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Saturday, January 31, 2009


The ugly face of capitalism

Is there a "pretty face"? I'm sure one can argue there is. But when push comes to shove, this story, from long-time reader and commenter "Sen. Bob," shows what it all comes down to - profits first (and second and third...), people last:
My wife works in a small machine shop in Connecticut...Only two of the woman had health insurance through the company. The other eight women have health insurance elsewhere (S-CHIP or other family plans).

Two women were laid off today - the only two with health insurance. When my wife asked why she was being laid off, the reply was quick, "Because you and her have health insurance and I must reduce costs."
And, I need to add - is this a particularly ugly capitalist? Perhaps, perhaps not. Ultimately, it's capitalism which forces the bosses - the good, the bad, and the ugly - to do this or similar things.

Our sympathies to Sen. Bob, and the millions of people whose names we don't know who are in precisely the same situation...or worse.

TINA - There Is No Alternative...to socialism.

Friday, January 30, 2009


Meet the new flunkies

...same as the old flunkies. I'm sitting here listening to a discussion on Al Jazeera involving Jeremy Corbyn, veteran peace campaigner in the U.K., a woman from Jordan I don't know, and Ann Somerset, a spokesperson for the U.S. State Department. They've been talking about Iraq and Gaza (mostly). Response after response the woman from the State Department could have been replaced by Dana Perino, or Torie Clarke, or any of the series of Bush-era spokespeople/apologists, without the slightest difference (even down to, I hate to say it for fear of sounding sexist, the perky blonde facade).

I just used the term "Bush-era," but in foreign policy at least, there's little doubt that era continues down the road, albeit in a slightly different gear.

Update: Actually, come to think of it, it's probably the same gear. Just a different station on the radio. Although, as this post illustrates, it's a different station playing the same song.


Iran's help to Gaza not the only one blocked

I've written about the 2,000 tons of medical and food aid sent from Iran to Gaza which has been refused entry by Egypt. No doubt apologists for Israel (and Egypt) would claim that this has to do with "smuggling weapons" or the like (although actually as far as I know they haven't even bothered to offer an excuse).

Of course any such excuse would be nonsense. As is proved by the latest development:

The French Ministry of Foreign Affairs said on Friday that Israel had blocked the entry of a water purification station into Gaza, forcing the repatriation of the equipment.

French foreign ministry spokesman Eric Chevallier commented that the Israeli ambassador to Paris was summoned to expound on why Tel Aviv denied Gazans the much-needed system.
Once again, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, who's busy telling the world they're going to start raising money for humanitarian aid for Gaza, and George Mitchell, who's busy shaking hands with butchers, could (in conjunction with his boss in Washington) actually do something to see that that humanitarian aid starts flowing now (like, threaten an immediate cutoff of U.S. aid to Egypt unless the aid is released). Once again, no such luck for the people of Gaza.

Thursday, January 29, 2009


No child left behind...in Cuba

The latest development:
Cuba is the top-ranking developing country when it comes to protecting children’s rights, according to a new Child Development Index (CDI).

The index is constructed from three indicators: health (a scaled probability of death under the age of five), nutrition (the percentage of under fives who are moderately or severely underweight) and education (the percentage of primary-school aged children who are not enrolled in school).

A low score indicates low child deprivation. Cuba’s progress in recent years raised it from second place in Latin America (after Argentina) in the 1990s to first place in the period 2000-06.

While wealthy OECD countries topped the list, the US, by contrast, went backwards. It now ranks 23rd in the world on children’s rights — after Cuba, Costa Rica and Argentina.


Talk is cheap

$20 billion is not. The news is filled with the fact that banks who got bailout money handed out $20 billion (! let's repeat that !) bonuses to their execs recently (i.e., after the bailouts). Both President Obama and Vice-President Biden have been on TV today, blustering about how these people should be ashamed of themselves, this is an outrage, blah blah blah.

Any talk about legislation to do something about it, either specifically (with regard to bailout bonuses) or generally (by raising taxes on the rich)? I must have missed that, although, somewhat surprisingly, Jonathan Alter was just on the Keith Olbermann show (Countdown) talking about precisely that (the former, not the latter). We'll see if that thought percolates through to actual legislators (other than, say, Dennis Kucinich).


Obama: international law doesn't apply to U.S.

Also known as the "Bush doctrine" (Sarah Palin, please pay attention). He said it during the campaign, so it's hardly a surprise, but still it's worth noting the repetition now, albeit from the mouth of his Press Secretary:
"The President believes that we must use all elements of our national power to protect our interest as it relates to Iran."
Which is to say, we reserve the right to attack Iran, even with nuclear weapons, even if it neither attacked us nor Israel for that matter. And, just to make that clearer, Gibbs adds:
"That includes -- as the President talked about in the campaign -- diplomacy where possible."
Nice of him to mention diplomacy, but there are two other things that are part of "all elements of our national power" which are also "included." One is economic warfare, which is already being conducted, and the other is military warfare.


There's no business like it

Shoe business, of course:
"A sofa-sized shoe statue was unveiled Thursday in Tikrit, the hometown of the former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

Baghdad-based artist Laith al-Amari described his fiberglass-and-copper work as a homage to the pride of the Iraqi people.

The statue also has inscribed a poem honoring Muntadhar al-Zeidi, the Iraqi journalist." (Source)


The latest Israeli attack and its significance

Israel yesterday bombed a metal factory in Rafah, claiming it was a "weapons factory." Now, if you didn't know anything else, think about this: Israel bombed Gaza for three weeks. Their targets included universities, hospitals, ambulances, food warehouses, and private homes. Surely, you would think, a "known weapons factory" would be a little higher on their target list than any of those; even a higher target than the tunnels which were relentlessly bombed in the same area (Rafah). Without knowing anything else, you'd have to say that the probability there was a known, as-yet-unbombed "weapons factory" in Rafah is as close to nil as possible.

So how did the media treat this event? The New York Times: "Israel carried out a retaliatory air strike against what the military said was a weapons manufacturing plant in southern Gaza." At least an attribution of the claim to Israel, but no counterclaim from Hamas or any Palestinian. Likewise the Reuters: "Israeli aircraft then struck in the southern Gaza Strip, attacking a metal workshop that the military called a weapons factory." The AP goes them one better: "On Wednesday Israeli warplanes struck Gaza smuggling tunnels and a weapons factory." No attribution, and no ifs, ands, or buts - it was a "weapons factory."

Only Al Jazeera (video not online), who actually has reporters in Gaza, thought to visit the site, and talk to the owner of the factory, who vehemently denies there were weapons being made there (on the grounds that he's a businessman making money and he'd be nuts to let people make weapons in his profitable factory and make it a target), shows what they were making, and, in an angle that is completely missing from most Western media, talks about his 30 workers who are now out of work (the factory was completely destroyed) and the families who now have no source of income.

Was this an accident? Bad intelligence? Remarkably, Time Magazine has a story which helps us understand that this was no accident, but a deliberate policy of undermining the fragile economy of Gaza:

Yaser Alwadeya wanders past a field strewn with the remnants of gaily painted ice cream carts that were shredded by a blizzard of shrapnel. He enters the blackened innards of the Al Ameer factory, which once manufactured Gaza's tastiest ice cream and popsicles. Shaking his head, he says, "I can't figure out why the Israelis thought that Hamas had anything to do with ice cream."

Alwadeya's ice cream plant, which had been owned by his family for 55 years, was far from the only factory destroyed in Israel's 22-day assault on the Palestinian enclave. All along Gaza's factory row — which produced everything from biscuits to cement to wooden furniture — hardly a single building remains standing. It is as if a tsunami of fire had roared through Gaza's industrial district, leaving in its wake a tide-line of twisted metal and smashed buildings.

Israeli attacks...destroyed over 230 factories, according to the Palestinian Industries Federation.
Summing up, Time writes:
Israeli war planners had vowed to destroy the "infrastructure of terror" in Gaza, but even many Gazans opposed to Hamas believe the operation was directed against infrastructure per se — it certainly demolished much of Gaza's economy and its civil society. Nearly 50 schools and 23 mosques were also damaged, as well as scores of government buildings.

Several businessmen interviewed by TIME insist that no militants were taking refugee inside the factories bombed by Israelis. "They're targeting factories to make us dependent on the Israeli economy," claims Hamad.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009


Quote of the day

"Mr Bush has gone into the trash can of history with a very black and shameful file full of treachery and killings. He left and, God willing, he will go to hell."

- Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
Can I get an "Amen"?


More political humor, Iran division

The Guardian reports:
Officials of Barack Obama's administration have drafted a letter to Iran from the president aimed at unfreezing US-Iranian relations and opening the way for face-to-face talks, the Guardian has learned.

The US state department has been working on drafts of the letter since Obama was elected on 4 November last year. It is in reply to a lengthy letter of congratulations sent by the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, on 6 November.
State department officials have composed at least three drafts of the letter, which gives assurances that Washington does not want to overthrow the Islamic regime, but merely seeks a change in its behaviour. The letter would be addressed to the Iranian people and sent directly to Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, or released as an open letter.
You know, if the U.S. really wanted better relations with Iran, they wouldn't need to work on the draft of a letter for three months (!). Nor would the President be talking about Iran's "clenched fist," considering that Iran has not made a single threat against the U.S. (or anyone else), whereas there has been an abundance of threats (not to mention ongoing economic warfare) directed against Iran. Nor would they be replying to a letter from President Ahmadinejad by sending a reply to everyone but Ahmadinejad.

Obama is, readers no doubt remember, the candidate who claimed he would talk to Iran "without preconditions." Pretty hard to believe, considering he hasn't even been able to send a reply to a letter of congratulations on his election for three months.

Update: And speaking of that "clenched fist":

American military force against Iran remains an option, though it would be a "last resort," US Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in response to a question from The Jerusalem Post Tuesday.
That quaint notion that you only get to apply force when attacked? People like Mullen (and Bush and Obama) don't think for a second that it applies to the United States.


The "peace" envoy

In case anyone had any illusions that George Mitchell's mission to the Middle East was going to change anything, the picture at left doesn't even do justice to the video footage I watched on Al Jazeera this morning. It was all smiles and warm handshakes as Mitchell visited Ehud Olmert, the butcher of Gaza.

Mitchell started his visit in Egypt. Any concrete results there? Here's the news from Egypt this morning:

Cairo has officially refused to give an Iranian relief ship permission to unload Gaza-bound humanitarian aid [2,000 tons of medical and food supplies] at an Egyptian seaport.

After weeks of stalling the Iranian aid ship Shahed some 25 km (15 miles) off the coast of Gaza, the Egyptian government expressed opposition to the emergency delivery through the Al-Areesh port, an informed source said Wednesday."
Even the simplest concrete action to help the people of Gaza was out of reach for this celebrated "peace envoy."

Tuesday, January 27, 2009


Capitalism kills

A man who fatally shot his wife, five young children and himself Tuesday had earlier faxed a note to a TV station claiming the couple had just been fired from their hospital jobs and together planned the killings as a final escape for the whole family.
Just an odd story that doesn't tell us anything about the system he was living under? It would be, except for this:
It was the fifth mass death of a Southern California family by murder or suicide in a year.


Political Humor of the Day

U.S. Secretary of War "Defense" Robert Gates says he's "concerned about the level of frankly subversive activity that the Iranians are carrying on in a number of places in Latin America." What are they doing exactly? Well, Gates blusters, "They're opening a lot of offices and a lot of fronts behind which they interfere in what is going on in some of these countries."

Yeah. Don't they know interfering in other countries is our perogative?

In reality, of course, Iran is increasing its diplomatic ties and trade relations with countries like Venezuela, Bolivia, etc., for a rather obvious reason - they're not part of the economic warfare being waged against Iran by the United States and its allies. That's what Gates really considers "subversive."

Monday, January 26, 2009


The video the BBC doesn't want the British people to see

That emergency appeal for humanitarian aid for Gaza that BBC refuses to broadcast? Watch it for yourself:

The video was made when the death toll was "just" "a few hundred," and it is completely apolitical (the word "Israel" doesn't even appear in the script), the power of its images alone is self-evident, making it rather clear why the BBC doesn't want it seen. Reality, in this case, has an anti-Israel bias.

(Hat tip Lenin's Tomb)


Quote of the Day

"Why does the President want to send more troops to Afghanistan to kill people?"

- Helen Thomas at today's press conference
Gotta' love her! Direct and to the point.


Two-state solution, R.I.P.

Leftists have long called for a one-state solution, a "democratic, secular Palestine" to use the standard language. One country encompassing the territory of current day Israel plus Gaza and the West Bank. This has been thought of as a "fringe" idea, only held by leftists. Here, in an astonishing (considering the source) video broadcast on CBS' popular 60 Minutes program last night, reporter Bob Simon presents the reality of the situation - a two-state solution isn't going to happen.

Here's what I consider the most important quote in the video, from Daniela Weiss, who is the mayor of one of the settlements on the West Bank:

"I think that settlements prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state in the land of Israel. This is their goal, and this is their reality."
In case it's not clear, she's rejoicing when she says that, not lamenting.

Likud's Benjamin Netanyahu is the leading candidate to be the next Prime Minister of Israel. We hear a lot about the Hamas charter. Here's what the Likud charter has to say:

The Likud charter continues to emphasize the right of settlement in "Judea (and) Samaria" (more commonly known as the "West Bank") and Gaza,"[2] and as such, brings it into direct conflict with Palestinian claims on the same territory. Similarly, their claims of the Jordan river as the permanent eastern border to Israel and Jerusalem as "the eternal, united capital of the State of Israel and only of Israel," do the same.
One of the issues, naturally is the eviction of settlers. Watch in the video as the Israeli Army evicts nine families from one of the smaller and "most illegal" (because they didn't have a permit from the Israeli government) settlements. The Army uses horses, and pulls people out of their house, which itself is untouched. Then watch the next segment as they evict one Palestinian family from an unpermitted house in East Jerusalem. The bulldozers are there to destroy the house, and the Israeli Army fires live ammunition at the family in a clear attempt to kill them (not "warning shots").

Simon sums up the situation thusly:

"Without a separate Palestinian state, the Israelis would have three options, none of them good. They could try ethnic cleansing, drive the Palestinians out of the West Bank. They could give the Palestinians the vote. That would be the democratic option, but it would mean the end of the Jewish state. Or they could inflict apartheid, have the minority Israelis rule the majority Palestinians."
Mustafa Barghouti follows that quote by informing Simon that apartheid is already in place, an assertion Simon then proceeds to demonstrate in the segment.

Try not to laugh at the end when Tzipi Livni claims that Israel is a "state of law and order."

Here's the video. It's getting a lot of traffic, so you may need to be patient after clicking the arrow to start it.

Sunday, January 25, 2009


Huge jump in Al Jazeera viewership

Must have been those recommendations I passed along to Left I readers:
American viewership of Al-Jazeera English rose dramatically during the Israel-Hamas war, partly because the channel had what CNN and other international networks didn't have: reporters inside Gaza.

Overall, the station's Web video stream saw a 600 percent jump in worldwide viewership during the Gaza offensive - and about 60 percent of those hits came from the United States, according to the station's internal numbers. (Source)

Saturday, January 24, 2009


"Closing" Guantanamo

Barack Obama has issued an order to close the U.S. prison at Guantanamo (not, needless to say, the equally egregious 50-year occupation of Guantanamo itself). The press treatment has been interesting. I've seen headlines reading "Closed!" as if it were already closed, and on CNN an anchor referred to the "imminent" closing of Guantanamo. Really? I don't have children, but if I had a young child precocious enough to understand the meaning of the word "imminent," I'm pretty sure if I promised to deliver a great present "imminently," I'd have a temper tantrum on my hands if a week went by before I forked it over, much less a year.

But what's being overlooked is what's happening. True, one prison is being closed. But the prisoners will, for the most part, either be transferred to other U.S. prisons, or sent to other countries where they'll stay in prison. And meanwhile, in Iraq and Afghanistan (just as in Israel), tens of thousands of people languish in prisons without convictions or even charges, just like the ones in Guantanamo who have become such a cause celebre.

And torture? Yes, the chances are the U.S. will truly be doing away with the most outrageous forms of physical torture, like waterboarding. After all, we're told it's both ineffective and ruining the reputation of the U.S. Two guesses what would be happening if it were considered effective.

But so what? I've never been a prisoner, and never been tortured (if you don't count having to put up with eight years of George Bush), but I have to imagine that as bad or worse than any physical torture is the mental torture of indefinite confinement. Being locked up without charges, without any kind of legal recourse, for years on end - that's torture. It's no accident there have been multiple suicides at Guantanamo, and likely many more at other prisons around the world we don't know about.

Make no mistake about it - proclamation or no, torture of people imprisoned by the U.S. will continue. Because while Obama did issue a call for "legal" interrogations, the underlying policy of imprisoning people without charges remains unchanged.

Perhaps I shouldn't complain, though. Because the policy of murdering people using bombs dropped from drones, people who also haven't been charged with any crime (and, often, haven't even been identified), also remains unchanged.


Economic "logic", part II

The San Jose Mercury News points out this morning in a front-page article the ultimate irony: while Obama is preparing to cut taxes and increase government spending, here in California, Gov. Schwarzenegger is preparing to increase taxes and cut spending, thereby nicely negating the entire effect of the stimulus plan.

The stimulus plan is designed to create jobs. It might, sometime in the future. Meanwhile, people are being laid off from jobs funded by the California government now. Wouldn't it be easier to have a positive effect on unemployment by stopping people from losing their jobs, rather than hoping that something else you do might create jobs sometime in the future?

And in case the magnitude of the problem hasn't hit you, here are the latest statistics, also from today's paper: The (always understated) unemployment rate in California has gone from 4.8% two years ago, to 5.9% a year ago, to 8.4% in November, to 9.3% in December. It's common whenever unemployment changes from month to month for it to change by a tenth of a percent. A change by 0.9% in one month is enormous.

A news segment I watched on BBC a couple nights ago about how the whole world is suffering had a long segment on China, and how its economy too is hurting. China's GDP increase last year? Only 8.8%. Planned economy, anyone?

TINA - There Is No Alternative...to socialism.

Friday, January 23, 2009


Economic "logic"

Republicans are objecting to the proposed stimulus package because, they say, the "shovel-ready" projects aren't really ready, and won't get money into the economy fast enough. What do they want instead? Tax breaks for businesses, of course (as if you didn't know). Which makes no sense whatsoever.

First of all, unlike government, which often "approves" projects but doesn't fund them (meaning that the project is ready to go once funds are available), businesses rarely if ever work that way. They approve budgets once a year (typically), and that's what they'll be doing that year. Any "bonus" money will either go into the bank (or to the shareholders as a dividend), or maybe to buy out another company.

And second of all, companies don't build, say, a new plant, because they have money to do so. They get the money one way or another because there's demand for the products coming out of the plant. Intel didn't just close its last wafer fab plant here in Silicon Valley because they didn't have enough money; they closed it because demand for the products had fallen off. No extra tax break will keep that plant open. The way to stimulate the economy is to do things that will stimulate demand. Tax breaks for business aren't it.

Meanwhile, Barack Obama continues to defy logic himself, making concessions to Republicans despite the fact that the election gave him a huge mandate from the American people, and his party huge majorities in both houses of Congress.


Israel's extraterritorial control of Gaza

The relationship between Egypt, Israel, the U.S., and the Rafah crossing (and its closing) has been a bit of a mystery to me. I know Egypt (the Egyptian government, that is) has its own self-interest in destroying Hamas (and presumably thereby weakening the Muslim Brotherhood which threatens the Egyptian government), but there has to be something more. This article sheds a bit more light on the subject:
Israel to allow Egypt to boost force on Gaza border to fight smuggling

Israel has taken a favorable view of an Egyptian request to increase the force of its border guards along the Philadelphi Route by at least 750 - and possibly as much as 1,500 - according to a senior Israeli political source.

Meanwhile, the head of the political-security bureau at the Defense Ministry, Amos Gilad, discussed the matter of expanding the Egyptian border force with Omar Suleiman, head of the Egypt's intelligence, in Cairo last night.

It is also unclear whether the broadening of the Egyptian border force will become part of the Israeli-Egyptian peace accords, or whether it will be a tacit agreement between the two. If the agreement is to be anchored in a written deal, the cabinet and the Knesset will need to approve it because it will alter the peace agreement of 1979.
Egypt needs Israel's permission to increase the number of its border guards! Astonishing!


How to avoid being charged with war crimes

Don't tell anyone your name:
The Military Censor is applying strict restrictions preventing the media from identifying officers who participated in the Gaza Strip fighting and information about them that may be used in legal proceedings against them abroad. There is growing concern at the Defense Ministry and the Ministry of Justice that Israeli officers will be singled out in a massive wave of suits for alleged human rights violations.
There are, of course, individual actions and some soldiers who are worse than others who should be charged individually with war crimes (or would be, if the Israeli government weren't aiding and abetting them by concealing their names). But all of them were participating in the ultimate war crime, bombing and invading a defenseless people, and the real war criminals live free of any danger (either military or legal) in Jerusalem and Washington.

There is, of course, an easier way to avoid being charged with war crimes. Don't commit them!


Want to help the people of Gaza? Shhh, don't tell anybody.

The Disasters Emergency Committee is a U.K. umbrella group consisting of such organizations as Action Aid, British Red Cross, CAFOD, CARE International UK, Christian Aid, Concern Worldwide, Help the Aged, Islamic Relief, Merlin, Oxfam, Save the Children, Tearfund, World Vision. Radicals all, no doubt. In an almost (but not quite) impossible-to-believe development, the BBC has refused to broadcast their appeal for emergency humanitarian aid for the people of Gaza, something they have done in other situations in the past, "saying it wanted to avoid compromising public confidence in its impartiality."

If only the appeal had also called for aid to alleviate the humanitarian crisis in Sderot, perhaps the BBC could have seen their way clear to broadcast it. Oh wait, there is no humanitarian crisis in Sderot. There is, however an epidemic of inhumanity rampant in Jerusalem. And, evidently, in London as well.


The first blood on Obama's hands

That didn't take long:
Two suspected U.S missile attacks killed 18 people Friday in Pakistan just east of the Afghan border, security officials said, the first such strikes since the inauguration of President Barack Obama.
Some of them are alleged to be "militants," whatever that means. Others? Just some of that good old collateral damage. Move along. Nothing to see here.


But why does Israel kill children?

Ilan Pappe, an Israeli historian who was forced to emigrate to England, provides some insight:
When Pappe was 19, he found himself on the Golan Heights facing the Syrians in the Yom Kippur war of 1973. "I remember the sergeant major telling us that we should kill Arabs young or they'll grow up to kill us," he says. "And that attitude is widespread. That's why tank drivers, F16 pilots or artillery commanders will kill civilians without hesitation. They've been taught to dehumanise them all their lives."


Wiping Palestine off the map

It's not a metaphor, as this report from Britain's Channel 4 demonstrates:


More on Obama on Gaza

A few short comments to add to what I wrote yesterday on Obama's comments on Gaza. First:
"For years, Hamas has launched thousands of rockets at innocent Israeli citizens. No democracy can tolerate such danger to its people."
Leaving aside the specious and acontextual nature of that statement, one has to ask: "No democracy?" Does that mean that kingdoms and dictatorships could tolerate that danger? It's ok to fire rockets at Egypt or Saudi Arabia? Why "democracy" and not just "country"? Don't all countries have the same rights under international law?


"As part of a lasting cease-fire, Gaza's border crossings should be open to allow the flow of aid and commerce, with an appropriate monitoring regime, with the international and Palestinian Authority participating."
Some people (including me!) have written that "Obama called for the crossings to be opened." Not true. Obama called for the crossings to be opened as part of a lasting cease-fire, something which Israel has already ruled out. So despite his talk about the "substantial suffering and humanitarian needs in Gaza" (something which of course has been going on for years without Obama commenting publicly on it), and despite his claim that "our hearts go out to Palestinian civilians who are in need of immediate food, clean water, and basic medical care," that heartfelt concern for those immediate needs doesn't produce a call for an unconditional and immediate opening of the crossings, but rather some uncertain future opening, dependent on events which are unlikely to happen.

And finally:

"The United States will fully support an international donor's conference to seek short-term humanitarian assistance and long-term reconstruction for the Palestinian economy. This assistance will be provided to and guided by the Palestinian Authority."
Obama well knows that the Palestinian Authority has no presence in Gaza, and that funneling not just long-term reconstruction but even short-term humanitarian assistance through the PA pretty much guarantees that it isn't going to happen in the short-term.

Thursday, January 22, 2009


So much for a permanent ceasefire

Israel vows to continue the oppression of the people of Gaza:
Israel has all but ruled out fully reopening border crossings with the Gaza Strip as long as Hamas rules the enclave or stands to benefit from easing of the restrictions, a top adviser to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said.
In his talk today, Barack Obama did call for an opening of the border crossings. Will be back up that call with any deeds, like cutting off aid to Israel until Olmert changes his tune? Right.


For those who think I single out Israel for criticism...

...some equal time for another wholesale butcher of civilians:
A human rights group says foreign troops stationed in Afghanistan are responsible for more than a quarter of the civilian deaths in 2008.

The Kabul-based Afghanistan Rights Monitor (ARM) said Wednesday that out of a total of 4,000 civilians killed in the conflict last year, 1,100 were killed by US and NATO troops or operations.
I hasten to add that, just as in Gaza, all the deaths are unacceptable crimes, not just those of "civilians," because they are all the result of occupations. The occupied have a right to resist by any means necessary, and the occupiers have no rights whatsoever.


The long reach of the blockade of Cuba

The latest manifestation of the reach of the economic blockade the U.S. maintains on Cuba:
Recently, Chilean consumers stormed the liquor section of dozens of supermarket locations throughout Chile, snatching all the Cuban rum they could buy.

The reason for the rum rush: Wal-Mart is coming to town, and it refuses to sell Cuban products.

On Dec. 23, the giant U.S. retailer made a bid to control all the shares of D&S, the company that owns Supermarket Lider, Chile's largest supermarket chain. The deal is due to be finalized Jan. 22.

Even before the deal was finalized, D&S announced that it would stop selling more than 40 products from countries subject to U.S. embargo or blockade, including the popular Cuban rum, in line with Wal-Mart's strict compliance with the U.S. blockade of Cuban products.
For 17 consecutive years, the world has condemned the extraterritorial nature of the U.S. blockade, as exhibited here, most recently by a vote of 185-3 in the U.N. General Assembly. For 17 consecutive years, the U.S. has raised its middle finger to the world.


Today's non-political moment of irony

I recently mentioned my TV's self-destruction and the purchase of a replacement. I didn't mention I purchased it at Circuit City. That was before the announcement they were going out of business and closing all their stores. Today, after that announcement, I got a letter in the mail from them. Trying to get me to fork over either $150 or $225 for a 3- or 5-year extended warranty.

Nice try.


Same as the old boss

Obama today:
"Hamas must meet clear conditions: recognize Israel's right to exist; renounce violence; and abide by past agreements."
When do you suppose Obama and the United States will demand that Israel recognize Palestine's "right to exist"? When do you suppose they'll demand that Israel "renounce violence"? When will they demand that Israel abide by resolutions of the U.N. Security Council dating back decades?


The big nuclear lie...again

Last night, Jon Stewart's guest was New York Times chief Washington correspondent, David Sanger, discussing his new book, "The Inheritance - the world Obama confronts and the challenges to American power." One guess what the very first "challenge" he mentioned was - "The Iranians are building nuclear weapons" (that's a direct quote from Sanger, and, as with every other newsperson, real or fake, no challenge to that assertion was forthcoming from Stewart).

Not "working on a nuclear program". Not "potentially developing a nuclear weapon." No, "building nuclear weapons." What will it take to drive a stake through the heart of this lie that will not die?

Not to be forgotten is that both the new President and the new Secretary of State have fully embraced this lie, even after the release of the National Intelligence Estimate which stated that no such program exists.


Some of that change you can believe in

Barack Obama has just appointed Richard Holbrooke as a special envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan.

From Wikipedia (with links there to the original source material):

In August 1977, then Assistant Secretary of State Richard Holbrooke traveled to Indonesia to meet with Suharto in the midst of one of the Indonesian military’s brutal counterinsurgency campaigns in East Timor in which tens of thousands of East Timorese were being slaughtered. Holbrooke visited officially to press for human rights reform, however once Suharto was met by Holbrooke, he was praised for Indonesia’s human rights improvements and was told that he in fact welcomed the steps that Indonesia had taken to open East Timor to the West, allowing a delegation of congressmen to enter the territory under strict military guard, where they were greeted by staged celebrations, welcoming the Indonesian armed forces.

Behind the scenes, Holbrooke and Zbigniew Brzezinski played point in trying to frustrate the efforts of congressional human rights activists to condition or stop US military assistance to Indonesia and in fact accelerated the flow of weapons to Indonesia at the height of the genocide.
Holbrooke also played a key role in the breakup of Yugoslavia. A delightful character.


Gaza - those "Hamas militants" were everywhere

Al Jazeera is reporting the current assessment of damage in Gaza - 20,000 commercial buildings partially or completely destroyed, 4,000 homes completely destroyed, and more than 100,000 people homeless. Those "Hamas militants" must have been everywhere to justify that kind of damage. Sure they were.

By the way, those (in)famous incidents of attacks of the U.N. headquarters and a U.N. school? Just the tip of the iceberg. The U.N. is reporting that a total of 53 installations used by the United Nations Relief and Works agency, UNRWA, were damaged or destroyed during Israel's Gaza campaign including 37 schools - six of which are being used as emergency shelters - six health centres, and two warehouses.

You probably won't be surprised that while Al Jazeera is reporting this concrete news, the New York Times main article (judging from the website) takes a different ("it's all about us") tack: "On Palestinian Question, Tough Choices for Obama." The Washington Post does better: "As Constraints on Gaza Ease, New Reports of Misery," actually highlighting some individual atrocities (albeit while noting that they "could not be independently verified") and noting the total damage estimate of $2 billion, but without the shocking and staggering statistics noted above. The Post also reports, as is pretty much the norm in the U.S. press, that about 1300 Palestinians and 13 Israelis died, without noting that of those 13, only 3 were civilians (and about half of the rest were actually killed by Israelis in "friendly-fire"). This may seem like a minor issue, but the difference between thinking that Palestinians killed 13 Israelis and only 3 Israeli civilians is, to state the obvious, to imply that Palestinians killed four times as many Israeli civilians as they actually did.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009


Meet the new boss...

and, as Jon Stewart demonstrates, (almost) the same as the old boss:

For the record, and I'm not accusing Jon Stewart of this but many others, if I hear the phrase "clean break" as in "Obama represents a 'clean break' from the Bush administration" one more time, I'm going to spit. It has about as much validity as the phrase that occupies first place in the museum of retired phrases, "honest broker."

I still have no desire to deconstruct the entire Inaugural address, but permit me to comment on just one phrase which hit me the second or third time I heard it:

"Nor is the question before us whether the market is a force for good or ill. Its power to generate wealth and expand freedom is unmatched, but this crisis has reminded us that without a watchful eye, the market can spin out of control — and that a nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous."
First of all, while "the market" certainly does generate wealth (for some, at least), the idea that a "coequal function" of the market is to "expand freedom" is utter nonsense, and is part and parcel of the phony imperialist idea that U.S. foreign policy is about "spreading democracy" when in fact it is about spreading the scope of economic exploitation, no more, no less. Second, the idea that it's just the lack of a "watchful eye" that prevents the market from "spinning out of control" is both theoretically wrong and ahistorical as well. The reasons why capitalism experiences periodic recessions were explained by Marx 150 years ago, and have nothing to do with the presence or absence of a "watchful eye." And third, that little word "only" is rather telling. He could have easily said, "a nation cannot prosper long when it favors the prosperous." Could have, but didn't. Because he has no intention of ending the favors for the prosperous, and won't be headed for a second term if he does.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


A simple question (or two)

Can anyone now doubt, having witnessed Israel's willingness to use both powerful and grotesque weapons in the slaughter of more than 1300 virtually defenseless Palestinians, the danger to the world posed by the 200 nuclear weapons in Israel's arsenal? Is there anything other than their fear of nuclear fallout reaching their own citizens that would prevent Israel from using its weapons in its "defense"?

And wouldn't it be nice if Barack Obama had Israel in mind when he said this today:

"With old friends and former foes, we will work tirelessly to lessen the nuclear threat."


Israel's alternate reality

The latest figures say more than 1300 Palestinians were slaughtered by Israel during its war on Gaza. I haven't seen the breakdown of that figure, but when the figure was 1200, it included 415 children, 110 women and 115 elderly people.

Now along comes Israel with their alternate reality:

Approximately 500 Hamas militants were killed in the operation, Israeli estimates state, and...the IDF also killed hundreds of militants belonging to various armed factions and militias.
Pretty amazing how the IDF can not only identify an adult male as a "Hamas militant", but can even distinguish them from "militants belongs to various [other] armed factions." Also amazing how they didn't kill a single adult male who was a civilian, plus, I can only assume, they correctly identified some of those children, women, and elderly as Hamas militants as well.


By the way, I don't really believe this figure either, but Hamas claim that exactly 48 of their militants were killed. That seems hard to believe, but it surely is closer to the truth than the preposterous claims coming out of Israel.


Free speech on parade


The entire inauguration parade route, completely devoid of signs. No one was expecting a huge Bush-like protest, with "Stop the War" signs. One or two might have done. But not even an "Obama we love you" sign. Not a "Hope" or "Change" sign. Nothing. The voice of the people? Fine as long as it's cheering. Anything else? Take it elsewhere. Preferably far away, out of sight.


Jon Stewart and Al Jazeera

Last night Jon Stewart interviewed Al Jazeera Washington bureau chief, Abderrahim Foukara. In the course of the interview, they talked several times about the very different images one sees of Gaza (or Iraq or Afghanistan for that matter) on Arab TV like Al Jazeera or on American TV - the reality of death and destruction on Arab TV, a strictly whitewashed view on American TV. Stewart "explained" or "excused" this by saying, and he was 100% serious, "American audiences are not big on gore."

This conversation followed shortly after an advertisement for "Saw V," one of the goriest movies around.

No, Jon, American audiences are fine with gore. It's the American ruling class which doesn't even want us to see flag-draped coffins returning from Iraq, much less hundreds of mutilated bodies of dead Palestinians. That absence is one more tool in their arsenal to maintain American support for America's murderous foreign policy, and they won't give it up lightly.

Since I'm on the subject of Al Jazeera, first I have to mention how grateful I am that I recently discovered the ability to watch Al Jazeera over the Internet on Livestation. And it isn't just Gaza and Middle East issues like that. Right now, for example, Al Jazeera is broadcasting the Obama inauguration, not with clowns like Chris Matthews you'd see on CNN or MSNBC, but with Robert Fisk, Naomi Klein, Hannan Ashrawi, and others. People with real knowledge. What a concept.

But why do I have to watch it on the Internet? It so happens that about a month ago my old TV gave up the ghost, and the repair shop informed me that parts were no longer available to fix it, so a new TV was in order. Naturally, given the times, the new one I bought was an HD version, and in conjunction with that, I finally upgraded to digital cable (actually, for six months, at a lower price I had been paying). Now I only have the basic package, but even with that I get all sorts of things I wasn't getting before, and from the listings I can see the dozens and dozens of stations I have access to if I want to pay for it. And there are plenty of "holes." The stations go from 1 to 999, and there aren't 999 channels being broadcast. There's plenty of room for one more station, and there are all sorts of niche channels which surely have smaller audiences than Al Jazeera would have.

So why isn't Al Jazeera being carried by my local service (Comcast)? It can't be money, since Al Jazeera is making their content available for free on the Internet. No, there can only be one explanation - a conscious decision to exclude them from the airwaves. Indeed, there are only a handful (or fewer) of cable operators in the entire country carrying Al Jazeera. This article from 2006 claims that four New York cable providers had all decided against carrying Al Jazeera on the completely specious grounds that "With so many news shows on the air already, they claim, Al Jazeera doesn’t add much to the media mix."

The truth lies elsewhere, as anyone watching Al Jazeera even for a few days can plainly see.


Israel's intentional targeting of civilians

Jonathan Cook adds some key information to the thesis I advanced the other day about Israeli's intentional targeting of civilians:
The general devastation, far from being unfortunate collateral damage, has been the offensive’s unstated goal. Israel has sought the political, as well as military, emasculation of Hamas through the widespread destruction of Gaza’s infrastructure and economy.

This is known as the “Dahiya Doctrine”, named after a suburb of Beirut that was almost levelled during Israel’s attack on Lebanon in summer 2006. The doctrine was encapsulated in a phrase used by Dan Halutz, Israel’s chief of staff, at the time. He said Lebanon’s bombardment would “turn back the clock 20 years”.

The commanding officer in Israel’s south, Yoav Galant, echoed those sentiments on the Gaza offensive’s first day: the aim, he said, was to “send Gaza decades into the past”.


Meet the new boss, (almost) the same as the old boss

Best line in Obama's inauguration speech:
"We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus — and nonbelievers."
Yea! I got mentioned! Although the Zoroastrians must be feeling dissed.

Worst line:

"For us, they fought and died, in places like Concord and Gettysburg; Normandy and Khe Sahn."
"Khe Sahn"? Fought and died for the ruling class, maybe (although, frankly, arguable). Fought and died for "us"? Hardly. Well, I suppose I should be thankful he didn't include Baghdad and Kabul in the list.


Taking out the trash

Monday, January 19, 2009


More media covering for Israel

In today's AP coverup:
In a sign of lingering tension, Israeli warships off the northern Gaza coast fired sporadic rounds of heavy bullets at beaches through the afternoon.
"A sign of lingering tension"? How about "a sign that Israel has no intention of respecting its own ceasefire, and continues to act against the people of Gaza without provocation"?

What, too wordy?


What's up with "national service"?

Barack Obama says of Martin Luther King: "King's was a life lived in loving service to others. As we honor that legacy, it's not a day just to pause and reflect — it's a day to act." Really? I though MLK lived a life of fighting against racism, discrimination, war, and economic inequality.

Do we really need more people working for free in the U.S.? How about more people working and getting paid for it? Joe Biden, for example, was volunteering helping to build houses today. But the problem in the U.S. isn't a lack of houses, it's a lack of people who can afford to buy or rent them! There are enough empty houses to house all the homeless people in America! And if there are places (like New Orleans) where there is a crying need to "rebuilding America," surely that's the perfect place for an economic stimulus plan to pay them to do so.

As far as the rest of "rebuilding America," again it isn't houses which is the crying need, it's refurbishing and building infrastructure - roads, bridges, mass transit, etc. - hardly jobs for volunteers.

King has already been sanitized by wiping out the memory of his famous "Beyond Vietnam" speech. Do we have to now add to that by wiping out his legacy of fighting racism and other injustice as well?


Disgusting Quote of the Day

Mega-millionaire news commentator Andrea Mitchell (and wife of economic charlatan Alan Greenspan) on MSNBC, praising Barack Obama for his stated intention of taking on "entitlement reform" and declaring that "we" would all have to consider how much of our health care and other entitlements "we" would have to sacrifice in the short-term to ensure the long-term health of the economy.

How about we start that sacrifice with you, Andrea?


Irony alert

Yesterday, a columnist at the Huffington Post was complaining about how the Presidential Inauguration Committee had sold the exclusive rights to yesterday's concert to HBO. She didn't know the half of it, though. The concert was brought to a close with a duet of Pete Seeger and Bruce Springsteen singing the song I had been hoping for, "This Land is Your Land," the song written by Woody Guthrie as an answer to Irving Berlin's "God Bless America," but which is usually made palatable by singing only the first verses about the redwood forests and the Gulf Stream waters. But imagine my surprise when they sang not only a verse many of us probably know, a verse which appears in the version sung by Odetta and Arlo Guthrie on the must-have album "A Tribute to Woody Guthrie," but two more verses I wasn't familiar with:
As I went walking I saw a sign there
And on the sign it said "No Trespassing."
But on the other side it didn't say nothing,
That side was made for you and me.

[The lyrics sung by Seeger and Springsteen to that verse were a bit different:

A great high wall there that tried to stop me;
A great big sign there said private property;
But on the other side it didn't say nothing;
That side was made for you and me.]

In the shadow of the steeple I saw my people,
By the relief office I seen my people;
As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking
Is this land made for you and me?

[Seeger version:

In the squares of the city, by the shadow of the steeple,
By the relief office, I saw my people,
As they stood there hungry, I stood there whispering,
This land was made for you and me]

Nobody living can ever stop me,
As I go walking that freedom highway;
Nobody living can ever make me turn back
This land was made for you and me.
Was Obama listening to those verses about "private property" and the "relief office"? I don't know, but we know HBO wasn't. A video of that song from the concert was briefly posted on YouTube. It has now been removed for copyright violation (although no doubt if you search you'll find it somewhere on the web).

Update: Courtesy of the comments, the version recorded by a non-U.S. station:

Sunday, January 18, 2009


Here come the trolls!

Keep an eye out:
Israel recruits 'army of bloggers' to combat anti-Zionist Web sites

The Immigrant Absorption Ministry announced on Sunday it was setting up an "army of bloggers," to be made up of Israelis who speak a second language, to represent Israel in "anti-Zionist blogs" in English, French, Spanish and German.
As if there aren't enough Israeli apologists running around already. Ugh.


George Galloway speaks

Another speech making those of us in the U.S. long for some decent politicians and orators:

I'd just like to reproduce here a part of the text of the speech which I think will be something that many people aren't aware of:

"Many members of Parliament have been in Sderot. Did any of them, when they were there, see the ruins of the Palestinian villages on which Sderot is built? The ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people of Sderot to the south of Israel? Did any of them know that the refugee camps of Gaza are filled with the people who used to live in the villages on which Sderot is now built? This didn't start on the 27th of December."


What was (is) Israel's purpose in assaulting Gaza?

With a temporary lull in Israel's assault on Gaza, and, as predicted, dozens if not hundreds of bodies being pulled from the rubble, it's an appropriate time to ask, what was the purpose of this assault? Israel claims it was to "stop rocket firing," and no doubt they did attempt to destroy smuggling tunnels and kill some Hamas fighters. But the current totals of dead - 1206 Palestinians including 415 children, 110 women and 115 elderly - not to mention the targets of the attack - hospitals, schools, UN headquarters, food warehouses - have to cause one to question more deeply. More than 50% of the dead were civilians not including a single adult male, meaning that the real civilian casualties are probably in the 75% range at least. Tens or hundreds of thousands of civilians are homeless, their homes having been demolished by Israeli attacks. Such things do not happen by "accident," and they don't happen because Hamas militants just "happen" to be firing rockets or conducting sniper attacks from inside or nearby such targets. They happen deliberately.

No doubt some of the time Israeli tanks were indeed firing at snipers etc. But one has to think about that. Who picked the battlefield? Hamas snipers don't fire at people in Sderot. Hamas snipers and other fighters were resisting the invasion of their land, and of course they have to do so by being in the same place as the invaders. So when a tank was in position to fire at a Hamas militant in front of, say, a school (if indeed that ever happened), it happened because the tank came to the school in the first place (and, obviously, because the tank entered Gaza in the first place).

As an aside, I mentioned above the destruction of some of the smuggling tunnels, and no doubt those tunnels have been used to smuggle in weapons to Gaza. But they have also, and primarily, been used to smuggle in vital goods including food and fuel into Gaza, and have formed a vital part of the thin line keeping Gazans alive. Their destruction can also be seen as part of a strategy to increase the pain on the civilian population.

In the end, one can only conclude that the destruction of civilians and civilian infrastructure was a deliberate result of, and indeed goal of, the invasion. Of course this can't be proved without the secret minutes of the Israeli cabinet. But it is a reasonable conclusion, and that conclusion isn't just based on the results. We have to recall that for nearly two years prior to the assault, ever since the election of Hamas, making civilians suffer ("putting them on a diet" in the arrogant and infamous words of Olmert adviser Dov Weinglass) has been a proudly stated policy of Israel. And, we must note, that policy, while enforced on the ground by Israel, has been aggressively seconded and promoted politically at the U.N. and around the world by the U.S., U.K., and their allies.

But after nearly two years, and more than 241 Palestian patients (and probably a lot more) dead directly as a result of the Israeli seige and the unavailability of medicine and/or medical care (and, of course, far more pain experienced by the Palestinian population beyond that one statistic, thanks to the wholesale destruction of the Palestinian economy caused by the blockade), that diet had succeeded in punishing the Palestinian people almost beyond belief, but hadn't done a thing to dent Hamas' popularity. It was time to escalate the pain, and make the Palestinian people really suffer, and die, in the hope that that would finally push Hamas from power and enable the installation of a pliant client like Abbas who would be willing to finally agree to humiliating terms for a two-state settlement, with the wall, Israeli-only roads, checkpoints, etc. remaining in place in the West Bank, along with all the major settlements and probably many of the minor ones as well, sacrificing only the "illegal" (as if they aren't all illegal) "outposts." And even if the result wasn't/isn't immediate in terms of ousting Hamas, now there is speculation that all the rebuilding money (such as it will be, doled out with an eyedropper) will be funneled through Fatah and the PA, thus supposedly ingratiating themselves to the population of Gaza.

Is this a strategy likely to succeed? I would say it's highly unlikely. So why did the Israelis pursue this strategy? Because they had no better option.

That's what I think. How about you?

Saturday, January 17, 2009


Israelis as Nazis

Some think that comparing anything to the Nazis is beyond the pale. Often it is. But that doesn't mean that all such comparisons are completely invalid.

In the video below, British Labour MP Sir Gerald Kaufman, a Jew whose family fled Poland to escape the Nazis, delivers a powerful speech in which he compares the actions of Israeli troops in Gaza to the Nazis, takes note of the hypocrisy of Tzipi Livni who says she won't talk to terrorists yet is the daughter of a terrorist and the Foreign Minister of a country founded on terrorism, and calls for an arms embargo on Israel:

And here, in a photo montage I'll just link and not reproduce here, Norman Finkelstein attempts to prove that "the grandchildren of Holocaust survivors from World War II are doing to the Palestinians exactly what was done to them by Nazi Germany." Quantitatively, obviously not. But qualitatively? Look at the pictures and you be the judge.


Covering for Israeli war crimes

Two days ago (I think, it's hard to keep the days straight between the non-stop atrocities and the time difference) the Israelis shelled the U.N. headquarters. As it ran, the story was accompanied by the usual Israeli excuse: the AP reported that "Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Hamas militants opened fire from the U.N. compound." John Ging, the UNWRA chief who was actually in the compound at the time, denounced that claim as "nonsense." Ging's rebuttal actually did make its way into the article...a full fourteen paragraphs later, although elementary journalism would place it in the very next sentence, or even in the same one, separated by a comma.

What are the consequences of this "error"? As that article appeared in my local paper, the San Jose Mercury News, it ended five paragraphs before the Ging denial, allowing Olmert's specious claim to stand unchallenged. Likewise for the TV coverage I saw, which mentioned the Israeli claim, but not the obviously more credible denial from the U.N. (not, I note for emphasis, from Hamas or Palestinians but the U.N., and in particular a senior U.N. person on the scene).

But, believe it or not, it isn't just sins of omission which we see covering for Israeli war crimes. There are even sins of commission, like this one about the Israeli shelling of a hospital.

Two days ago I wrote:

As I write this, you'll find this story from AFP and Al Jazeera. Not a word on CNN, MSNBC, AP, etc. No doubt they're waiting until they have a chance to get the official "there were Hamas militants firing at us from inside" statement from the Israeli government to accompany their article.
Did the press wait, as I predicted, until they had an Israeli "excuse"? Not quite:
Israeli officials declined to comment. In the past, the Israeli army has accused Hamas militants of putting people at risk by either firing from densely populated areas or using civilians as human shields.
No need for the Israelis to make excuses; the press will do it for them! Unbelievable.

Meanwhile, the story du jour is that of the Palestinian doctor who works in an Israeli hospital whose house in Gaza was shelled and three daughters killed. It's a big story because he was one of the few Palestinian voices being heard on Israeli TV, and his phone conversation with the on-air anchor reporting the attack led to an extraordinary intervention by Israel to send a ambulance, open the crossing, and get one of his remaining injured daughters to an Israeli hospital to be saved. How wonderful. When do the other 5000+ equally deserving injured get the same consideration?

Why do I mention this? Because the Israeli excuse in this case is that a sniper was firing at the Israeli invaders from the doctor's house. And, as far as I know, I am the only writer to call attention to the fact that this is precisely what Israelis do routinely, without ever (except here) being accused of "hiding behind civilians." The fact that Israelis hide behind civilians? As far as I know, it has yet to be noted in the Western media.

Of course, I should note in passing, Israelis hide behind Palestinian civilians, not Israeli civilians, thus ensuring that if a completely justified (according to their logic) counterattack on their sniper position occurred, it would be Palestinian civilians to die, not Israelis.


Iran's nukes (again)

Hillary Clinton, in her confirmation hearing:
"We must also actively pursue a strategy of smart power in the Middle East...that effectively challenges Iran to end its nuclear weapons program.
Susan Rice, in her confirmation hearing (PDF):
"Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear weapon will continue to demand the urgent attention of the UN Security Council."
Nicolas Sarkozy, yesterday:
"Everyone knows (Iran's nuclear program) has no civilian end purposes."
It might help if all of those people, and Barack Obama as well, would pay attention to outgoing CIA Chief Michael Hayden and the IAEA:
The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) says there is no evidence that proves Tehran is edging towards developing nuclear weapons.

Departing CIA Director Michael Hayden said Thursday that the Islamic Republic's production of low-enriched uranium does not necessarily substantiate an Iranian objective to build atomic weaponry.

He said that even if the country does gain the capability to create highly enriched uranium, still there is no “clear proof” that Iran will use the material to fuel a nuclear warhead.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which has extensively monitored Iran's nuclear work since 2003, said in its latest report that it could not find any 'components of a nuclear weapon' or 'related nuclear physics studies' in the country.


Change we can believe in

Bolivia is seeking to take Tel Aviv to International Criminal Court over the brutal atrocities the Israeli forces have committed in Gaza.

The Bolivian president Evo Morales told a group of diplomats in the administrative capital of La Paz that he will request the International Criminal Court (ICC) to file genocide charges against Israeli President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
There is, of course, this problem:
Israel and its closest ally, the United States, are not among the 108 signatories of the Rome Statute creating the Hague-based court in 2000 to investigate and prosecute war crimes.
Not that, even if they were and even if they were convicted, they stand any more chance of facing punishment for their crimes than do George Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld et al.

Thursday, January 15, 2009


"Massacre", "Genocide", and "Holocaust"

A discussion on another blog turned to the discussion of Jenin, a previous Israeli massacre of Palestinians which defenders of Israel like to insist really wasn't a massacre, because there were fewer people slaughtered by the Israelis than were initially reported. Of course the same discussion occurs again as to how to characterize the current death toll. So I'd just like to rerun something I wrote years ago:
Massacre: "The act or an instance of killing a large number of humans indiscriminately and cruelly." How many is a "large number"? Perhaps the most famous "massacre" on American territory, the Boston Massacre, involved the killing of five men by British soldiers. The equally famous St. Valentine's Day Massacre involved the killing of seven men. What makes these events a "massacre" is their one-sided nature; the fact that the people killed were not fighting back, but were simply gunned down in cold blood.
At least 400, and probably many more, unarmed Palestinians have now been slaughtered in Gaza. If that doesn't qualify as a "massacre," I have no idea what does.

Is it "genocide"? There's a legal nature to that word, which I'll leave alone, since not only am I not a lawyer, but international law is pretty much of a joke anyway. War crimes trials are reserved for the weak and the defeated, while far bigger war criminals walk free. But in a non-legal sense, "genocide" involves the killing of people because of their religion or nationality. Which is precisely what is going on in Gaza right now. If you don't think so, ponder this: the Israelis see (or claim to see) someone firing a rocket from in front of a school or a hospital, and have no compunction about retaliating, hoping to kill the shooter but knowing that dozens of innocent people will die at the same time. Now imagine an admittedly improbable circumstance - a Hamas rocket firing squad has managed to infiltrate Sderot, and fires their rocket from in front of a school or hospital in Sderot. Do you really think for one second that the Israelis would fire on those people, knowing that the dozen or so civilians they would be killing at the same time would be Israelis rather than Palestinians? Of course they wouldn't. Because they value Israeli lives, while to them, the lives of innocent Palestinians are worth nothing. That's genocide.

What about "holocaust"? Well, that's an awfully loaded word historically, and in general one wants to associate it with really large-scale war crimes like the murder of Jews, gypsies, and others by the Nazis or the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, or the firebombing of Tokyo, and so on. Clearly, the death in Gaza doesn't approach that level. But I'll just note one thing - one of the few people to broach that word in conjunction with Gaza was the Israeli deputy defense minister, Matan Vilnai, who said Palestinians risked a "shoah" if Israel were to invade Gaza (this was before the current assault). "Shoah" is the Hebrew word Israelis use to describe "the" Holocaust.


Quislings on parade

Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority security forces, [Palestinians] noted, had stepped up their crackdown on Hamas supporters and figures in the West Bank since the beginning of Operation Cast Lead.

The latest anti-Hamas measures in the West Bank, which are being carried out in coordination with the IDF and under the supervision of US security experts, are designed to foil any attempt by the movement to overthrow the PA.

Earlier this week, Israeli security officials expressed satisfaction with the coordination between the PA security forces and the IDF and Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) in fighting Hamas in the West Bank.


War crimes without end

About 500 people including patients were huddled in a Gaza City hospital that suffered a "direct hit" in an Israeli air strike Thursday, the international Red Cross said, condemning the incident as unacceptable.

In an unusually sharply-worded statement, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said that the situation in Gaza was "completely and utterly unacceptable based on every known standard of international law and universal humanitarian principles and values."

The second floor of the Al-Quds hospital immediately caught fire in the strike on Thursday morning, severely damaging the pharmacy and parts of the building.

Meanwhile, at least one Palestinian Red Crescent warehouse with relief supplies was shelled by Israeli forces on Thursday morning and set ablaze.

The Federation accused Israeli soldiers of firing on Red Crescent volunteers to stop them from putting out the fire.
As I write this, you'll find this story from AFP and Al Jazeera. Not a word on CNN, MSNBC, AP, etc. No doubt they're waiting until they have a chance to get the official "there were Hamas militants firing at us from inside" statement from the Israeli government to accompany their article.


International reaction on Gaza

The "bridge too far" hasn't been crossed, but at least one foot has been set on the bridge this morning:
Britain calls 'indefensible' the Israeli destroying of UN headquarters in Gaza and its laying waste to the much-needed food aid there.

"Today's attack on the UN headquarters in Gaza is indefensible," said the country's Prime Minister Gordon Brown, AFP reported on Thursday.

France and the EU commission voiced similar condemnation.
From the U.S., so far as I can find, crickets. Right now Susan Rice is having a confirmation hearing to be the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. There's no transcript yet, but from someone who is "liveblogging" the event, here's one delightful bit:
11:37. Senator Boxer: how do you convince people at the UN that the situation in Gaza is all Hamas' fault?
Yes, Barbara, that is indeed the central task at hand.

Some think Rice will be an improvement over, say John Bolton. But consider this:

"The goal of our diplomacy at the United Nations must be to make it a more perfect forum to address the most pressing global challenges," she said. The "U.N. sometimes deeply frustrates Americans, and I am aware of its shortcomings, yet all nations understand the importance of this organization."

This understanding, she said, is why countries like Cuba, Sudan and North Korea try to render the U.N. human rights council "ineffective and objectionable."
The U.N. Human Rights Council, with Cuba playing an active role, condemned Israeli aggression a few days ago. Little wonder Rice finds the council "objectionable." Unfortunately, I can't really fault her characterization of it as "ineffective."

Update: Still no transcript, but here's (PDF) a copy of her 8+ pages of opening remarks. Here's the sum total of what she had to say about Palestine:

"It [the importance of the United Nations] is also why many try to use the UN to willfully and unfairly condemn our ally Israel."
"Recent events remind us yet again of the importance of working to help Israelis and Palestinians achieve their goal of a peaceful two-state solution that achieves lasting security for Israel and a viable state for the Palestinians."
She couldn't even bring herself to utter the word "Gaza."

Update: The New York Times reports on the totally reprehensible behavior of the members of the U.S. Senate questioning Rice:

But questions about the fighting in Gaza did not emerge until about two-thirds of the way through the nearly three-hour hearing. The two questions came in the context of what to do to stop Hamas firing rockets into Israel. None addressed the heavy civilian toll, now over 1,000, among the Palestinian population.
Think about that in conjunction with what is happening today, every minute, every hour. It took two hours before anyone even mentioned the subject, and even then it was in the context of "defending Israel." Disgusting.


"Israel doesn't target civilians"

Really? I just saw this little girl on Al Jazeera TV. The article doesn't say, but I'd say she was about 7:
"I saw the soldier standing next to the shop. I looked for my mum and then he shot me. One bullet him my hand and the other went through my back and out through my stomach," Samar, a young girl, told Al Jazeera while recovering from her wounds at a Gaza hospital.
As for the shelling of the U.N. compound, Israel claims it was triggered by "militants inside the compound [who] shot anti-tank weapons and machine guns." The U.N.'s John Ging, who was inside the compound at the time, denounces this claim as "nonsense."

Was it coincidence that this attack destroyed thousands of tons of humanitarian aid? Perhaps. But curiously, that destruction comes on the very same day that Israeli gunboats threatened to fire on the Free Gaza ship filled with humanitarian supplies headed for Gaza, and stopped an Iranian ship also on the way to Gaza with tons of humanitarian aid. Punishing the civilian population, making them suffer, in an attempt to achieve a political end (the removal of Hamas), has of course been the Israeli strategy all along, explicitly stated by Israel, so the extension of that strategy to denying or destroying humanitarian aid would hardly be a stretch.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009


Today's good news

Bolivian President Evo Morales said on Wednesday that his country is breaking diplomatic ties with Israel over its 19-day-old campaign in Gaza, and said he will ask the International Criminal Court to bring genocide charges against top Israeli officials. (Source)
Update: And more:
The UN General Assembly is to convene to debate the Israel-Hamas fighting in the Gaza Strip upon a request by the Non-Aligned Movement.

UN General Assembly Spokesman Enrique Yeves said on Wednesday that Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann of Nicaragua, the president of the 192-member assembly has called for the meeting to be held on Thursday to "send a strong message that the international community is fully in favor of an immediate ceasefire.”
That would be the same Non-Aligned Movement, led by Cuba, which a week ago "strongly condemn[ed] the escalation of the military aggression being carried out by Israel, the occupying power, in the Gaza Strip" and which "reiterate[d] that this unacceptable Israeli military aggression against the Palestinian civilian population in the Gaza Strip constitutes a grave breach of international law, including humanitarian and human rights law," and the same Non-Aligned Movement which yesterday censured Israel for ignoring the UN Security Council resolution adopted last Friday demanding an immediate ceasefire in the Gaza Strip, not to mention the same Non-Aligned movement which two days ago spearheaded the passage of a resolution by the United Nations Human Rights Council condemning Israel's aggression.


The New York Times confuses "embargo" and "blockade"

I've discussed previously the inaccuracy of the term "embargo" to describe the U.S. stance towards Cuba, and the accuracy of the term "blockade." Some, however, object, because the blockade in that case is conducted by laws, not by an encirclement of naval ships.

In the case of Israel's control of Gaza, however, there really is no such cause for confusion, because in that case there is a very real naval presence enforcing a blockade. But, when it comes to a ruling class organ like the New York Times, even that isn't sufficient, as we see today:

The Israeli Navy intercepted an Iranian ship carrying humanitarian aid for people in Gaza, Iran’s state-run radio reported Tuesday.

The Iranian ship was stopped 20 miles off the coast of Gaza, according to the radio report, which also said that the ship, carrying food and medicine, left the southern Iranian port of Bandar Abbas two weeks ago.

The ship did not receive permission to pass through the Israeli embargo of Gaza.
Embargo? From Dictionary.com:


An order of a government prohibiting the movement of merchant ships into or out of its ports.
The isolating, closing off, or surrounding of a place, as a port, harbor, or city, by hostile ships or troops to prevent entrance or exit.
So what do you think? Do Israeli ships qualify as "hostile ships" preventing entry to Gaza, or is Israel just prohibiting the movement of ships into "its" ports? The answer is obvious. Except, evidently, to the New York Times.

Is this mere linguistics? Hardly. A blockade is an act of war. An embargo is not. That's quite a difference.


"New, perhaps different"?

Hillary Clinton, in her confirmation hearing for Secretary of State, lays out some of that famous Obama "change" message when asked about Iran:
"We are not taking any option off the table at all, but we will pursue a new, perhaps different approach."
"New, perhaps different"? I admit, it is possible for something to be "new" and exactly the same; I buy a new half-gallon of milk every week or so, and week after week it's exactly the same. But when it comes to foreign policy, you really aren't allowed to use the words "new" and "perhaps different" in the same sentence. "New" and "different", yes. "New" and "perhaps different", no.


What about those rockets being fired at San Diego from Tijuana?

Ehud Barak started it (sort of) when he said "Think about what would happen if for seven years rockets had been fired at San Diego, California from Tijuana, Mexico." American politicians and pundits have extended the supposed analogy, and mentioned Canada as well. If you think about it for one second, the analogy is absurd; the U.S. has not been occupying and blockading Mexico or Canada for decades. An op-ed by Randall Kuhn in, of all places, the Washington Times, explains at length the absurdity of the initial analogy, and replaces it with an analogy that actually holds water, starting with the hypothetical expulsion of most of the Hispanic, African American, Asian American, and Native American population of San Diego and forcible relocation to Tijuana, and proceeding from there.

Kuhn's only omission is any mention of the other Bara[c]k, Obama, who was widely quoted as saying that "if rockets were being fired at his home while his two daughters were sleeping, he would do everything he could to prevent it," again as if those rockets were being fired out of the blue (no pun intended), with no context whatsoever.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009


"We don't target civilians" and the story of Sodom

Israel repeatedly claims they don't "target" civilians; even Al Jazeera English frequently features that absurd subhead on-screen. Why absurd? Well, to begin with, there are the cases like the Zeitoun massacre where even Israeli spokesperson Marc Regev was unable to offer even the standard "there was rockets being shot from the neighborhood" or "there were weapons stored in the basement" excuses and was reduced to claiming today on Al Jazeera that they had "no information" about the event, this more than a week after the well-publicized massacre in which Israeli troops had herded 100 members of one extended family into a house and then subsequently shelled that house.

But consider even the cases like the U.N. school bombing where the Israelis first claimed (falsely) that rockets were fired "from the school" and later claimed (possibly true) that they were fired "from near the school." But let's assume for the moment their first false claim was true and well-established - Hamas militants had fired a rocket from the middle of the school. Who was the target of the return tank fire which killed 40 people? Was it the one or two militants? Clearly not. The only way you could "target" them was with a sharpshooter, or perhaps with a helicopter gunship hovering overhead. You certainly can't do it with tank fire. In this case, the Israelis hadn't even seen the people doing the firing, only the rocket and its presumed origin. What they were targeting, then, was the school. But the school was filled with several hundred refugees, a fact clearly known to the Israelis. What they were "targeting", then, was one or two militants they hoped were still where they had been (or where they claim they had been) when they fired the rocket, plus several hundred civilians. Were they targeting exclusively civilians? No. Were they targeting civilians? Without question, yes.

Now on to the Bible story. Clearly, the Israelis thought that it was permissible to kill dozens of civilians if they might also kill one or two "bad guys." But what happened in Sodom? Here's Wikipedia's summary:

In Genesis 18, God informs Abraham that he plans to destroy the city of Sodom because of its wickedness. Abraham pleads with God not to destroy Sodom, and God agrees that he would not destroy the city if there were 50 righteous people in it, then 45, then 30, then 20, or even ten righteous people. The Lord's two angels only found one righteous person living in Sodom, Abraham's nephew Lot. Consequently, God destroyed the city.
So what do we, or rather what do Jews who take the Old Testament as the word of God, learn from this story? God thinks it is impermissible to kill thousands of people if it means killing as few as ten good people. But at the U.N. school, the odds were precisely the opposite. The Israelis, the people of the "Jewish State", defend the murder of dozens of innocent people as justified by the death of two "bad people." Not exactly what God had in mind. Or so I gather.

I should note, in fairness to Israel, that U.S. bombing policies in Iraq and Afghanistan follow precisely the same logic. The only difference is that the U.S. doesn't claim to be a religious state in which the word of God plays a special role. Israel, however, does.


Bird of the Day

Have to try to keep a bit of lightness to the tone of this blog. Gotta' love that punk hairdo on the female. (Click to enlarge)

Hooded Mergansers

Female and male Hooded Mergansers


Massacre update

Per Al Jazeera and Xinhua: 971 dead, 311 of them children.

A U.S. attempt to ship munitions to Israel, repeating its collaboration with the Israeli massacre in Lebanon, has been halted by the action of the Greek government, whose port was involved. Needless to say, the U.S. is now looking for an alternative. Wouldn't want the massacre of Palestinians to grind to a halt due to a lack of munitions.

Monday, January 12, 2009


"The only democracy in the Middle East"

Not so much:
Israel on Monday banned Arab political parties from running in next month's parliamentary elections.
The West screams about the lack of democracy when Iran screens candidates and only allows "approved" candidates to run. Will they have anything to say about Israel's actions? No, undoubtedly they'll accept Israel's explanation that these parties were "supporting terrorism"...by holding demonstrations opposed to the Israeli assault on Gaza, not to mention the grievous sin of traveling to Syria and Lebanon.

Not to be forgotten, although it pretty much has been forgotten (just like the other 10,000 prisoners Israel holds and the similar numbers of Iraqis held without charges by the U.S.), is that Israel, those admirable "democrats," is still imprisoning dozens of legally-elected representatives of the Palestinian government.

Sunday, January 11, 2009


Earth to Obama

What planet are you on, Barack? This today:
"And the reason it's so important for the United States to be engaged and involved immediately, not waiting until the end of their term, is because working through the politics of this requires a third party that everybody has confidence [in]."
Yes, the Palestinians are sure to have "confidence" in this alleged "third party" (who is really hand-in-hand with the "first party"). Especially a third party led by a President whose very next answer was this:
"We have a situation in which not only is Iran exporting terrorism through Hamas, through Hezbollah, but they are pursuing a nuclear weapon that could potentially trigger a nuclear arms race in the Middle East."
So not only does Obama continue to lie about Iran's "pursuit" of a nuclear weapon, but he accuses it of "exporting terrorism" to Gaza via Hamas.

And they said Sarah Palin was naive about foreign policy.

Well, perhaps I should be thankful he only talked about "confidence" and didn't claim the U.S. was an "honest broker." By the way, after everything that's been happening on Wall Street lately, how long has it been since there was an "honest broker"?


"There's only one President at a time"

So says Barack Obama repeatedly when excusing his relative silence on events in Gaza. Well, I admit it's only the Vice-President, but why then is Vice-President-elect Biden visiting Afghanistan clearly conducting foreign policy? Do we only have one President at a time, but two Vice-Presidents?


10,000 in San Francisco: "Free Gaza!"

Yesterday 10,000 people rallied at the Civic Center and marched through the streets of San Francisco, demanding an end to the ongoing Israeli massacre. Local TV coverage was reasonably good on four different stations. Below my video of the demonstration, followed by the TV coverage. Click here and here to see the higher-resolution versions of the two. Also a few stills I took are here.

Update: 200,000 (!) in London and 250,000 in Spain.

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