Quantcast

The Nation

Terror Through the Night in Gaza

Sharif Abdel Kouddous on Democracy Now

Palestinian civilians are bearing the brunt of Israel's ongoing military assault on Gaza, says Sharif Abdel Kouddous. “Just a few hours after the ceasefire that Israel had announced,” Kouddous explained on Democracy Now! this morning, “the Israeli military began to pound Gaza from the land, from air, from the sea, with naval guns, with apache helicopters, with F-16 strikes.” With this fresh round of attacks, 56 children have now been killed during the assault on Gaza. A TV production company, a rehabilitation hospital and a hospital that shelters 400 children have also been targeted

Hannah Harris Green 

Report: ‘The Nation’ Leads a Trip to Cuba

Havana Cuba

A man waves a Cuban flag in Havana's Revolution Square during the May Day parade May 1, 2014. (Reuters/Enrique De La Osa)

“The Nation for decades has covered Cuba in a way that few publications have done or dared,” I told The New York Times in June, ahead of the magazine’s first-ever educational trip to the island. Even as Washington’s position on the embargo remains frozen in time, remarkable changes are taking place in Cuba, from a new law that opens the country up to foreign investment to the paladares—private, in-home restaurants that are catering to increasing numbers of tourists and an emerging Cuban middle class. Behind the work of Cuban National Center for Sex Education Director Mariela Castro—President Raúl Castro’s daughter—Cuba is considering legalizing same-sex marriage, subsidizing sex-change operations and banning discrimination based on sexuality at the workplace.

The US embargo against Cuba has been in place for more than fifty years, and it remains in place thanks in large part to anti-Castro reactionaries in Congress, most notably Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL). But as the right-leaning US Chamber of Commerce continues to oppose the embargo, and as “people-to-people” trips (like The Nation’s) facilitate cultural exchange by bringing in Americans on education-based excursions and facilitating more informed dialogue about policy, it is increasingly apparent that our Cold War policy is leaving us—and not the Cubans—out in the cold.

In the report that follows, Anna Theofilopoulou—who participated in The Nation’s first-ever people-to-people education trip—describes what she discovered. Though the island is saddled with “dire economic problems,” Theofilopoulou nevertheless found encouraging developments in healthcare and in the economy. Cuba’s infant-mortality rate is lower than ours, for example, and in indicators like Uneven Economic Development, Poverty, and Economic Decline, the separation between Cuba and the United States is narrower than you might imagine. Theofilopoulou also debunks some of the worn-out fallacies about Cuba that many Americans still believe in (including the notion that democratization of the island is impossible as long as Castro remains in power).

Meanwhile, at The Nation, we plan to continue these educational trips in to 2015 and beyond.

* * *

The Nation Magazine had its first ever educational exchange trip to Cuba, under the people-to-people educational outreach program allowed by the State Department. The program has been expanded by President Obama. I was fortunate to participate in the trip which included meeting with individuals representing the government, the media, non-governmental organizations, the Catholic Church and some private citizens. We also enjoyed some of Cuba’s amazing culture.

In the US, Cuba is mostly known for the 1959 revolution that brought Fidel Castro to power, the break of relations with the US and subsequent embargo, the disastrous Bay of Pigs operation, the Cuba missile crisis, the Mariel refugees and Brothers to the Rescue debacles, the Elián González incident and Fidel Castro’s relationship with Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez. Also that Fidel Castro, after running Cuba for fifty years, appointed his brother Raúl initially to replace him temporarily and eventually to become president of Cuba.

One of our interlocutors, Rafael Hernandez, publisher of the political quarterly Temas, enumerated thirteen erroneous assumptions in the US about Cuba.

1. Since Raúl Castro became president, there has been no political change.

2. Raúl is the end of the line; once he goes, there will be no succession.

3. The military is the key institution in Cuba.

4. Dissent is prohibited and punished.

5. Political opposition groups are the democratic alternative in Cuba.

6. National political mediation is led by the Catholic Church.

7. As long as one party remains in power, no democratization is possible.

8. Cubans know nothing about the rest of the world.

9. Most youth want to leave Cuba.

10. Average monthly income in Cuba is $20.00

11. Cuban émigrés are exiles.

12. US-Cuban policy is driven by the Cuban-American lobby.

13. The Cuban-American political elite is changing as the second generation comes of age.

It is hard to say how much such assumptions contribute to the embargo which continues. There has been some tweaking here and there to deal with humanitarian issues after Cuba faced a food crisis when the former Soviet Union stopped subsidizing its economy two decades ago; also, after lobbying by Cuban Americans, remittances to relatives in Cuba and exchange of family visits are now allowed.

While aware that Fidel Castro overthrew a particularly corrupt and noxious regime and installed a socialist system which, for all its limitations, provided all Cubans with education, and medical health and covered everybody’s basic needs, I have been skeptical of a system that allows somebody to stay in power for fifty years and then pass the presidency to his brother.

But, having heard and read the impressions of friends and professional colleagues who had traveled and lived there, I wanted to see Cuba for myself and meet Cubans in their own country. I was also curious to see a country that has remained in a sort of time capsule because of the embargo.

After a week in Havana, with an one-day excursion to the Bay of Pigs and visits to Ernest Hemingway’s house and to an urban farm in the outskirts of Havana, I found Cuba an intriguing and fascinating country which I want to understand better. I left it with two over-riding thoughts.

One is a desire to return and see more of Cuba, visit its cities and country side, and meet and talk to more of its people. The second is wondering what is the US hoping to accomplish with the continuation of the fifty-year-old embargo?

What is the purpose of continuing with this futile exercise, the main contribution of which seems to be keeping 11 million people financially miserable? Does anybody in the US government, other than the most ardent ideologues, really believe that through the embargo the US will achieve “regime change” in Cuba or that the political system will change into a neo-liberal democracy?

FIRSTHAND IMPRESSIONS OF CUBA

Politics and the society

Like other interlocutors, Rafael Hernandez refuted the above-mentioned assumptions held in the United States. He pointed to the shrinking of the public sector under Raúl Castro, the growth of the private sector and downsizing of the military. Specifically, small private business are spreading, government employment has been reduced and continues to decrease, the food distribution system is being restructured. This process started in the ’90s, has accelerated since 2007.

He pointed out that Miguel Diaz-Canel, the vice president who will replace Raúl Castro, is a reformer, planning to continue with the changes. Despite what is believed in the United States, his views on key issues are known in Cuba.

Cubans are encouraged to express their views and even their complaints, they are polled regularly about what needs to improve and they are not hesitant to express their opinions. They are encouraged to participate in the policy making process and they are listened to. He claimed that Cuba has democracy and freedom but they are defined differently.

The Catholic Church, is one voice among many and stressed that propaganda that Cuba is a communist godless society, is completely unfounded. Through their education system, and the support that Cuba enjoys by just about every country, except the US, Cubans are among the most knowledgeable people about the rest of the world.

With the exception of some professions deemed essential for the country, young Cubans can and many of them have left. In fact, brain drain is a serious issue for Cuba as young people who never knew the previous system do not have the same commitment to the revolution as the previous generations and are not content with Cuba’s isolation by the US. He called the assumption that the average Cuban income is $20 per month absurd. Cuban émigrés are welcome to return, as long as they do not try to overturn the government.

Mr. Hernandez was also critical of policies in Cuba and identified seven key challenges for the Cuban socialist system with suggestions how to deal with them. (1) There has been a four-fold increase in inequality and poverty after the start of the crisis in the early ’90s; currently, 20 percent of Cubans live in poverty and 53 percent of houses are bad or very bad; (2) The hyper-centralization and weak rule of law result in low political participation. (3) The state and bureaucracy are over-extended; (4) There is corruption; (5) Demographic imbalance is a problem; Cubans over 60 comprise 26 percent of the population while the birth rate is the lowest in Latin America; the annual migration to the US is 35,000; (6) the media are controlled by the government, he called the syndrome “officialism”; (7) last but not least, the US embargo perpetuates the seize mentality.

He proposed to deal with the challenges as follows: decentralize the government, give more power to local authorities and more autonomy to state enterprises, expand the non-state sector, encourage self-employment, shrink the size and power of the bureaucracy and enforce the rule of law.

The Economy

At the Center for the Study of the Cuban Economy at Havana University we heard about the opening of the economy and the movement toward rationalizing it, the acceptance of foreign direct investment and joint ventures mainly in tourism, the permission and encouragement of small private enterprise in some 150 sectors and the coming monetary reform.

Cuba was forced to re-evaluate and rationalize its economic model when the Soviet Union collapsed and Soviet subsidies ended. There was a 33 percent contraction of the economy; Cuba lost close to 50 percent of its fuel; the average weight of Cubans went down by at least one kilo; the low birth rate increased, (although later reversed). This economic restructuring continues gaining force under Raúl Castro. It includes laying off state workers; expanding the non-state workforce; allowing Cubans to buy and sell homes and vehicles; distributing land that was previously idle; empowering firms and local governments; experimenting with business models such as co-ops. Wondering around Havana, one sees examples of these changes.

Most significant, the government decided to change their approach and are moving towards decreased social spending, which includes decreasing the number of items that Cubans buy with their ratio book with the intent of eventually eliminating it. Key to all this, is the plan to abolish the dual currency (the convertible peso and the regular Cuban peso) which makes life unaffordable for the average Cuban. However, the government knows that this will cause inflation to rise at first. It will make life even harder for the 20 percent of Cubans living in poverty, especially elderly without families to provide for them although there are programs mainly by non-governmental organizations helping them.

Cuba still faces dire economic problems. With the opening of the tourist sector, the one booming part of the economy, large discrepancies in income and standards of living are being created. Cubans who work in tourism or have relatives in Miami sending money, are better off than the average professional working for the government. Our guide had studied law, had worked in the Foreign Service but became a tourist guide in order to make a reasonable living. A doorman in a restaurant who was a child psychologist by day, was forced into a night job to supplement his income. A young veterinarian taxi driver had abandoned her profession because the money that she was earning in a government run clinic was so little she and her colleagues had to depend on gifts by those bringing their animals.

While Cuba seems a natural place for agriculture to provide for its own people and even export, problems persist. There was destruction of arable land due to large scale farming during the time of the Soviet subsidies, although this land is slowly being reclaimed, as told by the Antonio Nunez Jimenez Foundation for Sustainable Development and the Environment. Citrus fruit, a natural for the climate as Florida demonstrates, is not cultivated in large scare because it is not deemed profitable for foreign exchange. In fact, cultivation of vegetable and fruit is still very small and in the one local fresh food market in Havana that we visited, we saw prices almost comparable to those in New York’s Union Square market. Meat or even chicken are rare and expensive for the average Cuban, although provided in excessive and wasteful quantities for tourists. Killing one’s own domestic cattle, is not allowed and permits are required to do so. This results in people finding ways to go over the system, as recounted anecdotally by our guide. Cuba imports 80 percent of its food and even more absurdly, the US accounts for 60 percent of it, paid in cash dollars, ostensibly for humanitarian reasons.

Housing

Havana is one of the most beautiful historical cities in this hemisphere, with magnificent old (and for the most part dilapidated) colonial buildings that seem to be reaching the end of their life simultaneously. Seeing the city upon arrival and walking around old Havana, I was struck by its beauty.

A meeting and exchange with the renown architect and urban planner Miguel Coyula about the city of Havana, its history, the reasons about its current sad state and what is required to maintain and renovate its buildings, was telling. Follow-up meetings with representatives of the City Historian and at the Center for the Study of the Cuban Economy clarified the combination of internal policies and financial constraints that have contributed to the deterioration of the majority of buildings.

While home ownership is high, thanks to housing subsidies, laws requiring apartment owners to maintain their own apartments but absolving them of responsibility from maintenance of common areas, have resulted in the buildings’ overall deterioration. The average house is seventy-five years old, maintenance subsidies are non-existent, therefore even working professionals find home repair simply too costly. Residents have been very innovative to meet basic housing needs and one sees shanty towns built at the top of buildings or the courtyards of colonial houses and balconies used for different purposes to the original ones. A program of renovation started in the eighties has been proceeding slowly.

More worrisome are the consequences of recently enacted laws allowing Cubans to buy their own houses, which they do for the most part with remittances from relatives in Florida. This is resulting in many of the historical buildings to be purchased by Cuban Americans who will quite likely demolish them, due to their state of disrepair, and will replace them with large glass towers as has been the case in many cities the world over.

Healthcare

The meeting with Gail Reed, founder and executive director of the Medical Educational Cooperation with Cuba, (MEDDIC), was instructive. MEDDIC is a nonprofit organization created in 1997 to enhance cooperation among the United States, Cuba and international health communities aiming at better health outcomes and equity.

With emphasis on medical training and healthcare for everybody, Cuba is among the countries with the best healthcare indicators in the world. It has one of the highest doctor-patient ratios in the world at 6·7 doctors per 1000 people. Life expectancy is 78 years, just behind the USA. The infant mortality rate is 4·7 per 1000 livebirths, lower than in the US at 5·9.

The priority of access to healthcare for all was spearheaded by young doctors and medical school students and put into practice by the government. Before entering into any other specialty, every medical school graduate does family medicine which is at the core of community based primary healthcare, key to the overall improvement in healthcare. The program of doctor and nurse for each community was started in the 1980s and helped the country deal with the “special period” after the break with the Soviet Union. A disruption at that time was resolved by giving a bigger role to nurses.

The investment in biotech continues, Cuba has meningitis B vaccine since 1989 and has developed a treatment for advanced diabetic foot ulcers. Developed by Cuba and registered in more than fifteen other countries, it has reduced relative risk of amputation in Cuba by 69 percent. According to Reed, who has written a comprehensive study of the embargo’s effect on Cuban health, the US has rejected Cuba’s offer of this treatment ignoring the mutual benefits.

Currently there are 6,000 doctors in the pipeline. Cuba provides scholarships to doctors from Latin American countries such as Honduras, Haiti. One of Cuba’s key exports are doctors sent free to poor countries around the world in the past. This was changed under Raúl Castro, with countries that can afford it paying Cuba and the money channeled into the health system.

Foreign Relations

The meeting with Josefina Vidal, the Director of North American Department, at the Foreign Ministry, focused exclusively on US-Cuba relations, the impact of the embargo on the economy and even other sectors of the society and the current state of affairs between the two countries. The importance of the relations with the US has resulted in a restructuring in the Foreign Ministry to have the department focus exclusively on US-Cuban relations. The impasse with the US currently concerns the detention on lengthy prison terms by the US of the Cuban Five (currently three) on espionage charges and by Cuba of Alan Gross, a sub-contractor of the USAID serving a fifteen-year prison term on accusations that he secretly imported banned electronic equipment to Cuba. The impasse remains even though there are discussions and cooperation with the US on technical issues such as drug trafficking, immigration and oil spill response.

The absurdity of the US insistence on maintaining the embargo and having only an Interest Section office in Havana, became more obvious when we were told that there are 140 embassies of states and international organizations in Havana. There are 64,000 Cubans working in ninety-four countries and 13,000 foreign students studying in Cuba (mainly medicine). Cuba together with Norway have been assisting and hosting the talks of the Colombian government with the rebels. Countries such as Brazil, and some members of the EU, are assisting Cuba to restructure its economy. China and South Korea are taking early advantage of economic opportunities.

Josephina Vidal pointed to two Cuban American politicians who are the most implacable enemies of the Cuban government and strong supporters of the embargo; House member Ileana Ross-Rehtigen of Florida and Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey, currently chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Conclusions

Despite the commonly held views about Cuba by most politicians and the media, in the US, Cuba is changing although not fast enough for some. While continuing with the socialist model, it is reforming its economy, expanding its burgeoning private sector and somewhat opening its political system, although so far there has been no attempt to change the one-party system. Travel restrictions on ordinary citizens have been eased but political opponents are still monitored and harassed by the government which uses the embargo as a pretext claiming (sometimes correctly) that US intelligence agencies are trying to undermine the state.

And despite continuous US effort to destabilize Cuba (see recent efforts by USAID to generate mobs through Twitter) impressively Cuba ranks 107 to the US 159 in theFragile States Index created by the Fund for Peace and published by Foreign Policy for the past ten years. Finland ranks the highest at 178 and South Sudan the lowest at 1.

The index puts countries into perspective by providing an annual snapshot of their vitality and stability and ranking them accordingly, using certain ;indicators[i] which it computes to a total. Based on this index, the United States ranks a total of 35.4 to Cuba’s 70.8 with Finland the most stable with a total of 18.7 and South Sudan the most fragile with a total of 112.9.

Not surprisingly, some indicators for Cuba and the US show wide differences, with the US scoring better on Human Flight & Brain Drain, State Legitimacy, Human Rights, Security Apparatus and External Intervention. However in three other key indicators, such as Group Grievances, Uneven Economic Development, Poverty and Economic Decline, the ranking is very close.

For Cuba, some of these rankings, such as state legitimacy, human rights, and security apparatus are clearly due to the heavy handedness of the Cuban political system; while those for human flight and external intervention can only be attributed to the US embargo. On the other hand, seeing Cuba’s relative good rankings and relative progress in group grievances, uneven development and poverty and economic decline, an unbiased observer would only attribute those to its political model.

Looking at these and other indicators, after having experienced Cuba first hand, I have been wondering why Washington refuses to engage with Cuba and work together to mutual benefit. Because of the embargo, the United States remains uninvolved in the opening of its economy that Cuba has put into play in recent years and misses out on mutual business and other opportunities in a society which is overall positively disposed toward the States, just ninety miles off its shores.

Do US policy makers understand or care to understand that by continuing the embargo they provide an easy excuse to the Cuban government to hide its own mistakes and inefficiencies? Isn’t it time for the US to engage in some self-examination regarding this particular policy and change it?

 

Anna Theofilopoulou specialized on political and economic development issues—including the Middle East, the conflict over Western Sahara, Decolonization and the impact of trade and foreign investment on developing countries—while working in the United Nations. Currently, she works as a political analyst/writer covering North Africa and asylum policy in the US.

 

Read Next: Time for evolution in US Cuba policy

Do ‘Reform Conservatives’ Have Any Foreign Policy Ideas?

Chris Christie AP

(AP Photo/Christopher Barth)

In this, the third and final installment of Christie Watch’s look at so-called “reform conservatism,” we report on the question of the reformicons’ foreign policy ideas, or lack thereof. You can read Part I of the series here and Part II here.

It turns out, as Scott McConnell points out in The American Conservative, that left unmentioned in most of the pieces about the reformicons is the crucial question of foreign policy. Given that many of the main actors behind reform conservatism are neocons, what does that say about how foreign policy figures into what the reformicons stand for? Taking off from the Tanenhaus piece in The New York Times, McConnell writes:

Tanenhaus presents to a wide general interest audience the “preeminent conservative intellectual of the Obama era” and yet erases from consideration the Iraq war or any other foreign policy question. So while it is true that Levin has interesting ideas about what’s wrong with Obama’s health care plan, we are left in the dark about whether he has thoughts about war and peace or America’s role in the world. Perhaps we can infer the answer from Levin’s association with some of the most prominent propagandists for that two-trillion dollar war of aggression, which, more than any war in America’s history, was a war conceived and successfully lobbied by intellectuals based in magazines and think tanks. Does Levin favor, as does Bill Kristol, starting a new American war against Iran? Does he favor, as also does Kristol, an American war against both the Sunni extremists in Iraq and their Iranian enemies at the same time?… It is not especially reassuring to find Kristol and David Frum featured so prominently among Levin’s major boosters.

McConnell blames Tanenhaus for leaving national security and foreign policy out of the picture, but he ought to be blaming National Affairs itself. In its archives, twenty issues long, there is almost nothing—nothing!—about foreign policy. In its subject archive, which lists thirty categories of types of articles alphabetically (“Children, Family and Marriage; Civil Society; Corporations; Crime” and so on) there is only one heading for anything to do with the world outside America’s borders, called “National Security.” And, in that category are only ten articles, most of which don’t deal with foreign policy at all, instead focusing on immigration, prison reform, and policy toward veterans! So, for the editors of National Affairs, at least, foreign policy doesn’t exactly loom large—though McConnell is right to suspect that wherever there is neoconservative smoke, you’ll find foreign policy fire.

Responding to McConnell, one of the reformicons’ leading lights, Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry, writes in Forbes that reformicons just ain’t all that interested in that foreign policy stuff:

Why the reform conservative silence on foreign policy? And aren’t some prominent reform conservatives close to…sit down now…neoconservatives? And, McConnell seems to darkly hint, isn’t this silence perhaps due to the fact that we’re all closet neoconservatives who want to invade everything and are quietly pouring these ideas into the GOP punch bowl?

But if McConnell understood what I’ve written above, he would understand very well the reason why reform conservatism does not have a foreign policy: it is a response to an identified domestic policy problem, to which it presents policy and political solutions. That’s it. It’s simple as that. Reform conservatism is a response to (and identification of) a very specific problem, and this specific problem is a problem that is wholly of the domain of domestic policy (except in the highly fuzzy sense that everything in policy is connected to everything else).

To be sure, Gobry is pathetic when it comes to foreign policy ideas, although in one piece for Forbes he does lay out his own, insouciant version of what a “Grand Strategy” for the United States ought to look like—though he makes clear that the ideas are his own, not reform conservatives’—and it’s clear that Gobry is no Henry Kissinger or Zbigniew Brzezinski. He says things like: “Our goal should be to expand Pax Americana.… We need a new American century.” But he’s, umm, a little short of specifics. When it comes to the Middle East, an area that is a virtual obsession for neoconservatives, Gobry actually says this (look it up!): “Sorry. I have nothing. Too much of a mess. If I get a revelation I will get back to you, promise.” And on Europe he suggests a one-word solution: “Ignore.”

In a blog post at The New York Times, Ross Douthat—who calls himself “the Prominent Reform Conservative”—argues rather weirdly that the reformicons have too much on their plates, what with all that sweat over domestic policy, to have to worry about foreign policy, too. He writes:

Does the intra-conservative conversation desperately need Brad Wilcox to stop working on family policy for six months, or Frederick Hess and Andrew Kelly to drop their education work for a summer, so that they can develop a semi-coherent position on whether we should be involved in Syria’s civil war? Again, I would say no.

Well, maybe not Hess, Kelly and Wilcox. But someone, yes.

Please support our journalism. Get a digital subscription for just $9.50!

Andrew Sullivan, in his take on the reformicons, agrees with McConnell that the reformicons seem unlikely to repudiate Cheneyism, rein in Israel or avoid war with Iran, for instance:

But the reformicons have never issued a clear rejection of Cheneyism, and indeed seem, for the most part, like unreconstructed neocons abroad. I can’t see any of them demanding some concessions from Israel for a two-state solution, for example, or any policy toward Iran but war. But they’re mainly silent on these questions—which also marginalizes them. The most important Republican debate, it seems to me, is about the role of the US in the world in the 21st Century. Hegemon? Democratizer? Or simply great power? On this, the reformicons are silent. Their predecessors in the debates of the 1970s weren’t.

Among the 2016 contenders in the GOP, none of them have explicitly embraced reform conservatism—yet. On foreign policy, though, with the exception of libertarian-isolationist Rand Paul, those who might be see by the reformicons as possible standard-bearers, such as Marco Rubio or Chris Christie, have clearly thrown in with the neoconservatives on foreign policy. Rubio, in his speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference in March, thundered about the need for America to stand tall around the world and to confront enemies, real or imagined, everywhere. And Christie, who’s been angling for Sheldon Adelson’s support, has been sounding more and more hawkish (and pro-Likud) with every speech.

Read Part I on the buzz about reform conservatism, and Part II about who’s funding the movement, including the magazine National Affairs.

 

Read Next: Dave Zirin on Dwight Howard and #FreePalestine.

Vladimir Putin Should Take Responsibility for the MH17 Shootdown

Vladimir Putin

(Reuters)

President Obama needs to adopt a cautious stance in response to the downing of Malaysian Flight MH17 over Ukraine yesterday, and there’s no certainty about who did what, but make no mistake: the responsibility for this tragedy—which cost the lives of nearly 300 innocent people, including a team of internationally known AIDS-HIV experts—lies at the door of Russia’s Vladimir Putin. That doesn’t mean, of course, that either the Russians or the anti-Kiev rebels fired the missile deliberately at the Malaysian plane, though it’s possible that the rebels thought they were firing at a Ukrainian military target. But Putin’s irresponsible stoking of a crisis next door in Ukraine over the past several months, fueled by Russia’s own revanchist policy and Putin’s claims to defend ethnic Russians in “New Russia” has come home to roost.

It’s good news that all sides, including the pro-Russia rebels who control the area where the plane exploded, have called for a truce to allow investigators to access the area—though it’s unclear yet whether the rebels will fully comply.

But Russia’s response to the shooting down of MH17 resembles Russia’s dissembling last September, when Putin and the Russian media shamelessly blamed the Syrian rebels, and not President Bashar al-Assad’s government, for the horrific use of chemical weapons in Syria’s civil war,

Putin says he’ll work with the rest of the world to find out who’s responsible for the MH17 disaster. And the Russian state-owned media, which resembles Iraq’s “Baghdad Bob” in its sheer, unashamed propaganda, is blaming everyone else for the missile that struck the plane except for the Russian-backed rebels who’ve seized parts of eastern Ukraine.

The Ukrainian military and the Russian military, and probably the pro-Russian rebels, possess the type of missile apparently used in the MH17 attack, either SA-11s or SA-20s. But since the rebels aren’t known to possess any aircraft, it seems extremely unlikely that the Ukrainian military would fire at anything in the air, while in the past several weeks the rebels have shot down several Ukrainian military aircraft. And there are increasingly reliable reports that cast blame on the pro-Russia rebels, and in their own words.

First, as The Wall Street Journal reports:

In late June, separatist leaders told the Russian news outlets RIA Novosti and Interfax that they had taken control of a Ukrainian air-defense base near the village of Oleksiivka equipped with Buk missiles. The Donetsk People’s Republic also posted a photo of the missiles, sometimes known as Gadfly systems, on its official Twitter feed at the time, declaring a victory in having seized the weaponry.

In the immediate aftermath of the shootdown, the leader of the pro-Russian rebels, Igor Strelkov (“Shooter”) claimed that the rebels had shot down another Ukrainian plane, but when it turned out that a civilian airliner had been hit, Strelkov quickly deleted the post. And The New York Times reports: “A social media post attributed to Igor Strelkov, the shadowy pro-Russian commander, showed him claiming to have captured Buk missiles.”

Some Russian media, especially the state-owned RT and Interfax, have come up with colorful and ridiculous theories about the crash, including one—reported by New York magazine—that it was an effort by the government in Kiev to shoot down Vladimir Putin’s own plane. As New York notes, Interfax reported (using unnamed sources) that Putin’s plane crossed the route used by Malaysian MH17 over Poland, while RT dutifully ran side-by-side photos of MH17 and Putin’s plane to reveal their supposed similarities (both had wings!), and it “reports”:

Malaysian Airlines MH17 plane was travelling almost the same route as Russia’s President Vladimir Putin’s jet shortly before the crash that killed 298, Interfax news agency reports citing sources. “I can say that Putin’s plane and the Malaysian Boeing intersected at the same point and the same echelon. That was close to Warsaw on 330-m echelon at the height of 10,100 meters. The presidential jet was there at 16:21 Moscow time and the Malaysian aircraft—15:44 Moscow time,” a source told the news agency on condition of anonymity.

And Putin, hardly mentioning the human scale of the tragedy, lost no time blaming Ukraine for the shootdown. Said Putin, according to RT:

Obviously, the state over whose territory it happened bears responsibility for this terrible tragedy.… This tragedy would not have happened if there was peace on this land, if military action in the southeast of Ukraine had not been resumed.

The Ukrainian government—which has made unreliable claims in the past, and which initially at least said that MH17 was shot down deliberately by Russia or the rebels as an act of “terrorism”—have released evidence that they say casts blame on the ersatz “People’s Republic” in eastern Ukraine, namely, intercepted transmission from the rebels. According to The New York Times, “Ukrainian intelligence has pointed to a fighter named Igor Bezler, the militia leader in the eastern town of Gorlovka, saying in an intercepted phone call that his men had ‘shot down a plane’ on Thursday.”

Please support our journalism. Get a digital subscription for just $9.50!

Unless Putin takes immediate steps to wind down the revolt, using his armed forces to close the Ukrainian-Russian border and halting the apparent transborder traffic in weaponry and fighters, it’s likely that the Flight MH17 crisis will further isolate Russia diplomatically and economically. So far, Germany and the rest of Western Europe have resisted calls from the United States to impose significant economic sanctions on Russia, but the pressure on German Chancellor Angela Merkel to do so now will intensify. Not that the sanctions are effective, of course, and indeed Russia is likely to retaliate with sanctions and other actions of its own, which could cause a long-lasting rift between Russia and Europe that would take many, many years to overcome.

In its editorial today, The New York Times blasts Putin, calling him the one person who can halt Ukraine’s tragic war:

There is one man who can stop it—President Vladimir Putin of Russia, by telling the Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine to end their insurgency and by stopping the flow of money and heavy weaponry to those groups. But for all his mollifying words and gestures, Mr. Putin has only continued to stoke the flames by failing to shut down those pipelines, failing to support a cease-fire and avoiding serious, internationally mediated negotiations.

That’s about right. Unfortunately, Putin disagrees—and there isn’t much that the United States can do about it. Unless the MH17 disaster convinces Putin that he’s losing more, in international prestige and whatever soft power Russia has left, than he’s gaining by trying to reverse Ukraine’s inevitable tilt westward.

Read Next: Alec Luhn on the shootdown of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17

What ‘Nation’ Interns Are Reading the Week of 07/18/14

Supreme Court

(AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

—Hélène Barthélemy focuses on the criminal justice system, activism and culture.

Israel's media strategy: What lies beneath,” by Marwan Bishara. Al Jazeera America, July 16, 2014.

While watching a Democracy Now! debate between Palestinian human rights lawyer Noura Erakat and the US's Israeli ambassador, Joshua Hantnam, I was surprised by Hantnam's sugar-coated and conciliatory tone. It still concealed the same inflammatory concepts typical of Israel's warmongers, but Hantan was politely inserting himself in the framework of a liberal peace activist, blaming Hamas for the unfortunate loss of civilians in Gaza. Should someone have grown up in a political vacuum, he could even have been convincing. Reading Marwan Bishara's article in Al Jazeera, I was astounded to discover that his carefully-crafted comments were almost word for word renditions of an Israel Project's 2009 Global Language Dictionary. As Bishara reveals, this guide provides pro-Israel pundits with the rhetorical tools to convince Americans of the legitimacy of Israel's massacres: appealing to the peace process and to Hamas rockets, blaming the victims in an empathetic and understanding tone. Like Brand Israel, this is another disturbing marketing effort by Israel to represent itself as a democracy seeking peace but forced into 'war' by blood-thirsty terrorists. This is another PR strategy to insidiously highjack the debate to hide Israel's crimes.

—Summer Concepcion focuses on race, gender and criminal justice.

Rikers: Where Mental Illness Meets Brutality in Jail,” by Michael Winerip and Michael Schwirtz. The New York Times, July 14, 2014.

The line between what differentiates mental institutions from prisons becomes more blurred with the increasing amount of mentally ill inmates (a recent report by the Treatment Advocacy Center found that there are 10 times more mentally ill Americans in prisons and jails than in state psychiatric hospitals). If mentally ill inmates are common figures in prisons, why are they most susceptible to prison violence by correction officers? A four-month investigation by The New York Times finds that 77 percent of brutally injured inmates at Rikers Island Correctional Facility are those who had received a mental illness diagnosis. Although the investigation focused on one prison, it goes to show that the abuse of power over mentally ill inmates by prison employees is an issue needing to be taken more seriously.

—Erin Corbett focuses on national security and reproductive rights.

The truth about the immigration “crisis”: Our drug policies and U.S.-backed tyrants created Central America’s culture of violence,” Patrick L. Smith. Salon, July 15, 2014

Smith begins his piece with three short anecdotes addressing the experiences of different Latin American migrant groups in the US, and then follows with three major questions:

1. Why do we suddenly have floods of unaccompanied children washing across the southern borders of the U.S.?
2. Why have we had floods of Latin Americans pouring northward for a couple of generations running?
3. Why are we so preoccupied with the first question that the second never gets asked?

Smith’s article then recounts a brief history of the ways in which US economic and foreign policy in Latin America are very much at the root of this immigration crisis. “This is not a Latin American crisis; it is an American crisis in the fullest meaning of the term,” he writes.

From state-sponsored violence in the 70s and 80s, to poverty due in large part to neoliberal economic models, it would be absurd to suggest that the US has not had a major role in the many reasons for Latin American migration. The immigration crisis is a multilayered issue that is not rooted in Bush policies or Obama policies, but one that has a deep history in US foreign policy. And as to the $3.7 billion increase in border enforcement, Smith suggests, “[t]he southwest border with Mexico must already be one of the world’s most militarized, up there with the Israel-West Bank wall.”

—Victoria Ford focuses on African-American identity, feminism/womanism and the arts.

In Defense of Jada: The Danger of Being a Black Girl in a Rape Culture,” by Michelle Denise Jackson. For Harriet, July 12, 2014.

Jada is a sixteen year old high school student from Houston whose rape was documented and later went viral via social media networks after her attacker(s) released images and a video of her unclothed and unconscious on a party floor. Now, Jada has been publicly discussing her testimony and retaliated against the Twitter campaign #jadapose, which blatantly made a mockery of her sexual assault. Author Michelle Denise Jackson details Jada's story and provides readers with a list of instructions charging us all responsible for combatting sexual assault against women (especially women of color) and obliterating rape culture in America.

—Douglas Grant focuses on labor and income inequality, gender politics and American politics.

"Dispatches from the Labor Market," Aaron Braun. Full-Stop, July 15, 2014.

This summer, Guernicahas done an excellent job examining the role of class in American life, and this piece by Aaron Braun over at Full-Stopis no different, exploring the ever-evolving and increasingly uncertain world of post-graduate life. Having found myself after graduation in the shaky job market in the shadows of the Great Recession, I understand what Braun's saying—the pull of a disproportionate emotional attachment to work that some employers try to provide, the overlay of insecurity and fear that drive some people into work, the overriding desire to avoid "bad work," work without status or fulfillment but merely serve to pay the bills.

—Hannah Harris Green focuses on South Asian Culture and Politics, and Sexual Assault.

A Muslim citizen’s US passport gets him everywhere but home,” by Basim Usmani. The Boston Globe, July 9, 2014.

In his op-ed for The Boston Globe, Basim Usmani describes how inconvenient it is to be a Pakistani-American with a girlfriend in Canada. Although he has no criminal record, he would frequently find himself in handcuffs simply for trying to board planes to visit his loved ones. After the September 11 attacks, writes Usmani, Pakistani-Americans lost their "model minority" status and have been treated like criminals simply for existing. Ironically, some right wing websites have quoted the article and lauded authorities for profiling Muslims, making ignorant comments. "Funny how Muslims like to lump themselves together with Asian-Americans, while everyone else thinks of Asian Americans as Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, etc., NEVER Muslims," writes one blogger in response to a passage where Usmani discusses his 30 percent Asian-American high school in Lexington, Massachusetts. 

—Alana de Hinojosa focuses on immigration, race and racism, Latin@ identity and feminism.

Eat Like a Human: How Gender Stereotypes Affect Our Relationships With Food,” by Allison Epstein. Adios Barbie, July 14, 2014.

Too often, Amber Ikeman writes in this Adios Barbie piece, we make judgments about people's eating habits in relation to their gender. Telling a woman she eats like a man, or calling certain foods "man foods" or "man-sized," is not only policing people's eating choices (which can be triggering for those who are struggling with eating disorders), but also ends up monitoring and influencing the way people perform their gender according to the foods they put in their mouths—which is totally ridiculous. Stereotyping food, Ikeman argues, starts with the ever-present gender specific marketing that we're constantly being exposed to, but it only perpetuates when we are constantly telling one another that she or he is not acting (read: eating) according to their private parts. Like, do our private parts tell us what we want to eat? Cause I thought it was those things called neurotransmitters that exist in our brains. Not only does this kind of food policing affect how we feel about ourselves, but it also is a way of controlling gender expression by way of the binary female-male sex thing—which neglects to acknowledge that there are those who identify as trans, both female and male, or neither. But if we can "become more aware of these [food] stereotypes in our daily lives," Ikeman writes, "we can allow ourselves to move towards a more open and accepting society, where even if our choices seem to break the rules of social acceptance, we will not be judge for eating like humans." She's totally spot on. Now I'm gonna go eat one of those "manly" Powerful Yogurts and be a total human about it. 

Please support our journalism. Get a digital subscription for just $9.50!

—Crystal Kayiza focuses on the African diaspora,immigration, Black Feminist thought, and police brutality.

Appeals Panel Upholds Race in Admissions for University,” by Tamar Lewin. The New York Times, July 16, 2014.

On Tuesday, July 15, 2014, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit upheld University of Texas at Austin's affirmative action policy, in which race is included as one of the many factors of admission. Texas’s "Top Ten Percent Plan" guarantees a seat at a Texas flagship to the top graduates of every high school in the state, including the UT Austin. Abigail Fisher, "a white student who was not in the top 10 percent of her high school class and was denied admission to the university for the fall of 2008," sued the institution, expressing that race based policies had excluded her from a fair evaluation in the applicant pool. As a white student, to assume that she was denied admittance into any institution because of her race shows how deep the roots of privilege and ownership run in this country. The history of socioeconomic marginalization and exploitation of people of color in this nation did many things—but what it did not do, was make it more difficult for white students to attain higher education. Unless Fisher was unaware that her race is not a golden ticket to becoming a Longhorn, any college application would exemplify that there are multiple qualifications, essays and records necessary to determining admittance. So instead of challenging the University of Texas at Austin's legacy students, those who had greater access to SAT/ACT prep, or those hand picked by the institutions athletic department, Ms. Fisher chose race. And what this revels is a lie that many American students—of all races—have been told. What needs to be upheld in American classrooms is that race based affirmative action is a necessary part of higher education, not a crutch for low achievers. 

—Agnes Radomski focuses on labor, mass incarceration, the war on drugs and the military industrial complex.

Why Opposing the Israel Lobby Is No Longer Political Suicide,” by Phyllis Bennis. The Nation, July 15, 2014.

The assault on Gaza continues. The latest reports show that the death toll has now passed 200; nearly 80 percent are civilians, almost half are women and children. Harrowing accounts of the death and destruction have beendocumentedas this marks the third time Israeli airstrikes have pounded the Gaza strip in the past six years. Media coverage and public discourse of the Israel/Palestine conflict in the United States has been predictable. White House and U.S diplomats continue to voice support for “Israel’s right to defend itself.” But what’s worthy of noting, is despite this fealty for the state of Israel and its reprehensible actions, public dialogueis shifting. Phyllis Bennis argues that it is no longer political suicide to oppose the Israel lobby and says the shift started with coverage of Operation Cast Lead in 2008/2009. “It transformed how we understand what an occupation looks like,” Bennis writes. She continues, “what a siege does to a town, what white phosphorous bombs look like when they hit a school.” Although Bennis notes this change isn't “strong enough yet to end the carnage in Gaza,” she’s still hopeful. “The shift in public discourse is a crucial first step.”

 

Read Next: What are Nation interns reading the week of 07/11/14?

White Rage in Murietta, Oracle… and Little Rock

Protests Oracle, Arizona

Protesters demonstrate against the arrival of undocumented immigrants in Oracle, Arizona. July 15, 2014. (Reuters/Nancy Wiechec) 

Is Tamron Hall the only talking head who sees a link between today’s red-faced crowds screaming at child immigrants from Central America and the white mobs screaming at the nine black teenagers who tried to integrate Little Rock Central High School in 1957?

Earlier this week, the host of MSNBC’s NewsNation was discussing the protests over the stranded immigrant children. In Oracle, Arizona, protesters waving signs reading “Return to sender” and “Unwelcome—go home” shoved mariachi musicians and stopped a bus—until they realized it was filled with YMCA campers (oops); in Murrieta, California, some 200 to 300 people surrounded buses filled with immigrant detainees and forced the vehicles to turn back.

Hall is one of the very few in the media to even put the words “immigrant children” and “Little Rock” in the same story. She said she was reminded of the “young children going to school in Little Rock and being met by angry adults when the kids did not understand what was going on.”

One of her guests, Politico columnist Roger Simon, readily agreed, and asked, “Who are the real lawbreakers here—the little children on the bus, or the protesters who are blocking the legal actions of the federal government to move children to a federal detention center for their own safety?”

We tend to either forget the past or assume we’ve progressed way beyond those bad old days. Especially when we’re in the middle of a crisis, the media and the country at large tend to lag in recognizing historical precedents.

Hall didn’t go into the details of Little Rock—Governor Orval Faubus calling in the Arkansas National Guard to stop the black students from entering the school; the “jeering, brick-throwing mob” that taunted them and beat up several reporters; President Eisenhower sending in 101st Airborne Division paratroopers and putting the Arkansas National Guard under federal command to protect the students. Two years later, the house of one of the students was bombed. (For more and photos from Life magazine, go here.)

Of course, the two crises are quite different. Aside from the shoving of the mariachi players, actual physical violence has not (yet?) broken out against the immigrant children or their supporters. It’s not clear how far, if at all, President Obama will go in defending the children, or if, as the right is demanding, state national guards will be sent to the border to stop the children (exactly how is a mystery.)

Please support our journalism. Get a digital subscription for just $9.50!

But by even briefly putting the immigrant crisis into a larger context, linking it to something the nation is ashamed of and would rather forget, Hall remembered history, which is a good way not to repeat it.

 

Read Next: Michelle Goldberg on Obama and the refugees on the border

Standing Up to Disaster Capitalism in Detroit

Detroit pensions

Retirees protest near the Federal courthouse in Detroit, July 3, 2014. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

DetroitAs Michigan Governor Rick Snyder and his appointed “emergency manager” were steering Detroit into bankruptcy last fall, the public-policy think tank Demos released a groundbreaking report on the city’s financial circumstance—and how to address it.

Demos recognized that deindustrialization, high unemployment and an exodus of residents had left Detroit uniquely vulnerable: “the current bankruptcy filing is the result of a severe decline in revenue, caused by the 2008 financial crisis, and cuts in annual state revenue sharing starting in 2011. Risky Wall Street deals further jeopardized the city’s public finances by threatening immediate payments that the city could not afford.”

Now, as the Detroit Water and Sewage Department is drawing international criticism for shutting off water service for low-income families, activists are asking why the people are being forced to pay while the Wall Street banks live large. On Friday, members of the National Nurses United union and local, state and national groups will march and rally in downtown Detroit to say the priorities are out of whack.

Their message is direct: “Let’s Tax Wall Street, Get Our Money Back, and Turn on the Water!”

As a writer who has covered the debate about Detroit for several years now, I welcome and embrace this recognition that what’s happening in this city has a lot to do with the warped priorities of our current age of austerity.

It really is time to put things in perspective.

While politicians and pundits have tried to blame pensions, public servants and public services for the city’s financial challenges, the Demos report noted that “Detroit’s financial expenses have increased significantly, and that is a direct result of the complex financial deals Wall Street banks urged on the city over the last several years, even though its precarious cash flow position meant these deals posed a great threat to the city.”

The author of the report, Wallace Turbeville, a former Goldman Sachs investment banker, founder of the Kensington Group and well-regarded expert on infrastructure finance and public-private partnerships, was blunt in his assessment of the sources of the city’s challenges and the proper response.

“Misguided and irresponsible decisions by politicians over the years, often at the urging of Wall Street, have funneled wealth out of Detroit’s neighborhoods, and enriched financial institutions and corporations in the process,” said Turbeville, a Demos fellow. “If Detroit wants to come back from this and rebuild a strong economy, it needs to reverse that trend and start prioritizing the people who live here over the interests of Wall Street bankers.”

Unfortunately, under an emergency-management scheme that puts political appointees rather than elected officials in charge, Detroit has not been very good at “prioritizing the people who live here.”

This reality has been highlighted by the Water and Sewage Department’s mass water shutoffs.

The Detroit Water Brigade, a local activist group that is striving to assure families do not suffer for lack of water, reports that the shut-off strategy “will effect over 120,000 account holders over a three-month period (June-September 2014) at a rate of 3,000 per week. This accounts for over 40 percent of customers who are using the Detroit Water system and has been dubbed a violation of human rights by various organizations. 70,000 of those accounts are residential accounts which could amount to anywhere from 200,000-300,000 people directly effected.”

Food and Water Watch, the national nonprofit health and safety watchdog group, says, “This is not sanitary and violates the human right to water and sanitation. In fact, with improper disposal of waste, these shut-offs pose serious health concerns.” The international Blue Planet Project complains that “in order to make the utility attractive to investors, lower-income households are being forced to pay exorbitant rates for their water and sewer services or see their access cut. Water rates have risen in Detroit by 119 percent in the last decade. With unemployment rates at a record high, and the poverty rate at about 40 percent, Detroit water bills are unaffordable to a significant portion of the population.”

Sorting out Detroit’s financial troubles will not be easy, and the process will not go quickly. But there should be an understanding that the people who live in Detroit need protection, not pressure from bill collectors and proponents of privatization. As Turbeville notes, “This program [of shutting off access to water] is morally indefensible and contrary to basic principles of shared responsibility. It punishes Detroit’s citizens for a complex set of circumstances that have interacted to produce an economic crisis much more intense than the effects of the Great Recession in other cities. It also reinforces the myth that the people of Detroit cannot govern themselves without discipline from the rest of the state.”

Detroit residents do not need punishment and discipline. They need resources.

Congressman John Conyers, D-Detroit, has pointed to ways in which the federal and state governments could ease the pressure in the short term. But in the long term, there will be a need for real revenues to aid the people not just of Detroit but for all Americans.

Those revenues can and should come from Wall Street speculators.

NNU and its allies are arguing that a “Robin Hood Tax”—a small fee on financial transactions—should be enacted as a vehicle to “tax hedge funds and (to assert that) the rest of the financial sector should pay their fair share to clear up the mess they helped create.”

Specifically, they are backing the “Inclusive Prosperity Act” (HR 1579), a measure proposed by Representative Keith Ellison, D-Minnesota, to use a tax on Wall Street transactions and to gain revenue needed to meet human needs.

Please support our journalism. Get a digital subscription for just $9.50!

The list of backers for the march is long. In addition to NNU, it now includes the International Union United Automobile, Aerospace & Agricultural Implement Workers of America (UAW AFL-CIO), the Michigan Sierra Club, Food and Water Watch, Netroots Nation, the Metropolitan Detroit AFL-CIO, the Michigan Nurses Association, the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions, We the People of Detroit, Moratorium Now!, the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization, the People’s Water Board, the Detroit Water Brigade and dozens of additional labor, religious and community groups.

People are coming to recognize that it is indeed time to start prioritizing the people who live in Detroit over the interests of Wall Street bankers.

 

Read Next: Agnes Radomski and John Thomason on cities that are taking the lead in the fight for raising the minimum wage

On Dwight Howard and #FreePalestine

Dwight Howard. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski) 

When LeBron James made the decision (as opposed to “THE DECISION”) to rejoin the Cleveland Cavaliers after four seasons in Miami, many commentators praised the social conscience that seemed to amplify his desire to return home. They said that by leaving the South Beach scene for North Eastern Ohio, James was admirably demonstrating aspirations to be more than an athlete, and a yearning to be something beyond a Jordanesque “brand”.

This week we learned that admiration has limitations, particularly if the concerns of an athlete extend to Palestinian children. NBA players Dwight Howard, Amar’e Stoudamire, and Metta World Peace all received a withering backlash for daring to tweet a desire to see an end to the casualties caused by Israel’s relentless bombing campaign of Gaza. Metta World Peace, in a full defensive posture, was reduced to tweeting, “I’m not taking sides, I’m saying stop the BS and love the children. How can you do arts and craft when bombs and guns going off[?]” Amar’e Stoudamire who is Jewish and even has funded an Israeli basketball camp, was pressured to delete an Instagram picture of an Israeli and Palestinian child arm in arm with the caption “Pray for Palestine.” Yes, even this was too much.

But I want to focus on the person who has received a backlash from every side of this equation, Dwight Howard. First Howard was slammed by the pro-Israel crowd for daring to tweet #freepalestine after being sent images of the carnage. Then he was crushed by those who stand with the Palestinian people for tweeting a near immediate retraction, calling him “Howard the Coward.”

Howard clearly had a very human gut reaction to seeing the horror being inflicted upon the people of Gaza, and then was contacted by someone: his agent/publicist/team owner who told him to get that shit down and apologize for it as soon as possible. For those who wanted Howard to grovel for daring to even muse that Palestine should be free, he did not disappoint, tweeting, “previous tweet was a mistake. I have never commented on international politics and never will” and then, “I apologize if I offended anyone with my previous tweet, it was a mistake!” This was not enough for Zionist Organization of America chief Morton Klein who told TMZ(!) that Howard “should be publicly condemned as strong as Donald Sterling was.”

Yes, this is hardly a profile in athletic courage. Yes, I understand why some, frustrated by the craven US media coverage of the shelling of Gaza, were enraged that Howard ran away from a basic statement of solidarity. Yes, I cannot quite grasp why Dwight Howard dismissed what is happening in Gaza as “international politics”, given the fact that his own country delivers $8 million of military aid to Israel every day.

In addition to all of this, I share people’s teeth-grinding frustration that Dwight Howard’s former Rockets teammate the Israeli-born Omri Casspi has felt no pressure to apologize, nor has he taken down his tweet that said, “600 missiles been fired from GAZA by Hamas in the last 4 days. NUMBERS DONT LIE. STOP LYING.”

In a sane world, Casspi would be roundly shamed—and not Twitter-shamed, but really shamed—for daring to say the words “numbers don’t lie” in relation to Israel-Palestine and not starting with the number of dead children in Gaza.

Please support our journalism. Get a digital subscription for just $9.50!

But I am actually not mad at Dwight Howard. I suppose I am not mad for the same reason that former NBA player Etan Thomas is not mad. Thomas has also been tweeting #freepalestine. I asked him for his thoughts about Howard and he said, “I see the fact that he tweeted anything at all as a step in the right direction. At least he did something and provoked conversation. That’s more than a lot of people are doing. Whether they deleted their texts or not respect to Amare Stoudemire, Dwight Howard and Metta World Peace for showing a social conscious.”

It’s a point well taken. If people are mad at Howard for actually saying and then deleting something, then where is our anger for those with a major platform who are choosing to say nothing? If anything, Howard performed a public service by demonstrating how Palestinian people are imprisoned not only by walls, barbed wire and checkpoints but also by Western hypocrisy. Here we have one of the most densely populated areas on earth, 1.7 million people, and half of them under the age of 16, being relentlessly bombed. At last count, the numbers are 1,500 wounded and 192 killed, including thirty-eight children. This is not a war in Gaza. This is a war crime. Everyone should be demanding that the targeting of civilians end. People should universally condemn scenes of Israelis going to the top of a hill and watching the bombing of Gaza like it is a night out at the theater or wearing neo-Nazi symbols at pro-war rallies in Tel Aviv. And yet, an athlete tweeting #freepalestine is smacked down with an immediacy that speaks to how desperate Israel and their backers in the United States are to keep them insulated from even a whiff of criticism. I am not mad at Dwight Howard. I want to thank him. I want to thank him for showing with utter clarity what few will say openly: that acknowledging the humanity of the Palestinian people comes with a price.

 

Read Next: Dave Zirin on why LeBron James was destined to return to Cleveland

Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 Shot Down Near Ukraine-Russia Border

An armed pro-Russian separatist stands at a site of a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane crash in the settlement of Grabovo in the Donetsk region, July 17, 2014. (Reuters/Maxim Zmeyev)

The Donetsk Whodunnit: Ukraine and Russia Blame at Each Other for Shooting Down Malaysian Jet

Soon after the horrific news began circulating that a Malaysian Airlines Boeing 777 had crashed in eastern Ukraine, both the Kiev forces and pro-Russian rebels fighting there agreed that the plane had been shot down. But explanations of who shot it down—and why—immediately began diverging wildly in what has become the latest battle in the information war that has been waged between Ukraine and Russia since protests began in Kiev in November. The 295 people killed in the crash could not temper the politicized finger-pointing.

American and Ukrainian authorities said the plane had been hit by a surface-to-air missile, and speculation immediately centered on the Buk (otherwise called a “Gadfly”) missile launcher that Kiev said the rebels had used to shoot it down. Anton Gerashchenko, an aide to the Ukrainian interior minister, wrote on his Facebook account shortly after the crash that “terrorists shot down a passenger plane with a Buk missile that Putin kindly gave to them.… The cynicism of Putin and his terrorists knows no bounds!” He called on the United States and Europe to “help us with everything you can.”

For his part, Vladimir Putin refrained from saying who might have shot down the plane in a segment broadcast on Russian television, but noted that Ukraine “bears responsibility” for the downing of an airliner on its territory.

The rebels immediately began denying their involvement and blaming the Ukrainian military. On Twitter and in interviews, Alexander Borodai, the Muscovite who heads the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic, maintained that the rebels did not have weapons capable of hitting an airplane at the height Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was traveling, above 32,000 feet.

“It was shot down by the Ukrainian military. I think this is a deliberate provocation,” Borodai said, using the term that both sides have employed to explain many murky incidents over the four months of fighting in eastern Ukraine.

But the rebels by their own admission do have these missiles, as Russian news agencies reported at the end of June. The Donetsk People’s Republic Twitter account even posted a photo of the missiles at the time. A correspondent in eastern Ukraine for Russian state-controlled channel Rossiya-24 later reported that the militia does possess Buk launchers, but that they’re “all undergoing repair.”

Pundits in the Western media quickly joined Gerashchenko in claiming that Moscow had provided the pro-Russian militia with the advanced missile launchers. The Ukrainian representative to the United Nations went further, promising to “present the evidence of Russian military involvement into the Boeing crash.” But Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said allegations of Russian involvement “stupidity,” and the rebels had said in June that they captured the Buk missiles from a Ukrainian air-defense base near the village of Oleksiivka.

The Ukrainian intelligence service released an intercepted recording it said showed Russian rebels admitting to downing the plane, but dismayed that it had turned out to be a civilian flight. Similarly, a deleted post on a social network page that has published statements by the rebels’ military leader, Muscovite Igor Strelkov, praised the downing of the plane, also under the assumption it was a military flight.

Meanwhile, increasingly wild versions of events began to appear. Representatives of the neighboring Lugansk People’s Republic told Russian state news agency RIA Novosti that unnamed witnesses had seen a Ukrainian fighter jet attack the Boeing 777.

Russian defence analyst Igor Korotchenko, editor of the National Defence journal, said on Rossiya 24 and RIA Novosti it was “obvious” that MH17 had been accidentally shot down by poorly trained Ukrainian government forces while checking the battle readiness of a Buk missile launcher. But Western military experts on CBS News and elsewhere argued that taking down the plane with a Buk would require extensive training and a careful shot.

RT and other Russian media began quoting a confidential source at Russian Aviation arguing that Ukrainian forces had been trying to down Russia’s presidential plane, which he or she said had passed through a certain airspace near Warsaw shortly after the Malaysian airliner had.

Among Twitter accounts supporting the rebellion in Ukraine, it was common knowledge Ukrainian forces had shot down the airliner, only their goal had been to draw Western forces into the conflict in eastern Ukraine. Rossiya 24 hinted at a similar conclusion when in between segments on the downed Boeing 777 it broadcast a recap of Siberia Airlines Flight 1812, which the Ukrainian military admitted to accidentally shooting down over the Black Sea in 2001.

Pavel Felgenhauer, a Moscow-based defense analyst and columnist for the independent Novaya Gazeta, said the fact that the rebels had shot down a Ukrainian military An-26 transport aircraft on Monday at about 20,000 feet—one of three military aircraft they downed this week—proved that they had acquired more powerful weaponry.

“The most plausible explanation is, of course, it was the rebels with Russian help, or Russian volunteers on the side of the rebels,” who shot down Malaysia Airlines flight 17, Felgenhauer said. “That’s more plausible than all other shit being circulated.”