Forever After

Is Israeli rule of the West Bank really a temporary occupation? As if.

Courtesy Dror Etkes.
Courtesy Dror Etkes The Natuf Shafir quarry. I'd really like to be angry at Dorit Beinisch, the chief justice of the Israeli Supreme Court. On the eve of her retirement, Beinisch abandoned her role of pushing the Israeli government to honor legal restraints in the occupied territories. Instead, in what could be her last major ruling on Israeli actions in the West Bank, she has given a stamp of approval to colonial economic exploitation. But let's put petulance aside. One message of Beinisch's judgment is that judicial resistance can stretch only so far. Even the highest tribunal in the land cannot reverse a national policy as basic as continuing to rule the West Bank. Another message—whether or not Beinisch intended it—is that treating a situation that has lasted 44 years as "temporary" is absurd. The occupation is not an acute disease; it is a chronic one. Beinisch's ruling came in a suit filed three years ago by the Israeli human-rights group Yesh Din, based on the work of land-use...

You're One of the Richest People in the World. You.

CNN Money delivered some startling news yesterday. Reporting on World Bank economist Branko Milanovic's book, "The Haves and the Have-Nots," you are one of the haves. Here's the deal: It only takes $34,000 a year, after taxes, to be among the richest 1% in the world. That's for each person living under the same roof, including children. (So a family of four, for example, needs to make $136,000.) ... In the grand scheme of things, even the poorest 5% of Americans are better off financially than two thirds of the entire world. Do check out the chart : I could be wrong, but I'm guessing that you're in the global one percent, or close to it.

While You Were Out

Yes, more has been happening in the world than the Iowa caucuses. (Am I the only one bored out of my mind by horse-race coverage? Do we really have ten months to go? ) Some other recent news includes: Spain's same-sex-marriage law makes politicians proud : Newly departed Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero says that the ruling he’s most proud of from his nearly eight years in office is the passage of full marriage rights for his gay and lesbian countrymen. The Mexican state of Quintana Roo joined Mexico City, where more than 1,000 same-sex couples have married, and will marry same-sex couples. Thanks, capitalism! Cancun and other resort areas on the Mexican Caribbean will have a new attraction for gay and lesbian couples from the United States, Canada and Europe, allowing them to legalize their unions thanks to a quirk in the local civil code. ... “This market niche ... is very attractive for European, Canadian and American (homosexual) couples,” said the spokesperson...

Jimmy Wales Needs Your Help

Amid concerns over its shrinking editor base, Wikipedia sets out to prove it can survive and expand on small donations.

Robertolyra, Creative Commons license M uch of the Internet's attention the last two months has focused on stopping the various copyright bills being entertained in Congress, but at the same time, Wikipedia has been quietly running its annual fundraising campaign. With awkward banner ads featuring Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, Wikimedia Foundation staffers, and volunteers, the campaign aims to cover Wikimedia's operating budget of $25 million. If working to halt bills like the Stop Online Piracy Act is a defensive move, Wikipedia's fundraising campaign is an offense. Just ten years old, Wikipedia has become a go-to repository of the world's knowledge, pulling in nearly half a billion unique visitors a month—enough to make it one of the top six websites in the world. Its success is improbable. "The problem with Wikipedia," a Wikipedia contributor named Gareth Owen writes , "is that it only works in practice. In theory, it's a total disaster...

Friday Miscellany, Year-End 2011

Herewith a few things to think about before you disappear into 2012: Sweeties. On Wednesday, the Virginian-Pilot ran what I thought was an adorable story about a Navy first. Apparently, when ships come in, someone gets the honor of disembarking for the first official welcome-home kiss with their beloved. It's been three months since the dock landing ship left home for Central America, and all of the usual fanfare is waiting to greet its crew: crowds of cheering families, toddlers dressed in sailor suits, and the lucky, excited woman who's been chosen to take part in a time-honored Navy tradition - the first homecoming kiss. The twist: this was the first time that the Chosen Kisser had a same-sex partner. The two young women involved, who are engaged, are just cute as buttons. The story made me smile. Channeling my great-aunts, when I watched the video, I wanted to pat their pretty heads and wish them a long, happy, healthy life together. But apparently I'm an outlier...

End-of-a-Lifetime Chance

What are the prospects for a unified, nuclear-free Korea?

North Korea declared yesterday that the era of Kim Jong Un, third son of deceased Korean dictator Kim Jong Il, had officially begun. Since state television announced the former leader’s death on Monday (Sunday U.S. time), a group of senior North Korean government officials has stepped in to manage the succession of power, but the country will remain vulnerable as the inexperienced leader tries to maintain the country's precarious position on the world stage. Ironically, North Korea’s vulnerability has for decades contributed to its sustainability, allowing it to play off the anxieties and interests of its neighbors. Even as the region's other powers—Russia, China, South Korea, Japan—wish the intractable North Korea problem would go away, their fear that a collapse would destabilize the region has led them to deal with North Korea with kid gloves. As the country enters a renewed period of uncertainty, tensions between U.S.-allied regional powers and China will likely deepen, in...

The Last King of the Iron Curtain

Socialism was supposed to create a new socialist man—a fellow or gal whose labor was unalienated, who was freed from want, who had time off to read, to fish, to play, to parent. He would be healthier, longer-lived, better educated and wiser than his counterpart under capitalism. To a considerable degree, social democracy (or even its attenuated American cousin, New Deal liberalism) has accomplished some of those goals (higher pay, more time off, widespread education) if not all of them (unalienated labor, widespread wisdom). But what the comrades used to call “true socialism”—that is, communism—not so much. And most certainly, not the creation of a new socialist man. If it had, thousands or millions of citizens in communist countries could be entrusted with the reins of government. Instead, leadership in the few remaining communist countries looks increasingly dynastic. In North Korea, Kim Jong Il has been succeeded by his son, Kim Jong Un, even as Kim Jong Il succeeded his father,...

Language in Exile

As long as we are speaking of cultures that have simmered in exile, let's turn to Tibetans, whose leaders have consulted with Jewish and Israeli leaders about what it takes to keep a diaspora culture alive. One of the answers: keep alive the language. Hebrew was essentially a language on ice, used primarily in religious services but not to communicate, rich with symbolism but lacking words for anything related to post-exile life—until early Zionists performed CPR and turned it into a living vehicle, actually spoken daily (usually very, very quickly and disputatiously) (#joking). Whatever you think about Israel, reviving Hebrew was a remarkable and nation-making feat. It bound a shattered and dispersed set of people back together in linguistic rhythms that were simultaneously foreign and familiar, in distinctive alef-bet characters that were indisputably their own. The political Tibetan community in exile has taken this lesson deeply to heart. Do read this report on a recent conference...

There Goes the Last War Justification

AP Photo/Hadi Mizban
Well, that didn’t take long. One day after the last U.S. troops left Iraq, the nation appears on the brink of reverting to sectarian conflict. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has ordered the arrest of Vice-President Tariq al-Hashemi for allegedly ordering and funding the assassinations of Shiite officials, and asked the parliament to pass a no-confidence vote that would enable him to dismiss Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlak. Both Hashemi and Mutlak are Sunni politicians aligned with the Iraquiya coalition, which is largely made of Sunnis and such secular Shiites as the coalition’s leader, Ayad Allawi. Maliki’s Dawa Party and its allies (including the backers of Moktada al-Sadr) consist largely of more religious Shiites. Maliki has also deployed tanks outside the Green Zone homes of Hashemi and Mutlak. Like a jack-in-the-box, Iraqi’s sectarian divisions popped up the moment American forces took their leave. The sheer speed with which Iraq reverted to its house-divided status makes...

Vaclav Havel on Kim Jong-Il

Via @beingbrina, here is the Velvet Revolutionary's comment on Dear Leader, in the Globe and Mail, 2004.

Good vs. Evil

Former president of the Czech Republic, Vaclav Havel, died Sunday at 75 years of age. AP Photo/Peter David Josek
Vaclav Havel helped to bring down a totalitarian regime; Kim Jong-Il ran one. One was imprisoned repeatedly for refusing to conform to even the smallest of the lies foisted upon him by communism—and in doing so, inspired his fellow citizens to join him in throwing it off. The other, delusional, starved his citizens of food and reality, and leaves them weaker, more desolate, and more in danger than when he found them. One, armed with only his sentences and his moral compass, was drafted to preside over the transition to democracy, an acting job that did not naturally suit the artist in him; despite that ill fit, he helped restore a small, literate, and highly educated country in the heart of Europe, a country that had been successively crushed by two of the 20 th century’s most evil figures, Hitler and Stalin. The other was born into his destructive power and used it to expand the pantheon of smaller evil figures, joining such luminaries of darkness as Pol Pot, Idi Amin, and Muammar...

The Monster Rebels against Its Master

The Israeli government is fine with "breaking the rule of law"—as long as it's state-sanctioned.

The mob numbered about 200 young and angry people. Some had covered their faces. They gathered on a West Bank road near midnight and hurled stones at passing cars. Israeli troops, including the commander of the division in charge of the area and his deputy, rushed to the spot. One of the rioters opened the commander's jeep door and hurled a brick at him. Another shouted, "Nazi" at the deputy commander and hit him with a rock. The rioters finally left. A few minutes later, several dozen of them—mostly teenagers—forced open the gate of a nearby Israeli army base. The sentries failed to stop them. At the parking lot outside the headquarters, they broke car windows and slashed tires. When a squad of soldiers chased them from the base, they blocked the road leading to it. Clashes between the Israeli army and locals in the West Bank aren't a new story. The apparent twist in these incidents, which took place on the night between this Monday and Tuesday, is that the rioters were Israelis—...

Legislative Legerdemain

AP Photo/Yves Logghe
So you think congressional Republicans are the only right-wingers who like to append their pet (and sometimes, wedge) issues—like the Keystone pipeline—to must-pass legislation like the payroll tax-cut extension? Guess again—it looks to be a trans-Atlantic syndrome. Turns out that David Cameron, Britain’s Tory prime minister, went to Brussels for the EU summit last week with exactly the same strategy. As the heads of government of the other 26 member states debated German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s proposal to regulate national budgets more tightly (itself a wildly irrelevant idea to the crisis of Greek, Italian and Spanish solvency, but that’s another story, which I wrote about in today’s Post ), Cameron cleared his throat and proposed a series of measures designed to protect the City—the London-based banks that dominate the British economy and helped bring about the crash of 2008. Cameron was operating under the theory that the Germans and the French so desperately needed unanimous...

Conflict's Resolution

The end of the Iraq War marks a victory for progressives, but tough work lies ahead.

Earlier this week, President Barack Obama stood with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in the South Court Auditorium of the White House to announce that “ a war is ending .” Two days later, the president visited Fort Bragg to offer an encomium to post-9/11 veterans. “Your service belongs to the ages,” he told the assembled troops. By the end of the year, all U.S. combat troops in Iraq will have slipped across the border into Kuwait, and America’s war in Iraq will be over. The president’s political staff carefully crafted the public-relations campaign around the war’s end. The issue, after all, is a political IED. Obama had to take credit for keeping a campaign promise while avoiding the appearance of enjoying a political victory lap among the ashes of a war that cost 4,483 American lives. The president also had to avoid portraying the end of the war in any way that conjures memories of George W. Bush’s fatefully premature victory ceremony in 2003—the now-infamous display of hubris...

My "Friend" Is Travelling with Me

Following up on Hillary Clinton's announcement last week that foreign aid would be tied in part to nations' LGBT rights records, the Christian Science Monitor took a look at the state of those rights across Africa, reporting that almost all 54 countries criminalize homosexuality. (Notable holdouts are South Africa and Rwanda, which have had their own brushes with legal hatred, even if they're not necessarily welcoming on the ground.) Homos, check out the map before you travel— "or should I say, before you ask for just one double bed for you and your "friend."