Thursday, July 31, 2014

Actions in response to Gaza

From: Wartimes/Tiempo de Guerras

Take Action to Stop Collective Punishment by Massacre


Each hour the crisis in Gaza gets worse.

Children killed in their sleep… "Today the world stands disgraced," declared Pierre Krähenbühl, commissioner-general of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees.

Rashid Khalidi cut to the heart of what's occurring in the New Yorker:

"Three days after the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu launched the current war in Gaza, he held a press conference in Tel Aviv during which he said, in Hebrew, according to the Times of Israel, 'I think the Israeli people understand now what I always say: that there cannot be a situation, under any agreement, in which we relinquish security control of the territory west of the River Jordan.'

"It’s worth listening carefully when Netanyahu speaks to the Israeli people. What is going on in Palestine today is not really about Hamas. It is not about rockets. It is not about “human shields” or terrorism or tunnels. It is about Israel’s permanent control over Palestinian land and Palestinian lives. That is what Netanyahu is really saying, and that is what he now admits he has “always” talked about. It is about an unswerving, decades-long Israeli policy of denying Palestine self-determination, freedom, and sovereignty.

"What Israel is doing in Gaza now is collective punishment. It is punishment for Gaza’s refusal to be a docile ghetto. It is punishment for the gall of Palestinians in unifying, and of Hamas and other factions in responding to Israel’s siege and its provocations with resistance, armed or otherwise, after Israel repeatedly reacted to unarmed protest with crushing force. Despite years of ceasefires and truces, the siege of Gaza has never been lifted.

"As Netanyahu's own words show, however, Israel will accept nothing short of the acquiescence of Palestinians to their own subordination. It will accept only a Palestinian “state” that is stripped of all the attributes of a real state: control over security, borders, airspace, maritime limits, contiguity, and, therefore, sovereignty. The twenty-three-year charade of the “peace process” has shown that this is all Israel is offering, with the full approval of Washington. Whenever the Palestinians have resisted that pathetic fate (as any nation would), Israel has punished them for their insolence…"

That these truths could make into the New Yorker shows how much U.S. public debate over Israel-Palestine is shifting. But it will require a lot more to start impacting actual U.S. policy. A host of actions and education initiatives are underway. Among them are the efforts listed below. Take a look, break the silence, add your voice to the millions around the world who are demanding an end to the massacre, an end to the blockade of Gaza, an end to occupation and inequality: Freedom for Palestine, Freedom for All! Peace!

Raise Your Voice! Take Action:

#GazaNames project: A diverse group of celebrities, artists, and activists that includes American Jews and Palestinians are speaking out for Palestinian human rights in a video released online July 28. The video is a first of its kind expression of support for Palestinian freedom, equality and justice and features celebrities such as Chuck D, Jonathan Demme, Gloria Steinem, Wallace Shawn, Tony Kushner, Mira Nair, Roger Waters, Brian Eno, and others holding signs with the names and ages of Palestinian civilians recently killed by the Israeli military in Gaza. The full list of participants is here. You can submit your photo to #GazaNames as well. The information is here.

Jewish Voice for Peace #GAZANAMES: Choose Freedom for All Action Page is here.

#GazaUnderAttack: Action Alerts, Resources and updates can be found here.

Nine Ways to Support Gaza through Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions are listed here.

Information about the Aug. 2 National March on the White House to Stop the Massacre in Gaza is here.

Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) has become the first Congressperson to publicly call for an end to the blockade as essential to achieving a ceasefire; demand that other Representatives and Senators – starting with those who claim to be progressive – adopt the same stance here.

Coming Monday August 3 from War Times: Rami El-Amine on Gaza and the horrors – and resistance – of July 2014.

By War Times/Tiempo de Guerras

Dreadful threat to contemplate

Encountered in an ice cream parlor.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Bookapalooza in New England -- truth of torture will out

For an author arriving for a booktalk, there's only one sight more gratifying than this:

That would be this:

The author talked at Porter Square Books in Cambridge last night.

Rebecca Gordon will be discussing torture at two more New England events this week:

Manchester Unitarian Universalist Church
Sponsored by New Hampshire Peace Action
669 Union Street, Manchester, NH
Thursday, July 31, 2014 • 6:00 p.m.

Framingham Library • sponsored by MetroWest Peace Action
Friday, August 1, 2014 • 2:00 p.m.
49 Lexington Street, Framingham, MA 01702

Meanwhile, it looks as if we might all be discussing torture as practiced by agents of the United States in the "war on terror" in the next few months. David Cole explains that the CIA is preparing a public relations blitz to counter the expected release of some sanitized version of the report from the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on the CIA’s use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” on al-Qaeda suspects.

So what will the public relations strategy look like now? We can probably make some educated guesses, based on past assertions by Bush administration officials. “We didn’t think it was torture because the lawyers told us it wasn’t.” That defense doesn’t work for Mafia dons and ought not to work for the CIA. The practices involved – waterboarding, excruciating stress positions, slamming suspects into walls and prolonged sleep deprivation — plainly qualify as torture and have long been treated as such by the United States when other nations employ them. Just last week, the European Court of Human Rights held Poland responsible for complicity in the CIA’s crimes, finding that the conduct was so clearly illegal that Poland had an obligation to stop permitting it on its territory.

Poland, in other words, was an accessory to the crime. But the United States was the ringleader.

Right to abortion is an extension of the "no means no" principle

Via a New York Times report from Jackie Calmes I encountered this exposition of current thinking among many defenders of women's abortion rights.
Apparently the frame that names the right to abortion "pro-choice" no longer communicates to younger women who've never really imagined themselves as living with restrictions on their potential. But just about all of us understand that we can't know everything that goes into a woman's decisions about bearing, or not bearing, a potential child.

We have not walked in her shoes.

I think abortion decisions are extensions of the principle that "no means no." Sometimes, in some circumstances, "yes" is what we want and thrive with. Other times "no." Who knows where in that continuum a woman is standing at any point in time? She does! That's good enough for me. People around her will have their opinions, but ultimately she has to walk in her way.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

A gas pipeline through the Catskills?

Last week in the rural New York State I noticed this:

Okay, it is not hard to guess what this is about. The reverse tells more of the story:

From its website, here's a description of the Constitution Pipeline:

The approximately 124-mile Constitution Pipeline is being designed with a capacity to transport 650,000 dekatherms of natural gas per day (enough natural gas to serve approximately 3 million homes). Buried underground, the 30-inch pipeline would extend from Susquehanna County, Pa., to the Iroquois Gas Transmission and Tennessee Gas Pipeline systems in Schoharie County, N.Y. The proposed project route stretches from Susquehanna County, Pa., into Broome County, N.Y., Chenango County, N.Y., Delaware County, N.Y., and terminates in Schoharie County, N.Y.

Not terribly surprisingly, there is local and regional opposition. Natural gas is a cheap fuel, but opponents argue that improving gas infrastructure merely keeps us hooked on fossil fuels when we desperately need to wean ourselves from them for the maintenance of a stable climate. Stop the Pipeline argues that gas pipelines are like addictive drugs: say yes to one and pretty soon New York State will start building ever more gas-moving facilities. These pipelines will increase the pressure for New York to end its moratorium on fracking. Central New York is not currently known for earthquakes; does it want to join Oklahoma as a locus unprecedented, fracking-induced tremors? Does it want to risk additional pollution of its water supplies?

Meanwhile, a study released Friday by the Environmental Protection Agency's inspector general suggests the Constitution Pipeline may face additional obstacles:

The agency's IG found that EPA is doing too little to limit methane leakage from the natural gas transmission sector, which it estimated to contribute more than 13 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent each year.

The report comes as EPA is weighing whether to promulgate new Clean Air Act restrictions to curb leakage of the powerful greenhouse gas from oil and gas systems. ... The IG found that the agency's voluntary programs -- including Natural Gas Star -- have not succeeded in limiting output of methane from pipelines, though they have delivered results elsewhere in the natural gas supply chain. The report instructs the agency to consider ways to curb pipeline leakage, including through regulations implemented on its own or in conjunction with the Department of Transportation's Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

While the DOT agency regulates pipelines solely for their effects on public safety, the Clean Air Act compels EPA to consider doing so because of methane's contribution to climate change -- which is at least 25 times as strong on a pound-for-pound basis as that of CO2, the IG said.

We can guess that pipeline owners will fight these controls vigorously.

The signs that sparked my interest in the Constitution Pipeline clearly come from the Laborers' International Union of North America. No doubt the members have hopes of working on building the pipeline. But will the pipeline actually bring lasting jobs to the areas through which it passes? It now seems agreed that the even more controversial Keystone XL pipeline bringing tar sands oil from Alberta to the Gulf of Mexico will only create some 35 permanent jobs. If I lived along the route of the Constitution Pipeline, I would not be expected to be employed by it.

The Laborers are a good progressive union, and like most unions, they work hard for their members. But it is darn difficult to believe that lending their good name to a gas pipeline is good for their home communities or for the country's future.

I noticed that LIUNA was a major sponsor of the recent Netroots Nation conference -- and also that this year's NN seemed without nearly the emphasis on injecting looming climate disaster into our politics that I saw at NN San Jose. Was this lack of emphasis on issues vital to our ability to keep our democracy on a stable path a consequence of NN's dependence on union funding? The only large environmental sponsor was the Sierra Club. Just wondering.

Monday, July 28, 2014

A child soldier in the Great War

One hundred years ago, you didn't learn about impending wars through your cellphone and the internet. You didn't find out that war had come because you were under "shock and awe" bombardment. Both news and war came more gradually. Stevan Idjidovic (The Snows of Serbia ) was about 15, an ethnic Serb whose native agricultural village was located within the territory of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy. This weak polyglot state contained speakers of 26 recognized languages and several mutually hostile branches of Christianity, plus not a few Muslims. We would barely recognize the remains of the "Holy Roman Empire" as a state in the modern world. But on July 23, 1914 this complex kingdom issued an insulting ultimatum to the adjacent Serbian monarchy, demanding something close to unconditional surrender in response to the assassination of an Austrian Archduke in Sarajevo the previous month. As the Austrians and their German allies had anticipated, the Serbians would not capitulate, their Russian allies mobilized in their defense, Britain and France joined in with their Russian ally, and what became know as "The Great War" (World War I) had begun.

The assassination and Austrian mobilization only made young Stevan more conscious of his Serbian ethnicity. The unsettling events drew him back into musing on the mythologized epic of his people.

In my schoolboy way I kept thinking , “If Tsar Lazar had won on Kosovo Field, there would not have been a Vidovdan; Serbia would have continued as a kingdom and Serbs would not have migrated into Austrian lands as my forebears did; no opportunity would have been created for Austria to annex Bosnia-Herzegovina; and Archduke Franz Ferdinand would not have been assassinated this day by a Serb.”

But where was this new war? The men of his village were mobilized into the Austrian army, but members of his family were too old or too young to have to go.

The appearance of a plane in the sky did not alter what seemed to be a rather strange war with nothing happening since the declaration of war over ten days ago. I did not have the courage to ask Father how one starts a war for fear of showing my immaturity or adding to his obvious anxiety with such an infantile question. ...

[The Austrian army was unexpectedly thrown back from Serbia.] ... in spite of the hasty retreat, the Austrians had enough time to round up a few of the enemy on their way and bring them along for the purpose of hanging them, perhaps to ease their frustration over the defeat. On hastily erected primitive gallows near the cemetery, we came across the gruesome sight of six dangling bodies. Slightly swaying in the breeze were the bodies of five old gray-haired Serbian peasants and a young Serbian peasant woman. Undoubtedly this atrocity was intended as a warning to all the Serbs on the Austrian side of the river. We cut the bodies down later and gave the nameless victims of this brutal act a decent burial. ...

[Later that month, they buried Hungarian soldiers killed by Serbs.] The dead were Magyar soldiers and Roman Catholics, and our Orthodox priest’s prayer would not have been of any help.

But after about a month, war came to Stevan's village:

We could not understand why they were burning our Serbian village; we had been loyal subjects of the Empire for generations. "They are going to kill us," repeated Cika Krana .... We were all terrified by the realization that the village was being put to the torch and the people were being shot by our own soldiers. ...

... I happened to be the only male of adult size in the group. "You, come here!" I heard the Croat sergeant speak, his gaze fixed on me. As I was about to step forward I heard Mother plead "Oh don't, please don't," as she clutched my arm. I was afraid to step forward but realized I had no alternative. I broke loose from Mother’s grip and stepped forward facing the sergeant. He was about my height with blond hair and a well-groomed mustache, his steely blue eyes fixed on me. "What are you?" he demanded sternly, meaning what nationality was I. I was on the point of telling the truth but checked myself; I kept silent, realizing he wanted me to say, "I am a Serb".

... His rage was mounting and, raising his right hand, he struck a savage blow on my left ear. "This will teach you how to obey."

With my back turned to the soldiers, I walked away slowly and apprehensively. About halfway to the street corner a rifle shot rang out behind me and I stopped dead in my tracks. A bullet whizzed by me hitting the soft road ahead of me, raising the dust. I assumed it was meant for me, but why had it missed? I wheeled around. Instantly I learned that the bullet was not intended for me. There on the road I saw my father staggering slowly in my direction, bent over in pain.

The family pulled both Stevan and his dying father away. Soon he realized that his only hope of escaping would be to swim the River Sava to Serbian territory.

... I discarded everything except my underwear and my broad brimmed hat. This done I wasted no time and plunged into the cold water. ... I had hardly swum two hundred feet from shore when I heard the crack of rifle shots close by. ...

... It is said of the dying, or of a man about to die, that they experience flashes of memories of their whole life. Nothing of the sort happened to me. On the contrary, I was thinking of how my body would be eaten by the fishes. The volleys of bullets continued to splash around me. ...

Observing the [Serbian] shore as I came closer, I shuddered at an unbelievable sight. In the calm waters of the bend the current had deposited hundreds of bodies of Serbian soldiers who had fallen at the battle of Cevrntija two weeks earlier. Frightfully bloated and closely packed, the bridge of bodies extended out from the shore some twenty feet. There was no stench that I noticed, but the bodies did create a barrier to reaching the shore. ... With my head above the surface I figured the only way out of this was to dive underneath the bodies and go for the shore. Holding my breath I submerged and propelled myself slowly toward shore till my hands were digging into mud below and my back was feeling the weight of the bodies above. Heaving up through the bodies, I frantically pushed myself toward the bank and into a thicket of willows. I felt exhausted.

While catching my breath I wondered whether I had really made it. Having disturbed the closely packed balance of the corpses, I saw a few drift loose and begin their journey down the river. I was still lying hidden with my face buried in the willow thicket, trying to regain my strength, when a commanding voice boomed down from above me. “Come on up here!”

Stevan's escape had been watched by a Serbian patrol -- he was taken in by the Serbian army and made a soldier. Over the next 15 months he survived skirmishes, a bout of typhus and hideous privation in snow and often without food. The Serbs were ground down by better equipped Austrian and then Bulgarian forces; their "allies," Britain and France, were little help. At length

the Serbian High Command ... considered how desperate the situation was and, in view of the state of its troops: hungry, barefoot, weak and wounded and, above all, lacking food, equipment and ammunition, made the remarkable decision to avoid battle and to make a total retreat over the mountains across Albania to the Adriatic ... This decision was communicated to the army and the people by a proclamation of the High Command on the 26th day of November, 1915 ...

At this point the Central Powers began celebrating the destruction of their small enemy. On November 28th the German High Command notified the world: “... with the flight of the scanty remnants of the Serbian Army into the Albanian mountains, the great operations against it are concluded.” An eminent Austrian historian then theorized that most of Serbia would be given to Bulgaria and the remnants to Austria. ...

And so began the Serbs' harrowing trek over rugged mountains to the sea.

... the expansive plain outside Pec, crowded with men, wagons, guns, automobiles, oxen, and horses, was a multicolored scene that, had it not been so tragic, might have been taken for a gigantic fairground. Evidence of suffering from hunger, exposure and disease was widespread among the soldiers, many of whom were wounded, as well as among the civilian refugees.

One wondered how many were marked for death tomorrow. The civilians--old men, women and children--would die by the hundreds. Hundreds had already died along the route thus far, dropping along the roads from exhaustion and other causes, fighting to the last breath and never asking for any help. When the time came they were left where they fell, without mourners or burial. The survivors pushed on, deep in their own thoughts. There were poignant scenes like the dead mother and child in each other's arms lying in a muddy ditch, or the lone child left dead by the roadside unmourned by passersby.

Death was all about us in groups and in singles to such an extent that its throes held no meaning for us any longer. Though the death toll was overwhelming in the first stages of our retreat, the worst was yet to come. For while the supply of food had been meager so far, it was to be virtually non-existent on the route over the mountains. ...

... Soon, as we crossed a stone bridge, the road shrank into a three or four foot wide trail . The narrow trail was cut in the side of a sheer cliff three or four hundred feet above the Pecka Bistrica stream. There was no lip at all ; the earth simply ended and space began. Soon after we entered into this narrow defile, called Rugovo Gorge, we witnessed the first casualty when a pack horse slipped down over the precipice. Over on our left, looking westward, Mt . Koprivnik surged up from a broad base, its peaks wrapped in fog. To the right Mt. Paklen, the “Mount of Hell,” soared almost vertically and its snowy summit was hidden by clouds.

It had stopped snowing and the fast-descending darkness had caught us on the narrow, ice-covered ledge. That night we spent in terror. We picked a convenient place against the cliff offering the best possible place of safety during the night. However, taking care of ourselves in this situation was simpler than taking care of the horses and oxen inextricably mixed with us. ...

Stevan and most of his unit survived this death march, staving off hunger through some hunting successes and a little barter with Montenegrin and Albanian peasants. They were billeted on the island of Corfu and fed by French and English ships. One day Stevan received perhaps the most amazing surprise of his unimaginable war:

Inside the big tent I faced the Major and our clerk, Sindjic, both smiling. Putting me at ease, Major Kovanovic spoke:·"I suppose you are wondering why I want to see you. I have good news for you. You are going to be sent back to school." I was not quite sure I had heard him correctly. The Major continued: “Our High Command has issued orders to take all boys under the age of eighteen out of the army and send them abroad to school.” (I was not yet seventeen). “Too many boys have been lost in this retreat,” he said, “and we have to save the rest of you for the future of our country.”

And so it came to pass that Stevan Idjidovic was shipped to Oxford University in England to study Forestry for the duration. Serbians and their allies fought on, finally making a breakthrough on the Macedonian front. After the war, it was estimated that the Serbian forces suffered 25 percent casualties, higher than any other combatant nation.

So far as his mother and siblings knew, Stevan had died in the war, like so many others. They treated his return in peacetime much like the appearance of a ghost. But that's another story.

I cannot recommend this gripping tale highly enough. Insofar as we have any images at all of the horrors of World War I, they tend to be of mud-filled trenches spread across France and Belgium on the "Western Front." Just maybe we know of the misbegotten slaughter of Australian and New Zealand troops at landings at Galipoli aimed at the Ottoman Empire. The war in the Balkans remains obscure in our imaginations, as the Balkan nations themselves tend to, a region of strange historic antipathies and unfathomable carnage. Perhaps if we knew a bit more about the lives and feelings of these peoples, we'd not be so taken aback by more current developments.
Stevan Idjidovic [later amended to "Stevens" for American consumption] was my uncle by marriage. My aunt and Stevan's son-in-law edited this little volume, faithfully and deftly. I suspect the original was more florid. English was, after all, late on the list of Stevan's many languages.

I did not know him in any significant way. My mid-American parents never stopped thinking of him as an exotic. I doubt he felt any connection to them. He felt prickly to me as a child -- that is not perhaps surprising in a man of his difficult trajectory to Buffalo, NY in the '50s. Here's Stevan with one of his daughters in that time.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Of executions and of Christians

If John McCain says it, he probably knows it when he sees it, at least in this case:

"I believe in the death penalty for certain crimes. But that is not an acceptable way of carrying it out. And people who were responsible should be held responsible," he told Politico. "The lethal injection needs to be an indeed lethal injection and not the bollocks-upped situation that just prevailed. That’s torture."

On Arizona's brutally fouled up execution last week. TPM

Let's hope this latest "botched" killing moves us closer to ceasing to seek justice through more killing.

That horror aside, it wasn't a good week for the death penalty. A federal judge, appointed by George W. Bush no less, declared California's dysfunctional death sentences unconstitutional.

The state has placed hundreds of people on death row, but has not executed a prisoner since 2006. The result, wrote Judge Cormac J. Carney of United States District Court, is a sentence that “no rational jury or legislature could ever impose: life in prison, with the remote possibility of death.”

That sense of uncertainty and delay, he wrote, “violates the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.”

Let's hope this holds up. Will state Attorney General Kamala Harris, a death penalty opponent, appeal this ruling? So far she's not saying.

Longtime Sacramento political pundit Dan Walters has suggested that the California death penalty is "dying of old age," just like more sentenced inmates than are ever close to being killed by the state.

Clearly, polls show, support for capital punishment has waned. A 2012 ballot measure to abolish it failed, but very narrowly, and afterward, [Governor Jerry] Brown said he had voted for it.

Brown and a liberal Legislature would not counter Carney’s ruling by speeding up executions, and a ballot measure to do it probably would fail.

I certainly hope he is right.

With all this good news, it seems a little churlish to take issue with some of the coverage of Judge Carney's decision, but I feel I have to. In the "Christian" section of the Examiner, MJ Kasprzak includes this odd sentence:

There are several compelling reasons ... that this ruling by a George W. Bush-appointed judge should be lauded by more than just anti-capital punishment advocates among Californians or even just Catholics among Christians.

My emphasis. Apparently Mr. Kasprzak is unaware that most mainline Protestant denominations have been advocating an end to the death penalty for a generation or more. That includes United Methodists -- the largest of these churches -- also the Presbyterians, the Evangelical Lutherans, the Episcopalians, and the United Church of Christ. Southern Baptists support the death penalty, but American Baptists do not. Now maybe the people in the pews aren't all ardent evangelists for their denomination's position, but then again, neither are many Catholics. But unless you use a cramped definition, most U.S. Christians belong to churches that oppose the death penalty.

Approximately 78 percent of U.S. residents are Christians according to the Pew Forum. Catholics -- whose church authorities strongly oppose capital punishment -- make up nearly 24 percent of us. Mainline Protestants (largely abolitionist about the death penalty) are another 18 percent. Black Protestants who are often (though not always) highly suspicious of racial bias in capital sentencing are another nearly 7 percent. It's true that the 26.3 percent of us who are Evangelicals belong to churches that are more likely to support the death penalty. But the preponderance of us who are Christians very likely belong to religious bodies that have discerned that putting offenders to death violates our moral commitments.

Mr. Kasprzak is erasing an awful lot of Christians from his coverage.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Saturday scenes and scenery: Harney Peak, SD

At The New Republic, Rebecca Leber reports on "The Hidden, Horrifying Impacts of Climate Change." That headline is annoying link-bait, but the article catalogs some real perils.

Like this one:

Insects wipe out forests
The mountain pine beetle, which is as big as a grain of rice, and spruce beetle have damaged more than 42 million acres since 1996. Though invasive insects would still pose a threat without climate change, they especially thrive in mild winter conditions, moving into higher altitudes and exploding in population when otherwise they would die during winter. Drought hasn’t hurt the invasive insects, either, leaving dry trees with weaker defenses. It’s not just the pine beetle: The hemlock woolly adelgid threatens 19 million acres of eastern hemlock forests.

Here's some of the pine beetles' work on the slopes of Harney Peak in the Black Hills of South Dakota.

The 7200 foot mountain is billed as the highest peak between the Pyrenees and the Rockies.

It offers breathtaking terrain.

Custer State Park rangers are fighting the beetles, but it is hard to see how they can stop the invasion.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Let's take note of small victories; no U.S. troops to Iraq!

Would you believe that the House of Representatives just voted (370-40) to direct the President under the War Powers Resolution

to remove United States Armed Forces, other than Armed Forces required to protect United States diplomatic facilities and personnel, from Iraq.

Not too shabby for all the struggling peace activists who've been keeping the heat on our Congresscritters.

Win Without War, a leading force in the legislative agitation, described the victory:

“Today the House of Representatives made clear that they stand with the American public, who do not want to go back to war in Iraq. By passing H. Con. Res 105 overwhelmingly, the House also sent a strong message to President Obama that there is no authorization for any escalation of US military involvement in Iraq.

The challenges in Iraq are deeply complex and there is simply not a way for America to bomb our way to a solution. While we continue to welcome the President’s opposition to sending combat troops, we remain concerned that over 800 American military personnel are currently in harms way in a nation increasingly embroiled in a violent sectarian conflict. After nearly 13 years of trying to solve such challenges militarily in Iraq and Afghanistan, with little success, the American people simply do not support another war in the Middle East. Instead, we hope today’s clear message against military escalation will encourage the President to double down on diplomatic efforts and a robust humanitarian response.”

For us all, let's remember that foreign policy is how we allow our government to treat people in other countries. That's a useful lens to remember to apply to U.S. initiatives, if in doubt.

Unusual truth telling

By way of TPM and the Black Hawk County IA Democratic Party.

This is particularly good because the label is unexpectedly accurate. Reagan may, or may not, have been personally a "racist." But he absolute was a white supremacist in the sense that his policies disproportionately hurt people of color and cemented structures of government that perpetuated advantages for white citizens. That's what you get when government itself turns against regulation of business and protection of the rights of workers to organize.

Friday cat blogging

Some cats, like some people, make a career of being beautiful.

Katy is one these.

Iris, on the other hand, practices unobtrusive wariness in dark surroundings.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Evidence that this is a strange country

So after driving all the way across the country, we enter New York and what do we see? Apparently the Empire state has decided it can't stop drivers from the hazardous habit of texting while in motion, so it is now providing pull-outs.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Rebecca Gordon has been talking about torture again

The author of Mainstreaming Torture just doesn't stop. The Bookapalooza rolls on.

She'll be in New York on Sunday:

Bluestockings Bookstore, Cafe, and Activist Center, New York City
Sunday, July 27 • 7:00 p.m.
172 Allen Street
New York, NY 10002

She'll be in the Boston area on Tuesday:

Porter Square Books
Tuesday, July 29, 2014 • 7:00p.m.
Porter Square Shopping Center
25 White Street
Cambridge, MA 02140
Book talk and signing

and several events in New England the days after.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Good news about Obamacare

The New England Journal of Medicine reports that an awful lot of us are benefitting from Obamacare:

"Taking all existing coverage expansions together, we estimate that 20 million Americans have gained coverage as of May 1 under the ACA," the authors wrote. "We do not know yet exactly how many of these people were previously uninsured, but it seems certain that many were."

They reached the 20 million total this way: 1 million adults under age 26 enrolled in their parents' plan; 8 million enrolled in private coverage through the insurance marketplaces; 5 million enrolled in private coverage directly through their insurer; 6 million enrolled in Medicaid.

That's one hell of a lot of people whose security is somewhat greater because, if they get sick, they have some chance of getting appropriate medical care without going bankrupt. Not too shabby.

Meanwhile, hospitals are hurting in states that have taken the Supreme Court's invitation to evade covering many of their poor people when the judges made expansion of Medicaid voluntary, according to Forbes.

The moves against expansion are “beginning to hurt hospitals in states that opted out,” a report last week from Fitch Ratings said. The U.S. Department of Health and Human services has said Medicaid enrollment in the 26 states and the District of Columbia that agreed to go along with and implemented the expansion by the end of May “rose by 17 percent, while states that have not expanded reported only a 3 percent increase,” HHS said in an enrollment update for the Medicaid program.

“We expect providers in states that have chosen not to participate in expanded Medicaid eligibility to face increasing financial challenges in 2014 and beyond,” Fitch said in its July 16 report...

Uh oh -- will the medical establishment push Republican governors and legislators to get on with insuring their people? Time will tell.

The Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby decision allows some employers to refuse to cover their insured employees for some or all birth control methods. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has ordered that companies that want to limit their workers' coverage must inform the workers.

Employers that intend to drop coverage for some or all forms of contraception in the wake of the Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby decision must notify employees of the change, the Obama administration said Thursday.

The notice was posted on the Department of Labor website as a new "frequently asked question" about the Affordable Care Act, the health care law passed in 2010 and still being implemented.

That's only sensible: you don't want employees thinking a medical necessity they expect to have covered is excluded. But also, if a corporation wants to argue it has a religious exemption that enables it to avoid giving people the full coverage their neighbors get, it should at least have to tell the affected workers that their insurance has been limited in accord with the boss' opinions.

UPDATE: You might know that the day I would point this news out, a federal court would use highly tendentious "reasoning" about Congressional intent to try to kick the underpinnings (the subsidies) from under the system and collapse Obamacare. This isn't over -- there are many months of appeals ahead. We'll get to see whether the judicial branch is really willing to take the opportunity to access medical care away from what is estimated to be 4.5 million people.

Here's a map that shows how much premiums would rise if the courts decide to play this game of kick the poor people.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Evidence that this is a strange country

A candle casts a warm glow on a restaurant table of an evening.

But the light's fluctuations seemed just a little too even to come from a real flame. That suspicion was right.

What's in it for the restaurant that encourages use of the battery operated candle? Cost of real candles? Staff time to light, extinguish and replace them? Clean up costs when customers play with dripping wax? We'll never know.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Isolationists, interventionists, liberal apostles of nationalism -- can't we do better?

On Friday, the New York Times reported:

Iran, the United States and the five other countries negotiating the future of the Iranian nuclear program have agreed to a four-month extension of the talks, giving them more time to try to bridge major differences over whether Tehran will be forced to dismantle parts of its nuclear infrastructure, according to a statement released early Saturday in Vienna by all seven nations.

The same day, I attended a session at Netroots Nation titled "Iran: Diplomacy or War?" Heather Hurlburt of Human Rights First opened the session by pointing out that much as any of us might have hoped that the Iran talks would be extended rather than have them collapse, none of us could have guessed that this potentially momentous affirmation of the possibility of a diplomatic resolution to what the powers consider Iran's nuclear threat would fall below the threshold for major news. She opined this might be a good thing, muting some resistance in both the US and Iran.

In general, the panel -- which included Ilya Sheyman from, Ali Gharib from the Nation and Democratic Senator Chris Murphy from Connecticut in addition to Hurlburt -- applauded President Obama's combination of sanctions with diplomacy in our dealings with Iran. They take for granted that the United States must take the potential Iranian bomb as a vital threat, though they don't say just why. They were all concerned that the Democratic national security policy establishment needs to develop some approach to the rest of the world that is neither isolationist nor interventionist.

On the one hand, that sounds sensible. Certainly talking is better than shooting our adversaries. And a war-weary United States has zero appetite for military adventures.

But the discussion struck me as essentially surreal. Don't any of these people understand that the United States has next to zero legitimacy with many of the peoples of the world? In the Middle East, we are both perpetrators and enablers of horror. In Latin America, we're the cruel mega-state to the north which ratifies authoritarian coups (as in Honduras in 2009) and spreads our drug war, spawned by our appetite for narcotics, across the continent. Even in Europe, we're the arrogant superpower which affirms our right to spy on all and sundry. A United States which imprisons children fleeing violence and locks Muslims convicted of no crime up for over a decade in Guantanamo simply has no claim to be a beacon of freedom, democracy, or rule of law.

Obama has -- on his better days -- has dragged the country away from its xenophobic crusading mode. But after decades of support for "anti-communist" dictators and schools of torture, it's no surprise that in the eyes of most of the world, we're more a rogue elephant than a model nation. Democratic foreign policy wonks seem as unable to acknowledge this simple truth as are Republicans.

Fortunately, in another NN14 session, Sara Haghdoosti suggested an alternative frame within which progressives can think about national security and foreign policy. Try this on mentally:

Foreign policy is how we allow our government to treat people in other countries.

That seems a far preferable way to look at the world. Simple, democratic (small "d") and to the point. The point has to be how to live on this planet together, peacefully, for the good of all. Anything else is simply stupid.

You can learn about BERIM, Haghdoosti's project on Iran, and sign a petition supporting diplomatic solutions to conflict at this link. The graphic is from the BERIM site.

Screams from the silence: #GazaUnderAttack

Israeli memo to journalists:

As part of Hamas’ strategy of hiding behind the civilian population it has frequently exploited journalists as human shields, deliberately putting them at risk of injury or death.

Israel is not in any way responsible for injury or damage that may occur as a result of field reporting.

And this, from Gaza City:

This occupation, this massacre, is protected by a silent world. 

Dr. Mona El-Farra

Saturday, July 19, 2014

There is something about these women ...

On Friday at Netroots Nation I got a look at two women in politics about whom I can feel genuinely warm.

Elizabeth Warren spoke to a packed ballroom -- in the picture, she's that tiny figure on the left; the big screen is how most of us "see" the speakers. It is not a bad view.

If you've had any exposure to Warren, she didn't say anything new. Here's what the New York Times reported in a rather sympathetic piece.

“They cheated American families, crashed the economy, got bailed out, and now the biggest banks are even bigger than they were when they got too big to fail in 2008!” Ms. Warren thundered, in one of her many applause lines. “A kid gets caught with a few ounces of pot and goes to jail, but a big bank launders drug money and no one gets arrested. The game is rigged!”

She went on: “Billionaires pay taxes at lower rates than their secretaries. How does this happen? It happens because they all have lobbyists. Lobbyist and Republican friends in Congress. Lobbyists and Republicans to protect every loophole and every privilege. The game is rigged, and it isn’t right!”

She brought down the house by ending with the declaration that citizens such as those of us at NN14 represent "21st century democracy." I need to think about that.

Meanwhile, Ready4Warren and others had seeded the room with "run, Liz, run" paraphernalia. The Netroots Nation folk are enthusiastic.

I've scandalized some Democrats at NN by saying I'll work to elect Hillary Clinton, but don't ask me to cast my vote for her (abstention is a privilege I get for living in California.) Any number of people in this convention from places like Michigan, North Carolina and Maine who are suffering under Republican governors will tell anyone who will listen why we have to elect even bad Democrats rather than let the other guys in. And I buy it. But it sure would be nice to have someone to be for.

I don't see Warren challenging Hillary Clinton from the left, however much I'd like that. But she sure is keeping Teddy Kennedy's seat properly warm. And she'll take on anyone in service of an economic equity agenda.

The only sadness I felt over Warren's appearance is that she drew three times the crowd that had gathered to listen to Rev. Barber the previous evening. I get that, but I can't be happy about what that says about the progressive movement.
The other highlight of the day was hearing my favorite candidate of this cycle, Shenna Bellows who is running for the Senate in Maine give her stump speech. She's animated, intelligent, principled -- and because she is challenging an incumbent has to convince with every utterance that she can upset a three term incumbent.

A former ACLU affiliate director, she has been called the "Elizabeth Warren of civil liberties." She's out to repeal the Patriot Act, but also to bring infrastructure development to rural communities, defend Social Security and enact some tax fairness.

This candidate could (and should) be the surprise of 2014. On Sunday she sets out to walk from Houlton to Kittery to reach as many Mainers as possible. No matter where you live, this is a candidate well worth any contribution you can make.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Friday cat blogging

Latte prowls in small town South Dakota. There are many cats about, mostly outdoor animals, though fed by the humans.

Not surprisingly, they tend to look rather alike.

Moral fusion comes to #NN14

Rev. William Barber, the state NAACP president and self-described "country preacher" who leads the "Moral Monday" movement in North Carolina, wowed the crowd at Netroots Nation 2014 last night. He easily upstaged the droning Sen. Chuck Schumer (too bad the guy is so dull; his subject, comprehensive immigration reform is essential). He even out-orated National Education Association president Lily Eskelsen García and Georgia House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams.

Those two women aren't easy to follow.

Rev. Barber calls for a prophetic "moral fusion" movement in every state that educates, activates and agitates for inclusive voting rights, fair taxes, labor rights, and access to good public education for all. It all seems mighty simple -- except that getting there would demand our deepest commitment, our souls and bodies.

The election of President Obama -- the glimpse his success showed of the emergent majority of youth, people of color, and single women -- has brought out the worst in too many people. Their representatives

refuse to pass anything because [they] don't like little black girls having pajama parties in the Whitehouse ...

Barber says that we are living into a Third Reconstruction, a new incarnation of one of those times when our democracy flowers in new and vital directions. After all,

it's about right versus wrong.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

#1Uhistory at #NN14

That headline is Twitterese for "Labor History" as presented on a tour at the Netroots Nation 2014 conference in Detroit yesterday.

Mike Kerwin of the Michigan Labor History Society led our group around the city. He joined the United Auto Workers in the early 1950s.

AFL-CIO photo
A highlight was passing by the Woolworth's retail store where women workers took over the building on sit-down strike in 1937. They won, including half-pay for the seven days they'd held the building!

According to the dedication on this statue of Detroit mayor and later Michigan governor Hazen S. Pingree (1840-1901):

He was the first to warn the people of the great danger threatened by powerful private corporations, and the first to awake to the great inequalities in taxation and to initiate steps to reform.

Oddly, to contemporary thinking, he was a reforming Republican.

The "Labor's Legacy" monument by the river struck me as triumphal masculine machine-age art -- not my genre.

But some significant reminders are embedded around its base.

Naturally a labor history tour ended up in a bar -- the Anchor Bar, where, in the 1990s, newspaper workers brought out their alternative paper while on strike against the local Gannet paper. Barb Ingalis, a former striker, and Lou Grieco of the Newspaper Guild enthralled a friendly crowd with the story of that epic struggle. The Detroit papers, though shrunken, are still unionized!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Evidence this is a GREAT country!

Stopped in a construction delay in the Badlands.

The Bookapalouza rolls on

While we were out exploring the Indiana Sand Dunes State Park along Lake Michigan today, our bumpersticker got a rise out of someone. I'd say this response was friendly, if vigorous.

In the last few days, Rebecca has added new events in New England. She also recorded several interviews while in Minneapolis over the weekend; I'll flag those when they turn up in net space.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Afterdinner musings

Yesterday we ate dinner at a nice brew pub in Davenport, Iowa. Good beer, good food, even a good salad. Often in mid-America, the brew pub is the place to eat.

This sat on the table:
Click to enlarge
I was curious. Do children of restaurant employees in Iowa need special help?

Iowa, despite having a Republican governor and a legislature split between the parties, did accept federal money to enroll people in health insurance whose income is too high to receive Medicaid but less than 133 percent above that level. The Supreme Court did its bit to undercut Obamacare by allowing states determined to be as cruel as possible to poor people to opt out of this expansion. Twenty-four states exclude such individuals from the federally funded Medicaid coverage and offer none of their own. At the beginning of 2014, Iowa's idiosyncratic Medicaid expansion seemed to be succeeding in signing up poor people for insurance. Gallup just reported that nationally the percentage of people who are uninsured has fallen to the lowest point since before the recession as Obamacare kicks in.

But less happily for its restaurant workers, Iowa is one the states that uses the federal minimum wage to set its own; currently that means that employers can't pay less than $7.25 an hour. (The Prez and Democratic congress critters are calling for a raise to $10.10, but Republicans aren't listening.) But in reality, employers can lawfully pay less. In Iowa, it is legal to pay employees whose compensation includes tips -- like many restaurant employees -- a cash wage as low as 4.35 an hour. Tip income is expected make up the difference.

It is not hard to imagine that families of restaurant workers might need some help.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Evidence that this is a strange country

It's a little hard to imagine, but presumably at some time it was someone's job to travel about peddling these near life size figures to eateries. These two specimens were spotted about 2000 miles apart.

Would you believe this one is in a Chinese restaurant?

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Inhumanity and unexpected humanity

...If a gang of neo-Nazis had kidnapped a 16-year old boy in a London Jewish neighborhood in the dark of the night, driven him to Hyde Park, beaten him up, poured gasoline into his mouth, doused him all over and set him on fire – what would have happened?

... The chain of events was as follows:

Two Palestinians, apparently acting alone, kidnapped three Israeli teenagers who were trying to hitchhike at night from a settlement near Hebron. The objective was probably to use them as hostages for the release of Palestinian prisoners.

The action went awry when one of the three succeeded in calling the Israeli police emergency number from his mobile phone. The kidnappers, assuming that the police would soon be on their tracks, panicked and shot the three at once. They dumped the bodies in a field and fled.

When the bodies of the three were found by tourist guides, the chorus of hatred reached a new crescendo. Soldiers posted tens of thousands of messages on the internet calling for “revenge”, politicians egged them on, the media added fuel, lynch mobs gathered in many places in Jerusalem to hunt Arab workers and rough them up.

Except for a few lonely voices, it seemed that all Israel had turned into a soccer mob, shouting “Death to the Arabs!”
So now we have Israel shooting residents of Gaza in their open air prison and bulldozing Palestinian houses in the West Bank, while Palestinians try to assert their agency under siege by shooting their ineffectual pop guns at Israeli cities. There can be no equivalence: this is a ruthless, modern state armed to the teeth with fancy weaponry (with US connivance, remember) bent on destroying a people whom they have dispossessed and wronged.

A letter sent out by Jewish Voice for Peace asks how long will the vicious notion be allowed to persist that :
Jewish lives matter more than Palestinian lives?
Just children, at a vigil for migrant justice
Meanwhile, in Texas (!), a Dallas judge is promoting a novel response to the mass influx of children crossing our southern border fleeing violence and poverty in Central America.
Clay Jenkins, a Democrat elected Dallas County judge in 2010, has a controversial plan for handling the recent massive influx of unaccompanied child migrants coming to Texas. Instead of immediately sending them back to where they came from, as Texas Gov. Rick Perry supports, or blocking buses from transferring migrants to local Border Patrol stations, as protesters in Murrieta, California, did recently, Jenkins wants to provide them shelter. ...

Clay Jenkins: I first saw media reports, and in my family we discuss what's going on with our lives. So I was telling my eight-year-old daughter that I was struggling with this because I felt that we needed to do something for these children. But at the same time it was a very complex problem.

She was asking why all the children were being detained on the border, and I was explaining it was for her security and protection. She explained to me, "But daddy, these aren't people, these are children."
Read the entire interview at Mother Jones.