Thursday, November 29, 2012

Left Side of the Aisle #84 - Part 3

Israel's refusal to make peace with US support

There are, as I record this show on November 28, negotiations going on in Cairo to settle specific details of the ceasefire agreement reached last week that ended the latest cycle of death in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Egypt is acting as a go-between for the two sides because Israel and Hamas refuse to deal with each other directly.

During the fighting, 167 Palestinians were killed, most all of them civilians, a good number of them children. That was as against six Israelis, four of them civilians - three of who Israeli authorities say died because they ignored warnings and failed to take shelter. That is a kill ratio of 28 to 1.

In fact, that has been the story for years. In the period September 29, 2000 to September 30, 2012, that is, over the past 12 years, 1097 Israelis, soldiers and civilians together, were killed by Palestinians. In that same time, 6622 Palestinians - over six times as many - were killed by Israelis. More Palestinian children were killed by the Israeli military in that time than the total of Israelis killed by Palestinians.

That's a bit of history, a bit of context, I bet you don't hear on the evening news. Here's another:

Start with the fact that there are two major political alignments among Palestinians: Fatah, which was Yassir Arafat's organization, and Hamas. In 2005 and 2006, the Palestinian Authority held a series of elections in the West Bank and Gaza for offices from local council to the presidency. Israel and the US had been demanding such elections as a precondition to continued negotiations because they believed that Fatah, which they regard as having become sufficiently malleable, would win. But when they happened, the results from the US-Israeli point of view were wholly unexpected: Hamas did quite well, even winning a majority of seats in the Palestinian Legislative Council.

In March 2007, after months of difficult negotiations, Hamas and Fatah announced the formation of a coalition government. The US and Israel flatly refused to deal with or even recognize that government; they had even declared that before the government was formed, demanding instead that Hamas be kicked out of it. Remember, this is a government that came into being as the result of elections with the US and Israel demanded. They didn't care: Their plan failed, their side didn't win, so elections no longer mattered.

In the face of that refusal, the coalition government broke down and a civil war broke out, the end result of which was that Hamas got forced out of the West Bank and Fatah got forced out of Gaza. That is why Hamas is in control in Gaza. Remember what I said last time about the Clock of History? This is the point when the US and Israel want the Clock of History to start with regard to Gaza. The fact that Hamas coming into control was the result of a civil war that broke out with the collapse of a government that occurred at least in significant part because the US and Israel would not accept the results of elections which they themselves demanded is to be shoved down the memory hole, forgotten, ignored. Well, Hamas's position was confirmed by elections that took place this past May and if the US and Israel don't like it, they should recall it was their own narrow-minded, pig-headed stupidity that caused it.

On the other hand, maybe it wasn't so pig-headed and maybe it wasn't so stupid: I'm certainly not the first to suggest that maybe Israel doesn't want peace. Nine years ago I said on my blog that it appeared that every time it looked like some real step toward peace might be taken, Israel undertook some action sure to provoke a response that could be used to justify a bigger Israeli counter and so undermine the chance of change. In that particular case the potential step was that an assembly of the most radical Palestinian groups was considering some form of recognition of Israel, something Fatah had already given. What was the step this time? Something else your mainstream news won't tell you unless you happened to see an op-ed in the New York Times.

It was by Gershon Baskin, co-chair of the Israel Palestine Center for Research and Information and a columnist for The Jerusalem Post who had previously successfully opened a back channel for negotiations with Hamas that lead to the release of a captured Israeli soldier.

If you saw last week's show you know that I blame Israel for this most recent cycle of retaliation, counter-retaliation, and counter-counter retaliation because Israel clearly broke a ceasefire that had been arranged by assassinating Ahmad al-Jabari, the head of Hamas' military, in a rocket attack.

Shortly before his murder, Baskin says, he (that is, Baskin) and Ghazi Hamad, the deputy foreign minister of Hamas, had worked out a draft agreement for a long-term ceasefire, one that included mechanisms to verify intentions and ensure compliance. It even included a dramatic understanding that if Israel had a genuine ticking bomb - clear evidence of people imminently preparing to launch a rocket - a strike on that target would not be considered a breach of the ceasefire.

As Baskin describes it, what had usually happened is this:
The Israeli Army takes pre-emptive action with an airstrike against the suspected terror cells, which are often made up of fighters from groups like Islamic Jihad, the Popular Resistance Committees or Salafi groups not under Hamas’s control but functioning within its territory. These cells launch rockets into Israeli towns near Gaza, and they often miss their targets. The Israeli Air Force responds swiftly. The typical result is between 10 and 25 casualties in Gaza, zero casualties in Israel and huge amounts of property damage on both sides.
Jabari was not willing to give up resistance to Israel, but he - along with other leaders of Hamas - had come to realize the futility of rocket attacks that left no damage in Israel but dozens of casualties in Gaza. Not only was Jabari aware of the negotiations between Baskin and Hamad, he had told Hamad that he was interested in a long-term ceasefire and he would have been the one to enforce it.

On November 14, Jabari was presented with the draft agreement. A few hours later, he was dead. The highest levels of the Israeli government, aware of these contacts, aware of these negotiations, aware of the draft, faced the dire possibility that the military leader of Hamas might agree to a long-term, enforceable ceasefire - and they preferred to kill him.

As Robert Dreyfuss said in The Nation recently,
Israel’s far right, and much of the center, has long acted as if moderate Palestinians were the enemy. To the extent that Israel says it can’t negotiate with the Palestinians, killing their moderate and pro-peace leaders makes it a self-fulfilling policy. Israel thrives on radical Palestinians.
In fact, he adds, Israel helped create Hamas in the 1970s and 1980s as a counterweight to the PLO and Fatah and pulled out of Gaza in 2006 knowing Hamas would come to power there.

And that is the really big thing that you won't hear from your mainstream press, the thing they - along with our political leaders - are effectively forbidden to say: Israel, at least Israeli governments going back decades have not wanted peace; the Israeli government today does not want peace. For years, for decades following the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948, it was the Arab states and then the radical Palestinians who were the obstacle to peace. That is no longer true and has not been true for years. Peace - not tranquility, not horizon to horizon quietude, but peace, recognized borders, trade, commerce, cultural exchanges, reasonable security, peace, is there to be had but Israel, for its own reasons, will not take it.

Its people have become as hard as its government. According to a poll of Israelis published just this week, 59% of Israeli Jews want preference in public jobs for Jews over Arabs. Nearly half - 49% - want the state to treat Jews better than Arabs. Fully a third object to Israeli Arabs having the right to vote even though they are citizens living within the proper bounds of Israel and make up 20% of the population. Some 69% object to giving Palestinians the right to vote if Israel annexes the West Bank. Vitrually three-quarters - 74% - support separate roads for Jews and Palestinians in the West Bank. And 42% object to their children going to the same schools as Arabs. Imagine the outcry if a poll of some other country had reported that 42% of the population objected to their children going to the same school as Jews.

American correspondents in Israel covering the most recent fighting found people offering genocidal statements unprompted. "Push delete on Gaza." "Make it disappear." "Kill them all." In that context, the recent comments of Gilad Sharon, son of former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, that Israel should "flatten entire neighborhoods in Gaza" seems moderate by comparison.

But yes, Gaza. What of Gaza? What's it like there? We have heard much of Israelis in the southern part of Israel living under the threat of rocket fire - what of Palestinians in Gaza living under the threat of Israeli bombs?

For several years now, Gaza has been a huge, outdoor concentration camp. Not like a concentration camp, a concentration camp. Israel imposed a blockade on the area in 2007, essentially imprisoning the people there, and has been choking it ever since. Except for one small border crossing with Egypt, which Israel monitors, Israel controls the whole border of Gaza, including who and what goes in or out. The area is surrounded by an Israeli security perimeter. Palestinians who come with a couple of hundred yards of that perimeter can be - and have been - shot and killed. Israel controls the airspace and maintains a naval blockade. Israel is in control of Gaza's natural resources, power supply, and telecommunications. Israel strictly controls and limits what goods can go in; exports are virtually banned entirely.

Despite some recent economic growth fueled almost entirely by smuggling from Egypt, the UN says that the people of Gaza are worse off than they were in the 1990s and what's more, that recent growth is "unsustainable." Unemployment was at 29% in 2011 and rising, particularly among women and the young. Three in four residents rely on UN food aid to get by. The UN also reports that the coastal aquifer, the territory's only natural source of fresh water, may become unusable by 2016.

According to the UN, the Gaza Strip will not be "a liveable place" by 2020 unless action is taken to improve conditions and basic services there.

Gaza is a society that has been deliberately and consciously reduced to a state of abject destitution, its once productive people turned into aid-dependent paupers. And Israel's intention is to make it worse: Israeli Interior Minister Eli Yishai said that the goal is to "send Gaza back to the middle ages." All this is what's known as "collective punishment" and in addition to being manifestly cruel and unjust it is clearly illegal under international law.

Despite all that, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu can look straight into a camera and tell the bold-faced lie that there "is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza" and accuse human rights activists and relief workers of trying "to provoke and slander Israel's name."

And what is our own government's response to this? The same as always: fawning, groveling endorsement of every lie the Israeli government tells and every crime it commits in support and pursuit of those lies.

Just consider the actions of the US as the latest round of violence in Gaza escalated. The US vetoed a UN Security Council ceasefire resolution on the ground, in essence, that it was too balanced: that is, it didn't put all the blame on Hamas. The State Department publicly attacked a NATO ally, Turkey, for condemning Israeli aggression. The Senate and House unanimously passed resolutions offering full-throated support for whatever Israel was doing and increased military aid is sure to follow. (To be precise, it was not quite unanimous: The House resolution was passed by voice vote and Dennis Kucinich said he would have objected but it came up and was done so fast he wasn't in the chamber at the time.)

And what of our Nobel Peace Prize winner?

The US is "fully supportive of Israel's right to defend itself," Obama declared. "No country on earth would tolerate missiles raining down." Ben Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser, echoed that "Israelis have endured far too much of a threat from these rockets for far too long."

The hypocrisy is hard to grasp, it is so large. Israelis have the right to defend themselves? Okay - why don't Palestinians? Speaking of that, why don't the people of Pakistan, of Afghanistan, of Somalia, of Yemen, of anywhere else that US rockets and drones have "rained down" have that right of self-defense? No, the right of self-defense belongs only to those we support and here that means only to Israel.

In our government and in our media, Israel - with the world's fourth largest military - is never the aggressor. It can't be the aggressor. It is defined as "not the aggressor," defined as the target, as the innocent victim of fanatics, as always "responding," as always and only "defending itself."

It gets even worse. Obama called on Egypt and Turkey to intervene on Israel's behalf. He said he told them that if there is
a further escalation of the situation in Gaza, then the likelihood of us getting back on any kind of peace track that leads to a two-state solution is going to be pushed off way into the future.
Whether that was meant as advice or - I think more likely - as a threat, it is in fact a hideous joke. A two-state solution has been talked about for decades - I first heard about the idea somewhere around 1970. It has supposedly been the goal of negotiations for 20 years now and is still no closer because Israel doesn't want it. So when was a Palestinian state not "way off in the future?" Raising that now, especially at a time when more and more analysts are calling a two-state solution no longer possible in light of the decades of illegal Israeli land seizures and illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank is not even a joke. It's asinine except to the extent it's being a ventriloquist's dummy for Israeli talking points.

Obama also said that peace in the region must begin with "no missiles being fired into Israel's territory." Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reinforced that, declaring that the US’s position that “all rocket attacks must end.” This right after she got Egypt to remove any mention of the siege of Gaza from Egypt's ceasefire proposal, even as something to be discussed later.

Worse than worse? Try this: Something else absent from the final proposal was a requirement that as a part of a ceasefire that Israel halt assassinations of Hamas leaders. In other words, Israel's position, backed by the US, is to say to Hamas "We can continue to murder your officials, to blow them to pieces along with anyone else who happened to be in the vicinity and besides, that's their own fault because they should have known better than to be wherever it was they were at the time, we can murder your officials and you can't do anything about it because if you try to retaliate, that's breaking the ceasefire and then we can attack you."

Meanwhile, the White House said it would “use the opportunity offered by a ceasefire to intensify efforts to help Israel address its security needs, especially the issue of the smuggling of weapons and explosives into Gaza.” Obama will also seek ”additional funding for Iron Dome and other US-Israel missile defense programs,” apparently on top of the $100 million already requested for just that purpose - itself just part of the over $3 billion in military aid the US will send to Israel in Fiscal 2013.

In short, the Israeli - and the US - position is that Israel can murder leaders of Hamas with impunity and continue to degrade the people and destroy the land of Gaza while Palestinians must stand by and do nothing. They must simply allow it to happen because to resist, to defend themselves, to strike back in any way, is to "attack" Israel which will then "defend itself."

And the US will make damn sure Israel has the capability to do it.

You want solutions? I don't have them. There are no easy solutions here. But I'll tell you what should happen in the short term: A long-term ceasefire, a lifting of the siege of Gaza, US support for the Palestinians’ bid for nonmember observer status at the UN, an explicit recognition by Israel of the Palestinians' right to nationhood, and most importantly, a suspension of US military aid to Israel until these things happen.

In the longer run, Israel must face the question: Is it to be a Jewish state or a democratic one? As events and facts such as the poll I cited earlier are showing, it cannot long continue to claim to be both.


Left Side of the Aisle #84 - Part 2

Clown Award: Kill strippers!

Scott Lively is a supposed minister in Springfield, Massachusetts. He gained notoriety by being behind the drive for a bill in the nation of Uganda that makes being gay punishable by death.

Apparently, though, gays aren't his only target for death. There are also strippers.

This past Friday, November 23, a gas explosion in Springfield leveled a strip club and severely damaged several other buildings in the area. Eighteen people were injured.

Lively released a statement saying that for two years, his church services "have included an appeal to God to destroy the works of Satan in this city. We have specifically included the strip clubs in these prayers."

He declared the blast was "the hand of God at work in answer to our prayers."

Remember, other buildings were damaged and 18 people, including nine firefighters, two cops, four gas workers, a water-and-sewer worker, and two other people. But all of that is okay with Lively and, he says, with God - because, well, strippers.

Scott Lively - one of the clowniest clowns I've ever featured.


Left Side of the Aisle #84 - Part 1

Outrage of the Week: CEOs preaching austerity

Contrary to my hopes, I'm not going to get to a long discussion of the so-called "Grand Bargain to avoid the Fiscal Cliff." But since this will be debated for a few more weeks anyway, I still have time. So here I'm just going to repeat what I said last week: It ain't grand, it ain't no bargain, and there ain't no cliff.

However, this week's Outrage of the Week will give you a taste of some of the nonsense being cooked up over this.

Last week, when CBS Evening News wanted to ask someone about what to do about the so-called "fiscal cliff," who did they pick? Why, the CEO of Goldman Sachs, obviously! Who else?

His name is Lloyd Blankfein, and in case you can't tell, he's the one on your right.

They may have picked Blankfein to interview because he's been pushed out there as a point man by this thing called the Campaign to Fix the Debt. It's essentially a bunch of corporate CEOs whose companies have received trillions in federal war contracts, subsidies, and bailouts, as well as special tax breaks and loopholes that virtually eliminate the companies' tax bills and who themselves are paid tens to hundreds of millions of dollars a year - and who are now going to tell everyone else what they have to give up.

You know what that is, I don't even have to tell you: Cut - meaning slash - the programs that help you while maintaining or increasing those that help them. The big three - Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid - are all on the chopping block along with assorted programs of "low-priority spending."

What constitutes "low-priority spending" is not explained, but last spring, House GOPpers showed how they defined the term by what they included in the Ryan budget: It meant, among other things, cut Food Stamps, cut school lunch programs, cut employment and training programs, cut the Child Tax Credit, and eliminate the Social Services Block Grant, which provides services to 11 million children as well as supporting Meals on Wheels and community-based care for the elderly.

On CBS, Blankfein described what in the CEOs minds had to be done: "lower people's expectations. The entitlements, and what people think that they're going to get - they're not going to get it." In other words, the message should be "You're gonna be poor. Get over it."

For example, how to deal with Social Security? Raise the retirement age, cut benefits, cut cost-of-living-allowances. We have to do this, he said, because, after all, "Social Security wasn't devised to be a system that supported you for a 30-year retirement after a 25-year career."

Excuse me? Maybe this should have been the Clown Award rather than the Outrage of the Week. A 25-year career? Yeah, maybe, if you started working at 42. A 30-year retirement? Sure, if the average person lives to 97.

At the same time they are spewing this bilge, the group is pushing for what they call a "territorial tax system" that would exempt their companies' foreign profits from taxation, netting them about $134 billion a year in tax cuts. And another of these bozos, Honeywell CEO David Cote, is saying the corporate tax rate should be as low as possible - ideally, he said, it should be zero.

And don't expect them to be lowering their own expectations or to forgo federal money or pay a higher tax rate on their personal income. Instead, they argue for "comprehensive tax reform which broadens the base - ideally by enough to also lower tax rates."

You do realize what "broaden the base" means, yes? It means people who now do not have enough of an income to owe federal income tax would pay it - increasing revenue enough, they hope, to lower tax rates. So they are bluntly hoping to have the poor pay more taxes so that they will pay less and corporations pay nothing at all.

And if that doesn't strike you as outrageous, I can't imagine what would.


Left Side of the Aisle #84

Left Side of the Aisle
for the week of November 29 - December 5, 2012

This week:
Outrage of the Week: CEOs preaching austerity

Clown Award: Kill strippers!

Israel's refusal to make peace with US support,_2006,_2005,_2005

Monday, November 26, 2012

Left Side of the Aisle #83 - Part 5

Turkey Day tales: The real "First Thanksgiving"

Gather 'round the campfire, kiddies: As a Thanksgiving Day present, I'm going to tell you the true story of the "First Thanksgiving." Now, there have been a number of places claiming to have had the first Thanksgiving, but when we say the phrase, we're all but invariably thinking of an event that took place in what's now Plymouth, Massachusetts in the fall of 1621. So that's what I'm referring to.

The first thing to know, just as necessary background: Remember being taught in school how in the first winter, none of settlers would have survived but for the help of the friendly natives? You still see it; recently saw a reference to the natives' having “saved the Pilgrims from starvation.”

It's not true. They didn’t speak to native until March. Yes, the local natives were both friendly and helpful. Just just not in the first winter. After.

I'll begin by citing a book with the rather ponderous title of A Relation or Journal of the beginning and procedings of the English Plantation settled at Plimoth in New England, by certain English Adventurers both Merchants and others.

It's popularly known today by the less cumbersome name of Mourt's Relation. In that volume, published in England in 1622, there is a letter from Edward Winslow to a "loving and old friend" in England. Winslow was a Mayflower passenger, one of the original settlers of what is now Plymouth. The letter is dated December 11, 1621 and this is quoted from that letter:
Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together after we had gathered the fruit of our labors. They four in one day killed as much fowl, as with a little help beside, served the company almost a week. At which time, amongst other recreations, we exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and among the rest their greatest King Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five deer, which they brought to the plantation and bestowed on our governor, and upon the captain and others. And although it be not always so plentiful as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want that we often wish you partakers of our plenty.
Got that? The thing you need to know, friends, is that that is the only contemporaneous account of the event known to exist. The only other even near-contemporaneous account of which I'm aware was penned by William Bradford, another "first comer," who wrote in the early 1630s, ten or twelve years after the event:
They began now to gather in the small harvest they had, and to fit up their houses and dwellings against winter, being all well recovered in health and strength and had all things in good plenty. For as some were thus employed in affairs abroad, others were exercised in fishing, about cod and bass and other fish, of which they took good store, of which every family had their portion. All the summer there was no want; and now began to come in store of fowl, as winter approached, of which this place did abound when they came first (but afterward decreased by degrees). And besides waterfowl, there was great store of wild turkeys, of which they took many, besides venison, etc. Besides they had about a peck of meal a week to a person, or now since harvest, Indian corn to that proportion. Which made many afterwards write so largely of their plenty here to their friends in England, which were not feigned, but true reports.
That's it. That's all we know. Well, that and the fact that based on other references in those two sources, the 1621 feast took place after September 18 and before November 9. Mostly likely, it was in late September or the beginning of October, as that would have been shortly after harvest. Everything else is based on assumptions, interpretations, and guesswork - some of it informed, some (all too much of it) not.

The first thing to realize is that this was not a "thanksgiving." In the period, a thanksgiving was a religious occasion, a day set aside to give thanks to God for some special and unexpected blessing. Such days would occur occasionally as the cause arose; to plan for one in advance, much less every year, would be regarded as a gross presumption on God's intentions. What this was instead was a very traditional, very secular, very English, harvest feast. It was a tradition that if you had a good harvest, you would have a feast, to which you would invite everyone who had been helpful to you in your fields that year. As the natives had been helpful, they were invited.

True, the settlers didn't have a good harvest - Bradford describes it as "small" - but they had a harvest. At that point, they knew they were going to survive, they could feel confident they were going to make it. Reason enough for a celebration.

As for the eternal question of what they ate, we don't know for certain as nothing is specified. But based on the sources we can make reasonable guesses.

They surely could have had fish, specifically cod and bass. Waterfowl - duck and goose - seems likely and yes, they probably did have turkey (Bradford says "they took many," so they were certainly available). They may have had deer; Bradford mentions "venison," which at the time meant "hunted meat," which of course includes deer. (The deer the natives brought may have been part of the meal, but it's unclear if they were brought in time to be butchered and prepared for the feast or were they later gifts to town leaders as a thank you for having been "entertained and feasted.") Lobster and other shellfish is another possibility; elsewhere in the letter quoted above Winslow mentions that they are abundant in the area - as are eels, of which they could take "a hogshead in a night." (A hogshead is a cask holding about 63 gallons of liquid. Yeah, Winslow was likely exaggerating; he was like that.)

More tentatively, there could have been a sort of pie made from squash from their gardens, sweetened with dried fruit brought from England. Salads made from other stuff from the gardens is a fair bet, too.

To drink it was likely mostly water. In the same letter, Winslow says the barley grew "indifferent good" - i.e., it was a so-so crop - and there is no mention of hops. No hops, no beer. Not much barley, not much ale. So they might have had some ale, or they might have had a little wine brought from England and reserved for a special occasion, but again is was likely mostly water.

So that's pretty much it, kiddies. Not a lot to build a whole mythology on, is it?

Now for the reason I bring this whole story up: Every year around this time, unfailingly, I come across revisionist histories of the event. Years ago in grammar school I, along with everyone, else got fed tales that roused images of noble settlers and savage natives. Now, there are those who want to change that to a tale of savage settlers and noble natives - they want to simply flip who were the angels and who were the demons. We are regaled with tales of bloodthirsty settlers and how Massasoit brought 90 men to the feast because he was afraid that without a massive show of force he would be kidnapped or killed.

That's bunk, pure and simple.

In fact, relations between Plimoth (as it was often spelled at the time) and the neighboring natives were reasonably good for several decades. There were stresses and strains, yes, but for the most part they managed to keep intact the peace agreement cum mutual defense pact they made in the spring of 1621.

Things gradually got worse and I won't go into all the reasons why but the biggest single reason was disputes over land that were rooted in vast cultural differences between the natives (whose culture had no concept of land ownership) and the English (to who land ownership was an everyday concept). The peace finally, irrevocably, broke down - but that was in 1675, more than 50 years after the "First Thanksgiving." The point here is that at that time, in the fall of 1621, native-settler relations were good.

In fact, the very next sentences of the Winslow letter I quoted above are these:
We have found the Indians very faithful in their covenant of peace with us; very loving and ready to pleasure us. We often go to them, and they come to us; some of us have been fifty miles by land in the country with them.
Winslow also says that all the other native leaders in the vicinity have made peace with Plymouth on the same terms as Massasoit, as a result of which, he asserts, "there is now great peace amongst the Indians themselves, which was not formerly." He goes on to say that:
We for our parts walk as peaceably and safely in the wood as in the highways in England. We entertain them familiarly in our houses, and they as friendly bestowing their venison on us. They are a people without any religion or knowledge of God, yet very trusty, quick of apprehension, ripe-witted, just.
(Just to be certain you know, "trusty" means reliable, "quick of apprehension" means quick to understand, quick to grasp the meaning of something, and "ripe-witted" means clever or quick-witted.)

That does not sound either like bloodthirsty settlers eager to kill natives or like natives who feared contact with those same settlers or felt they had to display mass force to avoid being kidnapped or killed. If you're still not convinced, consider that in June 1621, three or four months before the feast, the town felt it necessary to send a message to Massasoit requesting that he restrain his people from coming to the settlement in such numbers. From Mourt's Relation:
But whereas his people came very often, and very many together unto us, bringing for the most part their wives and children with them, they were welcome; yet we being but strangers as yet at Patuxet, alias New Plymouth, and not knowing how our corn might prosper, we could no longer give them such entertainment as we had done, and as we desired still to do.
That is, the natives were coming so often and in such numbers that the town felt it lacked the resources to act as host.

Simply flipping who is an angel and who is a demon is trash: Neither of these peoples were either. Neither was a saint, neither was a devil.

So I reject the revisionist history, indeed I resent the revisionist history. I resent it first because it’s lousy history. It's based on ideology instead of information; it looks to satisfy demands of politics, not of scholarship, and it is every bit as full of false tales and mythology as the nonsense and pap that we got fed as schoolchildren.

The "First Thanksgiving" was a moment of celebration when everyone on both sides believed that this, yes, was going to work out. That wasn’t going to happen; it was a false hope, even a foolish hope - but it did exist. And considering what Europeans of various sorts have inflicted on the natives of North America over the ensuing couple of centuries - well, that is more than bad enough to make exaggerations and false claims unnecessary.

So I quite frankly resent the attempts to strip away that one moment of hope in pursuit of a modern political agenda. And I decided to express that resentment by laying out what we do know.

So I hope you enjoyed your Turkey Day, I hope you had time to spend with your family or friends or better yet both and I hope you can understand why I celebrate the day as an expression less of thankfulness for the past (or even the present) than as an expression of hope for the future. That hope, too, may prove as foolish as that of 1621, indeed I often think it is - but the blunt fact is, hope is also the one absolute, indispensable requirement for any effort to make that future a better one.


Left Side of the Aisle #83 - Part 4

Outrage of the Week: Israel and the Clock of History

I have a concept which I call the Clock of History, the timeline of events relating to some set of events occurring in the world. In every conflict, every side, no matter how many sides there are, wants the Clock of History to start at a certain point, with a certain event. That is, each side want all events before that time to be considered irrelevant, unimportant, not to be considered. And every side, of course, wants that clock to start running at the point that is most advantageous to its argument.

This is true of all conflicts; it's especially true in the Middle East, particularly in the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. As I record this (on November 21), the bombs and rockets continue to do their evil work in Gaza and southern Israel and there is talk - always talk - of a ceasefire. Whether or not that has been achieved by the time you see this, there still is something that needs to be said now.

Many times, it can be difficult to know when to start the Clock of History for a particular outbreak of a new cycle of death, again particularly in the tangled history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But sometimes it's not.

From late October into mid-November there had been an exchange of fire between the Israeli military and militants in Gaza. But Egypt brokered a ceasefire, with both Hamas and the Israeli military promising not to fire unless fired on. That was on November 13. The next day, an Israeli rocket was used to assassinate Ahmad al-Jabari, the military leader of Hamas - which, our media keeps forgetting to mention, is the elected government of Gaza. There was a ceasefire - and Israel broke it. There simply is no question about this and Israel's fatuous response that a ceasefire does not apply to its policy of assassinating leaders of Hamas is unworthy of attention.

That is when the Clock of History began for this new cycle of blood. The death we have seen and are still seeing is Israel's fault, Israel's moral and legal responsibility, Israel's doing. This is simply not arguable.

So much more needs be said, including about our own government’s shameful displays of fawning fealty to Israeli militarism - and I hope to talk some more about that next week. But I will leave it for now with this: Sometimes it really is clear who is to blame - and this is one of those times.


Left Side of the Aisle #83 - Part 3

Walmart and Black Friday

This could be filed under the category unintentional humor, where something strikes you as absurd or even hilarious - when you know it wasn't intended to be.

By tradition and in fact for the past several years, the day after Thanksgiving is the busiest shopping day of the year. It's known as Black Friday, which seemed an odd name to me. It supposedly originated in Philadelphia around 1960; the police there gave it the name because of the headaches for them that the increased traffic produced.

Anyway, this Black Friday may prove to be - or have proven to be, depending on when you see this - a black one for Walmart. Walmart, the nation's largest retail chain as well as the nation's largest private employer, with well over a million employees nationwide, is having some problems. It has seen increasing challenges from labor organizations such as OUR Walmart, which are responding to the concerns and frustrations of underpaid, overworked, exploited workers. Actions, including rallies and even walkouts are expected to occur on Friday at 1000 of its stores.

Walmart pays notoriously low wages with little chance for improvement. Workers often start at little more than the minimum wage and can get yearly performance-based increases of a maximum of 60 cents an hour. Someone starting as an $8/hour cart pusher could be making no more than $10.60 an hour after six years on the job.

And even those figures are misleading: Walmart keeps most of its hourly workers to part-time so it can skimp on benefits. On top of all that, there is a wage cap of under $20 an hour, a maximum you can earn no matter how long you work for the company or how many good evaluations you get.

And it's not like the company can't afford it: Walmart’s profits rose 9 percent in the third quarter of 2012; it was at that point raking in profits - not sales, profits - at a rate of over $14 billion a year.

Meanwhile, it's been revealed that the company may have used illegal bribery to expand its operations in four different countries: Mexico, Brazil, China, and India.

So where's the unintentional humor in all this? Walmart has filed an unfair labor practice complaint against the United Food and Concession Workers, or the UFCW, alleging it is responsible for the labor actions which have, to quote the complaint, "created an uncomfortable environment and undue stress on Walmart's customers, including families with children." Meanwhile, nowhere does it dispute a single assertion that workers have made.

So Walmart, the company that bribes officials in other countries while allowing its US workers such lousy pay and benefits that a good number are on Food Stamps while the company makes $14 billion a year, Walmart is claiming that it is the victim. It doesn't get funnier than that.


Left Side of the Aisle #83 - Part 2

Clown Award: Being mean to the homeless

Back in 2006, the city of Sarasota, Florida, was named the “meanest city in the nation” by the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty and the National Coalition for the Homeless. It has since lost that particular dishonor to Los Angeles, but it may be trying to get it back.

On November 11, Sarasota police arrested a 28-year-old homeless man named Darren Kersey because he was charging his cell phone at a charging station in a public picnic shelter. He was accused of "theft of city utilities."

There is no sign posted saying that it is against the law to do what Kersey did, which is likely part of the reason the case was thrown out when it got to court. That was after Kersey spent a night in jail because he didn't have the $500 for bail. Note well, though, that it was the judge who threw the case out; the city was prepared to prosecute Kersey for "theft of city utilities" because he dared to plug his cellphone charger into a charging station at a public picnic shelter.

This at a time when those well-off enough to afford electric cars can charge them for free at vehicle charging stations located throughout Sarasota, including at City Hall.

The local chapter of the ACLU has been monitoring police efforts to remove the homeless from city parks. A representative of the group says that "so much happens on a daily basis, it’s hard to keep up with it. Every day there’s something new."

What's not new is the poor getting punished for wanting some part of what the wealthy get for free.

And, to show the true clownishness of this, according to a survey done a year ago, it costs cities three times as much on a per-day basis to keep someone in jail as it does to provide them shelter space.

So the city of Sarasota, Florida, and all the other places around the country that don't want to deal with homelessness but just make it invisible - places like Philadelphia, which last spring banned feeding people in a public place, and Clearwater, Florida, which over the summer made it a crime to sit on a public sidewalk, with a fine of $500 - all you cities more concerned with your image than the welfare of your residents, you, all of you, are ignorant, short-sighted, "suck up to the rich and screw the poor" clowns.


Left Side of the Aisle #83 - Part 1

"Grand Bargain" is neither

Because I wanted to spend some time this week on the so-called "First Thanksgiving," I'm not going to have time to give as much attention to something I wanted to spend some time on: the business about a Grand Bargain to be reached in the lame-duck session of Congress in order to head off plunging off a so-called Fiscal Cliff. It's going to be reduced here to just a couple of quick comments. I hope to have a fuller discussion next week.

But here's the really important thing to know right now: the "Grand Bargain" to avoid the "Fiscal Cliff" is not grand, it ain't no bargain, and there is no cliff.

If no deal is reached, this is what happens: At the end of 2012, the so-called Bush tax cuts expire. In January, automatic, across the board budget cuts of about $110 billion - half of that from the Pentagon - will kick in. There are other issues, but those are the two which people are focusing on. But it's not like come January 2 :snap: budget cuts and tax increases. Rather, that's when they start to be phased in.

Talk about a fiscal cliff is a scare tactic designed to stampede Congress and the public into accepting trillions of dollars in cuts in social programs for the poor and needy, to stampede us into accepting cuts in the "big three" of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid - cuts over time that are deeper than would happen with the so-called cliff - in exchange for some paltry increase in taxes on the rich who have seen their taxes go down and down again and their wealth go up and up again over the past several decades.

Making this "grand bargain" - which Obama wants to do, remember that last year he offered the GOPpers $4 trillion in cuts in domestic spending, a deal the GOPpers, in thrall to their paymasters, foolishly refused to take - making this "grand bargain" means the poor throwing in their pound of flesh and the rich throwing in their pocket lint and calling that "balanced" because "everyone gave up something."

A bad deal is worse than no deal. We should say loud and clear: Protect the poor, protect the middle class, protect the big three, and make the rich pay their share - or no deal.


Left Side of the Aisle #83

Left Side of the Aisle
for the week of November 22-28, 2012

"Grand Bargain" is neither

Clown Award: Being mean to the homeless,%20FINAL1.pdf

Walmart and Black Friday

Outrage of the Week: Israel and the Clock of History

Turkey Day tales: The real "First Thanksgiving"

Thursday, November 22, 2012

T-day tradition #2

Some traditions are important to maintain.

T-day tradition #1

Something for your T-Day pleasure.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Left Side of the Aisle #82 - Part 4

Occupy Wall Street: Occupy Sandy and Rolling Jubilee

I'm going to wrap up with a sort of feel-good story, at least one as feel-good as anything can be about the victims of Hurricane Sandy.

Do you know what was among the first organizations to get relief to the victims of Sandy around New York City? An organization that was on the ground, distributing food and water and blankets and medicine and even some generators, often before the Red Cross or FEMA even showed up? A group that within just a couple of days established two distribution centers and was directing about 1,000 volunteers a day and by last week had dozens of relief centers across the city?

Occupy Wall Street. Yep, them. Working under the name Occupy Sandy, OWS has taken the commitment its participants showed, their social media skills, the prowess at on-the-fly organizing they developed, and the knowledge of neighborhoods they gained when doing community organizing in all those months the mass media thought they had just disappeared, and turned them into a praised and effective relief organization for victims of the superstorm.

ABC News claimed that OWS had become a punchline. I'm afraid that around New York I don't hear any laughing.

In fact, this is a double feel-good bit. Something to which OWS gave birth was the organization Strike Debt! which published the Debt Resistors' Operations Manual to tell people being crushed under debt about their rights and options. Now, Strike Debt! has a new project. It's called Rolling Jubilee.

Traditionally, Biblically, a jubilee year was a time for freeing of slaves and prisoners, returning land to its former owners, and forgiving debts. Rolling Jubilee wants to make the forgiving of debts an on-going event.

When banks or other creditors have what's called "distressed" debt, a debt that is in default which they are having trouble collecting, they often enough will sell that debt to someone else for a fraction of its face value, sometimes for just pennies on the dollar. This is a rather simple and fairly common business transaction. Usually, the new creditor sets about harrassing the debtor for the balance, which is all profit to the new creditor. What Rolling Jubilee intends to do is to use crowdfunding - that is, lots of people contributing small amounts each - to raise funds to buy destressed debt for pennies on the dollar, but then instead of trying to collect that debt, forgive it. Wipe it off the books.

The idea has been called simple, brilliant, and powerful and it's all quite legal. And in a country where in one-third of the states it is still legal for you to be sent to prison for not paying a debt and yes that is true, it's also very necessary.

But there is one potential hang-up: The banks may not go along with it. An outfit called American Homeowner Preservation was buying up pools of bad mortgages and then restructuring them to make it easier for the homeowners to pay them off. But the banks hated the idea of a homeowner being able to stay in their house after a short sale, and often asked for an affidavit from the buyer saying that the former owner yes, would be kicked out. Obviously, American Homeowner Preservation couldn't make such a promise since that was contrary to its whole purpose. So the banks just refused to sell them any mortgages.

There's no reason to think the banks will be any less stubborn, unreasonable, and selfish in this case. But even if that happens, there is one thing that can come out of it: A lot more people will know just how small-minded, stubborn, unreasonable, and selfish Wall Street is.


Left Side of the Aisle #82 - Part 3

Outrage of the Week: anti-independence day

Next week, I intend to talk some about the so-called Grand Bargain being prepared by our overlords in the federal government. This week, however, I want to point to something else that our great deliberative bodies in DC are intending to bring up in the lame duck session. It's a measure called the Independent Agency Regulatory Analysis Act.

It's now in the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, now chaired by the outgoing - happily - Sen. Joe Liarman. The intention is to pass it out of committee and fast-track it. Fast tracking is a process that limits options for amendments for the specific purpose of getting the bill passed as quickly as possible. In this case they want it passed before the new Congress convenes in January.

According to Americans for Financial Reform, this bill would strip the independence from various federal regulatory agencies, including but not limited to the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the FCC, and the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Many government agencies now have to do (or just do on their own) a cost-benefit analysis of any new regulation, an analysis that's subject to sometimes lengthy court challenges by affected industries wanting to avoid regulation. This bill would add at least thirteen new resource-intensive analyses of regulatory costs before a rule can be finalized. Agencies would have to submit those analyses as well as their rules and regulations to the executive branch for review.

In particular, the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, or the OIRA, would get to review both draft and final versions of any significant new rule, guidance, or policy, a procedure that would add six months or more of delay to the process. What's more, the OIRA has a long standing reputation of being hostile to environmental and safety regulations and being sympathetic to industry arguments that regulation - essentially any regulation - is too costly. This alone could create a bottleneck for all environmental, worker safety, consumer protection, or financial regulation.

The bottom line here is that the whole point of establishing independent regulatory agencies is to insulate the work of those agencies from political influence and direction from whoever is in the White House at the time. Back in 2009, Sen. Susan Collins said that, quoting,
If you bring these independent agencies within the regulatory purview of OIRA, you defeat the whole purpose of having them be independent agencies.
Yet that is exactly what this bill proposes to do. To add insult to injury, Susan Collins is one of the sponsors of this bill!

The capture of our regulatory agencies by those they are supposed to regulate is notorious - but this would make things orders of magnitude worse.

People are being asked to contact the local offices of the members of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, local offices because supposedly those calls get more attention. Among the members of that committee is our own outgoing Senator, Scat Brown. When you call, you might like to remind him that if he is thinking about a return to public office - and I bet he is - he might want to give a lot of thought to the kind of legacy he establishes as he goes out the door. So he should vote against this bill both in committee and on the floor - because it is an outrage.


Left Side of the Aisle #82 - Part 2

Clown Award: right-wing evangelical Christians

The Clown Award, given weekly for meritorious stupidity.

This week's dishonorees are right-wing evangelical Christians - or at least and more exactly, their leaders.

In the wake of the election, which they lost badly enough that Witless Romney and Paul Rantin' were confessed to be "shellshocked," GOPpers have been trying to come up with a reason for the defeat that doesn't involve people just not liking them.

We have before us a particularly amusing example, amusing because clowns are, ultimately, supposed to be amusing in their stupidity. Brian Brown of the right-wing wacko group the National Organization for Marriage has suggested that Witless lost because he didn't focus enough on, you guessed it, same-sex marriage. That if only instead of trying to focus on the economy, the campaign had spent its time going "Omigod THE GAYS!" everything would have been peachy.

Now, that is dumb enough to merit the award. But to show just how deeply twisted this is, in the same conference call where he said that, Brown also said that opponents of same-sex marriage would argue in court that Tuesday’s election results were evidence that gays and lesbians do not constitute a “suspect class,” that is, an identifiable group subject to discrimination, and therefore the Defense of Marriage Act should not be overturned. The Defense of Marriage Act, which has been found unconstitutional by a couple of courts now, denies recognition to same-sex marriages for all federal purposes, including benefits.

But get what he's saying: Brown is saying that same-sex marriage is so unpopular that focusing on it would have swept the GOPpers to victory in the election - but the results from that same election prove that there is, in his words, a "tidal wave of support for same-sex marriage" so such marriages are so widely accepted that gays and lesbians face no discrimination and therefore it's okay to discriminate against them about marriage. And if that makes sense to you, then to paraphrase Jeff Foxworthy, you just might be a right-wing evangelical Christian.

So what does NOM plan to do in the face of this "tidal wave?" Brown says the group is looking to punish companies that support same-sex marriage by targeting their international business. The aim is to make these companies’ stances known in countries where they operate or want to operate which do not support same-sex marriage, or homosexuality in general; in fact, in at least three countries being homosexual is punishable by death. The risk NOM's plan creates to the safety of the employees of those companies in those other countries is, it appears, a matter of no concern.

Then again, why should it be? After all, all's fair in love and war and all that and make no mistake, right-wing evangelicals are in a war for their very survival! Take it from Pat Robertson, who not long ago said this:
Just like what Nazi Germany did to the Jews, so liberal America is now doing to the evangelical Christians. It's no different. It's the same thing. It is happening all over again. It is the Democratic Congress, the liberal-based media and the homosexuals who want to destroy the Christians. Wholesale abuse and discrimination and the worst bigotry directed toward any group in America today. More terrible than anything suffered by any minority in history.
Right. Being unable to deny other people basic human rights is exactly like being a victim of the Holocaust. Gotcha.

Brian Brown, Pat Robertson, and the rest of you brain-dead, bigoted bozos: You are all clowns.


Left Side of the Aisle #82 - Part 1

Global warming: Human cause and effect

Last week, I talked some about global warming. I've discovered I need to revisit the topic this week. There are two reasons: One, some new stuff has come out recently. Two, I pointed to evidence that the world is warming, but it develops that may not be the issue I need to address.

According to a recent survey by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, 67% of the American public agree that there is solid evidence that the climate is warming. That number has steadily increased over the past few years and is up 10 percentage points over 2009.

However, only 42% agree that the warming is mostly caused by human activity, such as burning fossil fuels, while nearly one in five still cling to the fantasy that it's all the result of natural cycles. While the number who accept human activity as the main cause is up eight points over 2010, it's still a minority. And, Pew reports, the public continues to be divided on the question of whether scientists do or do not agree that the Earth is warming mostly because of human activity: 45% say scientists agree while 43% say they do not. And the number who say scientists do agree on a human cause for climate change is down by 14 points since 2006.

So the corporate-funded right-wing bullshit machine has been doing its job. It can't continue to deny global warming outright, although it does still try to nibble around the edges regarding just how much or how fast the world is warming. Even so, it can cast doubt on the source of the warming. "Oh, it's all natural, it's all the Sun or clouds or cosmic rays or something." And more importantly, that bs machine can keep hammering the point "scientists can't agree." So "it's nothing to do with us" - more exactly, nothing to do with them, with the corporations, so they don't have to do anything.

Okay, so do scientist disagree about the human contribution to global warming? Hardly.

Among publishing scientists, that is, scientists who publish in peer-reviewed scientific journals, 89% agree that human activity is what's driving climate change. That's scientists who publish in any field. Among publishing climatologists, the people who actually study climate, the figure climbs to between 98 and 99 percent. Yes, scientists do agree that we human beings are screwing with the climate.

Why do they agree? Here's one specific: The big claim about "it's all natural," one you still see bandied about in comment threads, is that it's all because of the Sun. Well, here's something for folks who still believe that: The graph just below shows recorded temperatures in blue and observed solar irradiance - how much energy the Sun is putting out - in red. There was a time in the past when there was a very rough equivalance between solar irradiance and temperature, but that connection broke in the late 1970s. Solar irradiance has been dropping since about 1985 even as temperatures have accelerated their upward climb.

That's one reason, here's another: Scientists of all stripes often rely on models, on ways of mathematically describing processes that can be used both the explain a process and to predict its future behavior. The way you test a model is by comparing the results it gives with those already confirmed by observation and measurement; in the case of climate change, that would be things like sea levels and temperature records, among others. The closer the match, the more confidence you can have in the model's predictions of the future.

There is no model of climate change that can approach the observed facts without including a major impact from human activity. That's why scientists agree: It's what the facts tell them. Human beings are screwing with the climate. Period.

What does that mean for us? In a report issued on November 9, the National Research Council, as the result of a study commissioned by the CIA and other US intelligence agencies, declared that climate change will create more frequent but unpredictable crises in water supplies, food markets, energy supply chains, and public health systems, crises that will place unparalleled strains on American military and intelligence agencies. That is, climate change is a national security issue.

Appropriately, the report was released 10 days late due to the disruptions caused by Hurricane Sandy.

Meanwhile, a new study out of the US National Center for Atmospheric Research, also released November 9, finds that the climate change models which have been the most accurate in accounting for humidity are also on the high end of the range of projected temperature increases, up to above 7 degrees Fahrenheit - about 4 degrees Celsius - by the end of the century.

By the way, the US National Center for Atmospheric Research is a collaborative, multi-institution climate research initiative that came out of the National Science Foundation in 1960. They've been around a long time.

Now, remember what I told you last week: Climatologists have agreed for some time that to head off significant impacts from global warming, the temperature increase would have to be held to less than 2oC. I also told you that it's too late for that. Carbon dioxide produced by the burning of fossil fuels is a major driver of global warming. Concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere are already so high that even if we stopped the use of fossil fuels today, it's too late: The amount of CO2 we've already put into the atmosphere will cause the temperate to continue to rise for a few decades. Worse, the effect of already planned burning of fossil fuels will push the increase beyond 2oC. It is too late to head off significant impacts from climate change.

So what are we facing? According to the latest assessment by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, an increase in global temperatures of 2oC by the end of the century will mean water shortages in already-arid areas, more floods in low-lying coastal areas, coastal erosion in small island states, and the extinction of up to 30 percent of animal and plant species. It will also mean storms like Sandy coming more frequently and being more damaging. The effects on ocean life, such as on coral reefs, on the animals that depend on the coral, on the animals that depend on the animals that depend on the coral, will be severe.

With three degrees of warming, to all that we can add heat waves across Europe and the Mediterranean of the sort that killed thousands just a few years ago becoming the norm.

And so 4oC, the prediction of that latest study, what does 4oC of warming by the end of the century mean for us?

With four degrees of warming, we will begin to see a world that is unrecognizable to us today - lands where one billion people now live will be awash; some major coastal cities will have to be abandoned; devastating droughts will hit Africa and Asia as deserts expand; Scandinavia will be the new home for Caribbean-style resorts.

And what if it goes beyond that, what if that estimate proves to be too low, as other estimates of the extent and speed of climate change have already proven to be, what if the temperature increase reaches five degrees? At that point we could well see human society breaking down under the stress of droughts, floods, water shortages, loss of arable land, disruption of food supplies, the spread of disease as insects and other pests increase their range, and even wars and civil wars over dwindling resources in the face of hundreds of millions of environmental refugees.

That is the future we are setting ourselves up for when we refuse to recognize that we are screwing with the climate and therefore it is what we have done and are doing - not the Sun, not cosmic rays, not any of the rest of the nonsense - it is what we have done and are doing that matters the most and so it is what we will do from now on that will determine what our future will be.

Will we do what's necessary? I have my doubts. I really do. Consider this:

The International Energy Agency, which is a part of the multigovernment Organization for Cooperation and Economic Development, the OCED, issued a report on November 12 that opened by saying
The global energy map is changing, with potentially far-reaching consequences for energy markets and trade. ... Taking all new developments and policies into account, the world is still failing to put the global energy system onto a more sustainable path.
It also noted that fossil fuels received $523 billion in subsidies worldwide last year - a 30% increase and six times the subsidies for renewable technologies - and referred to a projected 3.6oC increase in temperatures by the end of the century.

So what did the media say? How was this covered?

The Los Angeles Times ignored all that to lead with the report's prediction that within five years the US will pass Saudi Arabia to become the world's top oil producer. The question about a sustainable path wasn't even mentioned until the 12th paragraph of a 14-paragraph story.

And the LA Times was hardly alone: Reuters, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the New York Daily News, Bloomberg, ABC, the Voice of America, CNBC, the Christian Science Monitor, they all headlined the bit about oil production as if that, the increased production of greenhouse gas-producing fossil fuels, was the big important story that everyone should know about. Interestingly, the one source I came across that lead with the issue of being on an unsustainable energy path was Forbes - the business magazine.

We are so very, very screwed.

And as a footnote to this, which you might title We're Screwed, Redux:

As I noted earlier, only 42% of Americans believe humans are responsible for global warming. At the same time, 57% believe in the reality of demonic possession. More than 2/3 of GOPpers believe in demonic possession, while fewer than half of them believe the world is even warming at all.

We are indeed so very screwed.


Left Side of the Aisle #82

Left Side of the Aisle
for the week of November 15-21, 2012

This week:

Global warming: Human cause and effect,0,6181922.story

Clown Award: right-wing evangelical Christians

Outrage of the Week: anti-independence day

Occupy Wall Street: Occupy Sandy and Rolling Jubilee

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Footnote to the preceding

A perfect example of how militarism (which is what spawns the unthinking praise of all things "veteran") pervades our culture can be seen in the media reaction to the resignation of David Patraeus from the CIA, ably dissected by Glenn Greenwald.

Simply put, when any ordinary - that is, non-military - political figure gets caught with their metaphorical pants down, it's a source of saturated salaciousness, a cataloging of the person's moral failings or shortcomings, even as a cause for mockery.

But when it's a general, the media rules change. Patraeus's fall from his high horse was "very painful," we were told. It was a "personal tragedy" for "one of the greatest military minds in modern history." It was "a huge loss for the United States" that he was "off the battlefield."

A number of the comments on GG's post were no better, such as one that said we should offer our respect to Patraeus because once he got caught, he owned up to the affair. Is that really all it takes to get your respect? Or does that, as I suspect, only apply to soldiers - make that generals, as I doubt you'd do it for a grunt - you want to exempt from any sort of moral judgment at all?

Veterans' Day 2012

What follows is a re-post of something I originally put up in June 2008. Since 2009, I have posted it every Veterans' Day. I regard it as an at least useful if not necessary counterpoint to the annual hyped praise of all things veteran, which too easily slides over into praise of all things military. A good example of the hype this year was nominal liberal Rachel Maddow going on about veterans volunteering to help out in New York in the wake of Sandy in a way that clearly suggested that veterans doing it was somehow more noble, more praiseworthy, than all the other people doing the same damn things. Which it isn't.

The first paragraph below was added in 2009. The rest of the post is the original text as first appeared in June 2008.

November 11 has become so well-known as Veterans' Day that not many people remember that it was originally called Armistice Day. It was intended to commemorate those who died in World War I by an observation of the end of the war, which ended, at least on the Western front, on "the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month." But after World War II, the US changed its day to Veterans' Day and over time it's become not a commemoration of those who have died in war but a celebration of anyone who's ever been in the military. It has slid from a commemoration of the dead and of peace to a promotion of militarism, to the "nobility of sacrifice" of "true" - and apparently the only true, as they are given due unavailable to the rest of us - "patriots."

I've tried various ways to start this, wanting to make sure that I say what I mean and only what I mean. But I've come to realize that there is no way that will not be misunderstood, either accidentally or deliberately, by some. So I gave up trying to do anything other than say it outright.

I am deeply disturbed by the increasing tendency among "progressives" to adulate all things military, and particularly disturbed by the practice of referring to soldiers routinely as "our heroes" or some similar formulation. Let me be clear here: Soldiers are not "heroes." A "hero" is by definition someone who is in some way extraordinary, remarkable, worthy of emulation. It is at best a risky business to define someone as "extraordinary" simply by virtue of wearing a uniform and in fact it is potentially dangerous as it makes it too easy to slip into the militaristic attitude that what soldiers do goes beyond "necessary evil" or just necessary, beyond even honorable, to admirable, to something to celebrate, an attitude that makes it all to easy to promote additional enlistments, additional weapons, and even additional wars.

The root of this, I'm convinced, is that after years of the constant drumbeat from the right that those on the left are "soft" on "national security," that we aren't "tough enough," not ready enough to "do what's necessary" to "protect our way of life," we increasingly have decided to, if you will, fight on those terms; that is, we have absorbed the idea that we have to prove ourselves on "security" issues by proving that we're "tough."

Our means of doing this, a means that first appeared during the Gulf War, was to declare loudly that "We support the troops!" That was our way into the national security debate, a way to (supposedly) oppose the war while, we declared, supporting the men and women sent to fight it. We would prove that we were as committed to the military and national security as the right, just, well, in a sorta different way.

One less important but still revealing example came on Monday during Jon Stewart's interview with Senator Jim Webb. Most of that interview was a discussion about Webb's bill to expand veteran educational benefits, under which, in return for three years in the military, soldiers would receive four years' tuition at their best state college plus the cost of books, plus a monthly stipend. At one point, when Webb said that the least we can do for our soldiers is give them the chance for "a first-class future," the audience burst into loud applause.

And I thought then, as I have before when this bill was being discussed, would there be any chance, any chance at all, of that same sort of reaction if the same proposal was made on behalf of any other group? What if someone proposed paying for four years of college for, say, firefighters? Or cops? How about volunteers in VISTA (now AmeriCorps VISTA)? Or the Peace Corps? The latter two provide some educational benefits for those who put in their time, but nothing vaguely approaching four fully-paid years of college.

What about publicly-funded continuing education for doctors and nurses? Such continuing education is not only a good idea for health care professionals, it's often a requirement for maintaining their licenses to practice. And certainly having doctors and nurses who are up to date on the best knowledge and practice is beneficial to the public. So why not have public financing of that continuing education?

When it comes down to it, why not have public education, tuition-free, taxpayer-supported public education, right up through four years of college for anyone who can show themselves capable of meeting the educational standards for a college degree? Can you seriously imagine a studio audience bursting into spontaneous, enthusiastic applause for someone seriously proposing such an idea?

Why only soldiers? What does it say about us that the idea of paying soldiers' way through college gets ovations while the idea of anyone else getting the same benefit gets at best quizzical stares if not overt sneering rejections? It says that we regard the work of soldiering as inherently more important, inherently more deserving of praise and reward, than the work of others - and the lives of soldiers as inherently more valuable than the lives of the rest of us. That is the attitude we are buying into.

But if it was only things like veterans' benefits, it might not seem particularly important. I say that despite the fact that the amount of money involved in such benefits is not trivial and Webb's argument that his bill just provides the equivalent of educational benefits given to veterans of World War II is quite misleading: For one thing, many of those soldiers had been drafted "for the duration," so it wasn't automatically a matter of three years and out. For another, the avowed purpose of those World War II benefits was to make up for what those soldiers had lost in regard to their civilian careers as compared to those who had not been in the military. That is, they were to insure that soldiers did not wind up being penalized for having been soldiers. They were not intended to give soldiers a leg up over others (or "a first class future") and they most definitely were not presented as being a reward for military service. But that's what they have become over the years and that's how Webb's bill treats them.

I also want to make abundantly clear in case it's not or is willfully ignored that the benefits being questioned here do not include such as medical care, rehabilitation, and counseling for vets wounded either physically or psychologically. But, yes, veterans benefits are too generous to the extent that they become a reward for being in the military. So I am against Webb's bill and I don't give a damn whether it will affect retention rates or not. I am opposed to it so long as soldiers get singled out for an opportunity for higher education that is becoming increasingly financially impossible for many people.

Even so, again, if that's all there was to it, it might not seem like a great big huge deal. But that's not all there is to it, not when we are trying to lay claim to national security chops by out troop-supporting the right, insisting that we're the ones who really support the troops, we're the ones who really support their brave courageous efforts and we prove it by undaunted adulation, blandly treating, with no hint of hesitation, the phrase "have a lot of courage" and the word "soldier" as synonymous.

So we were the ones who loudly decried the lack of body armor and the lack of reinforced plating on military vehicles, accusing the right of "not supporting the troops" as much as we do because of that failure. But as Mark Twain pointed out in "The War Prayer,"
[i]f you would beseech a blessing upon yourself, beware! lest without intent you invoke a curse upon a neighbor at the same time. If you pray for the blessing of rain upon your crop which needs it, by that act you are possibly praying for a curse upon some neighbor's crop which may not need rain and can be injured by it.
In war, in combat, as long as the soldiers are there, there is an unavoidable trade-off: The more you wish for them to remain safe, the more you are wishing for them to kill others. That is what safety in combat means. The more you wish for them to return safely, the more you are wishing for Iraqis not to. The more you wish life for them, the more you are wishing death for others. The more you wish that American mothers, fathers, wives, husbands, sisters, brothers, daughters, sons, don't suffer the loss of a family member, the more you are wishing that Iraqi mothers, fathers, wives, husbands, sisters, brothers, daughters, sons, do.

So when we express "support for the troops" by demanding we "give them the equipment to do the job" and "then come home safely" rather than simply and solely saying "get them the hell out," we are offering a tacit - and sometimes not so tacit - endorsement of the killing. For the sake of the blessing of safety and life for our soldiers, we are calling down the curse of risk and death on Iraqis. When we declare support in terms of equipment rather than withdrawal, that is what we are endorsing. In war, there is no other way.

Undoubtedly, there are those who are prepared to declare American lives are worth more than Iraqi lives. I am not among them.

The emotional embrace of "our heroes" as some sort of disembodied ideal has policy implications beyond the immediate ones. Within that embrace, and the effects can already be seen in various interviews and commentaries, it becomes easy to absorb, absorb so deeply that one is unaware of it, the idea that a veteran's take on the Iraq war - and by extension, all things military - is inherently more valuable than that of others not by virtue of knowledge or logic or informed comment but simply by virtue of being a veteran. We regarded it (correctly) as a scandal when media outlets used retired generals who were actually Pentagon-trained PR flacks as "experts" on military and foreign policy questions in the runup to the Iraq War - but an overlooked point is that the reason retired generals were so prominent in that number was that their status as military people gave them added credibility in the eyes of many viewers and listeners. In our pursuit of "support the troops," we have fallen prey to that same attitude, one that regards the statements of Iraq War veterans as more valuable, more telling, than those of non-veterans. It even has become fairly common to hear dismissive references to those who "never saw combat." At first, that was a legitimate argument, directed as it was against chickenhawks, those rightwingers who were eager for fights, ready for wars, provided they did not have to take part in them. But increasingly it has been used as an all-purpose putdown, even against those on the left who have criticized soldiers - as, I imagine, it would be directed against me (a non-veteran and a Vietnam-era draft resister) were my voice loud enough to attract the attention.

But the real danger is that as the attitude persists, it distorts our way of thinking, drops a magnet on our moral compass. In a bizarre mirror image of the fanatical right, we refuse to blame soldiers who commit atrocities, or, more exactly, we refuse to acknowledge them. We refuse to blame those who shoot civilians even when the attacks are clearly acts of vengeance; we downplay the war crimes and the routine cruelties; we make excuses for those who shoot the wounded or torture prisoners; even when official Pentagon reports casually mention how a US soldier summarily executed a wounded fighter and shot another wounded, unresisting fighter twice in the back, we pay little notice - and if we do, it's usually to brush off complaints with that all-purpose "you've never been in combat" defense. "These things happen in war," we say.

Yes, they do. And "our heroes" are doing them. Which is, even as the deniers seem incapable of recognizing it, the point. Just as the right tries to blame the individuals and exonerate the hierarchy, we want to blame the hierarchy and exonerate the individuals, to remove all their responsibility for their own actions. That is an idea we were supposed to have rejected nearly 60 years ago; apparently, we haven't.

Soldiers are not heroes. They can be heroes, they can act heroically, they can do heroic things - but the act of putting on a uniform and agreeing to put your conscience in a lockbox for the next so many years does not make your life more important than others, it does not make your opinions and insights more worthy of respect than others, it does not exempt you from moral judgment. It does not make you a hero.

And we should not fall prey to hero-worship.
// I Support The Occupy Movement : banner and script by @jeffcouturer / (v1.2) document.write('
I support the OCCUPY movement
');function occupySwap(whichState){if(whichState==1){document.getElementById('occupyimg').src=""}else{document.getElementById('occupyimg').src=""}} document.write('');