Friday, April 18, 2014

Matt Taibbi's new book "The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap"


Subject: Excerpt: Matt Taibbi on "The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap"

Over the course of the last twenty years or so, America has
been falling deeper and deeper into a bizarre statistical mystery.
Take in the following three pieces of information, and see if
you can make them fit together.
First, violent crime has been dropping precipitously for nearly
two decades. At its peak in 1991, according to FBI data, there
were 758 violent crimes per 100,000 people. By 2010 that
number had plunged to 425 crimes per 100,000, a drop of
more than 44 percent.
The decrease covered all varieties of serious crime, from
murder to assault to rape to armed robbery. The graphs
depicting the decline show a long, steady downswing, one that
doesn’t jump from year to year but consistently slumps from
year to year.
Second: although poverty rates largely declined during the
1990s, offering at least one possible explanation for the drop in
violent crime, poverty rates rose sharply during the 2000s. At
the start of that decade, poverty levels hovered just above
10 percent. By 2008 they were up to 13.2 percent. By 2009 the
number was 14.3 percent. By 2010, 15.3 percent.
All this squares with what most people who lived in Middle
America knew, and know, instinctively. Despite what we’re
being told about a post-2008 recovery, despite what the rising
stock market seems to indicate, the economy is mostly worse,
real incomes are mostly declining, and money is mostly
scarcer.
But throughout all this time, violent crime has gone down. It
continues to decline today. Counter intuitively, more poverty has not created more crime.
The third piece of information that makes no sense is that
during this same period of time, the prison population in
America has exploded. In 1991 there were about one million
Americans behind bars. By 2012 the number was over
2.2 million, a more than 100 percent increase.
Our prison population, in fact, is now the biggest in the
history of human civilization. There are more people in the
United States either on parole or in jail today (around 6 million total) than there ever were at any time in Stalin’s gulags. For what it’s worth, there are also more black men in jail right now than there were in slavery at its peak.
See if this syllogism works, then.
Poverty goes up;
Crime goes down;
Prison population doubles.
It doesn’t fit, unless some sort of alternative explanation comes
into play. Maybe all those new nonviolent prisoners fit into
some new national policy imperative. Maybe they all broke
some new set of unwritten societal rules. But what?
While on a visit to San Diego to do research for this book, I
heard a crazy story. The subject was the city’s P100 program, under which anyone who applied for welfare could have his or her home searched preemptively by the state. Ostensibly, authorities
were looking for evidence that the applicant had a secret job or
a boyfriend who could pay bills, or was just generally lying
about something in order to cheat the taxpayer out of that
miserable few hundred bucks a month.
One Vietnamese woman, a refugee and a rape victim who
had only recently come to America, applied for welfare in San
Diego. An inspector came to her door, barged in, and began
rifling through her belongings. At one point, he reached into her
underwear drawer and began sifting around. Sneering, he used
the tip of the pencil eraser to pull out a pair of sexy panties and
looked at her accusingly. If she didn’t have a boyfriend, what
did she need these for?
That image, of a welfare inspector sneeringly holding up
panties with a pencil end, expresses all sorts of things at once.
The main thing is contempt. The implication is that someone
broke enough to ask the taxpayer for a handout shouldn’t have
sex, much less sexy panties.
The other thing here is an idea that being that poor means
you should naturally give up any ideas you might have about
privacy or dignity. The welfare applicant is less of a person for
being financially dependent (and a generally unwelcome
immigrant from a poor country to boot), so she naturally has
fewer rights.
No matter how offensive the image is, it has a weird logic
that’s irresistible to many if not most Americans. Even if we
don’t agree with it, we all get it.
And that’s the interesting part, the part where we all get it.
More and more often, we all make silent calculations about who
is entitled to what rights, and who is not. It’s not as simple as
saying everyone is the same under the law anymore. We all
know there’s another layer to it now.
As a very young man, I studied the Russian language in
Leningrad, in the waning days of the Soviet empire. One of the
first things I noticed about that dysfunctional wreck of a lunatic
country was that it had two sets of laws, one written and one
unwritten. The written laws were meaningless, unless you
violated one of the unwritten laws, at which point they became
all-important.
So, for instance, possessing dollars or any kind of hard
currency was technically forbidden, yet I never met a Soviet
citizen who didn’t have them. The state just happened to be
very selective about enforcing its anticommerce laws. So the
teenage farsovshik (black market trader) who sold rabbit hats in
exchange for blue jeans outside my dorm could be arrested for
having three dollars in his pocket, but a city official could openly
walk down Nevsky Avenue with a brand-new Savile Row suit
on his back, and nothing would happen.
Everyone understood this hypocrisy implicitly, almost at a
cellular level, far beneath thought. For a Russian in Soviet
times, navigating every moment of citizenship involved
countless silent calculations of this type. But the instant people
were permitted to think about all this and question the unwritten
rules out loud, it was like the whole country woke up from a
dream, and the system fell apart in a matter of months. That
happened before my eyes in 1990 and 1991, and I never forgot
it.
Now I feel like I’m living that process in reverse, watching my
own country fall into a delusion in the same way the Soviets
once woke up from one. People are beginning to become
disturbingly comfortable with a kind of official hypocrisy.
Bizarrely, for instance, we’ve become numb to the idea that
rights aren’t absolute but are enjoyed on a kind of sliding scale.
CREDIT LINE: Excerpted from THE DIVIDE: American Injustice in
the Age of the Wealth Gap by Matt Taibbi. Copyright © 2014

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Joint Statement on Palestinian Prisoners’ Day:





*

*Israel must heed international calls to respect human rights of
Palestinians held in Israeli prisons*

17 April 2014

Today, on 17 April 2014, Palestinians around the world commemorate
Prisoners’ Day in solidarity with thousands of Palestinian prisoners and
detainees held in Israeli prisons.

To mark this important day in Palestinian society, four human rights
organizations – Adalah, Al Mezan, Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, and
the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel – are issuing this joint
statement to call upon the international community to urge Israel to heed
growing international statements and recommendations to guarantee and
protect the human rights of Palestinian prisoners and detainees in Israeli
prisons.

Since 1967, Israel has detained and imprisoned over 800,000 Palestinians as
a means of maintaining and consolidating Israel’s control of the Occupied
Palestinian Territory (OPT). Today, according to Addameer, more than 5,200
Palestinian prisoners and
detainees; –
including women and children, pre-Oslo Accords prisoners, and elected
Members of the Palestinian Legislative Council – are being held in prisons
located inside Israel, in contravention of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

Israel’s violations of Palestinian prisoners’ basic human
rights;
include
the use of administrative detention without formal charge or trial; severe
restrictions on family visits, lack of access to healthcare and independent
doctors, and access to education; collective punishments such as solitary
confinement; forced strip searches; violent night-time raids on inmates;
and other practices that constitute torture or cruel, inhuman and degrading
treatment. In addition to these policies, Israel is proposing new laws,
such as the Anti-Terror Bill and the Force-feeding Bill, which threaten to
further infringe on the basic rights of Palestinian prisoners and detainees.

Despite these continued practices, this year’s Prisoners’ Day comes at a
time of increasing international scrutiny and criticism towards Israel’s
treatment of Palestinians in Israeli prisons:

*European Parliament: *In March 2014, members of the European Parliament
conducted a Fact-Finding Mission to assess the conditions and polices
towards Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons. The mission was held in
accordance with a European Parliament
Resolution;
passed
on 14 March 2013, following the death of prisoner Arafat
Jaradat;
under
Israeli custody. An investigation by a leading international forensic
pathologist found that Jaradat had suffered acts of
torture; during
custody and that this had led to his death, contradicting Israel's account
that Jaradat died of 'natural causes'.

*European Union: *The EU also issued its European Neighborhood Policy (ENP)
report ; on
Israel in March 2014, in which it highlighted continued complaints of the
use of torture by Israel and the lack of investigations into these
complaints. The EU further expressed concern of the continued excessive use
of administrative detention, and emphasized the need to implement the
recommendations of the Turkel Commission Report to ensure accountability of
Israel’s security services. The EU ENP report echoed many of the issues
highlighted in a joint NGO
input;
submitted
by the four partners in October 2013 regarding the human rights of
prisoners and detainees in Israeli prisons.

*United Nations:* In June 2013, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child
(CRC) issued harsh concluding
observations;
of
Israel’s treatment of Palestinian children detainees and prisoners,
including harsh arrests and detentions of minors, night-time raids on
Palestinian homes, denial of family supervision or contact during custody,
solitary confinement against minors as punishment, and psychological and
physical violence by police and security forces that constitute forms of
torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.

We call upon the international community to demand that Israel incorporate
these international recommendations in order to address the deteriorating
human rights conditions of Palestinian prisoners and to end its breaches of
international law. We demand that Israel end the practice of torture and
ill-treatment against Palestinian prisoners, end its use of administrative
detention, and end the severe tactics of arrest and detention of
Palestinian minors. We further demand that Israel ends all discriminatory
legislation that target the rights of Palestinians in Israeli prisons, and
that it ensures transparency and accountability of Israeli security and
prison authorities.

*Read more: **Joint report on the human rights of Palestinian prisoners and
detainees, October
2013*;

*Signing organizations:*

Adalah - The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel

Al Mezan Center for Human Rights

Physicians for Human Rights-Israel (PHR-I)

Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI)

[image: Inline image 2]

PROJECT FUNDED BY THE EUROPEAN UNION - JOINT PROJECT OF ADALAH, PHYSICIANS
FOR HUMAN RIGHTS-ISRAEL AND AL MEZAN (GAZA)

Princeton Concludes What Kind of Government America Really Has, and It's Not a Democracy

Tom McKay's avatar image By Tom McKay April 16, 2014


Princeton Concludes What Kind of Government America Really Has, and It's Not a Democracy

The news: A new scientific study from Princeton researchers Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page has finally put some science behind the recently popular argument that the United States isn't a democracy any more. And they've found that in fact, America is basically an oligarchy.

An oligarchy is a system where power is effectively wielded by a small number of individuals defined by their status called oligarchs. Members of the oligarchy are the rich, the well connected and the politically powerful, as well as particularly well placed individuals in institutions like banking and finance or the military.

For their study, Gilens and Page compiled data from roughly 1,800 different policy initiatives in the years between 1981 and 2002. They then compared those policy changes with the expressed opinion of the United State public. Comparing the preferences of the average American at the 50th percentile of income to what those Americans at the 90th percentile preferred, as well as the opinions of major lobbying or business groups, the researchers found out that the government followed the directives set forth by the latter two much more often.

It's beyond alarming. As Gilens and Page write, "the preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy." In other words, their statistics say your opinion literally does not matter.

That might explain why mandatory background checks on gun sales supported by 83% to 91% of Americans aren't in place, or why Congress has taken no action on greenhouse gas emissions even when such legislation is supported by the vast majority of citizens.

This problem has been steadily escalating for four decades. While there are some limitations to their data set, economists Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez constructed income statistics based on IRS data that go back to 1913. They found that the gap between the ultra-wealthy and the rest of us is much bigger than you would think, as mapped by these graphs from the Center On Budget and Policy Priorities:

Piketty and Saez also calculated that as of September 2013 the top 1% of earners had captured 95% of all income gains since the Great Recession ended. The other 99% saw a net 12% drop to their income. So not only is oligarchy making the rich richer, it's driving policy that's made everyone else poorer.

What kind of oligarchy? As Gawker's Hamilton Nolan explains, Gilens and Page's findings provide support for two theories of governance: economic elite domination and biased pluralism. The first is pretty straightforward and states that the ultra-wealthy wield all the power in a given system, though some argue that this system still allows elites in corporations and the government to become powerful as well. Here, power does not necessarily derive from wealth, but those in power almost invariably come from the upper class. Biased pluralism on the other hand argues that the entire system is a mess and interest groups ruled by elites are fighting for dominance of the political process. Also, because of their vast wealth of resources, interest groups of large business tend to dominate a lot of the discourse. America, the findings indicate, tends towards either of these much more than anything close to what we call "democracy."

In either case, the result is the same: Big corporations, the ultra-wealthy and special interests with a lot of money and power essentially make all of the decisions. Citizens wield little to no political power. America, the findings indicate, tends towards either of these much more than anything close to what we call "democracy" — systems such as majoritarian electoral democracy or majoritarian pluralism, under which the policy choices pursued by the government would reflect the opinions of the governed.

Nothing new: And no, this isn't a problem that's the result of any recent Supreme Court cases — at least certainly not the likes FEC v. Citizens United or FEC v. McCutcheon. The data is pretty clear that America has been sliding steadily into oligarchy for decades, mirrored in both the substantive effect on policy and in the distribution of wealth throughout the U.S. But cases like those might indicate the process is accelerating.

"Perhaps economic elites and interest group leaders enjoy greater policy expertise than the average citizen does," Gilens and Page write. "Perhaps they know better which policies will benefit everyone, and perhaps they seek the common good, rather than selfish ends, when deciding which policies to support.

"But we tend to doubt it."

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Alterman says BDS is helping Netanyahu

from mondoweiss.org

James North and Phil Weiss on April 15, 2014 105



The New York Times editorial board refuses to lay blame for the failure of the peace talks on either side. By contrast, Eric Alterman in The Nation is a model of clear thinking. The Israelis and Netanyahu were “never serious about pursuing” a two-state solution in recent talks, Netanyahu wants “a Bantustan-style solution,” and “US audiences may be fooled by Netanyahu’s lip service to a two-state solution, but Israelis are not.”

Then something comes over this calm and persuasive writer, and three-quarters of the way through his column, Alterman starts writing as if he is a man possessed. Maybe something bit him?

Alterman is enraged by the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, BDS, and makes the astonishing claim that BDS is helping Netanyahu pursue the occupation.

Netanyahu and company actually appreciate the misguided efforts of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign in the United States and Europe. As [Avner Inbar, director of the liberal Israeli thinktank Molad] explains, while “the ideologically driven BDS movement likes to claim credit for any instance of international pressure on Israel, it really forestalls such pressure, as the large actors whose actions count in this regard—governments, international agencies and corporations who oppose the occupation—are justifiably reluctant to be associated with the wholesale anti-Israeli rhetoric of the BDS movement.” Right-wing Israelis are therefore able to take advantage of the widespread distaste for “BDS-style rhetoric and tactics, because they know that the more attention the BDS movement receives, the more difficult it will become to build serious international pressure on the occupation itself.” (This is undoubtedly why Mahmoud Abbas opposes BDS as well.)

If BDS is so helpful to Netanyahu’s efforts to maintain the occupation, Hasbara Central sure didn’t get the prime minister’s memo. Israel’s friends have been working overtime out of the expressed concern that BDS represents the greatest threat to Israel. At a secret conference in London aimed at thwarting BDS just last week, Ron Lauder linked it to terrorism. Many others claim that it’s anti-Semitic. Israel lobbyists are trying to get US lawmakers to legislate against it. They are alarmed because, as the New York Times reported in that op-ed yesterday, BDS’s momentum is growing. Some European banks have turned from Israel, the American Studies Association voted for academic boycott of Israel, and the movement’s recent progress has been so dramatic that Netanyahu mentioned BDS 18 times in his speech to AIPAC. “Those who wear the BDS label should be treated exactly as we treat any anti-Semite or bigot,” he said.

Even more bizarre is Alterman’s contention that well-meaning governments and corporations and international agencies oppose the occupation and are just itchin’ to put pressure on Israel. Where’s his evidence? Israel has never paid a price for expansion; it just keeps expanding. Obama called for an end to settlements in 2009 and then promptly reversed himself, lest he lose Haim Saban and other major backers. The Democratic Party has endlessly supported Israel’s colonization of Jerusalem; and the American Jewish community has also been a passive supporter — “breakfast at the Regency,” as David Remnick put it. When Peter Beinart dared to call for boycotting settlement goods, he promptly set off a furious argument here over whether you could boycott Israel even outside the Green Line, in the illegally-occupied territories.

Palestinians didn’t care about that American foodfight; they moved ahead with the boycott call.

BDS is a Palestinian-led movement that has been unhampered by all the tribal and imperial politics that have prevented western governments and corporations from doing one thing to stem Israel’s expansion, from 1948 on. And that’s the problem. Alterman once was able to claim that he was a good American liberal on this issue, representing the left side of American debate, concerned about Palestinian human rights. He’s lost that status to BDS, which is really doing something about Palestinian rights. No wonder he’s lashing out.

Jazz, Cancer and Revolution Fred Ho Lives!

from Counterpunch
April 14, 2014
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by ERIC MANN

Fred Ho, a renowned baritone sax player, Afro-Asian jazz musician, composer, political organizer, revolutionary died on Saturday. In 2006, Fred was diagnosed with colorectal cancer and spent the next 8 years battling the disease in the most public and political arenas– reflected in his book, “Diary of a Radical Cancer Warrior: Fighting Cancer and Capitalism at the Cellular Level.” His fight with cancer alone was extraordinary, I have never seen someone live through so much pain, through operation after operation, chemo, and each time, truly arise from near-death– to announce he had “stage 4” cancer and then play an amazing sax solo, give a talk about eco-socialism, of which he was a pioneer, and explain why he was a luddite.

Two years ago, the Labor/Community Strategy Center, organized “An Afternoon with Fred Ho” in Los Angeles—an event that is considered historic by its 100+ participants and many who have heard the program on my radio show, Voices from the Frontlines. Fred played several baritone saxophone solos, always decked out in super colorful clothes he designed and made himself—which he made sure we knew was his war against the clothing industry. It was a conversation between Fred, Robin D.G. Kelley, Diane Fujino and me. The four of us are very close politically, all share an Afro-centric socialist view of the world, and the conversation went on for almost two hours—spanning jazz, Black history, eco-socialism, the role of the individual in history, ego formation, the essential role of revolutionary improvisation and the struggle against rigid thinking and dogmatism— the imperative to create, do and say original things. Robin who has written the definitive book on Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original and Fred got into a long discussion of 12 note scales and how Fred had tried to break with that form and how he formed a big band to break the form of the big band. I remember thinking that I barely understood the complexities of their conversation and had so much to learn about music theory. But that was the point—to be exposed to new ideas and to inform my organizing by a constantly expanding constellation of theory. I most understood the premise that I was taught from the first day I joined the civil rights movement that has guided my work to this day–that breaking the rules is critical to winning the battle of ideas in a struggle with an oppressive system. Diane talked about the the significance of making and writing history, and the critical role the Black movement has played in shaping revolutionary Asian American consciousness—as she has been the author of Heartbeat of Struggle, the biography of Yuri Kochiyama and Samurai Among Panthers, the biography of Richard Aoki.

afroasian-7

In the conversation I challenged Fred’s conception that “the old Fred Ho died and the new Fred Ho has been reborn free of egotism” –remarking to Fred that I saw far more continuities in his life than differences and why would he negate such a rich, complex life history. (I tend to do this as well, wanting to believe I have “broken” with a previous view while often there is a leap, not a break, and much of what is “new” is based on much of what I have done before and the historical ideas that have shaped my consciousness.)

What the four of us had in common, was a profound opposition to the entire Eurocentric worldview, what Fred called “manifest destiny Marxism” in which even U.S. socialists talked about their “utopia” as little more than more equitably distributing the spoils of empire. We all shared a once dominant but still relevant view that Black people in the United States are an oppressed nation with the right of self-determination, and an unapologetic Third Worldism in which we shared the assessment of Dr. King that the United States is “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world” We saw the system of imperialism led by the United States as the primary obstacle to human rights, self-determination, and the greatest threat to ecological possibility and the survival of the planet. But most of all it was the type of engaging conversation, discussion, debate, argument, in such a probing and affectionate manner so rare on the left–the type of open ended discussions and inquiries that are so needed for a new revolutionary movement still fighting to come into being.

The New York Times describes Fred’s “Warrior Sisters: The New Adventures of African and Asian Womyn Warriors” (1991), written with the librettist Ann T. Greene combining “the subjects of Chinese folklore, physical combat, domestic abuse, the black power movement and revolutionary feminism.” Ann T. Greene managed Fred’s long journey with cancer, devoted herself to his welfare, and was his representative to the outside world about his illness and organizer of a group of us who supported Fred throughout his journey. It is beyond comprehension what she is feeling now, but for those of us who worked with her for so many years, we witnessed a true angel of mercy, as she was with Fred in the last years, months, weeks, days, hours and minutes.

In that I knew Fred first as a political revolutionary and secondly as a musician, I was often shocked at how influential his music was and the extent of his world-wide recognition. In June 2013 at Fred’s invitation, I came to New York to La MaMa to attend one of the last performances of “Deadly She-Wolf Assassin at Armageddon!” a choreographed martial-arts opera based on the 1970s manga comics of Kazuo Koike. I was in awe to see how he had written a piece in which the narration, music, and martial arts were precisely timed in complete precision. The young baritone sax player, Ben Barson, played Fred’s instrument and music with such energy and power—one of Fred’s students taking center stage while he was alive to see it. That night the cast and friends went to a great Chinese restaurant where they honored Fred and each other. The waiters served course after course and we talked late into the night—all Fred’s events ended with food, drink, and conversation, building community at the cellular level.

Fred challenged me to be more revolutionary and original and challenged the entire 501 c3 culture, including that of my own organization the Labor/Community Strategy center. Our constant struggles helped to clarify and sharpen my own politics and helped us move to the Fight for the Soul of the Cities frame for our work and our No Cars in L.A. campaign.

But given our great unities we also had significant political differences and Fred was principled and generous in his struggles with me. He organized a discussion between us at the National Black Theater in Harlem June 13, 2013. Quincy Saul a member of Scientific Soul Sessions did a very fair and accurate representation of our views.

Eric Mann: An anti-imperialist, eco-socialist future must be grounded in the actual conditions of daily-life and political struggles of working class oppressed nationality populations. People learn and become radicalized through mass, radical, reform struggles, the struggle with the corporations and the state, and the conscious intervention of organizers as political educators bringing theory, ideology, strategy, and tactics to inform that work. We need to build more of these mass campaigns for radical reforms, and do so as revolutionaries, educating about empire, and consolidating victories, concessions and consciousness toward a revolutionary future.

Fred Ho: We need to reject the entire framework of mass society. The practicalities of struggle within this system are toxic, and will literally give us cancer. The accumulation of reforms does not create revolutionary conditions but take us further away from them. The reform struggle deepens colonization to the matrix of modernity. We need to begin an exodus of revolutionary maroonage, where people pull out of the system altogether through the prefigurative production of a future decolonized society.

Still, the evening was marked by mutual affection. We ended our “debate” as Fred called it, with a true embrace, raised held hands, and then we all went out to dinner at a great restaurant in Harlem. (The talks are up on YouTube thanks to film-maker Steven De Castro, whose film, “Jazz, Cancer, and Life: Fred Ho’s Last Year” is in post-production.)

While the system’s leaders of often interchangeable, mass movement’s require many leaders and as many generals and geniuses as we can muster. For us, the loss of a Malcolm or Martin, Harold Washington, Hugo Chavez and Chowke Lumumba before their and our time—and yes, a Fred Ho at 56—are massive blows to the movement. That is why Fred spent his last years building a new generation of leaders, and his Scientific Soul Sessions, his many bands, his endless students, and fortunately, The Fred Ho Reader, Black Panther Suite, so many cds, DVDs, operas, talks are part of a legacy that must be further studied and appreciated.

In his last months, Fred’s last battle with the cancer finally became a reality to all of us. Fred, who had defied gravity and mortality, was finally in transition and moved into hospice care in his apartment in Brookly. But having seen Fred truly rise from the dead endless times—this damn painful journey began in 2006! it was still hard to imagine there would be a finite date for the end of his journey. Will to live? Nobody exhibited it like Fred Ho. Will to shake things up, piss people off, get in your face and demand more, often prescient, sometimes arrogant, but deeply sincere and driven to the bone—absolutely. And for those of us who were his friends and comrades, Fred was a tremendously gentle, generous, and kind man.

For those who knew him and his work we will do everything we can to further popularize and disseminate it. For those who do not yet know who he is and was there will be great joy in discovering him.

Eric Mann is the director of the Labor/Community Strategy Center, host of KPFK Pacifica’s Voices from the Frontlines, and author of Playbook for Progressives: 16 Qualities of the Successful Organizer. He can be reached at eric@voicesfromfrontlines.com

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Modern Language Association Votes on Resolution Condemning Israeli Discrimination Against Palestinan Schools and Academics


The Delegate Assembly of the Modern Language Association approved a resolution critical of Israeli discrimination against Palestinian academics at its meeting on 11 January 2014 in Chicago.

There has been a discussion period from March 17 to April 16, 2014, during which members commented on the resolution on the MLA webpage.

From April 21st through June 1st MLA members will vote to accept or reject the resolution. Below is wording of the resolution and my comments (as a language teacher, I'm an MLA member).

There were a lot of good comments that laid out the history and depth of the Israeli government's oppression of Palestinians concerning education and other topics, so I confined my remarks to why educators in the USA should speak out.


Resolution 2014-1
Whereas Israel has denied academics of Palestinian ethnicity entry into the West Bank;

Whereas these restrictions violate international conventions on an occupying power’s obligation to protect the right to education;

Whereas the United States Department of State acknowledges on its Web site that Israel restricts the movements of American citizens of Palestinian descent;

Whereas the denials have disrupted instruction, research, and planning at Palestinian universities;

Whereas the denials have restricted the academic freedom of scholars and teachers who are United States citizens;

Be it resolved that the MLA urge the United States Department of State to contest Israel’s denials of entry to the West Bank by United States academics who have been invited to teach, confer, or do research at Palestinian universities.



My Comments

This resolution is a very narrowly focused one that deals with a clear injustice. It ought to be adapted by a large majority.

Opponents of the resolution say Israel is being singled out, and why not condemn other nations that practice ethnic or nationality-based discrimination regarding educational opportunities?

It's fine to expose human rights violations universally, but Israel's systematic ethnic discrimination is enabled by our government's uncritical support and massive funding of billions of dollars per year.

It's our tax dollars that perpetuate unjust policies directed against Palestinian schools and students.
Posted 15 Apr 10:32 pm by Richard Congress


Rumsfeld Personifies Our Society




David Swanson
Tuesday, 15 April 2014 10:40
0 Comments

By David Swanson. This article was first published on War is a Crime.

When Donald Rumsfeld used to hold press conferences about the Iraq war, the press corps would giggle at the clever ways in which he refused to actually say anything or answer any questions.

In a new film about Rumsfeld called The Unknown Knowns, the aging criminal is occasionally confronted with evidence that what he's just said is false. He maintains a frozen grin and acts as if nothing has happened. The film's director, interviewing Rumsfeld, never presses the truly uncomfortable points.

The closest the film comes to asking Rumsfeld about the wrongness of launching a war on Iraq is with the question "Wouldn't it have been better not to go there at all?" Not "Wasn't it illegal?" Not "Do you believe 1.4 million Iraqis were killed or only 0.5 million?" Not "When you sleep at your home at the Mt. Misery plantation where they used to beat and whip slaves like Frederick Douglass how do you rank the mass slaughter you engaged in against the crimes of past eras?" Not "Was it at least inappropriate to smirk and claim that 'freedom is untidy' while people were destroying a society?" And to the only question that was asked, Rumsfeld is allowed to get away with replying "I guess time will tell."

Then Rumsfeld effectively suggests that time has already told. He says that candidate Barack Obama opposed Bush-era tactics and yet has kept them in place, including the PATRIOT Act, lawless imprisonment, etc. He might have added that President Obama has maintained the right to torture and rendition even while largely replacing torture with murder via drone. Most crucially for himself, he might have noted that Obama has violated the Convention Against Torture by barring the prosecution of those responsible for recent violations. But Rumsfeld's point is clear when he notes that Obama's conduct "has to validate" everything the previous gang did wrong.

I've long included Rumsfeld on a list of the top 50 Bush-era war criminals, with this description:

"Donald Rumsfeld lives in Washington, D.C., and at former slave-beating plantation "Mount Misery" on Maryland's Eastern Shore near St. Michael's and a home belonging to Dick Cheney, as well as at an estate outside Taos, New Mexico. He took part in White House meetings personally overseeing and approving torture by authorizing the use of specific torture techniques including waterboarding on specific people, and was in fact a leading liar in making the false case for an illegal war of aggression, and pushed for wars of aggression for years as a participant in the Project for the New American Century."

The National Lawyers Guild noted years ago:

"It was recently revealed that Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice, Donald Rumsfeld, Colin Powell, George Tenet, and John Ashcroft met in the White House and personally oversaw and approved the torture by authorizing specific torture techniques including waterboarding. President Bush admitted he knew and approved of their actions. 'They are all liable under the War Crimes Act and the Torture Statute,' Professor [Marjorie] Cohn testified. 'Under the doctrine of command responsibility, commanders, all the way up the chain of command to the commander-in-chief, are liable for war crimes if they knew or should have known their subordinates would commit them, and they did nothing to stop or prevent it. The Bush officials ordered the torture after seeking legal cover from their lawyers.'"

This doesn't come up in the movie. Rumsfeld does shamelessly defend abusing and torturing prisoners, and maintains that torturing people protects "the American people," but he passes the buck to the Department of Justice and the CIA and is never asked about the White House meetings described above. When it comes to Abu Ghraib he says he thought "something terrible happened on my watch" as if he'd had nothing to do with it, as if his casual approval of torture and scrawled notes about how he stands up all day and so can prisoners played no part. (He also claims nobody was killed and there was just a bit of nudity and sadism, despite the fact that photos of guards smiling with corpses have been made public -- the movie doesn't mention them.) Asked about abuses migrating from Guantanamo to Iraq, Rumsfeld cites a report to claim they didn't. The director then shows Rumsfeld that the report he cited says that in fact torture techniques migrated from Guantanamo to Iraq. Rumsfeld says he thinks that's accurate, as if he'd never said anything else. Rumsfeld also says that in the future he believes public officials won't write so many memos.

The central lie in Rumsfeld's mind and our society and The Unknown Knowns is probably that irrational foreigners are out to get us. Rumsfeld recounts being asked at his confirmation hearing to become Secretary of So-Called Defense "What do you go to sleep worried about?" The answer was not disease or climate change or car accidents or environmental pollution or starvation any actually significant danger. The answer was not that the United States continues antagonizing the world and creating enemies. There was no sense of urgency to halt injustices or stop arming dictators or pull back from bases that outrage local populations. Instead, Rumsfeld feared another Pearl Harbor -- the same thing his Project for the New American Century had said would be needed in order to justify overthrowing governments in the Middle East.

Rumsfeld describes Pearl Harbor in the movie, lying that no one had imagined the possibility of a Japanese attack there. The facts refute that endlessly repeated lie. Then Rumsfeld tells the same lie about 9-11, calling it "a failure of imagination." What we're going through is a failure of memory. These words "FBI information ... indicates patterns of suspicious activity in this country consistent with preparations for hijackings or other types of attacks, including recent surveillance of federal buildings in New York" appeared in an August 6, 2001, briefing of President George W. Bush titled "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S."

The movie does a decent job on Rumsfeld's pre-war lies. Rumsfeld tells the camera that nobody in the Bush administration ever tied Saddam Hussein to 9-11. Then the film shows old footage of Rumsfeld himself doing just that. Similar footage could have been shown of numerous officials on numerous occasions. Rumsfeld has clearly been allowed such levels of impunity that delusions have taken over. He rewrites the past in his head and expects everyone else to obediently follow along. As of course Eric Holder's Justice Department has done.

Rumsfeld, in the film, dates the certainty of the decision to invade Iraq to January 11, 2003. This of course predates months of himself and Bush and Cheney pretending no decision had been made, including the January 31, 2003, White House press conference with Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair at which they said they were working to avoid war, after Bush had just privately proposed to Blair a string of cockamamie ideas that might get a war started.

Bizarrely, the film's director Errol Morris asks Rumsfeld why they didn't just assassinate Saddam Hussein instead of attacking the nation of Iraq. He does not ask why the U.S. didn't obey the law. He does not ask about Hussein's willingness to just leave if he could keep $1 billion, as Bush told Spanish president Jose Maria Aznar that Hussein had offered. And even the question asked, Rumsfeld refuses to answer until he makes Morris complicit. Morris had used the word "they," as in "why didn't they just assassinate him?" whereas he clearly should have used the word "you," but Rumsfeld makes him repeat the question using the word "we" before providing an answer. We? We were lied to by a criminal government. We don't take the blame as servants to a flag. Are you kidding? But Morris dutifully asks "Why didn't we just assassinate ... ?"

Rumsfeld replies that "We don't assassinate" and tries hard not to grin. Morris says "but you tried" referring to an attempt to bomb Hussein's location. Rumsfeld excuses that by saying it was "an act of war." This is the same line that human rights groups take on drone murders. (We can't be sure if they're illegal, because President Obama may have written a note and hid it in his shoe that says it's all a part of a war, and war makes murder OK.)

Rumsfeld blames Iraq for not avoiding being attacked. He pretends Iraq pretended to have weapons, even while blaming Iraq for not turning over the weapons that it claimed not to have (and didn't have). The veteran liar lies that he thought he was using the best "intelligence" when he lied about Iraqi weapons, and then passes the buck to Colin Powell.

Rumsfeld and the nation that produced him didn't turn wrong only in the year 2001. Rumsfeld avoided Watergate by being off to Brussels as ambassador to NATO, a worse crime one might argue than Watergate, or at least than Nixon's recording of conversations -- which is all that this movie discusses, and which Rumsfeld describes as "a mistake." Asked if he learned anything from the U.S. war that killed 4 million Vietnamese, Rumsfeld says "Some things work out, some things don't." I think he expected applause for that line. On the topic of meeting with Saddam Hussein in the 1980s, Rumsfeld is allowed to describe his mistake as having been filmed shaking hands with the man he calls a dictator. But he's never asked about having supported Hussein and armed and assisted him, including with weapons that would later (despite having been destroyed) form the basis of the pretended cause of war.

After giving the fun-loving sociopaths of fictional dramas a bad name for two hours, this real person, Donald Rumsfeld, blames war on "human nature" and expresses pretended sadness at future U.S. war deaths, as if 95% of the victims of U.S. wars (the people who live where the wars are fought) never cross his mind at all. And why should they?

David Swanson's wants you to declare peace at http://WorldBeyondWar.org His new book is War No More: The Case for Abolition. He blogs at http://davidswanson.org and http://warisacrime.org and works for http://rootsaction.org. He hosts Talk Nation Radio. Follow him on Twitter: @davidcnswanson and FaceBook.