This Thing Called Courage

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Waltz with Bashir

FROM TOM'S DISPATCH, below is an excerpt from the Graphic Novel/Memoir Waltz with Bashir, which will be avilable in stores shortly. The book is being released concurrently with the film, which, if you have the chance, see. Remember to click on each panel below for a larger version, which will allow you to read the text. To read more of the excerpt, see the link two posts below.

Waltz with Bashir



















































































Waltz with Bashir

COURTESY OF TOM DISPATCH,the above is an excerpt from the upcoming graphic novel (released in conjunction with the film) Waltz with Bashir. Ordinarily, when I post photos on my blog they appear in reverse order, with the last photo attachede coming first-- so I'll try to get this right. I'll post the first ten or so pages-- to read more of the excerpt, (once you finish with what's shown here) go here:
http://www.tomdispatch.com/p/bashir/pg12



Tomgram: Waltz with Bashir, Part 1

As a 19-year-old Israeli soldier, Ari Folman took part in the 1982 invasion of Lebanon and was on duty in Beirut during the notorious massacres in the Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila. Just a week ago, Waltz with Bashir, the animated documentary film Folman directed in which he explores his own nightmarish, half-suppressed memories of that period, was given its first underground screening in Lebanon -- not far, in fact, from Hezbollah headquarters in southern Beirut -- though the film is officially banned in that country. It has also been screened in Palestinian Ramallah and is reportedly soon to be shown in the Arab Gulf states. It has already won six Israeli Academy Awards, best foreign film at the Golden Globes, and is now nominated for an Oscar as best foreign film.

Waltz With Bashir: A Lebanon War StoryBy Ari Folman and David Polonsky


THE BOOK At this moment, when the Israeli assault on Gaza has ended in catastrophic destruction and death, director Folman's remarkable voyage -- he calls it a "bad acid trip" -- into the oblivion of war trauma and the horrific recent history of the Middle East is as stunning, moving, and unnerving an experience as anything you'll see this year, or perhaps any year. A no less remarkable graphic memoir, Waltz with Bashir, was developed in tandem with the film. It will be in your bookstores in a couple of weeks, but can be ordered in advance by clicking here. Not surprisingly, the book and film have some of the impact that the first "graphic novel," Art Spiegelman's MAUS, had when it came out in 1986, and that assessment comes from the fellow -- me, to be exact -- who published MAUS back then.
The single best piece on Waltz with Bashir and its relevance to the recent invasion of Gaza was written by Gary Kamiya of Salon.com. He concludes: "Of course, Israel's moral culpability for the 1982 massacre [in Sabra and Shatila] is not the same as its moral responsibility for the civilians killed in the current war. But there are painful similarities. Sooner or later the patriotic war fervor will fade, and Israelis will realize that their leaders sent them to kill hundreds of innocent people for nothing. And perhaps in 2036, some haunted filmmaker will release 'Waltz With Hamas.'"
Given the power and timeliness of this thoughtful, dreamlike memoir from a living hell, it's a particular honor for TomDispatch to be releasing two long excerpts, exclusively, over the next two Saturdays. Thanks go to Metropolitan Books, the book's publisher, for allowing it to happen. I hope what follows stuns and intrigues you. Keep an eye out for part 2 next Saturday. Tom

Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Woodcocks are Coming, the Woodcocks are Coming!


THE POET SAYS THAT APRIL IS THE CRUELEST MONTH, but you might not find too many to support that asertion here in New England at the current moment. We've had an old fashioned winter thus far, meaning snow, ice, icy snow, rainy ice, more snow, cold, more ice--- catch my drift? And there is something, I will admit (lover of the four seasons that I am) distinctly unpleasant about stepping off a curb and into a foot of icy cold liquidy slush, and feel it inundate one's footwear. There was an article in the Globe this morning about the weather getting people down.


But there can be a quiet beauty in winter, if we but live by her rhthyms. It's our modern fixation with being ever-restive and mobile that can make us feel oppressed by winter. And being out every day, walking five miles, one really does get to see the natural circle of things, and see the little changes that are happening even now that tell us spring is on the way. First off, the sun is climbing higher and getting stronger every day-- I can feel it warming my back muscles and bones as I walk up the Fellsway each morning. Days are lingering, and it's still somewhat lightsome in the west at 5:20 now, when a month ago it was pitch dark at 4:30. Another piece of exciting news is that the woodcocks have started moving north, and we might see the first of them-- a sure sign of spring-- in about 32 days.


For those unfamiliar with this amazing native bird, the American Woodcock returns north every year to mate, and the males put on a spectacular mating dance that, for many of us, kindles spring in our hearts. It really isn't spring until I hear the woodcock's call; and when I hear it, I'm assured that, once again, spring has returned, God's in her heaven, and all's right with the world.


It happens at about the same time that the sping peepers begin singing at sunset and early evening from their thawing wetlands and vernal pools. The male woodcocks, who come up from the Gulf Coast area a week or so before the females, return to the same field they occupied the year before (generally) and stake claim to their 'singing ground.' Woodcocks require an open moist-meadow type habitat, bordering thickets where they can hide by day and raise their young: an open succession field, they call it. When New England (and indeed much of the country) was blanketed with farms, the woodcock found plenty of suitable habit. Such is not the case now, and they are declining. Despite this decline, they are still, alas, a bird many people like to hunt: it's to be hoped that soon restrictions will stop this.


Once the male has established himself in a field, the show begins shortly after sundown. My experience has been that the first call of the woodcock coincides with the same moment one sees the first star/planet in the early evening sky. Neat, huh? One must be quiet, arrive early,a nd stand absolutely still so as not to startle the bird. So, the male comes out from where he's been hiding and feeding (mostly on earthworms) all day. He does a little head-bob dance, then announces a nasally peent call. He'll throw it out to the west, and then turn around and throw it out to the east, etc-- basically what he's saying is, "Ladies, listen up! I'm about to do my thing!" After a satisfactory number (to him) of peents, the male takes off from his singing ground and ascends into the air. Once he hits about fifty feet, he begins singing, a song that is joined by this wonderful fluttering sound once he reaches 250-300 feet (which is actually him fluttering his notched wings through the air). 'Skydance,' orinthologists call it. How wonderful, no? And then, after flying around for bit doing this singing and fluttering, he bombs back down to earth. He lands; he crouches down; he looks around. If any watching/listening females have been duly impressed, they come out from hiding and they mate. After mating, the female goes back into the thickets, scrapes a nest out of the ground, while the male-- goes back to his singing ground and begins his mating ritual again. He has no role in raising the young.


Of course, you would have to view any piece of land this happens on as sacred. I do anyway. After seing the woodcock perform his sky dance at a number of less urban places-- the Ipswich River Audubon Sanctuary in Topsfield, the Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge in Sudbury, Athol, Massachusetts-- I thought, hmm, I wonder if there are any such places in my own backyard, in Happy Land (aka, the Middlesex Fells Reservation, 200 yards down the street from me). To my wonder and inexpressible delight, they were! In fact, I've found woodcock in two different places in Happy Land, and suspect there are three other areas where I have a good chance of finding them, one of which I discovered quite by accident late this fall, when I was (vainly, as it turned out) chasing a dog who had escaped from its owners.


Being as anxious for spring as anyone else, I took my drum out the other day (it was lovely-- sunny and blue and about 35) to one of these places, and I drummed for about an hour in the sun (I got a sunburn!) making up and chanting an impromptu song called, 'Come, Woodcock, Come.' (Yes, this is what's happened to the boy who once stole hubcaps in Southie....) Well, what can I say? To paraphrase Mary Oliver, what else I am supposed to do? I read once in irish history how Saint Patrick went around Ireland 'saining' (a lovely old word) the holy wells, taking them out of the realm of the pagan gods and goddesses and dedicating them henceforth to various saints and members of the Holy Family. One of the places in Happy Land where I see the woodcock is 'the old 90 mm site' (as it says on the maps) a quite local place that once housed big ol' cannons and antiaircraft guns. During WWII, such gun sites were set up on hilltops up and down the Eastern Seaboard of America, in case of German aerial invasion. The local place I speak of has fallen to rack and ruin now-- the guns are gone of course, and all that remains is some broken macadam here and there, and the ruinous foundations of an old barracks. So, I guess what I am doing with my chanting and drumming is 'saining' these places, taking them out of the hands of gun sites and generals and returning them to their rightful (and riteful) owners-- wonder, delight, woodcocks, and the joy that rises in the heart when spring returns. Part of that process is renaming the place-- 'the old 90 mm site' just won't do, in the same way that 'Hector,' (Fionn the Dog's orginaly name when I rescued him) in no way, shape, or form fit him. Thus, this place is now Knocknagillagh, (KNOCK nuh GEE-uch) named after an ancient hill in County Cavan, Ireland, that translates as...'Hill of the Woodcock.'

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Stopping the Decline of Song Birds


The decisions we make about which imported fruits and vegetables we buy this time of year can affect the status of many of the species that visit our yards in spring and summer
By Bridget Stuchbury, NWF


A SHOPPING LIST can say a lot about a person. Some lists feature healthful foods such as nonfat yogurt and organic rice. Others include items—donuts and potato chips, for example—that might be considered contraband in many households. My list always includes barn swallows, wood thrushes, bobolinks and Baltimore orioles.
No, my family doesn’t shop for songbirds. I keep them at the top of my list as a constant reminder that these animals are slowly disappearing from our world, and that the purchases I make can have an impact on the birds’ future status. The populations of about a third of the 100 or so species of Neotropical migratory songbirds that breed in North America have plummeted by more than 30 percent over the past 40 years, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Breeding Bird Survey. And sadly, the imported fruits and vegetables many of us buy at this time of year are partly to blame for the declines.
In countries such as Guatemala, Honduras and Ecuador, crops are sprayed heavily with a cocktail of dangerous chemical substances. Monocrotophos, methamidophos and carbofuran are not household names but they have been widely used in Latin America. These chemicals, rated as Class I toxins by the World Health Organization, are considered “restricted-use” pesticides or are banned altogether in the United States.
They are not banned in Latin America, however, where pesticide use has increased fivefold since the 1980s, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization’s pesticide import statistics. A major impetus behind this increase is the growing demand by people in the United States for fresh produce year-round. Unfortunately, it comes at the expense of migratory songbirds, which are highly susceptible to the toxic effects of the chemicals used on their wintering grounds in Central America and South America. A single application of a highly toxic pesticide such as carbofuran can kill as many as 25 songbirds per acre. It also poses a threat to humans, which is why the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced last summer that it would no longer allow residue of the chemical on imported food.
Many birds also appear to suffer from severely depressed neurological function after being exposed to spraying. In a study of bobolinks that feed in heavily sprayed fields in Bolivia, biologist Rosalind Renfrew of the Vermont Center for Ecostudies discovered half of the birds had levels of cholinesterase—an enzyme affecting brain and nerve cells—that were 40 to 50 percent below normal. That, she reported, is a clear sign of recent and serious damage to the birds’ nervous systems. Bobolink numbers have declined by almost 50 percent in recent decades.
These days, my shopping list does not include strawberries, grapes, red peppers or tomatoes imported from Latin America. I admit that finding fresh produce grown in the United States can be a challenge during the winter months. However, if helping protect wildlife and reducing the levels of carbon emissions generated during transport of food items are not compelling reasons enough to stay the course, consider the pesticide residues that come with imported foods. U.S. Food and Drug Administration tests show produce imported from Latin America are three times more likely to violate EPA safety standards for pesticide residues as the same products grown in the United States.
Some foods come from tropical plants and by definition must be imported. Bananas, for instance, are cultivated with one of the highest pesticide loads of any tropical crop. In Costa Rica, banana plantations typically apply 40 pounds of active ingredients of pesticides per acre, compared with fewer than 5 pounds per acre for most fruit and vegetable crops grown in the United States. Though eating bananas presents little risk to consumers (because the fruit is covered by the peel), buying organic bananas promotes a healthier environment in the regions where they are grown.
Coffee is, by far, the most sought-after tropical crop in the world. I could live without bananas, but don’t ask me to give up my morning cup of java. These days, most mass-produced coffee is grown in open fields with heavy inputs of chemicals. By contrast, at traditional small coffee farms, the crops are grown without pesticides in the shade under tree canopies that provide essential nitrogen to the plants and protect the soil from erosion. These organic coffee farms provide safe habitat for songbirds.
Though many of us will never see fields of melons in Guatemala or the bright red berries on coffee plants in Mexico, the thrushes, warblers and swallows that we welcome in our backyards during part of the year experience both worlds. Their lives are impacted by environmental changes on the same huge geographic scale that can affect our own lives, and they reveal environmental threats that most of us cannot see unfolding in faraway countries. That’s why songbirds remain at the top of my shopping list, and might belong on your list too.
Bridget Stutchbury is a biology professor at York University in Toronto, Canada. Her most recent book is Silence of the Songbirds (Walker & Company, 2007).
Songbird-Friendly Shopping Tips
To discourage use of dangerous pesticides, avoid fruits and vegetables imported from Latin America unless they are labeled “organic.”
Buy shade-grown coffee that is organic and fair-traded to help increase tropical forest acreage for wildlife and encourage sustainable farming practices. For more, see www.nwf.org/birdsandglobalwarming.
Promote sustainable logging practices that safeguard habitat by buying wood and paper products made from timber harvested in forests certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. See www.nwf.org/forests.
Please help us to protect our natural resources, reuse or recycle this paper when you are done.
© 2009 National Wildlife Federation, All rights reserved. - Read more great stories online at www.nwf.org/nationalwildlife
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Thursday, January 22, 2009

Obama's Gaza Opportunity

From Tom Dispatch
posted 2009-01-22 10:29:54
Tomgram: Tony Karon, Obama's Gaza Opportunity
[Note for TomDispatch readers: Saturday is usually a dead zone for this site, but no longer. For the next two Saturdays, TomDispatch will be offering sizeable excerpts from a soon-to-be-published graphic memoir, Waltz with Bashir, created alongside the remarkable new Israeli animated movie of the same title about the invasion of Lebanon in 1982, which has just received an Oscar nomination for best foreign film. Keep your eyes out for it. Tell your friends. It's a must read.]

Yes, we now know the ever grimmer statistics: more than 1,400 dead Gazans (and rising as bodies are dug out of the rubble); 5,500 wounded; hundreds of children killed; 4,000 to 5,000 homes destroyed and 20,000 damaged -- 14% of all buildings in Gaza; 50,000 or more homeless; 400,000 without water; 50 U.N. facilities, 21 medical facilities, 1,500 factories and workshops, and 20 mosques reportedly damaged or destroyed; the smashed schools and university structures; the obliterated government buildings; the estimated almost two billion dollars in damage; all taking place on a blockaded strip of land 25 miles long and 4 to 7.5 miles wide that is home to a staggering 1.4 million people.
On the other side in Israel, there are a number of damaged buildings and 13 dead, including three civilians and three soldiers killed in a friendly-fire incident. But amid this welter of horrific numbers, here was the one that caught my eye -- and a quote went with it: Lieutenant General Gabi Ashkenazi, chief of staff of the Israeli Army, told Parliament on January 12th, "We have achieved a lot in hitting Hamas and its infrastructure, its rule and its armed wing, but there is still work ahead."
Work? The "work" already done evidently included a figure he cited: more than 2,300 air strikes launched by the Israelis with the offensive against Hamas still having days to go. Think about that: in a heavily populated, heavily urbanized, 25-mile-long strip of land, 2,300 air strikes, including an initial surprise attack "in which 88 aircraft simultaneously struck 100 preplanned targets within a record span of 220 seconds." Many of these strikes were delivered by Israel's 226 U.S.-supplied F-16s or its U.S.-made Apache helicopters.
In addition, the Israelis evidently repeatedly used a new U.S. smart bomb, capable of penetrating three feet of steel-reinforced concrete, the bunker-busting 250-pound class GBU-39 Small Diameter Bomb. (The first group of up to 1,000 of these that the U.S. Congress authorized Israel to buy only arrived in early December.) In use as well, the one-ton Mk84 Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) and a 500-pound version of the same. These are major weapons systems. Evidently dropped as well were "Dime (dense inert metal explosive) bombs designed to produce an intense explosion in a small space. The bombs," reported Raymond Whitaker of the British Independent, "are packed with tungsten powder, which has the effect of shrapnel but often dissolves in human tissue, making it difficult to discover the cause of injuries."
Keep in mind that Hamas and other armed Palestinian groups are essentially incapable of threatening Israeli planes and that the Israelis were using their airborne arsenal in heavily populated areas. Though the air war was only one part of a massively destructive assault on Gaza, as a form of warfare, barbaric as it is, it invariably gets a free pass. Yet, if you conduct an air war in cities, it matters little how "smart" your weaponry may be; it will, in effect, be a war against civilians.
Whatever the damage done to Hamas, what happened in Gaza was, simply put, a civilian slaughter. And yet, as Tony Karon, TomDispatch regular and TIME.com senior editor, who runs the Rootless Cosmopolitan blog, indicates below, the very scale of the Israeli assault on what was essentially a captive population wiped away many illusions, tore up the Middle East playbook, and potentially created the basis for a new Obama era approach to both Israelis and Palestinians. Whether that opportunity will be taken up is another matter entirely. Tom
Change Gaza Can Believe InTearing Up Washington's Middle East PlaybookBy Tony Karon
Lest President Barack Obama's opportunistic silence when Israel began the Gaza offensive that killed more than 1,400 Palestinians (more than 400 of them children) be misinterpreted, his aides pointed reporters to comments made six months earlier in the Israeli town of Sderot. "If somebody was sending rockets into my house, where my two daughters sleep at night, I'm going to do everything in my power to stop that," Obama had said in reference to the missiles Hamas was firing from Gaza. "I would expect Israelis to do the same thing."
Residents of Gaza might have wondered what Obama would have done had he been unfortunate enough to be a resident of, say, Jabaliya refugee camp. What if, like the vast majority of Gazans, his grandfather had been driven from his home in what is now Israel, and barred by virtue of his ethnicity from ever returning? What if, like the majority of the residents of this refugee ghetto-by-the-sea, he had voted for Hamas, which had vowed to fight for his rights and was not corrupt like the Fatah strongmen with whom the Israelis and Americans liked to deal?
And what if, as a result of that vote, he had found himself under an economic siege, whose explicit purpose was to inflict deprivation in order to force him to reverse his democratic choice? What might a Gazan Obama have made of the statement, soon after that election, by Dov Weissglass, a top aide to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, that Israel's blockade would put him and his family "on [a] diet"?
"The Palestinians will get a lot thinner," Weissglass had chortled, "but [they] won't die."
Starting last June, the Sderot Obama would have noticed that, as a result of a truce brokered by Egypt, the rocket fire from Gaza had largely ceased. For the Jabaliya Obama, however, the "Weissglass Diet" remained in place. Even before Israel's recent offensive, the Red Cross had reported that almost half the children under two in Gaza were anemic due to their parents' inability to feed them properly.
Who knows what the Jabaliya Obama would have made of the Hamas rockets that, in November, once again began flying overhead toward Israel, as Hamas sought to break the siege by creating a crisis that would lead to a new ceasefire under better terms. He might well have had misgivings, but he would also have had plenty of reason to hope for the success of the Hamas strategy.
Ever committed to regime change in Gaza, Israel, however, showed no interest in a new ceasefire. As Defense Minister Ehud Barak told Fox News, "Expecting us to have a ceasefire with Hamas is like expecting you to have a ceasefire with al-Qaeda." (Barak apparently assumed Americans would overlook the fact that he had, indeed, been party to just such a ceasefire since June 2008, and looks set to be party to another now that the Gaza operation is over.)
A canny Sderot Obama would have been all too aware that Israel's leaders need his vote in next month's elections and hope to win it by showing how tough they can be on the Gazans. Then again, a Sderot Obama might not have been thinking much beyond his immediate anger and fear -- and would certainly have been unlikely to try to see the regional picture through the eyes of the Jabaliya Obama.
Nonetheless, not all Israelis were as sanguine about the Israeli offensive as the Sderot Obama appears to have been. "What luck my parents are dead," wrote the Israeli journalist Amira Hass in Haaretz. Survivors of the Nazi concentration camps, her mother and father had long hated the Orwellian twists of language in which Israeli authorities couched their military actions against Palestinians.
"My parents despised all their everyday activities -- stirring sugar into coffee, washing the dishes, standing at a crosswalk -- when in their mind's eye they saw, based on their personal experience, the terror in the eyes of children, the desperation of mothers who could not protect their young ones, the moment when a huge explosion dropped a house on top of its inhabitants and a smart bomb struck down entire families...
"Because of my parents' history they knew what it meant to close people behind barbed-wire fences in a small area.... How lucky it is that they are not alive to see how these incarcerated people are bombarded with all the glorious military technology of Israel and the United States... My parents' personal history led them to despise the relaxed way the news anchors reported on a curfew. How lucky they are not here and cannot hear the crowd roaring in the coliseum."
The passions of the crowd may have been satisfied. Or not. Certainly, Israel's three-week-long military operation appears to have done little more than reestablish the country's "deterrent" -- quantified in the 100-1 ratio of Palestinian to Israeli deaths.
Hamas remains intact, as does the bulk of its fighting force. And if, as appears likely, a new truce provides for a lifting, however partial, of the economic siege of Gaza, and also for the reintegration of Hamas into the Palestinian Authority -- which would be a blunt repudiation of three years of U.S. and Israeli efforts -- the organization will claim victory, even if the Obamas of Jabaliya refugee camp, now possibly without homes, wonder at what cost.
If President Barack Obama is to have any positive impact on this morbid cycle of destruction and death, he must be able to understand the experience of Jabaliya just as much as he does the experience of Sderot. Curiously enough, he might be helped in that endeavor by none other than the man who directed Israel's latest operation, Defense Minister Ehud Barak. Asked by a journalist during his successful 1999 campaign for prime minister what he'd have done if he'd been born Palestinian, Barak answered simply and bluntly: "I'd have joined a terrorist organization."
Obama's Gaza Opportunity
The catastrophe in Gaza has, counterintuitively enough, presented President Barack Obama with an opportunity to restart the peace process -- precisely because it has demonstrated the catastrophic failure of the approach adopted by the Bush Administration. Unfortunately, the raft of domestic and economic challenges facing the 44th President may tempt Obama to keep many Bush foreign policies on autopilot for now.
The plan brokered by the Bush administration in its last months for an American withdrawal from Iraq will, for instance, probably remain largely in effect; Obama will actually double the troop commitment to Afghanistan; and on Iran, Obama's idea of direct talks may not prove that radical a departure from the most recent version of the Bush approach -- at least if the purpose of such talks is simply to have U.S. diplomats present a warmed over version of the carrot-and-stick ultimatums on uranium enrichment that have been on offer, via the Europeans, for the past three years.
As Gaza has clearly demonstrated, however, continuing the Bush policy on Israel and the Palestinians is untenable. The Bush administration may have talked of a Palestinian state, but it had limited itself to orchestrating a series of cozy chats between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and his Palestinian counterpart, Mahmoud Abbas, aimed at creating the illusion of a "process."
There was no real process, not in the sense that the term is commonly understood, anyway -- reciprocal steps by the combatant parties to disengage and move towards a settlement that changes political boundaries and power arrangements. But the illusion of progress was a necessary part of the administration's policy of dividing the Middle East on Cold War-type lines in a supposedly epic struggle between "moderates" and "radicals."
The "moderates" included Israel, Abbas, and the regimes of Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and some of the Gulf States. The radicals were Iran, Syria, Hamas, and Hizballah, intractable enemies of peace, democracy, and stability.
Democracy?! Yes, the chutzpah of Bush and his people was legendary -- after all, Hamas and Hizballah had been democratically elected, which is more than you could say for the Arab "moderates" they championed. Even Iran holds elections more competitive than any in Egypt.
Adding to the irony, Abbas's term of office as president of the Palestinian Authority (PA) has now expired, but you can bet your Obama inauguration souvenir program that he won't be required by Washington to seek a new mandate from the voters; indeed, it's doubtful that the Israelis would allow another Palestinian election in the West Bank, which they essentially control.
Ongoing peace talks with Palestinian "moderates," no matter how fruitless, provided important cover for Arab regimes who wanted to stand with the U.S. and Israel on the question of Iran's growing power and influence. But there could, of course, be no talks with the "radicals," even if those radicals were more representative than the "moderates." (Sure, Egypt's Mubarak stands with Israel against Hamas, but that's because Hamas is an offshoot of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, which might well trounce Mubarak if Egypt held free and fair elections.)
Thus, Washington chose to ignore the opportunity that Hamas's historic 2006 decision to contest the Palestinian Authority legislative election offered. The organization had previously boycotted the institutions of the PA as the illegitimate progeny of the 1993 Oslo Accords between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), which they had rejected. Caught off-guard when the Palestinian electorate then repudiated Washington's chosen "moderate" regime, the U.S. responded by imposing sanctions on the new Palestinian government, while pressuring the Europeans and Arab regimes on whose funding the PA depended to do the same. These sanctions eventually grew into a siege of Gaza.
The financial blockade would continue, the U.S. and its allies insisted, until Hamas renounced violence, recognized Israel, and bound itself to previous agreements. Exactly the same three preconditions for engaging Hamas were recently reiterated by incoming Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at her confirmation hearings.
A Failed Doctrine
The Gaza debacle has made one thing perfectly clear: any peace process that seeks to marginalize, not integrate, Hamas is doomed to fail -- and with catastrophic consequences. That's why the position outlined by Obama's Secretary of State-designate is dysfunctional at birth, because it repeats the mistake of trying to marginalize Hamas. For its part, Hamas officials have sent a number of signals in recent years indicating the organization's willingness to move in a pragmatic direction. Its leaders wouldn't bother to regularly explain their views in the op-ed pages of American newspapers if they did not believe a different relationship with the U.S. -- and so Israel -- was possible.
For the new Obama administration reinforcing and, as they say in Washington, incentivizing the pragmatic track in Hamas is the key to reviving the region's prospects for peace.
Hamas has demonstrated beyond doubt that it speaks for at least half of the Palestinian electorate. Many observers believe that, were new elections to be held tomorrow, the Islamists would probably not only win Gaza again, but take the West Bank as well. Demanding what Hamas would deem a symbolic surrender before any diplomatic conversation even begins is not an approach that will yield positive results. Renouncing violence was never a precondition for talks between South Africa and Nelson Mandela's ANC, or Britain and the Irish Republican Army. Indeed, Israel's talks with the PLO began long before it had publicly renounced violence.
"Recognizing" Israel is difficult for Palestinians because, in doing so, they are also being asked to renounce the claims of refugee families to the land and homes they were forced out of in 1948 and were barred from recovering by one of the founding acts of the State of Israel. For an organization such as Hamas, such recognition could never be a precondition to negotiations, only the result of them (and then with some reciprocal recognition of the rights of the refugees).
Hamas's decision to engage the election process created by Oslo was, in fact, a pragmatic decision opposed by hardliners in its own ranks. Doing so bound it to engage with the Israelis and also to observe agreements under which those electoral institutions were established (as Hamas mayors on the West Bank had already learned). In fact, Hamas made clear that it was committed to good governance and consensus, and recognized Abbas as president, which also meant explicitly recognizing his right to continue negotiating with the Israelis.
Hamas agreed to abide by any accord approved by the Palestinians in a democratic referendum. By 2007, key leaders of the organization had even begun talking of accepting a Palestinian state based on a return to 1967 borders in a swap for a generational truce with Israel.
Hamas's move onto the electoral track had, in fact, presented a great opportunity for any American administration inclined towards grown-up diplomacy, rather than the infantile fantasy of reengineering the region's politics in favor of chosen "moderates." So, in 2006, the U.S. immediately slapped sanctions on the new government, seeking to reverse the results of the Palestinian election through collective punishment of the electorate. The U.S. also blocked Saudi efforts to broker a Palestinian government of national unity by warning that Abbas would be shunned by the U.S. and Israel if he opted for rapprochement with the majority party in his legislature. Washington appears to have even backed a coup attempt by U.S.-trained, Fatah-controlled militia in Gaza, which resulted in Fatah's bloody expulsion from there in the summer of 2007.
The failed U.S.-Israeli strategy of trying to depose Hamas reached its nadir in the pre-inauguration bloodbath in Gaza, which not only reinforced Hamas politically, but actually weakened those anointed as "moderates" as part of a counterinsurgency strategy against Hamas and its support base.
It is in America's interest, and Israel's, and the Palestinians' that Obama intervene quickly in the Middle East, but that he do so on a dramatically different basis than that of his two immediate predecessors.
Peace is made between the combatants of any conflict; "peace" with only chosen "moderates" is an exercise in redundancy and pointlessness. The challenge in the region is to promote moderation and pragmatism among the political forces that speak for all sides, especially the representative radicals.
And speaking of radicals and extremists, there's palpable denial, bordering on amnesia, when it comes to Israel's rejectionists. Ariel Sharon explicitly rejected the Oslo peace process, declaring it null and void shortly after assuming power. Instead, he negotiated only with Washington over unilateral Israeli moves.
Ever since, Israeli politics has been moving steadily rightward, with the winner in next month's elections expected to be the hawkish Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu. If so, he will govern in a coalition with far-right rejectionists and advocates of "ethnic cleansing." Netanyahu even rejected Ariel Sharon's 2005 Gaza pullout plan, and he has made it abundantly clear that he has no interest in sustaining the illusion of talks over a "final status" agreement, even with Washington's chosen "moderates."
Israelis, by all accounts, have generally given up on the idea of pursuing a peace agreement with the Palestinians any time soon, and for the foreseeable future, no Israeli government will willingly undertake the large-scale evacuation of the West Bank settlers, essential to any two-state solution but likely to provoke an Israeli civil war.
This political situation should serve as a warning to Obama and his people to avoid the pitfalls of the Clinton administration's approach to brokering Middle East peace. Clinton's basic guideline was that the pace and content of the peace process should be decided by Israel's leaders, and that nothing should ever be put on the negotiating table that had not first been approved by them. Restricting the peace process to proposals that fall within the comfort zone only of the Israeli government is the diplomatic equivalent of allowing investment banks to regulate themselves -- and we all know where that landed us.
It is fanciful, today, to believe that, left to their own devices, Israel and the Palestinians will agree on where to set the border between them, on how to share Jerusalem, or on the fate of Palestinian refugees and Israeli settlements. A two-state solution, if one is to be achieved, will have to be imposed by the international community, based on a consensus that already exists in international law (UN Resolutions 242 and 338), the Arab League peace proposals, and the Taba non-paper that documented the last formal final-status talks between the two sides in January 2001.
Had Barack Obama taken office in a moment of relative tranquility in the fraught Israeli-Palestinian relationship, he might have had the luxury of putting it on the backburner. Indeed, any move to change the Bush approach might have been challenged as unnecessarily risky and disruptive.
In Gaza in the last few weeks, however, the Bush approach imploded, leaving Obama no choice but to initiate a new policy of his own. Hopefully, it will be one rooted in the pragmatism for which the new President is renowned.

Tony Karon is a senior editor at TIME.com where he analyzes the Middle East and other international conflicts. He also runs his own website, Rootless Cosmopolitan.
Copyright 2009 Tony Karon

Monday, January 19, 2009

January 19, 2009: Ding Dong, the Witch is Dead!


Yes friends, and how long have we waited for this day? Eons, it seems-- and now it is upon us. Tomorrow at 12:00 pm, Barack Hussein Obama takes the oath of office as the 44th President of the United States-- equally important, at the exact same moment, George W. Bush will no longer be president.
My one question is, is 'Alleluia' spelled with one l or two?
I feel like people must when they get out of prison. A strange sense of disbelief, that the day has actually dawned. I can think of no better words than Sam's, in The Return of the King, part three of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy:
"Gandalf! I thought you were dead! But then I thought I was dead myself. Is everything sad going to come untrue? What's happened to the world?"
"A great shadow has departed," said Gandalf. "...Well, Master Samwise, how do you feel?"
"How did I feel?" he cried. "Well, I don't know how to say it. I feel, I feel"-- he waved his arms in the air-- "I feel like spring after winter, and sun on the leaves; and like trumpets and harps and all the songs I have ever heard!"
Or how about John Adams? He must have had tomorrow in mind when he wrote, "I am apt to believe that this day will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bon- fires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever- more."
Amen to that. And yes, I will be dancing in the streets tomorrow at noon, as promised. She's gone where the goblins go below, below below yo-ho....

Friday, January 16, 2009

Gaza is a Concentration Camp

By Ellen Cantarow, AlterNetPosted on January 16, 2009, Printed on January 16, 2009http://www.alternet.org/story/120197/

Gaza is an immense concentration camp -- 1.5 million people squeezed into 140 square miles hemmed in on all sides by 25-foot-high walls separated by a vast expanse of bulldozed earth. The 2005 "pull-out" left Gaza still controlled by Israel from air and sea, its entries and exits prisonlike mazes electronically controlled and under constant surveillance. Bombing it, assaulting it with tanks and Uzis, is like shooting animals in a pen. The claptrap about "pinpoint" accuracy and "avoiding civilians" is a lie so flagrant, so transparent, that any child -- certainly any Gaza child -- could grasp it.
There have been eight military assaults on Gaza since 2004; blockades started in 2005, and then a siege of medieval proportions in 2006, punishment for Gazans' having elected the wrong party for Israel and its U.S. patron. By December 2008, Richard Falk, special rapporteur on the Occupied Territories for the United Nations, reported an overall Gaza malnutrition rate of 75 percent, a childhood anemia rate of 46 percent and a devastated infrastructure. (For more, see Richard Falk's "Understanding the Gaza Catastrophe.")
This latest war -- called Operation Cast Lead -- is the "holocaust" promised by Israel's Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai last spring when he said Israel would create a shoa if Qassem rockets kept dropping on Israeli towns like Sderot. Shoa, Hebrew for holocaust, is a serious word denoting the extermination of an entire people. Vilnai embarrassed the Israeli government, and no official has used the term since.
But since Dec. 27, Israel has bombed Gaza's government buildings, universities, mosques, schools, medical clinics. It is impossible to keep pace with the death and injury toll, which rises as I write: on Jan. 13, the Israeli human rights organization B'tselem reported 900 Palestinians killed, with more than 4,200 injured. The Israeli toll: three civilians and seven soldiers killed, more than 82 civilians and 61 soldiers injured. As for Israeli civilians killed by rockets, the Israel Project lists 25 dead during the past seven years.
On the broadcast program Democracy Now, a Norwegian doctor, Mads Gilbert, who had just returned from Gaza to Denmark, told host Amy Goodman that "90 percent of those killed are civilians." Gilbert reported 971 dead, of whom 1 in 3 is a child under 18. He has worked in Gaza for years and was there for the first weeks of Israel's assault.
The Times of London, Human Rights Watch and B'tselem all report the illegal use of white phosphorous to strike civilians. When white phosphorous adheres to flesh, its flames continue to burn for five to 10 minutes, often penetrating to the bone.
Gilbert and other experts think Israel is also using a new weapon called dense inert metal explosive. It was developed by the United States to create lethal, powerful blasts within small areas. DIME inflicts wounds never before seen by surgeons in Gaza. According to Gilbert, conventional shrapnel damages limbs and other body parts as if they'd been cut by a huge knife. DIME, on the other hand, leaves "no signs of shrapnel," but rather "small pieces of some kind of substance" (DIME is made of nickel and cobalt). It crushes "the whole limb," not just part, with "multiple severe fractures, muscles split from bones." Some classify DIME weapons as nuclear because they are based on a fusion process. (Democracy Now, Jan. 14.)
*****
"Take some kittens … in a box. Seal up the box, then jump on it with all your weight and might, until you feel their little bones crunching, and you hear the last muffled little mew," a surgeon named Jamal tells Italian writer Vittorio Arigoni. Bloodstained boxes are fetched; Jamal opens one. It contains "amputated limbs, legs and arms, some from the knee down, others with the entire femur attached . . . from the injured at the Al Fakhura United Nations school in Jabalia, which resulted in more than 50 casualties."
Jamal says, "Israel trapped hundreds of civilians inside a school as if in a box, including many children, and then crushed them with all the might of its bombs. What were the world's reactions? Almost nothing. We would have been better off as animals rather than Palestinians. We would have been more protected."
Arigoni also described the account, by ophthalmologist Dr. Abdel, of strange and terrible wounds he'd never seen before: "Dr. Abdel told me that at Al Shifa hospital, they don't have the medical and military competence to say for sure whether the wounds they examined on certain corpses were indeed provoked by white phosphorous bullets. But on his word, in 20 years on the job, he had never seen casualties like those now being carried into the ward."
These included "traumas to the skull, with fractures to ... the jaw … cheekbones, tear duct, nasal and palatine bones [all showing] signs of the collision of an immense force against the victim's face. What he finds inexplicable is the total lack of eyeballs, which ought to leave a trace somewhere within the skull, even in the case of such violent impact. Instead, we see Palestinian corpses coming into the hospitals without eyes at all, as if someone had removed them surgically before handing them over to the coroner."
Since no international observers are allowed in, judgment about the weapons inflicting such trauma will depend on further reports from Gaza, and corroboration from experts like Gilbert. (Arigoni is an international who reached Gaza by boat during the siege. His report was sent to e-mail lists Jan. 9.)
***
The Israel of Operation Cast Lead is still the Israel of Plan Dalet, under which 750,000 Arabs were expelled from Palestine in 1948. It is the Israel of massacres under Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir on April, 9, 1948, at Deir Yassin; of the Phalangist massacre of 1,500 Palestinians in the Beirut refugee camps Sabra and Shatila, overseen by Defense Minister Ariel Sharon. Held "personally responsible" and cashiered from his post, he later rose to prime minister to resume his malignant policies in the West Bank and Gaza. The late Israeli writer Tanya Reinhardt predicted in 2002 that Israel was starting to finish what it began in 1948. This 60-year-long legacy rages on in Gaza under Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Minister of Defense Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni to the applause of a vengeful Israeli public (see Jan. 13 story in the New York Times.)
Operation Cast Lead is one of the great war crimes of our era. It was planned six to 18 months in advance, according to journalist Jonathan Cook. The war design "required directing artillery fire and air strikes at civilian neighborhoods from which rockets were fired, despite being a violation of international law. Legal advisers, Barak noted, were seeking ways to avoid such prohibitions, presumably in the hope the international community would turn a blind eye."
Operation Cast Lead fulfills at least three of the points under Article 2 in the Convention on Genocide: (a) Killing members of the group; (b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; (c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.
So to President-elect Barack Obama in his silence; to our senators and representatives who obediently parrot American Israel Public Affairs Committee's lines, forgiving the occupier and blaming the occupied, I'd address European Parliament member Luisa Morgantini's closing words in her open letter to European leaders:
"Israel has a right to exist as a normal state, a state for its citizens, along the 1967 borders, much wider than those of the partition plan passed by the United Nations in 1947. But I would have liked to hear your outrage and your humanity, and to hear you shouting for the pain of so many deaths and so much destruction, for such arrogance, for so much inhumanity, for so many violations of international and humanitarian law. ...
"My God, what a terrible world we live in!"
Ellen Cantarow has reported on the Middle East since 1979.
© 2009 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.View this story online at: http://www.alternet.org/story/120197/

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Missing Young Man


I TRY TO WALK WITH FIONN THE DOG FIVE MILES A DAY, even in the cold. Actually the cold isn't so bad-- the worst is a hard, driving, cold rain, or very icy sidewalks, especially at night. But that's beside the point-- we see so much on our walks, the routes of which we vary daily. We often encounter people who pull over from the road to talk to us/ask us questions, or people who might be walking along as well. And there are some regulars we encounter every day. Most of those who pull over are lost, and a person with a dog, I think, seems like a likely person to help them out, presumably local at that. Once or twice the inquiries have been less savory. Once we were warned that a very large snapping turtle was just ahead up the road. (We ended up rescuing the turtle, and bringing her to the far side of Dark Hollow Pond-- female turtles round these parts leave their homes between May 15-June 15 to go out and lay eggs-- sometimes as far as a mile from their homes. Sometimes they get confused on the way back, and end up on the Fellsway-- not a good thing.) That's part of our job too.
Tonight's encounter was sadder. A man and a woman in a jeep pulled over as Fionn and I were walking up the Fellsway, round 10:30 or so. The man was handing out flyers (see above-- like all the pics here, one can enlarge it by clicking on it)-- Had I seen this young man? No, I said. The man was the boy's father, and he reported that his son has been missing since January 5, and has been seen in this area. He said that he had called home from the pay phone at the gas station down the street (where Fionn and I had just bought a bottle of milk) two nights ago. He said that he thought his son was looking to get involved with a gang. The flyer says he might be in Lowell, Everett, Medford, or Stoneham. It says he left home with minimal clothing and no funds. His name is Keaton 'KJ' Snodgrass, from Litchfield, NH. He is 14, 5'9", 130 pounds, brown hair in a buzz cut, brown eyes, slight build. Anyone spotting him in the area should call the Litchfield Police, at 603.424.4047.
How very sad-- I wonder what it is that makes a kid do something like this? God knows I did a lot of crazy stuff at that age-- including running away-- but why run away to join a gang? At the risk of sounding like an old fuddy-duddy, maybe it's the rap music, and the television culture of glorified violence. At any rate-- please keep your eye out for him if you're in the area. I'm putting his flyer on my altar, and hoping for the best, and will keep my eye out for him while we're walking...

Monday, January 12, 2009

Truthout Columnist William Rivers Pitt on Bush's Legacy

Greetings, Mr. Bush.
I was sorry to hear about the passing of your cat, India. Eighteen years is a long time for a cat - my mother has one that's 20 and still going strong, if you can believe it - and I'm sure India had a comfortable, caring life with your family.
I got to spend part of last weekend with an old friend of mine. He's a bit older than 18, and he's also a troop who recently rotated back from a tour in Falluja. He just had a baby daughter, and he will be sent to Afghanistan before too much longer. He did his duty in Iraq, dealt his share of death and saw his friends die or be ripped to shreds right in front of him.
He was hollow in a lot of places that had been full before he went to Iraq. He was not the same man we'd said farewell to. But he was alive, and if he survives his upcoming Afghanistan tour, maybe he will get the chance to have a long, comfortable, caring life with his family, just like little India.
At present, my friend's life is the polar opposite of comfortable, and he still has Kabul waiting for him just over the horizon. His life is the way it is because of you, Mr. Bush. You have been the single greatest influence upon his time in this world; you put him over there and hollowed him out, and because of you, it's about to happen again. You were the single biggest influence upon the lives of every person he knew over there, every person he saw over there, and every person he killed over there.
It's funny. I was thinking the other day about when I marched in one of the first large-scale post-inauguration protests against you in Washington, DC. It was May of 2001, it was The Voter's Rights March to Restore Democracy, and it was a few thousand people shouting down the unutterably ruinous Supreme Court decision which unleashed, just as we then feared, everything that has since come to pass. "Not my president!" we bellowed. "Not my president!"
It's funny because that memory seems so very quaint to me now. A stolen election? Pfff. To paraphrase a different president, Americans get scarier stuff than that free with their breakfast cereal nowadays. Thanks to you, governor.
My All-Time-Grand-Prize-Bull-Goose-Gold-Medal-Winning Top Five list of what you've done, in no particular order, and in my own humble opinion:
1. You were warned by the outgoing administration when you first took office. You were warned by the Russians. You were warned by the Israelis. You were warned by the Germans. You were warned in a memo given to you by your own National Security Adviser. You were warned by men like Richard Clarke. You were warned all those times that Osama bin Laden intended to strike the United States, and still the Towers came down.
(All those people working on that Legacy Project of yours should go back to bed, by the way; they are trying to salvage the unsalvageable. You protected us, they claim? Ha. You're 0-1 on terrorism and 0-2 on war)
2. Less than a month after those Towers came down, a reporter asked what you thought we should do. "We need to counter the shockwave of the evildoer," you replied, "by having individual rate cuts accelerated and by thinking about tax rebates." I happened to be watching television and heard you say that live into a camera. The only reason I didn't throw up on myself is because my teeth were clenched too tightly for the vomit to pass my lips. I swallowed hard, grabbed a pen, and wrote down what you said and when you said it. It was October 4, 2001, just after nine in the morning. You'd like people to remember you standing on that pile of rubble in Manhattan, you with the bullhorn and the heroic pose. I, however, will always remember you pitching tax cuts to a devastated nation while a pall of poison smoke still hung in the air over Ground Zero.
3. A few years later, you wanted hundreds of billions of dollars diverted from other areas of the federal budget and into your war in Iraq. You took more than $70 billion out of the budget used by the Army Corps of Engineers in Louisiana to fund the repair and maintenance of the New Orleans levee system. Katrina struck not long after you took that money and poured it into the sand, and the levees failed for lack of funded upkeep. Through this, along with your disinterested disinclination to help your own countrymen in their hour of darkest need, you played the very last note for that old, sad, lost American city. Reflected in those actions are the same budgetary priorities that motivated you to turn Walter Reed Army Medical Center, the hospital where I was born, into an abattoir of suffering and neglect for the wounded soldiers you tore apart for a lie.
4. You let Dick "Crazy-Eyes" Cheney do whatever the hell he wanted to whomever he wanted whenever and wherever he wanted, and be damned to the damned old Constitution anyway. Cheney once said the vice president's office was not part of the same branch of government as the president's office, and he said it with his bare face hanging out the whole time. Why? He didn't want to give any of his official papers over to the National Archives, as mandated by at least two federal laws. Nope, he said, my office is in Congress today, sorry about that, but be sure to come on back after you drop dead. Or words to that effect. That's about one zillionth of a percent of what he did, because you let him pick himself to be your boss.
5. On July 19, 2006, you vetoed H.R. 810. On June 20, 2007, you vetoed S. 5. Both vetoes killed legislation aimed at funding and vastly enhancing the reach and scope of stem cell research in America. The father of someone I know died of bone marrow cancer just after that first veto; he was adopted, no family could be located, so no donor match for a bone marrow transplant could be found. With stem cell therapy, doctors could have taken his own marrow and grown enough healthy, matching marrow to save his life. Two other people I know have diabetes, like millions of Americans. Stem cell research could offer them a cure. Someone else I know has multiple sclerosis, and stem cell research could very well help her, too. She'd write you a thank-you note for those vetoes, but her right hand doesn't work so well anymore. She's getting better with her left hand, so maybe that note can get written next year.
Also, you defied lawfully issued subpoenas and potentially set a precedent that could shatter the separation of powers. You told the American people Iraq was in possession of 26,000 liters of anthrax, 38,000 liters of botulinum toxin, 500 tons - which is one million pounds - of sarin, mustard and VX nerve agent, 30,000 missiles to deliver the stuff, mobile biological weapons labs, al-Qaeda connections and uranium from Niger for use in a robust nuclear weapons program, even though all of that was a lie. You made a joking video about not being able to find any of it. You outed a deep-cover CIA agent who was running a network designed to keep weapons of mass destruction out of the hands of terrorists, and you did so because her ambassador husband told the truth about you in the public prints.
You gave away our right to privacy by sending the NSA to spy on us. You turned us all into torturers and butchers in the eyes of the world with your decision to use Abu Ghraib prison the same way Saddam Hussein once did. You tried to appoint Henry Kissinger to lead the investigation into 9/11. You turned the entire Justice Department into a carnival of political hackery. You championed the economic policies and deregulation fantasies that have left the financial stability of millions in ashes. You used the threat of terrorism against your own people in order to give yourself political cover. You killed hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people who did you nor us no harm.
You did all this, and so much more.
From a certain perspective, one could argue that you have been the most successful president the country has ever seen. Think about it, because according to your definition of "success," it's true. You came into office looking to make your friends richer, and to fulfill as best you could your most overriding personal belief: that government is the problem, so government must be damaged and denuded to the point of impotence. Through your tax cuts and your two vastly expensive boondoggle wars, you made your friends rich. By unleashing Mr. Cheney and your other minions, you tore the Constitution to shreds and tatters. You have achieved both goals in smashing style, so from that certain perspective, you have triumphed.
Could you also, from the proper perspective, be considered our greatest president?
Perhaps, someday, if we make it so.
It will be in the best interests of many powerful people if we as a nation simply dismiss you and forget you ever happened. A lot of news media people want us to forget you, because in forgetting you, we would forget the media's vast complicity in your actions and misdeeds. A lot of rich people making new fortunes from war profiteering and defense contracts want us to forget they and you even exist, as it would make it possible for them to do it all again someday. A lot of politicians who stapled themselves to you would simply adore it if we forgot about you. The Republican Party would be forever in our debt if we forgot about you.
No. We will not forget you. We will remember.
We the people are going to save you from ignominious oblivion. We will remember. You could be the president who doomed America, the worst president of all time, but we must not, will not let that happen. You will be remembered differently, because we will hold the memory of you high, and behold you, and say, "Never, never, never again." We have tasted the soot and smelled the blood on the wind; we have seen how fragile our way of government is when placed in the hands of low men such as you, and because of that, you will be remembered for all time.
Your greatness will be defined by how we rise to overcome and undo what you have done. Your greatness will stand forever if we never, ever forget the hard, bitter lessons you taught us. We are responsible for this republic, for our Constitution, and for each other. We are our brother's keeper. You taught us that by becoming our Cain. You nearly slew us, but here we stand, and we defy the place in history you would relegate us to. We defy you, and by doing so, we rise.
Something like you must never again be allowed to happen to this country, and if we save ourselves by preventing you from ever happening again, your greatness is assured. You are the tallest of all possible warnings, and a promise all of us must solemnly and stalwartly keep. If we can damn you to the past, we will save our own future.
May you live forever, you son of a bitch.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Rare Tree Kangeroo Has Twins at Omaha Zoo


By Jean Ortiz, Associated Press Writer January 11, 2009
OMAHA, Neb. --Nebraska zookeepers are seeing double and they're thrilled about it, with the births of twins to a rare species of tree kangaroo.
Twin joeys were born last month at the Lincoln Children's Zoo to Matschie's tree kangaroos Milla and her mate Noru. They were found in Milla's pouch last month, and count as two of the four documented Matschie's tree kangaroo births last year.
Kansas City Zoo zookeeper Jacque Blessington says only about 50 of the animals exist in North America. In the wild, they live in the rain forest in northeastern Papua New Guinea.
The babies are expected to begin poking out their heads or feet as early as May.
------
On the Net:
Lincoln Children's Zoo, http://www.lincolnzoo.org/

Senate Boosts Wilderness Protection Across US

The power of voting for progressives, and the differences it can make....

By MATTHEW DALY, Associated Press Writer Matthew Daly, Associated Press Writer


WASHINGTON – In a rare Sunday session, the Senate advanced legislation that would set aside more than 2 million acres in nine states as wilderness. Majority Democrats assembled more than enough votes to overcome GOP stalling tactics in an early showdown for the new Congress.
Republicans complained that Democrats did not allow amendments on the massive bill, which calls for the largest expansion of wilderness protection in 25 years. But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and other Democrats said the bill — a holdover from last year — was carefully written and included measures sponsored by both Republicans and Democrats.
By a 66-12 vote, with only 59 needed to limit debate, lawmakers agreed to clear away procedural hurdles despite partisan wrangling that had threatened pledges by leaders to work cooperatively as the new Obama administration takes office. Senate approval is expected later this week. Supporters hope the House will follow suit.
"Today is a great day for America's public lands," said the bill's sponsor, Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M. "This big, bipartisan package of bills represents years of work by senators from many states, and both parties, in cooperation with local communities, to enhance places that make America so special."
The measure — actually a collection of about 160 bills — would confer the government's highest level of protection on land ranging from California's Sierra Nevada mountain range to Oregon's Mount Hood, Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado and parts of the Jefferson National Forest in Virginia. Land in Idaho's Owyhee canyons, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Michigan and Zion National Park in Utah also would be designated as wilderness.
Besides new wilderness designations, the bill would designate the childhood home of former President Bill Clinton in Hope, Ark., as a national historic site and expand protections for dozens of national parks, rivers and water resources.
Reid said about half the bills in the lands package were sponsored by Republicans. Most had been considered for more than a year.
"I am happy that after months of delay we will finally be moving forward," Reid said.
The bill's chief opponent, Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., denounced what he called Democratic bullying tactics.
"I am disappointed the Senate majority leader has refused to allow senators the opportunity to improve, amend or eliminate any of the questionable provisions in his omnibus lands bill," Coburn told fellow senators.
"When the American people asked Congress to set a new tone, I don't believe refusing to listen to the concerns of others was what they had in mind," Coburn said. "The American people expect us hold open, civil and thorough debates on costly legislation, not ram through 1,300-page bills when few are watching."
Coburn and several other Republicans complained that bill was loaded with pet projects and prevented development of oil and gas on federal lands, which they said would deepen the nation's dependence on foreign oil.
Environmental groups said the bill set the right tone for the new Congress.
"By voting to protect mountains and pristine wildlands, Congress is starting out on the right foot," said Christy Goldfuss of Environment America, an advocacy group. "This Congress is serious about protecting the environment and the outstanding lands that Americans treasure."
___
On the Net:
Information on the bill, S. 22, can be found at http://us.rd.yahoo.com/dailynews/ap/ap_on_go_co/storytext/congress_wilderness/30531827/SIG=10nr4q2o3;_ylt=AhKkYitXhMBTIybYkh7WUIuMwfIE/*http://thomas.loc.gov

Rights Group: Israel Uses White Phosphorus In Gaza

By JASON KEYSER, Associated Press Writer Jason Keyser, Associated Press Writer

JERUSALEM – Human Rights Watch said Sunday that Israel's military has fired artillery shells with the incendiary agent white phosphorus into Gaza and a doctor there said the chemical was suspected in the case of 10 burn victims who had skin peeling off their faces and bodies.
Researchers in Israel from the rights group witnessed hours of artillery bombardments that sent trails of burning smoke indicating white phosphorus over the Jebaliya refugee camp in northern Gaza. But they could not confirm injuries on the ground because they have been barred from entering the territory.
The chief doctor at Nasser Hospital in southern Gaza said he treated several victims there with serious burns that might have been caused by phosphorus. He said, however, that he did not have the resources or expertise to say with certainty what caused the injuries.
The substance can cause serious burns if it touches the skin and can spark fires on the ground, the rights group said in a written statement calling on Israel not to use it in crowded areas of Gaza.
Military spokeswoman Maj. Avital Leibovich refused to comment directly on whether Israel was using phosphorus, but said the army was "using its munitions in accordance with international law."
Israel used white phosphorus in its 34-day war with Hezbollah in Lebanon in 2006. The U.S. military in Iraq used the incendiary during a November 2004 operation against insurgents in the city of Fallujah.
An AP photographer and a TV crew based in Gaza visited Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis on Sunday and recorded images of several burn patients.
One of them, Haitham Tahseen, recalled sitting outside his home with his family in the morning when something exploded above them.
"Suddenly, I saw bombs coming with white smoke," said the man, whose burned face was covered with medical cream. "It looked very red and it had white smoke. That's the first time I've seen such a thing."
His cousin, in another hospital bed, was more severely burned, with patches of skin peeling off his face and body, and had to be wrapped with thick white bandages.
The hospital's chief doctor, Youssef Abu Rish, said the burns were not from contact with fire, but he couldn't say what sort of substance caused them. He said information he collected on the Internet indicated it could have been white phosphorus.
White phosphorus is not considered a chemical weapon, and militaries are permitted under laws of warfare to use it in artillery shells, bombs and rockets to create smoke screens to hide troop movements as well as bright bursts in the air to illuminate battlefields at night.
Israel is not party to a convention regulating its use. Under customary laws of war, however, Israel would be expected to take all feasible precautions to minimize the impact of white phosphorus on civilians, Human Rights Watch said.
"What we're saying is the use of white phosphorus in densely populated areas like a refugee camp is showing that the Israelis are not taking all feasible precautions," said Marc Garlasco, a senior military analyst for the rights group. "It's just an unnecessary risk to the civilian population, not only in the potential for wounds but also for burning homes and infrastructure."
Garlasco was among researchers on a ridge about a mile (1.5 kilometers) from the Gaza border who observed the shelling from a 155mm artillery unit on Friday and Saturday.
Some of the burning trails of smoke caused fires on the ground that appeared to go out after a few minutes, said Garlasco, who formerly worked at the Pentagon where he was in charge of recommending high-value targets for airstrikes during the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
Each 155mm shell contains 116 of what Garlasco described as wafers doused in phosphorus that can be spread over an area as large as a sports field, depending on the height at which it detonates. The phosphorus ignites when it comes in contact with oxygen.
Human Rights Watch has not been able to confirm whether there have been any civilian casualties from phosphorus. The group has a consultant working for it inside Gaza but he has been unable to move around due to the danger. Foreign journalists have also been barred from entering Gaza.
Garlasco said photos published Thursday in British newspaper The Times showed Israeli units handling American-manufactured white phosphorus shells with fuses on them.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Bald Eagle Count Today in Massachusetts

(from today's Boston Globe)
By Globe Staff
Dozens of birders and wildlife officials are fanning out across Massachusetts today with binoculars and telephoto camera lenses for the state's annual bald eagle count.
The survey will focus on the coast and major rivers, lakes, and reservoirs. It is conducted each year in conjunction with a national effort to survey the birds in the lower 48 states.
In January 2008, 73 eagles were counted across the state, just off the record of 76 in 1998. That was up 25 eagles from the 48 counted in 2007. On average, the national tally counts 13,000 to 16,000 eagles each year.
The tally today in Massachusetts will include 40 to 50 state and federal wildlife officials and volunteers and a National Grid helicopter flight around the shoreline of Quabbin Reservoir. MassWildlife will have spotters looking for eagles in the following locations:
-Enfield Lookout on the Quabbin
-Wachusett Reservoir in Worcester County
-Deer Island in Amesbury on the Merrimack River
-the Cashman Park Boat Ramp on the Merrimack River in Newburyport
-Pocksha Pond and Great Quitticas Pond in Lakeville
-Wattuppa Ponds and the Westport River area