Wednesday, July 30, 2014

J Street: Ceasefire Now

In its defining statement, J Street asserts that it believes in "a two-state solution, resulting in a Palestinian state living alongside Israel in peace and security"–and that "being pro-Israel doesn’t require supporting every policy of its government." That alone contrasts it with the older, hawkish AIPAC. J Street has just released a "Statement on the Gaza Conflict" calling for an immediate ceasefire, arrangements to avoid another round of violence in the near future and negotiations to reach a two-state solution:

• It is time for the fighting to end through a sustainable cease-fire agreement. J Street strongly supports Israel’s right to defend itself proportionately against the threat of relentless rockets and to destroy tunnels leading into Israel. We agree with Shimon Peres and other Israeli officials that the military objectives have largely been exhausted and it's now time for Israel to look for a way out of Gaza. Ultimately, there is no military victory over an ideology and no military solution to a fundamentally political conflict. We adamantly oppose calls for Israel to “reoccupy Gaza”.

• We support efforts by President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry as well as the engagement of other countries such as Egypt to bring about an immediate cease-fire. Any such cease-fire must account for Israel’s security concerns, specifically from rockets and tunnels, as well as Palestinian humanitarian needs, and should be structured to lead to negotiations to establish arrangements related to security, political issues and humanitarian assistance. We support the inclusion of the Palestinian Authority in the cease-fire and in the negotiations around security, political arrangements and humanitarian assistance.

• We are deeply offended by attacks on and mischaracterizations of the Secretary’s efforts to resolve this crisis and his relationship to the state of Israel. We believe his pursuit of not only a cease-fire but a two-state solution represents the highest possible form of friendship to Israel and all the people of the region, and we salute and support the Secretary for his efforts.

• Every effort should be made to establish arrangements that minimize the chances that another round of violence erupts again in two years. A real solution for Gaza must (a) address Israel's legitimate security concerns from both rockets and tunnels, (b) establish a structure that brings the West Bank and Gaza together politically and allows Palestinian differences to be settled politically, and (c) address the serious humanitarian issues that face the civilian population in Gaza including greater freedom of movement for people and goods for non-military purposes. J Street supports those suggesting that cease-fire negotiations be used to advance prospects for a Palestinian unity government committed to early elections and demilitarization in Gaza. Allowing the previously-signed reconciliation agreement between Palestinian factions to move forward as part of the cease-fire deal might pave the way for a Palestinian government with a broad mandate and committed to a long-term cease-fire.

• The ongoing conflict between Israelis and Palestinians and the violence it spawns cannot be addressed without looking at the deeper issues that are at stake. This conflict didn’t start when the latest rockets began flying three weeks ago or with the terrible kidnapping and murder of three teenagers or Israel’s response to that incident. The roots of this conflict remain the tragic fight between two peoples over one land and the unresolved status of territory won by Israel in the 1967 war that has been occupied since and on which the Palestinian people will one day build their state. Failure to address and resolve these underlying issues through a two-state solution condemns both peoples to a never-ending spiral of violence that will only deepen as technology improves and hatred festers.

• We remain absolutely committed to achieving a comprehensive diplomatic resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that results in two states for two peoples. A never-ending and deepening cycle of violence will do nothing to advance that cause. Only a two-state solution that resolves the underlying conflict will ensure Israel’s safety, security and legitimacy as the democratic homeland of the Jewish people and provide the Palestinian people with freedom, dignity and self-determination.

NYC Approves Apartment Building With Separate Entrance For The Poor

An apartment building in the Upper West Side of Manhattan apparently received approval, as part of zoning changes during the Mayor Bloomberg era, for two separate entrances, one for wealthy residents and one for those who rent affordable units. The "poor door" is one of the most blatant signs of the gentrification that has swept New York City over the past few years:

It would be difficult to come with a more on-the-nose metaphor for New York City's income inequality problem than the new high-rise apartment building coming to 40 Riverside Boulevard, which will feature separate doors for regular, wealthy humans and whatever you call the scum that rents affordable housing.

Extell Development Company, the firm behind the new building, announced its intentions to segregate the rich and poor to much outrage last year. Fifty-five of the luxury complex's 219 units would be marked for low-income renters—netting some valuable tax breaks for Extell—with the caveat that the less fortunate tenants would stick to their own entrance.

The city's Department of Housing Preservation and Development approved Extell's Inclusionary Housing Program application for the 33-story tower this week, the New York Post reports. The status grants Extell the aforementioned tax breaks and the right to construct a larger building than would ordinarily be allowed. According to the Daily Mail, affordable housing tenants will enter through a door situated on a "back alley."

Any of the unwashed folk who complain about such a convenient arrangement, of course, are just being ungrateful. As the Mail points out, fellow poor-door developer David Von Spreckelsen explained as much last year:

"No one ever said that the goal was full integration of these populations," said David Von Spreckelsen, senior vice president at Toll Brothers. "So now you have politicians talking about that, saying how horrible those back doors are. I think it's unfair to expect very high-income homeowners who paid a fortune to live in their building to have to be in the same boat as low-income renters, who are very fortunate to live in a new building in a great neighborhood."

In these economically fraught times, it's easy to forget that the super rich earned their right to never see you, hear you, smell you, or consider your pitiful existence. Expecting them to share an entrance would be unfair.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

David Grossman: "Stop The Grindstone Of Israeli-Palestinian Violence"

David Grossman is one of Israel's most prominent novelists and essayists and a longtime campaigner for peace and critic of the his country's policies toward the Palestinians (view him speaking at a demonstration against the settlements). I heard him interviewed by South African writer and Nobel Prize winner Nadine Gordimer (shown at Grossman's left) at Cooper Union in downtown NYC as part of a PEN American Center Festival in 2007. I recommend Grossman's book "The Yellow Wind" (1988), an account of his travels throughout the West Bank and reflections on the corrosive effects of occupation. In a recent essay, "An Israel Without Illusions: Stop the Grindstone of Israeli-Palestinian Violence" Grossman reviews the claims of both Israel and Hamas trapped by "the law of violence and war, revenge and hatred" and considers what the future holds. Since he cannot speak to the leaders of Hamas, he directs his questions toward his country's leaders and asks why they've squandered opportunities for peace, especially with the Palestinian majority under Mahmoud Abbas. Grossman believes that there are still Israelis of all backgrounds who will seek a resolution to this tragic conflict. In a debate filled with vitriol, he is one of the few voices of sanity. Excerpts follow:

...the big question, as war rages on, is not about the horrors occurring every day inside the bubble, but rather it is this: How on earth can it be that we have been suffocating together inside this bubble for over a century? This question, for me, is the crux of the latest bloody cycle.

Since I cannot ask Hamas, nor do I purport to understand its way of thinking, I ask the leaders of my own country, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his predecessors: How could you have wasted the years since the last conflict without initiating dialogue, without even making the slightest gesture toward dialogue with Hamas, without attempting to change our explosive reality? Why, for these past few years, has Israel avoided judicious negotiations with the moderate and more conversable sectors of the Palestinian people — an act that could also have served to pressure Hamas? Why have you ignored, for 12 years, the Arab League initiative that could have enlisted moderate Arab states with the power to impose, perhaps, a compromise on Hamas? In other words: Why is it that Israeli governments have been incapable, for decades, of thinking outside the bubble?

And yet the current round between Israel and Gaza is somehow different. Beyond the pugnacity of a few politicians fanning the flames of war, behind the great show of “unity” — in part authentic, mostly manipulative — something about this war is managing, I think, to direct many Israelis’ attention toward the mechanism that lies at the foundation of the vain and deadly repetitive “situation.” Many Israelis who have refused to acknowledge the state of affairs are now looking into the futile cycle of violence, revenge and counter-revenge, and they are seeing our reflection: a clear, unadorned image of Israel as a brilliantly creative, inventive, audacious state that for over a century has been circling the grindstone of a conflict that could have been resolved years ago.

...I would hope that on the right, too, there is now greater recognition — even if it is accompanied by anger and frustration — of the limits of force; of the fact that even a powerful country like ours cannot simply act as it wishes; and that in the age we live in there are no unequivocal victories, only an illusory “image of victory” through which we can easily see the truth: that in war there are only losers. There is no military solution to the real anguish of the Palestinian people, and as long as the suffocation felt in Gaza is not alleviated, we in Israel will not be able to breathe freely either.

...Will a similar comprehension emerge on the other side, in Hamas? I have no way of knowing. But the Palestinian majority, represented by Mahmoud Abbas, has already decided in favor of negotiation and against terrorism. Will the government of Israel, after this bloody war, after losing so many young and beloved people, continue to avoid at least trying this option? Will it continue to ignore Mr. Abbas as an essential component to any resolution? Will it keep dismissing the possibility that an agreement with West Bank Palestinians might gradually lead to an improved relationship with the 1.8 million residents of Gaza?

Here in Israel, as soon as the war is over, we must begin the process of creating a new partnership, an internal alliance that will alter the array of narrow interest groups that controls us. An alliance of those who comprehend the fatal risk of continuing to circle the grindstone; those who understand that our borderlines no longer separate Jews from Arabs, but people who long to live in peace from those who feed, ideologically and emotionally, on continued violence.

I believe that Israel still contains a critical mass of people, both left-wing and right-wing, religious and secular, Jews and Arabs, who are capable of uniting — with sobriety, with no illusions — around a few points of agreement to resolve the conflict with our neighbors.

...If we do not do this, we will all — Israelis and Palestinians, blindfolded, our heads bowed in stupor, collaborating with hopelessness — continue to turn the grindstone of this conflict, which crushes and erodes our lives, our hopes and our humanity.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Eric Garner Dies After NYPD Uses Banned Chokehold

Eric Garner, 43, an asthmatic father of six, died on Thursday in Staten Island, NY, after the police, who suspected him of illegally selling loose cigarettes, placed him in a chokehold. Forced to the ground, Garner repeatedly pleaded, "I can't breathe." The chokehold is prohibited by New York Police Department regulations. Despite that, NYC's Civilian Complaint Review Board has received over 1,000 complaints regarding the maneuver. Following Garner's death, the New York Civil Liberties Union, civil rights organizations and labor unions sent a letter to Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) urging him to veto a bill that would immunize police officers from discipline by local government officials. At Garner's funeral in Brooklyn, the Rev. Al Sharpton urged the community to "fight back." The following video shows the confrontation between Garner and the NYPD that led to his death:

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: Remembering Charlie Haden

Charlie Haden, among the most influential bassists in jazz, recently passed away at 76. Above, Haden performed "First Song (For Ruth)," written for his wife, with his longtime band Quartet West, which included Gary Foster, tenor saxophone; Alan Broadbent, piano; and Larence Marable, drums. Haden opened with a solo that set the tenor for this beautiful and contemplative composition.

Federal Appeals Court Finds Oklahoma's Gay Marriage Ban Unconstitutional

In a decision affirming equal protection under the law, a federal appeals court has ruled that Oklahoma's ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional:

A federal appeals court here on Friday struck down a second conservative-leaning state’s voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage, ruling that Oklahoma could not deny gay couples their “fundamental right” to wed.

The 2-to-1 decision came less than a month after the same panel of judges for the United States Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit decided that Utah’s ban was unconstitutional. It was another legal victory for gay couples as a range of legal challenges to state bans on same-sex marriage edges toward the United States Supreme Court.

...Lawyers for the Tulsa County court clerk, who was the lead defendant in the Oklahoma case, argued that limiting marriage to one man and one woman sought to reinforce traditional family bonds and encourage the raising of children by their biological parents. The majority rejected that view.

“Oklahoma’s ban on same-sex marriage sweeps too broadly in that it denies a fundamental right to all same-sex couples who seek to marry or to have their marriages recognized regardless of their child-rearing ambitions,” Judge Carlos F. Lucero wrote in the majority opinion. “Oklahoma has barred all same-sex couples, regardless of whether they will adopt, bear, or otherwise raise children, from the benefits of marriage while allowing all opposite-sex couples, regardless of their child-rearing decisions, to marry.”

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Todd Akin Still Defends "Legitimate Rape" Comments

Former Republican Congressman Todd Akin doomed his 2012 Senate campaign by stating that pregnancy from rape is "really rare" and “if it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.” Speaking to MSNBC's Chuck Todd, Akin twisted himself into a pretzel trying to explain away his notorious comments, stating, “Legitimate rape is a law enforcement term and its abbreviation for legitimate case of rape ...this is something that was intentionally misunderstood and twisted for political purposes because it doesn’t make any sense to say a conservative is saying that rape is legitimate.” Got that? In addition, Akin believes that rape victims should be forced to bear their rapist's child. After he said that people conceived in rape helped his campaign, Todd pointed out that such people prove that rape doesn't "shut down" a woman's body. Actually, the only thing that's "shut down" is any sense of rationality to Akin's thought processes. Watch:

Robert Reich: Fleeing Children Are "Refugees Of The Drug War We Created"

In two Facebook posts, Robert Reich states that the “United States is not a detached, innocent bystander” when it comes to the refugee crisis and reminds us that the women and children fleering Central America are “refugees of the drug war we’ve created.” Reich argues that our past support for brutal right-wing regimes in Central America followed by our indifference to these countries after the fall of the Soviet Union created destruction, poverty, and gangs and cartels supplying the U.S. with drugs. Further, those who show hatred toward child refugees, many escaping from violence, are the same as those who despise a wide variety of groups:

For decades, U.S. governments supported unspeakably brutal regimes and poured billions into maintaining them ($5 billion in El Salvador alone). Implacable opposition to communism—often defined as virtually any reformer—gave these regimes a blank check. The result is a legacy of dealing with opponents through extreme violence and a culture of impunity. Judicial systems remain weak, corrupt, and often completely dysfunctional. After the cold war ended, the United States lost interest in these countries. What was left was destruction, tens of thousands dead, and massive population displacement. The percentage of people living below the poverty line is 54 percent for Guatemala, 36 percent for El Salvador,and 60 percent for Honduras. More recently gangs, organized crime, and drug cartels feeding the US market have become part of this unholy mix.

...The haters direct their venom not just at child refugees seeking asylum from the drug war we created, but also at gays who want to marry, African-Americans who want to vote and exercise their other rights of citizenship, women who seek abortions, or even women in general, Latinos who want their children to be taught in Spanish, immigrants in general, Muslims, Jews, government “bureaucrats,” the poor and needy, anyone who dares suggest a required background check before buying guns, people they call “liberals” or “socialists” or “communists,” even the President of the United States.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Joan Walsh: McCain Was Cowardly To Put Palin A Heartbeat From Presidency

Speaking to MSNBC's Al Sharpton, Joan Walsh criticized Senator John McCain's (R-AZ) response to the Ukranian crisis. McCain referred to the administration as "cowardly"for not giving weapons to Ukraine and, true to his constant advocacy for military action, called for placing troops and missiles throughout Eastern Europe to confront Russia–"just for openers." Walsh said, "The idea that you would send more weaponry into an area like this where people are already misusing weapons obviously is crazy. And, you know, Senator McCain, I'm not sure that there's been a conflict in recent years that he hasn't thought that we should have more troops and more weapons from Iran to Iraq, Libya, Syria, Nigeria and now Ukraine." Regarding McCain's use of the word "cowardly," Walsh said, "You don’t say that about the commander-in-chief. This is a man, I respect him for his service, but if we’re going to talk 'cowardly,' somebody tried to put Sarah Palin a heartbeat away from the presidency so that he hoped to hold onto his right-wing base. Somebody that has a lot to atone for and a lot to think about shouldn’t be tossing around words like 'cowardly.' " Watch:

Monday, July 21, 2014

Central American Children Feeling Homeland Violence

Over the past few weeks, we've seen ugly protests against immigrant mothers and children, along with xenophobic comments by Republican Representatives McCaul, Bachmann and Gohmert. A New York Times article, "Fleeing Gangs, Children Head To U.S. Border," focuses on the horrific violence these children face in their homelands. They deserve our compassion and should be considered refugees seeking a safe haven:

The killings are a major factor driving the recent wave of migration of Central American children to the United States, which has sent an unprecedented number of unaccompanied minors across the Texas border. Many children and parents say the rush of new migrants stems from a belief that United States immigration policy offers preferential treatment to minors, but in addition, studies of Border Patrol statistics show a strong correlation between cities like San Pedro Sula with high homicide rates and swarms of youngsters taking off for the United States.

...Honduran children are increasingly on the front lines of gang violence. In June, 32 children were murdered in Honduras, bringing the number of youths under 18 killed since January of last year to 409, according to data compiled by Covenant House, a youth shelter in Tegucigalpa, the capital.

With two major youth gangs and more organized crime syndicates operating with impunity in Central America, analysts say immigration authorities will have a difficult time keeping children at home unless the root causes of violence are addressed.

In 2012, the number of murder victims ages 10 to 14 had doubled to 81 from 40 in 2008, according to the Violence Observatory at the National Autonomous University of Honduras. Last year, 1,013 people under 23 were murdered in a nation of eight million.

Although homicides dropped sharply in 2012 after a gang truce in neighboring El Salvador, so far this year murders of children 17 and under are up 77 percent from the same time period a year ago, the police said.

...Refugee advocacy organizations have urged the State Department to treat the children arriving at the United States border as refugees, and proposed a processing system where asylum claims could be reviewed in Central America and those accepted could move safely to the United States or countries willing to accept them, as was done in countries such as Haiti and Iraq. They have not yet received a response, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops said.

VOA Photo: A Border Patrol agent stands on a ranch fence line with children taken into custody in South Texas brush country north of Laredo, Texas.