Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Well, This is Amusing

Sometimes I feel that I should do a wee bit more self-promotion than I do. Though, if I did, amusing little coincidences like this wouldn't crop up as often.

Possibly the most amusing part? The writer mentions Ezra Klein, but clearly doesn't know much about him. If she did, she probably would have learned exactly who inspired him to start blogging in the first place.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

America Says "Cut DOD, Not Social Security"

Every so often, I'm pleasantly surprised. Not often, but occasionally. This is one of these times, as a focus group of Americans choose a path to deficit reduction that Washington's big deficit hawks weren't expecting:

President Obama’s deficit commission is moving forward with Social Security and Medicare explicitly in their sights. They got a dry run for how this effort is likely to sell with the public on Saturday as the Peter Peterson funded group America Speaks sponsored a series of 19 "21st Century Town Meetings." It seems that events didn’t quite go as planned.

The exercise was intended to convince people that there were no options other than large cuts to Social Security and Medicare to hit their deficit targets. To ensure this result, the America Speaks crew put together a booklet that exaggerated future budget problems (the exercise was for the year 2025) by assuming a worse budget path than the country is currently facing.

America Speaks also excluded the possibility that the Fed would buy and hold more debt, in effect continuing its current course. This would substantially reduce the interest burden facing the country in 2025. While in normal times this could cause inflation, that is unlikely to be a problem in the foreseeable future. In comparable circumstances, Japan’s central bank has bought an amount of debt nearly equal to the country’s GDP (the equivalent of $14 trillion for the U.S.) and its economy is still facing deflation. There is no reason that the Fed could not follow the same path, unless the goal is to force cuts in Social Security and Medicare.

The America Speaks folks also denied participants the option of reducing public sector health care costs by reforming the U.S. health care system. As they say at America Speaks, everything is on the table, except reforms that would hurt powerful industry lobbies. The America Speaks crew also neglected to mention the Social Security trust fund and that it would have enough assets to pay all benefits through the year 2043, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

Given this stacked deck the participants rose up in revolt. They demanded the option to vote on a single-payer type health care system. The idea being to reduce costs by making health care more efficient rather than just cutting services in Medicare and other public sector programs. They also voted overwhelmingly for defense cuts and for every progressive tax option in the book, even though many had been seriously mischaracterized. For example, they listed the potential revenue from a financial speculation tax in 2025 as $30 billion a year even though there is good reason, based on the experience of other countries, to believe that we could raise close to ten times this amount.
I would not have expected this, considering how public opinion and the "acceptable options" are portrayed in the media. Nevertheless, here we are, with ordinary Americans saying "keep the 'entitlements', enact REAL health care reform, and ditch the wars".

It does raise a question, though. Considering these results, how on earth is it that the Dems aren't doing better? Is it because the people are being misled as to the options? Or is it because the Democrats don't understand what Americans actually wants?

"Until the pace of job growth picks up, consumer confidence is not likely to pick up."

You don't say?

The Very Temporary Filibuster

The amusing part about arguments like this one, in the comments thread of one of Yglesias' posts, is that you have so many Dems arguing that the filibuster is respected "out of respect for the institution", and that it means that "you just need sixty votes to pass a bill, face it".

They never admit that this wasn't the case under the Republicans. The Republicans pushed hard against the filibuster all the time, and didn't let the Dems get away with implying that you "need sixty to pass." It has only been the case since the Dems took control.

They also never stop to consider that it will stop being the case if the Republicans take over again. They either will not, or cannot, admit that the Republicans will come down on the filibuster like a ton of bricks. The "sixty to pass" rule will once again become "Democratic obstructionism", the Republicans will once again blame Democrats for not "reaching out" to pass Republican bills, and DINOs like Lieberman and Nelson will once again vote for cloture.

It's a mug's game. The Dems are suckers. They should NEVER stop hammering the Republicans day, after day, after day, NEVER letting up on the idea that the Republicans are abusing the filibuster. They should NEVER accept the idea that "you just need sixty to pass". They should NEVER let up on threats to go "nuclear", even if they don't plan to do it, just to keep the Republicans guessing.

But they'll do all of those things. Rank and file and Congress alike: suckers the lot of 'em.


Are the Toronto police seriously displaying the fake weapons of a Ren Faire participant as proof of the G20 protester's intentions?

Despite the guy having absolutely no connection to the protesters, and using deliberately blunted weapons?

This isn't even evil. It's just pathetic.

The Irish Illustration Of the "Unleashed BS" Theorem

Austerity is supposed to benefit the economy by clamping down on government and "unleashing market forces", right?

Well, Ireland is the proverbial poster child for austerity. It's carved up its budget expenditures. So, how are those unleashed forces looking?

“When our public finance situation blew wide open, the dominant consideration was ensuring that there was international investor confidence in Ireland so we could continue to borrow,” said Alan Barrett, chief economist at the Economic and Social Research Institute of Ireland. “A lot of the argument was, ‘Let’s get this over with quickly.’ ”

Rather than being rewarded for its actions, though, Ireland is being penalized. Its downturn has certainly been sharper than if the government had spent more to keep people working. Lacking stimulus money, the Irish economy shrank 7.1 percent last year and remains in recession.

Joblessness in this country of 4.5 million is above 13 percent, and the ranks of the long-term unemployed — those out of work for a year or more — have more than doubled, to 5.3 percent.
Oh. That sounds horrible.

Well, uh, certainly the market has rewarded Ireland for its austerity, right? For unleashing market forces and clamping down on the dead hand of government and all that?
Despite its strenuous efforts, Ireland has been thrust into the same ignominious category as Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain. It now pays a hefty three percentage points more than Germany on its benchmark bonds, in part because investors fear that the austerity program, by retarding growth and so far failing to reduce borrowing, will make it harder for Dublin to pay its bills rather than easier.
Oh. So there has been absolutely no benefit at all. The market was unleashed, and repaid Ireland by biting down and biting hard.
So how do they hope that they'll get out of this?
Now, the government is pinning nearly all its hopes on an export revival to lift the economy. Falling wage and energy costs, and a weaker euro, have improved competitiveness.
Well, hey, it worked for Canada in the 1990s, right? Sure, Canada had its own currency (which dropped like a stone) and used that to export to a surging American economy. Sure, it's literally impossible for everybody to export their way to prosperity, especially now that Americans are no longer the buyers of last resort. Sure, it doesn't seem to be paying any dividends now, and the market appears to be punishing austerity instead of rewarding it.
But if we just believe enough, the market will reward us! Right? Right?

That's why the "unleashed market" thing is BS. It's not economics. It's not even ideology. It's faith. It's Millenialism with math.  And while faith is a nice way to sort out your moral compass and think about your place in the universe, it's no damned way to run an economy.

Krugman sums it up:

The key thing to bear in mind about calls for harsh austerity in the face of a a depressed economy is that such calls depend on two propositions, not one. Not only do you have to believe that the invisible bond vigilantes are about to strike — that you must move to appease markets, even though right now bond buyers are willing to lend money to the United States at very low rates; you must also believe that short-term fiscal cutbacks will in fact appease the markets if they do, in fact, lose confidence.

That’s why the Irish debacle is so important. All that savage austerity was supposed to bring rewards; the conventional wisdom that this would happen is so strong that one often reads news reports claiming that it has, in fact, happened, that Ireland’s resolve has impressed and reassured the financial markets. But the reality is that nothing of the sort has taken place: virtuous, suffering Ireland is gaining nothing.

Of course, I know what will happen next: we’ll hear that the Irish just aren’t doing enough, and must do more. If we’ve been bleeding the patient, and he has nonetheless gotten sicker, well, we clearly need to bleed him some more.
Damned unbelievers.

A (Very) Short Primer on Macroeconomic Policy Analysis

If someone uses the word "unleash", it's bullshit.

(This has been a (very) short primer on macroeconomic analysis.)

Monday, June 28, 2010

Byrd Passes Away at 92

It's too bad. He was living proof that you can transcend your old prejudices and hatreds to become something far greater and nobler. In a country where Republicans and conservatives seem to delight in their prejudices and hatreds, he was a welcome counter-example.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

G20 Damage

Just a quick reminder that the monomaniacal focus on deficit reduction at the G20 meeting is going to do more damage, to more people, than a thousand kids with bricks could do with a free hand and a year's supply of Red Bull.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Why Are the Toronto Police Assaulting Journalists?

From the Twitter of Steve Paikin

i was "escorted" away by police so couldn't see how many arrested, but it must have been dozens.
half a minute ago via web

literally more than 100 officers with guns pointing at the crowd. rubber bullets and smoke bombs ready to be fired. rubber bullets fired
1 minute ago via web

so the police just started arresting people. i stress, this was a peaceful, middle class, diverse crowd. no anarchists
3 minutes ago via web

police on one side screamed at the crowd to leave one way. then police on the other side said leave the other way. there was no way out.
4 minutes ago via web

the demonstration on the esplanade was peaceful. it was like an old sit in. no one was aggressive. and yet riot squad officers moved in.
5 minutes ago via web

i can appreciate that the police were on edge today, after seeing four or five of their cruisers burned. but why such overreaction tonight?
6 minutes ago via web

the officer who escorted me away from the demo said, "yeah, that shouldn't have happened." he is correct. there was no cause for it.
7 minutes ago via web

no cameras recorded the assault. and it was an assault.
7 minutes ago via web

a third punched him in the stomach. totally unnecessary. the man collapsed. then the third officer drove his elbow into the man's back.
8 minutes ago via web

the journalist identified himself as working for "the guardian." he talked too much and pissed the police off. two officers held him....
8 minutes ago via web

they repeated they would arrest me if i didn't leave. as i was escorted away from the demonstration, i saw two officers hold a journalist.
9 minutes ago via web

i saw police brutality tonight. it was unnecessary. they asked me to leave the site or they would arrest me. i told them i was dong my job.
10 minutes ago via web

have left the demonstration on the esplanade. have got to a computer. here come a lot of tweets about what i saw.
11 minutes ago via web

i. gone police escor me away
about 1 hour ago via mobile web

weapons are rubber bulles
about 1 hour ago via mobile web

mny arress now. inexplicable ppl say "we wan o go home cops overwhelming crowd
about 1 hour ago via mobile web
Steve Paikin is one of the best-known, most respected journalists in Canada. He moderated their last federal leadership election debate. He has no axe to grind, no ideological agenda; and he is exactly the wrong person to piss off.

So why the hell did the police come within a hairsbreadth of beating the holy hell out of him? And verifiably assault a journalist from the Guardian? Yes, there was violence against property earlier today. Compared to what could have happened, it was almost orderly. But as I said, police overreaction WILL CAUSE ESCALATION.

Up until now, they hadn't. Even the tear gas incident was relatively minor compared to what COULD have happened. They were showing restraint. And now this.

I'm not looking forward to tomorrow.

Welp, They're Rolling Out the Tear Gas

Reading the G20 coverage. Looks like the black bloc is up to their usual thing, smashing windows in Toronto. Looks like the traditional response is about to kick in, too, as the police start firing off the tear gas.

Expect escalation. Twitterers appear to be saying that the black bloc are only about 100 out of the thousands of protesters. But once the relatively peaceful majority starts smelling the tear gas, at least some will decide to join the black-clad anarchists in the violence. This is almost certainly only going to get worse, though Toronto's poor weather this weekend may help diminish things.

What I'm really concerned about is what happens tonight. There is supposed to be some kind of "all night unpermitted dance party". It's not supposed to be a protest, and certainly not a violent protest. But if the police try to clear these guys off the streets, it could get even uglier than what the world is seeing right now.

Once Again, The Right Works the Ref

Wasn't expecting the "ref" to ever be Ezra, of course, but then he goes and shuts down a liberal/centrist mailing list because conservatives lost their shit over it.

That this will not mollify them should go without saying. That much is clear from seeing the fine collection of hypocritical mouthbreathers in the comments who scream about "POST LIBERAL BIAS" while letting throwbacks like Hannity and Limbaugh or Krauthammer pass with a chuckle and a smile.

But, then again, he's a Post reporter now. It wouldn't be the Washington Post if it didn't roll over and show its belly at the slightest Republican whine, now, would it?

Edit: Not that I was ever really a fan of Journolist. It started as a collaborative project with Joe Klein, and that never bodes well. It was probably always doomed, too, since "privacy" on the Internet between people using their real names is about as solid and weighty as a desert cloud. It was likely to be shut down sooner or later.

But damn, Ezra, you didn't need to feed the wildlife when you did it. I mean, you helped give aid and comfort to Jeffrey Goldberg. That should be some kind of misdemeanor offense.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Well, Looks Like the Banks Won

Hey, remember when everybody was defending the insurance-company-handout health care bill by saying that the financial reform bill will be the one where Dems really get to be tough?

Looks like that was bullshit too. Bank stocks are rising at the passage of the financial reform bill, because it don't reform sweet fuck-all.

Just goes to show: never, ever listen to a Dem or a Dem apologist saying "if we compromise now, we'll get more later." They will just keep saying it forever. "Later" will never, ever come.

(Well, a kind of "later" will come. The kind where the Republicans take the country over again because at least their policy incompetence isn't matched by political incompetence. But that's not exactly the "later" they were talking about.)

The Republicans Voted to Let 1.2 Million Americans Starve

Okay, now that we've hit the point where the Republicans are cheerfully voting to kill poor people, can somebody please tell the Dems to KILL THE GODDAMNED FILIBUSTER ALREADY?

The Senate is a broken institution that will be the death of all that America once stood for.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

McChrystal's Out

And it would appear that the Earth doth quaketh at his absence.

(Though in Canada for some reason.)

Monday, June 21, 2010

At Least Douthat Has a Rich Inner Fantasy Life

Ross Douthat once again proves two things: that a conservative columnist is no more reliable than a bog-standard  conservative blogger, and that you can tell any story about your intellectual opponents you wish, if you're willing to make every thing up along the way.

There isn't much there that he substantiates, and even less that makes sense. His descriptions of liberals comes right out of his own head, and his prescription for America's problems—principally caused by his own conservative doctrines—sound exactly like the kind of crap that got everybody into this mess in the first place.

Like all the best conservative rhetoric, it's rich with projection. A conservative whinging about liberalism's "unfalsifiable" theory would be hysterical were it not tragic, considering his own movement's history of almost cult-like faith in its own doctrines. Pairing it with a complaint about liberals' belief in presidential power is even more insane, considering the hysterical conservative defenses of every Bush era excess in the name of "national security. But the part where he attempted to tie liberal doctrine to foreign policy hawkishness? Honestly, that'll just blow your goddamned head off with sheer force of chutzpah. 

The most fantastic element is his closing:
But it’s here, with the looming fiscal crisis, that the more legitimate liberal fear comes in. Liberals had hoped that Obama’s election marked the beginning of a long progressive era — a new New Deal, a greater Great Society. Instead, from the West Coast to Western Europe, the welfare state is in crisis everywhere they look. The future suddenly seems to belong to austerity and retrenchment — and even, perhaps, to conservatism.
American unemployment is still at 10% thanks to the enduring effects of Bush-era policies and Greenspan's Randroid delusions, the Euro is facing extinction thanks to the German conservative government being unwilling to consider the possibility that Germany's economy isn't the only one worth paying attention to, and the Gulf of Mexico is being stripped clean of life thanks to the overly-cozy relationship between business and government that conservatives cheer with every breath. Every single problem that faces the world can be laid at the feet of conservative doctrine, and the future "belongs to conservativism"?

Ross, with that kind of track record, I certainly hope not. If the near future belongs to conservatism, the time that follows it will probably belong to either the anarchists...

...or the cockroaches.

Israel Drops Blockade on Everything Except "Weapons"

Well, it looks like the flotilla worked:

Israel's government decided Sunday to draw up a list of items banned from Gaza limited to weapons and materials deemed to have military uses and said the easing of the three-year-old blockade of the Palestinian territory would be implemented immediately.

The list of banned goods replaces an old list of allowed items that permitted only basic humanitarian supplies for the 1.5 million Gazans. Under the new system, the government said practically all non-military items can enter Gaza freely.

"From now on, there is a green light of approval for all goods to enter Gaza except for military items and materials that can strengthen Hamas' military machine," Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev said.
The CSM points out that there are still a lot of problems with this, but the fact remains that Israel's policy towards the Gazans was changed as a result of the flotilla. More than that, it was changed as a result of the international outcry that resulted.
So it would appear that the commando raid was an even more disastrous failure than originally anticipated. Not only did it lose Israel the goodwill of almost everybody outside of North America, it led to the Gazans being taken off their "diet".  One can only wonder what will happen next.

Rahm's Quitting...Due To Obama Admin's "Idealism"

If I didn't read it, I wouldn't believe it.

Washington insiders say he will quit within six to eight months in frustration at their unwillingness to "bang heads together" to get policy pushed through.

Mr Emanuel, 50, enjoys a good working relationship with Mr Obama but they are understood to have reached an understanding that differences over style mean he will serve only half the full four-year term. Friends say he is also worried about burnout and losing touch with his young family due to the pressure of one of most high profile jobs in US politics.

"I would bet he will go after the midterms," said a leading Democratic consultant in Washington. "Nobody thinks it's working but they can't get rid of him – that would look awful. He needs the right sort of job to go to but the consensus is he'll go."
A Simpsons quote seems to be appropriate here. "But why now? Why not two years ago?"

He never should have had the job to begin with. The only heads he ever banged were progressive and Congressional reps; if you were a blue dog senator, he treated you like a king. No matter how useless you were.
An official from the Bill Clinton era said that "no one will be surprised" if Mr Emanuel left after the midterm elections in November, when the Democratic party will battle to save its majorities in the house of representatives and the senate.

It is well known in Washington that arguments have developed between pragmatic Mr Emanuel, a veteran in Congress where he was known for driving through compromises, and the idealistic inner circle who followed Mr Obama to the White House.

His abrasive style has rubbed some people the wrong way, while there has been frustration among Mr Obama's closest advisers that he failed to deliver a smooth ride for the president's legislative programme that his background promised.

"It might not be his fault, but the perception is there," said the consultant, who asked not to be named. "Every vote has been tough, from health care to energy to financial reform.

"Democrats have not stood behind the president in the way Republicans did for George W Bush, and that was meant to be Rahm's job."
Yes, it was. But, clearly, Rahm didn't know how to do it. All he knew how to do was water down legislation so much that nobody would give a damn if it passed, not to ensure that people vote for quality legislation. That was the source of the "frustration"; his "pragmatism" is based on little more than a wholesale lurch to the right.

There were sharp differences over health care reform, with Mr Emanuel arguing that public hostility about cost should have forced them into producing a scaled down package. Mr Obama and advisers including David Axelrod, the chief strategist, and Valerie Jarrett, a businesswoman and mentor from Chicago, decided to push through with grander legislation anyway.
And, again, this shows just how blinkered Rahm was. The public wasn't just angry about cost, they were angry about cost and the corporate handout. The public probably would have supported a public option, even if it was pricier—though it wouldn't be—since they wouldn't have thought that their hard-earned money was going to the Dems' elite buddies in the insurance industry. Yes, you would have still had tea partiers screeching about deficits. But anybody in Rahm's position should have figured out that they were never going to pull the "D" lever in the first place. Rahm didn't, but that's why Rahm shouldn't have been there in the first place.

Hell, the guy was only there as a concession to the Clinton faction. That battle is long over, so why not jettison Emanuel? He serves no useful purpose except pissing off progressives, protecting DINOs, and taking credit for what Dean accomplished in 2006. He's a big reason why Obama's situation is "troubled" in the first place.

Good riddance.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Arab-Israeli MK Receiving Death Threats. And Curses.

It's not every day you hear about somebody getting cursed. Much less a Judaic curse.

You probably already know Hanin Zoaby. She's the Arab-Israeli woman who was on the relief flotilla that provoked—in some peoples' eyes—the Israeli attack that left at least nine people killed and left the Middle East even more unstable than it already was. For that, apparently, she is now the "most hated woman in Israel".

Accused of treason for supporting the Free-Gaza movement, forbidden by the courts to leave the country for 45 days, Ms. Zoaby was attacked, physically, when she spoke in the Knesset last week to explain her decision to join the flotilla of ships hoping to break Israel’s naval blockade of the Gaza Strip. She said she viewed her action on behalf of 1.5 million “prisoners” in Gaza as a kind of “mitzvah,” a Hebrew term for a religious good deed. The reference only made her Jewish assailants angrier.
On Sunday, Israel proposed that a three-man internal inquiry probe its bloody attack on the flotilla two weeks ago, and that it be headed by a retired Israeli judge and two high-ranking foreign observers, including a Canadian.

Ms. Zoaby has been labelled an enemy, and a supporter of terrorists. Yet the unmarried, Western-dressed Muslim woman hails from one of Israel’s high-profile Arab families, one that has counted a high court judge, a mayor of Nazareth, a long-serving Knesset member and a deputy cabinet minister among its members.

To many in the Knesset today, Ms. Zoaby’s transgression, like that of the four other Arab Israelis who joined the flotilla, is unforgivable. A Knesset committee has recommended the removal of many of Ms. Zoaby’s parliamentary privileges, including her immunity from prosecution and her diplomatic passport. The Interior Minister, leader of Israel’s Ultra Orthodox Shas Party, has asked whether her Israeli citizenship can legally be revoked.
The government itself wants to revoke her citizenship. But you have to be a citizen of something, right? If she's an Israeli, and they take away her Israeli citizenship, then where does she go? What does she do? She becomes a citizen of nowhere: an unperson.
That may be the Government's game. An unperson has no rights, and if they can arbitrarily take away an Arab's citizenship, then they can arbitrarily strip people of their rights and do with them what they will. They can be thrown into the deepest, darkest hole, in pieces, and nobody could say boo. That would mean they never had any rights at all. A terrible mockery of everything that the Jewish state historically stands for—but it sounds about right for the Netanyahu/Lieberman government.

The Government is not alone in its attitude.

There have been death threats, hundreds of them.
In the wake of the flotilla incident, a Facebook site, called Execute Haneen Zuabi [sic], was established (and later taken down) and a group calling itself Pulsa Denura , (Aramaic for “lashes of fire”) says it has carried out elaborate death curses on several Arab Israelis, including Ahmad Tibi, a member of Knesset who wasn’t even on the flotilla.

(Pulsa Denura was the name of the group that said it had cursed Yitzhak Rabin shortly before he was assassinated, and cursed Ariel Sharon after he decided to evacuate Israeli settlements in Gaza in 2005.)
"Elaborate death curses". For people who weren't even on the flotilla. I'd ask "has it really come to this", but it came to this all the way back in 1995. It has just gotten worse.
To her credit, though, MK Zoabi is not going to ground, nor acting afraid. Her and her supporters know why this is happening.

“She did what few people would dare to do,” said Teres Zbidat, a Dutch-born woman who has lived with her husband in nearby Sakhnin for 16 years.
“Which is why Israelis hate her so much,” Ms. Zbidat said. “They see her as a success story that they allowed to happen. Then they say: ‘But you weren’t supposed to become one of them [the Palestinians].’ ”

Ms. Zoaby explains the contempt for her as a reaction to the world criticism Israel is experiencing, similar to the backlash against Arab Israelis that followed criticism in the war against Hamas in Gaza.

“I embarrassed them,” she said, referring to Israelis. “I was an easy target for their revenge.”
Would she do it again, would she go on another flotilla? In a heartbeat, she says.

“I was appalled by the Israeli behaviour” on board the ship, she said. “I didn’t expect such violence.”

(Ms. Zoaby is credited by passengers with convincing the Israeli commandos – in her good Hebrew and tenacious style – with getting long-delayed medical treatment for the wounded.) What if doing it again meant losing her citizenship? “Yes,” she said determinedly. “It would just show that what they call citizenship is really just membership in the Zionist movement. It’s not real citizenship.”
"What they call citizenship is really just membership in the Zionist movement?" No wonder they want to hush her up.  That's not one of the talking points. That's not what an MK is supposed to say. Certainly it's not what an Arab-Israeli woman is supposed to say.
I don't even necessarily agree with her. She calls Arab-Israelis "1948 Palestinians". I disagree with that. I think there is a space for Arab-Israelis to care out their own identity as something other than "Palestinians on the wrong side of the wall". But death threats, curses, and unpersonhood? That's what the other guys are doing. That's what Israel is supposed to be a bastion against, which is the stated reason why they get all that American support.

It won't work, either. Look at Ms. Zbidat's comments. She isn't going to be the only one thinking that. The more that MK Zoaby is treated like this, the greater the connection that will be built between the Arab-Israelis and Palestinians. Arab-Israelis will only become more and more alienated from the Israeli state at a time when Israel badly needs to show the world that it's about more than exclusivist ethno-nationalism.

Debt: How America's Class Differences Are Seen in Stark Contrast

In 2010, if you're a billionaire banker and you end up in debt problems, the government will bail you out.

In 2010, if you're a regular person who ends up underwater, they toss your ass in jail with all the other criminal scum until you cough up the dough.
As a sheriff's deputy dumped the contents of Joy Uhlmeyer's purse into a sealed bag, she begged to know why she had just been arrested while driving home to Richfield after an Easter visit with her elderly mother.

No one had an answer. Uhlmeyer spent a sleepless night in a frigid Anoka County holding cell, her hands tucked under her armpits for warmth. Then, handcuffed in a squad car, she was taken to downtown Minneapolis for booking. Finally, after 16 hours in limbo, jail officials fingerprinted Uhlmeyer and explained her offense -- missing a court hearing over an unpaid debt. "They have no right to do this to me," said the 57-year-old patient care advocate, her voice as soft as a whisper. "Not for a stupid credit card."
She isn't the only one.
It's not a crime to owe money, and debtors' prisons were abolished in the United States in the 19th century. But people are routinely being thrown in jail for failing to pay debts. In Minnesota, which has some of the most creditor-friendly laws in the country, the use of arrest warrants against debtors has jumped 60 percent over the past four years, with 845 cases in 2009, a Star Tribune analysis of state court data has found.
Not every warrant results in an arrest, but in Minnesota many debtors spend up to 48 hours in cells with criminals. Consumer attorneys say such arrests are increasing in many states, including Arkansas, Arizona and Washington, driven by a bad economy, high consumer debt and a growing industry that buys bad debts and employs every means available to collect.
Whether a debtor is locked up depends largely on where the person lives, because enforcement is inconsistent from state to state, and even county to county.

In Illinois and southwest Indiana, some judges jail debtors for missing court-ordered debt payments. In extreme cases, people stay in jail until they raise a minimum payment. In January, a judge sentenced a Kenney, Ill., man "to indefinite incarceration" until he came up with $300 toward a lumber yard debt...

...In Minnesota, judges have issued arrest warrants for people who owe as little as $85 -- less than half the cost of housing an inmate overnight. Debtors targeted for arrest owed a median of $3,512 in 2009, up from $2,201 five years ago.

Those jailed for debts may be the least able to pay.

"It's just one more blow for people who are already struggling," said Beverly Yang, a Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance Foundation staff attorney who has represented three Illinois debtors arrested in the past two months. "They don't like being in court. They don't have cars. And if they had money to pay these collectors, they would."
This is how it works. It isn't technically illegal to owe money and be unable to repay. It can't be, or the guys with the friends in the right places and the connections to make it go away might end up in a spot of trouble.
But if you aren't the guy with the friends, if you aren't the guy with the connections, then the collection corps will exploit the law to make sure that they get that money.  And they'll keep it quiet.

No national statistics are kept, and the practice is largely unnoticed outside legal circles. "My suspicion is the debt collection industry does not want the world to know these arrests are happening, because the practice would be widely condemned," said Robert Hobbs, deputy director of the National Consumer Law Center in Boston.
So if you're going into hock, go into hock big-time. If it's big enough, the President (Democratic or Republican) will bail you out; but if it's too small, you'll have to deal with a bail of entirely a different kind. Might as well go big.

How disgusting. How predictable.

(h/t to John Robb.)

Tuesday, June 15, 2010


(Edit: Stripped out all the terrible formatting that was turning quoted paragraphs black. I hate the span tag sometimes.)

Wait just a goddamn minute. Beck's latest book, the one that's apparently a paranoid "Turner Diaries" fantasy about some future America that is run by them horrible libruls... actually about the Overton Effect?

Beck has been exercised for some time over a concept called the Overton Window. Under this theory, put forward by public policy expert Joseph Overton, the public is willing to consider only a few ideas or scenarios as reasonable -- those are the ones that reside within the window. Radical notions remain outside the window, unfit for serious debate. However, in some cases, powerful forces can move the window, allowing for consideration of extreme ideas. And this is why Beck picked up his pen -- to warn readers that disregard for the Constitution is becoming acceptable, is creeping into the window, and must be resisted.
So, uh, is Beck a reader or something? Because while the Overton Window is an incredibly important concept in political science, it's not exactly ominous. Hell, the greatest example of the Overton Effect at work is Beck himself, as he's taken a lot of completely crazy shit into the "mainstream" by repeating it ad nauseum and giving it a prime-time platform.

(Like, say, the whole crazed militia fantasy book genre.)

In a foreword, Beck notes that his thriller belongs in a category called " 'faction' -- completely fictional books with plots rooted in fact." He attaches an afterword of nearly 30 pages that contains citations to references in the story: information on the financial bailout, unemployment, measures to ensure government operation after a disaster and the like. He laces his plot with these facts in the same manner he employs them on his TV show, to lend credence to his fantasy of a nefarious government scheme to subvert the Constitution.
"Faction". Amazing. It's like he knows what words are, but is just unclear on what they do.

Glenn, if you are a reader, then let me help you out. What you've written is speculative fiction. Either fantasy or science fiction, depending. It's not a straight-up thriller, because those are rooted in the present-day, and despite your fantasies, America isn't on the verge of some librul takeover. That you researched things is meaningless; Isaac Asimov researched the holy hell out of his books, but I don't have a starship, do you?

Asimov isn't the appropriate comparison, though:

The suspense of "The Overton Window" comes largely from wondering when the thrills will begin. There's the obligatory prologue murder, but then the pulse of this novel flatlines. In place of thrills, we get entire chapters in which characters lecture on the rightness of their viewpoints.
Yep, he's basically rewriting Ayn Rand. Is he EVER rewriting Rand. Yes, there's maybe a pinch of Clancy and a touch of the aforementioned Turner Diaries.  He's trying to use speculative fiction to sell a viewpoint, though, and he's doing a hamfisted job of it. That's Rand through and through.

The ironic part about all this is that for all that he's railing at the Overton Window, this book is an example of trying to shift the Overton Window. He's clearly trying to change the boundaries of acceptable discourse using this book. As I said above, he's doing everything he can to turn the ideas of the paranoid right-wing fiction genre into mainstream American thought. You'd think that he would be a bit concerned at the implications of that, considering that the genre—as typified by the Turner Diaries I mentioned—has a tendency towards the unbelievably racist. The End War that these books are forever discussing is almost inevitably a RACIAL war. You might think that Beck would have an issue with that.
But, then again, Beck's the guy who was steadfast in his praise of a Nazi just a few weeks ago. He really, really loved a book that contained this:

...few years, under the opportunities of the American government and the inspiration of Christianity, the American Negroes have acquired professions, property, banks, homes, and produced a rising class of refined, home loving people. This is far more remarkable than that many Negroes are still backward. The Reds play upon the Negroes' love of their own people and represent them as persecuted in order to inflame them against the very white people who have in reality given the colored race far greater opportunities than their fellow negroes would give them in Africa today. [page 36]

...[S]peakers for the debasing and degrading Hindu, Mohammedan, Pagan, and Agnostic Cults are placed in "fellowship" and on an equal footing with speakers for Jesus Christ. The audiences chant a mixture of prayers and ritual from all of these. The savage Mohammedan call of the muezzin as heard in darkest Asia is mingled with the propaganda of the Hindu, Jew and agnostic. Negro choirs and performers give an interracial touch to the meetings. [page 152]
Perhaps he doesn't have an issue with right-wing racism at all. I'm thinking that it suits him just fine.

Monday, June 14, 2010

"Vast Minerals" in Afghanistan

Hoo boy.

The United States has discovered nearly $1 trillion in untapped mineral deposits in Afghanistan, far beyond any previously known reserves and enough to fundamentally alter the Afghan economy and perhaps the Afghan war itself, according to senior American government officials.

The previously unknown deposits — including huge veins of iron, copper, cobalt, gold and critical industrial metals like lithium — are so big and include so many minerals that are essential to modern industry that Afghanistan could eventually be transformed into one of the most important mining centers in the world, the United States officials believe.
An internal Pentagon memo, for example, states that Afghanistan could become the “Saudi Arabia of lithium,” a key raw material in the manufacture of batteries for laptops and BlackBerrys.

The vast scale of Afghanistan’s mineral wealth was discovered by a small team of Pentagon officials and American geologists. The Afghan government and President Hamid Karzai were recently briefed, American officials said.

While it could take many years to develop a mining industry, the potential is so great that officials and executives in the industry believe it could attract heavy investment even before mines are profitable, providing the possibility of jobs that could distract from generations of war.
Well, so much for Afghanistan developing any sort of agriculture or manufacturing capabilities. That whole "Saudi Arabia of minerals" line shows where things are going: a small number of (ludicrously corrupt) officials and connected family members will gain staggering amounts of wealth, while the rest of the population suffers equally staggering destitution.

In fact, it's probably worse than that. Minerals are an easily fungible resource: you can sell them to just about anybody with relative ease. You know what else is an easily fungible resource? Diamonds. You know why "blood diamonds" exist? Because if you have an easily fungible resource, people can and will fight over it. They'll fight to acquire it, and they'll exploit it to fund the fights they already have. It's already happening in Afghanistan with drugs—another easily fungible resource—and now we'll have minerals added to the mix.

But it gets even more interesting when you add Great Powers to the mix:

At the same time, American officials fear resource-hungry China will try to dominate the development of Afghanistan’s mineral wealth, which could upset the United States, given its heavy investment in the region. After winning the bid for its Aynak copper mine in Logar Province, China clearly wants more, American officials said.
 What the American officials aren't saying is that China is far better than they at signing deals to exploit these resources. The Americans talk about how it will take "decades" to build up a mining industry in Afghanistan. That's short-sighted. If the resources really are as rich as claimed, China will simply do the same thing that they did in Africa: pour as much money and manpower as necessary to build up those capabilities now.

That is assuming the Chinese are allowed to do so in the first place.  The U.S. Government (and its various private-sector allies) will want the rights to exploit these resources. They know that China will want them too, and there are a lot of people in Washington who are very, very concerned about China and its ambitions.  This is going to lead to powerful, vicious battles over whether or not to stay in Afghanistan, and the extent to which Karzai will be allowed to behave as an independent actor.

Rest assured, if Karzai starts making noises to the P.R.C. about striking a deal, you better believe that Washington will react, considering that his government exists thanks to their blood and treasure. It may yank the chain and force Karzai to be brought to heel. Yet if he does strike a deal, Washington may also be powerless to do anything about it; they can't provoke a conflict with China over this, especially if China offers a better deal.

It might be a tougher decision for Karzai than you'd think. China will not only provide more resources with less fuss, but they aren't going to care about corruption in his government, or the structure of his society. They won't think twice about helping him brutally put down the Taliban in a way that Americans would find unacceptable, and he would know that he'd be fairly safe from American intervention as long as the Chinese were active there.

The same would be true for a Taliban government, of course, which is the rub. Washington wants his government to succeed because it is their creation. China has no loyalty to his government, nor would China care at all about its continuance beyond its own economic interests. If he failed in putting down the Taliban (or whoever else) and they took over, they would just make the same deal with the new rulers. He would find himself with no real allies at all.

Still, at the moment, the debate is academic. NATO is still in Afghanistan. NATO is likely to stay in Afghanistan for a while yet. NATO may ensure that exploitation rights are secured by their own, and that China is kept outside the gates. Even so, this just got far, far more complicated. And more than a little scary.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Mob Violence, Possible Ethnic Cleansing in Kyrgyzstan

It looks like the Kyrgyz majority in Kyrgyzstan is attacking the Uzbek minority in the runup to a constitutional referendum later this month. But what's striking about this story is that it's not really that striking at all.  Read this and see if it sounds familiar:
Kyrgyz mobs burned Uzbek villages and slaughtered their residents Sunday in the worst ethnic rioting this Central Asian nation has seen in 20 years, sending more than 75,000 Uzbeks fleeing across the border into Uzbekistan.

Most of the Uzbek refugees were elderly people, women and children, and many had gunshot wounds, the Uzbek Emergencies Ministry said in a statement carried by Russia's RIA Novosti news agency. It said refugee camps were being set up for them in several areas of Uzbekistan.
Fires set by rioters have destroyed most of Osh, the second-largest city in Kyrgyzstan, and food was scarce after widespread looting. Triumphant crowds of Kyrgyz men took control of Osh on Sunday as the few Uzbeks still left in the city of 250,000 barricaded themselves in their neighborhoods. Fires continued to rage across Osh and shots were heard but police were nowhere to be seen.

The rioting has significant political overtones. Former President Kurmanbek Bakiyev was ousted in a bloody uprising in April and fled the country. Uzbeks have backed Kyrgyzstan's interim government, while many Kyrgyz in the south support the toppled president...

...In Jalal-Abad on Sunday, thousands of Kyrgyz men brandishing sticks, metals bars and hunting rifles marched together to burn Uzbek property while frightened police stayed away. Uzbeks felled trees on the city's main street, trying to block their advance. Jalal-Abad is 45 miles (70 kilometers) from Osh.

Kyrgyz mobs tried to storm the city's hospital, but Uzbeks drove them off after a fierce gunbattle that raged for hours, witnesses said. Mobs also surrounded a local prison, trying to free its inmates and attempted repeatedly to capture the Jalal-Abad police headquarters, but were repelled.

Kyrgyz mobs killed about 30 Uzbeks Sunday in the village of Suzak in the Jalal-Abad region, Talaaibek Myrzabayev, the chief military conscription officer in Bishkek, told the AP. Another Uzbek village, Dostuk, was burned by Kyrgyz assailants, but it was not known how many people were killed, he said.
Doesn't it sound like Darfur? Or Bosnia? Or Rwanda? The militias of poorly-armed men running around killing everybody from the wrong group, the politicos exploiting it to try to disrupt the democratic process, the barely-concealed process of ethnic cleansing (read: genocide), the Great Power conflict behind it's the same damned thing over, and over, and over again.

Technically, Kyrgyzstan is a democracy, too; more so if the referendum gets through. Hilariously corrupt, mind you, but still a democracy. Yet here we are. Says a lot about the value of democracy to forestall conflict.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

IDF Using Activist's Bank Cards? (Edit: According to Haaretz, Yes!)

 This is from PressTV, which is an Iranian source and therefore something to be taken with more than a bit of salt, but see for yourself:

A US activist, who has survived an Israeli attack on a convoy of ships carrying humanitarian aid to Gaza, says Israeli forces are looting money from her bank card.

Former US nurse and aid worker Kathy Sheetz, who was on Mavi Marmara ship, has provided Press TV with bank statements proving her bank card, taken by the Israeli forces during the attack, has since been used in Tel Aviv.

"It looks as though they tried to use it without the PIN code and could not, but they could use it in a vending machine and had multiple accesses to my card to buy beer, according to the statement," Sheetz said.

"What it means is that I witnessed the Israeli Navy going and killing people and at the end buying beer with my card," she added.

Press TV has also learned that the Freedom Flotilla activists may have been robbed of cash and equipment, worth $3.5 million, by Israeli military after their ships were attacked on May 31.

The Israeli attack on the six-ship convoy in the Mediterranean Sea killed at least 20 peace activists, including nine Turkish citizens on board the M.V. Mavi Marmara, and injured over 40 others.
There are a lot of reports of people having their stuff taken, but who uses a capturees' bank card? It's almost too bizarre to believe.

Then again, with this issue, I'm starting to think that NOTHING is too bizarre to believe. 

Edit: Another journo made the same claim in Haaretz. So it's likely true. And ridiculous.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Greenwald: "Blanche Lincoln IS the Democratic Party"

I couldn't put it better, so I'll just quote:

Ordinarily, when Party leaders support horrible incumbents in primaries, they use the "electability" excuse:  this is a conservative state, the incumbent has the best chance to win, and the progressive challenger is out-of-step with voters.  That excuse is clearly unavailable here.  As Public Policy Polling explained yesterday, Lincoln has virtually no chance of winning in November against GOP challenger John Boozman.  And while it would have also been difficult for Halter to beat Boozman, polls consistently showed that he had a better chance than Lincoln did.  That's unsurprising, given how much better non-Washington candidates are doing in this incumbent-hating climate than long-term Washington insiders.  And it's rather difficult to claim that Halter is out-of-step with Arkansas given that they elected him their Lt. Governor.  Whatever the reasons Washington Democrats had for supporting the deeply unpopular Lincoln, it had nothing whatsoever to do with electability.

What happened in this race also gives the lie to the insufferable excuse we've been hearing for the last 18 months from countless Obama defenders:  namely, if the Senate doesn't have 60 votes to pass good legislation, it's not Obama's fault because he has no leverage over these conservative Senators.  It was always obvious what an absurd joke that claim was; the very idea of The Impotent, Helpless President, presiding over a vast government and party apparatus, was laughable.  But now, in light of Arkansas, nobody should ever be willing to utter that again with a straight face.  Back when Lincoln was threatening to filibuster health care if it included a public option, the White House could obviously have said to her:  if you don't support a public option, not only will we not support your re-election bid, but we'll support a primary challenger against you.  Obama's support for Lincoln did not merely help; it was arguably decisive...

...[i]n other words, Obama exploited the trust that African-American voters place in him to tell them something that is just absurd:  that Blanche Lincoln, one of the most corporatist members of Congress, works for their interests.  Bill Clinton did the same with the Arkansas voters who still trust him.  In light of all this, the next time some "conservative" Democrat such as Lincoln plays the Villain Rotation game and opposes some Good, Progressive Bill which the White House pretends to support -- but, gosh darn it, just can't get the 60 votes for -- are we going to have to endure the excuse from Obama loyalists that Obama has no leverage over Democratic members of Congress?
What's going on here couldn't be clearer if the DNC produced neon signs explaining it.  Blanche Lincoln and her corporatist/centrist Senate-friends aren't some unfortunate outliers in the Democratic Party.  They are the Democratic Party.  The outliers are the progressives.  The reason the Obama White House did nothing when Lincoln sabotaged the public option isn't because they had no leverage to punish her if she was doing things they disliked.  It was because she was doing exactly what the White House and the Party wanted.  The same is true when she voted for Bush/Cheney Terrorism policies, serves every corporate interest around, and impedes progressive legislation.  Lincoln doesn't prevent the Democratic Party from doing and being what it wishes it could do and be.  She enables the Party to do and be exactly what it is, what it wants to be, what serves its interests most.  That's why they support her so vigorously and ensured her victory:  the Blanche Lincolns of the world are the heart, soul and face of the national Democratic Party.
That last bold is mine. There's really not much I can add to that. The foursquare support of Lincoln by the Dems' Powers-That-Be, and their continual betrayal of the progressives within their party, shows exactly how much contempt they have for progressives. I can't even credibly say "contempt for their base", since it has been made abundantly clear that progressives are NOT the base of the Democratic party.

A base is a foundation. A base is something you rely on. A base is something you understand that you need. A base is what makes the rest of the organization possible, and once you understand what a base is, you understand that the progressives aren't the Democratic base. The corps that pony up the dough and the fat post-Congressional salaries, now THEY are the Democratic base.

Clearly, the unions aren't the "base" either, as we've seen and as Glenn reminds us:

In case that wasn't clear enough, the White House -- yet again -- expressed its contempt for progressives when a cowardly "senior White House official" hid behind Politico's blanket of anonymity to mock unions for having "just flushed $10 million of their members' money down the toilet on a pointless exercise."  That comment was far more serious than mere derision.  It was an attempt to exacerbate the tensions which unions have with their members over union spending on political races  -- a rather ironic sore for the White House to try to pick at given that without massive union spending for Obama, he would not be President.  What the White House is really angry about is that the unions did not spend that money in order to help vulnerable Blue Dogs and other conservative Democrats, whose agenda could not be more adverse to union members.  In other words, the White House wants unions and other progressive groups to be nothing more than Democratic Party apparatchiks, whereby they help Democrats get elected purely for the sake of preserving Democratic power, regardless of the policy outcomes that are achieved, and regardless of how hostile those outcomes are to progressives.  The sooner that realization is pervasive, the better.
It couldn't be clearer. Liberals and labor unions and all those lovely "progressive" organizations like ActBlue and MoveOn are not the Democratic base. They probably never will be. At best, they're classic "useful idiots", to be bought off with a few kind mentions in a meaningless speech, or a firm-yet-empty handshake at an equally meaningless Oval Office photo op. 
They will be tolerated, even exploited—yet never listened to.

Yet there is hope, and this Halter v. Lincoln business has showed us where the hope lies. Again, Glenn:
Forcing Blanche Lincoln and the Democratic Party to spend its money on a bitter, draining two-step primary fight obviously makes it much harder for her -- or any other Democratic incumbent who triggers a future primary challenge -- to win the general election.
The point here, speaking just for myself, was not to put Bill Halter in the Senate.  While I am convinced Halter would have at least been marginally better than Lincoln (he certainly couldn't have been worse), I don't know if he would have been substantially better.  Nor was the point an ideological one -- the real conflict in politics is not Left v. Right or liberal v. conservative, but rather, insider v. outsider.  Lincoln's sin isn't an ideological one, but the fact that she's a corporatist servant of the permanent factions that rule Washington.  The purpose here was to remove Lincoln from the Senate, or, failing that, at least impose a meaningful cost on her for her past behavior.  That goal was accomplished, and as a result, Democratic incumbents at least know there is a willing, formidable coalition that now exists which can and will make any primary challenge credible, expensive and potentially crippling -- even if it doesn't ultimately succeed.  That makes it just a bit more difficult for Democratic incumbents to faithfully serve corporate interests at the expense of their constituents, or at least to do so with total impunity.
Halter didn't win. But he came very close, and they do have to pay attention. Glenn is right: the pettiness of the White House's reaction shows just how much this bothers them. They want Blue Dogs propped up, for Rahm's sake as much as the party's, and labor has served notice that they are not going to blithely do what the Dems tell them to. They'll pursue their own interests, thank you kindly.

Considering that (according to Glenn), people in the government have already started calling this "the third Bush term", they shouldn't be the only ones. You should too. I said a while back that you shouldn't support Dems who wouldn't fight for a public option. I still believe it today.  Unless you have a very, very good reason to vote for a Dem, I think that you should sit down and think carefully about whether he (or she) is worth it.

You aren't their base. They don't listen to you. They won't listen to you. They'll listen to BP and Goldman Sachs and big agriculture and the Netanyahu/Lieberman government. Oh, yes, they'll move heaven and earth to help that lot.

But they don't care if you and your family go unemployed, or lose your benefits, or get sick from oil in your water. They wouldn't even notice if you died in a gutter. They just don't care. You're Little People, beneath notice.  You don't even own a law firm!

Labor fought to make sure that they realized that labor couldn't be taken for granted. You shouldn't let them take you for granted, either. Let them prove that they're worth your vote. THEN think about voting for them.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Possible Video of Activist's Execution by IDF Commando (Edit: Or Possibly Not)

(See addendum below)

There's a video linked over at Juan Cole that appears to show an IDF commando pretty much executing a flotilla activist.

I'm not sure if it is real and accurate or not; it certainly appears to be. It's difficult to see what's going on, but it shows one of the commandos kicking somebody while they're down, and then possibly firing several rounds downward, presumably at the activist.

Cole believes it genuine; if it is, then it puts the lie to the claim that the commandos were only defending themselves.  If this is what it appears to be, it wasn't defense. It was cold-blooded murder.

Edit: Sauce for the goose, sauce for the gander. It looks like the IDF aren't the only ones playing edit games. Here's the full clip, from WarinContext:

There is a significant time gap that was glossed over by the edited "execution" video.  We cannot take the edited clip as given.

Still, I agree with WiC's take:

The truth behind what the video depicts will only become known if the soldiers involved face questioning and if all the existing video is made available to independent investigators. If the Israeli Defense Forces have nothing to hide, they should welcome an international inquiry.
There is enough evidence that contradicts the IDF party line to warrant a full and impartial investigation. Since there is no way that Israel's current hard-right government is going to undertake such an investigation, it must be international.

So Long, San Remo Justification: Israeli Government Sez Blockade is "Economic Warfare"

Well, well, well. Looks like we may have a better idea of why Gazans don't get margarine. From McClatchy:
Last week, after Israeli commandos killed nine volunteers on a Turkish-organized Gaza aid flotilla, Israel again said its aim was to stop the flow of terrorist arms into Gaza.

However, in response to a lawsuit by Gisha, an Israeli human rights group, the Israeli government explained the blockade as an exercise of the right of economic warfare.

"A country has the right to decide that it chooses not to engage in economic relations or to give economic assistance to the other party to the conflict, or that it wishes to operate using 'economic warfare,'" the government said.

McClatchy obtained the government's written statement from Gisha, the Legal Center for Freedom of Movement, which sued the government for information about the blockade. The Israeli high court upheld the suit, and the government delivered its statement earlier this year.

Sari Bashi, the director of Gisha, said the documents prove that Israel isn't imposing its blockade for its stated reasons, but rather as collective punishment for the Palestinian population of Gaza. Gisha focuses on Palestinian rights.

(A State Department spokesman, who wasn't authorized to speak for the record, said he hadn't seen the documents in question.)

The Israeli government took an additional step Wednesday and said the economic warfare is intended to achieve a political goal. A government spokesman, who couldn't be named as a matter of policy, told McClatchy that authorities will continue to ease the blockade but "could not lift the embargo altogether as long as Hamas remains in control" of Gaza.
I will be honest: I'm not precisely confident in all this, considering that there's no link to the Gisha piece. But it's certainly likelier than not; likely enough to be able to take as a given until other sources arise.

Assuming that this IS a smoking gun about the blockade, a whole lot of the arguments about the blockade fall apart. It's officially no longer justifiable under San Remo, for example, because it violates the proportionality and humanitarian provisions of section 2, paragraph 102, subparagraph (b): "The declaration or establishment of a blockade is prohibited if...the damage to the civilian population is, or may be expected to be, excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated from the blockade". It was always fairly clear that the damage is excessive; what we now see is that it was always intended to be excessive.

That doesn't just mean that the blockade is now illegitimate. It means that the blockade  always was illegitimate. According to the same manual that the IDF used to justify its operation, it was created illegitimately.

The activists were justified.

Does the Washington Post Ever Get Tired of Apologias?

While I'm on the subject of the Post, what the hell is going on over there? Now they're blaming Erdogan for the flotilla massacre.  It's unfocused—big surprise there—but apparently he's the bad guy because of his ties to IHH, and because he criticizes Israel without criticizing Iran.

Yes, they're reviving that whole "IHH are terrists!" thing, despite the U.S. being unwilling to hang that hat on their heads, and that assertion being a bit dicey no matter how you approach it. It's yet another game of "if the IDF says it, it must be true". (It's all the rage at the Post these days.)

Leaving that aside, why on earth would it be surprising that Erdogan is criticizing Israel and not Iran? I hate to be reductionist, but Iran didn't kill a whole bunch of Turks on a boat around a week and a half ago. I'm sure Iran could do such a thing, and I'm sure that Iran would do such a thing. Iran is run by violent idiots. But the important thing is that they didn't do such a thing, and Israel did. Turkey being a bit miffed at Israel sort of makes sense.

Sure, the Post already discredited itself by saying that there was no violence on any ship but the Mavi, thus implying that the IDF beating and electrocuting undoubtedly innocent activists on the other ships doesn't count. Violence is only really "violence" if it's being done against the IDF, after all. And sure, the Post will give a space to idiots like Charles Lane, who is still pretending that the real problem with American finance is FREDDIE freaking MAC.

(They publish George Will, for God's sake, and at this point that should be legal grounds for having those pie-in-the-face guys show up in your office with a batch of cream pies and a meaningful expression.)

But you'd think that the editorials would be slightly more professional and slightly more, well, journalistic. No wonder they're getting their asses kicked by random bloggers. I'm a random blogger, and this would be beneath even me.

Good Bit By Klein About Labor and Blanche Lincoln

I gave Ezra Klein a lot of hell over health care. I won't take that back: my opinion then remains my opinion now.

That said, I do think that he has the right of it on labor opposing Blanche Lincoln:

Without getting into the political wisdom of the White House taking aim at a major ally in advance of the midterm elections, it's worth actually asking whether the White House was right. Did labor really "waste" $10 million mounting a close but ultimately unsuccessful primary challenge against Lincoln?
You can argue it both ways, I think. But what's hard to argue is that the money was wasted because Bill Halter lost by 3,000 votes rather than winning by 3,000 votes. It's conventional wisdom by now that the Arkansas seat is likely to flip to the Republicans no matter who is holding the flag for the Democrats. This is a bad year for Democrats and that's a bad state for Democrats. Labor wasn't pumping money into the race because they thought it was their best opportunity to replace a senator who was cool toward labor with a friendlier legislator. They were pumping money into the race because it was their best opportunity to show other senators that relying on labor to get elected and then opposing its agenda while in office could have consequences for your career.

In that way, Arkansas represented the right race precisely because it was a tough year in a tough state and the Democrat was likely to lose: Lincoln was vulnerable to a primary challenge because the electorate was cool toward Lincoln, and the fact that Lincoln was likely to lose in the general made it unlikely that the effect of the primary would be to replace a Democrat with a Republican. 

Insofar as they wanted to prove that they could and would make an incumbent's life hell, they did it, and they did it in a low-consequences state. Going forward, when they march into someone's office and threaten a primary challenge if they don't stand with labor on this or that, the officeholder will think back to Lincoln's very-bad-year and listen. That was the point of labor's challenge. Electing Halter in Arkansas really wasn't. And so though you might believe that labor is wasting its money when it focuses on legislative politics rather than organizing, it doesn't make much sense to say they wasted their money if you're trying to get them to spend that money on other races. In order for labor political spending to make a difference, they occasionally have to do things like this to make sure no one takes them for granted.
Bolding is mine. Yes, that was the point: to show Congressional Dems that they cannot take labor for granted. The Obama administration certainly does, which is why they made that ridiculous comment. Congress now knows that they do not enjoy that same luxury.
The problem the Dems have is that they still think that the only job of progressives is to deliver seats to the Democratic party. After that, their work is done, and they should be grateful for whatever scraps get tossed their way—scraps from the feast that the Dems always lay out for their favorite corporate lobbyists.  The unions may not get EFCA, and the Dems may actively work to keep the guys who are killing EFCA in office, but at least they aren't as actively anti-union as the Republicans, right?

No, that's not good enough. It never was. Hopefully labor sticks to their guns and remembers that in the months and years ahead.

Quick Tip for Bernard Henri-Levi:

Cardamon and Cilantro aren't used to make arms, yet they're banned by the Israeli blockade. So are tubs of margarine.

So don't go on about how "the blockade concerns only arms and the material needed to manufacture them", because unless the Gazans are putting together some incredible Biscuit Bombs, that chien just won't hunt.

You'd think someone like Henri-Levi would be a bit more careful to make sure that his sentences are supportable, all things considered. Of course, since he also used the word "fascislamist" without a trace of irony, that may have been too much to hope. Even so.

Edit: Gideon Levy has a lovely response. 

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Description of the Commandos' Injuries By a Doctor Who Treated Them

From Robert Mackey and Sebnem Arsu at the Times, an interview with a doctor who helped treat the captured (yet basically unharmed) Israeli flotilla commandos :
In a telephone interview conducted in Turkish, Dr. Uysal said that he had treated three Israeli commandos and argued that this proved that the passengers had no intention of killing them:
First of all it’s against logic that these soldiers would not be killed but instead be taken to the medical center if the intention of the activists was to kill them. If people on board were so eager to hurt them, why would they not just shoot them to death once they had taken their guns? Why bother carting them inside for treatment? It just doesn’t add up.

I am a doctor, and the Israeli soldiers were brought to me to check their medical situation and treat them properly. I had our dead bodies and injured people lying in front of me and I was treating the soldiers that actually killed and wounded them. None of our friends in the center approached to harm or hurt them. Our injured people were lying on the ground, but I rested the soldiers on our chairs.
Asked about the wounds the commandos suffered, the doctor said:
None of the soldiers had any fatal wounds that would cause organ loss or defects. There were scratches on their faces, but since facial skin is sensitive and very likely to bleed in any trauma, there was blood on their faces — which I cleaned carefully to see what kind of injuries they had. In the end, they happened to be only scratches.

The third soldier, however, suffered a cut in his stomach that reached his stomach membrane but not the organ itself. It was nothing fatal. As a doctor, I wouldn’t want to guess the nature of this injury but it could have been caused by either landing on a sharp pole from the helicopter or a blow from a pipe with a sharp edge. I couldn’t tell.

In either case, it was not fatal but it had to be stitched. However, since we did not ever expect such a confrontation, we had not brought any stitching equipment on board. All we had was simple medical material to dress simple wounds, or drops to ease burning in case tear gas was used. If I had stitching material with me, although I am an eye doctor, I would have treated the boy properly in accordance with my general medical knowledge. I couldn’t.
Dr. Uysal said the commandos “were very startled and very scared.” He added:
With my broken English I tried to tell them that I was a doctor and there was no need to be afraid and that nobody was going to hurt them. They relaxed after a while and watched us running around, jumping from one patient to another in tears, faced with our friends bathed in blood. I also asked our assistants to keep an eye on them so that they would not be threatened.

We could have as well left them to their fate, but this is not the humanity that we act with. We asked photographers not to film in the medical center and I have no idea how and when that picture was taken but God never leaves good deeds unheard. That picture shows the difference between the Israelis and us.
Asked if he could tell how long after sound grenades were thrown at the ship, at the start of the raid, that the gunshots were fired, Dr. Uysal said: “I was in the lower deck, but could hear all the explosions and gunfire. There was no way I can differentiate the gunshots or other sounds — I am only a doctor, after all.”
And what happened to the doctors and other passengers in return?
After the Israeli military took control of the ship, the doctor said that he was treated no differently from the other passengers:
They handcuffed all of us with plastic bands so tightly that they could easily cause irreversible damage to our shoulder tissues. They made us kneel on our knees with hands handcuffed as the helicopters caused sea water to splash on us for three hours. I was shouting that I was a doctor and that my shoulder hurt in a very serious way. They pretended not to hear me. I wanted to go to the toilet; they didn’t let me. After I kept yelling about my shoulder they let my hands loose but not those of my friends.
This fits the other accounts of how the prisoners were treated.

Don't buy into the propaganda. The "murderous" flotilla passengers made a point of calming the commandos and treating the wounds they inflicted in self defense—despite having already been shot at by the helicopters. In return, they were forced to piss themselves.

Sums it up pretty well, doesn't it?

"We'll Find Out Where You Live!" vs. "No to Fascism!"

Overheard at a pro-Israeli counter-protest:

Admittedly, that was just one guy yelling that scary crap, though nobody called him out on it.

He was not, however, the only one calling the Jewish protesters "kapos". The word "kapo" refers to death camp collaborators.


(Credit to Max Blumenthal, by the way.)

Edit: Meanwhile, here are some other Israelis whom, I'm sure, these guys would call "kapos" as well, who are continuing to rally despite right-wingers throwing a smoke grenade at them:

The speaker stopped his speech when the smoke bomb was thrown to start singing "no to fascism" along with the crowd, who appeared unperturbed by the fact that they were ringed by right-wing football hooligans.

Good for 'em.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Illegal American Experimentation on Prisoners

Digby on a report from Physicians for Human Rights:

In the most comprehensive investigation to date of health professionals’ involvement in the CIA’s “enhanced” interrogation program (EIP), Physicians For Human Rights has uncovered evidence that indicates the Bush administration apparently conducted illegal and unethical human experimentation and research on detainees in CIA custody. The apparent experimentation and research appear to have been performed to provide legal cover for torture, as well as to help justify and shape future procedures and policies governing the use of the “enhanced” interrogation techniques. The PHR report, Experiments in Torture: Human Subject Research and Evidence of Experimentation in the ‘Enhanced’ Interrogation Program, is the first to provide evidence that CIA medical personnel engaged in the crime of illegal experimentation after 9/11, in addition to the previously disclosed crime of torture.
To those of us who have been following the torture story from the beginning it has long been obvious that there were those in the government who used the "enhanced interrogation" regime as an opportunity to experiment. We had evidence that they were documenting the efficacy of various techniques from the OLC memos. But this was more systematic than previously suspected.

Some of the sick details are here:
The PHR report indicates that there is evidence that health professionals engaged in research on detainees that violates the Geneva Conventions, The Common Rule, the Nuremberg Code and other international and domestic prohibitions against illegal human subject research and experimentation. Declassified government documents indicate that:

• Research and medical experimentation on detainees was used to measure the effects of large- volume waterboarding and adjust the procedure according to the results. After medical monitoring and advice, the CIA experimentally added saline, in an attempt to prevent putting detainees in a coma or killing them through over-ingestion of large amounts of plain water. The report observes: “‘Waterboarding 2.0’ was the product of the CIA’s developing and field-testing an intentionally harmful practice, using systematic medical monitoring and the application of subsequent generalizable knowledge.”

• Health professionals monitored sleep deprivation on more than a dozen detainees in 48-, 96- and 180-hour increments. This research was apparently used to monitor and assess the effects of varying levels of sleep deprivation to support legal definitions of torture and to plan future sleep deprivation techniques.

• Health professionals appear to have analyzed data, based on their observations of 25 detainees who were subjected to individual and combined applications of “enhanced” interrogation techniques, to determine whether one type of application over another would increase the subject’s “susceptibility to severe pain.” The alleged research appears to have been undertaken only to assess the legality of the “enhanced” interrogation tactics and to guide future application of the techniques.
Of course they used detainees as guinea pigs and of course they documented it. The question is, are they still doing it?
PHR’s report, Experiments in Torture, is relevant to present-day national security interrogations, as well as Bush-era detainee treatment policies. As recently as February, 2010, President Obama’s then director of national intelligence, Admiral Dennis Blair, disclosed that the US had established an elite interrogation unit that will conduct “scientific research” to improve the questioning of suspected terrorists. Admiral Blair declined to provide important details about this effort.
That doesn't sound good, does it?
No, it doesn't. It's terrible. It's unsurprising, but it's terrible. For all that I've been focusing on Israeli security and political issues lately, the fact remains that the United States really did go completely off the rails after 9/11, and the U.S. government has been responsible for reprehensible acts in the name of the "War on Terror".
(Which was won, by the by, by deciding not to use that phrase anymore. Which suggests it never really existed in the first place.)

The problem in Israel and America is fairly similar, though. It's about a lack of empathy. The Israelis have problems empathizing with their Palestinian counterparts as sentient, individual human beings. It's the same with many Americans attitudes the "terrists" with different countries of origin and cultural backgrounds to their own. And, critically, it's the same with the people that caused 9/11 in the first place. It's an issue with thinking of "America" or "Israel" or "the Jews" or "the Muslims" or anybody else...

...(China, anybody?)... some amorphous entity filled with nameless, lifeless, inhuman "cells", not a collection of thinking individuals.

It's that attitude that blew up the World Trade Center.

It's that attitude that caused all the events that preceded that attack.

It's that attitude that is losing Iraq and Afghanistan.

And it's that attitude that allowed Americans to build their own little Unit 731.

Australian Shot in Raid Nearly Bleeds Out

From ABC in Australia:

The Australian shot during last week's raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla says Israeli soldiers left him to bleed on the deck after a bullet hit an artery in his leg.

Ahmed Luqman was shot twice during the raid and lost so much blood he nearly died. His condition meant he was one of the last activists deported from Israel.

He is now in an Istanbul hospital, from where he gave an interview to the ABC.

Mr Luqman said he was on the back deck of the flotilla flagship the Mavi Marmara, running to get inside, when he saw a laser sight settle on his leg.

Then he was down.

"I obviously knew that I'd been shot when I could see a bullet on the floor and a puddle of blood," he said.

"Blood just pissing out of my leg, from two holes. You put two and two together, and it looks like you've been shot."

The first bullet tore through his leg, partially severing his femoral artery. Another shot hit near his knee
The article goes on:

Mr Luqman says Israeli soldiers refused him any sort of medical attention.
"They made me walk, without a stretcher, and climb all the stairs on my own without any assistance, and I passed out like three or four times just getting up the stairs on my own," he said.

Mr Luqman's wife Jerry was with him. The nursing student helped keep him alive as his blood drained out.

Later, as other activists were deported, she chose to remain in detention in Israel to stay with her husband. She says the harsh treatment did not end on the ship.

"Their treatment of us was just completely unacceptable. I've never met anyone whose heart has become so hard and so black in my life," she said.
This while the "terrorists" were treating the commandos' injuries.
Meanwhile, Helen Thomas was pretty unceremoniously kicked out of the journalistic profession for saying that the Israelis "should get out of Palestine go back to Poland". Yes, that statement is unacceptable. Yet so is what happened to this man—and the American media isn't even covering it.

Account From Activist Kenneth Nichols O'Keefe

Here's the video:

The two key take-aways here are that:

1) They had complete control over the commandos, and did not harm them. As we see from the IHH pictures, they actually treated their wounds; and

2) they had taken away some of the commandos' weapons, but did not necessarily fire back; O'Keefe took two weapons and simply removed the (live) ammunition before discarding the weapons and ammo.  This fits other accounts stating that the activists did wrest the weapons away from the commandos, but did not use those weapons against the commandos.

(Oh, and taking all his stuff? Classy. Real classy.)

Go The Hell Away, Ahmadinejad

Iran really, really shouldn't have offered to help with the flotillas. You aren't going to help. At all. In fact, by merely making the offer, you are providing the blockade's apologists with more ammo than they could have possibly dreamed of.

Then again, considering Iran, maybe that was the entire idea. Their regime isn't exactly popular right now, so picking a fight with the Israelis may be the entire point. Sure, it won't be good for the region or the Gazans, but since when has Ahmadinejad and his crew cared about anybody but themselves?

Pictures of "Radicals" Treating IDF Soldiers

So apparently some pictures got out of what happened on the Mavi. They show the busted-up IDF soldiers, but more importantly, they show the activists treating their injuries.  That's something to remember when you heard the IDF's apologists ranting about "kidnapping" or "capturing" or whatever of the commandos. They weren't taken hostage, they were being treated.

(Not that that will deter those who just want to paint these people as Savage Mohammedans, but it's definitely something to consider.)

Sunday, June 06, 2010

"Death to the Arabs" Followup

Apparently this isn't a one-off thing. From Professor Neve Gordon, about the pro-government demonstration at Ben-Gurion University:

A group of opposition students from Ben-Gurion University prepared a big banner on the street near their off-campus apartment: ‘15 Dead. The Israeli government, as usual, has its reasons, and the Zionist majority, as usual, extends its support.’ Their neighbours spat on them and called them ‘cunts’, ‘whores’ and ‘traitors who love Arabs’ until the students fled...
...At one point a Jewish provocateur, who is not a member of any group (and could even be a police agent), raised his hand in the air: ‘Heil Lieberman!’ The response of the pro-government students was immediate: ‘Death to the Arabs!’ Luckily the university security managed to create a wedge between the protesters, and in this way prevented the incident from becoming even more violent.
These people obviously do not speak for all Jews or all Israelis; these "counter-demonstrations", however, were much larger than the demonstrations over the flotilla massacre. Students don't tend to be hard-core right-wingers either.
Either way, the quotations above are incredibly disturbing. "Cunts"? "Whores? "Traitors who love Arabs?" And they spat on them?

This whole "traitor" thing seems to be more and more of an issue, too:

A Palestinian student with a Palestinian flag was shoved and had his flag torn from him by some of the pro-government protesters, who were chanting: ‘No citizenship without loyalty!’ In response, the Jewish and Palestinian oppositionists shouted: ‘No, no, it will not come, fascism will not come!’ and ‘Peace is not achieved on the bodies of those killed!’...
...[p]ro-government students interviewed in the press said they were ’shocked to see faculty members, together with students from the left and Arab students shouting slogans against Israel’. Their classmates posted pictures of the protests on Facebook, asking likeminded students to ‘identify their classroom “friends”’.
Anybody else find this incredibly disturbing? "No citizenship without loyalty"? To what, Israel? Or is it to Likud/Beiteinu?  And Are they seriously assuming a minority's disloyalty? Without any irony?
It's not that surprising, mind you. The same thing happens in America all the time, but isn't Israel supposed to be different, all things considered? Hell, forget America, this sounds like something you'd get in CHINA, with its recent headlong rush towards hardcore nationalism. And just like in China, you're encouraged to turn in "dissidents".

Including the professor who wrote the blog entry:

A Facebook group was created to call for my resignation: by the end of the day more than 1000 people had joined. As well as hoping that I die and demanding that my family be stripped of our citizenship and exiled from Israel, members of this Facebook group offer more pragmatic suggestions, such as the need to concentrate efforts on getting rid of teaching assistants who are critical of the government, since it is more difficult to have me – as a tenured professor – fired.

What is troubling about these pro-government students is not that they are pro-government, but the way they attack anyone who thinks differently from them, along with their total lack of self-criticism or restraint. If this is how students at Israel’s best universities respond, what can we expect from the rest of the population?
Good question. Again, this is somewhat reminiscent of Daniel Pipes' campaign to remove "anti-semitic'  professors from American schools, with the added complication, of course, of Gordon being Jewish and thus reasonably immune to the charge. (Barring that "self-hating" stuff.)  Again, though, you would think that the Israelis would be a bit more accepting of controversy, considering their umpteen-thousand-year traditions of discussion and debate. Times change, I suppose. 

It speaks to why the IDF keeps on pushing these feeble arguments. (Of late they're admitting that they fired "warning shots" before hitting the deck, without realizing that that is an implicit admission that they fired first.) The point of the arguments is not to win the debate. The point of the arguments is to provide cover, so that voices of dissent from both within and without can be browbeaten into silence. Not surprising. But definitely disturbing, and a little sad. Israel was supposed to be better than this.