Sunday, July 27, 2014

One Hundred Thirty Nine Square Miles of Sand, Part II: The Road to Zion

" Gaza is the largest and oldest contiguous Arab enclave in Palestine, but it has become a concentration camp — 139 square miles of sand — where 1.8 million Palestinians have been herded into a cul de sac to make way for Zion."

Buchenwald survivors arrive in Haifa, 1946 (source: Life)
“If a path to the better there be, it begins with a look at the worst.” — Thomas Hardy

In the months leading up to the end of British rule, in a phase of the three-way civil war known as "The Battle of [the] Roads," the Arab Liberation Army fired at buses and blocked major roads in an effort to isolate the Jewish communities from each other.

Parenthetically, this is an actual definition of “terrorism,” not the bland and overbroad definition used by Homeland Security (“the use of force or violence against persons or property in violation of the criminal laws of the United States for purposes of intimidation, coercion or ransom”). The function of terror is to deprive civil society of life worth living. Terrorists can be those who shoot at buses, or those who attack children playing on beaches or funeral parties in cemeteries with missiles and drones.

By March 1948, the Tel Aviv road was cut off and Jerusalem was under siege. The British wanted nothing to do with it. Nary a soldier amongst them wanted to be the last to die in a lost cause.

On April 6, in an effort to secure strategic positions, the Haganah and its elite strike force, the Palmach, attacked al-Qastal, an Arab village overlooking the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway.

Radical Jewish gangs, or underground militias as they referred to themselves, put bombs on public buses and market plazas in Arab cities, causing horrific civilian casualties. Among these “irregulars”  were splinter factions of the Stern Gang known as the Irgun and the Lehi gangs.

In the pre-dawn hours of April 9, 1948 these gangs cast a shadow that lingers still. Two kilometers south of al-Qastal was the quiet town of Deir Yassin.

Under the UN Mandate, Deir Yassin was to have become part of greater Jerusalem; neither Arab nor Jewish, just protected territory. Its 144 houses held from 400 to 1000 Arab residents and it was relatively prosperous because of a nearby quarry and the reputations of its residents for fine stonecutting.

Just across the valley lay a Jewish Orthodox community, Givat Shaul. At the start of 1948 the villagers of Deir Yassin met with the villagers of Givat Shaul and made a peace pact. Deir Yassin would inform Givat Shaul should Palestinian militiamen appear in the village by hanging laundry — two white pieces with a black piece in the middle. In return, Deir Yassin residents were guaranteed safe passage on the way to and from Jerusalem.

The leader of the Arab village, the mukhtar, was summoned to Jerusalem to explain to the Arab Higher Committee what the village's relationship was with the Jews. He told them they lived in peace. On February 13, an armed gang of Arabs arrived to attack Givat Shaul, but the Deir Yassin villagers came to their aid and drove them off. That night the gang returned and killed all the Deir Yassin sheep.

The success of the Haganah’s road-clearing campaign emboldened the Jewish thug element. They wanted to hit another village to show the Arabs that Jews intended to fight. Irgun and Lehi gangleaders approached David Shaltiel, the Haganah commander in Jerusalem, for permission to attack Deir Yassin.

Irgun had more credibility with Haganah than Lehi because it had been responsible for the bombing of the King David Hotel on July 22, 1946, which is widely credited with causing the British to hand off Palestine to the UN.

Shaltiel was aware of the village’s peace treaty and suggested the gangs hit Ein Karem instead. The militias said that would be too dangerous for them. An officer with the Palmach, the Haganah's strike force, after watching Shaltiel reluctantly give his consent for the Deir Yassin raid, forwarded objections to the Chief of Intelligence in Jerusalem, who appealed to Shaltiel to reconsider. Shaltiel commanded the gangs to warn the villagers ahead of time and to allow them an escape route to safety. Any who remained could then be considered militants.

The raid did not go as planned. The gangs sent a truck with a loudspeaker to alert the village, but the loudspeaker didn't work and the truck mired in mud. The attackers were by all accounts ill-prepared, untrained, and inexperienced. Instead of arriving during the night, they arrived at 4:45am when it was getting light.

The residents failed to run even if they had the chance. They hid in their houses. The Irgun's commander issued orders to go house-to-house throwing hand grenades through doors and windows, a couple of grenades per house. The force of the explosions destroyed entire parts of houses, burying whole families.

A Palmach unit from the Haganah arrived with armored vehicles and mortars and lent a hand. The fighting was over by about 11:00 am. Estimates of civilian casualties range from 107 to over 1000. Eleven had confirmed weapons. An Irgun fighter testified years later that Irgun and Lehi men had killed 80 prisoners after the fighting was over.

Many of the eyewitness accounts come from Haganah officers. One, who arrived at the scene on April 10, said "I have seen a great deal of war, but I never saw a sight like Deir Yassin."
"The dissidents [Irgun and Lehi] were going about the village robbing and stealing everything: Chickens, radio sets, sugar, money, gold and more.... Each dissident walked about the village dirty with blood and proud of the number of persons he had killed. Their lack of education and intelligence as compared to our soldiers [i.e., the Haganah] was apparent.... In one of the houses at the centre of the village were assembled some 200 women and small children. The women sat quietly and didn't utter a word. When I arrived, the "commander" explained that they intended to kill all of them."
Another Haganah officer described beatings, looting, and the stripping of jewelry and money from prisoners. He wrote that the initial orders were to take the men prisoner and send the women and children away, but the order was changed to kill all the prisoners. The mukhtar's son was killed in front of his mother and sisters. The Haganah did not intervene on behalf of the Arabs but supported the gangs. When they ran out of ammunition, the gangs were resupplied by the Haganah.
The hundreds of women and small children huddling in the school were saved by their Jewish neighbors. A Palmach officer said,
“[A] crowd of people from Givat Shaul, with peyot (earlocks), most of them religious, came into the village and started yelling ‘gazlanim’ ‘rotzchim’ (thieves, murderers) — ‘we had an agreement with this village. It was quiet. Why are you murdering them?’ They were Chareidi (ultra-orthodox) Jews. gradually approached and entered the village, and the Lehi and Irgun people had no choice, they had to stop.”
Jacques de Reynier, head of the International Committee of the Red Cross delegation in Palestine, wrote that he had encountered a "cleaning-up team" when he arrived the village the following day.
The gang [the Irgun detachment] was wearing country uniforms with helmets. All of them were young, some even adolescents, men and women, armed to the teeth: revolvers, machine-guns, hand grenades, and also cutlasses in their hands, most of them still blood-stained. A beautiful young girl, with criminal eyes, showed me a head still dripping with blood; she displayed it like a trophy. This was the "cleaning up" team that was obviously performing its task very conscientiously. 
I tried to go into a house. A dozen soldiers surrounded me, their machine-guns aimed at my body, and their officer forbade me to move ... I then flew into one of the most towering rages of my life, telling these criminals what I thought of their conduct, threatening them with everything I could think of, and then pushed them aside and went into the house. 
... I found some bodies, cold. Here the "cleaning up" had been done with machine-guns, then hand grenades. It had been finished off with knives, anyone could see that ... as I was about to leave, I heard something like a sigh. I looked everywhere, turned over all the bodies, and eventually found a little foot, still warm. It was a little girl of ten, mutilated by a hand grenade, but still alive....
After his inspection, the Irgun asked him to sign a document to say he had been received courteously and thanking them for their help. When he refused, they told him he would sign it if he valued his life. "The only course open to me was to convince them that I did not value my life in the least," he wrote.

The Arab emergency committee appealed to the British army to intervene, to no avail. The British were not keen to take on the Irgun and Lehi, who unlike the Haganah, would have fought back if attacked. In 1949 the town was cleared and its buildings torn down to make way for a new Jerusalem subdivision.

The attack on Deir Yassin in 1948 marked the start of what is called by Palestinians in present times, an Nakbah, “The Cataclysm.”

In 1947, foreseeing what was coming, 100,000 Arabs from the urban upper and middle classes in Haifa, Jaffa and Jerusalem, and also Jewish-dominated areas, had fled their homes. Some escaped abroad to Europe, many more to neighboring Arab countries. The refugee crisis caused the US to withdraw support for the UN plan, but Golda Meir raised millions in donations from sympathizers in the United States and Josef Stalin decided to support the Zionist cause, too. Haganah imported armament stockpiles left from the war in Europe and David Ben-Gurion directed advancement of the Jewish army's tactics and logistics.

Beginning in 1948, every Jewish man and woman in the country was required to receive military training. Objectors were imprisoned. In the Palestinian communities, people packed what they owned and took to the roads, seeking escape.

Israel, 1948 (source: CIA)
When Haganah opened its anti-British offensive, Tiberias, Haifa, Safed, Beisan, Jaffa and Acre fell, and more than 250,000 Palestinians tried to flee the war zone. The situation pushed the leaders of the neighboring Arab states to intervene, but the British weakened the will of King Abdullah I with promises to permit annexation of Palestine to Jordan, and the Arabs failed to assemble sufficient forces to protect the Palestinians who remained.

On May 14, 1948, as the last British forces departed, David Ben-Gurion read the Israeli Declaration of Independence, establishing a Jewish state in Eretz-Israel, to be known as the State of Israel. Truman and Stalin both immediately endorsed. The new state gained UN recognition. Haganah became the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).

By July Israel had conquered some of the territory promised to Abdullah, wresting it from Jordanian, Syrian and Lebanese forces. A ceasefire was declared in November. On December 1, King Abdullah announced the union of Transjordan with Arab Palestine west of the Jordan River, and a new state called the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. Only Britain recognized the annexation. The new map looked like this:

By then 711,000 to 726,000 Palestinian Arabs had fled or were expelled from their homes — 80 percent of the estimated Arab population at that time. In the parts of Palestine reserved to Arabs by the UN Mandate, 50 percent were gone.

These numbers are important, because one of the perennial stumbling blocks of peace negotiations has been the Palestinian insistence on a “right of return.”

We could now launch into a voluminous study of Israel between 1948 and 2014. The highs, the lows — depending on which side you take: Suez campaign of 1956, Six Day War, Munich, Yom Kippur War, Entebbe, the First Intifada, Sabra and Shatila, the Second Intifada, Gaza. That is not the purpose of this essay.

Jews, tracing their historic experience through centuries of persecution, pogroms and eventually the Holocaust, in 1948 had their Zion and would do whatever it took to defend it. Palestinians — a hodge podge of ethnicities, religions and backgrounds, including some families that could trace their heritage there for thousands of years — were on the wrong side of history. Their choice was to get with the program or suffer the consequences. Or both.

After 1948, the population of Israel rose from 800,000 to 8 million. Periodic military attempts by Arab coalitions to oust Israel from Palestine failed. Given the firepower and intelligence prowess of modern Israel, these attempts at violent revolution from within or military intervention from without are merely pathetic.

Legal appeals to the UN, even for minimal humane treatment of Palestinians, have also come to naught, blocked by the one-state-veto of the US at the UN Security Council.

Palestinians — even the peaceful ones — are seen as a threat and regarded by Israeli police and courts as people to control and punish, not citizens to protect.

Operation Protective Edge, 2014
Since 1985, the United States has provided $3 billion in grants annually to Israel ($3.15 billion per year from 2013-2018), with another $1 billion coming from US private philanthropy. The U.S. also loans Israel cash and material not only interest free, but often with implicit waiver of repayment. Since 1976, Israel has been the largest annual recipient of U.S. foreign assistance, and is the largest cumulative recipient since World War II, receiving nearly a third of all US foreign aid.

The US is not Israel’s largest donor, however. That would be Russia. The US supplies only 21% of Israel’s $15 billion defense budget annually. Israel plays all sides of the petrowars.

All this foreign aid, and no need to pay for its own defense, has provided Israelis the highest standard of living in the region, with an average life expectancy of 82.1 years. On our most recent trip there in 2012, we enjoyed a moonlit swim in the Mediterranean while listening to a jazz band playing on a patio of a nearby highrise hotel. We saw flashes in the sky out to sea and heard what sounded like distant thunder. Just down the beach, in Gaza, relatives combed through rubble looking for parts of family members shattered by Israeli rockets in the lead-up to Operation Pillar of Defense.

In the West Bank, we saw long lines at the barbed wire checkpoints for Palestinians commuting to work or trying to shop. City buses had two stops at each corner. The first was for Israelis. The second was for Palestinians. If the bus was full it did not stop at the second stop.

The “A” word Jimmy Carter used, drawing much huffing and puffing in Washington — apartheid — was a warning, and he was just repeating what Israeli political thinkers were saying could happen if these trends continue. But it has already happened. The map of Palestine is a map of Bantustans, designed to exploit distressed labor without the burden of infrastructural support. Work cards don’t matter. Innocence is irrelevant. None of the rules for humane treatment within occupied territories in times of war apply here.

Gaza is worse than Soweto. It is the Warsaw ghetto. As the largest and oldest contiguous Palestinian enclave, it has become a concentration camp — 139 square miles of sand — where 1.8 million Palestinians have been herded into a cul de sac to make way for Zion. It is now being slowly squeezed, used as a practice range for the latest modern weapons, constantly pounded into rubble, deprived of food, water, medicine, sanitation, employment, help, witness. Gazans have their back to the ocean, but even the fishermen are not allowed to pass out to sea. By land, they are walled in by Israel and barred from Egypt. Their tunnels to obtain urgent supplies are now being targeted by GBU-28 Hard Target Penetrators, 5,000-pound smart bombs that can blow through 20 feet of concrete.

In our next installment of this three-part series we will describe a pathway forward, out of the mire, that will likely occur whether anyone advocates for it or not.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Operation Protective Edge: One Hundred Thirty Nine Square Miles of Sand, Part I

""Mr. Balfour, supposing I was to offer you Paris instead of London, would you take it?" He sat up, looked at me, and answered: "But Dr. Weizmann, we have London." "That is true," I said, "but we had Jerusalem when London was a marsh.""

Operation Protective Edge, 2014
Events in Gaza fill us with deep sadness. We have friends in both Israel and Palestine who are swept into this conflict without wanting it. To them, as to us, it seems a doorless, windowless room. There is no escape, no illumination, no good reason for being there and no way to leave.

To get out of this room, we have to understand how it was built and why it is here. We have to cut a window to let some light in, and then build a door from the inside out.

When we first visited Israel, in the summer of 1991, Gaza City was much like the other ocean-front cities of the Mediterranean — stone buildings and winding streets, a long seawall, lovely beaches. Even though it had just been through the 1987 Intifada, it retained the charm of Jappa and Haifa. Fishermen gathered before dawn and shoved out with the tide, returning at midday with their catches. Shopkeepers sold antiques and fine needlework from stores below their homes. Apart from the tanks, barbed wire and ubiquitous IDF soldiers, Gaza Beach was a tranquil paradise.

In 1991 a young guard assigned to the Gaza Beach internment camp wrote for The New York Review of Books,  “One day, if there is a state called Palestine, its government will no doubt lease this piece of ground to some international entrepreneur who would set up a Club Med Gaza Beach.”

In 1948, Gaza City, and the “Gaza Strip” became the refuge of people fleeing war after their homes, olive groves, barns and villages were destroyed, their cattle and goats machine-gunned, and their water, sewage and electricity cut off. Then, in 1967, tanks arrived at the beach, and there was nowhere left to flee. Some lucky enough to escape went to Egypt, and when Egyptians were no longer willing to feed, house or employ the growing tide of refugees, they closed the border. Even then, Gazans dug long tunnels, or tried to cross by boat.

In 1991 that young Israeli prison guard wrote:
In Gaza it’s all straightforward and clear. There’s no place to hide. And I think: What if someone were to sneak a hidden camera in here? If only Robert Capa were alive. If only Claude Lanzmann were to make a film here. He would see a bored soldier who sits and solves crossword puzzles chewing on his pencil, under the apparently innocent sign: “Compound Number 1,” while another soldier, one or our charming Sabra types, a youth from a Tel Aviv suburb, walks around with a wreath of handcuffs over his shoulder.
Then he might turn his camera on the forty-one prisoners whom we shove into the narrow filthy detention cell in the government building in Gaza. They are awaiting trial. Because they have no room to move, because they are squeezed one against the other from morning until noon like cattle, they press ever more tightly up against the bars on the door to the detention cell so as to gulp in a little air. And because the door is too narrow for them all, some collapse, and some crawl under the legs of others. And the seven or eight who are caught on the bars appear, without intending or knowing it, as a kind of living statue, a mute poster of protest against imprisonment and oppression.
In that summer of 1991, near Dagania, the first kibbutz (1909), we laid wildflowers on the tomb of Theodor Herzl, the conceiver of Israel, and placed a small stone on the grave of Rachel, the country’s first Poet Laureate. We walked with elderly IDF veterans to see the foxholes they had dug at the Jordan River in May of 1948. We immersed ourselves in the history of this place, visiting the chapel on the Mount of Olives and the archaeological dig at Capernaum. We stood upon the rock from which the young Jesus of Nazareth was said to hail the fishermen in the Sea of Galilee, telling them to cast their net on the other side of the boat.

Back in 1894, a Jewish lieutenant in the French Army, Alfred Dreyfus, was tried for treason. He was wrongfully accused, which soon became apparent, but with the anti-Semitic right-wing having taken power in Paris, and the French public inflamed, the Army feared public accusations of Jewish favoritism if Dreyfus was tried and acquitted. Dreyfus was scapegoated — summarily convicted and sentenced to prison.

In Paris to cover the trial for the Vienna News Free Press, Theodor Herzl was shocked at the open anti-Semitism he witnessed. If anti-Semitism could flourish in the most tolerant and progressive country in Europe, Herzl reasoned, Jews would only be safe in their own state. If they had to design a nation, what might it look like? Herzl imagined a socialist paradise — no poor, no ruling class, food and shelter for everyone. He wrote a bestselling book, The Jewish State, promoting his ideas, which eventually went viral as Zionism. Herzl’s reaction to the right wing excesses in France gave birth, half a century later, to the utopian dream of Israel.

In the late 19th century, facing growing persecution in Eastern Europe and pogroms in Russia, Jews began flowing to Palestine for refuge. Near Jaffa an agricultural school, the Mikveh Israel, was founded. Russian Jews established the Bilu and Hovevei Zion ("Love of Zion") movements to assist settlers, who created self-reliant experimental agricultural communes that sought to get beyond the utopian “Holy Cities” of the Ashkenazi-Jews and not rely on donations from Europe.

The hardy arrivals, mostly from Russia — the First Aliyah, some 35,000 between 1882 and 1903 — revived the Hebrew language, developed drip irrigation, and greened the desert. They blended into and got along with the complex mix of Druze, Bedouin and Christian and Muslim Arabs. By 1890, Jews were a majority in Jerusalem. In 1909 residents of Jaffa established the first entirely Hebrew-speaking city, Ahuzat Bayit (later renamed Tel Aviv).

We have previously written of the seminal role of Lady Evelyn Balfour in the creation of organic gardening and the founding of the first Soil Association. We have not previously mentioned her very interesting uncle, Arthur James, First Earl of Balfour, British Prime Minister from 1902 to 1905.

Lord Balfour is also known for his noble mien — the Balfourian manner. A journalist of his time described it this way:
“This Balfourian manner, as I understand it, has its roots in an attitude of mind—an attitude of convinced superiority which insists in the first place on complete detachment from the enthusiasms of the human race, and in the second place on keeping the vulgar world at arm's length. It is an attitude of mind … of one who desires rather to observe the world than to shoulder any of its burdens.”

"The truth about Arthur Balfour," said George Wyndham, "is this: he knows there's been one ice-age, and he thinks there's going to be another."

We are fond of Balfour, not just because he was apparently a protocollapsenik, but also because in his later years he argued that Darwin’s premise of selection for reproductive fitness cast doubt on scientific naturalism — the belief that there are no supernatural entities or processes — because human cognitive facilities that would accurately perceive truth would be at a disadvantage against competing humans genetically selecting for evolutionarily useful illusions.

While Balfour tilted towards the supernatural as a boon to humanity, his thesis goes a long way to explain the great smoldering track of the Advertising Age through our species’ inate common sense and our presently diminished capacity to survive the coming Anthropocene extinction.

Long evolved discriminatory abilities that assisted distant future pattern recognition and might have helped our survival are being bred out by twerking, gangsta rap, and The Shopping Network, leaving only the comfort of our illusions.

Despite his belief in the futility of action, Balfour, in his manner, could not resist the urge to meddle in world affairs. Like a child with an anthill and a magnifying glass on a sunny day he found special interest in Zionists. Meeting Chaim Weizmann, a wealthy British Zionist, in 1906, Balfour asked Weizmann what he thought of the idea of a Jewish homeland in Uganda, a British Protectorate.

According to Weizmann's memoir, the conversation went as follows:
"Mr. Balfour, supposing I was to offer you Paris instead of London, would you take it?" He sat up, looked at me, and answered: "But Dr. Weizmann, we have London." "That is true," I said, "but we had Jerusalem when London was a marsh." He ... said two things which I remember vividly. The first was: "Are there many Jews who think like you?" I answered: "I believe I speak the mind of millions of Jews whom you will never see and who cannot speak for themselves." ... To this he said: "If that is so you will one day be a force." (Weizmann, Trial and Error, p.111, as quoted in W. Lacquer, The History of Zionism, 2003, p.188).
Flash forward 8 years to November, 1914 and the retired Prime Minister is now British Foreign Secretary as his country is at war with the Ottoman Empire over oil and the Berlin-to-Baghdad railroad. A fellow cabinet official, Herbert Samuel, circulates a memorandum entitled “The Future of Palestine” to his colleagues. The memorandum begins with "I am assured that the solution of the problem of Palestine which would be much the most welcome to the leaders and supporters of the Zionist movement throughout the world would be the annexation of the country to the British Empire.”

This prompted a letter from Alfred, First Earl Balfour to Walter, Second Baron Rothschild, a prominent funder of the first kibbutzim. Balfour wrote:
“His Majesty's government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.”

Mosul-Haifa pipeline reaches the coast in 1938
The overarching aim of Balfour was to gain support of both the Americans and the Bolsheviks for British aims in the Middle East. The Transjordan coast was strategically important as a check to Egypt at the Suez Canal, and there were already thoughts of a Mosul-Haifa pipeline to transport oil from Kirkuk. Two of President Woodrow Wilson's closest advisors, Louis Brandeis and Felix Frankfurter, were avid Zionists. Several of the most prominent Russian revolutionaries, including Leon Trotsky, were also. The Foreign Secretary wanted to keep both the USA and Russia in the war and used the potential separation of a Zionist state from Transjordan as bait.
“The gradual growth of considerable Jewish community, under British suzerainty, in Palestine will not solve the Jewish question in Europe. A country the size of Wales, much of it barren mountain and part of it waterless, cannot hold 9,000,000 people. But it could probably hold in time 3,000,000 or 4,000,000, and some relief would be given to the pressure in Russia and elsewhere. Far more important would be the effect upon the character of the larger part of the Jewish race who must still remain intermingled with other peoples, to be a strength or to be a weakness to the countries in which they live. Let a Jewish centre be established in Palestine; let it achieve, as I believe it would achieve, a spiritual and intellectual greatness; and insensibly, but inevitably, the character of the individual Jew, wherever he might be, would be ennobled. The sordid associations which have attached to the Jewish name would be sloughed off, and the value of the Jews as an element in the civilisation of the European peoples would be enhanced.
"The Jewish brain is a physiological product not to be despised. For fifteen centuries the race produced in Palestine a constant succession of great men - statesmen and prophets, judges and soldiers. If a body be again given in which its soul can lodge, it may again enrich the world.”
The Future of Palestine

In November 1918 the large group of Palestinian Arab dignitaries and representatives of political associations forwarded a petition to the British authorities in which they decried the hubris of the declaration. The document stated:
“[W]e always sympathized profoundly with the persecuted Jews and their misfortunes in other countries... but there is wide difference between such sympathy and the acceptance of such a nation... ruling over us and disposing of our affairs.”
Winston Churchill sided with the Arabs, saying in 1922, “I do not attach undue importance to this [Zionist] movement, but it is increasingly difficult to meet the argument that it is unfair to ask the British taxpayer, already overwhelmed with taxation, to bear the cost of imposing on Palestine an unpopular policy.

Arthur Balfour and his Declaration
The British Mandate of Palestine was confirmed by the League of Nations in 1922 and came into effect in 1923. The boundaries of Palestine initially included modern Jordan, which was removed from the territory by Churchill a few years later. The United States, whose Senate refused to join Wilson’s League of Nations, signed a separate endorsement treaty.

Between 1919 and 1923, 40,000 Jews arrived in Palestine, mainly escaping the post-revolutionary chaos of Russia and Ukraine (the Third Aliyah) where over 100,000 Jews had been massacred. These immigrants were called halutzim (pioneers) because they were experienced in agriculture and quick to establish self-sustaining frontier towns. The Jezreel Valley and the Hefer Plain marshes were purchased through foreign donations, drained and converted to agricultural settlements. A socialist underground militia, the Haganah ("defense") sprang up to defend the outlying settlements.

Despite Palestinian Arab rioting in 1920 and 1922, 82,000 more Jewish refugees had arrived by 1929 (the Fourth Aliyah), fleeing pogroms in Poland and Hungary and rebuffed by the anti-Semitic United States Immigration Act of 1924.

The British governors of Palestine rejected the principle of majority rule or any other measure that would give the Arab population, who formed the majority, control over Jewish territory. The United States, whose strategic objective (oft quoted by comedian Robert Newman in A History of Oil) was “to bring democracy to the Middle East,” supported this policy, and still supports it today.

Following World War II, oil interests in the Middle East tilted western allies towards the Arabs. In an effort to win independence, underground Jewish militias waged a guerrilla war against the British. From 1929 to 1945, 110,000 Jews entered Palestine illegally (Bet Aliyah). Between 1945 and 1948, 250,000 Holocaust surviving Jews left Poland, Romania, Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia for refuge in Palestine. Most of these refugees were intercepted by the British and interred in squalid camps in Cyprus. Finally, under pressure from their Arab oil partners, the British had enough, and referred the whole matter to the United Nations.

The UN, looking at the status quo on the ground, drew this map, which is probably the worst partition ever conceived.

On November 29, 1947, in Resolution 181 (II), the UN General Assembly recommended a plan to replace the British Mandate with separate "Independent Arab and Jewish States" and a "Special International Regime for the City of Jerusalem administered by the United Nations."

Neither Britain nor the UN took any action to implement the resolution and Britain continued detaining Jews attempting to enter Palestine. The British withdrew forces in May 1948, but continued to hold Jews of "fighting age" and their families on Cyprus until March 1949, anticipating what was about to happen.

What was about to happen was the delivery of the promised utopia to the Jews and a catastrophe for the Palestinians.

To be continued

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Stephen Gaskin 1935-2014

"Eventually, Stephen will be reborn as a great oak, standing atop this knoll."

Stephen Gaskin, at The Farm in 2013
I heard a voice from heaven, saying unto me, Write, from henceforth blessed are the dead which die in the Lord: even so saith the Spirit: for they rest from their labours.
— Book of Common Prayer (1662)

As the trailing “mmmm” in my ahhhAAauuuuMMmmm moving slowly from the back of my throat forward to pinched lips dissolves into the chorus of birds and tree frogs I am left again in their raucus company, listening only to my breath and their voices. It is difficult to rise from meditation here in this beautiful spot, so I have begun noting my thoughts.

It is one week today since The Farm bid goodbye to Stephen Gaskin. I am seated in a forest glade at the highest point on the western Highland Rim of Middle Tennessee — 1120 feet above sea level. The sun has just risen and the forest is alive with birdsong and butterflies.

I remember this place from 40 years earlier, when it was open field and we were cultivating it for wheat, corn and soybeans. I drove the two-horse cultivator here. In 1973 I moved off Schoolhouse Ridge, where Stephen was my closest neighbor, up to Hickory Hill, a short hike from where I’m now sitting. The oaks there, top-graded in the 1940s, are now bigger than two people can stretch around and touch hands.

The birdsong here is very diverse. It’s an emergent forest and these trees are no more than 30 years. The self-selection, after The Farm quit commercial agriculture in the mid-1980s, favors flowering varieties like dogwood, wild cherry, persimmon, juniper and sumac, efficient resource scroungers in these ridge-top soils and part of the early succession stage that is reclaiming Shoemaker Field. Species common in early seres – growth rate maximized (R-selected) – usually focus on rapid extraction of resources and intense photosynthetic production even at the cost of efficient nutrient use. These colorful, scented and attractive pioneers will be replaced later by a more stable and balanced (K-selected) sere of locust, ash, sourwood, oak and hickory, much as we see on the other ridges. The bacterially dominant soils, useful for crops of vegetables and grains, will give way to fungal-dominant soils, and these speedy pioneers will be shaded out, die and decompose to provide space and supplies for succession.

All things garden. The rains will remove the traces of the clay that’s been turned when the grave was dug. Small saplings will send their roots down to consume any nutrient value in his body. Eventually, Stephen will be reborn as a great oak, standing atop this knoll, just near the summit of what the geodesic map calls Mt. Summer.

From Living on Earth by Alicia Bay Laurel

It was almost exactly 43 years ago this week that I stretched out on a giant boulder in Tuckerman’s Ravine in the White Mountains of New Hampshire and began turning the pages of Monday Night Class, a collection of transcripts of Stephen’s talks from 1967-70 published by a San Francisco co-op called Book People. What struck me as I read through the un-numbered, purple-inked pages was less about the philosophy or the Haight Ashbury scene than about a deeply penetrating sense of “these are my thoughts,” and “somebody has been having the same take on it as I do,” and “this guy is really good.”

A year later I was doing a through hike of the Appalachian Trail (a similar experience to that of Cheryl Strayed in Wild, soon to be a Reese Witherspoon film) and decided to stop at The Farm. I never left. I am here still. And the reason is something very close to what happened to me reading Monday Night Class. I was struck by how familiar it seemed. How right.

In a way that succession from R-sere to K-sere is an apt metaphor for The Farm and its relationship with Stephen. When we were probing for a way out of the militaristic mindset of the ‘50s, the exploitive brainfog of the adolescent ad age, with nihilistic consumerist growth madness auguring planetary ecocide, we found in Stephen amazing attributes of clarity, charisma (not a word he would've condoned), courage and willingness to step up to leadership and point us all towards a saner way to be, collectively. We pioneered, like weeds in barren soil, and birthed a new culture. We forged a steady-state, bioregional alternative to petrocollapse and the Venus Syndrome. We made it work, and we made it fun.

But that early stage of pioneering is no more sustainable than trying to live in a lifeboat. The juvenile growth phase is characterized by rapid morphological change (settling the land, building roads, water systems, schools, homes, businesses, etc., fighting off predators, and consuming your seed matter — our inheritances, our youth, our cheap fossil sunlight). For us, the limits to growth were slammed into by the early ‘80’s, and we found ourselves still inextricably tied to the larger economy (hospitals, energy, commerce, taxes), mired in debt (in no small measure from Stephen’s fearlessness — example: when on impulse he purchased a lemon semitractor-trailer without adequate inspection — and the Farm mechanics awarded him a Golden Bolt).

Historian Donald Pitzer has called what we experienced “developmental communalism.” Having a shared purse and not keeping score works great for R-sere societies, but once they have established they cannot keep growing without overrunning both resources and patience. At some scale they become less governable and corruption creeps in.

We had overgrown our rudimentary infrastructure and reached a crossroads — go back to something smaller and more pure by way of quaint example, or tune in, step up, and try to change the world by up-blending. As a rural commune we had made too many claims on underlying resources — a reckoning was required. Whether we wanted to be more mainstream or not, it had to happen. Given the mounting debts and legal threats, we could not keep the land otherwise. In 1984 we had our “Changeover” that revised the agreements. It was a new deck of cards.

When I first arrived in November, 1972, Stephen and his entourage were just leaving on a speaking and book/album launch tour. I spent most of that winter experiencing the trials and tribulations of an experimental community that did not have, nor seem to need, much leadership or organization.
I would say one of my perennial disagreements with Stephen was over his strong antipathy to organization. It was evident to me, as a young paralegal eager to see everything made legally robust and bulletproof, that Stephen was determined to undermine anything that smacked of central authority or codifed rules. He did not want community by-laws or covenants, but eventually allowed me to gather up our “agreements,” so we could list those in the Supreme Court appeal about cultivation of marijuana for religious use (the appendix appears in a book published as The Grass Case). It took more than ten years before we eventually formed a “Constitutional Committee” to draw up by-laws for The Farm.

The Supreme Court brief has a delightful hippy flair, describing the agreements of the religious society and showing early pictures of the community. Stephen, as head of his own legal team, insisted that no "legal technicalities" be employed in the defense strategy, even though he might well have been acquitted on the unlawful warrant and bad search. Instead, as the brief illustrates, he wanted to tell the "system" simply what the truth of the matter is — that government has no business interfering with how people come to God. He gave a year of his life — behind bars, in prison — for the privilege of raising the point in that way.

Like any man, he made mistakes, sometimes catastrophic, with consequences that affected the many who relied on his judgment. He excelled not just in strong leadership but in boneheaded stubbornness, which might work well in situations requiring courage under stress, but not when what is needed is to anneal energy in a fractious group. Stephen was just a man. But what an extraordinary man he was. When he died the remembrances came cascading in.

In Stockholm, Right Livelihood Award Founder Jakob von Uexkull reflected,
"Stephen Gaskin received the first Right Livelihood Award in 1980 for the work of PLENTY International. The name says it all: Stephen believed that there is plenty for all if we share. PLENTY aid projects have been very effective because they were run by people who understood the differences between misery, poverty and voluntarily living simply from personal experience. Stephen represented a different, hopeful vision of America. He has inspired several generations by showing how materially simple and spiritually rich lives are possible today and can guide us to a sustainable future."

Manitonquat (Medicine Story) said Stephen, whose Right Livelihood Award was in part for his work with indigenous peoples, was a "pioneer thinker and inspiration in our work to change the world by way of more human, more compassionate communities consciously created and fashioned to activate our human need to be helpful and make life more wonderful for all people."

Mark Madrid, a long-time resident of The Farm and part of the Muscogee Nation in Oklahoma, said:

“In our Mvskoke culture, there is the Micco (the one) the Empv'nvke (the Speaker) and the tvs'tvnvke (Security/ Enforcers). He was the Speaker, voicing the peoples mind.”
Dan Sallberg wrote:
“It was January, 1971 and I was 21 years old. My daughter was a month old. I was unemployed. We were living on welfare and food stamps. I volunteered to be a receptionist at the Pasadena Free Clinic, just for something to do. I found an interview with Stephen Gaskin in a copy of Mademoiselle Magazine. I’m pretty sure it had something to do with the school-bus caravan lecture tour. I know I read the whole interview. I forget most of it. But there was one part that changed my life forever. Mr. Gaskin advised anti-establishment hippies to get off welfare and stop mooching off the establishment, and to get involved in positive, alternative activities that would create a better world. A month later I was the graveyard dishwasher and janitor at a 24-hour a day vegetarian restaurant called H.E.L.P. (Health through Education creates internal Love which manifests Peace within) Restaurant on the corner of 3rd and Fairfax in Los Angeles. Three months later we got off welfare. I stayed in the natural foods business for another 15 years until it outgrew me and I eventually became a math and science teacher for students with special needs. Thank you, Stephen”
Apple Co-founder Steve Wozniak said:
"In every walk of life we take care of each other and owe all that we achieve to friends and family. How we treat other humans is much more important than creating products and wealth. Our principles in life should always be much more important than that. As much as we can teach others, our actions and examples pass on the goodness in our heads to others. Thank you for inspiration at a critical time in my life when I was deciding what sort of person I wanted to be."

Martin Holsinger, now a radio show host in Nashville, said:

“The Farm as ‘Stephen’s family monastery’ for all its imperfections, was the best home I ever had, an experience I have been trying in vain to recreate ever since it came unglued in the early 80’s. Thank you, Stephen, for helping me and so many others live in a better world, even if only for a few years, and thank you for pointing me to Buddhism, which in so many ways has carried on the changes in me that you helped initiate. Thank you for my first marriage, for my children, my grandchildren, and my soon-to-be great grandchild. My children, and their children, are here because of you. Thank you for encouraging me to maintain a friendly but uppity attitude towards authority/mainstream culture. I am who I am because of you, and I have always been grateful to you for that.

Lois Latman recalled:

“One thing I remember about Stephen is him giving away two houses that the construction crew built for him and his family in the early 70's. The first one that got built on second road, he wouldn't move into, but gave it to a group of single mothers. The second one, Kissing Tree, he gave to my Uncle Bill and his caregivers. Stephen remained in an army tent with his family, which he eventually replaced by a house on the same site. He did not want to live above the means of the rest of the community.”

Altar to Stephen that appeared in San Francisco on Dia de los Muertos, 2014
Elizabeth Barger, who publishes The Farm Freedom Press, wrote:
“Many of us remember that he said he was not “the leader” but a teacher who might teach us something that would be useful to us. I think he did that a while ago. The Farm has been moving forward for some time since his retirement. The teachings are good and the spirit is strong. The place we call The Farm remains as a growing marker for the experiment to continue.”

Spider Robinson, science fiction author, wrote:

“Stephen spent most of every day scheming ways to make this world a better, kinder place—with an unusually high success rate. I consider him one of the wisest, most compassionate men I’ve ever met, and the most generous. Without him Jeanne and I would never have been chosen Celebrity Judges for the 2001 Amsterdam Cannabis Cup, one of the happiest gigs we ever had, and the first time we ever seriously impressed our daughter with her parents’ fame. Our own Nova Scotia commune, the Moonrise Hill Gang, basically existed because a bunch of us had heard about what Stephen was doing, and wanted to emulate it ourselves.  It didn’t work because we had no Stephen.

“But I suspect we may have to wait awhile before someone emerges to become the next Stephen.

“He was one of the best human beings I ever met, flawed like all humans, but fundamentally good to his shoes, and unless we get really lucky, we won’t see his like again soon.”

The “newsers,” as Stephen would call them, as usual, got the obits wrong. Some, like The Tennessean and the Washington Post landed not far from the mark. The Post quoted Stephen saying of the Changeover, “I’m a beatnik. I honestly liked it better when it was a circus… But I also like being solvent.” Others, like CNN and The New York Times were wildly disrespectful, hammering on the 1971 drug bust (ironically, since Tennessee recently became the 4th US State to legalize marijuana cultivation), the number of Green Party votes he got in the Presidential primary, or other distractions. In all, more than 100 newspapers around the world ran stories.

Those who knew the man well knew his heart was as big as the moon. You don’t have to take my word for it. Here is a short video clip from 1974. (If it doesn't display properly, go to

I think watching this video in the community center at Sunday services, just following the meditation, was the peak for me of many powerful experiences of the past weekend. Being someone who does public speaking now I am always watching moves and picking up on technique. That short talk defies any such dissection. It was from the heart from someone who was absolutely at the top of his game. The talk pulled together the "three-legged stool" of social justice, ecology and steady-state economics. It addressed ecological limits as though it were 40 years later. Remarkable especially when you put that scene in the context of Stephen in 1974, when he was serving time in the State Penitentiary. He walked out of the pen in cuffs, changed to that white turtleneck and embroidered jean jacket, was driven down to The Farm, spoke and then turned around and went right back the other way, into cuffs and stripes again, day-furlough ended. There was not the slightest trace of that context at all in the delivery, just the larger message, with sure, steady voice, straight from the heart. Awesome.

If I have any gripes about the uplinked video I wish that it could have started 3 or 4 minutes earlier. Stephen says nothing. He rises from the meditation. He picks up the microphone. He looks up. He catches eyes here and there. He looks back down, seeming to think about what he might say. He looks up again, looks around. Breathes. Smiles. Looks thoughtful. Looks back down. This goes on a long time.  I understand why it was deleted but again, I am a public speaker now. I would find it very difficult to share so much “dead air time” with an audience. He had absolute confidence that people would forgive him while he gathered his thoughts to speak, and so said nothing. And then he was ready, and the tape begins.

After morning service in the community center, his partner Ina May hosted a reception at Stephen’s home, where he had passed quietly after being bedridden and in progressive decline for many months. He was still in good humor and wisecracking to the end.

At the morning service, his oldest daughter, Dana, spoke first, after the video.

“To say my father was charismatic is a gross understatement.  His compelling charm and strength of conviction is how we all got here, how this place came to be.  As a kid I thought I had to stand in line to be with him, take my turn like everyone else.  I was in my teens before he told me different.
Stephen and Dana, 1962
My dad shared his love of books and reading with me early.  When I got tired of kids books, he handed me Doc Strange comic books, Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse, the Tolkein trilogy, Theodore Sturgeon’s More Than Human, Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land, and Parmahansa Yogananda’s, Autobiography of a Yogi, which read like science fiction.  I’m so grateful to him for introducing me to the joys of getting lost in stories and for sharing his favorites with me.

My dad loved heroes.  In the face of difficulty, he’d proclaim, "Here I've come to save the day!" from the Sergeant Preston of the Yukon radio show.  And he always tried to do that, save the day - "Out to Save the World" was his stated destination.  I’m grateful to have grown up around people who believed that making meaningful change is possible.  Plenty International, the Farmer Veteran Coalition, and many other farm-grown organizations continue that important work.

Stephen and Dana, 1968
Most of you know that my dad was a Marine and served in Korea.  When he came home in 1954, he had the shakes, shellshock, what we know now as Post-traumatic Stress Disorder.  My mom says he tried drinking it away – luckily his stomach wouldn’t take that.  Marijuana helped him with stress relief for decades.  That and his favorite ‘trash:’ Candy Corn, Circus Peanuts, Red Hots, Necco Wafers, and Heath Bars, saw him through.  

My dad loved cars as much as he loved road trips.  I’ve been through every state but Alaska on road trips with my dad, and down to Guatemala twice.  He loved adventure.  I am comforted by the thought that this new adventure is just another road trip for him: The ultimate road trip.  Like Swami Beyondananda says, "The bad news: There is no key to the universe. The good news: It was never locked." 

Stephen confounded many in his family* and the community by asking his son to carry his body deep into the forest and bury it in an unmarked grave. This place.

This is not a biographical sketch. Others have done that more will still do that. I cannot attempt that here. When I'm first got to know Stephen I was 25 and he was someone I looked up to, a wise elder who was not afraid to admit his mistakes or foibles. Now I am 67, and I know he was right most of the time. As someone who walked in his footprints to learn what he knew and was inspired to exceed even what I thought in my wildest imagination might be possible, I have nothing but gratitude.

All I can say is, goodbye friend, it has been really, really great.  

*In the comments that follow Dana Gaskin Wetig writes, "the rest of the family has been offered no proof that Stephen asked to be buried in an unmarked grave."

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Summer is Coming

" Studies such as these help us gaze into the uncertain future and ask if that is what we want for our children. Most of us don’t. A few of us actually try to do something to change it. For the rest, the lag time is comforting. The complexity of non-linear feedback systems gives us an excuse to procrastinate."

Why are zombies so ubiquitous in contemporary popular culture? The HBO mini-series, Game of Thrones, supplies one theory. Unlike in the AMC series, Walking Dead, or in the film, World War Z, the undead are not coming on like a Blitzkrieg hoard. Rather, the White Walkers are building slowly, as a rumor, sometimes killing the messenger and leaving the message undelivered. “Winter is coming” is an expression that hangs in the air, deepening the sense of foreboding.

One reviewer (for The New York Times) observed that “bringing in the White Walkers might be a way to ultimately point up the pettiness of politics — which is to say, no one cares who sits on what throne once zombies start eating people.” Thrones’ first four seasons of “people slicing, stabbing, axing, poisoning, eating, crushing and moon-dooring one another in every possible context,” underscore the point — that the pettiness of politics still rules the day. 

Game of Thrones resonates because outside the window is the drama of NATO expansion bumping up against retired Red Army vets in the Ukraine, the unmasking of shadow banks in the U.K. by the Financial Times and shadowing governments by Edward Snowden, or the sniper battle on the U.S. Republican right that is so entertaining to MSNBC and CNN. It is all much ado about nothing. Just North of our popular culture Wall is a climate juggernaut, building momentum.

Last month John P. Holdren, Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, released the Third National Climate Assessment (NCA3). If you missed the news, it was because the report was all about the White Walkers no one wants to talk about.

By the end of this century, a 2.75°C to 5.5°C global temperature rise is projected, based on continued higher emissions — fracking, coal, deep ocean and other sources being exploited to the maximum (referred to as the “A2 scenario”) — and a roughly 1.7°F to 2.8°C rise under a cutback scenario (“B1”) — best understood as a Peak Oil/Financial Collapse scenario, because governments would never agree to such drastic measures — 80% in a decade or so —  if further stalling were an option. The NCA3 projections are based on results from 16 supercomputer climate models in a comparison study.

Both scenarios — business as usual and drastic curtailment — produce a temperature and climate regime that would likely be lethal for modern civilization, if not the human race. In the Cancun round of the Committee of Parties in 2010, United Nations high level negotiators produced a general agreement — over the opposition of the USA, Canada, Saudi Arabia, Australia, Israel and other obstructionists — that "recognizing that climate change represents an urgent and potentially irreversible threat to human societies and the planet,” 2°C was the “line in the sand” beyond which global temperatures should not be allowed to climb. In the latest three rounds— Durban, Doha and Warsaw — there has been a strong push from the science and civil sectors to reduce the target to 1.5°C to avert potentially unmanageable risks of tipping points from which no recovery would be possible. Since Warsaw last December some of these points — the inexorable slippage of ice in Antarctica and the release of methane from permafrost to name two — have tipped. 

The NCA3 study is saying, essentially, we are in dangerous territory whether we stop emissions tomorrow or not. Summer temperatures in the U.S. have been rising on average 0.4 degrees F per decade since 1970, or about 0.2 C. Average summertime temperature increase has been 1°C overall, but the Southwest and West regions have borne the brunt of those increases, and temperatures have risen an average of 0.4°C, with a few localized areas warming as much as 0.6°C per decade. This is 5 times faster than the Earth as a whole warmed in the 20th century. North America, which lags other parts of the planet, is now in an exponential curve of accelerating change.

After release of the study, John Holdren told Yale 360:  
“There are a number of findings in this report that sound an alarm bell signaling the need for action to combat the threats from climate change. For instance, the amount of rain coming down in heavy downpours and deluges across the U.S. is increasing; there’s an increase that’s already occurring in heat waves across the middle of the U.S.; and there are serious observed impacts of sea-level rise occurring in low-lying cities such as Miami, where, during high tides, certain parts of the city flood and seawater seeps up through storm drains. These are phenomena that are already having direct adverse impacts on human well-being in different parts of this country.”

Studies such as these help us gaze into the uncertain future and ask if it is really what we want for our children. Most of us don’t. A few of us actually try to do something to change it. For the rest, the lag time is comforting. The complexity of non-linear feedback systems gives us an excuse to procrastinate.

Nelson Lebo, writing for Wanganui (NZ) Chronicle, says:
On a very large scale, most climate scientists say that much of the excess heat energy that the Earth is currently absorbing is going into the world’s oceans. They refer to oceans as “heat sinks.” The major concern with this situation is that the ‘sinks’ will become ‘sources’ in the future. In other words, the chickens (massive amounts of heat energy) will come home to roost (wreak havoc on us with extreme weather events).
While this energy is being stored in the oceans everything appears to us to be OK. It is a lot like running up a large debt. … This is the same strategy that U.S. President Bush (the second) used with the Iraq War. He did not tax Americans to pay for the war, but put it on the national credit card. There were few complaints at the time, but now after a trillion dollars we hear complaints about the “unsustainable levels of federal debt” in America.
Similarly, climate scientists continue to warn of “unsustainable levels of carbon debt,” but I suspect more and more people will echo them in the future, especially because another and perhaps more ominous delay is also built into the climate system.
Once fossil fuels are burned the carbon dioxide remains in the atmosphere for decades causing more and more warming. Many scientists say that even if we stopped burning all coal, oil and gas today that we would continue to experience the effects for the better part of most Wanganui Chronicle readers’ lifetimes.
Earlier this week investment guru CharlesHugh Smith told his readers: 
In my opinion, markets reflect a dynamic somewhat akin to the Heisenburg uncertainty principle of quantum mechanics, which holds that precision is fundamentally limited by Nature: the more precisely the position of a particle is determined, the less precisely its momentum can be known, and vice versa. In an analogous fashion, the more precisely we can determine the likelihood of a trend change, the less precisely we can determine the timing of the trend change–and vice versa. 
Which takes us back to what we posted previously with respect to Dennis Meadow’s chart of non-linear responses. Like a coastal landscape shaped by extreme storm events, the Anthropocene arrives in leaps and droughts. We can tell the direction of the trend.  The timing is anyone’s guess.

And the White Walkers are just beyond the wall.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Empire on Empty

"If the US can cut the flow of Russian gas through Ukraine - letting Ukraine siphon off Europe’s supply would suffice - then the price will float to a point LNG transatlantic imports make sense."

The West Point Interview, Annotated

NPR's Steve Inskeep interviewed President Obama when he was at West Point to deliver the commencement address last month. That address and the one he gave at UC Irvine yesterday point up the contradictions that anyone can easily see in the man, his policies, and the state of the American Empire as it peers over the precipice of petrocollapse.

STEVE INSKEEP: As you look at the moment of history that you occupy, do you think you can put into a sentence what you are trying to accomplish in the world?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: I'm not sure I can do it in a sentence because we're fortunate in many ways. We don't face an existential crisis.

NOTE: Except for the impending extinction of life on Earth due to profligate resource usurpation by a single species, something that might have been averted if COP-19 in Copenhagen had not been torpedoed. That was arguably the most historic moment of the Obama presidency.

We don't face a civil war.

NOTE: Except for the imminent succession of Vermont. Oh, and maybe an uprising by the 99% unless Tim Geithner can come up with more bread and circuses. 

We don't face a Soviet Union that is trying to rally a bloc of countries and that could threaten our way of life.

NOTE: Except for Russian subs roving the Arctic with enough firepower to destroy every city in the US larger than Charlotte, North Carolina in less than 5 minutes, and at least two other countries working towards the same capabilities. 

Instead, what we have is, as I say in the speech, this moment in which we are incredibly fortunate to have a strong economy that is getting stronger, no military peer that threatens us, no nation-state that anytime soon intends to go to war with us. But we have a world order that is changing very rapidly and that can generate diffuse threats, all of which we have to deal with.

And I think that the most important point of the speech today for me is how we define American leadership in part is through our military might, but only in part, that American leadership in the 21st century is going to involve our capacity to build international institutions, coalitions that can act effectively, and the promotion of norms, rules, laws, ideals and values that create greater prosperity and peace, not just in our own borders, but outside as well.

NOTE: And drones.

Is your sentence then pursuing U.S. interests abroad without going to war?

Well, there are going to be times where we might have to go to war. And that's why I think it's very important for us not to get into these simplistic ways of thinking about it, [that] either we pull back entirely and we're isolationist, or alternatively, every problem around the world is ours to manage. Rather, you know, what we have to do is clearly define where is it in our national interests to use military force, sometimes unilaterally. And typically when we have direct interests, core interests, our safety, our security, our livelihoods, the protection of our allies, you know, international opinion matters, but we may have to act on our own.

When it comes to the kinds of issues, though, that dominate the headlines — a conflict in Syria, a Russian incursion into Ukraine, the kidnapping of 200 young girls in Nigeria — in those circumstances, we are going to be most effective when we use a wide range of tools — diplomacy, sanctions, appeals to international law.

NOTE: Legal, or at least legitimized, actions are our first recourse when there is no oil involved. If we are talking about oil, that is another matter.

In some cases, a judicious use of military force may make sense.

What should leaders like Syria's Bashar Assad or Russia's Vladimir Putin take away from this speech, in which you did speak passionately about not going to war unnecessarily and said you were haunted by the deaths of American soldiers?

Well, I think they can take away from it that they have to be on guard when they act outside of international norms, that we are going to push aggressively against them.

NOTE: Such as by setting up a CIA station under the guise of an embassy in Bengazi whose principal mission was to move arms to the Syrian contras and otherwise destabilize the government of Syria, a UN member country with an elected government. It is unfortunate, for the State Department, that the Bengazi Embassy got caught in a crossfire, but so far the White House is handling the cover-up quite well. Of course, with this crop of Republicans and Tea Party Mad Hatters, that is not difficult. Even Hillary could do it.

We're not always going to push using military actions initially. There may be circumstances in which we mobilize in the international community to take international action. But as I spoke about, when you look at events in Ukraine over the last two months, there is no doubt that our ability to mobilize international opinion rapidly has changed the balance and the equation in Ukraine. I just spoke yesterday to the newly elected president of Ukraine.

NOTE: This would be
Petro Poroshenko, our man in Kief, who was elected to succeed Ihor Kolomoyski, who was appointed by Yulia Timoshenko, whose ally (Arseni Yatsenyuk) was chosen by US regional station chief, Victoria Nuland, wife of Robert Kagan, Council on Foreign Relations member, and co-founder of the think-tank Project for the New American Century (of Iraq War fame) to lead the post-coup government.  Victoria Nuland is the former principal deputy foreign policy adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney and later U.S. ambassador to NATO. The cost of her little coup in Kief was $5 billion US taxpayer dollars.

Mr. Putin has just announced that he is moving his troops back from the borders of Ukraine. And that's an application of American leadership that is sustainable, consistent and is most likely to produce the kinds of results we want.

NOTE: Moving the Red Army two steps back is not enough. The Project for a New American Century calls for expanding NATO into an encirclement of Russia. Ukraine is just the latest domino to fall. The February 22nd coup was engineered in Washington with assistance from rabidly anti-Russian Polish officials, and with the additional assistance of some fundamentalist far-Right Israeli-Ukrainians who were willing to work with Ukrainian neo-Nazis to get this done.

It's interesting about Ukraine, though, Mr. President, because a lot of analysts have looked at that situation and said this is an area where Putin may have had a weak hand, but he gained. He gained Crimea. He asserted his influence over Ukraine. You speak of Ukraine, though, as a success. Do you feel that you've been successful in achieving your aims?

You know, I think it's a mistake to think that somehow Mr. Putin reflected strength in this situation. Ukraine is not just next door to Russia. Ukraine, in the minds of most Russians, has been a central part of Russia for decades, for centuries. And from Mr. Putin's perspective, he was operating from a position of weakness. He felt as if he was being further and further surrounded by NATO members, folks who are looking west economically, from a security perspective. And even in Ukraine, the crown jewel of the former Soviet system, outside of Russia, an oligarchy that was corrupt was rejected by people on the streets. And so what you saw was a scrambling, a reaction to people in the Ukraine saying, we want a different way of life.

NOTE: And a Ukrainian Disneyworld would be nice, also.

The fact that Crimea, which historically is dominated by native Russians and Russian speakers, was annexed illegally does not in any way negate the fact that the way of life, the systems of economic organization, the notions of rule of law, those values that we hold dear, are ascendant, and you know, the other side is going to be on the defense.

NOTE: They can decide their own futures, as long as that does not include democratically organized elections or referenda, such as the decision by an overwhelming majority — 96% of voters — in Crimea to rejoin Russia.

That doesn't mean that we think that Ukraine shouldn't have a good relationship with Russia. We think it should. And I have said directly to Mr. Putin we want, ultimately, Ukrainians to make a decision about their own futures, and that, I assume, will include strong relations with Russia as well as with Europe.

NOTE: Congressional chickenhawks, Fox and CNN want the US to become re-ensnared in Iraq now that ISIL/ISIS — jihadist zombies trained and equiped by the US to infect Syria — was drawn by the scent of blood to neighboring Iraq where it broke down the mall doors to get at the trillion-dollar Black Friday sale of abandoned military equipment and plush military bases, not to mention a bank job in Mosul that netted something north of $700 million.

The Obama Administration was quick to rule out re-insertion of Marines into Iraq, however. Strategic interests have now changed — Obama is being advised that the US will soon become the Saudi Arabia of natural gas (a Snake Oil  ruse if ever there was one) and the US strategic challenge will be to find foreign markets for all that gas. LNG transport makes gas very expensive (as would environmental controls on fracking). Only Europe can afford those kinds of prices, and they won’t as long as Russia can undercut the price with its Siberian gas. Déjà vu: the Berlin-to-Baghdad railroad plan that began World War I with British tank divisions taking Basra. If the US can cut the flow of Russian gas through Ukraine — letting Ukraine siphon off Europe’s supply would suffice — then the price will float to a point LNG transatlantic imports make sense.

You're going to make Russia give Crimea back. Do you have the ability or the leverage to do that? Well, you know, I think we're going to have to see how it plays itself out. I'm going to see Mr. Poroshenko, the newly elected president of Crimea — or newly elected president of Ukraine, next week, and I'm sure that'll be a topic of discussion.

NOTE: Petro Poroshenko, an Ukrainian billionaire businessman, is the fifth and current President of Ukraine.  From 2007 until 2012, he headed the Council of Ukraine's National Bank. Poroshenko owns, among a number of companies, a large confectionery business, which has earned him the nickname Chocolate King. Crimean State Council chair Vladimir Konstantinov is leading the Republic of Crimea until his parliament can choose a Prime Minister under the Crimean Constitution, which was approved by a parliamentary vote of 100 to 88 on April 11.

Let me ask about Syria, Mr. President… What, if anything, is different about the situation in Syria, as opposed to a couple of years ago, when some of your advisers wanted larger-scale training of the rebels, and I believe you declined.

Well, I think that's not an accurate portrayal of either what we have done or what the debate's been about…. Ultimately, I did not think then and I still do not believe that American military actions can resolve what is increasingly a sectarian civil war, and I also believe that, ultimately, the only way you're going to get a resolution that works for the Syrian people and the region is going to — is going to require some sort of political accommodation between the various groups there.

But what we can do is to work with the neighbors in the region — Jordan, Turkey, the Gulf states, Lebanon — to deal with the refugee flows that are coming out of Syria, to deal with the humanitarian crisis that exists there and to build on the framework, the progress that we have made over the last couple of years. We've seen some success in the Syrian opposition gaining more capacity, gaining more training, gaining more effectiveness; and building on some of that success, it is conceivable that in combination with the other work that is done on the diplomatic front, that we're able to tip what happens in Syria so that it's more likely that we can arrive at a political resolution.

Syrian Refugee Camp in Jordan

Are conditions better now, then, for a more robust aiding of the rebels and training of the rebels than in the past?

Well, I wouldn't say the conditions are better. I think, in many ways, the conditions are worse. But the capacity of some of the opposition is better than it was before, which is understandable.

Think — think about who this opposition is. The moderate opposition, as opposed to the jihadists that have seen the chaos there as an opportunity to gain a foothold, those are hardened fighters. When you talk about the moderate opposition, many of these people were farmers or dentists or maybe some radio reporters who didn't have a lot of experience fighting. What they understood was, is, that they had a government that was killing its own people and violating human rights in, in the most profound way, and they wanted to do something about it.

But creating a capacity for them to hold ground, to be able to rebuff vicious attacks, for them to be able to also organize themselves in ways that are cohesive — all that takes, unfortunately, more time than I think many people would like.

You've made some statements recently, Mr. President, that it seems you've been trying to put yourself in a historical context, if you can. You've talked about hitting singles and doubles on foreign policy. You talked about handing a baton from one president or one person in history to another. I wonder if you're at a point in your second term where even though there is well over two years to go, that you have to think about narrowing possibilities and a more limited list of things that you can realistically accomplish in the time you have left.

Well, I think that's always been the case. That was the case the first day in the Oval Office. You know, you don't walk into the presidency and completely remake the world and ignore history and ignore the problems that are already sitting there in the inbox. So you have to make choices about what's important and what's not.

It's interesting, though, you know, the comment I made about singles and doubles I think is — is only a partial quote. What I said was that when it comes to foreign policy, that oftentimes the United States has made mistakes not by showing too much restraint but by underestimating how challenging the environment is out there, not thinking through consequences, that there is a lot of blocking and tackling to foreign policy, to change sports metaphors, or, if you want to stick to baseball, that a lot of what you want to do is to advance the ball on human rights, advance the ball on national security, advance the ball on energy independence, to put the ball in play.

And every once in a while, a pitch is going to come right over home plate that you can knock out for a home run. But you don't swing at every pitch. And we have opportunities right now, for example, and I talked about today, to advance an Iranian agreement on their nuclear program that could be historic. We may not get it, but there's a chance that it could still happen. I have not yet given up on the possibility that both Israelis and Palestinians can see their self-interest in a peace deal that would provide Israel security that's recognized by its neighbors and make sure that Palestinians have a state of their own.
So there are going to continue to be opportunities that come up. And what we want to do is make sure we're in a position to seize those opportunities when they arise. But in the meantime, the work that we do to help countries in North Africa secure their borders and root out terrorism…

NOTE: With drone attacks on wedding parties and funerals, for instance. Unseen terror from above.

… you know, that stuff's not sexy. It's not going to be on the front page of the newspapers. But in many ways, that's what's going to ultimately be most effective; that's going to be what's going to most determine whether or not the United States retains its primacy and its leadership on the world stage in the 21st century.

NOTE: The way Star Wars was popular in the 20th Century. Drone Wars. A Galactic Empire. Darth Vader.

Mr. President, thanks very much.

I enjoyed it. Thank you.

NOTE: The President advised the students at UC Irvine yesterday: “You need to invest in what helps, and divest from what harms.” That was good advice.




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