Saturday, January 31, 2009

Saturday Night Review of Sunday Book Reviews

From the NY Times Sunday Book Review this week:

First up is a wild footnote of a story about Joseph P. Kennedy's foray into Hollywood, and how he ended up with Gloria Swanson. Like most things Kennedy, it was a raucus ride, with Kennedy rising and falling like a meteor in movieland. It was funny to read how Joseph P., whose anti-Semitism was often on display, thought he could best who he called the "pants pressers," but wound up getting his pants pressed while he was still wearing them.

Second up is an interesting introductory review of two new books on Charles Darwin, who with Abraham Lincoln--both born on February 12, 1809--are celebrating their bi-centennial birthdays. The connection between Darwin and Lincoln, which is the subject of one of the books, sounds fascinating and quite right to my mind, as I've long been interested in how two of the most dominant men of the 19th Century were born on the same day and year. I guess such coincidences are bound to happen sometime! Still, the review falls short of recognizing even the complexities of Darwin's anti-slavery views with the ways in which he analyzed the common descent of humankind, and where racism could still sometimes lurk. For more on this, see the (unfortunately non-Web available) essay by the late, great Stephen Jay Gould about Darwin, slavery and racism, "The Moral State of Tahiti--and of Darwin" in Gould's "Eight Little Piggies" (Norton, 1993). Nobody's perfect, is what Gould is saying. And Darwin was overall a highly decent and brilliant person worthy of praise on almost every level.

Here is another review of a new book describing how the theory of evolution became popular with America's intelligensia after the Civil War. The reviewer properly notes how Herbert Spencer's reputation has suffered over the past 50 years, and how Darwin is looking damned strong among scientists and at least the more thoughtful public intellectuals in our and others' societies around the planet. I think it would be interesting to read the book under review, "Banquet at Delmonico's--Great Minds, the Gilded Age and the Triumph of Evolution in America" with "War Against the Weak," by Edwin Black, because Black's point is that the widespread acceptance of evolution, influenced more by Spencer's views than Darwin's, led us to eugenics--which was given great praise as a "science" by many in both the political Left and Right from the 1880s through the 1930s. "War Against the Weak" is a book for those of us who view science positively because it reminds us that horrors can be committed by human beings in the name of any value or ideology, religious, secular or otherwise.

And third, here is a book review which provides a perspective regarding John Muir that one often does not read much about, which is how Muir's philosophical backgrounding and views led him to the wilderness, and how that philosophical background reverberated throughout the rest of his life. I like that the reviewer defends Muir and gives the author of the book a jab for not being kind enough to the subject of his book. One doesn't see that all too often, but when it occurs, it is worth savoring...

A word about the passing of John Updike (Well, more than a word):

And speaking of savoring, I can't resist, amidst the adulation for John Updike, paraphrasing Gore Vidal's great attack on things Updikean. He said of Updike and his books during the 1960s, I believe: Updike is a middle aged man, living and teaching at a small New England college, writing about a middle aged man, living and teaching at a small New England college...and having sex.

Vidal also remarked that Updike had very little to say about the American Empire or anything critical about the commercial structures within American society--compared not simply to Vidal's own novels, but also the novels of Sinclair Lewis and William Dean Howells. However, said Vidal now arching a metaphoric eyebrow, Updike was at least "very radical about adultery..."

If we think this sort of comment is inappropriate at the passing of Updike, well, perhaps it is. What I can add by way of background, however, is that Updike was no fan of my favorite American writer, Sinclair Lewis, for the very reasons I find Lewis compelling--which is that Lewis wrote about bigger issues than one's libido. And too often, in the literary academy in the U.S. today, there is a belief that if one doesn't write about the narrow, and write with obscure prose, or write overly descriptive passages about the most trivial things, one is not being "literary." This goes back to Henry James and his ridiculously long passages describing what is on the night table of some aristocratic woman, for example.

I don't want to rip too much into Updike. It's all a matter of taste. I just wish that those who rip into Sinclair Lewis, Graham Greene or the social novels of John Steinbeck and Jack London would understand that those novelists are important as novelists (not sociologists), and their novels are more than worthy of being called "literature." And personally, I continue to see Lewis as American literature's Charles Dickens--a writer who captured our imaginations and yet told us profound truths about our society.


Friday, January 30, 2009

Where is the outrage from conservatives they've always had about welfare mothers?

I guess it's okay to take billions from the government after you've messed up your businesses, and then hand yourselves bonuses. Just the way the "free market" works, eh?

And to think Ronald Wilson Reagan (Mr. 666) used to make up stories about scheming welfare mothers...I'm sure a few did take a few relative pennies to survive for themselves and their children, though. But you really can't have been that upset at welfare mothers without wanting to lock and load against these corporate executives.

I had come to the conclusion awhile back that the US government should give money directly to American taxpayers in the form of vouchers to buy cars or use the money to be able to stay in their homes. At least we'd know the money was spent where it was intended to go.

Oil Companies Whistling Past the Economic Graveyard

Let's see, the economy continues its tanking--but isn't it interesting that ExxonMobil reports $45 billion in profits? I'm sure the other oil companies are going to report silmiar (meaning on a percentage basis) profits.

I wonder why people are not saying, "Let's take the oil company profits and give those profits to, oh, I don't know, people to buy American cars or help them able stay in their houses?"

If we go back through the year 2008, we can see that the oil spike from under $2 to over $4.50 had an immediate, immense and adverse impact upon consumer confidence. This decline in consumer confidence fueled (I can't resist the pun...) the decision of millions to stop buying real estate. And this oil spike led to the first major rounds of business layoffs, starting in small businesses and working its way up to larger enterprises. This of course helped push us into the financial crisis, which was admittedly coming anyway--but the push got us there faster.

So where is the discussion of the culpability of oil companies who profited from the misery of others? And please, let's not talk about how they are investing in future energy needs. So far, they are spending a good portion of the profits buying back their own publicly-traded stock and, according to at least ExxonMobil's chairman, buying other companies.

So why are we letting these oil companies whistle past the economic graveyard? The only thing I can figure is that this is the remnant of Reaganism that continues to infect the body politic. If Sarah Palin could slap an oil windfall profits tax on the oil companies in Alaska, our new Congress and President can do the same.

Personal note: I've been avoiding blogging as I've started a new job with law firm. I've worked literally every single day (yes, including weekends) and will be working this weekend--perish watching the Super Bowl...? I'm glad to have a job, though, and the boss is a solid fellow. He's done an outstanding job in securing business during a time of a severe economic downturn that has definitely impacted many law firms, at least in Southern California.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Yeah, I feel good...

Random thoughts on Inauguration Day 2009:

Yup, Bush/Cheney's gone. I feel so relieved, but I wish we'd get the hell out of Iraq now.

I must admit I am surprised Bush didn't pardon a whole bunch of people from his administration. I bet Alberto Gonzalez is nervous this evening...

Too bad Bush didn't commute (not pardon) Jonathan Pollard's sentence, since Pollard has served longer than other spies who spied for nations with whom we have close friendly relations. I detest Pollard, but still, there is a fairness issue here...

I liked Michelle Obama's Wilma Flintstone dress. But heck, what do I know about fashion?

Heard a little of the inaugural speech, and it seemed up to Obama's par. My wife loved it and said she loves that President Obama! Hmmm...did I say I liked Michelle Obama's dress?

And did I say I wish we'd get the hell out of Iraq? Yes, I repeat myself.

Okay, how about this? Can the Democrats on Capitol Hill figure out that the best thing to do with the labor law reform bill is to place it into a package with the stimulus plan, and force the Republicans to filibuster, and then defeat the filibuster when two Republicans or so join in with Democrats to force a cloture vote? Yes, I've said that in earlier posts these past thirty or sixty days, but it bears repeating.

I'm reading Gore Vidal's "Julian" and really enjoying it. Vidal said it was one of two of his favorite novels he ever wrote--"Lincoln" being the other--and I have to agree with him all the way.

Oh, one more thing: Mr. President, you can push Israel a bit harder than your predecessors. Remember, friends don't let friends run foreign policy like a drunkard. So Israel needs to get focused and put pressure on the Hamas Party by saying they'll talk. Israel has the right to defend itself if Hamas throws more rockets, but still, Israel needs to talk to its enemies, too.

Well, something else. Go Lakers!

Monday, January 19, 2009

I'll raise you two Hamiltons and a Madison...

Allow me to finish the thoughts of the insightful Paul Krugman...

If a national--meaning government owned--bank was a good policy for the Founding Fathers of our nation, it's a good policy to me. Time to nationalize these failed and otherwise insolvent privately-owned banks and have ourselves a new Bank of the United States. But this time, any chance it might actually help regular folks out there?

Sunday, January 18, 2009

More propaganda as to whether Gaza residents are angry at Hamas?

This article in today's Haaretz reveals that Israel's military intelligence chief Diskin is convinced many Gaza residents are angry at Hamas. And he further notes the cease-fire agreement by Hamas, however tenuous and likely to be broken by some Hamas members in the future, may ultimately reveal splits within the Hamas leadership.

This is what I noted was happening early in 2006, before Israeli leaders chose their war with Hamas, and later initially welcomed the war against Hezbollah. However, Hamas had closed ranks throughout much of 2008. Perhaps this war will re-open those rifts, as we have seen (in the previous MF Blog post) that two Hamas leaders have openly criticized other Hamas leaders for leading them into this war with Israel.

A split is great because it gives those Gaza residents a chance to directly support peace through Hamas, not standing outside Hamas, which is obviously very risky to one's own life and the lives of one's family. It is for that reason that I am inclined to believe Diskin's analysis and conclusion are not propaganda. Others may disagree, of course. And only time will tell.


Saturday, January 17, 2009

Hamas on verge of accepting bilateral cease-fire?

This is an interesting article from Haaretz this morning. Entitled, "Would a weak Hamas or no Hamas be better in Gaza?", it includes this important statement from Hamas leaders in Gaza:

Meanwhile it seems that at least the Hamas leadership in Gaza has began to fathom the seriousness of its position. Two Hamas leaders in the Strip, Razi Hamad and Ahmed Yusuf, accused the group's leadership in Damascus of "bringing a terrible disaster on Gaza."

The two are considered members of the pragmatic wing of the party, and charged the leadersip of Hamas with making a terrible mistake in ordering Hamas to foil the extension of the cease-fire agreement with Israel in December.

This is why I have had little use for the hand-wringing, and frankly, weakness, of those who automatically assume that Hamas' stature would rise as a result of Israel's actions in Gaza. This was different than the wars of 2006; different strategically, militarily and politically inside Israel. That pundits in the US, and most of the world misread this and continue to see this as a disaster for Israel only goes to show what is wrong with "conventional wisdom."

The simple fact is this: Hamas largely brought this on themselves, and kept this war going for almost two weeks after Israel accepted a bi-lateral ceasefire from Egypt and France that Hamas is only now is coming to accept. Still, the Islamic Jihad group, and some of the Damascus Hamas leadership in Damascus continue to show they don't quite get it yet. Again, from the article:

However, in Damascus it is not clear that the message has been received. Ramadan Shalah, head of the Islamic Jihad, told Al Jazeera that the Palestinians will continue their resistance in Gaza and the city will not surrender because "victory is imminent."

The head of the Hamas politburo, Khaled Meshal, who is central in the decision that led to the events in the Strip, spoke in Damascus last night of a Palestinian "victory in Gaza."

During the speech, delivered live on Al Jazeera, breaking news announced that Said Sayyam and his brother Iyad had been killed in Gaza.

I must also note, for fairness, that the article ends on an ominous note, that Gaza could "deteriorate into Somalia," a reference to a war torn nation that has truly become a horrorshow.

Here is another, more lengthy article by the same authors which shows again why this war has been necessary--but also why Hamas needs to stop, and so does Israel. The article, "Who is really winning the war in the Gaza Strip?" ends with a plaintive cry for Israel to not act so proud to the point of preening, which is important to say, especially as Hamas has not yet definitively agreed to a bilateral ceasefire.

As it has been since the start of this war, my hope is for Hamas to agree to a bilateral ceasefire, and promise to not stockpile or smuggle weapons. In return, Israel would immediately withdraw, and would be immediately required to stop the blockade. Israel should also commit to helping to rebuild Gaza. This represents a better path than the status quo ante, which was allowing Hamas to militarily arm itself and continue to call for the destruction of Israel, and to continue to launch rocket attacks on Israeli towns and villages. To continue to wait for Hamas to grow so militarily strong that its rockets became more precise in killing Israelis would have been folly on the part of Israel.

As for those who are continuing to wring their hands with the fear that Israel's action will make things worse for the Middle East and even the US, one of Israel's foremost novelists and writers, A.B. Yehoshua, has some things to say.

BONUS: This article from Al Jazeera, entitled "Lebanese react to war on Gaza," may explain indirectly why Hezbollah has not entered this war. People in Lebanon really don't want more war after 2006. And that is what I think the lesson in Gaza is going to be. It's a tough lesson for people who really thought they could sit by and watch Hamas grow militarily and politically, continue to punch Israel with rockets and call for Israel's destruction.


ADDENDUM: 10:20 p.m. Pacific Time 1/17/09: Israel has declared a unilateral cease-fire, while Hamas blusters. Yet, deep down in this article about Israel's cease-fire is Hamas saying it will abide by a cease-fire as long as Israel leaves Gaza. It will be interesting to see if Hamas continues to hit Israel with rockets in the next 48 hours, and to hear the reaction of hand-wringing pundits.

If Hamas does stop its rockets and does limit or halt smuggling or shipments of armaments, then this will be a very positive step toward peace. And based upon what I am now reading, much pressure will finally and thankfully be brought to bear on Israel once Hamas stops the rockets and shipments.

ADDENDUM 1/18/09: Hamas has declared a one-week cease-fire. I don't yet trust Hamas to stop firing rockets and smuggling arms into Gaza, but this cease-fire is an important step towards attempting to reach a lasting peace. Still, as Israeli Prime Minister Olmert says, the cease-fire is very fragile.

Somehow people are still going to have to stand up in Gaza and say, "It's time to stop this madness of war, and make peace with Israel." A Hamas leader who says that knows he or she is risking assassination from militants inside Hamas, but if individual people in Gaza are willing to die for war, why not give dying for peace a try? Rabin did it for Israel. Where is the Hamas leader willing to take that risk for his people?

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Patrick McGoohan has left the Global Village...

What can you say about a man who, in 1967, writes a fight scene for a show which has The Beatles' "All You Need is Love" playing in the background?

That was Patrick McGoohan, who conceived, with some others, and wrote and directed, again with some others, one of the two greatest television programs of all time: "The Prisoner."

The other one? The Twilight Zone, of course!

McGoohan died at age 80 today, and it is time for my 15 year old son to be watching "The Prisoner". I have all 17 plus 1 episodes on VHS, and man, I wish I had the DVDs. Oh well.

I loved McGoohan in everything he played in. That includes "Thomasina" (yes, the Disney film of a very astute book by the wonderful, but late Paul Gallico) and "Silver Streak", and even "Escape from Alcatraz."

I'd give links but I'm tired and very, very busy this week. I did prepare an addendum in the post below about the Gaza war between Israel and Hamas, though...

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Hamas soldiers starting to desert? Real, or propaganda?

Haaretz reports this evening (US West Coast time) that Hamas soldiers are starting to desert. This could be good news all around and may cause Palestinians in the Gaza area to begin to realize that if they would just march with a simple slogan: Yes to Peace, No to War, it would be the most effective message to give Hamas and Israel to stop the war.

Regardless of whether the Haaretz report is accurate, wishful thinking or outright propaganda, I sure wish the Palestinians in Gaza would follow the path of Martin Luther King, Jr. and/or Ghandi on this one.

ADDENDUM: And can we stop this mantra about Hamas being strengthened by Israel's attack? Where is the evidence that Palestinians like Hamas now that Israel has attacked in Gaza, apart from mere assumptions and maybe an anecdote or two? I see contrary evidence, such as here. Also, there is evidence that Hamas is in trouble in Gaza and has had to take action against Fatah again in the middle of this war. Anthony Cordesman is one of these people telling us Hamas is strengthened. Jackson Diehl in the Washington Post is another. I'm not saying the position is absolutely wrong. I am, however, asking for evidence to support that position.

FURTHER ADDENDUM (1/11/09): This partial article in Haaretz supposedly comes from the Associated Press, but I did not see such an article on the Associated Press website. It says Israel's military intelligence chief is saying many Gazans are angry with Hamas for bringing on the disaster, and Hamas' leadership is in disarray. Again, could this be propaganda? Or is the journalistic consensus--that Hamas is somehow getting more popular--wrong because it is more based upon assumptions than verifiable facts?

ADDENDUM (1/14/09): It is starting to look like Hamas is finally being pushed by this war toward accepting a bilateral cease-fire. Still, I am not as sure as the Haaretz military writers that Hamas is surrendering. Maybe, though, there will be enough Hamas leaders who begin to understand that peace is inevitable after all, and all they have to say is Yes to Peace, a true and bilateral peace.

Interestingly, Olmert wants to push on, and he is right to say so until Hamas finally makes a definitive statement for a bilateral ceasefire. The people who have wrung their hands since this started, and tell us how bad Israel is for engaging in this war, should now be asking themselves if there are, in fact, some benefits Israel will have if this war finally causes Hamas to realize Israel is not going away, and that the people of Gaza deserve leaders who will help them build a nation through peace, not war.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Et tu, Naomi Klein?

Naomi Klein, who I adore, has lost her bearings in the war between Hamas and Israel. She has written an angry article that calls for boycotting Israel and treating Israel like apartheid-era South Africa.

I could understand Klein's anger at Israel if the Egyptian-French proposal for a cease-fire was accepted by Hamas, but that Israel refused and continued its war. But that's not what occurred this week. It's now been four days since Israel accepted the cease-fire proposal, which is now supported by the US and by Abbas in the Palestian Authority in the West Bank. Hamas, however, has refused to accept the cease-fire proposal.

If Naomi was not falling into Israel hatred, she would recognize that her anger should be directed towards Hamas. But no, Hamas are just abused, errant children in the worldview of people like Naomi Klein, not 14th Century hateful religious zealots with 21st Century weaponry. I know that Israel's prior acts have played a role in how we got here, but we are here and it is now Hamas which is actively hindering a lasting peace. To require Israel to shut down its military actions without demanding Hamas stop firing rockets into Israel is neither just nor reasonable.

Some may now point to the latest UN Security Council resolution which Israel and Hamas have both not accepted. Read the resolution, however, and it will be clearly seen the resolution says nothing other than express concern about most issues between Hamas and Israel, but only tells Israel to withdraw (paragraph numbered "1") without telling Hamas to stop its rocket attacks or stockpiling of weapons. And still, Hamas has still not accepted the resolution.

Hamas wants this war, which is why it ended the cease-fire last month. See here for an interview with a top Hamas leader in Al Jazeera. Here is what an official Hamas spokesman says in response to a question about a cease-fire:

Al Jazeera: Under what conditions will Hamas agree a ceasefire with Israel?

Abu Marzouq: We have three conditions for any peace initiative coming from any state.

First, the aggression of the Israelis should stop. All of the gates should be opened, including the gate of Rafah between the Gaza Strip and Egypt. Finally, Israel has to withdraw from the Gaza Strip.

We are not saying we will stop firing rockets from the Gaza Strip to Israel - we are only talking about stopping the aggression from the Israelis against the civilian population in the Gaza Strip.

When others talk about a ceasefire, they are saying all military operations should stop.

But we are sending a message [by firing rockets]: "We will not surrender. We have to fight the Israelis and we will win this battle."

We know we are going to lose a lot of people from our side, but we are going to win, inshallah.

Hamas wants to continue its war against Israel, and use Palestinian civilian casualties to further its own ends of destroying Israel. Sadly, Hamas' cynical and hostile plan seems to be working on Naomi Klein and some other liberal-leftists.

ADDENDUM 1/10/09: The Nation published my web letter in response to Ms. Klein's article and gave it a red star, which means they really liked it, if I may paraphrase Sally Field (scroll down Klein's article here for my comment/web letter). In fairness, I note the other letter writer who received a red star--who agreed with my general point--nonetheless was in error about the history of the 1967 war. Israel fired upon Egypt and Syria first, and then, after Jordan fired on Israel, fired back at Jordan. Yes, some argue that Israel was provoked, but I think that is a very weak argument, especially since the Israelis knew Egyptian President Nasser had been talked into ratcheting down the tension by the Soviets.

Supporters of Israel should face some historical facts starting with this: Israel started the wars of 1956, 1967, 1982 and probably even 2006. It was attacked in 1948 and 1973, and this latest war with Hamas is a draw as to who started what. What Palestinian supporters need to face is that as long as Palestinians see themselves first as Arabs, and believe their Arab brothers and sisters will help push Israel out of existence, they are doomed to failure and probably worse. If they would see themselves as similar to African-Americans and a minority inside what is Israel and the Occupied Territories, and pursue civil disobedience, strikes and marches, they will find they will relatively fast receive a state of their own and economic assistance from the Israeli people and their government. I really do believe that, and have believed it for many, many years.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Excellent article on Israeli-Gaza war by former President Carter

This is a largely evenhanded discussion from former President Carter in today's Washington Post. My one quibble is that Israel was not hitting the Gaza tunnel on November 4, 2008 because it was a "defensive" tunnel, but a tunnel to smuggle weapons that were to be used to attack Israel. Just as I often consciously use the phrase "military contractors" instead of "defense contractors" when discussing our nation's armament manufacturers, so too should Carter have avoided use of that word "defensive," which is most often a propaganda word.

Still, I think Carter shows what many might say is surprising (less so to me) sympathy for Israeli residents who were subjected to the Hamas rocket bombings.

I remain in Israel's corner, much to the consternation or surprise of some of my fellow liberal-left folks, because one continues to see that Hamas has shown no interest in a true cease-fire and is enjoying using the suffering of the Gazan people as propaganda in its continuing war against Israel. Those reasonable Hamas leaders, who know peace is good for all, must step up to say they will negotiate a long-term cease fire with Israel and promise in good faith to take steps to stop rockets from being shot into Israel. In short, those Hamas leaders must take the chance of being shot in the back by violent extremists--the way Israeli Prime Minister Rabin took the chance for peace and was killed by a Jewish extremist (a Rabbinic student, in fact).

ADDENDUM: Three must read articles on the NY Times op-ed yesterday morning, as well. One is by Nicholas Kristof, who makes clear what I've said for years, which is that Israel is partly responsible for creating Hamas through its consciously oppressive occupation policies, and its divide-and-conquer tactics against the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) during the 1970s and 1980s. The next article is by Gordon Lichfield from the Economist who covers the Middle East. He rightly says Israel must help rebuild Gaza and show another side besides bombing. The third is by Rashid Khalidi, and he writes a strong brief for Palestinians, but again spins the November Israeli attack on the tunnel as if the Hamas folks were not planning to commit an imminent attack on Israel.

As I continue to say, where are the strong voices putting pressure on Hamas to accept the Egyptian-French cease-fire proposal Israel said it would accept two days ago? This talk about Israel, Israel, Israel as if Hamas are merely errant, abused children, is increasingly frustrating as Hamas continues its wild west movie death-threat rhetoric and continues lobbing rocket attacks into Israel--and again, most importantly, saying it will not enter into a cease-fire with regard to its attacks.


Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Dems must include EFCA with stimulus package

TrapperJohn over at the Daily Kos nails it on the importance for Dems to pass the EFCA quickly, and not back-burner it.

I have been saying, as readers of this blog know, that the Dems need to include EFCA as part of the stimulus package, and either peel off the two or three Republicans needed to end a filibuster, or knock out the filibuster rule like the Republicans threatened to do for several years earlier in this decade.

Harry Reid, who continues to be a disaster (poor judgment in not seating Burris and generally giving in to Republicans on multiple votes, not to mention Reid's anticipated weakness in not immediately seating Franken), needs to get smart procedurally here, and actually push for something that will be important to millions of American workers.

Israel accepts French proposal for cease-fire. Hamas....not yet.

Anyone who continues to think the Israelis are the ones who don't desire peace in this current instance need to read this Haaretz article and reflect a bit. Israel and Abbas of the Palestinian Authority (now running the West Bank only) have agreed to the French proposal for a cease-fire.

And what is Hamas' response? From the article:

The deputy head of Hamas's political bureau on Wednesday said his group is studying peace initiatives to end the violence in Gaza Strip but rejects permanent truce with Israel.

Hamas' leadership enjoys seeing civilians die and wants to see more civilians die. They want to use civilian deaths to keep up the hue and cry against Israel. The difference again between Israeli leaders and Hamas leaders in this instance, with Israel behaving more in line with our best human values, should be obvious.

As anyone who has read this blog over the past few years or knows me also knows, I have long been a critic of Israeli leadership for not finding ways to peace with the Palestinians in the Gaza and the West Bank. I have long supported dismantling nearly all settlements and having Israel agree to borders from before the 1967 Arab-Israeli War. But this time, Israel had a right to say "enough" when Hamas wanted war and upped the ante in sending rockets into Israeli towns and cities in November and December 2008. Hamas could have earlier this year engaged in civil disobedience and they would have found a highly receptive Israeli public to completely ending any blockade, which blockade was not as complete in any event. Instead, most of Hamas' leaders wanted this war, and they continue to want the casualties.

"Shame on Hamas" is what we need to begin to hear from those who have so loudly opposed Israel's actions over the past 10 days.

ADDENDUM: This article from Haaretz (dated January 7, 2009 by Amos Harel) provides very compelling information about Hamas, its likely growing split and the continuing capabilities of some in its military wing. Again, though, note how defiant Hamas' leadership is and how they continue to think like they are in some "old wild west" movie. They are the ones who don't care how many civilians in Gaza die. And again, where is the same level of demand that Hamas stop its killing and quest for destruction of Israel from those opposing Israel's current actions?


Sunday, January 04, 2009

Latest from the Middle East OK Corral...

From Haaretz:

1. International Community Giving Israel Time to Weaken Hamas in Gaza (January 4, 2009). Here. MJF comment: Just as I have been saying in previous posts: The world is at least divided about whether to support Hamas in ways the world was not in the case of even Hezbollah.

2. Livni Rejects Offer to Contact Hamas via Russia for Gaza Truce Talks (January 4, 2009). Here. MJF comment: And Hamas can't pick up the phone themselves? Give credit to the Russians for trying, but Israel shouldn't have to beg for peace with Hamas when Hamas continues to act with defiance as if this was a shoot-'em-up movie The second linked article quotes Hamas as follows:

After the incursion began, Hamas spokespeople and militants fired off fiery warnings to the Israeli forces. In another message, Hamas warned Israeli forces that "Gaza will not be paved with flowers for you, it will be paved with fire and hell."


By sending ground troops into the Gaza Strip, Hamas said, Israel was falling into "the trap that our fighters had prepared for its soldiers and tanks."

3. Israel's aim in Gaza is to break Hamas' resistance (January 4, 2009). Here.

4. And there lie the bodies (January 4, 2009). Gideon Levy continues his tough opposition to Israel's war against Hamas in Gaza. Here. MJF comment: I will go out on a limb and predict Israel's Gaza offensive will informally cease before Friday, January 9, 2009. I think Israel wants to kill most of the militant leaders of Hamas and largely if not completely destroy Hamas' military and rocket capability. The talking will begin soon thereafter. Yes, yes, I know this sounds like "Mission Accomplished," and one thing is still likely to prove wrong this limited to the military offensive prediction, which is Hezbollah or even Iran attacking Israel. That, however, is why Israel has called up most reservists, I believe.

Al Jazeera:

1. Civilians Die in Gaza Fighting (January 4, 2009). Here. MJF comment: Notice the second heading inside the article that says "Hamas Defiant." Note further the correspondent says Gaza has now been split into two sections by the Israeli military forces. Readers may also note the article mentions that 30 civilians have died, much like has been reported in Haaretz.

2. Tel Aviv Rally Decries Gaza Assault (January 4, 2009). Here. MJF comment: This is very hopeful, really. But no number is given, which leads me to believe the rally attracted a relatively small number of people. Note one Palestinian Arab was quoted who admitted Hamas provoked Israel, but added that Israel's response is disproportionate.

3. World Leaders Condemn Israel (January 4, 2009). Here. MJF comment: This is not really any different in substance than the article from Haaretz talking about the UN Security Council delaying the issue of a cease-fire until Wednesday of this coming week. The headline, I think, states something more definitive than is warranted as no nation is identified as having cut off relations with Israel, for example.

MF blog posts on Gaza crisis and war:

My previous blog posts starting in November 2008 are here, here, here, here, here, here and here.


Review of Sunday Book Reviews

The Washington Post Book World is hot today!

First, there is a review of a fascinating new biography of Maimonides, a Middle Ages Jewish scholar and rabbi. The book shines new light on the proposition that Maimonides had largely assimilated into or was at least deeply affected by Islamic culture, and that this in turn affected his analysis of Jewish law or doctrine.

The Book World also contains a thoughtful, yet succinct review of Maxwell Taylor Kennedy's new book on Japanese kamakazie pilots during World War II, and how they were much like modern suicide bombers.

And here is a nice review of three books on POWs that is largely devoted to one book that sounds outstanding. The main book under review is Edwin Burrow's "Forgotten Patriots: The Untold Story of American Prisoners During the Revolutionary War." While I tend to wince at any history book that includes "untold" in its title, for what I hope are obvious reasons, the book sounds outstanding, with the reviewer calling Burrows' work "masterful."

I am still waiting for a critical review of Robert Samuelson's book on the inflationary period of the 1970s (Samuelson claims it started in the 1960s for reasons I don't believe are accurate), and the Post's book reviewer fails to deliver. I will have to get around to reading Samuelson's book (not just skimming it at my local bookstore) because my understanding from other sources over the years is that the 1970s inflation was not the result of unions, for example, but largely from the two oil price gouges (1973-74 and 1979-1980), and food price increases that resulted from world wide droughts in 1970-1971, and concurrently, the significant amounts of American grain provided for political purposes to the Soviet Union. Also, the way Nixon managed temporary wage/price controls had some limited adverse effect, but not as much as Samuelson is appearing to say. Unfortunately, most of the supportive information that would answer Samuelson is not available on the web or not free on the web (such as Mark Zandi's "The Economics of El Nino"), though one can start with Edward Renshaw's Essay #11 "The Fed (Or Economy) Watchers' Handbook" and Jeff Faux's "The Fed's Unncessary Assault on Wages" (Economic Policy Institute Issue Brief #136, March 2, 2000). See also: Michael Harrington's "The Twilight of Capitalism" (Touchstone, 1976), pages 225-227.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Next time someone calls Israel's military Nazis....

...let them read this article in Haaretz. Do Nazis make warning calls to residents of each home they are preparing to bomb, which homes, we should note, are likely to contain military weaponry stockpiled for the purpose of attacking Israel? And let's show such critics this article, about Israel treating Gazan civilians at Israeli hospitals.

The Egyptian government still has its blockade of Gaza from its border. Yet, the Israelis have allowed some medical supplies and food through its borders to help Gazans during this attack that the Israelis are clearly intending to focus against particular militant Hamas leaders and military caches and weapons depots.

Also, let's note the Egyptian Foreign Minister recognizes that there can be no valid and effective cease-fire agreement if Hamas does not take on the responsibility to stop rockets from being fired from Gaza into Israel. Why those critical of Israel in this instance are not saying this with the same type of clarity is something I am finding increasingly frustrating. It is not just Israel that is refusing to agree to a cease-fire, it is Hamas, too. If Hamas would only agree to stop the rocket attacks, then Israel continues to say it will stop its attacks. That should be easy, but of course, Hamas is more interested in creating civilian martyrs than seeking peaceful co-existence with Israel.

It is also interesting to note that Israeli officials allowed an anti-Israel rally by Arabs in Israel, yet the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank refused to allow a similar rally. Again, are Israelis really like Nazis? And let's get real about how our government in America would treat dissent if we were being hit with rockets from Canada or Mexico day after day and decided to attack those nations in retaliation. Think there would be corporate-owned newspapers who would print columnists like Gideon Levy, who called his country's leaders "the neighborhood bully" when the Israelis began the operation? Doubtful at best.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Defending David Frost

My uncle phoned today and said I must see "Frost/Nixon." I probably will, though our children tend to control movie-going more often than not. In any event, he says he was surprised to learn from the film that Frost was not a heavy interviewer when Nixon agreed to be interviewed by Frost.

I was very surprised to hear that, and replied that Frost was not some limited game show host like say, Pat Sajak. Nor was Frost, as someone at the Daily Kos just said, like Carson Daly.

If anything, Frost was a spiritual predecessor to Jon Stewart and was a lead player on a critically acclaimed British television political satire show, That Was The Week That Was (affectionately called TW3). After the demise of that show, Frost later hosted an hour and a half interview show for several years that was also critically acclaimed. My folks and I watched it regularly and I learned an awful lot about newsmakers of the time from watching Frost's intelligent and riveting interviews.

In 1976, I was in college when Nixon agreed to have Frost interview him, and my response at the time was that "Nixon must be crazy to think Frost is going to throw soft-ball questions to him." And as it turned out, Frost did get under Nixon's skin more than Dan Rather ever did. I remember the interviews, particularly when Nixon said that if the president does something, it really isn't illegal.

Just think of this way: Imagine that Jon Stewart landed an interview with Dick Cheney...

In fairness, though, this Wikipedia entry on Frost does show his...ahem...showman or "player" side, and that he earned the enmity of such beloved (at least by me!) British comedic luminaries as Peter Cook and John Cleese, despite each getting a great start working with Frost.

Still, if director Ron Howard has made Frost out to be some shallow game show host with no experience dealing with or skewering political figures, then Howard has misled his audience. A shame, really, as I have read such stellar reviews of the film for its largely accurate portrayal of the interviews Frost had with Nixon.

ADDENDUM: Hmmm...Elizabeth Drew, a veteran DC reporter and commentator, challenges the historical accuracy of the film here, but buys into the view that somehow Frost was more of a hack. Her critique, however, is far more wide-ranging and admittedly substantive. Still, I expect to see the film and will likely enjoy it, too...

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Reply to Ezra Klein on Israel's attack against Hamas and Gaza

Ezra Klein, with whom I almost always agree, has taken the position in some posts he's filed that Israel's actions in the past several days against Hamas and Gaza are not justified, and are ultimately wrong. His latest post posits a distinction between what he calls Hamas' mere intentions and Israel's actions, and that this distinction supports his position that Israel's actions against Hamas and Gaza are wrong.

This is my reply to Ezra (it is in Ezra's comments, on Jan. 1, 2009, at 11:19 a.m. Eastern Time), which I post here:

Please help me a little here, Ezra.

If your formulation is correct, then why is Israel not bombing the heck out of the West Bank? Why is there no blockade in the West Bank?

The reason is simple: Abbas and the Palestinian Authority are not lobbing rockets into Israel (meaning Green Line Israel) and are not sending out suicide bombers. They are not openly propagating and calling for the destruction of Israel as a nation nor are they saying anything that even sounds like "Kill the Jews."

Your formulation that we only have Hamas' intentions is also less than accurate. The Islamic militants' rockets have been physically hitting Israeli towns and villages, and causing not simply property damage and palpable fear, but killing Israeli civilians inside the Green Line, not the occupied territories.

Israel's actions are not preventive war, as the war has begun by Islamic militants, and the more militant parts of Hamas.

At its best, isn't your formulation like saying in 1981 that the US and Israel should have let Saddam Hussein build his military nuclear capability and only then taken action since building a military nuke or two was only an intention?

Hopefully, even if Ezra does not respond, we can learn why, if at all, I am wrong on the Internet.