Wednesday, December 31, 2008

More Muslims and Arabs criticizing Hamas

This article from Haaretz by Roi Ben-Yehuda is providing further support for my observation that Hamas' political stock is not rising from this latest violence in Gaza and Israel.

Here is the statement from the Canadian Muslim Congress cited in the above-linked article.

And here is the editorial from Mona Eltahway, in an Egyptian newspaper, which states Hamas is just the latest leadership to fail the Palestinians. She also attacks most Arab world leaders as hypocrites.

Still, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) has condemned Israel, but not Hamas. It has, however, condemned the arson against a portion of a synagogue in Chicago, Illinois.

The Arab American Institute, for its part, has "talking points" which call for the immediate cessation of what it calls the "bombing campaign", presumably by Israel, but also calls for cessation of the "rocket attacks", presumably by Hamas. Likewise, the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) calls for Israel to stop bombing and for Hamas to stop the rocket attacks, this time naming both Israel and Hamas.

However, the ADC blames Israel's actions on November 4, 2008 for starting this latest cycle of violence. Reading this article from the Times of London (not known as pro-Israeli government by any means) from November 6, 2008, I note at least two things: First, neither Hamas nor Israel said at the time that they wanted to tear up the cease-fire agreement. Second, there was good reason to believe the Israelis were acting to stop an imminent attack and to close down what was a significantly offensive military tunnel Hamas had built.

As for today's rejection by Israel from France and other nations for a formal cease-fire, and the weasel words from Hamas' leader, Haniyeh (he demands Israel stop its military actions, and then "it will be possible to talk on all issues...", which means he is not going to do anything to stop the rockets from continuing to hit Israel), it appears there will be more fighting ahead in the next days.

Finally, an interesting article from Jonathan Wright of Reuters, dated December 29, 2008, entitled "Israeli raids deepen rift between Arabs."

(Edited)

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Hamas fires back, but is not significantly escalating...

Hamas is firing back into Israel with at least 60 rockets since yesterday, which is not a significant response. As of this morning, there is no ground assault by either side. The second article linked to is promising because it says the Hamas representative in Syria is calling for a cease-fire. However, there is also some grim false bravado by Hamas sources, who say they would welcome Israeli ground troops as they would send those troops back to Israel with their "tails between their legs." They sound like John McCain's campaign strategists saying in the last weeks before the recent election that McCain had Obama right where he wanted him.

What is not happening is also interesting. First, Hezbollah has not jumped in to attack Israel (it is on alert, however, in case Israel attacks Hezbollah in Lebanon). Second, there is relative quiet in Arab capitals, leaving Hamas supporters screaming with frustration. And third, Egypt continues to refuse to support Hamas and will only open its border if the Palestinian Authority, which has been in a continuing fight with Hamas, takes over Gaza.
_______________________________

For those who think Israel is acting more wrongly because of its previous and continuing blockade against Gazans, I would ask those persons to consider this: Why is there no Israeli blockade against Palestinians in the West Bank? More directly, why is there no need for a blockade there?

The answer is fairly clear: There are no rockets being fired into Israel (within the Green Line) from the West Bank. There are no tunnels being dug for war nor armaments smuggled into the West Bank to the extent there is in Gaza. Abbas of the Palestinian Authority does not call for the destruction of Israel. And it should tell us something when Egypt is holding fast against Hamas as well.

As I have been saying since this latest chapter of violent confrontation began, Hamas' leader, Haniyeh, must step up and restate what he said almost two months ago: That Hamas is willing to negotiate a long term (decades) cease-fire and accept borders from just before the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. And this time, he should stand next to at least one or two other Hamas leaders who will back him, instead of what happened last time, when other Hamas leaders immediately contradicted him and said there would be no cease-fire. Stated another way, Hamas must start acting like a government truly interested in a political or diplomatic solution. Hamas also cannot continue claim it is in control of Gaza, yet continue to allow others within its borders to send rockets deep into Israel.

Final comments: I note three of Israel's finest writers, Amos Oz, AB Yehoshua and David Grossman, have spoken on the Israeli military action. The first two writers supported Israel's initial military response, but David Grossman appears to have been opposed. However, all three are demanding both sides enter into cease-fire talks. That is a very reasonable position to take right now. It also appears Israel is weighing such an option. Let's hope the Hamas leaders in Gaza find a cell phone and say the same to the Syrian-based Hamas leader to agree to a cease-fire with Israel, including working harder to stop other organizations within Gaza from firing rockets, too.

ADDENDUM 12/30/08: This article by Palestinian journalist Daoud Kuttab in the Washington Post is unpersuasive. He claims, without evidence, that Hamas' popularity has increased after the Israeli attacks. Yet, the above evidence from Haaretz articles shows no such thing. In addition, one reads the comments at Al Jazeera's website and sees little confidence or faith in Hamas. Instead, one sees more anger, frustration and resignation at the situation. Yes, there are violent demonstrations, but that does not make for more popularity for Hamas. Again, some of these Arab spokespeople and journalists are sounding like GOP spin-meisters. They want to recreate reality, and the reality that keeps hitting them in the face is the need for Hamas to moderate itself and seek peace. That remains the most effective method to use against warmongers inside Israel.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Medical insurance primer by respected Princeton economist

A respected Princeton University economist, Uwe Reinhdart, lays out in six installments the reasons US medical care and insurance cost so much. The series starts here and, if you scroll down at the link, you can read each of the other installments.

The simple summary of the six installments is that the major factor is the private administrative costs from the largely complex private system of insurance we have.

Read all six installments and, if there are more, read those too. Reinhardt has been studying our hodge-podge system for over two decades and he is simply too knowledgeable and practical in his prescriptions to be ignored. Yet, he is essentially ignored by politicians too afraid to take on the private medical insurance industry.

A government run system of health insurance, not a government run system of medical care, remains the most efficient and humane alternative. In short, we need a system that begins with Medicare for all, and then tinker with the program from there, as the government will no longer be dealing with only the most expensive group of people--senior citizens--in the nation. Also, we should strive to orient the system into one which primarily rewards doctors and nurses as opposed to a system which primarily rewards MBA's and executives who can't tell a stethoscope from a horoscope.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Backing into all out war at the Middle East OK Corral

Israel has had enough rockets rained down upon its citizens by Islamic militants. The question is how much Hamas thinks it can escalate. This editorial by Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff in Haaretz assesses Hamas' military capabilities.

If Hamas escalates, Israel will unleash a torrent of bombs on the people of Gaza. The choice at this particular moment is in the hands of Hamas. Israeli sources say Israel does not want to reconquer Gaza, but simply to teach Hamas a lesson about the need to control its own militants who incessantly fire rockets into Israeli towns and villages that are inside Israel, not in Gaza or the West Bank. But that may ironically mean Israel is prepared to bomb the living hell out of Gaza with no more concern for Gazan civilians than the US government had concern for Japanese or German civilians in World War II. The US statement about avoiding civilian casualties is not going to be heeded and truthfully, would any nation really respond differently than Israel is likely to respond if Hamas escalates its bombing of Israel?

Still, the Israeli military must be prepared for a two front war again with Hezbollah if this war with Hamas escalates. And I wonder what will be Palestinian Authority leader Abbas' response in the West Bank? Even if he urges caution or does nothing, Hamas sympathizers in the West Bank may well take wildcat sorts of action against Israeli military forces or the settlements. Also, let's not avoid considering Israeli Jewish settlers provoking such action by Hamas sympathizers, in places like Hebron, which could force the Israeli government's hand into a three front war.

Secretary of State-nominee Clinton? It's not 3 a.m., but it is the dawn of a fateful day at the Middle East OK Corral. As students of western history know, the OK Corral gunfight did not occur at midnight, 3 a.m. or even high noon. It occurred at 3 o'clock in the afternoon. So if I may paraphrase the Jewish sages in Deuteronomy, diplomacy, diplomacy shall you pursue.

ADDENDUM 12/28/08: Gideon Levy, a Haaretz columnist, rips into Israel's decision for war, calling Israel the "neighborhood bully." This is a column we'll never see in American corporate media, nor will American broadcast media ever interview or speak with Levy in such situations. Worse, most American newspapers and broadcast media would not allow an American equivalent to Levy have such space to call us a bully in the first stages of a war.

Substantively, I am more inclined than Levy this time (unlike 2006) to give the benefit of the doubt to the Israeli government's initial actions against Hamas and in Gaza. My continuing concern is that, once making this decision, this time, Israel's military must be better prepared to mobilize ground troops to go into Gaza and capture or kill Hamas' militant wing leaders, and be prepared to fight a three front war (in Gaza, in Lebanon against Hezbollah--which may join in like last time--and in the West Bank, against irregular, unofficial Palestinians who may try to take advantage of the war situation). It would be a horrible folly for Israel to have escalated to this level without preparing for the strong potential that Hamas and Hezbollah will retaliate with further escalation.

Again, Hamas holds the key to peace right now. It must recognize the reality of what is happening, and seize the opportunity to seek peace with Israel, not escalate this war. It is time for Hamas' leader, Ismail Haniyeh, to repeat his offer for a long term cease-fire and for other at least some other leaders in Hamas to join him, not immediately contradict Haniyeh, as happened about two months ago when he called for a long-term cease fire.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Southern political leaders hate unions more than they love America

Michael Lind offers a compelling sociological and economic analysis about the history of the American South's economic treason against America's national interests. I urge Southern readers read this because I continue to believe that many Southerners, including those too-often white Southerners who voted for the odious Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) last month, may finally begin to recognize the need for America to act as a nation, not simply from a regional interest, in restoring our manufacturing base.

Complimenting Lind's analysis is the new great phrase for Southern political leaders like Chambliss and Richard Shelby (R-Alabama), two of the Republican Senators who voted against protecting American automobile companies. They are called "Toyota Republicans."

As I have previously said, I hope the Obama administration packages its stimulus public works bill with labor law reform (the Employee Free Choice Act). If it does, expect a Republican filibuster led by Southern Senators. Reid needs to first let them publicly filibuster--so people may see the economic treason of these Senators in action--and then either detonate the nuclear option of ending filibusters under Senate rules, or peel off Northern Republicans to vote for cloture to end the particular filibuster. Passing the EFCA is as important a public policy change as the stimulus bill and medical insurance reforms. Passing the EFCA will increase the ability of Democrats to actually pass pro-family legislation in terms of economic policy, by strengthening unions to be able to politically compete against corporate interests. It will also give Obama the political support he needs to become a truly transformative president in the tradition of Washington, Lincoln, TR and FDR. That is because stronger unions in the South will produce better politicians than Shelby or Chambliss.*

Specifically, Obama will find that, by the end of 2010's mid-term elections, when workers are even better organized to understand their national economic interests, he will continue to pass laws that reconstruct America's manufacturing base, and do so in ways which restores the power of American workers to earn the fruits of their productivity, something largely denied them these past thirty years. See, for example, this article from the Center for American Progress, which notes that American productivity increased by 20% during the past decade, but American workers' wages went up merely 1%. Ever wonder why five Wal Mart family members are in the top thirty billionaires, when its prices are really no different than Costco's prices? That profit has to go somewhere, right?

In saying this, let's be clear. We don't need or want every industry unionized. But a nation that has 30% of its work force in unions is more likely to be an economically healthier society than one with a private work force union level of 8%, which is where the US is currently languishing. If unions were against reindustrializing our nation, I'd say increasing union power might not be beneficial to our nation as a whole. But, in fact, unions are strongly in favor of enacting policies to help our nation redevelop, and that, along with pushing for public policies that improve the distribution of wealth produced inside a nation, is a good thing for most Americans. This is true whether we are workers or professionals outside of any union, or whether we are middle and even some senior level officers of companies.

(Edited)

*And if I may plug my novel, that is largely what happens in the economic realm under President Robert F. Kennedy, when he signs the labor law reform that fell short in the 1960s due to Republican filibustering. See: Chapters 13, 14, 16 and 26 of the alternative history novel, for example. As seen in the novel, RFK has no idea of the significance of signing the labor law reform bill into law. In his mind, he is simply fulfilling a campaign promise.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

XMas Reading...

A bit of good news for labor in the American South this Christmas Eve. Hooray for the Smithfield workers, says David Bacon in this article from the American Prospect magazine.

Also, Eric Rauchway calls for a strong New Deal that learns from its mistakes, though he is way too rough on the National Recovery Act ("NRA") (1933). The NRA did have problems, but it was vital in its time for helping American businesses and the American people have hope that economic conditions would improve. 1933 was a dark year, and many elite people were hoping FDR would behave like Mussolini (!). Yes, even the NY Times was still penning odes to Mussolini in its op-eds at that time. Rauchway is, in my view, missing the cultural side to the NRA and how it appeased American tempers and fears. Many American businesses proudly displayed their NRA signs in their store windows and people responded favorably by buying goods and services at such businesses. This helped fuel demand and in turn began the process to lift us out of the economic depression. I do, however, agree with Rauchway that a more direct jobs creation program and other Keynesian stimulus programs were the proper way to go.

And finally, here is an interesting article by Dana Goldstein on the top educational performer in the modern world, Finland, and what its success can mean for the debate regarding American public school education.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

California Attorney General courageously opposes Prop 8

The brief California Attorney General Jerry Brown and his office filed is here.

The brief is even-handed in at least one respect: It supports the pro-Prop 8 forces (those who oppose same sex marriage) by concluding Prop 8 is not a revision, but an amendment to the State Constitution. This is an important legal jousting victory for those who support Prop 8, i.e. oppose same sex marriage. I also think Brown and his staff happen to be correct on this reading of the law based upon my read of the precedent after Prop 8 passed.

It is for that reason that I was hoping the State Attorney General's office would at least consider the more direct argument that Prop 8 violates the right of privacy for those who wish to marry someone of his or her same sex, specifically Article I, Section 1 of the California Constitution. And now the State Attorney General has considered this argument and courageously embraced the argument to recommend the California Supreme Court overturn Prop 8. The Brown brief makes this argument starting at page 75 of the brief. The argument is nicely stated, but it could still have been stated more powerfully. In defense of Brown and his staff, however, they were dealing with very short time constraints in preparing this brief and ensuring they listed enough of the likely arguments the California Supreme Court needed to consider. The key points with reference to the privacy argument are included in the brief, and Chief Justice George and the other three Justices, who originally found a fundamental right to marry for homosexuals under the California Constitution, are likely to perform further research regarding this argument.

Please note I am not saying the privacy argument is a slam dunk. The problem with the argument is that, unlike the old laws that forbid marriages between whites and blacks, California is not criminalizing same sex marriage. California is merely saying it will not officially recognize a same sex marriage, but people are free to have a marriage ceremony in a church or among friends or family. Is it then privacy rights that are being oppressed, or public rights to a government license? The reply to that counterargument, of course, is that the right to privacy encompasses many otherwise "public" but personal rights, including the right to seek and secure employment, enter into contracts and dispose or purchase private property (see footnote 20 to the Brown brief, page 84 of the brief).

It will be very politically interesting to see whether Chief Justice George and the three other Justices who supported same sex marriage rights earlier this year are going to determine Prop 8 is unconstitutional--and therefore overturn Prop 8. If they do, they are definitely inviting an impeachment drive from religious right forces--or an election fight for those justices up for reelection in 2010. Initially, I thought it more likely the California Supreme Court would reluctantly uphold Proposition 8. State Attorney General Brown's brief, however, is important because it is providing respectable and official support for those Justices on the California Supreme Court to strongly consider whether to overturn Prop 8 on the basis that marriage is a fundamental right that cannot be overturned by a majority vote; no more than overturning the right of a person accused of a crime to receive due process.

Again, look for this privacy argument to be further developed. And for those who think the California State Attorney General has betrayed his duty to the people of California, I must disagree and instead strongly defend Brown and his office. The brief is written to honestly look at the issues of the case, and deftly balances the fact that almost half of California voted against that initiative. The brief is a true amicus brief from a government agency charged with enforcing California's law and Constitution, and gives the Court Justices background as to the issues it should consider.

One bonus point: The Brown brief also says same sex marriages performed between the time after the California Supreme Court's Marriage Cases decision earlier this year, and the time the initiative passed should remain valid. That is a reasonable argument, though I see the point of those who oppose same sex marriage that the right to receive a State license for a same sex marriage is not a long-standing or settled right, but one which lasted a mere matter of months. Those wishing to consider the merits or demerits of the prospective/retroactive argument should begin by reviewing the recent decision of Californians for Disability Rights v. Mervyn's, LLC (2006) 39 Cal. 4th 223. In that decision, the California Supreme Court held that the changes in standing requirements under the Unfair Business Practices Act, which changes resulted from voters passing Proposition 64, applied to all cases that were pending--even those filed before Prop 64 passed. The Court held it was not retroactively applying Prop 64 because it was only applying the new law to cases that had not reached final judgment. I, for one, am glad the Brown brief makes this argument because it deserves a full airing and again, Brown is doing his best to represent more than merely the majority of the people in what was a close election result regarding a highly controversial proposition that does concern individual more than collective rights.

(Edited)

Friday, December 19, 2008

Meanwhile, back at the Middle East OK Corral...

The Hamas "government" in Gaza is declaring an end to the cease-fire. I think they want to help Bibi Netanyahu win for the Likud Party as ending the ceasefire gives the hardliners on both sides a chance to start more wars. The rockets the Hamas government continues to allow to rain down on Israelis are part of that provocation for more war. And at least one Israeli minister is talking war already.

Still, it is sobering to read this article by Daniel Levy in the Haaretz newspaper.

The question is really how far Hamas' hawks want to go in provoking an overwhelming Israeli response. Too many voices among Palestinians, including some top Hamas leaders, don't want to escalate militarily with the Israelis. Unfortunately, the way the Arab-Israeli dispute works is that the hawks are the violent ones who create the conditions that allow for escalating violence--and send enough Palestinians and Israelis to vote for the most pro-war candidates on each side. I offer no predictions. But we all need to watch if we're just here in the USA. As we know, we've got our own problems--but Middle East politics can upset our domsetic applecarts, as we know from the past 8 or more years, at least.

BONUS ARTICLE: This is an interesting story from Haaretz about Palestinians losing land to Israelis through a forgery; a story which has antecedents in the disputes over Mexican Land Grants in California starting in the mid 1800s.

(Edited)

Senator Al Franken will be a credit to the Senate

Right now, at noon Pacific Time, December 19, 2008, it looks like Al Franken may actually win the US Senate election in Minnesota, if this listing from the Minneapolis Star-Tribune is any indication.

Republicans have no reason to complain that a mere celebrity is becoming a Senator. The Republicans sent the following celebrities to Congress or the White House:

George Murphy (US Senator, CA)

Jim Bunning (US Senator, Kentucky)*

Fred Grandy (Congressman, Iowa)

Sonny Bono (Congressman, CA)

and of course, Ronald Wilson Reagan (Mr. 666).

* Currently a senator.

The difference is that Al Franken is truly knowledgeable about a number of policy issues, has a sharp and keen mind, and is a Harvard University graduate. Also, contrary to naysayers, I predict Al Franken will prove very respectful of the institution of the Senate and will surprise people with how well he gets along--while still ensuring his progressive opinions and policy prescriptions are heard. When we think about it, the real reason Republican commentators are so abusive about Franken is that he is progressive in his thinking and policy prescriptions. They wouldn't be upset if Ann Coulter had run for the Senate and won, even though she is far more of a celebrity in the way she conducts herself as opposed to someone truly interested in legislating public policy matters.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Naomi Klein, Avi Lewis and the meaning of the Left

I found this article in the New Yorker to be deeply fascinating and compelling. It really encapsules, for those who are not policy wonks, the history of the Left since the early 1930s. That history is the age old fight among those who want to work through existing institutions and those who want to work outside institutions and don't care if those institutions fall apart. It is a history of the intellectual debate between those who want us to above all recall the depths of history as we face the future and those who see the brand new day as a break from all that has passed.

I have long believed in the importance of people being on both sides of that debate, and I think Naomi Klein and her husband, Avi Lewis, do too. Their families are extraordinary and the media and economic success Klein and Lewis enjoy (she more than he in US media) is a testament to the support, or at least influence, each received from their respective families. I love the back-and-forth Klein and Lewis have, because each care deeply about people and each hears the other, and sometimes find they agree with each other about the methods to reach the goal of improving the lives of people and communities.

I also smiled as I read about the demonization of Milton Friedman (see my post from November 2006 on his passing here), but wish we spent more time talking up the policy wisdom and passion of Michael Harrington. The intellectually oriented biography of Harrington has not yet been written--and I'd love to write it since I have read Harrington's books cover to cover, and know his times as well as anyone. Oh well. Another life, I guess...

Final comment: The choice of Larissa MacFarquhar to write about the phenomenon that is Naomi Klein is a good one, as one can see in this article she penned about the right wing techno-guru George Gilder. She understands the history of North American intellectuals and their ideas of the past century and intiutively understands family and friend dynamics among those intellectuals. And this is likely because Larissa is the daughter of the brilliant China scholar Roderick and the late outstanding journalist Emily MacFarquhar. Most apples don't fall far from their trees...

George Bush moving to a Sundown town

The ranch was always a propaganda piece, much like the Mission Accomplished banner and presidential flight suit.

George W. Bush's impending move to what David Neiwert recognizes as a town with a "sundown" legacy is, ironically, a more accurate symbol of the Republican Party's Southern Strategy than a ranch or flight suit was a symbol of Bush being a strong leader.

Here is James Loewen's engrossing website on the history, legacy and continuing sociological effects of "whites-only" suburbs, and how the structure of such towns diverts the cost of important government services from rich folks and onto middle class and poorer folks of all races, particularly, however, those persons with darker skin.

Now wouldn't this study of "sundown" towns and their continuing relevance in our time be an interesting story for corporate media reporters to cover and pundits to discuss? It would, but, of course, it is not considered "interesting" in corporate media newsrooms. Instead, we consumer-viewers are fed endless stories on celebrities, false scandal-mongering and gossip/speculation about personalities and sports-oriented metaphors ("who's winning/who's losing the week..." "who's ahead/who's behind this week")...

(Edited)

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Review of Book Reviews

This succinct review in the NY Times of a new book by Deborah Nelson, about American war crimes in Vietnam, provides further evidence against those who continue to deny the basic reality of the statements made by American soldiers who spoke at the Winter Soldier conference in 1971. It's not that those particular soldiers at the Winter Soldiers conference were all telling the truth, or that their stories were completely accurate. It's just that the gist of their stories rings more true than false and there were in fact systematic war crimes being perpetrated, particularly starting with the Phoenix program and subsequent anti-insurgent military strategies.

Over at the Washington Post, see this excellent review of a deeply fascinating work of science, politics and culture in early 20th Century Germany--in the context of the ramifications arising from the creation of fertilizer. This review is excellent, as it explains what the reviewer found compelling with the book, and where it could have been improved--and yes, even lengthened for so important a subject.

The Post's Book World also provides us with an eccentric, yet marvelous essay on Robert Louis Stevenson's lesser known comedic novels, including The Wrong Box. That particular book, I should note, was made into a film in the mid-1960s that I greatly enjoyed as a teen, but haven't seen in years. You have to love the cast, though: Peter Sellers, Peter Cook, Dudley Moore, Michael Caine, Ralph Richardson...and other lesser known, but beloved British character actors, including Wilfid Lawson.

Another Post review is worth reading, this time regarding the legendary African explorer Estaban Dorantes. The review put me in mind of the great comic legend of the 1950s, Lord Buckley(no known relation to the right wing commentator William F. Buckley...) and his comedy routine Cabenza De Gasca...The Gasser. It seems Lord Buckley had the name wrong as it is really Carbenza de Vaca.

I wish there was a live version of Buckley doing his version of the Gettysburg Address. The best I found is here, which is merely a written transcription. It does not carry the flavor of hearing it, which is an amazing experience.

Enough for now...though this short essay in the LA Times this weekend, about Dr. Seuss' "The Lorax," is thought-confirming, at least to me!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Congressional Republicans hate American workers

That's what their opposition to the automobile companies' bailout is really about.

As even the historically anti-union New York Times recognizes, the difference in labor cost of American vehicles to Japanese vehicles is about $800 per car. That is not why American car makers are having significant financial problems. Does anyone really believe that someone would buy a Chevy over a Toyota if the Chevy price was lowered by $800?

I was initially skeptical of the bailout. However, looking at the deep ripple effects of bankruptcy filings for any of the Big 3 on workers and various other industries, starting in the Mid-West, I am convinced the $14 billion is the least that should be given to the Big 3 to help them through this crisis. Would I want executive salaries and perks trimmed? Yes. Would I want some poor selling gas guzzlers discontinued? Yes. Would I want more investment in vehicles like Volt? Yes. But Republicans in Congress are twisted jerks for opposing the bailout because it does not punish workers--whose unions already agreed to concessions in response to the dire circumstances the companies are facing.

BONUS POINT: Here is a letter to the editor I wrote about two weeks ago to our local, local paper published in response to some local right wing columnist who used to be a prominent real estate developer before he retired. The paper published it last week, on December 3.

ADDNENDUM 12/13/08: The Congressional Republicans even spelled out their hatred of workers' unions as a primary reason for opposing the bailout of the Big 3 in a memo they distributed to other Republicans. As I said in an earlier post concerning the Employee Free Choice Act, a labor reform bill most Democrats and some Republicans have supported, is going to be such a fight this coming year on Capitol Hill. The good news about the fight is that a whole new generation of Republicans will begin to understand that the Republican Party leadership truly wants to undermine the economic rights of American workers--and that the cultural wars of the past 35 years are more a diversionary tactic for those particular Republican leaders than anything else.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Franklin Delanobama

I can't tell you how happy I am to read this article in the NY Times, other than to say, "How happy I am."

I just wish Bush/Cheney would resign, have Nancy Pelosi assume the presidency for a few weeks until January 20, 2009--and let Obama start actually making decisions as president--since the Democrats do control the House, and mostly the Senate (pesky filibsuter attempts notwithstanding...).

ADDENDUM 12/8/08: I love a sit down strike, don't you? If only the rest of Chicago could start a general strike. Nothing brings people together like a general strike! And maybe even Sam Zell might take notice.

ADDENDUM 12/9/08: Workers win! Bank to approve credit for company to pay workers' past due salaries and severance. And yes, I think it helped that President-elect Obama said he "absolutely" agreed with the workers staging the sit-down strike. It's nice to have a president who is willing to acknowledge and agree with the voices and needs of workers.

Can you feel the love in the Middle East?

Can you feel the love in the Middle East?

Yes, that question is deeply sarcastic and bitter.

On a different note, here is an interview with Rashid Khalidi, President-elect Obama's former neighbor and casual family friend (meaning, their children interacted and they were friendly with each other). Khalidi is clearly in despair about prospects for peace in the region. However, the article-interview is really must reading for anyone interested in American politics as it relates to the Middle East. Khalidi is correct that more settlements were built in the seven years after the Oslo Peace Summit of 1993 than in the seven years before that summit. He is also likely to be correct that Obama will not stray from the hard-line consensus in Washington, DC regarding Israel and the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. Khalidi is probably rougher on Israeli policies and actions than I am, but I believe him to be genuinely interested in peaceful co-existence in the region. In my view, that makes him more moderate than many American lawmakers and their advisers.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Reform Judaism magazine has some must reads this month

I am president of my local Conservative Judaism synagogue, but I was very impressed with this month's Reform Judaism movement's magazine.

This is an interview with Edwin Black, who, ahem, ahem, appeared at my synagogue last month as a speaker. Funny thing is we advertised at the Reform Temple down the street, but nobody showed up from there to see Black. Their loss, eh? In the interview, Black summarizes his energy policy positions and the need for strategic and progressive thinking on this important subject.

Here and here are two interesting articles on the history of Hannukah, one from a purely American celebratory perspective, and the other historical. Last year, I recall our retired rabbi member giving a sermon on Hannukah, where he said the "eight days of oil" part of the Hanukkah story was a pure rabbinic invention, and while I believed he was speaking accurately, I admit to finding it hard to accept. And that's because that was the essence of the Hanukkah "miracle." The larger historical article linked to gives more support for that point. Oh well. Heresy is mostly a good thing, especially when it helps us understand that tradition is not immutable, but a series of adaptations to local conditions.

Finally, for the history buffs, here is an interesting article updating us on the argument over whether Christopher Columbus was of Jewish descent. One thing perhaps beyond the scope of the article. Growing up, I was taught that most in the Middle Ages thought the world was flat and Columbus challenged that belief. Apparently, that supposed belief in the flat world in the Middle Ages is itself a myth.

As a Postscript, allow me to say this about Obama's Cabinet choices. For those who were so worried Obama was some sort of radical, I hope you are starting to rejoin the rest of us in the land we like to call...reality. Obama is smart. He is sharp. He is also showing why he will be an effective leader, albeit a likely cautious leader who knows where the Establishment lives and breathes. Whether he will be as bold as I believe he needs to be to ultimately be successful in leading our nation out of the morass of incompetence and reckless policy making and policy avoidance of the past decade is still anyone's guess. Let's have, as Obama calls it, an audacity of hope that he will prove to be as great as some of our greatest presidents.