Wake up, True Believers

Once in every four years we have a little show
We do it often so everyone would know
How free we are to lightly throw away
What we have earned; and to unthinkingly obey

The verdict of the mob that can’t be seen,
That can’t be heard; it’s a mean machine
That turns a human being ‘nto a wheel
Spins its lies and casts its steel.

For a people deceived, there can never be a choice
Those who toil in bondage rarely have a voice
Wake up, true believers, things are not okay,
Wake up, and throw your chains away.

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Published in: on Tuesday, May 19th, 2009 at 11:07 am  Leave a Comment  
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The Twilight Zone

Amnesty International, one of the most reliable Cassandras of our age, has once again demonstrated its utter insensitivity to geopolitical reality, has called for an arms embargo on Israel and Hamas, following the recent Gaza massacre

Amnesty International has released a report accusing Israel and Hamas of war crimes, which both have denied. To accusations of the use of phosphorus weapons against the Gazan population, Israeli spokesman Mark Regev said, in a remarkable display of Jewish wit,that Israel “did not use any such munition as an anti-personnel weapon,” adding that “we are investigating ourselves.” One cannot but wonder why Israel investigates, when the results are already known to Mr. Regev. In fact, Mr. Regev seems to know better than the IDF itself, which is investigating at least one specific incident of phosphorus use against populated areas.

It seems that the issue is not whether Israel (or Hamas) committed war crimes, but whether such standards apply at all. The Palestinians say that they are vindicated because Israel has enormously more firepower, while Israelis say that they are merely acting in self-defence. Hamas does not even represent a state! Thanks in part to US abettment, the land between the Jordan and the Sea is a strange place, a twilight zone where normal standards of law do not apply, making this almost a biblical conflict in its insulation from the modern international system. An arms embargo? In my dreams.

Published in: on Monday, February 23rd, 2009 at 2:24 am  Comments (3)  

Israel-Palestine

In light of the recent actions of the State of Israel in the Gaza Strip, and, of course, of its conduct for decades, voices have recently continued to be raised to compare it to Nazi Germany and its treatment of the Palestinians to the Holocaust. In response, those critics have, as before, been branded antisemites.

I can hardly be called an antisemite; I am as Jewish as they come without the black suit and hat, or, in the immortal words of the sadly mortal Graham Chapman, “I’m a Kike! A Yid! A Hebe! A Hook-nose! I’m Kosher, Mum! I’m a Red Sea Pedestrian, and proud of it.” I have also lived in Israel for sixteen years, and when all is said and done it was a good childhood. Nonetheless, having established my credentials, I am impelled, by the force of my conscience, to “betray” my co-nationals and join the chorus. As with everything Jewish, to see why one must first take a look at History.

Israel is a young nation; one only has to look back about 60 years to find a time when it was a province of an empire, groaning under the infamous heel of the British Mandate. In that period, the province in which the Israeli Nation was incubated was called Palestine/Eretz Yisrael, the slash symbolizing the divide-and-conquer approach championed by its overlords.

Indeed, the aboriginal divisions characteristic of the land known in various times and places as Cna’an, Palaestina, Judea and Israel, Israel, and Falastin proved a boon for the British, who needed to secure the occupation of their dearly bought colony (acquired as it was from the previous empire by the might of British arms as well as the celebrated Lawrence of Arabia and his unwashed followers) and to keep their mandate on it justified. It is said, that in a British Police station there was an Arab, a Jew, and a Briton. The Jew would watch the Arab, the Arab would watch the Jew, and the Briton would keep an eye on both of them.

Then it all sort of went out of control.

The canvas is short to paint the subsequent history in any kind of detail, and few painters would dare to undertake the task of fairly representing it; but the general gist is well known: War, refugees, occupation and repression.

The irony is inescapable and vicious: Israel was, after all, built by the refugees of other wars, who sought to escape the camps and graveyards of Europe, where they were considered vermin, to contain if not to exterminate. Perhaps them and their descendants could not get rid of the camps in their minds; the fact remains that once armed and powerful, the eternally dispossessed and persecuted set about dispossessing and persecuting other people.

They escaped war only to find it waiting for them, but now the roles were reversed: years later and thousands of miles away, the prisoners have become the guards. Now there are Jewish soldiers standing at checkpoints, pointing guns at kids forcing young men to play their violin. Now there are Jews sitting in tall towers behind high walls, shooting at people who walk funny. Now there are Jews clamoring for “living space” and the subjugation or “removal” of an entire people. Living in Israel, I once saw a poster inviting the public to attend a lecture at a Jewish center, entitled: “The Final Solution for the Palestinian Problem.” All that for the Homeland.

And who can blame them? During an online conversation with a relative, I was reminded of the reason why my family ended up in Israel in the first place: Like countless others, My family left the collapsing Soviet Union in 1990, fleeing hardship and prejudice; in Russia, few hesitated to remind us what we were. So we ran, or flew, to the only place that would accept us. Weren’t we in for a surprise!

The first thing they let me know I was, was “Russian.” That was when I was still small and adaptable, and in the fullness of time it became reserved for my parents. Despite that, Israel has no shortage of venomous ethnic epithets: Russians and Moroccans, Yemenites and Ethiopians, of all ages, not to mention “Arabs;” but even for those lucky ones, who manage to largely evade ethnic categorization, there is no shortage of other labels. The ones I got was “Leftie” and “Traitor,” not to mention “a failure of the Education System.” I must admit that I wear those epithets as badges of pride.

So much for the Melting Pot; instead we must return to the famous irony of the prisoners-turned-guards. I was called a traitor in Israel because it stands against every value and tradition I have ever embraced, as a human being and as a Jew. Humanity, solidarity, humility, learning, and wisdom have been replaced by cruelty, prejudice, violence, greed, and machismo. Led by a crew of utterly unscrupulous megalomaniacs and bewitched by fear and force, Israel is a fascist entity and anything but what a Jewish state has a right to be.

Published in: on Saturday, January 31st, 2009 at 3:19 am  Leave a Comment  
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Jailhouse Surprise

The British Broadcasting Corporation has been recently surprised by the Iraqi Interior Ministry, which allowed them to visit Rusafa Prison in Baghdad. The report reports, in a beautifully written, archetypal human scene, that Iraq’s prison system is extremely overcrowded, with a hundred people to a shower, five to a bunk and thirty-three point three to a toilet, so you take turns to sleep, have a chance at the shower once every three days, and I can’t imagine what you do about the restrooms.

The guards invoke Saddam Hussein, saying that in his time the jails were worse; the street has it that not much has changed.

It seems that the problem is caused by too many people getting arrested in a fashion somewhere between rational and random, overwhelming the too few jails and judges (Sounds familiar?), and in a final hemi-potent thought-provoker suggests that “as the United States and Britain gradually make their exit from Iraq, they are due to transfer thousands of prisoners into the custody of the Iraqi prison system,” making it even worse.

What can we do? As a group of nations, rich in infrastructure, human resources, and civic tradition, what can the West do to help? That is a question not usually asked about actual problems, being instead reserved for overarching generalities or, even better, something completely imaginary. As for answers, it is not my responsibility to provide them; but I suggest we could start by handing over some of those damn big bases to the Iraqis to use as extra prison space, and by taking a good few thousands of young ones to make lawyers out of them. Then we can start thinking about how to get less people arrested.

And what then? Then we can start doing the same thing right here at home.

Published in: on Tuesday, November 25th, 2008 at 15:50 pm  Leave a Comment  

Time to become a Republican?

I find it wryly unsurprising that, just a week after running naked in the street in unabashed celebration of Barack Obama’s victory, I have managed to find his first concrete action entirely misdirected and not at all the kind of original thinking we’ve been looking for. Apparently, the most urgent thing to do in order to save the Economy is to throw a few additional fortunes at flailing corporations. Obama even notes that “his support for [assistance] once he takes office, is contingent on their [carmakers’] willingness to agree to transform their industry to make cleaner, more energy-efficient vehicles.” Way to go, Barack; we always knew that a bit of finger waggling ought to do the trick.

What I really cannot fathom is the reason why, against all reason, can Washington never produce a single fresh, interesting idea? So a sector in the Economy is going to hell. Whatcha gonna do? Prop up old, antiquated, outdated corporations, with their ambition fossilized and imaginative arteries hardened; or find a way to really give innovation and the old Entrepreneurial Spirit a kick in the pants? The latter has my vote (not that I have one, of course).

The economic strength of our civilization lies in its embrace of the competition of ideas; if we allow this sort of institutionalism to take over by following the “too big to fail” doctorine, we will lose the distinction between the public and the private sectors. When the Government sets up what is effectively a $700bn Partial Nationalization Fund for the financial sector, and proceeds to blindly throw money at anybody with a sufficiently large annual turnover, it puts its thumb on the scales of the Market (assuming there’s room for another thumb) — and invites the Market to put yet another thumb on the scales of Government (How many thumbs that guy got, anyway?). In the end, the great danger is that the two sectors would merge, and we’d get the sort of Corporatist Republic we dreaded in the first place.

Alarmist? Sure. But if you take a look at history, you’ll see that there generally is good reason to be alarmed. This signal, this first concrete policy statement Obama presented to the nation was not a surprising, intriguing, creative proposal to get at the root of our economic problems and, say, encourage business startups in the auto industry. Instead we got conventional thinking, back scratching, and yet another bailout of a hollow giant, making our tangled mess of a civilization look more and more like Humpty Dumpty strolling along with a blindfold.

P.S. Here are a couple of interesting articles on the subject:
Bailout to Nowhere
Chances Dwindle on Bailout Plan for Automakers

Published in: on Friday, November 14th, 2008 at 5:22 am  Leave a Comment  

Valuing Votes

I have encountered an article on the New York Times article by Sarah Cowan, Stephen Doyle and Drew Heffron titled “How Much Is Your Vote Worth?.” This article is misleading. I do not wish to say that the article does not make a good point; merely that the point is misleading.
The article begins:

“‘THE conception of political equality from the Declaration of Independence, to Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, to the Fifteenth, Seventeenth and Nineteenth Amendments can mean only one thing — one person, one vote,’ the Supreme Court ruled almost a half-century ago. Yet the framers of the Constitution made this aspiration impossible, then and now. “

A worthy statement, and true. It is well demonstrated in the lines that follow that, for a variety of reasons, the electoral college is built in such a way, that “a voter casting a presidential ballot in Wyoming three and a half times more influential than a voter in Florida,” and that “The presidency could be won with just 22 percent of the electorate’s support, only 16 percent of the entire population’s.” Put that way, this statement (which I’m sure is perfectly correct) appears very worrying, but it’s severely misleading.

Here’s why: If you were planning to take over the country using subliminal messages on TV, you would only have to administer targeted brainwashing to 16 percent of the population to win! Efficiency. In conventional presidential races, it is understood that all 47.8 million specific individuals required might not be available to vote for your side, so you cast your net wider.

But all that is quite marginal. The big problem with Cowen’s argument is that it is made out of context. The quote speaks of political equality, without mentioning that it is not the sole component of democracy as we practice it; otherwise, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights would be much shorter. A basic feature of democracy is, that it does not equal the rule of the mob, and that political minorities should not go unrepresented. It might be tempting to trounce these damn North Dakotan farmers once and for all, because there aren’t that many of them; but those damn North Dakotan farmers also have a stake in this country, and they’ve done their share building it, God knows. If “one person, one vote” was the sole guiding principle of our political system, it would be easy to ignore them; but when ignoring people, you should always worry that the next guy ignored will be you.

We give individual voters in some states fractionally more voting power, because while those states may be poor in population, they are as rich in culture, tradition, and importance as other states are. It is more virtuous in any case to talk to them and persuade them than to simply vote them gone; more than that: to do so would be to betray democracy.

Published in: on Sunday, November 2nd, 2008 at 9:16 am  Leave a Comment  

Police at the RNC

I finally got together a couple of interesting links about the alleged police abuse at the Republican National Convention. One of the articles is a publication from Amnesty International, a top-notch organization that is recommended by the frequent attacks it endures from oppressors everywhere, and the other is from Democracy Now! whose reporter Amy Goodman along with her film crew got arrested at the RNC, interviews members of I-Witness, a video witness collective and the National Lawyers Guild about questionable police raids on themselves.

“Amnesty International recognizes the challenges involved in policing large scale demonstrations and that some protestors may have been involved in acts of violence or obstruction. However, some of the police actions appear to have breached United Nations (U.N.) standards on the use of force by law enforcement officials.”

http://www.amnestyusa.org/document.php?id=ENGUSA20080905001

“AMY GOODMAN: I asked a police officer about the weapons. He said, yes, there was an AR-15 automatic rifle there.

EILEEN CLANCY: That the police were carrying.”

Always good for a laugh, those coppers.

http://www.democracynow.org/2008/9/4/i_witness_video_collective_forced_out

Published in: on Tuesday, October 21st, 2008 at 15:39 pm  Leave a Comment  

Exceptional

I don’t like American exceptionalism; while America is indeed a very special place, it’s not healthy for a society, or a person, to believe that his way is the best way and he is always right. That kind of attitude kills not only freedom, but entrepreneurship as well: when things are just fine as they are, well, that’s when you stop reaching for the stars. Stop reaching for the Stars… Ain’t that such a mournful phrase? It holds such despair and finality in so few words; it’s almost like a eulogy: “He just gave it up. He always tried to Reach for the Stars, but then he couldn’t take it anymore.” Well, The Stars in this context mean something that never can be reached — you can reach for them, but you cannot reach them. If you think you’ve reached them, then first of all you can’t, because they’re Stars, and second, you stop trying. Now if that’s not un-American, I don’t know what is.

Published in: on Saturday, October 18th, 2008 at 4:00 am  Leave a Comment  

Sticks, Carrots, and Fascist Bastards

Much virtual ink has been spilled over last night’s Presidential Debate, which I found boring and stale; I will save my ones and zeroes to quote for my nonexistent readership some douchebag from the American Enterprise Institute (here dissing Obama’s stance on diplomacy):

“Unfortunately, the American people’s desire for peace is not shared by many dictators. In such a world, coercion matters as much as engagement. President Theodore Roosevelt sought to “speak softly and carry a big stick.” When candidates seek, a century later, to speak softly and carry a big carrot, it is not diplomacy; it is naivete.”

Let’s start at the beginning, with the American People’s famous desire for peace, from the (say) Mexican War to (say) Iraq. It’s not that I’m dissing the American People — a most excellent people by all accounts — but to deny them their healthy aggressive instinct, so finely demonstrated in the Enterprise gentleman’s tone and content, would be to do the American People a disservice. It is a well-known feature of the most intractable conflicts that each side believes that it itself desires only peace, while its enemy understands only force; this sort of belief is usually strongly encouraged (to put it mildly) by schools and other public institutions. Perhaps Herr Rubin (oh the irony!) is aware of this context, or maybe he is merely responding to his natural instinct; in either case with each such ridiculous, untrue, and, yes, dangerous statement he gives the forces of conflict a small but definite boost. Great Job!

And as for Theodore Roosevelt, Rubin forgets the first part of the aphorism: Speak softly. Don’t run around yelling and breaking things with your stick. People might stop fearing it, and you could even break it. What carrots have to do with it, I don’t know.

I’m sick and tired of many things: I’m sick of unimaginative chatter and political correctness; i’m tired of spineless populism, hedging, and playing it safe; but most of all I’m sick and tired, and afraid, of fascist incitement mixing metaphors to masquerade as something that makes sense.

Published in: on Saturday, September 27th, 2008 at 5:54 am  Leave a Comment  

Terror and Tyranny

I would like to start this post with a bombastic hyperbole (pardon the pun): I’d rather have a bus bombing a week in this country than another power for the Government to spy on its citizens.

This statement might, to some, seem heartless and ignorant, even dangerous; but for once, I am not talking out of my ass, and I have some knowledge of my topic — I was born in the former Soviet Union and was raised in Israel: my family were dissidents in the USSR, and I grew up under the constant shadow of war and terror. I have spent many hours thinking about those issues; those experiences shaped my political beliefs, and at any rate they have made an indelible mark on my personality and history.

So can there be anything worse than a five year old struggling with a gas mask in a sealed room, or hearing that (God forbid!) a friend or relative was killed in a senseless act of violence? Imagine a child refusing to go to bed until the siren has come and gone, or fearing for your life when a fat guy in a big coat gets on the bus; I repeat, can anything be worse than those things?

The answer is yes: what is worse is smuggling homemade tapes of Rock music and listening to them only in the dead of night, so the neighbors won’t hear; what is worse is only having one night to copy a forbidden book so the Secret Police won’t get you and send you to Siberia; what is worse (to take examples from other times and places) is to be beheaded for complaining about the price of bread, or sent to Bedlam because you said that you think the Government is in the wrong. Those things are worse than any terror attack.

And I’ll tell you why: because wars end, and terrorist campaigns peter out. Because oppression divides and horrible violence unites the people in grief. Because everyone dies sooner or later, but to live your life under the unblinking eye and heavy arm of the tyrant can make life unbearable and inspires more terror than any suicide bomber: deep-seated, heavy, unrelenting terror. Compared to life as a slave, with no freedom or privacy, a terror campaign is like some fire ants disturbing a cookout: scary, sure; but it is better than having to always roast the pig and eat the intestines, better than being whipped if you open your mouth to speak unless spoken to. Being a slave is no picnic, not even one that has been rudely interrupted.

Sounds alarmist? Well, there appears to be something to be alarmed about. Several somethings, in fact, but I would like to make an example in the shape of an ominously named (to me, at least) act of Congress, Resolution HR 1955, or the Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act of 2007. Having failed to find anything about it in the large newspapers (which in itself is very suspicious, considering some of the Act’s language), I have decided to present the relevant Wikipedia entry; Here’s a highlight:

One [criticism of the bill] is the perceived overly broad and vague definitions of “force”, “home grown terrorism” and “violent radicalization” (section 899A). Critics charge that the vagueness in these definitions would permit the government to classify many types of venerated American political activity, such as civil disobedience, as terrorism. Critics frequently cite Section 899A which reads, in part: “The use, planned use, or threatened use, of force …to coerce the ..government, (or) civilian population ..in furtherance of political or social objectives”,[18] as particularly problematic. They argue that major societal reforms which are now accepted but were perceived at the time as threatening to the government, such as civil rights, suffrage, and others, would be classified as terrorism.

Of course, the bill’s sponsor says that the above language “should” read  as ‘intentionally aiding and abetting’ violent radicalization; please allow me to dismiss this hogwash out of hand: FEH! if that idiot, Jane Harman or whatever its name might be, wanted the bill to be read that way, why did she write it that differently? When the executive is given the opportunity to exercise gratuitous surveillance and control over its citizens or subjects, it uses it! Once the door is opened, it’s a whole lot harder to close again, partly because somebody might one day not too far in the future “prevent” criticism of the bill from reaching any sort of proportion. Isn’t it a great idea to make a radicalizing law to stop radicals? It is, if you want to put everyone under your boot with hardly anyone noticing.

And anyway, who are those “homegrown terrorists? Folks like Charlie Chaplin, who had to flee the country because he was accused of Communism, or Alice Paul, who was tortured, assaulted, jailed, and had a tube shoved down her throat in the psychiatric ward for wanting to vote despite happening to be a woman? MLK anyone? Oh yes, I know: old Bill Ayres, an angry hippie who blew up a statue dedicated to riot policemen and chipped some paint off the Pentagon; scary stuff. Probably the best-known and most successful Violent Radical in this country’s history was one George Washington, who left his home in Virginia for the battlefield, as, I must point out, the leader of an armed insurgency.

Freedom is more important than security; that is why back in 1775, colonists rich and poor gave up the protection of the British Empire to fight and die in Freedom’s name. Some, maybe most, did not know exactly what Freedom meant; I’m not at all sure I do. But if you asked them whether having a guy listen in to their dinner table conversation for the sake of their “safety” meant they were in a state of freedom, I give you one guess as to what their answer would have been.

Published in: on Saturday, September 20th, 2008 at 0:43 am  Comments (2)