspula at 12:54 EST
Updated: Sunday, 17 December 2006 12:58 EST
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Saturday, 18 November 2006
After all, what are we, barbarians?
Topic: politics

I’ve always thought Condi Rice was the worst possible advertisement for piano playing since H-bomb-father Edward Teller. They both have made the instrument sing with hypocrisy – making all too obvious the vast moral distance between art and their devoted but lethal “public service.” But at least Teller, when he wasn’t at the keyboard, told it like it was, to his diabolical mind. Condi is just a liar.

Recently, for example, our Secretary of State was criticizing China for its ongoing military build-up. Not that militarization is ever pretty. But according to GlobalSecurity.org, China’s 2004 expenditures came to $65 billion, while US expenditures that year (Pentagon spending only) totaled $466 billion. And the US population is about a third of China’s.

Meanwhile, US Senator Harry Reid, giving us a taste of the Democratic Party “reform” to come, has been talking about spending $75 billion to upgrade our military readiness. However this proposal may turn out, the message is yet another shot heard round the world: under the “doves,” we’ll end up being as militaristic as ever, or more so.

Forget the Red Army. We have met the barbarians at the gate, and they are us.


Posted by jackbradiganspula at 14:35 EST
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Wednesday, 8 November 2006
Post-election blues and reds
Topic: politics

Here it is, the morning after, and I’m happy to stand corrected.

For weeks I’ve been telling people the Democrats would blow it at the end, that they would fall a few cards short of a full deck in the House. I felt they were foolishly banking on voter revulsion with the obviously revolting Republican Party when they should have been pushing a real program - some kind of new New Deal for this critical time.

As of this writing, however, the Dems have garnered around nine more seats than the 15 they needed to take power in the House - in other words, a dozen more seats than I thought they’d win. Good for them, and for the country, which benefits every time the door slams on another Rick Santorum.

But in the real vanguard for change, things could have been better. I was hoping Malachy McCourt would get the 50,000 votes in the NY gubernatorial race and thus get ballot status for the Greens. As it was, according to unofficial totals in this morning’s New York Times, McCourt got only a bit over 40,000 (and absentee ballots, etc., won’t make up the difference). On the brighter side, Green US senatorial candidate Howie Hawkins got more than 51,000 votes; this indicates a significant antiwar response to the winner, Hillary Clinton.

Too bad insurgent candidates Eric Massa, Jack Davis, and Dan Maffei didn’t whip rightwingers Randy Kuhl, Tom Reynolds, and Jim Walsh, respectively. But Massa, Davis, and Maffei each lost to the incumbent by only 2-4 percent, and this was in what are always touted as “dependably Republican” Congressional districts.

I wonder what would have happened if Massa, a strong and photogenic campaigner, had been running against the politically-weakened Reynolds. Probably Massa would have squeaked out a victory. You’d think the Dems could have found a Massa clone somewhere in the district. Instead, they followed the money in just the wrong way: going with the wealthy, self-funded Davis, a One-Dimensional Man who stood little chance until the Foley scandal eroded Reynolds’ support.


Posted by jackbradiganspula at 11:42 EST
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