jueves, 29 de enero de 2009

Some words of wisdom from Paul Krugman

Krugman, on the chocked-full-of-ridiculous-tax-cuts Obama stimulus plan:
The House has passed the stimulus bill with not a single Republican vote.

Aren’t you glad that Obama watered it down and added ineffective tax cuts, so as to win bipartisan support?

And Krugman again on the Obama plan to set up a "bad bank," which will reward Wall Street's destructive behavior by overpaying them for toxic assets:
As the Obama administration apparently prepares to launch Hankie Pankie II — buying troubled assets from banks at prices higher than they will fetch on the open market — it occurred to me that an updated version of an old Communist-era joke may be appropriate: under Bush, financial policy consisted of Wall Street types cutting sweet deals, at taxpayer expense, for Wall Street types. Under Obama, it’s precisely the reverse.

Update: Maybe I was too cryptic. The original joke was, “Capitalism is the exploitation of man by man. Socialism is the reverse.”

My goodness, he is a breath of fresh air! Unfortunately though, he's on the outside looking in like the rest of us.

Mr. President, this is not change we can believe in.

martes, 20 de enero de 2009

Something you should read

If you're interested in reading an excellent, in-depth explanation of the Israeli assault on Gaza, which places the actions of Israel and the United States in historical context, please check out this piece by Noam Chomsky that appeared on Z Net today. It's a bit long, but totally worth it.

domingo, 18 de enero de 2009

Don't be fooled by the word "ceasefire"

Thankfully and finally, the Israeli attack on Gaza has come to a halt after three weeks of constant and horrific violence. Hamas and other allied political forces in Palestine have responded by offering a conditional ceasefire of their own. Like any sane person with a conscience, I am relieved. Hopefully, the pause in the violence will at least allow United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) staff and other rescue workers to provide basic humanitarian aid to the beleaguered people of Gaza and prevent more senseless deaths. However, Israel's offering of a supposed "ceasefire" is no cause for celebration. History shows us that there is little reason to accept Israel's public pronouncements at face value. As Justin Podur reminds us in his column on Z Net today, "Israel used the word "disengagement" in 2005 to mean continued occupation, control of movement, periodic massacre, and blockade [of Gaza]". An examination of the specifics of the "ceasefire" demonstrates that Israel has agreed to cease very little.

First and foremost, a unilateral Israeli cessation of military operations is by its nature weak and designed to give the the Israeli armed forces as much freedom to act as possible and avoid having to make concessions to Hamas, as Al Jazeera pointed out. Israel showed no interest in participating in an Egytpian-moderated ceasefire with externally verifiable conditions. Rather, by acting on their own, they have imposed their own conditions, or lack thereof. For instance, Israel has not agreed to end its land, sea, and air blockade of Gaza, or even to ease it. Israeli troops also remain on the ground in Gaza, armed to the teeth. This fact is the main reason why Hamas has only offered a conditional ceasefire; Hamas has stated it will resume its attacks on Israel unless they withdraw all of their troops from Gaza within a week (which appears highly unlikely). As such, the root cause of Hamas rocket fire, Israel's imprisonment of the people of Gaza, not only remains in force but has gotten worse thanks to the presence of Israeli soldiers in the strip. Of course, I do not condone Hamas's indiscriminate firing of rockets into civilian areas. Nonetheless, As Israeli professor Neve Gordon argued on Democracy Now, the firing of rockets is an act of resistance to the increasingly severe Israeli occupation, the "primordial act of violence".

Given the conditions stated above, I believe it is likely that Israel will resume its assault on Gaza within a week, though at a lower intensity. However, even if Israel does not resume military operations within the strip, there is little chance life in Gaza will get better any time soon. Since Hamas was elected in 2006, Israel has been blockading the Gaza strip, collectively punishing the Palestinian people for voting in the wrong political party. The United States has openly supported this war crime and most European and Arab governments have been complicit in it. Further, all of these actors behaved similarly in the face of Israel's assault on Gaza, a far more intense and visible act of aggression than the less dramatic, though still deadly blockade. As such, I agree completely with Justin Podur that it's highly unlikely that any of these important regional and/or global actors will take any serious action to halt the intensification of Israel's occupation of Gaza, even if it involves the long-term re-introduction of Israeli troops.

Of course, the United States could fundamentally alter its policies towards Israel once Barack Obama is sworn into office this Tuesday. Unfortunately however, the likelihood of such a dramatic shift in American foreign policy is slim to none. The U.S. has supported Israeli aggression and blocked a peaceful resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for over forty years and many powerful interest groups in the United States support and/or benefit from Israeli violence. But hey, I can dream can't I? And in all honesty, is there anything Obama could do which would more clearly and dramatically demonstrate that his administration represents "change" from business as usual in Washington than ending our support for the Israeli occupation of Palestine? At least in terms of foreign affairs, I think not. Everyone who cares about this issue ought to realize, though, that a fundamental shift in American policy in the Middle East will only happen if average Americans organize a large movement in solidarity with the peoples of the region and, as Produr put it, "raise the cost" of imperialism. Only then will we get change we can believe in. Here's to hoping that the convergence of widespread public outrage at the recent round of overt Israeli violence and the election of Barack Obama will bring about a new era in America's relationship with the Middle East.

jueves, 15 de enero de 2009

Costa Ricans Protest Gaza Massacre, Israeli Occupation

As many of you are likely well aware, Costa Rica has been reeling from a major earthquake that struck the province of Heredia last week. As of today, 23 have died, hundreds have been injured, and 13 are still missing. Yet despite suffering from a natural disaster, many Costa Ricans have come out to oppose the man-made disaster that has been inflicted on the people of Gaza over the past three weeks. There have been two protests against the massacre in Gaza in San Jose: a march last Friday, which began at the Israeli embassy and was attended by as many as one thousand people, and a smaller protest in front of the Casa Presidencial (office of the President) this past Tuesday. Although I was unable to see the march on Friday, I was fortunate enough to witness the protest on Tuesday.

The protest on Tuesday (and Friday) was organized by the Costa Rican Committee in Solidarity with the People of Palestine and was attended by members of various socialist groups, the federation of students of the University of Costa Rica, the Society of Friends (Quakers), and others. As the name of the committee suggests, the protest was called to express solidarity with the besieged people of Gaza. The demonstrators frequently chanted "America Latina apoya Palestina" (Latin America supports Palestine). Those who spoke at the protest also called for the expulsion of the Israeli ambassador from Costa Rica and sanctions against Israel at the United Nations Security Council (of which Costa Rica is currently a non-permanent member) unless Israel ends the military operation in Gaza, the blockade of Gaza, and the occupation of both Gaza and the West Bank. The demonstrators blocked off a small section of the street in front of the Casa Presidencial, held banners, distributed literature to passers by, and made their demands heard over a loud speaker. As has been the case in protests I've attended in the United States, there were nearly as many police as demonstrators (though to be clear, I witnessed and did not participate in this one). However, the police were quite laid back and entirely civil towards the peaceful protesters. There was not a single confrontation. Here are some photos of the event. I apologize for the low quality but I hope you get the picture:

"Long Live the Palestinian Resistance"- Party of Revolutionary Workers

"Stop the Genocide in Gaza" - Federation of Students of the University of Costa Rica

The loudspeaker

The Police, just hanging out

"We call for the end of relations with Israel"- Movement towards Socialism

Waving the Palestinian Flag

To say the least, it's been very encouraging to see such an outpouring of support for the people of Gaza in the United States, Costa Rica, and around the world. The contrast between the increasing level of awareness, solidarity, and plain decency of everyday people worldwide and the utter ruthlessness of the governments (with some exceptions) and corporations that rule over them could not be more stark. I just hope the protests keep on coming and eventually, Israel is compelled to end its genocide of the people of Gaza.

domingo, 11 de enero de 2009

Israel continues its assault on Gaza

Photo Courtesy of Al Jazeera

Since I last posted on this blog on December 29th, the situation in Gaza has continued to spiral downwards. Every morning, there's another horrific story which displays the Israeli army's utter contempt for civilian life: The Israeli armed forces have killed aid workers from the Red Cross, bombed a United Nations school, killing 40 innocent civilians, killed 9 women and 11 children in their homes just so they could assassinate a single Hamas leader, and deliberately targeted police officers, likely with the intention of undermining order and sowing chaos in the strip. There are even reports that Israel may be dropping white phosphorous, a poisonous chemical which can burn human flesh to the bone, on Gaza. Of course if this is true, Israel is committing a war crime, but you don't have to be an expert in international humanitarian law to know that dropping a chemical which causes severe burns on an enclosed, densely populated area is utterly despicable and likely to cause civilian injuries.

One of the many unfortunate realities of the violence in Gaza is that it repeats a familiar historical pattern. As Noam Chomsky and other astute observers have long pointed out, Israel would not be able to occupy the West Bank and Gaza and could not have committed many its myriad other crimes over the course of its existence without the military, economic, and political support of the United States. Israel's current round of war crimes are no different. Immediately, President Bush and Speaker Pelosi offered strong rhetorical support for Israel's actions. At the U.N. Security Council, the U.S. first blocked a resolution calling for a ceasefire on January 4th and then abstained from voting on January 8th. Just yesterday, Nancy Pelosi sponsored a resolution in the House backing Israel's actions which passed with an overwhelming majority of 390 to 5, with 22 members abstaining. According to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, the resolution reflected "the will...of the American people". And as always, much of the Israeli military equipment used against Gaza is American made and/or designed.

Another historical constant, also documented by Chomsky, is the quiescence of the mainstream American media in the face of Israeli (or American) state crimes. The justification offered by the Israeli and United States governments are absolutely ridiculous, yet of course, the entire mainstream American media nonetheless parrots their claims. If you're interested in more specifics, check out this piece by Jennifer Lowenstein, who completely debunks the U.S./Israeli arguments for the violence and Paul Street for an analysis of the criminal role of the U.S. media in the Gaza Massacre. In fact, just check out anything that's appeared on ZNet over the past several weeks on the violence in Gaza. Norman Finkelstein also did a great job of debunking the U.S./Israeli arguments for violence and providing historical context for the massacre on Thursday's Democracy Now.

There's little to nothing new I can say about the carnage in Gaza that hasn't already been said more eloquently by the victims of the atrocities themselves or other persons of conscience. Nonetheless, I do have a few thoughts.

Firstly, I have to say that watching Former U.S. Ambassador to Israel, Martin Indyk, debate Norman Finkelstein on Democracy Now on Thursday was a very strange, puzzling experience. Ambassador Indky, who served under the Clinton administration, was a direct and active participant in the Camp David and Taba talks of 1999-2000 and just wrote a book about these talks. Despite his direct participation, Dr. Finkelstein points out that his recount of the events at these talks is not only inaccurate but if you compare his statements with official U.S. government documents, you'll find that Ambassador Indyk's version of history is almost the complete opposite of what actually happened. In Dr. Finkelstein's own words:
According to Mr. Indyk’s account of the negotiations that culminated in the Camp David and Taba meetings, he says it was the Palestinians that were blocking a settlement. What does the record show? The record shows that in every crucial issue raised at Camp David, then under the Clinton parameters, and then in Taba, at every single point, all the concessions came from the Palestinians. Israel didn’t make any concessions. Every concession came from the Palestinians. The Palestinians have repeatedly expressed a willingness to settle the conflict in accordance with international law.

The law is very clear. July 2004, the highest judicial body in the world, the International Court of Justice, ruled Israel has no title to any of the West Bank and any of Gaza. They have no title to Jerusalem. Arab East Jerusalem, according to the highest judicial body in the world, is occupied Palestinian territory. The International Court of Justice ruled all the settlements, all the settlements in the West Bank, are illegal under international law.

Now, the important point is, on all those questions, the Palestinians were willing to make concessions. They were willing to allow Israel to keep 60 percent of the settlements, 80 percent of the settlers. They were willing to compromise on Jerusalem. They were willing to give up basically on the right of return. They made all the concessions. Israel didn’t make any concessions. How is this rendered in Martin Indyk’s book? It’s rendered as, quote, “Barak’s bold and courageous initiatives for peace” and “Arafat and the PLO rejecting the bold and courageous initiatives of Barak.”

As for the current violence in Gaza, according to Mr. Indyk, Israel's assault is an act of self-defense and a response to Hamas breaking its five-month ceasefire with Israel:
I think that what happened here was that there was a ceasefire, an informal ceasefire, between Hamas and Israel that had lasted for about five months. Hamas decided to break that ceasefire with a prolonged series of rocket attacks on Israeli civilians in southern Israel. And the Israeli government responded with overwhelming force, designed, as they have said, to try to reestablish deterrence, to prevent Hamas from doing that again
Yet, Dr. Finkelstein points out that Indyk's claims about the current violence are also completely false and contradict the official documentary record:
Well, the record is fairly clear. You can find it on the Israeli website, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs website. Mr. Indyk is correct that Hamas had adhered to the ceasefire from June 17th until November 4th. On November 4th, here Mr. Indyk, I think, goes awry. The record is clear: Israel broke the ceasefire by going into the Gaza and killing six or seven Palestinian militants. At that point—and now I’m quoting the official Israeli website—Hamas retaliated or, in retaliation for the Israeli attack, then launched the missiles.

Now, as to the reason why, the record is fairly clear as well. According to Ha’aretz, Defense Minister Barak began plans for this invasion before the ceasefire even began. In fact, according to yesterday’s Ha’aretz, the plans for the invasion began in March. And the main reasons for the invasion, I think, are twofold. Number one, as Mr. Indyk I think correctly points out, to enhance what Israel calls its deterrence capacity, which in layman’s language basically means Israel’s capacity to terrorize the region into submission. After their defeat in July 2006 in Lebanon, they felt it important to transmit the message that Israel is still a fighting force, still capable of terrorizing those who dare defy its word.
After witnessing Mr. Indyk's performance on Democracy Now, I would really like to know what actually goes on inside his head. Is he just a terrific liar and actor who makes claims on the show and in his book the he knows are false, or has he somehow convinced himself that his incredibly distorted versions of contemporary history are true? More generally, I suppose that same question could be posed to the various U.S. and Israeli politicians and media elites who have participated in and/or closely followed events in Israeli-occupied Palestine. Some day I would really like to know the answer to that question. I suppose George Orwell would say I was just witnessing a spectacular instance of doublethink, where in the interests of serving the powerful, Indyk and others are actually capable of holding two completely contradictory thoughts at once. Whatever the case, I suggest you read some of Chomsky or Finkelestein's work on the actual history of Palestine and then listen to Indyk's debate with Finkelstein. It really is a mesmerizing, though also maddening and horrifying experience.

Lastly, I have to take issue with Harry Reid's repugnant claim that Friday's House resolution in favor of Israel's massacre of the Palestinians represents "the will...of the American people". For one, my girlfriend, family, friends, acquaintances, and I who know better and oppose Israel's actions are Americans, too, and the resolution certainly doesn't reflect our will. Moreover, it's not just a small cadre of Arab-Americans/America haters/ hippies/ commies/ anarchists (add whatever category of non-persons here you'd like) who oppose Israel's actions. In fact, according to Max Blumenthal, a December 31st Rasmussen poll revealed that 44% of Americans supported Israel's attack on Gaza and 41% opposed it. Given that the casualty figures have risen dramatically since then, it's entirely likely, in my opinion, that even fewer Americans support the so-called "war". In other words, Mr. Majority Leader, if the House resolution represented the "will of the American people" it would have been a much closer vote. Unless of course by "American people" you meant the military-industrial complex and segments of high-tech industry which benefit from Israeli violence, our nation's opinion elite, and AIPAC, the Anti-Defamation League, and the rest of the Israel lobby, in which case I certainly agree with you.

As offensive as the House resolution is, which the entire Connecticut delegation despicably voted for, the results of the Rasmussen poll are encouraging. The poll shows that, despite the near unanimous support of Israeli aggression among politicians from both parties and the utter lack of objective information on the Israeli occupation in the mainstream media, there is a large swath of the population which opposes American-supported Israeli violence. This suggests to me that there is significant potential for popular organizing. The myriad protests across the country are already a good sign and step in the right direction. And, as a side note, as I am living in Costa Rica, there was a protest of more than 1,000 people at the Israeli Embassy in San Jose last Friday in solidarity with the people of Gaza. Given it's much smaller population, the protest on Friday was equivalent to a 75,000 person protest in the U.S. It was an amazing show of public support for peace and justice, especially given that the Costa Rican media and political elite are also incredibly biased towards Israel. In order to have a real impact on the situation in the Palestinian territories, I agree with Naomi Klein and most Palestinian civil society that these protests, in Costa Rica, The United States, and around the world ought to be channeled into an international movement for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions of Israel. Israel is small enough and so dependent on international trade that such a movement could have a real impact. Leading up to and until then, we all have a responsibility as Americans to write, call, and lobby our congresspeople, demonstrate, employ civil disobedience, and do everything and anything we can (Absent acts of violence, of course) to bring an end to the siege of Gaza. As U2 sang decades ago about a different imperial occupation at a different time in history: No More!