Archive for May, 2012
STAYING SOBER – AN ANALYSIS (22 MAY 2010) by Lawrence Davidson
There have been two news stories in the last couple of days that have raised spirits and hopes both in the Middle East and here in the U.S. It is very good to get positive news in a world of constant struggle against greater forces of injustice and brutality. Yet, it would be wise to restrain ones glee. Those forces represent governments (including the one in Washington) and their bureaucracies. In both the U.S. and Israel they have the backing of a majority of citizens. Thus, those of us who see ourselves as actively fighting for the rights of the Palestinians on the one hand, and the protections of the U.S. Constitution on the other, almost certainly have additional decades of effort before a real light appears at the end of our dark and dangerous tunnel. That is why I want to look at these two news stories in sobering perspective.
1. Victory for the Palestinian hunger strikers.
On 15 May 2012 the Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network, Addameer, confirmed that the hunger strike being carried on by nearly 2000 imprisoned Palestinians (some fasting for as long as 77 days) had ended because the Israelis and the Palestinians had come to an agreement brokered by Egyptian mediators. What was agreed upon?
The Prisoners would end the strike and start eating again.
“There will be an end to the use of long-term isolation of prisoners for security reasons” and 19 prisoners held in such conditions will be moved out of isolation within 72 hours.”
Family visits which had been denied for “vague security reasons” will now be allowed. This will be done within one month.
A standing committee will be formed to facilitate meetings between prisoners and the Israeli Prison Service to improve daily living conditions.
“There will be no new administrative detention orders or renewals for the 308 Palestinians currently in administrative detention, unless the secret files, upon which the detention is based, contain very serious information.” Administrative detention is the Israeli name for arresting people and holding them indefinitely without charge or trial.
What does all this amount to? It amounts to the suspension of the threat of 2000 Palestinian prisoners to starve themselves to death (an end which some Israelis would probably applaud) on the basis of a number of promises made by Israeli prison bureaucrats. The promises may suggest that the Israeli government wants toavoid worsening its already poor international image, or that they feared the death of one or more hunger strikers would spark another intifada. It certainly does not reflect any concern on the part of the Israeli government for the human or civil rights of the Palestinians. That is why the prisoners had to come close to committing mass suicide to get the “Jewish state” to move on their demands. A grand victory for non-violent protest? Well maybe.
There is this interesting addendum to the Addameer news release: “Addameer has observed that Israel has consistently failed to respect the agreements it executes with Palestinians regarding prisoners issues. It will be essential for all supporters…to actively monitor closely the conditions inside Israeli prisons in order to assure that conditions meet compliance with international human rights and humanitarian law.” Israeli prisons have never met such conditions, and we know this because they have been monitored for a very long time. My guess is that, true to form, the Israelis will initially appear to be fulfilling this agreement but the pace of change will be haphazard. Soon any effort to fulfill the promises will cease. In 6 months the prisoners will either have to stop eating again or find another tactic.
2. Judge Strikes Down Indefinite Detention in the U.S.
On 16 May 2012 a federal district judge in New York, Katherine B. Forrest, struck down that portion of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that allows U.S. military authorities to hold alleged terrorists and their supporters, including American citizens, indefinitely. This ability is Washingtons even more severe version of Israels administrative detention.
In a suit brought by seven journalists, writers and anti-war activists whose work might bring them into contact with alleged terrorists, the claim was made that the bills “vague wording essentially said that anyone thought by the government to be colluding with terror suspects could be arrested and detained by the U.S. military.” Such a situation obviously constitutes violations of the Constitutions due-process and free speech rights.
This situation was originally concocted by the administration of George W. Bush Jr. It is on his watch that extra-legal categories (“enemy combatants”) and extra-judicial procedures were created giving over suspected terrorists and their alleged supporters to the U.S. military. This placed them (whether they happened to be citizens or not) beyond the civil courts and the protections they afford, or at least are supposed to afford. The corollary of this stance was, and still is, an assumption on the part of Congress and the White House that the United States is actually in an on-going state of war with terrorists. This war will never end and the entire world, including the U.S. homeland, is the battlefield. Under such circumstances, Bush Jr. and now Barack Obama have seen fit to suspend the Constitution when it comes to those judged (by them alone) to fall within the category of “terrorists” or “supporter of terrorists.”
It is this dubious legal background that led Judge Forrest to ask the government lawyers defending the NDAA “whether the journalists, who said their work brought them into contact with groups like Hamas or the Taliban, could be indefinitely detained” because the government decided they were giving some sort of amorphous aid and comfort to the enemy. The lawyers could not guarantee that this would not happen. The judge was left with the distinct impression that “the government takes the position that a wide swath of expressive and associational conduct is in fact encompassed by” the detention clause of the NDAA.
As Naomi Wolf noted in a on the trial before Judge Forrest, “What truly disturbed me in that courtroom was the terrible fragility of all the checks to power that are supposed to be in place to protect us against such assaults on democracy….the trial and NDAA itself have been so inadequately reported by mainstream outlets that I keep running into senior editors and lawyers who have never heard of it. I recently cornered one southern Democrat at an event and asked him why he voted to pass the NDAA. He asked what my objection was. It allows the president to detain Americans without charge or trial, I pointed out. His aides had assured him this was not the case. Have you read the bill? I asked. Its 1600 pages he replied.”
Luckily for all of us Judge Forrest did read the bill before passing judgment. She then proceeded to strike down the detention provision of the Act. Yet it would be imprudent for anyone to take long term solace in this fact. This is only the beginning of a very long struggle, the outcome of which is quite uncertain. Congress, particularly the Republican-dominated House, has pointedly thumbed its nose at Judge Forrest by including indefinite detention in the 2013 version of NDAA. Clearly, the Congress as presently constituted has no intention of rewriting the detention provisions just found unconstitutional. Thus we can expect the governments lawyers to go back to court to try to overrule Judge Forrest. If necessary they will take the issue to the Supreme Court. That is largely a Bush Jr. court and can be expected to uphold indefinite detention and the Constitution be damned.
The average American has had nothing negative to say about this significant erosion of rights. Like Wolfs “senior editors and lawyers,” most citizens in the U.S. are unaware that indefinite detention is an important issue that touches their lives. And when and if they become aware they probably will not object. This is because the average citizen does not exercise his or her rights in any significant sense and is very suspicious of those who do. It is those who assert opinions and/or behave in a way that runs counter to the majority stance who end up in need of free speech and due process protections. So, if you are one of those people, you most likely will not be able to count on your neighbors support if the police come knocking.
On the up side, the two news stories analyzed above demonstrate that battles against even the most entrenched and powerful of foes can be won. To win wars, however, is another thing altogether. Yet that too may be possible. However, it should sober us all to realize that it will take staying powerthe sort of staying power that has already kept many struggles going for decades if not generations. Indeed, if we are to take history seriously, the sort of struggles described above may be never-ending if looked at in worldwide terms. So, while both the persistence of the hunger strikers and the insight of a brave New York judge are to applauded and kept as cherished precedents, lets heed the pledge of British Labour politician, Barbara Castle: “I will fight for what I believe in until I drop dead. And thats what keeps me alive.”
Part I – The Death Knell of the Two State Solution
Over the past month Palestinian leaders have begun to publicly acknowledge that continuing actions by the Israeli government, and corresponding inaction by the “international community,” have destroyed any reasonable hope of a viable and independent Palestinian state.
Listen to Ahmed Qurei, who held high office in the Palestinian Authority under Yasser Arafat: “It is probably no longer possible to create the kind of state that we want. Now we must choose between two stark choices: either we settle for a worthless state made of hapless ghettoes and miserable slums…or struggle for one unitary and democratic state where Jews and Arabs can live equally in all of Mandate Palestine…”
Among many Palestinian Islamic leaders, hope for the future now exists only in the form of a Quranic prophecy, which tells of Islam’s divinely inspired victory over the Jews in Palestine as punishment for the unholy behavior of the Israeli state. This might be compared to the Christian Zionist’s prophecy of the triumph of Israel presaging the second coming of Christ.
Either way it goes, a unitary secular and democratic state or God’s intervention, Israel as a “Jewish State” is seen as terminal. Of course, that is not how the politically minded Zionists, led by Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud party, see it. Netanyahu has recently formed a “unity” government with the major opposition party, Kadima, and by doing so appears to have secured his political leadership for some time to come. So, what sort of scenario do these Zionists seek to realize now and in the future?
Part II – The Zionist Scenario:
How do Zionist leaders see the future? As far as I understand the situation, here is their projected scenario:
1. The Zionist leadership sees victory (Israel’s sovereign possession of all the land of Palestine from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River – some even covet Jordan) as inevitable. It is just a matter of time. This assessment is based on power relations. On the one hand, the Israelis have vast military superiority over the Palestinians and have defeated all the Arab forces sent against them. On the other, they have the United States and a good portion of Europe in their political pockets. So how can they lose?
2. Victory means ethnically cleansing the land of most of the Palestinians–a process that is on-going. Every effort is being made to force as many as possible into exile. This is being done by an on-going policy of making life as miserable as possible for all non-Jewish natives of Israeli controlled territory. For instance, it is public knowledge in Israel (if not the U.S.) that “police brutality against Palestinians has been routine for decades.” Those who, despite all, refuse to leave, are being territorially restricted and economically marginalized. It is often speculated that the model for the latter situation is the Indian reservations in the U.S. as they existed circa 1870. And indeed, for Zionists this model can be more easily rationalized than the ghettos of old Europe.
2a. In the process of this ethnic cleansing, the number of Palestinians who die is irrelevant to the Zionist leadership. The Palestinians, like the American Indians, are seen as hardly human. If the Zionists could make them all disappear without serious international repercussions they would do so.
3. All this having been accomplished, Zionist leaders plan to simply maintain the status quo and wait. They believe that, just as was the case of the American Indians, the world will eventually forget the fate of the Palestinians, and this forgetting will seal Israel’s dominion over the land. At least from the Zionist point of view, that is the end of the story.
By the way, Zionists are not the only ones betting on this sort of scenario. The Chinese in Tibet, and the Sinhalese in Sri Lanka, are also counting on the world forgetting their victims. And, in each case they might be right. However, it is the Zionists who are running the greatest risks pursuing this strategy of conquest. Why is that the case?
Part III – Problems For The Zionist Scenario
1. Israel is not a great power like China, and does not occupy a half-forgotten spot on the globe like Sri Lanka. It is very much on the map as far as vast numbers of people are concerned, both supporters and opponents. Of course, Israel continues to enjoy the patronage and protection of a great power, the U.S. But, as unlikely as it might seem at present, this can change.
2. It is not the 18th and 19th centuries anymore and outright colonial domination is no longer in favor. The only way Israel can commit crimes with impunity is by: (a) playing the holocaust card and (b) sustaining the political clout of its lobbies. The first practice is rapidly wearing thin almost everywhere one looks. The second, on the other hand, is the key to their patronage and protection. Yet counter lobbies are even now evolving, and an increasingly vocal international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement is on-going. The past 95 years of solid Western backing of Zionist political goals (counting from the Balfour Declaration) does not make the future a sure thing for the Israelis and their ideological supporters.
3. As they conquer Palestine they destroy Judaism. Here is the greatest irony: ultimate success of the Zionist strategy marks the ultimate corruption of official, organized Judaism. This is so because such success seals the devil’s bargain that ties the organized aspect of this religion to the racist and anti-human goals of Zionist ideology. With the death knell of the Palestinian state comes the death knell of official Judaism.
3a. Do you want to know why anti-Semitism appears to be on the rise? Because the Zionists have changed the definition of the term. The traditional definition tells us that anti-Semitism is hatred for Jews as Jews. The new, Zionist inspired definition, includes opposition to anything the “Jewish state” of Israel does. Oppose the political goals of Zionism and you allegedly oppose Jews and Judaism. Ergo, you’re an anti-Semite.
3b. This assertion on the part of Zionists is, of course, a modern innovation. Yet it gains popularity based on the premise laid down by Joseph Goebbels that “if you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.” Nonetheless, the truth is that Zionism and Israel have never been synonymous with Judaism. All Jews are not and never have been Zionists and all Zionists have never been just Jews. That being the case, the claim by Zionists that Israel and its government represent Jewry en masse is false. Yet the lie is stated over and again. The Jews who object to this false claim are now labeled “self-hating Jews.” This too is nonsense.
Part IV – What of Palestinian Resistance?
The most striking thing about the list of obstacles given above is that Palestinian resistance in places like the West Bank, Gaza and Israel proper, is not on it. Why? Again, it has to do with power relations. When, during the Second World War, resistance manifested itself against Nazi occupation, the cost was remarkably high. Partisans might shoot a German soldier, but then the German Army would shoot 50 civilians as punishment. Nonetheless, the Germans lost the war and most of the Nazis from that time have been hunted down and given their own punishment.
The Israelis have employed the Nazi strategy of disproportionate revenge and collective punishment from the very inception of the Israeli state. If anything, the kill ratio they exact from the Palestinians is even higher than the Nazi average. But the same powers that once brought low the Nazis now either support or turn a blind eye to the savagery of the Israelis.
Under these circumstances the Palestinians have indeed been worn down. In Gaza they are confined to the world’s largest open air prison and in the West Bank most of their leaders are either in prison or have been turned into collaborators. It has gotten to the point where the most effective act of resistance they can muster is the threat that over a thousand of them, locked away in Israeli prisons without charge or trial, will starve themselves to death.
Part V – Conclusion
The death knell of the two state solution and its corresponding corruption of official Judaism is not the end of the story. But, the final chapter can no longer be written by the Palestinians alone. The West began the present horror in the “Holy Land” when it sought to pay for the sin of European anti-Semitism by allowing the destruction of the Palestinian people. Ultimately, it is only with help from the West that the situation can be put right. However, as long as they are under the corrupting influence of Zionism, most governments will not seek to do so. So this corrective effort has to be undertaken by a movement of civil society – Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions. And the Jews of the world better hope and pray for its success. For it is not just the fate of the Palestinians that rides on the outcome. It is the fate of the Jews as well.
Part I Health Care in the USA
On 7 May 2012 a new study came out on healthcare in the United States. Based on research carried out by the Urban Institute, the report is published in the journal Health Affairs. Here are some of its findings:
There is a prevailing trend toward private insurance policies with larger deductibles and higher co-payments
Employers [are] shifting more [heath care] costs onto workers.
Poor and uninsured adults [there are presently 41 million such people in the U.S.] had greater difficulties not just with health care costs, but finding doctors who would see them. In addition, too few providers are taking Medicaid patients.
One consequence of this trend is that one in five American adults under 65 had an unmet medical need because of costs in 2010, compared with one in eight in 2000.
What all this means is that health care in the U.S. has deteriorated in the first decade of the 21st century. That was also reflected in a 2005 study by the World Health Organization that ranked the United States (supposedly the richest of nations) as 141st in government spending on health. Perhaps not unrelated, the U.S. ranks number 1 in the world when it comes to anxiety disorders.
Part II The Philosophy Behind the Decline
This situation reflects a culture-shaping philosophy that has persisted in this country, with but brief interludes, since its founding. That philosophy teaches that we all are, or should be, rugged individuals. We should take care of ourselves and not rely on others. That is our responsibility in life and if someone can not measure up its their problem, not societys.
Where does this attitude come from? There are no doubt multiple roots, but one source is an historically deep-seated national dislike of taxation. From the first moment of revolution against Great Britain, freedom meant escaping imperial taxes. Americans of that day claimed that only elected local legislatures could rightly lay down taxes. The claim was made, in part, because within such a localized system taxes could be kept to an absolute minimum.
This attitude toward taxation is, in turn, at the heart of the original capitalist outlook as it evolved in the 18th century. According to this perspective there are only three things for which the government can rightly tax its citizens: national defense, internal security (including the court system) and the enforcement of contracts. Beyond that the government must leave people alone and that includes not over taxing them and not regulating any of their business affairs.
This philosophy has caused untold misery since its inception. For the first century of the industrial revolution when the government of Great Britain (the original industrializing nation) was controlled by people who wanted minimal taxation and no business regulation, working class people lived in dire poverty, environmental pollution was rampant, industrial safety was non-existent, and health care for the poor was the concern of private charity only. Why? Because for the government to address any of these concerns would cost money and that would mean raising the taxes of the folks who had money.
It took over one hundred years of labor organizing, strikes, riots, outbreaks of preventable diseases, and the incessant pestering of elected officials by that small minority of the population who thought all this was a scandal (mostly women and religious folks), to force politicians (kicking and screaming) to address social needs and enforce health and safety related regulations. The Great Depression beginning in 1929 forced the issue with a vengeance and led to larger government and the welfare state. In other words, it led to a sense of social responsibility on the part of Western governmentsmost reluctantly the U.S. government. In America, that lasted through the 1970s and then the situation reversed.
One would think that memory would serve us for more than a mere forty odd years. That after suffering all the misery brought on by 19th and early 20th century capitalism we would have learned that to achieve social peace and a modicum of general prosperity, the government must perform important community functions including supplying all its citizens with decent and affordable health care.
But no it hasnt worked that way. In 1981 Ronald Reagan became president. He started the process of deregulation and shifting taxation away from the rich. Others, including Democrats like Bill Clinton, followed along. When recently Barack Obama proposed health care reform he was labeled a socialist. Now, just listen to Mitt Romney and his Republican cohorts. Just listen to the Tea Party cabal. Just listen to Fox News. All of them want to go back to the good old days of minimalist government and minimum taxes. By the way, in the midst of those good old days, about the year 1843, the median age of death in the industrial city of Manchester England was 17.
Part III What Kind of Society Do Americans Want?
This leads us to the question, just what sort of society do Americans want? Indeed, do they want a meaningful society at all?. Why not just stick to family units or small tribes drifting about in a state of nature? Well, in a sense that is what we chose to do. The tribes have become larger and today we call them nation states. But in the American version, localism makes for myriad sub-tribes. In the state of Pennsylvania, where I live, the people in the relatively rural center of the state as well as those in the urban suburbs, not only care little for those living in cities such as Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, they actively dislike them. They dont feel like they live in the same society. And they certainly dont want to be taxed to help an urban population with a lot of poor folks. In others words, whatever sense of social solidarity rural and suburban Pennsylvanians feel, it does go not much beyond their own local community (or tribe). And Pennsylvanians are by no means unique in this country
The fact is that, in terms of social conscience, the U.S. is still quite a primitive place. And this primitiveness is sustained by a philosophy of selfishness. Among other things, that prevailing philosophy is making an ever greater number of us unhealthy. Is this acceptable to most Americans? Is this the kind of society they want? The political practice since 1981 seems to answer, yes.