Sunday, May 06, 2012
By a vote of 52% - 48%, François Hollande has become the first Socialist to win the Presidency of France since François Mitterand held the post from 1981-1995. More than 80% of the nation’s voters cast votes.
Jubilant Hollande supporters gathered at La Place de la Bastille in Paris (see picture), the iconic symbol of both conservative state oppression under the Monarchy, and its overthrow as it was stormed by citizens on July 14, 1789 during the French Revolution. It has become a traditional rallying site for French leftists.
Hollande’s victory follows a pattern unfolding throughout Europe:
All 17 nations in the Eurozone (those using the Euro as a common currency) are struggling to bring government debt under control and make good on existing debt (with Greece, Portugal, Italy, Ireland, and Spain feeling the crunch the hardest). In response, the largely centrist and conservative governments throughout Europe have been in slashing spending and curtailing government programs.
Citizen opposition to these measures has taken two forms: on the left there has been a call for more government stimulus spending and economic justice (echoing the Occupy Wall Street movement in the United States); on the right there has been a frightening rise in an anti-European, anti-immigrant nationalistic neo-fascism. While polar opposites in philosophy, both groups have found common ground in their desire to oust sitting governments. Just two weeks ago, the neo-fascists in the Netherlands under Geert Wilder forced the collapse of that government, which will hold new elections in just under four months.
France holds two rounds of voting; in the first round, which took place on April 22, incumbent center-right candidate Nicolas Sarkozy won 27% of the vote, carrying the northern and eastern sections of the country; Socialist François Hollande carried just under 29% of the vote, carrying the southwest part of the country and the Brittany peninsula; and Marine LePen, the far-right candidate, shocked observers by polling almost 18% of the vote. The remainder of the vote was scattered between seven other candidates, none of whom polled more than 11% of the vote. Under the French electoral system, if no candidate receives a majority of the vote, a runoff is held between the highest two candidates, which took place today.
And with today’s vote, France has spoken: they have elected a candidate who has promised a top tax rate of 75% on those earning more than one million euros annually, a renegotiation of Europe’s austerity measures, and the hiring of 60,000 additional teachers, providing a European version of the American “Occupy” movements’ message.
Saturday, December 10, 2011
Our district was “the Fifteenth,” a neighborhood of working class, blue-collar Germans, Irish, and more recent Italians. I could stand on our street corner and see six houses where the fathers volunteered in the local fire department. Most of the houses were small, many of them one-story “bungalows.” And the “Fifteenth” was famous for bringing in the largest Republican margin of any district in town – often over 80%.
We were balanced by the “Seventeenth,” a district of relatively new split ranches and colonials, where Jewish professional families dominated. As a rule, the 17th could be counted on to turn out a Democratic margin as large as the Fifteenth’s Republican margin. In fact, one could easily determine the predominant ethnic makeup of Long Island neighborhoods simply by looking at election returns. Jewish and black districts consistently returned lopsided Democratic margins; older blue-collar, german-irish 'clamdigger' neighborhoods were staunch Republican.
But in the last few decades, an interesting phenomenon has occurred: as the Republican Party has been captured by the fringe Religious-Right, it has seen an opportunity to mobilize and capture parts of the “Jewish” vote, especially among the more conservative Orthodox Jewish communities.
One of the theological hallmarks of fundamentalist, “Literal-Bible” Protestantism is the belief that the Second Coming of Christ will be heralded by the re-establishment of the State of Israel, the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem, and Christ’s last-ditch effort to convince Jews to accept him. This belief is precisely what launched the series of end-time Prophecy books and campaigns launched by Hal Lindsay, who profited nicely from his book (and subsequent movie), “The Late Great Planet Earth” in 1970. Initially popular in Pentecostal circles, the idea that “true” Bible-believing Christians had to provide unwavering support of Israel became a common premise throughout conservative Christianity. As this demographic votes heavily in Republican primary elections and caucuses, the opportunity for an alliance between Fundamentalist Protestantism and Orthodox Jews - based on support for Israel and social conservatism - became more evident.
In spite of the fact that New York City is 5:1 Democratic, Borough Park Brooklyn – a largely Hassidic Jewish community – votes Republican. Kiryas Joel, NY - the only community in America where Yiddish is the primary language – has often supported Republicans because of an alliance with the GOP over local school control. This pattern has emerged all over New York’s Hassidic communities, prompting national GOP conservative operatives like Eric Cantor to make personal visits to these communities encouraging their support for GOP candidates.
The Christian Right's embrace of unquestioned support for Israel (on theological grounds) and hatred of Muslim peoples (on racist grounds) is now complete. And in Iowa, the first caucus of the Presidential marathon, the Christian right is powerful: In 1988, goofy Televangelist Pat Robertson came in second place, defeating George H W Bush, and in 2008, Evangelical darling Mike Huckabee took first place.
So it is no accident, and should come as no surprise, that GOP Presidential candidate Newt Gingrich recently dismissed Palestinians as “an invented people.”
Let me say before going any further, that I am a supporter of Israel. Having been raised in a heavily Jewish community, and hearing my friends and classmates relate the stories of the holocaust they learned from their own grandparents and parents – I find it hard not to share in the human necessity that is the land of Israel. Having said that, that does not imply blind support of its government. One can be a patriotic American without blindly supporting everything America does; similarly, one can be a supporter of Israel without blindly supporting everything her government does.
Unless, of course, you’re a Theocrat who believes that God is directing the Israeli Government's actions. Or a Pandering Politician seeking to establish as extreme a position as possible in order to win the fundamentalist voting block.
And so, in an interview with The Jewish Channel, Gingrich said:
"Remember there was no Palestine as a state. It was part of the Ottoman Empire. And I think that we've had an invented Palestinian people, who are in fact Arabs, and were historically part of the Arab community. And they had a chance to go many places."
For someone claiming to be the highest-paid “Historian” in history while working for Freddie Mac, Newt has a very poor grasp of history. His statements above are simply nonsense, for the following reasons:
1) One doesn’t need to have a legal ‘country’ with boundaries in order to be a ‘nation’ or a ‘people.’ The Kurds are scattered throughout Iraq, Iran, and Turkey, and never had a country of their own; they are still a recognized ‘people.’ The Lakota have not had a land of their own since they were contained on reservations in the Great Plains in the 1880s, but they are still a recognizable people. And the Romani (“Gypsies”) never had a land of their own, but they are certainly a recognized people group.
2) Calling Palestinians “Arabs” is like calling all white caucasians “Europeans.” Yes, in a very broad human-family sense, we may say that Italians, Swedes, and Bosnians are “Europeans,” but their sense of nationhood are vastly different. Palestinians may share Arab genetics, but if Gingrich wishes to be a world leader, he better understand that Egyptians, Syrians, Saudis, Lebanese, and yes, Palestinians, all see themselves primarily as members of their specific ethnic, national group...not of some pan-continental “Arab” nation. The use of the term "Palestinians" to refer to the areas people is mentioned in Egyptian texts in 5 BC, in 250 Biblical references, among ancient Greeks, and in writings from the Byzantine empire. It is not 'an invention.'
3) Suggesting that Palestinians should “go elsewhere” is a cruel and brutal comment that borders on ethnic cleansing (and reminiscent of comments uttered in the 1800s about Native American nations). With unemployment exceeding 30%, 50% of Palestinians living in the West Bank live below the poverty level. The hardships resulting from living under refugee-lifestyles, military checkpoints, blockades on Gaza and “The Wall” on the West Point have exacerbated tensions between Israelis and Palestinians and increased the wealth disparity between the peoples.
At the 2007 Annapolis Conference, the Fatah government of the Palestinian West Bank, the Israelis and the Americans agreed on a two-state solution (Israel and Palestine) to the conflict. More than two-thirds of the nations in the world – including most in the western hemisphere – have already acknowledged Palestine as an existing independent state with uncertain borders (not a unique situation, since the borders between India and China, and between Saudi Arabia and Oman, remain undefined).
It is hard to believe that Gingrich’s comments are based on ignorance. If the Israelis have accepted the eventual reality of a Palestinian State, why can't Newt?
Because his disdainful and dismissive comments about Palestine have everything to do with pandering for knee-jerk Theocratic votes in the Iowa caucus, at the expense of a true Stateman's role: that of peace-making and supporting the yearnings of humanity.
Tuesday, November 08, 2011
Perhaps the most closely watched ballot initiative was in Ohio, where voters rejected “Issue #2,” a Republican-supported initiative that would have severely restricted the rights of unions to pursue collective bargaining agreements. The vote was not even close, as voters in this swing-state rejected Republican Governor John Kasich’s bill by more than a 2:1 margin.
At the same time, voters in Maine have decisively rejected conservatives efforts to eliminate same-day registration for voting by a margin of 60% - 40%.
And in Kentucky, a state that saw a Republican Senate win in a special election just last year, voters elected to give four out of five statewide offices to Democrats. And in New York's Suffolk County (Long Island), where Republicans made the County Executive race a "referendum" on President Obama, the Republican candidate was losing by a surprisingly large margin of 55%-45% with roughly 40% of all precinct reporting. Further south in Virginia, that state elected its first openly gay State Senator, Adam Ebbin.
[Update from the West: Russell Pearce, the Arizona state senator from the Republican-dominated suburbs of Phoenix who wrote Arizona's controversial immigration law lost, was recalled last night 55%-45%. The election was widely seen as a referendum on tough measures against illegal immigrants.]
Nationally, Republicans have waged multi-state campaigns to restrict collective bargaining rights, oppose gay rights, impede voters from accessing the polls, and fomenting anti-immigrant sentiment. In my home state of New Hampshire, the Republican-dominated legislature supported all such measures.
When one considers that off-year elections tend to result in losses for the President’s party….and considering that the lower turnouts associated with these off-year elections almost always benefit Republicans...and considering the continuing economic malaise – these results should send a very clear message to the GOP:
Americans may not be thrilled with how Obama has handled his Presidency so far - in fact, they may be downright unhappy, frustrated, and/or disappointed - but by even greater numbers they completely reject the agenda of the current extremist Republicans.