Wednesday, January 7, 2009

* Israeli government not always right ~ Palestinian people not always wrong, but often wronged by their leadership – Many of us in the United States have a cultural and/or emotional connection to Israel. Others see a political connection to Israel as an American ally and some Christian fundamentalists see the connection as biblical. Regardless of the connection it would be unbalanced to say that Israel can do no wrong. The defense of Israel’s actions in Gaza predominates in the mainstream media in America. Bush’s neocon support of Israel and Obama’s silence about the attacks further the one-sided American perception of this conflict. I suggest that the debate encompass contrasting views such as Glen Greenwald at in an article titled “Orwell, blinding tribalism, selective Terrorism, and Israel/Gaza,” the website Dissident Voice that discusses Top 5 Lies About Israel’s Assault on Gaza and “the political arm of the pro-Israel, pro-peace movement.” In Israel there are strong demonstrations against the Gaza military action and Consenting Adult offers some insight including the observation that the attacks are really about Israeli domestic politics.

Marty Kaplan writing at Huffington Post soul searches the myriad moral and political dilemmas confronting the long-suffering Israelis and Palestinians. For those wondering why Israel launched their Gaza attack at this particular time Lisa Gans writing at Huffington Post suggests: “But the fact that Israel decided to launch this massive attack on the Gaza strip in the waning days of the Bush administration suggests that Tel Aviv, at least, thinks that the days for such an action might be limited… Nothing in the events leading up to the now nine day long assault (as of January 5th) on Gaza created a sense of urgency that justifies the scale and speed of the Israeli action… Rather than being a sign of support for the Gaza offensive, Obama's refusal to comment at all may suggest that, while he is unwilling to interfere in the White House's ability to conduct foreign policy, he may not be supportive of Israel's actions, and that he intends to take a different tone from the current administration tone in office.”

A final thought, at least for the moment. Let us not forget, although the Arab world will, that Hamas (like Hezbollah in Lebanon) chose to secret their armies and weapons in hospitals, schools and mosques and use civilian populations as shields. Let us not forget the suffering imposed upon the people of Gaza through Israeli blockades and policies prior to the current hostilities. And let us not forget the decades-long abandonment of the Palestinian people by the surrounding Arab governments who see the Palestinians as pawns. There are no heroes.

* Quote of the Week ~ On Monday Barack Obama announced the appointment of Dawn Johnsen to serve as the next Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC). It is the office that issued the torture memo justifying the behavior of the Bush administration in Guantanamo and other venues of disgrace. In an article in Slate on April 3, 2008 Ms. Johnsen said the following: “But we must regain our ability to feel outrage whenever our government acts lawlessly and devises bogus constitutional arguments for outlandishly expansive presidential power. Otherwise, our own deep cynicism, about the possibility for a President and presidential lawyers to respect legal constraints, itself will threaten the rule of law--and not just for the remaining nine months of this administration, but for years and administrations to come.” Contrary to former Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez, whom I spoke about last week, Dawn Johnsen gets it. Thanks to Think Progress and Salon’s Glenn Greenwald for bringing this to our attention.

Greenwald is a constitutional lawyer who I have come to highly regard. He points out that “The Office of Legal Counsel, inside the Justice Department, is probably the most consequential federal government office that remains relatively obscure. The legal opinions which it issues become, more or less automatically, the official legal position of the Executive Branch. It is his opinion that Johnsen may be Obama’s best pick yet to serve in his administration.

* Hobby of the Week ~ Navel Maniac – The name does not refer to pirates off the coast of Somalia. is a web site featuring photos of peoples’ navels. Since 1999 the photographer and web author stops men and women on the streets of Brussels and, with their permission, takes a photo of their belly button. On behalf of my readers I spent two hours looking at the vast collection and concluded that Belly Button Identification (BBI) could potentially replace finger prints and DNA in crime investigations. I sheepishly and salaciously concentrated on female buttons but sometimes could not tell the difference. I do not know if this brings into question my eyesight, my sexuality or the admonition to “get a life.” Since my travel agent Sheila reads my blog please consider this as a request to provide airfare and hotel accommodations for Brussels and a digital photo of your navel. In a world increasingly burdened with one crisis after another such a benign activity may prove beneficial to one’s mental well-being.

* Question answered ~ a moment of “a hah” – I have wondered why the Republican Party suffered dislocated shoulders throwing their arms around Sarah Palin in support of her vice-presidential nomination. Her Alaskan proximity to Russia seemed lame in establishing her foreign policy credentials. Her almost total lack of experience was a weak argument for “the fresh face” syllogism. Not every Republican is a religious fundamentalist. Finally, I have an answer to my quandary that makes sense. She understands how Republicans do political business (okay, Democrats too). An investigation of Palin appointments by the LA Times found: “More than 100 appointments to state posts — nearly 1 in 4 — went to campaign contributors or their relatives, sometimes without apparent regard to qualifications; Several of Palin’s leading campaign donors received state-subsidized industrial development loans of up to $3.6 million for business ventures of questionable public value.” In being guilty of being redundant I repeat the mantra that until we have public financing of elections, pay-to-play politics will prevail. You betcha!

* When the cupboard is bare one alternative is to eat crow – Marty Weisberg at maintains an updated list of Bushisms, comments made by the President that usually do not make much sense. A Bush comment made this week but not yet added to the list is perhaps iconic of all that has gone before it. During a luncheon meeting with the Weekly Standard: “On domestic policy, Bush was asked if he made progress in some areas for which he hasn't and probably won't get credit. Topping his list was his unsuccessful drive in 2005 to reform Social Security.” By “reform” Bush meant “privatize.” He invested considerable time, energy and expense to sell this program to the American people. It proved to be a thorough dud that never came close to acceptance. Given the collapse of financial markets we can only say, “Thank goodness.” Given that a failed initiative tops his list of “making progress” we can only say, “Good riddance.”

* Clean Coal mythology – I recently noted the sludge spill from a coal-fired electric plant in Tennessee could wind up being an environmental disaster. It has not received that much attention in the mainstream news. However, the NY Times learned from the Tennessee Valley authority that in 2007 the plant’s byproducts included: “45,000 pounds of arsenic, 49,000 pounds of lead, 1.4 million pounds of barium, 91,000 pounds of chromium and 140,000 pounds of manganese. Those metals can cause cancer, liver damage and neurological complications, among other health problems.”

The holding pond that yielded the spill contained byproducts accumulating for decades. For days after the spill authorities maintained that the spill was not toxic. We now learn that, “Elevated levels of lead and thallium and what the EPA called “very high” levels of arsenic have been found in water samples taken near the site of the spill.” What should have taken hours to test took days. No surprise and screw the public. “The spill has reignited a debate over whether coal ash should be regulated as a hazardous waste. In 2000, the E.P.A. backed away from its recommendation to do so in the face of industry opposition, promising instead to issue national guidelines for proper ash disposal, though it never did.” No surprise and screw the public.

It is important to note that the Tennessee ash dump is not unique. There are 1300 similar coal ash dump sites across the U.S., most of them unregulated and unmonitored and that contain billions more gallons of fly ash and other byproducts of burning coal. “In 2007, an E.P.A. report identified 63 sites in 26 states where the water was contaminated by heavy metals from such dumps, including three other Tennessee Valley Authority dumps. Environmental advocacy groups have submitted at least 17 additional cases that they say should be added to that list.” This raises two questions: how many other locations are being contaminated since regulation and monitoring is lax to non-existent?; when will the EPA become as responsible to the American people as it is to the energy industry?

A final thought, at least for the moment. The standard for determining the cost of any fuel is the amount of energy it generates. It does not account for the real cost to our society that must include the cost of cleaning up the toxic effects of these fuels. It appears that the cost of addressing the toxicity from coal use in our air, our water and our bodies has yet to enter the calculation. It will be substantial.

* We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.
Native American Proverb

* It is horrifying that we have to fight our own government to save the environment.
Ansel Adams

1 comment:

Sue Katz said...

I spent 14 important years of my life in Israel, Stephen, and I was struck by your comment, in discussing the various governments involved, that "There are no heroes." That is so true.

The real heroes are the volunteers who are trying to sop up the blood, the journalists who are trying to tell the truth and the activists in so many countries, including Israel and the States, who are trying to point out the difference between single digit deaths / injuries from primitive weapons, and 700 deaths /thousands of injuries from one of the most sophisticated armies on earth. This is not a "war." This is a brutal assault.

Only your navel-watching piece gave me hope and I plan to retire into the link you provided for some essential R&R.