Jul 17, 2014

Martha Burk Talks Hobby Lobby, the GOP and Hell to Pay in November

Martha Burk Headshot

Women, Hobby Lobby and the GOP: Hell to Pay in November?

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Two weeks after the Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby decision allowing corporations to refuse some kinds of birth control coverage for female employees, the brouhaha has not died down. In fact, anger is building among women -- and at precisely the time the Democrats are counting on single females to push them to victory in November.
Harry Reid, Senate Majority Leader, promised action to undo the decision, which not only elevates the rights of corporations over those of women, but legitimizes a form of sex discrimination in employment.
One option would be repeal of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the law on which the decision was based (impossible with a slim Democratic majority and no chance at all in the Republican-controlled House). Instead, a vote was held on Wednesday on whether to consider a measure dubbed the "Not My Boss' Business Act," introduced by Senators Patty Murray (D-WA) and Mark Udall (D-CO). The bill mandates that employers cannot disrupt coverage for contraception or other health services that are guaranteed under federal law. No big surprise -- the GOP blocked the bill from even going forward for debate.

That means direct action by women will likely ramp up. Demonstrations have been ongoing in several cities, and social media is abuzz with hashtags like like #DrHobbyLobby and Facebook sites opposing the decision and calling for a boycott of Hobby Lobby. Other businesses that have sued to exclude birth control from company insurance are also in the crosshairs, including Eden Foods. Michael Potter, Eden's CEO, claims among other things, that contraception "almost always involve[s] immoral and unnatural practices." A petition went up immediately to "buy organic" somewhere else.
Taking aim at individual businesses may have some effect, but the larger fallout may be suffered by the Republican Party. After all, women haven't forgotten "legitimate rape," "abortion Barbie," and "hey hot mama" from Republican candidates. And female voters now get it that a Republican 2014-04-01-yourvoicesmallest3.JPGmajority in the Senate could block even moderate judges if the two oldest liberals (Ginsburg and Breyer) retire in the next couple of years, and surely put more anti-women justices on the Court if the GOP prevails in 2016.
Women, the majority of voters, have been moving away from the Republican Party for decades. As of the last election, the gender gap in party identification was 13 points in favor of the Democrats.
Long before Hobby Lobby, women were telling pollsters the Grand Old Party just doesn't understand. According to the CNN/ORC International poll, which was released last February, 55 percent of Americans surveyed say the GOP doesn't understand women. That number rises to 59 percent among all women and 64 percent among women over 50. It's a good bet young women are now approaching their mothers' level of disdain in the wake of the no-birth-control decision.
Republicans have been saying that the "war on women" Democrats accuse them of waging is a fake issue. Really? In addition to taking aim at abortion and now birth control, Republicans have blocked equal pay legislation, a minimum wage increase, and expansion of Medicaid -- all programs that affect women disproportionately. They've crusaded for years to weaken Social Security, and don't even mention child care or paid family leave.
If it's not a war, it's one hell of a frontal assault. We'll see if women remember in November.
Listen to a two-minute radio commentary here:
An earlier version of this blog ran on Other Words.

from the huff post.com

Zack Beauchamp from Vox Tells Us 11 crucial facts to understand the Israel-Gaza crisis

from vox.com

11 crucial facts to understand the Israel-Gaza crisis

Ilia Yefimovich
Israel and Hamas are at war in the Gaza Strip, against which Israel is launching air strikes as Hamas fires rockets into Israel. That's obvious from the headlines. But there's a ton of backstory that's necessary to understand what's happening, both in the day-to-day conflict and the bigger picture. What is Hamas, really, and what does it want? What is Gaza, and does Israel control it?
In order to give you a better sense of what's actually happening in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, here are 11 basic but critical facts you need to know to understand what's going on in Gaza today.

1) The Gaza Strip used to be part of Egypt, and is totally separate from the West Bank

Orlovic/Wikimedia Commons
As you can see on the above map, Gaza is separate from the other major Palestinian population center — the big green blob to the east of Israel, the West Bank. So despite both territories being largely populated by Palestinians, they're basically separate geographic entities.
Before Israel occupied Gaza, it was controlled for some years by Egypt, which borders Gaza on the west. Israel took it from Egypt during the 1967 war between the two countries, and until 2005 it occupied the Gaza Strip in the same way that it has occupied the West Bank through today.

2) Gaza City is among the most densely populated places in the world

Thomas Imo/Photothek/Getty Images
The Gaza Strip is 146 square miles, and has a population of about 1.6 million. That's a lot of people in a very small area. For perspective, Philadelphia is about 142 square miles and has about 1.5 million citizens. In other words, the entire Gaza Strip is basically as dense as a major American city.
According to data complied by the Washington Post's Adam Taylor, Gaza City, the largest population center in the Strip, is the 40th most densely populated urban area in the world, putting it on par with some Asian mega-cities.
This matters for the current conflict, because it makes it very hard for Israel to bomb from the air without hitting civilians. Hamas also places rocket emplacements inside civilian population centers, so Israeli aerial offensives inside Gaza are basically guaranteed to kill lots of non-combatants no matter how much Israel attempts to avoid it.

3) Israel used to have troops and settlers inside Gaza

Israeli soldiers and settlers during withdrawal. Marco Di Lauro/Getty Images
Until 2005, Israel occupied Gaza in the same way that it occupied the West Bank. That included Israeli military bases and settlements, communities of Jews living inside Palestinian territory.
In 2005, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon decided to withdraw from Gaza. Sharon, a longtime hawk and skeptic of Palestinian independence, had concluded that the Israeli occupation was no longer in Israel's interest. Sharon withdrew Israeli outposts and uprooted about 10,000 settlers. It was a hugely controversial move inside Israel, particularly on the political right — the current Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, quit the government in protest.
Sharon left control of Gaza to a united Palestinian Authority, governed by the moderate Fatah party from Ramallah, in the West Bank. But that's not actually how things worked out — Hamas quickly became the dominant power in Gaza. That means that Palestinians in Gaza aren't just physically separated form those in the West Bank, they're governed separately as well.

4) Hamas is part of an international Islamist movement and doesn't recognize Israel

Gazans celebrate the Muslim Brotherhood's victory in 2012 Egyptian election. Mahmud Hams/AFP/Getty Images
Hamas is, according to its charter, the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood — an Islamist group that operates around the Muslim world, and one that nominally ran the Egyptian government for about a year recently. Hamas isn't controlled by the Egypt-based brotherhood leadership, but they have close ties. Unlike many Brotherhood branches, though, Hamas also has a militant wing: the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades.
Since Hamas' 1987 founding, it has waged war on Israel, most notably through suicide bombings and rocket attacks. It seeks to replace Israel with a Palestinian state, and has repeatedly refused to recognize Israel (though it has a proposed a long-term truce if Israel agrees to withdraw from the West Bank). Some Hamas leaders have suggested that they would be satisfied with a Palestinian state on the West Bank and Gaza, but it's not at all clear whether they'd be able or willing to hammer out a deal with Israel in practice — assuming Israel was even willing to sit down with them, which is doubtful.
Hamas and Israel's long history of antagonism — Hamas conducted a significant number of suicide bombings inside Israel during the early 2000s — is a major contributor to the current crisis. Hamas and Israel refuse to negotiate openly and directly, and neither trusts the other even a little bit. As such, even small provocations have the potential to escalate rapidly.

5) Hamas was democratically elected by Palestinians

Palestinians celebrate Hamas' victory in 2006. Abid Katib/Getty Images
Hamas sees itself as the representative of the Palestinian people — and, in a sense, they're not totally wrong. Prodded by the George W. Bush administration, the Palestinian Authority held popular elections across the West Bank and Gaza for the Palestinian legislature in 2006. Hamas won a slight majority.
However, Hamas refused to recognize Israel or respect past Palestinian agreements with Israel while in government. Hamas fought a pretty bloody civil war with the more moderate Fatah party over this and de facto seceded from the PA to govern Gaza independently from the West Bank-based leadership.
Today, Hamas and Fatah are closer to reconciling than they've ever been. They signed a agreement to both support an interim government in April, and have agreed to hold national elections in Gaza and the West Bank sometime in the next five months. However, Hamas and Fatah disagree deeply about the current conflict. Hamas has been firing rockets at Israel, while Fatah urges a halt to hostilities. It's not clear whether the joint government can survive the current round of fighting.

6) Hamas isn't the only militant group in the Gaza strip, and they've all shot rockets into Israel

Islamic Jihad parade. Mahmud Hams/AFP/Getty Images
There are other militant groups in Gaza, most notably Palestinian Islamic Jihad. These groups are even more radical than Hamas and are wholly committed to violence rather than to politics as the main tactic in their struggle with Israel.
Since the Israeli withdrawal in 2005, Hamas and these other groups have launched thousands of rockets and mortars out of Gaza into Israel. This rocket fire rarely causes casualties, but it makes life miserable for Israelis who live within range. The drumbeat of rocket fire destroys Israeli homes and forces people to scramble and hide when sirens sound. It's lessened recently, but it's one of Israel's most significant grievances with the Hamas leadership.
Because Israel holds Hamas responsible for all rocket fire from Gaza, including from other Palestinian groups, sometimes Hamas gets sucked into violent flare-ups that it's trying to avoid. So the non-Hamas groups in Gaza help push the already-militant Hamas toward conflict with Israel.

7) Israel blockades Gaza, which creates a humanitarian crisis

Mahmud Hams/AFP/Getty Images
Since 2007, Israel has maintained a blockade of Gaza. It severely restricts all border crossings in territory it controls and naval pathways into the Strip. The blockade restricts access to food, water, electricity, gas, construction materials, and other necessities. It's not that Israel doesn't let any of those things into Gaza; it's that it bans many products and regulates the flow of others pretty tightly.
The stated goal of the blockade, which Israel has loosened recently, is to prevent Hamas from getting what it needs to build rockets and mortars that could hit Israel, and rocket fire has diminished. However, it's clear that another key purpose of the blockade is to weaken Hamas politically. Limiting access to goods, the theory goes, should either cause Palestinians to shift their support to a more moderate faction or force Hamas itself to moderate.
This causes a lot of suffering among Gaza's civilians. According to Oxfam, the blockade "has devastated Gaza's economy, left most people unable to leave Gaza, restricted people from essential services such as healthcare and education, and cut Palestinians off from each other." Oxfam has numbers to back that up:
More than 40% of people in Gaza - nearly 50% of youth - are now unemployed and 80% of people receive international aid. Many key industries, such as the construction industry, have been decimated as essential materials are not allowed into Gaza. Exports are currently at less than 3% of their pre-blockade levels, with the transfer of agricultural produce and other goods to the West Bank and exports to Israel entirely banned.

8) Israel and Hamas have fought multiple wars over Gaza

Jack Guez/AFP/Getty Images
Since Israel's 2005 disengagement, Israel and Hamas have fought three separate wars: in 2006, in 2008-9, and in 2012; Israel invaded Gaza in the first two but only bombed in the third. The 2006 war was triggered by Hamas kidnapping a young Israeli soldier, much as the current crisis was triggered by the kidnapping and murder in the West Bank of three Israeli students. They were killed by men who Israel believes were Hamas operatives.
Israel's stated goal in the 2008-2009 and 2012 war, which Israel respectively calls Operation Cast Lead and Operation Pillar of Defense, was to destroy Hamas' ability to launch rockets into Israel. The strategy was to destroy Hamas' rocket stock and supply lines as well as to deter future Hamas rocket attacks.
Since Hamas rocket attacks seriously declined after 2012, there's a case that Israel's strategy succeeded. However, it came at a serious cost in Palestinian lives. As the chart below shows, casualties in the conflict — almost entirely Palestinian — spiked during the 2008-9 and 2012 hostilities:
According to Israeli officials, the current offensive is designed in part to once again put a break on rocket fire. This strategy is called "mowing the grass" — occasionally bombing Palestinian targets to reduce current attacks and deter future ones. Israel is currently considering a ground incursion into Gaza, which it hasn't done since 2009. That would likely raise casualties considerably.

9) Hamas gets a lot of rockets from Iran

Atta Kenare/AFP/Getty Images
Iran is arguably Hamas' most important international patron. For many years, Iran supplied Hamas with cash and advanced rockets. But, in 2012, Hamas and Iran went through something of a divorce over the war in Syria. Iran backs Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, an Alawite Shia, against the popular Sunni rebellion, which the mostly-Sunni Palestinians largely support. Hamas refused to take Assad's side, so Iran cut off cash shipments in late 2012.
However, Hamas-Iranian relations appear to be on the mend. In March 2014, Israel intercepted a shipment of long-range M-320 rockets bound for Gaza. A UN investigation traced them back to an Iranian port. In May, Iran resumed cash shipments. Hamas home-makes its shorter range rockets, but appears to depend on Iranian support for more advanced stuff.
Iranian involvement complicates the current war significantly. It's possible a secondary Israeli objective is to send a message to Iran that it can't get at Israel through Hamas anymore. On the other hand, Iranian support makes it harder for Israel to starve and bomb Hamas into submission.

10) Tunnels into Gaza are really important — and hugely controversial

Mahmud Hams/AFP/Getty Images
Because Hamas can't get much through the Israeli blockade, they've developed an alternative means of resupplying Gaza: tunnels into Egypt. Gazans dig under the Egyptian border and pop out past border guards on the other sides. Smugglers supply them with goods that Israel can't or won't let through.
These tunnels serve both Hamas and Gaza civilians. Hamas and its fellow militants use them to bring in weapons, components for homemade rockets, and whatever else they need to fight and, in Hamas' case, govern. Civilians bring in medicine, food, and whatever else they want that doesn't get through the Israeli blockade.
Since the Egyptian military seized rule over Egypt from the Muslim Brotherhood in 2013, they've weakened the tunnel system. Egyptian authorities shut down many of the major tunnels. Israel believes that, as a result, Hamas is uniquely vulnerable to an offensive right now, as it's having trouble resupplying. One of the major reasons Israel is considering a ground offensive, according to a senior IDF official, is to shut down the remaining tunnels.

11) Egypt controls the only above-ground crossing into Gaza that isn't Israeli

Rafah. Eyad Al Baba/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
There's only one major supply route to Gaza that isn't a tunnel or Israeli-controlled: the Rafah crossing into Egypt. Currently, Egypt heavily restricts the flow of people and goods in and out of the crossing. The Muslim Brotherhood is the leading Egyptian opposition group, and the Egyptian government has little desire to help out their Palestinian brethren in Hamas.
The Rafah crossing has become so important for Hamas that some experts believeHamas is pushing in this current war to pressure Egypt to open up Rafah. The theoryis that Hamas is trying to leverage public Egyptian anger at Israel into concessions from the Egypt government. The primary concession would be to open up Rafah so as to aid the Palestinian cause.
That may be why Hamas didn't accept the Egyptian-brokered cease fire agreement, proposed on July 15: it didn't specifically promise to open up Rafah. So the conflict is continuing, with all the air strikes and rockets and civilian casualties that entails.
Correction: An earlier version of this post suggested there was a bridge connecting Gaza and the West Bank. Various plans to do this have been floated, but the bridge was never actually built.

Seumas Milne of The Guardian Talks Isolation and the Shameful Injustice in Gaza

Gaza: this shameful injustice will only end if the cost of it rises

The idea that Israel is defending itself from unprovoked attacks is absurd. Occupied people have the right to resist
A relative of the four Palestinian children killed by a shell fired by an Israeli naval gunboat.
A relative of the four Palestinian children killed by a shell fired by an Israeli naval gunboat. Photograph: APAimages/REX
For the third time in five years, the world’s fourth largest military power has launched a full-scale armed onslaught on one of its most deprived and overcrowded territories. Since Israel’s bombardment of the Gaza Strip began, just over a week ago, more than 200 Palestinians have been killed. Nearly 80% of the dead are civilians, over 20% of them children.
Around 1,400 have been wounded and 1,255 Palestinian homes destroyed. So far, Palestinian fire has killed one Israeli on the other side of the barrier that makes blockaded Gaza the world’s largest open-air prison.
But instead of demanding a halt to Israel’s campaign of collective punishment against what is still illegally occupied territory, the western powers have blamed the victims for fighting back. If it weren’t for Hamas’s rockets fired out of Gaza’s giant holding pen, they insist, all of this bloodletting would end.
“No country on earth would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens from outside its borders,” Barack Obama declared, echoed by a mostly pliant media. Perhaps it’s scarcely surprising that states which have themselves invaded and occupied a string of Arab and Muslim countries in the past decade should take the side of another occupier they fund and arm to the hilt.
But the idea that Israel is responding to a hail of rockets out of a clear blue sky takes “narrative framing” beyond the realm of fantasy. In fact, after the deal that ended Israel’s last assault on Gaza in 2012, rocketing from Gaza fell to its lowest level for 12 years.
The latest violence is supposed to have been triggered by the kidnapping and killing of three Israeli teenagers in the occupied West Bank in June, for which Hamas denied responsibility. But its origin clearly lies in the collapse of US-sponsored negotiations for a final settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the spring.
That was followed by the formation of a “national reconciliation” government by the Fatah and Hamas movements, whose division has been a mainstay of Israeli and US policy. Israeli incursions and killings were then stepped up, including attacks on Palestinian civilians by armed West Bank settlers. In May, two Palestinian teenagers were shot dead by the Israeli army with barely a flicker of interest outside the country.
It’s now clear the Israeli government knew from the start that its own kidnapped teenagers had been killed within hours. But the news was suppressed while a #BringBackOurBoys campaign was drummed up and a sweeping crackdown launched against Hamas throughout the West Bank.
Over 500 activists were arrested and more than half a dozen killed – along with a Palestinian teenager burned to death by settlers. Binyamin Netanyahu’s aim was evidently to signal that whatever deal Hamas had signed with Mahmoud Abbas would never be accepted by Israel.
Gaza had nothing to do with the kidnapping, but Israeli attacks were also launched on the strip and Hamas activists killed. It was those killings and the West Bank campaign that led to Hamas resuming its rocket attacks – and in turn to Israel’s devastating bombardment.
Hamas is now blamed for refusing to accept a ceasefire plan cooked up by Netanyahu and his ally, the Egyptian President Sisi, who overthrew Hamas’s sister organisation the Muslim Brotherhood last year and has since tightened the eight-year siege of Gaza.
But having already suffered so much, many Gazans believe no further truce should be agreed without the lifting of the illegal blockade which has reduced the strip to hunger and beggary and effectively imprisoned its population.
As the independent Palestinian MP Mustafa Barghouti puts it, the Egyptian proposal was a “game” Israel will now use to escalate the war. Some sense of what can now be expected was given by the Israeli reserve major general Oren Shachor, who explained: “If we kill their families, that will frighten them.”
Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu. Photograph: Dan Balilty/EPA
The idea that Israel is defending itself against unprovoked attacks from outside its borders is an absurdity. Despite Israel’s withdrawal of settlements and bases in 2005, Gaza remains occupied both in reality and international law, its border, coastal waters, resources, airspace and power supply controlled by Israel.
So the Palestinians of Gaza are an occupied people, like those in the West Bank, who have the right to resist, by force if they choose – though not deliberately to target civilians. But Israel does not have a right of self-defence over territories it illegally occupies – it has an obligation to withdraw. That occupation, underpinned by the US and its allies, is now entering its 48th year. Most of the 1.8 million Palestinians enduring continuous bombardment in Gaza are themselves refugees or their descendants, who were driven out or fled from cities such as Jaffa 66 years ago when Israel was established.
It can’t seriously be argued that Israel’s refusal to withdraw from the rump of the territory on which the United Nations voted to establish a Palestinian state in 1947 is because of rocket fire. It was after all during the period of quiescence over the past year that the Israeli government rejected the US plan for even a figleaf of a two-state solution – and stepped up illegal colonisation. As Netanyahu made clear this week, there cannot be “any agreement in which we relinquish security control” of the West Bank.
So we’re left with a one-state solution, operated on ethnically segregated apartheid-style lines, in which a large section of the population has no say in who rules over them, indefinitely. But it’s folly to imagine that this shameful injustice will continue without an escalating cost for those who enforce it.
Palestinian resistance is often criticised as futile given the grotesque power imbalance between the two sides. But Hamas, which attracts support more for its defiance than its Islamism, has been strengthened by the events of the past week, as it has shown it can hit back across Israel – while Abbas, dependent on an imploded “peace process”, has been weakened still further.
The conflict’s eruptions are certainly coming thicker and faster. Despite heroic Israeli efforts to fix the narrative, global opinion has never been more sympathetic to the Palestinian cause. But the brutal reality is that there will be no end to Israel’s occupation until Palestinians and their supporters are able to raise its price to the occupier, in one way or another – and change the balance of power on the ground.