Tuesday, January 27, 2009

THE STUPIDEST THING YOU EVER HEARD OF?

POSTED RESPONSE ON A COLUMN BY DANIEL FINKELSTEIN IN THE TIMES

I have this one, hands down, Daniel.

That Oliver Kamm regards himself as cleverer than one of the 20th century’s leading intellects, Noam Chomsky, while also regarding himself a better debater than the sharpest tongue in contemporary Britain, George Galloway.

I'm waiting for Mr. Kamm to claim he is also faster than a speeding bullet and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound.




"I CAN'T ANSWER THAT, BUT OLIVER THE MAGICAL WIZARD CAN."





OLIVER KAMM IN HIS MAGICAL WIZARD OUTFIT

A FORMER RALPH KLEIN ASSOCIATE ARGUES AGAINST RE-ENACTMENT OF THE BATTLE OF THE PLAINS OF ABRAHAM

POSTED RESPONSE TO A COLUMN BY ROD LOVE IN TORONTO'S GLOBE AND MAIL

Rod Love does have a point, something I thought I would never grant to an associate of the obnoxious Ralph Klein - but it is a relatively small point, and there are other greater points he misses entirely.

Mr. Love is talking about history with a very narrow definition. Genuine history is actually the entire body of our nation's shared experience.

And, yes, that does contain warts and blotches and even horrors: it is raw, but we can learn more remembering those things than deliberately suppressing them.

Lots of ordinary folks like spectacles such as re-enactments, and I would bet there would be more enthusiasm for the spectacle than feelings against what the real event did a quarter of a millennium ago. These things do engender enthusiasm over history, and they are damned good tourist draws.

After all, when Americans re-enact Civil War battles - as they do endlessly - they do not include the actual meaning of that bloodbath, which was quite dark.

The American Civil War was not over slavery, not at all. It was over the right of a state to leave a federation only created about 70 years before. Lincoln crushed an old society trying to assert that right.

He removed the right and welded the Union into the thing it before long became, an international imperial power. It is often forgotten that Lincoln was a successful corporate lawyer, a self-made, ambitious man who made his fortune working for corporations like the Illinois Central Railroad, often against the interests of small people.

I do understand why Mr. Love would not want every historical event re-enacted, as, for example, Ralph Klein’s drunken rage at a men’s shelter when he threw coins at unfortunates. Now, that kind of thing is perhaps best left alone.





HERE IS ONE HISTORICAL SUBJECT SUITABLE TO RE-ENACT ONLY IN A CIRCUS

MORE WORDS ON ETHICS FROM CANADA'S MOST BORING SCHOLASTIC, MARGARET SOMERVILLE

POSTED RESPONSE TO A COLUMN BY MARGARET SOMERVILLE IN TORONTO'S GLOBE AND MAIL

Ms. Somerville surely qualifies as one of Canada's most boring public personalities.

How could it be otherwise when you have nothing to say but insist on saying it, repeatedly?

The position of people like Ms. Somerville should tell clear-thinking people something not too pleasant about our society.

She holds a sinecure at a major university, she does speeches and lectures, she gets awards (albeit from a yokel institution like Ryerson), and she has her words printed in newspapers.

But the sum total of what she has to say is the philosophical equivalent of Preston Manning's musings - well, at least Manning was in the rough-and-tumble of the political arena - so I think I'd have to say, less than the equivalent.

Ms. Somerville is preachy, scholastic in the nature of her thinking, and dull as hell.

We all think about ethics: it is part of the human condition. But there is a class of us who don't - psychopaths, narcissists, and other emotional cripples - and the blubbering of people like Ms. Somerville won't change that in the least while boring the rest of us to death.




MARGARET SOMERVILLE AT WORK IN HER CLOISTER

Thursday, January 22, 2009

ON OBAMA'S TAKING THE OATH TWICE

POSTED RESPONSE TO A COLUMN IN THE NEW YORK TIMES

This would be funny, but it does point to something in American society that is not funny at all.

The worry here clearly was that a slightly incorrect version of the words might invalidate the Constitutional requirement for the oath.

Where general good will prevails in a society, such a matter would cause no concern.

But this event is the oath-taking equivalent of lawsuits based on the use of a preposition in the fine type of an agreement.

And, as we all know, there is plenty of that.

I've always thought it a bizarre dichotomy in American society: the sense of the land of the free and a reputation for a mostly free-and-easy lifestyle and at the same time an almost scholastic enslavement to papers and documents and formalities like this oath.

Your tax forms are almost indecipherable. Visa and green card application forms are like something from a nightmare lawsuit in Dickens, immensely complicated and demanding. The stack of legal papers to be signed when getting a mortgage - about an inch thick - is like nowhere else on earth.

Could all this point to what the noted American historian, Page Smith, called schizophrenia in the national character?




"WOULD YOU MIND DOING THAT AGAIN, MR. OBAMA?"





THE ROMAN GOD JANUS 2009

ON THE CLOSING OF GUANTANAMO AND THE CIA'S TORTURE GULAG

POSTED RESPONSE TO A COLUMN IN THE NEW YORK TIMES

It cannot come a moment too soon.

And the only people who truly deserve trials are the administrators of these facilities, Bush's willing helpers.

The prisoners have suffered enough for a lifetime: kidnapping, illegal imprisonment, torture, and constant threat of special trials.

America has been guilty of a terrible abuse of power here. Most of the men taken were guilty of nothing more than what thousands of Americans have done in the past.

How many American idealists or soldiers of fortune have served causes in places as varied as Spain and Africa?

Is it to be the international standard that all such are to arrested, tortured, and tried by illegitimate courts?

And that poor boy, Omar Khadr.

American soldiers shot him twice in the back - a fifteen year-old - then sent him to imprisonment and torture, and lied about what it is he is supposed to have done - all in violation of the international conventions on child soldiers.

Ghastly, shameful behavior.




NO MATTER WHAT THEIR CRIME, THIS TREATMENT IS WHAT WE EXPECT FROM NAZI THUGS

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

OBAMA'S CORONATION?

POSTED RESPONSE TO A COLUMN BY CLIVE CROOK IN THE FINANCIAL TIMES

Katty Kay has it right.

A noted European historian decades ago said of the American Revolution that it was the replacement of a foreign aristocracy with a domestic one.

There is a great deal of truth in that observation. Men like Washington, Jefferson, and Adams behaved in many ways, from the beginning, as the former colonies’ new aristocrats. Washington insisted on carrying a sword and sash at ceremonies and was mortified if anyone touched him or got too near him. He only shook hands when he did the offering. A cold, aloof man. Adams wasn’t satisfied with being addressed merely as Excellency, as Washington was, he wanted a long and pompous form of address at all occasions.

To this day, all American official ceremonies are bloated beyond belief. For example, anyone watching the impeachment of Bill Clinton could only come away with the impression that it was an effort at opera buffa without music and without acting talent. It was simply pompous beyond belief, laughable at times

Also, the American President is both head of state and head of government, so a good deal of the ceremony associated with the Queen goes to a politician. In general, I don't regard it as a wise system. If you feel little regard for a particular political leader, it is unfortunate to feel the social pressure to treat him with the formality of a royal figure.

The ceremonies also reflect another fact. One of America’s undisputed contributions to ideas is the manipulation of marketing. This stuff is a huge marketing promotional for the American system.

Yet another contributing factor to bloated celebrations is America’s current position as the new Imperial Rome, and Rome as we know was not shy about parades and spectacles, rather embracing them as a way to speak of its power to the world.

"The adulation accorded Mr Obama is way overdone. It is also very dangerous."

An absolutely silly comment, that.

We've just left behind eight years of authentic danger and actual destructiveness with the Bush/Cheney thugs. Cheney assumed powers he did not have, and the incompetent, weak-minded Bush went along for the ride.

The Constitution's protections were ignored and trampled on. The beginnings of a police state were put in place with everything from wiretaps to checking what people read at the library. International law was broken time and time again. On top of it all, there was a genuine threat of the imposition of military law with one high-ranking general suggesting just that a couple of years ago and the White House never contradicting him. And then there were the countless lies and abuses of power.

Leaving that hellish nightmare behind is exactly why people are so joyous over Obama. That and the fact he is so clearly intelligent, genial, graceful, and charming.

Who wouldn't celebrate leaving the Texas and Wyoming bozos behind for that? Just a few right-wingers, some Aryan-nation types, trailer-park habitu├ęs, and a mob of tent-revival preachers.



Tuesday, January 20, 2009

PLANS FOR THE FINANCIAL CRISIS

POSTED RESPONSES TO A COLUMN BY CLIVE CROOK IN THE FINANCIAL TIMES

I believe there is a basic economic problem with all of the stimulus plans, including Obama's.

What put the United States into this mess are years of easy credit and a zero or less-than-zero savings rate.

Politicians made these results possible to keep an artificial degree of prosperity going in the United States and to "buy" popularity.

In a sense, the policies involved - mortgages with no money down, even mortgages for more than the price of a house in some cases, plus low rates at the Fed plus drastic tax cuts - are the fiscal equivalent of the American notion of having it all and having it now.

Well, any solution pumping countless billions into the economy and pushing banks and others to make credit available is just more of the same.

Rather than taking the hit necessary to wring out the economy, a huge platter of more of the same is being served up.

I'm not sure this is the right thing to do, but the right thing is too painful for any politician to make policy.

In a sense, I think this points to an even larger issue, and that is the question over the very ability of a people like Americans to govern themselves sensibly, rather than a constant lurching this way and that, both in domestic and foreign affairs.

The more you know about the history of the United States, and I mean hard, critical history, not the grade-10 civics version, the more starkly this proposition stands out.

The distinguished American historian, Page Smith, referred numerous times to America's “schizophrenia,” and I believe this is part of what he was trying to capture with that word.

______________________

Sorry, it is not "very simple."

The view taken by the above writer is the one repeated time and time again by the American Right Wing.

Taxes already have been cut to irresponsible levels.

Just one example was the elimination of inheritance tax under Bush's incompetent government.

There is nothing productive about inherited wealth in limitless amounts. It actually has a net effect of creating aristocratic tendencies in a society, something that could not be clearer in the U.S. today, where many important offices, such as Senate seats, are almost becoming inherited.

Going back to Jefferson, this issue was recognized as an important one for a democratic society.

A good and decent society requires government as a partner in many areas of human effort. The libertarian notion that government should do very little - also a Jeffersonian one, one of several lame ones - is misguided.

You cannot make a meaningful, decent society out of a bunch of people sharing a space, paying a minimum of taxes for unproductive garbage like the military, and having no government involvement in most matters.

It's 18th-century thinking, to say the least. Government builds airports, government regulates financial institutions (or should), government gets highways going, government sets standards in education, and it has a role in countless aspects of society.

Indeed, as technology and the complexity of society in every aspect such as finances increase, new roles are being created for government. Needful roles. The future will almost certainly bring more government, not less as the American Right Wing pines over.

It is precisely the withdrawal of government from its proper responsibilities that has caused the current mess.

It was also, by the way, the failure of government which caused the disaster of 9/11: failure in implementing the simplest regulations - such locked cockpit doors and more stringent inspection on boarding - after years of sky-jackings.

That particular failure of the American government has now created a tidal wave: two wars, horrible new restrictions, and a vast waste of effort. The total cost is incalculable.

And, of course, in the mainline media the untold part of the story of the current financial crisis is the titanic cost of those idiotic wars.





THE REAL BUSH LEGACY

AN AMERICAN THINK-TANK HACK ON PEOPLE PROJECTING THEIR HOPES ONTO OBAMA

POSTED RESPONSE TO A COLUMN BY JOHN O'SULLIVAN IN TORONTO'S GLOBE AND MAIL

John O'Sullivan, this is juvenile analysis.

Of course, people are projecting their own hopes and wishes onto Obama.

I hate to shock you, Mr. O’Sullivan, with a very elementary fact, but that is what happens always with popular leaders.

As far nonsense like "a sphinx without a riddle," it is you who are projecting, and projecting something quite silly. But then you do work for one of America’s silly think-tanks, pretend academic institutions whose job is to propagandize, not inform.

Obama is simply an intellectually gifted, well educated, articulate, decent, and charming man.

That sounds a little pedestrian to those who see him either as a savior or a demon, but those are the very qualities that make a good government or corporate leader.

And the United States amazingly has not been able to come up with many people of that quality for the presidency. It's an amazing indictment of a nation of 300,000,000.

Mediocrity, mendacity, low effective intelligence, fanaticism, and pathology have been far more common qualities in Twentieth Century American presidents, culminating in the pathetic Bush.

America has a broken political system. Its Constitution is out of date and has significant anti-democratic provisions still in place. Its political parties operate like a hamburger-chain duopoly. And the military-political establishment in Washington often makes decisions not in keeping with the popular views.

Obama offers competent, honest government. That alone is a big deal. If he also inspires and has a few great accomplishments, that will be the most people can expect.




DISTINGUISHED FELLOW OF AN AMERICAN THINK TANK

Monday, January 19, 2009

NOAH RICHLER ON HARPER'S GOVERNMENT SENDING BACK AMERICAN DESERTERS

POSTED RESPONSE TO A COLUMN BY NOAH RICHLER IN TORONTO'S GLOBE AND MAIL

Mr. Richler,

I am ashamed our government has sent these brave resisters back. What a difference the spineless Harper from Trudeau who stood up to American arrogance, making sure resisters could find a home in Canada.

The sentiment and direction of your article are fine, but there are factual errors and important points to be added.

First, the Vietnam era draft was not fair: the lottery was only put in later in the war after a great deal of bad public feeling. Do you not recall, for example, the line in the powerful Creedence Clearwater Revival song, "I'm not a Senator's son"?

The local draft boards, appointed political entities, had absolute control over whether someone's drafting was exempted (as a Senator's son) or indeed expedited (as a punishment used for certain classes of individuals).

If you were expedited, you could take it to the Supreme Court, so long as you had a few years and a million dollars to do it. Eventually, someone did, and the practice was ruled out, but only after most of the war.

Even under the lottery, privilege counted. A rich guy like Al Gore went and did journalism at headquarters. Do you think they would have sent him to the dark parts of the jungle? A rich guy like John Kerry went, gung-ho for a war reputation, but only for a quick dash of four months on a boat, months spent shooting peasants in the fields from a safe distance and collecting a row of medals as political bona fides.

Another important exemption for the rich and influential - under the pre-lottery draft or after - was the National Guard. Joining the National Guard exempted you from the draft, and your chances of seeing combat in the Guard were close to zero.

The trouble was, you could not possibly get in. I remember trying, and I remember a friend trying. It was impossible.

But a guy like George Bush got right in. Then he didn't even bother to fulfill his obligation there, being a poor attendee to required meetings and eventually going AWOL. The records for his disappearing - he moved from one state to another and never reported in again - have conveniently disappeared. Money and influence count.

Still another method for the privileged to avoid service was university attendance. Many went to graduate school, often in bird subject like theology, and so long as you were a full time student, you were exempted. A whole generation of prominent Republicans, gung-ho on war, followed this practice. They are called chicken hawks in the U.S.

Poor kids, of course, did not in most cases have the opportunity to go to university for 6 or 7 years. This method also protected the so-called “legacy students” at places like Harvard or Yale: these are mediocrities of well-off families (like Bush) who could never have attended on merit, but who are not only admitted but given an automatic pass in hopes of a big endowment contribution from a grateful family. A disgusting practice indeed, even today, but a fact.

No matter what the system, something on the order of a quarter of the grunts in Vietnam were black, blacks at the time only constituting somewhere between 10 and 12% of general population.

Today, under the volunteer system, America bribes the poor with very substantial promises of education assistance, making college or university possible for those who would otherwise find it difficult. The net effect remains an overwhelming preponderance of poor kids lured in, then trapped in an ugly colonial war like Iraq.





TRUDEAU: A MAN OF CHARACTER, COURAGE, AND JUSTICE





HARPER: A MAN LACKING VIRTUALLY ALL OF THE ABOVE QUALITIES

WAR FROM A DISTANCE? GAZA?

POSTED RESPONSE TO A COLUMN BY JON SNOW IN THE INDEPENDENT

War? Military conflict?

Did this piece have to reviewed by Israeli censors?

No sensible person calls this a war.

A crowded camp of refugees - for that is what much of the population of Gaza is - is relentlessly bombed and shelled, then invaded by tanks.

All this comes after months of an inhuman blockade.





THIS IS NOT WAR, IT IS A WAR CRIME

ANOTHER PATHETIC COLUMN ON HISTORY'S SEEING BUSH AS LARGER THAN WE DO TODAY

POSTED RESPONSE TO A COLUMN BY BRUCE ANDERSON IN THE INDEPENDENT

"In their abuse, hid critics demonstrate their own weak hold on reality."

Sorry, Mr. Anderson, but an aphorism isn't the same thing as truth, and this aphorism is a particularly lame one.

A great historian is part astute psychologist, part imaginative artist, and part clever detective, but even such a rare person is unlikely to blurt out a revisionist judgment before Bush's bottom has left the chair in the Oval Office.

And Mr. Anderson is certainly not such a person.

We have all lived through Bush - eight years of his stammering, dishonesty, and abuse - and it is actually pretentious to tell us that we are wrong and Bruce Anderson is right.

It is not just a popular opinion of Bush that he is an incompetent. Millions of thoughtful, well-informed people have reached that conclusion based on eight years of first-hand experience.

Of course, the surest way for a writer to grab some attention for himself is to write a piece like Mr. Anderson's, but attention is not the same thing as saying something true and significant, which Mr. Anderson most assuredly has not.

Indeed, in future, the many shameful flaws and errors of Bush, both in office and before, will come to light from wherever they have been hidden, and Bush will be shown even a shabbier character than we think him today.





FRAME FROM A VIDEO OF BUSH AT A SPORTS ARENA BEFORE HE BECAME COMMANDER-IN-CHIEF

Friday, January 16, 2009

BRITISH WRITER ASKS IF THERE IS NO WAR ON TERROR WHY ARE OUR BOYS DYING?

POSTED RESPONSE TO A COLUMN BY CON COUGHLIN IN THE DAILY TELEGRAPH

Good question that you, as a responsible newspaper, should have asked years ago.

All thinking and informed people not directly associated with or benefiting from or biased towards the power structure of the United States know that Miliband is absolutely right.

You cannot have a war on an idea or a concept. Full stop. Prominent figures in Britain and other places have made this point repeatedly.

The “War on Terror” is a cheap-trick phrase intended to blur as much as do anything else. It is worded to promote paranoia with its every utterance. It has also been used and promoted as a way to give Israel’s savage behavior a respectable name. The small number of criminals who executed 9/11 is thus associated with piteous victims in Gaza and Lebanon. Absurd.

Bush has specialized in such dishonest phrases. He is, after all, an essentially dishonest man who does not even understand his own impulses. He is an incompetent man with a narcissistic, if not somewhat sociopathic, streak

“You're either with us or against us.” “Bring 'em on!” “The Patriot Act.” “Mission accomplished.” “Axis of Evil.” All destructive and inaccurate rubbish.

Bush – or rather his writer of the moment - has specialized in Orwellian words that try hiding that which they name.

"Rendition" for kidnapping and torture is just one example.

The twentieth century has actually rendered the word “terrorist” rather meaningless.

The fire-bombing of Japanese cities. The atomic bombing of Japanese cities. The carpet bombing and napalming of Vietnamese cities and villages. The fire-bombing of German cities. The invasion of Iraq. Israel’s two invasions of Lebanon. The list is longer than I can possibly put here.

Of course, the true, brutal answer to your question is that they are dying only for good relations with the Pentagon.




1950 AMERICAN BOWMAN TRADING CARD ENTITLED "RAIDING A GERM LABORATORY"





1950 AMERICAN BOWMAN TRADING CARD ENTITLED "CITY OF THE DEAD"

MARCUS GEE TELLS US WHAT AMERICANS - ALL THREE HUNDRED MILLION - ARE FIXATED BY: NOT THE FINANCIAL MESS - NOT AMERICAN TROOPS ABROAD - BUT TERROR

POSTED RESPONSE TO A COLUMN BY MARCUS GEE IN THE TORONTO GLOBE AND MAIL

Here is another mighty labor by Marcus Gee for the birth of a mouse.

Considering there are 300,000,000 people, and counting, in the United States, how can anyone make such a flat generalization?

He cannot, of course. It's absurd.

I have friends and relatives in the United States, and none of them is worried about terror. They are worried about the economic mess. They are concerned to have American troops come home. And they are horrified at Israel's slaughter in Gaza.

"This is not some paranoid obsession. The events of 9/11 made it clear to everyone that America faced a new enemy that had no compunction about massacring thousands of civilians."

Oh please, the United States armed forces have murdered something on the order of a million people since that one criminal event, all of whose perpetrators died in the act, and virtually none - none - of that million had anything to do with 9/11.

Not only that, but more than 10,000,000 Americans have died since 9/11. Americans murdering other Americans have killed roughly 140,000 in that period. Death on the highways has taken another 280,000 or so. Medical malpractice has killed the best part of a million.

The degree to which a minority of Americans are concerned about terror is the degree to which people like Mr. Gee work regularly to instill fear.

Those defending Israel's brutal slaughter are happy to associate with the word "terrorist" the perpetrators of 9/11 and the victims of Israel’s heartless killing.




1950 AMERICAN BOWMAN TRADING CARD ENTITLED "SABOTEUR"

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

IS A ONE-STATE SOLUTION POSSIBLE?

POSTED RESPONSE TO A COLUMN IN THE NEW YORK TIMES

I believe that, over the long term, it is inevitable for a single state to emerge.

The reasons for saying that are many, but I'll just mention a few.

Demographics are not on Israel's side. The principle of Demographic Transition - a universal phenomenon - means Israel, like other advanced countries cannot even replace its population. Palestinians have rates of natural increase on the order of places like West Africa.

This does not just mean a great population disparity in future.

It shapes the age structure of the populations, Israel will become an old society while, as in other Arab lands, Palestinians have a young population, roughly 60% youth.

Until now, Israel has been able to get immigrants to temporarily alter this changing population structure, but this will not continue to be so. There are no more large Jewish population pools like that of Russia under the Communists, at least not in places where people are willing to trade a comfortable life for life in Israel. And the longer the conflicts continue, the less attractive is Israel as a destination for any immigrants.

Israel also spends a shamefully large amount of its GDP on military matters. It gets a big subsidy from the U.S. - and will that continue indefinitely? However, it far, far outspends that. Just consider what happened to the Soviet Union, a nation whose economy had many structural similarities to Israel’s.

Also the generation with lifetime memories of the Holocaust is about gone. These people had fears beyond measuring which contributed to Israel’s often unfair stance towards the Palestinians.

Again, the world has dramatically changed from the world of 19th century nationalism, the environment which fostered Zionism. Implicit in that world was that countries are defined by ethnic identity. The world, at least the advanced world, simply no longer believes that. Indeed, the notion is starting to look as outmoded as ideas from the Middle Ages.

Israel has maintained, in the words of an early Zionist, an “iron wall” towards its neighbors for sixty years. The psychology of most people just will not allow that to continue forever. People want to just live and love and trade and enjoy life.

The Arab states originally were against Israel’s establishment, and they had every legitimate reason to feel so. But Arab states all accept the reality of Israel today.

Even parties like Hamas, so demonized in the Western press, are willing to talk and reach a modus Vivendi. They withhold recognition as a legitimate bargaining position. The U.S. went many years without recognizing the Soviet Union. Then it recognized it and constructive exchanges became frequent.


COMPARISONS TO NAZI GERMANY ARE EXCESSIVE BUT ISRAEL'S WAY OF THINKING HAS CERTAIN PARALLELS AT WHICH MANY ARE HORRIFIED

POSTED RESPONSE TO A COLUMN BY DANIEL FINKELSTEIN IN THE TIMES

Daniel,

I believe your remarks are short-sighted.

Comparisons with Nazi Germany indeed go too far, but they should also clearly signal you and other defenders of Israel's bloody excesses how deeply many are offended by Israel's barbaric practices.

The entire line, one we read repeated in so many places, that Hamas is responsible for this savage attack is false.

But it is more than false: it seeks to blame the victims for the bloodshed they suffer.

Israel has made not one honest effort to deal with Hamas, although Hamas clearly stated early on that an understanding could be reached. Hamas also kept scrupulously the previous ceasefire, demonstrating they kept their obligations.

Israel simply wants to eliminate Hamas. This is, on a small scale, the way those running the Third Reich did think, although we all know they pushed this to limits of human horror. It is certainly the way apartheid South Africa felt about the African National Congress.

Israel also shows no respect for democracy. The claim is made, over and over, that Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East.

But democracy has nothing to do with behaving as a bully or even a tyrant. The American Confederacy, apartheid South Africa, France in Algeria, and indeed Israel prove that. As does America's creation of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo.

In a democracy, an angry or prejudiced majority can behave every bit as badly as people under any other form of government, and they often do.

In Canada or America, the Charter and Bill of Rights are intended to protect the minority against such a majority. That is the intent, and it is why America has felt it must keep its barbarism offshore. Some respect for principles.

Israel has no Bill of Rights. Likely it never will, because it is extremely difficult to create one that has any meaning for a national identity based on religion.

But even if it had one, likely it would follow the practices of the U.S. in keeping its horrors outside its borders.

Of course, as soon as we mention borders, we come to the issue of what are Israel's? They are truly undefined. They don't resemble those of the international agreements in the early 20th century. They don't resemble those for the UN acts establishing Israel.

Anyone knows you talk to your enemies if you want peace. Israel is no different.


Thursday, January 08, 2009

HERE'S TO AN UNGRACIOUS AND INACCURATE OLIVER KAMM

POSTED RESPONSE TO A FOLLOW-UP REMARK BY OLIVER KAMM IN THE TIMES

The ungraciousness I'll ignore; it's puerile.

But you are clearly misinterpreting my words.

Is that deliberate or attention deficit influencing your reading?

I didn't say I spark exchanges.

But my own replies are I think it fair to say a bit more interesting and thoughtful and, sometimes, informative than "Great job, Oliver!"

Of course you don't agree, but then, if you did, you would be talking to yourself, wouldn't you?

Is that what you prefer?

Do you not respect a range of views, thoughtfully expressed?

Perhaps you write this blog only because it is part of your terms of hire?

Sad for you, then, I think.




HERE IS A PICTURE OF OLIVER KAMM ADDRESSING THE HOUSEHOLD SERVANTS




AND HERE IS A PICTURE, FROM A COMMISSIONED PORTRAIT HE KEEPS IN HIS CLOSET, OF HOW OLIVER KAMM SEES HIMSELF

A THOUGHTLESS RECOMMENDATION FROM ONE COLUMNIST TO A COLUMN BY ANOTHER (WHO JUST HAPPENS TO BE HIS BOSS), A COLUMN JUSTIFYING ISRAEL'S SAVAGERY

POSTED RESPONSE TO A COLUMN BY OLIVER KAMM IN THE TIMES

Daniel's (Finkelstein) piece was well put, but it was still wrong in logic and implications.

If Israel is to be a nation like any other, it must be bound be the same principles and behaviors that other nations are.

You cannot advocate, as Daniel implicitly does in that piece, for Israel's having a special status, somewhere up in the clouds, above all the rest of toiling humanity, able to make god-like decisions over the fates of millions of others.

And although I cannot help being emotionally affected by appeals to hideous events of three-quarters of a century ago - a subject, by the way, I am well-read on - still the truth is that almost no one alive on the planet was even alive then. And certainly the poor Palestinians did nothing to hurt the Jewish people.

We have an ugly reality today that must be rationally dealt with. Endless appeals to the past are actually not helpful in eliciting reason and fairness. And Israel's actions were best characterized by Rabbi Lerner.

Please see, in a while, Daniel's blog on the principle of reciprocity in violence to which I have written an extensive comment. If he doesn't post it, I'll submit it here later.

Unfortunately, Daniel in his column yesterday, did follow the practice that is too common at The Times with regular columns and news stories - that is, he published only favorable or unchallenging comments, at the point I looked.

This practice I must say has not applied to your blog, Mr. Kamm, nor, in the past, to Daniel's. We get some meaningful exchanges, all too rare a thing in the mainline press.




IS THIS TO BE ISRAEL'S STATUS AMONGST NATIONS?





AND THIS IS TO BE THE REGULAR RESULT?

THE PROPORTIONALITY OF ISRAEL'S RESPONSES: AN ARGUMENT BY SCHOLASTICS DEVOID OF HUMANITY AND ETHICS - AND THE ONLY WAY TO END THE HIDEOUS VIOLENCE

RESPONSE TO A COLUMN BY DANIEL FINKELSTEIN IN THE TIMES

This is like scholastics counting the angels on the head of a pin.

Only here, misery and death on a massive scale are involved, actually making it a rather dreadful discussion.

These relatively ineffective, home-made rockets - it is altogether wrong to call them “missiles” for they have no real guidance systems as do the deadly American-supplied, Israeli Hellfire missiles - are police matters, no war matters.

They could be treated as a police matter if Israel would simply establish normal relations with its neighbors, something it has never genuinely pursued in my view.

Here is a parallel situation, a very close one actually, that makes the point of how irrational and savage Israel’s responses are. In America's ghettos, horrible crimes are common. In the Chicago where I grew up, for example, it became common for sewer covers – or large pieces of pavement - to be rolled to highway overpasses and dropped on the cars below.

A number of times, there were ghastly deaths and accidents. That is why today all overpasses are covered with chain-link fencing, something going back to the 1960s.

But imagine, instead, the authorities having responded by calling in the National Guard to bomb a section of the ghetto, killing many innocent people? That is precisely what Israel does, time and time again. That's why Rabbi Lerner rightly called the policy stupid.

Israel alienates most of the world with this barbarism, especially the liberal-minded intellectuals of the world who should be its friends. It also creates new enemies by the score: it's the principle of revenge at work.

And time is not on Israel’s side. The Palestinians, like most third-world people have a high birth rate. Israelis have the birth rates typical of all advanced countries – that is, not high enough to replace its own population in the long term.

The reason for the disparity is an economic concept called Demographic Transition. It has many long-term implications. Just one of these, we see today, is the youthful nature of the Palestinian population. When Israel bombs, it kills and maims kids, unavoidably, and it disgusts the world, as it should.

And it sows a new crop of enemies, young people being very headstrong and emotional.

All of Israel’s ugly policies have failed, from tearing down people’s homes to refusing permits for business and construction in occupied areas to blockades. This way of behaving is a one-way trip to nowhere.

I'll turn the argument in your column of the other day around, Daniel. All Israel has to say is let Palestine exist and let them choose their government.

Then negotiate and deal legally as any neighboring governments do in the world. No savagery, just words and legal agreements. It doesn't matter what Hamas thinks of Israel so long as it abides by the rules, which there is every reason on earth to believe they will. They have tried in the past to have an understanding with Israel, and they are rejected as not being worthy of talking to.

I have to say, Daniel, I was disappointed in published responses to your commentary the other day.

It was clear that you selected favorable ones and ignored others, at least at the point I looked. Hardly a dialogue, and what's the point of having a comment facility if it is treated that way, as it is regularly by The Times regular columnists?

You are fair and generous in allowing responses to your blog, but that mode of thinking never extends to reportage or columnists in The Times.

Maybe it should. Toronto's Globe and Mail, a fine and distinguished paper, allows virtually free comment on stories and columns - only filth and libel and prejudice are excluded.




NOTHING ON EARTH JUSTIFIES THIS HORROR

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

ENGLAND'S RABBI LERNER SPEAKS OUT ON GAZA AND AN ATTEMPT TO POLITELY DISCREDIT HIM BASED ON HIS 9/11 BELIEFS

POSTED RESPONSE TO A COLUMN BY OLIVER KAMM IN THE TIMES

The Rabbi speaks reason, both about the current savage violence in Gaza and the history of 9/11, but I'm not sure you do, Mr. Kamm.

"Rabbi Lerner's apprehension that I might wish to reject everything he says because of his "agnosticism on 9/11" is unfounded."

What in God's name does 9/11 have to do with Gaza matters? When you mentioned this the other day, I thought you were recovering from holiday excess.

The Rabbi is right to doubt the official version of 9/11. It is certainly incomplete, and I say this without believing that government was involved in plots.

There are clear bits of evidence. The flight over Pennsylvania was certainly shot down - just the extensive nature of the wreckage field says this to a certainty.

Cheney undoubtedly ordered it shot down - he is a totally ruthless man - but they do not want to tell the world this ugly fact. So we get mythical nonsense about "Let's roll."

The towers‘ collapse is another unexplained matter: it resembled precisely the kind of controlled explosion and collapse used in tall-building demolition.

A number of engineers have also pointed out the melting point of the kind of steel used in construction: it is twice the temperature at which diesel fuel (aviation fuel is a refined diesel) burns.

It is likely then that the scheme was larger than just the 19 or 20 on the four planes. After all, there had been a previous attempt to bring down the Trade Center this very way.

The authorities do not want to acknowledge the size and success of the scheme. It is a confession of the utter incompetence of intelligence and police services.

There is also the documented matter of a group of Mossad agents, under cover of a moving (removal) firm, who were aware of these plotters and were following them around inside the U.S. Just the fact that there was a sizeable group of agents operating inside the U.S. and that this group was on to the plotters further emphasizes the complete incompetence of an American intelligence establishment chewing its way through tens of billions of dollars of taxpayers’ money every year.

Of course, the entire thing could not have happened had the simplest precautions been taken in aviation security, such as cockpit doors that lock securely from inside.
Upgrading of boarding procedures, too.

There had been years of skyjackings – many like that of D. B. Cooper still unsolved - and the U.S. Congress continued to refuse to spend this small amount of money on real security. It is only generous when it comes to bombing people in the colonies.

So now we suffer from a ridiculous degree of over-kill in American security. We all are paying a price for the incompetence of American government, and no government wants to be thought incompetent.

No, the Rabbi has many reasonable bases for doubt.




THE ENTIRE LOWER STRUCTURES JUST COLLAPSED A SHORT WHILE AFTER THIS AND THERE IS NO REASONABLE EXPLANATION IN THE OFFICIAL STORY - ANYONE POINTING THIS AND RELATED 9/11 ISSUES OUT IS NOT ADDICTED TO CONSPIRACY STORIES

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

SHOULD ISRAEL TALK TO HAMAS?

January 6, 2009

SHOULD ISRAEL TALK TO HAMAS?

John Chuckman

It is so elemental a question, yet one rarely mentioned in the mainline press. Hamas has been demonized so thoroughly and with so little genuine reason that its situation provides prima facie evidence for the immense reach of the Israel lobby.

The world is horrified by Israel's bombing of Gaza’s densely populated area, and rightly so, but the bombing is only a more intense horror than the blockade.

The word “blockade” comes so easily, so cleanly, without any feeling for what it reality means. It is one of that class of terms you find dissected in Orwell’s great essay, “Politics and the English Language.” It truly means here an entire population is abused and tortured for months because it voted the wrong way.

I do think most of us, if treated in this fashion in our homes by a foreign power, would use any means at hand of protesting and fighting back, even if that fighting is hopeless, as it is. It was, I believe, a former Israeli Prime Minister who said that if he were a Palestinian, he would be a terrorist.

The blockade and the bombing and the invasion have little to do with homemade rockets. Those rockets long predate the Hamas government.

Defenders of Israel’s bloody excesses insist on muddying the water by saying that the rockets are the reason for the current mass murder in Gaza, for that is just what it is, mass murder.

Israel's secret service, Shin Bet, quietly subsidized Hamas for years, deliberately creating a future competitor for Fatah.

It clearly never feared Hamas. And why should it? If Israel were to stand back, even today, and say to Hamas, “Okay, give me your best punch,” the results would be small and ineffectual. On the other hand, we all know Israel possesses the capacity to virtually annihilate all Palestinians.

Hamas prospered after Israel’s secret subsidy. Why? Partly because it served many humanitarian needs in Palestine with perhaps ninety percent of its work being humanitarian, but also, of course, because of the endless, grinding oppression of Israel’s Apartheid system. People need hope.

When Hamas finally was elected in a cleaner election than that of George Bush, it was also in large part because the poor people of Palestine had become exhausted by the corruption of Fatah. Just as Americans with Obama, Palestinians wanted a fresh start with some people that seemed to be doing something right.

Yes, Hamas mouths anti-Israel stuff, but so what? Israel is full of people saying ugly anti-Arab stuff. It is not hard to find a number of disturbing quotes by fairly prominent Israelis calling Palestinians “roaches” and “vermin.” There are also prominent advocates of simply driving all the Palestinians under an artillery barrage across the Jordan River. Others are on record as saying the Palestinians should be “eliminated,” whatever was meant by that chilling word.

As in international affairs generally – what someone like Nixon or Bush has said of Russia or Cuba – I do not focus on such statements, they are for domestic consumption, and they also represent an unpleasant release of stress. But when a government does focus on them, as Israel’s government does, you know it is being dishonest. Governments and politicians everywhere make statements that do not reflect their actual behavior. And just so, Hamas.

It is always actions that count. So what have Israel’s actions been?
Israel immediately said an elected government was a bunch of terrorists.
Israel refused even to talk to the government although that government indicated on more than one occasion it was willing to talk to Israel and to work towards some kind of modus vivendi.

You really do not have to like your neighbor to get along with him or her. Peace requires that, often. It is the common experience across much of humanity. And with so much at stake, you might expect Israel to show some slight flexibility and even generosity. Look at the immense sacrifice of Anwar El Sadat for peace.

And it was not Arabs who gave the world the Holocaust, the event that gave the final impetus to the foundation of a state that had been talked and written about for a century previously. Yet it was Arabs who were made to pay the price with land and homes and olive groves that go back countless centuries. Now they continue to pay with abuse and severely oppressive conditions. They can’t even vote for governing their own internal affairs without horrible consequences.

After all, events around Israel’s creation as a state – especially including the bloody terror of gangs like the Stern, Irgun, and Lehi - did create the circumstances of these unfortunate people, as every honest Israeli knows. So why not some flexibility and generosity towards future peace? But we never see that from Israel. We only see one-sided conditions set even for talks decade after decade, the one-sided conditions today including the arbitrary removal of an elected government.

But Israel wasn’t satisfied with just ignoring and calling an elected government names: it arrested illegally a major part of that government, literally kidnapping them. Likely, they have been tortured for information, as Israel has practiced torture on prisoners from its founding. And it boldly assassinated many other members of Hamas using Hellfire missiles from its jets, killing scores civilian bystanders in the process.

These arrests are of course on top of something like 9,000 illegally-held Palestinians in Israeli prisons, Israel releasing a token couple of hundred every once in a great while, with great fanfare and publicity, to bolster the public image of Abbas and a party which was rejected in free elections.

Hamas, of course, achieved precisely the early promise of Israel's secret service by ending up fighting Fatah. The events weakened the voice of Palestinians and gave Israel fresh themes in its ceaseless efforts against Palestinian nationalism.
Once Hamas was left with only Gaza – a weak and vulnerable place, effectively the world’s largest outdoor prison camp, surrounded by fence, and with no ability to receive anything by land, air, or sea except with Israel’s permission – the stage was set for today’s events. Hamas in Gaza was ready to be strangled.

The leader of Fatah, Abbas - a weak and ineffectual man whose party, in fact, lost an election but “leads” and is the only figure Israel even pretends to talk to – was left in the West Bank with Israeli and American protection and help, Israel actually supplying guns to Fatah during the struggle.

Abbas appears to be a man with whom Israel can work, but that means a man with no democratic position, a weak voice, and a somewhat step-and-fetch-it public posture. What does this say of Israel’s genuine respect for democracy and human rights?
The day Israel completely gives up on the idea of Greater Israel and the day it begins treating its neighbors with respect as human beings is the day we will see the foundations of peace. It truly is that simple.

For sixty years Israel has maintained what an early Zionist advocated, an “iron wall” towards its neighbors. And it has manipulated events time and again with black ops – as Shin Bet’s subsidizing Hamas or the horrific attack on an American spy ship during the 1967 war in an effort to draw the U.S. in, or the assistance towards Apartheid South Africa’s becoming a nuclear power in exchange for strategic materials.

Well, you cannot make peace with an iron wall.





GOD, TALK IS BETTER THAN THIS

Thursday, January 01, 2009

FURTHER TO ISRAEL'S ASSAULT ON GAZA - A TOUGH ANSWER TO AN UNINFORMED ASSERTION OF BIAS

POSTED RESPONSE TO ANOTHER'S COMMENT ON A COLUMN IN THE FINANCIAL TIMES BY CLIVE CROOK

"John Chuckman, Hamas has the option to renounce its dedication to the destruction of Israel and to stop the homemade rockets that are making ”rubbish” of the lives of Israeli civilians. If, after doing that, there is still no end to the blockade of Gaza. we can then re-read your biased comments with greater conviction.'

Oh, my comment is biased?

But the writer’s is not? Just how is that?

But then so many of this writer’s comments are close to comical, bumbling almost with his countless “errata” postings suggesting someone afraid to offend even where truth and matters of life and death are concerned and where no one could care less about a typo.

But the above quote is not comical, it is nasty and dangerously uninformed.

The word “blockade” comes so easily, so cleanly, without any feeling for what it reality means. It is one of that class of terms you find dissected in Orwell’s great essay, “Politics and the English Language.” It truly means here an entire population is abused and tortured for months because it voted the wrong way.

I do think most of us, if treated in this fashion in our homes by a foreign power, would use any means at hand of protesting and fighting back, even if that fighting is hopeless, as it is.

The blockade has nothing to do with homemade rockets. Those rockets long predate the Hamas government.

And defenders of Israel’s bloody excesses insist on muddying the water by saying that the rockets are the reason for this mass murder, for that is just what it is, mass murder.

Israel's secret service, Shin Bet, quietly subsidized Hamas for years, deliberately creating a future competitor for Fatah. It clearly never feared Hamas.

Hamas prospered. Why? Partly because it served many humanitarian needs in Palestine with perhaps ninety percent of its work being humanitarian, but also, of course, because of the endless, grinding oppression of Israel’s Apartheid.

When Hamas finally was elected in a cleaner election than that of George Bush, it was also in large part because the poor people of Palestine had become exhausted by the corruption of Fatah. Just as Americans with Obama, Palestinians wanted a fresh start with some people that seemed to be doing something right.

Yes, Hamas mouths anti-Israel stuff, but so what? Israel is full of people saying ugly anti-Arab stuff. It is not hard to find a number of disturbing quotes by fairly prominent Israelis calling Palestinians “roaches” and “vermin.” There are also prominent advocates of simply driving all the Palestinians under an artillery barrage across the Jordan River. Others are on record as saying they should be “eliminated,” whatever was meant by that chilling word.

As in international affairs generally – what someone like Nixon or Bush has said of Russia or Cuba – I do not focus on such statements, and when a government does focus on them, you know it is being dishonest. Governments and politicians everywhere make statements that do not reflect their actual behavior. And just so, Hamas.

It is always actions that count. So what have Israel’s actions been?

Israel immediately said an elected government was a bunch of terrorists.

Israel refused even to talk to the government although that government indicated on more than one occasion it was willing to talk to Israel and to work towards some kind of modus vivendi.

You really do not have to like your neighbor to get along with him or her. Peace requires that, often. It is the common experience across much of humanity. And with so much at stake, you might expect Israel to show some slight flexibility and even generosity. Look at the immense sacrifice of Anwar El Sadat for peace.

And it was not Arabs who gave the world the Holocaust, the event that gave the final impetus to the foundation of a state that had been talked and written about for a century previously. Yet it was Arabs who were made to pay the price with land and homes and olive groves that go back countless centuries. Now they continue to pay with abuse and severely oppressive conditions.

After all, events around Israel’s creation as a state – especially including the bloody terror of gangs like the Stern, Irgun, and Lehi - did create the circumstances of these unfortunate people, as every honest Israeli knows. So why not some flexibility and generosity towards future peace? But we never see that from Israel. We only see one-sided conditions set even for talks decade after decade, the one-sided conditions today including the arbitrary removal of an elected government.

But Israel wasn’t satisfied with just ignoring and calling an elected government names: it arrested illegally a major part of that government, literally kidnapping them. Likely, they have been tortured for information, as Israel has practiced torture on prisoners from its founding. And it boldly assassinated many other members of Hamas using Hellfire missiles from its jets, killing scores civilian bystanders in the process.

These arrests are of course on top of something like 9,000 illegally-held Palestinians in Israeli prisons, Israel releasing a token couple of hundred every once in a great while, with great fanfare and publicity, to bolster the public image of Abbas and a party which was rejected in free elections.

Hamas, of course, achieved precisely the early promise of Israel's secret service by ending up fighting Fatah. The events weakened the voice of Palestinians and gave Israel fresh themes in its ceaseless efforts against Palestinian nationalism.

You must remember, Israel has never really given up the dream of Greater Israel. As late as the Camp David talks with Jimmy Carter, the then Prime Minister of Israel, an old Irgun terrorist himself, kept bringing it up as a needed goal of Israel’s, and there are many quotes on record by famous Israelis supporting this clearly destructive goal.

Of course, were Israel simply to seize these areas, something it is perfectly capable of, there would be worldwide revulsion and rejection. But the impulse nevertheless is undeniably there, always quietly working away in Israel’s plans, policies, and negotiating postures. Greater Israel includes Gaza, the West Bank, Southern Lebanon, and a slice of Syria. It is based on interpretations from ancient texts, there being no maps worthy of the name from two millennia ago.

Once Hamas was left with only Gaza – a weak and vulnerable place, effectively the world’s largest outdoor prison camp, surrounded by fence, and with no ability to receive anything by land, air, or sea except with Israel’s permission – the stage was set for today’s events. Hamas in Gaza was ready to be strangled.

The leader of Fatah, Abbas - a weak and ineffectual man whose party, in fact, lost an election but “leads” and is the only figure Israel even pretends to talk to – was left in the West Bank with Israeli and American protection and help, Israel actually supplying guns to Fatah during the struggle.

Abbas appears to be a man with whom Israel can work, but that means a man with no democratic position, a weak voice, and a somewhat step-and-fetch-it public posture. What does this say of Israel’s genuine respect for democracy and human rights?

Here is an actual quote from an early Lehi publication. Its vicious tone was fully realized in and around events of 1948 which included frightening Palestinians into stampeding away with false radio broadcasts and genuine village massacres:

“Neither Jewish ethics nor Jewish tradition can disqualify terrorism as a means of combat. We are very far from having any moral qualms as far as our national war goes. We have before us the command of the Torah, whose morality surpasses that of any other body of laws in the world: "Ye shall blot them out to the last man." “

The day Israel completely gives up on the idea of Greater Israel and the day it begins treating its neighbors with respect as human beings is the day we will see the foundations of peace.

For sixty years Israel has maintained what an early Zionist advocated, an “iron wall” towards its neighbors. And it has manipulated events time and again with black ops – as Shin Bet’s subsidizing Hamas, or the horrific attack on an American spy ship during the 1967 war in an effort to draw the U.S. in, or the assistance towards Apartheid South Africa’s becoming a nuclear power in exchange for strategic materials.

Well, you cannot make peace with an iron wall.





ONE OF ISRAEL'S NEW AUTOMATED SENTRY TOWERS ALONG THE GAZA BORDER. THE MACHINE GUN ON TOP IS LASER-GUIDED AND DESIGNED TO CREATE A 1500-METER DEEP "KILL ZONE"