27 October 2014

'Tis the Season - for Voting

I object to unsolicited, unwanted political calls.  I know when election day is.  I know when and where early voting is.  I know how to apply for and execute an absentee ballot.  And I know how to find the specific details I need when I'm ready to vote. 

I'm tired of candidate mail, e-mail, and phone calls, especially the bot calls  because "their people" have access to records that show I have not voted yet.   I haven't given permission for my voting history to be accessible to political party honchos so they can feel free to dog me until I do vote.   I'll vote when I'm damned good and ready and none of the political advertisements, good or bad, influence my choice in a positive way.   

That political party dupes are manipulatively dogging me to vote only encourages me NOT to vote for the candidate who are the subject of their calls.  That some of the calls are financed by out of state funders who want to manipulate elections is beyond unconscionable.  When the calls solicit my vote by gossiping about  the other candidates and trying to create scandal (some of which is actual slander), and because they all do it, my only choice is to vote for whomever does the least mud-slinging.  I doubt that is the best way to choose a candidate,  but given that human decency is at the top of my list, at least it is the process available to me to weed out the worst candidates i.e. those who engage in the most mud-slinging. 

I would prefer to vote based on the needed skills I think a candidate will bring to the office, and top of the list is how willing a candidate is to educate the constituency, and as importantly to be educated by the constituency when factual efforts (rather than mere opinion) are made by knowledgeable constituents.  However, without human decency the other abilities of a candidate diminish in their relevancy, in my opinion, since each candidate has at least the minimum ability to fulfill the responsibilities of the office for which he or she is running.  When I pick up the phone to hang up, after the bot recording starts, and do not have the advantage of knowing to what extent the candidate wants to gossip about other candidates (some is factual, some is slanderous), then my secondary method for weeding out who I vote for is to vote for the person who has not called or who has called the least number of times. 

I have lived in states which actually enable and promote democratic process.   I have yet to consider where I live as one of these state.  Why is that?  How about this, or more specifically the absence of this.  Consider a state that creates a publication each election which simply states the facts.  It presents each candidate, no matter the party - including third parties; it presents each issue, changes in the law; referendums and initiatives are included.  A short version describing these is in the front of the publication.  A long version of the actual laws and/or proposed changes, is in the back of the publication.  A very short pro and con of a few sentences  is also offered for each candidate and issue which has only to do with the facts.  The publication is objective.  There is no mud-slinging.   The publication is delivered to every mailbox, voter or not, citizen or not.   An effort is made to educate the voters.  That is priceless.  Additionally, at the poles the flag is proximately placed and visible so that it is easy to find the voting location; this is not the case where I have voted, nor when I have worked at the polls on election day.

All states would be well advised to use political contributions to produce and distribute such a publication rather than subsidizing the advertising of party mud-slinging.  Instead it seems where I live that government at all levels  relishes underestimating both the intelligence and concern of  voters and everyone else.   Everyone is affected by the results of election day, citizen or not, monetary contributor or not.  Everyone has the right to know about the candidates and the issues whether or not they qualify to vote, whether or not they contribute to campaigns.   

Bottom line:  everyone should have the right to have easy  access to an objective printed publication detailing candidates and issues.  When that happens in my state it will come much closer to actually enabling and promoting democratic process instead of government by the favored system:  "ol' boy/ol' girl, its who you know and/or how much money you contribute".

Reza Aslan Knows How to Address Religious Bigotry. Is Anyone Listening?

So here we go with some valuable Reza Aslan wisdom.  He has been in the media quite a lot, recently, and for good reason.  The man knows of that which he speaks - and does so factually, kindly, and with good humor.  Plus he has the patience to continue repeating what people need to know and understand.  But why must he continue to repeat himself endlessly?  Well, I would say its because sacred ignorance makes poor listeners of everyone.  

Reza Aslan has a realistic perspective about religion, in general (outside of dogma unique to individual religions on which he also has a good handle).  And he has earned numerous degrees in religion and theology, so has the credentials needed to be taken seriously.  Additionally, his video about his most recent best selling book, "Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth" is excellent.  Two recent books have been on the New York Times best seller list:   "No god but God: The origins, Evolution, and the future of Islam", in 2005 and "Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth", last year.

Being a comparative religion dilettante, myself (with no degree in the field but a long time interest and years of study), what he says that no one else is saying and needs to be said, rings true with me

Aslan was recently interviewed by Salon's Elias Isquith, for Salon, 10 October 2014 in part because of the  way he repeatedly stands up to bigoted comments without loosing his cool.
"EXCLUSIVE: Reza Aslan on Bill Maher’s anti-Islam crusade: 'Frank bigotry'" ("Author and scholar who's quarreled with comedian over Islam before tells Salon why this time is different")  And he was an Op-Ed contributor to the New York Times two days earlier with his article "Bill Maher Isn’t the Only One Who Misunderstands Religion"

Reza Aslan lets loose on atheists for a while in this Salon interview, and is totally on target as well as being factual without being unkind ". . . they tend to read the scriptures more literally than any literalist I know."  Yes,  I have noticed that, myself, in the way some atheists talk about religion - the way they assign ignorant beliefs to religious folks which few religious folks have.  Religious folks interpret their religions differently than they were interpreted centuries ago.   And I'm not referring to the politicalization here of religion which tends to corrupt every religion over the centuries, but instead the way in which we understand the spiritual lessons that are taught in relation to our own times and places.  But the thing about religion (any philosophy or body of knowledge, actually) is that when it is universal the understandings of the profound truths religion teaches, flexibly fit into any time and place, rather than being limited to interpretation only in terms of the environment of origin.  Aslan refers to that as being part of religious literacy.   So many religious folks are not literate religiously, so how could we expect atheists to be? 

Aslan points out a basic important idea about religion that seems to escape notice of government and media, universally, and thus, unfortunately the general public. 
To point out the obvious the example he uses is a cultural belief that is being superimposed upon religion in a specific nation.  "It is really the single most basic idea about religion, that it marries itself to whatever culture it comes into contact with. If you ask a Saudi Imam why women in Saudi Arabia can’t drive, he’ll say, “Because Islam demands it.” But that’s absurd because, first of all, Islam demands no such thing; and secondly, the only country in the world in which women can’t drive is Saudi Arabia.  So the inability to understand the difference between a cultural practice and religious belief is shocking among self-described intellectuals."  Oh, yes.  That is so very true.  Not understanding the difference leads to bigoted blanket statements - as Aslan points out.

Reza Aslan does not talk about ISIL or Afghanistan, but I consider both to be an example of his comment.  The media would love to blame Arabs for ISIL.   Yes, when it comes to ISIL the media so wants to blame Arabs and Muslims, but the terrorists are clearly foreign to the region.   We know lots of them are Chechens - probably a majority of them . . . the same brutal trouble-makers who created chaos and raised havoc in Syria . . . until they changed their location to take hostage a piece of land we currently refer to as ISIL. 

And how does this relate to Aslan's comment?  Well, it looks like the Chechens are still trying to spread the Russian revolution, or expand the U.S.S.R.'s Communist Empire.  Does that make ISIL a "Russian" invasion?  Well of course not - technically - without the existence of the U.S.S.R that is not possible.   But maybe, culturally, that is exactly what they are doing - even though the Chechen terrorists claim to hate Russia and in fact claim they are motivated to do what they do by that hate. 

The ISIL Chechens are gloating because of doing something U.S.S.R. but did not succeed at doing. U.S.S.R. did  not understanding the importance of religion in the lives of the people in nations which it wanted to include in it's empire.  But look what Chechens have done by using and abusing religion to foment rebellion in Syria, and victimize Syrian people; and look at what they are doing now in what they claim is their very own ISIL territory.

To understand ISIL better it is necessary to have a better understanding of Chechens, for the purpose of understanding the difference between being driven by religious beliefs, and being driven by cultural practices associated with the politics of their ethnic history and environment.  And that means we need to take a look at Afghanistan too.

"The Secret Battles Between US Forces and Chechen Terrorists" provides some insight into that.  However there is nothing much secret about any of this, and we sure didn't need Wikileaks to tell us what was blatantly obvious - that Chechens have been involved in the training and fighting of the terrorist in Afghanistan

Daryl Morini says about U.S.S.R.'S "Viet-Nam" in Afghanistan:  "The fear of militant Islam affecting Moscow’s control over its Muslim population was also behind the Kremlin rationale for war. This particular mentality, whether right or wrong, continued in the guises of two full-scale Russian wars in Chechnya. Finally, the prestige of socialist ideology was also at stake in Afghanistan . . . "

And why does that matter?  Well, the longer the inability to understand the difference between a cultural practice and religious belief is evident in bigoted statements that are made about religion, the longer there is avoidance about understanding the politics driving the problems, and thus the long term solutions evade those who want to blame the problem on religion rather than politics.  And the longer unwarranted blame of religion goes on.

What does this have to do with Aslan's comments?  Well, the lack of religious literacy he points out, is not simply theoretical, or a reaction to Islamophobia.  It is definitely connected to real world problems as an underlying cause and an exacerbation of problems.

Daryl Morini says "Ten years of war against a popular Afghan resistance stirred discontent within the USSR, and probably contributed greatly to the collapse and popular unrest of 1991."

Do Americans not realize the "Afghan resistance" (aided by U.S. during U.S.S.R's time in Afghanistan) is having exactly the same effect on  U.S.A.?  Knowing this would be the result many did not want the U.S. to militarily address problems in Afghanistan.  But so to does the resistance wherever we are involved in military action, create discontent at home.  For example We need to get our heads on straight, collectively as Americans, and understand that in all the centuries Afghanistan has existed, its people have become expert at skillfully using their mountainous terrain to fend off outsiders whether they are would be invaders, terrorists wanting to hide out, and/or there by invitation.  Leave them alone to fight their own battles and solve their own problems.  They have managed to do it for centuries and foiled invasions all that time.  No matter what the predominate religion, the political differences created because of differences in interpretation of religion. are due to cultural difference.  Just like the Chechen terrorists of ISIL now do, the Afghanis hiding out in the mountains adopted a culture of using their flawed interpretation of religion as a weapon.  Clearly Aslan is on to something important when he talks about the inability to understand the difference between a cultural practice and religious belief.  It is, indeed, shocking - especially in otherwise astute people.

Other gems in the Aslan's Salon interview:  "I always say that it’s not enough to just know more about your neighbor’s religion. We have to become a far more religious literate people. It’s bizarre that we are the most religiously devout, developed country in the world, and yet our understanding of the historical, sociological, philosophical and cultural aspects of religion is so uninformed and basic."

Religion is a matter of identity
much more so than it is a matter of beliefs and practices, and that is something that is very, very difficult for Americans to understand."

Truly.  That is why the fear-mongering Islamophobia of our politicians repeatedly proves they are unable to differentiate between the cultural influences of a nation and religious influences which are also subject to cultural influences.  More specifically the bigoted comments indicate there is no understanding of unique cultural influences that determine the way in which religion is interpreted because of culture.  Until they can differentiate, and until the media can and does, our military actions in predominately Muslim lands seem increasingly to be an exercise in charging around like an angry bull in a china closet because of not addressing the actual political problems that are reflected in destructive ways in religion.  Essentially religion is being used like a "human shield" by terrorists whose actions and attitudes are all politically motivated.

Given our own "separation of church and state" which is designed to protect religions and government from one another, if we really truly understood the profundity of that as Americans, then we would also understand the protections it provides for us.  Because of this we have no need to do ideological battle because of religious differences competing to influence government, and corrupting government in the process.  Religious differences, politicized, are proven to have the potential to create internal strife at best,  civil war at worst.  Anyone remember that it was religious strive in England that landed the Puritans and Pilgrims on the east coast of North America?  These facts should be well known -  should not have been forgotten.  If we truly understood that we are protected from these problems in our nation by the separation of church and state, then how could we and our elected and appointed government officials have so many obvious problems understanding the difference between cultural practices in nations and their influence on interpretation of religious beliefs in a nation where there is no separation of church and state?  Or do we not understand because we DO protect religion and government from one another, and simply can not comprehend the extent of trouble that not doing so has the potential to create?  Either way we have a lesson to learn.

Understand this: the undue influence of religion on government because of cultural interpretation about which all do not agree, and the undue influence of government on religion when it adopts a specific interpretation of religion with which all do not agree politically, results in the political problems that potentially victimize segments of the population . . . as we see in Afghanistan and other nations where we are involved  militarily, that do not separate "church and state".

I have long found it interesting to learn from individuals why they believe what they believe.  Myself, I like to learn these things that Aslan tells us we need to know about all religions and denominations - as long as I am convinced  it is not a conversion effort - that it is clearly understood the purpose for discussing religion is for the purpose of religious literacy.  And I know many folks feel similarly which might be why some might not be open to learning anything about any other religions or denomination, unless it is very clear to them it is not a conversion effort.

Of course it is importance to differentiate between the culture of a nation, and the religion as uniquely practiced because of that culture, in  nations that do not separate church and state.  When we do not fully comprehend a political environment in nations that do not separate church and state because of our nation's lack of religious literacy, we unnecessarily endanger our nation, other nations, our front line troops, and the people in the war-torn nations.

26 October 2014

Palestine for Beginners: Three Videos

Allow me to suggest a short series of excellent introductory videos. 


The videos were created by Palestine Information Project, written and presented by Linda Bevis and Edward Mast.  They are factual.   First I must say - do not be insulted by the "beginner" designation.  These are good videos for everyone, whether as an introduction or as a review.   If you have ever asked me, or anyone else, for information in the past I highly recommend these videos, though the amount of information might be overwhelming to anyone.  You will need to listen carefully, probably more than once, because of the amount of information being presented especially if you are not familiar with the legal issues.  In particular, the fact that the  presentation is within the legal framework in which it belongs, is key to the understanding of both problems and solutions. 

The idea of these videos as with all efforts to educate, is to convince of the necessity of understanding the issues.   Doubt and question.  If something does not sound quite right then do your own research to discover the facts for yourself.   But if you are  uninclined to make or take time to do so, then learning from these videos is the next best choice (and/or from other videos of a similar caliber).  Of course I always advocate library research using actual books and other hard copy material.   Except for scholars, and then only to fulfill course requirements for credit it seems, the book method of learning seems to fall by the wayside too often.  However, with all the publications that have been digitalized I really can not fault too much those whose preferred method of research is online.  It is convenient in many ways.  And it is a good starting place.  However, nothing really can take the place or compare with the ease and joy of sitting in the library at a table full of books, comparing and contrasting what is stated, as a way to learn the facts.  Nothing compares when making an effort to understand the complexity of issues, any issues, to sitting with a table full of open books so as to ascertain the same set of facts all authors agree upon and present, versus the selective facts they each omit and include upon which their analyses are based.  Not only is it a way to learn the facts, it is a way to learn how much each author can be trusted to be objective.  And objectivity is of primary importance in understanding any issue. 

If you have been paying attention to these issues for a long time these videos are a reminder of the extensive knowledge you have accumulated over time, every detail of it important to the understanding of the issues.  Well done.  Keep up the good work.

Because of a comment in the third video I would add that rarely are Palestinian individuals  prejudiced against Jews.  The confusion may lie in the fact that when Palestinians in oPt talk about the issues some will simply say "Jews" when referring to Israeli Zionists.  However, there is no confusion because everyone agrees that the problem is not the religion, or ethnicity, but instead a result of those who embrace the political ideology of Zionism.  Of course not all Jews are Zionists, and not even all Israelis are Zionists.  Some Zionists, perhaps even a majority, are Jews living in Israel.  Even so the numbers of Jews, even in Israel, who have seen the light and are no longer Zionists, is slowly diminishing.  There are a few more comments in the videos which I would make differently, more precisely, but these are introductory and as such of high value.

As usual, it most be noted there is a very clear distinction between Jewish (ethnic and religious) and Zionist (political).   The problem  is the political situation of the Israeli government's institutionalized "state" terror; because it is responsible for the illegal nature of the occupation created by those who embrace the Zionist political ideology.  Not only are Zionists victimizing Palestine, they also blame Judaism for their crimes which has become a serious problem worldwide, not only for Israelis and Jews.  It has lead to what seem to be insurmountable political obstacles, insurmountable  because International and Humanitarian laws are being violated, then when cited are neither condemned nor enforced.  Unfortunately, the U.S.A., alone most of the time, refuses to condemn the lawlessness of the Israeli government which is totally unconscionable to Americans and everyone else.

28 August 2014

"Dual Citizenship -- Loyal to Whom?"

The title refers to a well written piece about dual citizenship, "Dual Citizenship -- Loyal to Whom?"  by Dan Eden

To avoid surprises . . .  useful and interesting information is provided about Dual Citizenship, but the piece also focuses on Israel in the second half because "the U.S., in its special relationship with Israel, has become very sympathetic to allowing Israeli-Americans to retain two nationalities and allowing U.S. citizens not only to hold public office in Israel, but to hold US government positions as well! No other country holds this special exception to our laws of citizenship." The item is written prior to Dec 2007. However, the serious issue addressed, of problems associated with dual citizenship, for which our government needs to be accountable, has yet to be addressed in public discussion and debate - especially discourse regarding the "special relationship" with Israel.

"Since citizenship carries with it a responsibility to be exclusively loyal to one country, the whole concept of dual citizenship and nationality raises questions about which of the dual citizenships have priority. This is extremely important when the two countries have opposing interests. It can be a deadly problem when a dual citizen is in a high position within our American government." 

What could make the fact of undue influence more clear, regarding the "special relationship" which finds Israeli citizens who are also Americans holding high government office in our nation, than the recent Gaza genocide incident, and the consistent Vetos by U.S. of U.N. resolutions critical of Israel's violations of International and Humanitarian laws?  Well . . .  there is the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between U.S. and Israel  approximately every 10 years which provides Israel with 30 Billion dollars in military aid every time it is renewed.  And there is the violation by our nation of our own Arms Export Control Act, because of continuing to provide that aid after Israel repeatedly uses it to attack the people who live in the territory it occupies . . .

The entire Dual Citizenship article, to be found at the link above, is informative and worth reading.

It is not only Immigration Laws that need revising.  Check out a FAQ about Dual Citizenship from 2011 which makes it clear how "messy" the law is regarding dual citizenship - meaning there seems to be a variety of interpretations. It needs to be revised for clarification and agreement on actual policy.   

If you prefer, read U.S.A law relating to dual citizenship, with some analysis.   If you want to read the pertinent Constitutional passage, Statutes, and Regulations without interpretation and analyses, they are cited and linked to Cornell University Law School's Legal Information Institute "providing open access to law since 1992", for your researching pleasure.
(The link to Immigration and Nationality Act at that site is outdated. 
New link:  http://www.uscis.gov/laws/immigration-and-nationality-act)

The United States does not formally or officially recognize dual citizenship which conflicts with, thus ignores that other nations recognize and allow dual citizenship.  That has the potential to create problems (and in fact has proven to create problems) when dual citizens serve in U.S. government.   The naturalization oath regulation requires "renunciation" of citizenship.  It seems to have become referred to as the "loyalty oath" because "In practice, the naturalization oath means if naturalized citizens were ever faced with a choice of allegiance to the United States or a different nation, they have an obligation to choose the United States."
from "When one passport isn't enough" http://www.cnn.com/2012/07/04/us/dual-nationals/index.html

Hopefully, it is clear that the "special relationship" associated with dual citizen American Israelis serving in the U.S. government is of concern and needs to be considered and discussed.  It is past time that we ask those we have elected to represent us in D.C. for some clarity on the issue.  If we make them accountable to us for it, that may be the only way they will find clarity.  I want to encourage those elected and appointed officials who are supposed to represent their constituencies and America's best interests, to make it mandatory for anyone running for office who holds dual (or more) citizenship in the U.S.A. and any other nation(s) to disclose that fact.

20 August 2014

Musings on Another "Israel is Blameless" Snow Job

The local paper did a good job recently of publishing letters to the editor about Gaza.  However, today it reprinted another of Richard Cohen's editorial pieces - his op-ed piece from the August 18 Issue of the New York Times, "Israel, held to an impossible standard  Mistakes happen in war" (with three additional paragraphs at the end of the piece in our local paper).  The similar but different headline in the local paper was ”Critics of Israel have expectations that are too high”.  In the opinion piece Cohen speculates about what might  "account" for Israel's attacks on Gaza being "almost instantaneously denounced as war crimes".  But first he lists numerous feats of Israel, and refers to a few mistakes, and of course makes the  perfunctory comment of anti-semitism that is found in each article he writes in which he defends the crimes of Israel's occupation of Palestinian territory.  But the article is merely another of his efforts to take advantage of a situation to create confusion, by trotting out the same old irrelevant excuses intended to present the government of Israel as being free of blame.  "War crimes" is a misnomer of the crimes that are actually in violation of International and Humanitarian laws.  But that misnomer is not what Cohen points out.  Instead he seems to believe a "war" is occurring.  However, the fact that people recognize crimes are being committed, then as a result are speaking up to condemn the apparent crimes, is commendable progress.  But that alarms Zionists - thus efforts like Richard Cohen's recent opinion piece.

Cohen carefully avoids mention of the fact that the policies of the government of Israel are the problem - policies that are the result of its political ideology of Zionism.   It is a fact that the manner in which the Israeli government manages the occupation is in violation of international and humanitarian laws to which Israel is signatory.  Thus the carrying out of illegal policies by Israel renders all of Cohen's efforts to make explanations and excuses for a blameless Israel, delusional.   As a cheerleader for the political ideology of Zionism, his excuses are intended to create confusion in people who question Israel's atrocities.  But his excuses for Israel's crimes are all irrelevant.  There are no excuses that can be used to justify the crimes by blaming them on real or imagined attitudes and actions of others.  No effort to make excuses changes that fact including his claim of mistakes made because "Israelis are only human" (as is stated in the last paragraph of the article in the local paper, not present in the NYT opinion piece).  Of course everything he says has to do with government policies not "Israelis" per se.  And indeed it is the policies of Israel that have been a  problem for over half a century; the policies that have been responsible for the consistent repetition of occupation crimes.

The only realistic comment Cohen makes that does account for his claims, is about Israel's intent.  But when he makes his "intent" argument near the end of the article, it speaks against his claim that Israel is blame free.  However, the way he suggests intent redirects attention from actual intent, so that it becomes an effort to muddy the waters of clear understanding.  There are two major flaws in his use of intent as an argument to suggest Israel's atrocities are blameless.

Cohen's first flaw in support of his claim that "we ought to be measured by our intent" rather than the "mistakes in wartime", incongruously refers to the United State - specifically, to the 1968 Mai Lai Massacre in Viet-Nam.  He then continues on to suggest that because U.S. actions in combat which go "astray" are blameless because of intent, the actions of Israel should also be blameless because of intent "not what went astray".   Claims of "blameless" in both cases are false and I can only laugh at the irony of his foul effort.  Could there be a worse excuse?  Putting it into a personal context that all adults should be able to understand . . . no decent parent would allow a child to justify unacceptable behavior because it is what his or her friends do.  But, predictably, Cohen's effort to suggest Israel is blame free, is exactly that type of absurd effort.   He wants to try to connect U.S. "mistakes" in combat (even though Mai Lai was no blameless "mistake") with Israel's intentional series of genocidal attacks throughout decades,  by telling us Israel's "blameless" repeated massacres of Palestinians in occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) should be measured by the "standard" of a U.S. massacre in Viet-Nam?  No.  That is not acceptable.

A "leisurely" series of genocidal incidents throughout several decades, is no less a genocide than the WWII genocide of less than a decade, or the genocides that have occurred  since the end of WWII and the formulation of international and humanitarian laws, each within a relatively short time period of time.  An intentional and "leisurely" genocide of countless cumulative incidents throughout half a century attracts less negative public attention, particularly when the incidents are not reported in the news, or when reported inaccurately in terms favorable to Zionist political ideology, rather than reality.  To suggest that the committing of any genocide is blameless and should be used as an allowable "standard" for committing later genocides, is wrong, delusional, and evil. 

The fact is that the government of Israel and other proponents of the  Zionist political ideology, have long tried to make excuses for Israel's genocide against the occupied Palestinian people, by using the historic instances of U.S.A. massacres of indigenous Native American people in centuries past.  The effort has been to use that U.S. history to validate Israel's crimes, and to use it as a model for Israel's crimes of apartheid, the rationale being: the U.S. did it and got away with it, so Israel should get away with it too.  The fact is that particular series of U.S. crimes, over a long period of time which Israel likes to suggest is allowable for Israel to use as an acceptable model, was committed prior to formulation of agreed upon international and humanitarian laws. Thus those justification efforts are ridiculous and do not validate past crimes of the U.S. or current crimes of Israel.  Crimes in history should be used as examples of what NOT to do, not as a justification and model for perpetrating additional crimes, later.  The effort to justify Israel's crimes has evolved, apparently, to also using more recent examples like the Mai Lai massacre, an incident (not a series of incidents throughout several decades) which occurred after agreed upon international and humanitarian laws were formulated.

The "U.S. did it, Israel can do it" excuse for a blameless Israel is also an effort to superimpose a guilt-trip, intended to redirect the subject.  Consider the problem from another perspective.  Because Israel has been getting away with committing illegal crimes, the U.S has imagined it could too.   During more recent combat than Viet-Nam the U.S. has followed Israel's lead in committing similar crimes.  One renown example is abu Gharib during combat in Iraq.  What enables a vicious circle of groundless excuse making is that U.S. has been responsible, repeatedly, for vetoing U.N. efforts to condemn Israel's crimes.  With no effort on the part of U.S. to realistically be accountable in accordance with agreed upon international laws, for its many vetos, it is the same as U.S. condoning Israel's crimes.  Then after "condoning" by veto, there are instances of the U.S. trying to get away with the same crimes it does not condemn Israel for committing.  But the "paradox" that creates is for a different discussion.  However it is no surprise that Cohen makes an effort to convince that Israel is "blameless", by presenting the seeming "paradox" of the indefensible intentionally confusing vicious circle that is created from the U.S.A. trying to get away with following Israel's lead in committing crimes, after Israel has followed the U.S. lead by committing crimes similar to those committed by U.S. in history.  Cohen is not playing with a full deck when he makes that flawed "intent" argument.  He is playing with a deck that is too full.

The second flaw in Cohen's "intent" argument is the "war" Cohen refers to which is a one sided "war" declared by Israel on the people it occupies.  But that makes it a crime by Israel, not a war between Israel and the people in the occupied territories.  The “battle” the Palestinian people engage in is a highly self-disciplined struggle of non-violent resistance toward the illegal manner in which the Zionist government of Israel manages the occupation.  It truly is not the fault of Palestinian people living in the oPt that the government of Israel has done the equivalent of having declared war on the people it occupies.  It simply is not legal for a nation to declare war on and attack the people living in territory it occupies.  That can not be repeated often enough.  Yet Israel has declared that war because it wants the occupied territory to be part of Israel but without the people who are living there - as if people in Gaza are not prevented from leaving Gaza by Israel's military.  That is not a paradox.  It is a manifestation of evil which is responsible for the criminal genocide of Palestinians by the government of Israel.  However else it may be described, "war" is not an appropriate description. 

Additionally, like it or not, because of the reality of the crime of an occupier attacking the people in the territory it occupies, the occupied people against whom that crime has been committed are allowed by law to resist however it is possible for them to do so.  In other words any type of resistance by Palestinians in oPT to Israel's crimes of occupation, including violent resistance, does not constitute a "war" between Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories.  Attacking an occupied people is also not a "war on terror" on the part of the government of Israel.  The policies of the political ideology of Zionism which Israel embraces, result in its nationalized, thus "institutionalized" terror which is the genocidal criminal policy with which Israel manages the people in the occupied territories. 

The policy choice of the Palestinian government in exile and the Palestinian people, is its "institutionalized non-violent resistance" which also advocates and supports worldwide boycott, divestment, and sanction of Israel.  But. again, it is not illegal that some Palestinians in the occupied territories do respond with violence  . . . not illegal because of the crimes being committed by the occupier against people in oPt.  Any effort to legally describe the situation as "war" is simply a misleading fantasy effort to redefine reality - a delusional effort to create confusion that causes delay, and prevents the negotiating of borders.  The people who shout "war crimes", about which Cohen objects, can not be blamed for perpetrating a misnomer based on a Zionist claim that a war exists.  That people recognize crimes are being committed is what is important, and what Zionists do not like. 

In actuality, once we detour around Cohen's convoluted efforts to justify the intent of the series of genocidal incidents of the government of Israel, we can see that his intent argument works against his effort to present the government of Israel as blameless, because the intent and actions for over half a century of the Zionist government of Israel have been to knowingly and repetitively criminally violate the laws that define the conditions of unacceptable treatment of an occupied people by an occupying nation. That is reality, not an "oops! well intended mistake" - series of repetitive mistakes - which Cohen apparently wants us to believe Israel is blameless for making.  The reality of the government of Israel's intentions and actions also meets the legal definitions of the crimes of apartheid and genocide because of the ongoing criminal management of its occupation of Palestinian territories.  Any reasonable person who is able to read and understand international and humanitarian laws, including the Geneva Conventions, will come to that conclusion.  The documents are all available in numerous languages.

Occupation in and of itself is not illegal.  The illegal intent and manner in which Israel manages the oPt, is the unconscionable ongoing crime responsible for the continuing delay that prevents what is euphemistically referred to as "peace-making".  But the purpose of the delay that has been occurring for so many decades is to prevent the negotiating of final borders.  Harassing Palestinians in ways that interfere with work, school, sleep, health, acquiring food, water, medicine; imprisonment and curtailing freedom of movement are only some of the illegal ways in which Israel manages the occupation, in addition to destroying homes, taking land, destroying infrastructure, uprooting trees and damaging crops; wounding and killing  oPt residents a majority of whom are descendants of the 1948 refugee population that was created after being given the choice to leave their homes and land or be killed - having left after witnessing massacres of entire villages.  All are Zionist tactics that have been used in addition to the numerous genocidal incidents that have been perpetrated throughout the years, for the purpose of creating the ongoing conflicts which have delayed the negotiating of final borders.  Thus Richard Cohen can not, of course, mention the elephant in the room which is the reality of the criminal occupation of Palestinian territory by the government of Israel, which it is legal for the occupied people to resist, including violently.  Because . . . the nature of the occupation bears no resemblance to his claims of blameless good intentions, nor is it a repetitive series of mistaken actions, nor is it a war.  It is a series in intentional crimes on the part of the government of Israel, rather than what Cohen wants to suggest people should believe - that "mistakes happen in war".

25 July 2014

"How to Share Difficult Information with Friends Without Losing Friendships" - a Foster and Kimberly Gamble video

In challenging times, especially challenging political "times that try men's souls" (yes, of course, women's too), it becomes important to be able to share and expand our views in objective ways.  But when we have information of vital importance to share, which can contribute to solving problems, it is not easy to remain dispassionate and refrain from conveying urgency about what is of concern. 

Let me just mention, here, that letting off steam with folks who are on the same sheet of music is something entirely different.  This video is about the challenge of presenting new demonstrable facts, credibly, which might be difficult for some to accept i.e. controversial issues.  Controversy because of differing points of view is not as bad as it often feels, because it is an indicator that people are talking about the issues - that needed public debate is occurring.  And that is good.  Being able to exchange points of view, kindly and clearly, is even better.

Overwhelming people with strong emotions can be counterproductive because people are likely to have their own opinions about which they too are passionate.  And presenting too much new information all at one time, while expecting or worse pressuring for immediate understanding and acceptance, is also counterproductive.  People need time to process new information, time to explore how it fits into what they know, and time to be in denial, also, when new information conflicts with what they know.  I need to remind myself of this, frequently, so it was welcome to be reminded so kindly.  I thought it to be worth sharing.

If we keep a discussion conversational, then facts which do not fit in might inspire someone's efforts, and/or our own, to try to learn why there is a contradiction.  And, we need to keep in mind that no matter how much we think we know, there is always something to be learned by engaging in respectful and respectable conversation with others.  When the subject is something about which one person is more knowledgeable, and well versed at addressing, the ways in which the other person responds can provide good information, for both, about more effective ways to communicate. When strong emotions are part of the conversation, important details are not conveyed well in the chaos created.  But details really matter.

These folks provide good suggestions for keeping exchanges conversational.  More precisely, as their video is entitled, they advise "how to share difficult information with friends without losing friendships".  It is an important set of skills to be learned or reminded of, emphasizing the good manners of thoughtful conversation and more. Their advice is useful when conversing with anyone, at any time, about anything - and vital when it is a controversial issue! 

THRIVE Filmmakers Foster and Kimberly Gamble share some helpful tips for effectively discussing challenging and controversial information with family and friends. 
(I have no opinion about the film mentioned because I have not yet watched it.  Nor do I know about the movement with which it is apparently associated.  But I do highly recommend the video about how to effectively discuss controversial issues.)

16 May 2014

Israel Deploys Three Proven Tactics to Blunt U.S. Backlash over Spying

*This well researched article, with links, from Institute for Research:  Middle Eastern Policy (IRmep) is posted with permission.  Supplemental information is available in the form of transcripts, videos and audio files for the National Summit to Reassess the U.S. - Israel "Special Relationship" held in Washington, DC - 7 March 2014 8AM-5PM at the National Press Club.

Israel Deploys Three Proven Tactics to Blunt U.S. Backlash over Spying

Money, rushed state visits and accusations of anti-Semitism may not be enough to save proposed visa waivers

By Grant F. Smith, Director of Research, IRmep

Newsweek reporter Jeff Stein's "double-tap" exposé of Israeli espionage in the United States has put Israel and its American lobby on red alert.  Stein's initial salvo "Israel Won't Stop Spying on the U.S." generated howls of outrage over veteran CIA analyst Paul Pillar's accurate assessment that Zionists had been sending spies to appropriate U.S. resources and weapons even before the state was founded.  Pressed for details, Stein's second piece "Israel's Aggressive Spying in the US Mostly Hushed Up" exposed a bumbling Israeli spy's unsuccessful attempt to enter Al Gore's hotel room through an air duct.  According to Stein, the dwindling number of U.S. criminal prosecutions is because the FBI has been directed by the Justice Department to privately chastise, but not expose, Israel's spy networks.  The most recent criminal espionage prosecution, that of former NASA official Stewart Nozette,  carefully sealed off his handlers at Israel Aerospace Industries from any consequences.  Nozette had received $225,000 and admitted to passing secrets to Israel, but rather than go after his paymasters, the FBI set up an elaborate sting operation.  According to Stein, other American counterintelligence officials felt instant push-back whenever they tried to warn U.S. elected officials about Israeli espionage.

The new spying allegations come at an inconvenient time since Israel and its U.S. lobby have been ramping up efforts to obtain visa-free Israeli entry to the United States.  Israel's poor record of visa overstays, thousands of young people entering under tourist visas to work in the U.S. and the growing espionage flap appear to make Israel unlikely to enter the visa waiver program any time soon.  But three strategies have proven extremely successful in the past for dampening fallout.  Flood American influencers with cash, send in Israeli government officials to quietly lobby key policymakers and charge opponents with anti-Semitism.

In the early days of weapons smuggling, Israel's spies relied on the ageless tactic of "spreading money around" to keep criminal cases out of court whenever spies were caught.  In 1947, American members of the vast Jewish Agency/Haganah smuggling ring "assembled a war chest" of funds to keep "70 potential indictments in Los Angeles" over weapons smuggling to Jewish fighters in Palestine from going to court.  Assembling and carefully disbursing such funds in coordination with the Israeli government worked well in those days and appears to be working just as well today, though the conduits have changed. The Los Angeles Police Department Foundation's decision to host a fundraising gala (PDF) on May 10, 2014 to honor—of all people—Israeli movie producer Arnon Milchan—is the latest version of the strategy.

In 2012 the FBI released compelling files of Milchan's involvement smuggling nuclear weapons technology from the United States in league with  Benjamin Netanyahu and California engineer Richard Kelly Smyth. Milchan confessed to much of his criminal past as a smuggler during an Israeli television interview on November 25, 2013.  This confession and declassified documents formed the basis of a public complaint (PDF) to U.S. agency heads calling for his deportation over flouting the Foreign Agents Registration Act and for visa fraud.  By engineering a fundraiser and LAPD award in his honor, the Los Angeles Police Department Foundation appears to be trying to buy the public appearance that all is well.  After all, if the metropolitan police department approves of Milchan, doesn't that prove he's an upstanding member of the community? Perhaps not.

The organization behind the award, the Los Angeles Police Department Foundation core leadership Cecilia and Jeffrey Glassman are longtime Israel advocates.  LAPDF has sent police department personnel to Israel (PDF) for training in addition to building up the endowment of cash it provides to the police department for high tech gadgets taxpayers won't fund.  These efforts to protect Milchan and change the subject are more refined than in the 1940's.  According to FBI files declassified last year, another western state media mogul—Herman "Hank" Greenspun—simply traveled to Washington, DC offering $25,000 in cash to any U.S. government official who would help quash pending felony arms export control indictments against him for stealing .50 calibre machine guns from the U.S. Marines and shipping fighter plane engines to Israel under false papers.  Cash to quash also operates at much higher levels.

During the same week the LAPDF was honoring Milchan, President Obama spent hours at Hollywood political fundraisers including one hosted by producer Steven Spielberg.  During the final days of the George W. Bush administration, Spielberg successfully led lobbying for a special posthumous presidential pardon for Charles Winters.  Winters, who illegally smuggled B-17 bombers from the U.S. to Israel, was the only one of the Jewish Agency / Haganah era smugglers convicted of a felony to actually serve prison time.  What demands the billionaire movie mogul might now be making on Obama in the name of Israeli spies Ben Ami-Kadish, Stewart Nozette, Jonathan Pollard, or Arnon Milchan remain to be seen.

Another tried and true method to protect intelligence assets and operations is to send Israeli officials to the U.S. to visit key policymakers and beg leniency.  Senator Diane Feinstein, Senate Intelligence Committee Chair, has agreed to an  urgent meeting with Israeli intelligence portfolio minister Yuval Steinitz.  Efforts to "quietly" calm the waters behind closed doors is Israel's standard practice. When caught red-handed in the 1990's with classified U.S. government information obtained during ADL joint operations with Israeli and apartheid-era South African intelligence services, the Anti-Defamation League called in Israeli heavyweights to lobby the U.S. Attorney General to stop the FBI's espionage investigation of the ADL, according to FBI files declassified late in 2013. Such files detailing corrupt deals forged in the dark are rarely released, but not for lack of public curiosity.  Such a long line (PDF) of Freedom of Information Act requests has formed for the FBI's secret file on Israel's recently deceased spy Marc Rich (pardoned of a felony by president Bill Clinton at Eric Holder's recommendation) that if it is ever released, reporters and public watch dogs will have to download it from the FBI's "vault" website rather than burden the FBI for multiple paper copies or files on CD.

Always part of the reaction matrix to allegations or reporting on Israeli spying are immediate counter-charges of anti-Semitism.  Smearing the FBI as anti-Semitic was among the first "rapid response" strategies developed by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee's Steven J. Rosen after he was indicted for espionage alongside Keith Weissman and Colonel Lawrence Franklin in 2005.  The AIPAC duo had passed classified information to Israel and the Washington Post in a bid to foment U.S. attacks on Iran.  Rosen's internal AIPAC response strategy paper (PDF) called for accusing the FBI "targeted Jews" and of "religious discrimination."  AIPAC and Israel activists were later somehow able to get the Obama administration to abandon the extremely tight criminal prosecution shortly after entering office.

Whether the proven—but difficult to hide—tactics of Israel and its U.S. lobby will continue to produce results remain to be seen.  As more Americans come to see the cost and endemic corruption underpinning the so-called "special relationship," Israel and its lobby may find that payoffs, rushed state visits, and smears to quash fallout may no longer work in the Internet era.

Held in Washington, DC - March 7, 2014 8AM-5PM at the National Press Club

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10 May 2014

Did Poverty Drive Extremist Kidnapping in Nigeria?

Someone on a news program today said that poverty drives extremism.  It was in reference to the kidnapping of the girls in Nigeria.   But the comment didn't quite ring true with me, because it is  a common misconception that being poor drives poor people to be unethical, thus to lives of crime   Unfortunately that misconception translates into a societal attitude of "being poor is a crime".  But it doesn't end there.  Said attitude drives a polarity that creates haves and have-nots, deserving and undeserving, with the enabling vehicle being every conceivable prejudice a group of like minded individuals can choose to share as reason to create exclusive organizations and institutions rather than inclusive ones.   In reality,  it is more probable that poverty is less likely to lead to crime than is the luxury of being greedy.  Greed is a weakness of human nature.  But choosing to be a person who makes a habit of rising above greed is a strength of human nature.

Consider that women, and children (both boys and girls), and men - none of whom would not choose to sell themselves - are kidnapped, extorted, manipulated, and/or sold everyday, everywhere, against their wills, into servitude, marriage, or worse.  As vile and shameful as it is, it is also nothing new or unusual.  Shining a light is the first step to working together to put an end to it.

Too often it is the people closest to the victims, their families, who do the selling - and/or collaborating and enabling of it, sometimes unknowingly but too often knowing full well what they are enabling.  Why?  It is assumed the desperation  of poverty is what motivates crime and terror, as the news report suggested.   But too often it is, instead, what has become a societal desperation of greed that motivates - the greed of someone in the family or someone close to the victim; or perhaps such a person is an enabler of the nefarious deeds because of having been extorted and/or manipulated by the greed of another.

Ask anyone "Do you have enough money to afford your necessities?", and the answer will almost always be "no" because people will always live up to the amount of their incoming funds, and want more to enable the lives they envision living - no matter what their amount of income and buying power.   To want more is one thing, but to lust after more is another - it becomes  greed.  Rich, poor, in-between . . . no one is exempt from the temptation of greed.  And no one is exempt from choosing to avoid that temptation.  It is  not necessary for anyone's funds to become more limited  in order for greed to set in and develop because of a feeling of deprivation.  In fact it is not unusual that the more income increases over the years, the more entitled some people feel to be greedy and unethical about wanting to further increase income and buying power . . .  by any means possible.  Thus prejudices develop and crimes are committed.

In an effort to be creative about the means of successfully pursuing what greed wants, prejudices develop towards whomever greed imagines it can manipulate in it's efforts to acquire more.  And acquiring more is  at the cost of depriving others at whom prejudices are directed.; prejudices that lead the greedy to feel like better people, thus leading them to a feeling of being entitled to be greedy . . .  and prejudiced.

Clearly greed spawns some serious circular thinking - the torque of greed that the greedy go through in an effort to justify the nefarious intents and choices of greed - a real vicious circle spin intended to create confusion and pass unwarranted blame.   Creating confusion and passing unwarranted blame is the pitiful "glory" of the power of greed - the greed for power, buying power, political power, and/or otherwise. 

Still, as has always been the case, there are only two types of people, only two ways in which people can be defined:  1) the unethical 2) the ethical.  And the difference?  It is not about "right" and "wrong", and it's sure not about political "left" and "right", nor conservative and liberal thinking.   It is not about political ideologies.  It is about why we do what we do and how we do it.  Our motives, our intentions, and our actions either deprive and harm others or they do not; that is, they are either unethical or they are ethical.  Greed is never a valid reason to be unethical, yet it is ordinarily the motive behind unethical choices and actions.

We usually refer to unethical nefarious actions as being criminal when it is an individual, and as terrorism when it is institutionalized (crimes enabled by formal or informal groups, corporations,  governments, or nations). Needless to say, a person, corporation, government, or nation that blames personal or institutionalized nefarious choices and behaviors on religion or any other ethical belief system, is unethical.  
Whenever anyone makes a decision he or she has the power to choose to do no harm - has the power to choose to not allow personal greed to manipulate situations in unwarranted ways that are designed to force others to make damaging sacrifices they are unable and unwilling to make.  A group of people, collectively, also has the power to make that choice.

As for me, I can not rationalize away the terrorism of selling the temple of anyone's soul by claiming "poverty made them do it".   Those who organize a rabble of people (a number of people without a lot of money, power, or social status) into a militant, violent, terrorist gang are neither bourgeoisie, poor, nor apolitical, but they are greedy.  Bet on it.