Mar 31, 2015

March 30, 2015: When Will the Greed End?, Telling and Troubling Statistics, A Place Called “Hooverville”

It has been nearly half a decade now since the “Lion of the Senate” fell silent.  Ted Kennedy, tribune of the people, could be relied upon to take the senate floor and thunder at the forces of avarice and gluttony.  Confronted with economic injustice he would bellow “When will the greed end”?  The answer, of course, is that it never ends; but it is the purpose of government–this government-- to reign in on it.(1)

To put things into perspective, Bill Moyers recently posted on his website “Moyers and Company” an essay written by Paul Buchheit  in November, 2014 entitled “Infuriating Facts About Our Disappearing Middle Class Wealth” revealing a number to telling and troubling statistics.

According to data from the Credit Suisse Global Wealth Databook, for instance:“Each Year Since the Recession, America’s Richest 1 percent Have Made More Than the Cost of All US Social Programs”.  The lowest estimate of the amount the top 1 percent raked in (2.3 trillion annually) “is more than the budget for Social Security (860 Billion), Medicare (524 Billion), Medicaid (304 Billion), and the entire Safety Net (286 Billion) for SNAP, WIC, [Women, Infants and Children], Child Nutrition, Earned Income Tax Credit, Supplemental Security Income, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and Housing”.  In fact the top 1% are raking in, at the lowest estimate 115% of the entire social services budget, and that’s the best face one can put on it.  At 5.7 Trillion Dollars annually, (the highest estimate by the study) the richest 1percent take home over two and a half times as much (285%).

Moreover, according to the article, almost none of this wealth led to technological innovations or jobs.  “Over 90 percent of the assets owned by millionaires are held in low-risk investments (bonds and cash), the stock market and real estate. Business startup costs made up less than 1 percent of the investments of high net worth individuals in North America in 2011. A recent study found that less than 1 percent of all entrepreneurs came from very rich or very poor backgrounds. They come from the middle class.” (2)

“On the corporate side,” the report continues, “ stock buybacks are employed to enrich executives rather than to invest in new technologies. In 1981, major corporations were spending less than 3 percent of their combined net income on buybacks, but in recent years they’ve been spending up to 95 percent of their profits on buybacks and dividends.” (2)

In addition, as has been widely reported elsewhere, in the United States 47 wealthy individuals own more than 50% of the country’s population or about 60 million households with median wealth below “about $53,000.”

It is no wonder that the middle class now controls less wealth than at any time since the 1920's and is rapidly losing political power as the moneyed interests  take over the electoral process in the wake of the Supreme Court’s “Citizens United” decision. It is increasingly possible for the ruling elite to force through widely unpopular initiatives because they can rely on vast sources of campaign financing as the ‘money’ buys the elections.  With reckless impunity the ruling elite, insulated from public fury by fat campaign chests and gerrymandered districts, are daily busy turning the screws; assaults on Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, the Safety Net, or pushing through trade agreements that promise yet another savaging of the middle and lower classes. Increasingly nothing stands between the trough and the swine.
As wealth gets concentrated into fewer and fewer hands; as this wealth is increasingly used to feed only itself, the question remains where will it end?  The answer to this question is that we know where it will end, we have been there before.  It’s a place called “Hooverville”.

1. James Madison arguing for the adoption of the U.S. Constitution in Federalist No 10 said that one of the benefits of creating a large federation is that the country is less likely to be dominated by one economic interest, or a small group of economic interests.  He also argued elsewhere in the Federalist Papers that the single most important reason to adopt the constitution is to regulate commerce.


Mar 29, 2015

March 29, 2015: Minimum Wage; Maximum Myth, Dog-Eared Objections, Into the Abyss

About every decade or so, after the minimum wage has lost about 30% of its purchasing power, the Democratic Party proposes to raise the minimum wage in an effort to shore up what is left of the tattered ‘safety net’. Every time the Democrats propose an adjustment, the political wrong drags out its hoary, shopworn, arguments in favor of doing nothing; or, as in the case of a Jeb Bush argue that the minimum wage should be done away with altogether, with workers relying instead upon the tender mercies of their capitalist benefactors.

First, they contend that the minimum wage benefits mostly teenage workers or workers who are not really in the workplace and who can afford to work for less. In fact, according to the United States Department of Labor, "88 percent of those who would benefit from a minimum wage increase are age 20 or older, and 55 percent are women" (1)

Secondly, opponents of the minimum wage can reliably be expected to trot out the old bromide that establishing a ‘false floor’ on the cost of labor costs the economy jobs. It follows, according to these lights, that increasing the minimum wage will cost millions of jobs, the kind of jobs most desperately needed by the lower classes. In fact, "a review of 64 studies of minimum wage increases found no effect on employment." Additionally, according to the Department of Labor,

"more than 600 economists, seven of the Nobel Prize winners in economics, have signed onto a letter in support of raising the minimum wage to $10.10 by 2016." (1)

Thirdly, opponents contend, the federal requirement puts an undue hardship on small businesses and they cannot afford to pay additional wages. Accordingly, it is widely predicted every time an increase is proposed that main street will shed a fraction of its workforce if the Liberals have their way. The facts are otherwise. According to the Department of Labor "A June 2014 survey found that more than 3 out of 5 small business owners support increasing the minimum wage to $10.10. Small business owners believe that a higher minimum wage would benefit business in important ways: 58% say raising the minimum wage would increase consumer purchasing power. 56% say raising the minimum wage would help the economy. In addition, 53% agree that with a higher minimum wage, businesses would benefit from lower employee turnover, increased productivity and customer satisfaction." (1)

Fourth, the argument is presented that increasing the tipped wage for restaurant workers would be detrimental to the industry. This argument has historically been persuasive as when Herman Cain, former Republican candidate for President, headed the lobbying effort the last time the Federal Government raised the minimum wage. Cain signed off on a compromise getting his industry to support an increase in exchange for an understanding that Congress would not impose such an increase on his industry. As a result, the non-tip federal minimum wage lingers at a meager 2.13 an hour, a standard set in 1991 which demonstrates the historically low standard set for the industry.

It transpires, however, that this objection to raising the standard is likewise bogus. The Department of Labor informs us that, in California for instance,"employers are required to pay servers the full minimum wage of $9 per hour - before tips. Even with a recent increase in the minimum wage, the National Restaurant Association projects California restaurant sales will outpace the U.S. average in 2014." (1) : and, when San Francisco required employers to pay its workers 10.74 per hour--"before tips"–the industry has reported subsequent job growth. (1)

Sixth, opponents contend that minimum wage earners are typically part-time employees. Wrong again, about 53 percent of minimum wage earners are full time workers.

Seventh, raising the minimum wage is bad for the economy. In fact the minimum wage has been raised 22 times since it was established in the 1930's and real GDP has increased.

These are a few of the old, tired, dog-eared objections trotted out every time the nation puts the minimum wage on the ‘front burner’. None of these arguments hold water but the idiot-wrong can be relied upon to dig them up and drag them out for public consideration nonetheless.

Of late other objections have emerged, belittling the effort by Congress to enact a remedy. One encounters, for instance, the objection that only 3.6 million workers are eligible, so raising the benchmark wouldn’t have much impact and is, therefore, a waste to time–time better spent by this Rescumlican congress repealing ObamaCare for the umpteenth time; or energy better spent shredding the social safety net.

The Scums have a point here, not because the workers in this country have become so affluent as to marginalize the impact and importance of the measure; not because we have witnessed a wholesale movement in the labor force from lower to middle class. Indeed it is quite the contrary poverty is on the increase. The fact that so few, relatively, fall within the margins covered by minimum wage protection is a product of several factors

First, there are whole industries and millions of workers in this country who have never been protected by the Fair Labor Standards Act, the law which established the minimum wage. Farm workers, for instance were never covered, and restaurant workers were placed in a sub-wage category as noted above.

Secondly, there has been a trend in this country over the last decades to move millions of workers off the payroll altogether under the so-called 1099 heading. This is a provision in the labor and tax code allowing a company to hire an ‘independent contractor’ wherein the worker/employee works for a wage, usually above the minimum wage, but the employer withholds no local, state, or federal taxes, no social security or medicare withholdings, and no worker’s compensation or unemployment insurance. The "contractor" may indeed work for no other employer, I have seen this situation, and may indeed work 40 hours a week year round. Getting $9.00 an hour instead of $7.00, his employer simply pockets the difference between what he is paying and what he would or should be paying if he had made the contributions. Note here that only a fraction the "savings" in the "cost of labor" previously paid is returned to the worker. This practice is becoming ubiquitous and there are times when working under such an arrangement, as when a property management company ‘out sources’ its entire maintenance operation to so-called "1099 contractors" where work is on a bidding basis, the race to the bottom becomes complete: the "contractor" facing severe competition must pay his own transportation, supply his own tools and equipment, pay his own taxes etc., and often when the checks come in and the man-hours are tabulated the job is done for Less than the minimum wage.

Every day, it seems, we see another turn of the screw. As Congress dawdles and delays, the middle classes are slowly sinking into the abyss while the poor are becoming increasingly desperate. Not only must the minimum wage be raised, but the categories of workers must be expanded to include all those industries not covered. In addition, we must work to eliminate the ubiquitous use, if not outright abuse, of the 1099 provisions in the tax code. Raising and expanding the minimum wage would have the salutary effect of not only stimulating a sluggish economy, lifting the economic prospects of the least among us, but also raise the benchmark for other low-wage jobs, a much needed ripple-effect.



Mar 26, 2015

March 25, 2015: Send In the Clowns, Smells Like Joe McCarthy, Animated Ignorance.

"Don't you love farce? My fault, I fear
I thought that you'd want what I want, sorry, my dear
But where are the clowns, send in the clowns
Don't bother, they're here."
                                 ----Judy Collins "Send In The Clowns" (1)

Query: What looks like Joe McCarthy, talks like Joe McCarthy, acts like Joe McCarthy and smells like Joe McCarthy? Answer: Texas Senator Ted Cruz.

One of the most strident "Birthers" and a Tea-Bagging darling Cruz has, in his short tenure in the Senate managed to outrage not only his natural political opponents, but many of the old-line conservatives within his own party. Author last year of the "partial shut-down" of the Federal Government, a stunt which cost the taxpayer of this country 24 billion dollars, Cruz has proven himself a take-no-prisoners advocate of the hard-wrong ideology. He stands as a sublime example of animated ignorance, malignancy on steroids.

He has been a strident opponent of everything our president stands for, obstructing presidential nominations, undermining treaty negotiations, even joining the "Birthers" in questioning Obama’s country of birth and therefore his citizenship. The delicious irony is, of course, that Cruz himself, like Marco Rubio is foreign born. In this case he was born in Canada. Son of an American citizen he, nevertheless, was not born in this country leading some within his own Tea-bagger movement to question whether he is qualified to become President of the United States.

Cruz, seeking to export the madness that is right-wing Texas politics, chose a carefully orchestrated presentation before a ‘captive’ audience at the citadel of American political reaction, Jerry Farwell’s "Liberty" University. Before a packed house, attendance by the student body required in lieu of fine, Cruz belched forth a full-throated cry to ‘repeal every word of ObamaCare’ as well as institute a litany of reactionary measures including the ‘abolition of the IRS’, a national sales tax, cuts in the social safety net.

One must be careful to heed the wisdom and the advice from one who has been jettisoned by the country of his birth and cast, like so much flotsam upon the ocean currents to wash up upon our shores. Native Americans will warn you that it is, perhaps, not wise to take them in. The ranting of Cruz’s father, Rafael Sr. have become viral on the internet of late giving the country not only a glimpse of the environment in which the Senator was raised, but a clear indication of perhaps why our good neighbor to the north sent them packing. One must approach Cruz with gloves on for the judgement of a displaced national is always suspect be it Ayn Rand, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, or Gertrude Stein. Being cast adrift warps one’s judgement and creates a tendency to latch upon whatever foothold one can in you ‘new world’. Cruz, like Arnold Swartznegger, found his new justification in the Republican party; embracing the ideology of the emerging Neo-Conservative movement. It can be a potent combination, an emigre from a neighboring country embracing a pseudo-working class conservative movement....

Cruz, however, is going to have to overcome the early impression he has made on the body politic as being abrasive, and divisive, as well as a cartoon character and a clown. At this point in time it is difficult to say if he will prevail, either by winning the party’s nomination outright or by pulling the rest of the pack to the hard-wrong; or whether he will be seen as a two-dimensional clown and laughed off the national stage. Time will tell.

Meanwhile the horn has sounded and the cast of characters hoping to carry the Rescumlican banner into the next election will soon be getting on the campaign bus. Not since the drunken band of merry men last boarded the bus in Scottville (2) to begin their annual ‘world tour’ have we been promised so many clowns performing together. Get on the bus, next stop: Ludington.

"But where are the clowns
send in the clowns.
Don’t bother, they’re here."


(2) I’m here referring to the ‘Scottville Clown Band", a legendary group of inebriated men who march down main streets playing their instruments while dressed in drag. Several of my great uncles were founding members.

Mar 24, 2015

March 24, 2015: Pursuing the Idiot Wrong, Siren Song of Greed, Yearning for "Neverland"

One cannot entirely account for the decline of the American Middle Class by simply pointing to the mendacity of the likes of Governor’s Walker of Wisconsin and Snyder of Michigan, as egregious as they are. Both have now transformed their respective states into ‘right-to-work-for-less" or, more appropriately, "right-to-starve" states; but, in fact, the hollowing out of the industrial economy in the Midwest has been going on for over three decades now. Pursuing the "Idiot Wrong"s policies of cutting taxes on the wealthy, deregulation and ‘free-market’ mythology has led to a rapid disinvestment in infrastructure, the exportation of millions of jobs and trillions of dollars, and the impoverishment not only of the public domain but, as the previous post indicates, the country as well. Robert Reich, in a Facebook post earlier this month delineated the broad outlines:

"Forty years ago, the richest 1 percent of Americans took home 10 percent of national income, and helped finance the U.S. government mainly through their tax payments. From World War II until 1981, the top marginal income tax rate never fell below 70 percent. Today, wealthy Americans are taking home almost twice the share of national income they did then (almost 20 percent), but they’re paying a top tax rate that’s close to half what it was then. And they’re financing the government mainly by lending it money. While most of our national debt is owed to foreigners, over 40 percent is owed to other Americans, mostly the very wealthy.

This switch by the super rich – from paying high taxes to lending the government money – means that the rest of us are paying wealthy Americans large amounts of interest every year through our own tax payments. It’s an upward redistribution that’s hidden and never talked about, but marks one of the biggest changes over the last four decades in how the U.S. government is financed." (1)

Former Congressman Richard Gephardt of Missouri made this point while running for President in 1988. One of the reasons why the wealthy class in this country have supported massive deficits and burgeoning debt is that not only are these deficits and this debt the direct result of the massive tax breaks given to them by Reagan and the Republicans but because the investor class holds the debt and is paid interest on it, money is thereby transferred from the lower classes (who pay a greater proportion of their disposable income) to the coffers of the top 10% and especially the top 5% and 1%.; accentuating the dynamic that the higher up the economic ladder the greater the concentrations leading to the conclusions outlined here by the professor.

Again, none of this is new. The works, in the late ‘80's of Kevin Phillips as well as the shrewd and prescient observations by the Congressman passed an early verdict on the failure of Reaganomics, but such warnings have gone unheeded by the Generation of Swine and the leaders they elected leading, as predicted, to the hollowing out of America to the point where we have lost our pre-eminent position in the world.

Because Michigan was so dependent on its automobile industry, it was an economic adage in my youth that when the country caught an economic cold, Michigan came down with pneumonia. We can take a lesson from what has happened to Michigan and the other industrial states. We have experience of what the benefits and, increasingly, the liabilities are when one’s local economy is so dependent on national prosperity. Increasingly, what Michigan, Wisconsin and the other so-called "Rust-Belt" states are to the nation, the United States is quickly becoming, in this global economy, to the world. With the permanent shift from investments in infrastructure, labor and production, education and social services to banking and finance; and with the resulting exportation of high paying union jobs we have been left with nothing to sell but our markets, which is to say we have nothing left to sell but our money. Once the world’s greatest industrial monolith, its banker, the largest creditor nation, we are now the world’s pauper, the largest debtor nation in the world. This is not because of social spending or government deficits. It is because, heeding the siren song of greed, we have steadfastly refused to tax and then invest in ourselves; borrowing instead and investing in everyone else. This is what happens when you follow an economist named Laffer and a politician fresh off the set of "Death Valley Days".

While the good professor says nothing new here, it bears repeating and repeating. Trickle down has never worked, is not now working, and will never work. To think otherwise is delusional; it is a yearning for "Neverland". What happens to Michigan happens to America; what happens to me, happens to you too.

(1) Robert Reich, Facebook posting March 5, 2015

Mar 23, 2015

March 23, 2015: Malignancy of Swine, Turning of the Screws, Marrow of the Republic

The malignancy that is the modern conservative movement has been growing and mestasticizing for over 30 years now. The country, once strong and prosperous, has become weak, fragile and, increasingly poor. Nowhere is this better illustrated than in my beloved state of Michigan.

Susan J. Demas is Publisher and Editor of Inside Michigan Politics, a nationally acclaimed, biweekly political newsletter. In an essay published yesterday on mlive, a Michigan website hosting all the state’s major newspapers, Demas graphically illustrates the state of malignancy.

"If you're not basking in the warm glow of Michigan's economic

"Comeback", you’re not alone", she writes.

"The median income in Michigan has shrunk by a startling $13,278 this century, according to data newly released from the Pew Charitable Trusts. In 2000, the median income was $61,551, but that tumbled to $48,273 by 2013.

That's a staggering drop". Indeed it is.

"There are certainly some visible signs of an improving economy here.", she adds, "Unemployment is down from 10.7 percent in January 2011 to 6.6 percent in January 2015 (although it remains well above the national rate of 5.7 percent)." And, according to the Tax Foundation, Michigan is the 13th best business climate among the states in their collective ‘race-to-the-bottom’ to see who can best shine the shoes of their corporate paymasters. But, she rightly concludes, when median income takes such a big hit and thousands of families fall from the middle class, it takes awhile for people to feel an economic recovery."

Michigan, alas, is not alone for "All 50 states have seen their middle class ranks shrink, Pew reports". "The percentage of middle-class households dropped in Wisconsin by 5.7 points, in Indiana by 4.4 points and in Ohio by 5.2 points." None, however "saw such a dramatic drop in median income as Michigan did, however".

The trend is, indeed a national trend, with states that are doing relatively well like North Dakota where unemployment has been the lowest still reporting a 5.1% decline–higher than Michigan’s–in median household income.

" The number of people calling themselves "middle class"(nationally) has dropped significantly. A January 2014 Pew Research study found 44 percent identify as middle class, compared to 53 percent in 2008, at the start of the recession." (1)

America is beginning to perceive in measurable terms what has been the economic reality for some time now. We were informed about this, over a quarter of a century ago, with Kevin Phillips’ work "The Politics of Rich and Poor" in which the fallacies of Reaganomics were laid bare, but the country, governed by swine, paid no heed.

This is beginning to change, as the polling by Pew, here reportedly demonstrates. What this translates into politically is another matter; for we have learned from the fascist experiments in Europe that not all middle class political revolts are liberal or, for that matter, democratic. And, nowhere has this been better illustrated than electing and then re-electing a hedge-fund vulture capitalist governor. Snyder rewarded the ‘populist’ revolt by waging war on organized labor and the workingman, raising taxes on the middle class, and cutting taxes on his rich friends. None of this is new but with each ‘turn of the screws’ the middle class shrinks just a little bit more.

The cancer has spread from the delusions of a Russian emigre, and the scribbling of truculent economist to the stink-tanks funded by the billionaires across the airwaves of their paid minions into the halls of every corridor of power. The cancer that is the modern conservative movement is now spreading through the body politic into the very marrow of the republic itself. This is the legacy of the "Generation of Swine".

March 22, 2015: Malice Toward All, Lurking Malignancy, Nixon at Large

In the presidential campaign of 1960, John Kennedy stood before an audience at a campaign rally and said, "I want you to understand the immense burden I carry in this campaign. I am the last man standing between Richard Nixon and the White House".  The audience roared in laughter and appreciation; Kennedy was not being facetious.

Kennedy knew his Nixon. When the subject of Nixon came up at the White House a few years later Kennedy, in a parody of Lincoln, quipped "With malice for all; with charity toward none". Jack had no illusions about ‘Tricky Dick’ and what lay behind the stratagems of the emerging Republican coalition. America was well aware of the witch hunts, the blacklisting, the financial (checkers and Hughes Loan) scandals and Nixon’s reputation as an ‘attack-dog’ and could, therefore, revel in the humor. Little did it appreciate the gravity of the malignancy lurking just below the surface. As a result, when the Republicans returned to power in 1968, riding the crest of the ‘white backlash’ of 1966 and pursuing a clearly delineated ‘southern strategy’, the President standing before them presenting himself as the "New Nixon" was indeed no Dwight David Eisenhower nor, it transpired, his Vice President. This Nixon represented a new strain of Republicanism, a potent and toxic mix of Southern racism and Ayn Rand inspired Goldwater conservatism posturing as a populist and popular front in the form of a not-so-"silent majority".

After Watergate the ‘movement’ underwent further metamorphosis, tracking further and further wrong, down the dark rat-holes of ‘states-rights’, libertarianism and cultural xenophobia finally mestasticizing into a full-blown cancer that threatens not only the legacy of the New Deal but, perhaps, the nation-state itself. We have seen calls to repeal the 14th and 17th Amendments to the Constitution providing for, among other things, "equal protection of the law" and direct election of United States Senators (1). Today we have open talk of secession, stratagems of nullification not seen since the Civil War. And we are now witnessing, since the Scum have taken control of the House and now the Congress, the passage of the so-called "Ryan Budget" named after the fiscal guru of the Idiot wrong congressman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin. In it the Scums lay out their ‘Plan’ to address the nation’s ‘financial crises’ and balance the budget in 10 years. They propose to accomplish this by cutting deeply into Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, reduce spending on enforcement of environmental laws, roll back on banking reforms, cut student loans and grants, food stamps, ad nausem. Their friends in the financial community will see huge tax cuts and the military-security complex will get an immediate bonus of 40 Billion dollars. It’s the usual Rescumlican knee-jerk palliative; cut taxes, savage the safety net, squeeze the middle class, funnel the money upwards to the ‘truly deserving’.

The Rescumlicans now run this country the way a slum lord runs an apartment building. All the money goes to the "investor" class leaving the residents (from whom the money comes) increasing living in rat-infested squalor. And so, in this last recovery, the top 1% have taken 95% of the newly created wealth and the top 10% have taken 110% and they are still clamoring for more. Malice for all and charity toward none". The "Generation of Swine", Richard Nixon at large.


(1) Previously senators were elected by their respective state legislatures, usually the state senate. So, for example, Abraham Lincoln would poll more votes than his opponent Steven Douglas in the Illinois senate race in 1858, but not be sent to Washington to sit in the Senate. 

Mar 20, 2015

March 20, 2015: Old Man’s Lament, So Much Older Then, I Cannot Write Act III

"My faith was so much stronger then
I believed in fellow men
I was so much older then
When I was young
When I was young”

                  ----- The Animals “When I Was Young” (1)

It is, perhaps, the lament of every generation that life has reached it’s zenith, perhaps civilization its apex, when ‘I was young’.  Age, it seems, not only brings a catalogue of ailments and declining abilities but an increasing sensation that the polished brass of youth has grown rather tarnished and tawdry. Life begins to ape one’s aching body and society, in short order, follows the trajectory of body and soul. In any case, it appears to be a near universal human experience that life was better all those years ago.  I was so much older then, when I was young.

2014 marked a century since the outbreak of the “Great War” when Europe became a killing field and the United States emerged as a world power.  It also marked the end of the “American” century as, it was announced last December, China has now overtaken the United States as the world’s largest economy.  The United States, the “Arsenal of Democracy”, which had held the pre-eminent position as the world’s largest economy since the administration of Ulysses S. Grant, has now relinquished its place as the world’s greatest economic engine, with political and military power soon to follow.

This, too, is the legacy of the “Generation of Swine” who have managed in a span of 30 years to squander the national trust..  We have witnessed the wholesale gutting of the industrial base, the disinvestment in our workforce, our schools, our infrastructure, ourselves.  We have engaged in a ‘every-man-for-himself’ race to the bottom.  We no longer believe in government because we no longer believe in our fellow men.  No longer do we heed Jeremy Bentham’s dictum of the ‘greatest good for the greatest number’ but charity, as well as public policy, are increasingly defined as, my wife would say, to “me, my four and no more”.

Life has become base, crude, uncivilized and tawdry. Rap music and ‘pants to the ground’.  Television after you subtract out the 4 channels broadcasting, at any given time, ‘the world’s greatest pillow’, the religious howlers, and the conspiracy channels one is left holding an empty bag.  The “History” and “Discovery” channels, which formerly broadcast content that at least had the pretense of scholarship are now nothing more than programs about witches, goblins, haunted houses, and conspiracy theories. There is the standard daytime fare: Jerry Springer and his imitators in which the lower intestines of American culture are daily flushed into the living rooms of the nation, if not the world.  Then there is the news.  Where once stood Murrow, Cronkite, Blair, Rather, Severied,  Huntley and Brinkley, and a host of professional reporters we are now presented with the likes of O’Reilly, Beck, and a whole network of babbling buffoons.  Jane Curtin, reprising her role on “Weekend Update” for NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” was moved to quip “40 years ago I was the only dumb blonde on television delivering fake we have a whole network”, referring, of course, to the debasement of the industry by the likes of Rupert Murdock.  And let’s not even talk about radio where hate speech is the order of the day, where either one is inundated with diatribes belittling the poor, minorities, women and those who struggle under ‘the new world order’, or with infantile paranoid conspiracy theories spun by the likes of Glenn Beck and Alex Jones where we are led to dance on ramparts.  Once we could take matters in hand, as we did at the Pettis Bridge in Selma and march for freedom, today we huddle fearing anyone and everyone.  Increasingly my country feels like my aging body, where once we marched in confidence, today we recoil and huddle in pain and fear waiting for the next blow from the hopelessly juvenile, cretinous, knuckle-dragging Tea-baggers,as they do the bidding of their corporate masters.  We were so much older then, when we were young.

“I have left Act I, for involution
And Act II. There, mired in complexity
I cannot write Act III.”

----Senator Eugene McCarthy “Lament for an Aging Politician” (2)


Mar 19, 2015

March 19, 2015: Cultural Cesspool, Hip-Jerk Reaction, Musak to the Unwashed Ear

Shaun King, writing for Daily Kos on March 12, took Mika Brzezinski, the co-host of MSNBC’s "Morning Joe", to task for remarks she made defending an exchange with host Joe Scarborough and guest Bill Kristol about a college fraternity engaging in a racist chant about lynching black men.

"Popular culture becomes a cesspool, a lot corporations profit off of it, and then people are surprised that some drunk 19-year-old kids repeat what they’ve been hearing," said Bill Kristol. He added that Tipper Gore "tried to raise this issue, and was widely ridiculed," referring to the parental advisory labels the future V-FLOTUS enacted after her daughter purchased Purple Rain thirty years ago. "

"The kids that are buying hip hop or gangster rap, it’s a white audience, and they hear this over and over again," Joe Scarborough said. "So do they hear this at home? Well, chances are good, no, they heard a lot of this from guys like this who are now acting shocked."

King then proceeds with the standard hip-jerk reaction quipping "Instead of saying they just got it dead wrong, she denied that was ever how they felt, and then again pivoted back to hip-hop and how a discussion on why hip-hop artists use the "N word" was still very timely and appropriate.

The thing is, though, the conversation about hip-hop artists using the "N word" is completely irrelevant and is only being brought up as a distraction for the real matter at hand—shockingly ugly racism from elite college students". (1)

But did she "get it dead wrong" and was the conversation about hip-hop or rap artists using the "N-word" completely irrelevant?

Many years ago I found myself working as a cashier in a small retail establishment. One bright sunny morning I was working alone in the store when a young man, judging by his stature about 12 or 13 years of age came through the front door and asked "hey man, you got any rap music?"

"What kind of music?" I replied

"You know, rap music, man" He said.

"Son, there is rap and there is music, there is no such thing as rap music", said I.

"What are you talkin about? Of course there is", he protested.

"Well for starters, there is no melody in ‘rap’ music, come to think of it there is no harmony either"

"What’s that?" He asked quizzically

"That", said I, " is what I’m afraid of" I thought to myself; musak to the unwashed ear; songs to the barbarian.

"Rap", and its sister offspring "hip-hop" are cultural abortions. At its best the so-called ‘art-form’ is mere limerick set to a rather pronounced beat. At its best it can be somewhat engaging, and socially redeeming, if culturally limited and musically truncated. At its worst, it is a celebration of barbarism, a celebration of the culture of incarceration with constant use of the "N-word", calling women "Hoes"; a celebration of crime, misogyny and violence. This is especially so with so-called ‘gangsta-rap’.

When ‘Rap’ first emerged my reaction was much the same as when in the early ‘50's I sat before a small black and white television in my great-grandmother’s living room watching ‘Lawrence Welk". I remember to this day being 4 years old and thinking to myself that ‘this too will pass". Someday, I was sure, there would come a time when this would be no more. But like Welk, Rap has not been so keen to vacate the cultural stage, with the result that it has permeated the culture, to the point that middle class white adolescents are buying this stuff so as to participate in the ‘right of passage’ to manhood, if only vicariously. Is it any wonder that the obscenities that is this medium celebrates demystifies, by continual repetition, to the point that the ‘N-word" gets re-introduced into the subcultural lexicon as an appropriate adjective? And, how is the violence depicted in these rants (I cannot bring myself to call them ‘songs’), in any measure different or more justifiable than limericks about lynching.

I’m not here defending the frat rats. I find the whole concept of ‘Greek" life on campuses obnoxious and deleterious to serious scholarship. The Greeks, incidentally, knew no such institutions. Nor am I defending the obscenity that was their chant, nor the racist behaviour behind this naked display of hatred. It is hate speech pure and simple.

My point, and I think Mika’s point is that this behaviour, reprehensible and outrageous, is indicative of a much broader trend in this country; where hate speech has become not only acceptable but profitable. To point this out in no way deflects criticism nor does it justify the disgusting fraternity behavior. By drawing attention to other cultural influences one is performing the public duty of demonstrating that the problem is much more pervasive and deep-rooted and we have, consequently, much more work to do.   

1. Shaun King, Daily Kos, " MSNBC host tries to clean up the mess her show made blaming hip-hop for the racist SAE chant." Thursday, March 12,2015

Mar 18, 2015

March 18, 2015: Middle East Wreckage, Hard Realities, Miserable Choices

“Alas, we are not dealing anymore with your grandfather’s Israel, your father’s Iran or the Iraq your son or daughter went off to liberate”
-----Thomas Friedman, New York Times

In a New York Times  article entitled “Go Ahead, Ruin My Day”, Pulitzer Prize columnist Thomas Friedman surveyed the wreckage strewn about the Middle East in the wake of yesterday’s depressing results in Israel. “It is hard to know what is more depressing”,  he wrote,
“that Netanyahu went for the gutter in the last few days in order to salvage his campaign–renouncing his own commitment to a two-state solution with the Palestinians and race-baiting Israeli Jews to get out the vote because, he said, too many Arab Israelis were going to the polls–or the fact that it seemed to work”.  “ But the fact is”, he continued, “A good half of Israel identifies with the paranoid, everyone-is-against-us, and religious nationalist tropes Netanyahu deployed in this campaign. That, along with the fact that some 350,000 settlers are now living in the West Bank, makes it hard to see how a viable two-state solution is possible anymore no matter who would have won.”

This is not entirely the fault of Netanyahu, Freidman observes, the conflict in Gaza with Hamas, and the rejection of the two-state solution by the Palestinians by previous Prime Ministers Barak and Olmert “built Netanyahu’s base as much as he did”.  True enough, the long and twisted events of the last decades have created new difficulties and fashioned new and, increasingly, harder realities.

Moving to Iran, Friedman rightly notes that critics of Obama’s negotiations assume that the United States has more leverage than it has.  “In the brutal Middle East”, he observes, “the only thing that gets anyone’s attention is the threat of regime-toppling force. Obama has no such leverage on Iran.”  The truth–the new reality is that whatever leverage the United States possessed by way of threat of force has been spent in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.  Our military is now so exhausted that former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said that “any future defense secretary who advises the president to again send a big U.S. land army into the Middle East ‘should have his head examined’”.   Had those wars succeeded the reality would now be different, but they didn’t.  “Geopolitics is all about leverage”, writes Friedman, “and we are negotiating with Iran without the leverage of a credible threat of force.”  Obama is left to do the best he can with what he has, with no good options before him.

Moving from Iraq to Iran, Friedman delves into the ‘transnational’ dynamics and complexities of the region. “O.K.,” he writes, “ so we learn to live with Iran on the edge of a bomb, but shouldn’t we at least bomb the Islamic State to smithereens and help destroy this head-chopping menace? Now I despise ISIS as much as anyone, but let me just toss out a different question: Should we be arming ISIS? Or let me ask that differently: Why are we, for the third time since 9/11, fighting a war on behalf of Iran?

“In 2002, we destroyed Iran’s main Sunni foe in Afghanistan (the Taliban regime). In 2003, we destroyed Iran’s main Sunni foe in the Arab world (Saddam Hussein). But because we failed to erect a self-sustaining pluralistic order, which could have been a durable counterbalance to Iran, we created a vacuum in both Iraq and the wider Sunni Arab world. That is why Tehran’s proxies now indirectly dominate four Arab capitals: Beirut, Damascus, Sana and Baghdad.”

ISIS, with all its awfulness, emerged as the homegrown Sunni Arab response to this crushing defeat of Sunni Arabism — mixing old pro-Saddam Baathists with medieval Sunni religious fanatics with a collection of ideologues, misfits and adventure-seekers from around the Sunni Muslim world. Obviously, I abhor ISIS and don’t want to see it spread or take over Iraq. I simply raise this question rhetorically because no one else is: Why is it in our interest to destroy the last Sunni bulwark to a total Iranian takeover of Iraq? Because the Shiite militias now leading the fight against ISIS will rule better? Really?” (1)

We are left with only a series of miserable choices made infinitely more grim by the ham-handed policies that both misguided military adventure one the one hand, and ‘benign neglect’ on the other, have fostered.  Both ISIS and the Israeli election are stark warnings that the hour is getting late.
1. “Go Ahead, Ruin My Day” .  Thomas Friedman, Op-Ed, New York Times 3.18.15

Mar 17, 2015

March 17, 2015: The Polls have Closed, End of the Two-State Solution, Prescription for Disaster

The polls have closed in Israel and, as we speak, the election is too close to call. Two of the three major polls have the Likud party in a dead heat with a coalition calling itself the Zionist Union dominated by the old Labor Party of Ben-Gurion, Golda Meir, and Yitzhak Rabin. Each coalition is projected to win 27 seats in the Knesset (Israeli Parliament) with the party best able to put together a 60 seat majority coalition to form the new government. Accordingly, Benjamin Netanyahu has declared himself the early victor though, at this writing, the opposition has yet to concede.

By all accounts Netanyahu was losing this election. In a desperate gamble to hold power he arranged with the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives to come to Washington and address a joint session of Congress setting off a firestorm of partisan bickering as many here in this country saw the move as a bold-face affront to the current administration, and a cheap political ploy by the Rescumlican opposition in the bargain. Then yesterday ‘Bibi" boldly announced that under his leadership there will be no Palestinian State, effectively putting an end to the peace process begun so long ago at Camp David, now begging the question: ‘where do we go from here’?

New York Times and Foreign Affairs columnist and Middle East correspondent Thomas Friedman has thought long and hard on the subject. Like many of us, he celebrated the victory by the Israeli’s in the 1967 war characterizing his high school years as "one big celebration of Israel’s victory in the Six-Day War." (1) I was a senior in High School at the time, just graduating that June, but I remember the near unanimity of my classmates and the surrounding community in our support for Israel. For us the Israeli’s represented the best of the ‘western’ legacy: technologically advanced and democratic as opposed to the more ‘backward’ and autocratic regimes in the area. This was the prevailing paradigm as it pertained to the region with a little spicing, of course, of cold-war East vs. West ideology as an icing on the cake. It is a view that still pertains in much of America.

What has changed in the nearly half century since the I graduated from High School during the heat of the Six-Day War, is that the consensus concerning Israel has become torn at the edges and now is threatening to unravel altogether. Where once there was near complete bi-partisan support one now finds unquestioning support for Israel limited to the far right of the Republican Party. Across the rest of the political spectrum one encounters varying degrees of support from resignation, distrust, opposition to outright disgust with the behavior of Israel as it pertains to not only the peace process and its abuse of it, but to the ongoing building of settlements in the occupied territory.

The problem, when discussing Israel, is that it is almost impossible to raise a criticism without being accused of either overt or latent anti-Semitism. To voice any concern over the displacement of indigenous populations in what is, in effect, an ‘ethnic cleansing’, is to risk being so labeled. The charge carries with it all the emotional implications of ‘racism’ and is meant to silence the critic. I will risk it anyway.

Let’s be clear on one point here. I am not going to say that Israel has no right to exist, although justification for a ‘theological’ state smacks of iron-age political justification and is foreign to the modern ear. But the argument that without a nation-state the Jewish communities throughout the world had no means of protection, no entity to represent them and therefore made them more vulnerable to pogroms and persecutions is, in my view, salient. For this reason alone the State of Israel should and must exist. If one grants this premise it follows that Israel does have legitimate security interests and that these must be defended. The United States has always stood foursquare behind this proposition and has, accordingly, not only supplied Israel with massive amounts of military hardware and economic assistance, but has rapidly come to its aid when it was under attack, as when it was under attack by Saddam Hussein’s scud missiles and we rapidly supplied them with the means to shoot them down.

It is one thing to provide unqualified support for the legitimate security needs of the State of Israel and quite another to argue, in effect, that such support means unqualified support for whatever the Israeli’s do. The confusion of one with the other has always characterized the far right in this country, but the disentanglement of fundamental security from other facets of Israeli foreign policy began with the Suez Crisis of 1956, (2) during which the Eisenhower administration had to reign in on a military adventure in which the Israeli’s joined Britain and France in an aggression against Nasser’s Egypt. For this, Eisenhower was roundly criticized and the American consensus regarding Israel held firm.

The euphoria, and there can be no other word to describe the American reaction, surrounding the Israeli exploits of the Six-Day War in 1967 proved to be the high water mark however, for unqualified domestic consensus concerning Israel. For as America was celebrating the victory of a modern democratic state over the forces of autocracy, the attack by the Israeli’s on the U.S.S. Liberty (3) sent some nasty vibrations down the corridors of the Pentagon and State Department. America was learning that it couldn’t put blind trust in our erstwhile ally.

The distrust deepened with each passing year and each cycle of the violence that began to characterize the occupied territories taken by the Israeli’s in the conflict. The indigenous populations began to be pushed out of certain areas of the occupied lands to make way for Jewish settlements, dividing the land. Military check points were established and a military regime was soon in place with all that this implies. Resistance to the new order emerged leading to further crackdowns...the story is a familiar one, but for our purposes I want to dwell on a few instances that materially changed our diplomatic posture regarding Israel and fractured the consensus that once governed our policy toward that nation.

First after years of prodding, pleading, and negotiating President Jimmy Carter was able to get the Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachim Begin to meet at Camp David and negotiate a peace. The process proved difficult and by all accounts Sadat was about to throw in the towel and returned home. Carter begged him to stick it out and, returning to Begin threatened to withhold spare parts for the Israeli military and other aid if Israel did not comply. Under pressure, Begin signed the treaty. In the aftermath Israel did vacate some land, withdrew some settlements and there has been peace between the two countries ever since; but he treated the agreement as just another day at the office, honoring his agreement with Egypt but not honoring the promise not to build more settlements on the West Bank, and to begin serious negotiations to end the Palestinian conflict. The disingenuous behavior of the Likud leader laid the groundwork for much that followed.

The invasion by Israel of South Lebanon in 1982, and again in 1985-2000 (4) also proved to further fracture support for Israel in the United States. In 1982 the Israeli’s purposely misled the Reagan administration as to its military aims plunging much further into Lebanon that the United States government was led to believe and, when things got out of hand, the United States sent a military force to Beirut to help restore the peace. The Reagan Administration, confronted with a suicide bombing of the marine barracks, quickly withdrew American forces sending a message throughout the Arab world that would later come to haunt U.S. policymakers. The 1985 invasion proved equally disastrous for the Israelis as the world witnessed the wholesale massacre of two Palestinian refugee camps by Christian militias as the Israeli armed forces looked on. Now, after nearly 50 years the Israeli political system presents us with the spectacle of Benjamin Netanyahu who, within the span of 3 weeks, comes to Washington and, diplomatically speaking, defecates on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives and then stands before the world and announces an end to the Camp David peace process.

One still encounters unqualified support for Israel in the United States but, increasingly, it comes from the voices of Sheldon Adelson, Newt Gingrich, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Fixed Noise, and various fundamentalist sects who support the state not because they care about the Jewish people or Judaism; but because they see signs of the end times and they wait impatiently for the end of this world. Some in west Texas, it has been reported, are even breeding the ‘red-haired’ heifer so soon to they expect to erect a new temple on the mount.

I encounter many such supporters trolling the internets (as ‘ol Two-Cows would say), who protest loudly about Obama betraying a friend, with Israel still holding that pristine position of good fighting the good fight against those evil ‘camel-jockeys’. I even ran across one wag who asked in all innocence "what have the Arabs contributed to civilization anyway"?

I respond, when I’m up to it by trying to set the record straight. First a real friend and ally does not fire upon one of our ships and kill our seamen. A real friend and ally does not purposely mislead us concerning its military objectives. A real friend and ally bargains in good faith when we are attempting to be an honest broker in the region. Israel has been neither a good friend or an a reliable ally. As stated in another context, nations do not have friends; they have only interests, and the interests of the United States and those of Israel, or any other country for that matter, never completely coincide. Honest differences exist and will always exist and to be accused of anti-Semitism by raising legitimate issues is a gross slander and injustice.

Secondly, it is anti-Semitic to roundly characterize the Palestinians and other peoples of the region since, as an Egyptian professor of mine once pointed out, they are Semites too. In any case I had to instruct the troll on the nets that the Arabs gave us agriculture, algebra, astronomy, philosophy, three, and if you count Zoroastrianism, four of the world’s most influential religions, not to mention mosaic art, poetry and the preservation of ancient Greek and Roman culture that sparked the Renaissance. To view them as card-board characters, ‘camel-jockeys’ in the popular parlance is to categorically misunderstand. But such is the state of American education.

I digress. The near universal consensus concerning Israel has now been shattered, and Netanyahu may have perhaps done irreparable harm with his antics of the last fortnight. The question now emerges, "where do we go from here"?

Like Tom Friedman, I too had loudly celebrated the Israeli triumph in the 1967 war. Compared to the quagmire in which we found ourselves in Viet Nam the quick triumph of the Israeli’s against the combined forces of Jordan, Syria and Egypt was exhilarating. But, like Friedman I have come to a much more ‘mature’ if more complicated understanding. It began with a reading of a book called "The Other Side of the Coin" published in the early 70's as the story of Israeli occupation began to be told, followed by years of watching the events unfold in the region and the struggle our government, be it Democratic or Republican, has had trying to broker a peace. Like Friedman I have come to appreciate the complex undercurrents and the difficulty both sides have in reaching across the great divide.

Friedman, who has won the Pulitzer Prize three times, has suggested that the failure of the two-state solution will invite, in time, pressure for a one-state solution. If this happens, Friedman has warned, the Palestinian population, now entirely incorporated into the state of Israel, will demand a ‘one-man, one-vote’ constitutional participation and, since the indigenous Palestinian population will shortly outnumber the Jewish population, Israel would no longer be a "Jewish" state by definition. This constitutes a greater threat, in Friedman’s view, than a two-state solution because if it comes to pass the very essence of Israel, so dear to the hard-line fundamentalists both at home and abroad, would disappear. For this reason, Friedman argues, Israel cannot abandon the two-state solution.

From this perspective Israel, it appears, must be saved from itself. Since Netanyahu has openly declared that no Palestinian state will emerge on his watch the United States should immediately, upon his being named Prime Minister, announce with our allies our support for a one-state solution. This could be done publicly, at the U.N. General Assembly for instance, or we could through diplomatic channels inform the Israeli government that we will change policy if Netanyahu does not immediately return to the table in good faith accompanied by an announcement that the Israelis will abandon the settlements in the occupied territories.

Absent this there is a third alternative nobody is talking about but is, I have long suspected, the real objective of the Israeli government. That is to stall, delay, obfuscate, mislead, until the world is presented with a fait accompli, and the territories are in effect annexed. The Palestinians suspect as much, so does much of the Arab world. Netanyahu, by blowing his cover in an erstwhile effort hold unto power for a little while longer, has just telegraphed the same message to us. This is a prescription for disaster. 





Mar 16, 2015

March 16, 2015: Trailing in the Polls, Rat in Heat, Monument To Failure.

Trailing in the polls behind center-left Labour Party leader Herzog in the run up to this week’s national elections in Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin ‘Bibi” Netanyahu appeared in a settlement on the outskirts of East Jerusalem and proclaimed that as long as he were Prime Minister, and his Likud Party were in control, there will be no evacuations from the occupied territories, and no independent Palestinian State.

Here, laid bare in the heat of a national election, was a simple declaration that the regime of the Likud Party will not negotiate in good faith with any Palestinian authority for a so-called ‘two-state’ solution.

In an article by William Booth, the Washington Post reported in today’s evening edition that
'“On the final day of his reelection campaign, Benjamin Netanyahu said that as long as he serves as prime minister of Israel, there will not be an independent Palestinian nation.

His declaration marks the second time in a month that Netanyahu has chosen to confront Washington directly: first by opposing, in a speech before Congress, President Obama’s possible deal to try to curtail Iran’s nuclear ambitions and now by opposing a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which Secretary of State John F. Kerry spent nine months pursuing.

Netanyahu’s assertion, made on camera to an Israeli media site, appeared to reverse the prime minister’s previous declarations of support for a sovereign Palestinian state.

“I think that anyone who is going to establish a Palestinian state today and evacuate lands is giving attack grounds to the radical Islam against the state of Israel,” he said in a video interview published Monday on the NRG Web site.

“Anyone who ignores this is sticking his head in the sand. The left does this time and time again,” Netanyahu said. “We are realistic and understand.”

The final polls before Tuesday's Israeli election shows the opposition poised to defeat Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's party. (Reuters)

Netanyahu was then asked specifically if he meant that a Palestinian state would not be established if he were reelected prime minister. He answered, “Correct.”

In a speech at Bar-Ilan University in 2009, Netanyahu famously said he supported a two-state solution to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as long as Israeli conditions were met and Israel’s security was guaranteed. That speech and two rounds of U.S.-brokered peace talks since then led many to assume that the prime minister was prepared to see a Palestinian state arise on the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip.

On Monday, Americans and Israelis were left unsure whether Netanyahu was just speaking off the cuff during an interview in the heat of a very close race or whether he was signaling a real change in policy.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki declined comment except to say: “There are many things said leading up to elections.’’ She added: “Obviously, our view continues to be that the only way to have peace and stability in the region is for there to be a two-state solution.

Erel Margalit, an opposition leader in the Labor Party, called Netanyahu’s statements “outrageous.”

“It undermines the direction that Israel has declared it is striving for during the last three prime ministers,” Margalit told The Washington Post. “We need to build trust with the Palestinians again and make sure they do not continue with their unilateral steps.”

Saeb Erekat, the former chief Palestinian negotiator during Kerry’s peace talks, said he was not surprised to hear the remarks. “Netanyahu has done everything possible to bury the two-state solution,” he said. “This is not something new to us.”

Netanyahu’s words hit the Internet soon after the prime minister came to a Jewish settlement in East Jerusalem on Monday and warned that if it were not for him and his right-wing Likud party, residents here would be next-door neighbors with the Islamist militant movement Hamas.

At a news conference at which journalists were not allowed to ask questions, Netanyahu stood at a lectern on the terrace of Yaron and Sigal Hakoshrein’s new condominium apartment, framed by building cranes over his shoulder, towering above units under construction.

Netanyahu called his host to stand beside him and asked on camera, “Do you want to see Hamastan over there on that mountaintop?” He then pointed in the general direction of Bethlehem, the Palestinian city in the West Bank where the Bible says Jesus was born.

Yaron Hakoshrein, a Likud activist, shook his head and said no.

“Then there is only one answer. Then you have to put the voting slip for Likud in the ballot box,” Netanyahu said.

The message was not subtle — but it sure was direct.

Israelis who fear that Hamas will take over the West Bank, as it did the Gaza Strip in 2007, have adopted the shorthand “Hamastan” to express that concern. Hamas is branded a terrorist organization by Israel and the United States. Israel and Hamas fought a 50-day war last summer.

On Sunday night, Netanyahu warned supporters at a rally in Tel Aviv that he may not win Tuesday’s election, a potentially dramatic fall for a consummate political survivor whose nine years in office transformed him into the public face of contemporary Israel.

The final round of opinion polls Friday showed Netanyahu and his Likud party facing a surprisingly strong challenge by Isaac Herzog, leader of the center-left Labor Party, and his running mate, former peace negotiator Tzipi Livni, who hold a small but steady lead.

For the past five days, Netanyahu has been working to bulk up support among his nationalist right-wing base, warning Israelis that his challengers would “give away land for peace” to the Palestinians, would divide the “eternal capital of Israel” and would turn over the eastern sections to the Palestinians for a future state.

Netanyahu has vowed “no concessions” and “no withdrawals” from the West Bank in speeches and statements during the campaign.

Over the past quarter-century, Israel and the Palestinians have engaged in many talks that failed to bear fruit. Kerry’s attempt collapsed last April, with each side blaming the other.

In a statement issued from his Likud party a week ago, Netanyahu was quoted as saying that his past support for an independent Palestinian state is now irrelevant.

“In the Mideast today, any evacuated territory will be overtaken by radical Islam and terror groups backed by Iran. Therefore, there will be no withdrawals and no concessions. It’s just not relevant,” read the statement, attributing the remark to Netanyahu.

Afterward, Netanyahu’s spokesman attempted to clarify matters by stating that the prime minister meant to say that “under current conditions in the Middle East, any land that is handed over would be grabbed by Islamist extremists.
The Palestinian Authority under President Mahmoud Abbas, which oversees part of the Israeli-occupied West Bank, has vowed to pursue a path of nonviolence and has coordinated its security responsibilities with Israeli forces.

Netanyahu’s campaign staged its Monday news event at the Jewish settlement of Har Homa in East Jerusalem for a reason. During his first term as prime minister, Netanyahu approved construction there.                                  

Netanyahu said settlement construction at Har Homa was not only to provide housing for residents but also to deny Palestinians territory and contiguity.

Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem are considered illegal under international law. U.S. diplomats prefer to call the settlements “illegitimate.” The Israelis dispute that.

“It’s a neighborhood that I initiated in 1997 in my first stint as prime minister,” Netanyahu said. He said its value was that “it stops the continued advancement of the Palestinians.’’‘(1)

“Bibi” is, of course, running like a rat in heat in an attempt to retain his hold on power.  Whether this represents a change in Likud policy or simply an attempt to rally his political base is now a question of some debate.  Many, however, myself included, see Netanyahu finally coming clean, in the heat of battle, by declaring his real agenda.  Many international observers, over the years, have been frustrated by the intransigence of both sides but it was revealed today that Netanyahu and Likud have no intention of proceeding further along the path toward peace.

The election in Israel is, no doubt, a divisive one.  But the divisions plaguing Israeli politics have now spilled over into the international arena, first by the Prime Minister’s outrageous conduct in coming to the United States and addressing Congress in an overt attempt to sabotage delicate on-going negotiations with Iran involving not only the United States but several member nations of the U.N. Security Council.  Now he stands before his nation and the world and unilaterally declares an end to the decades-long peace process.  An act an Israeli Labour Party spokesman quickly labeled ‘outrageous”.

For a long time many have suspected the Israeli government of acting in bad faith.  The result of Israeli policy–particularly under the leadership of the Likud coalition–has been to further alienate support for Israel among its allies, particularly the United States.  It has also further alienated Israel in the region. Nothing demonstrates this more vividly than the erection of that fence along its border, in effect transforming Israel into a super ghetto.

The tragedy that is the Middle East is in large part due to the legacy of the treatment of it’s peoples by European powers.  The story of the Holocaust and the impetus that gave to the nascent Zionist movement as it emerged with the Balfour agreement just prior to World War I is well known.  In the aftermath of Hitler’s terror and rampant anti-Semitism in other parts of Europe there emerged a groundswell of support for the creation of the state of Israel.  But it was British frustration in dealing with Zionist uprisings (and, yes, terrorist activities) and finally the recognition of Israel by the United States that finally made the difference.

What’s less understood here in the United States is the European legacy as it pertains to the Arab world.  With the end of the Ottoman Empire in the aftermath of the First World War, Britain, France, and other European powers quickly moved to fill the void.  Most of the ‘national’ frontiers were drawn up in the British Foreign Office with Great Britain assuming ‘trusteeship’ over the territory of Palestine. What followed was that the ‘west’ quickly set up regimes that promised to maintain order and, with the discovery of oil, deliver the ‘Saudi Tea” at reasonable prices and on time.  Several ruling cliques were recognized, aided, and supported with military hardware to ensure that stability would reign. To the Arab on the street watching the national treasure being pumped out of the ground by foreign nationals for pennies on the dollar was bad enough; that damn little of it reached the villages and the people only added to the outrage.  And, when confronted with popular unrest the United States could be relied upon not only to supply the tanks and helicopters, guns and rockets, tear gas and bullets, but also the funding and training of not so secret security forces like Iran’s Savak under the late Sha.  The ‘West’ and increasingly the United States began to be seen by the Arab in the street as the ‘force-behind-the-force”.  Not only the Israeli’s but the Arab States themselves being mere puppets dancing to the command of a foreign master.  It has been the “European Neo-Colonial” postwar legacy that has been the driving force behind the divisions in the region; a legacy with an increasingly American face.

For nearly 40 years now the United States has been about the business of trying to act as a neutral arbiter in the region, resisting at all costs the inclusion of our Western Allies, the Russians, or anyone else that would offer to become an honest broker.  We have had little success.  We have had little success because it has become increasingly difficult for the players in the region (particularly ‘non-state’ players) to see us as an ‘honest broker’.  This is not only because of our unqualified support of Israel but because of our propping up increasingly unpopular and repressive regimes that serve only the petrol -industrial interests internationally and the interests of the ruling clique in our client states.  When the governments of the region turn on the people, Israel against Hamas, Egypt against the Arab Spring, Iraq against its tribal uprisings, it is with American arms, American built tanks, American built helicopters.

This posture is particularly attenuated when it comes to Israel.  The Israeli military is a wholly owned subsidiary of the American Military-Industrial complex.  The United States gives more foreign aid to Israel than any other country and without American support it is difficult to imagine an Israeli Prime Minister saying what Netanyahu said today.  The posture of the United States is seen by all parties as so one-sided that it is no wonder our Secretary of State be it Henry Kissassinger, Madeline Albright, George Schultz, or John kerry, is not taken seriously.

Violence begets violence and it has been the long-standing policy of Israel to retaliate, sometimes all out of proportion to the offense.  The result has been, however, when a cycle of acute violence erupts, for the United States to demand that the Palestinians stop their attacks, pledge not to engage in any more violence, and reign in on their radical groups.  The Palestinian Authority, as did formerly the P.L.O. worked with the west and even the Israeli’s to gain a measure of tranquility so the peace process could proceed.  Only when the Israeli response becomes nearly an international embarrassment, as in Lebanon, does the United States deign to intervene.

What has emerged, over time and the endless cycles of violence and retribution, is that the radicals have become ever more empowered because whatever level of trust established is quickly assaulted by the endless violence.  Both sides blame the other until the origins of conflict are lost in the dusty memories of time or clothed in increasingly religious garments.  Both sides entrench like the battlements on the Western Front a hundred years ago.

Nowhere is the evidence of this mentality so stark as with the wall currently being constructed around the State of Israel.  With the completion of this monument to failure, the Jewish State will become at last secure within the walls of it’s own creation.  The Warsaw Ghetto will have been successfully recreated on the banks of the Mediterranean  another inescapable legacy, or so it seems.
(1).  Washington Post Evening Edition, March 16, 2015, article by William Booth dateline Jerusalem.

Mar 12, 2015

March 11, 2015: Generation of Swine, Mendacity of the Swine, Deeply Offensive Performances

“Never underestimate the mendacity of the swine”
            ----From “The Quotations of Chairman Joe”

It has been a bit over two months since the Rescumlicans have taken control of both houses of Congress and in that brief time they have launched an assault on Social Security by making it more difficult to transfer funds from the general Social Security account to the Social Security Disability Fund threatening thereby draconian cuts in the near future.  Additionally, after promising not to threaten to shut down the government they proceeded to do just that (unsuccessfully this time) to the Homeland Security Department by using funding as a weapon in an attempt to override the President’s executive action on immigration.  The last 10 days, however, have seen political dysfunction unprecedented in our national experience.

Last week Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke before a joint session of Congress urging the United States not to reach an agreement with Iran over nuclear arms. It was the first time a foreign head of state has been invited to speak to Congress with the express purpose of sabotaging our stated national policies.  He spoke at the invitation of the Speaker of the House, one John Boner of Ohio who, seeing an opportunity to stick a thumb into the eye of this President, offered the invitation without consulting or clearing the action with either the State Department or the White House.   This set off a firestorm in this country as many rightly perceived this action to be an act of political and diplomatic mendacity the likes of which we have heretofore never witnessed.  Many in congress, including Senator Al Franken (himself a Jew) refused to attend, so deeply offensive was this performance.

Every time the Rescumlicans win control of the House of Representatives the newly anointed Speaker immediately begins to conduct himself as if he is Prime Minister.  When Newt “Baby Huey” Gingrich ushered in the last Republican era so arrogant was he that President Clinton had to remind the press that the President was ‘still relevant’.  The result was a long national nightmare ending in bogus impeachment proceedings, trivializing politics and poisoning the political well.  Now we are confronted with a newer form of the rabid beast this time posturing as ‘tea party’ patriots and the speaker once again conducting the business of the House as if he were head of state.  He is not.

In a Constitutional Monarchy as in Britain, the crown is head of state, in this case Queen Elizabeth.  In Britain it is unthinkable for the government to host a state visit without first clearing it with the Palace.  In France the French President is head of state and speaks for the country internationally, the Prime Minister, as in Britain, is a separate office who runs the government and is involved in foreign affairs but always with the consultation with the constitutional ‘head of state’. 

The American Presidency is a unique office.  The president is not only the head of his party, but also the Chief Executive Officer, Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, and head of state.  This was made clear early in our history with the passage of the Logan Act in 1799, a law passed by the founding fathers clearly stating that it is the president who speaks for the country and he alone (or through his agents) who negotiates treaties and understandings.  The law made it illegal for any citizen to engage in foreign negotiations unless empowered by the Chief Executive to so do.  The President is not only Chief Executive officer (Prime Minister as it were) but also the head of state of the nation.  For the speaker to usurp this function is an act of unprecedented arrogance, violating not only the Logan Act and long-standing historical precedent, but the spirit and letter of the Constitution.

Following Netanyahu’s performance 47 Rescumlican Senators, in yet another act of unprecedented political mendacity, signed an open letter to the Iranian government purporting to ‘instruct’ the Iranians on American Constitutional and International Law.  Stating that any subsequent President could nullify the agreement ‘with a stroke of the pen’ the group suggested that bargaining with this President would result in, at best, a transient agreement that will be quickly nullified by the succeeding Administration further stating that executive agreements are not binding in international law and all such understandings must be ratified by the United States Senate in order to take effect.  So here you have it: nearly half the United States Senate sending an open message to the hard-liners of an international adversary saying that their country cannot put stock into any agreement reached with this administration. 

The letter was drawn up by newly minted Senator Cotton of Arkansass who, having served less than 70 days in office and still wet in his Senate seat purports to treat this as if the administration is first, negotiating bi-laterally that is one-on-one with Iran and, secondly, that the President is negotiating a treaty.  Both assumptions are wrong.  The negotiations include the United States, Iran, 5 member nations of the Security Council of the United Nations and Germany.  To attempt to sabotage these proceedings undercuts the stature and standing not only with the Iranians but with the world diplomatic community.  Secondly, this is not a treaty negotiation but an attempt to reach agreements on nuclear developments involving pledges by the Iranians concerning their ongoing programs as well as some kind of inspection and verification regime.  In any case the Rescumicans are flat wrong on the issue.  Executive agreements carry the weight and importance of formal treaties in International Law and are just as binding. 

The Iranian Foreign Minister Dr. Javad Zarif issued a blistering response to the cretins on Capitol Hill:

"In our view,” he responded, “this letter has no legal value and is mostly a propaganda ploy. It is very interesting that while negotiations are still in progress and while no agreement has been reached, some political pressure groups are so afraid even of the prospect of an agreement that they resort to unconventional methods, unprecedented in diplomatic history. This indicates that like Netanyahu, who considers peace as an existential threat, some are opposed to any agreement, regardless of its content.

Zarif expressed astonishment that some members of US Congress find it appropriate to write to leaders of another country against their own President and administration. He pointed out that from reading the open letter, it seems that the authors not only do not understand international law, but are not fully cognizant of the nuances of their own Constitution when it comes to presidential powers in the conduct of foreign policy.
Foreign Minister Zarif added that "I should bring one important point to the attention of the authors and that is, the world is not the United States, and the conduct of inter-state relations is governed by international law, and not by US domestic law. The authors may not fully understand that in international law, governments represent the entirety of their respective states, are responsible for the conduct of foreign affairs, are required to fullfil the obligations they undertake with other states and may not invoke their internal law as justification for failure to perform their international obligations.

The Iranian Foreign Minister added that "Change of administration does not in any way relieve the next administration from international obligations undertaken by its predecessor in a possible agreement about Iran`s peaceful nuclear program." He continued "I wish to enlighten the authors that if the next administration revokes any agreement with the stroke of a pen, as they boast, it will have simply committed a blatant violation of international law.

He emphasized that if the current negotiation with P5+1 result in a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, it will not be a bilateral agreement between Iran and the US, but rather one that will be concluded with the participation of five other countries, including all permanent members of the Security Council, and will also be endorsed by a Security Council resolution.

Zarif expressed the hope that his comments "may enrich the knowledge of the authors to recognize that according to international law, Congress may not modify the terms of the agreement at any time as they claim, and if Congress adopts any measure to impede its implementation, it will have committed a material breach of US obligations.

The Foreign Minister also informed the authors that majority of US international agreements in recent decades are in fact what the signatories describe as "mere executive agreements" and not treaties ratified by the Senate.

He reminded them that "their letter in fact undermines the credibility of thousands of such mere executive agreements that have been or will be entered into by the US with various other governments.

Zarif concluded by stating that "the Islamic Republic of Iran has entered these negotiations in good faith and with the political will to reach an agreement, and it is imperative for our counterparts to prove similar good faith and political will in order to make an agreement possible.” (1)

The national reaction was far less reserved and pedantic.  Former Chairman of the Democratic Party and Vermont Governor Howard Dean has called these action ‘borderline treason’ and the New York Daily News has this front page header:

If the Rescumlicans think they can further the cause of Israel, middle east peace, or increase the standing of this country internationally by the use of these cheap-jack tactics they are quite mistaken.  But these are not their real interests. These actions are simply crass appeals to a cretinous political base which has become so extreme that even some Faux News hosts have openly criticized along with Congressman Steven King and the New York Daily News.  As LBJ one said about Viet Nam “If we’ve lost Cronkite, we’ve lost the country” so the Grand Ole Prostitute, having now lost the New York Daily News, may now be in peril of perhaps having cast one too many false pearls before altogether too many real swine.
1.  The Daily Kos,

Mar 9, 2015

March 9, 2015: For Data Mavens, Devastation of the Middle Class, The Cost of 'Tinkle-Down' Reaganomics.

Robert Reich first emerged upon the national scene as an economics professor at Harvard where he published several books. In 1993 he became Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration and thereafter returned to Academia to assume a chair as professor of economics at Berkeley. He’s recently produced a film entitled "Inequality for All" and has become a harsh critic of current economic policies including some of the trade agreements that he had so eloquently advocated two decades ago. Cataloguing the devastation that has been done to the American Middle Class, Reich posted this entry on Facebook March 6:

"For you data mavens, here’s some useful analysis from Professor Emmanuel Saez, my colleague here at Berkeley who, along with Thomas Piketty, has done the key research on income inequality:

The largest share of the income of the top 1 percent of Americans is concentrated in the top 0.1 percent and 0.01 percent. The average income of the top 1 percent in 2013 (latest data available) was $1.2 million; the average for the top 0.1 percent, $5.3 million; and the top 0.01 percent, $24.9 million. If America had the same income distribution now that it had in 1979, the top 1 percent would now be getting $1 trillion less annual income, and the bottom 80 percent $1 trillion more – which would come to about $700,000 less this year for the average family in the top 1 percent, and about $11,000 more for the average family in the bottom 80 percent."

There you have it, the best estimate for the cost of ‘tinkle-down’ Reaganomics has been tabulated to cost the Median Household about $11,000.00 a year.