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Monday, 26 November 2007
Annapolis - the unspoken issue
Topic: politics

I’d just finished shopping at the Abundance Coop when I ran into an old friend who’s committed to Middle East peace. She made a small gesture and comment about hope. It took me a long moment to realize she was talking about the Annapolis meeting called by George Bush and fronted by Condoleezza Rice – she of the infamous position, uttered as people were dying by the hundreds during last year’s dirty little war between the IDF and Hizbullah forces in Lebanon and Israel, that it was too soon for a ceasefire. I told my friend the meeting was going to be a sideshow, a distraction – at best.

The US media have had almost nothing worth reading on Annapolis; once again, it’s as if their advance teams had signed loyalty oaths at the Naval Academy. But the Israeli press is another story – their editors don’t altogether silence the prophetic voice. For evidence of this, read on:

 

“Demands of a Thief”

By Gideon Levy

Ha’aretz, 26 November 2007

The public discourse in Israel has momentarily awoken from its slumber. "To give or not to give," that is the Shakespearean question - "to make concessions" or "not to make concessions." It is good that initial signs of life in the Israeli public have emerged. It was worth going to Annapolis if only for this reason - but this discourse is baseless and distorted. Israel is not being asked "to give" anything to the Palestinians; it is only being asked to return - to return their stolen land and restore their trampled self-respect, along with their fundamental human rights and humanity. This is the primary core issue, the only one worthy of the title, and no one talks about it anymore.

No one is talking about morality anymore. Justice is also an archaic concept, a taboo that has deliberately been erased from all negotiations. Two and a half million people - farmers, merchants, lawyers, drivers, daydreaming teenage girls, love-smitten men, old people, women, children and combatants using violent means for a just cause - have all been living under a brutal boot for 40 years. Meanwhile, in our cafes and living rooms the conversation is over giving or not giving.

Lawyers, philosophers, writers, lecturers, intellectuals and rabbis, who are looked upon for basic knowledge about moral precepts, participate in this distorted discourse. What will they tell their children - after the occupation finally becomes a nightmare of the past - about the period in which they wielded influence? What will they say about their role in this? Israeli students stand at checkpoints as part of their army reserve duty, brutally deciding the fate of people, and then some rush off to lectures on ethics at university, forgetting what they did the previous day and what is being done in their names every single day. Intellectuals publish petitions, "to make concessions" or "not to make concessions," diverting attention from the core issue. There are stormy debates about corruption - whether Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is corrupt and how the Supreme Court is being undermined. But there is no discussion of the ultimate question: Isn't the occupation the greatest and most terrible corruption to have taken root here, overshadowing everything else?

Security officials are terrified about what would happen if we removed a checkpoint or released prisoners, like the whites in South Africa who whipped up a frenzy of fear about the "great slaughter" that would ensue if blacks were granted their rights. But these are not legitimate questions: The incarceration must be ended and the myriad of political prisoners should be released unconditionally. Just as a thief cannot present demands - neither preconditions nor any other terms - to the owner of the property he has robbed, Israel cannot present demands to the other side as long as the situation remains as it is.

Security? We must defend ourselves by defensive means. Those who do not believe that the only security we will enjoy will come from ending the occupation and from peace can entrench themselves in the army, and behind walls and fences. But we have no right to do what we are doing: Just as no one would conceive of killing the residents of an entire neighborhood, to harass and incarcerate it because of a few criminals living there, there is no justification for abusing an entire people in the name of our security. The question of whether ending the occupation would threaten or strengthen Israel's security is irrelevant. There are not, and cannot be, any preconditions for restoring justice.

No one will discuss this at Annapolis. Even if the real core issues were raised, they would focus on secondary questions - borders, Jerusalem and even refugees. But that would be escaping the main issue. After 40 years, one might have expected that the real core issue would finally be raised for honest and bold discussion: Does Israel have the moral right to continue the occupation? The world should have asked this long ago. The Palestinians should have focused only on this. And above all, we, who bear the guilt, should have been terribly troubled by the answer to this question.


Posted by jackbradiganspula at 16:01 EST
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Sunday, 22 April 2007
That was the week that was - and will be again
Topic: politics

What a horrible week it’s been. Not as bad as one late-winter week in 2003, admittedly – I mean the beginning of Bush’s preventive/aggressive global war – but still pretty dismal.

Tax Day set the tone, along with yet another odd “weather event” of the sort we’d better get used to. I want to make it clear this is no orthodox rant against income taxes, which I firmly support, provided they’re progressive and otherwise fair. No, I’m protesting the use of my tax dollars, the bulk of them, for warfare – mass murder for political ends. April 15 marks my annual guilt-trip about contributing to a system that makes ancient warrior states like Rome look like lost Edens. My pride in being a pacifist is conditioned by the knowledge that what’s happening in Iraq and Afghanistan, and soon perhaps in Iran, is being done in my name.

But more than any other single event, the mass murder at Virginia Tech defined this week. I heard the news kind of late in the cycle, my news-junkie tendencies notwithstanding. So there I was at noon, standing in front of a class at RIT, not knowing that the issues of violence and injustice we were discussing were playing out in real time at another technical college.

As part of a nationwide academic community, such as it is, I was stunned. I thought of the young people I’m privileged to teach. I thought of some professors down in Blacksburg – like the Canadian, a Québécoise, who tried to stop the shooter by barricading the door to her French class and died with most of her students. She was by all accounts a warm, devoted teacher. She was also in the end a hero. So different from the people who ordinarily grab the headlines: miserable cowards and fools like Alberto Gonzales (what a pathetic figure the US Attorney General cut this week in Senate hearings), Dick Cheney (against whom, thank goodness, Dennis Kucinich has started the impeachment process), and Dubya himself (how dare he console anyone while he escalates the murder of Iraqis?).

Then I thought more about Canada, and Australia, and the UK. Already on Monday, voices from abroad were saying the things our own media were ignoring, as usual. Why are Americans transfixed by the “glamour” of guns? asked a US correspondent for the UK Independent. Even Australian leader John Howard, a staunch rightwinger in many respects, criticized Americans for not clamping down on guns; he reminded the world that Australia had responded to a string of gun atrocities, capped by the infamous Port Arthur mass killing, by getting serious about gun control.

Meanwhile, American media and political leaders feed us more crap, for the most part. First, instead of displaying appropriate sensitivity and maturity and simple decency, they indulge in emotional voyeurism, milking the grief that has descended on Blacksburg for everything it’s worth. (And you can bet it’s worth plenty to them, in terms of capturing future viewers and voters.) And second, they impose something close to a blackout of intelligent discussion regarding the gun culture – but give a podium to the gun nuts.

If you don’t believe me, watch the video of Newt Gingrich, former bigmouth of the House and possible future presidential candidate (saints preserve us!), being interviewed on This Week with George Stephanopolous. Gingrich told Stephanopolous essentially that everything would have worked out fine at Virginia Tech if faculty came to class fully prepared. Gingrich seriously suggested that Professor Liviu Librescu, a Holocaust survivor who reportedly used his own body to barricade his classroom door and was shot dead, might have stopped crazed mass murderer Seung-Hui Cho then and there – if only Librescu had been armed.

Of course, Gingrich is a died-in-the-wool brownshirt; you expect the worst from him. But I note that SUNY Geneseo, despite the lack of any palpable threat, just revised official policies so that campus security personnel will pack heat. (The latter had access to weapons before, but now they’ll have them at the ready as they patrol.) Another victory, albeit a minor one, for the gun culture, and for the national obsession with shooting first and asking questions later, if at all.


Posted by jackbradiganspula at 12:29 EDT
Updated: Saturday, 28 April 2007 09:43 EDT
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Saturday, 3 March 2007
It's your money - no, it's the Pentagon's
Topic: politics

The next time you’re challenging some politico or pundit to explain why we don’t have national health care, adequate public housing, decent mass transit, etc., etc., and he (it’s usually a he, in this context) tells you in a George Bushian exasperated tone, “We can’t afford it,” refer the schmuck to the War Resisters League.

Every year as people scurry toward April 15, the League puts out an informative two-page document that tells “Where Your Income Tax Money Really Goes.” My copy just arrived in the mail; you can get a copy via www.warresisters.org.

WYITMRG puts the plain facts on the table, the kind of facts that even smooth political talkers can’t dispute – at least not without making even bigger asses of themselves.

The fiscal 2008 edition of WYITMRG says that out of total federal outlays of $2.347 trillion, with a “t,” fully $1.188 trillion will go for military purposes. (The figures do not include trust funds like Social Security and Medicare, which are funded separately, i.e. not through income taxes. The War Resisters rightly charge the feds with “deception” for presenting a so-called “unified budget” that, by adding in the trust funds, makes the various programs of organized violence seem smaller than they are.)

The $1.188 trillion includes nearly half a trillion for the Pentagon, plus military-related outlays for the Department of Energy (nuclear weapons, @ $17 billion), the military side of NASA, the twelve-figure annual outlay for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and occupations; and a huge outlay for interest due on the portion of the national debt attributable to past wars.

Of course, the most burdensome costs of all this military spending are best measured in lost and shattered lives all over the planet. You could say the people of Iraq have been “taxed” to the tune of maybe a half million lives, just since Bush’s dirty little invasion of 2003. Meanwhile, Americans have “contributed” more than 3,000 men and women. Forget this week’s plunge in the Dow and NASDAQ – we need to fire the broker who gave us the “War on Terror,” surely one of the worst long-term investments ever.


Posted by jackbradiganspula at 14:50 EST
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Sunday, 14 January 2007
Crap from Bush and enablers - but hope from Kucinich
Topic: politics

Sometimes you’ve got to be a Johnny One-Note. And so it is with the illegality of the Iraq War – and with demands that the US withdraw immediately.

As I’ve said here and elsewhere for many depressing months, the US invasion of Iraq was illegal and immoral from Day One – indeed, even before that, since the mere threat of launching an aggressive war, when the threat is backed with the physical means to wage war, violates at least the spirit of international law. And when a nation actually launches an aggressive war, that nation becomes an international outlaw subject to appropriate countermeasures. (Don’t hold your breath; it’ll be a cold day in the globally-warmed future when “coalition forces” of some kind seize Washington, arrest the commander-in-chief and neutralize the weapons of mass destruction in his arsenal.)

But with very few exceptions, politicians and pundits and academics persist in framing the war question as a tactical and strategic matter only. Whether it’s George Bush and his absurd escalation, or the Congressional Democrats offering another path to “success” in Iraq, or media types across the spectrum editorializing about how to extricate our forces from a quagmire (big news: antiwar Senator Chuck Hagel, who’s way to the left of Hillary Clinton on this one, has dubbed it a “bog”), the acceptable range of options still is so pinched that the real issue – that an aggressor state must cease its aggression immediately and unconditionally – can’t squeak through to consciousness. Yet there it is, for all the world to see; and there’s no doubt that most of the world does have its eyes wide open.

So again to quote antiwar veteran and author Stan Goff: “Exit” isn’t a strategy, it’s an order. This country, though its military-industrial fingers have been almost perpetually crossed, has pledged to follow the UN Charter, the Nuremberg Principles, etc. And none of these covenants allow us to keep doing what we’re doing.

Bush is now trying to confound the opposition by demanding that advocates of withdrawal come up with a “plan,” as if withdrawal isn’t more of a plan that his witless “staying the course.” And the Democrats - with party leaders like Hillary Clinton and Harry Reid, and with an agenda that makes them a sort of Junior Chamber of Commerce next door to the Republicans’ Fat Cats Club – will respond with gestures in the House and Senate as their poli-biological clock runs down to 2008.

You can already tell which way the wind and the hot air are blowing by the Dems’ silence on Rep. Dennis Kucinich’s newly announced run for president. How many will get on board with the one true antiwar candidate? Kucinich’s highly detailed withdrawal plan features a relatively quick pullout of US forces and contractors, a regional conference aimed at stabilizing Iraq, an infusion of UN-controlled peacekeepers, actual reparations to be paid by the US and UK, and guarantees of Iraqi sovereignty and control of the country’s oil wealth. (The plan, viewable at http://kucinich.us, has some nice touches of the kind you rarely see from Democratic high officeholders – like a clause about keeping the IMF and World Bank from dictating terms during the reconstruction.)

Let’s hope the past won’t dictate the political future here at home. In 2004, the party and its media enablers scrambled for John Kerry while giving Kucinich a kick in the teeth. Thus they, the supposed realists, set back the cause of peace a couple of years. Talk about a mind-boggle as well as a bog.

 

 

 

 


Posted by jackbradiganspula at 22:48 EST
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Friday, 5 January 2007
Talking through his hat
Topic: politics

In his first address to the state legislature, new Governor Eliot Spitzer showed how much less than advertised he really is. Never mind the “reform” mantra – Spitzer is talking about baby steps that seem geared to preserving the status quo indefinitely.

The centerpiece of the governor's program is supposedly health care reform. He grandly spoke to the Leg about “a comprehensive strategy to restructure our health care system.” But the details show no movement toward that goal.

Instead, Spitzer would do things like these: enroll more eligible people in  Medicaid, extend coverage to a half million now-uninsured children, close twenty or so hospitals statewide, emphasize home care rather than institutionalization when appropriate, and use the state’s bargaining power to reduce drug costs. All okay, considering how bad things are for people now shut out of the system – but certainly nothing like a “restructuring.”

Any program worthy of that term would begin with a state single-payer insurance system, which would cover everyone immediately and comprehensively (and much more cheaply). Single-payer is a classic “elephant in the room.” But now we should rewrite the cliché as “donkey in the room,” since the task of ignoring the obvious solution has now fallen to the ascendant Democrats, both in Albany and Washington.

Intriguing footnote: Today’s Democrat and Chronicle has a story about the City of Rochester’s mistakenly paying out close to $200 grand in health insurance premiums for dead people. It’s tough, say city officials, to keep track of retirees and dependents and remove them from the rolls as they expire. Anyway, now that the errors have been found, the Blues/Excellus will reimburse City Hall for the premiums.

A happy ending? Not exactly. This sort of bureaucratic mess, which would be impossible under single-payer, is what happens every day in the labyrinthine world of health insurance, and we all pay for the waste, most of which is never detected – and most of which winds up in the paychecks and dividends of the profiteers, among whom are the million-dollar Blues execs.

Someday we may even have a governor who goes after these Blues-suited pirates. But for now all we’ve got is Eliot Spitzer and his “reforms.”

 

P.S. and partial retraction: Just after I posted the above, a message came from Metro Justice organizer Jon Greenbaum pointing out a much more progressive feature of Spitzer's reform agenda. The message is below; call MJ at 325-2560 for more information.

"In his State of the State Address, Governor Spitzer told the people of New York that Clean Money Clean Elections is one of his main objectives this year.

To neutralize the army of special interests, we must disarm it.  In the coming weeks, we will submit a reform package to replace the weakest campaign finance laws in the nation with the strongest.

Our package will lower contribution limits dramatically, close the loopholes that allow special interests to circumvent these limits, and sharply reduce contributions from lobbyists and companies that do business with the state.

But reform will not be complete if we simply address the supply of contributions.  We must also address the demand.  Full public financing must be the ultimate goal of our reform effort.  By cutting off the demand for private money, we will cut off the special-interest influence that comes with it.

"Congratulations!!

"Everybody who showed up at one of his campaign stops, sent an email, wrote a letter to the editor, signed a postcard, spoke to a community group, helped with our video- it ALL helped nudge Spitzer closer to taking this courageous stand.

"Now we need to tell our legislators to do the same!" – Jon Greenbaum

 


Posted by jackbradiganspula at 10:43 EST
Updated: Friday, 5 January 2007 12:14 EST
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