Archive for December, 2011
Part I – New York City
The announcement came from the mayor’s office of New York City (NYC) on 19 December 2011 in the form of an eleven page declaration. It begins “Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, Cornell University President David J. Skorton, and Technion-Israel Institute of Technology President Peretz Lavie today announced an historic partnership to build a two-million-square-foot applied science and engineering campus on Roosevelt Island in New York City.” This is the result of an Applied Sciences Competition that drew at least seven competitors from around the world. Good news? Well, NYC officials certainly think so. “Thanks to this outstanding partnership…New York City’s goal of becoming a global leader in technological innovation is now within sight.” And all it will cost the city is some public land on Roosevelt Island and “$100 million in city capital to assist with site infrastructure.” Oh yes, and written in invisible ink, ‘the forfeiture of one municipal soul.” That is the catch. What we have here is a three way pact with the Devil. There is New York City and……..
Part II – Cornell University
Cornell University is an 147 year old elite institution located in Ithaca New York. According to the announcement cited above it is “a global leader in the fields of applied science, engineering technology, and research, as well as commercialization and entrepreneurship.” Just what NYC was looking for.
Cornell is led by David J. Skorton, a former professor of medicine and a proven college administrator. He has been the university’s president since 2006. Among other things, president Skorton presents himself as an ethical leader. Back in 2009 he tried to demonstrate this status when, in response to Israel’s attack on Gaza, he called attention to the fact that he had led the fight to have Cornell divest….. from where? From Sudan because of the Darfur crisis.
If you think that logic and consistency should have led Skorton to call for similar action to divest from Israel due to the war crimes committed in Gaza you would be disappointed. He claimed such action would be inappropriate because the case of Darfur “has been one of unilateral violence, whereas, sadly, the situation in and near Israel has been characterized…violent acts by both sides.” Just as sadly, Skorton’s comparison was inaccurate. The Darfur tragedy is the product of an on-going separatist revolt against the central government in Khartoum. The central government has reacted to this with excessive force that has led to the destruction of much of the life and culture of the Darfur region. The Gaza tragedy, and indeed the entire Palestinian-Israeli conflict, began with Palestinian resistance to Zionist colonization and subsequent oppressive policies. The Israelis have reacted to on-going resistance with the excessive use of force that has destroyed much of the life and culture in the Palestinian Occupied Territories. They are not as different as Skorton made them out to be.
Perhaps president Skorton was unaware of these comparative facts when he took his public stand. However, even if he were aware of them his behavior would likely have been the same. For Skorton is certainly pro-Israel. Only such a position could have allowed him to lead his university, which he has called “a national leader in research ethics” into an “historic partnership” with the Devil.
Part III – Israel’s Technion
The Devil in this case is the Israel Institute of Technology, or the Technion for short. The Technion describes itself this way “A science and technology research university, among the world’s top ten, dedicated to the creation of knowledge and the development of human capital and leadership, for the advancement of the State of Israel and all humanity.” This would be quite impressive if weren’t for the fact that the last nine words are a contradiction. The Technion is knee deep in blood, mostly Palestinian.
In April of 2011 a report entitled Technion: Structures of Oppression was published by Tadamon, “a Montreal based collective which works in solidarity with struggles for self-determination….” What it shows is that a good part of Technion’s work is linked to weapons development for the Israeli military. Technion faculty and students are involved in helping develop combat and surveillance drones and medium range missiles, both of which have been used against Gaza civilians. Then there are the spy cameras perched on Israel’s illegal Apartheid Wall. Technion had a hand in developing those too. Technion also has accelerated academic programs for Israeli government scientists and engineers while discriminating against Palestinian students and applicants. This then is the institution that Cornell University, a “leader in research ethics” allied with in order to win the NYC contract. President Skorton is certainly no Odysseus. His scheming is too transparent. Hypocrisy is the name of the game in modern Ithaca.
Both Technion and Israeli government officials were clearly elated about their victory in the NYC Applied Sciences Competition. Israel’s NYC Consul, Ido Aharoni said that “this is of strategic importance in terms of positioning Israel not only in America, but all over the world, as a bastion of creativity and innovation.” Technion president Peretz Lavie was just as effusive, “together we have the means, ingenuity and willpower to make our world a better place by joining with Cornell University and the great people of New York City for this innovative new center of learning and enterprise.” I am sure the Palestinians are not impressed.
Part IV – Choosing Not To See
Why did the Cornell-Technion alliance get the job? Among the reasons are the following:
1. Elements within the Bloomberg administration were clearly impressed with Technion. They see the Israeli institution as “a winner of Nobel Prizes and incubator of high-tech businesses” and therefore it was “one of the few overseas institutions the city explicitly invited to participate.” So city leaders went out of their way to invite the Israelis into the competition.
2. Cornell University’s successful acquisition of a $350 million gift to be dedicated to the NYC project. This came from Charles F. Feeney, a billionaire philanthropist and benefactor of Cornell University who gives money for, among other things, projects involving health programs, children, population issues and “human rights.” His gift meant that the Cornell-Technion alliance came to the table with their venture capital in pocket.
3. And, perhaps, the Bloomberg administration people were just carried away by all the Cornell-Technion talk of making the city the equivalent of high-tech nirvana. The mayor declared that “of all the applications we received, Cornell and the Technion was far and away the boldest and most ambitious….It will position the city as a leader in an array of applied science fields, create the jobs of the future,” and generate millions of dollars the city. Deputy mayor Robert Steel agreed. This is going to result in an “economic renaissance” for New York City.
Throughout this story certain words and phrases keep popping up:
1. President Skorton’s “ethical” standing.
2. Cornell University’s position as “a national leader in research ethics.”
3. Technion’s claim to be working for the “advancement…of all humanity.”
4. Charles Feeney’s interest in supporting “human rights.”
5. Mayor Bloomberg’s determination to “create the jobs of the future.”
All of this, of course, is based on a willful decision not to take notice of what the Israel Institute of Technology is doing. Technion is part and parcel of a racist, apartheid educational system, it helps produce weapons and devices that both kill and maim civilians and assists in ghettoizing an entire population. What ethical person or institution would want to partner with such an organization? Only those who choose not to see. Only those who “have no moral compass” and are therefore, according to Mayor Bloomberg, “losers.” Now he can apply that judgment to himself.
The three participants in this “historic partnership” can carry on in this hypocritical fashion all they want. What they can’t do is ask those who catch them at it to keep quiet. Hopefully the word will spread that they have sold their institutional souls for a bit of gold and fame. Hopefully soon protesters will show up, at least in New York City and Ithaca, to tell the public just what sort of deal with the Devil has been entered into. Hopefully, these “leaders” will be made to feel as publically uncomfortable as possible.
There has been a steady drumbeat of criticism leveled against the contenders for the Republican presidential nomination. As they have gone around the country holding their debates they have distinguished themselves as shallow, ignorant, hypocritical and mendacious. At these debates, the only ones who show themselves more discreditable then the candidates are those in the audience. Here is some recent criticism:
Marc Pitzke, writing in the German Der Spiegel Online, tells us that among the Republican primary hopefuls
A. One thinks Africa is a country (Rick Santorum) and another thinks that the Taliban has moved into Libya (the now defunct Herman Cain).
B. Rick Perry falsifies President Obamas opinions and statements with impunity while exaggerating his own achievements claiming to have created a million new jobs while the actual number, according to Pitzke, is 100,000.
C. Mitt Romney, the Mormon who would lead a political party which must rely on millions of Christian fundamentalist votes, is touted as an economic expert, but Forbes Magazine describes his proposals in this area as dangerous.
D. Newt Gingrich (who the Washington Post has called an idea man) is, according to Pitzke, full of lousy ideas. For instance, the mans public suggestion that U.S. child labor laws be altered so that school children can clean their schools at the expense of often unionized janitors. Pitzke carries on. Gingrich claims moral authority on issues such as the sanctity of marriage yet he has been divorced twice. He sprang the divorce on his first wife while she was sick with cancer .He cheated on his second wife [an affair with one of his house aides] just as he was pressing ahead with Bill Clintons impeachment during the Monica Lewinsky affair . Even worse will certainly come if Gingrich reaches the White House. Speaking at the Jewish Coalition Candidates Forum on 7 December 2011 Gingrich pledged to make John Bolton his Secretary of State. Bolton is a vulgar warmonger certainly one of the most dangerous of Americans neo-conservatives.
All in all Pitzke thinks the Republican candidates traipsing around the country as if part of a traveling circus are ruining the reputation of the United States.
He is not alone in that opinion. David Remnick, the editor of the New Yorker Magazine, and ipso facto a representative of the U.S. intelligentsia, has remarked that the Republican candidates collectively represent a starting point for a chronicle of American decline. Remnick observes that
A. Rick Perry displays an inability to answer a simple question with a coherent reply.
B. As for Romney, Remnick notes the mans spooky elasticity, his capacity to reverse himself utterly on one issue after another .
The New Yorker editor concludes that the spectacle of the Republican field is a reflection of the hollowness of the GOP itself.
This hallowness seems to be tempting others to jump into the race. Yet they are certainly no better. For instance, there are rumors that Sarah Palin might change her mind and come into the fray. And Donald Trump has repeated his determination that if Republican primary voters cant pick a candidate he believes will beat President Obama, hell run for president himself. Trump dismissed the two Republican candidates who, now and then, make sense (Huntsman and Paul) as joke candidates. The media seems to agree with him for these are the two who have gotten almost no air time either during the debates or after them. When it comes to the Republican primary, the media seems to be dancing to that old Judy Garland tune, Be a clown .all the world loves a clown.
Part II The Audience
One might wonder at such bizarre performances from folks seeking the most powerful job in the world. However, what is more bizarre still is that most of them are simply projections of their audience, who are, in turn, representatives of the so-called Republican base. There is something at once humorous and horrifying about the audience at these debates. Their cheers and jeers reflect attitudes that used to be restricted to drunken fraternity parties and out-of-control soccer games.
Who are these people with whom the Republican hopefuls now identify? They appear to be tea party people along with a healthy admixture of xenophobes and Social Darwinists. Research into the tea party element tells us that they are:
1. Overwhelming white and highly partisan Republicans
2. Whose concern about big government is hardly the only or even the most important of their issues.
3. They have extremely low regard for immigrants and [with the possible exception of the by-gone Herman Cain] blacks.
4. They are extreme social conservatives opposing abortion and demanding that religion play a more dominant role in politics. In fact research shows that a desire to infuse politics with religion is the most common demand of these people.
People who meet this description make up about 20% of eligible voters in the U.S. However, keep in mind this number goes up when looked at as a percentage of voters who actually cast a ballot. In other words, these radicals are more motivated to vote than the moderates.
Sadly, these type of people have always been with us and probably always will be. A lot of us are, to one extent or another, alienated from the society we live in, but we learn to cope. These people do not learn to cope. Therefore their alienation festers and the resulting anger turns them against all who are different: immigrants, gays, ethnic and racial minorities, intellectuals, secular folks, union members, etc. They find their ego strength in the illusion of self-reliance. They see themselves as the real traditional Americans, the survivors, the ones who are strong enough to stand on their own two feet. Anyone who cannot do this is unfit and, like the hypothetical ill fellow without any health care insurance, should be left to die. They make up a community apart and they detest the idea of paying taxes so that others in need can receive social services. They are macho, they hate the enemy any enemy no questions asked. Someone out there (maybe the Koch brothers) is trying to organize these people and convince them that politically their time has come. The Republican Party is their vehicle.
III The Choices
The two most likely consequences of this situation are: 1. the ruination of the Republican Party or 2. the ruination of the United States. The more likely Republican nominees for president would put the Republican Party far to the right of mainstream America. All things being equal that should mean electoral disaster (the ruination of the Party) in November 2012. But, of course, sometimes all things arent equal. Thus, with disappointment in President Obama running so deep among America progressives there is no telling how many of them might sit out the 2012 election. Even though progressives alone do not win elections, there numbers count if things get close. Thus it is possible, if not probable, that a crazy right wing president (one even more shallow, ignorant, hypocritical and mendacious then George W. Bush) could in fact be elected. If that happened it could mean ruin for the nation and disaster for the world. Here is why:
1. Such a president would almost certainly take the country into another full fledged war, probably with Iran and therefore the Shiite Muslim world. They would continue to comply with Israeli wishes without question further alienating the majority of people in the Sunni Muslim world. U.S. state violence and terrorism will increase and breed reciprocal terrorism in the Middle East. Therefore, more 9/11 style episodes could be expected. The new presidents tough guy attitude would no doubt spill over into policy toward Russia and China. The United Nations and international law would be discarded (to say nothing of the general practice of diplomacy) and torture would again be a standard procedure for clandestine American government operations.
2. Domestically such a president would hack away at all government agencies except those involved with the military, police bureaus (FBI), intelligence and the courts. Social services would go by the boards as would regulatory oversight. The natural environment would deteriorate. The gap between rich and poor would grow and grow while the middle class would shrink and shrink. Marxs predictions for capitalism would come back into style on the Left. Essentially, a new age of Social Darwinism would dawn. Poverty would increase, racism would come back into the public realm and urban riots would probably come along at some point as well. A new depression would become a real possibility. By the time the nations voting citizens came back to their senses it might be too late because by then civil liberties would be a thing of the past.
In a real sense, it is the voters choice in 2012. Which do they care to ruin the Republican party or the USA? There can be no doubt that voting again for President Obama would require strongly holding ones nose. However, voting for his Republican challenger may well kill you outright.
Part I Congress Attacks the Constitution
The U.S. Congress has ended the year 2011 by assaulting the Constitution. The attack came in the form of the 2012 National Defense Appropriations Act (NDAA) which passed both the House (December 14) and the Senate (December 15) by large margins despite having an attached provision (the Homeland Battlefield Bill) that allows the United States military to take into custody and hold indefinitely without trial, any American citizen designated a terrorist suspect.
As if to make sure that everyone knew just what they were voting for, Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican from South Carolina who supports the legislation, said on the Senate floor, the statement of authority to detain, does apply to American citizens and it designates the world as a battlefield, including the homeland. That means U.S. citizens designated terrorist suspects are stripped of their protections under the Constitution. They simply fall into a judicial black hole. Ironically, Congress did this to the country on the 220th anniversary of the Bill of Rights.?
At first it seemed that President Obama was prepared to veto the bill so as to prevent this attack on citizen rights. But this proved to be untrue. What Obama was really interested in was language that prevents the military from interfering with the work of the FBI in cases of suspected terrorism. Actually, this should add to our worries because the FBI has a disturbing record of manufacturing terrorists out of poor and disgruntled U.S. citizens. Given the numerous scams and entrapment scenarios the Bureau runs, we will probably see a macaberesque two-step dance where the FBI makes the terrorists and the military takes them away, never to be seen again outside of Guantanamo Bay. Guantanamo Bay has become Washingtons version of Devils Island.
Here are some reactions to the Homeland Battlefield Bill:
1. Tom Malinowski of Human Rights Watch: Its something so radical that it would have been considered crazy had it been pushed by the Bush administration. It establishes precisely the kind of system that the United States has consistently urged other countries to drop.?
2. Senator Rand Paul: Really, what security does this indefinite detention of Americans give us? The first and flawed premise, both here and in the badly named Patriot Act, is that our pre-9/11 police powers were insufficient to stop terrorism. This is simply not borne out by the facts.
In addition Paul points out that the present definition of a terrorist in U.S. law is broad to the point of meaninglessness. There are laws on the books that characterize who might be a terrorist: someone missing fingers on their hands .Someone who has guns, someone who has ammunition that is weatherproofed, someone who has more than seven days of food in their house can be considered a potential terrorist.?
3. Professor Jonathan Turley, legal scholar: How did we come to this place? Well, it took the joint efforts of both parties and a country that has been lured into a dangerous passivity by years of war rhetoric.?
The odd thing about President Obamas willingness to sign this bill and, as Human Rights Watch notes, go down in history as the president who enshrined indefinite detention without trial in US law, is that the FBI, the CIA, the Director of National Intelligence, the Attorney General, and the Secretary of Defense, among others, all oppose it. The military in particular appears to have no wish to destroy a 200 year tradition of non-interference in domestic affairs. In fact, according to Heather Huburt, the executive director of The National Security Network, a non-profit organization focusing on national security, you cant find any national security experts in favor of these provisions.?
Yet the President, faced with a large bi-partisan Congressional majority anxious to prove to the American people that it is as willing as they to give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, and also having been assured of a cooperative legal arrangement between the military and the FBI, quickly jumped on the bandwagon. One can only assume that nothing in the Homeland Battlefield Bill goes against Barack Obamas principleswhatever they may be.?
Part II The Historical Context?
Before we are overrun by doom and gloom, it is best to put this situation in historical context. Throughout U.S. history there have been episodes when the Constitution was disregarded and citizens rights trampled on. For instance:
a) As early as 1798 with the Alien and Sedition Acts.
b) In 1830 when President Andrew Jackson ignored the Supreme Court and illegally evicted the Cherokee of Georgia.
c) When the otherwise revered Abraham Lincoln started to ignore due process and arrest and hold people thought to be a danger to the Union cause during the Civil War.
d) Woodrow Wilson, otherwise seen as making the world safe for democracy instituted the questionable Espionage Act of 1917 and Sedition Act of 1918.
e) Followed by President Hardings mostly illegal deportations during the Red Scare of the early 1920s.
f) Then, of course, there was the illegal incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II
g) And, in the 1950s under Truman and Eisenhower, the U.S. went through a second Red Scare entailing blacklists, loyalty oaths and the McCarthy hearings.?
There are a number of lessons we can drew from these episodes:?
The party leaders and administrations that initiated these illegal policies have been both conservative and liberal. Many considered Andrew Jackson, Woodrow Wilson and Abraham Lincoln to be quite progressive for their time. The Federalists of 1798 and the McCarthyite Republicans of the 1950s were seen by many of their contemporaries as opportunistic reactionaries.
Most of the historical attacks on Constitutional protections were situation specific. That is, they were responses to particular conditions such as war and amorphous fears of foreign threats. These conditions allowed for the draconian actions of the government. However, when the crisis (real or imagined) ended, policy swung back toward a more centrist political orientation and rights were restored. One might argue that this is what is happening now, that we are in one of these crises modes, and the government is reacting in character by trashing Constitutional rights. I think that this could be a reasonable interpretation, but for one troubling aspect of the present situation that we will get to at the conclusion of this essay.?
The averagecitizen is comfortable with (and indeed sometimes enthusiastic about) the unconstitutional behavior of the government. Thus, as Jonathan Turley put it, While the Framers [of the Constitution] would have likely expected citizens [to be] in the streets defending their freedoms, this measure [the Homeland Battlefield Bill] was greeted with a shrug and a yawn by most citizens and reporters.Why would this be so? Keep in mind that the average citizen does not often use his or her rights and sometimes is unaware of what they are. The majority is also normally under the influence of the government and its allied media. To wit, Turleys years of war rhetoric. Even when the claims of these influential sources are exaggerated and distorted, the majority has no way to know this.
The population is in need of fact-checkers, a role once, but no longer played by the press. Todays fact-checkers are a stand alone vocal minority who contest the exaggerated claims of the government and media, and the abuse of power that often goes along with them. Yet the majority is uncomfortable with fact-checkers and their negative revelations, particularly when they appear outside of traditional contexts (like the press). It is easy for the government to isolate the nay sayers and persuade people that the critics are part of the problem, allied with the enemy, and in need of suppression. Therefore, it is fact-checkers who are in great need of the protection of the Bill of Rights. The truth is that in many places, including the U.S., it is dangerous to tell the truth. Just look at the cases of Bradley Manning and Julian Assange.?
Part III Conclusion (The Troubling Aspect)?
Unfortunately, there may be something historically different about the present crisis. It is potentially endless. Terrorism is the poor mans form of revenge to prevailing economic, political and military domination (direct or by proxy) that is global and on-going. Anyone with a little technical skill and a lot of determination can exact this kind of revenge. And, as long as that happens there will be opportunistic and/or paranoid domestic elements that will use such incidents to isolate, harass and persecute critics of government war-on-terror policies.?
If this prognosis is accurate, the only thing that can be expected to end this struggle is a revolutionary change in relations between the West, and particularly the United States, and the non-Western world, particularly the Middle East. No one should be holding their breath as far as this prospect goes. As it stands now, the best one can hope for are pauses in this struggle.?
This is a depressing prospect, but it does not relieve anyone interested in the maintenance of political and civil rights from carrying on a determined resistance to their erosion. It is only by vigorously defending and using such rights as free speech that we can hope to sustain the space necessary for critical voices. Think of such rights as muscles. If you dont want them to atrophy, you have to use them. So, if you want to keep your rights, get out there and use them.
On 12 December 2011 hundreds of Israeli settler fanatics besieged a West Bank IDF army base. They destroyed equipment, set fires, and even stoned the base soldiers. This was the second such attack in a month. The cause? Anger over the army’s dismantlement of a small number of isolated, unauthorized settler outposts. The Chief of the Central Command of the Israel “Defense” Forces, Major General Avi Misrahi, is quoted as saying “I have not seen such hatred of Jews towards soldiers during my 30 years of service.” He must not have been looking.
This was not an exceptional event. The subsequent indignation over the attack expressed by Prime Minister Netanyahu (“red lines have been crossed”) was, as Alex Fishman writing in Yedioth Ahronoth put it, staged hypocrisy. The Prime Minister is certainly aware that for some time there has been on-going skirmishing between the settlers and government security forces. Right wing settlers regularly throw rocks and fire bombs at police and army vehicles and “physical altercations” between settlers and Israeli police and soldiers are “almost routine.” This is so despite the fact that the government, both Prime Minister and Knesset, “either tacitly or openly” support the settlers. Then why the hatred and why the attacks?
At this stage the battle is over strategy. The Israeli government wants to gobble up all of Palestine in an orderly step by step fashion. In part, this is to avoid too much international criticism at any particular stage of the process. On the other hand, the settlers don’t give a damn about international opinion – no more than does al-Qaeda, to which they have an unsavory resemblance. Led “by fundamentalist religious leaders who do not recognize the state of Israel and its laws,” they are driven by religious fanaticism and have no respect for governments or their agents. It is their ideological conviction that all of Palestine (including, by the way, Jordan) must be Jewish as soon as possible. The authorities sometime get in the way of this goal and that has led the settlers to, as Fishman puts it, “terrorize not only the Palestinian population but also the police and the army.”
Prime Minister Netanyahu, belatedly noticing an erosion of government authority, has begun to set rules against settler violence when it is directed toward the IDF and police ( but not toward the Palestinians). The New York Times reports that from now on such “radical Israelis” attacking soldiers or policemen will be treated just like “Palestinian militants.” That is they will be “detained for long periods without charge and tried in military courts.”
Alas, this new toughness won’t work. For years Israeli governments have looked the other way as thousands of armed religious fanatics organized themselves and got stronger and more self-assured. Now, as Adam Keller of Gush Shalom tells us, “the Golem has turned on its creator.” These are the people who assassinated Yitzhak Rabin. What makes Netanyahu believe that Israel’s present army, police and courts which, reminiscent of the Weimar Republic, regularly show sympathy and leniency toward these criminals, are going to change their attitude on his orders? When a military reporter asked a brigade commander if he was prepared to act toward settler hostility in the same manner as he would Palestinian hostility, he answered “you would not expect me to open fire on a Jew…I am certain you didn’t mean that.”
The reporter would have gotten a very different answer if she had asked the fanatic settlers about how far they were willing to go. Anshel Pfeffer writing in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz notes that “the only red line that has yet to be crossed is a scenario in which an Israeli citizen [belonging to] the extreme settler right would open fire on IDF soldiers. There are those in Israel’s security forces who fear that day is not so distant.”
Netanyahu’s apparent change of heart comes too late. What we have here is incipient civil war. Any really serious effort to stop these fanatics will result in their turning their weapons on those who represent the government. What you sow is what you reap.
This climate of internecine hostility contaminates the Jewish diaspora as well. There is no rock throwing or armed men threatening violence, but the hatred is there. Jewish critics of Israeli behavior are categorized as “Israel-haters” or, alternatively, “self-hating Jews.” This is often expressed with the same vehemence displayed by Israel’s settler fanatics. And, indeed, those pointing fingers in the U.S. are often supporters of the extremists on the West Bank.
Last week Howard Gutman, the U.S. Ambassador to Belgium, addressed “a group of European Jewish lawyers gathered…to discuss anti-Semitism” Gutman told them that there was now two different kinds of anti-Semitism: a “classic” type that is “directed against Jews for being Jews” and “a newer form” that is a product of “the Israeli-Arab conflict and can therefore be mitigated by reducing Israeli-Palestinian tensions.” This is actually a conclusion that was reached by Israel’s Defense Ministry as early as 1994. No matter, when Gutman’s statement became public “the long knives” came out “for another Jewish liberal who committed the sin of stating the uncomfortably obvious truth about a causal relation between Israeli policy and Muslim anti-Semitism.”
The Republican Jewish Coalition’s Executive Director Matthew Brooks called Gutman’s revelation “outrageous” and one that “makes excuses for anti-Semitic hatred and bigotry.” Senator Joe Lieberman called Gutman’s remarks “inexcusable” and Representative Gary Ackerman of New York suggested that Gutman himself might be anti-Semitic.
Again, the charge of anti-Semitism can be and frequently is leveled against fellow Jews who are critical of Israel. The logic goes something like this: Judaism and Israel are one and the same. Ergo if you are critical of Israeli behavior you are critical of Jewish behavior and that makes you an anti-Semite. Very neat. Of course, the whole train of thought rests on the false assumption that Israel and Judaism are two sides of the same coin.
Despite the viral reaction, Jewish criticism of Israel is growing quickly and this creates a frustrating dilemma for the Zionists. The pro-Israeli blogger Steven Plaut describes this situation in catastrophic terms. “Jewish anti-Semitism is all around us, part of the political air we breathe, a modern disease. In the twenty-first century the world is experiencing an explosion of it, a virtual plague.”
None of this Zionist extremism can be dismissed as a passing phenomenon. It has been with us too long. In fact it has been with us since 1917 and the Balfour Declaration. That is when a certain segment of European Jewry began its obsessive drive to create and maintain a state for one group only. It was then, and continues to be an inherently racist project. Ideologies, like Zionism, that support such projects usually reject all opposition. And opposition from erstwhile members of the in-group is the very worst because it exposes the false nature of claims of ethnic, religious or racial solidarity.
When and if Israeli society comes to its senses and decides to rid itself of the Occupied Territories the settler fanatics will resist “fanatically,” and the civil war that is now incipient will release its full potential violence. When and if that happens there will be repercussions for U.S. and European Jews and they too may well entail violence. It would seem that the people chosen to be a “light unto the nations” have only managed to create another badly flawed nation state–one with a preference for apartheid policies. Zionism said “let modern Israel be” and, pop, the light went out.
Glenn Greenwald recently posted a short piece about The Human Toll of the U.S. Drone Campaign. Greenwald noted that the population of the United States is kept in the dark about the civilian victims of the drone campaign by a government that refuses to disclose anything about these attacks and media outlets [which] virtually never report on [its] victims. What the U.S. public does get from both of these sources is a picture of the Middle East as a cauldron of sub-human demons.
Greenwalds article references a BBC program about a Pakistani jirga or gathering of tribal leaders. The leaders were from the Warziristan region of the country but the gathering took place in the capital of Islamabad. Warziristan has been the site of many drone attacks and the leaders brought with them some of the maimed survivors so they could be seen and their stories told. The picture that came through is that there are now rapidly growing numbers of innocent victims of these attacks: children, teenagers, adults and the elderlyessentially anyone in the neighborhood of an intended target. The number of those actually targeted who have been killed is impossible to know because the government will claim such kills even if the only verifiable victims are half-blinded, double-amputee teenagers.
Greenwald correctly observes that it is easy to cheer for a leader when the victims of his on-going violence remain invisible. However, the question remains, how is this invisible status maintained in a country with a free press? Here are some relevant points that might shed light on this issue:
1. The news business in America is infinitely more interested in profit than it is in journalistic excellence. Much of that profit comes from advertisers who have no wish to underwrite what might appear to be unpatriotic investigations into unwarranted wars and foreign interventions. This makes the business oriented boards and stockholders of media outlets very conservative and also encourages a make no waves cooperative attitude toward the government and its preferred storylines.
2. Most citizens do not care about all this. In the U.S., and elsewhere, the majority are apolitical. They focus on the local and other people are real relative to their geographic and relational distance. As you move further away from the average persons focal center, victims of accident or injustice become more abstract.
3. Being apolitical does not mean that the average citizen cannot be scared out of his or her wits. Deliver the same media message over and over again, consistently and with the right amount of emotion and you can create a nationwide consensus based on nothing but a sales pitch. Among other things you can sell the population an enemy (Viet Nam, Iraq, Iran or any state you chose) to the point where almost an entire nation will support invasion and slaughter. This is what I call a thought collective. And, as our own recent history reveals, you can create this sort of group-think repeatedly over a relatively short period of time.
III. Distorted Vision
Greenwalds piece is an indicator that, when it comes to the Middle East, the United States has long been steeped in a thought collective that distorts the vision of both the common folk and the elites alike. The 9/11 attacks raised this national mind set to the point of near hysteria. In the immediate aftermath of that disaster anyone who suggested that U.S. foreign policy might have helped motivate the terrorists (an obvious fact for anyone who had read the speeches of Osama bin Laden) was likely to be labeled unpatriotic, maybe even a traitor, lose their job, maybe even their friends, and refused admittance into the arena of national mourning. When in early October 2001 Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal gave the city of New York a check for $10 million to help with recovery efforts, Mayor Giuliani rejected the offer out of hand. It seems the Prince had suggested that now was a good time for the U.S. to rethink its Middle East foreign policy.
Only in the last year or so have their been signs of small cracks in the thought collective. Growing numbers of ordinary citizens, to the extent that they think about these things at all, want the U.S. out of the Middle East. They are even starting to question the $3 billion a year that goes to Israel. And, it may be that Islamophobia has peaked as a popular topic of national concern. More and more, this bit of paranoia is being identified with fringe factions of the conservative right.
Unfortunately, these cracks are visible only outside the beltway. Inside the beltway, that is in Washington DC, nothing has really changed. The thought collective is, if anything, stronger than ever. This is because the formulation of policy is strongly influenced by special interests whose power over the politicians and the political parties is financially decisive. It will stay that way until millions of Americans decide change in our foreign policy is important enough to be a voting issue.
Because the thought collective within the government has not changed, foreign policies and actions have not changed. Violent intervention is still the mainstay of policy as can be seen in places like Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Pakistan (with perhaps Iran in the wings). Greenwald notes at the end of his piece that while Americans hear almost nothing about the victims of U.S. aggression, the people in that part of the world hear a lot about it and that explains much about the vast discrepancy between the two regions.
IV. The Verdict
And what might that continuing discrepancy mean for the future of the United States? Well, it means the U.S. will almost certainly lose the war in Afghanistan, just as it lost the war in Iraq. You see, in Afghanistan as in Iraq, there are just too many people who really hold a fearsome dislike for the U.S., its government and its soldiers, to make likely successful conquest and pacification. A more general victory in the war of terror is equally unlikely. Here the applicable logic is rather simple. There were a set of conditions that led up to the 9/11 attacks and the attacks themselves created a precedent. Americas contribution to those conditions (our policies and our behavior) have held constant. Whatever damage we have caused al-Qaida can, and probably will, be repaired and other equally dangerous groups are likely to spring up in the foreseeable future.
So what then is the answer to the question that serves as the title of this short essay? The honest answer is that if there continues to be no change in U.S. policies and behavior in the Middle East, it is more likely than not that another attack of the magnitude of 9/11 will occur within the next ten years. The time line is guesswork, but the rest of the answer is not.
by Lawrence Davidson
Have you seen those old time movies notable for their endings? The cowboy is
seen riding into the sunset or the lovers are reunited, etc. And then comes the
end the screen dramatically fades to black. Most of these movies are pretty
bad. The stories are predictable, the acting melodramatic and directing inept.
Well, this genre seems to be making a comeback, but off the screen rather than
on it. In this revival, the Israelis are leading the way.
Israels bad movie starts out as an historical drama with moral overtones.
Its the story of Israeli democracy but, unfortunately, it has an illogical and
misguided script. It begins with the premise that you can have a religiously
exclusive democracy amidst a multi-religious population. Under these
circumstances happy endings are impossible and the drama quickly turns to
Part II Final Act
The final act of this tragedy appears to be playing itself out before our
eyes. It opened in 2009 with the second term of Prime Minister Netanyahu
Netanyahu is a hard-line Likudnik determined to expand Israel to the Jordan
River (if not the Potomac). That makes him an ally and supporter of the settler
fanatics who represent todays version of Zionist fascists.
There is a correlation between the condition of Israeli democracy and the
ambitions of Netanyahus allies. As the settlements expand, Israeli democracy
shrinks. This in turn is tied into the fact that the prime minister is
determined to keep greater Israel demographically Jewish, and this means
expansion must be coupled with ethnic cleansing. One can see this clearly in
present Israeli policies in East Jerusalem as well as the violent harassment of
Palestinians by settler thugs throughout the West Bank. Following logically from
the flawed premise in the original script, this is a perfectly predictable
ending for the story of modern Israel.
The drama now turning into tragedy has its peculiarly Jewish subplots. There
have always been multiple expressions of Judaism. One has been the East European
insular version born of acute persecution. This version expressed an inward
tribal orientation that assigned the role of real or potential anti-Semites to
all those who are non-Jews. Then there was the pre-1967 American version. This
one was outward looking and held in high esteem the general principles of
tolerance. Here the reasoning was that, as a minority, Jews were safest in a
world where tolerance was a universal virtue. In Israel/Palestine it was the
East Europeans who shaped the outlook of most Jewish citizens.
That paranoid outlook is certainly the one held by Netanyahu, but he
inherited it from others of East European origin. He, and his supporters, are
the heirs of Vladimir Jabotinsky and Menachem Begin. This is not to say that
Israels Labor Party heritage was not also insular and expansionist. After all
David Ben Gurion was from Russian controlled Poland. The differences between the
two groups are a matter of degree. However, it is Netanyahu and his coalition
who control the Israeli government. They rule in the Knesset. And they are using
their power to destroy not only the Palestinians but also those Israeli Jews who
would defend the bygone American version of tolerant Judaism. One can only
imagine that Netanyahu and his fanatics look upon these other Jews, who would
make their peace with the Palestinians, as the Bolshevik fanatics once looked
upon the Kronstadt sailors. They ultimately see them as dangerous traitors.
Just in the past few weeks the Knesset has spat out a number of bills aimed
at restricting the voices of Jewish opponents and to make it more difficult for
them to secure appointed offices. Part of a continuing line of similar
legislation, these new potential laws represent scenes in the final act of this
tragedy. Here are some highlights:
1. A bill
to ban political organizations in Israel from
receiving donations of more than $5000 from foreign governments and other
international groups. Peace groups such as Peace Now and human rights
organizations such as BTselem, as well as others which are normally critical of
the Israeli government would lose much of their funding under the new law.
bill in the pipeline would then tax at 45% all
remaining income from foreign governments. Put together the two bills will have
a staggering impact.
Yet, it will come as no surprise that individual donors, such as wealthy
right-wing Zionists who give millions of tax free dollars to sustain the settler
movement, are exempt from the new laws.
As noted, there are other laws as well that are causing concern. It is now a
criminal offense in Israel to advocate a boycott of the country and its illegal
settlements, or to mark the occurrence of the Nakba. There are bills pending
that would make it easier to pack the Israeli supreme court with rightists and
even to punish media outlets who dare to investigate the prime minister or his
wife. Thus does Israeli democracy fade to black.
Part III The Reviews
The argument on the part of the Netanyahu forces is that the money coming
from foreign governments and organizations represents meddling in the internal
affairs of Israel. Well the Israeli establishment should certainly know meddling
when they see it. Their politicians and agents are no doubt the worlds experts
at meddling in the affairs of other countries, particularly the United States.
Here, through the manipulation of large cash donations, they meddle away to
their hearts content, to the predicable detriment of U.S. national interests in
the Middle East. Simultaneously, these same Israeli politicians see no problem
in receiving a minimum of $3 billion a year from the foreign government in
These new laws have a lot of Israelis upset, and not just those who are going
to be directly impacted. The official opposition in Israel, the Kadima Party
(ambitiously translated as the forward party) has suddenly taken it upon
itself to warn the nation that democracy is in danger. Tzipi
Livni, former foreign minister and now leader of the
opposition (also rather infamous for her part in the Cast Lead invasion of
Gaza), said that this is an attempt to turn Israel into a dark dictatorship.
The ceremonial president of Israel, Shimon
Peres, has declared that these proposals deviate from
the basis of democracy. Of course there is a good bit of hypocrisy in these
protests. These dissenters never exercised their consciences over the
suppression of the democratic rights of non-Jews. Nevertheless, the targeting of
the rights of Jews, even tolerant ones, is beyond the Pale. But that is what
you get when you deny the rights of others. Sooner or later the process comes
full circle and those in the in-crowd lose their rights too.
When the screen fades to black all that will be left of Israeli democracy is
a facade, a democracy in name only. For many, however, that will be sufficient.
It will certainly be sufficient for the Israeli politicians who, living wholly
within their Zionist ideology, prize its commandments above all else. And it
will suffice for the lobbyists and propagandists who must manage the image of
the Zionist state so that those Americans who give money and make the policies
can maintain the fantasy that Israel is just like us. And finally, it will no
doubt suffice for American Jewish congregants who do not want to be ostracized
from synagogues run by businessmen whose only connection to their people comes
from blindly supporting Israel.
Will it suffice for the rest of us? Hopefully not. Perhaps as the last act of
this bad movie plays out many other reviews will come forth criticizing the
media image of Israel as fraudulent, the product of half-truths running on to
lies. That might take a bit of lobbying on the part of those who see this movie
as a real disservice not only to Palestinians, but also to Jews. But take heart
and remember what Will Rogers once said, there is only one thing that can kill
[bad] movies and thats education.
Capitalism and the Spy Market An Analysis (23 November 2011) by Lawrence Davidson
I. The Merchandise
It was certainly appropriate that the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), the mouthpiece of capitalist ideology, should publish an expose on “a new global market for off-the-shelf surveillance technology…” Entitled “The Surveillance Catalog” and referencing some “200 plus marketing documents” from companies worldwide, the WSJ story lays out an array of tools designed to rob every person on planet of their privacy. Here are just a few examples of the kinds of capacities that are being offered for sale:
1. Hacking: hardware and software that take advantage of “black-hat hacking” and “malware” methodologies to acquire other peoples financial and other data. This can now be done to large numbers (“hundreds of thousands”) of people simultaneously.
2. Intercept (1): “infect computers by falsifying web sites or updates of popular software” and then “remote monitor…what the user is doing on the internet.”
3. Intercept (2): “man in the middle” software that allows the monitoring of two sites that are communicating with each other. This software not only monitors communications but also can “alter the communications, possibly inserting malicious software into the data transmission or tricking the parties into believing they are communicating over a safe channel.”
4. Web Scraping: the gathering of “massive amounts of information”along with the ability to “store it and sort it so it can be used by analysts. Among the most important targets are “social networking sites.”
II. The Buyers
The industry magazine, PC World, called the Surveillance Catalog a “creepy read.”…at best disturbing and at worst unnerving.” PC also notes that most of the buyers of these tools will be police departments, intelligence agencies and other government departments that now constitute a large part of an “annual retail market for surveillance tools [that] has mushroomed from nearly nonexistent in 2001 to $5 billion today.”
Actually, “unnerving” is something of an understatement. According to the website The IT Manager, “one vendor executive acknowledged their products could be misused by dictatorships and oppressive regimes. This is a dilemma. Its like a knife. You can cut vegetables [with it] but you can also kill your neighbor.” The executive goes unnamed but the shallow nature of his or her insight does not bode well. Thus,
1. Clearly, “dictatorships and oppressive regimes” have no monopoly on “misusing” this sort of “product.” With the USA Patriot Act and the power trips of the George W. Bush administration, sadly carried forward by his successor, abuse has become the U.S. Justice Departments middle name. A 2007 audit of the FBI revealed that the agency had abused its power under the Act “a minimum of one thousand times to secretly obtain personal information” of U.S. citizens. There is absolutely no reason to believe the abuse has ceased.
2. A knife is for cutting and that entails a array of different uses. The products peddled in the Surveillance Catalog are not made for multiple uses. They are made for a very narrow range of applications, all of which are inherently intrusive. Indeed, they are made to invade others privacy and that is it.
It is important to keep in mind in whose hands these tools are to be placed: officials with power who really dont feel bound by the law even as they see themselves enforcing it. People like:
a. the Oakland Police who have no problem playing at being Storm Troopers against peaceful demonstrators.
b. the University of California at Davis police who have no problem causally dousing passive protesters with pepper spray.
b. the New York City Police who have no problem spying on innocent Muslim citizens.
c.. the FBIs Anti-Terrorist Unit whose unique approach to making us “safe” entails designing their own terrorist crimes and then luring individuals into attempting to commit them.
And on it goes. “Law enforcement” institutions are always at high risk of corruption by virtue of their position and power. Given this fact one might argue that the tools being slickly marketed to them in the Surveillance Catalog are actually made to be abused.
III. The Market Environment
Here are some other observations engendered by the Surveillance Catalog.
Give some thought to the ideological precepts of capitalism. A major precept is that the capitalist should make profit by producing things that other people want to buy. Yet there is nothing in this prescription that precludes specific products. Indeed, in theory, it can be anything that commands a market.
That means capitalists will deal in anything that sells: sex, guns, drugs, slaves, you name it and capitalists will bring it to market. Unless, of course, our capitalists are working within the law and the product is outside of it. In other words, unless the product is illegal. And what are such laws that make some products illegal if not the application of direct and necessary regulation of the marketplace?
Why are some products deemed illegal? One reason is that they are destructive of community bonds and values. Some illicit drugs have that potential, some forms of deviant sex may also have that potential, and so do the offerings of the Surveillance Catalog have that same potential. They can, and no doubt will, make minced meat of IV Amendment of the Constitution which is supposed to guarantee all of us the right to be “secure in [our] persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures…..”
Therefore, it follows that these products should be relegated to the illegal side of the capitalist ledger before they erode what little is left of our community bonds and values – particularly privacy. But who is to enforce this hypothetical regulation if the police and the Justice System, including the Supreme Court, have already been led to abuse their powers by the trauma of 9/11? That is very good question and I am not sure of the answer. Perhaps we need some variation on the Roman Tribune of the people. An ombudsman standing apart but also able to protect.
The trend toward an ever greater abuse of power through the act of spying has apparently created its own capitalist market. And the products designed to meet the demand of that market are now there for all to see. But many citizens will not look because they feel that the government is only interested in “subversives” and not them. This is a naive assumption. The Surveillance Catalog is a danger to us all. But then, perhaps as the writer Larry Niven asserts, “privacy is just a passing fad.”
Part I Robin Hood of the Information Age
Julian Assange, who might be the man most hated by the U.S. government, was
given Australias Walkley
Foundation Award for outstanding journalism last week.
He accepted it from a distance, using Skype, because he is under house
arrest in England pending extradition to Sweden. He is
threatened with extradition because, curiously, the Swedish police have reopened
a case of alleged rape against him that had been previously dismissed.
Assange is a kind of Robin Hood of the Information Agepurloining vital
information from often criminal governments, and distributing it to the
information-poor citizenry. As a result he has become the hero of all those who
would defy a media environment of government-warped news. And rightly so, for he
and Bradley Manning are the first ones since 1971 (when Daniel Ellsberg and Neil
Sheehan made public the Pentagon Papers) to defy U.S. government secrecy and
reveal the official criminality committed in the names of its citizens.
Assange accomplished this feat back in November of 2010 when his Wikileaks
website began the release of over 250,000 U.S. diplomatic cables. Ever since
then the U.S. government has been searching for ways to silence him and his web
based operation. To date, two approaches have proved effective:
1. The use of official pressure to shut down the avenues through which
Wikileaks gets its financial contributions. These have been coming mostly
through paypal and other web based sources.
2. And tying Assange up with a rape charge that was active, then inactive,
and now, lo and behold, is active again.
Part II Corruption of the News Media
On 28 November, just days after receiving the Walkley Award, Assange
addressed, again by
Skype, the News World Summit in Hong Kong . Here he was
blunt, and quite accurate, in his description of U.S. government behavior in
relation to open access to information. It is not an age of transparency at
all he said (perhaps alluding to President Obamas
unfulfilled pledge to promote an unprecedented level
of openness in government) the amount of secret information is more than ever
For this Assange blames not just governments, but also the profession of
journalism. In his opinion journalism has become
corrupted by editors and reporters who value the
prestige of being associated with important centers of power more than the
uncensored practice of their craft. Such ambition does not allow the profession
to hold those in power to account. There is a crisis of legitimacy within the
mainstream press, a rightful crisis of legitimacy. For Assange, the
consequences of this crisis are potentially catastrophic. If the press doesnt
hold powerful corporations and governments to account then how can a democratic
Assange has a point. Yet historically, journalisms record of keeping the
powerful honest, and itself uncorrupted, is mediocre at best. In the United
States, modern mainstream journalism has its roots in the shady reporting known
as yellow journalism. That refers to the exaggerations and outright lies that
passed for news at the end of the 19th century. Unfortunately, such
journalism did build up the distribution numbers, and thus the profitability,
of the papers that practiced it. And often the consequences have been
catastrophic. One of yellow journalisms most notable achievements was whipping
up support for the Spanish American War. That is a role the press, and now the
news media in general, has played over and again. At least at a national level,
the muckraking alternative of honest expository journalism (think of the
Watergate reporting of the Washington Post back in 1972) is the exception and
not the rule.
Part III The Complicity of Public Taste
Why is that the case? Well, just ask yourself how regional U.S. newspapers
which run into financial difficulties reorganize the presentation of their
papers. They put in more pictures, up the amount of entertainment news, gossip
and especially sports (lots of sports), favor local happenings and downsize
national and international events. This is not really a conspiracy to keep us
all stupid, though it might contribute to that end. It is a business decision
based on market surveys that tell owners and editors what the customer prefers
in his or her paper.
It you want to see a recent example of such a maneuver take a look at the
comparison of TIME magazine
covers at the website Common Dreams. Buy
TIMEs upcoming December 5, 2011 issue in Asia, Europe or even in the South
Pacific, and you will see an Egyptian protester on the cover with the title
Revolution Redux. Buy the U.S. version of the same magazine and you will see a
silly little cartoon guy with the title, Why Anxiety Is Good For You. That not
only says something about how the editors and owners of TIME see their American
readership, it also says a whole lot about the apparent tastes and interests of
The fact is that Julian Assange, and the rest of us who are interested in a
truly free press, have run smack up against the fact that as long as we have a
capitalist news media, we will also have an easily corruptible news media. Just
like any other capitalist enterprise, what such a press or media aims at is
profit. It also will follow the lead of its corporate owners and board of
directors because that is what private enterprise prescribes. Just take a look
at every media enterprise Rupert Murdoch owns. Given this situation you will
have a range of news organizations that fall out on something like a bell curve.
Most of them will be middle of the road nonentities while on the extremes you
will have right-wing and left-wing offerings. It is a sign of our times here in
the U.S. that the right-wing media has taken a jump in popularity (witness Fox
That is not to say that what passes for press and media in the non-capitalist
world is any sort of worthy alternative. It certainly is not. What is needed is
a formula to create endowed, and therefore truly independent, news media. As
Assange suggests this is a sine qua non of a free society.
Part IV We Will Always Need A Whistle Blower
Most of the worlds population has only a minimal interest in what is
happening beyond their local environment. That is why the market surveys noted
above deliver the message they do. Occasionally something comes over the hill
and hits the locals in the head. That something thereby becomes both part of the
local scene and demands explaining. The 9/11 attacks qualify as such an event.
Originating from afar, how are the locals to understand it? They have no ready
context in which to do so. So they listen to so-called experts from the
government and media who they assume will give them the truth. That is the
only explanation most people ever get.
We have all seen where this leads usright off a cliff. When Julian Assange
dumped those hundreds of thousands of documents onto the web he was saying
Here: you want the truth? It is somewhere in here. Lets all take a look. Some
did. Most did not. But the precedent he set sent shivers through the U.S.
government as if it had caught an institutional flu. For this Assange is
persecuted. That is the sort of world we live in. A world that will always need
the whistle blower, will always need a Julian Assange.