Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Anti-Bibi: Rabbinical Voices in U.S.

You could read every word in the mainstream press today about the Iran nuclear agreement, listen to every prattling face on what TV calls newscasts, and you'd still not be aware of one of the most significant reactions to the event.

Bibi says this, the Brits raise these questions, Kerry says that, the White House blah blither, blah, blather, blah, argle, bargle . . .

Heed thee this from Rabbi Arthur Waskow, courtesy of the eminent Middle East scholar, William O. Beeman of the University of Minnesota and Stanford University:

One hundred Jewish clergy (Rabbis, Cantors, Maggidim, Kohanot) – – a minyan of minyanim –  have signed  the Rabbinic Statement  “Step by Step toward Shalom with Iran.”

The process of working out the statement and then gathering signatures began four weeks ago. The 100th signature arrived shortly after Shabbat ended last night, just minutes before breaking news reports came that the Great Powers and Iran had come to an interim agreement toward settling the major differences between them.

Luminaries of the Reform, Reconstructionist, Renewal, Conservative, Modern Orthodox, and Humanist streams of Judaism have already signed.

The text of the Rabbinic statement follows:

 Step by Step toward Shalom with Iran

 As Rabbis, Cantors, and other Clergy serving the American Jewish community, we are deeply committed, as Jewish tradition teaches –

§  to the shalom –-  peace, social justice, functioning democratic process, and ecological sanity –of the country where we live  – all of which would be damaged by still another unnecessary war;

§  to the shalom, peace and security, of the State of Israel, to its democratic character, and to its special relationship with the Jewish people;

§  to unequivocal action by all the Arab-majority and Muslim-majority states to make peace with Israel, and to Israel’s unequivocal action to make peace with all its neighbors, including an emergent Palestine;

§  to our respect and our prayers for salaam, peace and justice, among our cousins in the Abrahamic tradition, Arab and Muslim civilizations;

§  to the peace and prosperity of all the “70 nations” of the world;

§  and to the healing of our wounded planet.

For all these reasons, we welcome warmly the greatly increased possibility of a peaceful resolution of the conflicts among the US, Iran, Israel, and other nations.
 We especially welcome the new attitudes toward the Jewish people and toward the nuclear issue set forth by the new President of Iran, and his assertion that Iran will never hold nuclear weapons. We also recall the repeated assertions and fatwas by Grand Ayatollah Khameini that for Iran to possess nuclear weapons would violate Islam.
 We urge the US and Iran to move swiftly to agree on a step-by-step process of reducing and ultimately ending sanctions against Iran in accord with steps by Iran to make its nuclear research transparent and to allow verification that its research is directed wholly toward civilian uses of nuclear energy. We believe that such a step-by-step process is the best way to guarantee that both parties are fulfilling their commitments.
 We urge Iran to make clear its full acceptance of Israel as a legitimate state in the fabric of international relations, protected like all other states from aggression and attack.
 We urge the Government of Israel to welcome steps by Iran to make clear and verifiable its commitment to use nuclear energy and research for peaceful purposes only, not for pursuit of nuclear weaponry, and while this process is under way, we urge Israel to end hostile acts and statements toward Iran.
 We urge the peoples of the United States, Iran, and Israel to reject and oppose all statements and actions from whatever source that undermine the swift and thorough achievement of agreements to ensure the civilian nature of Iran’s nuclear program and to end sanctions against Iran.
 We urge the American people to recognize and do tshuvah (“turning” or “repentance”) for the ethical errors of our own government toward Iran – particularly, the US Government’s intervention in 1953 to overthrow the democratically elected reform government of Iran; US actions to support the tyrannical regime of the Shah until the Iranian people overthrew it in 1979; and US support for Iraq’s wars of aggression against Iran in the 1980s, including US support for Saddam Hussein’s use of chemical weapons to kill 100,000 Iranians.
 We urge the Iranian people to do tshuvah for their government’s demonization of the United States and Israel, for its holding US diplomats hostage for more than a year in 1979-1980, and for the support it seems to have covertly given for attacks on Israeli citizens.
 We believe that this combination of governmental acts and public rethinking and re-feeling can move American society, the entire Middle East, and the world toward the shalom that Judaism yearns for. 

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

What Is That Thing Called Hope?

Is there any hope of ever fixing this sorry-assed country?

Will the Democrats who control the Senate unlock whatever vault their cojones are locked up in, and reform the idiotic institution called the filibuster? It's their President who plays Charlie Brown to the Republicans' Lucy, and keeps trying to kick that football only to have it pulled away at the last second.  When Obama's third well-qualified nominee for the federal district court in Washington was prevented from having a confirmation vote, somebody in Washington had the good sense to say, "Enough is enough." The same somebody ought to tell Harry Reid that LBJ would never have tolerated such excrement.

* * *

Talk about cojones!  The Walmart in Canton, O., is asking customers to donate to a holiday food drive -- for its own employees. “Please donate food items so associates in need can enjoy Thanksgiving dinner,” reads a sign accompanied by several plastic bins. Do you suppose the stores that made billionaires of a legion of Waltons might consider paying those associates a living wage? Nah.

 * * *

On a recent television appearance, criticizing the Affordable Care Act, Michelle Bachmann, whose retirement from Congress can't come soon enough, described herself as a "genius."  Honest.

* * *

In Seattle, Machinists District Lodge 751 rejected a take-it-or-leave-it contract with Boeing Aircraft that would have frozen or altogether taken away their pensions and increased their health insurance costs by 30 percent. These cutbacks in entitlements came from a company whose CEO is guaranteed a pension of $250,000 a month; a company that received $8.7 billion in subsidies from the state of Washington as a bribe to keep the manufacture of the new B777X in Seattle.  Boeing is now threatening to take its B777X to Texas, where another "genius," Gov. Rick Parry, is ready with a ban on unions, historically low wages -- and a school system that teaches creationism as science.

* * *

An imperfect health care law, most of whose imperfections were either demanded by Republicans or bought by powerful industries like Big Pharma, is now under brutal attack by Republicans and powerful indusrtries like Big Pharma.  Not content with attacking their own bad provisions in the law, they're attacking with lies about the law.  And the President, who used every trick in his political bag to get the thing passed, neglected to see to it that the computer system that operated it actually worked.  It didn't. Reminds me of the bank robbers who thought of everything but forgot to put gas in the getaway car.
* * *

And this is the government that had the high-tech savvy to put together the biggest, most sophisticated system of spying on everyone in the history of the planet. And to jail, kill or banish into exile the handful of brave patriots who told us that they were doing this.

* * *

 A murder trial jury in Florida bought into the idea that a black kid carrying candy in a white community at night deserved killing.  Now the man they acquitted in the slaying of Trayvon Martin is flouting the law all over the place, having just been jailed on charges of threatening his girlfriend with a shotgun.  Juries don't get second chances.

* * *

Did you know that local police departments, some in towns as small as 20,000, are being supplied with drones, tanks, grenade launchers, tactical vests like those used by soldiers in Afghanistan, military-grade helicopters or  heavily-armored vehicles intended to withstand IED blasts? All of this to lurk behind a culvert and nab speeders? And why is Homeland Security sitting on a stockpile of ammunition sufficient to fight a war in, say, Somalia? It's to use on us, dummy, if we get too uppity.

* * *

Nope.  No hope at all.

Monday, November 18, 2013

The Test of Truth in Iran Negotiations

Parsing the language of diplomacy is always a dicey business, and it behooves journalists who try to do so to walk the extra mile in pursuit of truth.

 Some years ago Japan sent a high-level delegation to Washington to try to resolve a trade and monetary issue that was driving a wedge into the two nation's relationship.  When the first session ended,  the two sides addressed reporters from the American media. The Japanese spokesperson seemed to echo the American briefer with cautiously optimistic comments that suggested Japan was beginning to soften its position.  Then the Japanese delegates went to another venue to brief the Japanese media corps.  Dick Halloran, the New York Times reporter covering the talks, who had become fluent in Japanese preparing for a stint as Tokyo correspondent, went to the briefing for the Japanese press and heard an entirely different story: Japan, its spokesperson said, was standing firm on its hard line.

The lede of Halloran's story, which I edited,  reflected the two-faced briefing.  It had barely begun to move on the wire when my phone rang.  It was the Japanese Embassy press attache insisting Halloran had it wrong and demanding that we change it.  I beckoned for Halloran to listen on another phone. When Halloran, in flawless Japanese, quoted exactly what was said at the second. all-Japanese briefing there was an embarrassed silence and the line went dead.

Last week, when the first session of the *Gang of Six talks with Iran ended with no progress on nuclear issues, no American reporter went the extra mile, and the U.S. public was handed the usual "we blame them and they blame us but our case is stronger" coverage.

*(Gang of Six=P5+1, the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council -- U.S., U.K., China, Russia and France -- plus Germany.) 

Gareth Porter, a Brit and one of the best reporters now covering the Middle East, did his footwork.  Turns out that as the talks were ending, there was a preliminary deal, a set of conditions that would enable the delegations to pursue an end game to more than 30 years of strife, sanctions, sabre-shaking and mutual recrimination.

Our dear ally, Bibi Netamyahu of Israel, saw the most dire threat yet to his dream of dominion in the entire Middle East.  He pulled out all the stops to persuade his pals in France to redact the final draft with more hawkish language on critical issues, particularly the heavy water production facility in Arak. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has known about the facility since 2002 and believes that that it is intended as a benign facility. 

 France's draft changes on Arak, and other issues, were unacceptable to Iran, which learned about them only at the very last minute just as signing of the earlier agreement was about to take place.

The talks are to resume this week, and despite Israel's Franco-shenanigans, there is a glimmer of actual sanity from the black hole of U.S. foreign policy under Obama. Lost in the fooferaw about health care at his news conference last week, were his comments about Iran. Few in the United States media quoted at length from them, because to do so would have made clear that he was sending placating signals to Iran, whose new president's policy shifts opened the door to meaningful talks with the Gang of Six.

He said that negotiation is better than the alternative of military action, which Netanyahu, with his quasi-secret trove of nuclear weapons, craves. ‘‘No matter how good our military is, military options are always messy, are always difficult, always have unintended consequences,” Obama said. Urging Congress not to toughen the already tight economic sanctions against Iran, Obama told the yellow hawks of the house,  "If we're serious about pursuing diplomacy, then there's no need for us to add new sanctions on top of the sanctions that are already very effective, and that brought them (the Iranians) to the table in the first place." 

He felt compelled, of course, to reiterate that he doesn't want to see Iran develop a nuclear weapon (without acknowledging that Iran has said all along that it doesn't want one, either).

And, like that Japanese trade delegation years ago, he sent a spokeswoman, Susan Rice, out to rattle swords.  We retain the option, she assured the yellowhawks, to stiffen the sanctions if we decide to declare bad faith on Iran, adding ominously that the military option was still very much on the table.

 As titular head of a government whose actual overlords are super-rich corporations dependent for some or all of their profit on ongoing war, Obama, the Peace Nobelist who once called for a world without nukes, faces a truth test this week.

Was that glimmer of sanity just another spurt of Kidglove doublespeak? Or will a process that is terribly important to the entire world move forward toward peaceful resolution?

Monday, November 11, 2013

Dammit, They Deserve Their Poverty!

It is 1964 in the city room of the Detroit Free Press, where the brilliant young editor Derick Daniels has built an editorial staff teeming with talent.

President Lyndon Baines Johnson has just delivered a State of the Union address in which he declared a war on poverty in these United States.  His speech resonates particularly in Detroit, a city with one of the highest poverty rates in the country.

A young reporter, the ink barely dry on his Ivy league masters degree in journalism, is in earnest discussion with Neal Shine and the other city desk editors.  The young man, the editors decree, will illuminate the poverty story in the most compelling way possible: he will live in subsidized public housing, and survive on the minimum wage plus whatever token public assistance he might qualify for if he were truly destitute.  After a month, he will write about his experiences and the people with whom he shared squalor.

On the second night of the venture, the young reporter calls Shine's home in the middle of a cold February night.  "Neal," he whines, "can I go home? I'm freezing and some kind of bugs are eating me!"

          * * *
At least the young reporter cared.  He had suggested the story to his editors.  He believed with all his heart that it was wrong for so many people to be destitute in the richest country in the world. But until that cold, hungry night he had no idea of what poverty really was. In less than 48 hours, it had devastated him.

In almost half a century, not much has changed.  Too many of us still live in poverty, and too many of those are children.  The people who make our laws, sit in judgement of us, and manage our government know less about the reality of poverty than that Ivy league reporter in Detroit.  Unlike him, they don't even pretend to care.

Some on the far right are so sadistically hateful of the "other" that they have slashed public assistance in the form of food stamps.  Food stamps! How dare those shiftless beggars actually want to eat!  This is the Congress you and I elected.  This is the President we elected, the Dr. Kidglove who reaches out time and again to "compromise" with those whose only interest is their own political careers and the profitability of the corporations who bought their offices for them. The people be damned.

In the town where I live, the newspaper call-in column for people who utter their inanities from behind the veil of annonymity is filled these days with comments about the poor from those who are still clinging desperately to the last vestiges of the middle class. The tenor of all of them is, "If you can't get by on $5 worth of food a day, get up off your lazy arse and get a job." (Never mind that the number actually was $4.50 and now is below $4.) They echo the falsehoods of their man in Congress, who holds "job fairs" which, he says, are poorly attended because most of the unemployed couldn't pass drug tests.  He doesn't mention that virtually all of the jobs at his fairs pay the minimum wage, and that most of the employers limit the hours of those jobs so they don't have to pay benefits like health care.

Back in the day when that Detoit reporter was learning the hard lessons of real poverty, the conservative Barry Goldwater was running for president.  The late Bill Mauldin drew a cartoon for the Washington Post that depicted the multimillionaire Goldwater lecturing a tattered pair of poor folk sitting on the curb, faces full of despair.

Goldwater is telling them: "Show some ambition!  Go out and inherit a department store."

Plus ├ža change. . . .

Friday, November 1, 2013

We're Killers and Nobody Gives a Damn

A guy with an assault rifle opened fire in the crowded Los Angeles airport today.  Killed one person, injured two others

(Yawn) Any celebrity babies on the way this week?

Depending upon who's counting, it was the 62nd or 63rd or 66th mass shooting in the United States since Columbine.

(Yawn) Who's  the latest pop star to flash a boob onstage?

Gun violence kills 33 Americans each day.

(Yawn) How's the stock market doing today?

We kill one another with guns at a rate 20 times that of any other wealthy country.  (People in poor countries can't afford assault rifles.)

(Yawn) How 'bout that Senator who called Harry Reid an asshole?

Guns kill more children each year -- between 112 and 150 -- than cancer.

(Yawn) Di'jou see them nekkid pitchers of Britney Spears on the innernet?

The gun lobby lavishes about $13 million a year on Washington.  Top recipients of their blood money are Senators John Cronyn (R-TX), James Inhofe (R-OK) and Ted Cruz (R-TX).  Eric Cantor (R-VA) and Paul Ryan (R-WI) are among the top takers in the House.

(Yawn) Gotta stop that Obamacare.  It's worse than slavery!

Since Sirhan Sirhan gunned down Robert F. Kennedy in 1968, American gunmen have slain nearly 1.4 million of their fellow citizens.  The death toll of Americans in all the country' s wars, from the Revolution through Afghanistan, is less than 1.2 million.

(Yawn) Who wore Miley Cyrus costumes for Hallowe'en?

About 32,000 Americans die by gunfire each year. If current trends continue, our annual toll of shooting victims will exceed the number killed in automotive accidents by 2015.

(Yawn) What's the early line in Vegas on Kentucky-Michigan State hoops?

In 2011, the United States manufactured one milliion more guns than all the other nations in the world combined.  American gun manufacturers have produced more than 100 million guns in the last 25 years. Gun manufacturers have contributed nearly $40 million to the National Rifle Association's propaganda campaigns against rational gun control.

(Yawn)  Is George Cloony dating Julian Assange's lawyer? (BTW, who's Julian Assange?)