31 December 2008

POETRY / Alyce Guynn : Cardinal in Pyrocanthia

Cardinal, detail from quilt / Wolven CyberArts

Cardinal in Pyrocanthia

A wind chime plays softly
the melody of memory
soaked in winter sun

Bright the contrast
between then and now

like the cardinal
in my pyrocanthia bush

The breeze behind the music
is cold against
the warmth of winter sun

© Alyce Guynn

Alyce Guynn / The Rag Blog
Austin, Texas
December 31, 2008

The Rag Blog

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Hamas Rockets, Smart Bombs and Israeli Politics

'Even smart bombing is bound to cause civilian casualties and much of the Israeli bombing is less than smart. So, of course, when the body count of Palestinian civilians exceeds the body count of Israeli civilians (as it always does) the Israeli response is disproportionate.'
By Steve Russell / The Rag Blog / December 31, 2008

Damn Jews. Shooting back.

Overwhelming force applied over a few stray missiles.

No sense of proportion, those Israelis.

What's going on politically? Bennie Netanyahu was opposed to giving up the Gaza Strip. His position was that land can't buy peace, and Gaza would just be a launching pad for military attacks on Israel.

It's the US equivalent of saying "Newt Gingrich was right" but Netanyahu was right, and this massive retaliation is timed to the Israeli elections. It gives the right a chance to say they told the voters so and the left a chance to demonstrate they are not wimpy.

Election cycles do not so constrain Hamas. Their position remains the same. Remember the alien in "Independence Day" after the POTUS has tried to open negotiations to no avail and finally said "What do you want us to do?"

"Die! Die!"

I have been informed by some that strapping bombs on children is simply a low tech way of fighting a war, certainly not a tactic preferred by the poor.

So I don't suppose I would have any luck criticizing the lobbing of missiles at civilians.

Cue the lecture about moral equivalence. Even smart bombing is bound to cause civilian casualties and much of the Israeli bombing is less than smart. So, of course, when the body count of Palestinian civilians exceeds the body count of Israeli civilians (as it always does) the Israeli response is disproportionate.

And the 15 year old pizza bomber is just more of the same, the moral equivalent of an Israeli jet jockey.

There is, quite literally, no place to put a missile battery in Gaza where it would not be surrounded by civilians, assuming Hamas was suicidal enough to do so. Therefore, any criticism of Hamas for siting missiles among civilians is clearly out of place. Shit, it amounts to arguing that Hamas has no right to lob missiles into Israel, and that's a clearly untenable position.

It's possible to point at the Israel lobby when complaining about how US pols cave on cue and seldom put any daylight between our policy and Israel's.

But it's also possible to point at Hamas and observe that among ordinary Americans the moral equivalence argument will never fly. I don't see anything progressive in the moral equivalence argument, so in this matter it's hard for me to say the voters are stupid.

So Netanyahu's prediction about what would happen if Israel gave Gaza over to the Palestinians has been shown correct.

If Netanyahu comes back to power, there will be no peace during his time. That suits Hamas just fine but it does not suit me and....well, I won't speculate on what US policy is beyond seeking a ceasefire.

Bush II's first foreign policy pronouncements involved ridiculing Clinton's efforts to broker a deal between the Israelis and the Palestinians and as a result the Israeli right was emboldened to scuttle those efforts.

I don't think Obama should similarly work the sidelines. He should keep out of it unless asked by the current President to involve himself.

Let's say that when Obama is sworn in, there is another ceasefire. Or not--it hardly matters. Gaza as a launching pad is not a good idea. Gaza is a worthless piece of real estate because to be economically viable it has to trade freely with Israel or Egypt. While it needs links to the West Bank, and the West Bank has potential for economic viability on its own, the West Bank cannot be an adequate support for Gaza right now even leaving aside the contretemps between Hamas and Fatah.

So, in the immoral words of Lenin, what is to be done?

Never mind the ceasefire. That's almost irrelevant because it would be temporary. The question is what's to become of Gaza?

To support its people in the squalor to which they are accustomed, it needs to be economically linked to Egypt or Israel.

Which shall it be, and how shall the linkage be accomplished, keeping the body count on all sides to a minimum?

The Rag Blog

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'Terrorist' : A Word That Comes After 'Arab'

"Arab terrorist," played by Albert Moses in a Nescafe commercial.
Since the classic definition of “terrorism” is the use of violence against civilians to achieve a political goal, Israel would seem to be inviting an objective analysis that it has chosen its own terrorist path. But it is clearly counting on the U.S. news media to continue wearing the blinders that effectively limit condemnations about terrorism to people and groups that are regarded as Washington’s enemies.
By Robert Parry / December 31, 2008

Israel, a nation that was born out of Zionist terrorism, has launched massive airstrikes against targets in Gaza using high-tech weapons produced by the United States, a country that often has aided and abetted terrorism by its client military forces, such as Chile’s Operation Condor and the Nicaraguan contras, and even today harbors right-wing Cuban terrorists implicated in blowing up a civilian airliner.

Yet, with that moral ambiguity excluded from the debate, the justification for the Israeli attacks, which have killed at least 364 people, is the righteous fight against “terrorism,” since Gaza is ruled by the militant Palestinian group, Hamas.

Hamas rose to power in January 2006 through Palestinian elections, which ironically the Bush administration had demanded. However, after Hamas won a parliamentary majority, Israel and the United States denounced the outcome because they deem Hamas a “terrorist organization.”

Hamas then wrested control of Gaza from Fatah, a rival group that once was considered “terrorist” but is now viewed as a U.S.-Israeli partner, so it has been cleansed of the “terrorist” label.

Unwilling to negotiate seriously with Hamas because of its acts of terrorism – which have included firing indiscriminate short-range missiles into southern Israel – the United States and Israel sat back as the humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza worsened, with 1.5 million impoverished Palestinians packed into what amounts to a giant open-air prison.

When Hamas ended a temporary cease-fire on Dec. 19 because of a lack of progress in those negotiations and began lobbing its little missiles into Israel once more, the Israeli government reacted on Saturday with its lethal “shock and awe” firepower – even though no Israelis had been killed by the post-cease-fire missiles launched from Gaza. [Since Saturday, four Israelis have died in more intensive Hamas missile attacks.]

Israel claimed that its smart bombs targeted sites related to the Hamas security forces, including a school for police cadets and even regular policemen walking down the street. But it soon became clear that Israel was taking an expansive view of what was part of the Hamas military infrastructure, with Israeli bombs taking out a television station and a university building as well as killing a significant number of civilians.

As the slaughter continued on Monday, Israeli officials confided to Western journalists that the war plan was to destroy the vast support network of social and other programs that undergird Hamas’s political clout.

“There are many aspects of Hamas, and we are trying to hit the whole spectrum, because everything is connected and everything supports terrorism against Israel,” a senior Israeli military official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told the Washington Post.

“Hamas’s civilian infrastructure is a very, very sensitive target,” added Matti Steinberg, a former top adviser to Israel’s domestic security service. “If you want to put pressure on them, this is how.” [Washington Post, Dec. 30, 2008]

Since the classic definition of “terrorism” is the use of violence against civilians to achieve a political goal, Israel would seem to be inviting an objective analysis that it has chosen its own terrorist path. But it is clearly counting on the U.S. news media to continue wearing the blinders that effectively limit condemnations about terrorism to people and groups that are regarded as Washington’s enemies.

Whose Terrorism?

As a Washington-based reporter for the Associated Press in the 1980s, I once questioned the seeming bias that the U.S.-based wire service applied to its use of the word “terrorist” when covering Middle East issues. A senior AP executive responded to my concerns with a quip. “Terrorist is the word that follows Arab,” he said.

Though meant as a lighthearted riposte, the comment clearly had a great deal of truth to it. It was easy to attach “terrorist” to any Arab attack – even against a military target such as the bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks in Lebanon in 1983 after the Reagan administration had joined hostilities against Muslim forces by having U.S. warships lob shells into Lebanese villages.

But it was understood that different rules on the use of the word "terrorism" applied when the terrorism was coming from “our side.” Then, no American reporter with any sense of career survival would think of injecting the word “terrorist” whatever the justification.

Even historical references to acts of terrorism – such as the brutal practice by American revolutionaries in the 1770s of “tar and feathering” civilians considered sympathetic to the British Crown or the extermination of American Indian tribes – were seen as somehow diluting the moral righteousness against today’s Islamic terrorists and in favor of George W. Bush's "war on terror."

Gone, too, from the historical narrative was the fact that militant Zionists employed terrorism as part of their campaign to establish Israel as a Jewish state. The terrorism included killings of British officials who were administering Palestine under an international mandate as well as Palestinians who were driven violently from their land so it could be claimed by Jewish settlers.

One of the most famous of those terrorist attacks was the 1946 bombing of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem where British officials were staying. The attack, which killed 91 people including local residents, was carried out by the Irgun, a terrorist group run by Menachem Begin who later founded the Likud Party and rose to be Israel’s prime minister.

Another veteran of the campaign of Zionist terrorism was Yitzhak Shamir, who also became a Likud leader and eventually prime minister.

In the early 1990s, as I was waiting to interview Shamir at his Tel Aviv office, I was approached by one of his young female assistants who was dressed in a gray and blue smock with a head covering in the traditional Hebrew style.

As we were chatting, she smiled and said in a lilting voice, “Prime Minister Shamir, he was a terrorist, you know.” I responded with a chuckle, “yes, I’m aware of the prime minister’s biography.”

Blind Spot

To maintain one’s moral purity in denouncing acts of terror by U.S. enemies, one also needs a large blind spot for recent U.S. history, which implicates U.S. leaders repeatedly in tolerance or acts of terrorism.

For instance, in 1973, after a bloody U.S.-backed coup overthrew the leftist Chilean government, the new regime of Gen. Augusto Pinochet joined with other South American dictatorships to sponsor an international terrorist organization called Operation Condor which assassinated political dissidents around the world.

Operation Condor mounted one of its most audacious actions on the streets of Washington in 1976, when Pinochet’s regime recruited Cuban-American terrorists to detonate a car bomb that killed Chile’s former foreign minister Orlando Letelier and an American co-worker, Ronni Moffitt. The Chilean government's role immediately was covered up by the CIA, then headed by George H.W. Bush. [For details, see Robert Parry’s Secrecy & Privilege.]

Only weeks later, a Venezuela-based team of right-wing Cubans – under the direction of Orlando Bosch and Luis Posada Carriles – blew a Cubana Airliner out of the sky, killing 73 people. Bosch and Posada, a former CIA operative, were co-founders of CORU, which was described by the FBI as “an anti-Castro terrorist umbrella organization.”

Though the U.S. government soon learned of the role of Bosch and Posada in the Cubana airline attack – and the two men spent some time in a Venezuelan jail – both Bosch and Posada since have enjoyed the protection of the U.S. government and particularly the Bush Family.

Rebuffing international demands that Bosch and Posada be held accountable for their crimes, the Bushes – George H.W., George W. and Jeb – have all had a hand in making sure these unrepentant terrorists get to live out their golden years in the safety and comfort of the United States.

In the 1980s, Posada even crossed over into another U.S.-backed terrorist organization, the Nicaraguan contras. After escaping from Venezuela, he was put to work in 1985 by Oliver North’s contra-support operation run out of Ronald Reagan’s National Security Council.

The Nicaraguan contras were, in effect, a narco-terrorist organization that partially funded its operations with proceeds from cocaine trafficking, a secret that the Reagan administration worked hard to conceal along with the contras’ record of murder, torture, rape and other crimes in Nicaragua. [See Parry’s Lost History.]

President Reagan joined, too, in fierce PR campaigns to discredit human rights investigators who documented massive atrocities by U.S. allies in Central America in the 1980s – not only the contras, but also the state terrorism of the Salvadoran and Guatemalan security forces, which engaged in wholesale slaughters in villages considered sympathetic to leftist insurgents.

Generally, the major U.S. news outlets treaded very carefully when allegations arose about terrorism by “our side.”

When some brave journalists, like New York Times correspondent Raymond Bonner, wrote about politically motivated killings of civilians in Central America, they faced organized retaliation by right-wing advocacy groups which often succeeded in damaging or destroying the reporters’ careers.

Double Standards

Eventually, the American press corps developed an engrained sense of the double standards. Moral outrage could be expressed when acts of terrorism were committed by U.S. enemies, while studied silence – or nuanced concern – would be in order when the crimes were by U.S. allies.

So, while the U.S. news media had no doubt that the 9/11 terrorist attacks justified invading Afghanistan, there was very little U.S. media criticism when President Bush inflicted his “shock and awe” assault on Iraq, a war that has resulted in hundreds of thousands of Iraqi deaths.

Though many Muslims and others around the world have denounced Bush’s Iraq invasion as “state terrorism,” such a charge would be considered far outside the mainstream in the United States. Instead, Iraqi insurgents are often labeled “terrorists” when they attack U.S. troops inside Iraq. The word “terrorist” has become, in effect, a geopolitical curse word.

Despite the long and bloody history of U.S.-Israeli participation in terrorism, the U.S. news media continues its paradigm of pitting the U.S.-Israeli “good guys” against the Islamic “bad guys.” One side has the moral high ground and the other is in the moral gutter. [For more on the U.S. media’s one-sided approach, see the analysis by Greg Mitchell of Editor & Publisher.]

Any attempt to cite the larger, more ambiguous and more troubling picture draws accusations from defenders of U.S.-Israeli actions, especially the neoconservatives, of what they call “moral equivalence” or “anti-Semitism.”

Yet it is now clear that acquiescence to a double standard on terrorism is not just a violation of journalistic ethics or an act of political cowardice; it is complicity in mass murder. Without the double standard, it is hard to envision how the bloodbaths – in Iraq (since 2003), in Lebanon (in 2006) and in Gaza (today) – would be possible.

Hypocrisy over the word “terrorism” is not an innocent dispute over semantics; it kills.

[Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek.]

Source / consortiumnews.com

Thanks to CommonDreams / The Rag Blog

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Rabbi Arthur Waskow : The Politics of Gaza and Beyond

The SS Free Gaza and the SS Liberty, with human rights workers and supplies from the Free Gaza Movement successfully landed in Gaza early the evening of Aug. 23, 2008, breaking the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip: has been a model for creating pressure for peace.
Beyond anguish, what can we say about Gaza that points toward an alternative? Not just in pretty theory, but in political practicality?
By Rabbi Arthur Waskow / The Rag Blog / December 31, 2008

Beyond anguish, what can we say about Gaza that points toward an alternative? Not just in pretty theory, but in political practicality?

The alternative for Hamas would have been to multiply the approach of the nonviolent boatloads of people who were in the last month bringing supplies to Gaza, ignoring or violating the Israeli blockade. This approach was building support in much of the world, pointing out the injustice and violence of the blockade. Instead of canceling the cease-fire and aiming rockets once again, Hamas could have turned those boats into a multitude. They might have built an enormous popular pressure in Europe and the US for an end to the blockade and negotiations between Israel, the various powers, and Hamas.

Can Hamas still take this turn toward a powerful nonviolent politics instead of a weak and dead-end military pop-gun? Much harder now. Their knee-jerk response will be to keep up enough military action to suck Israel into a land invasion and terrible carnage. Perhaps that was their intention all along. The result will be lose-lose. It will take profound rethinking to pursue a win-win path. All the sticks in the world are not likely to beat such a response out of Hamas. Carrots might, and that requires strong US support for such a move.

The alternative for the Israeli government would be to say (instead of scornfully rejecting the Saudi/Arab League proposal for a region-wide peace settlement among Israel, all Arab states, and a viable Palestinian state): We encourage it, and encourage its proponents to press Hamas to join in, while making clear that for us the deal must include only very small symbolic numbers of Palestinian refugees returning to Israel itself, and control of the Jewish Quarter and the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem. And we encourage, instead of blocking, a Palestinian government of national unity, including Hamas as well as Fatah.

And -- We will negotiate directly with Hamas toward ending the blockade, welcoming European and Egyptian aid and investment, releasing the members of their parliament we are holding in jail, and in exchange, get an end to the rocket attacks by Hamas, a commitment to at least fifty years of "calm" or "truce," and their acceptance of governmental responsibility to control other groups that may try to continue.

Can an Israeli government take such steps? Perhaps now any Israeli government can do this and say that they have not rewarded terrorism, are not negotiating from weakness, have shown they can be bloody. But would they want to? That too would require a deep rethinking, because it would mean a serious commitment to ending the occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, as well as the blockade of Gaza. Settlers and other opponents of doing this will, though fewer in numbers than those who will support it, be much more intense in their opposition. So the government is likely to be paralyzed, refusing to do what is necessary for peace, resorting to old slogans and the institutional and cultural power of the military to justify paralysis.

So the necessary counterweight for this domestic paralysis will have to come from outside -- that is, the United States.

The alternative policy for the US government would be to use the disaster of these reciprocal attacks to call for all the above: To insist on a regional Middle East peace conference, to insist that even a Netanyahu government of Israel and even a Hamas leadership of Gaza or Palestine take part and accept a decent peace, to connect the end of the US occupation of Iraq with serious diplomacy with Iran and a political settlement of the Afghan agony; to move swiftly off the fossil fuel addiction that drives a planetary disaster and drives American policy into corruption or conquest in the Middle Eastern oil pools.

Only the biggest response can meet the need. Half-measures, the normal response of governments facing complex conflict, will not work.

And what might make such a break with automatic US policy possible? The Presidency of an unusual person chanting "change" is not enough. There are only two clusters of power in the US with enough passion about the Middle East to matter. One is Big Oil. The other is the ethnic and religious passion of American Christians, Jews, and Muslims. If sizeable parts of these groups could work together for such a policy, it might be possible.

For many Jews and Muslims, that is even harder now than it was two weeks ago. But for others, perhaps the shock of so much blood can make it possible.

Rabbi Arthur Waskow / The Shalom Center.

The Rag Blog

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SHINE! 2009

The Ritz, Austin, Texas, 1973. © Stephanie Chernikowski.

New Years greeting from Stephanie Chernikowski / The Rag Blog / December 31, 2008
The Rag Blog

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New Years Day : J. D. Salinger Turns 90

Still Paging Mr. Salinger
By Charles McGrath / December 31, 2008

On Thursday, J. D. Salinger turns 90. There probably won’t be a party, or if there is we’ll never know. For more than 50 years Mr. Salinger has lived in seclusion in the small town of Cornish, N.H. For a while it used to be a journalistic sport for newspapers and magazines to send reporters up to Cornish in hopes of a sighting, or at least a quotation from a garrulous local, but Mr. Salinger hasn’t been photographed in decades now and the neighbors have all clammed up. He’s been so secretive he makes Thomas Pynchon seem like a gadabout

Mr. Salinger’s disappearing act has succeeded so well, in fact, that it may be hard for readers who aren’t middle-aged to appreciate what a sensation he once caused. With its very first sentence, his novel “The Catcher in the Rye,” which came out in 1951, introduced a brand-new voice in American writing, and it quickly became a cult book, a rite of passage for the brainy and disaffected. “Nine Stories,” published two years later, made Mr. Salinger a darling of the critics as well, for the way it dismantled the traditional architecture of the short story and replaced it with one in which a story could turn on a tiny shift of mood or tone.

In the 1960s, though, when he was at the peak of his fame, Mr. Salinger went silent. “Franny and Zooey,” a collection of two long stories about the fictional Glass family, came out in 1961; two more long stories about the Glasses, “Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters” and “Seymour: An Introduction,” appeared together in book form in 1963. The last work of Mr. Salinger’s to appear in print was “Hapworth 16, 1924,” a short story that took up most of the June 19, 1965, issue of The New Yorker. In the ’70s he stopped giving interviews, and in the late ’80s he went all the way to the Supreme Court to block the British critic Ian Hamilton from quoting his letters in a biography.

So what has Mr. Salinger been doing for the last 40 years? The question obsesses Salingerologists, of whom there are still a great many, and there are all kinds of theories. He hasn’t written a word. Or he writes all the time and, like Gogol at the end of his life, burns the manuscripts. Or he has volumes and volumes just waiting to be published posthumously.

Joyce Maynard, who lived with Mr. Salinger in the early ’70s, wrote in a 1998 memoir that she had seen shelves of notebooks devoted to the Glass family and believed there were at least two new novels locked away in a safe.

“Hapworth,” which has never been published in book form, may be our only clue to what Mr. Salinger is thinking, and it’s unlike anything else he has written. The story used to be available only in samizdat — photocopies of photocopies passed along from hand to hand and becoming blurrier with each recopying — though it has become somewhat more accessible since the 2005 DVD edition of “The Complete New Yorker.” In 1997 Mr. Salinger agreed to let Orchises Press, a small publisher in Alexandria, Va., bring out a hardcover edition, but five years later he backed out of the deal.

Ever since, Salinger fans have been poring over the text, looking for hidden meaning. Did the author’s temporary willingness to reissue “Hapworth” indicate a throat-clearing, a warming up of the famously silent machinery? Or was it instead an act of closure, a final binding-up of the Glass family saga — one that, coming last but also at the chronological beginning, brings the whole enterprise full circle?

“Hapworth,” to summarize the unsummarizable, is a letter — or rather a transcription of a letter — 25,000 words, written in haste, by the 7-year old Seymour Glass, away at summer camp, to his parents, the long-suffering ex-vaudevillians Les and Bessie, and his siblings Walt, Waker and Boo Boo, back in New York.

Seymour, we learn, is already reading several languages and lusting after Mrs. Happy, the young wife of the camp owner. He condescends to his campmates and dispenses advice to the various members of the family: Les should be careful about his accent when singing, Boo Boo needs to practice her handwriting, Walt his manners, and so on.

The letter concludes with an extraordinary annotated list of books Seymour would like sent to him — a lifetime of reading for most people, but in his case merely the books he needs to get through the next six weeks: “Any unbigoted or bigoted books on God or merely religion, as written by persons whose last names begin with any letter after H; to stay on the safe side, please include H itself, though I think I have mostly exhausted it. ... The complete works again of Count Leo Tolstoy. ... Charles Dickens, either in blessed entirety or in any touching shape or form. My God, I salute you, Charles Dickens!” And so on, all the way through Proust — in French, naturally — Goethe, and Porter Smith’s “Chinese Materia Medica.”

“Hapworth,” in short, must be the longest, most pretentious (and least plausible) letter from camp ever written. But though it’s the work of a prodigy, it’s also, like all camp letters, a homesick cry for attention.

Its author is the same Seymour who, while on his honeymoon in Florida years later (but — it gets confusing — 17 years earlier in real time, in the 1948 short story “A Perfect Day for Bananafish”), will take an automatic pistol from the bottom of his suitcase and shoot himself through the temple as his bride lies napping in the twin bed next to him. And the same Seymour — the family saint, poet and mystic — whom we’ve heard about at such length in the later Glass stories.

Or is he the same? The Seymour of “Bananafish,” and “Raise High the Roof Beam,” is more a sweetly charming neurotic than the ethereal, otherworldly figure described in “Seymour: An Introduction,” who in turn seems not in the least like the superior, boastful little genius of “Hapworth.” The discrepancies among the various versions of Seymour is such that some critics have questioned the motives and reliability of Buddy, Seymour’s younger brother and the family scribe, who is our source for much of what we know (and also the transcriber of the “Hapworth” letter).

But that kind of tricky, Nabokovian reading feels forced in this case. Mr. Salinger seems less interested in keeping the details straight than in getting them right and offering some explanation, or justification perhaps, for that moment, still startling even after many rereadings, when Seymour blows his brains out. It’s as if Mr. Salinger realized, belatedly, that he had prematurely killed his best character and wanted to make it up to him.

And at some point, it seems fair to say, he fell in love with this project — not just with Seymour but with the whole clan. Who can blame him? The Glasses are one of the liveliest, funniest, most fully realized families in all of fiction. The trouble is that like a lot of families, they occasionally take themselves too seriously and presume to lecture the rest of the world. In the early ’60s, as a certain amount of sentimental and half-baked mysticism began to be spouted by some of the younger Glasses, the critics quickly turned on Mr. Salinger, and “Hapworth” was grumpily dismissed.

What makes “Hapworth” so fascinating, though, is that it’s the only work of Mr. Salinger’s in which the voice is not secure, as the young Seymour fidgets first with one tone and then with another — by turns earnest, anxious, playful and sarcastic. In effect he’s always revising himself. He worries about his spirituality and then skewers his fellow campers. He wants to be like Jesus, and he wants to sleep with Mrs. Happy. He yearns to be left alone, and is desperate to be noticed. He wants to be a saint, and even if he can’t quite admit it yet, he wants to be a great author. Intentionally or not, he seems like a projection of his creator.

In general what has dated most in Mr. Salinger’s writing is not the prose — much of the dialogue, in the stories especially and in the second half of “Franny and Zooey,” still seems brilliant and fresh — but the ideas. Mr. Salinger’s fixation on the difference between “phoniness,” as Holden Caulfield would put it, and authenticity now has a twilight, ’50s feeling about it. It’s no longer news, and probably never was.

This is the theme, though, that comes increasingly to dominate the Glass chronicles: the unsolvable problem of ego and self-consciousness, of how to lead a spiritual life in a vulgar, material society. The very thing that makes the Glasses, and Seymour especially, so appealing to Mr. Salinger — that they’re too sensitive and exceptional for this world — is also what came to make them irritating to so many readers.

Another way to pose the Glass problem is: How do you make art for an audience, or a critical establishment, too crass to understand it? This is the issue that caused Seymour to give up, presumably, and one is tempted to say it’s what soured Mr. Salinger on wanting to see anything else in print.

Sadly, though, Mr. Salinger’s spiritual side is his least convincing. His gift is less for profundity than for observation, for listening and for comedy. Except perhaps for Mark Twain, no other American writer has registered with such precision the humor — and the pathos — of false sophistication and the vital banality of big-city pretension.

For all his reclusiveness, moreover, Mr. Salinger has none of the sage’s self-effacement; his manner is a big and showy one, given to tours-de-force and to large emotional gestures. In spite of his best efforts to silence himself or become a seer, he remains an original and influential stylist — the kind of writer the mature Seymour (but not necessarily the precocious 7-year-old) would probably deplore.

Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company

Source / New York Times

Thanks to Harry Edwards / The Rag Blog

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30 December 2008

Lisa Sanchez Gonzalez : The Real Problem of the 21st Century

30 Rock’s Kenneth the page (Jack McBrayer): “What about white men?”
I would go as far as to say that the defining problem of the 21st-century United States is not, as W.E.B. DuBois claimed of the 20th, the "color line." Nor is it women's rights. Instead, it's a novel permutation of the two -- discrimination and reproduction -- as they intersect with poverty, which is of course inclusive of all women and children -- of whatever background -- living in poverty.
By Lisa Sanchez Gonzalez

[Lisa Sanchez Gonzalez is a teacher and author. She studied classics and comparative literature at UCLA where she received her PhD in 1995. She has taught at universities in the United States, Puerto Rico and Brazil. She posts on Lisa’s Blog which she calls an “experimental project” and points out that the “I” and other characters in her pieces are fictional composites. She posted the following on Dec. 19, 2008.]

Did you see the "30 Rock" episode last night? As Tracy and Jenna argue over who is more oppressed -- black men or white women -- Kenneth the page interrupts to ask "what about white men?" Then Jack the network executive steps in and tells Kenneth "white men? You have more like the socioeconomic standing of an inner-city Latina."


Seriously, it was very funny, grain of truth and all. Absurd of course to think of a white southern male being the lowest of the low on the identity prestige-cum-power totem pole in the United States, but that's probably what made me giggle.

Perhaps I should have been insulted, being a Latina who has spent most of her life in inner cities. But somehow I was amused. It's not because I've bought into some "post-racial" or "post-gender" notion of social relations in the U.S. -- far from it -- but rather because I was glad to see a moment in one of the finest comedies on air acknowledge that the white female/black male oppression debate that seethed under (and often over) the surface of the Clinton/Obama contest was, well, absurd. Absurd in part because neither Clinton nor Obama, much like Jenna or Tracy, could be rationally considered "oppressed" individuals (and their roles as representatives of "oppressed" constituencies are equally belied by their individual successes). Absurd too because this particular (and wildly popular) chapter of the "quién es mas oprimido?" game on the national stage utterly ignores the most disempowered and thoroughly disadvantaged group in the U.S.: low-income children.

And being that the children of inner-city Latinas are much more likely than most other children to suffer poverty and that Latinos will soon be the single largest community defined by racial/ethnic type in the United States, the symbolic white woman/black man contest for paragon of adversity seems, if not utterly irrelevant, than utterly out of date. Not to mention the fact that most Latino and African American children living in poverty are being raised by single mothers, nor the irony that, east of the Mississippi, many Latinas are often mistaken for black women.

In fact, I would go as far as to say that the defining problem of the 21st-century United States is not, as W.E.B. DuBois claimed of the 20th, the "color line." Nor is it women's rights. Instead, it's a novel permutation of the two -- discrimination and reproduction -- as they intersect with poverty, which is of course inclusive of all women and children -- of whatever background -- living in poverty.

And if you think that Latino poverty is a function of illegal immigration, think again. The poorest Latino community by far is the stateside Puerto Rican community, which does not comprise immigrants. In case you didn't get the memo, all Puerto Ricans have been born U.S. citizens since the passage of the Jones Act in 1917; as citizens, their movement from the island to the mainland U.S. is called migration.

When the pundits talk about children in poverty, usually the discussion pivots on education. No Child Left Behind, etc. What is needed is more money for education. Can't argue with that.

Or can you? The overwhelming share of funding for public education goes to teacher salaries and benefit packages. The overwhelming majority of the nation's public school teachers today are white females, and will continue to be (upwards of 80%) in the foreseeable future. Ergo, a bigger investment in public education means more employment and better pay for one particular cohort of white women, who are, by the way, as a group, already the largest single beneficiary of affirmative action.

Don't get me wrong. Excellent teachers should be paid well, and good schools should be adequately funded, but how is that supposed to alleviate the poverty of the students who attend those public schools? The operative theory behind this idea is a convoluted mix of true and false assumptions. Go ahead, take the quiz:

(True or false) 1. Better pay for teachers magically transforms them into better teachers. 2. Better teaching results in better learning. 3. Better learning ensures that children born into poverty transcend poverty as adults. (The answers are: 1. false; 2. true; 3. false)

The problem behind this logic should be obvious. Better pay scales for teachers do not translate into better educational achievement for the poorest children, and the poorest children, even if they are excellent students, are least likely to go to college and thus improve their lifetime earning potential because, like more and more Americans in the lower income brackets, they can't afford it. The state of Connecticut, for example, has some of the best pay and benefit packages for its public school teachers and some of the worst performing school districts in the nation. And of course those failing districts' students are predominantly Puerto Rican and African American. Even with state income tax revenue supplementing those districts, they are failing, and even the college-bound students from the districts tend to come out grossly under-prepared for success in higher education and drop out of college at a rate far exceeding their suburban peers.

Which leads to the second theme the pundits revert to when children and poverty are the subjects. It usually goes something like "public schools can only accomplish so much. Parents need to take more responsibility for their children's education and other needs." This leads inevitably down the trail of the "culture of poverty" way of thinking, which has been echoed by countless politicians of all persuasions (even our President-elect -- more than once). Simply put, the main idea behind this school of thought is that people living in poverty suffer from a congenital form of nihilism. They don't succeed because they don't even try to succeed; their cultures, in other words, set them up for failure. So transcending poverty requires a massive psychological cure that entails rejecting the culture into which the poor are born. Kill the culture, save the child.

One of the most blatant problems with that way of looking at it is the obvious fact that winners come from every socioeconomic strata. Losers too. Some gazillionaires never go to college, some college grads never find a good job. And I can say from experience that all the education in the world doesn't make the world look at a Puerto Rican woman any differently. I have a PhD. I survived poverty. I should know.

(Though personal experience, in my experience, isn't all that reliable when coming to big conclusions. Uh-oh, I feel a research project coming on...)

I think one thing that's certain in all of this is that women need to have the right to choose whether or when to have children. We could make huge strides in ending childhood poverty if we simply incorporated better, more meaningful reproductive education and resources into the lives of our young adult women and girls. ALL of them. Really teach them the options they have. Empower them to make informed and careful decisions about their lives and the lives they may potentially create.

In the meantime, let's hope our kids earn their rightful place at the center of national debate.

Source / Lisa’s Blog

The Rag Blog

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Those Wacky Republicans : "Magic Negro" May Actually HELP Candidate Saltsman

'Four days after news broke that the former Tennessee GOP chairman had sent a CD including a song titled “Barack the Magic Negro” to the RNC members he is courting some of those officials are rallying around the embattled Saltsman.'
By Andy Barr / December 30, 2008

The controversy surrounding a comedy CD distributed by Republican National Committee chairman candidate Chip Saltsman has not torpedoed his bid and might have inadvertently helped it.

Four days after news broke that the former Tennessee GOP chairman had sent a CD including a song titled “Barack the Magic Negro” to the RNC members he is courting, some of those officials are rallying around the embattled Saltsman, with a few questioning whether the national media and his opponents are piling on.

“When I heard about the story, I had to figure out what was going on for myself,” said Mark Ellis, the chairman of the Maine Republican Party. “When I found out what this was about I had to ask, ‘Boy, what’s the big deal here?’ because there wasn’t any.”

Alabama Republican Committeeman Paul Reynolds said the fact the Saltsman sent him a CD with the song on it “didn’t bother me one bit.”

“Chip probably could have thought it through a bit more, but he was doing everyone a favor by giving us a gift,” he said. “This is just people looking for something to make an issue of.”

“I don’t think he intended it as any kind of racial slur. I think he intended it as a humor gift,” Oklahoma GOP Committeewoman Carolyn McClarty added. “I think it was innocently done by Chip.”

The song came with 40 others on an album from conservative satirist Paul Shanklin, a personal friend of Saltsman. The song is a parody of a 2007 Los Angeles Times column of the same title and is written to the tune of “Puff the Magic Dragon.”

“Barack the Magic Negro lives in D.C.” the opening of the song goes. “The L.A. Times, they called him that ‘cause he’s not authentic like me. Yeah, the guy from the L.A. paper said he makes guilty whites feel good. They’ll vote for him, and not for me, ‘cause he’s not from the 'hood.”

The song, written shortly after the publication of the Times column, was first played on the Rush Limbaugh radio show. On Monday, Limbaugh prominently re-posted the song on the top left corner of his website above the headline, “Drive-by media misreporting of ‘Barack the Magic Negro’ song.”

The flap has generated unflattering attention at a time when the GOP is trying to rebuild its brand and reach out to new voters after an election in which GOP presidential nominee John McCain ran poorly among minority constituencies.

The day after the story was first reported by The Hill, RNC Chairman Mike Duncan issued a statement expressing disgust over the song.

“The 2008 election was a wake-up call for Republicans to reach out and bring more people into our party,” said Duncan, who is seeking reelection to his post. “I am shocked and appalled that anyone would think this is appropriate as it clearly does not move us in the right direction.”

Duncan was joined by Michigan GOP Chair Saul Anuzis, another RNC chairmanship aspirant who chided Saltsman for sending out the CD.

North Dakota Republican Party Chairman Gary Emineth said he was “disappointed” when he heard about the story and questioned Saltsman’s viability as a candidate going forward.

There are a lot of things about Chip that would have made a good a RNC chairman, but this has definitely hurt him,” he said in an interview with Politico. “With less than a month to go, Chip needs to be talking about where he wants to lead the party, and he is not going to get that opportunity.”

Not everyone is so sure, with some RNC members contending that Anuzis and Duncan may have actually hurt their candidacies with their responses.

“Those are two guys who just eliminated themselves from this race for jumping all over Chip on this,” one committee member told Politico. “Mike Duncan is a nice guy, but he screwed up big time by pandering to the national press on this.”

While South Carolina GOP Chairman Katon Dawson and former Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele have decided to stay away from the controversy, offering no comment, former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, who would be the party’s first black chairman, has drawn notice for his vigorous defense of Saltsman.

“Unfortunately, there is hypersensitivity in the press regarding matters of race. This is in large measure due to President-elect Obama being the first African-American elected president,” Blackwell said in a statement. “I don't think any of the concerns that have been expressed in the media about any of the other candidates for RNC chairman should disqualify them. When looked at in the proper context, these concerns are minimal. All of my competitors for this leadership post are fine people.”

As a result of his position, a source close to the race said that at least 12 uncommitted committee members have contacted Blackwell to thank him for his support for Saltsman and have expressed anger toward Duncan and Anuzis “for throwing a good Republican under the bus.”

Indeed, in a fluid race in which six candidates are vying for the votes of 168 members, both Blackwell and Saltsman stand to benefit from a backlash to the flap.

Most observers expect Duncan to lead after the first ballot, but few expect he or any other candidate will be able to secure election on a first ballot. For either Saltsman or Blackwell to win election they will likely need the votes of the other’s supporters to break in their direction, along with any other committee members who are not enamored of Duncan’s leadership.

In calls to committee members in recent days, both Saltsman and Blackwell have been reminding Republicans of how both Duncan and Anuzis reacted to the story.

“I wasn’t angered by what Mike had said; it was just revealing to me how each one responded,” said Ellis of Maine, who as an uncommitted member received calls from all six candidates Monday. “Their responses were kind of a surprise to me because I saw it as something that was not an issue, something that was manufactured from outside the committee.”

Source / Politico

Also see Tone Deaf GOP : Just Humming Along? by Larry Ray / The Rag Blog / Dec. 28, 2008

And 'Magic Negro' and 'Star Spanglish Banner' : Republicans are Equal-Opportunity Offenders by Mike Allen / The Rag Blog / Dec. 27, 2008

The Rag Blog

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2008 : Bush Blew it on Katrina, But Where Were the Progressives?

Speaker Nancy Pelosi in Chalmette, La., Aug. 14, 2007. Pelosi and a congressional delegation of Democrats were visiting Hurricane Katrina ravaged areas. With her are House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn, D-S.C. (right) and U.S. Rep. Charlie Melancon, D-La. Photo by Dave Martin / AP.

'On one of the biggest human rights tragedies within our own borders -- a hurricane which devastated an area the size of Great Britain, killed 1,800 people and uprooted a million residents -- progressives had little to offer.'
By Chris Kromm / December 30, 2008

What was it that finally turned public sentiment against President Bush and the Republicans after their post-9/11 rise in popularity? Not the Iraq war or Abu Ghraib, issues which rightfully became focal points for progressive opposition. According to Bush's own aides, it was Washington's failed response to the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina

That's the finding of "An Oral History of the Bush White House" by Cullen Murphy and Todd Purdum in Vanity Fair. Featuring interviews with people close to Bush about key moments in his presidency, the consensus among Bush's friends and critics alike is that Katrina marked the unraveling point of Bush's presidency and Republican dominance. A couple choice quotes:
Dan Bartlett, White House communications director and later counselor to the president: Politically, it was the final nail in the coffin.

Matthew Dowd, Bush's pollster and chief strategist for the 2004 presidential campaign: Katrina to me was the tipping point. The president broke his bond with the public. Once that bond was broken, he no longer had the capacity to talk to the American public. State of the Union addresses? It didn't matter. Legislative initiatives? It didn't matter. P.R.? It didn't matter. Travel? It didn't matter. I knew when Katrina--I was like, man, you know, this is it, man. We're done.
What's shocking is how little progressives and Democrats understood this. In the months after Katrina, progressives were rightfully pouring into the streets to protest the Iraq war, and blogs and book writers were churning out millions of pages on human rights crimes like CIA torture flights and Abu Ghraib.

But on one of the biggest human rights tragedies within our own borders -- a hurricane which devastated an area the size of Great Britain, killed 1,800 people and uprooted a million residents -- progressives had little to offer.

Democratic leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi didn't make it to the Gulf Coast until six months after Katrina hit. I was in New Orleans when she came, preparing the first of several Institute reports trying to bring national attention to the ongoing crisis in the Gulf. Pelosi told the TV cameras she was "shocked" at the devastation she saw. Locals just rolled their eyes -- Pelosi only underscored how out of touch Congressional Democrats were with what was happening in the Gulf Coast.

Each time our team went to interview residents in New Orleans and coastal Mississippi, we got the same questions: Why aren't they doing anything in Washington? Where's the outrage? Where's the legislation? Has the country forgotten about us?

The strange thing is that the country hadn't forgotten about Katrina. Millions of people -- especially faith groups -- cared deeply and took action, committing time and money to deliver supplies, rebuild houses and help those in need. There was a massive constituency across the country ready to be mobilized around the cause of Gulf Coast recovery.

But progressives dropped the ball. Even after Democrats recaptured Congress in 2006 -- more the result of Katrina than anything done by Howard Dean and Rahm Emanuel -- there was little movement on rebuilding New Orleans' ramshackle levees or addressing the crisis of affordable housing.

There was no shortage of good ideas: In spring 2007, we released an entire report on concrete policy propsals coming from Gulf Coast leaders on how to jump-start the failing recovery. But aside from a few token pieces of legislation, none were honestly pursued.

The results of that failure of progressive leadership are with us today. Thousands of Gulf families are still struggling and displaced. Affordable housing is scarce. Hundreds of miles of Louisiana coast is still being destroyed by industrial activity, removing a critical natural defense against future storms.

Katrina wasn't just the turning point for Bush and Republicans. It also marked a failure of Democratic and progressive leadership -- with deadly consequences.

Source / Facing South / Institute for Southern Studies

The Rag Blog

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The Real Melamine Story : The FDA Isn't Protecting Us

Dr. Stephen Sundlof says traces of melanine in baby food "perfectly fine." Photo by Paul J. Richards / AFP / Getty Images.
Conscientious consumers who have followed the melamine story are appropriately outraged. Some have written off the FDA as hopelessly corrupt and proposed that we all protect ourselves by eating locally grown food. But self-imposed culinary isolationism isn't going to solve this problem.
By James E. McWilliams / December 29, 2008

It's been more than a year and a half since the Chinese melamine story first landed in the U.S. press, but the ripple effects continue to spread. Three months ago, the contaminant showed up in baby formula. (The earlier scare was limited to pet food.) In the last couple of weeks, we've learned that China is now investigating more than two dozen cases of animal feed contaminated with melamine, and its health officials have identified 17 other illegal food additives that demand scrutiny—including boric acid and Sudan Red dye.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has now resorted to random spot checks of hot dogs, chicken nuggets, frozen pizzas, and other foods processed with milk powder, and scientific organizations are discussing better ways to detect melamine in the global food supply. From the looks of it, this sprawling scandal will be with us for some time.

The deepening severity of the problem stands in sharp contrast to the continued insouciance of the Food and Drug Administration. When Canada voiced concern over milk-powder imports from the United States in late September, an FDA spokeswoman gave a dismissive response: "The public health crisis is in China." When, over the next several weeks, the administration finally discovered melamine in baby formula sold here in the United States, its first order of business was to set up a conference call to warn the companies that produce 90 percent of the world's milk powder—Abbott Labs, Mead Johnson, and Nestlé. But when it came to the general public, the FDA remained silent—at least until the Associated Press filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the test results and published the news in late November. The Department of Agriculture declared (PDF) that it will follow the lead of the FDA on the melamine issue, which is why it's only just now begun to take action.

Conscientious consumers who have followed the melamine story are appropriately outraged. Some have written off the FDA as hopelessly corrupt and proposed that we all protect ourselves by eating locally grown food. But self-imposed culinary isolationism isn't going to solve this problem. Once milk power enters the nation's commercial bloodstream, it's difficult to avoid. The powder appears in a dizzying array of products—caramelized candies, whey protein supplements, power bars, powdered drinks, nondairy creamers, and baking mixes, among others. We don't have to persuade every American to avoid every one of these products. Instead, let's fix some of the obvious flaws with the FDA so the agency can start doing what it's supposed to do.

Over the course of the scandal, the government made three major mistakes. All of these have become part of the FDA's standard operating procedure, and each could be remedied with proper legislative action. The first involves the arbitrary adjustment of allowable levels of a contaminant. On Nov. 26, the agency confessed on its Web site to being "currently unable to establish any level of melamine and melamine-related compounds in infant formula that does not raise public health concerns." A day later, just after the milk-powder news hit CNN, Dr. Stephen Sundlof, head of the FDA's Center for Food Safety, described the baby formula results as "in the trace range, and from a public health or infant health perspective, we consider those to be perfectly fine." (The administration made a similarly arbitrary decision a few weeks ago concerning mercury levels in seafood.) Melamine is an adulterant. How can it go from being unsafe one day to being "perfectly fine" the next? If the FDA cannot answer this question—that is, if it has no scientific evidence to justify the flip-flop—the change should not be legally permissible.

The second mistake is to use the risk of acute poisoning as a reference for setting contaminant standards. There is a long tradition of business-friendly regulatory agencies avoiding reference to studies of chronic exposure when setting legal trace limits. The Department of Agriculture, for example, ignored long-term effects when it set fruit-residue limits for arsenic-based insecticides in the 1930s. The situation with melamine has been no different. Legal limits in food other than infant formula sit at 2.5 parts per million, a rate that is by most accounts relatively safe with respect to acute toxicity. As a toxicologist at the Minnesota Department of Public Health recently told me, however, there's not a single study out there on the impact of long-term, low-dose exposure to melamine. Meanwhile, we have seen a mysterious but dramatic increase in kidney stones among children and young adults. Medical doctors are largely confused about the underlying cause and more often than not blame obesity. But melamine is known to cause kidney problems like these, and long-term exposure could be responsible for the larger trend. In that case, the FDA would be forced to reduce allowable trace amounts to zero—which is exactly where they should be until studies of chronic exposure suggest otherwise.

A third mistake has to do with the FDA's tendency to regulate finished products at the expense of raw materials. By choosing to monitor the safety of imported food items instead of the ingredients that go into them, the FDA not only ignores the intricate nature of global food production but opens the door for Chinese wheat gluten, rice gluten, and milk powder to enter the U.S. food supply without the benefit of stringent regulation. To make matters worse, our so-called "country of origin" labeling laws don't apply to individual ingredients in packaged food products. It might seem unwieldy to require a separate label for each foreign ingredient in a can of soup, but the inconvenience would force the FDA to protect our food supply at its most vulnerable points.

These are grave problems, but there's an achievable regulatory solution for each of them. If the FDA were required by law to provide scientific evidence when it changes adulterant standards and to rely on studies of both acute and chronic toxicity when it set those standards, it would be far more difficult for the bureaucrats to coddle corporate concerns. Add to that a requirement for country-of-origin labeling for all imported foodstuffs, and we're more likely to escape major health scares like this in the future. Short of becoming a nation of locavores in a globalized world, that may be the best we can do.

[James E. McWilliams is the author of American Pests: Our Losing War on Insects From Colonial Times to DDT and an associate professor of history at Texas State University.]

Source / Slate

The Rag Blog

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Israel and Gaza : 100 Eyes for an Eye

Gaza's central security headquarters and prison, known as the Seraya, after it was hit in an Israeli missile strike in Gaza City on Sunday. Photo by Adel Hana / AP.
'Even if you set aside the magnitude of Israel's violations of the Geneva conventions and the long terrible history of its methodical collective punishment of 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza, consider the vastly disproportionate carnage in the conflict.'
By Norman Solomon / December 30, 2008
See 'Israeli patrol boat collides with aid ship off Gaza,' Below.
Israelis and Arabs "feel that only force can assure justice," I. F. Stone noted soon after the Six-Day War in 1967. And he wrote, "A certain moral imbecility marks all ethnocentric movements. The Others are always either less than human, and thus their interests may be ignored, or more than human and therefore so dangerous that it is right to destroy them."

The closing days of 2008 have heightened the Israeli government's stature as a mighty practitioner of the moral imbecility that Stone described.

Israel's airstrikes "have killed at least 270 people so far, injured more than 1,000, many of them seriously, and many remain buried under the rubble so the death toll will likely rise," Phyllis Bennis, of the Institute for Policy Studies, pointed out on Sunday, two days into Israel's attack. "This catastrophic impact was known and inevitable, and far outweighs any claim of self-defense or protection of Israeli civilians." She mentioned "the one Israeli killed by a Palestinian rocket attack on Saturday after the Israeli assault began was the first such casualty in more than a year."

Even if you set aside the magnitude of Israel's violations of the Geneva conventions and the long terrible history of its methodical collective punishment of 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza, consider the vastly disproportionate carnage in the conflict.

"An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind," Gandhi said.

What about a hundred eyes for an eye?

It makes some of the world ill with rage. And it turns much of the United States numb with silence. Routinely, the politicians and pundits of Washington can't summon minimal decency in themselves or each other on the subject of Israel and Palestinians.

While officialdom inside the Beltway seems frozen in fear of risking "anti-Semitism" charges by actually standing up for the human rights of Palestinian people, some progress at the grassroots level has been noticeable. It includes the growth of groups such as Jewish Voice for Peace, Tikkun and The Shalom Center, where activists have worked to refute the false claims that American Jews are united behind Israeli policies.

At the epicenters of the conflict -- where the belief that "only force can assure justice" seems to be even stronger than when I. F. Stone wrote about it 41 years ago -- the conclusion has been drawn and redrawn so many times that deadly repetition has become paralytic. While some Palestinian "militants" have terrorized and murdered, the Israeli government has terrorized and murdered on a much bigger scale, using a vast arsenal largely financed by US taxpayers.

From afar, in the United States, it's too easy to shake our heads at the lethal loss of moral vision. Don't they know that "an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind"? But the cycle of violence is extremely asymmetrical - while the US government provides Israel with billions of dollars and invaluable "diplomatic" support.

What's going on in Gaza right now is not just an eye for an eye. It's a hundred eyes for an eye. And the current slaughter is not only an ongoing Israeli war crime. It has an accomplice named Uncle Sam.

[Norman Solomon is the author of "War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death." To watch video of his recent appearance on C-SPAN's "Washington Journal," click here.]Source / truthout
Activists aboard the Dignity boat (R) arrive to the southern Lebanese port city of Tyre. Photo by AFP.

Israeli patrol boat collides with aid ship off Gaza

TYRE, Lebanon — An Israeli naval vessel collided on Tuesday with a boat carrying activists and medical supplies that was trying to break the blockade of Gaza, forcing it to divert to a port in Lebanon.

Passengers on board the 20-metre (66-foot) Dignity said the Israeli patrol boat rammed their vessel causing extensive damage, but Israel insisted the two boats collided as the Israeli navy was trying to contact its captain.

Television pictures of the boat entering the southern Lebanese port city of Tyre showed a large gash in the bow of the boat on the port side, with pieces of wood and broken glass covering the deck.

The boat was struck a "massive" blow, said Australian passenger Renee Bowyer.

"The glass shattered over top us. I was thrown across the room. The tables and benches broke around me," Bowyer told AFP.

"We were all pretty sure we were being shot at and that we'd sink," she added saying they quickly grabbed for their life jackets and "prepared for the worst."

Another activist on the Gaza-bound boat, former American congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, said the Israeli actions had been deliberate.

"Our mission of solidarity and humanitarian relief was deterred by the Israelis purposefully to keep us from delivering the medical supplies to Gaza," McKinney told AFP.

She described the experience as "absolutely harrowing, but pales in comparison to what the people in Gaza are experiencing right now."

At least 363 Palestinians -- including 39 children -- have been killed and 1,720 wounded since an Israeli air offensive began on Saturday, Gaza medics say.

"I wouldn't call it accosting. I would call it ramming. Let's call it as it is. Our boat was rammed three times, twice in the front and once on the side," McKinney told CNN.

No one was injured in the collision between the patrol boat and Dignity -- operated by the Free Gaza Movement -- which was trying to take three tonnes of medical supplies into Gaza.

Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor told AFP that the naval vessel tried to contact the aid boat by radio for identification and to inform it that it could not enter Gaza.

"After the boat did not answer the radio, it sharply veered and the two vessels collided, causing only light damage," Palmor said.

However, the boat's captain, Briton Denis Healey, 54, said on arriving in Tyre that the Israeli navy had made "no contact" with the Dignity.

"Two Israeli gunboats were on our port side distracting us with their bright lights when another Israeli gunboat with its lights turned off rammed us from the front. I think they were distracting us from the port side," Healey told AFP.

"The boat initially took in a lot of water," added Healey who said he was "a bit frazzled."

The Israeli spokesman accused the international activists of "seeking provocation more than ever."

But McKinney insisted: "We are on a humanitarian mission... All we want to do is deliver medical supplies... This is the first time that I am aware of that a vessel was attacked for no reason by Israelis."

The Free Gaza Movement, which has run the blockade six times since August to take humanitarian supplies into Gaza, said the vessel could still sail after the ramming.

Paul Larudee, one of the group's founders, said the Dignity had been "surrounded" in international waters about 70 kilometres (45 miles) off the Israeli coast and 135 kilometres from Gaza.

"It was surrounded by 11 Israeli naval vessels," he said.

"They ordered the boat to stop, and we didn't. They began firing over our boat and into the waters next to the boat. When the boat wouldn't turn back, one of the naval vessels rammed the boat, but not enough to disable the boat."

The Dignity was given a rousing welcome when it arrived in Tyre, with hundreds of residents clambering aboard fishing boats to greet the activists with cheers and a colourful display of Lebanese flags as well as flags of the Shiite Hezbollah and Amal movements.

Lebanese President Michel Sleiman had earlier said in a statement that the boat was welcome to dock in any Lebanese port.

Source / AFP
The Rag Blog

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Hundreds Protest in Texas Against Israel's Assault on Gaza

Protesters in Texas joined hundreds of thousands all over the world speaking out against Israel's assault on Gaza in the last two days. Here, a Palestinian flag flutters in the wind, as people protest in the southern suburb of Dahiyeh, Lebanon, Monday, Dec. 29, 2008.

Stop the bombing, stop the rockets
By Susan Van Haitsma / The Rag Blog / December 29, 2008
See stories about protests in Austin and Houston, Below.
I took part in the demonstration tonight at 11th and Congress in Austin in opposition to the Israeli bombings of Gaza. We stood, a large crowd, around the large Christmas tree and the large menorah, all eight candles and the shammash lit.

It was good to be there in the presence of many persons of Middle Eastern background, as well as others who identify as Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Universalist or non-religious. In the middle of the demonstration, there was a break when some knelt in prayer on the capitol lawn. Jay Janner's fine photos posted on the American-Statesman site give an idea of those present.

My sign read, "Cease fire - all sides - life is precious." Some in the crowd believe that armed resistance to the Israeli occupation of Palestine is justified. But, for both moral and practical reasons, I can't condone violence that takes human life on any side.

Of course, I live comfortably apart from the daily reality of life in an occupied territory. I do know that there are Palestinians, both Muslim and Christian, and Israelies, both religious and secular, who advocate and practice nonviolent forms of resistance to the occupation even in the midst of the deadly violence. Making peace does not mean passive acquiescence. It does mean addressing the conflict without resorting to revenge killing.

In groups that meet to try and reconcile differences between Israeli and Palestinian causes, the most important ingredient seems to be the willingness to walk in the shoes of the other. Everyone has their story to tell, their loss to describe, their pain to express. If these stories can be told, listened to and acknowledged, on all sides, then progress can be made.

When it comes to US relations with Israel and Palestine, there are also questions that must be answered honestly. Who holds the greatest power? Where do business interests translate into political and military power? When do business interests influence media coverage? Who benefits financially when weapons are sold and used? Who pays the cost?

I was glad to see singer/songwriter Eliza Gilkyson present among the crowd tonight because she is able, through her music, to demonstrate what empathy means. She wasn't there to sing, but many Austinites know her piece, Tender Mercies, in which she gently puts the listener in the shoes of the bomber and the bombed, the parent and the child, so that we understand more than judge. To me, this kind of empathy is a crucial part of what will move us beyond the vicious cycle of war and retributive violence.

[Susan Van Haitsma also blogs as makingpeace at Statesman.com and at makingpeace.]

Hundreds in Austin protest bombings in Gaza
By Miguel Liscano / December 30, 2008

Protesters outside the Texas Capitol on Monday evening yelled "end the occupation" and held signs calling for a halt to an Israeli offensive in the Gaza Strip.

At least 200 people stood for hours at the intersection of Congress Avenue and 11th Street, some waving Palestinian flags and signs that read "free Palestine" or "Cease Fire." Several said the crowd would be back this evening to again rally against bombings in Gaza that began several days ago.

"We're just trying to make more Americans aware of what's going on," Lezley Hemming of Austin said. "I don't think if their awareness was at the level it should be that they would be supporting anything like this."

Some in the crowd said the bombings are illegal and should be stopped. They also said the death toll in Gaza, which was more than 360 by Monday, is not justified.

"This is really out-of-proportion carnage," said Mara Urich of Austin.

Supporters of the Israeli actions, however, say the bombings are in defense of rockets consistently fired into Israeli towns by members of Hamas, along with the deaths through the years from suicide bombings.

"Israel is engaged in an effort to safeguard its population," said Jay Rubin, CEO of the Jewish Community Association of Austin, by telephone. "In this particular case, Israel is fully justified."

He said the assault is an effort to weaken Hamas.

"There cannot be peace with an organization using military force to destroy the state of Israel," he said.

Rubin said Israel has tried other means of defense, such as limited incursions and economic blockades.

Source / Austin American-Statesman
Hundreds in Houston protest Israel's strikes on Gaza
By Shern-Min Chow / December 29, 2008

HOUSTON—Hundreds lined the sidewalk around the Galleria Sunday in protest of Israeli airstrikes on the Gaza Strip.

Many of the protesters were draped in Palestinian flags.

“Nobody can justify what is happening in Gaza today. No one,” protester Zuhair Hallail said.

Israel said they launched the deadly airstrikes after Hamas leaders sent missiles into their country.

Israel said it is only defending itself, and the airstrikes are intended only for Hamas leaders.

But the country said it’s difficult not to have civilian casualties because of the nature of their enemy.

“(Hamas leaders) hide among the civilian population. They use women and children as human shields,” Israeli Consul General Asher Yarden said.

Yarden said Israel sent out warnings to citizens about the impending attacks, but that the civilian presence wouldn’t deter them from defending themselves.

“We did distribute leaflets, and we did send text messages to their cell phones, to civilians,” Yarden said.

But the Arab protesters want the U.S. to intervene, and ultimately for Israel to pull out of the Gaza Strip altogether.

“Let’s end the occupation. It is the root cause of all major escalations in the Middle East,” protester Kamal Kahlil said.

“Get out of our land and find somewhere else to live with us in peace and harmony, and don’t live with us and stomp all over our heads with your shoes,” Hallail said.

Israel points to the West Bank, where Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbass, who is supported by the West, leads a rival government to Hamas.

“You can see what is going on in the West Bank is a very good example of how we can co-exist with the Palestinians,” Yarden said.

Source / 11 News / Texas Cable News

The Rag Blog

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29 December 2008

Bush/Cheney : The Makeover and the Two Myths

Torture saved us and the surge worked. Not.
By Robert Parry

As George W. Bush and Dick Cheney make their case for some positive legacy from the past eight years, two arguments are playing key roles: the notion that torturing terror suspects saved American lives and the belief that Bush’s Iraq troop “surge” transformed a disaster into something close to “victory.”

Not only will these twin arguments be important in defining the public’s future impression of where Bush should rank on the presidential list, but they could constrain how far President Barack Obama can go in reversing these policies. In other words, the perception of the past can affect the future.

Though most current thinking holds that George W. Bush might want to trademark the slogan “Worst President Ever,” America's powerful right-wing media (and its many allies in the mainstream press) will surely seek to rehabilitate Bush’s reputation as much as possible.

Even elevating Bush to the status of a presidential mediocrity might open the door for a revival of the Bush Dynasty with brother Jeb already eyeing one of Florida’s U.S. Senate seats and possibly harboring grander ambitions.

And even if another Bush in the White House is not realistic, a kinder-gentler judgment on George W. Bush at least could help the Republican Party rebound in 2010 and 2012. So evaluating the Bush-Cheney torture policies and how successful the “surge” are not just academic exercises.

Two recent articles by people with first-hand knowledge also shed important new light on these issues: one by a lead U.S. interrogator in Iraq and the other by former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

The interrogator – using the pseudonym “Matthew Alexander” for an article in the Washington Post’s Outlook section on Nov. 30 – wrote that the practice of humiliating and abusing prisoners had proved counterproductive, not only violating U.S. principles and failing to extract reliable intelligence but fueling the Iraqi insurgency and getting large numbers of U.S. soldiers killed.

Indeed, “Alexander,” a U.S. Air Force special operations officer, argued that it was his team’s abandonment of those harsh tactics that contributed to the tracking down and killing of the murderous al-Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in June 2006, an important turning point in reducing levels of violence in Iraq.

“Alexander” said he arrived in Iraq in March 2006, amid the bloody civil war that Sunni extremist Zarqawi had helped provoke a month earlier with the bombing of the golden-domed Askariya mosque in Samarra, a shrine revered by Iraq's majority Shiites.

“Amid the chaos, four other Air Force criminal investigators and I joined an elite team of interrogators attempting to locate Zarqawi,” he wrote. “What I soon discovered about our methods astonished me. The Army was still conducting interrogations according to the Guantanamo Bay model. … These interrogations were based on fear and control; they often resulted in torture and abuse.

“I refused to participate in such practices, and a month later, I extended that prohibition to the team of interrogators I was assigned to lead. I taught the members of my unit a new methodology -- one based on building rapport with suspects, showing cultural understanding and using good old-fashioned brainpower to tease out information.”


By getting to know the captives and negotiating with them, his team achieved breakthroughs that enabled the U.S. military to close in on Zarqawi while also gaining a deeper understanding of what drove the Iraqi insurgency, “Alexander” wrote.

“Over the course of this renaissance in interrogation tactics, our attitudes changed. We no longer saw our prisoners as the stereotypical al-Qaeda evildoers we had been repeatedly briefed to expect; we saw them as Sunni Iraqis, often family men protecting themselves from Shiite militias and trying to ensure that their fellow Sunnis would still have some access to wealth and power in the new Iraq.

“Most surprisingly, they turned out to despise al-Qaeda in Iraq as much as they despised us, but Zarqawi and his thugs were willing to provide them with arms and money,” the interrogator wrote, noting that this understanding played a key role in the U.S. military turning many Sunnis against the hyper-violent extremism of Zarqawi’s organization.

“Alexander” added that the new interrogation methods “convinced one of Zarqawi's associates to give up the al-Qaeda in Iraq leader's location. On June 8, 2006, U.S. warplanes dropped two 500-pound bombs on a house where Zarqawi was meeting with other insurgent leaders.”

Despite the success in killing Zarqawi, “Alexander” said the old, harsh interrogation methods continued. “I came home from Iraq feeling as if my mission was far from accomplished,” he wrote. “Soon after my return, the public learned that another part of our government, the CIA, had repeatedly used waterboarding to try to get information out of detainees.”

“Alexander” found that the engrained support for using “rough stuff” against hardened jihadists was difficult to overcome despite the successes from more subtle approaches.

“We turned several hard cases, including some foreign fighters, by using our new techniques,” he wrote. “A few of them never abandoned the jihadist cause but still gave up critical information. One actually told me, ‘I thought you would torture me, and when you didn't, I decided that everything I was told about Americans was wrong. That's why I decided to cooperate.’"

From hundreds of these interrogations, “Alexander” said he learned that the images from Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib were actually getting American soldiers killed by drawing angry young Arabs into the Iraq War.

“Torture and abuse cost American lives,” the interrogator wrote. “I learned in Iraq that the No. 1 reason foreign fighters flocked there to fight were the abuses carried out at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. Our policy of torture was directly and swiftly recruiting fighters for al-Qaeda in Iraq. The large majority of suicide bombings in Iraq are still carried out by these foreigners. They are also involved in most of the attacks on U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq.

“It's no exaggeration to say that at least half of our losses and casualties in that country have come at the hands of foreigners who joined the fray because of our program of detainee abuse. The number of U.S. soldiers who have died because of our torture policy will never be definitively known, but it is fair to say that it is close to the number of lives lost on Sept. 11, 2001.

"How anyone can say that torture keeps Americans safe is beyond me -- unless you don't count American soldiers as Americans.”

Nevertheless, in a series of candid “exit interviews,” Vice President Cheney – and to a lesser degree President Bush – have defended their actions that included sanctioning brutal methods of interrogation, such as the simulated drowning of “waterboarding.” [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Cheney Defends Waterboarding Order.”]

The ‘Surge’

To this day, the belief that subjecting “bad guys” to physical and psychological abuse makes them crack -- and thus saves American lives -- remains a central myth that the departing Bush administration won’t abandon. A parallel myth is the notion of the “successful surge.”

It holds that Bush’s brave decision to go against the prevailing political winds in early 2007 and escalate U.S. military involvement in Iraq – with a 30,000-troop “surge” – saved the day. News stories and opinion articles across the U.S. news media, including the New York Times and the Washington Post, have transformed this argument into “conventional wisdom.”

However, as we have pointed out in other stories, the reality is far more complex, with several other key reasons contributing to the drop in Iraqi violence, many predating or unrelated to the “surge,” including:

--The decision by Sunni tribes to turn against al-Qaeda and accept U.S. financial support, the so-called “Anbar Awakening” that began in 2006. Zarqawi’s extremism contributed to this shift, which in turn was a factor in his isolation and death in June 2006.

--Vicious ethnic cleansing had separated Sunnis and Shiites to such a degree that there were fewer targets to kill. Several million Iraqis fled as refugees either into neighboring countries or within their own.

--Concrete walls built between Sunni and Shiite areas made “death-squad” raids more difficult but also “cantonized” much of Baghdad and other Iraqi cities, making everyday life for Iraqis even more exhausting as they sought food or traveled to work.

--An expanded U.S. policy of rounding up so-called “military age males” locked up tens of thousands in prison.

--Awesome U.S. firepower, concentrated on Iraqi insurgents and civilian bystanders for more than five years, had slaughtered countless thousands of Iraqis and intimidated many others to look simply to their own survival.

--With the total Iraqi death toll estimated in the hundreds of thousands and many more Iraqis horribly maimed, the society was deeply traumatized. As tyrants have learned throughout history, at some point violent repression does work.
However, in Washington political circles, it was all about the “successful surge.”

There also was little concern about the 1,000 additional U.S. soldiers who have died in Iraq since President Bush started the “surge” in 2007. The Americans killed during the “surge” represent roughly one-quarter of the total war dead whose numbers have now passed the 4,200 mark.

Rumsfeld’s Doubts

Surprisingly to some Iraq War critics, one of the chief obstacles to Bush’s “surge” was the widely despised Defense Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, who – in fall 2006 – pushed for a strategy that would have slashed the U.S. military presence in Iraq dramatically by mid-2007.

On Nov. 6, 2006, Rumsfeld sent a memo to the White House, in which he listed his preferred – or “above the line” – options as "an accelerated drawdown of U.S. bases … to five by July 2007" and withdrawal of U.S. forces "from vulnerable positions — cities, patrolling, etc. … so the Iraqis know they have to pull up their socks, step up and take responsibility for their country."

Two days later, Rumsfeld was forced to submit his resignation and Bush announced Robert Gates as the new Defense Secretary. Not aware of Rumsfeld’s memo, Washington pundits and many leading Democrats misinterpreted the personnel shift as a reaction to the Democratic congressional election victory on Nov. 7, 2006.

The consensus view was that the “realist” Gates would oversee a rapid U.S. military drawdown in Iraq. However, the opposite occurred. Gates became Bush’s front man for the “surge.” [For details, see Consortiumnews.com’s “Robert Gates: As Bad as Rumsfeld?”]

The subsequent conventional wisdom about the “successful surge” catapulted Gates from the ranks of the departing Bush administration into those of the arriving Obama administration, where he will remain Defense Secretary.

On Nov. 23, 2008, less than three weeks after Obama’s Nov. 4 election victory as it was becoming clear that Obama would retain Gates, Rumsfeld shed more light on his own Iraq War strategy in an op-ed for the New York Times.

While bowing to the prevailing conventional wisdom about the “successful surge,” Rumsfeld defended his pre-surge thinking, explaining that a number of factors had set up the “tipping point” that enabled the “surge” to be successful.

Though using more positive language about those preconditions (than we did), Rumsfeld made essentially the same points, adding that previous increases in U.S. troop levels – to numbers comparable to the “surge” levels – had achieved minimal effect in containing the violence.
“As one who is occasionally — and incorrectly — portrayed as an opponent of the surge in Iraq, I believe that while the surge has been effective in Iraq, we must also recognize the conditions that made it successful,” Rumsfeld wrote.

“By early 2007, several years of struggle had created the new conditions for a tipping point:

“--Al Qaeda in Iraq’s campaign of terrorism and intimidation had turned its Sunni base of support against it. The result was the so-called Anbar Awakening in the late summer of 2006, followed by similar awakening movements across Iraq.

“--From 2003 through 2006, United States military forces, under the leadership of Gen. John Abizaid and Gen. George Casey, inflicted huge losses on the Baathist and Qaeda leadership. Many thousands of insurgents, including the Qaeda chief in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, were captured or killed and proved difficult to replace.

“--The Iraqi Security Forces had achieved cohesion, improved operational effectiveness and critical mass. By December 2006, some 320,000 Iraqis had been trained, equipped and deployed, producing the forces necessary to help hold difficult neighborhoods against the enemy. By 2007, the surge, for most Iraqis, could have an Iraqi face.

“--And the political scene in Iraq had shifted. Moktada al-Sadr, the firebrand cleric, declared a cease-fire in February 2007. The government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, seated in May 2006, moved against militias and Iranian-backed militias and has imperfectly, but notably, rejected narrow sectarian policies.

“The best indication that timing is everything may be that there had been earlier surges without the same effect as the 2007 surge. In 2005, troop levels in Iraq were increased to numbers nearly equal to the 2007 surge — twice. But the effects were not as durable because large segments of the Sunni population were still providing sanctuary to insurgents, and Iraq’s security forces were not sufficiently capable or large enough.”
In other words, even Rumsfeld would agree that the simplistic conventional wisdom of Washington – that Bush’s “surge” turned everything around and that everyone, including Barack Obama, must accept that “fact” – doesn’t square with the more complex reality.

Still, as Americans should have learned over the past three decades of image-managing – from Ronald Reagan to Karl Rove – perceptions can be a powerful thing. Perception may not be the same as reality but it can become a very dangerous substitute both in defining the present and charting the future.

[Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush, was written with two of his sons, Sam and Nat, and can be ordered at neckdeepbook.com. His two previous books, Secrecy & Privilege: The Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq and Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & 'Project Truth' are also available there. Or go to Amazon.com.]

Source / Consortium News / Originally posted Dec. 26, 2008

Thanks to truthout / The Rag Blog

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