Sunday, September 28, 2008

Mideast Courses for the Soul

My friend Debra is active in the Art of Living, and my son and mother-in-law have both taken courses with them and enjoyed and benefited. The Art of Living tries to promote spiritual and physical health through a set of practices.

From October to December 2008, in Israel and Palestine the Art of Living Foundation is offering programs in 6 cities. The courses are open to everyone.

Why is this relevant to the Middle East?

"When faced with the choice of first healing ourselves or first healing the world, the answer is that we must do both simultaneously"

-Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan

And my own take - that peace and justice will be a long time coming. We need spiritual strength and inner peace to get us through the time till then. And people of similar spiritual paths will find it harder to hate each other and argue over stupid stuff like whose flag flies where.

So for any blog readers in Israel/Palestine here are the details.

The Art of Living Foundation is an international humanitarian educational not-for-profit organization dedicated to creating a world at peace by strengthening the individual. Worldwide, millions of people from all backgrounds and traditions have reported benefits from our programs that improve their lives, and bring people together in celebration and service to their communities.

For more information see:

Friday, September 26, 2008

Bad Karma, 24 hour Film Race 2008

Check it out.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Anti-Semtism in France

My mother forwarded to me one of those overwrought hysterical emails that circulate in the Jewish Internet: this one about anti-Semitism in France. It was over the top in its fear mongering, and advocated that everyone boycott French products.

So I decided to check out the "truth" of the mater, by checking out articles in reputable mainstream sources about anti-Semitism in France.

Turns out that just because we are paranoid, doesn't mean they aren't really out to get us! Anti Semitism in France is worse than I was aware of (certainly much worse that in Canada or the U.S.). What's more. the perception of anti-Semitism - of both Jews and non-Jews - is worse than the dozen or so serious incidents I couls find would warrent. Jews, and ones attitudes toward them, have become a mainstream "problem" in France.

Its not the 1890s, or the 1930s, but its is disturbing.

If want to read some of the mainstream articles about anti-Semitism in France, try these links below.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Good News - That Will Come To Nothing.

In what should be (but won't be) a breakthrough for Israel/Palestine peace, PA President Mahmoud Abbas has agreed to severely limit the number of Palestinians entitled to move into Israel proper under the "right of return". This according to an interview he gave to the Israeli paper Haaretz. Other reports, in the Jerusalem Post, and various Arabic papers (AlHayat and AlSharq), confirm this, and further tell us that the actual number he has agreed to is a mere 20,000 over 10 years.

This should be fantastic news for any supporters of the two state solution. Fear that granting the right of return would allow hundreds of thousands - or even millions - of returning Palestinians would swamp the demographic balance of the Jewish State, has been a major stumbling block for many liberal Zionists who want to achieve a fair peace with the Palestinians but also want to preserve the Jewish majority in the State of Israel. Current Israeli Prime Minister Olmert, and his foreign Minister Tzipi Livni claim to be in that camp.

But I predict this will come to nothing. The Israeli government is too weak to respond. Too many Israelis prefer - to paraphrase Moshe Dayan from an earlier era - the West Bank without peace, to peace without the West Bank. Too many Israelis think they are the strong party, and don't need peace, and don't need to give up something dear. Too many Israelis think time is on their side. Too many Israelis think the Palestinians don't deserve a state of their - or any rights for that matter. Too many Israelis don't trust the Palestinians - no matter what they do or say.

Pray that I am wrong.

Other interesting quotes from the Haartez interview:
[Abbas] dismisses the threats of colleagues, ... to replace the negotiations over two states with a demand for equal rights between Israelis and Palestinians in one state. He also promises that, just as he opposed the second intifada, he will not support a third one.

He is aware of the arguments in Israel about his political weakness. "It's a good excuse for Israel not to fulfill its obligations," he says with a bitter smile. ...

"We have restored order to the West Bank cities, we are taking steps against anyone who tries to undermine security and stability, whether it is Hamas, Islamic Jihad or even Fatah. In Israel and in the United States they are well aware that the Palestinian security forces have prevented many attacks. We even dismantled Fatah's Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades. Today there is one armed force and one authority in the field."

Abbas' situation in public opinion surveys conducted in the territories is better than ever. The chaos that reigned in the cities of the West Bank has been replaced by the Palestinian police. The security systems are garnering praise from those very senior Israeli officials who in the past leveled penetrating criticism against their functioning - including the head of the Shin Bet security service, the defense minister and generals in the Israel Defense Forces. The economic situation in the West Bank is also improving. And nevertheless, Abu Mazen knows that without a diplomatic agreement, all these achievements will evaporate and the Palestinians will return to Hamas' embrace.

Do you remember that Saturday, September 13, is the anniversary of the Oslo Accords?


Why unfortunately?

"Because it didn't succeed. Fifteen years have passed since then, and we are still far from an agreement."

Jordan's King Abdullah said recently to a French newspaper that he is not convinced that Israel wants to solve the conflict, due to the absence of a long-term vision. Do you agree with that statement?

"I tend to agree with King Abdullah. ..."

Is it clear that on the issue of the right of return, the refugees will return only to the areas of the Palestinian state?

"Not at all. This issue is not at all clear. There are today five million Palestinian refugees whose forefathers were expelled from the area of Israel, not from the West Bank and Gaza. We understand that if we demand of you that all five million return to Israel, the State of Israel would be destroyed. But we must talk about compromise and see to what numbers you can agree.

"We have to talk about Israeli recognition of its responsibility for the refugee problem, and then discuss the right of return in practice. The Palestinians who don't return to Israel can return to Palestine. If they decide to remain in the countries where they are living, they will receive compensation, as will the countries that absorb them. There is a central issue that Israel tends to ignore: the assets of the absentees. That is a very important issue, almost the basis of the problem.

"We intend to hold talks with Israel about the number of refugees who will return to its area. I am criticized for not demanding the return of all five million, but I say that we will demand the return of a reasonable number of refugees to Israel. ...

What do you think of the calls by senior Palestinian officials, in light of the failure of the negotiations, to dismantle the PA, transfer responsibility to Israel and establish one state for two nations?

"That is an issue that came up in the Arab League, too. But in my opinion, we should stick to implementing a solution of two states for two nations. That is the best proposal. But you must not prevent this solution and push people into a corner. A continuation of your dangerous policy in the West Bank - construction in the settlements, the roadblocks, the raids on West Bank cities - will only distance the two-state solution."

"We don't want one state for two nations, and various people who are doing that ... are doing it out of despair. You must treat the Palestinians with respect, as full partners, human beings like you. ...

Obama Waffles Belatedly Banned

This from AP:

Activists at a conservative political forum snapped up boxes of waffle mix depicting Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama as a racial stereotype on its front and wearing an Arab-like headdress on its top flap.

Values Voter Summit organizers cut off sales of Obama Waffles boxes on Saturday, saying they had not realized the boxes displayed "offensive material." The summit and the exhibit hall where the boxes were sold had been open since Thursday afternoon.

The box was meant as political satire, said Mark Whitlock and Bob DeMoss, two writers from Franklin, Tennessee, who created the mix. They sold it for $10 a box from a rented booth at the summit sponsored by the lobbying arm of the Family Research Council, a Christian conservative group.

Republican Party stalwarts Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney were among speakers at the forum, which officials said drew 2,100 activists from 44 states.

On the back of the box, Obama is depicted in stereotypical Mexican dress, including a sombrero, above a recipe for "Open Border Fiesta Waffles" that says it can serve "4 or more illegal aliens." The recipe includes a tip: "While waiting for these zesty treats to invade your home, why not learn a foreign language?"

Wearing white chef's aprons, Whitlock and DeMoss were doing a brisk business at noon Saturday selling the waffle mix to people crowded around their booth. Two pyramids of waffle mix boxes stood several feet high on the booth's table.

"It's the ultimate political souvenir," DeMoss told a customer.

Asked if he considered the pictures of Obama on the box to be racial stereotypes, Whitlock said: "We had some people mention that to us, but you think of Newman's Own, there are tons and tons of personality-branded food products on the market."

The socially conservative public policy groups American Values and Focus on the Family co-sponsored the summit.

The Obama campaign declined to comment.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Culture, Religion, and Why People Vote Republican

The photo above is of Emile Durkheim, influential French-Jewish sociologist (and son of a Rabbi). His theory of Religion heavily influenced Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan, founder of Reconstructionist Judaism.

Friday morning I stumbled across this article that tries to explains why people vote Republican - in terms of the religious motivation. Being someone who "suffers" from the religious motivation myself, I found this article both interesting and ringing very true. Below is an excerpt.

Here's my ... definition: morality is any system of interlocking values, practices, institutions, and psychological mechanisms that work together to suppress or regulate selfishness and make social life possible. It turns out that human societies have found several radically different approaches to suppressing selfishness, two of which are most relevant for understanding what Democrats don't understand about morality.

First, imagine society as a social contract invented for our mutual benefit. All individuals are equal, and all should be left as free as possible to move, develop talents, and form relationships as they please. The patron saint of a contractual society is John Stuart Mill, who wrote (in On Liberty) that "the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others." Mill's vision appeals to many liberals and libertarians; a Millian society at its best would be a peaceful, open, and creative place where diverse individuals respect each other's rights and band together voluntarily (as in Obama's calls for "unity") to help those in need or to change the laws for the common good.

Psychologists have done extensive research on the moral mechanisms that are presupposed in a Millian society, and there are two that appear to be partly innate. First, people in all cultures are emotionally responsive to suffering and harm, particularly violent harm, and so nearly all cultures have norms or laws to protect individuals and to encourage care for the most vulnerable. Second, people in all cultures are emotionally responsive to issues of fairness and reciprocity, which often expand into notions of rights and justice. Philosophical efforts to justify liberal democracies and egalitarian social contracts invariably rely heavily on intuitions about fairness and reciprocity.

But now imagine society not as an agreement among individuals but as something that emerged organically over time as people found ways of living together, binding themselves to each other, suppressing each other's selfishness, and punishing the deviants and free-riders who eternally threaten to undermine cooperative groups. The basic social unit is not the individual, it is the hierarchically structured family, which serves as a model for other institutions. Individuals in such societies are born into strong and constraining relationships that profoundly limit their autonomy. The patron saint of this more binding moral system is the sociologist Emile Durkheim, who warned of the dangers of anomie (normlessness), and wrote, in 1897, that "Man cannot become attached to higher aims and submit to a rule if he sees nothing above him to which he belongs. To free himself from all social pressure is to abandon himself and demoralize him." A Durkheimian society at its best would be a stable network composed of many nested and overlapping groups that socialize, reshape, and care for individuals who, if left to their own devices, would pursue shallow, carnal, and selfish pleasures. A Durkheimian society would value self-control over self-expression, duty over rights, and loyalty to one's groups over concerns for outgroups.

A Durkheimian ethos can't be supported by the two moral foundations that hold up a Millian society (harm/care and fairness/reciprocity). My recent research shows that social conservatives do indeed rely upon those two foundations, but they also value virtues related to three additional psychological systems: ingroup/loyalty (involving mechanisms that evolved during the long human history of tribalism), authority/respect (involving ancient primate mechanisms for managing social rank, tempered by the obligation of superiors to protect and provide for subordinates), and purity/sanctity (a relatively new part of the moral mind, related to the evolution of disgust, that makes us see carnality as degrading and renunciation as noble). These three systems support moralities that bind people into intensely interdependent groups that work together to reach common goals. Such moralities make it easier for individuals to forget themselves and coalesce temporarily into hives, a process that is thrilling, as anyone who has ever "lost" him or herself in a choir, protest march, or religious ritual can attest.

According to the author - Jonathan Haidt - the Democrats are the party of John Stuart Mill and the Republicans the party of Emile Durkheim. Later in the article he writes:

...the second rule of moral psychology is that morality is not just about how we treat each other (as most liberals think); it is also about binding groups together, supporting essential institutions, and living in a sanctified and noble way. When Republicans say that Democrats "just don't get it," this is the "it" to which they refer.

Well it is certainly something I get. So I do wonder: why don't more liberals get it?

Maybe there is more need for the a Network of Spiritual Progressives than I thought. Why can't liberal religions - Reconstructionist and Reform Jews, Quakers and Unitarians and Methodists (and the Anglicans and United Church In Canada), Bahais and Ahmadiyyas and Ismaeli Muslims, and other progressive religious types have as much influence in the Democratic Party, and left politics in general, as evangelicals do in the Republican Party. And why do liberals politicians, indeed "not get" religious values and motivations? There is nothing intrinsically left or right about religion. Religious people where at the forefront of of the anti-slavery movements in 19th century England and America. And most religions preach some variant of the social responsibility that is the core message of the economic left.

Maybe its because most "liberals" leaders are too cerebral, and have to little "gut". Or maybe its because they think they are preaching to the "rational" self interest of their voters, when in fact they should be appealing to the electorates deeper desire for social solidarity and transcendent meaning.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

My Baby II

My synagogue, Darchei Noam, was written up in the Canadian Jewish News.

I spent seven years as VP of development and then chair of the building committee, helpding to build Darcahi Noam's new building. So I allow myself some pride when I see article like this. You can read about it by clicking here.

The picture above is of Les Klein, our architect - and member, sitting in the new sanctuary.

You can also see a video about the congregaton by clicking here.

If your in Toronto you should come visit on a Shabbat (or High Holidays). Its a beautiful building and a friendly, relaxed and interesting congregation.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

OU threatens to Yank Agriprocessor's Kashrut Licence

This just in from JTA.

Following the filing of criminal charges against Agriprocessors, the Orthodox
Union may withdraw its kosher certification of the company [Agriprocessors.]

On Tuesday, the O.U. announced it would withdraw certification from the kosher meat company, the nation's largest, unless new management is hired.

The announcement came just hours after Iowa's attorney general filed criminal charges against Agriprocessors and its owner, Aaron Rubashkin, for child-labor violations.

"Within the coming days, or lets say a week or two, we will suspend our supervision unless there's new management in place," said Rabbi Menachem Genack, the O.U.'s head of kosher supervision.

I have blogged about the Agriprocessors scandal a few times aleady.

While the OU's action is commendable, it is also long over due. Why are they threatening this only now that State criminal charges have been filed. Agriprocessor's inhumane practices to animals - and violation of Jewish Laws re tzaar baaleh chaim [suffering of animals] were conclusively documented on film by PETA several years ago. (In fact the films even showed technical violations of kosher slaughter rules - animals clearly not killed by a single cut to the throat.) Agriprocessor's violation of Jewish Laws of fair labour practices were documented by various labour unions, and by investigative journalists of the Forward, several years ago. Agriprocessor' exploitation of foreign workers and violation of American Immigration Law has been known since at latest the big immigration raid on there Postville plant earlier this year.

Why did it take State criminal prosecution to force OU's hand?

Well better late then never.

Maybe this will provide further impetus for the Hescher Tzeddek movement, which strives to have Jewish authorities certify food as not only meeting the Jewish legal requirements of kashrut, but also the Jewish legal requirements regarding suffering of animals and fair labour practices. Let's hope so.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

The Palin Factor, Men, Jews, and Hope for Obama

Everyone is talking about the Palin Factor. Yesterday I reported on how Palin has seemed to give the Republicans a 10 point bounce. The national polls now show McCain leading Obama for the first time since January.

But Palin's appeal has not been universal. Men are more impressed with Palin than women. Fully 58% of men think Palin is qualified to be President. Only 41% of women think she is qualified. This is surprising only if you think women are fools and will blindly vote on "identity politics". Many men, on the other hand, have their brains in their pants and like her because she is "macho" and "hot". Sort of like the sexualized women-with-guns of James Bond movies. Or maybe men are just more easily distracted than women? (I can say that, being a man.)

Palin's appeals to evangelicals, and to white rural voters, and to a certain segment of white suburban voters. This may be enough to swing Ohio, Michigan, and even Wisconsin into the Republican camp. Normally that would be enough to sink any hope for Obama's campaign. But, and its a big "But", if Obama can hang onto Colorado (post convention polls show this state essentially tied) and New Mexico, he may still have a chance - because of the Jews.
A poll released today, and taken after the Republican Convention, shows Florida has move into a tie - from leaning toward McCain. It appears to be the only state - so far - where the Republicans got a negative reaction from their convention. How to explain this? Simple (IMO) - Jews don't like rabid evangelicals. Some Jews can be enticed to vote Republican because of security issues, Israel issues, and even - to a smaller extent - by economic issues. And many Florida Jews had preferred McCain over Obama because of this. But Jews will bolt to the left whenever the issue becomes the "culture wars". Especially old Jews in Florida who still fear anti-Semitism are suspect of doctrinaire Christians. So Ironically, while Palin may help McCain in most states, she may hurt him in Florida.

How could all this affect the overall outcome? Look at the electoral map above. It shows the swing states of Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, New Hampshire, Virginia as going to McCain. It shows Obama taking the swing states of Colorado and New Mexico. And it shows Obama stealing Florida from the Republicans, based on the anti-Palin backlash among Floridas Jews.

The result is an electoral vote tie! 269-269. And that would throw the election to the House of Representatives, where, presumably, the Democratic majority would give it to Obama.

Now wouldn't that be fun! And all because McCain chose to mess with some old retired Jews in Florida.

Monday, September 08, 2008

McCain Out-Bounces Obama

I reported last week that Obama received a 5% point bounce from the Democratic Convention.

Well the Republican convention took all that back, and then some. As of September 2, Obama lead McCain by 6 points in the RCP average of polls. Today, 6 days later, McCain leads Obama by 2.1 points. Thats an 8.1% bounce within less than a week.

Either Palin is Superwoman, the Republicans are very effective convetioneers, Obama is a weak campaigner, the American people - or at least the undecides among them - are incredibly fickle, or all of the above are true. (I vote for the latter.)

The chart above is from my own tracking of the poll averages. Individual polls, of course, vary from the average - and the very latest one, which may be a leading indicator, shows McCain ahead by 10 points!

I would say that the Democrats have a lot to be worried about - and the rest of the world has a lot to fear.
Postscript: Since I posted the above - about 4 hours ago, two new polls have been published. Both are bad news for Obama. The RCP average of polls now has McCain leading by 3.4% (which makes his 6 day bounce close to 10%), and while Obama is still leading in Michigan his lead has dropped by 1% since the previous polls.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Oylem Goylem

Oylem Goylem was, I am told, a favorite expression of my grandfather, as he perused the newspapers in interwar Poland. Literally it means, "the world is a golem" (the artificial, and no-brained, man-like-being created, according to Jewish legend, by Rabbi Lowe of Prague.) Figuratively it means "people are fools." I can't help but sympathize with his harsh judgment as I consider what's happening in three (maybe four) imminent elections.

In the U.S. the contest for the most important job in the world has come down to a combination of a personality contest an a soap opera. To hell with issues like, how to provide health care, how to fix the economy, how to save Social Security, how much longer to keep bankrupting America and killing people in Iraq. What has captivated everyone is Bristol's pregnancy, and whether 5 years as a POW, or graduating at the top of your class from Harvard, makes you more qualified to be president. In what logic says should be a year of a Democratic sweep, the contest is too close to call.

In Canada, we will go to the polls on October 14th (The first day of sukkot, which will certainly lose the Conservatives some Orthodox Jewish votes in Toronto area ridings where those votes might actually make a difference.) Polls say that Steven Harper's Conservatives will again get a plurality, and form the government. This despite the fact that those same polls show most Canadians disagree with the Conservatives on most issues. But as the Toronto Star put it today, "People prefer strong leadership, even if it is not leading in a direction they like." True - but crazy !

In Israel, too, there will be one - maybe two - votes coming up. The first is the primaries for the leadership of the ruling Kadima party. The winner will automatically become Prime Minister. The contest between Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Transportation Minister - and former chief of staff - Shaul Mofaz, should be a no brainer. Mofaz is hawks hawk. He is against any "further concessions" to the Palestinians, and has ruminated, out load, about re-taking the Gaza Strip. He joined Kadima, when Sharon formed it, only for personal advancement. He has a big mouth which he can't control (as when he openly called for Israel to bomb Iran - using nuclear weapons if necessary!) He wasn't even a particularly successful head of the army. Livni, is a moderate (by Israeli standards) and a pragmatist. She promises to continue Olmert's (and Sharon's) plan of negotiating (endlessly in my opinion) with the Palestinians, while not giving up what she considers Israels "essential interests" - the large settlement block, all of Jerusalem, and the right of return. Livni is wrong, in my opinion, but at least she is willing to try to achieve peace and is aware of the costs of not doing so. Mofaz just has his head in the sand.

But again the, contest is close.

More amazing though, is that if general elections where held today in Israel, and they may indeed be held within a few months, both Livni and Mofaz would lose to the Likud's Benjamin Netanyahu. This is a man who has already been a distaster as Prime Minister. This is the man who did everything he could to undermine and destroy the Olso agreements - and succeeded. This is the man who was driven from office because of the general corruption and sleaze of his administration and his own personal behavior. Yet he is perceived as "tough", and is therefore popular.

Who cares where we are being lead - as long as we are being lead there with confidence! Who wants thoughtful nuanced leaders - when we can have tenacious and stubborn ones - even if their policies are retread of old failed ones. Who wants to try something new, when we can continue to do what we have done before - even if we know it leads nowhere, or worse.

Olyem Goylem, indeed.

They Are Both Lying - or Fools

Both John McCain and Barak Obama are promising to cut taxes. Both are lying, or worse, are fools.

The truth is that the U.S. has been living on borrowed money and time. And both are beginning to run out. Two of today's news stories prove it (more on those below.)

The U.S. government is broke. George W Bush has seen to that. He massively lowered taxes while waging an expensive war. The war in Iraq has cost the U.S. over $1.2 TRILLION so far. (1.2 trillion is the low estimate - as of January 2007. 3 trillion the high estimate - for a projected end of war in 2010.) The war is costing about $400 billion a year.

Co-incidentally, that is about what the projected U.S. government deficit is for 2008. The U.S. government is spending about $400 billion a year more than it takes in. Every year !

The total U.S. federal government debt is $9.7 trillion !! That's $31,000 for every man, woman and child in the U.S. - $120,000 for a typical American family. And that is over an above State and Local Government debt, and of course does not count personal debt.

And those numbers pale when compared to the $59 trillion in unfunded future liabilities the U.S. government has to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid - essentially promises it has made to the American people and which many rely on for retirement and health care.

Two news stories today underscore that the shit is about to hit the fan. First, the U.S highway trust fund, the fund that pays to maintain the U.S. interstate highway system, as well as federal bridges (remember the bridge that collapsed in Minneapolis a year ago) is going broke. According to a story in the New York Times
An important account in the federal Highway Trust Fund will run out of money this month, a situation that could hamper completion of road and bridge construction projects across the country, Transportation Secretary Mary E. Peters said on Friday.

Because the trust fund’s highway account is draining away, the Transportation Department will have to delay payments for projects, Ms. Peters said at a news conference. Since money from Washington typically pays 80 to 90 percent of the cost of federally aided road work, states with shaky finances may have to consider curtailing projects.
The fund is hurting because: (a) after years of putting off highway and bridge maintenance, more work is being demanded now; and (b) with the U.S. economy slowing down, and gas prices rising, the flow of gas taxes that goes into the fund has slowed. Congress will need to raise gas taxes, or otherwise pump money into the fund in order to allow federally funded road work to continue.

The second big story today is that the U.S. government has effectively nationalized the two biggest mortgage banks in the U.S. - Freddie Mac and Fanny Mae. In one fell swoop it has assumed another $5 trillion of shaky debt. While it is unlikely that all this debt will turn out to be bad, it is entirely possible that by the time the government re-privatizes this debt, it will have had to "eat" 10 - 20% of it. Thus today, in one fell swoop, the U.S government has agreed to pay out the equivalent of one-to-two years of Iraq war effort - adding up to $1 trillion to the real debt it owes; another $12,000 per U.S. family.

Who did this help and who did it hurt? Well it hurts U.S. taxpayers - and all American citizens. They now owe more. And it helped the owners of Freddie and Fanny stock - who stood to lose everything if these two companies had gone bankrupt. And who owns these stocks? Well of course, some is held by little old ladies in Peoria, but most is held by rich people and other banking institutions. It also helped the holder of Freddie and Fanny's bonds. Again, mostly wealthier folks.

But beyond the short term problems, shady ethics, and poor policy choices these two stories reveal, is the bigger fact that the U.S. government is essentially broke. It is living on the good will of its creditors, who are still afraid to pull the plug. But it will become harder and harder for the U.S to borrow more money to finance its daily operations and pay off its old debt as it comes due. Big debtors may be stuck with their existing - and now worrisome - U.S debt holdings, but they will not continue much longer to throw additional money that way.

The U.S. has been living off borrowing for too long. The gig is about to be up. It will have to start paying its way. And the only way to do that is to raise taxes, not lower them. The alternative is a major devaluation of the U.S. currency - causing major inflation - and serious cut backs on U.S. government services - causing serious pain as roads deteriorate, schools go to hell, the military is cut back, and the minimalist U.S. social safety net falls apart.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Democracy Now !

The story below, by Amy Goodman producer of Democracy Now on Pacifica Radio, has circulated on other web sites and blogs. I am reprinting it here, because it has got ZERO coverage in the mainstream media, despite nearly 7/24 coverage of the Republican Convention. This despite the fact that demonstrators out numbered RNC delegates. You would have thought that alone deserved 5 minutes on CNN.

That demonstrators get arrested is disturbing. That they get beaten, is outrageous. That this includes journalists, adds salt to the wounds. But that no one hears about it, that the mainstream media collude with the police and the party power brokers to allow no one to disturb the approved story line, that is truly worrisome. That is the biggest threat to freedom.

In America (and many other countries too) you are free to protest as long as no one hears you, as long as you don't try to get too much attention, as long as you don't rock the boat and disturb the mainstream narrative.

* * *

ST. PAUL, Minn. By Amy Goodman -- Government crackdowns on journalists are a true threat to democracy. As the Republican National Convention meets in St. Paul, Minn., this week, police are systematically targeting journalists. I was arrested with my two colleagues, "Democracy Now!" producers Sharif Abdel Kouddous and Nicole Salazar, while reporting on the first day of the RNC. I have been wrongly charged with a misdemeanor. My co-workers, who were simply reporting, may be charged with felony riot.

The Democratic and Republican national conventions have become very expensive and protracted acts of political theater, essentially four-day-long advertisements for the major presidential candidates. Outside the fences, they have become major gatherings for grass-roots movements -- for people to come, amidst the banners, bunting, flags and confetti, to express the rights enumerated in the Constitution's First Amendment: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

Behind all the patriotic hyperbole that accompanies the conventions, and the thousands of journalists and media workers who arrive to cover the staged events, there are serious violations of the basic right of freedom of the press. Here on the streets of St. Paul, the press is free to report on the official proceedings of the RNC, but not to report on the police violence and mass arrests directed at those who have come to petition their government, to protest.

It was Labor Day, and there was an anti-war march, with a huge turnout, with local families, students, veterans and people from around the country gathered to oppose the war. The protesters greatly outnumbered the Republican delegates.

There was a positive, festive feeling, coupled with a growing anxiety about the course that Hurricane Gustav was taking, and whether New Orleans would be devastated anew. Later in the day, there was a splinter march. The police -- clad in full body armor, with helmets, face shields, batons and canisters of pepper spray -- charged. They forced marchers, onlookers and working journalists into a nearby parking lot, then surrounded the people and began handcuffing them.

Nicole was videotaping. Her tape of her own violent arrest is chilling. Police in riot gear charged her, yelling, "Get down on your face." You hear her voice, clearly and repeatedly announcing "Press! Press! Where are we supposed to go?" She was trapped between parked cars. The camera drops to the pavement amidst Nicole's screams of pain. Her face was smashed into the pavement, and she was bleeding from the nose, with the heavy officer with a boot or knee on her back. Another officer was pulling on her leg. Sharif was thrown up against the wall and kicked in the chest, and he was bleeding from his arm.

I was at the Xcel Center on the convention floor, interviewing delegates. I had just made it to the Minnesota delegation when I got a call on my cell phone with news that Sharif and Nicole were being bloody arrested, in every sense. Filmmaker Rick Rowley of Big Noise Films and I raced on foot to the scene. Out of breath, we arrived at the parking lot. I went up to the line of riot police and asked to speak to a commanding officer, saying that they had arrested accredited journalists.

Within seconds, they grabbed me, pulled me behind the police line and forcibly twisted my arms behind my back and handcuffed me, the rigid plastic cuffs digging into my wrists. I saw Sharif, his arm bloody, his credentials hanging from his neck. I repeated we were accredited journalists, whereupon a Secret Service agent came over and ripped my convention credential from my neck. I was taken to the St. Paul police garage where cages were set up for protesters. I was charged with obstruction of a peace officer. Nicole and Sharif were taken to jail, facing riot charges.

The attack on and arrest of me and the "Democracy Now!" producers was not an isolated event. A video group called I-Witness Video was raided two days earlier. Another video documentary group, the Glass Bead Collective, was detained, with its computers and video cameras confiscated. On Wednesday, I-Witness Video was again raided, forced out of its office location. When I asked St. Paul Police Chief John Harrington how reporters are to operate in this atmosphere, he suggested, "By embedding reporters in our mobile field force."

On Monday night, hours after we were arrested, after much public outcry, Nicole, Sharif and I were released. That was our Labor Day. It's all in a day's work.

Obama's Jewish Connection

Turns out Obama has a Jewish connection closer than we might have imagined. According to a story on the Forward, Michelle Obama Has a Rabbi in Her Family.

Turns out Michelle's father (now deceased) is first cousin to Rabbi Capers Funnye, spiritual leader of a mostly black synagogue on Chicago’s South Side, and a member of the Chicago Board of Rabbis. Rabbi Funnye attended Michelle and Barak's wedding.

Who knew!

You can read the Forward story here, or more interesting, if you are not familar with Rabbi Funnye and his congregation, is the web site of his congregation Beth Shalom Bnei Zaken, or this video of Rabbi Capers Purim megillah reading.

Thanks to my friend Eric for pointing out the Forward story to me.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Obama Got His Bounce

Well despite many pundits claims to the contrary, Obama got a significant bounce in public opinion polls from their convention. Two weeks ago, Obama lead McCain by a statistically insignificant 1.2 %, and his numbers were falling. Today, the RCP average of polls has Obama leading McCain by 6.4%. That’s a gain of 5.2% - near the historic average of 5% for the "Convention Bounce".

Analysis shows that most of these gains occurred between Friday and today: well after the announcement of Joe Biden as Obama's VP pick - so we can safely say that Joe brought no short term gains to Obama's Campaign. Most of the polling also occurred after McCain’s announcement of Sarah Palin as his running mate. So whatever effect she has had on public opinion has already been factored into Obama's current lead. Obama's numbers did not start to rise until Friday morning - so we can probably ascribe most of that rise to Obama's Thursday night speech, and to the general air of reconciliation that pervaded at the Democratic convention.

Of course, none of this yet factors in the bounce McCain may get from the Republican Convention just getting under way. More on that next week.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Say that again ?!!

Headline in Ha'aretz:

Actress Helen Mirren: I gave up cocaine when I heard Nazi war criminal profited from it

Should we that the Nazi's for saving Helen, or Helen for saving the world?