'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

A Different Perspective on the Occupation 

In light of the President's speech tonight about the purported cessation of hostilities in Iraq, it might be worthwhile to consider the following:

The great number of Iraqi children affected by post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is one of the saddest, and least known, legacies of the Iraq war.

That a new clinic for their treatment — opened last August in Baghdad — is the first of its kind says a lot about how this problem is being addressed.

Dr. Haider Maliki and his team at the Central Pediatric Teaching Hospital in Baghdad have treated hundreds of children suffering from PTSD. Hundreds of thousands remain untreated.

Dr. Maliki, who is the only child psychiatrist in the entire country working at a government hospital, hasn’t even been trained as a child psychiatrist. He only took up the position when he saw the tremendous needs for that kind of professional in the country. It is well-known that children are particularly vulnerable to stress, violence and displacement.

Hardly a week still passes by in Iraq without renewed signs of violence that leave both children and adults with permanent mental scars. Dr. Haithi Al Sady, the dean of the Psychological Research Center at Baghdad University, has been studying the effects of PTSD in Iraqi children.

According to him, 28% of Iraqi children suffer some degree of PTSD, and their numbers are steadily rising. It is easy to see children’s psychological status being affected by daily explosions, killings, abductions, threatening noises and turmoil in Iraq’s main cities.

PSTD manifests itself in the following ways:

PTSD can cause many symptoms. These symptoms can be grouped into three categories:

1. Re-experiencing symptoms:

-Flashbacks—reliving the trauma over and over, including physical symptoms like a racing heart or sweating

-Bad dreams

-Frightening thoughts.

Re-experiencing symptoms may cause problems in a person’s everyday routine. They can start from the person’s own thoughts and feelings. Words, objects, or situations that are reminders of the event can also trigger re-experiencing.

2. Avoidance symptoms:

-Staying away from places, events, or objects that are reminders of the experience

-Feeling emotionally numb

-Feeling strong guilt, depression, or worry

-Losing interest in activities that were enjoyable in the past

-Having trouble remembering the dangerous event.

Things that remind a person of the traumatic event can trigger avoidance symptoms. These symptoms may cause a person to change his or her personal routine. For example, after a bad car accident, a person who usually drives may avoid driving or riding in a car.

3. Hyperarousal symptoms:

-Being easily startled

-Feeling tense or on edge

-Having difficulty sleeping, and/or having angry outbursts.

Hyperarousal symptoms are usually constant, instead of being triggered by things that remind one of the traumatic event. They can make the person feel stressed and angry. These symptoms may make it hard to do daily tasks, such as sleeping, eating, or concentrating.

It’s natural to have some of these symptoms after a dangerous event. Sometimes people have very serious symptoms that go away after a few weeks. This is called acute stress disorder, or ASD. When the symptoms last more than a few weeks and become an ongoing problem, they might be PTSD. Some people with PTSD don’t show any symptoms for weeks or months.

Children and teens can exhibit PSTD symptoms in ways different than adults:

Children and teens can have extreme reactions to trauma, but their symptoms may not be the same as adults.

In very young children, these symptoms can include:

-Bedwetting, when they’d learned how to use the toilet before

-Forgetting how or being unable to talk

-Acting out the scary event during playtime

-Being unusually clingy with a parent or other adult.

Older children and teens usually show symptoms more like those seen in adults. They may also develop disruptive, disrespectful, or destructive behaviors. Older children and teens may feel guilty for not preventing injury or deaths. They may also have thoughts of revenge.

Beyond this, the experience of trauma resulting in PSTD may also permanently impair a young person's development:

Victor Carrion and other researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine and Lucile Packard Children's Hospital, US, studied 15 children from ages 7 to 13 suffering from PTSD, according to the science portal EurekAlert.

This type of developmental trauma often impairs the child's ability to reach social, emotional and academic milestones. The researchers measured the volume of the hippocampus - part of brain important in memory processing and emotions - at the beginning and end of the 12- to 18-month study period.

After correcting for gender and for physiological maturity, they found that children with PSTD and high levels of the stress hormone cortisol were likely to experience a decrease in the size of the hippocampus.

Although similar effects have been seen in animal studies, this is the first time the findings have been replicated in children. The researchers focused on kids in extreme situations to better understand how stress affects brain development.

We're not talking about the stress of doing your homework or fighting with your dad, Carrion said, We're talking about traumatic stress. These kids feel like they're stuck in the middle of a street with a truck barrelling down at them.

And, yet, it has been reported that the President said that the Iraqis should be grateful for the efforts of US troops to pacify the country. If true, it is among the most mendacious statements that he has ever made.

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Monday, August 30, 2010

Sleeper Cells (Part 4) 

From the New York Times:

On Sunday, one day after a fire at the site of a planned Islamic center and mosque in the Nashville suburb of Murfreesboro, Muslim community members reported hearing gunshots as they inspected the damage.

Saleh Sbenaty, an engineering professor at Middle Tennessee State University who is on the the Islamic center’s planning committee, told The Daily News Journal of Murfreesboro that nine shots, in two volleys, were fired near the property while he and female family members looked at construction equipment burned in the fire. Mr. Sbenaty, who has lived in Tennessee for three decades, said, It was nothing like a hunting rifle.

If the religious right campaign of demonization of Muslims continues, the next Baruch Goldstein won't be traveling to Israel to perpetrate his crimes. And, he probably won't be Jewish, either. It is impossible to overstate the severity of this situation. We are close to the eruption of pogroms against Muslims in this country. It remains to be seen whether there will be a sufficient backlash to prevent it.

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Saturday, August 28, 2010

Save Modern Times! (Part 2) 

Mike provides us a first hand observation of how the struggle of Modern Times Bookstore to survive is part of a larger process of economic distress in the Mission District in San Francisco:

I live a few blocks away from Modern Times. The neighborhood is definitely continuing to take a hit. I was in San Diego for roughly seven weeks earlier in the summer. When I came back, I counted six businesses in the area that had gone under since I left. These were in addition to all the others that have closed in roughly the last two years.

Generally, they are being replaced by restaurants that to me seem unaffordable in a new way. By that, I mean they cater to a whole new crop of people coming in to take advantage of the downturn. The number of condos is slowly increasing. I guess people will live in these hideous monstrosities and eat in these new restaurants.

There is no doubt in my mind that this area has finally tipped toward yuppies, hipsters, the dot-com people, whatever you want to call them. This economy has pushed so many people out and has slowly replaced them pure consumers who seem to have no attachments beyond their wallets. The plight of Modern Times is no exception. It is just one of many businesses that are struggling to exist in a neighborhood and a city that are increasingly difficult to survive in.

Pure consumers who seem to have no attachments beyond their wallets. Yes, this is a fair assessment of what San Francisco, and much of the Bay Area, have become. Of course, one could say that such people have always dominated the social life of the region, and, perhaps, they have, but never to this extent. While the wealthy, and their obssessions of conspicuous consumption, have always been a prominent feature, there were places for middle income, lower middle income and even low income people to live there.

Now, with the current restructuring of the global economy, this diversity, and the cultural richness that was associated with it, is being lost. Large sections of San Francisco and the East Bay have become indistinguishable from similarly wealthy neighborhoods elsewhere, with the exception of the local architecture and the landscape. Within the City itself, homes in the Avenues, neighborhoods to the north and south of Golden Gate Park, often fog bound during the summer, once a middle class redoubt and a destination for Russian and Asian immigrants, sell for about $800 to $1000 a square foot as far out as 43rd Avenue and Balboa near the ocean. Meanwhile, as observed by Mike, an inexorable process of gentrification is coming to a conclusion in the Mission, after being being stalled by decades of admirable community resistance.

Interestingly, the period that commenced after the collapse of the global financial system in 2008, the period in which we still live, appears to have ignited a new wave of gentrification in the coastal areas of the US analoguous to the one that began in the mid-1990s when the US finally began to emerge from 6 or 7 years of economic stagnation. Growth in the technology and biotechnology sectors, heavily concentrated in the Bay Area, transformed some neighborhoods virtually overnight, as it did, for example, the Dimond District in the East Bay hills of Oakland. Stock option yuppies discovered them and rapidly bid up home prices within a matter of weeks.

In this instance, the transformation is taking place more slowly, in a more grinding fashion, as people and small businesses try to outlast the downturn. But, in the end, the remaining bastions of economic and cultural diversity in San Francisco and the East Bay are likely to be much fewer and much smaller than they were after the last burst of gentification, with a new homogeneity ascendant. As for the low income people required for service work, they will live here, segregated from the people who need them, although their mobility will result in some disturbing episodes of violence.

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Thursday, August 26, 2010

Sleeper Cells (Part 3.5) 

UPDATE 2: More than 250 people cheered when the city of Mayfield, Kentucky denied a Somali group’s petition for a mosque.

Here's one local response:

I live in mayfield, Ky. where the proposed mosque was turned down. I am glad it was turned down! No one should critize us until you have lived here with these somalis, I have witnessed first hand their rude and disrespectful behavior toward the women here not just their women! You should also know that a somali was arrested here today for kidnapping, he tried to force a 12 year old girl into his car he is in jail as we speak. Just because they rape at will in their country they think it is ok to do so here, it is their religion to discipline women as they see fit. Their religion is not a peaceful religion. I wish they would all go back where they came from. They have cussed out utility workers and anyone who might cross them. So whoever said shame on us for not letting them worship, and that their door was open anytime for them, be careful what you wish for, you just might get 150 of them at your door, I sure wouldnt want that.


I feel like I belong here, (like) I was born here. I've been here for a long, long time, he said. This city must be safe for everyone...All color, races, all religions. Everyone. We live here side by side, peacefully. Lovely.

But this is precisely the problem. The people opposing the mosques don't want to live side by side with Muslims, anymore than earlier generations wanted to live around Native Americans, African Americans, Latinos and Asians.

INITIAL POST: From Democracy Now!:

Ahmed Sharif picked up a passenger who hailed him at 24th Street and Second Avenue, and he was going toward Times Square. And, you know, the ride started out very smoothly. I mean, the man said, As-salaam Alaikum. And then, you know, he started asking questions: Where are you from? How long have you been here? How long have you been driving? Are you a Muslim? And then he asked him questions about Ramadan: Are you fasting? And then his questions about Ramadan were very disrespectful, and he started to mock, you know, the holy month. And at that point, Mr. Sharif just stopped talking to him. He realized something was up. He started just concentrating on the driving.

So, on Third Avenue, about 39th to 40th Streets, all of a sudden, after being quiet, the perpetrator got very loud, and he started screaming and started cursing at Mr. Sharif. And he said to him—you know, he said to him, Salaam Alaikum. Consider this a checkpoint. And Mr. Sharif was like, Checkpoint? You know, what do you mean, checkpoint? He said, Consider this a checkpoint. I need to bring Abdullah through the checkpoint. And then he took the knife out, and through the crack in the partition window, Mr. Sharif could see that, you know, he went to cut him across the neck.

So half of his neck is completely cut up. And as he tried to fight him off, he also has defensive wounds on his hand and on his shoulder. And the cut on his shoulder is extremely deep. And he has also one more wound on his face, on his upper lip. So, he’s bleeding profusely.

The assailant got out. He started running. Mr. Sharif was just screaming, Help! Help! Help! And then, you know, the car was moving slowly, and he kept moving the car. About two blocks later, he saw a police officer around 42nd Street and Third Avenue. He got out, and he told the police—and he’s bleeding. He told the police officer, Stop that man. He stabbed me. When the police officer caught him, he said, What happened here? And this guy said, I was trying to rob him. Mr. Sharif said, No, he wasn’t trying to rob me. You know, he said all of these hateful things to me about being Muslim, and that basically he wanted to teach him a lesson. And so, then the police were able to apprehend him, and they took him in at that point.

When I talked to Ahmed, you know, when he was still in his hospital bed, when we first saw him, you know, he couldn’t speak. When he was able to speak and I was able to talk to him, the first thing he said to me was we have to get the message out, because we can’t let this escalate, drivers need to protect themselves. He said the environment right now is very serious. There is no doubt in our minds that the fear mongering and the ignorance and the hatred that has been spewing around this Islamic cultural center—which has erroneously been called the Ground Zero mosque—we have no doubt that it’s that hatred that’s risen to the surface and that’s led to this violence.

The clock is ticking. Will people come together to resist the intensification of the demonization of Muslims in the US before it is too late?

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Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Sleeper Cells (Part 3) 

Assalamu alaikum — consider this a checkpoint!

No Temple for the God of terrorism at Ground Zero. ANB

A small explosion occurred about 9:35 p.m., just after the man was seen outside the mosque.

The vandals also cut a pipe, allegedly thinking that it was a natural gas line.

Back in the day, I participated in clinic defense in Davis and Sacramento when the religious right targeted clinics that provided abortion and birth control services. There was an arson of a clinic across from McKinley Park in East Sacramento. But that was mild compared to what happened elsewhere. Throughout much of the late 1980s and early 1990s, there was a concerted campaign of anonymous threats and violence directed towards driving abortion clinics out of much of the country, and the perpetrators succeeded.

Now we are reliving the same experience, except that this time, Muslims are the target of the religious right. Just as its previous participants concluded that reproductive rights services could be eliminated by threatening the employees of such facilities and vandalizing them, the current generation is focusing upon mosques as a means of pursuing the goal of driving Muslims out of their communities. The methodology is a common one on the right, the populist instigation, with the the mainstream media serving as a megaphone, of factually unconnected acts of violence and intimidation in the service of a broader effort to prevail through fear.

Accordingly, in this instance, the media characterizes it primarily as a conflict in various places around the country over the construction of new mosques, a zoning dispute, as it were, with the so-called Ground Zero Mosque being the most highly publicized instance. But the question posed in relation to the proposed Islamic community center in New York City, how far away from Ground Zero is acceptable, get to the heart of the matter, because the answer is increasingly outside the United States, as opposition to two other mosques in the greater New York City region, as well as the eruption of opposition to mosque projects in other parts of the country, indicates.

So, through a combination of religious right intimidation and media hyperbole, the Islamic community center has already been reduced to the status of an the architectural equivalent of a Guantanamo detainee. Upon release, the US finds it difficult to find any country, including the detainees' country of origin, willing to accept them, and there is no location within the city in which the proponents of the community center can seek to construct it without vehement opposition. By concentrating on the conflict in Manhatten in the Hearst tradition, the media has participated in the intensification of more hostility towards Muslims even as it fails to connect the opposition to new mosque construction with the nascent effort to get rid of existing ones.

Hence, for the larger public, an emerging nativist campaign, reminiscent of the ones that resulted in the forced deportion of Latinos in 1930s and the subsequent internment of Japanese Americans in the 1940s, remains largely unrecognized, allowing its religious right participants to manipulate populist sentiment to generate more support while ensuring that only the targets of its effort, Muslims, know their true intention. In fact, when one combines the opposition to new mosques with the vandalism directed towards existing ones, it becomes evident that the campaign can be summarized with the slogan Get Rid of the Muslims by Getting Rid of the Mosques. As the attack upon the taxi driver today suggests, we may be about to enter a more violent phase marked by random assaults upon Muslims consistent with the dramatic increase in hate crimes against them after 9/11.

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Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Legacy of Marla Ruzicka (Part 2) 

For my initial post on the subject of politically expedient NGOs and the WikiLeaks release, go here. A lingering issue has been the extent to which WikiLeaks endangered people in Afghanistan by releasing the records without checking with the Pentagon. This was a central assumption of six NGOs, Amnesty International, CIVIC, the Open Society Institute, the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, the Kabul office of the International Crisis Group, and Reporters Without Borders, who criticized wikileaks for the release.

Turns out that WikiLeaks did offer to allow the Pentagon to identify the names of individuals who might have been at risk if their names were not edited out of the documents it subsequently released, as it is doing again now. Why is the Pentagon being so obstinate, when it has embraced previous requests by the mainstream media? Could it possibly be because the Pentagon wants to prosecute WikiLeaks for encouraging the theft of classified government documents, and any such prosecution would be impaired, perhaps, fatally so, by treating WikiLeaks the same as media organizations who have a constitutional right to release such records? In light of this, is there any chance that the six NGOs who sided with the Pentagon will now publicly repudiate their action? Didn't think so.

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Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Masque of the Red Death (Part 3) 

The imposition of austerity measures in Greece has resulted in an economic catastrophe:


The government's draconian austerity measures have managed to reduce the country's budget deficit by an almost unbelievable 39.7 percent, after previous governments had squandered tax money and falsified statistics for years. The measures have reduced government spending by a total of 10 percent, 4.5 percent more than the EU and International Monetary Fund (IMF) had required.

The problem is that the austerity measures have in the meantime affected every aspect of the country's economy. Purchasing power is dropping, consumption is taking a nosedive and the number of bankruptcies and unemployed are on the rise. The country's gross domestic product shrank by 1.5 percent in the second quarter of this year. Tax revenue, desperately needed in order to consolidate the national finances, has dropped off. A mixture of fear, hopelessness and anger is brewing in Greek society.


Prime Minister George Papandreou's austerity package has seriously shaken the Greek economy. The package included reducing civil servants' salaries by up to 20 percent and slashing retirement benefits, while raising numerous taxes. The result is that Greeks have less and less money to spend and sales figures everywhere are dropping, spelling catastrophe for a country where 70 percent of economic output is based on private consumption.

A short jaunt through Athens' shopping streets reveals the scale of the decline. Fully a quarter of the store windows on Stadiou Street bear red signs reading Enoikiazetai -- for rent. The National Confederation of Hellenic Commerce (ESEE) calculates that 17 percent of all shops in Athens have had to file for bankruptcy.

Things aren't any better in the smaller towns. Chalkidona was, until just a few years ago, a hub for trucking traffic in the area around Thessaloniki. Two main streets, lined with fast food restaurants and stores catering to truckers, intersect in the small, dismal town. Maria Lialiambidou's house sits directly on the main trucking route. Rent from a pastry shop on the ground floor of the building used to provide her with €350 per month, an amount that helped considerably in supplementing her widow's pension of €320.

These days, though, Kostas, the man who ran the pastry shop, who people used to call a penny-pincher, can no longer afford the rent. Here too, a huge Enoikiazetai banner stretches across the shopfront. No one wants to rent the store. Neither are there any takers for an empty butcher's shop a few meters further on.

A sign on the other side of the street advertises Sakis' Restaurant. The owner, Sakis, is still hanging on, with customers filling one or two of the restaurant's tables now and then. There's really no work for me here anymore, says one Albanian employee, who goes by the name Eleni in Greece. Many others have already gone back to Albania, where it's not any worse than here. We'll see when I have to go too.

As the author of the article, Corinna Jessen, concludes: The entire country is in the grip of a depression. Not surprisingly, the suicide rate has increased significantly:

According to Aris Violatzis of the NGO Klimaka, the number of suicides have doubled if not tripled over the past year. Violatzis said the rate had increased to more than two suicides per day this year, as compared to one per day in 2009. And these are just the suicides that are recorded, Violatzis said, adding that the real number was likely to be higher as the stigma attached to suicide means they are often not reported.

Klimaka, which operates the 1018 telephone helpline, said it was receiving around 25 calls a day, compared to an average of 10 per day last year. Asked whether the spike in suicides was linked to the financial crisis, Violatzis said he believed it was a contributing factor. Suicide is a multifaceted phenomenon – we cannot link it exclusively to the crisis, he said, noting however that the environment influences our actions. As for the profile of most victims, Klimaka said they are chiefly productive people with responsibilities, financial obligations, families, loans. According to Violatzis, many of the victims are men who are no longer earning enough money to provide for their families and feel they no longer have a role to play – people who are going through an identity crisis. There are also many who take their lives due to deep-seated psychological problems or depression, he added.

For an example of this gruesome phenomenon, consider:

The tragic news was published in a local newspaper of the city of Volos (original article in Greek here) on July 23d, a few days before the strike. According to the article the 67-year old, who had been working as a truck driver for four decades, had tried to sell his truck recently without luck. Early on the morning of July 22nd he hanged himself off a bridge crossing over a motorway, where he was later found by passers-by.

Perhaps, you aren't that concerned about what is happening in Greece. It is a small, faraway place that rarely intrudes into our consciousness. But, then again, maybe you should be. Because there is no certainty that the plague has been contained within Greece. Despite the efforts of our Prince Prospero, President Obama, to protect ourselves from it, the global economy remains sickly:

From the previous quarter, Japan grew 0.1 percent, the slowest expansion among the six biggest economies. The U.S. grew 0.6 percent, the U.K. 1.1 percent, Germany 2.2 percent and France 0.6 percent. While China doesn’t release quarter-on- quarter GDP figures, it expanded 10.3 percent from a year ago.

None of the world's largest economies, with the exception of China, are generating sufficient growth to reduce unemployment. Of course, China, as a developing country, should have a substantially higher growth rate, and even it may now have a growth rate lower than the 10% to 14% range that has characterized peak performance in recent years. While subject to debate, there has been a general consensus that China requires growth rates higher than the more mature economies that have been accepted as members in the Organization for Economic Development and Cooperation, somewhere north of 6%. Finally, observe that the previous quarter, the spring quarter, was a more favorable period for economic growth than this one and upcoming ones.

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Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Lori Berenson's Parole Revoked 

UPDATE: Berenson turns herself into the authorities after communicating with US consular officials in Lima. I understand the reasoning behind her decision, contrasting her willingness to cooperate with the intransigence of the Peruvian judiciary, but she has a young son who spent much of his first year of life in a 6 by 10 foot jail cell, and developed significant health issues as a result. They can only hope that the US will negotiate a solution that results in her release.

INITIAL POST: Still, Ms. Berenson could not be found at her apartment in Lima shortly after Peruvian officials said they had revoked her parole.

Hopefully, she, her husband and her young son are making their way to the Bolivian or Venezuelan embassy if they haven't arrived already. As a cursory reading of Simon Romero's article reveals, the court seized upon a pretext to return her to custody: The Peruvian court issuing the parole revocation said it based its ruling on a failure by other legal authorities to verify addresses in Lima that Ms. Berenson had provided them.

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Save Modern Times! (Part 1) 

I can't overemphasize the importance of Modern Times Bookstore as a social and cultural resource in Northern California. If you live here, as I do, please consider responding to its call for financial assistance as I did. Even if you live elsewhere, it is important to recognize that Modern Times displays and sells books from small publishers, like Verso, 7 Stories Press, AK Press, Zed Books, PM Press, Haymarket Books, Zero Books, Monthly Review Books and Routledge, among others, as well as numerous academic ones. If Modern Times is lost, they will lose one of the few remaining bricks and mortar venues for obtaining public visibility for their books.

Authors and illustrators of zines rely on the store as well. So, even if you don't live in Northern California, and may never actually visit the store, please consider contributing to its survival. Your contribution will also preserve a community resource that makes space available for numerous progressive activities and events. It has been an essential feature of social life within the Mission District in San Francisco for its 39 years of existence, and it would be a tragedy to lose it.

If you are still not persuaded, here is the fundraising appeal put out by the worker-owners of the store:

We Need Your Help: Save Modern Times!

Dear Modern Times Community,

We are writing with a request for community support. Modern Times is facing a financial crisis and urgently needs an influx of cash if we are going to be able to pay our bills through the summer.

The cold, hard economic facts are these: We need to sell a certain amount everyday in order to break even on costs – taxes, rent, payroll, utilities, insurance, and new books – and right now we are not doing this.

We absolutely believe that it is possible to function more sustainably but we need your help right now if we are going to get to the more lucrative fall and winter months and be able to put into place the changes that will help us survive.

We know that times are tight for everyone and many folks are going to the library instead of shopping at bookstores.

However, we hear every day how much people from many communities value the fact that we continue to exist. We are one of the few remaining independent, collectively run, politically progressive bookstores in North America. We have many cherished members, customers and community members who rely on us to stock the titles they are interested in, to host events, open mics and workshops and to foster community here in the heart of the mission district. We're more than a store – we are a community resource.

In the past when progressive, feminist and LGBT bookstores all over North America were closing, it was your support that allowed us to keep going. If every one of you donated $10 we would raise enough to keep going for 3 months, $20 each would keep us in business for 6 months, donations of between $30 to $100 or more would be enough for us to keep our doors open, hopefully for good. If you would like to give more, but cannot do it all at once, consider donating a smaller amount every month. All donations will go directly towards covering the bookstore's costs, and are a part of a larger plan of action and structural change to make the business sustainable in the current economy.

Next year will be our 40th year, we very much want to be there to celebrate it with all of you.

There are so many ways you can help us out:

Donate by mailing us a check, by visiting the store with cash, check or credit card, calling in with you credit card to 415 282 9246, or on our website.

Consider becoming a sustaining or lifetime member, or sponsoring a shelf if you have not already done so.

Spread the word to your friends and community, promote this fundraising drive in your paper, blog, website or radio show, organize your own save the bookstore fundraisers or just pass the hat at a party.

Do you know a professor or teacher who needs to buy books for her/his course or classroom or a book group that is looking to order a quantity of books at one time? Put them in touch with us!

Give a Modern Times membership or gift certificate as a gift.

And, of course, come in and bring all your friends to the store to find the books that you love!

For our part, we are committed to keeping you in the loop, letting you know how our efforts to survive are going and what our longer term plans are as they develop.

In these challenging times, we stand with many other community-based businesses and organizations that are surviving capitalism through the strength of their communities. Please be a part of helping us thrive.

In solidarity and love,
The worker-owners of Modern Times Bookstore:
Leah, Kate, Kermit, Peta and Ruth

Feel free to disseminate this to anyone who might be interested.

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Tuesday, August 17, 2010

very bad Hamas 

A must read blog entry by Max Ajl at Jewbonics, who just returned from spending the last 6 months or so in Gaza. In Palestine, the left, it seems, finds itself caught between the Zionist hammer and the Islamic fundamentalist anvil. As with Iran, leftists should resist the temptation to ignore the repressive domestic practices of fundamentalists just because they oppose US and Israeli imperialism. Iran is a good example of how such behaviour merely serves to evade serious socioeconomic questions that cannot be suppressed.

Navigating between the militarism of the US and Israel and the fundamentalist autocracy of Iran and Gaza may be difficult, but it is essential if the left is to retain any credibility. As Ajl concludes:

There is some romanticization of Hamas, sure, as a resistance movement that plays hardball with the Israeli government. That’s understandable. What’s less understandable is any sort of solidarity between the left and the Hamas government (see: George Galloway). There are better people to support, people loosely linked with leftist parties, NGOs engaged in local capacity building and educational work, groups with anti-authoritarian pedagogies, groups that aren’t misogynistic. Hamas is unpopular because it has been systematically starved of resources, and was never given a chance to govern by Israel and the West. But no one forces it to repress leftist rallies. It executes that screw-up all by itself.

As elsewhere, the left primarily exists outside of the institutions of the state. The prospect of any left parties gaining power in the Middle East in the near future is slight (leaving aside the question as to whether left aspirations can be achieved in liberal democratic social systems). Accordingly, leftists should, as suggested by Ajl, align themselves with people and organizations in anti-authoritarian, community oriented activities. By doing so, they should also, as the content of his post indicates, anticipate finding themselves in conflict with those in positions of power within Israel and the occupied territories.

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Monday, August 16, 2010

A Milestone 

From the Associated Press:

Japan's new liberal prime minister shunned a visit to a shrine that has outraged Asian neighbors for honoring war criminals, breaking from past governments' tradition and instead apologizing Sunday for the suffering World War II caused.

Members of the now-opposition Liberal Democratic Party, which ruled Japan nearly continuously since the end of the war, made a point by carrying out their own trip to Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo on the 65th anniversary of the end of World War II.

The Shinto shrine — a spectacular building with sweeping roofs and a museum in its grounds that glorifies kamikaze pilots — has set off controversy by honoring the 2.5 million Japanese war dead, including Class A war criminals such as Hideki Tojo, Japan's wartime prime minister who was executed in 1948.

Among those who visited Yasukuni was LDP leader Sadakazu Tanigaki and former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. About 40 legislators went to the shrine, but none from Prime Minister Naoto Kan's Cabinet, according to Japanese media reports.

Kan leads the Democratic Party, which took power last year after winning elections on promises of greater transparency and grass-roots democracy. It is the first time since the end of World War II that the entire Japanese Cabinet has avoided visiting Yasukuni on Aug. 15, the day Japan surrendered in the war.

We caused great damage and suffering to many nations during the war, especially to the people of Asia, Kan told a crowd of about 6,000 at an annual memorial service for the war dead at Budokan hall in Tokyo.

We feel a deep regret, and we offer our sincere feelings of condolence to those who suffered and their families, he said. We renew our promise to never wage war, and we promise to do our utmost to achieve eternal world peace and to never repeat again the mistake of war.

This is more than a symbolic act. It runs contrary to a 60 year effort by the LDP and the US to remilitarize Japan. Kan's apology will prove impossible to reverse, and presents the prospect of closer cooperation between Japan, China, North Korea and South Korea. Hence, the ability of the US to manipulate tensions between them will be accordingly reduced. Not eliminated, but reduced. Kan may well be remembered for closing a lengthy chapter in the US/Japan relationship that was formally acknowledged on June 19, 1960. Future historians may also associate Kan's act with the fraying of the economic bonds between the two countries.

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Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Sub-Proletarianization of California 

As most of you know, California has a substantial budget deficit of approximately 20 billion dollars. A few days ago, the Legislative Analyst published a summary of the combined state and federal tax consequences of the budget proposal put forward by the Democratic leadership in the legislature, Senate Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg and Assembly Speaker John Perez, to address this deficit (if necessary, you can click on the chart to enlarge it): According to the Legislative Analyst, the plan results in a net income tax increase of $1,057 for people who make between $20,000 and $50,000 a year, with a net overall tax increase of $357, and a net income tax increase of $1,886 for people who make between $50,000 and $100,000, with a net overall increase of $643. Increases are much less for people who make income in excess of these levels, with a net overall tax gain in some instances. For those earning between $20,000 and $100,000, the projected overall increases will be higher if the people within these income groups purchase less than anticipated, as the reduction in the overall tax increase is dependent upon people benefitting from a lower sales tax.

Neither Steinberg nor Perez have an answer as to how such regressive tax policy will address the first year over year decline in the income of Californians since World War II. Amazingly, there was a time when political figures like Steinberg and Perez were considered liberals. Maybe, they still are, if one considers the possibility that liberalism as a social philosophy has undergone a fundamental transformation during the years of the Obama administration. Of course, as to this specific issue, the catastrophic consequences of state and local budget cuts around the country, the Obama administration has done little to address the contractionary consequences of such policies as first identified by Paul Krugman over a year ago.

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Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Legacy of Marla Ruzicka (Part 1) 

UPDATE: Want a good, shorthand way to determine if an NGO is collaborating with the occupation in Afghanistan? Look and see if they are scrambling to climb aboard the US public relations campaign against WikiLeaks. So far, we have Amnesty International, CIVIC, the Open Society Institute, the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission and the the Kabul office of International Crisis Group, and, now, Reporters Without Borders:

The Pentagon has a task force of about 100 people reading the leaked documents to assess the damage done and working, for instance, to alert Afghans who might be identified by name and now could be in danger.

Taliban spokesmen have said they would use the material to try to hunt down people who've been cooperating with what the Taliban considers a foreign invader. That has aroused the concern of several human rights group operating in Afghanistan — as well as Paris-based media watchdog Reporters Without Borders, which on Thursday accused Wikileaks of recklessness.

Jean-Francois Julliard, the group's secretary-general, said that WikiLeaks showed incredible irresponsibility when posting the documents online.

The presence of the Open Society Institute, an organization funded by George Soros, is an interesting one. Perhaps, it is to be expected that an NGO funded by a currency speculator is, at the end of the day, supportive of the violent modernization project underway in Afghanistan. Indeed, don't all of these organizations rely upon such an endeavor for their very existence? Of course, the notion that the Pentagon cares about civilian deaths in Afghanistan remains risible, no matter how often CIVIC tries to persuade us to the contrary.

INITIAL POST: In April 2005, Marla Ruzicka, a US humanitarian worker who documented civilian casualties in Iraq, was killed. In one of my first posts here, I expressed sadness about her death, while describing her political approach to the war in Iraq as fundamentally misguided:

One need only visit the website of the organization that Ruzicka created, CIVIC Worldwide, to recognize the problem. CIVIC, you see, stands for The Campaign for Innocent Civilians in Conflict. Accordingly, it promotes the pernicious distinction between innocent Iraqis, Iraqis who decline to violently resist the occupation, and other, guilty Iraqis who do not. Such a perspective, coming from an American organization, is morally myopic, if not morally offensive, given that it condemns Iraqis for violently resisting their own personal and economic victimization by the Occupation Authority. It is indistinguishable from the one continually advanced by the US military.

Of course, this shouldn't be surprising as it is the inevitable consequence of Ruzicka's decision, after the start of the war, to sever her association with Global Exchange, a non-profit that organized against the war and now condemns the occupation, because she believed that she could subsequently accomplish more by working with the US rather than against it. It is tempting to dismiss the significance of her politics as the result of her political naivete. After all, according to Corn, she reportedly told a friend, My long-term goal is to get a desk at the State Department that looks at civilian casualties.

Not surprisingly, we now discover that CIVIC is providing NGO cover for the US government's public relations assault upon WikiLeaks:

A group of human-rights organizations is pressing WikiLeaks to do a better job of redacting names from thousands of war documents it is publishing, joining the list of critics that claim the Web site's actions could jeopardize the safety of Afghans who aided the U.S. military.

The letter from five human-rights groups sparked a tense exchange in which WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange issued a tart challenge for the organizations to help with the massive task of removing names from thousands of documents, according to several of the organizations that signed the letter. The exchange shows how WikiLeaks and Mr. Assange risk being isolated from some of their most natural allies in the wake of the documents' publication.

The human-rights groups involved are Amnesty International; Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict, or CIVIC; Open Society Institute, or OSI, the charitable organization funded by George Soros; Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission; and the Kabul office of International Crisis Group, or ICG.

Furthermore, in a statement posted on its website, CIVIC rationalizes the conduct of US forces in Afghanistan:

There are tragic stories of civilian loss in these 70,000 database entries, some that likely could have been avoided and some that seem like honest, horrible mistakes. Either way, they've got to be analyzed so lessons can be drawn. Certainly every incident of civilian harm deserves a full investigation.

To really understand a war and its implications, the human cost should be weighed against strategic considerations. The two go hand-in-hand. That's particularly true in Afghanistan, where commanders now realize the people are the main strategic consideration.

CIVIC has analyzed over 2,000 of entries thus far. We are looking specifically for information about civilian casualties caused by escalation of force incidents, with the goal of better understanding the impact of changes to the rules of engagement and tactical directives during the years these reports cover. To really understand what these documents mean both individually and collectively, we need to be aware of what they are and what they are not. They are, for the most part, spot reports -- one person's documentation of an incident transmitted through various means and held in a database. They do not, however, include much context, for example in-depth reports or investigations. The conclusions we can draw may therefore be limited.

Am I the only person who read this statement, and thought that CIVIC is playing both sides, trying to exploit the release to carve out a private contractor niche for itself as a Pentagon friendly outside investigator of civilian casualties even as it participates in the US campaign against WikiLeaks? In any event, the deferential tone of the statement is predictable, because if you read the list of 2009 accomplishments provided by CIVIC, one can only draw the conclusion that its existence is dependent upon policies of war without end pursued by the US:

Advocating and helping design a new US program for Pakistani war victims, for which Congress appropriated $10 million

Training US officers and enlisted forces, and contributing to new Army policies on civilian harm;

Authoring the only civilian-authored article in the Escalation of Force handbook now being issued to deployed troops;

Conferring by invitation with top military officers, government officials and policymakers on how to improve help for civilians harmed in conflict;

Pressing international forces in Afghanistan for a new compensation policy for civilian casualties, a recommendation supported by Gen. Stanley McChrystal;

•Helping tell the story of Iraqi war victims through a critically acclaimed off-Broadway drama;

•Creating a global movement, the Making Amends Campaign, to change the outcome of war for civilians;

•Building the Making Amends Campaign coalition with a steering committee comprised of Human Rights Watch, International Crisis Group, and Handicap International USA;

•Convincing Security Council delegations that ‘making amends’ was an important new issue under protection of civilians for the international community

A closer examination of the list shows that CIVIC is apparently very good at seizing upon opportunities created by the Obama administration. With Obama expanding the purported war on terror into Pakistan, we discover that CIVIC is helping design a new US program for Pakistani war victims, for which Congress appropriated $10 million. Regrettably, CIVIC is a NGO dedicated to the practice of the political expediency that so characterized Ruzicka's time in Iraq. It may also be something of a bellwether. After all, if we see items on their website related to Iran or South America, we have cause to be concerned.

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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Big Red Book 

624 pages. Yet again, proof that he certainly like to hear himself talk.

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Monday, August 09, 2010

August Wilson and the American Left 

On Saturday night, I had a rare opportunity to go to the theatre, and decided to see a production of August Wilson's Gem of the Ocean at The Next Stage. It was a small, intimate production in a theatre that does not hold more than 75 people. After seeing this play, as well as Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, it is clear to me that very few American artists have ever examined the interwoven themes of race, class, identity, migration and capitalist exploitation with the insight of Wilson. His work has a significance beyond the admittedly important African American world in which they are situated. If you watch one of his plays, you are perpetually compelled to confront theory with the reality of lived experience.

In Gem, there is an especially important way in which this happens, through the profound question of forgiveness, and the extent to which it is an essential feature of any enduring community, and hence, any effective political movement. Set in 1904, the narrative in Gem is centered around the decision of a factory worker to jump into the river and drown himself instead facing punishment for something that he didn't do, stealing a bucket of nails. Afterwards, the man who did take the nails, Citizen Barlow, arrives at Aunt Ester's, the home of an elderly women known for her ability to clean souls.

Barlow admits that he took the nails, and plaintatively asks, why didn't he come out of the water? Ester has the answer: He'd rather die innocent than live guilty, suggesting that the man evaded the injustice of the world in which he lived through death, an extreme form of protest. And the other African American workers respond to it that way, thereafter refusing to work, despite a severe economic downturn. But the essential question is the fate of Barlow within the larger community.

Despite what some might expect, Ester and her circle of friends do not condemn Barlow to the life of an outcast. Instead, Ester washes his soul by compelling him to confront the traumatic experience of being transported from Africa to the United States as all of their ancestors were. Here, bound by imaginary chains, Barlow must seize the opportunity to confess his misdeed to all of the other captives, or be alone forever. Peter had three chances, you may not get another one, implores Ester. Wilson brings out the truth that people invariably do terrible things, but they are only lost when they are separated from their collective identity. In this, curiously enough, his perspective is reminiscent of the German anarchist Landauer, who emphasized that we embody all of those who came before us.

It is an important subject for the American left, and possibly even the global left, which has been notorious for sectarian condemnation and intrigue. Instead of extending a hand to those with whom we disagree, and even personally dislike, we have been all to willing to shove them through the door. For African Americans, as represented by Wilson, the price of such expulsions is too high, as they need all the help that they can get surviving in a country dominated by whites. More personally, there is a bond amongst all going back to slavery days that is emotionally hard to sever, even with someone who treats his own people as harshly as the black cop, Caesar. Thus, the emphasis is upon rehabilitation, with the characters in Gem celebrating Barlow's return from the metaphorical slave ship, ecstatic that he understands his familial bond with those who struggled against slavery and continue to do so against industrial exploitation. Similarly, we should also retain our association with those who share vision of the future, even if we have intense disagreements and conflicts.

Two examples may serve to illustrate the principle. In the last month or so, I have published two posts critical of Chomsky's perspective on Palestine, and, particularly, the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement. Several years ago, I disagreed with his statement that the US should bring back the draft. With a few exceptions, I have focused upon the substance of what Chomsky has said, not upon Chomsky personally. Without question, Chomsky is a titan of the global left and nothing will ever change that. But we can, and should think for ourselves and persist in our own views when we believe them to be correct. Most importantly, we should extend the same respect that we give Chomsky to all other leftists. In other words, we should not mitigate Chomsky's perceived errors, while mercilessly punishing others who lack his record of achievement and popular support. Instead, we should respectfully disagree when appropriate without seeking to ostracize anyone.

Here is another example. I frequently comment on blogs like Lenin's Tomb and The Unrepentant Marxist, even though I am not a Leninist like Richard Seymour and Louis Proyect, the people responsible for these blogs. I am open about being anarchist influenced, and Seymour seems fine with it, Proyect less so, probably because I was a little too strident in criticizing his overly broad characterizations of anarchists. I visit both blogs because I find them informative, and refuse to allow my access to information and my ability to communicate with others to be compromised by sectarianism. Someone I highly respect told me awhile ago that they refused to buy Seymour's book, The Liberal Defence of Murder, even though he believed that it was probably pretty good, because Seymour is affiliated with the British Socialist Workers Party. Despite the entryism and sectarianism that many associate with the SWP, you can still read Seymour's book without endorsing them.

Perhaps, there are some Leninists and anarchists out there who consider my perspective too infused by the residue of Christianity. But Wilson has an answer to this in Gem as well. Nearly all the characters justify their social attitudes by references to Christ or the Bible. However, in all instances, with the exception of Caesar, they are quite radical, prioritizing the needs of people over the profits of whites and the wealthy. Instead of seeing such people as impaired by their Christian faith, it may be more accurate to understand them as invoking Christian utopianism in the service of an egalitarian enterprise.

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Saturday, August 07, 2010

The Last Day of the Transbay Terminal 

The Transbay Terminal in San Francisco will be closed today so that it can be demolished to make way for a new high density housing and transportation project in the financial district. According to the Transbay Transit Center:

San Francisco’s Transbay Terminal was built in 1939 at First and Mission Streets as the terminal for East Bay trains using the newly opened Bay Bridge. For the first time, San Francisco was directly linked by rail to the East Bay, Central Contra Costa County and even Sacramento. The Terminal was financed and operated as part of the Bay Bridge, and was paid for by Bay Bridge tolls (which were then 50 cents per automobile, or about $7.75 today). At the time, trucks and trains (primarily the Key System) used the lower deck of the Bay Bridge, and automobiles operated in both directions on the upper deck.

The Terminal was designed to handle as many as 35 million people annually with a peak 20-minute rate of 17,000 commuters. Ten car trains arrived every 63.5 seconds. In its heyday at the end of World War II, the terminal’s rail system served 26 million passengers annually. After the war ended and gas rationing was eliminated, the Terminal’s use began to steadily decline to a rate of four to five million people traveling by rail per year. In 1958, the lower deck of the Bay Bridge was converted to automobile traffic only, the Key System was dismantled and by 1959 the inter-modal Transbay Terminal was converted into a bus-only facility, which it currently is today.

As you might expect, the Terminal has predominately served middle and lower middle class workers who cannot afford the cost of bridge tolls and parking in the City. In its heyday, the Terminal was an architectural and social representation of the Bay Area's collective identity, a utilitarian Art Deco structure, with large numbers of people going through the facility to travel together, first on trains, then on buses. Now, it is an artifact, one that brings to mind the imagined sights, sounds and smells of San Francisco before the onrush of gentrification in the 1960s, one that served as an uncredited backdrop to the independent minded working class city described by people like the young Hunter Thompson.

On Thursday, I took the day off to go to the Terminal for a brief walk through. Most of the buses were stopping at other, temporary locations to pick up passengers, but a few were still coming through the facility, and a small number of people entered the building and went up the stairs to wait for them at the designated, sheltered stops on the second one. To its credit, the Terminal has served as a sanctuary for the homeless, who have slept on the old, rounded 1930s style benches on the first floor. If I were still single, free to do as liked for the day, I would have pulled out a book, and spent several hours sitting on the benches and reading, watching the trickle of people arriving to catch their buses. Later, I might have gone up to the second floor, and watched the coming and going of the buses, as they entered from the east and departed to the west, circling back, in many instances, to take people back to their homes in the East Bay.

But, I'm not. I had brought my young son along, and that's too much to expect of a him unless he's taking a nap. So, after about 45 minutes, we went back to my car, and traveled across the bridge to the East Bay, where we spent the remainder of the day playing in the Berkeley hills. All in all, it was a special day, as I always enjoy taking my son around to see things like the Terminal, even if he lacks the ability to comprehend why I consider them so important. One wonders if the new terminal will have the durability and compelling social identity of the old one. Will my son be taking his children to see it upon discovering that it, too, is about to be replaced with something different, something that reflects the how the City has, yet again, been transformed? Someone, I doubt it.

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Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Iran's Ever Imminent Nukes: A History of Hysteria 

A truly must read article from a couple of months ago, chronicling a history of nearly 30 years of assertions that Iran is developing nuclear weapons. An excerpt:

For nearly three decades we have been hearing or reading dire predictions by the officials of the United States, Israel, and their allies that Iran is on the verge of developing nuclear weapons. Such warnings have been common, but none has come true. Now that the talk of imposing crippling sanctions on or even attacking Iran is heating up again, it is instructive to take a look at the history of such false prophecies.

The most astonishing aspect of the predictions about Iran’s imminent nuclear bomb is that, when Iran actually declared in the 1970s that it was indeed pursuing nuclear weapons, the West and Israel were absolutely silent, but Iran’s declarations since the mid-1980s that it is not seeking nuclear weapons have been greeted with disbelief and mockery.

Again, please consider reading the article in its entirety. It's quite an eye opener.

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Monday, August 02, 2010

Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions: How to Identify and Boycott Israeli Goods 

UPDATE: Sign the petition in support of the Olympia Food Co-op's decision to boycott Israeli goods. You can also send a letter as well.

INITIAL POST: From the Global BDS Movement website:

Individual consumers can show their opposition to Israel's project by participating in a consumer boycott of Israeli goods and services. A boycott can also put pressure on companies whose exports are linked to some of the most evident aspects of the Israeli occupation and apartheid.

The Israeli barcode starts with 729.

Agrexco export fruit and vegetables for sale all over Europe and the US under the trade name Carmel. Much of its produce is grown on confiscated Palestinian land in the Jordan Valley, and the Israeli government owns 51% of the company. Jaffa Oranges were famous for centuries before Israelis successfully colonised the Palestinian name along with the city of Yafa.

Motorola, as well as producing mobile phones, also manufacture wireless data networks for military bases and battlefield communications systems. Much of the cutting-edge technology contained in products such as mobile phones, computers and software is developed in the manufacture of military services and goods. Products developed to meet the needs of the Israeli military have a reputation for reliability, having been tried and tested on Palestinians.

For additional boycott targets, consider the following from Adalah-NY:


Sabra produces traditional Arab salads like hummus, baba ghanoush, and fried eggplant. Sabra is 50% owned by the Israeli company the Strauss Group, and 50% owned by Pepsico. The Strauss Group is the second largest Israeli food and beverage company and is widely touted as one of the great successes of Israeli industry. According to a Strauss Group report, Humus is one of our national foods, and can be found in just about every Israeli home.

On its website in the section on Corporate Responsibility, the Strauss Group emphasizes its support for the Israeli army, noting in a section entitled In the Field with Soldiers, Our connection with soldiers goes as far back as the country, and even further. We see a mission and need to continue to provide our soldiers with support, to enhance their quality of life and service conditions, and sweeten their special moments. We have adopted the Golani reconnaissance platoon for over 30 years and provide them with an ongoing variety of food products for their training or missions, and provide personal care packages for each soldier that completes the path. We have also adopted the Southern Shualei Shimshon troops from the Givati platoon with the goal of improving their service conditions and being there at the front to spoil them with our best products.


According to the Jerusalem Post, Delta Galil is the nation's largest manufacturer and marketer of textiles and is one of the largest private-label underwear manufacturers in the world. The company was one of the first local firms to benefit from the peace process, as it moved manufacturing to neighboring countries with low labor costs. Delta currently manufactures in Egypt, Jordan, Turkey and Scotland.

Delta Galil provides clothing to, among others, Victoria’s Secret, the Gap, J Crew, JC Penney, Ralph Lauren, Wal-Mart Calvin Klein, Donna Karan, Hugo Boss and Playtex.

Finally, there is this from End the Occupation:

Join our boycott to pressure Ahava Dead Sea Laboratories to end its support for Israeli occupation and apartheid.

Ahava excavates resources and manufactures their products in illegal Jewish-only settlements in the occupied West Bank. These settlements, Mitpze Shalem and Kalya, collectively own 44% of Ahava's stock and thereby directly profit from Ahava sales.

Of course, a boycott of Motorola products, as suggested by many BDS advocates, is, like the campaign against Caterpillar, aimed at US corporate complicity in the occupation, but there is no reason why we cannot boycott both American and Israeli corporate interests associated with it. Note also that the BDS campaign does not take a stance on whether the occupation is best ended through either a two state or one state approach, although in my personal view, it generates momentum towards one secular state in Palestine. Despite the failure to resolve this question, BDS is a laudable attempt to demand humane treatment and political rights for the Palestinians.

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