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The latest wave of counterattacks to come out of the seemingly never-ending cycle of violence between Israel and Palestine needs to be considered within the context of recent events.  A largely one-sided (Palestinian) cease fire had existed for fifteen months until a shell exploded on a Gaza beach. Israel initially denied that it was responsible for this shelling, but that wasn’t the only event that precipitated further violence.  This from Time: 

What prompted Hamas’ move? First, Jamal Abu Samhadana, head of a Gaza security force, was assassinated in an Israeli missile strike. But it was the Israeli shelling of a Gaza beach–killing eight, including five members of one family–that united the Palestinians in outrage. Israel expressed regret, but that didn’t placate Hamas’ military wing, which ended the cease-fire and fired at least 15 rockets into

It is hard to understand why the United States almost unconditionally backs
Israel in this conflict.  One answer may be found in a working research paper written by John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt and made available through Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.  In the paper, titled The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, Mearsheimer of the University of
Chicago’s Department of Political Science and Stephen M. Walt of Harvard
University’s Kennedy School of Government argue that it is the strength of the Jewish lobby.  Alan Dershowitz immediately wrote a forty-four page response which not only accused the authors of lacking academic rigor, but of promoting anti-Semitism: 

. . . the real trouble with the paper is that it presents a conspiratorial view of history. This type of paranoid worldview, in which Jews manipulate and control the media and government, is not the sort of argument one would expect from prominent academics. It more closely resembles what Professor Richard Hofstadter described in “The Paranoid Style of American Politics,” in which extremists on both the far right and the far left harbor exaggerated fantasies about an individual demographic group’s influence.

Dershowitz, in his paper, also cites the Wall Street Journal’s criticism:

The authors are at pains to note that the Israel Lobby is by no means exclusively Jewish, and that not every American Jew is a part of it. Fair enough. But has there ever been an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory that does not share its basic features?

Regardless of what one thinks of the argument of the working paper, I think that an open debate on this issue needs to be able to occur.  One needs to be able to admit the presence of a strong and influential Jewish lobby without being labeled an Anti-Semite or conspiracy theorist.  All sorts of lobbying groups hold sway in the
US for all kinds of different reasons, but to refer to their influence does not mean that one is harboring prejudice or characterizing them as cabals.  Think of the frequent references in the media to the lobbying power of the “Christian right” and “evangelicals.”  Think of the constant references to their direct line to the White House.  Has anyone, particularly a scholar in a forty-four page paper, stood up and said, “Wait a minute, you’re paranoid, and you must hate Christians.”  No doubt this is true for some critics of the Christian right, but for the most part, the criticism of their influence is fair-minded, and no one is afraid to speak openly about it.  No one need worry about having his career damaged or being labeled a “Christian-conspiracy theorist.” 

In fact, the Mearsheimer/Walt paper makes extensive note of Christian Evangelical involvement in lobbying efforts in support of Israel.

The Bush administration has made a gross error by focusing on regime change and occupation in order to stabilize the Middle East (ultimately, to make it safe for business) when it should have been focusing on the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  That is the very first thing that needs to be done in order to stabilize the Middle East and all else will follow.  Instead, the Bush-Cheney crowd has single-mindedly and obsessively focused on Iraq.  If half the resources spent on Iraq had been spent on solving the Israel-Palestine problem, we might have a better and safer world today. 

Further, the US has hampered a resolution by so strongly supportiong Israel.  Why not introduce an embargo against BOTH parties until they come to their senses?  




This one is really just too funny:


Jack, a 15-pound orange-and-white cat, cat sits under a treed black bear in a backyard in West Milford, N.J., Sunday, June 4, 2006. When the bear climbed down, the cat chased it up another nearby tree. Neighbor Suzanne Giovanetti thought Jack was simply looking up at the bear, but soon realized the much larger animal was afraid of the hissing cat. The cat’s owners called it away and the bear ran off.

The Executive branch of the US government, under the Bush administration, has consistently made its own laws and disobeyed others, disregarding Congress, the Geneva Conventions, and the Constitution as upheld by the Supreme Court.  The checks and balances that make the US system exemplary are hypocritically flouted by a President that preaches the virtues of democracy. 

It is, therefore, highly encouraging that a conservative Supreme Court, stacked in the administration’s favor, would rule soundly against Bush’s efforts to serve as judge, jury, and executioner to the prisoners at Guantanamo.  If the US Supreme Court cannot uphold due process and the basic principles of international law, then what court can?  Two dissenters, Scalia and Thomas, are so blatantly partisan in all their rulings, that it is a travesty that they will likely remain on the court for another ten or fifteen years.  The third dissenter, Alito, will likely follow in their footsteps.    

Justice Souter was unequivocal in his response to the Solicitor General’s efforts to argue that the writ of habeus corpus, which allows prisoners to challenge in a court of law the validity of their imprisonment, may be temporarily suspended:

Now wait a minute . . . the writ is the writ. There are not two writs of habeas corpus, for some cases and for other cases. The rights that may be asserted, the rights that may be vindicated, will vary with the circumstances, but jurisdiction over habeas corpus is jurisdiction over habeas corpus.

At this morning’s press conference, of course, Bush makes no commitment to close Guantanamo, but this ruling will necessarily lead to some form of reassessment. The second reporter to query him on this issue was told by Bush that he wasted his question, since the issue was already addressed in response to a question by the first reporter.  The initial response was, of course, rather vague, but, in all fairness, the administration has had no time to review the court’s decision 

Encouraging, too, is Republican Senator Arlen Specter’s move to challenge the President if he refuses to follow the rule of law.  Under discussion has been legislation that would allow Congress to sue the Chief Executive, before the Supreme Court, if he disregards legislation passed by Congress.  Specter, obviously concerned about the integrity of the system and the strength of the legislative branch, has been properly outraged over the presidential signing memos and the administration’s domestic surveillance operations, which have been conducted without adequate congressional or judicial oversight. 


Instead, we could have provided 14,150,436 students four-year scholarships at public universities. 

Instead, we could have insured 174,787,638 children for one year.

To watch the numbers rise, go to the National Priorities Project

Bill Moyers’ new series, Faith and Reason, is in some ways more compelling than his topical series, NOW, which has been truncated to a half-hour, sans Bill Moyers, due to right wing accusations of liberal bias. Moyers is more in his element here, conducting longer, in-depth interviews with writers on a subject that obviously fascinates him, harkening back to his now classic interviews with mythologist Joseph Campbell.

These interviews are significant and compelling because they further problematize what is already problematic—the tension between organized religion, still part of many people’s lives, and the secular humanist values that define much of the western world’s social infrastructure, particularly in a democracy. Sam Harris explored these issues, in a decidedly biased way, in the bestselling book The End of Faith. In a world in which fundamentalist religion wreaks so much havoc, it seems that people are, unconsciously at least, seeking new paradigms for their conception of the divine. Did the fervor over the Da Vinci Code spring from people’s need for a damn good mystery or from the need for a more fully human Christ, a family man that one can relate to, rather than the rabbinical and cryptic Jesus of Mathew or the more abstract, inaccessible, and iconic Jesus of John? Or did it spring from a desire to debunk and transcend beliefs that many consider metaphoric and many others consider poppycock?

The latest interview, with Salman Rushdie, was truly provocative and thought provoking, and if not seen, can be appreciated through the transcript, available on Moyers’ site. Rushdie speaks about Islam; fundamentalism; the fatwa that caused him to go underground for nearly ten years; the role of the artist, particularly in relation to religion and spirituality; and the nature of morality.

Rushdie had the following to say in response to the Danish cartoon controversy:

I think there’s two subjects on the Danish cartoon. There’s the cartoons themselves. Would you have published them, should you have published them? And I think these are arguments that newspapers have every day. You know, what’s an appropriate editorial stance on a given issue? So, I think we could have that argument in a kind of straight forward civil discourse. And we can have different points of view about it. I think the second thing that happened was the enormously violent and intimidatory response. And then the question I think changes. The question becomes how do you respond to intimidation? And I’m afraid that many of the people who refused to stock the cartoons, who refused to reprint them, claiming that they were being respectful were actually not being respectful, they were being scared, you know. And I think the problem is with intimidation is that if you do surrender to it you make sure that there will be more intimidation in the future.

Rushdie recently appeared at the PEN World Voices festival of writers where he read from his work. PEN International continues to do the important work of promoting free expression and advancing literature and literary fellowship. Its Prison Writing Program has been particularly successful.

He’s at it again, folks, that pill-popping pharmaceutical-abusing pillar of the right. This time, the staunch abortion opponent procured some Viagra for his trip to the Dominican Republic, known for its sex trade (what happens in the Dominican Republic stays in the Dominican Republic), and one only hopes that he used a condom.

This from the Department of State’s own report on Human Rights Practices:

Accion SIDA, an HIV/AIDS NGO, estimated that children constituted 10 to 15 percent of the total number of persons engaged in the country’s sex industry. Some elements within the tourist industry facilitated the sexual exploitation of children; particular problem areas were Boca Chica and Puerto Plata. Tours were marketed by foreigners overseas with the understanding that boys and girls could be found as sex partners. In July the National Prosecutor’s Office and the Association of Hotels signed an agreement to combat the exploitation of children in the tourist industry. Journalists reported that a large number of prostitutes in brothels around the National District appeared to be between 16 and 18 years of age. Newspaper reports indicated that as many as 30,000 children and adolescents may be involved in the sex industry. There were several church-run shelters that provided refuge to children who escaped prostitution. Prostitution was the principal means of exploitation of underage girls in the informal economy.

The Interinstitutional Committee for the Protection of Migrant Women, composed of seven governmental institutions, one professional association, two nongovernmental organizations and a religious order, became the lead organization dealing with this problem through its regular monthly meetings and its cosponsorship of an August seminar on the role of the State and civil society with respect to fighting trafficking. It also assumed a coordination function since it was comprised of the key agencies and organizations interested in and responsible for combating trafficking.

The Secretariat of Labor also became much more involved with trafficked minors through its program to fight the worst forms of child labor. The ILO began a pilot program in Boca Chica to identify and work with children involved in the sex trade and to coordinate with the Secretariats of Health and Education to provide psychological support and medical assistance, and to return the children to the classroom.

COIN counseled women planning to accept job offers in Europe and the eastern Caribbean about immigration, health, and other issues including the dangers of trafficking, forced prostitution, and domestic servitude. The program also provided services to returning women. COIN administered the Center for Health and Migration Information for Migrant Women that carried out community education campaigns in high risk areas on various issues, including citizenship, legal work requirements, dangers of trafficking, forced prostitution, and domestic servitude.

Says Rush, “The people at Customs were as nice as they could be; they just didn’t believe me when I told them that I got those pills from the Clinton Library gift shop. They told me at the Clinton Library gift shop that they were just little blue M&Ms.”

And, after all that, he still had time for dinner at the Supreme Court and lunch at the White House.  Check out the photos that can be found on Limbaugh’s website, particularly the one that shows a tete a tete with Supreme Court Justice Thomas.  As the caption says, Wouldn’t you love to hear what they’re saying?

In a 5-4 vote this week, the Supreme Court voted to uphold the constitutionality of the death penalty in Kansas.  In question was ”the validity of the sentencing system under which a death sentence results automatically if the jury finds that the aggravating and mitigating factors are ‘in equipoise,’ neither outweighing the other.” 

It is not in the least remarkable that Justices Thomas and Scalia voted to uphold the death penalty.  What is remarkable is the content of Scalia’s remarks in response to Justice Souter’s dissent.  In what the NY Times describes as an “angry outburst,” Scalia “said there has not been ‘a single verifiable case’ of an innocent person put to death and that the possibility of such a mistake ‘has been reduced to an insignificant minimum.’  Justice Scalia said the dissenting opinion ‘will be trumpeted abroad as vindication’ of what he called ‘sanctimonious criticism of America’s death penalty’ in other parts of the world.” 

The arrogance and high-handed nature of these comments is the hallmark of Scalia’s style, if one can be so generous as to label it a style.  “An insignificant minimum” suggests that the loss of a few innocent lives here and there, most likely African-American based on the stats, is a mere casualty of America’s important mission to poke out an eye for an eye and knock out a tooth for a tooth.  The innocent person that is being put to death considers his case highly significant, Justice Scalia, and, properly, cannot conceive of himself as a “minimum.”  

If there has not been a “single verifiable case” of a person being put to death wrongfully, Justice Scalia, it is because once the person is dead, it’s rather a lot of trouble to dig him up in order to get a DNA sample, and, frankly, why bother, since he cannot be retried or exonerated unless he were to rise up like Lazarus. Not likely, even in Scalia’s world.  

“Embarrassing moment today for Vice President Dick Cheney — as he went through the White House metal detector this morning, security made him empty his pockets and out fell Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.” —Jay Leno

The Democrats’ efforts to impose a timetable for Iraq withdrawal were met with the usual Republican rhetoric, meant, it seems, to appeal to the lowest common denominator of the American public—those who will not, can not, or are indifferent to checking the facts regarding the nature of the Democrats’ proposal.

Bill Frist, M.D.,as usual, served as the Republican hit man, and, with the usual John Wayne swagger, characterized the Democrats as chickens, wimps, etc. by saying that they wish to “cut and run.” This strategy is so repeatedly successful that one must consider the truth in it—the Democrats really are wimps. In general, they do not stand together and speak in a unified and strong voice, without mincing words. In general, they do not seize political opportunities and play an offensive game.

What does it mean to “cut and run”? Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable defines it as follows: “Be off as quickly as possible. A sea phrase, meaning cut your cable and run before the wind.” OK. An old seafaring term meaning to depart as quickly as possible. Boy that phrase has come a long way, hasn’t it? Well, is that what the Democrats really proposed—a hasty departure? The Kerry-Feingold Amendment, excerpted as follows, provides for something a bit more complex than that:

“SCHEDULE FOR REDEPLOYMENT. — For purposes of strengthening the national security of the United States, the President shall redeploy, commencing immediately, United States forces from Iraq by July 1, 2007, in accordance with a schedule coordinated with the Government of Iraq, leaving only the minimal number of forces that are critical to completing the mission of standing up Iraqi security forces, conducting targeted and specialized counterterrorism operations, and protecting United States facilities and personnel.

(2) CONSULTATION WITH CONGRESS REQUIRED. — The President shall consult with Congress regarding the schedule for redeployment and shall submit such schedule to Congress as part of the report required under subsection (c).

(3) MAINTENACE OF OVER-THE-HORIZON TROOP PRESENCE. — The President should maintain an over-the-horizon troop presence to prosecute the war on terror and protect regional security interests.”

Basically, this amendment provides for a full year in which a redeployment schedule can be implemented, in consultation with the Iraqi government and Congress. It also provides for a continued troop presence.

It is unfortunate that this amendment couldn’t be fairly debated rather than dismissed with rhetoric. Troop withdrawal from Iraq is a vexed question because Iraq truly is a quagmire. In all, the Kerry-Feingold amendment is reasonable and makes sense due to the ongoing costs of this war, in terms of dollars and American and Iraqi lives. But before Republican and Democratic legislators, including Kerry, voted to send troops to Iraq, they should have considered the very real possibility that it would further destabilize both the country and the region, as it has. Iraq is in a state of relative chaos right now and truly on the brink of Civil War. Sectarian violence in that country won’t end any time soon. As Colin Powell said, with remarkable wisdom, “You break it, you own it.” Children are taught in kindergarten to clean up their own messes, and George Bush has not yet done that in Iraq.

I don’t know what the answer is. But I do know that the Kerry-Feingold Amendment should have been seriously discussed rather than dismissed with the same, old, tired rhetoric. It seems that, in preparation for the upcoming election, Republicans will still be playing the John Wayne card and Democrats will still be dithering.

hillaryhotdog.jpgThis rather unflattering picture comes courtesy of the conservative and somewhat vitriolic No Hillary Clinton website. In all fairness, no one looks good eating a hot dog (or is it a burrito?).

A poll recently conducted by the Siena Research Institute and published on The Empire Page indicates that New York State voters consider NY Senator Charles Schumer twice as effective as Hillary Clinton. According to the article, “When asked. ‘Who is a more effective senator for New York State, Charles Schumer or Hillary Clinton?’ 44% chose Schumer, 22% chose Clinton, 22% said both are equally effective, and 12% had no opinion”. The article goes on to suggest that the poll numbers reflect Hillary’s lack of attention to New York state issues in favor of national affairs that will help lay the foundation for her 2008 presidential campaign.

But Hillary is having problems beyond New York State.

It seems that her political strategy is based upon her husband’s—follow the middle road. But when her husband was running for president, the middle was distinctly more leftist oriented than it is today. In other words, the entire political spectrum has shifted to the right, and, consequently, her middle of the road position is much more right wing than was that of her husband’s. This is a considerable disappointment for many liberals who had staked their hopes on Hillary. The boos and hisses that she received at the Take Back America Conference, for refusing to support a timetable for Iraq withdrawal, were well-deserved in my opinion. Hillary has never adequately renounced her vote for the war, and she has failed to speak up on too many important issues.

Schumer is a better Senator than Hillary. While Hillary and Schumer basically vote the same on most issues, it is Schumer who has shown party leadership and mobilized others. Schumer is more accessible than Clinton, and he is not afraid to speak his mind, because he has no presidential run to worry about.

If Hillary is nominated as the Democrats’ presidential candidate for 2008 and if “playing it safe” will be her strategy, then we should be prepared for four years of whatever Republican is nominated, most likely John McCain.

Russ Feingold, Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Al Gore, John Edwards, Wesley Clark, and Joe Biden would all make better presidential candidates, and better presidents, than Hillary.

Reuters: "Potentially, … exaggerating the capabilities of the perpetrators risks in a sense undermining public confidence when the terrorists look like Keystone Cops and we've painted them to be Public Enemy Number One," Hoffman [RAND] said."

Uh huh. Uh huh.

Alberto Gonzalez’ statement this morning (aired on NPR & BBC News) regarding the rather startling news of a domestic terrorist plot being hatched in Miami, was a little bit too measured for my taste.  In a quite restrained tone, Gonzalez spoke of the need to be vigilant about homegrown terrorists. 

This leads me to wonder about the timing of these arrests, coinciding with news regarding secret CIA and Treasury Department surveillance, since 2001, of domestic and international banking transactions (the “Swift” program).  As with other Bush administration surveillance operations, no “court-approved warrants or subpoenas” were sought for this monitoring. 

Based on information provided in this morning’s New York Times article, the alleged terrorist threat was in its early planning or “talk” stages, no explosive equipment or other WMDs had been procured, and there was no imminent threat to the potential target(s).  Given these facts, one wonders if the arrests couldn’t have taken place tonight, tomorrow, Sunday, next week, next month, or at a later time when the government would be able to gain more solid evidence.  Since those arrested were under constant surveillance, wouldn’t the government have had a better case if they had been caught red handed, with some purchased explosives, for example, or drawn up plans?  A BBC News article on the story includes a characterization of the alleged terrorists as "wannabes."

It is curious that these arrests occurred at the same time that Bush administration officials tried to prevent the NY Times and the Los Angeles Times from publishing the story about financial transaction surveillance.  According to the NY Times, “Administration officials, however, asked The New York Times not to publish this article, saying that disclosure of the Swift program could jeopardize its effectiveness. They also enlisted several current and former officials, both Democrat and Republican, to vouch for its value” and, according to the LA Times, “Bush administration officials asked The Times not to publish information about the program, contending that disclosure could damage its effectiveness and that sufficient safeguards are in place to protect the public.” 

Curiouser still, were the NY Times and LA Times decisions to lead with the domestic surveillance story rather than the terrorist plot story.  Were this homegrown terrorist plot anything significant, one would expect that to be the lead story.

Here’s a buried story worth noting:AT&T Inc. is changing its privacy policy for Internet and television customers to specify that account information is a business record the company owns and can be disclosed to government and law enforcement and to protect the company’s “legitimate business interests.” These are the same good folks who want to eliminate net neutrality. This company has an attitude and, apparently, feels that your personal information is theirs to use and abuse as they see fit. Many argue that privacy rights simply no longer exist in America and haven’t for a long time, so why make a fuss about one more nail in the coffin? But, to use another tired but apt metaphor, why slide further down the slippery slope? Why choose AT & T when there is a veritable smorgasbord of choices out there for telecommunications services, many cheaper and more or just as reliable as AT & T. Boycott AT & T. Send a message to those companies that will follow suit.

Last night’s Frontline provided further testimony and new evidence for what is essentially old news—that the Bush administration coerced the CIA into providing intelligence that suited its purposes for making a case for invading Iraq; that the efforts directed toward Al Qaeda in Afghanistan were diminished as the buildup for war with Iraq increased; that Osama Bin Laden slipped through the army’s fingers at Tora Bora, due to inadequate forces; that the Iraq-related intelligence was shoddy; that George Tenet was the scapegoat when the intelligence proved faulty; that Dick Cheney is the most powerful, secretive, and dictatorial Vice President in history, and he orchestrated much of this, twisting arms, intimidating, and leaking information as he saw fit. Now, do you feel safer?

All of this wouldn’t be so damned irritating if it weren’t for the horrors upon horrors that pile up in Iraq, seemingly endlessly—beheadings, executions, kidnappings, mutilations of bodies, and, now, the unspeakable torture and death of two young men. Why did those two young men have to be in that particular place, with that particular hatred aimed at them? Why were they placed in harm’s way? What agenda did they serve? Whose world vision were they defending? Can any American say that he or she really knows the truth about why they were there?

It is important—no, necessary—to imagine what those two young men went through. It is necessary to imagine whatever it is that the news media won’t show the American people, whether it be maimed American soldiers or dead Iraqi children, and, if your imagination goes too far, if it distorts or makes grotesque, or, even if it falls short, that’s OK, because imagining is a way of making whole that which is fragmented and, even if the vision is incorrect, it is an effort at constructing meaning, or making sense out of what is essentially senseless.

If you fail to imagine then you accept as whole any incomplete picture or inkblot that is placed in front of you, and you are, essentially, controlled by whoever is holding the picture.

Judge spares cat. Thanks to the efforts of those who care. Lewiscat.jpg

Check it out tonight:
The USA is famously founded on democratic principles of enlightenment. Openness, expansiveness, life, tolerance, affirmation, individual liberty, progression, optimism, and freedom of movement are all operative forces within this paradigm, which is the foundation for structures such as the internet. Blogging could not be possible without this type of conceptual framework.

The “Dark Side” (who’d have thunk it?) represents a dangerous paradigm shift. Stay informed. Be mindful. Kep watch. Be wary of those who would curtail the freedom of others in order to defend yours.

June 2006
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