August 5, 2014 § Leave a comment
I have recently equated Benjamin Netanyahu with what I perceived as an excessive and occasionally immoral assault on innocent civilians in Gaza. I read Haaretz every morning. Its coverage of the war in Gaza includes criticism of the IDF’s bombing and shelling of civilian targets in Gaza, as well as support for the Israeli effort to destroy the tunnels and confiscate the rockets that are designed to kill and injure Israeli civilians. Its opinion pages reflect several ways to see the conflict, some of them squarely contradictory to others.
Netanyahu The Moderate?
I am now beginning to understand more about the political context in Israel. This morning’s paper links to a taped interview that discusses the political campaign now beginning that will determine Netanyahu’s future as an elected Israeli official. It appears , contrary to some of my comments about him, he may be a moderate voice in a fractious political situation, responding to an electorate insistent on a strong military attack on Hamas, but trying to limit the extent and duration of that attack to something short of an all out war of total destruction and annihilation. Without being too simplistic, it appears that he, like some members of our GOP, has his own Tea Party to contend with And, again like the GOP, this does not make him a leftist, just not a fire-breathing advocate of unconditional surrender as the only honorable goal.
Here is a link to the Haaretz story: Netanyahu .
I do not think these facts alter the moral issues I have been writing about. Politics does not excuse decisions, but it does explain the forces affecting the behavior of politicians.
Chutzpah – The Ridicule and Trashing of Obama and John Kerry
Even given the political context, I think Netanyahu, has been unwise to allow himself and his political allies to attack John Kerry and Barack Obama. I know he has insisted that “America has been terrific.” But he has been quiet during a week when Israeli media and various political spokesmen labeled John Kerry a “nebbish”; pillioryed him for drafting an outline for a negotiated settlement of the conflict in Gaza that included lifting Israel’s blockade, even though it also included a statement requiring attention to security for Israel,; and called him naive for appearing in public apparently friendly with representatives of Turkey and Qatar.
This episode is only the latest of several which reflected the hostile nature of Netanyahu;s personal relationship with President Obama. This dates back to the election campaign of 2008, when Netanyahu made clear his hope that Romney would become President. It echos George W’s defiant declaration that those who were “. . . not for us will be regarded as allied with those against us.” [I have not taken the time to go back and get George's exact words. This expresses the substance of his contribution to our nation's historic rhetoric.]
Before Israel decides to become a partisan participant in U.S. political conflicts by attacking its President and Secretary of State, it should remember that foreign policy is conducted by the President, not by the House of Representatives or the Senate. Barack Obama is the President and Hillary Clinton is probably going to be the next President. I don’t think it is a winning strategy for Israel to try to dictate the foreign policy of this country by undermining confidence and political support for our President. At some point, political attacks evoke political reactions and, for Israel, a political war with the U.S. is not a good idea.
Some History of the Close Relationship Between Israel and the United States
In 1948, while memories of the Holocaust were fresh, President Harry Truman was the first national leader to recognize the new nation of Israel. For more than twenty years thereafter America’s support of Israel came without serious consequences because our adversary was the USSR, not Islam or the neighbors of Israel in the Middle East.
This changed on September 11, 2001, when Al-Qeada successfully attacked us. Since then, every development in Israel’s continuing conflict with its neighbors in the Middle East has directly affected the security of America and its international relationships. That dramatic change has not prevented the United States from remaining steadfast in its support of Israel, financially, politically and militarily, even when the U.S. was alone, opposed by a majority of other nations.
These circumstances and this history does not, of course, give the U.S. the right to control Israel’s politics and policies. It should, however, discourage Israel from publicly attacking America and its government. IWe are partners. We may sometimes disagree, but those disagreements should be respectful, and not regarded as appropriate for making domestic political points. John Kerry has done nothing to indicate any lack of support for Israel. He is doggedly working toward a peaceful end to Israeli wars. It is a thankless job. He is entitled to respect, not opprobrium.
August 3, 2014 § Leave a comment
The response to my latest post on this blog included one from a woman in Palestine. Check out her blog @ http://www.nadiaharhash.wordpress.com
She has an administrative position at Al-Quda University in Palestine. Her comments confirm my assumption that Palestinians will not blame Hamas for the bombing and shelling of their homes and neighborhoods; they blame the ones firing the missiles and shells and dropping the bombs. I don’t suggest exploring her blog because I agree with everything she writes. I suggest it because Israel has now required that all journalists covering the conflict in Gaza submit their stories to Israel for censorship. I don’t know whether the Guardian, Al Jazeera, CNN et al. will submit to this but, if they do, getting information will become difficult.
That doesn’t mean that opinions from Palestinians will be reliable. They may or not be. It just means that it may become difficult to get opposing viewpoints and comparing opposing ideas is helpful.
It saddens, but does not surprise me to read the bitter anger expressed in some of her writing. Her blog also includes a link to a cartoonist who posts pictures depicting both Israeli and U.S. figures as heartless enemies of women and children. I fear this outrage will reinforce the determination of Palestinians and their supporters around the world to resist efforts for peaceful coexistence with Israel and reconciliation with its American ally.
A Surprising Statement By Mark Regev
Awhile ago, I was watching CNN as Wolf Blitzer interviewed Mark Regev, Israeli spokesman, about the disparity between civilian Palestinian casualties and Israeli civilian casualties. Regev said that the disparity had nothing to do with the relative intentions of the Israelis and Hamas. He said that Hamas had fired 3,000 rockets at Israel and that 200 of them had been “intercepted” by Israeli’s defensive shield. I replayed that statement three times, thinking I had misunderstood it.
That means that 2800 rockets were fired, landed in Israel and succeeded in killing less than five civilians. Until I heard that, I thought the “Iron Dome” umbrella was responsible for the impotence of Hamas rocketry. I now wonder what the targets of those rockets are. By mentioning this I do not mean to trivialize the injustice of Israeli civilians enduring nightly air raid sirens and the sound of explosions near their homes. I just found it amazing that those Hamas rocket launchers are apparently so hopelessly incompetent while the Israelis are killing and wounding a large number of Palestinians in spite of their claimed efforts to avoid civilian casualties.
The Cease Fire Argument
The Israeli talking points about this conflict emphasize the fact that Israel has been willing to stop shelling and bombing Gaza during brief cease fire periods while Hamas has either been unwilling to agree or, having agreed, has not stopped launching rockets during the cease fire period. I assume this latter claim is based on the Friday night incident when a fire fight broke out at the entrance of a tunnel near Rafah.
I think these Israeli claims should be weighed in light of the peculiar meaning given the phrase “cease fire” in this conflict. Israel has insisted on continuing its destruction of tunnels during the “cease fire”, but is outraged that Hamas continued to resist the destruction of the tunnels during the “cease fire”. I think it is absolutely understandable that Israel wants to destroy the tunnels. I am less impressed with the idea that, during a “cease fire”, Hamas was supposed to watch passively while Israel proceeded to destroy them.
I think one reason Israel is losing the public opinion war is that most people look at pictures and listen to opposing claims and, consciously or unconsciously, think to themselves, “If that was me, how would I react to that event or to those arguments?” Expecting soldiers engaged in a war to stand down while their opponents continue hostilities does not fit most people’s expectation of wartime behavior.
August 2, 2014 § 5 Comments
Winston Churchill famously declared, “In wartime, truth is so precious she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies.” As I try to sift through the cacophony of accusations about blame for the deaths and injuries of innocent civilians in Gaza, I recall that statement. The Friday evening suspected capture of an IDF officer by Hamas has evoked a violent response that appears to have extinguished, at least for now, the flickering candle of hope that the carnage might soon end.
Friday evening, about 9:30 pm local time, some Hamas soldiers emerged from a tunnel near the Israeli/Gaza border. IDF soldiers, arriving there to destroy the tunnel, encountered them. One Hamas soldier appeared to be wearing suicide explosives. A firefight ensued. Both sides sustained casualties and an IDF officer was seen being dragged into the tunnel. It has been assumed that he was captured. Hamas has denied that they have him. President Obama has called for his immediate and unconditional release.
This incident occurred during the first hour of an agreed ceasefire. It was a plain violation of that agreement. Some have suggested that the Hamas troops may have been unaware of the ceasefire. Brief cease fire periods had occurred intermittently during the previous ten days. The fact that the firefight occurred less than an hour after the cease fire began lends some credence to that possibility, but there is no evidence either to confirm or refute it.
Israel immediately declared that the ceasefire arrangements had been breached and, within an hour, began a wholesale assault on Rafah, a small village near the incident’s location. using both tank-mounted artillery and areal bombardment. At least 65 Palestinian civilians were killed and about 350 were injured. Since then, Hamas has renewed the launching of rockets into Israel and Israel has resumed assault on targets in Gaza as well as a wide-ranging search for the captured soldier.
The Guardian has posted a comprehensive account of the incident. Here is a link: Guardian
Media Reports and Reactions
These events have been reported and discussed at length by journalists and commentators in Israel and around the world. Some have likened the capture of the IDF soldier to the kidnapping of an Israeli man several years ago, which led to extended negotiations. Finally, after five years in captivity, the Israeli was released in exchange for the release of over a thousand Hamas members and supporters held by Israel. Others have objected to this comparison, arguing that capturing opposing soldiers is a normal and generally accepted occurrence during a war, not usually thought of as a kidnapping.
Here is another account of the incident from BBC which I found helpful because it includes a timeline and some details conveniently organized as well as a video of the newscast. BBC .
Here is blog post by a Haaretz writer, Peter Beinart. Beinart This blogger is a liberal American journalist who has been writing and reporting on Israeli issues since 1985. He is a practicing Jew whose parents were Holacost survivors. He has definite opinions that conflict squarely with those of Benjamin Netanyahu and his political supporters, opinions he makes no effort to conceal.
I offer his views of the background of the present conflict because the facts he cites are different from those often cited by both American and Israeli news sources. Beinart is a controversial but respected journalist, having worked for the N.Y. Times, New Republic as well as Haaretz. He has written a book about some aspects of Israeli history.
The current dispute was briefly debated by Beinart and Alan Dershowitz and another commentator during a news program I found interesting. Dershowitz .
Some Thoughts of Mine
I am put off by the constant claim by spokesmen for Israel that Hamas uses “human shields” as tactics in their war against Israel. I am skeptical of these claims.
First, when a family is destroyed while in their home because the building where their home is located is flattened by Israeli-launched missiles or bombs, it is a stretch for me to accept the idea that they were “human shields”. The Israeli spokesmen explain this kind of carnage results because someone from the building fired on IDF troops; or because the IDF had information that some Hamas member was in the building; or because Hamas told the occupants not to respond to an Israeli warning by leaving the building. The first two of these justifications seem insufficient to me and the third seems extremely improbable.
Taking number three first, I find it incredible that a mother would put her children, herself or her other family members in danger out of loyalty or devotion to Hamas. My advice to Israel: Stop using this one. It won’t sell.
One and Two are also troublesome to me. They would be reasonable rules of engagement if opposing armies were facing each other on a battlefield where lines were drawn and plainly recognizable. In that case, if fired upon, any army would fire back with whatever force was available. But the war in Gaza is urban warfare conducted in tightly packed neighborhoods where there are very limited numbers of safe places. In those circumstances, I think it is incumbent on the IDF to make diligent efforts to determine whether a building is occupied by innocent civilians before destroying it. The pictures I have seen don’t show little cottages where single families live. They show multistory buildings where several apartments are located. The occupants can’t control every nook or cranny where some marksman may be crouching. It is not reasonable to me that anything less than a complete atmosphere of passivity and tranquility is required to avoid being targeted for a massive assault.
Finally, like anyone else, I bring to these judgments my own history. WWII occurred when I was ten or eleven. I read Life magazine and watched newscasts in darkened theaters, waiting for Saturday afternoon cowboy movies. One episode I remember very well concerned Lidice, a small town in Czechoslovakia. Some British commandos killed Reinhard Heydrich, a Nazi official and a close friend of Hitler, near that town. There was a claim that one or more people in Lidice were complicit in the killing. In response, the Germans executed 192 men and sent all the women and children to concentration camps, where most of them died. Here is link to an a account of that event: Lidice .
To my young eyes and ears, that was a frightening event. I thought it was unbelievably brutal and vicious. The idea of mass punishment for the acts of specific individuals was shocking to me. I am long years away from that memory. My judgments are now informed by many other events. I neither equate nor relate Israel to the evil minds that caused that horror. But I realize that childhood experience affects my reaction to justifying innocent death and injury by citing hostile actions of unrelated combatants.
My Tort Lawyer Brain
For over fifty years I made my living trying lawsuits and arguing about liability for civil wrongs, or torts. A fundamental principle underlying the concept of tort law is: Every person is responsible for the natural consequences of his or her acts and omissions. The application of this principle to human intercourse depends on the concept of causation. That is, “What are the ‘natural consequences’ of particular acts or omissions?” Centuries of experience with these ideas has crafted some rough outlines to guide and inform the answers to this question.
One answer is: A person’s behavior will not be judged according to his claim of personal intent. Adults are not allowed to protest, like thoughtless children, “I didn’t mean to.” Their acts and omissions will be measured against the behavior of a fictional and imaginary “reasonable person.” So, when Israel’s defenders say, “Hey! You know us! We don’t believe in killing innocent children. Those are the beliefs of the other guys, not us.”, their acts and omissions will drown out their words unless they conform to “reasonable person” rules.
Some things are undeniable: Artillery shells and bombs are not precision killers. When they are aimed at civilian neighborhoods, the intent to kill civilians is obvious unless reasonable steps have been taken to insure that civilians have been evacuated. But, even if this is impractical, the shelling and bombardment may be excusable if it is the only way to accomplish a reasonable goal. This, as I understand it, is Israel’s defense. That’s why they destroy the electric power system that is essential for providing potable water. That’s why they shell and bomb Rafah because it might be harboring the captors of an IDF soldier.
One thing about which I have seen little comment is the ability of Israel to visually monitor everything and every movement within Gaza.In my last post on this blog I included a link to a July 23,,2014, Haaretz story. The link was labeled “Revenge”. The writer described an incident when some Hamas soldiers emerged from a tunnel wearing IDF uniforms. At first, the Israeli forces were confused. Then they used an areal photograph, taken by a drone, which enabled them to see that the Hamas soldiers were carrying Kalashnikov rifles, not IDF rifles.
This raises a question: If that kind of surveillance is available, why can’t the IDF tell whether women and children have entered a building and have not emerged? Are they using the technology available to them to avoid killing innocent people, or are they using it only to more efficiently destroy neighborhoods?
Further Discussion of the Human Shield Argument
The universally condemned “Human Shield” tactic is designed to prevent an opposing force from attacking the shielded force by hiding behind innocent civilians. The success of the tactic requires that the attacking combatants be made aware of the civilian shield.
In order to fit the IDF’s assault on civilians in Gaza into this model, it must be assumed that they are aware that they are killing and wounding innocent civilians. This precludes any claim that they do not intend to harm innocent civilians. It assumes that the IDF is aware that their rules of engagement endanger innocent civilians and elects to proceed anyway.
I don’t see how they can have it both ways. Either they don’t know that innocent civilians are endangered when they loose their missiles or drop their bombs, or they know they are slaughtering innocent civilians and have made the moral calculus that killing their target is sufficiently important to justify the “collateral damage”.
The tragedy of the Gaza conflict is that Hamas gains strength and leverage, regardless of which alternative is true. In this time of 24-hour-news-cycles and ubiquitous TV screens, Youtube and Iphone cameras, the pictures of grieving mothers and dead children are doing more damage to Israel than the generally ineffective Hamas rockets. Israel should heed the bitter lessons learned by Bull Connor and LBJ: Pictures of children attacked by police dogs are powerful weapons. The picture of a naked Vietnamese girl, skin burned by Napalm, standing alone in the middle of a road, was indelibly etched on enough brains to defeat the war plans of a President determined to win against a much less powerful adversary.
The Moral Difference
When I think about these issues I never forget or ignore a vital fact: Israel represents and embodies a core of compassion, morality and devotion to justice that is, so far as I can discern, entirely foreign to Hamas. Israel would never identify with, or ascribe to, the kind of hatred expressed in the founding document upon which Hamas is based. The first paragraph includes this statement: “Israel will rise and will remain erect until Islam eliminates it as it had eliminated its predecessors.‘ The document goes on for several pages and never deviates from this kind of violent rhetoric. I don’t recommend that my readers waste their time reading the whole document but, so that it will be available for reference, I offer this link: Hamas .
The pages of Haaretz demonstrate that, even in the emotional cauldron of war, while sons and daughters are in uniform and in harms way, there is an active debate within the Israeli community. While most Israelis support the actions and tactics that I find objectionable, there is a vocal and articulate minority that opposes them. And that minority has not been muzzled or suppressed. It is easy to imagine how differently this kind of public debate would be treated by Hamas.
The tragedy of the Gaza conflict in Gaza is, as I see it: Israel is behaving in ways that are contrary to the ideas and principles that have guided it during centuries of struggle and strife. We should never do anything to weaken or threaten Israel, especially when their enemy is so bereft of morality and justice. But we should do whatever we can to stop them from furnishing their enemies with ways to undermine their reputation for humane justice, not merely because of our concern for Israel, but also because the better part of our own cultural values demand it.
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.
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.
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.
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.
July 27, 2014 § 1 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.
July 14, 2014 § 2 Comments
“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.
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”.
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.
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:
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.
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
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.