2. Reasons for Despair

Dec-20-2012 | Comments Off

Bird’s Eye: Sam Beckett said it best, “Do not despair; one of the thieves was saved. Do not presume; one of the thieves was damned.” Some people look at America and see a crumbling empire headed for ruin; some see a country that has still great potential. The next two sections offer some of the more eloquent visions of each.

* A Metaphor for America Chris Hedges The Walrus (Thanks, Terry)

The country’s 716 overseas military bases, some the size of small cities, will eventually become too costly. Many will close. But, unlike the British, who methodically dismantled an empire, we will not retreat in time to save ourselves. We will go down like ancient Rome. Our traditional allies in the Middle East and Asia, smelling blood, will look elsewhere for alliances and protection. The US dollar will no longer be the reserve currency, meaning we will be unable to pay for the huge deficits that fund military adventurism by selling depressed Treasury notes to China and other foreign investors. Climate change, with its droughts, heat waves, freak storms, and flooding, will hammer crop yields and tax emergency services. The US, like the city of Scranton, will teeter back and forth with insolvency. I do not know when the collapse will come. A year. Two years. A few years. But America has about it the smell of mortality.

…And the contagion will spread. Destabilized by the collapse of the American dollar, rising prices, and declining exports, Canada will also suffer, although yours will be a less virulent strain than the one that infects us. But what is happening to us will happen to you, because there is no way out. The corporate forces that doomed us will doom you, too. Canada will become to a disintegrating America what Hungary was to Nazi Germany. But for us, the fall will be swifter, harder, more terrifying, and far more violent, because we retain the capacity, like a wounded animal, to lash out irrationally, to use our bloated military in reckless endeavours. We are not psychologically, emotionally, or intellectually prepared. We lack the self-reflective mechanisms to understand. Our national identity and sense of omnipotence will be inexplicably taken from us. The tragedy, however, is not that the American empire is dying. It is that we will bring so many people like you down with us.

* Some Personal Thoughts   Ian Welsh

Recently I had a day where I burned out on anger.  Oh  yes, when it comes to public affairs I’ve been angry for years, though I think rage is the more applicable word.  I don’t think this rage was misplaced, and I still get spasms of it.

The reason for the rage is simple enough: we’re killing and making a lot of people suffer who don’t need to with our political policies, economic policies just being a subset of politics.  The financial collapse was foreseen by many, myself included and we told the powers that be what to do to avoid it.  The rise of economic inequality, which is correlated with pretty much every bad thing you can imagine, from heart attacks to infant mortality to bad performance in school and crime (read the Spirit Level if you need this proved in tedious detail), has been going on since the mid 70s at the latest, and was clearly visible by the mid eighties.  It was, and is a clear policy choice.  It was chosen in response to a real problem, the end of cheap oil and the rise of the oligarchy rich, but it was a choice, there were other ways of dealing with the problem available.  First the Brits, then the Americans, then the Canadians and then various other nations chose the policy option which would lead to increased inequality.  This was combined with a concerted assault on civil liberties, in this case I believe starting in America with the War on Drugs.  Society became more totalitarian, whatever the trappings, and less free, not just in government, but in every part of our lives.  I find the way we treat our children today, with virtually no freedom, particularly odious (no your precious children are not in more danger than children in the 60s and 70s who were allowed to run free).  Police in schools are routine now, we imprison people in stunningly cruel prisons for minor crimes and so on.  Visiting Britain was like visiting a starter project for Orwell’s 1984, with CCTV cameras everywhere.

Our response to the financial crisis, a totally optional crisis which was based almost entirely on fraud, was to make the poor and the middle class pay through austerity, while bailing out the rich with trillions and trillions of dollars. 

 * A Failed Experiment Nicholas Kristof  New York Times

Time and again, we see the decline of public services accompanied by the rise of private workarounds for the wealthy.

Is crime a problem? Well, rather than pay for better policing, move to a gated community with private security guards!

Are public schools failing? Well, superb private schools have spaces for a mere $40,000 per child per year.

Public libraries closing branches and cutting hours? Well, buy your own books and magazines!

Are public parks — even our awesome national parks, dubbed “America’s best idea” and the quintessential “public good” — suffering from budget cuts? Don’t whine. Just buy a weekend home in the country!

Public playgrounds and tennis courts decrepit? Never mind — just join a private tennis club!

I’m used to seeing this mind-set in developing countries like Chad or Pakistan, where the feudal rich make do behind high walls topped with shards of glass; increasingly, I see it in our country. The disregard for public goods was epitomized by Mitt Romney’s call to end financing of public broadcasting.

A wealthy friend of mine notes that we all pay for poverty in the end. The upfront way is to finance early childhood education for at-risk kids. The back-end way is to pay for prisons and private security guards. In cities with high economic inequality, such as New York and Los Angeles, more than 1 percent of all employees work as private security guards, according to census data.

4. Newtown Perspectives

Dec-20-2012 | Comments Off

Bird’s Eye: Again, some people see how we can use the horror of this tragedy to inspire us to work for a better world, while others see in it the harbingers of a worse one. “Depends what you look at, obviously, but even more it depends on the way that you see.” Bruce Cockburn

* Oriah Mountain Dreamer on Newtown Facebook

I want to let my grief over tragic losses & senseless violence fuel my efforts to work for peace & safety for all, without creating more separation- even with those who disagree with how to do this. When I use violent language- when I dismiss those who disagree with me by calling them names- I diminish the effectiveness of my actions for change, I lose energy for building something new & divide the world into endless groupings of “them” and “us.” 

There is no “them” & “us”- it’s all us. Yesterday “we” lost children, loved-ones. Yesterday “one of us” shot children in a senseless act of violence. Today “we” must find ways to stop the violence, the loss of life.

I am not neutral- I have strong feelings, beliefs and thoughts about the ownership & use of firearms, about services for the mentally ill, about how we live together and protect our children. 

I don’t want to disengage out of fear of not participating perfectly, or because I do not have a clear & complete solutions. I have faith that real community conversation & action will continue to inform & shape how I pursue my passion for co-creating a place of safety for us all. 

So, let us take our heart-break & our sorrow into our actions. Let’s allow our sorrow to fuel our participation. But let our means (how we act, how we talk & listen to each other, how we build together) be consistent with our desired non-violent ends. Let contemplation & prayer be one way we fuel our spirits & honestly consider where we are are separating ourselves in our hearts and our language from those with whom we share this planet. It is possible (not easy, but possible) to work for peace, to take action for change, without losing sight of the humanity in all others- even those with whom we disagree. 

* On Killing Sprees   Ian Welsh

The two most important things to understand are that gun control would reduce harm significantly, and that gun control is a palliative for a sick culture…. The first point first, China has people who go on sprees with knives.  In fact there was one just recently in a school, 23 students were injured.  That’s sad, but not one of them died. Not one.  Guns make violence far, far more deadly.  Reducing gun availability won’t stop attacks.  It will reduce how deadly they are.

….The second point is that America has far more of these attacks than anyone else.  This is because America:

… 3) has a startling rise in diagnosed mental illness, and a startling rise in the use of psychoactive medications whose effects we don’t really understand. In particular, there has been a massive increase in the drugging of young children (males are who we care about in this context) with amphetamines and dextro-Amphetamines, officially starting as young as 3 years old, and unofficially, earlier.  Long term use of amphetamines is associated with psychotic breaks and violence, this is not in question, we have a TON of historical evidence.  You can’t keep people constantly on amphetamines and not expect these sort of eruptions.

4) The increase in mental illness and medication is in large part because life in America is extraordinarily unpleasant.  You live in a militarized surveillance society with no guaranteed health care and with a job market that doesn’t provide enough jobs for those who need it, allowing bosses to treat those who do have jobs like shit, and executives to take virtually all productivity gains for themselves.  The economic model is to pile debt on consumers to create rental streams, but constant debt payments put people under major psychological pressure, all the time.

You cannot have a pressure cooker society which is also militarized and swimming in guns.  You simply cannot.

* Do We Have the Courage to Stop This?  Nicholas Kristoff  New York Times

As with guns, some auto deaths are caused by people who break laws or behave irresponsibly. But we don’t shrug and say, “Cars don’t kill people, drunks do.”

Instead, we have required seat belts, air bags, child seats and crash safety standards. We have introduced limited licenses for young drivers and tried to curb the use of mobile phones while driving. All this has reduced America’s traffic fatality rate per mile driven by nearly 90 percent since the 1950s.

Some of you are alive today because of those auto safety regulations. And if we don’t treat guns in the same serious way, some of you and some of your children will die because of our failure.

2. Israel and the US

Nov-30-2012 | Comments Off

Bird’s Eye: It may seem as though the first article, on the implications of shale oil on the US crept in by mistake. But to understand politics, as Cicero noted, you follow the money. Shale energy will remove the need for political involvement of the US in the Middle East, which means less support for stable autocratic regimes, which means more democracy, which means trouble for Israel. And all the studies say that increasingly US Jews feel less tied to Israel, and that means trouble for the Zionist experiment.

* How Cheap Energy From Shale Will Reshape America’s Role In The World The Guardian

After the fall of the Berlin Wall, the rise of China and the Arab spring,American energy independence looks likely to trigger the next great geopolitical shift in the modern world.

US reliance on the Gulf for its oil – and its consequent need to maintain a dominant presence in the Middle East to keep the oil flowing – has been one of the constants of the post-1945 status quo. That could be turned on its head….the reason is simple. The US is the home to vast shale oil and gas deposits made commercially viable by improvements to a 200-year-old technique called fracking and by the relentlessly high cost of crude.

it is probably safe to say that many of the regimes whose global role rests on hydrocarbons alone are likely to be significantly weakened, if not swept away.

That includes the monarchies that have thus far withstood the Arab spring. Their persistence has depended on a historically high oil price and unquestioning western backing. Both those conditions are now in question.

* The True Crisis Of Zionism: Silent Majority Of Us Jews Have Never Supported It   Mondoweiss

There can be little doubt that the philosophy of Zionism—-Jewish nationalism—-is in retreat among American Jews.  Zionism holds that Judaism is not a religion of universal values, but an ethnicity.  It believes that Israel is the “homeland” of all Jews and that those living outside of Israel are in “exile.”. Zionists urge emigration to Israel, “aliyah,” as the highest Jewish value.

Most American Jews, quite to the contrary, believe that Judaism is a religion, not a nationality.  They believe that they are American by nationality and Jews by religion, just as other Americans are Protestant, Catholic or Muslim.  While they wish Israel well, they do not believe that it is their “homeland.”. They believe themselves to be fully at home in America.  This is nothing new.  As early as 1841, at the dedication ceremony of Temple Beth Elohim in Charleston, South Carolina, Rabbi Gustav Poznanski declared:  “This country is our Palestine, this city our Jerusalem, this house of God our temple.”

In the years since the end of World War II, in the wake of the Holocaust, many American Jews had a brief flirtation with the Zionist idea.  Even the Union for Reform Judaism declared that, somehow, “Israel,” rather than God was “central” to their religion.  More recently, however, we see that identification with Israel is declining among American Jews, particularly young people.

… Rabbi Eric Yoffie, formerly the leader of the Union for Reform Judaism, noted that, “I spoke a few weeks ago with someone who works with American Jewish organizations in planning programs for their meetings and conventions.  ‘Israel is out,’ he told me.  The demand for speakers about Israel or from Israel has dropped dramatically over the last decade.  American Jews are simply interested in other things.”

* America’s Relations With The Arab World Will Change Robert Fisk The Independent

The truth, however, is that the next president is not going to have the freedom to decide his policy on the Middle East. The old love affair with Israel will continue – unless Israel attacks Iran and drags America into another Middle East war – but for the first time in American history, a successful presidential candidate is going to have to deal with a new Arab world; indeed, a new Muslim world.

The critical point is that the Arab Awakening (please let’s forget the “Spring” bit) represents a people calling for dignity. It includes non-Arab Muslims as well – what else was the mini-green revolution after the last Iranian elections? – and it means that the millions who live in the part of the world we still like to call the Middle East – it doesn’t feel very “middle” when you live there – now intend to make their own decisions, based on their wishes, not on those of their former satrap presidents and – in turn – their masters in Washington. La Clinton still seems not to have grasped this. Maybe Obama does. Romney? I bet he couldn’t draw a map of the nations in the area, except for one, of course.

Contrary to the Western belief that the Arabs are all struggling for “democracy”, the battle and the tragedy of the Middle East today – whether in the aftermath of the “soft” revolution in Tunisia or the butchery of Syria – is about that word dignity, about the right as a human being to say what you like about whomever you want and not to let a despot take personal ownership of a whole country (as long as he has the permission of the United States) and treat it as his private property.

3. The Future of Israel

Nov-30-2012 | Comments Off

Bird’s Eye: Yogi Berra once famously said, “Prediction is very difficult, particularly about the future.” So we offer three radically different views. Uri Avnery, founder of Gush Shalom (the Israeli peace movement), who views Palestinian recognition at the UN as a wonderful thing, for Israel. Jeffrey Goldberg, a fairly right-wing commentator at The Atlantic, offers one set of views while Ian Welsh, differs strongly, and sees the writing on the wall for Israel. One of these three is probably right… we report, you decide.

* Celebrating Palestine: The Strong and the Sweet Uri Avnery Palestine Chronicle

It was a day of joy. 

Joy for the Palestinian people.

Joy for all those who hope for peace between Israel and the Arab world….

What has happened is that the foundation of the State of Palestine has now been officially acknowledged as the aim of the world community. The “Two-State solution” is now the only solution on the table. The “One-State solution”, if it ever lived, is as dead as the dodo.

Of course, the apartheid one-state is reality. If nothing changes on the ground, is will become deeper and stronger. Almost every day brings news of it becoming more and more entrenched. (The bus monopoly has just announced that from now on there will be separate buses for West Bank Palestinians in Israel.)

But the quest for peace based on the co-existence between Israel and Palestine has taken a big step forwards. Unity between the Palestinians should be the next. US support for the actual creation of the State of Palestine should come soon after.

* The Iron Dome, Press Bias, and Israel’s Lack of Strategic Thinking  Jeffrey Goldberg  The Atlantic

What is Israel’s long-term strategy? Short-term, I understand: No state can agree to have its civilians rocketed. But long-term, do Israeli leaders believe that they possess a military solution to their political problem in Gaza? There is no way out of this militarily. Israel is not Russia, Gaza is not Chechnya and Netanyahu isn’t Putin. Even if Israel were morally capable of acting like Russia, the world would not allow it. So: Is the goal to empower Hamas? Some right-wingers in Israel would prefer Hamas’s empowerment, because they want to kill the idea of a two-state solution. But to those leaders who are at least verbally committed to the idea of partition, what is the plan? How do you marginalize Hamas, which seeks the destruction of Jews and the Jewish state, and empower the more moderate forces that govern the West Bank? 

Here’s one idea: Give Palestinians hope that Israel is serious about the two-state solution. And how do you do that? By reversing the settlement project on the West Bank. It is not unreasonable for Palestinians to doubt the sincerity of Netanyahu on the subject of the two-state solution, when settlements grow ever-thicker. There’s no way around this: The idea of a two-state solution will die if Israel continues to treat the West Bank as a suburb of Jerusalem and Kfar Sava, and not as the future location of the state of Palestine.

* The Gaza Reminder   Ian Welsh

Israel is doomed.  The generation of young American Jews do not have the loyalty to Israel, no matter what it does, that older American Jews, as a group, have.  The world is coming to see Israel as an apartheid state, which is what it is.  The demographics are against it, and at some point America will cut Israel off, and Israel’s economy is not sustainable without the US.

And more to the point, somewhere, alive today, is the person who believes that losing Jerusalem is an acceptable price for wiping out Tel Aviv.  That person has been created by Israeli policy, by Western policy and by Saudi policy.  Israel is a small country.  It will not exist in 50 years.  It may be destroyed in an apocalyptic terror attack, it may be destroyed in military action, it may be destroyed by demographics, it may fall apart economically.  Its military advantage is already going away.   Hezbollah took away Israel’s armor advantage, straight up defeating them in their last invasion of Lebanon.  The Israeli air force was unable to substantially dent Hezbollah’s missile force, despite complete air supremacy.  If Hezbollah had had the good missiles, it could have wreaked much more damage.

Right now Hamas has rockets.  They look like something out of the 15th century.  They are pathetic.  It won’t stay that way forever.

All this before we get to the fact that Israel’s military is incompetent.  They are no longer the Israeli military of 68, they are an occupation military, and occupation militaries are only good at fighting weaklings, they always become corrupt, brutal and weak themselves.

Israel faces a stark choice: the two-state solution is no longer viable, there is not enough water and arable land, and too much population.  It can no longer work.  Israel can either become a secular single state, giving a vote and rights to everyone, it can ethnically cleanse out all Palestinians and become a pariah state, or it can cease to exist (option 2 and 3 may both occur).  Its end, moral or physical, may occur through terror, demographics, war, economic collapse, military decline or more likely, some combination, but it is as close to any historical process comes to inevitability.

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