Thursday, August 28, 2014

Less Militaristic Than Strategically Questionable

In late July, Gallup undertook a survey (below) of "Americans' Views of Actions in Current Middle East Conflict."  It broke responses down by political party, by subgroup (gender, race, age, and educational attainment), and by "how closely following news about the situation."

It's now a little dated, but somewhat instructive.  Gallup found Americans overall split on whether Israel's actions against Gaza were "justified" or "unjustified," though opinion came down overwhelmingly on the side of believing Hamas was "unjustified."   Most striking, however, was that pro-Israel sentiment increased dramatically as knowledge about the conflict rose, which is only fitting.

Nonetheless, now that yet another ceasefire has been implemented, the question seems, or should seem, rather quaint. There are few countries- none, one suspects- that would accept repeated missile attacks upon its soil (we would call it "the Homeland") without retaliating militarily.

But most nations would retaliate with an objective of victory. That, it seems, was never the intent of Benjamin Netanyahu.   Both Netanyahu and Hamas, perhaps even with straight faces, declared victory, but

"I don’t think any of the fundamentals have changed," said Daniel Levy, MENA programme chair at the European Council on Foreign Relations. 

"Israel didn’t want to remove Hamas and it never defined its goals as removing Hamas from Gaza. Hamas has not been demilitarised. It has been weakened but only slightly, and [the war] did not weaken it politically. It is still standing and it is sending rockets.

"But given the disparity in strength, Hamas has not been able to impose its will on Israel and Gaza will not be opened up to the world. So no real change," he added. 

So let's review. Hamas retains the ability to fire missiles into Israel which, it prays, ultimately will be able to hit population centers.  The blockade against Hamas, with its damaging impact upon the actual Palestinians residing in the territory, has not ended.

It was neither a victory for Gazans nor for Israelis, the latter of whom recognize that a Jewish state will not be secure unless the grievances of Palestinians are resolved. But it may have satisfied the interests of their Prime Minister.  Knesset member Israel Hassan, former head of Israel Security Agency Shin Bet, argued approximately a week before the settlement

the diplomatic approach that determined the manner and pace of our operational activity during Operation Protective Edge was the one that says that this conflict has no solution and must be managed instead, so we cannot push anything to the edge. In other words, we mustn’t push Hamas too far into a corner and improve Mahmoud Abbas’ standing, because if he gets stronger, we will eventually have to pay him back in diplomatic currency, a currency that we are not willing to lay out...

I’m very sorry to say this — it actually hurts me to admit it — but I can’t think of any other explanation for the way the IDF [Israel Defense Forces] has acted in keeping with orders from the political echelon. I would like someone to please explain why the IDF didn’t continue advancing another half a kilometer [0.3 miles] into Gaza after finishing up with the tunnels, so as to force Hamas to start folding up its flags. All of that was possible, but someone didn’t want to make Hamas any weaker than it already is, because that same someone only wanted to strike at it in a limited way. This was meant to avoid a situation in which Hamas would be weakened in a way that would strengthen Abbas, turning him into the address for finding a solution. We stopped intentionally when we did.

This turns the common perception of the Israeli invasion on its head.   Israel's bombardment- while not undertaken as responsibly as in the past- and its incursion into Hamas-controlled territory were justified, but may not have been wise, from an Israeli (let alone from humanitarian) perspective. Asking whether Jerusalem's actions are "justified," while the standard and seemingly logical question, misses the central issue for the West. It rests on the premise that the action by the Netanyahu government is the most aggressive, and most zealous of Zionist interests, policy that might have been taken.

Considered more closely, however, Netanyahu's approach appears to be one careful not to destroy Hamas and not to empower the more moderate Abbas, whose influence would only grow with the demise of Hamas.   Notwithstanding whatever the Prime Minister's actual motive is, his actions imply a belief that establishment of an independent Palestinian state (which presumably runs through the Palestinian Authority) can be avoided, and that a one-state solution is attainable. They are consistent with his statement in July “I think the Israeli people understand now what I always say: that there cannot be a situation, under any agreement, in which we relinquish security control of the territory west of the River Jordan.”

Evidence suggests Benjamin Netanyahu believes there still can be a Jewish state in the Middle East in the absence of a Palestinian state (aside from, of course, the current Palestinian state of Jordan).   His only problem is not one of morality or justification, but that the rest of the world disagrees.

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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Too Busy To Be Bothered

Mitch McConnell appeared two months ago at what The Nation described as "a secret strategy conference of conservative millionaire and billionaire donors hosted by the Koch brothers."  The publication and The Undercurrent obtained a video recording of the Minority Leader, alternately spinning  Repub myths and making no sense. In part, he is quoted (video, below) as maintaining

And we’re not going to be debating all these gosh darn proposals. That’s all we do in the Senate is vote on things like raising the minimum wage (inaudible)—cost the country 500,000 new jobs; extending unemployment—that’s a great message for retirees; uh, the student loan package the other day, that’s just going to make things worse, uh. These people believe in all the wrong things.

McConnell himself will have to explain, if asked, his sarcastic comments linking unemployment compensation and retirees.  Clearly, however, he is complaining about even debating the minimum wage, the effect of which on job losses "goes on and on — not just among politicians, but also among economists," reports an NPR blogger.

There is no question, obviously, that raising the minimum wage increases the pay of workers earning the minimum wage. Nor is there much question that it has an uplifting effect upon the wages of other other poorly-paid workers. And that is probably more important, given lagging wages and salaries throughout the economy. It appears it would have been especially helpful for Maria Fernandez (photo, below from the Star-Ledger of Newark, NJ), who

worked four jobs, including shifts at two different Dunkin Donuts.

Often she drove from job to job, stopping along the road to catch a couple hours sleep, police said. She kept a container of gasoline in her 2001 Kia Sportage because occasionally she ran out of gas, authorities said.

Early Monday, the 32-year-old Newark woman pulled into a lot off Route 1 & 9 in Elizabeth for a nap. She apparently left the car running and was overcome by carbon monoxide mixed with fumes from the gas can that had overturned, police said. Fernandes was found dead in the car about eight hours later....

New Jersey has tens of thousands of people working multiple jobs, said Carl Van Horn, director of the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University in New Brunswick.

"These are are folks who would like to work full-time but they can't find the jobs," Van Horn said. "They wind up in these circumstances in which they are exhausted. More commonly it creates just an enormous amount of stress," he said.

Many people have been forced to work two or three part time jobs after losing a full-time position in the recession of 208.

The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that 7.5 million people nationwide are working more than one job, Van Horn said, and those jobs still leave people with less income than their full-time work.

"The average person who lost their job took a 10 percent pay cut (after returning to the workforce)," Van Horn said.

There is a particularly large number of  individuals like Maria Fernandez in New Jersey. There, recovery from the recession has lagged well behind that of the nation overall, as one should have expected under a thoroughly ineffective governor, whose main skill in in bribing companies, as illustrated below:

Very likely, Maria Fernandez would have benefited from a minimum wage increase.  She had plenty of jobs- four, in fact. Any impact minimum wage increases would have in cutting jobs would have little effect on these individuals who are able to find employment.  But people such as Maria Fernandez need work that pays a livable wage, or at least a nearly livable wage.

Maria Fernandez had no such job.  Elizabeth police lieutenant Daniel Saulner commented "This sounds like someone who tried desperately to work and make ends meet, and met with a tragic accident."  More tragically, she wasted Mitch McConnell's time.

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Tuesday, August 26, 2014

And Another Problem

In eastern Ukraine, the death toll probably has exceeded 2250 people. The "Gaza death toll," the Guardian estimates, is now 2,133.  More than 191,000 lives have been claimed in the Syrian civil war which, in an upset, has not been blamed on Israel.

So Michelle Bernard of the Bernard Center for Women declares (video below) "There is a war on black boys in this country, in my opinion. There is a war on African-American men." Moreover, "it`s going to turn into genocide if it doesn`t stop."  Not likely.

On the positive side, she included in her foolish remark with "in my opinion." A conservative Republican before Barack Obama ran for President, Bernard is still saying silly things, only not usually from a conservative perspective.  But she really should get out more, perhaps gain a bit more perspective.

There is, though, a problem. Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, in his occasional guise as a libertarian rather than a conservative Repub, has accurately written

Anyone who thinks that race does not still, even if inadvertently, skew the application of criminal justice in this country is just not paying close enough attention. Our prisons are full of black and brown men and women who are serving inappropriately long and harsh sentences for non-violent mistakes in their youth.

No doubt prisons are "full of black and brown men and women who are serving inappropriately long and harsh sentences." In Kentucky, at least, and doubtless in many other states, most of them of a Republican bent.  Whether Paul meant prisons are full of minority adults ("men and women") serving excessive sentences because of what they did in their youth or, instead, is referring to juveniles serving excessive sentences is unclear.

Nonetheless, there is a problem, though is not "big government" which he claims "has been at the heart of the problem" of "militarization of local police precincts. Rather, it is the allure of profit combined with the Pentagon's desire to alleviate the sunk costs of military weapons and apparel it no longer needs.

By the time the stop-and-frisk policy in New York City was sharply curtailed as a result of a ruling by the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals, the practice had problems going beyond race. Nonetheless, race was the focus of the lawsuit and an analysis by the Public Advocate's office of statistics compiled by the city's Police Department had revealed

the likelihood that a stop of an African American New Yorker would yield contraband was one-third less than that of white New Yorkers stopped.

The NYPD uncovered contraband in one out every 43 stops of white New Yorkers. By contrast, it took the Department 57 stops of Latinos and 61 stops of African Americans to uncover contraband.

Recent testimony by several New York police officers in connection to a lawsuit allege that the department regularly targets young black men and other minorities, which are judged by an arbitrary notion of “reasonable suspicion.”

But the RT report continued "the stop-and-frisk practice is allegedly tied to quotas by which superiors measure success rates over the city’s police precincts."   Additionally, only 729 guns were found out of 532,911 searches- an apparent success rate of .14%.

Except that's not how success was being measured.   Judge Shira (not Judy) A. Scheindlin critically noted "You reasonably suspect something wrong and you're wrong 90 percent of the time."  (According to the article, the actual figure would be 88%).

You're wrong 90% of the time begs the question: what about the other 9.86% of the time?Evidently, searching and frisking an individual largely at random, intrusive and troubling even if constitutional in the absence of racial bias, was considered successful when drugs, and not illegal firearms, were discovered.

There is something askew here, and it's not just race.  It's militarization of law enforcement,  as Senator Paul emphasized. and it's targeting people for possession of illegal drugs, in large measure because it's low-hanging fruit in  which police are likely to confront individuals less dangerous than those with firearms.  It's good for the numbers, good for the both law enforcement and civilian leadership, and more dangerous for the rest of us

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