Friday, January 1, 2016

Palestinian-American Activist Lina Allan Lambasts People who Prohibit Stabbing of Jews by Palestinians.

The World According to Russia. By Jeffrey Tayler.

Vladimir Putin at his end-of-the-year news conference in Moscow. Maxim Smeyev/Reuters.

The World According to Russia. By Jeffrey Tayler. The Atlantic, December 30, 2015.

Vladimir Putin’s Annual News Conference., December 17, 2015. YouTube, YouTube with English translation.


A documentary on state television gives a glimpse of Vladimir Putin’s philosophy.

“Do you realize what you have done?” Vladimir Putin demanded at the United Nations in September. The question was a rebuke to the American-led bloc of countries that initially viewed with optimism the Arab Spring, which began five years ago this month, but has since given way to chaos and Islamist violence across once-stable parts of the Middle East and North Africa. Those events, and much else, look different when viewed from Russia than they do from the United States, and a documentary that aired recently on Russian state television helps explain the worldview behind Putin’s question.

The two-hour-plus film, Miroporyadok (World Order), explores, in the words of its narrator Vladimir Solovyov, “what is happening with us [Russians], what sort of world we have inherited from our parents, and what sort of world we will leave to our children.” Partly through interviews with the Russian president himself, it also offers a window on Putin’s own realpolitik perspective, one that I’ve found to be widely shared throughout Russia over many years of living in the country—a worldview according to which international relations consist of competing blocs of nations pursuing their interests, and the violation of sovereignty is a recipe for instability. This stands in contrast to Obama’s own position, which he stated at the UN two years ago, that “sovereignty cannot be a shield for tyrants to commit wanton murder, or an excuse for the international community to turn a blind eye to slaughter.”

“I believe,” Putin tells Solovyov, “that no one should ever impose any sort of values he considers correct on anyone. We have our own values, our own conceptions of justice.” Putin doesn’t name names here, but the implication is clear throughout: World Order endeavors to incriminate American foreign policy and place the blame for the current chaos in the Middle East on the United States. The film’s anti-Americanism is subtle but relentless, and the spin comes mostly from omission of relevant facts. And though it originated within the Russian state propaganda machine, some of its criticisms of wrongheaded U.S. policies and blundering interventions in the Middle East since September 11, 2001, would give American liberals, centrists, and even a few conservatives little cause for dispute. Yet the documentary goes further, leaving the strong impression that greedy, bungling, incorrigibly myopic conspirators “from across the ocean” (a phrase Putin uses repeatedly in the film to describe the U.S. leadership) bent on world domination are to blame; Russia comes off as unjustly demonized and Russians themselves forced to suffer economically as a result. 

The last point is not stated, but is implied, and gives another clue about how the world looks from Russia. For Russians, to a degree unthinkable in the United States, foreign policy is also domestic policy, not least because their Near Abroad includes Ukraine, with which their ties of blood, history, and culture remain intimate. And thanks to multiple invasions of Russia during the 19th and 20th centuries, a preoccupation with national security and national pride figure strongly in Russian politics, with the possibility of war not at all remote. A philosophy of realpolitik—and not, say, values promotion—would come naturally under the circumstances.

Indeed, as the film tells it, the root of all international evils is the American penchant for democracy-spreading, both subtle (via U.S. support for “color revolutions” in the post-Soviet sphere) and overt (as in overthrowing Saddam Hussein). Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov declares that the Arab Spring was fomented from abroad, disregarding the Middle Eastern region’s widespread popular discontent with official corruption, political stasis, and lack of job opportunities. The United States intervenes despite bitter experience within living memory; the American director Oliver Stone appears onscreen to tell viewers that “America didn’t learn the lesson of Vietnam, which is you shouldn’t go around invading other countries.”

But Putin denies chiding Obama directly at the UN for the consequences of the Arab Spring. “I wasn’t saying this [to President Obama]” Putin tells Solovyov, but to the constellation of leaders, both American and European, who have been meddling in Muslim lands since 2001. “I have always been telling [these leaders] that they have to act carefully. It’s wrong to impose one’s scheme ... of ideas concerning good and evil, or in this case, good and democracy,” on countries “with differing cultures, a different religion, with other traditions. But frankly, no one listens, because they apparently consider themselves infallible and great.”  No one, he adds, holds those leaders accountable, whatever the outcome. When an “operation” produces the wrong results, Putin says, the (again, unnamed) leaders in question just say, “Oh well. Next!” After all, “They’re great and sitting across the ocean, the dollar is the world’s currency, they have the biggest economy in the world.”

The “operations” to which Putin refers include, of course, the 2003 Iraq war, which Russia, France, and Germany opposed. Then-French President Jacques Chiraq, Putin claims, even foresaw that terrorist attacks in Europe, resembling those that occurred in Paris this year, could grow out of the anarchy that would result from Saddam’s overthrow. Another is the imposition of a no-fly zone over Libya in 2011 (to prevent the regime from using its air force to stage a massacre—a fact that goes unmentioned). The film replays video of then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s remark, delivered with a callous laugh, about Libyan strongman Muammar Qaddafi’s subsequent death—“We came, we saw, he died!”—followed by footage of the tyrant’s brutal murder, which drives home the real-life consequences of the intervention and its bloody aftermath. (Eerily, the film also shows Qaddafi addressing Arab leaders at a 2011 Arab League summit, and asking, after Saddam Hussein’s execution, “Who among you is next?”)

The Wikileaks founder Julian Assange also makes an appearance, citing cables revealing U.S. efforts to undermine the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad—though American officials continue to maintain that Assad must go eventually, the cables in question most likely concern Wikileaks revelations made in 2006. The film shows Syrians lamenting the chaos the presumably American-backed terrorists have unleashed. No mention is made of Assad’s murderous crackdown on the demonstrations that set off the revolt, or of the barrel bombs deployed against civilians to this day at great cost to civilian life, or of the U.S. air campaign against ISIS.

But the message of World Order, as the title implies, extends geographically wider and historically further back than America’s post-September 11 policies in the Middle East. As the film, and presumably Putin, have it, the real problem today is not the rise of ISIS but the breakdown in relations between Russia and the West. A key cause of this conflict has been the eastward expansion of NATO since the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, which has brought with it the stationing of troops on Russia’s border with the Baltics, plans to one day admit Ukraine (and Georgia), and, as an eventual result, Russia’s intervention in Ukraine.

“Why did [the West] support the coup?” Putin asks, using his term for the uprisings that brought the ouster of then-Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych in 2014. He cites Western fears that Russia was trying to recreate the Soviet Union. “I think many of our partners see they made a mistake, but just don’t want to admit it. They took advantage of popular discontent not just with Yanukovych, but going back to independence. ... Does anyone think things are better there now?”

Few would dispute Putin’s damning description of Ukraine’s post-Maidan straits: “The standard of living has fallen catastrophically. ... What have they gotten in return? Possibly [Ukrainians] will be allowed to travel to Europe without a visa. And possibly not.” 

But Putin emphasizes that he does not blame Europeans for the policies of the United States, since, in his view, they are nothing more than “vassals” taking orders “from across the ocean,” at least as far as foreign policy goes. He surely understands the relationship to be more complicated than that, but such an approach places the blame for standoff between Russia and the West on America, and lets him makes a direct overture to Europe. “We don’t expect our European partners to give up their Euro-Atlantic orientation” but they would do well to “unite with Russia” to resolve “economic, political, security, and economic problems. ... We are ready to work with them and aren’t about to pout about the sanctions,” he says.

Significantly, though he never rules out cooperation, Putin makes no such overture to the United States. Rather, the film closes with Solovyov asking him the question used to tease viewers in the intro: Will there be war—World War III, in particular?

Probably not, Putin responds, as long as no crazy individual decides to use nuclear weapons and start it. But just in case, “Russia will continue perfecting its [nuclear] weapons. The nuclear triad forms the basis of our security policy. We have never brandished our nuclear bludgeon, and never will, but it retains its proper place and role in our military doctrine.”

The upshot, according to World Order: Putin considers possible a renewed relationship with Europe, but sees no such likelihood with the United States. This is one area where the views from Washington and Moscow aren’t so different—and that is bad news.

Israel’s Future. By Cal Thomas.

In Israel, the More Things Change. . . . By Cal Thomas., December 3, 2015. Also at Tribune Content Agency,, NewsBustersWichita Eagle.


JERUSALEM — More than a decade after my 19th trip to Israel and the Middle East, this 20th visit shows how some things have changed, but the important ones remain the same.

What one notices first is the large amount of new construction, which suggests a certain Israeli permanency against religious opposition, hatred and threats of annihilation perhaps no other country has had to endure. Second are the many prosperous Arab neighborhoods, which defies much of the propaganda broadcast to the world about how Israelis mistreat Arabs and Muslims, locking them in poverty.

About half an hour’s drive from Jerusalem, I visit a plant that makes air-conditioning parts. Moshe Lev-Ran, the international manager, who bears a slight resemblance to actor Lorne Greene of the old “Bonanza” TV series, employs Jews and Muslims who he says work together without any problems. Lev-Ran, who says he believes in equal pay for all, thinks prosperity is the key to peace in the region. He admits to a “left hand” (liberal) worldview and given the periodic outbursts of violence by some who are better off than they were before the “occupation,” he is likely engaging in wishful thinking that money is the key to peace.

It seems that everyone in Israel has either a solution to the conflict, or a suggestion for better communicating Israel’s position to the world. Martin Sherman, executive director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies, thinks the government spends too little — a fraction of 1 percent on public diplomacy — allowing Israel’s detractors to dominate in the propaganda war.

Sherman would offer generous economic incentives to Palestinian Arabs to emigrate and seek a better life elsewhere, preserving the Jewishness of the Jewish state. Under his proposal, those who refuse to leave would see their services reduced, including electricity and water, which he sees as morally justifiable, since Israel should have no obligation to sustain its enemies.

He opposes the creation of a Palestinian state and thinks the rest of the world should, too. “Why would the world accept another state that is misogynist and homophobic?” he asks, adding, “Jews must realize that between the (Jordan) River and the (Mediterranean) Sea there will be either Jewish or Muslim sovereignty.

To create a Palestinian state next to Israel, says Sherman, would lead to the Lebanonization or balkanization of Israel. “There is no way Muslim Arabs will accept a Jewish state.” Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has said as much.

Geography and demography are the central concerns of most Israelis. A trip to a mountaintop near the Israeli settlement of Barkan in the West Bank provides a dramatic view of “the three seas,” the Mediterranean, Sea of Galilee and Dead Sea. This vantage point, within view of Ben Gurion Airport, illustrates just how vulnerable Israel would be to terrorist rockets. Think Gaza times two. As the saying goes, “Israel is a small country,” a truth that shocks many first-time visitors.

The Obama administration has asked both Israelis and Palestinians to “tone down” the rhetoric that feeds the violence in Israel. It is unlikely that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will comply. Palestinian hatred of Jews permeates every facet of society and it starts early. According to Palestinian Media Watch, an Israeli research institute studying Palestinian society, Palestinian textbooks, for example, “make no attempt to educate for peace or coexistence with Israel. Instead Israel’s right to exist is adamantly denied and the Palestinian war against Israel is presented as an eternal religious battle for Islam.”

Western governments must remove their blinders and support Israel’s attempt to curtail and conquer this virus, not only for Israel’s sake, but out of self-interest, because a strain of it is already spreading to Europe and America.

America’s Self-Destructive Whites. By Fareed Zakaria.

America’s self-destructive whites. By Fareed Zakaria. Washington Post, December 31, 2015.


Why is Middle America killing itself? The fact itself is probably the most important social science finding in years. It is already reshaping American politics. The Post’s Jeff Guo notes that the people who make up this cohort are “largely responsible for Donald Trump’s lead in the race for the Republican nomination for president.” The key question is why, and exploring it provides answers that suggest that the rage dominating U.S. politics will only get worse.

For decades, people in rich countries have lived longer. But in a well-known paper, economists Angus Deaton and Anne Case found that over the past 15 years, one group — middle-age whites in the United States — constitutes an alarming trend. They are dying in increasing numbers. And things look much worse for those with just a high school diploma or less. There are concerns about the calculations, but even a leading critic of the paper has acknowledged that, however measured, “the change compared to other countries and groups is huge.”

The main causes of death are as striking as the fact itself: suicide, alcoholism, and overdoses of prescription and illegal drugs. “People seem to be killing themselves, slowly or quickly,” Deaton told me. These circumstances are usually caused by stress, depression and despair. The only comparable spike in deaths in an industrialized country took place among Russian males after the collapse of the Soviet Union, when rates of alcoholism skyrocketed.

A conventional explanation for this middle-class stress and anxiety is that globalization and technological change have placed increasing pressures on the average worker in industrialized nations. But the trend is absent in any other Western country — it’s an exclusively American phenomenon. And the United States is actually relatively insulated from the pressures of globalization, having a vast, self-contained internal market. Trade makes up only 23 percent of the U.S. economy, compared with 71 percent in Germany and 45 percent in France.

Deaton speculated to me that perhaps Europe’s more generous welfare state might ease some of the fears associated with the rapid change. Certainly he believes that in the United States, doctors and drug companies are far too eager to deal with physical and psychological pain by prescribing drugs, including powerful and addictive opioids. The introduction of drugs such as Oxycontin, a heroin-like prescription painkiller, coincides with the rise in deaths.

But why don’t we see the trend among other American ethnic groups? While mortality rates for middle-age whites have stayed flat or risen, the rates for Hispanics and blacks have continued to decline significantly. These groups live in the same country and face greater economic pressures than whites. Why are they not in similar despair?

The answer might lie in expectations. Princeton anthropologist Carolyn Rouse suggested, in an email exchange, that other groups might not expect that their income, standard of living and social status are destined to steadily improve. They don’t have the same confidence that if they work hard, they will surely get ahead. In fact, Rouse said that after hundreds of years of slavery, segregation and racism, blacks have developed ways to cope with disappointment and the unfairness of life: through family, art, protest speech and, above all, religion.

“You have been the veterans of creative suffering,” Martin Luther King Jr. told African Americans in his “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963: “Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive.” Writing in 1960, King explained the issue in personal terms: “As my sufferings mounted I soon realized that there were two ways that I could respond to my situation: either to react with bitterness or seek to transform the suffering into a creative force. ... So like the Apostle Paul I can now humbly yet proudly say, I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus. The Hispanic and immigrant experiences in the United States are different, of course. But again, few in these groups have believed that their place in society is assured. Minorities, by definition, are on the margins. They do not assume that the system is set up for them. They try hard and hope to succeed, but they do not expect it as the norm.

The United States is going through a great power shift. Working-class whites don’t think of themselves as an elite group. But, in a sense, they have been, certainly compared with blacks, Hispanics, Native Americans and most immigrants. They were central to America’s economy, its society, indeed its very identity. They are not anymore. Donald Trump has promised that he will change this and make them win again. But he can’t. No one can. And deep down, they know it.