Friday Reads: The Truth and Nothing But the Truth

Good Morning!

I continue to investigate news stories where a large group of people seem to sit in denial.   You might even say they wallow in denial.  There are never ostriches-head-in-sandstories with one side.  There are never truths that should be accepted with out proof and facts.  Nothing good ever comes from denying the complexities of life.  Here are a few stories that offer up complexities.  I hope you enjoy reading them, although I have to admit that the details aren’t always pretty.

The first story I want to offer is about Greece and the collapse of its government, its economy, and the ongoing collapse of its culture.  Is Greece a nation for sale?  Is it a nation whose people are being sold out and have been sold out?  How can democracy exist when your entire country is up for sale to the highest bidder?

The savage methods of alleged “economic efficiency” and privatization increase neither efficiency nor competition, but do lead to price increases for consumers, higher costs for government, corruption, embezzlement and the destruction of democracy.

When the European Union (EU) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) came to Greece’s rescue in May 2010 with a 110 billion euro bailout loan in order to avoid the default of a eurozone member state (a second bailout loan worth 130 billion euros was activated in March 2012), the intentions of the rescue plan were multifold. First, the EU-IMF duo (with the IMF in the role of junior partner) wanted to protect the interests of the foreign banks and the financial institutions that had loaned Greece billions of euros. Greece’s gross foreign debt amounted to over 410 billion euros by the end of 2009, so a default would have led to substantial losses for foreign banks and bondholders, but also to the collapse of the Greek banking system itself as the European Central Bank (ECB) would be obliged in such an event to refuse to fund Greek banks.

Second, by bailing out Greece, the EU wanted to avoid the risk of negative contagion effects spreading across the euro area. A Greek default would have led to a financial meltdown across the euro area and perhaps to the end of the euro altogether.

Third, with Germany as Europe’s hegemonic power, there was a clear intention to punish Greece for its allegedly “profligate” ways (although it was large inflows of capital from the core countries that financed consumption and rising government spending), and by extension, send out a message to the other “peripheral” nations of the eurozone of the fate awaiting them if they did not put their fiscal house in order.

Fourth, the EU wanted to take the opportunity presented by the debt crisis to turn Greece into a “guinea pig” for the policy prescriptions of a neoliberal Europe. Berlin and Brussels had long ago embraced the main pillars of the Washington Consensus – fiscal austerity, privatization, deregulation and destatization – and the debt crisis offered a golden opportunity to cut down the Greek public sector to the bare bones and radicalize the domestic labor market with policies that slash wages and benefits and enhance flexibilization and insecurity.

ostrich-head-in-sandEveryone has known for some time that the Southern United States is primarily a drag on the rest of the country.  Its states cannot function without massive infusions of federal dollars. Its institutions remain broken.  Its governments are corrupt.  What does it mean to the country that the South behaves like a third world set of nations where any one can dump pollutants, destroy worker’s rights, deny women and the poor basic health care, and pay wages that don’t cover any kind of normal expenses?   What’s worse is that poor white Southerners just seem to vote like they love taking it up the ass.  Why are we letting an entire region drag the country to ruin?

On this point Thompson is unrelenting. “We can no longer afford to wait on the South to get its racial shit together,” he writes. “It’s time to move on, let southerners sort out their own mess free from the harassment of northern moralizers.” This is pretty much what William Faulkner wrote in more eloquent terms some 60 years ago. And, as we approach the 150th anniversary of the battles of Vicksburg and Gettysburg, Thompson finds plenty of Southerners who think, as one of them tells him, “We’re on the verge of a civil war.” Thompson asks, “Between North and South?” The answer: “Between conservative and liberal.”

It’s attitudes like this that keep white Southerners from understanding that year after year, decade after decade, they support policies that don’t help them. “Rank-and-file southern voters—who have lower average incomes than other Americans—resoundingly defeated Barack Obama in 2008; the eventual president carried just 10, 11, and 14 percent of the white vote in Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana respectively,” Thompson writes. “An influential percentage of poor, uneducated, underserved, insurance-less white southerners continue to cast votes for candidates whose agendas clearly conflict with their own self interest.” What Thompson doesn’t do—what I’ve never seen anyone do—is offer a valid explanation for why white Southerners ally themselves with the party that treats them contemptuously.

Whites in the South overwhelmingly support right-to-work laws, which Thompson defines, correctly, as “the Orwellian euphemism for ‘the right for companies to disregard the welfare of their workers.’ ” According to a 2009 survey by Grand Valley State University, annual salaries for autoworkers in Alabama, Tennessee and South Carolina averaged about $55,400, while their counterparts in Michigan averaged $74,500. Thompson notes that Southern blue-collar workers also have “inferior health and pension plans, less job security, higher risk of being fired for trivial reasons, and diminished safety precautions. … ”

Not only are Southern workers hurt by their anti-union attitudes, the whole nation suffers. “Southern economic success,” writes Thompson, “comes at the expenseof the rest of the country.” By luring foreign manufacturers to Southern states with promises of cheap labor, “The South is bad for the American economy in the same way that China and Mexico are bad for the American economy. By keeping corporate taxes low, public schools underfunded, and workers’ rights to organize negligible, it’s southern politicians who make it so. … [The South] is an in-house parasite that bleeds the country far more than it contributes to its collective health.”

That leads to what is for me the single most baffling 21st century paradox about the South. The region, home to nine of the nation’s 10 poorest states, is rabidly against government spending, yet all of its states get far more in government subsidies than they give back in taxes, as pointed out by Sara Robinson in a 2012 piece for AlterNet, “Blue States Are the Providers, Red States Are the Parasites.”

Ostriches-head-in-sand2The subject of Palestine and Israel frequently leads to passionate, intractable arguments.  At another blog, we eventually decided to leave the topic in the “Do Not Discuss” box for the sake of peace and quiet.

I still cannot believe that some folks find disliking Israeli neocon policy to be the same as being anti-semitic, but there it is and seems to be.

I do not support Hamas or consider it blameless. Indeed, the horrific things going on in Iraq due to Sunni Muslim fundamentalism should be damned.  But, so should Israel’s continued oppression of Palestinian people.

I’m no longer staying quiet and avoiding arguments.  I cannot stay quiet while completely innocent people die, when they live under apartheid and intolerable situations, and when I hear completely unsubstantiated talking points from Israel’s propaganda ministry held up as truths.

The first completely unsubstantiated talking point just got a vote in the US House of Representatives. I’ve read every independent NGO that I can find.  There appears to be no truth to rumor that Hamas uses citizens as human shields.  There is some proof that the IDF actually uses children in that capacity.  I stand appalled.  I will call out the mass slaughter of indigenous people and innocents no matter what their religion or what their nationality.  This is ethnic cleansing with a sophisticated Luntz-style propaganda show.  I’ve linked to a well sourced article on Five Israeli Talking points that no independent source can verify and if looked into are completely false.

Hamas hides its weapons in homes, mosques and schools and uses human shields.

This is arguably one of Israel’s most insidious claims, because it blames Palestinians for their own death and deprives them of even their victimhood. Israel made the same argument in its war against Lebanon in  2006 and in its war against Palestinians in  2008. Notwithstanding its military cartoon sketches, Israel has yet to prove that Hamas has used civilian infrastructure to store military weapons. The two cases where Hamas indeed stored weapons in  UNRWA schools, the schools were empty. UNRWA discovered the rockets and publicly condemned the violation of its sanctity.

International human rights organizations that have investigated these claims have determined that they are  not true. It attributed the high death toll in Israel’s 2006 war on Lebanon to Israel’s indiscriminate attacks.  Human Rights Watch notes:

The evidence Human Rights Watch uncovered in its on-the-ground investigations refutes [Israel’s] argument…we found strong evidence that Hezbollah stored most of its rockets in bunkers and weapon storage facilities located in uninhabited fields and valleys, that in the vast majority of cases Hezbollah fighters left populated civilian areas as soon as the fighting started, and that Hezbollah fired the vast majority of its rockets from pre-prepared positions outside villages.

In fact, only  Israeli soldiers have systematically used Palestinians as human shields. Since Israel’s incursion into the West Bank in 2002, it has used Palestinians as human shields by tying young Palestinians onto the  hoods of their cars or forcing them to  go into a home where a potential militant may be hiding.

Even assuming that Israel’s claims were plausible, humanitarian law obligates Israel to avoid civilian casualties that “would be  excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated.” A belligerent force must verify whether civilian or civilian infrastructure qualifies as a military objective. In the case of doubt, “whether an object which is normally dedicated to civilian purposes, such as a place of worship, a house or other dwelling or a school, is being used to make an effective contribution to military action, it shall be presumed  not to be so used.”

I did want to put up a link to an interview with Rabbi Henry Seignman at Democracy Now! The Rabbi was an executive director–for some time–of the American Jewish Congress and is considered the foremost authority on Jewish people in America.  Please watch it.  The number of American Jewish Rabbis and intellectuals coming out against Israel’s policies and attacks on the occupied territories is amazing.  As the children of holocaust victims and survivors, they recognize the “slaughter of innocents”.  There are two interviews that you may watch or read. 

HENRY SIEGMAN: Yes, it’s disastrous. It’s disastrous, both in political terms, which is to say the situation cannot conceivably, certainly in the short run, lead to any positive results, to an improvement in the lives of either Israelis or Palestinians, and of course it’s disastrous in humanitarian terms, the kind of slaughter that’s taking place there. When one thinks that this is what is necessary for Israel to survive, that the Zionist dream is based on the slaughter of—repeated slaughter of innocents on a scale that we’re watching these days on television, that is really a profound, profound crisis—and should be a profound crisis—in the thinking of all of us who were committed to the establishment of the state and to its success. It leads one virtually to a whole rethinking of this historical phenomenon.

If you’d like to read an interesting discussion on how violence drives colonization of the remaining Palestinian territories, I suggest this article in Jacobin Magazine. 

Seeing Israel as engaging in senseless bloodletting might seem an even more reasonable conclusion in light of the massacre of sixty-three people in Shujaiya after “the extensive use of artillery fire on dozens of populated areas across the Gaza Strip” that left bodies “scattered on streets,” or the bombing of United Nations shelters for those fleeing the violence. That conclusion is also tempting based on reports out of Khuza’a, a hamlet in the hinterlands of the Strip that was the scene of another Israeli massacre.

But describing such violence as aimless misses the underlying logic of Israel’s conduct throughout Operation Protective Edge and, indeed, for much of its history.

As Darryl Li points out, “Since 2005, Israel has developed an unusual, and perhaps unprecedented, experiment in colonial management in the Gaza Strip,” seeking to “isolate Palestinians there from the outside world, render them utterly dependent on external benevolence,” and at the same time “absolve Israel of responsibility toward them.”

This strategy, Li goes on to argue, is one way that Israel is working to maintain a Jewish majority in the territories it controls so that it can continue to deny equal rights for the rest of the population.

The suppression of Palestinian resistance is crucial to the success of the Israeli experiment. But there is a corollary, which is a cyclical interaction between Israeli colonialism and US militarism. As Bashir Abu-Manneh explains, there is a relationship between American imperialism and Zionist policies. American policymakers believe that an alliance with Israel helps the US control the Middle East. So the United States enables Israeli colonialism and occupation, which in turn creates contexts for further US interventions in the region that can be used to try to deepen American hegemony.

I would like to see a peaceful two- (very secular) state solution; but as I’ve said before, I don’t think Bibi wants that at all.

downloadSupreme Ruth Bader Ginsberg gave a wonderful interview to Katie Couric.  It’s worth watching.  Ginsberg is our only hope on SCOTUS.

“Do you believe that the five male justices truly understood the ramifications of their decision?” Couric asked Ginsburg of the 5-4 Hobby Lobby ruling, which cleared the way for employers to deny insurance coverage of contraceptives to female workers on religious grounds.

“I would have to say no,” the 81-year-old justice replied. Asked if the five justices revealed a “blind spot” in their decision, Ginsburg said yes.

The feisty leader of the court’s minority liberal bloc compared the decision of her five male peers to an old Supreme Court ruling that found discriminating against pregnant women was legal.

“But justices continue to think and can change,” she added, hopefully. “They have wives. They have daughters. By the way, I think daughters can change the perception of their fathers.

“I am ever hopeful that if the court has a blind spot today, its eyes will be open tomorrow,” she said.

Rachel Maddow sent a team down to look into the Operation Save America siege of New Orleans.   If you haven’t seen the interview with the 74 year old Ostrich-man-head-in-sanddoctor whose home and clinic was terrorized, please go watch. She’s something too!  Equally as crazy is this coverage of a Louisiana Republican Woman running for Congress who ran away from a nonpartisan group that interviews candidates. 

David Wasserman reported yesterday that he recently sat down with state Rep. Lenar Whitney, a Republican congressional candidate in Louisiana’s 6th congressional district, though their interview didn’t go well.

As a House analyst for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, I’ve personally interviewed over 300 congressional candidates over the course of seven years, both to get to know them and evaluate their chances of winning. I’ve been impressed by just as many Republicans as Democrats, and underwhelmed by equal numbers, too. Most are accustomed to tough questions.

But never have I met any candidate quite as frightening or fact-averse as Louisiana state Rep. Lenar Whitney, 55, who visited my office last Wednesday.

Whitney, who reportedly likes the “Palin of the South” nickname, “froze” when asked to substantiate her claims that climate change is the “greatest deception in the history of mankind.”

And then Wasserman asked about President Obama’s birthplace.

…I asked whether she believed Obama was born in the United States. When she replied that it was a matter of some controversy, her two campaign consultants quickly whisked her out of the room, accusing me of conducting a “Palin-style interview.”

It was the first time in hundreds of Cook Political Report meetings that a candidate has fled the room.

A tip for candidates everywhere: if you literally run away from questions, you’re doing it wrong.

Whitney is running ads that say global warming is a hoax and that we’re on the verge of an ice age without any apparent knowledge of why that’s the bury-your-head-in-the-sandcase.

Whitney, a graduate of Nicholls State University who is running for Louisiana’s open 6th District, owned a dance studio in Houma, La., for 34 years and also worked in sales for small telecommunications and oilfield equipment companies. She clearly relishes poking Democrats in the eye, cites Minnesota’s Rep. Michele Bachmann (R) as a political role model, and takes kindly to the nickname “Palin of the South.”

Whitney has only raised $123,000 to date (fourth in the GOP field), but she has sought to boost her profile and appeal to conservative donors with a slickly made YouTube video entitled “GLOBAL WARMING IS A HOAX” (84,000 views so far). In the video, Whitney gleefully and confidently asserts that the theory of global warming is the “greatest deception in the history of mankind” and that “any 10-year-old” can disprove it with a simple household thermometer.

Whitney’s brand of rhetoric obviously resonates with some very conservative Louisiana voters who view President Obama and the Environmental Protection Agency as big-city elitists directly attacking the state’s energy industry and their own way of life. And she would hardly be the first “climate denier” elected to Congress. But it’s not unreasonable to expect candidates to explain how they arrived at their positions, and when I pressed Whitney repeatedly for the source of her claim that the earth is getting colder, she froze and was unable to cite a single scientist, journal or news source to back up her beliefs.

We’ve definitely entered a zone where people are just saying things they believe are true simply because they want them to be true or–ala Luntz–they’ve heard it from some one who keeps repeating lies over and over again.  Hey, it ain’t there if they don’t want to see it, right?

I’m on break today.  Enjoy yourselves.  Whats on your reading and blogging list today?

 


Friday Reads: Israel Invades Gaza, Downing of Jet a Ukraine a “Game Changer,” and the Unrelenting War on Women

kubrick-subway-newspapers

Good Morning!!

Lately I’ve been remarking about how slow the news is in these dog days of summer. Suddenly there is lots going on–even on a Friday–and the news isn’t good. It’s difficult to say which is worse: the escalating battle between Israel and Hamas in Gaza or the downing of a Malaysia Airlines jet over Ukraine. And of course there is the ongoing war on women’s reproductive freedom. This post is going to be a link dump without a lot of commentary because, quite frankly, I’m at a loss for words.

Israel Invades Gaza

The LA Times reports: Israeli troops and tanks move into the Gaza Strip.

After 10 days of Israeli airstrikes and rocket attacks by Palestinian militants, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered ground troops into the Gaza Strip on Thursday night, escalating an exchange of fire that has claimed more than 240 lives, all but one of them Palestinian.

Under cover of darkness, tanks rolled across the northern border of the coastal enclave, backed by intense shelling from the land, air and sea all along the frontier, witnesses said.

The immediate objective was to strike at tunnels Hamas and its allies use to smuggle weapons and fighters into Israel, according to a statement issued by Netanyahu’s office….

Israeli officials said Netanyahu made the decision to send in ground forces after Hamas, the militant movement that has controlled the enclave since 2007, rejected a cease-fire brokered by Egypt this week and fired rockets at Israel during a five-hour truce Thursday that was requested by the United Nations. The truce was meant to allow Gaza’s battered residents to stock up on food, cash and other necessities.

There’s much more information at the link.

1955 train

From the NYT: Israeli Military Invades Gaza, With Sights Set on Hamas Operations.

As rockets continued to rain down on Israeli cities, a military spokesman said the mission’s expansion was “not time bound” and was aimed to ensure Hamas operatives were “pursued, paralyzed and threatened” as it targeted “terrorist infrastructure” in the north, south and east of Gaza “in parallel.”

As midnight approached Thursday, residents of some sparsely populated farmland in northern Gaza were cowering in their homes, afraid to answer mobile phones or peek out windows. Some sent text messages reporting that they could hear tank shelling, heavy artillery, and F-16s dropping bombs. Moussa al-Ghoul, 63, who lives northwest of Beit Lahiya, said his neighborhood had turned into “a war zone” with tanks surrounding his home, having destroyed those of two of his sons. He said shells were landing “everywhere.”

Gaza news outlets reported that electricity had been cut to 80 percent of the coastal territory after cables bringing power from Israel were damaged….

“We will strike Hamas and we are determined to restore peace to the state of Israel,” the military spokesman, Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, told reporters in a conference call. “It will progress according to the situation assessment and according to our crafted and designed plan of action to enable us to carry out this mission.”

Israel began to call up 18,000 reservists, adding to 50,000 already mobilized in recent days; Colonel Lerner said the ground forces would include infantry and artillery units, armored and engineer corps, supported by Israel’s “vast intelligence capabilities,” air force and navy.

Again, many more details at the link.

9.Job seekers, men standing in front of the Chicago Daily News building, looking at newspapers

From Reuters a short time ago this morning: Israel steps up Gaza ground offensive, civilian casualties grow.

Israel intensified its land offensive in Gaza with artillery, tanks and gunboats on Friday and warned it could “significantly widen” an operation Palestinian officials said was killing ever greater numbers of civilians.

Palestinian health officials said 27 Palestinians, including a baby, two children and a 70-year-old woman, had been killed since Israel sent ground forces into the densely-populated strip of 1.8 million Palestinians on Thursday.

The Israeli military said it killed 17 Palestinian gunmen while another 13 surrendered and were taken for questioning after the infantry and tank assault began in the Islamist Hamas-dominated territory.

One Israeli soldier was killed and several others were wounded in the operations, in which some 150 targets, including 21 concealed rocket launchers and four tunnels, have been attacked, according to the military.

Read more at the link.

I don’t even know what to say about this conflict other than I’ve pretty much lost any sympathy I once had for Israel. I can’t understand why the Israeli people keep electing far right warmongering leaders.

Downing of Malaysian Airlines Jet Over Ukraine

After the downing of a Malaysian Airlines plane with nearly 300 people on board, the conflict in Ukraine has become a full blown international crisis.

cigar-smoking-traveler-crowds-bench-seat-while-reading-a-newspaper-on-19th-century-train-copy

From the Kyiv Post this morning: SBU intercepts phone conversations of separatists admitting downing a civilian plane (FULL TRANSCRIPT; VIDEO).

Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200 flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was allegedly shot down by a group of Russian-backed Cossack militants near the village of Chornukhine, Luhansk Oblast, some 80 kilometers north-west of Donetsk, according to recordings of intercepted phone calls between Russian military intelligence officers and members of terrorist groups, released by the country’s security agency (SBU).

One phone call apparently was made at 4:40 p.m. Kyiv time, or 20 minutes after the plane crash, by Igor Bezler, who the SBU says is a Russian military intelligence officer and leading commander of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic. He reports to a person identified by Ukraine’s SBU as a colonel in the main intelligence department of the general headquarters of the armed forces of the Russian Federation Vasili Geranin regarding the shot down plane, which is about to be examined by the militants.

The second intercepted conversation released by the Security Service of Ukraine was apparently between militants nicknamed “Major” and “Greek” immediately upon inspection of the crash site.

“It’s 100 percent a passenger (civilian) aircraft,” Major is recorded as saying, as he admitted to seeing no weapons on site. “Absolutely nothing. Civilian items, medicinal stuff, towels, toilet paper.”

In the third part of conversation Cossack commander Nikolay Kozitsin talking to an unidentified militant cynically suggests that the Malaysia Airlines airplane could’ve been carrying spies, as, otherwise, it would have no business flying in that area.

Read the rest of the transcript at the link–lots of “Oh shit”-type quotes.

old-man-reading-newspaper

Julia Ioffe writes at The New Republic, The Crash of Malaysian Airlines flight 17 is a Game Changer: This Conflict is Now Officially Out of Control.

Over the last couple of months, pro-Russian separatists have beendowningUkrainian military planes with increasing regularityand mounting casualties on the Ukrainian side. Just earlier Thursday, separatists had shot down another one. All of that seemed to undermine the narrative, propagated by the Kremlin, that the separatists were just a ragtag people’s militia who didn’t stand a chance against a proper, organized military. The constant downing of Ukrainian jets showed that these men were equipped with some pretty serious stuff: You can’t really shoot down a jet with a Kalashnikov.

And, in fact, Russian a state media report from late June indicates the rebels got a hold of a Buk missile system, a Russian/Soviet surface-to-air missile system. Rebels are now denying that they shot down the plane, but there are now screenshots floating around the Russian-language internet from what seems to be the Facebook page of Igor Strelkov, a rebel leader in eastern Ukraine, showing plumes of smoke and bragging about shooting down a Ukrainian military Antonov plane shortly before MH17 fell. “Don’t fly in our skies,” he reportedly wrote. If that’s true, it would seem rebels downed the jetliner, having mistaken it for a Ukrainian military jet….

Make no mistake: this is a really, really, really big deal. This is the first downing of a civilian jetliner in this conflict and, if it was the rebels who brought it down, all kinds of ugly things follow. For one thing, what seemed to be gelling into a frozen local conflict has now broken into a new phase, one that directly threatens European security. The plane, let’s recall, was flying from Amsterdam.

For another, U.S. officials have long been saying that there’s only one place that rebels can get this kind of heavy, sophisticated weaponry: Russia. This is why a fresh round of sanctions was announced yesterday. Now, the U.S. and a long-reluctant Europe may be forced to do more and implement less surgical and more painful sanctions.

This also seems to prove that Russia has lost control of the rebels, who have been complaining for some time of being abandoned by President Vladimir Putin. There is no way that, a day after criticizingthe recklessness of American foreign policy, his military shoots down a passenger plane. Rather, it seems that the rebels made a mistake that paints Putin into a corner. Putin hates corners, and when he’s backed into one, he tends to lash out.

Adding another level of shock to the story, Buzzfeed reports that at least 100 passengers on the Mayaysian jet were on their way to an international AIDS conference.

And a related story from from the WSJ, Ukraine Accuses Russia of Shooting Down Fighter Jet: Ministry of Defense Says Missiles Probably Fired By Aircraft Patrolling Border.

MOSCOW—Ukraine on Thursday accused Russia’s armed forces of shooting down one of its fighter jets over Ukrainian territory, marking Kiev’s most direct accusation yet of Moscow’s involvement in the separatist conflict in the country’s east.

The accusation came hours before a Malaysia Airlines3786.KU -11.11% plane carrying 295 passengers and crew crashed while flying over the east Ukraine region of Donetsk.

A Russian military plane fired on and downed a Ukrainian SU-25 fighter jet that was flying over the town of Amvrosiivka in Ukraine’s Donetsk region on Wednesday night, Ukrainian National Security and Defense Council Spokesman Andriy Lysenko said at a briefing.

The Ukrainian Ministry of Defense said the jet was shot in the tail section from the direction of the Russian border while it was turning around at approximately 7 p.m. on Wednesday night. (Follow the latest updates on the crisis in Ukraine.)

“In this way, Russia has executed another provocation,” the ministry said in a statement. “The bombardment probably came from air-to-air missiles fired by a pair of Russian Armed Forces aircraft patrolling the border in a certain area.”

Also well worth a read: at Pando, Mark Ames offers Five things to consider about the downing of Malaysian Airlines MH17 in Ukraine.

The Ongoing War on Women’s Reproductive Rights

1963 subway news

Laura Bassett at HuffPo reports, White House: Employers Must Disclose Objections To Covering Birth Control.

The Department of Labor updated its website to indicate that closely held for-profit corporations must include in their insurance plans “a description of the extent to which preventive services (which includes contraceptive services) are covered under the plan.” If the company chooses to opt out of covering any of the 20 contraceptives required by the Affordable Care Act, it has 60 days to disclose the change to its employees.

A senior administration official said the move was in response to the Senate failing to pass a bill Wednesday that would have required all for-profit employers, regardless of their owners’ religious objections, to cover the full range of Food and Drug Administration-approved contraception in their health care plans. The bill would have overridden a recent Supreme Court decision that allowed Hobby Lobby, a craft supply company owned by evangelical Christians, to opt out of covering certain contraceptives to which the owners religiously object.

“Yesterday, a majority of the Senate voted for a bill to keep bosses from interfering in a woman’s health care,” the official said. “Now the House should act. In the meantime, we are making clear that if a corporation like Hobby Lobby drops coverage of contraceptive services from its health plan, it must do so in the light of day by letting its workers and their families know.”

The clarification is not a new rule. Current law already states that employers must disclose changes in their health benefits to employees. But the new guidance on the ACA makes clear that the disclosure requirement applies to those corporations opting out of birth control coverage after the Hobby Lobby decision.

Jezebel tells it like it is: Your Employers Must Tell You If They Think You’re a Babykilling Slut.

After the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision went down, many women wondered if they would suddenly find themselves at the mercy of their boss’s heretofore unknown beliefs that women who take birth control are abortion-happy harlots. Unfortunately, the answer is still yes. Fortunately, thanks to new rules set forth by the White House today, your boss has to inform you if and when this is happening….

Ideally, today’s directive will force companies with “religious beliefs” to be straightforward with their employees rather than sneaky about how badly they’re hosing everyone. And critics of this directive might wonder what the benefit is. If companies are run by zealots, then what good will telling the employees do?

Here’s what this “inform your employees of your conscientious objections” mandate will do: it will leave a paper trail that disgruntled employees could easily pass onto media outlets, which media outlets can then convey to the general public. The public can then avoid shopping at places run by people who think that birth control is murder.

And now’s as good a time as any to say this: if your boss informs you that your birth control is no longer covered because Jesus Loves Zygotes, let us know.

Those are my recommendations for today. What stories are you reading and blogging about?


Friday Morning Reads

Good Morning!

So, I’m going to start out with a story about “The Great New England Vampire Panic” and some bizarre graveyard behavior that happened as a result.  Yes, I know it’s pass Samhain but I’m just trying to forget that National Crass Consumerism Season is upon us.  BB found this for me so I have to thank her for the distraction and feeding my curiosity about the way humans create bizarre rituals around graves and the dead.

Children playing near a hillside gravel mine found the first graves. One ran home to tell his mother, who was skeptical at first—until the boy produced a skull.

Because this was Griswold, Connecticut, in 1990, police initially thought the burials might be the work of a local serial killer named Michael Ross, and they taped off the area as a crime scene. But the brown, decaying bones turned out to be more than a century old. The Connecticut state archaeologist, Nick Bellantoni, soon determined that the hillside contained a colonial-era farm cemetery. New England is full of such unmarked family plots, and the 29 burials were typical of the 1700s and early 1800s: The dead, many of them children, were laid to rest in thrifty Yankee style, in simple wood coffins, without jewelry or even much clothing, their arms resting by their sides or crossed over their chests.

Except, that is, for Burial Number 4.

Scraping away soil with flat-edged shovels, and then brushes and bamboo picks, the archaeologist and his team worked through several feet of earth before reaching the top of the crypt. When Bellantoni lifted the first of the large, flat rocks that formed the roof, he uncovered the remains of a red-painted coffin and a pair of skeletal feet. They lay, he remembers, “in perfect anatomical position.” But when he raised the next stone, Bellantoni saw that the rest of the individual “had been com­pletely…rearranged.” The skeleton had been beheaded; skull and thighbones rested atop the ribs and vertebrae. “It looked like a skull-and-crossbones motif, a Jolly Roger. I’d never seen anything like it,” Bellantoni recalls.

You can read about the mysterious grave sites at The Smithsonian website link above.

Here’s another one of those pro-life, family values, Republican white Congress critters that turns out to be a total hypocrite.  Yup, it’s another crazy Tea Bagger with a messed up life as well as a messed up political philosophy.

A decade before calling himself “a consistent supporter of pro-life values,” Tennessee physician and Republican U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais supported his ex-wife’s decision to get two abortions before their marriage, according to the congressman’s sworn testimony during his divorce trial.

Obtained by the Chattanooga Times Free Press, the couple’s 2001 trial transcript also confirms DesJarlais had sexual relationships with at least two patients, three coworkers and a drug representative while he was chief of staff at Grandview Medical Center in Jasper, Tenn. During one affair with a female patient, DesJarlais prescribed her drugs, gave her an $875 watch and bought her a plane ticket to Las Vegas, records show.

Wow.  You just have to wonder how these guys think that their karma and conduct is not going to catch up with them eventually.

Things are not going well in Gaza and Israel.   I saw this horrifying photo of a dead little girl in Gaza juxtaposed with this essay at TDB by Emily Hauzer called “For Israel–with Love and Squalor”.

The sudden roar of violence in Gaza and southern Israel divides the world in many ways, not least between those who are willing (sometimes quite eager) to criticize Israel, and those for whom love of Israel means a rejection of any and all criticism, ever. Death rains from the sky and the rhetorical fury resumes even as walls shatter and blood spills, and no one listens to anyone.

Or so it can seem. But is that really the only choice? Is it really impossible to both love a place deeply, and criticize it honestly?

Hauzer, an Israeli-American writer, describes the horrors that are unfolding as innocents on both sides get caught in the fight between leaders of Hamas and Israel and their struggle for power and control.

And so yes, when Israel decides that now’s the time to assassinate the head of Hamas’s military wing (a man who, until this weekend, served as something of a “subcontractor, in charge of maintaining Israel’s security in Gaza,” according to Israeli journalist Aluf Benn)—Israel is also responsible. When the IDF’s “surgical strikes” kill not only their targets but also civilians, including a 19 year old pregnant woman, a 7 year old girl, and an 11 month old baby, it’s also responsible. If the husband or the brothers and sisters are filled with rage and want to strike a blow for their people and their grief—can we not understand? Can we not say that we would feel the same? That we do feel the same? And would we really care who had started “the latest round”?

The single biggest difference between the two sides of the current Israeli-Gazan hostilities comes down to one word: Power.

Gazan militants (not all of them Hamas—indeed, most of them not) launch rockets from within a tiny strip of land that is physically penned in on all sides by Israel (save for one small crossing with Egypt)—when Israel retaliates, 1.7 million Gazans literally cannot even run away. On the other hand, Israel is a military super power, with battleships off the coast of Gaza, jet fighters in her airspace, and the unstinting support of the world’s most powerful nation.

I watched Democracy Now on Wednesday night and saw Noam Chomsky interviewed on Gaza.

NOAM CHOMSKY: It’s kind of amazing and inspiring to see people managing somehow to survive in—as essentially caged animals and subject to constant, random, sadistic punishment only to humiliate them, no pretext. They’re—Israel and the United States keep them alive, basically. They don’t want them to starve to death. But the life is set up so that you can’t have a dignified, decent life. In fact, one of the words you hear most often is “dignity.” They would like to have dignified lives. And the standard Israeli position is they shouldn’t raise their heads. And it’s a pressure cooker, could blow up. You know, people can’t live like that forever.

AMY GOODMAN: You described it in a piece you wrote as an “open-air prison.”

NOAM CHOMSKY: It’s an open-air prison. As soon as you—you know, we’ve all been in jail for civil disobedience and so on. The overwhelming feeling everyone gets is somebody else is in total control of you. There’s an arbitrary authority who can control anything you do. Stand up, sit down, you know, find something to eat, go to the bathroom—whatever it may be, they all determine it; you can’t do anything. Now that’s basically what it’s like living there. And, you know, there’s—people find ways to adapt, but it’s just a constant—it’s constant subjugation to an external force, which has no purpose except to humiliate you. Of course, they have pretexts—everybody has pretexts—but they don’t make any sense.

Those of us that value peace wonder why these situations just recur with no attempt at resolution other than more bombs.  Here’s one more personal story of a journalist in Gaza whose 11 month old son was killed by the bombing.  The story also comes with this heart wrenching photo.  I looked for the story after reading Hauzer’s essay.

The front page photo on Thursday’s Washington Post tells, in a single frame, a very personal story from Wednesday’s Israeli airstrikes on the Gaza Strip. Jihad Misharawi, a BBC Arabic journalist who lives in Gaza, carries the body of his 11-month old son, Omar, through al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City.

An Israeli round hit Misharawi’s four-room home in Gaza Wednesday, killing his son, according to BBC Middle East bureau chief Paul Danahar, who arrived in Gaza earlier Thursday. Misharawi’s sister-in-law was also killed, and his brother wounded. Misharawi told Danahar that, when the round landed, there was no fighting in his residential neighborhood.

“We’re all one team in Gaza,” Danahar told me, saying that Misharawi is a BBC video and photo editor. After spending a “few hours” with his grieving colleague, he wrote on Twitter, ”Questioned asked here is: if Israel can kill a man riding on a moving motorbike (as they did last month) how did Jihad’s son get killed.”

Hamas rockets are now targeting Tel Aviv. Three Israelis have died so far.  An Israeli ground assault is now expected.

Palestinian militants targeted densely populated Tel Aviv in Israel’s heartland with rockets for the first time Thursday, part of an unprecedented barrage that threatened to provoke an Israeli ground assault on Gaza. Three Israelis were killed.Air raid sirens wailed and panicked residents ran for cover in Tel Aviv, Israel’s commercial and cultural capital. Israel responded by moving troops and heavy weapons toward Gaza and authorizing the call-up of tens of thousands of reservists.

There was no word on where the two rockets aimed at Tel Aviv landed, raising the possibility they fell into the Mediterranean. A third rocket landed in an open area on the southern outskirts of Tel Aviv.

The fighting, the heaviest in four years, came after Israel launched a ferocious air assault Wednesday to stop repeated rocket fire from Gaza. The powerful Hamas military chief was killed in that strike, and another 18 Palestinians have died over two days, including five children. Some 100 Palestinians have been wounded.

Israeli warplanes struck dozens of Hamas-linked targets in Gaza on Thursday, sending loud booms echoing across the narrow Mediterranean coastal strip at regular intervals, followed by gray columns of smoke. After nightfall, several explosions shook Gaza City several minutes apart, a sign the strikes were not letting up, and the military said the targets were about 70 underground rocket-launching sites.

It’s just really hard to understand how these constant back and forth of rockets and missiles will solve anything.  I’ve gotten to the point where I think that solving things isn’t actually the point.  It just ruins a lot of lives on all sides of the hostilities.   You wonder if it will ever end. You also have to wonder how many people will die until the joint desire for peace is greater than the joint desire for power and control.

What’s on you reading and blogging list today?


Testing…SDB Evening Reads 050411

Good evening. Starting Monday, May 9th  I will begin a new weekday evening reads post. These posts will be scheduled at 6pm EST…give or take a few minutes. I will give you a quick update on news items that have happened during the day. So think of today’s post as a trial run…

Okay, here we go!

The latest in the OBL news front:

US confirms it will not release Osama bin Laden death photo | World news | The Guardian

Gruesome photos taken in the immediate aftermath of the US raid on Osama bin Laden‘s Pakistani hideout have emerged showing the blood-soaked bodies of three unidentified al-Qaida militants. Reuters released the pictures as the Obama administration announced it would not be publishing a picture of Bin Laden’s body.

The disturbing images, the release of which has not been sanctioned by the White House, give a sense of the extreme violence employed by US Navy Seals as they stormed through the compound in the early hours of Monday. Two of the men lie in pools of congealed blood; a third lies prone with his arms flung over his head. Around are scattered hints of life before the Americans struck: computer cables, bedding, a tin mug and a plastic gun.

Dak mentioned this in the comment section today:

Osama bin Laden’s daughter witnessed his death, says Pakistani official | World news | The Guardian

Osama bin Laden‘s 12-year-old daughter watched as her father was shot dead by American special forces, a senior Pakistani intelligence official has told the Guardian.

The girl, who was found at the scene of the raid by Pakistani security services, is being cared for at a military hospital having been wounded in the attack. She has been questioned about the sequence of events during the raid last weekend.

The official said Pakistani intelligence services, who are holding 11 other survivors of the deadly raid on Bin Laden’s Pakistani hiding place, would not allow their interrogation by US officials.

Bin Laden’s daughter confirms her father shot dead by US Special Forces in Pakistan

Senior Pakistani security officials said Osama bin Laden’s daughter had confirmed her father was captured alive and shot dead by the US Special Forces during the first few minutes of the operation carried out at the huge compound in Bilal Town, Abbottabad.

Besides recovering four bullet-riddled bodies from the compound, Pakistani security agencies also arrested two women and six children, aged between 2 and 12 years, after American forces flew toward Afghanistan. Some reports suggest 16 people, including women and children, were arrested from the house, most of them Arab nationals.

Next, here is a link to the press briefing today…I don’t know, but watching this thing live I kept on feeling like Carney was treating the press like a child asking one of the parents a question…to almost every question Carney responded, go ask your father…I mean go as the DoD.

Anyway, read the transcript and then read a response from Klinghoffer…

Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney, 5/3/2011 | The White House

One note, the transcript released seems to have edited out one series of questions a woman reporter asked…I do not know who she was, but she was standing in the doorway of the press room. She asked a question about the continued Carney response…”I need to refer you to the DoD.” It went along the lines of, you keep sending us over the Department of Defense for answers, yet when we get the answers from DoD and people like Panetta, you change the story they are giving us.

Anyway…here is the link to Klinghoffer of History News Network:

OBAMA ADMINISTRATION’S CHANGING STORY | History News Network

Every minute and every day the story related to the capture of Osama Bin Laden is changing.  Sorry, Jay Carney, but we are not merely dealing with the “fog of war.”  How is the fog of war responsible for the misleading picture “showing” the top administration members watching the operation in real time? We are dealing with an inept propaganda machine.

Geronimo is getting some criticism:

Onondaga Nation leaders blast ‘Geronimo’ codename for Bin Laden | syracuse.com

indians-101a[1].JPGThis photo shows the famed Indian warrior Geronimo, a Chiricahua Apache, posing with a rifle in 1887.

Onondaga Nation Territory — Leaders of the Onondaga Nation blasted as “reprehensible” the code name used for Osama bin Laden in the commando assault that killed him: “Geronimo.”

“We’ve ID’d Geronimo,” U.S. forces reported by radio Sunday to the White House. Later, word came that “Geronimo” was dead.

Geronimo was an Apache leader in the 19th century who spent many years fighting the Mexican and U.S. armies until his surrender in 1886.

“Think of the outcry if they had used any other ethnic group’s hero,” the Onondaga Council of Chiefs said in a release Tuesday. “Geronimo bravely and heroically defended his homeland and his people, eventually surrendering and living out the rest of his days peacefully, if in captivity.”

“Geronimo is arguably the most recognized Native American name in the world,” the chiefs said, “and this comparison only serves to perpetuate negative stereotypes about our people.”

News from The Associated Press

The leader of Apache warrior Geronimo’s tribe is asking President Barack Obama for a formal apology for the government’s use of the revered figure’s moniker as a code name for Osama bin Laden.

Fort Sill Apache Tribal Chairman Jeff Houser sent a letter to the president Tuesday, saying equating the legendary Apache warrior to a “mass murderer and cowardly terrorist” was painful and offensive to all Native Americans.

On to the recent “deal” between Hamas and Fatah:

US urges Palestinians to use deal to advance Mideast peace

The White House on Wednesday urged Palestinians to ensure that a reconciliation deal between rival factions is implemented in a way that advances the prospect for peace with Israel rather than undermining it.

White House spokesman Jay Carney, speaking after the secular Fatah and Islamist Hamas groups signed an agreement to formally end a 4-year rift, told reporters that Washington was continuing to seek details about the nature of the accord. Israel has decried the deal as a blow to peace chances.

Fatah, Hamas proclaim landmark reconciliation pact – USATODAY.com

Rival Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas on Wednesday proclaimed a landmark reconciliation pact aimed at ending their bitter four-year rift that has left them with competing governments in the territories envisioned for a future Palestinian state, but Israel’s leader denounced it as a “mortal blow to peace.”

The alliance set off ecstatic celebrations in the Palestinian territories. International mediator Tony Blair insisted their new government must recognize Israel, a step Hamas has always rejected.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas brushed off the criticism and instead used the occasion to deliver a scathing attack on Israel, saying “we reject blackmail and it is no longer possible for us to accept the (Israeli) occupation of Palestinian land.”

The Palestinians have been torn between rival governments since a previous unity arrangement collapsed into civil war in June 2007. In five days of fighting, Hamas overran the Gaza Strip, leaving Abbas’ Palestinian Authority in charge of the West Bank. Reconciliation is essential for Palestinian dreams to establish a state in the two areas.

Wednesday’s pact provides for the creation of a joint caretaker government ahead of national elections next year. But it leaves key issues unresolved, such as who will lead the government or control the competing Palestinian security forces.

Here comes the flooding…5,300 Memphis homes, businesses in flood path – Weather – msnbc.com

That link above goes to a video reporting the forecast of flooding they are expecting down the Mississippi River.

This last link is to an article discussing Republican Ideology “torture” and of the US economy…

I will leave the commentary to our Economics Professor…Dak, what do you think? There is a nifty table that shows job growth and GDP over the years…

All the Wrong Lessons » New Deal 2.0

Conservatives aren’t simply misinformed about torture or economic policy.  They’re blinded by ideology.

Well, I hope you liked this quick catch up of the day’s news. Be sure to check out our weekday Evening Reads posts beginning this coming Monday. Just another reason to make Sky Dancing part of your entire day!


Wikileaks and Israel

We may not be able to get the news from our press,but the foreign press and alternative media sources continue to let us know the substantive things released in the Wikileaks State Department Cables.  I can’t read Norwegian, but the Norwegian Aftenposten is the source of the following story outlined by Professor Juan Cole on his website Informed Consent.

The Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten has summarized an Israeli military briefing by Israeli Chief of Staff Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi of a US congressional delegation a little over a year ago and concludes that

‘ The memo on the talks between Ashkenazi and [Congressman Ike] Skelton, as well as numerous other documents from the same period of time, to which Aftenposten has gained access, leave a clear message: The Israeli military is forging ahead at full speed with preparations for a new war in the Middle East.

Note: This war preparation is serious and specific, according to the paper, and clearly is not just a matter of vague contingency planning.

The paper says that US cables quote Ashkenazi telling the US congressmen, “I’m preparing the Israeli army for a major war, since it is easier to scale down to a smaller operation than to do the opposite

I have to also tell you that my print copy of  The Economist showed up in the mail box today with this huge headline:  Please, Not Again:  The Threat of War in the Middle East.  Also, there’s this subtitle in the online version: ‘Without boldness from Barack Obama there is a real risk of war in the Middle East’.  I am assuming that the editorial staff there got the low down on some of these items way before we finally are reading about them here.  Predictably, there’s a lot on Hizbullah rocket stockpiles.  No information on such robust Israeli war planning.  Coverage of war drum beating is always predictably filtered and lop-sided.

Democracy Now also has major coverage of Israeli preparations for war via the Wikileaks information.

The Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten is claiming it has come into possession of all of the classified U.S. diplomatic cables obtained by WikiLeaks. In a report on one newly released cable, the paper reveals that Israeli Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi told a U.S. congressional delegation a little over a year ago that the Israeli military is forging ahead at full speed with preparations for a new war in the Middle East. The cables quote Ashkenazi saying, “I’m preparing the Israeli army for a major war, since it is easier to scale down to a smaller operation than to do the opposite.”

Evidently the driving force behind this is Hamas and Hizbullah stockpile of rockets and their capabilities according to Juan Cole as cited above.  Israel–like any other state–has the right to defend itself.  This should go without saying.  However, the more I read, the more I’m convinced this goes way beyond that.  There are stockpiles in the hands of nefarious groups.  So far, that’s been it.

The general’s plans are driven by fear of growing stockpiles of rockets in Hamas-controlled Gaza and in Hizbullah-controlled Southern Lebanon, the likely theaters of the planned major new war. Ashkenazi does not seem capable of considering that, given a number of Israeli invasions and occupations of those regions, the rockets may be primarily defensive.

Ashkenazi told the visiting delegation that Israeli unmanned drones had had great success in identifying rocket emplacements in southern Lebanon, and that it had been aided in this endeavor by the US National Security Agency,which spies on communications.

Israeli unmanned drones? I’d forgotten that development was announced last than a year ago. The Heron TP is evidently the size of a 737 and can fly nonstop for 20 hours giving it more than enough steam to get well into Iran. Now, we’re beginning to see why they were so excited about it.  I figured it might be used to take out Irani nuclear weapon facilities or something possibly noble like that.  Of course, I should know better given how much WMD were used to beat the drum beat against Iraq. We know how well that turned out.

Instead, we read this.  Again, it’s from Juan Cole translating the source.

The new, major war will be a total war on civilians, Ashkenazi boasted: “In the next war Israel cannot accept any restrictions on warfare in urban areas.” (I den neste krigen kan Israel ikke godta noen restriksjoner på krigføring i byområder in Norwegian, or let us just translate it into the original German: “Im nächsten Krieg kann Israel keine Beschränkungen der Kriegsführung in städtischen Gebieten akzeptieren.”.) Mind you, the civilian deaths deriving from this massive and unrestricted bombing campaign on targets in the midst of civilian urban populations will be “unintentional.” Planning to bomb civilian areas with foreknowledge that you will thereby kill large numbers of civilians is a war crime.

I certainly hope the Secretary of State is answering the 3 a.m. phone calls these days.  If the remaining naysaying  idiots on the planet haven’t figured out the value of the Wikileaks yet, they never will.  We could always send them off to be used as human shields in a possible war zone hidden from our view for over a year.  Frankly, I agree with Mr. Rogers.  I like to be told.  Do you think we’d have invaded Iraq if we’d have been told a lot of the lies behind that invasion by a Wikileaks type whistle blower source?