There are times when I think that this tired old world has gone on a few years too long. What’s happening in the Middle East is so depressing. Most discussions of the eternal Israel-Palestine conflict are variations on the child’s eternal defense for misbehavior — “He started it!” Within a few minutes of discussing/arguing the latest manifestation of the conflict the participants are back to 1967, then 1948, then biblical times. I don’t wish to get entangled in who started the current mess. I would like instead to first express what I see as two essential underlying facts of life which remain from one conflict to the next:
1) Israel’s existence is not at stake and hasn’t been so for decades, if it ever was, regardless of the many de rigueur militant statements by Arab leaders over the years. If Israel would learn to deal with its neighbors in a non-expansionist, non-military, humane, and respectful manner, engage in full prisoner exchanges, and sincerely strive for a viable two-state solution, even those who are opposed to the idea of a state based on a particular religion could accept the state of Israel, and the question of its right to exist would scarcely arise in people’s minds. But as it is, Israel still uses the issue as a justification for its behavior, as Jews all over the world use the Holocaust and conflating anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism.
2) In a conflict between a thousand-pound gorilla and a mouse, it’s the gorilla which has to make concessions in order for the two sides to progress to the next level. What can the Palestinians offer in the way of concession? Israel would reply to that question: “No violent attacks of any kind.” But that would still leave the status quo ante bellum — a life of unmitigated misery for the Palestinian people forced upon them by Israel. Peace without justice.
Israel’s declarations about the absolute unacceptability of one of their soldiers being held captive by the Palestinians, or two soldiers being held by Hezbollah in Lebanon, cannot be taken too seriously when Israel is holding literally thousands of captured Palestinians, many for years, typically without any due process, many tortured; as well as holding a number of prominent Hezbollah members. A few years ago, if not still now, Israel wrote numbers on some of the Palestinian prisoners’ arms and foreheads, using blue markers, a practice that is of course reminiscent of the Nazis’ treatment of Jews in World War II. 
Israel’s real aim, and that of Washington, is the overthrow of the Hamas government in Palestine, the government that came to power in January through a clearly democratic process, the democracy that the Western “democracies” never tire of celebrating, except when the result doesn’t please them. Is there a stronger word than “hypocrisy”? There is now “no Hamas government,” declared a senior US official a week ago, “eight cabinet ministers or 30 percent of the government is in jail [kidnapped by Israel], another 30 percent is in hiding, and the other 30 percent is doing very little.” To make the government-disappearance act even more Orwellian, we have Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, speaking in late June about Iraq: “This is the only legitimately elected government in the Middle East with a possible exception of Lebanon.” What’s next, gathering in front of the Big Telescreeen for the Two Minutes Hate?
In addition to doing away with the Hamas government, the current military blitzkrieg by Israel, with full US support, may well be designed to create “incidents” to justify attacks on Iran and Syria, the next steps of Washington’s work in process, a controlling stranglehold on the Middle East and its oil.
It is a wanton act of collective punishment that is depriving the Palestinians of food, electricity, water, money, access to the outside world … and sleep. Israel has been sending jets flying over Gaza at night triggering sonic booms, traumatizing children. “I want nobody to sleep at night in Gaza,” declared Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert; words suitable for Israel’s tombstone.
These crimes against humanity — and I haven’t mentioned the terrible special weapons reportedly used by Israel — are what the people of Palestine get for voting for the wrong party. It is ironic, given the Israeli attacks against civilians in both Gaza and Lebanon, that Hamas and Hezbollah are routinely dismissed in the West as terrorist organizations. The generally accepted definition of terrorism, used by the FBI and the United Nations amongst others, is: The use of violence against a civilian population in order to intimidate or coerce a government in furtherance of a political objective.
Since 9-11 it has been a calculated US-Israeli tactic to label the fight against Israel’s foes as an integral part of the war on terror. On July 19, a rally was held in Washington, featuring the governor of Maryland, several members of Israeli-occupied Congress, the Israeli ambassador, and evangelical leading-light John Hagee. The Washington Post reported that “Speaker after prominent speaker characteriz[ed] current Israeli fighting as a small branch of the larger U.S.-led global war against Islamic terrorism” and “Israel’s attacks against the Shiite Muslim group Hezbollah were blows against those who have killed civilians from Bali to Bombay to Moscow.” Said the Israeli ambassador: “This is not just about [Israel]. It’s about where our world is going to be and the fate and security of our world. Israel is on the forefront. We will amputate these little arms of Iran,” referring to Hezbollah.
And if the war on terror isn’t enough to put Israel on the side of the angels, John Hagee has argued that “the United States must join Israel in a pre-emptive military strike against Iran to fulfill God’s plan for both Israel and the West”. He speaks of “a biblically prophesied end-time confrontation with Iran, which will lead to the Rapture, Tribulation, and Second Coming of Christ.”
The beatification of Israel approaches being a movement. Here is David Horowitz, the eminent semi-hysterical ex-Marxist: “Israel is part of a global war, the war of radical Islam against civilization. Right now Israel is doing the work of the rest of the civilized world by taking on the terrorists. It is not only for Israel’s sake that we must get the facts out — it is for ourselves, America, for every free country in the world, and for civilization itself.”
As for the two Israeli soldiers captured and held in Lebanon for prisoner exchange, we must keep a little history in mind. In the late 1990s, before Israel was evicted from southern Lebanon by Hezbollah, it was a common practice for Israel to abduct entirely innocent Lebanese. As a 1998 Amnesty International paper declared: “By Israel’s own admission, Lebanese detainees are being held as ‘bargaining chips’; they are not detained for their own actions but in exchange for Israeli soldiers missing in action or killed in Lebanon. Most have now spent 10 years in secret and isolated detention.”
Israel has created its worst enemies — they helped create Hamas as a counterweight to Fatah in Palestine, and their occupation of Lebanon created Hezbollah. The current terrible bombings can be expected to keep the process going. Since its very beginning, Israel has been almost continually occupied in fighting wars and taking other people’s lands. Did not any better way ever occur to the idealistic Zionist pioneers?
But while you and I get depressed by the horror and suffering, the neo-conservatives revel in it. They devour the flesh and drink the blood of the people of Afghanistan, of Iraq, of Palestine, of Lebanon, yet remain ravenous, and now call for Iran and Syria to be placed upon the feasting table. More than one of them has used the expression oderint dum metuant, a favorite phrase of Roman emperor Caligula, also used by Cicero — “let them hate so long as they fear”. Here is William Kristol, editor of the bible of neo-cons, “Weekly Standard”, on Fox News Sunday, July 16:
“Look, our coddling of Iran … over the last six to nine months has emboldened them. I mean, is Iran behaving like a timid regime that’s very worried about the U.S.? Or is Iran behaving recklessly and in a foolhardy way? … Israel is fighting four of our five enemies in the Middle East, in a sense. Iran, Syria, sponsors of terror; Hezbollah and Hamas. … This is an opportunity to begin to reverse the unfortunate direction of the last six to nine months and get the terrorists and the jihadists back on the defensive.”
Host Juan Williams replied: “Well, it just seems to me that you want … you just want war, war, war, and you want us in more war. You wanted us in Iraq. Now you want us in Iran. Now you want us to get into the Middle East … you’re saying, why doesn’t the United States take this hard, unforgiving line? Well, the hard and unforgiving line has been [tried], we don’t talk to anybody. We don’t talk to Hamas. We don’t talk to Hezbollah. We’re not going to talk to Iran. Where has it gotten us, Bill?”
Kristol, looking somewhat taken aback, simply threw up his hands.
The Fox News audience does (very) occasionally get a hint of another way of looking at the world.
Iraq will follow Bush the rest of his life
Here comes now our Glorious Leader, speaking last week at a news conference at the G8 summit in St. Petersburg, referring to Russian president Vladimir Putin. “I talked about my desire to promote institutional change in parts of the world like Iraq where there’s a free press and free religion, and I told him that a lot of people in our country would hope that Russia would do the same thing.”
It’s so very rare that Georgie W. makes one of his less-than-brilliant statements and has the nonsense immediately pointed out to him to his face — “Putin, in a barbed reply, said: ‘We certainly would not want to have the same kind of democracy as they have in Iraq, I will tell you quite honestly.’ Bush’s face reddened as he tried to laugh off the remark. ‘Just wait’,” he said.
It’s too bad that Putin didn’t also point out that religion was a lot more free under Saddam Hussein than under the American occupation. Amongst many charming recent incidents, in May the coach of the national tennis team and two of his players were shot dead in Baghdad by men who reportedly were religious extremists angry that the coach and his players were wearing shorts.
As to a “free press”, dare I mention Iraqi newspapers closed down by the American occupation, reporters shot by American troops, and phony stories planted in the Iraqi press by Pentagon employees?
The preceding is in the same vein as last month’s edition of this report in which I listed the many ways in which the people of Iraq have a much worse life now than they did under Saddam Hussein. I concluded with recounting the discussions I’ve had with Americans who, in the face of this, say to me: “Just tell me one thing, are you glad that Saddam Hussein is out of power?”
Now we have a British poll that reports that “More than two thirds who offered an opinion said America is essentially an imperial power seeking world domination. And 81 per cent of those who took a view said President George W. Bush hypocritically championed democracy as a cover for the pursuit of American self-interests.” The American embassy in London was quick to reply. Said a spokesperson: “We question the judgment of anyone who asserts the world would be a better place with Saddam still terrorizing his own nation and threatening people well beyond Iraq’s borders.”
They simply can’t stop lying, can they? There was no evidence at all that Saddam was threatening any people outside of Iraq, whatever that’s supposed to mean. It may mean arms sales. Following the Gulf War, the US sold around $100 billion of military hardware to Iraq’s “threatened” neighbors: Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the Gulf States, and Turkey.
As to the world being a better or worse place … only Iraq itself was and is the issue here, not the world; although if the world is a better place, why am I depressed?
The peculiar idea of tying people’s health to private corporate profits
Steven Pearlstein is a financial writer with the Washington Post, with whom I’ve exchanged several emails in recent years. He does not ignore or gloss over the serious defects of the American economic system, but nonetheless remains a true believer in the market economy. In a recent review of a book by journalist Maggie Mahar, “Money-Driven Medicine”, Pearlstein writes that the author tries to explain “why health care costs so much in the United States, with such poor results.” She has focused on the right issues, he says, “the misguided financial incentives at every level, the unnecessary care that is not only wasteful but harmful, the bloated administrative costs.” However, “in making the case that the health-care system suffers from too much free-market competition and too little cooperation, Mahar means to drum up support for a publicly funded national system. But in the end, she mostly makes a convincing case that no health-care system will work unless we figure out what really works and is cost effective and then get doctors, hospitals and patients to embrace it.”
“Unless we figure out what really works and is cost effective” … hmmm … like there haven’t been repeated studies showing that national health plans in Western Europe, Australia, Canada, and elsewhere cover virtually everyone and every ailment and cost society and individuals much less than in the United States. Isn’t that “working”? I spent five years in the UK with my wife and small child and all three of us can swear by the National Health Service; at those times when neither my wife nor I was employed we didn’t have to pay anything into the system; doctors even made house calls; and this was under Margaret Thatcher, who was doing her best to cripple the system, a goal she and her fellow Tories, later joined by “New Labour”, have continued to pursue.
And then there’s Cuba — poor, little, third-world Cuba. Countless non-rich ill Americans would think they were in heaven to have the Cuban health system reproduced here, with higher salaries for doctors et al., which we could easily afford.
It should be noted that an extensive review of previous studies recently concluded that the care provided at for-profit nursing homes and hospitals, on average, is inferior to that at nonprofits. The analysis indicates that a facility’s ownership status makes a difference in cost, quality, and accessibility of care.
Sale! Western Civilization! New, Improved! $99.99, marked down from $129.99. Sale!
There’s currently a call in the United States to get rid of the one-cent coin because it costs 1.2 cents to make the coin and put it into circulation and because many people find the coins a nuisance. I have another reason to get rid of the coin — hopefully, doing so would put an end to the ridiculous and ubiquitous practice of pricing almost everything at amounts like $9.99, $99.99, or $999.99. Or $3.29 or $17.98. What is the reason for this tedious and insulting absurdity? It began as, and continues to be, a con game — trying to induce the purchaser to think that he’s getting some kind of bargain price: Less than $10! Less than $100! In my local thrift shop, catering almost exclusively to poor blacks and Hispanics, virtually all prices end in .97 or .98 or .99. Every once in a while, when the nonsense has piled up to my nose level, I ask a shop manager or corporate representative why they use such a pricing system. They scarcely have any idea what I’m talking about. Sometimes in a shop when I’m discussing with a clerk the various price options of something I’m thinking of buying, and I say, “Okay, let’s see, this model is $60 and …” S/he’ll interrupt me with: “No, it’s $59.99.”
Is this any way for people to relate to each other? Comes the revolution, and we write a new constitution, Paragraph 99 will ban this practice.
You can’t make this stuff up
“The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread.” Anatole France, 1844-1924
On April 14 a federal appeals court ruled that the Los Angeles Police Department cannot arrest people for sitting, lying or sleeping on public sidewalks on Skid Row, saying such enforcement amounts to cruel and unusual punishment because there are not enough shelter beds for the city’s huge homeless population. Judge Pamela A. Rymer issued a strong dissent against the majority opinion. The Los Angeles code “does not punish people simply because they are homeless,” wrote Rymer. “It targets conduct — sitting, lying or sleeping on city sidewalks — that can be committed by those with homes as well as those without.”
 Washington Post, March 13, 2002, p.1
 Washington Post, July 16, 2006. p.15
 Washington Post, July 3, 2006, p.19
 Associated Press, July 3, 2006
 Washington Post, July 20, 2006, p.B3
 Sarah Posner, The American Prospect, June 2006
 FrontPageMag.com, Horowitz’s site
 Amnesty International news release, 26 June 1998, AI INDEX: MDE 15/54/98
 Associated Press, July 15, 2006
 The Independent (London), May 27, 2006, p.32
 Daily Telegraph (London), July 3, 2006, p.1
 Washington Post, July 9, 2006, p.F3
 Washington Post, June 21, 2006, p.9
 Los Angeles Times, April 15, 2006