Archive for July, 2012

Ibn Kafka, a Moroccan jurist and blogger, has a very good commentary taking to task the attitude of many on the left toward what is happening in Syria. Lefties: please read. Non-lefties may read as well.

(h/t Steve Heydemann)

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Another gaffe from the Mittster, but this one a Kinsley gaffe, where a politician flubs by inadvertently telling the truth. At his fundraiser in Jerusalem the other day—since when do US presidential candidates raise money abroad anyway? can one imagine such an event in Paris?—Romney praised the Israeli health care system, notably for its success in keeping costs down (see here, here, and here). Romney did neglect to mention that the Israeli system is “socialized,” that Israelis enjoy national health coverage more comprehensive than Obamacare and with more governmental regulation, though, as the author of Romneycare in MA, he can’t have been unaware of it. Wonder how they’ll explain this one over at The Weekly Standard, Commentary, National Review et al.

Then again, they’ll likely say that if Israel does it, it must be okay, regardless…

UPDATE: Gershom Gorenberg has a good analysis in The American Prospect of Romney’s Jerusalem visit. BTW, the above logo is of the Israeli Ministry of Health.

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As the now old saying has it. A Gallup poll just out has Obama beating Romney 68% to 25% among Jewish voters. The folks at The Weekly Standard and Commentary—who have been diligently portraying Obama as hostile to Israel—must be throwing up their arms in dismay. In the 1984 election pro-Reagan neoconservatives promised to deliver the Jewish vote to the GOP but it didn’t happen. Nor did it in 2004, despite Bush’s indefatigable support of Israel during the second Intifida. And it doesn’t look like it will finally happen this time, and despite Obama’s chilly relationship with Bibi Netanyahu. What is interesting about Jewish voters is how they have become more Democratic over the past two decades, and during which time the Republican party has adopted a virulent pro-Israel rhetoric. From 1968 through 1988, Jews voted two-to-one for the Democratic presidential candidate (except in 1980, when Jimmy Carter got around half the Jewish vote, but with the shortfall going to John Anderson, not Reagan). Republican candidates could count on a third of Jewish voters, even though the GOP did not go out of its way to cultivate them. But from the 1992 election onward Jews have voted for the Dem candidate on the order of 75-80% and despite Republicans falling over themselves in professing eternal love for Israel (not that Democrats haven’t done likewise or that Jewish voters are primarily driven by this issue). I have not investigated in depth the reasons as to why this has happened, as they seem sort of obvious. The drop in the Jewish vote for the GOP correlates almost precisely with the increasing dominance of evangelicals in the party, and on the American right more generally. Political extremism aside, American Jews in their majority—who are urban, educated, and live in deep blue states—do not relate to this segment of American society (and that lives in what really is “flyover country” for most Jews). The cultural chasm is wide. And end time Christian Zionists in Texas and elsewhere down that way are not going to narrow it. So William Kristol, Charles Krauthammer & Co. will just have to continue pulling their hair out after this election.

But even if Jews did shift in significant numbers to the GOP it wouldn’t have an effect on the election—expect maybe in Florida—, as the states where they are concentrated will still vote Obama.

UPDATE: Steve Kornacki at Salon has a piece on Romney’s play for Jewish voters, though says that his Israel trip and hard-line pro-Israel position is also aimed at evangelicals. But Walter Russell Mead, in his blog at The American Interest, argues that evangelicals are the main audience for Romney’s rhetoric on Israel, that “In American politics, taking a strong pro-Israel stand is a way of communicating your commitment to American exceptionalism and to American global leadership.”

2nd UPDATE: Peter Beinhart has a piece in The Daily Beast on how “Romney lost the American Jewish vote by picking Paul Ryan,” in which he makes some of the same arguments as I do above. He cites a study released July 10th by The Solomon Project—that I hadn’t seen—entitled “Jewish-American Voting Behavior 1972-2008: Just the Facts.” (August 14)

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Guns n’ cheese

In America one of these is considered dangerous to one’s bodily integrity, the other is not. Haven’t heard anything from the Tea Party GOP on this governmental intrusion into personal freedom, of the nanny state telling us what we can and cannot eat. Maybe Mitt Romney, who knows France better than any presidential candidate in memory—even more so than John Kerry—, will speak out on the matter… 😀

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Yarmouk, Damascus

There were reports this past weekend—e.g. here—of fighting between the Syrian army and rebels in Yarmouk, the largest Palestinian refugee camp in the country and a mere five kilometers or so south of the center of Damascus. I visited Yarmouk two years ago. Here are some of the photos I took.

The one below is the main artery around the Yarmouk camp—or, I should say, “camp,” as it is an urban neighborhood on the periphery of the city and that is indistinguishable from other such quartiers populaires. Palestinian refugee camps are never “camps” stricto sensu. They’re referred to as such (mukhayyam in Arabic) for historical reasons and to maintain political pretenses. I wrote about this last year in a post (with photos) on two camps I visited in the West Bank.

I asked my friend in Damascus, who’s Palestinian-Syrian, if she could take me to Yarmouk. She’s lived in Damascus her entire life, save for a few years of higher education in France, and carries a Palestinian refugee document—despite having been born in Syria and to a Syrian mother (outrageous citizenship laws in the Arab states, about which I will write at a later date)—, but had never been to Yarmouk. Not much reason to go out there if one lives in Mezzeh Filla Gharbiyya. So it was a new experience for her too.

Remembering the Nakba.

Fatah martyr Jamal Jamal Hijo, killed in Syria two weeks earlier (and under circumstances unknown to me).

Yarmouk is not an UNRWA camp, BTW. Regular Syrians live there too.

We walked by these two gentlemen (below), who were sitting in front of a shop, and asked if we could talk with them for a few minutes, about Yarmouk, the people who lived there, etc. They willingly agreed, fetching chairs, offering us Pepsi-Cola, then tea, followed by pastries. We spent some 45 minutes to an hour with them. They couldn’t have been friendlier. As I’ve written before, when it comes to hospitality the Palestinians are second to none. The older man was a ’48 refugee—a child at the time, obviously—, the younger one born well after. They’d lived in Yarmouk all their lives, though still considered themselves to be guests in Syria. I said that Palestinians born and/or raised in France or America naturally become citizens of those countries—which they agreed was normal—, so shouldn’t it be normal that they be citizens of Syria, particularly as they speak the same language and have the same culture? The response to that wasn’t too coherent. Their overall rhetoric was mainstream Fatah. Khaled Mashal and other Hamas figures may have been based in Damascus but there were no bearded Hamas types to be seen in Yarmouk. Not a chance.

The place may look poor from the outside but it’s likely not when you get into people’s apartments.

Nice cars.

Back on the main drag.

Heading out…

…and back to the center of town.

While I’m at it, the photo below—taken two days earlier—is of Khaled Mashal’s flat, or so I was told by my well-informed interlocutor. In Mezzeh, if I remember correctly. He doesn’t live there anymore, that we know.

And also while I’m at it, the photo below—taken a few hours earlier—is of the precise spot where Imad Mughniyah was blown up—got his just desserts, as they say—on February 12, 2008, in front of the Iranian Cultural Center (photo above, off to the left in the one below). The crime scene was apparently cleaned up in no time at all, with not a trace the next day. Circulez, rien à voir.

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The Second Amendment

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This is one of the guns James Holmes, the Aurora shooter, used in the movie theater the other night. It is quite simply insane that such weapons should be available for sale over the counter. No civilized country allows this. None, except, of course, the United States. But even in the US it wasn’t always so, not until the political system went off the rails, with the Republican party’s lurch to the extreme right and the quashing by the Blood Lobby, a.k.a. the NRA, of any debate on gun control. I note that the unhinged right, in responding to the Aurora massacre, is hiding behind the sacrosanct Second Amendment and arguing that if the theater-goers had been armed, Holmes would have been neutralized and the massacre prevented. Right. Only in America would mainstream voters of a major party of government offer up such crackpot nonsense and with straight faces to boot.

As for the Second Amendment, it is quite certain that the Founding Fathers, were they around today, would be appalled at the interpretation presently lent to it by the right-wing (and by the Roberts Court’s politically motivated ruling in DC v. Heller). When the Second Amendment was drafted and debated back in 1789, it was quite clear that it referred to organized militias, as Garry Wills definitively explicated and laid to rest seventeen years ago in The New York Review of Books (see article here and follow-up exchange here). The Founding Fathers may have been a bunch of slave-owning white men but, for their time, they were wise men—well, a few of them were at least—and never intended that the Constitution give the right to some wanker to purchase an assault rifle or pack heat in a public place. The American Constitution does have its flaws—some major—but it’s not that wacky of a document.

It would be interesting to know how American right-wingers explain the numbers in the image below. Even when taking population into account, the second most homicidal country on the list, Canada, has a gun murder rate one-seventh that of the US. If any right-wingers out there want to try to explain this one, to give it a stab, as it were, I’m all ears.

UPDATE: The Atlantic has a piece on “A land without guns: how Japan has virtually eliminated shooting deaths.” In the conclusion it mentions “Tunisia, which had the lowest firearm ownership rate in the world…when its people toppled a brutal, 24-year dictatorship” last year. BTW, firearm ownership was also very low in Poland, East Germany, and Czechoslovakia in 1989. Do the gun nuts out there have any thoughts on this?

2nd UPDATE: Ezra Klein has a post in WaPo on “Six facts about guns, violence, and gun control.” Note in particular numbers 2, 4, and 5. As for n°3, the reason for it is kind of obvious I think. (July 24)

3rd UPDATE: In a NYT op-ed, Michael A. Black, a 30-year Chicago police veteran, says that an armed America is not necessarily a safe America. (July 26)

4th UPDATE: Likewise on the NYT op-ed page, Iraq war veteran Andrew Jensen says that the domestic American arms race is a race we can’t win. He points out, among other things, “that there isn’t a single example of a concerned bystander with a concealed-carry permit who stopped a mass shooting” since concealed carry laws have been enacted in the US. He also observes that

There will always be violent loners. If they don’t kill with guns, they’ll find some other way to do it. Semiautomatic weapons, however, are what enable them to shoot dozens of people in a movie theater.


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I just learned that Alexander Cockburn died. Just seven months after his onetime confrère and fellow US-based British pundit-polemicist Christopher Hitchens. As I wrote a sort of tribute to Hitchens back then, I suppose I should write one for Cockburn too. I was a fan of Cockburn back in my gauchiste days and followed his writings closely, from 1979—when I first started to read him in The Village Voice—to 1984 or ’85, when I ceased to be a fan. I then came to despise him and for all sorts of political reasons, most notably for his defense of the Soviet Union and, in the 1990s, of the Serbs during the wars in the former Yugoslavia (for this, I wanted to punch him in the face). Unlike with Hitchens I didn’t see Cockburn’s writings too often over the past decade, as these mainly appeared on his flaky, ultra-gauchiste CounterPunch website, of which I am definitely not an habitué, though have seen it every now and then over the years, mainly when a gauchiste friend or two hurls a link from it at me. But Cockburn, like Hitchens, remained a great writer and despite his politics—when it comes to polemicizing with style, Brits are superior to Americans—, and took sensible positions on a few issues. And to his credit, I suppose, he rubbished the 9/11 conspiracy theories, which are no doubt adhered to by a sizeable number of his readers (not to mention CounterPunch contributors). (But then, anyone who gives the slightest credence to 9/11 trutherism seriously needs to have his or her head examined). The last piece I read by Cockburn was his farewell tribute to his frère ennemi Hitchens, which I thought was amusing and spot on. Too bad Hitchens isn’t around to write a tribute in kind to Cockburn.

UPDATE: A New York friend, who is well-known in progressive intellectual circles there, has written the following to me:  “I stopped reading AC a long time ago. It was disgraceful that Counterpunch began publishing the likes of Israel Shamir, whose forthcoming piece apparently ‘reveals’ that the Dreyfus Affair had nothing to do with anti-Semitism.” (July 22)

2nd UPDATE: Ronald Radosh, who used to be a leftist—but hasn’t been for a long time now—, has an anti-tribute to Cockburn, whom he didn’t like too much… (July 24)

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