Sunday, October 30, 2022

064 The Erickson Report for October 27 to November 10, Page 3: The CPC letter

064 The Erickson Report for October 27 to November 10, Page 3: The CPC letter

So. On October 24, 30 members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus sent a letter to the White House that in effect suggested trying to open a conversation with Russia about a potential diplomatic end to its war on Ukraine.

The result was what Politico called a "firestorm" of hostile reaction, one fueled to no small degree by how the Washington Post described the letter, as one urging Blahden to "dramatically shift his strategy on the Ukraine war," calling it a break with official policy and a rupture in the party.

The reaction was swift enough and hostile enough that by that evening caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal was issuing a "clarification" and by the next day it had been withdrawn altogether.

But it wasn't a break; in fact the letter was quite anodyne, including praise and reasserting support for Blahden and insisting that no agreement can be reached without the approval of Ukraine.

So what got it in so much trouble? It comes down to this sentiment, quoting the letter:

[I]f there is a way to end the war while preserving a free and independent Ukraine, it is America’s responsibility to pursue every diplomatic avenue to support such a solution that is acceptable to the people of Ukraine. The alternative to diplomacy is protracted war, with both its attendant certainties and catastrophic and unknowable risks.

In other words, as The Intercept put it, "That the letter was met with fierce opposition is a measure of the space available for debate among congressional Democrats when it comes to support for the war and how it might be stopped before it turns nuclear: roughly zero."

So invested have the Democratic hierarchy and particularly its hack sycophants become in the glories of war and the shimmering image of outright military defeat of Russia that simply proposing the idea of talking about the possibility of a settlement is beyond he pale.

Indeed, it often seems those hack sycophants are more intested in "decisive victory" through "overwhelming force" than that hierarchy is. Bluntly, I believe that's because they see such a victory as proper retibution for Russia's having, in their minds, been single-handedly responsible for inflicting Tweetie-pie on us.

Among the worst of those hack sycophants is Markos Moulitsas, founder of DailyKos, someone fond of calling people "tankies," a 1950s-era anti-communist smear accusing people of maintaining blind support of the Soviet Union even after its invasion of Hungary in 1954. Referring now to the letter, he charged the signers "are now making common cause with Lauren Boebert, Marjorie Taylor Green, JD Vance, and the rest of the MAGA crowd. Which Ukrainians do these ‘progressives’ want abandoned to mass murder and rape, in their attempt to prop up a flailing Russia?"

Thus in one statement accusing them both of lining up with the worst of the GOPpers and of being on Russia's side in the war - siding with enemies both domestic and foreign.

But there is another point, which is that part of the reason for the "firestorm" is not what was said but who said it, that at least part of the response was the desire of the party hierarchy to smack down party progressives, who have gradually been gaining in influence.

The letter noted that Blahden himself has echoed some of what it said, having repeatedly expressed that only negotiations can ultimately end the conflict, that nuclear war is more imminent now than at any time since the Cuban missile crisis, and that he's worried about the fact that Putin "doesn’t have a way out right now, and I’m trying to figure out what we do about that.”

What's more, on October 15, Saint Barack said during an interview on the podcast “Pod Save America,” that he is concerned about the fact that, quoting, "lines of communication between the White House and the Kremlin are probably as weak as they have been in a very long time. Even in some of the lowest points of the Cold War, there was still a sense of the ability to pick up a phone and work through diplomatic channels to send clear signals."

And precisely because Putin has so centralized decision-making, quoting again, "us finding ways in which some of that communication can be reestablished would be important."

Which is hardly different from what the letter said, just without the reference to Ukraine.

Meanwhile, just under a week earlier, retired Adm. Mike Mullen, former chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said during an appearance on the ABC show “This Week” that the possibility that Russia might use battlefield nuclear weapons "speaks to the need to ... do everything we possibly can to try to get to the table to resolve this thing," adding that it’s up to Secretary of State Blinken and other diplomats “to figure out a way to get both Zelenskyy and Putin to the table.”

Which in some ways goes beyond what the letter said.

Even former US Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul, who was one of Obama’s key advisers and a staunch supporter of Ukraine, said he agreed with the idea of making the effort, doubting only it would get very far.

None of those statements - from Biden, from Obama, from Mullen, from McFaul, produced anything like the reaction seen here, in fact hardly any reaction at all beyond some tut-tutting that Biden may have overstated the probability of Putin actually going nuclear.

But no matter. It was members of the CPC that said it and they needed to be smacked down. So effective was that smackdown, so complete the capitulation, that not only was the letter withdrawn, the announcement of the withdrawal included the statement "Every war ends with diplomacy, and this one will too after Ukrainian victory." (That is, of course, my emphasis because it definitely needed to be emphasized.)

And the hierarchy smiles and the hack sycophants go back to scanning for hints of dissent.

Finally something not directly related to the letter and the reaction but something related to Ukraine and something you should be aware of.

Note that Biden said he's worried that Putin "doesn't have a way out." Well, a legitimate question is, once Ukraine didn't collapse immediately upon the invasion, did they ever want him to have one.

First, never forget that the US alone has to date given Ukraine $17.5 billion in direct military aid since the invasion. You can argue that every penny of that was fully justified, but point here is that you can't say we are passive observers of events or merely moral backers of Ukraine. The US and rest of NATO are directly involved. This is not a war of Russia versus Ukraine, it is a proxy war between Russia and NATO, with Ukraine the battlefield on which it is being fought.

With that in mind, recall that back in mid-March, as I noted at the time, there were some negotiations going on between Ukranian and Russian officials with some expressions of optimism coming from both sides. Not that a settlement was imminent but the progress toward one was being made.

Then on April 9, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson made a surprise visit to Kyiv, where, according to the Ukrainian news outlet Ukrayinska Pravda ("Ukranian Truth"), he brought two simple messages to the capitol:

One: Putin is a war criminal; he should be pressured, not negotiated with.
Two: Even if  Ukraine is ready to sign some agreements with Putin, NATO is not.

Three days later, Putin said negotiations were at a dead end.

Maybe the timing was coincidental, but the fact that Zelenskyy also lost all interest in negotiations right around the same time, a time, remember, well before Ukraine's recent battleground successes, gives a rather obvious interpretation at least some weight, further bolstered by the fact that at the same time - the first week of April - the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft was reporting that

there are several lines of evidence that suggest that the U.S. is inhibiting a diplomatic solution in Ukraine,
including, significantly, it's total absence from those very March negotiations, lending no assistance, offering no support.

Now, it's not certain the conclusion this points to is true but there is reasonable cause to believe it, a conclusion that creates the image not of the US and NATO causing the war, one of the US inviting or perhaps more accurately baiting Putin to attack - although that would not be unprecedented in US foreign policy - but one of the US and NATO allowing it to continue to take advantage of an opportunity to "pressure" Putin.

But "cause" versus "allow to continue" is somthing I would call a distinction without a difference. It surely makes difference to the homeless and the refugees; it even more surely makes no damn difference at all to the dead.

So we don't know if this idea is true, and in fact you have to hope it's not true because it would be quite heinous if it is.

Then again, war usually is.


064 The Erickson Report for October 27 to November 10, Page 2: Footnote

064 The Erickson Report for October 27 to November 10, Page 2: Footnote

There actually is one more reason beyond present-day gain why trans folks, particularly trans youth, are the current target of choice for the bigots and fear mongers: long-term loss.

In 2019, according to a report from the Public Religion Research Institute, more than six in ten Americans said they had become more supportive toward transgender rights compared to their views five years before. An increase in tolerance was found across all age ranges, all religious groups surveyed, and almost all political groupings, with only conservative GOPpers saying otherwise.

Note that doesn't mean that majorities were supportive of those rights, but that the trend was clearly in that direction: Support was clearly increasing. And there is good reason think that as public awareness of (and therefore more familiarity with) trans people has grown, that trend has continued.

Now consider that back in the 2004 fall election there was a whole spate of state constitutional amendments enacted to ban same-sex marriage. It was the same situation: Support for same-sex marriage was increasing, in fact had become legal in Massachusetts, and the reactionaries wanted to block progress.

Same as it ever was: On transgender rights, the reactionaries are losing. They know they are. They know that at some point the train of history is going to run them over and they are, as William Buckley famously said, "standing athwart history, yelling 'Stop!'"

In the case of same-sex marriage, it was another 11 years, but they failed, even as they still fight rear-guard actions against it - like the baker who, the court said, can refuse to make a cake for a same-sex couple because, you know, God 'n' stuff.

Even so, even as they can win a few legal victories, they have lost in the court of public perception. And in the long run they will fail with regard to trans folks, too. Keep hope alive.

064 The Erickson Report for October 27 to November 10, Page 1: Attacks on transgender youth

064 The Erickson Report for October 27 to November 10, Page 1: Attacks on transgender youth

Let's start here with a basic fact: Treatment for gender dysphoria, that is, gender-affirming treatment and care, has deemed medically appropriate by literally dozens of health-related organizations including every major pediatric institution in the country, including:

the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
the American Academy of Pediatrics
the American Medical Association
the American Psychiatric Association
the American Psychological Association
National Association of Social Workers
the Pediatric Endocrine Society
the Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine
and more than a dozen others.

Despite that, using the same devotion to facts and logic that enabled them to claim COVID was "just the flu" and to encourage infections by opposing mask mandates - the current death toll is approaching 1.1 million - GOPpers and other assorted proto-fascists have over the past two years directed levels of viciousness toward transgender youth that are nothing short of barbaric.

And it's gone from sneering to attacks about school sports to witch hunts about "grooming" to have reached levels of outright eliminationism.

Gender-affirming care is banned in Arizona and Arkansas; gender-affirming surgery for minors is a felony in Alabama; in Texas, state agencies are required to consider gender-affirming health care to be child abuse and anyone who provides it or supports children in accessing it a potential abuser. A bill passed the Idaho House to sentence health care providers who offered gender-affirming care to life in prison.

Note that some of these provisions and some of those in other states have been blocked by courts from going into effect, at least not yet, but that cannot deny either the intensity or the intent, marked perhaps most clearly by South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, who celebrated the passage of an anti-trans school sports bill by by directly comparing support for transgender rights to terrorism.

Meanwhile, in Congress, 50 House GOPpers, lead by QAnon butt-kisser Marjorie Taylor Greene, the brainiac who's against solar power because she thinks it doesn't work at night, are pushing a bill to outlaw gender-affirming care for minors nationwide, including a ban on any federal money for any form of such care, banning any coverage under the Affordable Care Act, and even requiring institutions of higher education not to offer any training on such care and accrediting agencies to refuse to accredit any institution or association that offers such care. Criminal penalties can range up to 25 years in the federal slammer. 

But on October 13, a group of Michigan Republican state representatives went all the way, introducing a bill that would see parents and health care professionals facing the treat of 25 years to life in prison for providing gender-affirming care to a minor. The bill would change the very definition of child abuse to explicitly include anyone who “knowingly or intentionally consents to, obtains, or assists with a gender transition procedure for a child.” "Procedure" is defined as including not only to gender-affirming surgery - which is very rare for teens - but also to hormone treatments and puberty blockers, even though such treatments are both harmless and completely reversible: You start to transition, decide you don't want to, just stop taking the meds and your body takes care of the rest.

GOPpers are the majority in the Michigan House and they are expected to throw full support behind the bill. The only sort of good news here is that if it passes both the House and the Senate, also controlled by GOPers, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer would likely veto it - assuming she survives the dark money-funded assault from GOPper and all-around definition of right-wing fakery Tudor Dixon.

But that's not the worst, as the bill goes beyond that. It not only bars the provision of new treatment, it mandates that trans teens in the state who are currently receiving gender-affirming medical care be forced to stop their treatments and undergo compulsory medical detransition.

This is outright eliminationism. This is saying to trans youth "You are not allowed to be that way and we will force to you not be that way. You are not allowed to exist."

This at a time when the Trevor Project’s 2022 survey on the mental health of LGBTQ+ youth determined that more than 60 percent of LGBTQ+ youth said their mental health has deteriorated as a result of these sorts of attacks. Nearly one in five transgender and nonbinary youth attempted suicide in the past year, while 42% of youth who identified as LGBTQ+ contemplated suicide - a figure that rose to 52% for trans kids in particular.

And every one of those figures is worse for LGBTQ+ youth of color.

These laws, despite all their screeching about "Protect the children!" are going to see children die.

And you know, it's always about "The children! Think of the children!" It's what this sort of moral panic seems to be always about. From the Salem witch trials right up through in my lifetime comic books, rock and roll, day care centers, Dungeons and Dragons, video games, and the Internet, it keeps being about "Omigod the children!"

But there is a difference in this case. Most moral panics seems to emerge sort of organically. Somehow, a few people get an idea about something, it gets talked about so a few more hear about it and for some reason invariably related to broader social fears and stresses, it catches on and grows by feeding on itself in a feedback loop until at some point it burns itself out.

Not this one. There is nothing natural or organic about this one. This anti-trans panic has been manufactured, created, consciously and deliberately, top-down, by right-wing and repressive forces and their associated think-tanks to create fear and then exploit that fear purely for their own extremist self-interest.

David Neiwert has looked at and followed the topic of eliminationist rhetoric - that is, the use of expressions of "You do not have the right to be here" or even "You do not have the right to exist," for reactionary political gain - for years. He says "the entire point of such rhetoric is to create permission to direct violence freely at the targeted minority group."

Or, as in this case, the targeted group plus "anyone in the general vicinity," such as supportive teachers, parents, and health care professionals - and more recently, performers at drag shows reading to children - who are all either "groomers" or outright pedophliles or predators or all three, or in the case of drag show performers, also "perverts." And do not think for an instant that the overt physical intimidation directed at those drag shows by such as the Proud Boys, whose pride lies in being right-wing thugs, is not a manifestation of this eliminationism

For evidence this is all deliberate, we can look to a report from August out of The Human Rights Campaign and the Center for Countering Digital Hate looking at the increasing anti-LGBTQ+ hate rhetoric on social media and by the way thanks to David Niewert for the link and for more background on the issue.

The groups looked at tweets containing slurs like "groomers" or "pedophiles" in the context of conversations about LGBTQ+ people between January and July of 2022. There were nearly 990,000 of them - plus an additional 130,000-plus using the dismissive smear "ok, groomer."

One key finding was that after Florida Gov. Ron DeSandTick got his "Don't Say Gay" bill through, the rate of hateful tweets more than quadrupled, apparently because, I'd say, the bill's passage was felt to somehow legitimize the bigotry.

More significant, however, is the finding that much of the hate is being generated by a handful of well-known right-wing influencers. The researchers determined the 500 hateful “grooming” tweets had been viewed the most times had been viewed an estimated 72 million times and 2/3 of that total - 48 million views - were generated from just 10 people.

The top four contained no surprises:

Marjorie Taylor ColorOfNausea-Greene
James Lindsay, an “anti-woke” activist who described the pride flag as that of a "hostile enemy"
Lauren "Pistol-packin' mama" Boebert
and Chaiya Raichik, the sniggering clown behind the “LibsofTikTok” account.

Among the rest we find Ron DeSandTick press secretary Christina Pushaw, who pulled language right out of QAnon to take the "groomer" crap mainstream, two pundits for the far-right outfit Turning Point USA, one from BlazeTV, which is where you go if you ever wonder what the hell happened to Glenn Beck, and one from The Daily Wire, the reactionary "news" source founded by poster boy for privilege and winner of The Erickson's Report Clown of the Year 2019, Ben Shapiro.

In other words, a pretty standard collection of right-wing grifters, greedheads, and gasbags, backed by the usual band of bullshitters like the cretins at Faux News, which ran a series of shows on pedophilia in March and April, which included a guest on Fox and Friends claiming children were “being ripened for grooming for sexual abuse by adults” and another on America Reports insisting that affirmative care for trans children “goes beyond predatory grooming” into “psychological torture.”

The fact is, reactionary groups and movements like Christian nationalists - including fundamentalist preachers demanding that gay people be lined up and shot in the head - and neofascist white power groups like Patriot Front, with their individual ranges of ideological focuses, have banned together to wield “groomer” rhetoric like a bludgeon for one purpose only: As put by Justin Unga, the Human Rights Campaign's director of strategic initiatives, "pure politics," adding "It is no coincidence that people have inflamed and used this rhetoric during the period of the primary elections. They are," he said, "inflaming the most extreme elements of their fan base to gain notoriety, to build a brand that they see as politically and financially profitable."

In other words, it is about what the right wing is always about: greed, selfishness, egotism, and power-hunger.

These people don't give a single flying damn about the children they claim to be protecting. They don't care about the bullying, about the harassment, about the violence, about the suicides. They don't care about the prospect of children being ripped from supportive parents precisely because of that parental support - remember, in Texas and not only there, that's called child abuse. They don't care about the increase in hate crimes directed against gender nonconforming people. They do not care.

Because for them, these children aren't real, they are just cartoons, cardboard cutouts, stage props to be named, labeled, and moved around however they think it will produce the desired result in the audience. The realities of the lives of these children don't move them, the realities of their deaths move them even less. It's all about the posturing, the pose, the play.

If Diogenes were to move among these people I expect he would be very lonely and extremely disappointed. They are, in a word, despicable.

064 The Erickson Report for October 27 to November 10

064 The Erickson Report for October 27 to November 10

This episode of The Erickson Report looks at what and who is behind the attacks on transgender youth before discussing the reaction to the letter from the Congressional Progressive Caucus about trying to talk to Russia about Ukraine.


- transgender youth

- footnote

- the CPC letter

The Erickson Report is informed news and commentary from the radical nonviolent American left. Comments and questions are welcome. Please observe rules of courtesy.

Sunday, October 09, 2022

063 The Erickson Report for October 6 to 19, Page 4: Brief comments on Iran and Ukraine

I am not going to try to cover news about Iran. It's one of those cases where events change too quickly and there is no way a show on once every two weeks could keep up. Anything I say here would be obsolete even before you hear it.

But I did want to take a moment to express my profound respect and admiration for the massive crowds whose nonviolent protests have shaken the grounds of Iranian society and even government. They have braved beatings and bullets - over 150 have been killed, hundreds more injured, thousands arrested - and while they may not achieve their goals of a more open society in the face the proven willingness of the Ayatollahs to unleash even greater violence in the face of a challenge, still they stand as evidence that Iran will change.  

As put by Kasra Aarabi, the Iran Program Lead at the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, "unrestrained violence against unarmed civilians [may] quash the protests this time around," but

the mood on the streets is explicitly revolutionary. They don't want reform, they want regime change. Of course, no one can predict when this moment will happen: it could be weeks, months or even years. But the Iranian people have made up their mind."

Believe it: As even the Ayatollahs must know in their hearts, change will come.

The other thing I'm not going to discuss, for the same reason (events changing too rapidly), is Ukraine.

But I do want to make one observation: There has been much discussion about the danger of Russia - that is, Vladimir Putin (or, as I call him, Pukin') - to escalate to nuclear weapons if things continue to go badly for him. But there is another danger that should be considered, this one coming from Ukraine, specifically from Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who has specifically barred any negotiations to end the war so long as Putin is in power.

I said before the war started that given nations' unfortunate historical preference for war over humiliation, the reality is, if in a confrontation you don't want a war, you have to give the other side a way to back out without appearing to back down. The same applies to ending a war.

I'm sure Zelenskyy is happily envisioning a coup overthrowing Putin, one lead by a group eager to offer Ukraine concessions up to and including forswearing any claims to Crimea. But I wonder if he is really giving full consideration to the increased risk to which he is subjecting his people with such an uncompromising attitude along with the question of what there is still to be gained that is worth the predictable cost.

The Ameerican pacifist A. J. Muste once said "The problem with war isn't with the loser but the winner. Who is going to teach them that might does not make right?" Now that things appear to be going his way, that's a question Volodymyr Zelenskyy should be asking himself.

063 The Erickson Report for October 6 to 19, Page 3: False claims about the future of Social Security

Oh, guess what! It's "Social Security is going bankrupt!" Season again!

At least every couple of years we experience a spate of articles on how Social Security is on the verge of some sort of catastrophe. It's running out of money! Or it will in a few years! It's unsustainable! Huge benefit cuts are just around the corner! We have to DO SOMETHING! OMG OMG OMG!

And it's always the same old, same old: the same old arguments and the same old predictions and the same old false comparisons. Several years ago someone said debating some climate change deniers was like debating a well-trained parrot that had learned about a dozen phrases it would spew out at random. It really is much the same here except there is even less variety in the arguments.

Our latest example comes from one John Csiszar, a financial planner writing on the "10 biggest problems facing Social Security."

Several of the problems are, frankly, temporary and based on conditions of the moment - for example, low interest rates. Those that aren't, are those same old, same old things that sound drastic but really mean little or nothing. But it's worth going through them so you can arm yourself against them when they come up, which they will because they always do.

One is that "life expectancy is rising" - actually, it hasn't these part few years, but let that pass as another hopefully temporary phenomenon - which makes for longer retirements and a bigger drain on the system. Except that greater life expectancy has also lead to people working longer and even putting off retirement voluntarily, not due to economic need. And many retirees work part time - I do - and so continue to contribute something to the system even during retirement and may even, if they earn more than a certain amount, see some of their benefits taxed back, as some of mine are.

A really deceptive argument is the one that goes "too many beneficiaries" due to the baby boomers. But the demographic bulge represented by that group was seen coming and in 1983 the tax rate for social security was raised specifically to create a surplus to deal with that coming bulge. Baby boomers were in effect pre-financing their own Social Security benefits.

So when you hear about the SS account "going to zero" around 2034, it's that surplus that will have been spent, returning SS to the pay-as-you-go status it has been on for most of its existence, which now extends back over 80 years.

And let me here address something subtle: The talk about looming "massive benefit cuts" that are always part of these discussions. Your social security benefits are calculated on a number of your highest-earning years, which for most people are ones nearing retirement, simply assuming they have been getting raises during their working years. When you hear about the benefit cuts, they are cuts from projected benefits. But over time, wages tend to rise a little faster than inflation, which in turn means that over time, the initial benefits for new retirees, measured in real terms, that is after accounting for inflation and so a measure of how much stuff you can actually buy, those initial benefits gradually provide a somewhat higher standard of living that the initial benefits for previous retirees.

Which means that by the time these benefit cuts come, the result could easily mean that new retirees have the same standard of living - can buy as much stuff - as people retiring now can. That's not something to be welcomed, certainly, but it is even further from the disaster it's intended to sound like by making you think they are cuts from the current level of benefits, not from the higher projected ones.

Getting back to the arguments in this article, another deceptive one is the "not enough workers" claim. This is that the worker-to-retiree ratio is shrinking. Sixty years ago there were five workers for every person receiving SS.  More recently it had been down to 2.8 workers per beneficiary and now, according to Csisza, it's down to - gasp! - just 2.1.

Sounds dreadful - except that the figure itself is useless. Workers don't just support retired people, they support all non-workers, including their children and their spouse or partner if they don't work and in some cases others. Even as the number of retirees is growing, family size is shrinking. So over these decades, even as the ratio of workers to retirees is expected to go down, the ratio of workers to non-workers is expected to go up: more workers per non-worker.

Sixty years ago, there were 1.05 workers per non-worker; by 2030, demographic trends say there will be 1.27. So by the logic of the argument, we will be better able to support Social Security in the future than we are now!

The burden on workers will be much that same, it's just that in effect, some portion of that burden will have shifted from supporting their children to supporting their parents.

But then of course, the real issue is Congressional stalemate, the refusal of politicians to do what's needed to fix this!

It is true that there hasn't been significant Social Security legislation since the 1980s, but a good part of the reason for that is that the only solutions usually offered - and the only ones offered here - are ones that just dump the burden on workers: Raise the retirement age (which in fact has already been done)! Cut benefits! Raise the payroll tax!

Want to know how to protect SS for the next 75 years, which is as far out into the future the trust fund managers' projections go? And do it without harming the interests of workers? First, remove the cap on the SS wage base. Right now, any earned income you make over $142,800 a year is not subject to SS payroll taxes. So someone making, say, 1.4M a year pays the same SS tax as someone earning one-tenth as much. Such a move would only affect the richest 8% of Americans. Which is why, of course, it hasn't been done.

But I'd go even beyond that. Remember, that tax applies to earned income. Income from passive sources, such as dividends, interest, pensions, or income from a business in which you don't have an active role, are not subject to payroll taxes. Frankly as far as I'm concerned, if you can spend it the same, it can be taxable the same. Which again would primarily affect the richest among us - which is why it isn't even on the table.

Bottom line - an appropriate expression here - SS may need some tweaks and fiddles - and it has been tweaked and fiddled with a number of times over its history - but it is not going bankrupt, not about to collapse, not in need of major surgery, and for young folks, yes it will be there for you when the time comes so long as we don't let the economic elites screw you over.

Saturday, October 08, 2022

063 The Erickson Report for October 6 to 19, Page 2: Follow Up on the shooting of Shireen Abu Akleh

Back in May, I addressed the killing of Palestinian American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, shot while she was covering an operation by the IDF, the Israeli Defense Forces, near the occupied West Bank city of Jenin.

Now, a new report, the result of a collaboration between the Palestinian human rights group Al-Haq and a UK-based research agency called Forensic Architecture, has concluded that Abu Akleh was deliberately and repeatedly targeted by Israeli snipers who shot her down despite her being clearly identified as a member of the press.

The new report confirms the findings of half a dozen earlier independent reviews of the incident, which have found that Israeli forces were responsible for Abu Akleh’s killing, including one from the United Nations that described the killing shot as “well aimed.”

But the new report goes beyond those earlier by having produced a detailed digital reconstruction of the shooting based on previously unseen footage recorded by Al Jazeera staff at the scene, open-source video, eyewitness accounts, and a drone survey of the area, and so offers the most conclusive account yet of what happened.

The Israeli response to this issue has been from the beginning both despicable and typical. The first, immediate response, including from then Israeli PM Naftali Bennett, was to say it had to be Palestinian militants. I mean, it just stood to reason. The IDF Chief of Staff, Major General Aviv Kochavi, said it surely was Palestinians because Palestinians shoot "wildly and indiscriminately in every direction" while IDF soldiers "carry out professional and selective firing."

The Israeli Ministry of Defense then produced a video it claimed depicted what it called "Palestinian terrorists" who "likely" killed Abu Akleh - only to have it turn out that the video was shot several hundred yards away in the wrong direction and there was neither any shooting nor any militants around where she was.

Right around that same time, the military declared "there was no need to open a military police investigation" because, they said in effect, there was a lot of shooting and stuff going on and so who knows what really happened.

Oh, but Israel did promise a full investigation, and on September 5 its official review was issued. It actually admitted that Abu Akleh was probably killed by IDF forces, but hey, it was "accidental," so, y'know, hey, they things happen. Get over it.

And so much for Major General Kochavi's "professional and selective firing," as by the official account either that statement is a lie or what happened was a deliberate murder.

The reconstruction in the new report gives every reason to think it was the latter.

It clearly shows that, again, there were neither armed gunners nearby nor were there shots fired in the minutes leading up to Abu Akleh’s killing and during the actual incident the only shots fired came from an IDF position. Moreover, the reconstruction shows that Abu Akleh’s and her colleagues’ “PRESS” insignias were clearly visible from the position of the IDF shooter; that the shooter had a “clear line of fire,” that the pattern of shots indicated “precise aim,” and that the firing continued as the journalists sought shelter. After Abu Akleh was hit, a civilian attempting to provide aid to her was fired upon each time he tried to approach her: When he hid behind a wall, no shots were fired; when he emerged to try to reach Abu Akleh, he was shot at.

So multiple reports had already come to the conclusion that Shireen Abu Akleh - and in case you didn't catch it, she was Palestinian-American; she was an American citizen - Shireen Abu Akleh was deliberately targeted by the Israeli military. And this new report, with the strongest proof yet, renders the same judgment as the rest.

Sadly, also like the rest, I expect it won't make a damn bit of difference.

There have been calls both in and out of Congress for the US to make its own investigation of what is at the least the extrajudicial killing of one of its citizens, all to no effect. US officials claim to have reviewed the findings of Israeli and Palestinian investigators but failed to reach a “definitive conclusion” as Secretary of State Anthony Blinken wistfully says he wishes someone could do an independent investigation - deliberately ignoring the string of such investigations by human rights organizations that have indeed reached a conclusion along with the fact that the US could do its own such independent investigation, but is deterred by the fearful knowledge of what it would be forced to conclude if it did so.

And so it goes on, without consequences, as the US continues to finance Israel's military to the tune of $3.8 billion every year and our policy wobbles between evading responsibility and making excuses for the crimes against human rights that aid helps to enable, also thereby helping to perpetuate a political atmosphere that holds Israel, whatever its policies, whatever its behavior, whatever its crimes, essentially exempt from criticism and speaking the most literal and simple truth, even if carefully expressed, can and if your voice is loud enough to be heard likely will generate charges of antisemitism.

Consider that there is a movement known as BDS. It stands for boycott, divest, and sanction; it's aim is to bring economic and cultural pressure on Israel to change policies, particularly with regard to Palestinians in the Occupied Territories but also Palestinian citizens of Israel.

And the very fact that it calls for such actions, the very fact that it is aimed at Israel, has resulted in it's being labeled antisemitic. Indeed, there are so-called "anti-BDS laws" on the books in 35 states that in some way seek to constrict speech by economically penalizing, through loss of government investment or contracts, any company that might consider joining the boycott.
Shireen Abu Akleh

Consider, too, the recent example of Rep. Rashida Tlaib, who, speaking at a Palestine Advocacy Day event on Sept 20, said (and this is an exact quote) “I want you all to know that among progressives, it becomes clear that you cannot claim to hold progressive values yet back Israel's apartheid government.”

It took precisely one day for Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, to twist Tlaib's words into her having made a declaration that progressive "American Jews need to pass an anti-Zionist litmus test" and "doubled down on her antisemitism," that antisemitism consisting of "slandering Israel as an apartheid state.”

The same day, Rep. Jerry Nadler said “I fundamentally reject the notion that one cannot support Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish and democratic state and be a progressive,” a statement even further removed from what Tlaib said than Greenblatt's.

Other members of Congress, including Reps. Ted Deutch, Haley Stevens, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Juan Vargas, and others, made similar public comments, conflating opposing, quote, "Israel's apartheid government" with rejecting Israel's right to exist altogether and declaring that calling Israel an apartheid state is by definition both slander and antisemitic.

Major media outlets, including CNN, picked up and amplified the message: criticize Israel and you will be labeled an antisemite.

Now beyond the fact that Tlaib said nothing referring to Israel's right to exist, only to it's governing policies, the brutal truth is that Israel is an apartheid state. It has found to be one by Human Rights Watch, by B'Tselem, an Israeli human rights group, by Amnesty International, and by United Nations human rights experts.

For clarity, Amnesty International says, quoting,

The crime against humanity of apartheid under the Apartheid Convention, the Rome Statute and customary international law is committed when any inhuman or inhumane act (essentially a serious human rights violation) is perpetrated in the context of an institutionalised regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over another, with the intention to maintain that system.

Apartheid can best be understood as a system of prolonged and cruel discriminatory treatment by one racial group of members of another with the intention to control the second racial group.

That is apartheid. And that is what leading human rights groups have found Israel is guilty of.

And it won't change, not until there are consequences. Palestinians in the Occupied Territories will continue to see discrimination, continue to see their homes demolished, their lands seized, their human rights denied, until there are consequences. And they will continue to be killed without recourse and that also applies to journalists, bringing us back full circle to where we started, as Abu Akleh was not the first: There have been at least 45 journalists killed by the "professional and selective[ly] firing" IDF since 2000.

Under US policy, those consequences should include a declaration the US that it will no longer use its veto in the Security Council or its influence in the General Assembly to defend or protect Israel from any UN sanctions, that the DOJ takes the position, which it will pursue in court, that all anti-BDS laws are unconstitutional violations of the rights to free speech and free association, and most importantly, there will be no more military aid to or military cooperation with, and no more security guarantees to, Israel until there is a final and just settlement to guarantee Palestinian rights, including the right to statehood.

Those are the consequences that we, that the US, should impose to end the injustice, end the occupation, end the apartheid. But I confess I have no faith that it will happen, at least until the current generations - including my own - die off.

063 The Erickson Report for October 6 to 19, Page 1: Correction regarding school book bans

We start with a correction: Last time in discussing the increasing banning of books in schools, I twice said that PEN America’s Index of School Book Bans listed 650 unique titles that had been banned from schools over the past school year.

What I meant to say in each occasion was sixteen hundred fifty unique titles - not 650, one thousand 650.

It is worth adding here that according to a recent CBS News poll, over 80% of Americans hold that books should not be banned from schools for discussing race, criticizing US history, including the history of slavery, or  holding political ideas they disagree with.

The poll found wide agreement across party lines, between white and blacks, and between parents and the wider public.

So remember two things: One, this is all, yet again, the work of a small, fractious, but loud minority using hyperbolic lies and manufactured outrage in defense of white supremicist refusal to admit the reality of racism and to protect bigotry against the rights, even the existence, of LGBTQ+ youth.

And two, underlying it all is the intent to undermine and delegitimize public schools as an institution, part of the long-standing drive by the reactionary right to strip away a right to, eliminate the very concept of, a public education and return education to a prerogative of the powerful with the rest of us knowing only enough to serve our place in the social hierarchy.

063 The Erickson Report for October 6 to 19


063 The Erickson Report for October 6 to 19


Correction regarding school book bans

Follow Up on the shooting of Shireen Abu Akleh

False claims about the future of Social Security

Brief comments on Iran and Ukraine
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