Category: History

Nixon set the policy: OK for Israel to have nuclear weapons but not Iran


Nice to see continuity in American foreign policy, eh?

Iranian officials sometimes respond to accusations that Tehran is seeking a nuclear weapons capability by replying that, not only do they not want a bomb, they’d actually like to see a nuclear-weapons-free Middle East. Yes, this is surely in part a deflection, meant to shift attention away from concerns about Iran’s nuclear activities by not-so-subtly nodding to the one country in the region that does have nuclear weapons: Israel.

But could Iran have a point? Is there something hypocritical about the world tolerating Israel’s nuclear arsenal, which the country does not officially acknowledge but has been publicly known for decades, and yet punishing Iran with severe economic sanctions just for its suspected steps toward a weapons program? Even Saudi Arabia, which sees Iran as its implacable enemy and made its accommodations with Israel long ago, often joins Tehran’s calls for a “nuclear-free region.” And anyone not closely versed in Middle East issues might naturally wonder why the United States would accept Israeli warheads but not an Iranian program…

The single greatest factor explaining how Israel got the world to accept its nuclear program may be timing. The first nuclear weapon was detonated in 1945, by the United States. In 1970, most of the world agreed to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which forbids any new countries from developing nuclear weapons. In that 25-year window, every major world power developed a nuclear weapon: the Soviet Union, United Kingdom, France and China. They were joined by exactly one other country: Israel.

The Israeli nuclear program was driven in many ways by the obsessive fear that gripped the nation’s founding prime minister, David Ben-Gurion. After the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, in which the new country fought off Egyptian and Jordanian armies, Ben-Gurion concluded that Israel could survive only if it had a massive military deterrent — nuclear weapons…

But Israel of the 1950s was a poor country. And it was not, as it is today, a close political and military ally of the United States. Israel had to find a way to keep up with the much wealthier and more advanced world powers dominating the nuclear race. How it went about doing this goes a long way to explaining both why the United States initially opposed Israel’s nuclear program and how the world came around to accepting Israeli warheads…

…First, in 1968, Israel secretly developed a nuclear weapon. Second, and perhaps more important, was a White House meeting in September 1969 between President Nixon and Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir. What happened during that meeting is secret. But the Nixon’s administration’s meticulous records show that Secretary of State Henry Kissinger said to Nixon, in a later conversation about the Meir meeting, “during your private discussions with Golda Meir you emphasized that our primary concern was that Israel make no visible introduction of nuclear weapons or undertake a nuclear test program.”

That meeting between Nixon and Meir set what has been Israel’s unofficial policy ever since: one in which the country does nothing to publicly acknowledge or demonstrate its nuclear weapons program, and in exchange the United States would accept it. The Nixon administration had concluded that, while it didn’t like the Israeli weapons program, it also wasn’t prepared to stop it…

“Essentially the bargain has been that Israel keeps its nuclear deterrent deep in the basement and Washington keeps its critique locked in the closet,” Robert Satloff, executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy explained.

What do Americans do about a bankrupt policy put in place by one of the most corrupt presidents in American history? Not a damned thing.

Point out we are the world’s only military superpower, known for arrogance and hypocrisy – I think the average American would try to deflect the criticism by coming up with rationales to excuse our hypocrisy, redefine it as expediency, something done to “protect” our nation.

It ain’t a new ploy. Everyone from dictators to democrats employs the strategy. The only thing that counts is that ordinary citizens accept every lie and don’t seek to change anything.

The only difference in political parties, who sits in the White House, is the quality of the lies. Either flavor still accepts the Nixonian policy.

The push for US colleges to divest Israel investments grows and flowers

The lecture hall had filled quickly. Several students wore keffiyehs, the traditional Palestinian headscarves, while another sat draped in the Israeli flag.

It was time for a ritual that has become increasingly commonplace on many American college campuses: A student government body, in this case at the University of California, Davis, would take up Israeli policy toward the Palestinians, and decide whether to demand their school divest from companies that work with the Jewish state.

In the United States, Israel’s closest ally, the decade-old boycott-divestment-sanctions movement, or BDS, is making its strongest inroads by far on college campuses. No U.S. school has sold off stock and none is expected to do so anytime soon. Still, the current academic year is seeing an increasing number of divestment drives on campus. Since January alone, student governments at four universities have taken divestment votes…

The boycott-divestment-sanctions movement grew from a 2005 international call from Palestinian groups as an alternative to armed struggle over control of the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem, which Israel captured in 1967 and Palestinians seek for an independent state.

BDS advocates say the movement, based on the campaign against South African apartheid decades ago, is aimed at Israeli policy, not Jews, in response to two decades of failed peace talks and expanded Israeli settlement of the West Bank and east Jerusalem.

But supporters of Israel say that boycotting the country is no way to make peace, especially since many BDS supporters do not differentiate between protesting Jewish settlements on occupied lands or Israel as a whole.

The Jewish settlements are only part of the apartheid practices of Israel and I’m not quite certain why the AP rolls this out as a straw man. Apartheid is codified bigotry allowing only second-class citizenship to Palestinians – strictly enforced throughout every part of political life in Israel and the land that nation invaded and controls by force of arms.

In the U.S., activists have pressed for boycotts of Israeli products and cultural events, and divestment by churches and others. None of these efforts has gained as much momentum as the campus divestment movement.

Pension funds in the United States, like CALPERS, representing thousands of employees in California, ranging from teachers to police, is considering divesting all Israel-based investments. They are not alone.

The campaign will continue. In the American Jewish community, the percentage of young people who believe identity with and unconditional support for Israel is necessary – is a minority. Nor will they adopt the specious argument that opposition to Israel’s policies is somehow anti-Semitic. That canard is dead and gone except among reactionary True Believers.

Just as the campaign against apartheid in South Africa was long and difficult – this, too, shall succeed.

Mummified Buddhist discovered inside ancient Buddha statue

When you think of what your final resting place will be like, statue-mummification doesn’t usually come to mind. That was the case, however, for one Buddhist master immortalized within a religious idol.

Researchers at the Meander Medical Center in Amersfoort, Netherlands discovered the mummified remains of a monk inside a Chinese statue of Buddha. The remains, which are presumed to be of Buddhist master Liuquan of the Chinese Meditation School, are the first of its kind to be found. The remains are believed to date back to 1100 A.D.

The entire body was found inside, folded in the same resting position as the exterior of the Buddha statue.

Buddhist art expert Erik Brujin supervised a full CT scan and endoscopy of the Buddha. Samples were also taken of the mummies thoracic and abdominal cavities, revealing scraps of paper scribed with ancient Chinese characters.

Researchers believe this “living Buddha” may be an example of self-mummification, which entails a life of extreme solemnity and austerity. After a strict diet comprised of water, seeds, nuts, roots, tree bark, and special tea for 2,000 days, the monks would be sealed in a stone tomb.

Following another 1,000 days after the monk’s death, the tomb would be opened and the state of the body checked. Monks who had mummified would be placed in temples and venerated. Those who had not achieved mummification would be respected, but remain entombed. In the past, some believed this type of mummification was less a form of death, and more so a highly spiritual state and advanced form of enlightenment.

For those who choose to study the thoughts, writings on philosophy of Buddha the man, the twists and turns taken by those who turn that body of work into a religion are often little more than a curiosity. Still, I guess our species can be as interesting for the ways we kill ourselves – as the ways we kill others, the rationales we use to justify both.

Port na bPúcaí

The lovely Irish folk tune Port na bPúcaí (The Music of the Fairies) had mystical beginnings and it’™s said that the people of the Blasket Islands heard ethereal music and wrote an air to match it, hoping to placate unhappy spirits. Seamus Heaney’s poem The Given Note tells of a fiddler who took the song out of wind off mid-Atlantic:

Strange noises were heard
By others who followed, bits of a tune
Coming in on loud weather
Though nothing like melody.

Recent research suggests that, rather than fairies, the islanders may have been hearing the songs of whales transmitted through the canvas hulls of their fishing boats. Humpback whales pass through Irish waters each winter as they migrate south from the North Atlantic, and their songs seem to resemble the folk tune.

Ronan Browne, who plays the air above on Irish pipes, writes, In the mid 1990s I went rooting through some cassettes of whale song and there in the middle of the Orca (Killer Whale) section I heard the opening notes of Port na bPúcaí!”…

Thanks, Ursarodinia

Wal-Mart discovers that treating employees like serfs doesn’t work

Last week, we learned that Wal-Mart was giving the lowest paid of its hourly employees a raise. In a blog post, Wal-Mart Chief Executive Officer Doug McMillon said that as of April, the company will pay a minimum of $9 an hour. That is $1.75 more than the federal minimum wage of $7.25, which has been unchanged for almost six years. Next February, Wal-Mart’s lowest hourly rate will rise to $10. All told, about a half-million Wal-Mart workers in the U.S. will be affected.

There has been lots of theorizing about why the nation’s largest retailer did this: See this, this and this. But I have a much simpler explanation: The Wal-Mart business model is broken.

As in any complex situation, there are many nuances and wrinkles: This was inevitable; state minimum-wage laws had already mandated those minimums (or higher) for at least two-thirds of the employees in Wal-Mart’s stores. In the years since the last federal minimum-wage increase, many of Wal-Mart’s employees had fallen below the poverty level and the strengthening economy has made it harder to attract and retain employees.

There is also the issue of the negative PR generated by Wal-Mart’s low, low wages. As we discussed back in 2013, many of its full-time employees receive a full array of federal and state welfare. Wal-Mart has become the nation’s largest private-sector beneficiary of taxpayer-supported public assistance (see “How McDonald’s and Wal-Mart Became Welfare Queens”). Indeed, the U.S. taxpayer has been subsidizing the wages of this publicly traded, private-sector company to the tune of $2.66 billion in government largess a year.

Although many factors contributed to the move, the simple reason for the increase is because Wal-Mart has stopped growing. Same-store sales have been little changed or declining for some time now. When we look at the underlying causes, the company’s workforce, and how it is managed, are the prime suspects…

Labor is seen as a cost driver rather than a sales driver. Managers do not have much direct control over sales, almost never making decisions on merchandise mix, layout, price, or promotions. But managers do have control over payroll costs and are evaluated regarding whether they meet weekly or monthly targets for payroll as a percentage of sales. At times these pressures have been such that Walmart managers have put pressure on employees to work off the clock.

With a bonus structure designed to drive down labor costs, guess what Wal-Mart managers did?

Cutting on salary and benefits, however, didn’t necessarily lower costs. About 44 percent of Wal-Mart’s hourly staff turns over each year. That’s a lot of people, because the company employs 2.2 million workers worldwide. Hiring replacements is a costly and time consuming process.

Consider competitors such as Costco: It has average hourly wages of $20 and a turnover rate of “17% overall and just 6% after one years employment,” according to the Harvard Business Review. HBR estimates the full cost of “replacing a worker who leaves is typically 1.5 to 2.5 times the worker’s annual salary.” That is no small chunk of change.

My favorite Recovering Republican, Barry Ritholtz…always my first read at Bloomberg news sites.

Behavior rooted in the attitudes and analysis of 19th Century Republican royalty ends up unproductive pretty consistently. Enjoying the fruits of the economic crash provoked by the financial-real estate band of thieves and frauds, Walmart was able to draw its serfs from the supersized pool of unemployed, underemployed and maybe-never-again-employed made accessible by free market economic ideologues.

But, just as those who don’t study history are doomed to repeat mistakes, those who don’t include economics studies as part of understanding history are doomed to repeat the biggest mistakes before their competitors. How much time do you spend shopping at Sears, Borders or Radio Shack? Driving there in your Oldsmobile.

Not paying your employees enough to shop at your own store is a second-order issue. One that Republicans couldn’t care less about. An example of pig-headedness masquerading as fiscal conservatism.

Walmart appears to be trying to enter the 20th Century – if not the 21st. Anyone think the Walmartians in Congress will learn from their example?

Malcolm X challenged America’s vast political and social jailhouse

Fifty years ago today, assassins killed black power activist Malcolm X during a speech to the Organization for Afro-American Unity at New York City’s Audubon Ballroom. Although they ended the life of one of the 20th century’s most dynamic leaders, they did not kill his impact. His insights into racism and freedom are as necessary today as when he first spoke them. A half-century after his murder, Malcolm X may still be one of our best guides for making sense of American racism, the evil that once again roils the country in unrest.

Malcolm X’s enduring influence owes in part to the truth of his metaphors, his way with words and the relentlessness of his criticism — in particular, his depiction of the United States as a prison. In making the comparison, he gave voice to the confinement he saw in a white supremacy still evident.

“Don’t be shocked when I say I was in prison,” he often told his audiences. “You’re still in prison. That’s what America means — prison…”

To Malcolm X, prison was more than its bricks and mortar. It was a metaphor for racism. Prisons use armed force to deny the mobility, insult the integrity and restrict the civic and political participation of its captives. And for the black audiences who heard Malcolm X speak — men and women who went to underfunded schools, worked dangerous and low-paying jobs where they could find them, faced harassment in employment lines or welfare offices, were forced to live in only certain neighborhoods and in many parts of the country were barred from voting by police and vigilante organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan — the United States did mean prison.

Prison, then, was an exaggerated form of the daily indignities black women and men faced. What made this metaphor ring so true is that black communities — years before the launch of the war on drugs — were already heavily policed and disproportionately incarcerated…

Imprisonment was the price of blackness. It respected neither class nor crime: Black people were incarcerated for protesting racism, engaging in antisocial activity or simply living in a neighborhood subject to pre-emptive policing.

At the time that Malcolm X began to challenge the prison of America in the late 1950s, the United States incarcerated fewer than 200,000 people in prisons and jails. Today, that number has metastasized to more than 2.3 million people, almost half of whom are black. Accounting for a mere 5 percent of the world’s population, the United States has 25 percent of the world’s prison population.

I was lucky to hear, to listen to this wonderful voice calling for freedom. The idiots who rail against Malcolm’s message as intimidating to whites illustrate their own guilt, their fears of being found out. Too ignorant to see that class is as critical as color.

I stood in the middle of hundreds of Black residents of Harlem in the 1950’s. Took the train to New York, to Harlem, to get to Lewis Micheaux’s National Memorial African Bookstore once every month or so. The only white face in a crowd filling an intersection and stopping all traffic from proceeding while a slender giant stood elevated on one corner. He spoke of freedom and justice. And more than once he recognized this class brother willing to stand and say, “Fix it, brother!”

Some of the best early days of my personal awakening.

30 years of Reuters Pictures: Part three

Wander through this article and enjoy stunning photography, meaningful in so many ways. Personal, political, history recorded – sometimes just before it is forgotten. Check out the two preceding parts, explore the Reuters’ slideshows.

Here are a couple of samples:


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The Northern Lights are seen above the ash plume of Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokull volcano…Reuters photographer Lucas Jackson.
 


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Staff members stand in a meeting room at Lehman Brothers offices in London. It is the beginning of the global financial crisis…Reuters photographer Kevin Coombs.

Archaeologists find couple locked in hug for 5,000 years


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Archaeologists in southern Greece have discovered the grave of a man and woman buried as they died some 5,800 years ago – still tightly embracing.

A senior member of the excavation team, Anastassia Papathanassiou, says the discovery – made in 2013 and publicized this week after DNA testing determined each skeleton’s sex – is the oldest of its kind in Greece. She says the couple most likely died holding each other.

…The remains of the couple, estimated to be in their 20s, were found near the Alepotrypa Cave, an important prehistoric site.

It’s unclear how they died and whether they were related, but Papathanassiou says further DNA testing should answer the latter question.

Even time can be conquered by love.

Pic of the Day

Musa, a Kurdish marksman
Click to enlargeBulent Kilic

Musa, a 25-year-old Kurdish marksman, stands atop a building as he looks at the destroyed Syrian city of Kobani on Friday. Kurdish forces recaptured the town on the Turkish frontier on January 26, in a symbolic blow to the ISIS militants who have seized large swathes of territory in their onslaught across Syria and Iraq.

This Week in God

When we last checked in with the fine folks in Orange County, Florida, home to Orlando among other communities, the school board had already agreed to allow an evangelical Christian group to distribute Bibles to school children. The Satanic Temple heard about the arrangement and asked for equal treatment – they had some Satanic coloring books they wanted to share.

If the board members refused, the Satanic Temple would sue and almost certainly win – the Supreme Court has already said public schools can’t discriminate based on religious viewpoints. If the doors were open to an evangelical group to distribute Bibles, then Orange County would seem to have no choice but to open the doors a little wider to accommodate every other religious group.

This week, Ian Millhiser explained the school board decided it’s time to close the doors altogether.
The school district, in other words, could allow Christians and Satanists alike to distribute literature to students. Or it could exclude both. But it cannot discriminate against the Satanists because it disagrees with the Satanic viewpoint. At a school board meeting Tuesday night, the board decided to go with a version of option B. Under their new policy, some literature may still be distributed, “but nothing that is religious, political or sectarian,” according to the Orlando Sentinel.

Every time these kinds of controversies arise, the underlying principle is always the same: when it comes to religion and public affairs, the government can’t play favorites. First Amendment principles demand that no American is treated as a second-class citizen.

The ideal solution, it would seem, is for public officials to stay out of the religion-promotion business altogether.

Let us return to separation between church and state.

Yes, I realize fundamentalists often believe this never was the case. They also believe the Earth came into existence 6000 years ago. I have no problem with someone wanting to believe silly crap. But, unless they can provide historical or scientific evidence to prove their case – they will be ignored.

Once we got past World war 2 and resumed our journey towards a modern new world appurtenances like religion quickly began to fall away from most useful political constructs – ranging from jurisprudence to public schools. Because some fundamentalist True Believers have fought successful rear guard battles in political backwaters has little or nothing to do with the course our nation should follow.

That includes the reactionary dullards stuck into the Supreme Court by opportunist politicians.