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'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Saturday, January 31, 2009

American Express Backs Down 

Remember this post from late December? Kevin Johnson, a young, black, Atlanta entrepreneur discovered that American Express had slashed his credit limit, despite a perfect payment history and high credit score. After quoting the Atlanta Constitution article, which didn't emphasize his race in the text, I observed:

Mr. Johnson, if you haven't already guessed is black, as you can clearly see from his photograph, which accompanies the story. He is also a successful executive, as explained in the article as well. One can only imagine how many African Americans less fortunate have already experienced reductions in credible regardless of their history of payment. Just as people of color were disproportionately victimized by the housing bubble, they are likewise going to be targeted to during the recession.

Well, now, it turns out the American Express is terminating this mysterious credit evaluation program:

In recent months, American Express has gone far beyond simply checking your credit score and making sure you pay on time. The company has been looking at home prices in your area, the type of mortgage lender you’re using and whether small-business card customers work in an industry under siege. It has also been looking at how you spend your money, searching for patterns or similarities to other customers who have trouble paying their bills.

In some instances, if it didn’t like what it was seeing, the company has cut customer credit lines. It laid out this logic in letters that infuriated many of the cardholders who received them. “Other customers who have used their card at establishments where you recently shopped,” one of those letters said, “have a poor repayment history with American Express.”

It sure sounded as if American Express had developed a blacklist of merchants patronized by troubled cardholders. But late this week, American Express told me that wasn’t the case. The company said it had also decided to stop using what it has called “spending patterns” as a criteria in its credit line reductions.

“The letters were wrong to imply we were looking at specific merchants,” said Susan Korchak, a company spokeswoman. The company uses hundreds of data points in making its decisions, she said, adding that the main factor in determining credit lines “has always been and still is the overall level of debt, relative to the card member’s financial resources.”

OK, American Express still has a lot of ways to engage in mischief here. Interestingly, though, it also turns out that Johnson played a prominent role in publicizing the program and embarrassing American Express:

Kevin D. Johnson, a 29-year-old Atlanta resident who runs a marketing and communications firm, received a letter from American Express last October saying that his credit limit was being lowered. One reason was that other customers who had used their cards at places where he had shopped were late in paying their bills.

The company couldn’t — or wouldn’t — tell him which charges had met with its disapproval. Frustrated, he told his story to the local newspaper and on “Good Morning America.” He also began documenting his experience on newcreditrules.com, where he posted the names of all the merchants he patronized, in the hope that other American Express customers would cross-check his list with theirs and solve the mystery.

Good work, Kevin! But, as I said in my original post, I believe that there was more to it. I suspect that American Express performed an internal audit, and discovered that disproportionate numbers of people of color with good income and good credit histories were experiencing substantial reductions in their available credit. The public relations debacle regarding spending patterns, spending by card users at particular merchants, was just the tip of the iceberg, and potentially a red herring. It is very possible that American Express is still evaluating creditworthiness based upon spending patterns, but in a modified way, subjecting the outcomes to an analysis as to whether they are having a disproportionate racial impact. And, oh, did I forget to mention that Obama just got inaugurated?

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Thursday, January 29, 2009

The First Hopeful Sign 

From The Guardian:

Officials of Barack Obama's administration have drafted a letter to Iran from the president aimed at unfreezing US-Iranian relations and opening the way for face-to-face talks, the Guardian has learned.

The US state department has been working on drafts of the letter since Obama was elected on 4 November last year. It is in reply to a lengthy letter of congratulations sent by the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, on 6 November.

Diplomats said Obama's letter would be a symbolic gesture to mark a change in tone from the hostile one adopted by the Bush administration, which portrayed Iran as part of an "axis of evil".

It would be intended to allay the ­suspicions of Iran's leaders and pave the way for Obama to engage them directly, a break with past policy.

State department officials have composed at least three drafts of the letter, which gives assurances that Washington does not want to overthrow the Islamic regime, but merely seeks a change in its behaviour. The letter would be addressed to the Iranian people and sent directly to Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, or released as an open letter.

Will the letter be sent? We will just have to wait and see. Now that the drafts have been publicized, there will undoubtedly be intense opposition from the usual suspects to prevent it. If sent, a small step to be sure, but one that starts a journey down the road to more normalized relations, relations based upon the boundaries of disagreement and conflict, instead of threats of regime change and military action. It would also suggest movement towards a less confrontational relationship with Chavez and Morales in South America as well. If it isn't sent . . . well, let's not think about that too much for now.

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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Hizbullah Model 

From today's New York Times:

The fragile calm in the Gaza Strip was broken Tuesday by armed clashes along the border with Israel that left an Israeli soldier and Palestinian farmer dead.

Palestinian medical officials said the clashes were followed hours later by a Israeli aerial missile attack into the southern Gaza town of Khan Younis, injuring a suspected militant on a motorcycle, and Israeli artillery shelling of a house near the Gaza-Israel border that injured two children. The Israeli military did not immediately comment on the reports.

Hamas, and other groups resisting the occupation in Gaza, are following the only plausible strategy of possible success: attacking, injuring and killing IDF soldiers. There is no peace process, indeed, there is not even a willingness of the US and Europe to ensure that the people of Gaza receive humanitarian assistance and reconstruction aid. The Palestinians, living in conditions of severe, intensifying poverty, remain subject to the perpetual violence of the IDF.

This is, of course, consistent with how Hizbullah drove the IDF out of southern Lebanon. First, through bombings, some of them perpetrated by sucide bombers, and, then, through the creation, over many years, of a disciplined, armed force, Hizbullah inflicted sufficient damage upon the IDF that it withdrew from southern Lebanon in 2000. In 2006, Hizbullah fighters defeated an IDF attempt to reduce, if not destroy, its capabilities as a military force.

Moreover, the Iraqis have, to date, avoided the more demeaning aspects of the US occupation through violent resistance as well. While they have not driven out US troops, they have compelled the US to accept a more democratic political process than originally contemplated by the Occupation Authority, one in which the governing coalition retains warm relations with the Iranians, an important US adversary, and permits the open participation of political movements, such as the one headed by Moqtada al-Sadr, dedicated to immediate end of the occupation. Iraqis achieved these limited, but important, political achievements, in addition to retaining control over their oil resources through a violent, anti-imperialist resistance to the US presence, not through non-violence.

Can Hamas achieve similar outcomes in Gaza, and potentially throughout the occupied territories? Naturally, that's hard to say, but we should be wary about underestimating its prospects. After all, did anyone believe that Hizbullah would develop the capabilities to effectively prevail against the IDF back in the 1980s? Did anyone believe that the Iraqi resistance, in the absence of support from any outside powers, would pressure the US into curtailing its imperial ambitions? Predicting the future is a dubious enterprise, but we can say with authority that the more IDF soldiers that Hamas and other groups opposed to the occupation kill and wound, the closer they will come to the day when they escape the brutalities of the occupation.

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Monday, January 26, 2009

So Much for Responsibility 

President Barack Obama, in his inaugural address:

What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility — a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task.

From Fannie Mae, formally known as the Federal National Mortgage Association, in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing today:

Based on preliminary unaudited information concerning its results for these periods, management currently expects that the Federal Housing Finance Agency, acting in its capacity as conservator of Fannie Mae (the "Conservator"), will submit a request to the U.S. Department of the Treasury ("Treasury") to draw funds on behalf of Fannie Mae under the $100 billion Senior Preferred Stock Purchase Agreement entered into between Treasury and the Conservator, acting on behalf of Fannie Mae, on September 7, 2008, and subsequently amended and restated on September 26, 2008 (the "Purchase Agreement"). Although management currently estimates that the amount of this initial draw will be approximately $11 billion to $16 billion, the actual amount of the draw may differ materially from this estimate because Fannie Mae is still working through the process of preparing and finalizing its financial statements for the fourth quarter of 2008 and the year ended December 31, 2008.

Furthermore, as noted by CalculatedRisk: This follows the SEC filing from Freddie Mac outlining the request of up to $35 billion from the Treasury. For the uninitiated, Fannie and Freddie are government sponsored entities that have historically stabilized the housing market by agreeing to purchase mortgages and securitize them in the form of bonds. Note that they are government sponsored, not government owned, meaning that they are private entities in which private investors have made substantial profits over the years.

Both Fannie and Freddie continue to have unfettered access to the Federal treasury despite dubious histories that I described last September:

Meanwhile, there is the impolite question of fraud at the two institutions. Federal regulators decided to take action to seize them after encountering serious accounting irregularities. According to Gretchen Morgenson and Charles Duhigg of the New York Times, the government decided that the seizure of Fannie and Freddie was unavoidable because Freddie, and to a lesser extent, Fannie, had overstated their capital base, creating a more serious risk of default than either had acknowledged. Furthermore, Fannie and Freddie already had a history of manipulating earnings through questionable accounting practices, such as here and here and here and here. To date, I haven't heard any reports of a criminal investigation.

Another 46 to 51 billion dollars for Fannie and Freddie, and still no word about any investigation. I recall shuddering when I heard that Obama had emphasized responsibility in his inaugural address. In my experience, the degree of responsibility required by American politicians goes up as income goes down.

Or, perhaps more accurately in this context, as income goes up, responsibility evaporates. In the rarified world of Fannie and Freddie executives, nothing is demanded of them in return for billions in Federal assistance. Meanwhile, for the rest of us, there is the prospect of entitlement reform, more crudely known as cuts in Social Security and Medicare.

Hat tip to CalculatedRisk.

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Saturday, January 24, 2009

Aid for Gaza 


Conditions in Gaza are dire, with approximately 50,000 displaced people, not to mention the lack of food and medical supplies for the remainder of the populace. Want to help? Here is a list of organizations with a documented record of providing assistance in Gaza. And, of course, there's always the Middle Eastern Children's Alliance. Please consider making donations to them as the need is great.

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Thursday, January 22, 2009

Quote of the Day 

The main source of the economic crisis is the infantile belief of US policymakers that an economy could be based on debt expansion. As offshoring moved jobs, incomes, and GDP out of the country, debt expanded to take the place of the missing income. When the offshored goods and services were brought back to be sold to Americans, the trade deficit rose, adding another level of financing for an economy that consumes more than it produces.

Isn't it rather curious that a right wing economist like Paul Craig Roberts agrees with a leftist academic like Robin Blackburn, at least on this foundational question?

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then we must think to adopt this definition too 

The London Review of Books has posted an excellent selection of statements by contributors about the IDF assault upon Gaza. Perhaps, the following two excerpts will motivate you to read them in their entirety.

First, from the statement of Tariq Ali:

The war on Gaza has killed the two-state solution by making it clear to Palestinians that the only acceptable Palestine would have fewer rights than the Bantustans created by apartheid South Africa. The alternative, clearly, is a single state for Jews and Palestinians with equal rights for all. Certainly it seems utopian at the moment with the two Palestinian parties in Israel – Balad and the United Arab List – both barred from contesting the February elections. Avigdor Lieberman, the chairman of Yisrael Beiteinu, has breathed a sigh of satisfaction: ‘Now that it has been decided that the Balad terrorist organisation will not be able to run, the first battle is over.’ But even victory has its drawbacks. After the Six-Day War in 1967, Isaac Deutscher warned his one-time friend Ben Gurion: The Germans have summed up their own experience in the bitter phrase “Mann kann sich totseigen!” — you can triumph yourself to death. This is what the Israelis have been doing. They have bitten off much more than they can swallow.

In the interim between the drafting of Ali's statement and its publication, the Israeli Supreme Court has ordered the reinstatement of the two Palestinian parties for the upcoming election, but this decision does not refute the overall thrust of his argument.

Second, from the statement of Alastair Crooke:

We have to ask the West a question: when the Israelis bombed the house of Sheikh Nizar Rayan, a Hamas leader, killing him, his wives, his nine children, and killing 19 others who happened to live in adjoining houses – because they saw him as a target – was this terrorism? If the West’s answer is that this was not terrorism, it was self-defence – then we must think to adopt this definition too.

This was said to me by a leading Islamist in Beirut a few days ago. He was making a point, but behind his rhetorical question plainly lies the deeper issue of what the Gaza violence will signify for mainstream Islamists in the future.

Crooke concludes that the middle ground within Political Islam is eroding fast. The consequences for people throughout the world could be quite dire, especially for people in the US and Europe who remain sanguine about the ability to contain the violence to the Middle East.

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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

An Inaugural Note 

I caught fleeting glimpses of the inauguration yesterday morning, while my young son angrily exclaimed his wish to watch Oscar on DVD. Apparently, he preferred Sesame Street to the departing Bush and the incoming Obama.

Filtered through the media, the event came across as yet instance of its inability to present significant social events as anything other than exercises in extravagance. The political and pundit classes fairly swooned over their good fortune in being able to display their rarely seen idealism in response to the inauguration of an African American president. Coverage was devoid of any engaging content at all, much less of the informative political kind. Later, in the evening, I was treated to a fashion designer and a fashion critic gushing over the clothes worn by the Obamas and the Bidens on Larry King Live.

Overall, the impression created was similar to listening to a Mozart symphony performed by an orchestra with several instruments out of tune. Something is not quite right, but you can't identify exactly what it is. One got an inkling of it when the newscasters and hired commentators remarked upon the large emotional crowd. Clearly, if the broadcast images provided an accurate impression, the crowd was disproportionately of color and disproportionately lower income than the composition of attendees in the past. My perception is that there were a lot of middle to lower middle class people there.

But this was not something that the newscasters and commenters could understand, much less attempt to convey to the viewing audience. Instead, we were treated to admittedly moving interviews of African Americans, young, middle aged and old, several in tears, describing how the inauguration of Obama provided them with a feeling of acceptance within a society known for its ingrained racism. When the dress worn by Michelle Obama for the inaugural ball is long forgotten, our memories of these people, and their intense release of the trauma of bigotry, will endure.

Beyond this, the media could not go, because, beyond this, lies the question of what the people who composed the crowd expect of Obama. It is not an easy question to answer, as it requires more than a mechanical application of left sociology, but the mere effort to do so leads in some disquieting directions for the elites that celebrated the inauguration. While it is not possible to project social and ideological values upon these people with clarity, it was evident that they perceive Obama as someone who can change the direction of the country.

For both the elites and Obama, that's something that neither wants communicated too overtly. Hence, during much of the media coverage, we encountered commentators and politicians talking about the crisis facing the country, as if it were some abstract thing that didn't require any fundamental alteration in our political values. Obama has, by and large, limited blame for our current predicament to our alleged lack of bipartisanship He has already signaled that his policies, both domestically and internationally are going to be mild reformist, and it was therefore essential that the crowd be characterized in a hopeful manner consistent with such an approach. His inaugural address, as recognized by many, was similar to past third way repudiations of conservative extremism by Clinton and Blair.

To suggest that the many within the crowd are to the left of this perspective, and reject the effort to resuscitate the economy by pouring trillions into a moribund banking system as well as the imperialism of the US presence throughout the Middle East and Central Asia, is a bridge too far. But they are generally suspicious of policies that appear to benefit the malefactors who caused the collapse of the economy and they do want to see the US presence in Iraq reduced. Most importantly, they want an economic recovery that results in secure jobs with good wages that will enable them to support themselves and their families, and aren't going to quibble overly much about how it is accomplished.

Obama intends to exploit this pragmatism to achieve his primary objectives of the survival of US finance capitalism and the reconfiguration of US global dominance. He recognizes that it will be nearly impossible to achieve them without imposing even more economic distress upon most Americans, thus, his embrace of entitlement reform, or, in plain English, cuts in Social Security and Medicare benefits, to pay down the debt incurred by the bailout and the impending stimulus package. His hope, however, is that he will be able to ignite a new era of economic growth to soften the blow.

Of course, this is not what many in the crowd had in mind while exhaulting Obama's ascension to power, and it will be interesting to see how they respond when the true contours of his policies are revealed. They heard him lay down his own challenge in his inaugural address. They are going to hold him to his commitment to create a government that works, a government that assists in the reinvigoration of the economy for the benefit of everyone. Will they collectively respond in opposition if he fails? And, if so, will they organize around a ideological perspective capable of shattering the bonds of neoliberalism and militarism? At this point, the answers to both questions appear to be negative, but crowds are notorious for their unpredictability.

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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Arabs Need 2 Die 

From an article in The Independent:

For Mousa Samouni, 19, reticent and with every indication of still being in deep shock, the return was the culmination of a horrific experience that began at 7.30am on 4 January, when Israeli troops arrived at his home in the Zeitoun district of southern Gaza City under the cover of heavy fire as the offensive pushed west from the border towards the coast.

The accountancy student, in his first year at Al-Azhar University, said the troops had moved his family next door and then told both groups to join other members of the clan in a warehouse across the road, owned by the vegetable seller Wael Samouni. The troops then occupied the two houses.

He returned yesterday to find the houses ransacked and scarcely habitable, with furnishing and electrical appliances tossed out of the window, gaping holes in the wall made for firing positions, furniture smashed, clothes piled on the floor, pages of family Korans torn out and remains of soldiers' rations littered in many rooms.

Stars of David and graffiti in Hebrew and English proclaiming Arabs need 2 die, no Arabs in the State of Israel and One down and 999,999 to go had been scrawled on walls. A drawing of a gravestone bore the inscription Arabs 1948 to 2009.

But the two houses were at least still standing. Many smaller homes to the east had been flattened by bulldozers after being cleared of their occupants, apparently to establish a clear field of fire from which troops could target any militants to the east. One family member, Hesham Samouni, 35, said 14 of these homes had been destroyed.

As had Wael Samouni's warehouse. It had first been hit by Israeli missiles in an attack on 5 January – reported in detail in The Independent – which was launched as a few family members began taking other relatives to the building, which they thought was safe. Mousa said he fainted in the attack. By the time he came round, his mother, Rebab, 36, his father, Rashed, 42, and his two brothers, Mohammed and Walid, were dead, along with at least 21 others, including several children, among them a five-month-old baby.

The IDF is proud of it, it wants everyone to know what it has done in Gaza. Through such gangsterism, reminiscent of the LAPD during the days of Darrell Gates, it believes that it can intimidate the Palestinians into submission.

Hat tip to lenin over at Lenin's Tomb.

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Saturday, January 17, 2009

Blood is Everywhere 

A chilling account of the horrors of Gaza by Caoimhe Butterly:

The morgues of Gaza's hospitals are over-flowing. The bodies in their blood-soaked white shrouds cover the entire floor space of the Shifa hospital morgue. Some are intact, most horribly deformed, limbs twisted into unnatural positions, chest cavities exposed, heads blown off, skulls crushed in. Family members wait outside to identify and claim a brother, husband, father, mother, wife, child. Many of those who wait their turn have lost numerous family members and loved ones.

Blood is everywhere. Hospital orderlies hose down the floors of operating rooms, bloodied bandages lie discarded in corners, and the injured continue to pour in: bodies lacerated by shrapnel, burns, bullet wounds. Medical workers, exhausted and under siege, work day and night and each life saved is seen as a victory over the predominance of death.

The streets of Gaza are eerily silent- the pulsing life and rhythm of markets, children, fishermen walking down to the sea at dawn brutally stilled and replaced by an atmosphere of uncertainty, isolation and fear. The ever-present sounds of surveillance drones, F16s, tanks and Apaches are listened to acutely as residents try to guess where the next deadly strike will be- which house, school, clinic, mosque, governmental building or community centre will be hit next and how to move before it does. That there are no safe places- no refuge for vulnerable human bodies- is felt acutely. It is a devastating awareness for parents- that there is no way to keep their children safe.

Elsewhere in the article, which should, of course, be read in its entirety, Butterly observes that the death toll in Gaza has reached 1,110. Measured as a percentage of the population, the number of deaths in Gaza is now approaching the equivalent of 80 9/11s. In other words, if the US had been subjected to the same degree of military violence, there would be approximately 245,000 dead.

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Friday, January 16, 2009

Israel Must Lose 

Apologies if you have seen this elsewhere already, but it is important that this letter to The Guardian be disseminated as widely as possible:

The massacres in Gaza are the latest phase of a war that Israel has been waging against the people of Palestine for more than 60 years. The goal of this war has never changed: to use overwhelming military power to eradicate the Palestinians as a political force, one capable of resisting Israel's ongoing appropriation of their land and resources. Israel's war against the Palestinians has turned Gaza and the West Bank into a pair of gigantic political prisons. There is nothing symmetrical about this war in terms of principles, tactics or consequences. Israel is responsible for launching and intensifying it, and for ending the most recent lull in hostilities.

Israel must lose. It is not enough to call for another ceasefire, or more humanitarian assistance. It is not enough to urge the renewal of dialogue and to acknowledge the concerns and suffering of both sides. If we believe in the principle of democratic self-determination, if we affirm the right to resist military aggression and colonial occupation, then we are obliged to take sides... against Israel, and with the people of Gaza and the West Bank.

We must do what we can to stop Israel from winning its war. Israel must accept that its security depends on justice and peaceful coexistence with its neighbours, and not upon the criminal use of force.

We believe Israel should immediately and unconditionally end its assault on Gaza, end the occupation of the West Bank, and abandon all claims to possess or control territory beyond its 1967 borders. We call on the British government and the British people to take all feasible steps to oblige Israel to comply with these demands, starting with a programme of boycott, divestment and sanctions.

Professor Gilbert Achcar, Development Studies, SOAS
Arshin Adib-Moghaddam, Politics and International Studies, SOAS
Dr. Nadje Al-Ali, Gender Studies, SOAS
Professor Eric Alliez, Philosophy, Middlesex University
Dr. Jens Andermann, Latin American Studies, Birkbeck
Dr. Jorella Andrews, Visual Cultures, Goldsmiths
Professor Keith Ansell-Pearson, Philosophy, University of Warwick
John Appleby, writer
and numerous others

Upon a cursory examination, there are two interesting aspects of the letter beyond the praiseworthy call for boycott, divestment and sanctions. First, there is the failure to acknowledge that Zionism has become an increasingly American project, supported by billions in yearly economic and military assistance. It is hard to imagine any issue of significance which results in such strong support among Americans other than the preservation of the state of Israel. Evangelicals, in particular, express an extremist support for the military actions of Israel equal to, and sometimes beyond that, of Israelis. Without such assistance and support, there would be no Israel. And yet, the letter is silent on this point, and, hence, silent as how people should attempt to change US policy.

Second, the letter, after explaining that Israel was created through the dispossession of the Palestinians, rather oddly limits itself to advocacy of the two state solution whereby Israel returns to its pre-1967 boundaries. The inconsistency of these two perspectives consigns the victims of this dispossession to eternal status as displaced people. It also abandons the Arabs of Israel to the mercy of a political system that gives and takes away their right of participation in a purportedly democratic process at the whim of the Jewish majority, as happened most recently with the disqualification of an Arab political party from the upcoming Israeli election. The two state solution is a relic of the 1980s and 1990s, designed at that time to preserve US and Israeli hegemony in the Middle East by transforming the PLO into a supplicant client. With Fatah discredited, there is no prospect of putting this Humpty Dumpty back together again. For the left, there is only one approach consistent with its values: a single, secular state for Palestine.

Hat tip to lenin at Lenin's Tomb

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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

they've given you a number, and taken away your name 

Quote of the Day 

The entire Western world, with its silence or complicity, has lost any right in lecturing or hectoring Palestinians about methods of resistance.

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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Gaza 

For some reason, it all seems so familiar to me. Leaflets dropped from the sky telling people to immediately leave the area or risk being killed or wounded, even though many have nowhere to go, the use of white phosphorus munitions, munitions known for inflicting severe burns, in highly populated civilian areas, airstrikes and shelling directed against suspected terrorists that indiscriminately kill and wound large numbers of people, attacks upon relief organizations attempting to provide medical and humanitarian assistance, and, of course, a complaisant news media that either declines to report on these atrocities, or, even worse, describes them as necessary to prevail in the war on terror.

And, then, I remember: Fallujah in the fall of 2004. In November, the US military launched an assault noted for many of the same characteristics associated with IDF operations in Gaza. 14% to 20% of the city's buildings were destroyed, with nearly 40% of the city's population becoming internally displaced people within Iraq. Unlike in Gaza, people with the physical ability and resources to do so, including al-Qaeda militants, were able to escape the city before US forces attacked. A Vatican official recently described conditions in Gaza as resembling a concentration camp. Perhaps, the Vatican should have been more circumspect, given the Church's indifference to the fate of Jews during the Holocaust, but the description is undoubtedly true, because how else could Israel have been so effective in denying the Palestinians in Gaza, food, water and medical supplies since the election of Hamas in 2006?

We should therefore not be surprised at the unanimity of the American political elite in supporting the shock and awe campaign of the IDF in Gaza. The IDF has adopted precisely the same approach that the US applied to Iraq, albeit over a much shorter period of time. Just as the US did in Iraq, the IDF first imposed a debilitating siege, creating a humanitarian crisis. As it has become evident that the siege was, if anything, increasing the appeal of Hamas, just as the sanctions imposed by the US through the UN reinforced the power of Saddam Hussein, the IDF has now invaded and destroyed what remains of Gaza's infrastructure, much like the US did in Iraq in 2003. The assault upon Fallujah in November of 2004 remains the most extreme manifestation of the use of force to quell subsequent Iraqi resistance to the occupation. Hence, any objection to the activities of the IDF in Gaza by an American political, military or foreign policy figure necessarily requires a repudiation of equally reprehensible US actions in Iraq. Any objection would require them to acknowledge that both the US and Israel seek to impose an imperial order upon the Middle East through the imposition of collective punishments whereby the deaths of an American or Israeli, or merely the threat of violence against an American or Israeli, justifies the indiscriminate killing of civilians as a perverse form of deterrence.

But the rest of us are not subject to any such constraint. We are free to speak candidly about what is transpiring in Gaza. The IDF seeks to shatter the willingness of the Palestinians to resist their dispossession by the Zionist project that required their expulsion to create Israel. Upon reading of notorious incidents such as the killing of 70 people within one family in a bombed out house after the IDF ordered them to congregate there, and the discovery of emaciated child survivors in decimated row houses after the IDF prevented Red Cross ambulances from reaching the site for four days, I recall the sadistic response of Southern slaveholders to rebellions. such as the killing of hundreds of slaves through the South after the suppression of Nat Turner's uprising. The horrors of the nakhba in 1948 are being recreated in Gaza by the IDF, and the US and Europe are again not only denying them, but rationalizing them.

Measured as a percentage of the population of Gaza, the number of Palestinian dead is already equal to over 60 9/11s. Israelis are unmoved, as the incipient fascism embedded within this society is rising to the surface. As'ad Abukhalil, the Angry Arab, recognizes that there is no limit to the violence inflicted upon Palestinians that Americans and Israelis will accept:

What is difficult about living in the US for Arabs and for those who care about Palestinian rights is that you realize that there is no threshold of murder, of terrorism, of killing, of massacres that would not be justified here in the US: by the white house, the congress, the media, and public opinion. Think about it: is there any threshold of the killing of children that would really change the perspectives of US mainstream media and culture? I think that American support for Israeli wars and terrorism is such that even the nuking of Gaza would find support among liberals and conservatives alike in the US, and I am sure that Obama would come out with statements of justification.

The consequences of the IDF assault upon Gaza are far more serious than US media accounts suggest. Let's walk through a few of them. First, the peace process initiated by the Oslo agreements is now finished. There is no way to revive it, no matter how much money the US and Europe funnel to Fatah in the West Bank and Gaza to create the simulacrum of a negotiating party for Israel. We are now back to the days before Madrid in 1991, when Israel and the Palestinians were in a state of global conflict with one another. The probability of a cease fire in Gaza is nil, and Hamas will continue to violently resist the Israeli presence there, so the death and destruction that we have seen in the last month will perpetually flare time and time again for the indefinite future.

Second, one cannot exclude the possibility that a global underground Palestinian movement of violent resistance will soon emerge, targeting not only Israeli targets, but potentially even US ones as well. Since the 1970s, the Palestinians have, by and large, scrupulously avoided attacking Americans, probably based upon the belief that attacks upon the US would result in their collective suicide. But, now that the US is revealing itself as willing to accept any degree of Israeli violence against them, the logic behind this restraint is less and less compelling, so much so that we should not be surprised when some Palestinian militants reject it.

Third, as already implied, the Palestinian struggle will become even more openly associated with resistance to the US throughout the Middle East and Central Asia. US tolerance of the Israeli attacks in Gaza will increase public support for violent Islamic political movements from Pakistan to Egypt, and perhaps beyond. Leaders known for their obsequious support of the US, such as Karzai in Afghanistan, Muburak in Egypt and the Saudi royal family, will find themselves in an even more insecure position. There is a very good chance that we will see the assassination of one or more of them in 2009. After all, there is a reason why public protests in support of the Palestinians are being suppressed in many of these countries.

Finally, the prospect of a more open minded, humane US foreign policy in the wake of Obama's election, as naive as it was, has been foreclosed. Even if he felt otherwise, which I personally doubt, Obama will have no choice but to go along with a maximalist, pro-Israel policy. In effect, Israel, and its evangelical and neoconservative supporters in the US, have effectively imposed not only the continuation, but the escalation, of Bush policies of military confrontation. Faced with increased resistance to the US abroad necessitating increased military expenditures as the US economy nosedives, is it any wonder that Obama was openly talking about cutting Social Security and Medicare benefits the other day? Someone has to pay for the empire as it implodes.

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Thursday, January 08, 2009

Zionism 5 

Zionism 4 

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

For Me, There's Definitely Anger 

For background on the killing of Oscar Grant at an Oakland BART station by BART Police Officer Johannes Mehserle during the early morning hours of New Year's Day, go here and here and here. Here is a KTVU report about Grant's funeral earlier today.

Family members told KTVU reporter Claudine Wong that they are pleased that the public is coming foward with videos of the incident. A frame by frame analysis of the most recent one indicates that Grant was handcuffed before the shooting, as initially reported based upon the statements of several witnesses. Furthermore, indybay.org is reporting that a protest that began at the scene of the killing at Fruitvale station has been tranformed into a march through East Oakland involving betewen 500 and 1000 people.

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Nothing is Going to Happen to the BART Police Officer Who Killed Oscar Grant 

For background on the killing of Oscar Grant at an Oakland BART station by BART Police Officer Johannes Mehserle during the early morning hours of New Year's Day, go here and here and here. Today, Alameda County Deputy District Attorney Tom Orloff made it crystal clear that the US will support the Palestinians before he decides to criminally prosecute Mehserle:

If Mehserle is charged with a crime in Grant's shooting, it will be a first.

No one we talked with - from the district attorney's office to lawyers who work either side of police shootings - could remember a case in the last 20 years in which an on-duty officer had been charged in a fatal shooting in Alameda County.

"By and large, police officers have been reacting to some type of situation before they shoot someone that usually provides a legal justification," said District Attorney Tom Orloff, who has seen dozens of police shooting cases during his nearly four-decade career as a prosecutor.

Orloff, whose office would ultimately decide whether Mehserle should be charged with anything, hastened to point out that many details about the Fruitvale Station shooting remain unknown and that it is far too early to know whether the case will enter the criminal arena.

The most recent controversial police shooting in Alameda County happened July 25, when Oakland police Officer Hector Jimenez shot a drunken-driving suspect in the back as the man ran from an early morning traffic stop in the Fruitvale District.

Police said Jimenez shot 27-year-old Mack "Jody" Woodfox III because he thought Woodfox was reaching into his waistband for a gun, although no gun was found. Jimenez gave the same reason for taking part in the fatal shooting New Year's Eve 2007 of another man, Andrew Moppin, who, like Woodfox, turned out to be unarmed.

Police and a deputy from the district attorney's office interviewed Jimenez after the Woodfox shooting, then went out to the scene at night and re-enacted the incident as the officer related it.

The result - although technically the case is still pending, no charges have been filed.

Orloff's assertion deserves more scrutiny than that provided by the San Francisco Chronicle columnists who wrote the story, Matier and Ross. To their credit, they implicitly acknowledge that there have been no judicial determinations that shooings perpetrated by local police officers are justified because the district attorney doesn't file cases against them. But they then rather oddly proceed to cite this fact as an indication that these shootings are invariably legal when it actually suggests that the District Attorney is allergic to prosecuting them under any circumstances.

Nothing like a cop friendly district attorney's office with cop friendly media allies to ensure that nothing ever happens to officers who kill people in the line of duty, regardless of the circumstances. If the family of Oscar Grant expect an honest investigation of his death, they should insist that the investigation be taken away from BART and the Alameda County District Attorney's Office as quickly as possible, because, as they used to say at race track, the fix is in.

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Zionism 3 

Zionism 2 

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Return of the Latch Key Children 

With the recessionary hurricane making landfall, latch key kids are becoming more visible and more numerous:

In the Prince George's County community of Riverdale Park, town officials have noted a distressing sign of the national economic downturn: more children left home alone to fend for themselves by working parents too strapped to afford child care.

The problem was discovered by code enforcement officers who inspect apartments in the town of 7,000. They used to come across such cases once every couple of years. Then, six months ago, they found one child left alone, followed by another and another.

In one instance, a kindergarten-age girl was found hiding in a closet, apparently because she was scared, code enforcement officers said. In another, children aged 10 or 12 were missing school to watch their younger siblings.

Riverdale's experience comes amid an increasing economic strain in child care across the Washington region. In an area known for day-care waiting lists, many operators report a rise in vacancies as parents withdraw their children or cut back on hours because they can no longer afford the cost.

The phenomenon is not universal, but it has struck in many middle- and working-class areas as lost jobs, reduced work schedules and foreclosed homes affect families with few reserves. Many have confronted tough choices about the care of their children.

"I've never seen anything like this before," said Phyllis Waters, president of the Professional Child Care Provider Network of Prince George's County. "You're seeing people just dropping out. . . . They're taking them out of day care and putting them into homes with grandmothers and neighbors and whoever else."

Just as with the occupation of Iraq, where I have attempted to resist the depersonalization of Iraqi death, I believe that it is also important to recognize the individual traumatic consequences of this recesssion. While bankers line up at the Treasury window for billions in TARP funds, people are starving and parents find themselves forced to abandon their children.

Hat tip to Prometheus 6.

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Zionism 1 

Did the Officer Mistakenly Believe that He Was Firing a Taser When He Killed Oscar Grant? 

For the first two installments regarding the killing of Oscar Grant at an East Bay train station in the early morning hours of New Year's Day by a BART police officer, go here and here. The new propaganda line out of the BART offices in Oakland, as expressed in this KTVU report, is that the officer may have mistakenly believed that he was firing his taser instead of his gun.

It sounds superficially plausible until you realize that there's no evidence that this cop carried a taser. As previously reported by KTVU, not all BART cops are armed with them. But, don't worry, BART will get back to us on that, because it is still investigating whether the officer had one at the time of the shooting. What?? You say that, after 5 days, BART should already know whether officer had one? If so, you are missing the entire point of the exercise.

Of course, BART already knows whether the officer had a taser or not. After all, how long can it take to find out? 2 hours? Indeed, I'll stick my neck out and make a prediction: we will eventually discover that he didn't have one, but only after BART has sufficiently publicized the possibility that he might have in order to muddy the waters for its benefit when there is no criminal prosecution and jurors are someday selected to hear the $25 million lawsuit filed by John Burris on behalf of the Grant's family. Every day that BART is able to promote this fiction through a gullible media means more and more people who will believe that it is actually true, regardless of what facts emerge down the road.

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Monday, January 05, 2009

This Investigation Could Take Weeks 

Well, you know, it takes a long time to develop a reason why a BART police officer kills a man by shooting him in the back while restrained in a prostrate position on an Oakland train platform, especially when, as related in this KTVU report by reporter Claudine Wong, there is so much video of the incident floating around. A passenger who did not want to be identified provided cell phone video of the shooting to KTVU, which is now prominently displayed on the KTVU website, but not to the investigators. Wonder why?

BART police seized one from a person on the platform shortly afterwards, but, gosh darn it, why did all those passengers have to have cellphones? Note how the BART police chief talks about the need to interview all the officers, with no mention of the numerous passengers who witnessed the incident, raising the obvious suspicions that the officers need to get their stories straight and that the observations of the cops alone should determine the outcome of the investigation. Turns out that the victim, Oscar Grant, was not handcuffed when he was shot, as first reported, but he was clearly restrained. Note also that KTVU, a television station in Oakland, California, is providing coverage that is much more empathetic to the victim, and more questioning of the police, than one commonly encounters in most places.

An aggravating aspect of this gruesome incident has been the purported concern of the BART spokesperson in regard to the contamination of public perception. Complaining about disclosures through the media (no doubt thinking, why didn't the incident commander order the seizure of ALL digital cameras, cell phones and other video devices from the passengers as evidence? memo to file: urgent that this subject be incorporated in all future officer trainings), he urges that everyone wait until the investigation is concluded. Naturally, as you might have guessed, BART is simultaneously already floating excuses for the officer: the cops were stressed because a couple of guns had already been recovered from passengers on other trains that New Year's Eve night, that the cops on the platform perceived themselves to be outnumbered in responding to a report of rowdy passengers involved in a fight because Oakland Police Department officers had been called as backup, that the officer in question might have mistakenly thought that he was using his taser instead of his gun (not bothering to show, of course, that the officer even had a taser).

Whether any of this is true and the extent of the evidence in support of these thinly veiled rationalizations doesn't really matter, because the purpose is to encourage the public to fill in the blanks by reference to their own biases, the victim and the other disembarking passengers detained by the police were obviously bad apples, the cops had every reason to fear for their safety and, hence, how can anyone of us question the split second decision of the officer to pull his gun and shoot the victim? You know, the more I think about it, I am reminded of some similarly horrific killings by US troops in a country far across the ocean, a place where the people aren't as dark skinned as Grant, but equally subjected to crude, violent stereotypes by many Americans. I fear that Grant's death will likewise be dismissed as unfortunate and tragic.

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Thursday, January 01, 2009

BART Police Officer Kills Handcuffed Man at Fruitvale Station 

The victim's race? You get one guess.

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