Bill de Blasio Is Wrong to Pander to AIPAC

The powerful right-wing lobby doesn’t represent most American Jews, and it’s no longer the only game in town.

(AP Photo/Mike Groll)

Last summer, this magazine enthusiastically endorsed Bill de Blasio in his campaign for mayor of New York City, praising “his commitment to reimagining the city in boldly progressive, egalitarian terms.” Later we celebrated his landslide victory, and we still stand firmly behind him on the issues most critical to the future of New York.

So it was especially dismaying to learn that, less than a month after he assumed office, the mayor who had promised a more inclusive and transparent administration than that of his predecessor delivered a speech before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in a gala not listed on his public schedule and not open to reporters. De Blasio pandered to the powerful right-wing lobby, assuring attendees that “City Hall will always be open to AIPAC…when you need me to stand by you in Washington or anywhere, I will answer the call and I will answer it happily, because that’s my job.”

Deplorable? Yes. Surprising? Hardly. Perhaps the most depressing feature of this ritual of abjection is its predictability—the fact that for decades, this has been standard operating procedure for many American politicians, even ones who are steadfast on core progressive issues like de Blasio. Office-seekers learn to assume early in their career that if they don’t pledge fealty to AIPAC, retribution will be swift and their political life could be a short one. So rather than test the limits of the lobby’s power, most of them go along.

AIPAC’s dominion—reinforced by Christian Zionists and the usual cast of neocon hawks—is destructive on many fronts. Not only has it prevented a just resolution of the Israel-Palestine conflict by enforcing lockstep US support for the most retrograde elements in Israel; in recent years it has, in league with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, been doing everything it can to provoke US conflict with Iran. Now, when a conciliatory new government in Tehran is seeking rapprochement with Washington—the best hope for US and regional security in more than three decades—AIPAC and its allies have been pressing Congress for renewed sanctions precisely in order to kill that hope, which could set Washington on the path to war.

However, it’s important to recognize that many of the assumptions that underpin AIPAC’s influence don’t carry the force they used to. Praising what he called the “deep connection” between New York and Israel, de Blasio pointed out that New York is “home to the largest Jewish community outside the state of Israel,” as if Jewishness and Zionism (and, by implication, Zionism of the AIPAC sort) were indivisible. But polls consistently show that among Jews, Israel actually ranks very low on the list of political priorities, as do the long-running tensions with Iran. Of far greater concern are the economy, the growing gap between rich and poor, the struggle for social justice—the same issues that animated de Blasio’s mayoral campaign and propelled him to victory. Apart from the question of what Jewish New Yorkers want is that de Blasio is the mayor of, and should speak for, all New Yorkers, including the hundreds of thousands of Muslims and Arabs, not to mention Christians, Buddhists, atheists and others, who live, work, pay taxes and vote in the city.

Read more at The Nation

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Marx Is Back

The global working class is starting to unite — and that’s a good thing.

 

The inscription on Karl Marx’s tombstone in London’s Highgate Cemetery reads, “Workers of all lands, unite.” Of course, it hasn’t quite ended up that way. As much buzz as the global Occupy movement managed to produce in a few short months, the silence is deafening now. And it’s not often that you hear of shop workers in Detroit making common cause with their Chinese brethren in Dalian to stick it to the boss man. Indeed, as global multinational companies have eaten away at labor’s bargaining power, the factory workers of the rich world have become some of the least keen on helping out their fellow wage laborers in poor countries. But there’s a school of thought — and no, it’s not just from the few remaining Trotskyite professors at the New School — that envisions a type of global class politics making a comeback. If so, it might be time for global elites to start trembling. Sure, it doesn’t sound quite as threatening as the original call to arms, but a new specter may soon be haunting the world’s 1 percent: middle-class activism.

Karl Marx saw an apocalyptic logic to the class struggle. The battle of the vast mass against a small plutocracy had an inevitable conclusion: Workers 1, Rich Guys 0. Marx argued that the revolutionary proletarian impulse was also a fundamentally global one — that working classes would be united across countries and oceans by their shared experience of crushing poverty and the soullessness of factory life. At the time Marx was writing, the idea that poor people were pretty similar across countries — or at least would be soon — was eminently reasonable. According to World Bank economist Branko Milanovic, when The Communist Manifesto was written in 1848, most income inequality at the global level was driven by class differences within countries. Although some countries were clearly richer than others, what counted as an income to make a man rich or condemn him to poverty in England would have translated pretty neatly to France, the United States, even Argentina.

But as the Industrial Revolution gained steam, that parity changed dramatically over the next century — one reason Marx’s prediction of a global proletarian revolution turned out to be so wrong. Just a few years after The Communist Manifesto was published, wages for workers in Britain began to climb. The trend followed across the rest of Europe and North America. The world entered a period of what Harvard University economist Lant Pritchett elegantly calls “divergence, big time.” The Maddison Project database of historical statistics suggests that per capita GDP in 1870 (in 1990 dollars, adjusting for purchasing power) was around $3,190 in Britain — compared with an African average of $648. Compare that with Britain in 2010, which had a per capita GDP of $23,777; the African average was $2,034. One hundred and forty years ago, the average African person was about one-fifth as rich as his British comrade. Today, he’s worth less than one-tenth.

Although many Americans get worked up about absurdly inflated CEO salaries and hedge fund bonuses, a hard economic fact has been overlooked: As the West took off into sustained growth, the gap in incomes among countries began to dwarf the income gaps within countries. That means a temp in East London may still struggle to make ends meet, but plop her down in Lagos and she’ll live like a queen. If you’re feeling bad about your nonexistent year-end bonus, consider this: Milanovic estimates that the average income of the richest 5 percent in India is about the same as that of the poorest 5 percent in the United States.

Like banks and multinationals, wealth and poverty are now globalized. The lowest municipal workers in Europe and the United States are far richer than their counterparts in poor developing countries (even when purchasing power parity is taken into account), and they’re almost infinitesimally better off than the majority of people in those countries who still survive off the earnings of small farms or microenterprises.

Read more at Foreign Policy

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Why Republicans Keep Calling Women Sluts

They just can’t help themselves, and here’s why.

As you’ve heard, yesterday Mike Huckabee stepped up to the plate and smacked a stand-up double in the GOP’s ongoing effort to alienate every woman in America, when he said, “If the Democrats want to insult the women of America by making them believe that they are helpless without Uncle Sugar coming in and providing for them a prescription each month for birth control because they cannot control their libido or their reproductive system without the help of government then so be it! Let us take that discussion all across America because women are far more than the Democrats have played them to be.”

As expected, Huckabee quickly explained to his supporters who the real victim is here (“I am apparently the worst conservative ever or at least the most annoying one according to the left wingers in Washington today”), but the question is, why do they keep doing this? After all, every Republican knows by now that their party has a problem with women; Mitt Romney lost their votes by 11 points. The simple answer is that they can’t help themselves, but more specifically, it’s a combination of ignorance, contempt, and Puritan morality that inevitably leads to these eruptions. And it’s going to keep happening. Let’s look at the particulars:

Read more at The American Prospect

The hidden history of the CIA’s prison in Poland

A car drives past barbed-wire fence surrounding a military area in Stare Kiejkuty village in Poland. (Kacper Pempel/REUTERS )

By Adam Goldman, Updated: Thursday, January 23, 11:33 AM

On a cold day in early 2003, two senior CIA officers arrived at the U.S. Embassy in Warsaw to pick up a pair of large cardboard boxes. Inside were bundles of cash totaling $15 million that had been flown from Germany via diplomatic pouch.

The men put the boxes in a van and weaved through the Polish capital until coming to the headquarters of Polish intelligence. They were met by Col. ­Andrzej Derlatka, deputy chief of the intelligence service, and two of his associates.

The Americans and Poles then sealed an agreement that over the previous weeks had allowed the CIA the use of a secret prison — a remote villa in the Polish lake district — to interrogate al-Qaeda suspects. The Polish intelligence service received the money, and the CIA had a solid location for its newest covert operation, according to former agency officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the interrogation program, including previously unreported details about the creation of the CIA’s “black sites,” or secret prisons.

The CIA prison in Poland was arguably the most important of all the black sites created by the agency after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. It was the first of a trio in Europe that housed the initial wave of accused Sept. 11 conspirators, and it was where Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the self-declared mastermind of the attacks, was waterboarded 183 times after his capture.

Much about the creation and operation of the CIA’s prison at a base in one of the young democracies of Central Europe remains cloaked in mystery, matters that the U.S. government has classified as state secrets. But what happened in Poland more than a decade ago continues to reverberate, and the bitter debate about the CIA’s interrogation program is about to be revisited.

The Senate Intelligence Committee intends to release portions of an exhaustive 6,000-page report on the interrogation program, its value in eliciting critical intelligence and whether Congress was misled about aspects of the program.

The treatment of detainees also continues to be a legal issue in the military trials of Mohammed and others at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

And in December, the European Court of Human Rights heard arguments that Poland violated international law and participated in torture by accommodating its American ally; a decision is expected this year.

“In the face of Polish and United States efforts to draw a veil over these abuses, the European Court of Human Rights now has an opportunity to break this conspiracy of silence and uphold the rule of law,” said Amrit Singh, a lawyer with the Open Society Justice Initiative, which petitioned the court on behalf of a detainee who was held at the Polish site.

Read more at The Washington Post

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The Cruelest Pregnancy

Frank Bruni

WHAT would Marlise Munoz have made of all of this?

We’ll never know. She can no longer form words. Can no longer form thoughts. It’s arguable that we shouldn’t even be referring to a “she,” to a “her,” because if she’s brain-dead, as her family has consistently said, then she meets the legal criteria for death in all 50 states, and what’s been tethered to machines in a hospital in Fort Worth for the last seven weeks isn’t exactly a mother. It’s an artificially maintained ecosystem, an incubator for a fetus that has somehow been given precedence over all other concerns: the pain of Marlise’s husband and parents; their wishes to put an end to this; their best guess about what her desires would have been; her transformation, without any possibility of her consent, into a mere vessel.

“A host,” her father, Ernest Machado, called her in an interview with Manny Fernandez of The Times. He used equally chilling language to describe her stillness and the rubbery feel of her skin, saying that she reminded him of “a mannequin.”

Ben Wiseman

Is her fate really what we mean when we speak of “valuing life” or “the sanctity of life,” to summon two phrases tossed around too quickly and simplistically? It seems to me that several lives are being devalued in the process, and that while there are no happy outcomes here, there’s also no sense or dignity on the chilling road that this Texas hospital is taking us down.

In late November, Marlise, 33, was found unconscious on the kitchen floor by her husband, Erick. She had apparently suffered a pulmonary embolism. At the hospital, according to Erick’s subsequent statements, it was determined that she was brain-dead, and he requested that she be disconnected from the machines that keep her vital organs functioning. He and she had both worked as paramedics and had discussed such end-of-life decisions, he said, and so he knew that she wouldn’t have wanted any extraordinary measures taken. The woman he loved was gone. It was time to come to bitter terms with that, and to say goodbye.

Hospital officials, supposedly acting on behalf of the state, won’t let him. They went ahead with extraordinary measures, because Marlise was 14 weeks pregnant, and while that fell well within the window when abortion is legal, a Texas law compels hospitals to provide life support for terminally ill patients with fetuses developing inside them.

Read more at The New York Times

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Law’s Expanded Medicaid Coverage Brings a Surge in Sign-Ups

Sharon Mills, of Welch, W.Va., has a list of ailments that require treatment that she cannot afford. She has been eagerly waiting on the benefits of the Affordable Care Act. Sam Dean for The New York Times

WELCH, W.Va. — Sharon Mills, a disabled nurse, long depended on other people’s kindness to manage her diabetes. She scrounged free samples from doctors’ offices, signed up for drug company discounts and asked for money from her parents and friends. Her church often helped, but last month used its charitable funds to help repair other members’ furnaces.

Ms. Mills, 54, who suffered renal failure last year after having irregular access to medication, said her dependence on others left her feeling helpless and depressed. “I got to the point when I decided I just didn’t want to be here anymore,” she said.

So when a blue slip of paper arrived in the mail this month with a new Medicaid number on it — part of the expanded coverage offered under the Affordable Care Act — Ms. Mills said she felt as if she could breathe again for the first time in years. “The heavy thing that was pressing on me is gone,” she said.

As health care coverage under the new law sputters to life, it is already having a profound effect on the lives of poor Americans. Enrollment in private insurance plans has been sluggish, but sign-ups for Medicaid, the federal insurance program for the poor, have surged in many states. Here in West Virginia, which has some of the shortest life spans and highest poverty rates in the country, the strength of the demand has surprised officials, with more than 75,000 people enrolling in Medicaid.

While many people who have signed up so far for private insurance through the new insurance exchanges had some kind of health care coverage before, recent studies have found, most of the people getting coverage under the Medicaid expansion were previously uninsured. In West Virginia, where the Democratic governor agreed to expand Medicaid eligibility, the number of uninsured people in the state has been reduced by about a third.

America ranks near the bottom of developed countries in health and longevity, and many public health experts believe that improving that ranking will be impossible without paying more attention to poor Americans. It is still an open question whether access to health insurance will improve the health of the disadvantaged in the long run, experts say, but the men and women getting the coverage here say the mere fact of having it has drastically improved their mental health.

Waitresses, fast food workers, security guards and cleaners described feeling intense relief that they are now protected from the punishing medical bills that have punched holes in their family budgets. They spoke in interviews of reclaiming the dignity they had lost over years of being turned away from doctors’ offices because they did not have insurance.

Read more at The New York Times

Kentucky governor sees health law as chance to heal an ailing state

Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear is overseeing a promising rollout of the healthcare law. Defying bitter GOP opposition, he says it’s medicine the state needs.

FRANKFORT, Ky. — Relations between President Obama and Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear have not always been friendly. When Obama paid his first presidential visit in May 2011, his fellow Democrat was somewhere else. Later, Beshear lashed out at the administration’s environmental regulators, telling them to “get off our backs.”

But leading one of the nation’s poorest, sickest states, Beshear has improbably overseen one of the most successful rollouts of Obama’s troubled healthcare overhaul and become, deep in his long public career, a hero to Democrats grasping to find a redeeming figure amid the political wreckage.

He’s an unlikely champion, not least because Kentucky’s two U.S. senators are both implacable opponents of the program.

“I knew if I was going to make a huge difference in the health status of Kentucky, it was going to take some kind of transformational tool to do that, and that’s what the Affordable Care Act is for me,” Beshear, white-haired and greyhound-lean, said as he sat behind a big maple desk in his office. “I think we’ve started something here,” he later added, “that a generation from now you’ll see a very different Kentucky than what you see today.”

For now, Kentuckians may feel understandably whiplashed.

While Beshear, serving his second and final term, has become one of the foremost proponents of Obamacare, the state’s senior senator, Republican leader Mitch McConnell, has been an even more visible foe. Facing a tough 2014 reelection fight, he calls the law “a disaster,” “a huge mistake” and “a monstrosity” that “needs to be pulled out root and branch.” The sentiment is seconded by Kentucky’s junior senator, Republican Rand Paul, who was elected in 2010 in a tea party fever born of seething opposition to the president and his healthcare plan.

Read more at the Los Angeles Times

Sometimes ‘Nazi’ Is the Right Word

By ETGAR KERETJAN. 17, 2014

TEL AVIV — “NAZI” is a short word. It has only two syllables, like “rac-ist” or “kill-er.” “Democracy,” on the other hand, is a long word with lots of syllables that is very tiring to say. It may not be as tiring as saying “freedom of expression” or “social justice,” but still, there is something really exhausting about it.

People in Israel use “Nazi” when they want the most vicious curse possible, and it’s usually directed at someone they perceive as belligerent. It could be a cop, a soldier or an elected official who, in their opinion, is acting like a bully.

Such usage is offensive and infuriating. As the son of Holocaust survivors, I find it particularly rankling. This week the Knesset gave preliminary approval to a bill that would criminalize saying “Nazi” under inappropriate circumstances. The government views the word as a weapon of mass destruction no less lethal than an Iranian nuclear bomb, and so it insists on Israel’s basic right to protect itself from the threat.

Many Israelis think that passing a law against a word is stupid and juvenile; others see it as fascist and anti-democratic. Incidentally, saying “fascist” or “anti-democratic” is also seen as insulting and offensive. And I wouldn’t be surprised if someone tried to outlaw those words in the future, too.

Imagine a different state of Israel, one very much like our own: This other Israel would also be sunny, with golden beaches, roadblocks in the territories, targeted killings, and rockets hitting the southern towns. The only difference between this new Israel and the current one would be that in the new Hebrew language that would be spoken there, you could say anything except “Nazi,” “fascist” and “anti-democratic.” Wouldn’t that be a better place to live than our current Israel?

And now that we’re exercising our imaginations, let’s picture yet another new Israel — one where the word “Nazi” is permitted but the government genuinely wants a peace accord and its members do not treat the Palestinians like “shrapnel in your butt” — as our economy minister, Naftali Bennett, recently put it — but rather as neighbors seeking freedom and self-determination.

Read more at The New York Times

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Justice or Peace? Hariri Trial Could Spark Further Unrest in Lebanon

Twenty-two other people died in the attack on Hariri, which took place on Valentine’s Day in 2005. The investigation into the bombing has been extremely political and full of errors.

Proceedings in the case of murdered ex-Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri are set to being in the Netherlands this week. The trial could cause further unrest in a country that is already on the verge of chaos.

Rarely has there been a case like this one. The crime was both dramatic and brutal, the investigation was plagued by shocking errors and surprising twists. And rarely has a criminal case had such geopolitical significance. On Thursday, the Special Tribunal for Lebanon will begin hearing the case in an unimposing building in the Dutch town of Leidschendam near The Hague. The outcome is uncertain.

Former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri was killed in an attack in Beirut almost nine years ago. Twenty-two bodyguards and passersby also lost their lives in the explosion. Six-and-a-half years ago, the United Nations decided to investigate the murder and established the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, also known as the STL. In the intervening years, the tribunal, which is funded by 28 countries, Germany included, has spent more than a quarter-billion dollars in its quest for truth.

Scandals have accompanied the investigation from the very beginning. High-ranking UN deputies have stepped down, for “private reasons.” Others have been duped by dubious witnesses. In Lebanon, there are many who believe the tribunal has a Western bias; in the West, on the other hand, people worry that the UN body has withheld facts that could be uncomfortable for the Arab world.

Scandals have accompanied the investigation from the very beginning. High-ranking UN deputies have stepped down, for “private reasons.” Others have been duped by dubious witnesses. In Lebanon, there are many who believe the tribunal has a Western bias; in the West, on the other hand, people worry that the UN body has withheld facts that could be uncomfortable for the Arab world.

Read more at Der Spiegel

Democracy needs dogged local journalism

By Rachel Maddow, Wednesday, January 15, 7:55 PM

If you type “Shawn Boburg” into your Web browser address bar, a strange thing happens. Boburg is a reporter for The Record newspaper, in Bergen County, N.J. But ShawnBoburg.com sends visitors to The Record’s rival, Newark’s Star-Ledger.

The man who bought the rights to Boburg’s online name — and who presumably engineered the nasty little redirect — is David Wildstein, who last week became the country’s most high-profile political appointee. After his high school classmate Chris Christie was elected governor of New Jersey in 2009, Wildstein was appointed to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey for a highly paid position that, conveniently, had no job description.

Wildstein, who has since resigned, was held in contempt last week by a state legislature committee for refusing to answer questions about his role in the four-day traffic disaster that gridlocked the town of Fort Lee, N.J., last September.

According to reporting in The Record, Wildstein has made a habit of buying the Web addresses of people who cross his path in New Jersey politics — including the Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor in 2012 and a mid-level official at the Federal Aviation Administration who helped forge a firefighting agreement with the Port Authority that Wildstein disliked. While he was at the Port Authority, Wildstein bought the online names of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s top appointees to the agency, including Executive Director Pat Foye, who sounded the alarm about the Fort Lee scheme. Wildstein’s redirect on PatFoye.com sends visitors to the Web site of the New York Yankees.

It’s one thing for public officials to subject one another to that kind of low-level, neener-neener harassment, but in New Jersey, reporters have been targeted too. Wildstein snatched up and redirected ShawnBoburg.com after Boburg wrote a (not terribly unflattering) profile of the intensely private Wildstein last year and an article on Christie’s patronage hiring.

The long knives that New Jersey politicians have out for each other was the stuff of legend (and excellent TV drama) well before the bridge scandal. But the documents released thus far show how much the governor’s staff and appointees hated not only rival public officials but also the press.

Read more at The Washington Post

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