Total War in Gaza

July 29, 2014 § 1 Comment

I have subscribed to the English language digital edition of Haaretz, a major newspaper in Israel.  I want information about what is going on in Israel and Palestine unfiltered by the editorial judgment of U.S. journalism.   Haaretz is a newspaper with a political viewpoint.  It is a liberal newspaper in a country where the right wing is presently in total control of its legislature as well as its leader, Benjamin Netanyahu.  So, especially in this time of war, I understand Haaretz will not afford me an accurate view of majority sentiment in Israel.  I choose Haaretz because I trust it to be honest.  I expect it to be willing to acknowledge contrary viewpoints.

Ari Shavit is a major contributor to Haaretz and I trust him because his book, “My Promised Land”, impressed me with its evenhanded treatment of the relationship between Israel and the Arabs.

Recent Items From Haaretz

So, having explained my choice, I offer some items from recent editions of Haaretz.  They surprised me because they were written by people whose lives are regularly disturbed by the wail of sirens, Hamas rocket explosions, hurried trips to underground shelters; whose friends and relatives are serving in the IDF (Israeli Defense Force).  Despite the context of their lives, they write with compassion and acute concern about the behavior of their country toward its adversaries.

Here is an article from the July 28, 2014 edition of Haaretz:  Morality

Here is an article from the July 23,2014 edition:         Revenge

Here is a frontpage article from tomorrow’s edition:  Law Professor

Tolerance and common sense are the usual casualties of a war, so a hapless law professor is labeled as a treasonous villain because he includes a solicitous remark about his students’ safety in a routine email about the timing of exams.

Complexity From David Brooks

David Brooks is not a favorite of mine.  He occasionally  reviews a book or an article that is interesting but  his analysis of current events often buries the truth in wide ranging complexity and ambiguity.  His article in today’s Times entitled “No War Is an Island” is a good example.

According to Brooks, the conflict in Gaza is a puppet show manipulated by string-pullers as diverse as Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Egypt, Iran, Qatar, Iraq and, I don’t know (I may have nodded off), maybe Lithuania.   He claims that Hamas’ rocket attacks on Israel are really aimed at Egypt, because Egypt blocked tunnel commerce with Palestine; and Egypt did so because they wanted to weaken Hamas; because Hamas was allied with Turkey and . . . .   I could go on with this but it would waste your time.

I don’t think Hamas needed any prodding from Egypt to wage war against Israel.   It is true that the aftermath of the “Arab Spring” has been a series of conflicts throughout the Middle East, generally based on religious conflicts between different factions of Islam.  I doubt  those conflicts explain the animosity between Israel and Hamas.

Total War

The war in Gaza and Palestine is an example of how modern technology and tactics have transformed warfare.  This began following the Revolution in France in 1789.  The revolutionaries faced  united opposition from the surrounding European and British monarchies.  In response, the leaders of the Revolution called on all able bodied French citizens to arm themselves and become a citizens army to defend the revolution.  This army, subsequently led by Napoleon, ended the era when professional armies, equipped and supplied by rival Kings and Queens, faced each other in set-piece battles to resolve arguments over disputed territories.

This trend reached new levels of horror in the American Civil War, when Sherman’s “March to the Sea” destroyed Southern plantations, crops and towns, deliberately waging war on civilians in order to crush the rebellion.

It finally attained its ultimate development during WWI and WWII,  when whole populations were destroyed by artillery, bombs, poison gas,  machine guns and nuclear weapons that did not discriminate between soldiers and innocent women and children.

In the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, Israel has employed a time-tested weapon of mass punishment:  the blockade, which is designed to impoverish and starve into submission an entire population.   After several years of experience as blockade victims, the Palestinians, led by Hamas, struck back with anti-civilian weapons of their own:  rockets generally aimed at Israeli civilians.  For the past two weeks, the Israelis have responded by attacking the densely populated Gaza neighborhoods with bombs, missiles and naval bombardment.

Although Israel claims that they take pains to spare civilians, their “pinpoint precision” has proved to be destroying a building full of families if a shot is fired from that building.  There is little evidence that attention is paid to the number of innocent civilians who are sacrificed in order to kill a single suspected Hamas military official.   Israel claims that warnings are given before the shells are launched, but there is no evidence that such warnings are accompanied with  suggestions about where the targeted victims are supposed to seek refuge.

Such warning claims are hard to credit, given the well known obstacles to movement imposed by Israeli occupation, even before those barriers  were enhanced by the addition of thousands of well armed troops.

The Tunnels

One justification for the invasion is the Israelis’ understandable interest in finding and destroying a network of tunnels dug by Hamas as avenues to invade Israeli population centers, attack them by surprise and commit mass murder.  Every fair-minded person can understand that Israel has a right to prevent such assaults.

What I find less understandable is why finding and destroying these tunnels requires the wholesale destruction of buildings and homes surrounding them.  The tunnels are not destroyed by dropping bombs on them.  They are destroyed by placing explosives in them and at their entrances,  collapsing them.  Women and children presumably are not living in tunnels and if they are in a tunnel, getting them out before setting off explosive charges would seem like a reasonably easy task.

Suppose the police learned that a vicious gang was operating in Houston’s Fifth Ward; that caches of weapons and drugs were rumored to be located there.   No one would conclude that drone strikes should be called in to drop bombs on those living there.   If a strike force of police was dispatched to search the area, apprehend the gang leaders and confiscate the caches of contraband, it might lead to some abuses, like groundless “stop and frisk” incidents and some unnecessarily destructive searches, but it would not lead to shooting hundreds of innocent men, women and children.

Such a circumstance might lead to some firefights between gang members and police.  Some innocent people might be hit accidentally.  But the police would not destroy every house from which a shot was fired at them.  They would not drop a bomb on every building in which a gang leader was living.

Okay, I know that Hamas is a more formidable enemy than a Houston gang, but the IDF is better armed and equipped than HPD.  The differences don’t, to me, explain why the IDF finds it necessary to devastate an entire neighborhood in order to locate and destroy tunnels.

Concluson

I don’t apologize for my opinions.  I may be wrong.  It wouldn’t be the first or the last time.  I have thought about these issues  a long time.  A few years ago, I read Jimmy Carter’s book.  I thought he was too harsh in his judgment of Israel, but I respected him as a man of character and compassion.  When I read “My Promised Land”, it struck me as exactly what I was comfortable with:  An account by a proud and loyal Jew that expressed honest opinions about the policies and history of Israel.

I write this blog post  with hesitation and reluctance.   My family includes cherished members who are Jews.  I understand and appreciate the importance of Israel, a nation bought with oceans of Jewish blood and earned by centuries of survival in the face of unimaginable evil and hatred.  American Jews have long served as a conscience for American liberalism, always at the leading edge of every battle for idealism and justice.   I believe, however, they are now on a course that will lead only to endless and escalating war that will undermine the trust and affection they have enjoyed from supporters throughout the world.

I think Netanyahu has faced himself and his nation with a dilemma:  Hamas and Fatah can agree to an end to the conflict only if it also relieves their constituents from the oppression of Israeli occupation and the blockade.  But Netanyahu cannot agree to any concession without presenting Hamas with a victory that will enhance their political strength and ability to attract more support.  There is a whisper in today’s press that Netanyahu would agree to an international force assuming control over Gaza; disarming Hamas and reopening the borders and internal passages to normal traffic and commerce.  I don’t know whether that is a possibility but it would certainly be an improvement over the alternative.

Such a solution would provide a temporary “out” for the conflicting parties and would merely presage  further negotiations concerning Jerusalem, the settlements and the Palestinians’ “right of return”.   If peace could prevail and some reasonable degree of normality  achieved, those other issues could be debated indefinitely, as I suspect they will be.  Meanwhile, children could return to school and adults could resume normal lives with access to health care, jobs and physical security.

 

 

 

A Saturday Afternoon Rant

July 27, 2014 § Leave a comment

Today I spent five or six hours at a “Summit Meeting” of activists and organizers working for Wendy Davis’s campaign.  I thoroughly enjoyed it; met some interesting people; learned some digital tricks about  political organizing and listened to some very smart, articulate youngsters present some very smart ideas about how to prepare for and execute an effective get-out-the-vote [GOTV to the cognoscenti] program.

Wendy Davis attended the meeting and made a rousing speech.

The organizers convinced me they have an amazing database of potential supporters, complete with voting histories and other clues to the likelihood that, if they vote, they will or will not probably vote for Wendy Davis.  Those who issued the invitations to this meeting presumably had access to this database.  [I was invited because I have done some phone-banking and hobbled around a neighborhood one Saturday afternoon with a third-year political science major from Harvard who is spending the summer doing some field work with Battleground Texas.]

My problem is:  I looked over the audience, probably about 150 people from Harris, Ft. Bend and Montgomery counties, and saw only four or five Chicanos, none in leadership positions.  When Wendy spoke, she said nothing about the migrant children flooding our Mexican border or the vicious and callous reaction of the Tea Party-dominated Texas Republican Party.  Here is a link with some information that apparently has been overlooked by the Davis campaign.   Chronicle

The irony of the experience, at least for me, was that the meeting was held in the Ironworkers union hall on Dahlia street in the East End of Houston.  The route to that location is along Lawndale, a major street in that part of town, where the signs on the shops and restaurants are in Spanish and the area is obviously a Hispanic neighborhood.

I made my pitch to a couple of the organizing staff and they listened politely.  I, of course, have no credentials to be giving advice to political organizers, but I do so anyway.  I am very tired of living in Texas under the domination of jackasses like Rick Perry, Ted Cruz and Dan Patrick.  And it seems obvious to me that, unless Wendy Davis can interest Chicanos in her campaign and can overcome their notorious failure to vote in off-year elections, she cannot be elected.

__________________________________

Well, enough about that.  My friend, Dave Shapiro, who constantly shops the Cloud for pertinent political commentary and generously emails his finds to his friends, sent me an article in Politico Magazine, written by Doug Sosnik, a political consultant and former adviser to President Bill Clinton.  Here is a link:  Sosnik

In this article, Sosnik  sounds the alarm that the Democratic Party is in danger of being “taken over” by liberals.  He writes that the Blue Dogs are being replaced by “populists” who may even be able to force Hillary to move leftward.  Horrors!  He apparently believes that the days of “triangulation” and the DLC may be gone forever.

Sosnik cites polls showing that Americans have lost faith in their government.  He concludes, based on this evidence, that the “big government” policies of political liberals may be a doomsday prescription for the Democratic Party unless the leftists can “reconcile” their ideology with less government.

I think this reasoning is nonsense.  Working class Americans have every reason to distrust government based on the policies of Sosnik’s old boss and the Bush policies that took over where Clinton left off.   Thomas Pikkety has furnished a boatload of data to show that unregulated or inadequately regulated capitalism leads to steadily increasing degrees of wealth inequality that enriches the few at the expense of the many.  Clinton’s repeal of Glass-Steagall was the exact wrong way to prevent Pikkety’s nightmare scenario.  His reckless facilitation of NAFTA style globalization only added to the destruction of American working class economic health.  Here is a link to an article that catalogs some of that story: Glass-Steagall [I have written about  this at some length in a post entitled "The Bankenstein Fiends".]

Economic justice in America will not be restored by weakening government.  It will be restored by government policies designed to benefit the ninety-nine percent who don’t have tax loopholes and 15% capital gains rates,  whose taxes are withheld from their wages without benefit of clever accounting tricks and overseas hiding places.  It will be restored by pro-union policies that protect the right to organize and bargain collectively with company ownership.  It will be restored by programs that hire workers to rebuild infrastructure.  That will not happen if economic policy is left in the hands of private corporations and billionaires and politicians beholden to them.

In other words, government will be trusted when it becomes trustworthy.  And that doesn’t equate with  indifference to the plight of ordinary Americans.

 

 

Suffer Litttle Children

July 14, 2014 § 1 Comment

“But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven” Matthew 19:14.

Summary

For the past few days our TV screens have been filled with pictures of women and children, exhausted, desperate, bewildered, eyes filled with fear, being herded toward cyclone fenced cages or bedded in crowded makeshift dormitories.  These are not pictures from Somalia or Sudan.  They are scenes in South Texas and California.

Before and after these pictures we have watched officials elected to govern Texas and the United States, commenting on these scenes and the issues they illustrate.  There has been little or no evidence of empathy or compassion from these officials.  They talk only of the obstacles and barriers slowing down the process of loading these mothers and children on buses or airplanes and shipping them back where they came from.

The obstacles and barriers that confound these officials are familiar ones:  The Constitution and federal laws, sources of constant frustration to government officials who are confident they know how best to handle “the situation”, but they are hamstrung by these pesky legal requirements, by which they mean such concepts as “due process” and requirements that children be protected from harm.

In this post I will cite some facts that should inform our reaction to these pictures.  I will also express my opinion of what, so far, appears to be the reaction of our governors.

Who Is To Blame?

The Republican Party Response

Instead of arguing about the right response to the migration of these mothers and children, all energy has been spent assessing the blame for that migration.  As usual, the prize for most creative reaction goes to the leadership of the Republican Party, notably John Boehner and a hitherto obscure Congressman, Raul Labrador. Raul is a Puerto Rican Morman, raised and schooled in Nevada who, after finishing college in Washington state,  settled in Idaho.  He has been in Congress for four years, is on the Natural Resources and Judiciary committees; sponsored the absurd “balanced budget bill”; and was chosen by David Gregory as an authority on immigration issues and allowed to spout misinformation on national television in last week’s “Meet the Press” show.

Labrador’s take:  Central American violence has nothing to do with recent increase in mothers and children fleeing to the U.S..  He explained that San Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala have long been violent places.  The real reason for the recent migration is the President’s decision not to deport “dreamers”.  Gregory was too polite to tell the Congressman that the President’s program to stop deporting kids who were brought to the U.S. by their parents does not apply to anyone arriving here now.  When Gregory suggested that the Congressman might seem harsh ,”to some people” (certainly not to a seasoned journalist like Gregory, but to “some people”) , Raul was quick with a rejoinder:  He assured Gregory and, presumably, those who might consider him a heartless jackass, that packing up those mothers and children and sending them back to Honduras, where the murder rate is the highest in the world, or wherever else they came from, was really doing them a favor.  [I'm not making this up.  Here is a link:  Labrador]

John Boehner’s analysis was not as creative as Labrador’s.  He merely repeated the usual GOP slogan:  That the “problem” results from Barack Obama’s failure to “secure the border”.  The pasting of this bumper sticker on this issue is close to a joke.  The mothers and children seeking a safe haven did not sneak across an insecure border.  They waded or rode rafts across, looking for a Border Patrolman to offer them shelter and help.  They were like a shopper in a department store looking for a clerk.

To summarize:  The Republicans are trying to equate the migration of these mothers and children to the “49ers” who heard rumors of a gold strike at Sutter’s Mill; packed up and decamped to California.  It will surely strain the credulity of Americans to see this as a sensible reaction to a real problem.

The Democratic Party’s Response

So far, I am not very proud or impressed with the response of my Party.  I have seen some evidence that they might join the GOP in repealing the law designed to protect trafficking in children.  That law requires a hearing to determine whether a child is entitled to asylum before a decision is made to deport him or her.  It does not apply to migrants from countries contiguous to the U.S., like Mexico.  It does apply to Central American countries.  To the government, speed is more important than the niceties of justice or due process.  There aren’t enough trained hearing officers or lawyers knowledgeable about immigration law to handle several thousand hearings.  There are published reports of a backlog of 375,000 cases waiting for immigration hearings.  And this backlog existed before this latest migration.

A Congressman’s Winding Trail

One Congressman, Henry Cuellar, a Democrat from a District that includes Webb and Hidalgo Counties and stretches north through the brush country to rural towns just east of San Antonio, has joined the GOP chorus blaming Obama for not visiting the border during his recent trip to Texas;  seeks the repeal of the child trafficking law; and holds Obama responsible for the present migration problem.

Cuellar was elected to the Texas House of Representatives; resigned after a short time; was appointed to be Secretary of State by Rick Perry; ran for Congress against Willie Bonilla; was defeated; then, after the gerrymandering of congressional districts, ran against Ciro Rodriguez, a liberal Democrat.

The race ended with very few votes separating the two candidates and vigorous claims by Rodriguez that votes had been miscounted.  An election contest was filed in Webb County (Laredo).  The district judge, sitting by assignment, gutted Rodriguez’ effort to have a full blown trial by striking part of his pleading, denying a motion for a brief delay so that he could marshal evidence of suspicious vote counting, and generally insuring that he would not be able to prove vote fraud.  [The judge was Joseph H. Hart, who, so far as I have been able to determine, was and is an honest and conscientious judge.  I don't agree with what I found out about his decision in this case, but I have no evidence that he was or is corrupt.]

On appeal, the San Antonio Court of Appeals, in a split 2 to 1 decision, reversed almost every ruling by Hart and remanded the case for a hearing on the merits.  A motion for rehearing en banc was granted and the panel decision was reversed.  So Cuellar went to Congress.  Since then he has been re-elected with little or no opposition.  His voting record on key issues is 100% consistent with the Democratic caucus, but he has an 88% approval rating from the United States Chamber of Commerce.

As I have researched this guy and watched him stab Obama in the back, I began to have a deja vu reaction.  Then it hit me:  Cuellar is like LBJ:  Rick Perry was Cuellar’s Brown & Root.  His first defeat by Bonilla was his Lee O’Daniel defeat; followed by LBJ’s Coke Stevenson race; Cuellar’s was with Ciro Rodriguez.  Then, after going to Washington, he did what was required to stay out of trouble with the national party, but cozened a smooth path by maintaining his alliance with the Texas GOP and corporate business lobbyists. “Landslide Henry” is a bush-league version of “Landslide Lyndon”.

Summary

I don’t know how the maneuvering in Washington will play out.  So far, as stated, it appears that morality and compassion will have little to do with it.  Everyone’s focus is on the next election and the presidential election after that.  Obama would love to use the present crisis to bulldoze a reform of our immigration laws and procedure but the Republicans, paranoid as a result of the Tea Party’s defeat of Eric Cantor, are not likely to permit that result.

It will be interesting to see how Hillary reacts to this issue.  I assume her opinion will depend on  polling and that now seems uncertain.  Letitia Van de Putte has denounced Cuellar’s perfidy.  Wendy Davis, so far as I know, has been silent on this entire issue.  I hope her advisers are not clinging to the false hope that, by not mentioning controversial issues, she can skate into office with the votes of liberal opponents of Abbot plus those of uninformed voters who will vote for her because she is a blonde woman.

I don’t think that is a winning strategy, but it is an often tried one.  The problem with it is that it fails to inspire liberals while not fooling conservatives, whose well financed attack machine will pin controversial labels on her regardless of whether she earns them.  It was a very popular strategy in the late fifties and the sixties, when Democratic Party candidates tried to garner black votes without supporting civil rights, thinking they could count on black support because of the blatant racism of their opponents and by including a sentence in their speeches that promised justice to “ALL Texans”. (Get it?  ALL means “including blacks”).  Don Yarborough was the first serious candidate for governor of Texas who did not play that game.  But for the assassination of JFK in 1963, I think he would have become Texas’ governor.

My Reaction

Much of what I have seen on TV for the past ten days or so has been either factually inaccurate or transparently hypocritical.  The journalists are not doing their job.  The following are irrelevant to the recent upsurge in migration of children from Central America:

a.  Securing the Border (the children want to be caught).

b.  Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) (It applies only to children who entered the U.S. on or  before June 15, 2007)  See guidelines.

c.  The Obama administration’s statements and policies.  (The last thing Obama needed or wanted was thousands of Central American mothers and children flooding across the U.S./Mexico border, overwhelming the ability of the Border Patrol and Department of Immigration to deal with them.)

The best factual account of the background of this phenomenon is a report forwarded to me by my friend, Sissy Farenthold.  I describes the out-of-control violence in Honduras, Salvador and Guatemala, as well as the life-threatening perils of the long trek through Mexico to the Texas or California borders.  Here is a link:

W.O.L.A. Report

I believe the U.S. should offer to help our Central American neighbors deal with the lawless gangs that appear to have turned some areas in those countries into hunting grounds for victims of extortion, kidnapping and murder.  I don’t know whether it is practical, but it seems likely that Mexico and some South American countries would be willing to join in a coalition to confront the narco gangs that are proliferating in Central America.

Regardless of how effective these efforts are, I don’t see how the United States can abandon its vaunted human rights values by declaring a sort of martial law, rounding up these mothers and children and shipping them back to face life threatening abuse and poverty in their homeland.  Some of these migrants undoubtedly qualify as refugees and are entitled to asylum.  According to estimates I have seen, 90% of them have family members or family friends who are willing to assume responsibility for them.  Careful screening of those people should precede transferring custody to them, a process that will require time, talent and effort.

No child’s fate  should be determined without a lawyer to insure that his or her rights are protected.  Without researching the issue, I assume that there are many lawyers and law students , appropriately supervised, who would be willing to attend appropriate training courses and qualify themselves to perform that work.  Agencies like the American Arbitration Association can furnish adjunct hearing officers to conduct semi-formal hearings.  The hearings should be recorded digitally, so that a record is made for possible later appeals.

The problem, as I see it, is not that we lack the ingenuity to solve these problems.  The problem is that our elected agents lack the wit, the conscience or the will to address them.

Finally, although I make no pretensions to religious credentials or affiliation,  I do regard the Bible as a good, but not the only, book.  The teachings of Jesus, as they are described in parts of the New Testament, celebrate and honor some of our most noble concerns for the welfare of our fellow inhabitants of this planet.  Now is the time for those who claim allegiance to the Bible to speak out in the spirit of Christ’s statement that our treatment of the “least of these” is equivalent to our treatment of Him.  Matthew: 25:31-46.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Persistence of a Fantasy

June 29, 2014 § Leave a comment

I have seen reports of polling data disclosing that most Americans are indifferent to wealth inequality.  They oppose measures designed to diminish economic inequality by increased taxation of both current and inherited wealth.  This is surprising to me.   The standard explanation for this phenomenon is that, as John Steinbeck wrote, “Socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires.”   In other words, if you expect to become wealthy, you do not favor high taxes on wealth.

That explanation was never satisfying to me because it merely left me with another question:  “What the hell makes you think you have any realistic chance of becoming wealthy?”  Today I think I found a clue to the answer to that second question.  I discovered an online web magazine (the hip word is ezine pronounced “ee-zine”), Ozy.com (named after Shelly’s sonnet, “Ozymandias”).  It recently featured a story that included a statistic I had never before encountered:  77% of Americans, at some time in their life, have an annual income of $100,000 or more.  But only 4.6% retain that income level for five years or more.

Stop and consider this.  That gives a new and more nuanced meaning to Steinbeck’s remark.  Having once experienced having a $100,000 income, it is not so hard to understand that a person might identify with wealthy people.  Of course, as the Ozy article states,  there are many circumstances that may lead to an increased annual income:   a temporary windfall, like a bonus, an inheritance, a tort settlement, a fortuitous marriage, being hired for  well-paying job.  There are also lots of reasons for sudden losses of annual incomes:  bad investments, job losses, medical catastrophes, death.  Another likely factor at play here is that, if a working class person finds himself with an annual income of $100,000, he might well believe that he has joined the wealthy class; not realizing that, to the appropriate targets of redistributive taxation, $100,000 is pocket change.

Here is a link to the article: Accumulating Wealth

Thinking about this has also reminded me of one of my favorite literary metaphors:  The unstable coach described in Edward Bellamy’s “Looking Backward”.  Because, to me, this is relevant  to our present situation, I will close this post with an extensive quote from the first chapter of that book:

“By way of attempting to give the reader some general impression of the way people lived together in those
days, and especially of the relations of the rich and poor to one another, perhaps I cannot do better than to
compare society as it then was to a prodigious coach which the masses of humanity were harnessed to and
dragged toilsomely along a very hilly and sandy road. The driver was hunger, and permitted no lagging,
though the pace was necessarily very slow. Despite the difficulty of drawing the coach at all along so hard a
road, the top was covered with passengers who never got down, even at the steepest ascents. These seats on
top were very breezy and comfortable. Well up out of the dust, their occupants could enjoy the scenery at their
leisure, or critically discuss the merits of the straining team. Naturally such places were in great demand and
the competition for them was keen, every one seeking as the first end in life to secure a seat on the coach for
himself and to leave it to his child after him. By the rule of the coach a man could leave his seat to whom he
wished, but on the other hand there were many accidents by which it might at any time be wholly lost. For all
that they were so easy, the seats were very insecure, and at every sudden jolt of the coach persons were
slipping out of them and falling to the ground, where they were instantly compelled to take hold of the rope
and help to drag the coach on which they had before ridden so pleasantly. It was naturally regarded as a
terrible misfortune to lose one’s seat, and the apprehension that this might happen to them or their friends was
a constant cloud upon the happiness of those who rode.
But did they think only of themselves? you ask. Was not their very luxury rendered intolerable to them by
comparison with the lot of their brothers and sisters in the harness, and the knowledge that their own weight
added to their toil? Had they no compassion for fellow beings from whom fortune only distinguished them?
Oh, yes; commiseration was frequently expressed by those who rode for those who had to pull the coach,
especially when the vehicle came to a bad place in the road, as it was constantly doing, or to a particularly
steep hill. At such times, the desperate straining of the team, their agonized leaping and plunging under the
pitiless lashing of hunger, the many who fainted at the rope and were trampled in the mire, made a very
distressing spectacle, which often called forth highly creditable displays of feeling on the top of the coach. At
such times the passengers would call down encouragingly to the toilers of the rope, exhorting them to
patience, and holding out hopes of possible compensation in another world for the hardness of their lot, while
others contributed to buy salves and liniments for the crippled and injured. It was agreed that it was a great
pity that the coach should be so hard to pull, and there was a sense of general relief when the specially bad
piece of road was gotten over. This relief was not, indeed, wholly on account of the team, for there was
always some danger at these bad places of a general overturn in which all would lose their seats.
Chapter 1 7
It must in truth be admitted that the main effect of the spectacle of the misery of the toilers at the rope was to
enhance the passengers’ sense of the value of their seats upon the coach, and to cause them to hold on to them
more desperately than before. If the passengers could only have felt assured that neither they nor their friends
would ever fall from the top, it is probable that, beyond contributing to the funds for liniments and bandages,
they would have troubled themselves extremely little about those who dragged the coach.
I am well aware that this will appear to the men and women of the twentieth century an incredible inhumanity,
but there are two facts, both very curious, which partly explain it. In the first place, it was firmly and sincerely
believed that there was no other way in which Society could get along, except the many pulled at the rope and
the few rode, and not only this, but that no very radical improvement even was possible, either in the harness,
the coach, the roadway, or the distribution of the toil. It had always been as it was, and it always would be so.
It was a pity, but it could not be helped, and philosophy forbade wasting compassion on what was beyond
remedy.
The other fact is yet more curious, consisting in a singular hallucination which those on the top of the coach
generally shared, that they were not exactly like their brothers and sisters who pulled at the rope, but of finer
clay, in some way belonging to a higher order of beings who might justly expect to be drawn. This seems
unaccountable, but, as I once rode on this very coach and shared that very hallucination, I ought to be
believed. The strangest thing about the hallucination was that those who had but just climbed up from the
ground, before they had outgrown the marks of the rope upon their hands, began to fall under its influence. As
for those whose parents and grand-parents before them had been so fortunate as to keep their seats on the top,
the conviction they cherished of the essential difference between their sort of humanity and the common
article was absolute. The effect of such a delusion in moderating fellow feeling for the sufferings of the mass
of men into a distant and philosophical compassion is obvious. To it I refer as the only extenuation I can offer
for the indifference which, at the period I write of, marked my own attitude toward the misery of my brothers.”

I read this book long ago but the anger it evoked in me has proved to be permanent, although I have found less self-destructive ways to deal with it than I did when I was younger.

Bob

The Real Picketty Problem

June 10, 2014 § Leave a comment

In the last forty eight hours I have read some articles indicating  to me that we face a formidable, perhaps insurmountable, problem.  It is not a new problem but the arithmetic provided by Thomas Picketty makes our likely future seem especially galling.  To illustrate what I mean, let me suggest other , analogous examples.

We have effective vaccines to prevent measles and other forms of childhood illnesses.  But a significant segment of our population refuses to vaccinate their children because they have found statements on the web claiming that  vaccines are dangerous.  No matter how many  physicians go on TV to debunk these claims, those parents still insist on “protecting” their children from vaccines.

Another example:  The overwhelming majority of respected scientists have been shouting for years that fossil fuel is causing climate changes that threaten significant portions of the planet. We know how to reduce this threat by limiting the use of those fuels  But implementing regulations to effect those limits has proved to be politically difficult.  It seems likely that, by the time we finally take appropriate steps to protect ourselves, it will be too late to avoid many of the destructive results of climate change.

Another example:  Evolution has long been an accepted scientific explanation for the history of our species.  Physiology, anthropology, archeology, much of medical research, and virtually all other scientific disciplines are based, to some extent, on the theory of evolution.  But Charles Blow, in an article in the NY Times two days ago, reported that a recent poll showed that thirty-two percent of Americans believe that the world was created 10,00 years ago, just as Genesis states.  What’s more, since their belief is based on their religious creed, any faltering doubt they might have will, as they see things, threaten them with divine punishment, so confronting them with evidence contrary to that idea is pointless.

And, of course, as I have remarked before:  George W. Bush was re-elected in 2004.

So, given these examples and this history, I am pessimistic about the likelihood of a rational response to  Picketty’s evidence that we face a worldwide progressive redistribution of wealth to a smaller and smaller group of oligarchs, while the rest of the world’s population languishes in a steadily expanding slough of poverty or near poverty, with no significant prospect of escaping from it.  Here is a link to an article that predicts that, during the next five years, the wealth of the world’s population of millionaires, who, in 2013 controlled $8.4 trillion in wealth, will, by 2018 control $13.0 trillion.  During that five years, the projected gap between those oligarchs and the rest of us will grow dramatically.

One more bit of news:  Like you, I often see any indication of rising wage rates equated with the threat of inflation.  Here are some facts that establish, at least to my satisfaction, that rising profits have been the main, in fact the only, source of inflation since the end of the recession.

These facts establish, it seems to me, that our economic system unfairly rewards the rich few and does a poor job of sharing wealth with the working class.  Most western countries, where these circumstances prevail, are democracies.  That means that there are non-violent means of correcting this obvious injustice.  The problem, however, is succinctly stated by a popular comedian, Ron White.  His remarks are crude, tasteless and sexist.  His message, however, worth considering:  Our Picketty problem may be that you can’t fix stupid.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Social Doctrine of the Catholic Church

June 6, 2014 § 1 Comment

As my friends know, I am usually more critical than celebratory about religion and its influence on politics.  I have had to re-examine that attitude since Francis has become  Pope.  Recently a Cardinal from Argentina, Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, made a speech at a conference on Catholicism and Libertarianism held in Washington near he Capitol.  Here is a link to some of his remarks:  Speech .

You can’t get much plainer than that!  Paul Ryan’s next confession should be interesting.

I didn’t wade through the comments, but I read enough to let me see the interesting dialogue that goes on between rank-and-file Catholics and non-Catholics about the Church’s doctrine concerning abortion, homosexuality, contraception and other issues.  It is clear to me that, regardless of these issues, the new Pope and his supporters are establishing a new public face of the Catholic Church.  As our political interest focuses more on our Chicano bothers and sisters, this is a welcome development.

Bob

 

Sunday Morning Recommendations

June 1, 2014 § Leave a comment

If you dig pop music, you should check out the 2014 Rock and Roll Induction Ceremony.  I watched the first hour or so last night and plan to watch the rest today.  It is playing and re-playing all day on HBOSIG.  That’s Channel 808 on AT&T Uverse.  I don’t know about Comcast.  The segment on Peter Gabriel is great and the singers substituting for Linda  Ronstadt are wonderful.  (Emma Lou Harris; Cheryl Crow, Bonnie Rait and a couple of others whose names I didn’t get).  You can see KISS:  four old guys without makeup talking and looking like refugees from the Rotary Club.  But, they managed to produce some of the wildest, craziest entertainment ever seen.  I’m not sure it was music but gazillion people all over the world got off to it.

On a more serious note:  I hope you watched Brian Williams’ interview of Edward Snowden.   You can watch it as well as an hour of panel discussion about it online at CBS news.com.  My reaction was that Snowden appeared more believable than the spokesmen for the NSA,

Finally, here is my favorite example of white soul music:  Bonnie Rait  . 

Bob

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