11/30/2012 4:09:38 PM
This post originally appeared at Shareable.net.
Rural electricity and telephone
co-ops are one of the great sharing success stories in American history—largely due to coordination by the federal government. In 1934, only 11% of
farmers had electricity compared to 90% in Europe.
Private electric companies refused to serve many rural customers or price
gouged them when they did. The Rural Electrification Administration (REA) was
formed in 1935 to fix the problem by providing technical assistance and loans
to electric cooperatives. Less than 20 years later, practically all farms had
power due largely to electric co-ops.
The REA was such a success that
the same strategy was used in the 40s to make telephone service available in
all rural areas. The Rural Telephone Administration matched the success of the
REA. To this day, 1.2 million rural residents are members of a telephone co-op.
The US government's success in boosting
rural economies through cooperative development is a largely forgotten story
that couldn't be more relevant today. For instance, in creating jobs.
Member owned cooperatives are a proven
economic development strategy the world over, and were recognized as such
by the United Nations which declared 2012 The International Year of the Cooperative. The democratic
ownership and management of cooperatives creates stable enterprises and jobs. Yet,
none of the $20 billion in loan programs available to rural cooperatives are
available to urban ones. This is despite the fact that 80 percent of Americans
now live in cities, with some of the highest poverty rates in the country.
Last year, when cooperative
groups were visiting Congressional offices on the Hill in support of USDA
programs, Congressman Chaka Fattah, who represents an urban district in Philadelphia, asked why co-ops in urban America didn’t
have similar support. A year later, a bill developed by Fattah and cooperative
National Cooperative Development Act—aims to bring technical assistance,
revolving loans, and startup capital to co-ops in cities across America,
recognizing that co-ops are a vital and long-term economic development model.
3677 would set up an organization based out of the Housing and Urban
Development Administration and administered by a separate non-profit to
implement the kinds of support needed specifically by co-ops. The bill would
also set up a revolving loan fund for loans for machinery, buildings, and the
other startup costs. Currently with 13 cosponsors, the bill will be
reintroduced in 2013 in the new session by Congressman Fattah, with more
bipartisan support, according to his office.
“The fact that cooperatives are
seeing a resurgence in urban areas shows the strength, diversity, and staying
power of the movement. I really believe that cooperatives are an excellent
means for economic development and community enrichment,” said Congressman
Fattah, whose family shops at the Weaver’s Way grocery co-op in Northwest Philadelphia and sees the co-op model as a
solution to urban food deserts, amongst other problems.
Compared to the rest of the
federal budget, the program is tiny—$25 million in HUD support over five
years. But it's a start, and would be official recognition that co-ops are still
an excellent way to create strong local economies and local jobs in the era of
A lot of the grants would be re-granted
through the cooperative development centers that work as hubs, knitting
together state-wide networks.
One critical thing that the
Rural Utilities Service (part of the US Department of Agriculture's rural
development area) does is direct co-ops through the maze of low-interest
loans and grants not specifically directed at co-ops, but for which co-ops
are eligible: programs to fund telemedicine, biorefineries, programs
specifically for people of color and women, grants for high energy costs, and a
lot more. Those programs totaled $21 billion last year for rural America,
capital that in cities is often very hard to come by but does exist in other
nooks and crannies of the federal budget.
“A really big problem for
growing cooperatives is that they often have difficulty expanding their
operations because they cannot raise sufficient capital. Either because they
can’t raise the funds from their existing members or they may not be able to
get loans from organizations that don’t quite understand the cooperative
business model,” said Congressman Fattah.
“A second key problem is lack of
knowledge… Many new cooperatives are filled with people who have the energy and
enthusiasm to start the cooperative and get it moving, but they may not have
the specialized knowledge that is needed to ensure that the co-op continues
operations long after that initial burst of enthusiasm runs out.”
Peter Frank is the Advocacy
Cooperation Works, the national network of co-op development centers. He is
working on the national campaign for HR 3677, getting cooperators in various
states to spend some of their times making visits to elected officials and
getting to know their Congressperson.
Frank is also in year five of
organizing a food co-op in the Fishtown neighborhood of Philadelphia. He and a group of organizers
have put together a community membership of 270 people, and are aiming for 750
members by the time their business opens. The idea is indeed catching on in Philadelphia, with its
tight-knit neighborhoods and participatory culture: there are currently seven
food co-ops starting up in various neighborhoods.
“When you set up a co-op, you’re
not just setting up a business, you are setting up a democratic organization to
run that business,” said Frank. Accounting is
different. Membership is new. The bylaws are different. You don't dazzle a
couple of investors - you build support from the community, member by member,
worker-owner by worker-owner.
Looking at the success of co-ops
in rural America,
you can see a pattern of latticework: members of one supplies-purchasing co-op
are often members of another co-op to take their produce to market—a mutually
reinforcing system of deepening relationships and community resiliency. In the
recent economic downturn and this summer's drought, the number of cooperatives
had shrunk while co-op employment went up; the USDA speculated that a number of
co-ops chose to merge rather than close.
It's very similar to the 50-year
experience of the largest system of cooperatives in the world, Mondragon—256 interlinked
companies with over 83,000 employees, operating in Spain under the slogan
"Humanity at Work." In the recent documentary Shift Change, Mondragon emerges as successful precisely
because humanistic business principles are simply better for the community,
longer-lasting, and more able to withstand the winds of economic change.
As American cities turn to
alternative models of finance and ownership in the blindingly obvious breakdown
of our free-market, private enterprise system, co-ops do seem to be emerging.
Telephone co-ops plunged ahead for 20 years before the federal government got
Hopefully, this time, it won't
take so long. The forward-thinking New York City Council this year funded
Brooklyn's Center for Family Life to train two community organizations in co-op development
(they've already help start 6 co-ops so far, all with a focus on immigrant
communities.) But federal funding dwarfs what cities need, especially cash-strapped
cities whose populations are paying fewer local taxes.
Compared to the default method
of economic development—which usually involves giving tax breaks to lure an
out-of-town corporation—local co-ops may be one of the best ways to bring
quality jobs back to America.
Want to start a co-op? See Mira
Luna's article on Howto Start a Worker Coop.
Image by the USDA,
licensed under Creative
11/26/2012 3:33:14 PM
To read about what Americans can do about human rights abuses in Palestine, check out "Can We Hold Israel Accountable," by Stephen Zunes.
This post originally appeared at TomDispatch.
“There is no
country on Earth that would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens from
outside its borders,” President Barack Obama said at a press conference last
week. He drew on this general observation in order to justify Operation Pillar
of Defense, Israel’s
most recent military campaign in the Gaza Strip. In describing the situation
this way, he assumes, like many others, that Gaza
is a political entity external and independent of Israel. This is not so. It is true
officially disengaged from the Gaza Strip in August 2005, withdrawing its
ground troops and evacuating the Israeli settlements there. But despite the
absence of a permanent ground presence, Israel
has maintained a crushing control over Gaza
from that moment until today.
of Israeli army veterans expose the truth of that “disengagement.” Before
Operation Pillar of Defense, after all, Israel launched Operations Summer
Rains and Autumn Clouds in 2006, and Hot Winter and Cast Lead in 2008 -- all
involving ground invasions. In one testimony, a veteran speaks of “a battalion
operation” in Gaza
that lasted for five months, where the soldiers were ordered to shoot “to draw
out terrorists” so they “could kill a few.”
Israeli naval blockades stop Gazans from fishing, a main source of food in
the Strip. Air blockades prevent freedom of movement. Israel does not allow building materials into
the area, forbids exports to the West Bank and Israel,
and (other than emergency humanitarian cases) prohibits movement between the
Gaza Strip and the West Bank. It controls the
Palestinian economy by periodically withholding import taxes. Its restrictions
have impeded the expansion and upgrading of the Strip’s woeful sewage
infrastructure, which could render life in Gaza untenable within a decade. The blocking
of seawater desalination has turned the water supply into a health hazard. Israel has repeatedly demolished small power
plants in Gaza,
ensuring that the Strip would have to continue to rely on the Israeli
electricity supply. Daily power shortages have been the norm for several years
presence is felt everywhere, militarily and otherwise.
By relying on
factual misconceptions, political leaders, deliberately or not, conceal
information that is critical to our understanding of events. Among the people best
qualified to correct those misconceptions are the individuals who have been
charged with executing a state’s policies -- in this case, Israeli soldiers
themselves, an authoritative source of information about their government’s
actions. I am a veteran of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), and I know that
our first-hand experiences refute the assumption, accepted by many, including
President Obama, that Gaza is an independent
political entity that exists wholly outside Israel. If Gaza
is outside Israel,
how come we were stationed there? If Gaza is
how come we control it? Oded Na’aman
testimonies by Israeli veterans that follow are taken from 145 collected by the
nongovernmental organization Breaking the Silence and published in Our Harsh Logic: Israeli Soldiers’ Testimonies From the
Occupied Territories, 2000-2010. Those in the book represent every
division in the IDF and all locations in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.]
Location: Nablus district
During your service in the territories, what shook you up the most?
The searches we
did in Hares. They said there are sixty houses that have to be searched. I
thought there must have been some information from intelligence. I tried to
justify it to myself.
out as a patrol?
It was a
battalion operation. They spread out over the whole village, took over the
school, smashed the locks, the classrooms. One was used as the investigation
room for the Shin Bet, one room for detainees, one for the soldiers to rest. We
went in house by house, banging on the door at two in the morning. The family’s
dying of fear, the girls are peeing in their pants with fear. We go into the
house and turn everything upside down.
family in a certain room, put a guard there, tell the guard to aim his gun at
them, and then search the rest of the house. We got another order that everyone
born after 1980... everyone between sixteen and twenty-nine, doesn’t matter
who, bring them in cuffed and blindfolded. They yelled at old people, one of
them had an epileptic seizure but they carried on yelling at him. Every house
we went into, we brought everyone between sixteen and twenty-nine to the
school. They sat tied up in the schoolyard.
tell you the purpose of all this?
To locate weapons. But we didn’t find any weapons. They confiscated kitchen
knives. There was also stealing. One guy took twenty shekels. Guys went into
the houses and looked for things to steal. This was a very poor village. The
guys were saying, “What a bummer, there’s nothing to steal.”
said in a conversation among the soldiers?
enjoyed seeing the misery, the guys were happy talking about it. There was a
moment someone yelled at the soldiers. They knew he was mentally ill, but one
of the soldiers decided that he’d beat him up anyway, so they smashed him. They
hit him in the head with the butt of the gun, he was bleeding, then they
brought him to the school along with everyone else. There were a pile of arrest
orders signed by the battalion commander, ready, with one area left blank.
They’d fill in that the person was detained on suspicion of disturbing the
peace. They just filled in the name and the reason for arrest. There were
people with plastic handcuffs that had been put on really tight. I got to speak
with the people there. One of them had been brought into Israel to work
for a settler and after two months the guy didn’t pay him and handed him over
to the police.
people came from that one village?
else you remember from that night?
A small thing,
but it bothered me -- one house that they just destroyed. They have a dog for
weapons searches, but they didn’t bring him; they just wrecked the house. The
mother watched from the side and cried. Her kids sat with her and stroked her.
What do you
mean, they just destroyed the house?
the floors, turned over sofas, threw plants and pictures, turned over beds,
smashed the closets, the tiles. There were other things -- the look on the
people’s faces when you go into their house. And after all that, they were left
tied up and blindfolded in the school for hours. The order came to free them at
four in the afternoon. So that was more than twelve hours. There were
investigators from the security services there who interrogated them one by
been a terrorist attack in the area?
No. We didn’t
even find any weapons. The brigade commander claimed that the Shin Bet did find
some intelligence, that there were a lot of guys there who throw stones.
Location: Gaza Strip
punishment. I hate that: “They did this to us, so we’ll do that to them.” Do
you know what a naval blockade means for the people in Gaza? There’s no food for a few days. For
example, suppose there’s an attack in Netanya, so they impose a naval blockade
for four days on the entire Strip. No seagoing vessel can leave. A Dabur patrol
boat is stationed at the entrance to the port, if they try to go out, within
seconds the soldiers shoot at the bow and even deploy attack helicopters to
scare them. We did a lot of operations with attack helicopters -- they don’t
shoot much because they prefer to let us deal with that, but they’re there to
scare people, they circle over their heads. All of a sudden there’s a Cobra
right over your head, stirring up the wind and throwing everything around.
frequent were the blockades?
Very. It could
be three times one month, and then three months of nothing. It depends.
blockade goes on for a day, two days, three days, four, or more than that?
remember anything longer than four days. If it was longer than that, they’d die
there, and I think the IDF knows that. Seventy percent of Gaza lives on fishing -- they have no other
choice. For them it means not eating. There are whole families who don’t eat
for a few days because of the blockade. They eat bread and water.
Shoot to Kill
operations in Gaza,
anyone walking around in the street, you shoot at the torso. In one operation
in the Philadelphi corridor, anyone walking around at night, you shoot at the
were the operations?
Daily. In the
Philadelphi corridor, every day.
searching for tunnels, how do people manage to get around -- I mean, they live
in the area.
It’s like this:
You bring one force up to the third or fourth floor of a building. Another
group does the search below. They know that while they’re doing the search
there’ll be people trying to attack them. So they put the force up high, so
they can shoot at anyone down in the street.
shooting was there?
there, I’m up on the third floor. I shoot at anyone I see?
But it’s in
Gaza, it’s a
street, it’s the most crowded place in the world.
No, no, I’m
talking about the Philadelphi corridor.
So that’s a
there’s a road, it’s like the suburbs, not the center. During operations in the
neighborhoods it’s the same thing. Shooting, during night operations --
any kind of announcement telling people to stay indoors?
actually shot people?
anyone walking around in the street. It always ended with, “We killed six
terrorists today.” Whoever you shot in the street is “a terrorist.”
they say at the briefings?
The goal is to
the rules of engagement?
walking around at night, shoot to kill.
about that in the briefings: whoever’s walking around during the day, look for
something suspicious. But something suspicious could be a cane.
Location: Gaza Strip
There was a
period at the beginning of the Intifada where they assassinated people using
This was at
the beginning of the Second Intifada?
Yes. But it was
a huge mess because there were mistakes and other people were killed, so they
told us we were now going to be doing a ground elimination operation.
Is that the
terminology they used? “Ground elimination operation”?
remember. But we knew it was going to be the first one of the Intifada. That
was very important for the commanders and we started to train for it. The plan
was to catch a terrorist on his way to Rafah, trap him in the middle of the
road, and eliminate him.
elimination. Targeted. But that operation was canceled, and then a few days
later they told us that we’re going on an arrest operation. I remember the
disappointment. We were going to arrest the guy instead of doing something
groundbreaking, changing the terms. So the operation was planned...
waiting inside the APC [armored personnel carrier], there are Shin Bet agents
with us, and we can hear the updates from intelligence. It was amazing, like,
“He’s sitting in his house drinking coffee, he’s going downstairs, saying hi to
the neighbor” -- stuff like that. “He’s going back up, coming down again,
saying this and that, opening the trunk now, picking up a friend” -- really
detailed stuff. He didn’t drive, someone else drove, and they told us his
weapon was in the trunk. So we knew he didn’t have the weapon with him in the
car, which would make the arrest easier. At least it relieved my stress,
because I knew that if he ran to get the weapon, they’d shoot at him.
the Shin Bet agent sit?
With me. In the
APC. We were in contact with command and they told us he’d arrive in another
five minutes, four minutes, one minute. And then there was a change in the
orders, apparently from the brigade commander: elimination operation. A minute
ahead of time. They hadn’t prepared us for that. A minute to go and it’s an elimination
Why do you
say “apparently from the brigade commander”?
I think it was
the brigade commander. Looking back, the whole thing seems like a political
ploy by the commander, trying to get bonus points for doing the first
elimination operation, and the brigade commander trying, too. . . everyone
wanted it, everyone was hot for it. The car arrives, and it’s not according to
plan: their car stops here, and there’s another car in front of it, here. From
what I remember, we had to shoot, he was three meters away. We had to shoot.
After they stopped the cars, I fired through the scope and the gunfire made an
insane amount of noise, just crazy. And then the car, the moment we started
shooting, started speeding in this direction.
The car in
terrorist’s car -- apparently when they shot the driver his leg was stuck on
the gas, and they started flying. The gunfire increased, and the commander next
to me is yelling “Stop, stop, hold your fire,” but they don’t stop shooting.
Our guys get out and start running, away from the jeep and the armored truck,
shoot a few rounds, and then go back. Insane bullets flying around for a few
minutes. “Stop, stop, hold your fire,” and then they stop. They fired dozens if
not hundreds of bullets into the car in front.
saying this because you checked afterward?
carried out the bodies. There were three people in that car. Nothing happened
to the person in the back. He got out, looked around like this, put his hands
in the air. But the two bodies in the front were hacked to pieces...
counted how many bullets I had left -- I’d shot ten bullets. The whole thing
was terrifying -- more and more and more noise. It all took about a second and
a half. And then they took out the bodies, carried the bodies. We went to a
debriefing. I’ll never forget when they brought the bodies out at the base. We
were standing two meters away in a semicircle, the bodies were covered in
flies, and we had the debriefing. It was, “Great job, a success. Someone shot
the wrong car, and we’ll talk about the rest back on the base.” I was in total
shock from all the bullets, from the crazy noise. We saw it on the video, it
was all documented on video for the debriefing. I saw all the things that I
told you, the people running, the minute of gunfire, I don’t know if it’s
twenty seconds or a minute, but it was hundreds of bullets and it was clear
that the people had been killed, but the gunfire went on and the soldiers were
running from the armored truck. What I saw was a bunch of bloodthirsty guys
firing an insane amount of bullets, and at the wrong car, too. The video was
just awful, and then the unit commander got up. I’m sure we’ll be hearing a lot
What do you
That he’ll be a
regional commanding officer or the chief of staff one day. He said, “The
operation wasn’t carried out perfectly, but the mission was accomplished, and
we got calls from the chief of staff, the defense minister, the prime minister”
-- everyone was happy, it’s good for the unit, and the operation was like, you
know, just: “Great job.” The debriefing was just a cover-up.
Meaning no one
stopped to say, “Three innocent people died.” Maybe with the driver there was
no other way, but who were the others?
they, in fact?
At that time I
had a friend training with the Shin Bet, he told me about the jokes going
around that the terrorist was a nobody. He’d probably taken part in some
shooting and the other two had nothing to do with anything. What shocked me was
that the day after the operation, the newspapers said that “a secret unit
killed four terrorists,” and there was a whole story on each one, where he came
from, who he’d been involved with, the operations he’d done. But I know that on
the Shin Bet base they’re joking about how we killed a nobody and the other two
weren’t even connected, and at the debriefing itself they didn’t even mention
Who did the
commander. The first thing I expected to hear was that something bad happened,
that we did the operation to eliminate one person and ended up eliminating
four. I expected that he’d say, “I want to know who shot at the first car. I
want to know why A-B-C ran to join in the big bullet-fest.” But that didn’t
happen, and I understood that they just didn’t care. These people do what they
do. They don’t care.
guys talk about it?
Yes. There were
two I could talk to. One of them was really shocked but it didn’t stop him. It
didn’t stop me, either. It was only after I came out of the army that I
understood. No, even when I was in the army I understood that something really
bad had happened. But the Shin Bet agents were as happy as kids at a summer
high-fiving and hugging. Really pleased with themselves. They didn’t join in
the debriefing, it was of no interest to them. But what was the politics of the
operation? How come my commanders, not one of them, admitted that the operation
had failed? And failed so badly with the shooting all over the place that the
guys sitting in the truck got hit with shrapnel from the bullets. It’s a
miracle we didn’t kill each other.
limbs were smeared on the wall
One company told me they did an operation where a woman was blown up and
smeared all over the wall. They kept knocking on her door and there was no
answer, so they decided to open it with explosives. They placed them at the
door and right at that moment the woman came to open it. Then her kids came
down and saw her. I heard about it after the operation at dinner. Someone said
it was funny that the kids saw their mother smeared on the wall and everyone
cracked up. Another time I got screamed at by my platoon when I went to give
the detainees some water from our field kit canteen. They said, “What, are you
crazy?” I couldn’t see what their problem was, so they said, “Come on, germs.”
In Nahal Oz, there was an incident with kids who’d been sent by their parents
to try to get into Israel to find food, because their families were hungry.
They were fourteen- or fifteen-year-old boys, I think. I remember one of them
sitting blindfolded and then someone came and hit him, here.
And poured oil
on him, the stuff we use to clean weapons.
shot at fishermen
There’s an area
bordering Gaza that’s under the navy’s control. Even after Israel disengaged
from the Strip, nothing changed in the sea sector. I remember that near Area K,
which divided Israel and Gaza, there were kids as young as four or six, who’d
get up early in the morning to fish, in the areas that were off-limits. They’d
go there because the other areas were crowded with fishermen. The kids always
tried to cross, and every morning we’d shoot in their direction to scare them
off. It got to the point of shooting at the kids’ feet where they were standing
on the beach or at the ones on surfboards. We had Druze police officers on
board who’d scream at them in Arabic. We’d see the poor kids crying.
What do you
mean, “shoot in their direction”?
It starts with
shooting in the air, then it shifts to shooting close by, and in extreme cases
it becomes shooting toward their legs.
Five or six
hundred meters, with a Rafael heavy machine gun, it’s all automatic.
perspective. On the screen, there’s a measure for height and a one for width,
and you mark where you want the bullet to go with the cursor. It cancels out
the effect of the waves and hits where it’s supposed to, it’s precise.
You aim a
meter away from the surfboard?
More like five
or six meters. I heard about cases where they actually hit the surfboards, but
I didn’t see it. There were other things that bothered me, this thing with
Palestinian fishing nets. The nets cost around four thousand shekels, which is
like a million dollars for them. When they wouldn’t do what we said too many
times, we’d sink their nets. They leave their nets in the water for something
like six hours. The Dabur patrol boat comes along and cuts their nets.
didn’t do what we said. Let’s say a boat drifts over to an area that’s
off-limits, so a Dabur comes, circles, shoots in the air, and goes back. Then
an hour later, the boat comes back and so does the Dabur. The third time
around, the Dabur starts shooting at the nets, at the boat, and then shoots to
off-limits area close to Israel?
area close to Israel
and another along the Israeli-Egyptian border… Israel’s
sea border is twelve miles out, and Gaza’s
is only three. They’ve only got those three miles, and that’s because of one
reason, which is that Israel
wants its gas, and there’s an offshore drilling rig something like three and a
half miles out facing the Gaza Strip, which should be Palestinian, except that
it’s ours… the Navy Special Forces unit provides security for the rig. A bird
comes near the area, they shoot it. There’s an insane amount of security for
that thing. One time there were Egyptian fishing nets over the three-mile
limit, and we dealt with them. A total disaster.
They were in
international waters, we don’t have jurisdiction there, but we’d shoot at them.
we’re at peace with Egypt.
Na’aman is co-editor of
Our Harsh Logic: Israeli Soldiers’ Testimonies from the
Occupied Territories, 2000–2010
(Metropolitan Books, 2012). He is also
a founder of Breaking the Silence, an Israeli organization dedicated to
collecting the testimonies of Israel
Defense Force soldiers, and a member of the Israeli Opposition Network. He
served in the IDF as a first sergeant and crew commander in the artillery corps
between 2000 and 2003 and is now working on his PhD in philosophy at Harvard University. The testimonies in this
piece from Our Harsh Logic have been adapted and shortened.
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Breaking the Silence
Image by David Masters, licensed under Creative Commons.
11/26/2012 2:24:41 PM
To read Breaking the Silence testimonies by Israeli soldiers on the ongoing occupation and blockade of Palestine, check out "It's Mostly Punishment," by Oded Na'aman.
of this article appeared at YesMagazine.org.
The great wish of the early Zionist leader
Theodor Herzl was that Israel
would be treated like “any other state.” Were that the case, there might be
more rational and productive discourse regarding the Israeli-Palestinian
conflict, which is particularly critical in light of Israel launching yet
another devastating attack against civilian-populated areas of nearby Arab
There are certainly those who do unfairly
single out Israel,
the world’s only predominantly Jewish state, for criticism. There is a tendency
by some to minimize Israel’s
legitimate security concerns and place inordinate attention on the Israeli
government’s transgressions, relative to other governments that abuse human
rights. There are also those who, in light of the five-year siege of the Gaza
Strip and the enormous suffering of the Palestinian
people, try to rationalize terrorism and other crimes by Hamas, the reactionary
Islamist group currently in control there.
What we recently witnessed from the Obama
administration, however—as Hamas rainedrockets
into Israel and Israel rained bombs, missiles, and mortars into
the crowded and besieged Gaza Strip—was the similarly unfair phenomenon of
from criticism. While most of the international community has criticized both Hamas and Israel for
their attacks on areas populated by civilians, the Obama administration has
restricted its condemnation to the Palestinian side.
U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice—widely
considered to be the president’s first choice to succeed Hillary Clinton as
Secretary of State—correctly noted that there is “no justification for the
violence that Hamas and other terrorist organizations are employing against the
people of Israel.”
However, she had absolutely no criticism of Israel’s
far more devastating attacks against the people of the Gaza Strip, simply
saying that "Israel,
like any nation, has the right to defend itself against such vicious attacks.”
The real issue, however, is not Israel’s
right to self-defense but its attacks on crowded residential neighborhoods,
which killed 103 Palestinian civilians (as compared with four Israeli civilians
killed by Hamas rockets). The Obama administration’s position is ironic given
that, while both sides share the blame for the tragedy, it appears that it is Israel which
has been primarily responsible for breaking the recent fragile ceasefires,
through acts such as its assassination of a leading Hamas official and attacks
that killed a number of boys playing soccer.
In the face of growing calls from throughout
the world for both sides to de-escalate the violence, the White House said on November
17 that it would leave
it to Israel to decide whether it is appropriate to launch a ground
invasion. Similarly, in response to the outcry at the growing number of
civilian casualties from the Israeli bombardment of civilian areas of the Gaza
Strip, Obama's Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes insisted, “The
Israelis are going to make decisions about their own military tactics and
On November 15, both the U.S. Senate
passed, by unanimous voice votes, resolutions defending Israel's ongoing war on the Gaza
Strip. Unlike some of the statements from the Obama administration supporting
attacks, these resolutions failed to call on both sides to exercise restraint
or to express any regret at the resulting casualties.
This position is not a new one among U.S. elected
officials. Back in February 2009, following the devastating three-week war
between Israeli and Hamas forces—named “Operation Cast Lead” by the Israelis—in
which three Israeli civilians and more than 800 Palestinian civilians were
killed, Amnesty International called for an international arms embargo on both
Israel and Hamas to prevent the kind of tragic attacks on civilians in which
both sides are currently engaging. President Barack Obama, who had just taken
office, categorically rejected Amnesty's proposal, and instead increased U.S. military aid to Israel to record
Israel was no doubt emboldened in launching its 2012offensive as a result of the strong
support it received from the United
States in 2009. For example, the U.S. House
of Representatives—in a direct challenge to the credibility of Amnesty
International, Human Rights Watch, the International Red Cross, and other reputable
humanitarian organizations—passed a resolution
in January of 2009 declaring that the Israeli armed forces bore no
responsibility for the large numbers of civilian casualties from their assault
on the Gaza Strip.
The resolution put forward a disturbing
interpretation of international humanitarian law: that, by allegedly breaking
the cease-fire, Hamas was responsible for all subsequent deaths, and that the
presence of Hamas officials or militia members in mosques, hospitals, or
residential areas made those locations legitimate targets.
Human rights reports comdemned
Unusual interpretations of international
law have long played a role in the special treatment Israel
receives from the United
States. In the fall of 2009, when a
blue-ribbon panel of prominent international jurists—veterans of human rights
investigations in Sudan, Rwanda, and the former Yugoslavia—led a meticulously
detailed U.N.-sponsored investigation that confirmed previous human rights
reports by documenting possible war crimes on both sides, Congress passed
another lopsided bipartisan
resolution condemning the investigation for failing to absolve Israel of
any responsibility. The Obama administration succeeded in blocking the United
Nations from acting on the report’s recommendations that both sides be
investigated for possible war crimes.
The human rights investigations from 2009
and earlier examined Israeli claims that Hamas’ alleged use of “human shields”
was responsible for the large number of civilian casualties. While these probes
criticized Hamas for at times having men and materiel too close to
civilian-populated areas, they were unable to find even one incident of Hamas
deliberately holding civilians against their will in an effort to deter Israeli
The Obama administration and Congressional
leaders, however, insisted that they knew more about what happened inside the
Gaza Strip than these on-the-ground investigations by expert human rights
monitors and respected international jurists. As a renewed round of attacks is
unleashed upon this small and heavily populated Palestinian enclave, they are
now making similar claims to justify the ongoing Israeli attacks on civilian
As Amnesty and other human rights groups
have observed, however, even if Hamas were using human shields, it would still
not justify Israel
killing Palestinian civilians.
States has not been hesitant to criticize Russia in its attacks on Chechnya and Georgia,
in its more recent attacks against its own people. Yet both Congress and the
administration seem willing to bend over backwards to rationalize for Israel when it
The administration’s criticism of Hamas
rocket attacks would also have more credibility if they didn’t also oppose
nonviolent means of challenging the siege of Gaza and the occupation and
colonization of West Bank lands, such as boycotts and divestment against
companies supporting the occupation, UN recognition of Palestinian statehood,
humanitarian aid flotillas to Gaza, and targeted sanctions against Israeli
violations of international humanitarian law
Fair application of universal principles
While the Israeli-Palestinian conflict
certainly has unique aspects, it is critical for those supportive of peace and
human rights to underscore universal principles,
such as those enshrined in international humanitarian law.
The fact that Israel
is perceived as an important strategic ally of the United States does not mean we
should ignore its violations of well-established legal norms any more than
those committed by a perceived adversary like Hamas. Those of us in the peace
movement should challenge elected officials who currently support unconditional
U.S. military aid to the
Israeli government and rationalize its attacks on civilians just as vigorously
as we did those who in earlier years supported unconditional U.S. military aid to El
and other repressive Cold War allies of the United States.
And while it is important to recognize the
special sensitivity some people have regarding the subject of Israel, this
should not deter those who care about human rights from speaking out. Indeed,
even putting aside the important moral and legal critiques of Israel’s recent offensive against the Gaza
Strip and the ongoing siege of the crowded enclave, such policies ultimately
by encouraging extremism among Palestinians struggling for the right of
It is also important to recognize that,
while both sides have committed great wrongs against the other’s people, there
exists a gross asymmetry in power. Israel—the occupying power, which possesses
by far the strongest military in the region, one of the world’s higher
standards of living, and the backing of the world’s one remaining
superpower—has a huge advantage over the impoverished Gaza Strip, with its weak
and isolated Hamas government struggling under a five-year air, land, and sea
blockade, and without an air force, navy, or standing army.
Fortunately, thousands of Israelis have
taken to the streets in protest of their government’s attacks on the Gaza
Strip. Israeli peace and human rights activists have called on the Obama
administration to end its support for Netanyahu’s militarism. As citizens of
the country that has provided Israel with the military, financial, and
diplomatic support that has made the renewed killing possible, those of us in
the United States have a special obligation to challenge the administration and
Congress to end its unconscionable support for the ongoing destruction.
As we would such policies toward any other
Zunes wrote this article for
, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas
with practical actions. Stephen is a professor of Politics and International
Studies at the University of San Francisco and chairs the academic advisory
committee of the International
Center on Nonviolent
Voice for Peace, licensed under Creative Commons.
11/20/2012 2:32:13 PM
This post originally appeared at Waging
are standing up to live better,” say Walmart’s retail workers, playfully
twisting Walmart’s slogan of “live better” into a rallying
cry for better conditions and treatment. In a taste of what the nation’s
largest retailer can expect on Black Friday, frustrated Walmart workers have
again started walking off their jobs to protest their employer’s attempts to
silence outspoken workers.
from both the retail and warehouse sectors of Walmart’s supply chain have
called for nation-wide protests, strikes and actions on, and leading up to,
next Friday — the busiest shopping day of the year. In the past week, wildcat
strikes in Dallas, Seattle and the Bay Area saw dozens of retail workers — from
multiple store — walk away from their shifts, suggesting that the Black Friday
threats are to be taken seriously.
Dan Schlademan, Director of the Making Change at Walmart campaign,
said in a nation-wide conference call organized for media on Thursday that
Walmart can expect more than 1,000 different protests, including strikes and
rallies at Walmart stores between now and Black Friday.
to organizers working with the Walmart retail workers’ association, OUR Walmart, stores around the country —
including, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, Miami, Milwaukee, Washington D.C. and
others — can expect workers to go on strike. Specific dates have not been
announced yet out of concern to minimize chances for Walmart to preemptively
silence workers’ voices.
are expecting a wide variety of activity — strikers right in front of their
stores, demonstrations, flash mobs, rallies and people working to educate
customers — I think it’s going to be a very creative day.” said Schlademan.
“Brave strikers are seeing a huge amount of support from community allies.”
Waging Nonviolence has previously reported,
the historic wildcat strikes are invigorating a new form of labor organizing of
non-union labor. By drawing on the support of community allies — particularly
from religious and student groups — workers are finding it increasingly easier
to resist their employer’s abuses.
addition to joining striking workers at rallies at Walmart stores, supporters
are able to donate
to Making Change at Walmart to help the striking low-wage workers make up lost
wages. In the form of food gift cards, the community support organization
Making Change at Walmart is providing concrete ways for others to be in
solidarity with Walmart’s workers. Thus far, $25,000 has been raised.
this kind of grassroots support pales in comparison to the revenue and capital
at Walmart’s disposal. Some Walmart executives are making upwards of $10
million a year while full-time retail workers struggle to make ends meet. Sara
Gilbert, a customer service manager at a Seattle Walmart, makes only $14,000 a
year to support her family.
work full time for one of the richest companies in the world and yet my
children are on state healthcare and we get subsidized housing,” said Gilbert
who joined other OUR Walmart associates in Seattle’s walkout on Thursday. Walmart posted
almost $16 billion in profits last year and recently announced changes to
employee healthcare premiums that could raise the cost for workers as much as
back in the struggle against Walmart are its warehouse workers. On November 14,
the Inland Empire, Calif.,
warehouse workers — who are privately contracted through the logistics company
NFI but move 100 percent Walmart goods — resumed their strike due to
retaliations against outspoken workers. The workers were part of the 15-day
strike in mid-September that re-ignited workers’ efforts to change
Walmart’s treatment of its employees.
Garcia, a warehouse worker from Southern California who took part in the first
strike, was recently terminated for speaking out against unsafe working conditions
and broken equipment. According to Elizabeth Brennan, an organizer with
Warehouse Workers United with whom the NFI workers are affiliated, about three
dozen workers have had their hours cut while others have been demoted and
suspended in retaliatory efforts from Walmart’s contractor to curb organizing
been tough,” said
Garcia. “My kids need food, school supplies and an apartment to sleep in at
night, but right now it is difficult to provide them these basic things.”
Thursday, six community supporters were arrested for blocking a major
thoroughfare to the Walmart-contracted warehouse. The two dozen striking
warehouse workers returned to work on November 16.
Inland Empire strike, which still demands an
end to unsafe working conditions, retaliatory practices and poor wages, comes
during a crucial time when much of Walmart’s supply chain is moving into high
gear. It remains unclear whether the strikes and walkouts will generate enough
pressure to force Walmart to systematically change how it treats its 1.4
million employees, but the Walmart workers movement seems to be spreading and
Action Network is hosting online activism for supporters as well as
publicizing some of the events planned at Walmart stores for Black Friday.
While some activists for workers’ rights and just wages advocate boycotting
Walmart and shopping on Black Friday in general, Making Change at Walmart has
not called for boycotts but affirms all efforts that support workers’ rights to
assemble and speak out.
Fletcher, a Walmart employee in California
plans to go on strike to emphasize her message that Walmart is not listening to
its workers. Fletcher and her husband both have to work Thanksgiving Day for
Walmart and will miss spending the holiday with their two young children.
Complaints have alleged that Walmart’s scheduling practices have made it very
difficult for families to spend time with each other on holidays like Thanksgiving
when Walmart plans to open its doors to shoppers that evening. Fletcher wants
Walmart executives to know that Walmart’s employees are just as important as
are going to make the ultimate sacrifice,” said Fletcher who is also a part of
OUR Walmart. “By going on strike on the busiest shopping day of the year, we
hope to send a message out to Walmart that we are not a small percentage of
workers who are struggling and that we mean business.”
Image by Walmart Corporate, licensed under Creative Commons.
And check out this video from OUR Walmart, "Why Are We Standing Up to Live Better?"
11/20/2012 2:31:00 PM
This post first appeared on Shareable.
One of the defining features of this economic crisis is massive debt: student debt, medical debt, credit cards and underwater mortgages. The last thirty years have seen a stagnation of actual wages, which, combined with government cuts, outsourcing and off shoring, has meant a stagnation of the real purchasing power of the American people (alongside many more destructive results). To offset this lag, America has turned to debt, which can only paper over the lack of real capital for so long. The current crisis has seen millions devastated by the bursting of these credit bubbles. What solutions can help get people out of these debt traps?
One idea that's received much atttention lately is the Rolling Jubilee. The strategy, developed by Strike Debt, an offshoot of Occupy Wall Street, involves the abolition of private debt through totally legal market practices. The method is graceful in its simplicity: banks that are holding debt they can’t collect sell that debt really cheap on a secondary debt market, almost always to debt collectors. What Rolling Jubilee does is purchase this debt, and then cancel it, freeing the debtor from the claims of the bank and the debt collection agencies. As of this writing, the Rolling Jubilee has raised almost $350,000, which will abolish just under $7 million of debt, a very impressive achievement.
Mike Andrews is a member of Strike Debt, the organization that helped bring the Rolling Jubilee to fruition, and has seen the Rolling Jubilee develop from its first stages. I sat down to talk to him about Strike Debt, the Rolling Jubilee, and larger term strategies for combating debt in America.
Willie: What is the genesis of the Rolling Jubilee idea? How did it get started?
Mike: I don’t actually know who precisely within Strike Debt proposed the idea, but my understanding is that it had been the pet project of one or two people for some time, and that Strike Debt presented an opportunity to try to make it happen. There was lots of conversation about it for a long time. I heard the phrase Rolling Jubilee mentioned a lot at meetings, and at first didn’t know exactly what it was.
Then research started happening: there was a lot of investigation into the legality of buying this debt from the secondary market, what the tax implications would be for the people who bought it, and for the people who had it bought for them. Lawyers were consulted. We have moles in the debt collection industry who have been helpful. So there was a lot of cautious research that went into exploring the idea: a non-profit entity was created to purchase the debt and then eventually there was a ‘test buy’, where about $4,000 was spent to buy this secondary debt, which amounted to something like $20,000 dollars worth of debt, and it went through fine.
Willie: So what are the mechanics of the Rolling Jubilee? How is this debt bought, and how is it cancelled?
Mike: This debt exists in a secondary market. The money raised through the People’s Bailout, the telethon, will go to buy medical debt. The people whose debt we’re buying, their lenders have given up on them, they’re in default. So the lenders, the banks sell their debt into this shadowy secondary market, where it may go through an intermediary or two, but it usually ends up in the hands of shady people, debt collectors, who buy this debt for pennies on the dollar thinking they can collect on it. And even if they don’t collect on the full amount, they may make some profit. Individuals will know that their debt has been purchased, and been cancelled. We will notify people that this debt has been purchased in the spirit of mutual aid, and this is an activist project and not just that the lender has given up on them.
The rolling part of the Rolling Jubilee- this is a gesture of mutual aid, and if you benefit from this gesture of mutual aid, you can maybe do what you can to help other people benefit, whether that means giving a few bucks or organizing a benefit concert or something where you live. The idea is to pay it forward.
Jeff Mangum and Guy Picciotto play the People's Bailout
Willie: Let’s talk about that Rolling part of the Jubilee. One way you can use paying it forward is to build a network: you help someone with the idea that the person who is helped will provide aid to others, and so you slowly build this network of people in that way. How do you think Rolling Jubilee is going to roll, is it related to these processes?
Mike: Historically, the jubilee is where the king or whoever abolishes all debts. And the idea of the Rolling Jubilee, instead of all debts being abolished at the stroke of a pen or a declaration of a king or something, is debt would be abolished in segments. That’s the kind of governing idea. There are two aspects in which this could be rolling. It’s rolling in the sense that you just described, where the people who benefit from it then organize themselves or even contribute money to other people benefiting from it. The secondary debt market makes it impossible to know who's debt you’re buying before you buy it, in order to avoid people buying up their own debt for cheap. But you can buy a specific kind of debt for a specific region, like, say, medical debt in New Jersey, and then, after you make the purchase, you get the debtors’ contact info, since a debt collector would need this info to hound people. We're going to use this info to call or send letters to people informing them that Strike Debt has abolished their debt.
The other sense in which this is rolling, the kick off event, the People’s Bailout, is just to demonstrate that this can be done. The idea is for other groups, other people to hold fundraisers so they can then buy debt. So that’s another sense in which it’s rolling. I know that already Michelle Shocked is holding a benefit concert in New Orleans soon for buying debt and abolishing it. So it seems to have started, in a small way, the rolling idea.
Willie: How do you conceptualize this, or how has it been conceptualized at least, as transforming or politically attacking the ethos of debt? I know that Strike Debt is about more than just getting people out of debt, so how does the Rolling Jubilee fit into Strike Debt’s view about how to change debt?
Mike: One of the first things that Strike Debt did to try to alter the framework around debt is to reject the language of forgiveness, the moral language that surrounds debt. So in the things we’ve produced, whether it’s propaganda or the Debt Resistors Manual , we avoid calling for debt forgiveness, we avoid the word “debt forgiveness”. Similarly, with the Rolling Jubilee we’re not saying that we’re “forgiving” the debt we’re buying, we’re cancelling it or we’re abolishing it. So we’re trying to reject the morality around debt, and part of that is saying that these debts are illegitimate. Today we all have to go into debt just to meet our basic necessities whether its going to college so we can get a decent job or seeking medical care or anything like that. So the idea is that these debts that we incurred are not legitimate, we don’t owe, we don’t actually owe you, we reject this debt both monetary and moral. But figuring out a strategy for how to connect debt to a larger anti-capitalist program, it’s difficult to really think through those steps, so I think as a group we’re just experimenting with something we have the capacity to do, to see what happens, and then depending on the results decide what to do next. So the grand idea behind the Rolling Jubilee is to relieve a lot of people’s debt initially as a gesture of mutual aid, to make day to day survival easier for people who have a lot of this medical debt. But if this spreads widely it actually might cause some havoc. Some people have been critiquing Rolling Jubilee by saying: 'well if lenders or the secondary debt market catches wind of it they’ll just stop selling debt.' Yeah, you’re right! And that would be an amazing victory, if this spread widely enough that this shady secondary market were altered. It would just show we are doing the right thing.
David Harvey on the Crises of Capitalism
Willie: I think also there’s an interesting confrontation where the banks could refuse to sell the debt to Rolling Jubilee once they know who it's going to, showing what they actually they want is the immiseration, because they’re getting the money anyway. I don’t know if that’s been talked about by Rolling Jubilee folks, or if that’s a possibility that they won't sell the debt.
Mike: I think what's been very, what’s distinguished the Strike Debt conversation from a kind of Occupy conversation is that there have both been conversations that are practical about actions and things, but also theoretical, complex and rigorous discussions. But yeah, the banks in a lot of cases don’t actually need to be repaid, they can write it off, it may even be more trouble than its worth for them financially to be seeking this debt. But what’s intolerable to them is the refusing of the moral obligation to pay debt. The idea that the debtor says: “this debt is actually not legitimate, morally I don’t owe you”, is far more threatening. The idea that that could spread, we don’t owe, we won't pay, is far more threatening than not receiving a certain amount of money.
Willie: So you mentioned you’re sort of throwing stuff against the wall to see what sticks. Is there a longer term strategy or goal out of Strike Debt or Rolling Jubilee?
Mike: It’s a debt strike, ultimately. In the sort of embryonic stages , when people were trying to come up with the name, and this was before I got involved, there was lots of conversation about reversing this phrase “debt strike” to “strike debt”, making it more of an active thing. Rather than just “we’re gonna stop doing something, withhold something” we’re gonna actively try and destroy something, destroy a certain system. So yeah, it’s there in the name, a widespread debt strike. But we all know that that is a very lofty ambition, something that’s very difficult to organize and something that doesn’t have much modern precedent.
But we think there are ways to do incremental debt strikes that lead up to it. There’s a lot of talk about starting a debtors’ union. One of the ideas there would be to connect people who, for example, all have student loan debt to the same lender. And do something that starts small, say you get 50,000 people to pledge to withhold their student debt payment for one month. And it’s modest because, for the most part, if you’ve been paying regularly there’s no penalty for missing a month’s student loan debt. But just the shock of not receiving that much money and seeing: “oh wow all our debtors are in communication and are coordinating” is a threatening gesture. And it’s something down the line, and we know this is a multi-year project, but you could actually have lots of debtors refusing in a way that gives them leverage to do practical things like negotiate down their interest rate or do more radical things like try to bring down a bank. So that’s the horizon.
Willie: How does Strike Debt see itself as attached to notions of alternative economy? Producing a positive alternative economy situation, how do you see that attached to the Rolling Jubilee project in specific and Strike Debt more generally?
Mike: We’re definitely interested in certain forms of solidarity economy. Being in default is no picnic. You’re hounded by debt collectors, they can garnish your wages, there are lots of ramifications that can make your life hell. So in a lot of ways you may have to partially if not fully withdraw from the formal economy. And because Strike Debt is calling for people to stop paying their debt, we know that there has to be a corresponding increase in mutual aid, solidarity networks, so people aren’t facing the consequences of default alone. Part of our ethos is to connect people who are in debt in a similar economic condition and have them be conscious of each other as debtors. So, similarly we need to connect people to support each other when they default either voluntarily or involuntarily. On a couple of occasions we’ve actually gone around and people have said how much debt they have. A lot of people involved in Strike Debt have a lot of debt, so they’re very very personally motivated in this project.
In an episode of South Park from March, 2009, Kyle takes on the debt of the people of South Park.
11/2/2012 2:42:35 PM
This post originally
appeared at Chronicle.com.
Fallows, former speechwriter for President Jimmy Carter and a longtime national
correspondent for The Atlantic, is generally known as a liberal-leaning but
hardly flame-throwing commentator on politics. In June, Fallows, who had been
writing for some time about Republican efforts to create a 60-vote "supermajority"
in the U.S. Senate, posted a blog entry called "5 Signs the United States
Is Undergoing a Coup." That headline lasted about three hours. On further
reflection, Fallows said in a corrective message, using the word
"coup" in his headline gave the wrong impression. He changed the
title to "5 Signs of a Radical Change in U.S. Politics."
His concern was not just with the filibuster. Fallows also
asked whether we can call a society democratic if unelected judges determine a
presidential election, after which the newly installed president appoints
similarly minded judges, who then use their position to change the rules to
favor their party.
Fallows's alteration raises two fascinating questions: At
what point should we start describing our liberal-democratic heritage as under
threat? And what should our appropriate language be for discussing it?
Was Fallows right to use the word "coup"? Before
we can answer that question, we must first consider another. Fallows had taken
the word from a slightly earlier post he had written, titled "Scotus
Update: La Loi, C'est Moi." Readers asked, Why the French words? Fallows
did not really answer, except to say something about The Atlantic's
policies involving capitalization. Let me try.
Perhaps because the United States was created during a
liberal era, as the late 18th century truly was, our language lacks words that
convey the full force of reactionary politics. From time to time, we required
terms to describe the old order, such as when we denounced King George as a
tyrant (itself a word derived from Old French). But our demagogues,
rhetorically, have generally confined themselves to the English language.
Father Charles E. Coughlin, the controversial right-wing
priest who had a popular radio program in the 1930s, called Franklin D.
Roosevelt "the great betrayer and liar" and Jews "Christ
killers" and "usurers." Robert W. Welch Jr., co-founder of the
John Birch Society, called Dwight D. Eisenhower a "conscious, dedicated
agent of the Communist conspiracy." While alliteration provides emphasis,
labeling someone conscious and dedicated is not among the worst of insults.
None of this is to deny the viciousness of anti-Semites or racists. But even
Senator Theodore G. Bilbo, Democrat of Mississippi, perhaps the most hateful
politician ever elected to high office in the United States—he called his
opponent's supporters "shooters of widows and orphans,"
"spitters on our heroic veterans," and "skunks who steal Gideon Bibles
from hotel rooms"—relied on language that every backwoods white person in
his home state could understand. We have had more than our share of extremism,
but most of it has been homegrown.
In more recent times, by contrast, when we want to leave the
discourse of liberal democracy behind, we seem to leave English behind as well.
Consider the title of Fallows's first post on these issues, borrowed from Louis
XIV's famous declaration, L'état, c'est moi. The first word puts us on the turf of
American exceptionalism: We have no equivalent term in English to l'état, or
for that matter, the German der Staat. Americans call the official apparatus of politics
and policy "government" rather than "the state," as if to
soften the implications of what it actually does.
Lacking a state, we are uncomfortable with raison d'état,
or, its German relation, realpolitik. We have had practitioners of such arts,
none more adept than Henry Kissinger. But Kissinger spoke with a heavy accent,
as if to remind us that the pursuit of power for its own sake, associated with
him, came from somewhere else. Americans instinctively (or should I say
linguistically?) prefer Wilsonian idealism to Metternichian realism. The world,
we insist, is not composed of states engaged in endless conflict as they follow
their own interests; it ought to be a "league of nations" or, better
yet, a "United Nations." Americans go to war often, but not, we tell
ourselves, for our own advantage.
It follows that if you really want to attack your opponents
these days, you are best off doing so in another language. When the editors of
the religious conservative magazine First Things determined in 1997 that
the left-wing activism of the U.S. Supreme Court—oh, those were the days—had
made the American government illegitimate, they characterized it as a regime,
or, should I say, a régime. In choosing a French word, they suggested that the
American experiment in self-government had come to an end. We can talk about a
political "system" without raising eyebrows. Régime, by
contrast, as in ancien
régime, connotes a preliberal, European society characterized not
only by arbitrary rule but also by a corrupt aristocracy unworthy of holding on
to its unearned privileges.
Of course we have no such aristocracy; if we did, our
extreme conservatives would come to its defense. But instead of an inherited
ruling class, we have liberal elites (or élites), who, according to the late
Richard John Neuhaus and others associated with this point of view, constitute
a new class of arrogant planners determined to impose their conception of the
good society upon ordinary people, whether they want it or not. While
neoconservatives balked when Neuhaus, editor and founder of First Things,
called for civil disobedience to the new class, there was no disagreement over
the use of "regime."
It was, after all, Leo Strauss, the philosopher so important
to the rise of neoconservatism, who had introduced the term. Aristotle's politeia was
usually rendered as "the polity" until Strauss translated it as
"regime," or "the order, the form, which gives society its
character." Any society can have a regime in the sense Strauss meant, and
he hoped that the United
States could find its way to being a
"good regime." But there can be no doubt that his use of term was
meant to suggest that, for him and those he influenced, much was wrong with the
politics of the liberal democratic West.
Those in the attack mode need not rely just on French and
German. Conservatives are not generally known as sympathetic to Russia, but
when it comes to denouncing the Obama administration, the Russian language is
something they cannot resist. George Will, the conservative columnist,
convinced that the Obama administration is on the verge of lawlessness, has on
more than one occasion used the word ukase to characterize policies he
The Democrats, we are told, conscious of how unpopular those
policies are, rely on czars to oversee them: The Obama administration
"seems to be captivated by the un-American notion of running the country
through Russian-style czars empowered to issue czarist-style ukases,"
Phyllis Schlafly, the dean of such discourse, opined in 2009. Townhall.com has
charged the president with having a "czar fetish."
Given the craze for Russian on the right, small wonder that
conservatives accuse Democrats of engaging in agitprop on the question of birth
control (Jonah Goldberg), filling their policy positions with apparatchiks
(Michelle Malkin), and consigning their enemies to the gulag (Ann Coulter).
About the only thing the Obama administration has not done, if you are a
conservative, is to promote glasnost...
Read the rest at Chronicle.com.
Image by shannonpatrick17, licensed under Creative Commons.
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