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.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Bill Moyers: America's Mad Dash To Oligarchy

Bill Moyers reports that while top CEOs made 331 times more than the average worker, many paid a lower tax rate than members of the middle class. “Inequality,” he asserts, “has turned Washington into a protection racket for the one percent. It buys all those goodies from government: tax breaks, tax havens allowing corporations and the rich to park their money in a no-tax zone, loopholes, favors like carried interest.” Moyers referred to a study asserting that “America’s claims to being a democratic society are seriously threatened” and that the influence of the average American is "miniscule." He concluded that it’s up to us to stop this “mad dash to oligarchy.” Watch:

(h/t: Best of the Left Podcast)

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: Remembering Johnny Winter

Johnny Winter, among the greatest of blues guitarists, passed away at 70 last Wednesday. The Texas-born Winter, who recorded with one of his blues heroes, Muddy Waters, was renowned for his fiery, high-octane playing and raw vocals. Performing above in Barcelona, Spain, 1990, he applied his blistering slide guitar to Elmore James' "Stranger Blues."