Monday, July 21, 2014

Body Count

What’s the body count today? More than 500 Palestinians and maybe half a dozen Israeli’s. By Bibi Netanyahu’s perverse standard this is a perfectly acceptable ratio. Hamas “militants” are firing rockets at Israel, and therefore the Israeli military has a God-given right to fire back – with fifty times the firepower – from land, air, and sea. Bibi is going to teach Hamas a lesson it will not forget, and if thousands of innocent civilians with no where else to flee get killed or maimed in the process, well, that’s the fault of Hamas, not Israel. Doesn’t Israel take the extraordinary humanitarian step of calling Gazans on the telephone before raining bombs on their homes? Bibi claims this is a sign of how much Israel values the lives of Palestinians.

Americans have no concept of what is happening in Gaza, no idea of what it means to be under constant bombardment, with shortages of food, water, overcrowded and overwhelmed hospitals, and sporadic electricity. I sit in sunny Santa Barbara and try to imagine what it would be like if this upscale seaside city were to suddenly come under bombardment, if artillery shells were whistling down from the foothills, and warships offshore were lobbing projectiles into the center of town, if entire blocks of office buildings and houses were reduced to smoking rubble. And suppose this kind of intense bombardment was happening for the third time in six years?

The world community should be calling for Bibi’s scalp for engaging in actions completely contrary to international law: collective punishment, disproportionate force, and the targeting of civilians. But of course nothing like that happens, Israel, as always, is immune from criticism and consequences. Other than the United States, can any country on earth flaunt international law and UN resolutions with such impunity? Israel wraps itself in its right of self-defense and the shadow of the Holocaust, while it uses many of the same tactics against Palestinians in Gaza that were employed by the Nazis against Jews in the Warsaw ghetto.

The double-standards are astonishing: Arabs are almost always referred to as militants or terrorists, while Israeli’s are depicted as embattled folk just trying to protect their homeland. Never mind that Israel has stolen thousands of square miles of Palestinian land to build settlements upon and reneged on one negotiated settlement after another; the motives of Arabs are evil and warlike, the motives of Jews are decent and peaceful.  

I don’t blame the majority of Israelis for the actions of their political leaders. It’s not that difficult for the political system of a nation to be highjacked by whack jobs. I think the average resident of Israel understands that endless war with the Palestinians – and official policies that call for treating Palestinians like animals -- can lead to nothing but more carnage, hatred, and suffering. But just as millions of Americans failed to stop George W. Bush from invading Iraq, reasonable Israelis cannot stop Bibi Netanyahu. Bibi is leading them over the edge, to a place from which there may be no return.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Gaza, Again

Sitting here on the Platinum Coast of California on a lovely summer day, sun-kissed, birds chirping and a Monarch butterfly floating outside my window. All is peace and beauty, and yet I can’t stop thinking about the inhabitants of the Gaza Strip, thousands of miles from here, under siege once again by the might of the Israeli military.

As it always does, Israel claims to merely be defending itself from Hamas rocket attacks. As always, Israel portrays itself as the aggrieved nation. Israel also claims that it doesn’t target civilians, but when the casualties are tallied, it is mostly civilians who are killed or injured. Thus far, the death toll on the Palestinian side is north of 100, on the Israeli side, 0. The Hamas forces are either very inept marksmen or they rely on impotent rockets.

Israel, of course, has the full complement of high-tech weaponry, much of it supplied, or financed, by the United States – Israel’s staunch ally and international protector. Fighter jets, laser-guided missiles, drones, cluster bombs, and bunker busters, Israel unleashes the full kit on Gaza; Bibi Netanyahu, egged on by extremists who wouldn’t mind seeing every last Palestinian exterminated, promises more to come, including the possibility of a ground invasion. The mainstream media in America accepts Israel’s pronouncements at face value, repeats the tired narrative that the Arabs are the aggressors and that Hamas is ultimately responsible for civilian deaths. The rest of the world, even the Arab world, stands by and looks on, mostly silent.

On Democracy Now the other day a spokesperson for the Israeli ambassador claimed, with a straight face and total conviction, that Israel’s occupation of Gaza ended five or more years ago. And yet, Israel continues to control all movement of people and goods in and out of Gaza, including by air and sea. The Israeli navy has maintained a maritime blockade since 2009. Israel prohibits the entry of basic building materials like cement. Gaza residents cannot even rely on electricity for more than a few hours each day.

Along with military might, Israel boasts a finely tuned propaganda machine.

In one media report I saw Netanyahu said more than one thousand targets in Gaza had been attacked over the course of four days. Gaza is roughly twice the size of Washington D.C. In an area so small the question to ask is, what hasn’t been targeted? Is there anyplace in Gaza where civilians can take refuge?

In Gaza the cycle of violence and retribution has no end. The United States and Europe could intervene, if they had the will, but no point holding our collective breath. Israel has a blanket pass and a get-out-of-jail-free card with no expiration date. Even when Israel’s policies are dead wrong, they are deemed right because the lives of Jews have been weighed and metered and determined to be of more value than the lives of Palestinians.

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

No Shame for the Dutch

My second favorite team is out of the World Cup. The Dutch played valiantly against Argentina, contained Lionel Messi, and dominated long stretches of the second half. But, as happened against Costa Rica, all the hard work produced no goals.  Ron Vlaar was huge in defense and it was unfortunate that he missed his penalty kick. Nobody thought the Netherlands would advance as far as they did. Losing via penalty kicks is always hard to accept. You battle an opponent to a deadlock after 120 minutes of football, and then roll the dice with PK's and come up short.

I wasn't that impressed with Argentina. I think Messi and Company will have their hands full against Germany.

I'm still digesting Brazil's shocking dismantling by the Germans. I've never seen a team in a major competition defend so poorly and look so lost. The Germans had acres of space to play in, and it appeared that Brazil was afraid to close them down. That 18-minute stretch when the Germans ran riot is etched in World Cup lore now.  Germany laid an epic whipping on Brazil, one that won't be forgotten for a long time.

Congratulations to the Netherlands for going farther than anyone thought they would. The players did their nation proud.

Saturday, July 05, 2014

Bye Bye Red Devils

I’m in football heaven with the World Cup, as are supporters of the teams still in the competition, and fans in general. Not surprisingly, ABC and ESPN have completely shied away from the controversial aspects of the Brazil World Cup, the huge amount of money invested to host the competition and what this has meant for the poor, workers, and favela dwellers; the excessive corporate glitz and glitter; and the dubious stature of FIFA. The competition on the field has been intriguing to watch. Before the tournament began I picked Belgium, with the Netherlands a close second. I didn’t believe Belgium would win the tournament, but I thought they had a good chance of reaching the semifinals.

After today’s matches I only have the Netherlands to support. Belgium played a mediocre game against Argentina, managing only one shot on target, and my favorite player, Eden Hazard, made no impact on the match at all. Hazard is a tremendous talent, but as Chelsea fans saw during the English Premier season, he can inexplicably go missing or appear disinterested. The positive news for Belgium is that they are a young side that will improve, and four years from now, who knows? More experienced Argentina showed they know how to win. That know-how is what Belgium lack.

I wasn’t surprised that the Dutch dominated Costa Rica in terms of possession, shots, shots on target, and corners taken. What I didn’t expect was for the Dutch to be held goalless for 120 minutes. Arjen Robben looked dangerous for the Dutch almost every time he touched the ball, slashing and cutting past defenders, drawing fouls; Robin Van Persie and Wesley Sneijder also played well, making scoring chances for themselves. Sneijder hit the woodwork twice. Credit Costa Rica for playing disciplined and spirited defense, forcing the match to penalty kicks where anything can happen.

Four big teams, two European and two South American, and three matches remain. Brazil will face Germany without Neymar Jr. and Thiago Silva. The Dutch have to devise a plan to impede Lionel Messi and break down Argentina’s defense. 

I can’t wait for next Tuesday and Wednesday.   

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Liar, Liar, House on Fire

I don’t watch Meet the Press with David Gregory because I think Gregory is a shill and a hack. This hardly makes Gregory unique in the US media universe. With Iraq imploding US mainstream media outlets like NBC and CNN are in overdrive, returning the architects of the disastrous 2003 invasion and occupation to the airwaves. There’s Paul Wolfowitz on Meet the Press (sponsored in part by Boeing), one member of a “panel of experts.” Uncle Dick Cheney is everywhere, criticizing President Obama as if it was Obama who made the decision to invade Iraq in 2003, and muttering darkly that immediate US military intervention is needed to save Iraq. Throw in Douglas Feith and a host of former generals and you have a perfect storm of misinformation, spin, and mendacity. 

The hands of the US drip with Iraqi blood.

This is how history is revised, how facts are obscured, and monumental failure made to look like noble success. Millions of people the world over understood that the US invasion of Iraq was a war of choice, tucked conveniently beneath the umbrella of the “War on Terror,” that marvelous catchall for imperialist designs. Dick Cheney and Paul Wolfowitz told whopping lies about Saddam Hussein’s connection to al-Qaeda, 9/11, and his stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction. They lied out of their asses. For the most part, the US media swallowed these fictions wholesale and acted as cheerleaders for the Shock & Awe invasion, the deadly effectiveness of US munitions, and the bravery of the soldiers who were delivering “democracy” to the long suffering Iraqi people.

The current coverage focuses excessively on US interests, our collective sacrifice in dead and wounded warriors, and stupendous amounts of money. Rarely, if ever, do the “Panels of Experts” on Iraq include an Iraqi; little mention, if any, is made of the Iraqi dead, wounded or displaced. With straight faces the “experts” and generals and politicians like John McCain demand renewed military action, airstrikes and even troop deployment. There’s a total lack of humility and remorse for what was, and remains, an indefensible blunder. But don’t expect David Gregory or Wolf Blitzer or Brian Williams to make such an admission: they owe their huge salaries to playing nice with the powerful, and treating war criminals like Uncle Dick Cheney with deference.  

Why are people in high places so cowardly, so afraid of the truth? The United States had no reason to invade Iraq in 2003, none; the country had been crippled by economic sanctions, Saddam was contained, and Iraq wasn’t an epicenter of terrorist activity. Look at Iraq today, trace the causes back, up Pennsylvania Avenue, through the front door of the White House and into the Oval Office where sat one of the dumbest men to ever hold the office of president. Bush lied. Cheney lied. Wolfowitz lied. Condoleeza Rice lied. The tragedy is that all of them are still walking around free, and repeating their lies.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Unintended Consequences and the War on Teachers

Two stories this week caught my attention. Although I think I’m better informed about world events than most Americans – admittedly not a very high bar – I can’t make sense out of what is happening in Iraq. The nation the US invaded and occupied is disintegrating, that much is clear, and when the dust settles there will be winners and losers; from a geopolitical and regional point of view, Iran, Saudi Arabia, the US and Israel all have skin in this game. America counts Saudi Arabia among its allies and turns a blind eye when the Saudis funnel money or arms to religious fanatics whose interests don’t exactly dovetail with ours. Oil trumps morality. Average Iraqi’s will lose big, of course, as they did during the American occupation. The artificial borders established after World War I by European powers may be scrambled or erased altogether. If it hasn’t happened already, weaponry and equipment left behind by the Americans will fall into the wrong hands. Hawkish American politicians like John McCain are already roaring that President Obama is to blame for everything and should grow a spine and launch the warplanes. The petty tyrant the US backed to run the new Iraq will probably flee the country – unless he is hung from a lamppost first. It’s a colossal mess. The US may find itself on Iran’s side before long which will be very awkward since elements in the government and Israel have been thumping the war drum against Iran for years now.

During the occupation, as I recall, much was made of how the Americans were training Iraqis to protect themselves and hold the nation together. Didn’t work out.
The second story that got my attention was the recent ruling in a Los Angeles court that job protections for public school teachers are unconstitutional. This is the latest battle in the long war on public education. Teachers have proved reliable scapegoats for well- organized and funded interests seeking to dismantle the public education system in favor of for-profit models, charter schools and whatnot. We don’t demonize firefighters or police officers (even when they shoot innocent people) or stage actors or any other unionized workers the way we do teachers. The issue isn’t teachers themselves as much as it is the political strength of the unions that represent them. Neoliberals freak out when workers have any power at all.

Do incompetent teachers exist? Yes, of course, I wouldn’t argue otherwise. In every profession and walk of life, you find great performers, average performers, and bad performers. I would guess that in any public school district, ten to twenty percent of teachers have no business being in the trade. In economically distressed cities and towns the number is likely higher. My own children have had teachers whose competence I questioned, but these are a distinct minority. The fact is that most teachers I know are dedicated to their profession and desperate for students to learn; they don’t like standardized testing or cookie-cutter, dumbed down textbooks, or other formulas that are forced on them by bureaucrats. They care about kids and want the best for them.

Public education is one of the most successful American ideas ever hatched and deserves to be strengthened rather than starved, supported rather than vilified and blamed for social ills caused by four decades of misguided neoliberal economic policies. The root problem isn’t pedagogy – it’s poverty.


Finally, on this Father’s Day, I tip my glass of Guinness toward my father, Pete, who died in 1990 at the age of 57. Pete was a good guy, but he drank and smoked too much, abused himself and paid the price. He missed out on seeing his grandchildren. I think he would get a kick out of them.