Friday, February 11, 2011

Egyptian democracy is a challenge to Israel

Watching the celebration in Tahrir Square moves me to tears. The Egyptian people have managed the peaceful overthrow of a tyrant who ruled them for 30 years. This staggers me. Imagine the possibilities.

And it suddenly occurs to me why Israel lives in mortal dread of democratic change in Egypt. It is not because the Egyptian people will suddenly turn on Israel. It is because an Egypt peacefully liberated by its own people will be a clarion call for Palestinians.

There is also this: the possibility of a democratic state in Egypt side-by-side with a Jewish theocratic state in Israel. That is the mortal threat to Israel--that its dispossession of the Palestinian people will become much clearer to Americans.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Right Attacks Planned Parenthood

When Acorn came under attack by the Right, I underestimated the depth and seriousness of the assault. The videos produced by young, right-wing zealots conveyed the impression (to some audiences) that ACORN was an edgy organization with a fraudulent social agenda whose employees stood ready to assist underworld-types how best to game the system. In truth, ACORN was edgy and hard-charging and and populist.

At the time the videos surfaced, I thought ACORN might get in a mild bit of trouble, but that it would matter little. ACORN, as I thought of it, was an over-the-hill organization with a stale agenda. I may have been right in some respects--that ACORN was tired (and undernourished)--but it turned out that the organization was indeed in deep trouble. And I entirely ignored the possibility that if a group working at the grassroots for affordable housing and a living wage, and against predatory lending, was erased, neither justice nor a movement that believed in justice would be well-served.

Now ACORN is gone. It took less than a year from the time the organization came under fire until it went under. And now, Planned Parenthood is under a similar attack.

When it happened to ACORN, the right did not know it could destroy a center/left organization. It took awhile for most right-wing organizations to recognize the opportunity that was presenting itself. That's not the case this time. The Right knows what is possible. The Right is mobilized. The Right has learned lessons about how to pursue and amplify the attack. The Right knew another attack was coming.

Of course, Planned Parenthood isn't ACORN. Planned Parenthood is a bigger organization with a better foundation, a larger constituency, more resources and more access to resources. All to the good, because Planned Parenthood may be facing a fight for survival here. And if there's still a Left out there, it better show up for this fight.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Gun Control According To Harvey Wasserman

Or Harvey Gives Us Hope

I used to believe that the left ought to make a loud and constant racket about banning automatic weapons, banning concealed-carry and limiting gun rights, in general. As a member of the Ann Arbor City Council in the '80s, I even sponsored an ordinance that would ban all hand guns from the city. The ordinance created great consternation statewide and commanded the attention of all manner of gun owners, hunters and self-styled militia-types from around the country. Several statewide organizations mobilized members and supporters to participate in lobbying campaigns against the ordinance and attend Council hearings in Ann Arbor.

I got one (pink) postcard from an anonymous source to the effect of "we have our sights on you, Comrade Epton." Several others left similar messages on my home answering machine or corresponded to the same effect.

I didn't return such phone calls, but in instances where people included their own address, I took the opportunity to disagree in writing. I also spoke to several groups, including opposition ones. Despite frequent and furious hostility, the general tone of the discussion was reasonably civilized and frequent focused on larger questions about violence in America and its causes. Many participants seemed to feel that there were larger philosophical questions about justice at stake. The ordinance lost--the Ann Arbor City Council was not so liberal as people imagined and at least one member of the council voted against the ordinance because it would "disarm" African-Americans.

But the discussion of gun control seems to have moved much further to the right since then, and has made writing about gun violence not worth the agony of an increasingly confrontational political environment. Into the bargain, the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision appears to greatly enhance the lobbying strength of the National Rifle Association and other anti-gun control groups.

Ultimately, the simple assertion that the 2nd Amendment confers broad rights to own and carry guns of all descriptions seems to occupy the middle ground in the current debate about gun control, successfully stifling initiatives to reestablish significant limits on handguns and automatic weapons. But here comes Harvey Wasserman making the argument that the 2nd Amendment demands gun control. If the left wants to reengage the question, Wasserman's simple formulation is the place to start.