Archive for August, 2014

Gaza, US Middle East Bungling, Anti-Semitism, Plautus, & Ancient Usury

Sunday, August 31st, 2014

The yellow badge Jews were forced to wear can be seen in this marginal illustration from an English manuscript.

BritLibCottonNeroDiiFol183vPersecutedJews

Summer is almost over as we enter the Labor Day holiday weekend here in the USA. May Day, the world wide labor struggle holiday, which started in honor of American Anarchists in Chicago, is alienated from its radical history here. But the people have struggled to have their voices heard despite the constant media barrage to discourage action and to induce a sense of fear and helplessness.

We can see how people the world over took to the streets when Israel attacked Gaza, especially in Europe, not so strangely the dictatorships in the Arab world remained largely silent, not wanting to encourage more signs of resistance like the Arab Spring. The USA, as leader of the cabal of elite rulers around the world, has rocked the boat when Obama made his seemingly foolish speech in Cairo when he was first elected. It must be attributed to his relative political naïveté in international affairs. He perhaps wanted to distinguish himself from Bush’s administration with its heavy handed interventionist policies. The elites in Saudi Arabia never forgave him for letting Mubarak go. They insisted on returning the military to power and now are busily working with proxies such as the U.A.E. to destroy the independent resistance in Libya and did their best to turn Syria into a quagmire.

The Obama administration, with their desire to turn focus to deal with a rising China, and create an East Asian NATO, has now found itself being out-foxed by the combined efforts of Iran, Russia and China. But I digress into speculation on politics based on my own reading and experience in various domestic anti-imperialist political campaigns.

Little Gaza is a lynchpin irritant; it is the sore that keeps the Islamic world rallying against the presence of Israel. It is such a blatant injustice, that when Islamic regimes give silent aid to Israel, they fuel the forces of Islamic radicalism. It was the Palestinian question and the placement of US bases in Saudi Arabia allowed Osama Bin Laden to inspire so many young Saudi’s and others to such an implacable resistance to the US machinations leading to 9/11.

What to do about Israel? I can admire the Jewish people and their resilience in the face of prejudice, especially on the part of Christians that goes back to at least medieval times. The Greek-Jewish hostility dating back to the Greek Selucid occupation of the Jewish homeland in the Hellenistic period, extended into the Roman times. Witness the riots in Roman occupied Alexandria between Greeks and Jews and the records of delegations to Rome during the time of Caligula, to resolve these conflicts in Philo. The degeneration of relations between Rome and the Jews from the days when Herod was a welcome celebrity in Rome, to the time of the destruction of the second temple by Vespasian and Titus, a subject that I would like to dig into sometime because it would be interesting to see how Jews became Shylocks in the western tradition and a persecuted minority.
http://bmcr.brynmawr.edu/2010/2010-12-63.html
I am providing a link to a fairly good article from Wikipedia on the subject of the early split between Judaism and Christianity, which resulted in official oppression of Jews once the Christians became part of the government after Constantine. The earlier Roman oppression of the Jews had more to do with Roman practice against rebels than any specific anti-Semitism. Later the attitude of Hadrian, whose Hellenophile enthusiasm, may have influenced his repression of the Jews and renaming Jerusalem as pagan Aelia Capitolina. What has the Greek and Jewish conflict played in the emergence of anti-Semitism is a subject I intend to write about more. As it is I am diverging again.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Split_of_early_Christianity_and_Judaism

The Jewish people deserve to feel safe in their place in the world. Yet they must not do so by developing their own version of South African Apartheid on a much smaller and more intensive scale.

This entire discourse was inspired by my reading of Plautus’s play The Mostellaria, reading his rants against moneylenders. His language seems right out of the Biblical Jesus’s excoriation of the money changers. It got me thinking about when were Jews first associated with the reviled loan sharks. Plautus has his hero, the mischievous slave Tranio, say in an aside to the audience “By Pollux, you won’t find a fouler class of/men/Or men less lawful than the moneylending breed!” (Plautus 657-659). He spends a goodly section of the play railing against loans at interest and one gets the impression that this may have been a relatively recent development in Roman culture. Banking with the concept of interest had been criticized by Aristotle and Roman law limited interest to 8 1/3%. Yet in the play the money lender is asking for 10%.
http://americansforfairnessinlending.wordpress.com/the-history-of-usury/

Also in the war with the Carthaginians, the second Punic war, which would have been going on during much of Plautus’s adulthood, the Roman Republic took out many loans and taxed women for their jewel and gold inherited from dead spouses called the Oppian Laws. After the war in 195 BC when the war was long over, the Oppian law was still in effect and the women protested when the Senate was voting on repeal and the tribunes were about to veto repeal. This occurred a decade or so before Plautus died and presumably when he was a well-known playwright.
http://www.womeninworldhistory.com/lesson10.html
So I was thinking about how usury was unpopular among the aristocracy of the day. There had been a crisis in Athens earlier when many farmers had become enslaved for non-payment of debt. Solon famously did much to eliminate that debt and legislated against it. The Greeks famously used their temples as banks. Pawnbrokers and money changing are considered to be Greek innovations. Perhaps the outrage of Jesus was outrage at the Hellenistic practice in the Jewish temple. This would give a nationalist twist to his opposition, or who ever made up the story. The transformation of the payment in interest in grain, where agricultural products naturally created more abundance, as opposed to the innovation of charging interest on money and metals which had no natural increase which caused serious problems in ancient society. But how the Jews, became associated with moneylending had much to do with medieval taxation and land ownership restrictions on Jews and their lack of a natural land base after the diaspora. I am again getting beyond my area of even limited expertise, so I am going to leave it at that.
http://www.myjewishlearning.com/history/Ancient_and_Medieval_History/632-1650/Christendom/Commerce/Moneylending.shtml
I am leaving this off with more questions than answers. I am going to have to read more on the original Greek and Jewish interaction. Perhaps in my Pagan Culture class I will write a paper on this and post it. Meanwhile it is now August 31st and I have not even touched on the issues of migration and police shootings of minorities. I will write more at a later time. Meantime I would love some commentary and addition of some factual information.
Some good sources that I happen to have in my personal library and have read over the years:

Andreau, Jean. Banking and Business in the Roman World. Cambridge: Cambridge U. Press. 1999. Print.
Finnley, M. I. The Ancient Economy. Berkeley: U. of CA. Press. 1999. Print.
Lee, A. D. Pagans & Christians in Late Antiquity. London: Routledge. 2000. Print.
Plautus, Titus Maccius. Four Comedies. Trans. Erich Segal. Oxford: Oxford U. Press. 1996. Print.
Tcherikover, Victor. Hellenistic Civilization and the Jews. New York: Atheneum. 1979. Print.

Police Miltarization, Michael Brown Shooting, Egyptian Massacre Anniversary

Thursday, August 14th, 2014

From Economist editorial “Cops or Soldiers? America’s Police Have Become Too Militarized”
Posted by Predictable-History at 22.3.14

The shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO, has resulted in several days of tension between the local almost all white police force and the majority black community. Police refusal to name the shooter, and confrontational style of handling protesters with a massive show of military like force, is not helping. Apparently participating in a government program to donate surplus Iraq and Afghanistan military equipment to American police forces, has resulted in a police force that looks and acts more like an occupying army that those sworn to serve and protect. What exactly are they protecting in Ferguson, other than themselves?

‘Don’t shoot us,’ the crowd cries at police in Ferguson, Mo., Saturday after 18-year-old Michael Brown was fatally shot by an officer. - David Carson/MCT www.nydailynews.com

Michael Brown, according to the interview with his family I heard on Democracy Now, was preparing to enroll in college this fall. His father said he was someone who brought people together. He used humor to diffuse situations at home. According to the police story Michael was involved in an altercation in which he allegedly attempted to take a gun from a cop. According to an eye witness Michael was running away from the police, when he was shot, turned, raised his hands to surrender, and was shot repeatedly by the officer. Another eyewitness collaborated that story according to the Democracy Now piece. NPR reports that the refusal to turn over the name of the officer is fueling the hostility and suspicion of the police in the community. The story stated that many in the community already know who the officer is and that he has a reputation for hassling young black men.

Democracy Now story about Michael Brown murder, and interviews with citizens of Ferguson.

The link between state violence and the blueprints laid out decades ago by the Trilaterals in the 1970’s for restricting Democracy has been discussed in my previous blog posting. The issue of continued violence against minorities, shooting black people with seeming impunity and locking up poor Latin people simply seeking a refuge from violence in their own countries has become more and more important. The world of Capitalism is literally exploding and as social media increasingly exposes the state, it becomes more and more obvious that radical solutions are required. Radical in the sense that the powers that be may be discomfited by the pressure from the popular masses.

Michael Brown’s father shortly after the shooting.

From Suman Varandani for International Business Times www.ibtimes.com

It is incumbent upon us as citizens, not only of the USA, but of the world, to act to bring about peace and that can only come about with justice. Justice is not going to happen as long as increasing social-economic inequity drives people to despair. The militarization of society is an attempt to tamp down the desires of people for a better life.

The piece below is from a recent Newsweek article on the source of the recent military look of the police.

“How America’s Police Became an Army: The 1033 Program”
By Taylor Wofford
Filed: 8/13/14 at 10:47 PM | Updated: 8/14/14 at 1:21 PM

FergusonCops
Riot police clear a street with smoke bombs while clashing with demonstrators in Ferguson, Missouri August 13, 2014. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

As many have noted, Ferguson, Missouri, currently looks like a war zone. And its police—kitted out with Marine-issue camouflage and military-grade body armor, toting short-barreled assault rifles, and rolling around in armored vehicles—are indistinguishable from soldiers.

America has been quietly arming its police for battle since the early 1990s.

Faced with a bloated military and what it perceived as a worsening drug crisis, the 101st Congress in 1990 enacted the National Defense Authorization Act. Section 1208 of the NDAA allowed the Secretary of Defense to “transfer to Federal and State agencies personal property of the Department of Defense, including small arms and ammunition, that the Secretary determines is— (A) suitable for use by such agencies in counter-drug activities; and (B) excess to the needs of the Department of Defense.” It was called the 1208 Program. In 1996, Congress replaced Section 1208 with Section 1033.

This whole War on Terror thing, after the War on Drugs, all a result of the military industrial complex looking for more profit centers in which to justify spending our tax dollars, has simply gone too far. Ferguson perhaps will cause Americans to wake up to what has happened to our country. It has become a police state in which minorities are treated like Palestinians are in Gaza, as target practice by the authorities.

President Obama has finally been drawn into the fray to make comments about the situation, and Attorney General Holder has sent Civil Rights lawyers and is doing a side by side investigation of the shooting along with the local authorities.

This is from the transcript of Obama’s comments on Ferguson in the Washington Post.

Put simply, we all need to hold ourselves to a high standard, particularly those of us in positions of authority. I know that emotions are raw right now in Ferguson and there are certainly passionate differences about what has happened. There are going to be different accounts of how this tragedy occurred. There are going to be differences in terms of what needs to happen going forward. That’s part of our democracy. But let’s remember that we’re all part of one American family. We are united in common values, and that includes belief in equality under the law, basic respect for public order and the right to peaceful public protest, a reverence for the dignity of every single man, woman and child among us, and the need for accountability when it comes to our government.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/transcript-president-obamas-remarks-on-unrest-in-ferguson-mo-and-iraq/2014/08/14/c8ce971e-23c7-11e4-958c-268a320a60ce_story.html

His comments are not strong enough and he spends too much time defending the local authorities in his brief commentary. Although I am glad that the Attorney General is getting involved it has taken almost a week of protests and violent confrontations to get the governments attention. Sometimes you have to hit the jackass over the head to get a response.

Protesters in Ferguson, MO.
www.blenderss.com

The poster below is based on the Wobblies old statement “Direct Action Gets the Goods” which was the preferred method of labor organizing a century ago when to be a Labor organizer meant taking your life in your hands. Direct action, done by an aroused population is a powerful means of getting a redress of grievances, especially in a liberal democratic state like the USA.


poasterchild.deviantart.com

Otherwise you end up with a world looking like this:


www.reddit.com
Ferguson, Missouri right now : pics

Or even worse like the poor people in Egypt who are now mourning their own version of Tiananmen square, on the one year anniversary. August 14, 2013 saw the most ruthless slaughter of protesters in modern history.

The dead bodies of Muslim Brotherhood members and supporters of deposed Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi lie in a room in a field hospital at the Rabaa Adawiya mosque, where they were camping, in Cairo, Aug. 14, 2013. (photo by REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh)

Read more: http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2013/08/egypt-muslim-brotherhood-massacre-sisi.html#ixzz3ARLsNQ4A

The Human Rights Watch Report on the Massacre is Damning. This is from the Guardian.

Egypt massacre was premeditated, says Human Rights Watch
Rabaa killing of 817 people was a planned Tiananmen-Square-style attack on largely unarmed protesters, report argues

Patrick Kingsley in Cairo
The Guardian, Tuesday 12 August 2014 04.01 EDT

Egyptian security forces intentionally killed at least 817 protesters during last August’s Rabaa massacre, in a premeditated attack equal to or worse than China’s Tiananmen Square killings in 1989, Human Rights Watch (HRW) has argued in a report.

The 195-page investigation based on interviews with 122 survivors and witnesses has found Egypt’s police and army “systematically and deliberately killed largely unarmed protesters on political grounds” in actions that “likely amounted to crimes against humanity”.

This edition of Democracy Now focuses on the Massacre in Egypt and has an interview with Kenneth Roth, president of Human Rights Watch.

From Ferguson to Cairo, military responses to the concerns of humanity, shows more and more clearly how the elites ruing the world only care about maintaining control and power.

Musings on Democractic Participation, Student Debt, Trilaterals, Nader, Chomsky

Sunday, August 10th, 2014

At least temporarily, I have decided to stop posting to Facebook. I have time abuse issues with that site. Almost every day I have been spending an hour or more replying and posting. It can become somewhat addictive. Perhaps some of my Facebook friends will follow my return to blogging, I don’t know. This format gives me more room to express my thoughts, although of late most of the time I have simply been posting papers written for classes in school, largely due to time constraints.

With all that is going on in the world right now that has a certain urgency to it, I am beginning to get issue fatigue. There are only so many hours of CSPAN I can watch of politicians and pundits. It is where much of the daily national news is generated though and at least it provides a relatively unbiased perspective on what comes out of the horses mouth’s or should I say horses asses considering we are speaking of politicians in Washington, DC.

I should not be so hard on the politicos, after all they are educated and for the most part sincere believers in pursuing the public welfare, even if they have to spend most of their time sucking from the tit of lobbyists and other big donors. This is a major problem and campaign finance reform is required. With the emergence of all political news cable networks, internet sites and twitter, there should not be any dearth of outlets to get political messages across. What is lacking is a sense on the part of large parts of the populace that their opinion, needs and wants are taken into consideration. The political process is not woven into the fabric of daily life on a conscious level for most of us and I blame the education system for not doing a better job of weaving students lives with the political process at an early age. Starting in elementary school, children should be introduced to public affairs in local neighborhood cleanup drives and traffic safety issues and so on. They should be taken to local city council meetings and encouraged to present proposals as part of class room projects. By junior high students should be taking stands on issues and by high school participating in the junior leagues of the political parties of their choice, which should be active on high school campuses. Participation should be real and effective such as in student governments that have real power on student related issues at as early an age as is intellectually justifiable.

I am thinking that political participation should be as common as sports or video gaming. It needs to be woven into the fabric of daily life if democracy is to be real and not a charade of biennial visits to the voting booth. This is not to say everyone will become political junkies, just as not everyone is a sports fan, but there needs to be that level of participation for the public to be capable of dealing with the challenges of our times.

There has been a conscious effort to tone down democracy, especially after the 1960’s activism among the youth as the Trilateralists wrote in “The Crisis of Democracy: On the Governability of Democracies initially a 1975 report written by Michel Crozier, Samuel P. Huntington, and Joji Watanuki for the Trilateral Commission and later published as a book. The report observed the political state of the United States, Europe and Japan and says that in the United States the problems of governance “stem from an excess of democracy” and thus advocates “to restore the prestige and authority of central government institutions.’” (The Crisis of Democracy, Wikipedia).

Chomsky cites this in writing about the Carter Administration and the development of the modern approach to international order in an excerpted section from Radical Priorities a collection of essays, this being from an essay about the Carter administration written in 1981, as I found by doing a web search on restricting democratic tendencies. As you can read, it is pretty sobering:

The report argues that what is needed in the industrial democracies “is a greater degree of moderation in democracy” to overcome the “excess of democracy” of the past decade. “The effective operation of a democratic political system usually requires some measure of apathy and noninvolvement on the part of some individuals and groups.” This recommendation recalls the analysis of Third World problems put forth by other political thinkers of the same persuasion, for example, Ithiel Pool (then chairman of the Department of Political Science at MIT), who explained some years ago that in Vietnam, the Congo, and the Dominican Republic, “order depends on somehow compelling newly mobilized strata to return to a measure of passivity and defeatism… At least temporarily the maintenance of order requires a lowering of newly acquired aspirations and levels of political activity.” The Trilateral recommendations for the capitalist democracies are an application at home of the theories of “order” developed for subject societies of the Third World.

(Chomsky, The Carter Administration: Myth and Priorities).

Recent attempts on the part of Republicans to restrict voting rights is a less subtle and more partisan attempt by neo-liberals and racist ideologues to keep a true populist from rising, unlike the rather tame Obama who has been well tutored in the ways of the ruling classes, and as a constitutional scholar had any impulses to radical mass empowerment channeled into something more insipid and easily controllable. The challenge is to bring real participation by a pedagogy that realizes the potential of the idealistic youth and not simply provides another form of tamping down of democratic and socialistic aspirations. Capitalist elites or state bureaucratic elites, can be conquered if Ralph Nader is correct, by the mobilization of an energized and idealistic citizenry. This must start with the youth. Nader speaks of an emerging Left Right alliance during an interview with Amy Goodman on Democracy Now:

You’ve got to think of politics in America now as two stratas. On the top, dominating the left-right emerging alliance, are the corporate powers and their political allies in the Congress and elsewhere. And what we’re seeing here is a corporate strategy of long standing that fears a combination of left-right convergence on issues that would challenge corporate power. So, they really like the idea of left-right fighting each other over the social issues. They really work to divide and rule these left-right public opinion and representatives. And so far, they have been dominant, the corporatists.

But they’re beginning to lose. And we have enough historical evidence to show that the tide is running against them. For example, on the minimum wage fight, that comes in 70, 80 percent in the polls, which means a lot of conservative Wal-Mart workers think they should get a restored minimum wage, at least to what it was 46 years ago plus inflation adjustment. That would be almost $11 an hour.

(Democracy Now Monday, April 28, 2014)

This might happen, but it takes an informed and active citizenry and a youth willing to participate. The issue of student debt, linked in with the fight for raising minimum wages can be a way to do this. Student debt is just another means of depoliticizing the young by keeping them focused on jobs to pay off the debt rather than engaging in a dialogue on why students are being burdened with this debt in the first place. Focusing on the issue can be a means of bringing about a restructuring of national priorities away from corporate and elite interests and back to a Jacksonian populist government. Apathy must be replaced by activism if the nation is to be put on a course that reflects the will of the people.

Student debt activist groups are at these links:

studentdebtcrisis.org

occupycolleges.org


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