Saturday, November 24, 2007

Kill NAFTA before NAFTA kills Mexican corn

A few clips from a recent John Ross column:
Some say that these indeed may be the last days of Mexican corn.

In fact, this January 1 may prove to be a doomsday date for Mexican maiz when at the stroke of midnight, all tariffs on corn (and beans) will be abolished after more than a decade of incremental NAFTA-driven decreases. Although U.S. corn growers are already dumping 10 million tons of the heavily subsidized grain in Mexico each year, zero tariffs are expected to trigger a tsunami of corn imports, much of it genetically modified, that will drive millions of Mexican farmers off their land - in NAFTA's first 13 years, 6,000,000 have already abandoned their plots - and could well spell the end of the line for 59 distinct "razas" or races of native corn.


Monsanto, which dominates 71 per cent of the GMO seed market, has operated in Mexico since the post-World War II so-called "green revolution" that featured hybrid seeds ("semillas mejoradas") that only worked when associated with pesticides and fertilizers manufactured by the transnational chemical companies. Selling hybrid seeds and chemical poisons in Mexico continues to be profitable for Monsanto whose total 2006 sales here topped 3,000,000,000 pesos ($300 million USD.) It doesn't hurt that Monsanto Mexico sells hybrid seed for $2 Americano for a packet of a thousand when its states-side price is $1.34.

22,000,000 Mexicans, 13,000,000 of them children, suffer some degree of malnutrition according to doctors at the National Nutrition Institute and Monsanto insists that it can feed them all if only the CIBOGEN will allow it to foist its GMO seed on unwitting corn farmers. But the way Monsanto sells its GMO seed is severely questioned.

Farmers are forced to sign contracts, agreeing to buy GMO seed at a company-fixed price. Monsanto's super-duper "Terminator" seed, named after California's action hero governor, goes sterile after one growing cycle and the campesinos are obligated to buy more. By getting hooked on Monsanto, Mexican farmers, once seed savers and repositories themselves of the knowledge of their inner workings, become consumers of seed, an arrangement that augurs poorly for the survival of Mexico's many native corns.

Moreover, as farmers from other climes who have resisted Monsanto and refused to buy into the GMO blitz, have learned only too traumatically, pollen blowing off contaminated fields will spread to non-GMO crops. Even more egregiously, Monsanto will then send "inspectors" (often off-duty cops) to your farm and detect their patented strains in your fields and charge you with stealing the corporation's property.

When Saskatchewan farmer Percy Schmeiser came to Mexico several years back to explain how Monsanto had taken his farm from him for precisely these reasons, local legislators laughed that it was a science fiction scenario. "It is going to happen to you," the old farmer warned with all the prescience of an Aztec seer.
I've been trying to tune my readers in to the growing crisis facing our fellow humans who make their lives and livelihoods in Mexico. NAFTA, beloved by both the Clintonistas and Bushistas, has certainly been a godsend for their corporate cronies, but an utter nightmare for family farmers and merchants in Mexico since it went into effect in the early 1990s:
In Mexico, “Poverty has risen by over 50 percent during the first four years of NAFTA and wages in the manufacturing sector have declined,” reports the Data Center.

A 2004 report published by the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Ways and Means states that “At least 1.5 million Mexican farmers lost their livelihoods to NAFTA.” The situation is only expected to worsen in 2008 when Mexico is required to comply with a NAFTA deadline to totally eliminate its corn and bean import tariffs. Many policy experts predicted that farmers displaced by NAFTA would migrate to the United States.

Indeed, a comparison of U.S. censuses of 1990 and 2000 shows “the number of Mexican-born residents in the United States increased by more than 80 percent,” states Jeff Faux in “How NAFTA Failed Mexico,” The American Prospect (July 3, 2003.) “Some half-million Mexicans come to the United States every year; roughly 60 percent of them are undocumented. The massive investments in both border guards and detection equipment have not diminished the migrant flow; they have just made it more dangerous. More than 1,600 Mexican migrants have died on the journey to the north.”

While NAFTA is responsible for the latest “migration hump,” it is not the sole culprit. Practices by bodies like the World Trade Organization, “along with the programs dictated by the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, have helped double the gap between rich and poor countries since 1960,” reports Noam Chomsky in The Nation. The ensuing foreign debt deprives these countries from accumulating capital to develop competitive industries and has lead to mass migration northward.

After NAFTA was passed by Congress in 1992, “the agreement raised concerns in the United States about immigration from south of the border,” according to “NAFTA, The Patriot Act and the New Immigration Backlash” by the American Anthropological Association. To counter the predicted influx of Latin Americans, President Bill Clinton signed The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996. “The 1996 Welfare Reform bill included anti-immigrant and other measures that eliminated many social services for undocumented immigrants,” the report states. The current ICE raids are a result of these long term policies.
As you can gather from those paragraphs, when folks are driven to near-starvation, they have this amazing tendency to look around for some means of providing food and shelter for themselves and their families. The biofuel boom has merely exacerbated the situation, causing the price of staple grains as corn and wheat to skyrocket over the last year or so, leading to more hunger and of course to more migration to El Norte. John Ross' remarks on what appears inevitable regarding genetically modified corn taking over native crops suggests that times are bound to get much harder as more farmers are forced off of their land.

The standard US approach, of course, has been punitive: more border patrols (of both the uniformed and vigilante varieties), walls, electronic surveillance, ICE raids, more draconian laws in various states in order to harrass "illegals" and anyone who would dare to provide assistance to them, etc. The "kinder, gentler" US elites would allow for a sort of revolving door of easily exploited cheap labor (the so-called "guest worker" approach advocated by Bu$hCo and more than a few Democrats). Both approaches are intended to treat the symptoms, albeit very poorly, while ignoring the problem of bad trade policies that are at the root of the human suffering behind the mass migration. The lone bright spot is the existence of pockets of resistance among the campesinas in Chiapas and elsewhere. Their struggle is (to say the least) best characterized as uphill. As Manny noted a few months back:
Until enough people "Get It" that the magnetic force of migration is due to utter desperation - the darkest night of the soul - the inner-most circles of mental hell - and not just some American™-prismed view that border-crossers don't respect our laws, then the deaths will continue unabated.

Imagine a situation where you had absolutely nothing. The system had completely screwed you and your family out of livelihood. Do you do what you need to do to survive? Or do you just give up?
What we've seen time and time again is that folks will most assuredly do what they can do to survive. That basic life instinct (what Jung, and to a certain degree Freud, called eros) is hardwired into us - it's a drive that does not discriminate for nationality or race. Those who cross the border into El Norte are doing so for survival - I respect that 100%. If you take a moment to walk in the migrants' shoes, you should - unless you're a borderline psychopath - be able to relate to their situation. What I don't respect are the policies and policy makers responsible for so much human suffering. NAFTA is part of the problem in that regard. Its nearly decade and a half history has been an unmitigated disaster for our friends in Mexico and points southward. The Zapatistas have referred to NAFTA as genocidal for good reason. Americans need to kill NAFTA before it kills more. The loss of numerous varieties of corn might seem like a tempest in a teapot to VH-1 addled Americans while munching on their Taco Bell burritos, but it is a disaster for family farmers and one that has the potential to lead to famines of global dimensions in the not-so-distant future. When it comes to survival, we're in it together.

Cats that look like V?

This one was nicked from the Cats That Look Like Hitler website. Personally, I think Pepe (the cat's name) looks more prepared to take on the lead role in a feline version of V for Vendetta.

Remember the Parable of the Good Samaritan?

Check this out via my friend The Unapologetic Mexican:
ONCE AGAIN, a Mexican Being was where he was not supposed to be, and just look at the consequences.
PHOENIX - A 9-year-old boy looking for help after his mother crashed their van in the southern Arizona desert was rescued by a man entering the U.S. illegally, who stayed with him until help arrived the next day, an official said.

The 45-year-old woman, who eventually died while awaiting help, had been driving on a U.S. Forest Service road in a remote area just north of the Mexican border when she lost control of her van on a curve on Thanksgiving, Santa Cruz County Sheriff Tony Estrada said.

The van vaulted into a canyon and landed 300 feet from the road, he said. The woman, from Rimrock, north of Phoenix, survived the impact but was pinned inside, Estrada said.

Her son, unhurt but disoriented, crawled out to get help and was found about two hours later by Jesus Manuel Cordova, 26, of Magdalena de Kino in the northern Mexican state of Sonora. Unable to pull the mother out, he comforted the boy while they waited for help.

The woman died a short time later. [...]

As temperatures dropped, he gave him a jacket, built a bonfire and stayed with him until about 8 a.m. Friday, when hunters passed by and called authorities, Estrada said. [...]

Cordova was taken into custody by Border Patrol agents, who were the first to respond to the call for help. He had been trying to walk into the U.S. when he came across the boy.

The boy and his mother were in the area camping, Estrada said. The woman's husband, the boy's father, had died only two months ago.

Illegal immigrant rescues boy in desert

And for those of y'all needing a refresher course on the parable in question:
Luke 10:30-37 Jesus answered, "A certain man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who both stripped him and beat him, and departed, leaving him half dead. By chance a certain priest was going down that way. When he saw him, he passed by on the other side. In the same way a Levite also, when he came to the place, and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, as he traveled, came where he was. When he saw him, he was moved with compassion, came to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. He set him on his own animal, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. On the next day, when he departed, he took out two denarii, and gave them to the host, and said to him, ‘Take care of him. Whatever you spend beyond that, I will repay you when I return.’ Now which of these three do you think seemed to be a neighbor to him who fell among the robbers?" He said, "He who showed mercy on him." Then Jesus said to him, "Go and do likewise."

Waiting for the Guards

A description from Amnesty International's site:
Waiting For The Guards is the first of 3 films commissioned by Amnesty to highlight the enhanced interrogation techniques used by the CIA in the “War on Terror”.

The Directors approached the making of the film in a way that has never been done before, choosing to show the reality of Stress Positions in as authentic a way as possible. They filmed a person being put into Stress Positions over a 6 hour period. There is no acting on the part of the “prisoner” – his pain and anguish is for real.

This powerful film shows without doubt that what the US administrations say is interrogation is in reality, torture and must be stopped.

We’ve released the film on the Internet before going to theatrical release in independent cinemas in early 2008. We believe this film is a great introduction to what the unsubscribe movement is all about, so we ask you to get the movie out there, in any way you can.

The more people see it. The more people will be compelled to unsubscribe.
Needless to say, the film is graphic enough that the kids should probably not be watching it. For the rest of us, it makes for unpleasant but necessary viewing.

Prognostication on oil and the US dollar follow-up

When I said I was no Carnac the Magnificent, I meant it. Based on my layperson's reading of the tea leaves, I expected to see oil trading in triple digits and the US dollar reaching new record lows this week in the aftermath of that OPEC meeting debacle in which proceedings that were not supposed to be televised got televised. So now that the week is done, how did my predictions fare? On oil, I was close, but no cigar. There's some speculation that oil will finally hold at the $100 mark sometime next week, although that viewpoint isn't universally held. As for the US dollar, it did reach a new low against the Euro. Against other currencies, the dollar is still performing poorly, although showing a slight improvement against the Canadian dollar, British Pound, and the Yen Friday. All in all, it's a good thing I advise against betting the ranch on my predictions, although I wasn't too far from the mark.

Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

Looks like journalist William Saletan is the latest to venture into the IQ, heredity, and race quagmire. My reading of his column can be summed up thusly: Saletan's screed is merely a rehash of the same basic talking points offered by eugenicists for over a century. Although I'm not sure I have either the patience or time to revisit the topic, I would like to at least highlight a few items for consideration.

First, let's keep in mind that Saletan's screed is the sort of thing that will be received approvingly by American audiences. Although there are plenty of legitimate biological scientists and psychometricians who correctly dismiss the supporting "evidence" of inherited racial IQ differences as bunk, outside of those specialists one can find plenty of academicians and think-tank intelligentsia who consume such drivel as so much comfort food. I tried to highlight some of that particular Zeitgeist here, if one cared to read it. We seem to still be in the grip of Social Darwinism to a degree that is less common elsewhere. Although England is the home to the first avowed eugenicist (Galton), the eugenics movement flowered in the US, with the end result being numerous draconian laws regarding forced sterilization of those deemed "unfit", as well as severe restrictions regarding interracial marriage, and even a fair amount of cover for Nazi-style medical experimentation without informed consent on institutionalized individuals.

Second, let's keep in mind that the intellectual history of the myth of racial differences in intelligence is indeed a long one, and it is a history that is still being written. Those words written by Saletan and uttered by others such as Jim Watson, Steve Sailer, and William Bennett are in a sense nothing particularly novel. The main difference between today's keepers of the myth and their forebears such as Voltaire and Kant is that today's mythologists manage to wrap racist ideas in scientific-sounding jargon. To a lay audience, such jargon can seem persuasive; if a respected Nobel laureate says it, it must be true, or at least have more than a few grains of truth to it. If you look at either the early eugenics movement, or its late 20th and early 21st century heirs, one will read plenty of pronouncements that racial differences in IQ due to heredity is a scientifically proven fact, that it's all so cut-and-dried. I'll simply note for now (perhaps expand upon later) that a lot of pseudoscience (and eugenics is one of a number of pseudoscientific areas of inquiry) comes across as cut-and-dried common sense, beyond reasonable reproach. Legitimate scientists tend to make much more tentative statements regarding the data they believe support their hypotheses. Legitimate scientists avoid selectively choosing data in order to forward a particular agenda.

But...what if the methods used to "prove" the eugenicist hypothesis are dodgy? What if it turns out that it is far from clear as to what IQ tests actually measure? That brings me to the third item: the so-called inherited group differences in IQ are far from cut-and-dried. There has been a great deal of debate regarding how to measure intelligence, and just how applicable standard IQ tests are to everyday existence. In psychology, research on everyday cognition has been something of a cottage industry since the 1980s. That body of research, much of which is cross-cultural in nature, consistently suggests that the relationship between IQ scores and a wide variety of abilities is fairly minimal at best. I would suggest that one look into the work of psychologists such as Robert Sternberg and Howard Gardner to get a feel for what some of this research is about. For a better discussion of the methodological problems regarding IQ and endeavors to link IQ to hereditary race-based differences, I'd suggest one check out statistician Cosma Shalizi's blog, which has several excellent (albeit hardly easy reading) posts: Yet More on the Heritability and Malleability of IQ; g, a Statistical Myth; and In Which I Demand That Slate Refund My Subscription.

The bottom line: contrary to whatever eugenics apologists would have us believe, our understanding of human intelligence is anything but cut-and-dried. Heck, our friends the chimpanzees may be smarter than us humans. I'd certainly seek moral guidance from a chimp over Saletan any day.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Well, what did you expect?

Seems right-wing bloggers like Ed Morrissey get what they want in the way of an authoritarian police state, and then they don't like the results. What did you folks expect? The concept of "probable cause" was merely a "quaint relic" that was quite expendable in the Homeland's Global War Against Terra. Here's a little something to remember: all those civil libertarian types whom y'all just wanted to lynch aren't too happy with what's happened to what were supposed to be Constitutionally guaranteed rights either. We just happened to be against the encroaching police state from the moment it began rearing its ugly head (and we're not just talking about what has occurred during the Bu$hCo regime - the civil liberties took quite a beating during the Clinton years as well).

The Civil Rights Initiative That Wasn't

I thought I'd follow up on a previous post that has touched a nerve with one our state's "progressive" bloggers who seems to be in support something called the Oklahoma Civil Rights Initiative. A taste of some of the official propaganda for the initiative can be found here. A quick Google search will turn up more propaganda as well as plenty of right-wing bloggers and pundits who are just giddy about the prospect of ending affirmative action in Oklahoma (three other states are being targeted during the upcoming election cycle: Arizona, Colorado, and Missouri). Of course the same search will also turn up the other side of the story, for those willing to keep a sufficiently open mind to read (for the initiative's die-hard proponents, that won't happen of course).

We learn from one source that since a similar initiative was passed in California, the proportion of women hired at UC Irvine has plummeted - I'm under the impression that similar phenomena can be found throughout California and Washington - the two states with the lengthiest histories of life after the passage of this initiative. The blog Freedom and Reason offers an expose of the folks behind the initiative: Ward Connerly, David Horowitz, the Richard Mellon Scaife Foundation, among others. The McCarville Report Online has Rep. Mike Shelton's statement against the initiative. On a similar note, see this story.

See also Oklahoma Women's Network Blog. On a related note, check Arthur Silber's Racist Nation, to better understand the Zeitgeist that would make such ballot initiatives (along with a host of other policies) acceptable to so many - including those who really should know better. Stay tuned...

PR campaign for war

Well, this is disheartening, although certainly not surprising:

Laura Sonnenmark is a focus group regular. "I've been asked to talk about orange juice, cell phone service, furniture," the Fairfax County, Virginia-based children's book author and Democratic Party volunteer says. But when she was called by a focus group organizer for a prospective assignment earlier this month, she was told the questions this time would be about something "political."

On November 1, she went to the offices of Martin Focus Groups in Alexandria, Virginia, knowing she would be paid $150 for two hours of her time. After joining a half dozen other women in a conference room, she discovered that she had been called in for what seemed an unusual assignment: to help test-market language that could be used to sell military action against Iran to the American public. "The whole basis of the whole thing was, 'we're going to go into Iran and what do we have to do to get you guys to along with it?" says Sonnenmark, 49.

Soon after the leader of the focus group began the discussion, according to Sonnenmark, he directed the conversation toward recent tensions between Iran and the United States. "He was asking questions about [Iranian president Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad going to speak at Columbia University, how terrible it was that he was able to go to Columbia and was invited," Sonnenmark says. "And he used lots of catch phrases, like 'victory' and 'failure is not an option.'"


And the upshot of this focus group? "After two hours, [the leader] asked three final questions," Sonnenmark recalls: "How would you feel if Hillary [Clinton] bombed Iran? How would you feel if George Bush bombed Iran? And how would you feel if Israel bombed Iran?"

Well, if you're going to get folks jonesing for another war, you've gotta get that marketing campaign just right. A few focus groups sponsored by right-wing think tanks, some nifty catch-phrases, maybe patriotic music and images of victorious soldiers being greeted by the newly colonized with flowers, and perhaps one can be sufficiently desensitized to all the carnage. The public might have to be prodded along for a bit, but given time, surely they can be persuaded to go along.

Hat tip to Lenin's Tomb.

The troop withdrawal that wasn't

From an AssPress article:

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Democrats' flagship proposal on Iraq is aimed at bringing most troops home. Yet if enacted, the law would still allow for tens of thousands of U.S. troops to stay deployed for years to come.

This reality — readily acknowledged by Democrats who say it's still their best shot at curbing the nearly five-year war — has drawn the ire of anti-war groups and bolstered President Bush's prediction that the United States will most likely wind up maintaining a hefty long-term presence in Iraq, much like in South Korea.

For those who want troops out, "you've got more holes in here than Swiss cheese," said Tom Andrews, national director of the war protest group Win Without War and a former congressman from Maine.

The Democratic proposal would order troops to begin leaving Iraq within 30 days, a requirement Bush is already on track to meet as he begins reversing this year's 30,000 troop buildup. The proposal also sets a goal of ending combat by Dec. 15, 2008.

After that, troops remaining in Iraq would be restricted to three missions: counterterrorism, training Iraqi security forces and protecting U.S. assets, including diplomats.

This month, Senate Republicans blocked the measure, even though it was tied to $50 billion needed by the military, because they said it would impose an artificial timetable on a war that has been showing signs of progress.

Despite the GOP's fierce opposition and a White House veto threat, military officials and analysts say the proposal leaves open the door for a substantial force to remain behind. Estimates range from as few as a couple thousand troops to as many as 70,000 or more to accomplish those three missions.


Meanwhile, military analysts caution against worrying too much about the particulars. The legislation has yet to pass Congress by a veto-proof majority. It also isn't binding; under the bill, Bush can ignore the 2008 deadline to end combat.
If you voted for Democrats in 2006 hoping that Congressional majorities would spark an end to the Iraq occupation, you were fooled. Iraq is going to be a US colony for some time to come.

Calling things by their names

I've mentioned before that our national Zeitgeist seems to favor a bit of holocaust denial when it comes to discussing the Iraqi death toll due to the US invasion and occupation. Turns out I'm not the only one out there to dare call it that:

The methods used in the estimates of Iraqi deaths are the same as those used to estimate the deaths in Darfur, which are widely accepted in the media. They are also consistent with the large numbers of refugees from the violence (estimated at more than four million). There is no reason to disbelieve them, or to accept tallies such as that the Iraq Body Count (73,305 - 84,222), which include only a small proportion of those killed, as an estimate of the overall death toll.

Of course, acknowledging the holocaust in Iraq might change the debate over the war. While Iraqi lives do not count for much in US politics, recognizing that a mass slaughter of this magnitude is taking place could lead to more questions about how this horrible situation came to be. Right now a convenient myth dominates the discussion: the fall of Saddam Hussein simply unleashed a civil war that was waiting to happen, and the violence is all due to Iraqis' inherent hatred of each other.

In fact, there is considerable evidence that the occupation itself - including the strategy of the occupying forces - has played a large role in escalating the violence to holocaust proportions. It is in the nature of such an occupation, where the vast majority of the people are opposed to the occupation and according to polls believe it is right to try and kill the occupiers, to pit one ethnic group against another. This was clear when Shiite troops were sent into Sunni Fallujah in 2004; it is obvious in the nature of the death-squad government, where officials from the highest levels of the Interior Ministry to the lowest ranking police officers - all trained and supported by the US military - have carried out a violent, sectarian mission of "ethnic cleansing." (The largest proportion of the killings in Iraq are from gunfire and executions, not from car bombs). It has become even more obvious in recent months as the United States is now arming both sides of the civil war, including Sunni militias in Anbar province as well as the Shiite government militias.

Is Washington responsible for a holocaust in Iraq? That is the question that almost everyone here wants to avoid. So the holocaust is denied.
See also, Iraq War: None Dare Call it Genocide.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Genius level?

Something tells me you really don't need to be a rocket scientist to read this blog.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Vichy Dem blog misrepresents video

A blog called SoonerThought has a post up titled Attack on Civil Rights in OK. Since civil rights issues are pretty damned important to me (and my contributors), I quickly followed the links expecting to see an actual civil rights violation. Needless to say, what was there was not what I expected. Yes, someone is confronting a petition circulator, but what was the petition? You might be interested to find that the petition in question is one intended to deprive ethnic minorities of already tenuous civil rights gains.

Note that SoonerThought has been shilling for Joe Biden for the 2008 Democrat nomination. Needless to say, Biden has a little racism problem that has this nasty tendency to surface from time to time. I guess that I'm not that surprised, then, to see that blog spin a petition that is anti-civil rights as "civil rights" and to spin any protest of said petition as an "attack" on civil rights. Quite disingenuous, I must say.


Oil leaders' private debate televised by mistake:
A private meeting of Opec leaders, gathered this weekend in Riyadh for the cartel's third meeting in its 47-year history, had just been broadcast to the world's media for more than half an hour after a technician had mistakenly plugged the TV feed into the wrong socket. The facade of unity that the cartel so carefully cultivates to a world spooked by soaring oil prices was shattered.

Sometimes, such innocent mistakes can have far-reaching economic and political consequences. Commodity and currency traders said this weekend that oil prices would surge again tomorrow - possibly breaking the $101 per barrel record set in the late 1970s [Editor's note: that figure refers to what oil would have cost if adjusted for inflation to present day reality] - while the already battered dollar would fall further on the back of the unintentional broadcast.

On Friday night, during what the participants thought were private talks, Venezuela's oil minister Venezuela Rafael Ramirez and his Iranian counterpart Gholamhossein Nozari, argued that pricing - and selling - oil using the crippled dollar was damaging the cartel.

They said Opec should formally express its concern about the weakness of the dollar when the cartel makes its official declaration at the close of the summit today. But the Saudis, the world's largest oil producers and de facto head of Opec, vetoed the proposal. Saud al-Faisal, the Saudi foreign minister, warned that even the mere mention to journalists of the fact that leaders were discussing the weak dollar would cause the US currency to plummet.

Unfortunately his words and those of everyone at the meeting were being broadcast via a live television feed to a group of astonished reporters. 'I couldn't believe it,' said one who was there. 'When I realised they didn't know they were being broadcast live, I frantically started taking notes.'
I'm no Carnac the Magnificent, but between that news and other rumblings of discontent regarding the US dollar will not bode well for its status as the "reserve currency." In the short term, get used to triple digit figures for oil and more record lows for the dollar - most likely this week. One thing my dad taught me is that what drives the economy almost entirely psychological - and we're not exactly talking judgment and decision making based on rules of formal reasoning. No, we're talking about a phenomenon that is largely emotion-driven. In this case, with the dollar's decline, we see a positive feedback loop in the making. Once the dollar fell beneath some threshold, those stuck with the increasingly worthless pieces of paper began looking for ways to get rid of them, thus causing the dollar to fall further, causing further discontent, etc. Once a positive feedback loop gets started, it's pretty difficult to break. What amazes me is that the dollar held its status with minimal complaint for as long as it did. Of course I'll mention my usual disclaimer: I'm no economist; I'm merely a layperson trying to use a little common sense. Don't trade all your dollars for Euros or Yuan based on something you read on a blog.

Palestine's Gandhi: Naim Ateek

Naim Ateek had just turned 11 when forces of the Haganah, the pre-Israel Zionist paramilitary organization, occupied his village of Beisan in Palestine. Days later, the villagers were informed that they were to be "evacuated," forcibly moved off land that Palestine's Jewish minority now claimed for its own state. Ordered to gather in the village center, the Ateeks took what they could carry, and joined the other frightened families, all clutching heirlooms, photographs, jewelry, and awaiting an uncertain future, away from the homes in and lands on which their families had lived for generations.

It is perhaps surprising then, that even after this experience of forcible dispossession, and even after the shock of the 1967 war, in which thousands more Palestinians were displaced and the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem came under military occupation, even after years of witnessing and enduring brutality at the hands of Israeli soldiers and settlers, Ateek has been a constant advocate of nonviolence as the only course for Palestinian independence. A parish minister to Palestine's small Christian community since 1966, Ateek founded the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center in 1989 for the purpose of developing a theology to help Palestinians cope with and overcome the daily oppression and injustice they continue to endure as a subject population under military occupation.

Though he advocates nonviolence as "the only option, and the only strategy," Ateek does not shrink from making extremely trenchant criticisms of Israel's policies. Which is why a late October conference at Boston's Old South Church, featuring Ateek, was provocatively titled, "The Apartheid Paradigm in Palestine-Israel." Underscoring the apartheid parallel, the keynote speaker for the conference was Desmond Tutu, the former archbishop of Cape Town and one of the guiding spirits of the anti-apartheid movement in the 1970s and 1980s.

While Tutu was lauded universally for his moral and prophetic voice against the South African government's policies, he has been denigrated for suggesting a similarity between South African apartheid and the Israeli occupation and colonization of the West Bank. Similarly, despite Ateek's commitment to nonviolence and reconciliation, he has been denounced as an anti-Semite and a terrorist-sympathizer for insisting that Palestinians have a right to reject and resist a system that severely proscribes all aspects of Palestinian life, while at the same time privileging the rights of Israeli settlers and facilitating their takeover of Palestinian lands, a system which Ateek and the organizers of the North American Friends of Sabeel conference hold is very much like apartheid.

Many scholars, including many Israeli scholars, have for years been using the apartheid framework to understand Israel's policies toward Palestinians in the occupied territories. As UCLA professor Saree Makdisi points out, there are, in fact, "two separate legal and administrative systems, maintained by the regular use of military force, for two populations -- settlers and natives -- unequally inhabiting the same piece of land." Furthermore, when people like Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu insist that the apartheid comparison is appropriate, one listens.

But from the moment the event was announced, Old South Church was attacked by pro-Israel voices for promoting anti-Israel views. In various op-eds, Web sites, and letters to editors, Sabeel was characterized as a hate group, and Ateek as a terrorist sympathizer. Upon closer inspection, however, none of these accusations squares with this organization or this man, who has for decades advocated for a two-state solution with exclusively nonviolent resistance to the Israeli occupation.

The conference itself, as with Ateek's extensive writings, had a very simple message: The occupation must end.


Ateek is precisely the kind of leader who should be supported by those seeking an end to the violence between the Israelis and Palestinians. He is one of a number of Palestinian leaders, along with Sari Nusseibeh and Mubarak Awad, who continue to advocate non-violence. Unfortunately, years of occupation, the constantly expanding settlements, and collective punishment by Israeli authorities in response to terrorist attacks have greatly expanded the appeal of extremist violence and their promises of redemptive vengeance.

Ateek understands this, and asserts that an organized nonviolent resistance to Israeli occupation is the last thing Israelis want. "They know we are working for peace," he says, "and that we are a greater threat to them than Hamas. Hamas allows them a pretext to continue the occupation. We do not."

Several years ago, Israeli Defense Force's chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Moshe Ya'alon, declared his intent to "sear deep into the consciousness of Palestinians that they are a defeated people." Ateek refuses to accept this. Despite the unending violence of the occupation, and despite the attempts of Israel's partisans to obscure the reality of the occupation and demonize anyone who undertakes to expose its brutality, Ateek continues to exhort his fellow Palestinians to nonviolence, and stands both as a definitive retort to Ya'alon's demand that Palestinians submit, and a refutation of the myth of "no partner for peace" among the Palestinian people.
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It's been a while, but in the past I've made note of the use of nonviolent resistance against the Apartheid-like regime currently governing Israel and occupying land belonging to Palestinians. Likening the Israeli system to South Africa's former regime is hardly controversial outside of the US and Israel. Otherwise, I gather, such comparisons hit too close to home. To confront the current human rights situation in Palestine/Israel would require the US intelligentsia to face their own nation's past (including of course the American Holocaust and the on-going treatment of Black and Hispanic Americans). That won't do, hence the necessity of taking pot-shots at those who do note the similarities between the Israeli government's practices and Apartheid. Think back to Jimmy Carter's experience a while back (and during his days as President he was no friend to Palestinians).

But I digress.

What makes someone like Ateek so threatening to the status quo is his steadfast refusal to play the role assigned to him, and in fact vocally exhorts his peers to do likewise. He neither meekly accepts his status as a "defeated" and "inferior" person, nor does he fight the organizational and structural violence perpetrated on him and his peers with violence - although doing so would be understandable given the circumstances. The potential for an organized nonviolent resistance would present the Israeli government and its apologists with a conundrum: violently crack down and risk whatever good will might still be extended to it by the US, or stand down and lose authority. It's damn difficult to frame a resistance movement as "savage" and "terroristic" if its members are refusing to fire a shot. I'm not exactly a pacifist (I do see nonviolence as the preferred route and violent resistance as strictly a last-resort), but see plenty of potential for what Ateek advocates to work. Nonviolent resistance gives its practitioners a moral high ground, in the process placing the practices and policies of their oppressors in sharp relief. One could argue that moral high ground doesn't buy much if you end up six feet under. Indeed, the main reason for shying away from such resistance would be fear of death. However, one could readily counter that oppression kills and that merely accepting oppression will not prevent death, but actually accelerate individual and social death. There is precious little to lose, and so much to be gained.