Monday, October 23, 2023
Speaking of Which
After a grueling Speaking of Which
last week (9497 words, 125 links), I resolved this week not
start my article search until Sunday: partly because many of the
week's stories are quickly evolving, but mostly because I said
pretty much what I wanted to say last week (and much of it the
week before). But the way this column comes together is a
lot like surfing: you look around, notice an interesting wave,
and try to ride it. The process is very reactive, each little
bit giving you a glimpse of some still unparsed whole, further
obscured by a sort which obliterates order.
What I want to do this week is to start by making a few
points that I think need to be highlighted, as plainly and
clearly as possible.
On October 7, Palestinians in Gaza launched a surprise attack
on parts of Israel adjacent to the walls surrounding Gaza. The
attackers fired about 5,000 rockets over the walls, and about
2,500 fighters infiltrated Israel, attacking military bases,
villages, and kibbutzim. On the first day, they killed some 1,200
Israelis, and took some 200 back to Gaza as hostages. Within the
next day or two, Israel killed or repelled the infiltrators, and
took control back of the checkpoints and wall breaches. From that
point, the Palestinian offensive was over.
If you can overlook 75 years since Israel started pushing
Palestinian refugees into Gaza, the slaughter on the way to Suez
in 1956, the reprisal raids up to 1967, the military rule from
1967 up until the deputization of the PLO under the Oslo Accords,
and the blockade and periodic "mowing the grass" since 2006; if
you can put all of that out of mind, as well as the recent rash
of settler pogroms in the West Bank, and the encroachment on the
Al-Aqsa mosque, and the disinterest of other Arab leaders as they
negotiate alliances with Israel and the US, then sure, the attack
was unprovoked, savage, and shocking. But given how systematically
Gaza has been isolated, impoverished, and tortured, and given that
the evident trend was only getting worse, is it really a surprise
that people treated so badly might choose to fight back, even to
risk death (which given the how much more power Israel wields was
The rest of the war -- two weeks so far -- is purely Israel's
choice, whether for revenge or for spite, or perhaps, as numerous
Israelis have urged, a step toward a "final solution." Israel
blames the attacks on Hamas, and has vowed to kill them all
(supposedly 40,000, out of a population of 2.1 million), but
doesn't discriminate very well. They've already killed four
times as many Palestinians as they've lost. And they seem
intent on striking the West Bank, Lebanon, and Syria as well.
They've vowed to enter Gaza with massive force, to root out
and end all resistance. They certainly have the firepower to
kill tens and hundreds of thousands. The only question is
whether conscience or shame will stop them. It certainly
doesn't seem like the United States will dare second guess
It's been clear from day one how this will play out. The
people who run Israel, from David Ben-Gurion down to the
present day, are very smart and very capable. They could
have settled this conflict at any step -- certainly any point
since 1980, and possibly quite earlier -- but they didn't,
because they kept getting away with it, while cultivating
the hope for ever greater spoils. But the more they kill,
the more they destroy, the more miserable they make the lives
of those subject to their whim, the more humanity they lose.
America prides itself on being Israel's dearest friend, but
what kind of person lets a friend embarrass himself like
this? This may once again be a case where no nation stands
up against genocide, but it is not one that will easily be
"What kind of friend" may be rhetorical, but it's time to
take a much harder look at what the US does for and to its
allies. The US habitually drags its friends into wars: as
with the "coalitions of the willing" in Afghanistan and Iraq,
the various lesser "war on terror" projects, and the hopeless
war in Ukraine. The US collects tribute in the form of arms
purchases. And the US choices of allies (like Israel and Saudi
Arabia) and enemies (like Iran, Venezuela, and North Korea,
or more seriously Russia and China) taint every ally, as the
US has become the world's most recalcitrant rogue state.
It's tempting to blame America's foolhardy foreign policy
on the vast power of the military-industrial complex, but what's
locked it into place isn't just revolving door corruption, but
also the persistence of several really bad ideas, like the
notion of "peace through strength," the cult of deterrence, and
the great sanctions game. We need a fundamental rethink on security
and foreign policy. We need in particular to realize that Israel
is not a model we want to follow, but a dead end disaster we need
to pull back from. And hopefully convince them to pull back too.
The next section is my "thesis-oriented" original introduction.
(I only got down to 13 before scratching it as the lead and writing
the newer one above, but will try to knock out the rest before I
post on Monday.) Finally, there is another note on foreign policy
at the end of the post, which I jotted down back on Saturday. This
week's links came out of a very quick scan of sources.
Actually, when I started writing an introduction on Sunday,
I intended a numbered list, with about a dozen items on it. What
follows is as far as I got, before turning to the shorter statement
The most basic political division is between Left and Right.
The Right believes that human beings sort into hierarchies, where
order is ultimately maintained through the threat of force. The
Left believes that people are fundamentally equal, and can enter
into a political compact for the mutual benefit of all. The Right
looks back on a long history of tribal warfare and plunder, which
they hold to be the natural order, but really just comes down to
their privileges. On the other hand, the Left appeals to those
denied respect and privilege, looking forward to our most generous
hopes and aspirations.
As human society and technology become more complex, as
population grows and interacts faster, as people become more
conscious of how the world works, traditional hierarchies falter
and frustrate. This leads to conflict. Ruling elites never give
up power without pressure. Their first instinct when challenged
is repression. Even if successful at first, the pressure builds
up, and can eventually explode in revolution. The alternative
is reform: diluting elite power to better serve more people,
channeling conflict into cooperation. Conflict destroys, but
The modern world is the result of forces of change (mostly
driven by science, technology, commerce, and culture), as modulated
by bouts of revolution and reform. It is reasonable to view change
as an inevitable force. Rigid regimes fight back with repression,
risking violent revolution. More flexible regimes accommodate change
through reform. Europe was regularly rocked by revolutions from 1789
through 1920, but reform gained ground from the 1830s (in England)
on, and has become the rule, especially after 1945. One might also
note that counterrevolutions occasionally occurred, but tended to
blow up disastrously (most notoriously in Germany, 1933-45).
Violence has been a common human trait as far back as anyone
can remember. It's been used to dominate, to control, to loot and
plunder, both by and against elites. Many of these uses have come
to be disparaged, yet in one form or another they persist: I've
seen a tally of some 250 wars since the "big one" ended in 1945.
Even today, most of us accept the concept that one is entitled to
fight back when attacked. The Left was defined in the French
Revolution, and most Leftists at least sympathized with the
Russians in 1917, and even the Vietnamese in the 1950-70s, but
lately the Left in America have become so reform-minded that
they are quick to condemn any violence, even in circumstances
that have totally closed any hope for peaceful reform. In my
opinion, true pacifists are not wrong, but they are out of
touch with the human condition (e.g., as in Gaza).
As Bertolt Brecht put it, "food first, morals later."
Brecht understood that thinking about morality is a luxury
that can only be indulged after more basic needs. (Another
famous line: "what keeps mankind alive? bestial acts.") Yet
when people broke out of their cage in Gaza and immediately
killed and maimed people on the other side of the walls, we
were immediately lectured by well-meaning Leftists that in
order to "talk morally" about the event, we first had to
condemn the killers, lest any later explanation of why they
killed should sound like an excuse, and thereby expose the
morality of the Left to shaming.
Morality is a personal belief system that guides one's
behavior in normal circumstances. That's probably true for all
people, but it particularly matters to Leftists, because our
politics is largely dictated by our moral concerns, and that's
something we're rather proud of. But it shouldn't be an excuse
for arrogance. Morality isn't a license which allows you to
condemn people you don't understand, especially when the big
thing you don't understand is what other options that person
has. Morality may seem absolute, but it's application is always
contingent on what options are actually available, and what
their consequences may be. On the other hand, where you can
reasonably discern other, more moral, options, you might be
able to criticize: while, say, Hamas or IDF soldiers may have
very limited options, a Prime Minister has options enough to
deserve more scrutiny.
While morality may guide your political choices, available
options are often limited, unclear, compromised, highly contingent --
hence the cliché of always having to vote for "the lesser evil."
Many political decisions are made on what amounts to blind trust.
The key point to understand about Israel is that it is the
result of a settler colonial project, where a foreign imperialist
power sponsored and installed an alien population, effectively
stripping a native population of most of its rights. There are
several dozen similar examples, mostly in the Americas, installed
by European empires from 1500 into the mid-1900s. The primary
determinant of success was demographic. Settler states remained
in charge where immigrants were a clear majority (e.g., Canada,
Australia, US), but not where they never came close to majority
status (South Africa and Algeria were the most hotly contested.
Israel is unusual in several respects: although Zionists began
moving to Palestine in the 1880s, the big influx only happened
after Britain took over in 1920, reaching about 30% in 1948.
Between the partition (expanded during the 1948-50 war), the
forced removal of 700,000 Palestinians, and immigration from
Europe and Arab lands, Israel's settler population grew to 70%
before the 1967 war, when Israel seized more lands with much
more Palestinians. Since then, the demographic split is about
50-50, although most Palestinians have no political rights or
representation. Israel has managed to retain control through
a really extraordinary "matrix of control" (Jeff Halper's
term), that is unique in history.
Israel shares many characteristics with other settler
colonies (especially formerly British ones). First is a strong
degree of segregation of the settlers from the natives, and
the economic marginalization of the latter. Israel preserved
the British colonial legal system, with military control, for
Palestinians, while evolving its own system for registered Jews.
Laws regarding the sale of land and the permitting of buildings
were skewed to siphon off resources. (The US had similar laws,
but by 1900 the Native American population had dwindled to the
point there was little left to steal, and the reservations,
while impoverished, were left as retreats.)
There are many unusual things about Israel, but the most
important one is that Israel synthesized a new culture, with its
own language and an extensive mythology, based on its status as
a settlement (before Israel, it was simply the Yishuv). Before
aliyah, Jews spoke local languages (like Arabic and German), or
creoles (like Ladino and Yiddish). In Israel, they spoke Hebrew.
They embellished the long history of Jewish suffering into their
own cosmic mantra. They farmed. They fought. They refashioned
orthodox Judaism into one that celebrated Israel. And they
trained new generations to maintain the settler ethic. The
result is a psyche that cannot ease up and do what every other
successful settler nation has done: let its native population
adjust to a normal life.
European settler colonialism reached a sort of peak
shortly after 1900, but the two world wars it inspired broke
the bank. Britain cut India and Palestine loose in 1947-48,
having come up with half-assed partition plans that led to
multiple wars. Most of Africa was independent by 1960. France
lost Vietnam in 1954, and Algeria in 1962. Nearly every colony
had an independence movement. Palestine was, if anything, ahead
of the curve, with a major revolt in 1936-39. Today, one is
tempted to fault the Palestinians for not seeking some sort
of accommodation with the Israelis, but they had reasons to
expect more -- probably up to the 1973 war, after which Egypt
abandoned them. It is hard for us today to imagine what it
felt like to be under a colonialist thumb, but Palestinians
knew that all too well.
Israelis have a word, "hasbara," which translates to
"explaining," but is really more like spin. Zionists have
been working their spin on Americans since well before 1947,
and they are very good at it. Any time Israel comes up, you
can count on constant monitoring of news and opinion sources,
with vigorous lobbying to get us to say what they want, in
the terms they want us to be using. They've turned the word
"terrorist" into a conditioned reflex to kill. The Palestinians
they kill are all, if not "terrorists," at least "miltants."
We all know that Israel is the "only democracy in the Middle
East," even though half the people aren't allowed to vote.
The propaganda machine got cranked up to max the moment the
Gaza breakout attacks started, and within minutes everyone
in America -- at least in upper punditland -- were singing
the same hymns. They've created a linguistic cage that is
making it difficult to think at all clearly. Long experience
makes one wonder: is it really Hamas that attacked Israel,
or is Hamas just the target we've been trained to hate? Why
is it the "Israel-Hamas War" when Israel is the only one with
an army and air force? And when the real target that Israel
is pounding isn't Hamas, which is basically invisible, but
all of Gaza? After key Israelis threatened to kill literally
everyone in Gaza, why aren't we talking about genocide,
instead of just some "humanitarian crisis"?
Everyone in Israel has an ID card. That ID card specifies
your rights, whether you can vote, which courts will try cases
you are involved in, where you can go, much more. In America, we
have a word for this kind of systematic discrimination based on
birth: racism. It's no longer embedded in law, but it is deeply
embedded in culture, and it pops up pretty often if you're at
all sensitive to it. Racism may not be the right word for what's
not just practiced in Israel but enshrined in law, but it's a
term that Americans recognize the implications and consequences
Nationalism was a 19th century European invention, which
sought a conservative sense of popular cohesion, at a time when
capitalism was going global, intellectuals turned cosmopolitan,
and ordinary people were promised a stake in public life. It
worked by turning people against other groups, who could be
imperial overlords or local minorities (like Jews). Zionism
was an attempt to posit a Jewish nationalism, but given the
diaspora first had to settle on a land. The Zionists went
hat-in-hand to various imperial capitols. The British saw an
opportunity, took Palestine from the Ottomans, and the rest
is history -- including the rise of a Palestinian nationalism
to struggle against the British and the Israelis. Nationalism,
even more than the Holocaust, is what binds Israel to Nazi
Germany, and what threatens Israel's future. In particular,
it's estranging Israel from the cosmopolitan Jewish diaspora.
Israel is the most deeply and intensively militaristic
nation in the world, possibly in world history. Nearly everyone
gets drafted and trained (except Palestinians and ultra-orthodox
Jews, although more of the latter are joining). Reserves extend
well into middle age, and there are numerous other police and
spy agencies. Military leaders move on to dominate the political
and business castes. The arms industry is huge, and subsidized
not just by the state but by billions of dollars of US aid each
year. Treaties with neighbors like Egypt and Jordan have never
produced peace dividends. Rather, Israel has always moved on to
taunting other "enemies" (Lebanon, Iraq, Iran), plus they've
always had the Palestinians to keep down. It's a lot of work
keeping enemies riled up at you, but they've developed a taste
for it, and can't imagine giving it up.
Virtually everyone in the American defense sector is in
bed with Israel, but none more so than the neoconservatives,
who so admire Israel's unilateral projection of power, their
refusal to negotiate, and their willingness to violate norms
against assassinations and such that they advocate America
adopting the same policies on a global scale. These are the
people whose 1990s Project for a New American Century started
the campaign to invade Iraq, but they also conspired to bring
Likud to power to demolish the Oslo Accords and fire up the
2000 Intifada. The GW Bush administration was run by those
same people. While their policies were disastrous, they still
exercise enormous influence in Washington. Israel's bad ideas
are at least limited by its small size and parochial interests.
But American neoconservatives have bigger game in mind, like
Russia and China.
Americans have always been sympathetic to Israel, though
the reasoning involved varies: Christian fundamentalists see a
fulfillment of biblical prophecies; many Americans see a kindred
settler spirit; neo-imperialists see an ally against Arab ills
(nationalism, socialism, Islamism); liberals see an outpost of
Western democratic (and capitalist) values (although earlier on
leftists were enamored of Israeli socialism); anti-semites see
a distant place to put unwanted Jews, and Jews see a thriving
refuge for their co-religionists; and military-industrialists
see a booming market and a stimulator of other markets. But
the political calculations have changed since the 1990s: the
Republicans aligned not just with Israel but with the Israeli
right; and while many Democrats have become wary of the racism,
repression, and belligerence of Israel, very few politicians
have been willing to risk punishment by the Israel lobby and
their donors. The result is that the US no longer attempts to
sanitize or rationalize Israeli positions. Trump and Biden
simply jump when commanded, as if America has no interests
other than to serve at Israel's feet. This, in turn, has only
emboldened the Israeli right to turn ever more viciously on
Approximately half of the people subject to Israeli law
and enforcement cannot vote in Israel. About 20% of the remainder
are nominally Israeli citizens, but are subject to many forms of
discrimination. The remainder are Jews from various backgrounds,
some intensely religious, some not at all, but almost all unite
on their shared fear and loathing of Palestinians. The old divide
between right and left has largely disappeared as the welfare
state has been trimmed back to a tolerable minimum, leaving as
the only real issue the contest of which party appears to be
the most barbaric toward the Palestinians. This has allowed the
ascendancy of a series of far-right demagogues, which Netanyahu
has been agreeable to work with, and has even tried to outflank.
Aside from the rump group in the Knesset, which has always
remained utterly powerless, there has never been a viable forum
for Palestinians to air out their political differences. The PLO
was a coalition of groups in exile that never had roots in the
Occupied Territories. The Oslo Accords ratified their election
as the Palestinian Authority, but when Hamas attempted to enter
the political process and challenged Fatah, their wins were thrown
out, and no further elections were allowed. (Israel, and America,
couldn't abide democratic elections where the wrong people won.
Remember the elections promised for 1956 in Vietnam? Eisenhower
canceled them for fear of losing to the Communists, leaving them
no choice but to fight.) Hamas wound up seizing
power in Gaza, which Israel responded to with blockade and bombs.
Israel branded Hamas as terrorists, giving them carte blanche to
kill whenever it suited them. Fatah, circumscribed in ever tighter
circles in the West Bank, remains ineffective, with a stench of
corruption. This suits Israelis, who love complaining about having
no partner for peace.
Israel's far-right turn is built on ethnocentrism, racism,
and a strong belief that might makes right. This has largely been
led by the settler movement, which kicked off immediately after the
1967 war, and was dedicated to establishing "facts on the ground"
that would make it politically impossible for future Israeli leaders
to negotiate any "land for peace" deal (like the one with Egypt,
which did result in the evacuation of two Israeli settlements; the
2006 removal of Israeli settlements from Gaza was deliberately not
negotiated to avoid such appearance). The pace of settlement building
in the West Bank accelerated significantly after Oslo, and did much
to sabotage peace prospects. Although all Israeli governments from
1967 on have supported the settler movement, the latest government
has raised its support to a new level, encouraging settlers to
attack Palestinians and drive them from the fields they have been
working. This seemed to be a calibrated first step toward forcing
Palestinians into exile, although it was still small and tentative --
unlike the post-attack demands that all Gazans move south and flee
Gaza into Egypt, or face death as Israel invades. That is exactly
the form that genocide would take.
The October 6 attacks were immediately met with a deafening
roar of condemnation, at least in America and probably in Europe,
even by people who have long been very critical of Israel's brutal
occupation and long history of duplicity and propaganda. That's
fine on a personal level, but what Israeli leaders were looking
for, and what they heard, was assent to respond with violence in
even greater orders of magnitude. When one said "terrorism," they
heard "kill them all." When one said "this is Israel's 9/11," they
heard "it's time for all-out war." And when Israelis threatened
genocidal revenge, and got little or no pushback from their old
allies, the die was cast. They would bomb and kill until even
they couldn't stand it anymore. And it would happen not because
of what Hamas did, but because they had started down this road
a century ago. (There's a book called Jerusalem 1913 which
offers one credible landmark date.) Because no one ever took the
threat seriously enough to stop them. Because they pulled the
occasional punch and laughed it off. Because we fellow settler
colonists secretly admired them.
It's tempting to think that world opinion, not least the rich
Americans who bestow so much generosity on Israel, could talk
Israel down from this precipice of genocide. In that light,
Biden's public embrace and endorsement seems not just foolish
but cowardly. I won't argue that it's not. But I'm reminded of
something that David Ben-Gurion liked to say: "it only matters
what the Jews do." And here, unencumbered by public opinion
and other people's morality, they will surely do what they've
always wanted to do, and reveal themselves as they truly are.
Or at least some of them will: the ones naively given so much
[PS: Ben-Gurion said a lot of ridiculous bullshit, so scouring
Google for an exact quote is hard and painful. Closest I came to
this one was "it does not matter what the goyim say, but what the
Jews do." But my memory is more to my point.]
Two more personal items for possible future reference:
unhappy with Bernie, as "he can't even call on Israel to stop the
bombing!" I think this has something to do with
Senate unanimously adopts resolution stating support for Israel.
Not only did Sanders vote for the resolution, he didn't call for a
ceasefire in a statement he issued calling for food to be allowed
I dug up the link to Laura's "one and only"
2010 poem, which she wrote for a local "poetry slam" event, but
continues to be relevant, urgent even.
Calling for a ceasefire should be one of the easiest and sanest
things any politician can do. That politicians are reluctant to do
so suggests that someone is snapping the whip hard behind them.
For instance, I just saw this
A senior adviser to [UK Labour Party leader Keir Starmer was asked
how many Gazans have to die before Labour will call for a ceasefire.
The reply came: "As many as it takes . . ."
Top story threads:
Nicole Narea: [10-19]
A timelilne of Israel and Palestine's complicated history.
A lot of useful information here, though there are things I'd stress
a bit differently.
Sam Adler-Bell: [10-21]
War of the statements: "The unusual way Americans have processed
the Israel-Hamas War."
Zack Beauchamp: [10-20]
What Israel should do now: "Israel's current approach is clearly
wrong. Here's a better way to fight Hamas -- and win."
George Beebe/Anatol Lieven: [10-19]
How China and Russia can help us avoid escalation in the Middle
East: This is a bit fanciful, starting with the assumption that
the US wants to "avoid escalation in the Middle East." The underlying
point -- that Russia and China could help in cooling down hot spots --
would make more sense if the US wasn't so intent on heating them up.
Ghousoon Bisharat/Oren Ziv/Baker Zoubi: [10-17]
Israel cracks down on internal critics of Gaza war: "Palestinians,
as well as some left-wing Jews, are being suspended from studies, fired
from jobs, or arested at night -- all because of social media posts."
Data for Progress: [10-20]
Voters agree the US should call for a ceasefire and de-escalation of
violence in Gaza to prevent civilian deaths: 66% of all likely
voters agree (more or less), including 80% of Democrats, but evidently
not Joe Biden.
Mohammed El-Kurd: [10-20]
Western journalists have Palestinian blood on their hands.
Jarod Facundo: [10-17]
Progressive American Jewish groups lead cease-fire rally near
White House: "The protesters urged the Biden administration
to prevent 'a chain of reactions that would be catastrophic for
a lot of people.'"
Basil Farraj: [10-21]
Israel steps up its war against Palestinian prisoners: "Israel has
almost doubled the Palestinian prison population since October 7."
Gershom Gorenberg: [10-20]
How West Bank settlements led to the conflict in Gaza: "Having
to defend them clearly imperils Israeli security."
Chris Hedges: [10-22]
Let them eat cement: "Israel is not only decimating Gaza with
airstrikes but employing the oldest and cruelest weapon of war --
Ellen Ioanes: [10-21]
Israelis feel abandoned by Netanyahu after October 7: "A recent
poll shows high support for a group invasion in Gaza but dismal
numbers of the prime minister."
Colby Itkowitz: [10-11]
Democratic divisions over Israel resurface after 'cease-fire'
comments: "Democrats harshly rebuked several left-leaning
lawmakers who have called for a 'cease-fire' as Israel-Gaza
Sarah Jones: [10-19]
The Palestinian blood on America's hands. Quotes Biden as saying:
"The Israelis are gonna do everything in their power to avoid the
killing of innocent civilians." Everything? All they would have to
do is stop the bombing. Are they stopping the bombing? Biden's
credulity here is mind-boggling. Especially coming right after
Biden saying: "Israel is going after a group of people who have
engaged in barbarism that is as consequential as the Holocaust."
About 1,300 Israelis have been killed in this event. That's awful,
but not even a rounding error compared to the Holocaust. Worse
than the Holocaust? That's not exactly going to encourage Israel
"to avoid the killing of innocent civilians."
Robert Kuttner: [10-13]
Israel's dwindling moral high ground: Imagine an alternate
world where Israel stopped at repairing the breach in the wall,
and didn't go on to bomb Gaza and threaten genocide. A little
restraint would have argued for their innocence, putting a little
distance between the Hamas attack from the 75 years of Israeli
attacks that preceded it, and making it much easier to negotiate
a way out of this disaster. But Netanyahu just had to show Gaza
(and the world) how tough and intemperate Israel could be, as
if anyone needed reminding. Similarly, the world would have
remained very sympathetic to the US after 9/11, instead of
being forced to recognize GW Bush as the sniveling warmonger
he really was.
Eric Lipton: [10-17]
Middle East war adds to surge in international arms sales.
Branko Marcetic: [10-20]
Forget 'peace,' did Abraham Accords set stage for Israel-Gaza
John Nichols: [10-21]
Blessed be the peacemakers, unless they raise their voices in
Peter Oborne/Jamie Stern-Weiner: [10-17]
Why settlers want war in the West Bank.
Christian Paz: [10-20]
What do leftist critics of Israel do now?
Mitchell Plitnick: [10-20]
Biden's Mideast policy implodes.
Nathan J Robinson: [10-20]
The current Israel-Palestine crisis was entire avoidable: Interview
with Jerome Slater, author of Mythologies Without End: The US, Israel,
and the Arab-Israeli Conflict 1917-2020.
Raz Segal: [10-13]
A textbook case of genocide: "Israel has been explicit about
what it's carrying out in Gaza. Why isn't the world listening?"
Omar Shakir/Yasmine Ahmed/Akshaya Kumar: [10-20]
We are seeing urgent signs of more mutual mass atrocities to come in
Israel and Gaza.
Jonah Shepp: [10-22]
Don't blame Gazans for Hamas: "The terrorist group has never
been very popular among the people it rules." At this point, I'm
not sure what Hamas really is or isn't, other than a figment of
Israel's propaganda ministry. But when Israel says they're taking
out Hamas, they're really just aiming to punish Palestinians,
because, like they learned from the British, they've always been
about collective punishment.
Noga Tarnopolsky: [10-21]
How Biden bigfooted Bibi: "The American president has captured
Israeli hearts. Can he rein in the Israeli government?" Is he even
Nahal Toosi: [10-20]
'There are options for Israel that do not involve killing thousands
of civilians': "A now-former US official explains why he resigned
rather than pave the way for more arms transfers to Israel as it
battles Hamas." Josh Paul was the one who resigned.
Jeff Wise: [10-19]
How long can Gaza survive without water?
Trump, and other Republicans:
Legal matters and other crimes:
Brian Merchant: [10-20]
On social media, the 'fog of war' is a feature, not a bug. "Even
if that haze has occasionally been punctured for the greater good,
as when it's been used for citizen journalism and dissident organizing
against oppressive regimes, social media's incentive structure chiefly
benefits the powerful and the unscrupulous; it rewards propagandists
and opportunists, hucksters and clout-chasers."
David Pogue: [10-19]
My quest to downsize without throwing anything away: "A big old
house full of belongings -- could I find them all a new life?"
Vincent Schiraldi: [10-16]
Probation and parole do not make us safer. It's time to rethink
them. Some troubling examples and statistics. Author also has
a new book: Mass Supervision: Probation, Parole, and the Illusion
of Safety and Freedom.
Jeffrey St Clair: [10-20]
Born under punches: Counterpunch 30th anniversary.
We went to the Global Learning Center's annual banquet on Saturday,
where we were lectured by Bob Flax, past executive director of
Citizens for Global Solutions,
on the need for effective world government. I was pretty much aligned
with their thinking 25 years ago, when I started thinking about some
kind of major political book. I circulated a draft of about 50 pages
to some friends, and every time I mentioned anything in that direction,
I got savage comments from one reader. The gist of her comments was:
no fucking way anything like that's going to fly. I had to admit she
was right, which killed that book idea -- though after 2001 events
suggested more urgent political book tasks.
Clearly, the idea of a benign global authority which can lawfully
arbitrate disputes between nations has considerable appeal. Flax
started his presentation by pointing out how the superior government
of the US Constitution resolved disputes and standardized practices,
at least compared to the previous Articles of Confederation. On the
other, every government presents an opportunity for hostile takeover
by special interests -- or for that matter, for its own bureaucratic
interests. There are, of course, reasonable designs that could limit
such downsides, but they will be resisted, and it doesn't take much
to kill a process that requires consensus.
Consequently, I've found my thinking heading toward opposite lines.
Instead of dreaming of an unattainable world order, why not embrace
the fact that nations exist in a state of anarchy? It's been quite
some time since I looked into the literature, but I recall that a
fair amount of thought has been put into functioning of anarchist
communities. The key point is that since no individual can exercise
any real power over anyone else, the only way things get done -- at
least beyond what one can do individually -- is through cooperative
The smartest political book to appear in the last 20-30 years is
Jonathan Schell's The Unconquerable World -- maybe smarter
than Schell realized, as he doesn't spend nearly enough time on the
insight of his title. Yet, at least since 2000, efforts to conquer
and occupy other parts of the world have nearly all been doomed to
failure: the US in Afghanistan and Iraq (and Somalia and Libya and
Syria); Saudi Arabia in Yemen; Russia in Ukraine; Israel in Gaza.
None of these were what you'd call underdogs, yet they ultimately
couldn't overcome the resistance of the people they meant to subdue.
(China may prove an exception in Sinkiang, where they have huge
advantages, but probably not in Taiwan, where they don't.)
Unable to conquer, the only recourse is to deal with the other
nation as an equal, to show respect and to search out areas that
may be mutually beneficial. American reliance on power projection
and deterrence seems to be habitually baked in, which is strange,
given that it has almost never worked. On the other hand, what has
worked -- at least for US business elites (benefits for American
workers are less plentiful) -- has been generous bilateral and
multilateral engagement with "allies."
Of course, I didn't bring this up in the long Q&A period
that followed. A who guy spends all his life working on a nice
dream shouldn't have it trampled on just because I'm a skeptic,
but also I doubt I could have expressed such a profound difference
of opinion in a forum that was predisposed to the speaker. But had
I spoken up, most likely I would have held myself to a smaller,
tangential question: is anyone in his
circles seriously talking about a right to exile? Sure, they
are big on the ICC, which they see as necessary to enforce
international laws against war crimes and human rights abuses.
The ICC rarely works, as it depends on being able to get their
hands on suspects. (I think it would work better as a reference
court, where it could validate facts and charges, in absentia
if necessary, but not punish individuals.)
A "right to exile" offers people convicted in one country the
chance to go into exile elsewhere, if some other country decides
the charges are political in nature or simply unjust. This is
both a benefit to the individual freed and to the country, which
no longer has to deal with a troublesome person. This is also
likely to reduce the level of international hostility that is
tied to the perception of people being treated unfairly. And it
should reduce the incentive that countries have for prosecuting
their own citizens. It could also reduce the need to determine
whether immigrants need to be protected as refugees.
I've never seen anyone argue for such a right, but it seems to
me that it would make the world a slightly better place. (When I
looked up "right to exile," most references concern whether a
state has a right to exile (or banish) its citizens -- something
that is widely frowned upon. I could see combining both meanings,
provided there is a willing recipient country, and the person is
agreeable to the transfer.
I have a few dozen off-the-cuff ideas worth pitching, some
simple and practical, others more utopian (for now, anyway). Paul
Goodman wrote a book called Utopian Essays & Practical
Proposals. That strikes me as a super subtitle, to say the
least. His 1949 proposal for a car-free Manhattan still strikes
me as a pretty good one.
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