a citizen’s journal by Thomas Nephew

The truth is, Israel doesn’t want peace

Posted by Thomas Nephew on December 1st, 2012

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu told us once Israel wants peace:

“The truth is, Israel wants peace, and the truth is, the Palestinians are doing all they can to torpedo direct peace talks,” Netanyahu told his weekly Cabinet meeting.
(AP via Politico, 9/18/11)

If so, he’s got a funny way of showing it.  First he has a Hamas leader killed who was negotiating with Israeli officials.  Then: a massively disproportionate attack on Gaza — following a history both in the past year and the past twelve years of the same.  And now, after Palestinians gained a limited measure of formal recognition at the U.N.,

Israel plans to build some 3,000 new housing units in East Jerusalem and West Bank settlements in response to the Palestinians’ successful bid for recognition at the UN General Assembly this week, a senior diplomatic source told Haaretz on Friday.

According to the source, Israel also plans to advance long-frozen plans for the E1 area, which covers an area that links the city of Jerusalem with the settlement of Ma’aleh Adumim.

If built, the controversial plan would prevent territorial contiguity between the northern and southern West Bank, making it difficult for a future Palestinian state to function.
(In response to UN vote, Israel to build 3,000 new homes in settlements; Ravid, Haaretz, 11/30/11)

The truth is, Israel doesn’t want peace — at least its government and those who will probably re-elect it don’t.  Judging by its actions, the Netanyahu administration wants conquest, occupation, blockade, and humiliation of Palestinians in their territories.

That’s nothing new, but it’s important to see the plain truth and I think it’s important to be willing to say so.  Because of our nation’s nearly unconditional support for Israel, Americans don’t have right to just claim this is an intractable problem or say a pox on both their houses.  We need to look at facts like those in the map or in this chart, prepared by “Visualizing Palestine“:

Palestinian and Israeli deaths since September 2000
via Visualizing Palestine)

The chart plainly shows an Israel far too interested in just killing alleged enemies (and anyone in the vicinity) — and not interested enough in preventing enmity by not killing first so often.  The same could be said of the U.S., unfortunately.  Yet both countries might actually be more safe the less often they kill in the name of safety.  From a BBC report centered on a Gazan colleague’s loss of a baby boy:

Before I left Jehad’s house, leaving him sitting round a camp fire with other mourners, I asked him – perhaps stupidly – if he was angry over Omar’s death.

“Very, very angry,” he said, his jaw tensing as he glanced at the photos on his phone.

Jehad may well not look for revenge, but other Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank will.

EDIT, 12/1: “–following..” clause and links added.

Wal-Mart Strikers Food Fund, Worker Organizer Fund

Posted by Thomas Nephew on November 25th, 2012


(photo slideshow via, OURWalMart: JOIN US)

Wal-Mart Strikers Food Fund

Occupy Wall Street is committed to supporting the Walmart worker strikes that will commence on Black Friday (11/23/2012). We are raising money to provide food and sundries to Walmart workers who will lose needed wages as they strike so that they can achieve better work conditions. We ask you to participate by donating, at the very least, what you make in one hour, to provide food and basic items to striking workers.

We are working with the Organization United for Respect at Walmart (OUR Walmart) and the Walmart workers to distribute this money to striking workers who are who speaking out for good jobs and stronger communities.

Wal-Mart Worker Organizer Fund

Walmart workers decided in October 2012 to strike on Black Friday after they were targeted for retaliation for speaking out against substandard work conditions and treatment in the first ever walk out in the history of the company. Now we are looking at a world in which the bravest workers of Walmart are being fired so they may be silenced.

We will support the workers participating in organizing efforts and nonviolent demonstrations in support of the fight for economic civil rights of the Walmart worker effort. Money raised will go towards paying stipends and living expenses for workers fired for organizing and participating in acts of peaceful civil disobedience.

“Black Friday” Wal-Mart action in Oak Ridge, Tennessee

Posted by Thomas Nephew on November 23rd, 2012

I’m in my hometown, Oak Ridge, Tennessee for the Thanksgiving weekend, and today I had the privilege of joining a  Wal-Mart Black Friday event there.  Unlike others you may have read or seen video about, this one wasn’t a big demonstration outside a Wal-Mart, or a “mic check” inside one.  Instead, it was “just” two of us — but with a large, local interfaith community behind us.

My new friend Lance McCold and myself were put in touch by Rev. Jim Sessions of the Interfaith Worker Justice of East Tennessee, a “network of religious leaders and  allies”  united in concern for economic justice.  We met outside Oak Ridge Wal-Mart Supercenter #1194 in blustery late fall weather, then went inside to look for management to whom to hand a letter signed by over 40 local ministers and persons of faith.

Not being sure where to go, we asked a cashier, who called over someone I imagine was floor supervisor.  I had brought my video camera, hoping to film what I could.  The floor supervisor called a manager — and on hanging up, said “no cameras.”

Lance McCold, Knoxville participant in the
Wal-Mart Black Friday
events as a supporter of
Interfaith Worker Justice of East Tennessee

A few minutes later, we were met by a nice enough, if harried young woman, N., who heard Lance and then me explain that we were there to deliver a letter from the local interfaith community, in solidarity with Wal-Mart workers and actions across the United States seeking better treatment and better pay.

N. scanned the letter quickly, tracing every word with her finger to be sure of missing nothing.  She then disappeared for several minutes behind an unmarked door near Customer Service — leaving us to joke nervously that if a SWAT team appeared, we’d each blame the other guy.  But when she reappeared, her main concern was just whether there was anyone else outside, she’d heard something about cameras.  We said there were just the two of us; I said I had a camera along but had put it away on request.

The excellent letter, drafted by Rev. Jim Sessions, is addressed to Mike Duke of the Wal-Mart home office in Bentonville, Arkansas.  It begins,

Dear Mr. Duke,

We are writing you today to let you know that on this Black Friday, we join thousands of people of faith who are gathered at different Walmart stores across the country in support of Walmart associates and Walmart-contracted warehouse workers demanding respect, better wages and safer working conditions.

As we stand outside of East Tennessee area stores on the biggest shopping day of the year, we see an endless stream of customers and thousands of items flying off the shelves. By the end of the day, Walmart will make millions in sales and profits. The hardworking associates and warehouse workers, however, will go home with barely enough to make ends meet. Read the rest of this entry »

Stand with Wal-Mart workers on Black Friday

Posted by Thomas Nephew on November 21st, 2012

Not sure what will be happening in Tennessee, but I’ll see.

Van Hollen OK on Medicare — but “willing to consider” Social Security “spending reform”

Posted by Thomas Nephew on November 21st, 2012

Click image to view C-SPAN clip of Rep. Chris Van Hollen’s (D-MD-8) discussion of
Medicare and Social Security in the context of the “fiscal cliff” — running from
~8:15-14:30 in the full C-SPAN video of his interview with Wall Street Journal
deputy editor Alan Murray.

Last week I got a worrisome Progressive Change Campaign Committee (PCCC)  e-mail: the Wall Street Journal was reporting that Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD-8),  my Congressman — and the ranking Budget Committee member — was open to  “cutting entitlements,” as a part of negotiations around ending tax cuts and avoiding the so-called “fiscal cliff.”  Journal reporters Janet Hook and Carol Lee added that Van Hollen — who was attending a Wall Street Journal confab with CEOs — said “changing Social Security and increasing the Medicare eligibility age above 65 should be part of negotiations,” and that “I’m willing to consider all of these ideas as part of an overall plan.”

Personally, I think the current deficit mania is disastrously misguided at a time when the economy is still struggling.  But  I certainly want Social Security and Medicare benefit cuts completely off the table — so I called Van Hollen’s DC office to say so.  A staffer told me he’d been misquoted, leading me to wonder, “So what exactly *did* Van Hollen say about Social Security and Medicare?

Luckily, it turns out that the interview was taped by C-SPAN, so I could see for myself; the relevant remarks started around the 8:15 mark and continued for another six minutes.

Van Hollen began with Medicare, and to cut to the first chase, he did not advocate increasing Medicare eligibility age as the Journal had reported.  Instead, Van Hollen’s ideas were generally about seeking efficiencies in Medicare rather than reducing access to it:

We need to move Medicare away from a fee-for-service system. And we’ve begun to do that.  Because fee-for-service systems contains no incentives for anybody in the system to contain costs.  … We’ve actually begun to put in place the building blocks to get there: accountable-care organizations, bundled payments.

I think we can make significant savings in the area of … dual-eligibles: people who are on Medicare and Medicaid –  a relatively small percentage of the overall Medicare/Medicaid population but a very high percentage of the costs. And there are lots of misaligned incentives between the Medicare and Medicaid payments.

You can look at things like redesigning “Medigap” policies, because right now, some Medigap policies actually create incentives for people to spend a lot more on Medicare.*  […] 

What I think we should avoid is …simply transferring [health care] costs on to other individuals.  I think our first focus should be on trying to contain overall healthcare costs

Regarding substituting “premium-support” voucher plans for Medicare, Van Hollen responded:

…the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office looked at that and concluded it does not contain costs, it simply transfers costs. …what they concluded was if you simply …provide a voucher to go out there in the private health care system, as you know, in the private health care system costs have been rising at at least the same rate as in the Medicare system.   […]  Simply transferring somebody out of Medicare to the private health insurance market, it will save Medicare money, but …by requiring premiums to go up dramatically on these individuals whose median income is $23,000 right now.

I quite agree with Van Hollen’s opposition to “here’s a lump sum, go figure it out” voucher plans that discourage seeking medical help and transfer costs to the poor instead of helping them.  People more knowledgeable than myself may take issue with some of Van Hollen’s Medicare suggestions — e.g., maybe there can be good reasons for dual eligibility (though less so for inconsistent subsidies).  But overall, and to his credit, Van Hollen’s solutions are quite a bit less less draconian than simply raising the Medicare eligibility or retirement ages — a.k.a. “hope you die first.”

Turning to Social Security, however, Van Hollen stumbled right out of the block:

 In Social Security, number one, I think we should create a process like we had with Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill. 

Read the rest of this entry »

Return of “Sorta like mowin your lawn”

Posted by Thomas Nephew on November 19th, 2012

*Every* danged week — stuff just keeps growing back.
Maybe just pave it over.

Previously in “Sorta like mowin your lawn”:

The latest in “Sorta like mowin your lawn”:

  • “What is striking in listening to the Israelis discuss their predicament is how similar the debate sounds to so many previous ones, despite the changed geopolitical circumstances. In most minds here, the changes do not demand a new strategy, simply a redoubled old one. The operative metaphor is often described as “cutting the grass,” meaning a task that must be performed regularly and has no end. There is no solution to security challenges, officials here say, only delays and deterrence.”
    (As Battlefield Changes, Israel Takes Tougher Approach, Bronner, New York Times, 11/16/2012)

Corey Robin observed, “Classic anti-Semitic propaganda depicted Jews as vermin; Israeli propaganda sees Arabs as vegetation.”

With apologies to the incomparable Fafblog!, who meant well, but look at what happened, so I hope Fafnir et al are very, very sorry for what they have done to the art, science, and zen of lawn mowing.:

  • “An right now the level of torture talk has gone from ‘Torture: Bad!’ to ‘Torture: Bad, But Not As Bad As Saddam Hussein’ to ‘Torture: Bad, But What About Ticking Bombs?’ to ‘Torture: Bad, But Not Necessarily Proof That The People Who Ordered Torture Are Bad’ to ‘Torture: We Still Talkin Bout Torture?’ to ‘Torture: Bad?’ An before we get to ‘Torture: Sorta Like Mowin Your Lawn’ I think we should try as hard as we can to wake up.”
    (wake up , Fafblog!, 7/10/2004)

Move to part-time economy was always baked in to Obamacare; single payer will be better

Posted by Thomas Nephew on November 19th, 2012

A number of companies — Papa John’s Pizza, Applebee’s, and Olive Garden/Red Lobster to name a few– have been loudly announcing their intentions to move workers from full-time to part-time status (less than 30 hours per week) as a political response to the relevant provisions of “Obamacare”, or the Affordable Care Act (ACA).*

This, in turn, has led to pushback and calls to boycott these businesses, and more power to that, I say.  But any employer based health insurance plan was always going to create an incentive to shed as many covered, full-time jobs as possible, to be measured against the ability to get by with part-time employees instead.  In this connection, the fact that it’s mainly been restaurant chains announcing this move is not surprising; I wonder just what percentage of a Papa John’s workforce was full-time in the first place.

Far more worrisome than a handful of loudmouth CEOs at the tip of the part-time economy iceberg are the many more below who may be quietly going about the same thing.  The weakness of the recovery from the 2008 recession nearly gave us President Romney; part of that weakness has to do with full-time jobs being lost and replaced with part-time ones.

The trend to part-time jobs isn’t new — Wal-Mart has done this for years, mainly to get around the risk of overtime pay once a 40 hour week is exceeded; the degree to which workers can be replaced by automation surely also accounts for some of this trend.

But policy makers assume that the real world responds to incentives, and here was an incentive to respond to.  Indeed, the incentive was all but announced with blinking neon lights; the option to limit coverage to full-time employees was explicitly pointed out by the Obama administration for those companies too dim to figure it out on their own.   As a U.S. Department of Labor document in early 2012 emphasized:

 …nothing in the Affordable Care Act penalizes small employers for choosing not to offer coverage to any employee, or large employers for choosing to limit their offer of coverage to full-time employees, as defined in the employer shared responsibility provisions.

Similar guidances were issued by the IRS and the Health and Human Services Department.

While there were any number of business journal articles from as early as 2010 suggesting cutting full-time jobs might be a consequence of or workaround for “Obamacare,” the issue was also addressed by that abandoned tribe in the health care debates: single-payer, Medicare for all advocates such as Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP).   PNHP web site articles noted both the likely business response to Obamacare and the superiority of single-payer in this respect (and others).

So these days, may be single-payer advocates’ best friend.  As the web site puts it:

Obamacare is part of the problem. It doesn’t address costs and does precious little to improve the health care system. It’s a recycled Republican plan. […] In addition to boycotting places like Papa John’s, we need to get businesses out of the health care system. We need single-payer health coverage.

* An admirable graphic about employer responsibility under the ACA was developed by the Kaiser Foundation. Note that penalties are per full-time employee.

UN documents disproportionate Israeli lethal force in Gaza this year before November conflict

Posted by Thomas Nephew on November 18th, 2012

A  UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) report* documents who had been killing whom in and around occupied Palestinian territory for the week of October 31- November 6, 2012 — i.e., until just prior to the current war.  The report has separate segments for the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

UN logoPalestinian casualties by Israeli forces in the Gaza Strip:
Killed this week: 1
Killed in 2012: 71
Killed in 2011: 108
Injured this week: 1
Injured in 2012: 291
Injured in 2011: 468
2012 weekly average of injured: 8
2011 weekly average of injured: 9

Sure, but what about Israeli casualties?

Israeli casualties by Palestinian fire from Gaza
Killed in 2012: 1**
Injured this week: 3

Injured in 2012: 19

Thus, according to OCHA reports, there was 1 Israeli death in 2012 due to hostile fire from Gazacompared to 71 Palestinian casualties by Israeli forces in the Gaza Strip.

Now even one Israeli death by violence is one such death too many.  (Of course, by 71 of the same tokens, 71 Palestinian deaths are 71 too many as well.)  But like other analyses have suggested, these facts show there’s a bit of a problem with claiming the current hostilities are all Hamas’s fault.  However much we’re trained to assume that.

* Via the “Moon of Alabama” blog.
** This line is documented in the  Oct 10-16  report, but (currently) not in the subsequent three reports (Oct 17-23, Oct 24-30, Oct 31-Nov 6).


So what exactly *did* Van Hollen say about Social Security and Medicare?

Posted by Thomas Nephew on November 17th, 2012

On Wednesday, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, a.k.a. PCCC or “,” reacted sharply to the Wall Street Journal article “Obama Sets Steep Tax Target” by Janet Hook and Carol Lee — not, of course, to Obama’s goal to let tax cuts for the richest to expire, but to signs of what some Democrats might be willing to bargain away for that.  From the Wall Street Journal article:

On Capitol Hill, it isn’t clear how strenuously Democrats will resist cutting entitlements. Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D., Md.) said he and others were open to changes as long as they were done in a measured way and were part of deal that included tax increases. Mr. Van Hollen also said changing Social Security and increasing the Medicare eligibility age above 65 should be part of negotiations.

“I’m willing to consider all of these ideas as part of an overall plan,” Mr. Van Hollen said Tuesday at the Journal’s CEO Council.

The PCCC immediately set up a phone campaign urging supporters to call Van Hollen and tell him “Cuts to benefits should be completely off the table.” 

I did, calling Van Hollen’s congressional office — (202) 225-5341.  To my surprise, the staffer I reached told me that Van Hollen had been misquoted and that he definitely does not want to raise Medicare eligibility from 65 to 70 or see cuts to Social Security benefits.

I hadn’t expected a flat denial, and said that was “good to hear.”   But that’s a pretty egregious misquote if that’s what happened — and it occurred to me (after hanging up, as usual) that what Van Hollen might prefer is a different thing than what he’d be willing to vote for.

In fairness, there’s been no hint from Van Hollen before now that he was willing to throw Social Security or Medicare recipients under the bus to avoid sequestration; both in speeches to the Budget Committee in May and in a Politico op-ed in July, the Congressman spoke of wanting to avoid the “meat ax” of sequestration via a “balanced approach” — somewhat vaguely defined as “a combination of spending reductions and cuts to tax breaks for the wealthy and powerful special interests” in the July op-ed, but specifically “preserv[ing] the Medicare guarantee” in his May remarks.

Moreover, Van Hollen is the ranking member of the Budget Committee, so the Democratic alternative 2013 budget has his stamp of approval; it, too, specifically calls for “preserving the Medicare guarantee,” but only speaks (defensively) of preventing Republican plans to privatize Social Security — thus not ruling out other bad ideas like reducing cost of living adjustments, but not proposing them either.

Still, as far as I know, the Wall Street Journal has not issued a correction to its November 14th report — nor has PCCC backed down on asking for more phone calls to Van Hollen.

So please join me in calling Chris Van Hollen’s Washington, DC and Maryland offices some more about this:

  • Washington, DC: (202) 225-5341
  • Rockville, MD: (301) 424-3501
  • Hyattsville, MD: (301) 891-6982

You might say something like,

I understand the Wall Street Journal reported that Congressman Van Hollen was willing to consider changing Social Security and increasing Medicare eligibility age as part of a deal to let Bush tax cuts expire.  Did he really say that?  If not, what did he say?  Cuts to benefits should be completely off the table.

Please let me know what you learned, and/or notify PCCC. Thanks!

Assassinating negotiation

Posted by Thomas Nephew on November 17th, 2012

Gershon Baskin is a respected Israeli peace activist, columnist for the Jerusalem Post, and co-director of the Israel Palestine Center for Research and Information, who helped arrange the 2011 release of Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier held in captivity in Gaza for five years.  He had been trying to arrange a more permanent cease-fire along the Gaza-Israel border — but had his efforts bombed out from under him by the IDF.  Here’s the key part of “Assassinating The Chance For Calm” that Baskin wrote on Thursday, November 15 for the Daily Beast’s “Open Zion” section:

Both Israel and Hamas had decided months ago not to take action on my proposed ceasefire option, which included within it a mechanism that would prevent Israeli pre-emptive actions and would enable Hamas to prove that it was prepared to prevent terror attacks against Israel. Both sides responded very seriously to the proposal, but without any signal that there was an openness on the other side, neither was willing to advance the possibility for testing it.

Several weeks ago, I decided to try once again and, through my counterpart in Hamas, we both began speaking to high level officials on both sides. A few days ago I met my counterpart in Cairo and we agreed that he would draft a new proposal based on our common understanding of what was required to make it work.

Yesterday morning, hours before Israel assassinated Ahmed Jaabari, my counterpart in Hamas presented the draft to Jaabari and to other Hamas leaders. Senior Hamas leaders on the outside had already seen it and had instructed him to check the reactions to it in Gaza. I was supposed to receive the draft yesterday evening to present to Israeli officials who were waiting for me to send it to them.

That option is now off the table. Jaabari is dead and so is the chance for a mutually beneficial long term ceasefire understanding…

There does not seem to be any dispute that Jaabari and Israeli officials were in dialogue, via Baskin, shortly before Jaabari was killed.  In comments to Ha’aretz, Baskin made clear he had no illusions about Jaabari — “[h]e was in line to die, not an angel and not a righteous man of peace.  Meanwhile, the Obama administration dutifully strongly condemns the Hamas/Gaza rocket attacks. But while it also claims “[t]here is no justification” for them, many analyses put that in dispute — as often the case in the past: Israel had been engaging in numerous, generally deadlier attacks of its own in the prior weeks, but with bullets, not with missiles.  Meanwhile most (though not all) Gaza rocket attacks were either operationally or intentionally symbolic, falling on open spaces rather than on Israelis.

Should Hamas be rocketing Israel, or letting others do so?  Of course not.  But if Israel and Israelis actually want to get to peace, at some point they’ll need to talk to the people on the other side with their fingers on the triggers and launch switches, not provoke them into one-upsmanship — let alone kill them.  But getting to peace is clearly not what Benjamin Netanyahu or his base want —  they prefer assassinating negotiations instead.

Now a dangerous, deadly ground war looms for Gaza — just like four years ago, after a U.S. general election and before an Israeli one.  If that happens, it will be even more difficult than usual to end.  After all, who in Gaza will want to be a part of  peace talks, when Israel has made that a death sentence?

I have the sinking feeling Netanyahu et al think they’re engaged in tough, clever realpolitik with both Hamas and Washington.  To me, their actions seem like a stupid, bloody, and deeply cynical waste of time and lives.

UPDATES, 11/17: Moshe Dayan explains it all for you (Corey Robin); 11/19:  Israel’s Shortsighted Assassination (Baskin to NYTimes); I Didn’t Come Back to Jerusalem To Be in a War (Lithwick,; 12/30: Who Started the Israel-Gaza Conflict? (timeline -Wright/Hauser, The Atlantic), addl. timelines above (“many”,”analyses”,”often the case”), see also “Visualizing Palestine” timeline graphic.