NATO Transportation issues? Get a bike!

Friday 18 May 2012

In case you’ve been living under a rock (or don’t live in Chicago and don’t follow world events), NATO weekend is here! Thousands of people—be they dignitaries, VIPs, security, press, protestors, and tourists who didn’t do their homework—will be descending on Chicago this weekend for the big event, and many Chicago residents are scared shitless.

It will certainly not be “business as usual” for the city, but who says that’s a bad thing? Many of the people I know who work downtown have told me their offices are closed on Monday (some were even closed Friday) or that they’re choosing to work remotely so they won’t have to “deal with the hassle.” There were some pop-up protests and marches downtown during the week and may be some Saturday and Monday, but the big protest march is scheduled for Sunday afternoon, so I’m not sure exactly what “hassle” people are talking about.

Actually, I do know what they’re talking about. They’re talking about the transportation nightmares that everyone is dreaming about. People trying to get around by car on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday will certainly be challenged, especially near downtown and the south side. All Metra riders (though in particular those traveling under McCormick place) have some big issues to deal with, as Metra decided to severely restrict what you can and cannot have with you these next three days (liquids, bikes, briefcases), not only on trains passing under McCormick Place but across the whole system. And there’s also the Lakefront Trail being closed in certain areas and buses scheduled to be rerouted all or a portion of the “three-day weekend.”

As I write this blog post, I should be at a meeting, but I’m not because it was cancelled—cancelled on account of the perceived traffic problems brought about by NATO. I figured  Friday night, before any of the big closures were even scheduled to take effect, cancelling our event was overkill. The e-mail told me to treat NATO “as a major weather storm—it’s advisable for everyone to stay home.”

No thank you.

This is the kind of hysteria that happens because we live in a car-centric culture. As someone who gets around mostly by bike (and when not bike via bus, train, and foot), I don’t see what the big deal is. I don’t care about rolling closures on the expressway because of motorcades shutting down some traffic. When thoughts of NATO challenges came up in Monday e-mail, I responded to the group, suggesting people think about taking public transportation, with responses basically proclaiming, “I never thought of that!” or “What a novel idea!”

I’ve been warned to stay away from the Lakefront Trail for a few days, and CTA trains are going to be running as usual, though with possible random delays likely (though, it must be said, this is also business as usual). One bit of advice from a Chicago Tribune article was simply that “people should be extremely flexible about their travel plans.” But shouldn’t that always be the case? However, I think the problem is that car users don’t see their transportation that way, while that those of us who rely on bikes, buses, and trains for our transportation needs recognize the need to be flexible on a regular basis.

So my advice to anyone worried about the transportation issues brought about by the NATO summit: pull your bike out of the garage or jump on the bus and train and join those of us who always leave the car behind; maybe you’ll realize that it’s not so bad after all.


tax day!!!

Thursday 15 April 2010

As hopefully my readers in the U.S. are aware, 15 April is tax day!  Because it falls on a weekday this year, you won’t get any extra days.  If you still haven’t filed your taxes, you should do that!  Even if you’re late, it’s OK.

I, personally, got a few refunds this year (based on my locations of employment), including a nice bonus from the federal government!  I still paid taxes, mind you, in terms of medicare and social security (not to mention sales taxes all the time!), but I was part, as an article I read notes, Nearly half of US household escape income tax (if  you can call me a “household”).  I’d make some comments about this fact, but I think it’s already been done well at another blog called the “Hillbilly Report,” for all you rural progressives out there, apparently c:

Instead, I want to talk about what all those income taxes that are collected are used for!  Perhaps one might say that only those 53% who pay income taxes should decide how they are used, and that might be an interesting way to go, but until that day, I’ll have my say.

There is a nifty little chart/flyer put out by FCNL that shows how income tax revenues are distributed.  As we continue to think about health care, we should not be surprised to see that 17% (or $532 billion) of such taxes go to health care costs (and that doesn’t include medicare!) — as the flyer notes, this “Includes Medicaid, public health, Indian Health,
National Institutes of Health, Centers for Disease Control and related programs.”  We also know that tax money goes toward things like transportation, education, and other “basic needs” we have in the lives we live.

However, what gets me is that 1/3, or 33%, or $1 trillion (also written as $1,039.5 billion) goes toward Pentagon spending for current and past wars!  That far exceeds the minimal 1%, or $36 billion, that goes toward “Diplomacy, Development, and War Prevention.”  And actually, the “war” percentage is lower than usual because we spent so much money on the bailout and government economic relief — that number was 43% a year ago and is expected to rise to 38% again in two years, even with our current President Obama.

What we see here is continued belief that what makes the U.S.  safe and secure, not to mention a country not to be trifled with, is our military strength.  They say “fences make good neighbors,” but I think having friends around you is even a better strategy in the end.  Instead of spending (wasting) money on wars and war machinery, we need to transform our country into one working for peace and reconciliation with countries around the world, recognizing that our differences need not mean hostility and war.  Especially in these tough economic times, we need to reduce war and military related spending and step into the world of diplomacy and peacemaking.  If not now, when?


more tragic consequences of war

Wednesday 14 April 2010

Here is a short 6 minute video report from Democracy Now! you can watch or read, showing U.S. soldiers in Iraq firing from a helicopter, during which they killed at least three unarmed persons, including two reporters and a father (with children in the back seat injured).

Families of Victims of 2007 US Helicopter Killing React to Leaked Video

I’ve also included link to a longer report on this incident, which includes an interview with a soldier in this unit (no present on that day of combat) that says this is simply how soldiers are trained, and if it’s a problem, it’s part of a much bigger problem.

“This Is How These Soldiers Were Trained to Act”–Veteran of Military Unit Involved in 2007 Baghdad Helicopter Shooting Says Incident Is Part of Much Larger Problem

If you have some time, take a look to watch or read these reports and see what you think.  What are we doing wrong?  What needs to change?  Is there something in the military culture, or maybe something even in our culture as a whole, that makes these kinds of things happen?


the neverending palestine/israel show continues! (pt. 3)

Thursday 25 March 2010

So while the U.S. continues to talk about the health care reform bill(s) (my comments come next week), the p/i show continues!  First, some recent news articles on the issue:
Mon 22 Mar: Clinton accuses Israel of hurting U.S. credibility (AP)
Wed 24 Mar: Israel approves new building in East Jerusalem (AP)
Thurs 25 Mar: U.S. Fails to Persuade Israel on Housing Dispute (NY Times)

On to today’s post!

Both the blogs in pt. 1 and pt. 2 on this topic talked about Israeli policy in relation to Palestine and Palestinians, and in this blog I want to focus mainly on whether or not those policies are actually positive for Israel’s future, brought about by an Op-Ed by Uri Dromi, who was spokesman for the Israeli governments from 1992 to 1996, titled “Will Israel Join the March of Folly?

Dromi begins this way:

“Barbara Tuchman, in her classic book “March of Folly,” examined four cases in history when governments acted contrary to their own best interests: the Trojans who let the Greeks bring the fatal horse into their midst; the papacy, which allowed and even brought about the Protestant secession; the British who lost America, and America, which lost the war in Vietnam.”

He continues shortly after with his thesis at hand:

“By expanding settlements instead of separating from the Palestinians while we still can, we Israelis are dooming ourselves to lose the Jewish and democratic state that has been won with so much sacrifice. In other words, we are immersed in our own march of folly. And we are doing it with our eyes open.”

I went to a session last fall that detailed some strategies for talking with members of Congress about the Palestine/Israel issue and conflict, and one of the main points to suggested to use was that a sustained people, involving a Palestinian state, was in the best interests of the the U.S. and Israel.  And that is Dromi’s point, too.  However, the current Israeli policies are running counter to that objective and leave Israel open to continued critism and possibly, in the end, it’s own downfall.

This week continued the dispute of the last two, and Britain joined in the criticism, too (see Israel Absorbs Twin Rebukes From Top Allies).

Dromi’s point comes to a head this way:

Consider the following scenario: The Palestinians decide to do nothing, just wait patiently until there is no way to divide the land anymore. The country just becomes one, binational state.

Then, assuming that the Israelis wouldn’t dare or wouldn’t be allowed by the rest of the world to run the country as an apartheid state, the Palestinians start voting in elections and running for Parliament.

Thus, the existence of a Jewish national state, which many people do desire (I’m not against it, actually; I just want justice for all), is no more.  Do you see why the U.S. needs to continue it’s rebukes?

So while the settlements in the West Bank may pose the most problems for a Palestinian state, as I said in pt. 2, Jerusalem is likely the final sticking point for any agreement.  It may be that Palestinians will not even begin peace talks until settlement construction and home takeovers in East Jerusalem cease, and with the current Israeli policy of a unified Jerusalem, can peace ever happen?

This Map of Settlements Around Jerusalem shows one reason the Palestinians are so mad.  If you click on the map, you can see a red dotted line that demarcates what Israel claims to be Jerusalem, much of which is on the Palestinian side of the 1967 Green Line.  I counted a dozen settlements Israel considers part of Jerusalem that are on what many would consider the Palestinian side of the boundary for a future state.  There are also Palestinian towns inside this boundary, and even one in the bottom left corner you can see that is planned to be encircled by the wall/barrier Israel is constructing.  (Read about that town, the village of Al-Walaja, here.)

It would be impossible to simply reverse the last 40+ years since the 1967 Six-Day War.  However, if Israel continues forward with it’s current policy, Israel as a Jewish state may soon cease to exist.  If that’s not how you want the future shaping up, I suggest you make your voice heard and do something about it.

(Also, I have here a link to another Op-Ed I thought I’d want to write more on by Michael B. Oren, Israel’s ambassador to the United States which mainly just says that the U.S. and Israel are best buds and it needs to remain that way (especially from an Israeli perspective).  Read his take on things here:
For Israel and America, a Disagreement, Not a Crisis)


the neverending palestine/israel show continues! (pt. 2)

Sunday 21 March 2010

OK, so if you haven’t read pt. 1 yet, please do that now…

Ready for part 2?

If you’ve been keeping up with the news the past two weeks, I’m sure you’re at least semi-familiar with this whole U.S./Israel “spat,” “feud,” or whatever you want to call what’s been happening these past couple of weeks.  In case you’re not (or to get you back in the mood), here are two options:

The situation in news articles (I’m big on the AP and NY Times these days) (please click at least one — it’s time consuming to link all these articles!):
Tues 9 Mar: As Biden Visits, Israel Unveils Plan for New Settlements (NYT)
Thurs 11 Mar: Biden to Leave Mideast Amid Unease (NYT)
Fri 12 Mar: Clinton Rebukes Israel on Housing Announcement (NYT);
Clinton slams Israel on housing announcement (AP)
Sun 14 Mar: Israeli settlement action ‘an insult’: Obama aide (AP)
Mon 15 Mar: Israel Feeling Rising Anger From the U.S. (NYT);
US Israel criticism ignites firestorm in Congress (AP)
Tues 16 Mar: US envoy cancels Mideast trip, Israel feud deepens (AP) ;
US, Israel try to back away from the brink (AP)

Fri 19 Mar: Clinton Calls Israel’s Moves to Ease Tension ‘Useful’ (NYT)
Sat 20 Mar: UN Chief says Israeli settlements must be stopped (AP) (OK, so this one is a little off topic, but still in the vein of all the rest, perhaps the best to read!)
Sun 21 Mar: Israel: No building restrictions in east Jerusalem (AP)

What brought about the curious events of the past two weeks was simply an announcement of  a planned building project that occurred when Joe Biden was visiting prior to planned mediated peace talks scheduled for last week.  Then Biden, upon hearing the announcement, condemned the plan, and the spat began.  Members of Congress and pro-Israel groups in the U.S. criticized the criticism, and the back and forth began.  When you break down this whole fiasco, though, it really comes down to the issue alluded to in that last article: Israeli building in East Jerusalem.

Just as the West Bank was land Israel took control of during the Six-Day War in 1967, so were the lands we currently refer to as East Jerusalem.  While most people can understand and accept that Palestinians living in the West Bank desire this land for a future state.  However, the issue of Jerusalem is definitely much murkier, specifically because it’s hard to think of a city being divided between two countries, as it was between 1948 and 1967.  However, it is also unacceptable for either Palestinians or Israelis to give up what was under their control during that 20-year span.

However, this quote speaks volumes:

“As far as we are concerned, building in Jerusalem is like building in Tel Aviv” and there would be no restrictions, Netanyahu told his Cabinet.

Later in the article we here this:

Netanyahu has always opposed compromise over Jerusalem. Israel captured the city’s eastern sector from Jordan during the 1967 Middle East war and annexed it, a move not recognized by any other country. Over four decades, Israel has built a string of Jewish neighborhoods around the Arab section of the city.

Jerusalem may, in the end, but the one sticking point that can’t be overcome.  One past plan included Jerusalem being an “international” city, belonging to no country in particular but under unified control by a body such as or similar to the United Nations.  However, with Jerusalem the current capital of Israel and East Jerusalem usually declared the capital of any future Palestinian state, we seem to have a problem.

The question is whether, knowing this and all the other issues needing to be resolved, the U.S. will show some force in using its power of influence politically and monetarily (or withholding money from Israel, as the case may be) to make true change happen.

I have more to say, but since I like to keep these pretty short, I’ll hold off for a part 3.  Before I close, though, I wanted to pull a few quotes from a NY Times feature, “Room For Debate,” which features multiple people talking about a particular subject.  In this case, the issue was titled, “Israel’s Challenge to the U.S.”  Read on, and click the article title link here for more on this topic.

From Amjad Atallah

The United States has been sending its messages with carrots and great diplomatic restraint. The current Israeli government, in stark contrast, has been responding like a petulant child, outraged that it hasn’t been able to get U.S. acquiescence to its own short-term political strategy.

There is a great deal at stake in this public and private dispute between Israel and the United States. President Obama should consider responding in a similar manner, by creating his own facts on the ground, and ending all forms of U.S. cover and support of the settlement enterprise and other policies that sustain the occupation.

From Daoud Kuttab

All attempts to appease and reward Israel for its acquisition by war has resulted in pushing peace away. If President George W. Bush truly believed, and President Obama truly believes — as they both publicly stated — that an independent, viable and contiguous Palestinian state is in the “national interest” of the United States, Washington must resolve once and for all that any Jewish settlement built on Palestinian territory forcefully taken in 1967 will not be tolerated.

Once America regains its resolve in this area, the peace train can proceed to its destination.


the neverending palestine/israel show continues! (pt. 1)

Friday 19 March 2010

Well… This blog post has been a long time coming. I starting compiling articles to link and use for this post over a week ago, and I’ve been trying to continue to keep up with them ever since, but it’s been a challenge.

I wanted to write some of my thoughts on the whole U.S./Israel “dispute,” and the commentary and articles written on the subject just kept on coming!  However, in looking at all my articles, I realized that this “spat” has overshadowed and not really included an event that happened a few weeks before the U.S./Israel “issue” began and which has caused much more concern for Palestinians but not such a”sexy” news story for Americans — thus, the reason you’ve likely not heard of it!

On 21 February 2010, Benjamin Netanyahu issued a list of Israeli national heritage sites that included two West Bank sites of importance to Palestinians (Muslims in particular, though they’re significant for Jews, Christians, and Muslims).  As the NY Times said,

“[Mr. Netanyahu] said he intended to include the Cave of the Patriarchs, also known as Ibrahimi Mosque, the Hebron shrine revered by Jews, Muslims and Christians as the burial place of Abraham, on the list of about 150 sites. In 1994, a Jewish settler, Baruch Goldstein, fatally shot 29 Palestinian Muslim worshipers inside the shrine.

“Mr. Netanyahu said he also planned to include Rachel’s Tomb, a shrine just inside the West Bank city of Bethlehem.”

(The full article is titled “Israel’s Plans for 2 Sites Stir Unrest in West Bank.” — I actually couldn’t find an article solely about the announcement, only was an article written once the “unrest” began… interesting.)

Oh, and did I mention that this announcement came the very same week as the anniversary of the Goldstein rampage mentioned?

Which leads to this: Israel Seals Off West Bank

“JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel has sealed off the West Bank for 48 hours, preventing Palestinians from entering Israel because of fears of unrest.

“There have been clashes after Friday prayers at mosques in Jerusalem and elsewhere in recent weeks, sparked by deadlock in peace talks and Israel’s inclusion of two West Bank shrines on a list of national heritage sites.

“Several Palestinians have been badly wounded and dozens of protesters and Israeli policemen have suffered light injuries.

“Police say only men over 50 will be allowed to pray Friday at the shrine at the center of the disturbances — the Jerusalem compound Jews call the Temple Mount and Muslims call the Noble Sanctuary. There are no limitations on women.

“The closure began at midnight Thursday and will end at midnight Saturday.”

Right, so Israel basically makes an announcement that they’re going to continue to impose themselves in the West Bank, it riles up Palestinians (and shouldn’t it?) for a few weeks (likely a bit more than those summer health care town hall meetings, I’d think), and then Israel, out of  “safety concerns,” shuts down the West Bank for the weekend (for men under 50).

Oh, and then, days later, the big U.S./Israel spat begins, and the world forgets about this issue — but the Palestinians don’t.

Now for my opining: That seems to be how things work in the Middle East.  There’s a lot of slight of hand, “Quick, look over there!” happening on and it just leads us to forget about what really happening — Israel is slowly making the “facts on the ground” such that removal of Israel and Israelis from the West Bank will simply be unfeasible, and then what?  Either it’s an Israeli/Palestinian joint state (rights of all TBD) or Palestinians are somehow forced out.  Either way, this “two-state solution” everyone seems to think is the way to go isn’t the outcome.

I’m convinced there’s more than one way to peace in the Middle East, just as there’s more than one way to crack an egg (a nice non-violent alternative to that “other” euphemism).  But if the U.S. and the rest of the world continue to turn a blind eye to the oppression and injustice occurring in the West Bank, the bigger the challenge will become.

Have the events of the past 2-ish weeks shown that maybe the U.S. is taking notice to Israel’s slow infiltration of the West Bank?  Come back for pt. 2 of the Palestine/Israel show late Sunday — it only get’s better!  (And now with a part 3!)

(And if/while you’re waiting, read some comments to the NY Times article about restricted access to Muslim holy sites.)


Some good Daily Show conversation

Thursday 29 October 2009

If you have 15 minutes (and a decent Internet connection), check out a good Daily show interview about the Palestinian situation.

(In two parts): Anna Baltzer and Mustafa Barghouti
Part 1
Part 2

The full interview was significantly cut down a lot for the show’s TV run (more could have been shown by cutting the “Thank You” segment), so check it all out here!