Friday, January 30, 2009

Going over King

In advance of testifying — maybe — in the Coleman election challenge, St. Cloud State college economics professor King Banaian was deposed by an attorney for Al Franken. The transcript of the deposition is online. It is a PDF file, a series of page images and not text that can be linked to directly, so Spot will reproduce some of the images here. The Professor did a pretty good job, but he didn’t have much to work with.

The Coleman camp wants Banaian — a durable conservative and proprietor of SCSU Scholars — to testify about the, well, fishiness in the difference in the rejection rate among various counties in Minnesota.

Franken’s lawyer started with the aw shucks routine that he didn’t know much about statistics, the subject of Banaian’s proposed testimony.

Banaian 1


Now, boys and girls, if you ever find yourself in the position of being cross-examined, Spot wants you to promise to be extra leery of an attorney who professes ignorance on the subject of the examination. Because you see, if the lawyer was really fuzzy about any of the subject matter, you can be assured he wouldn’t tell you!

For the first fifty pages or so of the deposition, Banaian is asked about what he did to come to his fishiness opinion. Where did you get the data you examined? From the Coleman people. What did you do with these data? Plugged them into an Excel spreadsheet. Really?


Isn’t that the way it always is, boys and girls? If you choose wisely, grasshopper, good things will happen.

What are you talking about, Spot?

Never mind, grasshopper, it was just a figure of speech.

Professor Banaian lead us on a hike over hill, over dale, all along the dusty trail, stopping for water at the chi squared spring, displaying his mastery of the discipline of statistics and the fishiness of the election results.

Sadly, in the end, it’s irrelevant. After the Professor struts his stuff, Franken’s lawyer gets to the heart of the matter, at about page 60:


And there is this:


Of course, the Franken lawyer suggests some. Banaian goes on to say:


Now the admission:


Well, Professor, Coleman’s lawyers were hoping to do just that: draw the inference that election officials are the explanation for any variation in error rate. This is because they’re trying to establish some sort of equal protection claim under Bush v. Gore. But it ain’t gonna work on Professor Banaian’s testimony. Because, you see, boys and girls, there is no competent evidence in Professor Banaian’s statistical aerial act.

Nice job, Mr. Burman.

Spot is reminded of a quote of John Ralson Saul’s in Voltaire’s Bastards that Spot has referred to before:

Their [the experts'] standard procedure when faced by outside questioning is to avoid answering and instead to discourage, even to frighten off the questioner, by implying that he is uninformed, inaccurate, superficial and, invariably, overexcited. If the questioner has some hierarchical power, the expert may feel obliged to answer with greater care. For example, he may release a minimum amount of information in heavy dialect and accompany it with apologies for the complexity, thus suggesting that the questioner is not competent to understand anything more. And if the questioner must be answered but need not be respected — a journalist, for example, or a politician — the expert may release a flood of incomprehensible data, thus drowning out debate while pretending to be cooperative. And even if someone does manage to penetrate the confusion of material, he will be obliged to argue against the expert in a context of such complexity that the public, to whom he is supposed to be communicating understanding, will quickly lose interest. In other words, by drawing the persistent outsider into his box, the expert will have rendered him powerless.

Here, our intrepid Mr. Burman draws Professor Banaian out of the box.

Elections have consequences

Unless of course, you're the GOP and you lose. Then it's like it never happened.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Rep. John Kline, still opposed to equality

John Kline recently commented on the Ledbetter Act, which would simply restore previous interpretations of the time limitations that have been part of the Civil Rights Act for decades:
Republicans said the bill was unfair to employers. They will be exposed to “decades-old discrimination claims that they have no ability to defend,” said Representative John Kline, Republican of Minnesota.

Remember, all the bill does is restore the way the statute of limitations works back to the way it's been all along. Congressman Kline apparently thinks it's a-ok for employers to pay women less than what men are paid if they can just keep it under wraps for 180 days.

Which is worse, decades-old discrimination never remedied or the chance that some employer might have to defend itself against legitimate claims?

Lucky for women, racial minorities, and other victims of discrimination, the law passed despite Rep. Kline's stance. And despite Rep. Bachmann's, too. Bachmann, who attended law school in an age when Title IX had opened up the doors to women like never before, said this about the Act:
[It does]nothing for the struggling American worker and go a long way in lining the pockets of a key political ally of the House majority– trial lawyers.

It really does feel good to watch them and their ridiculous ideas fade into history.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Just another self-hating Jew

Via A Tiny Revolution:


Technorati Tags: ,,


Now there’s a term you don’t hear very often.

I’ve never heard it, Spotty. What does it mean?

We’ll let the BBC explain it to you, grasshopper:

The term Lebensraum was coined by the German geographer, Friedrich Ratzel (1844-1904). During the last two decades of the 19th century, Ratzel developed a theory according to which the development of all species, including humans, is primarily determined by their adaptation to geographic circumstances.

Above all, Ratzel considered species migration as the crucial factor in social adaptation and cultural change. Species that successfully adapted to one location, he thought, would spread naturally to others. Indeed, he went on to argue that, in order to remain healthy, species must continually expand the amount of space they occupy, for migration is a natural feature of all species, an expression of their need for living space.

This process also applied to humans, who operate collectively in the form of 'peoples' (Völker), with one Völk effectively conquering another. However, according to Ratzel, such expansion could be successful only if the conquering nation 'colonised' the new territory, and by 'colonisation' he meant the establishment of peasant farms by the new occupiers.

Lebensraum was, of course, Germany’s rationale for expansion in the 1930s.

Now, and this is really important: Spot wants you, boys and girls, to go to the Bob Simon video that Spot has referred to several times, fast forward to about 9:40 and watch until the end, listening carefully to the mayor of a West Bank colony who talks in a couple of places about the role of the West Bank in the future of Israel.

Update: Link fixed. This is, of course, the same video that Spot has linked to before. Sorry for the mix-up.

Perhaps a day late and a dollar short

On Tuesday, Obama did an interview with Arab television. You can read about it, and get links to video clips, here. Here’s part of what Obama said:

In an interview broadcast Tuesday on one of the Middle East’s major news channels, President Obama struck a conciliatory tone toward the Islamic world, saying he wanted to persuade Muslims that “the Americans are not your enemy.”He also said the moment was ripe for negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.

Well, according to Bob Simon and many of the Israelis and Palestinians he interviewed for 60 Minutes on Sunday, the time is overripe. Rotted. History has passed peace by.

Obama went on to say this:

In discussing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Mr. Obama told Hisham Melhem, Al Arabiya's Washington bureau chief, that "the most important thing is for the United States to get engaged right away." He said he told Mr. Mitchell to "start by listening, because all too often the United States starts by dictating."

"Ultimately, we cannot tell either the Israelis or the Palestinians what's best for them," Mr. Obama said. "They're going to have to make some decisions. But I do believe that the moment is ripe for both sides to realize that the path that they are on is not going to result in prosperity and security for their people. And that, instead, it's time to return to the negotiating table."

Frankly, the “we cannot tell the either Israelis or the Palestinians what’s best for them” stuff sounds chillingly Bush administration-like to Spot. We’ll bring a table — at least he offered that — but the parties will have to work this out themselves. When we give one side three billion dollars a year or so in armaments, how well do you suppose that’s gonna work?

Obama does seem to “get it” about the conflict being a key to peace in the whole region:

But he also said the Israeli-Palestinian conflict should not be seen in isolation. “I do think it is impossible for us to think only in terms of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and not think in terms of what’s happening with Syria or Iran or Lebanon or Afghanistan and Pakistan,” Mr. Obama said.

Apparently, we can invade Afghanistan and Iraq and fire rockets into Pakistan in the name of national security, but we can’t even make suggestions to Israel when it would bring national security returns that are orders of magnitude greater than anything we’ve accomplished in the region in the last eight years. And we certainly cannot tell it to dismantle its illegal colonies in the West Bank and east Jerusalem; heaven forefend!

There was hope, mixed with skepticism, in Arab reaction:

There was also [in addition to hope about Obama’s remarks], however, a reluctance to judge Mr. Obama on his words alone. “Let’s see your promise, American president, for an independent Palestinian state,” said a commenter on Al Arabiya’s Web site, identified only as Alsomary. “And let’s see your promise for peace with the world, and especially the Islamic world. Then for sure we will learn to love America through your actions.”

You wonder if Obama saw the Bob Simon piece.

Drinking Liberally – Minneapolis on Thursday

We’ll meet at our regular time, six to nine or so, at the regular place, the 331 Club in northeast Minneapolis Thursday (tomorrow) night.

There is no guest scheduled to attend, so perhaps we can discuss the three options for Palestine that Bob Simon described in his 60 Minutes piece on Sunday: ethnic cleansing, democracy, or apartheid.

And then, perhaps, we can discuss which of these terms resemble another term: genocide.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

More about what Israel is up to

A thump of the tail to A Tiny Revolution and an extra-big thump of the tail to Bob Simon of CBS News for this segment that ran on 60 Minutes:

Monday, January 26, 2009

Dem ol’ externality blues

From the NYT:

Automakers said Monday that they were working toward President Obama's goal of reducing fuel consumption, but rapid imposition of stricter emissions standards could force them to drastically cut production of larger, more profitable vehicles, adding to their financial duress.

Never mind that the public seems to have decided that current gasoline prices are merely a trough between waves – and they’re probably right. Land yachts are profitable, so by golly, that’s what we’ll build!

This is the kind of thinking that made this country great.

The auto execs are suggesting, just like Big Stone II’s owners, that the public bear a greater percentage of the burden of their operations by breathing dirtier air. It’s really that simple. They want to keep that ol’ externality right where it is.

This is not the kind of thinking that Spot and others hoped would come out of the recent automobile epiphany. What we need is a little more beating cars into windmills.

Gosh, Spot, that would make a great post title!

Yes it would, now that you mention it, grasshopper.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Externalities are more than just stinky smoke

Spot described how the owners of the planned Big Stone II coal-fired power plant were trying to avoid some of the costs of operating the plant, specifically through the extra pollution that the plant would emit without stringent emission controls. He called the pollution an “externality.”

You do remember that, boys and girls?

That was a while ago, Spotty.

It was yesterday, grasshopper, but here’s a refresher on what an externality is:

The indirect effect of one agent's consumption activity or production activity on the well‐being or economic activities of other agents. Pollution generated from the production of electricity or loud noise arising from the consumption of music are examples of externalities in markets. These effects may be negative or positive—they may cause disutility or costs to third parties in some cases and provide benefits in others. Thus in markets where an externality exists, social benefits or costs (the well‐being of all) are different from private benefits or costs—defined as those that accrue only to the original parties in the market activity. [from Dictionary of the Social Sciences, subscription req’d]

So Big Stone II is a dis-utility, Spotty?

Very good, grasshopper. That’s a better-than-average play on words for you.

Acid rain, asthma, and laundry getting  dirty as it hangs to dry are examples of costs of running a power plant that will be borne by the neighbors and the public, not the plant owners.

That’s a dirty deal, Spotty.

Yes, grasshopper it is, and that’s why we regulate pollution and try to minimize these externalities by imposing conditions on the way power is generated. Obviously, electrical production is a useful thing to society and we need to do it. Virtually all human endeavor comes with some cost to society that we cannot eliminate but need to minimize where possible. That’s what a power plant permitting process is about.

But you know, grasshopper, it can work the other way, too: benefits can accrue to someone when they didn’t participate in the activity conferring the benefit or pay for it.

That’s a ripoff, Spotty!

No, not at all grasshopper, or at least it doesn’t have to be. Let Spot give you an example. A student decides to go to medical school, borrows a bunch of money from a bank to go, becomes a surgeon, and pioneers a life-saving medical procedure.

Well, the doctor gets paid, right?

Sure, but not by everyone whose life is saved by the procedure.

But doctors don’t pay the whole cost of their education, do they Spot?

No, grasshopper. Most medical schools are public institutions; they’re very expensive to run and rely on taxes for support.

Why do we do that, Spot?

How many doctors do you suppose we’d have if we didn’t?

A lot fewer, I suppose.

Um hum. And maybe the doctor who pioneered that life saving procedure wouldn’t have been able to borrow enough money to go to medical school and save so many people.

We all rely on positive externalities every day, don’t we Spotty?

Yes we do, grasshopper. When you play a round of golf on a municipal course, you take your boat through a public lock on the Mississippi River, or you read and rely on the truth of a prospectus of a company that wants you to invest in it, you are relying on a form of positive externality. You received the benefit, but at most paid for a part of it with taxes you pay, and almost certainly didn’t not participate in the decision to make the investment.

People who don’t want to pay anything for these externalities are really freeloaders, aren’t they, Spot?

Well grasshopper, sometimes we call them libertarians or conservatives.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Help from a somewhat unexpected quarter

Hard on the heels of a big Sure, Go Ahead! from the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission, the Big Stone II power plant project got some really bad news from, surprise, surprise, the federal Environmental Protection Agency. Two days into the new Obama administration, the EPA notified the South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources that it objected to the permit issued earlier to the utility consortium that wants to build the plant.

This decision was issued by the Denver office of the EPA. It is pretty clear from a perusal of parts one and two of the decision, linked above, that the EPA staffers have been working on this for a while, but the timing of the release is interesting. Here’s what MPR said the EPA was objecting to:

The EPA objection is over an air quality permit issued last November by the South Dakota Board of Minerals and Environment. At the time Big Stone II officials called the approval "a major step forward" for the plant. Now the EPA's Denver office is questioning whether the South Dakota air permit is adequate.

"We identified three key issues of the state's title five permit that we determined were not consistent with the requirements of the Clean Air Act," says the EPA's Carl Daly.

The agency wants South Dakota officials to revise the permit, he says.

Among the EPA objections to the permit are the sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide output limits and whether the permit sets up adequate monitoring of the plant's overall emissions, Daly says. Both gases contribute to acid rain.

South Dakota has 90 days to change the air permit to satisfy the EPA's objections. Daly expects South Dakota will be able to meet that deadline.

Unsurprisingly, the utility consortium says this will raise the cost of constructing the power plant. In other words, it will have to pay for some more of the externalities of the project that it was hoping to just off load on the public and the environment.

What’s an externality, Spot?

An externality in this case is part of the true cost of operating the enterprise that the enterprise operator avoids:

In a competitive market, the existence of externalities would mean that either too much or too little of the good would be produced and consumed in terms of overall cost and benefit to society. If there exist external costs (negative externalities) such as pollution, the good will be overproduced by a competitive market, as the producer does not take into account the external costs when producing the good. If there are external benefits (positive externalities) such as in areas of education or public safety, too little of the good would be produced by private markets as producers and buyers do not take into account the external benefits to others. Here, overall cost and benefit to society is defined as the sum of the economic benefits and costs for all parties involved.

Pay attention to that definition, grasshopper, because we’ll be coming back to it very soon.

Got it, Spot.

A thump of the tail to Mercury Rising.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Another wonderful image from Tuesday

Photo by Diego Radzinschi from here.

4.5 million freakin’ tons!

smokestack_quer That’s how much carbon will be emitted into the atmosphere annually by the proposed and now approved Big Stone coal-fired power plant, according to the utilities themselves:

According to Dan Sharp, a spokesman for the five-utility consortium that will build the 580-megawatt (mw) Big Stone II plant near Milbank S.D., on Minnesota's western border, about 4.5 million tons of carbon will be dumped annually into the atmosphere each year, much of it carried into Minnesota by prevailing westerly winds.

Spot doesn’t think there is such a thing as “clean coal,” but even if there was, this ain’t it. Here’s what MinnPost’s Ron Way had to say in the lede of the article linked above:

When the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) last week approved transmission lines to enable building the $1.3 billion, coal-fired Big Stone II power plant, it poured tons of soot on state's new law to reduce carbon emissions linked to climate change.

The Sierra Club says this is the equivalent of putting an additional 600,000 cars on the road.

Aw, Spotty, traffic around here is already terrible!

No, grasshopper, it’s not actually cars on the road, just the same greenhouse effect.

That’s still horrible!

Which is why this one is undoubtedly headed to court. Again, MinnPost:

However, two things are likely: Big Stone's owners will accept the PUC's conditions [for the permit issuance], and environmental advocates will seek to block the permits in court.  MCEA's Goodpaster said as much immediately after the PUC vote was taken. Sharp said he expects that a lawsuit will be filed once the PUC's appeal process ends in about a month; regardless, he added that construction plans would proceed.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Thumbs up

This was Spot's favorite image all day:

Spot agrees entirely, Sasha.

No original photo credit, but Spot got it here.

The Inauguration celebration continues at DL

We'll have an Inauguration "post party" on Thursday night at Drinking Liberally in Minneapolis. If you couldn't go to a party on Tuesday night, or you just want another one, come to Drinking Liberally at the 331 Club in northeast Minneapolis. We'll meet at our regular time, six to nine or so. The 331 Club has offered to host a complimentary champagne toast to the new president.

Monday, January 19, 2009

OMG! Zombie banks!

You're just trying to scare us, Spot!

Yes, grasshopper; it's true, but there is reason to be scared.

Come on Spotty! Who's afraid of a bank?

Apparently you've never had an installment loan, grasshopper.


But zombie banks are even scarier than regular ones. Paul Krugman, make that Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman, was talking about them just today:

Old-fashioned voodoo economics — the belief in tax-cut magic — has been banished from civilized discourse. The supply-side cult has shrunk to the point that it contains only cranks, charlatans, and Republicans. [oh, and Governor Pawlenty, too]

But recent news reports suggest that many influential people, including Federal Reserve officials, bank regulators, and, possibly, members of the incoming Obama administration, have become devotees of a new kind of voodoo: the belief that by performing elaborate financial rituals we can keep dead banks walking.

To explain the issue, let me describe the position of a hypothetical bank that I’ll call Gothamgroup, or Gotham for short.

On paper, Gotham has $2 trillion in assets and $1.9 trillion in liabilities, so that it has a net worth of $100 billion. But a substantial fraction of its assets — say, $400 billion worth — are mortgage-backed securities and other toxic waste. If the bank tried to sell these assets, it would get no more than $200 billion.

So Gotham is a zombie bank: it’s still operating, but the reality is that it has already gone bust. Its stock isn’t totally worthless — it still has a market capitalization of $20 billion — but that value is entirely based on the hope that shareholders will be rescued by a government bailout.

The original TARP plan was to take the sludge off the banks' hands to make them solvent again. In other words, buy these assets from the banks. You'd have to pay more than market value, or it wouldn't do the banks' equity position any good. This is what Hank Paulson originally proposed. Again, here's Krugman on his blog:

It looks as if we're back to the idea that toxic waste is really, truly worth much more than anyone is willing to pay for it — and that if only we get the price "right", the banks will turn out to be solvent after all. In other words, we're still in Super-SIV territory, the belief that fancy financial engineering can create value out of nothing.

Color me skeptical. I hope the buzz is wrong, and that something more substantive is being planned. Otherwise, we're looking at Hankie Pankie II: Paulson may be gone, but officials are still determined to believe in financial magic.

But Spot, why is this worse that buying preferred shares in a bank or, shudder, if the bank is under water, seizing its assets?

As Krugman explains, again in today's column, it makes a huge difference to the common stock holders of the banks:

Why would the government bail Gotham out? Because it plays a central role in the financial system. When Lehman was allowed to fail, financial markets froze, and for a few weeks the world economy teetered on the edge of collapse. Since we don’t want a repeat performance, Gotham has to be kept functioning. But how can that be done?

Well, the government could simply give Gotham a couple of hundred billion dollars, enough to make it solvent again. [by overpaying for toxic assets] But this would, of course, be a huge gift to Gotham’s current shareholders — and it would also encourage excessive risk-taking in the future. Still, the possibility of such a gift is what’s now supporting Gotham’s stock price.

A better approach would be to do what the government did with zombie savings and loans at the end of the 1980s: it seized the defunct banks, cleaning out the shareholders. Then it transferred their bad assets to a special institution, the Resolution Trust Corporation; paid off enough of the banks’ debts to make them solvent; and sold the fixed-up banks to new owners.

This is the "moral hazard" that conservatives talk about, but it is still not as bad as what Krugman calls the N-word: nationalization:

Why go through these contortions? The answer seems to be that Washington remains deathly afraid of the N-word — nationalization. The truth is that Gothamgroup and its sister institutions are already wards of the state, utterly dependent on taxpayer support; but nobody wants to recognize that fact and implement the obvious solution: an explicit, though temporary, government takeover. Hence the popularity of the new voodoo, which claims, as I said, that elaborate financial rituals can reanimate dead banks.

A zombie bank is one that really has no equity in it, but it stumbles along undead, racking up more losses against its FDIC insured deposits.

Pardon Lotto (Updated)

Less than a week from now, our long national nightmare will be over. How many pardons will we see of high-ranking Bush administration officials will we see over the next several days? Anyone want to weigh in?

My wholly uneducated guess is about fifteen. Yoo, Addington, and the rest of the top tier of torture supporters. Miers, Bolton, and Rove on the US Attorneys firings. Miscellaneous admin officials (Scooter Libby, James Tobin) are likely, too. There will probably be those who authorized the warrantless wiretapping (whoever they are). Throw in those two border guards and a few white collar thieves (Michael Milkin, Martha Stewart) and I think we'll be at fifteen or so.

Not Cheney - he doesn't believe he did anything wrong, so why take a pardon? Maybe Ted Stevens. Not Gonzales - when has the Bush family ever lent a helping hand to the hired help? Not Rumsfeld - like many others, his crimes aren't wholly domestic in nature, so a pardon is of very limited usefulness to him.

Your guess?

Bump and Update: The two border guards had their sentences commuted. More updates as the information is released.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Senator Pappas' visit to Drinking Liberally

Fresh from listening to that lovable goober Tim Pawlenty (Spot's words) deliver his annual State of the State address, Sandy Pappas spoke to those in attendance at Drinking Liberally last Thursday night:

Friday, January 16, 2009

Thursday, January 15, 2009

What is genocide?

Yeah, Spot, what is genocide? You say that the Israeli actions in Gaza are genocide, and commenter M says no way, there aren't nearly enough dead people.

Well, grasshopper, here's the definition of genocide in the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide:

Article 2

In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

(a) Killing members of the group;

(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;

(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;

(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;

(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

The Convention was drafted in 1948, signed on behalf of Israel in 1949, and ratified by its government in 1950. You would have thought they had a pretty good idea of what was involved at the time. Parenthetically, the US signed the Convention right away, but didn't ratify it until 1968.

Here is what Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland and former United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said back in November, after a trip to the region back during the "truce":

Robinson and her delegation also visited the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, to meet with a range of women and human rights organizations to listen and share experiences of women in other countries. President Robinson noted a startling deterioration in humanitarian conditions since her last visit in 2000 when she was UN High Commissioner for Human Rights:

“Restricted access and limited movement of persons and goods severely impacts the enjoyment of human rights such as health, education, decent work, and the right to live free from violence. In Gaza their civilization is being destroyed. I cannot believe that Israelis understand what is being done in their name; they couldn’t possibly support it if they did.” [Robinson had a regrettably optimistic view of the attitudes of the Israeli population.]

Killing members of the group, when most of those killed are civilians. Genocide? Check. Causing serious bodily or mental harm to the group. Genocide? Check. Destroying their civilization. Genocide? Check.

This is genocide. It may differ in degree - meaningless for purposes of the definition - but not in kind to the other genocides mentioned by M.

Israel's approach to civilian casualties is also indicative of a genocidal intent:

Officers say [force protection] means Israeli infantry units are going in "heavy." If they draw fire, they return it with heavy firepower. If they are told to reach an objective, they first call in artillery or airpower and use tank fire. Then they move, but only behind tanks and armored bulldozers, riding in armored personnel carriers, spending as little time in the open as possible.

As the commander of the army's elite combat engineering unit, Yahalom, told the Israeli press on Wednesday: "We are very violent. We do not balk at any means to protect the lives of our soldiers." His name cannot be published under censorship rules.

Here's Israel's Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni in the Washington Post:

Israel is not going to show restraint anymore. . . . it is not a missile against a missile. We are going to attack strongly if they continue.

One of America's principal contributors to this blood thirst, Tom "suck on this" Friedman, had this to say yesterday:

In Gaza, I still can't tell if Israel is trying to eradicate Hamas or trying to "educate" Hamas, by inflicting a heavy death toll on Hamas militants and heavy pain on the Gaza population. If it is out to destroy Hamas, casualties will be horrific and the aftermath could be Somalia-like chaos. If it is out to educate Hamas, Israel may have achieved its aims. Now its focus, and the Obama team's focus, should be on creating a clear choice for Hamas for the world to see: Are you about destroying Israel or building Gaza? [italics are Spot's]

"Inflicting heavy pain on the Gaza [read: civilian] population" has another definition of course: genocide.

A thump of the tail to Professor David Luban at Balkinization.

Update. This is taken from a press release by Israeli human rights groups:

Since the beginning of the campaign in Gaza on December 27, a heavy suspicion has arisen of grave violations of international humanitarian law by military forces. After the end of the hostilities, the time will come for the investigation of this matter, and accountability will be demanded of those responsible for the violations. At this point we call your attention to the clear and present danger to the lives and well-being of tens of thousands of civilians.

The level of harm to the civilian population is unprecedented. According to the testimony of residents of the Gaza Strip and media reports, military forces are making wanton use of lethal force which has to date caused the deaths of hundreds of uninvolved civilians and destroyed infrastructure and property on an enormous scale. In addition, Israel is also hitting civilian objects, having defined them as "legitimate military targets" solely by virtue of their being "symbols of government."

This is going to take some time

How refreshing to read this in the paper this morning:
Coleman camp devises 5-stage challenge to Franken's numbers

The Coleman campaign proposed that its legal challenge take place in five stages, with all stages to occur only if he picks up "a significant number of votes" along the way.

How long will a five stage process take? The Cucking Stool’s investigative team has uncovered the actual schedule Coleman's attorneys have proposed be used in the election contest litigation. A massive document yet to be filed, it calls for a six year timeline of staged and phased complex litigation designed to ferret out and locate as many Coleman votes as it can. Beginning in Stage One with those wrongly rejected votes in GOP leaning precincts, it moves on to areas likely to be less fruitful, with an anticipated conclusion date of August 2014. While the entire document is under wraps, we were able to obtain the first page of the anticipated filing.

Reproduced below, the proposal does have one suggestion aimed at judicial economy: it calls for the immediate end to litigation at the moment Coleman pulls ahead. Can't have these things drag on forever, you know.

(Click to enlarge)

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Sen. Sandy Pappas to visit Drinking Liberally

Tomorrow night, Thursday January 15h, Minnesota State Senator Sandy Pappas will be our guest at Drinking Liberally - Minneapolis. Sen. Pappas will give us her thoughts on the current legislative session, the looming budget deficit, and maybe tell us about a favorite bill or two. She is expected around seven thirty.

We'll meet at the usual time, from six to nine or so, and the regular place, too, the 331 Club in northeast Minneapolis.

Don't worry about your car, boys and girls; Spot will bring his jumper cables.

In addition to the Drinking Liberally Inauguration party next week, you might also check out the HELLOOO-OBAMA extravaganza at the 331 Club on Friday night. There will be bands, Obama on the big screen, as well as Obama trivia and prizes. It should be a lot of fun. You can read more about it in the sidebar at the right.

It's not frivolous if it's important to me!

GOP activists to sue over alleged double-counting in Senate race
A group of Republican activists announced today that they will file a lawsuit to eliminate alleged double-counting of votes in the U.S. Senate recount, and they invited Democrats and independents to join them in the interest of fairness.

Though the group acknowledged that it had few concrete examples of actual double-counting, its attorney said he believes there "could be hundreds" of double-counted votes.

Oh, goodness, where to begin? Rule 11 of the Rules of Civil Procedure, which has requirements designed to prevent the filing of lawsuits that have no factual support?
11.02 Representations to Court
By presenting to the court (whether by signing, filing, submitting, or later advocating) a pleading, written motion, or other paper, an attorney or unrepresented party is certifying that to the best of the person’s knowledge, information, and belief, formed after an inquiry reasonable under the circumstances,

* * *

(c) the allegations and other factual contentions have evidentiary support or, if specifically so identified, are likely to have evidentiary support after a reasonable opportunity for further investigation or discovery; and
(d) the denials of factual contentions are warranted on the evidence or, if specifically so identified, are reasonably based on a lack of information or belief.

How about Minn Stat. Section 549.211, which echoes the language in Rule 11 and requires that all attorneys acknowledge that they are subject to sanctions if the pleadings do not have have some basis in fact, not just speculation?

No, let's look at a better place, the Platform of the Republican Party of Minnesota, a long opponent of frivolous lawsuits!

Section 6 – Strengthening the Rule of Law
Republicans believe that our legal system has been subject to abuse in the form of frivolous lawsuits; excessive numbers of lawsuits; and lawsuits that are intended to advance a political agenda, rather than adjudicate real controversies. Therefore, we support:

C. Empowering juries to determine that a suit was without merit, and in such case requiring the plaintiff and his attorney to pay the defendant’s attorneys’ fees and court costs.

Frivolous being, it seems, in the eye of the beholder.

Great for the kids

For those of us who have try to raise our children to be smart, sophisticated, world-wise, we now have a new tool: the Playmobil Security Checkpoint. The customer reviews are particularly helpful in choosing this toy.
"Thank you Playmobil for allowing me to teach my 5-year old the importance of recognizing what a failing bureaucracy in a ever growing fascist state looks like."
"This toy would be a lot more realistic with about 350 people standing in line for an average of an hour. It still makes a nice set with the interrogation room."
"This toy is a wonderful start but...I think expansion packs would really increase the enjoyment. Could you imagine the fun kids could have with the "Mother forced to drink bottled breast milk to prove it's not explosive" expansion, the "What do you mean I'm the No-Fly List?" and especially the "Body Cavity Search, Wait, What?" set."
Best comment, though, is here.

(h/t to the Shaker gang)

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Genocide on the installment plan

That's what Spot recently called Israel's "activities" in Gaza. Here's Chris Hedges yesterday:

The incursion into Gaza is not about destroying Hamas. It is not about stopping rocket fire into Israel. It is not about achieving peace. The Israeli decision to rain death and destruction on Gaza, to use the lethal weapons of the modern battlefield on a largely defenseless civilian population, is the final phase of the decades-long campaign to ethnically cleanse Palestinians. The assault on Gaza is about creating squalid, lawless and impoverished ghettos where life for Palestinians will be barely sustainable. It is about building ringed Palestinian enclaves where Israel will always have the ability to shut off movement, food, medicine and goods to perpetuate misery. The Israeli attack on Gaza is about building a hell on earth.

This attack is the final Israeli push to extinguish a Palestinian state and crush or expel the Palestinian people. The images of dead Palestinian children, lined up as if asleep on the floor of the main hospital in Gaza, are a metaphor for the future. Israel will, from now on, speak to the Palestinians in the language of death. And the language of death is all the Palestinians will be able to speak back. The slaughter—let’s stop pretending this is a war—is empowering an array of radical Islamists inside and outside of Gaza. It is ominously demolishing the shaky foundations of the corrupt secular Arab regimes on Israel’s borders, from Egypt to Jordan to Syria to Lebanon. It is about creating a new Middle East, one ruled by enraged Islamic radicals.

Hamas cannot lose this conflict. Militant movements feed off martyrs, and Israel is delivering the maimed and the dead by the truckload. Hamas fighters, armed with little more than light weapons, a few rockets and small mortars, are battling one of the most sophisticated military machines on the planet. And the determined resistance by these doomed fighters exposes, throughout the Arab world, the gutlessness of dictators like Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, who refuses to open Egypt’s common border with Gaza despite the slaughter. Israel, when it bombed Lebanon two years ago, sought to destroy Hezbollah. By the time it withdrew it had swelled Hezbollah’s power base and handed it heroic status throughout the Arab world. Israel is now doing the same for Hamas.

The refusal by political leaders from Barack Obama to nearly every member of the U.S. Congress to speak out in the major media in defense of the rule of law and fundamental human rights exposes our cowardice and hypocrisy. Those who openly condemn the Israeli crimes, including Israelis such as Yuri Avnery, Tom Segev, Ilan Pappe, Gideon Levy and Amira Hass, as well as American stalwarts Noam Chomsky, Dennis Kucinich, Norman Finkelstein and Richard Falk, are ignored or treated like lepers. They are denied a platform in the press. They are rendered nearly voiceless. Falk, the U.N. special rapporteur for human rights in the occupied territories and a former professor of international law at Princeton, was refused entry into Israel in December, detained for 20 hours and deported. Never mind that nearly all these voices are Jewish.

Here's a spokesman for the Hamas political leadership, who miraculously got some ink in the L.A. Times, as was reprinted in the Strib yesterday:

Americans might believe that the current violence in Gaza began Dec. 27, but in fact Palestinians have been dying from bombardments for many weeks. On Nov. 4, when the Israeli-Palestinian truce was still in effect but global attention was turned to the U.S. elections, Israel launched a "preemptive" air strike on Gaza, alleging intelligence about an imminent operation to capture Israeli soldiers; more assaults took place throughout the month.

The truce thus shattered, any incentive by Palestinian leaders to enforce the moratorium on rocket fire was gone. Any extension of the agreement or improvement of its implementation at that point would have required Israel to engage Hamas, to agree to additional trust-building measures and negotiation with our movement -- a political impossibility for Israel, with its own elections only weeks away.

Not that the truce had been easy on Palestinians. In the six-month period preceding the current bombardment, one Israeli was killed, while dozens of Palestinians lost their lives to Israeli military and police actions, and numerous others died for want of medical care.

The war on Gaza should not be mistaken for an Israeli triumph. Rather, Israel's failure to make the truce work, and its inevitable resort to bloodshed, demonstrate again that it cannot permit a future built on Palestinian political self-determination. The truce failed because Israel will not open Gaza's borders, because Israel would rather be a jailer than a neighbor, and because it forestalls Palestinian destiny.

"A jailer rather than a neighbor," sums it up pretty well. He continues, mocking the complaint that Hamas does not recognize Israel:

Renewed calls today for our movement to "recognize the right of Israel to exist," in the face of murderous onslaught, ring as hollow as Israel's continuing claims to be acting in "self-defense" as its jets bomb civilians. Without debating here the Zionist state's fictive, existential "right," which of the many Israels, precisely, would the West have us recognize? Is it the Israel that militarily occupies land belonging to three of its neighbors, ignoring international law and scores of U.N. resolutions over decades? Is it the Israel that illegally settles its citizens on other people's land, seizes water sources and uproots olive trees? Is it the Israel that in 60 years has never acknowledged the forced expulsion of Palestinians from their farms and villages as the foundational act of its statehood and denies refugees their right to return? When we hear demands for "recognition" of Israel as a precondition to dialogue, what we hear is a call for acquiescence in its crimes against us.

Back to Chris Hedges:

There have always been powerful Israeli leaders, since the inception of the state in 1948, who have called for the total physical removal of the Palestinians. The ethnic cleansing of some 800,000 Palestinians by Jewish militias in 1948 was, for them, only the start. But there were also a few Israeli leaders, including the assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who argued that Israel could not pick itself up and move to another geographical spot on the globe. Israel, Rabin believed, would have to make peace with the Palestinians and its Arab neighbors to survive. Rabin’s vision of two states, however, appears to have died with him. The embrace of wholesale ethnic cleansing by the Israeli leadership and military now appears to be unquestioned.

Hedges makes this point about genocide:

The public debate about the Gaza attack engages in the absurd pretense that it is Israel, not the Palestinians, whose security and dignity are being threatened. This blind defense of Israeli brutality toward the Palestinians betrays the memory of those killed in other genocides, from the Holocaust to Cambodia to Rwanda to Bosnia. The lesson of the Holocaust is not that Jews are special. It is not that Jews are unique. It is not that Jews are eternal victims. The lesson of the Holocaust is that when you have the capacity to halt genocide, and you do not—no matter who carries out that genocide or who it is directed against—you are culpable.

Spot thinks that Israel is already dead, consigned to the dust bin of history - at least as the idea of a refuge for oppressed people. It died with the same assassin's bullet that killed Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. It doesn't mean the death of the Jewish people; they flourish in many places. But the Zionist dream has made a fatal overreach. It's only a matter of time.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Last week's DL with John Lesch

Minnesota State Rep. John Lesch from St. Paul was our guest at Drinking Liberally in Minneapolis last Thursday. He spoke about several topics: the foreclosure crisis, K-12 education, the Vikings stadium proposal, tax and criminal justice and public safety. Here's a video with a few excerpts of his remarks, including a couple of questions by Spot at the end and an appearance by Rep. Lesch's daughter Alice.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

"Taking cover among civilians"

The AP reports:

Tiny bodies lying side by side wrapped in white burial shrouds. The cherubic face of a dead preschooler sticking up from the rubble of her home. A man cradling a wounded boy in a chaotic emergency room after Israel shelled a U.N. school.

Children, who make up more than half of crowded Gaza's 1.4 million people, are the most defenseless victims of the war between Israel and Hamas. The Israeli army has unleashed unprecedented force in its campaign against Hamas militants, who have been taking cover among civilians.

And Chris Floyd comments:

"Taking cover among civilians." This is a curious locution. When you launch missiles to kill the democratically elected officials of a government -- especially when you target their private homes -- where else do you expect to find them? Gaza is a giant, open-air prison which no one can leave and where, as the story notes, 1.4 million people live in densely-packed urban areas and refugee camps. Where else are the "Hamas militants" supposed to exist in this seething sardine tin except "among civilians"? Naturally, it would be far more convenient if every member of Hamas -- including, again, the democratically elected officials of the government -- painted themselves bright red and gathered in, say, a soccer stadium, where Israel could then drop bombs on them with no muss, no fuss. But we are dealing with the real world, where human beings of every description, profession, ideology and belief must of necessity live and work in close proximity to one another -- especially in the reconstruction of the Warsaw Ghetto that is Gaza today.

The Israelis would react with outrage at a comparison to the Warsaw Ghetto, but it is entirely apt.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Time for an intervention

Your good friend has hit bottom. He is engaging in all kinds of destructive behavior. He's delusional and abusive to family, friends, and neighbors. What to do? If you're really a friend, you have an intervention.

Unless you're the Bush administration. Bush, the Klingon warrior princess Condoleezza Rice, and their neo-con pals, have instead been enablers, refilling Israel's cup of blood wine again and again. [That's just a Star Trek metaphor, so settle down everybody.]

In Salon, Juan Cole says:

The Gaza War of 2009 is a final and eloquent testimony to the complete failure of the neoconservative movement in United States foreign policy. For over a decade, the leading figures in this school of thought saw the violent overthrow of Saddam Hussein and the institution of a parliamentary regime in Iraq as the magic solution to all the problems in the Middle East. They envisioned, in the wake of the fall of Baghdad, the moderation of Hezbollah in Lebanon, the overthrow of the Baath Party in Syria and the Khomeinist regime in Iran, the deepening of the alliance with Turkey, the marginalization of Saudi Arabia, a new era of cheap petroleum, and a final resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on terms favorable to Israel. After eight years in which they strode the globe like colossi, they have left behind a devastated moonscape reminiscent of some post-apocalyptic B movie. As their chief enabler prepares to exit the White House, the only nation they have strengthened is Iran; the only alliance they have deepened is that between Iran and two militant Islamist entities to Israel's north and south, Hezbollah and Hamas.

Who can forget Rice's remarks during Israel's war with Lebanon and Hizbullah just two years ago that we were witnessing the birth pangs of a new Middle East? A pretty rough labor, Spot would say.

Rarely has anything come such a cropper as the Bush administration's foreign policy:

The neoconservatives first laid out their manifesto in a 1996 paper, "A Clean Break," written for an obscure think tank in Jerusalem and intended for the eyes of far right-wing Israeli politician Binyamin Netanyahu of the Likud Party, who had just been elected prime minister. They advised Israel to renounce the Oslo peace process and reject the principle of trading land for peace, instead dealing with the Palestinians with an iron fist. They urged Israel to uphold the right of hot pursuit of Palestinian guerrillas and to find alternatives to Yasser Arafat's Fatah for the Palestinian leadership. They called forth Israeli airstrikes on targets in Syria and rejection of negotiations with Damascus. They foresaw strengthened ties between Israel and its two regional friends, Turkey and Jordan.

They advocated "removing Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq," in part as a way of "rolling back" Syria. In place of the secular, republican tyrant, they fantasized about the restoration of the Hashemite monarchy in Iraq, and thought that a Sunni king might help moderate the Shiite Hezbollah in south Lebanon. (Yes.) They barely mentioned Iran, though it appears that their program of expelling Syria from Lebanon and weakening its regime was in part aimed at depriving Iran of its main Arab ally. In a 1999 book called "Tyranny's Ally: America's Failure to Defeat Saddam Hussein," David Wurmser argued that it was false to fear that installing the Iraqi Shiites in power in Baghdad would strengthen Iran regionally.

The signatories to this fantasy of using brute military power to reshape all of West Asia included some figures who would go on to fill key positions in the Bush administration. Richard Perle, a former assistant secretary of defense under Reagan, became chairman of the influential Defense Policy Board Advisory Committee, a civilian oversight body for the Pentagon. Douglas J. Feith became the undersecretary of defense for planning. David Wurmser first served in Feith's propaganda shop, the Office of Special Plans, which manufactured the case for an American war on Iraq, and then went on to serve with "Scooter" Libby in the office of Vice President Dick Cheney.

Professor Cole continues:

The neoconservatives made almost as big an error in working to destroy the peace process of the 1990s as they did in fostering a war on Iraq. A two-state solution was not far from being concluded in 2000, but negotiations were abruptly discontinued by the government of Ariel Sharon in spring of 2001 with the encouragement of the Bush administration. (It is not true that the Palestinian side had ceased negotiating, or "walked away," from the Clinton plan, nor is it true that the Israelis had as yet formalized a specific offer in writing.) In the past eight years, Israel has greatly expanded its settlements in the West Bank and around Jerusalem, fencing the Palestinians in with checkpoints, superhighways that cut villages off from one another, and a wall that has stolen from them key agricultural land. Ariel Sharon's 2005 withdrawal from Gaza made no provisions for what would happen next, and in any case Israel continued to control Gaza's borders and denied it a harbor, an airport and, more recently, enough food to eat.

Let's face it: the Israelis are brutal, expansionist, occupiers and colonists. It can only be so because the US lets it. We can make it stop, and we must. It's time for that intervention.

Commenter Andy said it very well recently:

Suffering does not confer moral superiority on the sufferer, nor does it give them the right to inflict suffering.

If one makes the smallest criticism of Israel's behavior toward Gaza, he is accused of being an Anti-Semite and a coddler of terrorists. Read the comments to the last couple of posts if you don't believe it. But as Avi Shlaim says in an article that Spot has linked to before:

As so often in the tragic history of Palestine, the victims were blamed for their own misfortunes. Israel's propaganda machine persistently purveyed the notion that the Palestinians are terrorists, that they reject coexistence with the Jewish state, that their nationalism is little more than antisemitism, that Hamas is just a bunch of religious fanatics and that Islam is incompatible with democracy. But the simple truth is that the Palestinian people are a normal people with normal aspirations. They are no better but they are no worse than any other national group. What they aspire to, above all, is a piece of land to call their own on which to live in freedom and dignity.

The entire eight years of the Bush administration have been a counterproductive carte blanche to the worst instincts of the Israeli leadership; it has encouraged extremist elements in Muslim society, and as Professor Cole points out, has strengthened the hand of Iran as, astonishingly, the Arabs look to the Persians for support.

The pen is mightier than the plunger

Word has reached Spot out here in the provinces that Joe the Turd Herder has turned in his plunger and taken up the pen of journalism. Apparently, his goal of becoming King of the Turd Herders will have to wait while Joe reports the news from Israel.

Actually, Joe is a reporter for the respected video website Pajamas Television. That way, he doesn't have to write.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

"They don't recognize the state of Israel"

The state of Israel was born of terrorism. And expansionism. Here's Avi Shlaim again:

The only way to make sense of Israel's senseless war in Gaza is through understanding the historical context. Establishing the state of Israel in May 1948 involved a monumental injustice to the Palestinians. British officials bitterly resented American partisanship on behalf of the infant state. On 2 June 1948, Sir John Troutbeck wrote to the foreign secretary, Ernest Bevin, that the Americans were responsible for the creation of a gangster state headed by "an utterly unscrupulous set of leaders". I used to think that this judgment was too harsh but Israel's vicious assault on the people of Gaza, and the Bush administration's complicity in this assault, have reopened the question.

During the first half of the twentieth century, Zionism was a gathering force for the creation of a Jewish homeland. The movement only achieved its goal, however, after the Holocaust.  But the Palestinians have paid for the sins of Nazi Germany, and they are continuing to pay.

Defenders of Israel say,"The Palestinians don't recognize the existence of Israel." Well, as a matter of fact, Israel doesn't recognize any state for the Palestinians, either, and has continued to assert its sovereignty over Gaza and the West Bank without making or considering the Palestinians as citizens. They are truly stateless. The Palestinian Authority is plainly not a national government.

The principal reason that Hamas - and Hizbullah - are successful insurgencies, and they are successful, is because they have a lot of indigenous support. And bombing the bejeezus out of Gaza is not well calculated to reduce that support. In the article by Avi Shlaim quoted by Spot yesterday, and linked above, too, he said that eighty percent of Gazans subsist on less than $2 a day. The Palestinians don't have much to lose, but a more dreadful and counterproductive "hearts and minds" campaign could scarcely be imagined.

When you add it all up, Israel has proven a lot more enthusiastic and successful at eradicating Palestinians than the Palestinians have been at eradicating Israelis.

One of the great ironies in all of this is that Israel gave early support to Hamas in an effort to weaken Arafat's PLO. And it worked! In 2006, Hamas won a landslide victory over Fatah for control of the Palestinian Authority. Now, this was kind of a student council election, in view of the limited powers of the Palestinian Authority, but it does show the indigenous support that Spot was talking about.

Israel has spent forty years backing itself into the current corner, and it will probably take at least that long to get out of it. The only way to get rid of the insurgencies is to get rid of the aggrieved population that supports them. That is, pacify them, or kill them. Israel seems to have chosen the latter course.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

"Israel has the right to defend itself"

That's the defense you always hear of Israel's [insert latest military operation here].

Here's a shocker: so do the Palestinians.

This post has been rattling around in Spot's head for a few days now, but a quote for its opening presented itself this morning while reading Mercury Rising:

This brief review [contained in the article] of Israel’s record over the past four decades makes it difficult to resist the conclusion that it has become a rogue state with “an utterly unscrupulous set of leaders”. A rogue state habitually violates international law, possesses weapons of mass destruction and practises terrorism - the use of violence against civilians for political purposes. [quoting Avi Shlaim in the U.K. Guardian]

Actually, it's Professor Shlaim of Oxford University and former member of the Israeli army. And please read the whole article; it's sobering, to say the least.

Professor Shlaim recounts the expansionist intentions of the Israelis virtually from the founding of the country, and especially since its occupation, or perhaps colonization is a better word, of the West Bank and Gaza since 1967.

Gaza and the West Bank, the so-called "Occupied Territories" are the most familiar ones, but they aren't the only ones. This is from a recent post by Juan Cole, the professor of middle eastern history at the University of Michigan:

Israel's policies were not merely defensive, contrary to the propaganda one constantly hears from New York. Moshe Sharrett's diaries demonstrate conclusively the expansionist character of the regime. Israel's leaders badly wanted the Sinai Peninsula and therefore a commanding position over the trade of the Red Sea and the Suez Canal in the 1950s and 1960s. There was also some petroleum there. Israel used superiority in armor and air power in 1956 to take the Sinai, in conjunction with an orchestrated Anglo-French attack on Egypt's position in the Suez Canal (which Gamal Abdel Nasser had nationalized that summer). President Dwight D. Eisenhower, afraid that vestiges of Old World colonial thinking would push the Arabs into the arms of the Soviets, made Israel relinquish its prize. But hawks in Israel took the Sinai from Egypt again in the 1967 war, in which Israel again demonstrated that armor plus air superiority always defeats armor that lacks air cover (Israel managed to destroy the Egyptian air force early in the war).

Professor Cole goes on to tell how Egypt in effect won back the Sinai in the 1973 war, which was a prelude to the peace treaty concluded between Israel and Egypt. Israel has also occupied land belonging to its northern neighbors, until recently the Shebaa Farms area in southern Lebanon, from which it withdrew under pressure from Hizbullah, and the Golan Heights, which it annexed - and has since populated with Israelis - in 1981.

But the subject of this post is Gaza, and to some extent the West Bank, so let's return there. Here's more from Professor Shlaim:

Gaza is a classic case of colonial exploitation in the post-colonial era. Jewish settlements in occupied territories are immoral, illegal and an insurmountable obstacle to peace. They are at once the instrument of exploitation and the symbol of the hated occupation. In Gaza, the Jewish settlers numbered only 8,000 in 2005 compared with 1.4 million local residents. Yet the settlers controlled 25% of the territory, 40% of the arable land and the lion's share of the scarce water resources. Cheek by jowl with these foreign intruders, the majority of the local population lived in abject poverty and unimaginable misery. Eighty per cent of them still subsist on less than $2 a day. The living conditions in the strip remain an affront to civilised values, a powerful precipitant to resistance and a fertile breeding ground for political extremism.

In August 2005 a Likud government headed by Ariel Sharon staged a unilateral Israeli pullout from Gaza, withdrawing all 8,000 settlers and destroying the houses and farms they had left behind. Hamas, the Islamic resistance movement, conducted an effective campaign to drive the Israelis out of Gaza. The withdrawal was a humiliation for the Israeli Defence Forces. To the world, Sharon presented the withdrawal from Gaza as a contribution to peace based on a two-state solution. But in the year after, another 12,000 Israelis settled on the West Bank, further reducing the scope for an independent Palestinian state. Land-grabbing and peace-making are simply incompatible. Israel had a choice and it chose land over peace.

The real purpose behind the move was to redraw unilaterally the borders of Greater Israel by incorporating the main settlement blocs on the West Bank to the state of Israel. Withdrawal from Gaza was thus not a prelude to a peace deal with the Palestinian Authority but a prelude to further Zionist expansion on the West Bank. It was a unilateral Israeli move undertaken in what was seen, mistakenly in my view, as an Israeli national interest. Anchored in a fundamental rejection of the Palestinian national identity, the withdrawal from Gaza was part of a long-term effort to deny the Palestinian people any independent political existence on their land.

And again from Professor Cole, here's what Gaza and the West Bank look like today:

And Avi Shlaim tells us what it was like in Gaza after Israel "withdrew":

Israel's settlers were withdrawn but Israeli soldiers continued to control all access to the Gaza Strip by land, sea and air. Gaza was converted overnight into an open-air prison. From this point on, the Israeli air force enjoyed unrestricted freedom to drop bombs, to make sonic booms by flying low and breaking the sound barrier, and to terrorise the hapless inhabitants of this prison.

And this is what Israel left behind:

Four decades of Israeli control did incalculable damage to the economy of the Gaza Strip. With a large population of 1948 refugees crammed into a tiny strip of land, with no infrastructure or natural resources, Gaza's prospects were never bright. Gaza, however, is not simply a case of economic under-development but a uniquely cruel case of deliberate de-development. To use the Biblical phrase, Israel turned the people of Gaza into the hewers of wood and the drawers of water, into a source of cheap labour and a captive market for Israeli goods. The development of local industry was actively impeded so as to make it impossible for the Palestinians to end their subordination to Israel and to establish the economic underpinnings essential for real political independence.

Golly, Spotty, that sounds kind of like Apartheid in South Africa, doesn't it?

That's what Jimmy Carter called it.

And yet, when Hizbullah or Hamas try to do anything about it, Israel goes ape shit and bombs 1.5 million people in a cage.

More to follow.