What was unacceptable can become acceptable

from: Marantz, Andrew. 2019. Anti-Social: Online Extremists, Techno-Utopians, and the Hijacking of the American Conversation. New York: Viking.

Marantz writes –

After Trump won, the late professor Richard Rorty enjoyed a posthumous moment of mini-virality. My [Marantz’s] Facebook feed was full of people posting an eerily prescient excerpt from Rorty’s Achieving Our Country, a collection of political lectures published in 1998. With the left wing of the Democratic Party in decline [during Clinton’s years, presumably], Rorty argued, the only politicians “channeling the mounting rage of the newly dispossessed” were right-wing populists. If this continued, he wrote, then, sooner or later,

“something will crack. The nonsuburban electorate will decide that the system has failed and start looking for a strongman to vote for [both Trump and Sanders, although for Sanders primarily urban and suburban]…. One thing that is very likely to happen is that gains made in the past forty years by black and brown Americans, and by homosexuals, will be wiped out [Trump only]. Jocular contempt for women will come back in fashion…. All the sadism which the academic Left has tried to make unacceptable to its students will come flooding back.”

What was unacceptable can become acceptable. Acceptability is just a norm, and norms can change for the better or for the worse.

Whenever this passage was posted on Facebook, commenters tended to treat Rorty’s words like a prophecy, a revelation of the fact that the American experience had always been doomed to fail. But Rorty put no stock in revelation. “We should face up to unpleasant truths about ourselves,” he continued, “but we should not take those truths to be the last word about our chances for happiness, or about our national character. Our national character is still in the making.” As the title of this book suggests, he did not believe that we are doomed or that we are saved. He did not believe that We Are Good or that We Are Bad. He believed something more liberating and also more terrifying: that history is contingent, that the arc bends the way people bend it. The American attitude toward fascism has long been an article of faith: it can’t happen here. But if history is contingent – if anything can happen – then our worst fears are not impossible but improbable, which is not at all the same thing. (59-60)

According to Rorty, the way a society talks to itself – through books, through popular films, through schools and universities, through mass media – determines that society’s beliefs, its politics, its very culture. (60)

Rorty argued that a transition from one moral vocabulary [a broad system of thought; how a society talks to itself] to another happens roughly the way a paradigm shift happens in science. (60)

“The world does not speak,” Rorty wrote. “Only we do.” To change how we talk is to change who we are. (61)

Kindness is more important than ever

Washington Post’s science writer Sarah Kaplan reports (March 31, 2020):

Psychologists are worried about the long-term effects of our new, socially distant reality. Decades of research has shown that loneliness and isolation are associated with high blood pressure, chronic inflammation, weakened immune systems and a host of other health issues.

But there is also hope in the data. Studies have revealed that human connection — something as simple as getting an offer of help from a stranger or looking at a picture of someone you love — can ease pain and reduce physical symptoms of stress. People who feel supported by their social networks are more likely to live longer. One experiment even found that people with many social ties are less susceptible to the common cold.

Spread Goodness and Kindness

In a USA Today op-ed on Sunday (March 16, 2020), 16 doctors, epidemiologists and public health experts explained how staying home is the most critical action people can take to blunt the spread of the virus….

“If you’re going to spread anything, spread help, compassion and humor,” the group wrote. “Above all, do not panic. Remember: Like all outbreaks, this too will eventually end.”

“National health-care experts rally behind ‘Stay Home, Save Lives’ initiative,” The Washington Post, March 16, 2020, 8:26 a.m.

 

The Times of Israel presents great coverage of Gaza

Based on my reading of The Times of Israel , the relationship of Hamas (Islamic Resistance Movement) with Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) in Gaza is ambiguous. I just asked in my previous post whether the ruling Hamas party can reign in PIJ or not. Perhaps when PIJ took credit for the recent barrage of missiles into Israel, they were acting with the tacit approval of Hamas, with Hamas retaining plausible deniability.

In a Tuesday statement (February 25, 2020), Abu Hamza, spokesman for the PIJ’s armed wing said that his group had acted with Hamas’s approval and cooperation. Such a statement cannot be taken at face value, though.
However, both Hamas and PIJ are offshoots of Egypt’s terrorist Muslim Brotherhood. A goal of that organization is to establish a Muslim state where Israel is located. Hamas and PIJ do not differ in their goal. PIJ is funded and armed by Iran, though.

This past Sunday, the Israeli military killed a would-be terrorist bomber along the Gaza-Israel border fence. Israel confiscated the body of the terrorist to hold it hostage until Gazans return two Israelis and the bodies of two other Israelis. This is cited by the Times as the “bulldozer incident.”

The fighting was touched off on Sunday morning when Israel killed a member of Islamic Jihad, who the [Israel Defense Force] said was planting a bomb along the border, and then sent a tractor into the Strip to retrieve the corpse, in an operation caught on film that angered many in Gaza.

The Times of Israel, February 26, 2020

So again, tit for tat, PIJ launched a barrage of about 100 rockets into Israel. In return, Israel bombed known PIJ locations.

Military Intelligence has long warned that Gaza — with its rampant unemployment and deteriorating living conditions — is a powder keg which Israel must address before[Gaza] collapses completely (and [intelligence reported] so again last month in its annual assessment).

The Times of Israel, February 27, 2020

Israel also closed Gaza’s port of entry into Israel, so Gazan workers could not reach their jobs in Israel. The border crossing was reopened on Thursday, February 27, 2020. The disquiet reigned from Sunday through Wednesday.

In related news, Israeli jets downed a drone that was launched from Gaza on Thursday, February 27, 2020. The drone was heading westward over the Mediterranean for an unknown purpose. This incident came as Israel reopened Gaza’s border crossings into Israel and its fishing zone with the return of relative calm after three days of Palestinian rocket fire and retaliatory Israeli strikes. Ordinarily, Israel’s military allows Gazans to launch drones over their airspace so long as the drones can’t spy on Israeli military emplacements around the strip.

So much for Gaza remaining really quiet.

________

>> About The Times of Israel

10 bouts in Gaza later, Israel not much closer to preventing the next round,” The Times of Israel , February 27, 2020.

“The Strip remains a powder keg, with terror groups just waiting for another excuse — like Sunday’s bulldozer incident — to set it off.”

Israel to reopen Gaza border crossings, fishing zone as fragile calm returns,” The Times of Israel, February 26, 2020.

As ceasefire takes hold, Islamic Jihad vows new rounds of violence,” The Times of Israel, February 26, 2020.

Israeli jets down drone launched from Gaza,” The Times of Israel, February 27, 2020.

Gaza’s quiet is not so quiet

Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) took credit for a barrage of roughly 100 rockets fired into Israel from Gaza on Sunday and Monday, February 23 and 24, 2020. Damage in Israel was minimal and no casualties were reported.

Israel responded by bombing PIJ locations in Gaza. Israel also closed the Erez border crossing, barring Gazan workers from entering Israel, and reduced Gaza’s fishing zone off its coast.

After two days of quiet, Israel reopened the border crossing and restored Gaza’s previous fishing limits.

Hamas (Islamic Resistance Movement), which rules Gaza, denied that it is engaged in negotiations with Israel. It’s subterfuge is to use Egypt as an intermediary. The ceasefire is not a ceasefire according to Hamas. Egypt has brokered “Quiet for Quiet.”

Both Hamas and PIJ are offshoots of Egypt’s terrorist Muslim Brotherhood. A goal of that organization is to establish a Muslim state where Israel is located.

How strong is Hamas’s hold on Gaza? Can it not reign in PIJ forces? I haven’t seen an in-depth analysis of the dynamics in Gaza. Of course, such analysis is not likely to be covered by daily journalists, and what does appear at length might very well be in Hebrew.

________

Netanyahu continues bombing Gaza Strip,” Middle East Monitor (MEMO), February 25, 2020.

>> About MEMO

Israel shuts Erez crossing in occupied Gaza,” MEMO, February 25, 2020.

Israel reopens Gaza crossings after reaching ceasefire deal with resistance,”  MEMO, February 26, 2020.

Israel to open all entry points to Gaza, expand fishing zone,” Ynetnews, February 26, 2020.

“The military’s announcement comes just 2 days after yet another flare-up, which saw Islamic Jihad militants fire over 100 rockets at Israeli citizens, prompted the army to impose sanctions on the Hamas-controlled enclave.”

Quiet for quiet in Gaza

The Gaza-Israel conflict looks like it’s heading toward a period of calm. NPR reports:

Israel and Hamas [Gaza’s ruling regime] are taking initial steps toward an agreement to calm hostilities — and it’s allowing thousands of Palestinians from Gaza to go work in Israel daily.

All Things Considered, January 13, 2020

So quiet in exchange for quiet, which means Hamas, which is a militant group, is agreeing to prevent rocket attacks on Israel and to prevent confrontations with Israeli soldiers at the Israeli fence separating Israel from Gaza. So we’re not going to see any more fiery kites and rock-throwing, and protests there are on hold. And in return, Israel is starting to let Gaza breathe a little, and it’s relaxing restrictions that they put on Gaza for years ever since Hamas took power there.

NPR’s Daniel Estrin, January 13, 2020

(Actually, Hamas is a Jihadi terrorist group — much more than militant. Hamas is an Arabic acronym for Islamic Resistance Movement.)

This pause eases up pressure and tension. Gaza has been on the edge of collapsing, even its own people exploding against Hamas.

But, a Hamas spokesman said, “It’s not a cease-fire. It’s not an agreement. It’s quiet for quiet.” It’s clear to Hamas that this is an “understanding. “Such fragile understandings are usually brokered by neighboring Egypt and by the United Nations according to Al Jazeera.

Whatever you want to call this indirect agreement, [i]t’s very different from Israel’s longtime policy to isolate Hamas and break its hold on Gaza. Instead, Hamas and average Gazans are getting some relief.

NPR’s Daniel Estrin, January 20, 2020

After Hamas took control of Gaza in 2007, Israel blocked most Palestinians from crossing the fortified border to go to jobs in Israel. That crushed Gaza’s economy. Over the last few years, Israel has gradually issued more work permits to Gazans and recently speeded that up to a record high. Now more than 5,000 Palestinians from Gaza are being allowed into Israel.

NPR’s Daniel Estrin, January 20, 2020

The border crossing between Gaza and Israel is now open for those who can get permits. They’re now bringing home wages from work in Israel, although it’s a drop in the bucket for about 2 million people. These workers are bringing in Israeli shekels because Hamas and the Palestinian Authority do not mint their own currency.

The Middle East Monitor (MEMO) reports on other goodwill gestures by Israel. Israel has been lessening the embargo of Gaza by permitting the import of cement and vehicle tires. Furthermore, fishermen have been allowed to buy fishing boats, and drivers have been allowed to buy passenger buses.

Medicines donated by an American organization worth $600,000 have also entered Gaza.

According to MEMO, Israeli media reported that Israel has allowed cooking gas and pesticides to enter Gaza.

The head of the Palestinian Businessmen Association in Gaza predicted that if Israel continues with the current approach, Gaza could move toward economic recovery in 2020 and the living conditions of residents could improve (January 9, 2020).

In another vein, MEMO reports that Gazan farmers are gaining access to plant crops near the border fence between Gaza and Israel where they were previously excluded for the sake of Israel’s security. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has cleared unexploded ordnance and other war material from several fields and helped to rehabilitate them. Crops planted last August are expected to be harvested this May. According to the ICRC, roughly 580 farmers have regained access to their land. (February 5, 2020)

Israel has for years designated a strip, between 100 and 300 meters wide, along its 25 mile-long border fence as off-limits to Gazans. Israel cites security concerns since Gaza has been ruled by Hamas terrorists.

Egypt has [also] opened its border for travel out of Gaza. And Qatar is supporting poor families. Israel is boosting electricity to Gaza to reduce daily power cuts and letting fishermen venture farther out into the Mediterranean. And for the first time since Hamas took control in Gaza, Israel is allowing snacks made in Gaza to be exported overseas.

NPR’s Daniel Estrin, January 20, 2020

However, Al Jazeera now reports that two rockets were launched from Gaza into Israel on February 15, 2020. Israel announced it would cancel the easing of restrictions on Gaza as a response to these two rocket attacks. “Israeli security officials warned of a “harsh military response” if attacks from the Gaza Strip did not stop (February 16, 2020).

These are the latest attacks, many occurring since U.S. President Trump announced a peace plan for Israel and Palestinians on January 28, 2020.

Except for NPR, Western journalists have not been reporting on Israel’s easing of restrictions on Gaza or Egypt’s. Perhaps you can find coverage by the Associated Press, Reuters, The New York Times, or The Washington Post.

A Gazan economy that recovers and interlocks with Israel’s may tame terrorist Hamas, a jihadi enterprise. And if living conditions for Gazans improve, this may motivate Hamas, as it governs Gaza, to rein in rogue elements who fire mortar shells into Israel.

________

See or listen at:

All Things Considered, “An Opening Between Israel and Gaza — For Now,”
January 13, 2020.

All Things Considered, “Israel-Hamas Aim To Reduce Hostilities As Gaza Restraints Eased,” January 20, 2020.

Also see these articles from MEMO:

Gaza farmers return to their lands along volatile Israel fence,” February 5, 2020.

Israel allows cement entry to Gaza without UN observers,” January 29, 2020.

Israel’s steps to ease Gaza blockade point to longer-term truce,” January 9, 2020.

And from Al Jazeera:

“Israeli security officials warned of a ‘harsh military response’ if attacks from the Gaza Strip did not stop,” February 16, 2020 (article seems to no longer be online).

Hamas says Israel move to tighten blockade will increase tensions: Israel says it has cancelled an easing of restrictions on the besieged Gaza Strip after rockets fired from territory,” February 16, 2020.

Trump is not learning

On Thursday, February 6, 2020, I wrote that,

I expect that U.S. President Donald Trump will abuse the power of the presidency today. If not today, then no later than tomorrow.

Trump is acquitted. What next?

He actually waited until the morrow at the end of the day. On Friday, he fired Lt. Colonel Alexander Vindman from his post as a national security advisor to the President.

Vindman was planning to be transferred from his post by the U.S. Army at the end of February. However, rarely does one just leave the Trump administration. They are fired, usually in a dramatic way. This is an abuse of power. Trump sends away people who have worked for him with drama because he can. These people do indeed serve at his pleasure. But why drama and humiliation? Why seething and mocking tones?

But, why such forbearance to wait another day?

Actually, according to The Washington Post (February 8, 2020), Trump wanted to fire Vindman on Wednesday just after being acquitted in a Senate trial from the impeachment charges leveled against him by the House of Representatives. However, aides to the President persuaded him to delay the action in hopes of enjoying positive news coverage over the acquittal.

To make matters worse, “Trump simultaneously ordered the ousting of Vindman’s twin brother, Yevgeny, a chief ethics lawyer at the National Security Council (NSC) who did not testify in the impeachment probe.” Besides this, Trump recalled Gordon Sondland who was serving as U.S. ambassador to the European Union. Sondland also testified before the House’s impeachment probe. Both Alexander Vindman and Sondland were responding to subpoenas from the House. Yevgeny Vindman was caught in Trump’s snare only because of his brother.

So, Trump has become emboldened – as I wrote – and is seeking revenge for betrayal, real or imagined.

According to the Post, Fernando Cutz, who served on the NSC as a senior advisor to then-national security adviser H.R. McMaster before they both left in 2018, said, “Every career official will tell you it’s not just chilling but frightening … The broader message to career officials is that you can’t speak up. Even if you see something illegal, something unethical, you can’t speak up. That’s the message the president wants to send.”

Trump has been and continues to be a bully. With the backing of the power of the presidency, he bullied Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky (last July), and this is what precipitated his impeachment. He’s not learning from his misdeeds. He remains the Bully-in-Chief.