Funding the New Apartheid

It’s been a while since we’ve heard the term apartheid.  Originally a term coined by white Dutch speaking settlers in South Africa to designate racial segregation (apartness), it was what Nelson Mandela stood against, ultimately prevailing over white supremacy there in the early 1990s.  And we have it again, in the words of a friend of mine who recently visited Israel.  Her description of a Palestinian market and how it was quarantined by Israeli soldiers was horrifying.  And it’s an example of what Palestinians deal with on a daily basis and have done so for years.

Israel receives more foreign aid from the US than any other country in the world, three billion dollars a year, followed by Egypt, at about half that, annually (though probably not for long).  And Israel has proved to be nothing more than a millstone around our neck.  Our longstanding association with them has tainted us to an extent that nothing else possibly could amongst the Muslim world (except maybe for the wars we’re currently waging in two Muslim countries trying to recast them in our image).  Israeli actions in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip have stood in the way of a meaningful peace for years.  That’s not to say that Palestinians are blameless, but it’s clear that Israeli actions, particularly the recent drive to ‘settle’ certain areas in which Palestinians already live are the biggest roadblock to peace in the region today.

So, Israel’s reviled and we’re footing part of their bill.  To the tune of three billion dollars a year, the majority of which goes to arms purchases.  In a day and age when our balance sheet looks like a vodoo priest made a sacrifice over it, conservatives are calling for the US to either end or significantly reduce foreign aid as we know it.  But the funny thing is, not to Israel.  They’re probably not going to lose any of their money.  Of 87 Republican House freshmen, 65 signed a vow from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) promising that they won’t make any cuts to the current levels of foreign aid to Israel.  At a time when Republicans insist that all options are ‘on the table,’ to exempt any country, particularly Israel, is just plain foolish.

This is bad politics.  This is bad foreign policy.  This is bad for the budget.  And this is bad morally.  Say what you will about the Palestinians, but what Israel has done in recent years is morally unacceptable in terms of blocking peace.  And we’re footing the bill.  You and I, indirectly, are partially paying for the new apartheid in the Middle East.


Life After Gates

Defense Secretary Robert Gates is unique in the President’s cabinet for the fact that he was also the only official to serve under President George W. Bush.  No other cabinet official was asked to stay on.  After Democrats captured both houses of Congress in the midterm elections in 2006, Bush fired then Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and replaced him with Gates, the political independent who has served as a senior bureaucrat in many capacities.  He’s widely been credited for beginning those processes that will eventually trim down the military, and he’s also been lauded for making improvements in overall strategy in both Afghanistan and Iraq.

But he’s tired.  He’s had one of the most demanding jobs in the nation for the past six years.  And he wants to go.  I can’t say that I blame him.  One of the biggest challenges that we face once he leaves is to make sure that the cutbacks that he’s recommended be put and place and approved are actually enacted.  For example, the Army has more Humvees than it knows what to do with.  But there’s still $863 million dollars in the last defense authorization left over that for said Humvees the Army doesn’t want.  At a time when our country is bleeding cash like a Romanov with a paper cut, that’s kind of nuts.

I think Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s going to get moved over to Defense.  And I think that Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) will take her place at State.  He’s been angling for the job since Obama was elected.  He’s been around the block a few times, and really, he probably wouldn’t embarrass us too much.  But, should Gates leave, I think the biggest challenge we’d face is making sure that cuts that we need to make are actually implemented.  It’ll cost us jobs, but we can’t afford not to act.  It’s simply too expensive not to.

Public Broadcasting: Do Not Pass Go

I’ve just about had it with NPR.  WNYC, the public radio station here in New York, has what is probably the most aggressive pledge in the nation drive three times a year, and I’m sick to death of it.  The only redeeming parts of it are the spots that Alec Baldwin wrote and performed for them.  I know he wrote them because they’re side splittingly funny, and there’s noone at WNYC that has the talent that can make me laugh that hard.  Say what you will about public radio, but the local stations don’t put anything out that’s that funny.  WNYC is so aggressive in their fundraising, that if I hear the term ‘doing your part’ one  more time, I’m liable to throw my radio through the window.

So why do I bring this up?  I’ve suffered through enough of these borderline offensive pledge drives for years.  But now, when they say that government funding no longer makes up a significant portion of their revenues and cannot be relied upon as a funding source, I find a gap in their logic.  Hey, WNYC, I’ve started to hear the exact opposite from our buddies on the left.  That government defunding of public broadcasting would be the death knell of journalism and broadcasting as we know it in this country.  False.  Sorry guys, you can’t have it both ways.  Also, drop the act that if the Feds turn off the gravy faucet, that you’re going to go belly up.  There’s more than enough rich white liberals in New York that fall for your guilt trips.

Mocking the French

When George W. Bush was President, I hated the inevitable conversations that would start, particularly with west Europeans about how awful our President was.  I found that national politics is like a family affair.  I can criticize my relatives, but I’ll be damned it someone outside the family is going to be able to do the same thing.  And to make it even worse, there was this ingrained sense of sanctimony, an assumed attitude of superiority that I ran into, all the time, whenever I was speaking with someone from France or Germany, for example.  ‘Oh, you Americans, you are so conservative and racist!  Just look at your President.’

Well, those of us in the American left may have someone to mock on the other side of the Atlantic, if a certain poll is to be believed.  Next year France, along with the United States, will be holding presidential elections.  Marine La Pen, daughter of legendary far right extremist Jean-Marie Le Pen, is leading in an online poll.  Her father placed second in the 2002 presidential race there, shocking political observers.  She’s proved to be far less provocative than her truculent father, but she still represents the same far right political stances that her father espoused through his long political career.  He’s handed over the reigns of power to her, and she’s proving to be an able politician.

For the sake of France, I hope she’s not elected.  But, if she is, making fun of how ‘conservative and racist’ the French are certainly would be a the silver lining in what would otherwise be a disaster for Europe.


As many of you know, I grew up in a rather conservative Catholic environment.  Part of that upbringing was the rite known as the sacrament of ‘reconciliation’.  Before the 1990s, it was referred to as confession, which has a much more sinister connotation.  Basically, confession is where God forgives you, by proxy (as with everything in the Catholic church) through a priest after telling him all of your dirty little secrets.  How many times you lied to your mother in a given week, or that you pushed a classmate into an elevator shaft, for example.  I remember at my first confession someone came out of the stern German priest’s confessional, sobbing hysterically.  Right after that, it was my turn to go confess, but, lucky for me, I had chosen the kindly Irish priest who was known for giving light penances.  Not the German who made nine year olds cry.  The entire idea is rather invasive, and even at the time I thought it was rather idiotic.

As it turns out, I’m not alone.  In France, a telephone messaging service has set up a service where you can call a paid number, and confess your sins into a recording.  How elegant.  You can also listen to other people’s confessions on the line as well, which is the option that I’d select.  I’d much rather focus on other peoples’ dirty laundry than air my own.  Also, leave it to the French to come up with such a convenient, not to mention potentially entertaining method of confessing.

The reaction of the church hierarchy?  Well, it’s bypassing them and their authority (read: bottom line) so they’re predictably outraged.  One the thing that I like about Protestantism is that in their view, it’s between you and God.  They figured out that if you want to do things efficiently, you cut out the middle man, in this case, the priest.  Talk about the Protestant work ethic.

Have We Been Asked?

The armed rebellion against Qaddafi has been making progress in stripping him of territory, cities, military assets and infrastructure.  The majority of the country is now in rebel hands, however, the conflict is becoming increasingly bloody.  Qaddafi, unlike Mubarak, has demonstrated that he’s not going to go down without a fight, and Libyans who dare to oppose him are beginning to make the ultimate sacrifice in larger and larger numbers.  Qaddafi has retained control over a significant amount of military hardware, including fighter jets and tanks, and hasn’t hesitated to use them against unarmed civilians with murderous results.

So, what began as a political movement in north Africa is quickly becoming a military and humanitarian crisis.  The only accurate assessment is that what’s going on in Libya has become a full blown civil war.  This may end quickly on its own if Qaddafi makes a misstep, or if he plays his cards right, this could go on for some time, turning the country into a human meat grinder for the foreseeable future, a future in which tens or even hundreds of thousands could lose their lives.

Where does that leave us?  Well, some of the more hawkish members of Congress (Lieberman and McCain) have started the predictable saber rattling, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has refused to take any options off the table.  The international community is basically playing the traditional game of waiting to see who goes first to attempt to ‘solve’ the crisis.  And there’s been talk of the US creating a ‘No Fly Zone,’ which, would be an act of war against Libya.  That would put us at one war in Iraq, another in Afghanistan and a new conflict in north Africa.

But my question is this: have we been asked by the Libyans to intervene?  Despite our best possible intentions, we may not be wanted there.  Libyans may want to sort this out on their own.  We need to resist the temptation to just show up and say ‘Hi, we’re here to help.  Let me tell you what to do.’  Over the past 70 years, that’s worked well in Europe, South Korea and Japan.  Pretty much everywhere else, it’s been an abysmal failure.  And if outsiders should intervene, perhaps it ought to be the European Union, for once, to step up and start acting like the global power center that it is.

We don’t have a dog in this fight.  And for as tragic as the loss of innocent life is in Libya, it’s not clear to me that engaging militarily is the right thing, either for us, or for Libya.

One Man’s Freedom Fighter Is Another’s Terrorist

Congressman Peter King (R-NY), the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, has insisted that there is a need to hold hearings on the radicalization of the Muslim community here in the United States.  Opponents charge that King’s hearings amounts to little more than a return to McCarthyism and is unfair to the Muslim community in the United States.  Predictably, I’m with the opponents.

But it’s funny how history can seem to catch up with us.  Apparently, in years past when the Irish Republican Army, the group that conducted multiple terrorist attacks against British targets to drive UK forces from northern Ireland, Peter King was one of their most vocal supporters in the United States.  His support for the IRA was so strident that when he was the Grand Marshal of the New York City St. Patrick’s Day parade, even the government of Ireland was forced to boycott the ceremonies.  Not the British government, the Irish government.  That was how big of a supporter he was of the IRA, an organization that was responsible for the deaths of hundreds in the past few decades.

This has, not surprisingly, led to charges of double standards.  Of course there’s a double standard here.  Or perhaps there’s not, it could just be the most flagrant example of the ‘not in my backyard’ phenomenon ever.  King thinks it’s alright to support one terrorist organization while simultaneously calling for the wholesale investigation of an entire religion due to its ties to terrorism, of all things.  Such is the state of the modern Republican party.