Tag Archives: Berkeley

AIPAC student DC junkets paying off


This year’s AIPAC conference targeted university student body officers in an effort to fend off BDS campaigns at campuses nationwide. Did the controversial strategy just pay off at UC Berkeley? When the student council voted 16 to 4 to divest, student body president Will Smelko vetoed the measure. Intense pressure from Israeli lobby groups were able to prevent overturning the veto.

AIPAC said they were going to do it, and they did it. Here’s what AIPAC’s Leadership Development Director Jonathan Kessler told DC conference attendees:

How are we going to beat back the anti-Israel divestment resolution at Berkeley? We’re going to make certain that pro-Israel students take over the student government and reverse the vote. That is how AIPAC operates in our nation’s capitol. This is how AIPAC must operate on our nation’s campuses.

Though the Berkeley bill SB118 proposed divestment from General Electric and United Technologies only, two military industries which profit from Israel’s subjugation of the Palestinians, it’s true perhaps that the measure opened the door to further BDS inroads to fight Israel Apartheid.

The divestment proposal had the backing of Archbishop Desmond Tutu among many activists. Against was the Israeli lobby. Students were warned that prospective Jewish students would avoid enrolling, etc. Can we imagine the suggestion was made that the current students would be denied jobs? There probably is a corporate future for “made” students who’ve shown their fealty to AIPAC.

Worth reprinting is the statement read by UCB Professor Judth Butler trying to warn the students against AIPAC’s disreputable coercion:

Let us begin with the assumption that it is very hard to hear the debate under consideration here. One hears someone saying something, and one fears that they are saying another thing. It is hard to trust words, or indeed to know what words actually mean. So that is a sign that there is a certain fear in the room, and also, a certain suspicion about the intentions that speakers have and a fear about the implications of both words and deeds. Of course, tonight you do not need a lecture on rhetoric from me, but perhaps, if you have a moment, it might be possible to pause and to consider reflectively what is actually at stake in this vote, and what is not. Let me introduce myself first as a Jewish faculty member here at Berkeley, on the advisory board of Jewish Voice for Peace, on the US executive committee of Faculty for Israeli-Palestinian Peace, a global organization, a member of the Russell Tribunal on Human Rights in Palestine, and a board member of the Freedom Theatre in Jenin. I am at work on a book which considers Jewish criticisms of state violence, Jewish views of co-habitation, and the importance of ‘remembrance’ in both Jewish and Palestinian philosophic and poetic traditions.

The first thing I want to say is that there is hardly a Jewish dinner table left in this country–or indeed in Europe and much of Israel–in which there is not enormous disagreement about the status of the occupation, Israeli military aggression and the future of Zionism, binationalism and citizenship in the lands called Israel and Palestine. There is no one Jewish voice, and in recent years, there are increasing differences among us, as is evident by the multiplication of Jewish groups that oppose the occupation and which actively criticize and oppose Israeli military policy and aggression. In the US and Israel alone these groups include: Jewish Voice for Peace, American Jews for a Just Peace, Jews Against the Occupation, Boycott from Within, New Profile, Anarchists Against the Wall, Women in Black, Who Profits?, Btselem, Zochrot, Black Laundry, Jews for a Free Palestine (Bay Area), No Time to Celebrate and more. The emergence of J Street was an important effort to establish an alternative voice to AIPAC, and though J street has opposed the bill you have before you, the younger generation of that very organization has actively contested the politics of its leadership. So even there you have splits, division and disagreement.

So if someone says that it offends “the Jews” to oppose the occupation, then you have to consider how many Jews are already against the occupation, and whether you want to be with them or against them. If someone says that “Jews” have one voice on this matter, you might consider whether there is something wrong with imagining Jews as a single force, with one view, undivided. It is not true. The sponsors of Monday evening’s round table at Hillel made sure not to include voices with which they disagree. And even now, as demonstrations in Israel increase in number and volume against the illegal seizure of Palestinian lands, we see a burgeoning coalition of those who seek to oppose unjust military rule, the illegal confiscation of lands, and who hold to the norms of international law even when nations refuse to honor those norms.

What I learned as a Jewish kid in my synagogue–which was no bastion of radicalism–was that it was imperative to speak out against social injustice. I was told to have the courage to speak out, and to speak strongly, even when people accuse you of breaking with the common understanding, even when they threaten to censor you or punish you. The worst injustice, I learned, was to remain silent in the face of criminal injustice. And this tradition of Jewish social ethics was crucial to the fights against Nazism, fascism and every form of discrimination, and it became especially important in the fight to establish the rights of refugees after the Second World War. Of course, there are no strict analogies between the Second World War and the contemporary situation, and there are no strict analogies between South Africa and Israel, but there are general frameworks for thinking about co-habitation, the right to live free of external military aggression, the rights of refugees, and these form the basis of many international laws that Jews and non-Jews have sought to embrace in order to live in a more just world, one that is more just not just for one nation or for another, but for all populations, regardless of nationality and citizenship. If some of us hope that Israel will comply with international law, it is precisely so that one people can live among other peoples in peace and in freedom. It does not de-legitimate Israel to ask for its compliance with international law. Indeed, compliance with international law is the best way to gain legitimacy, respect and an enduring place among the peoples of the world.

Of course, we could argue on what political forms Israel and Palestine must take in order for international law to be honored. But that is not the question that is before you this evening. We have lots of time to consider that question, and I invite you to join me to do that in a clear-minded way in the future. But consider this closely: the bill you have before you does not ask that you take a view on Israel. I know that it certainly seems like it does, since the discussion has been all about that. But it actually makes two points that are crucial to consider. The first is simply this: there are two companies that not only are invested in the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands and peoples, but who profit from that occupation, and which are sustained in part by funds invested by the University of California. They are General Electric and United Technologies. They produce aircraft designed to bomb and kill, and they have bombed and killed civilians, as has been amply demonstrated by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. You are being asked to divest funds from these two companies. You are NOT being asked to divest funds from every company that does business with Israel. And you are not being asked to resolve to divest funds from Israeli business or citizens on the basis of their citizenship or national belonging. You are being asked only to call for a divestment from specific companies that make military weapons that kill civilians. That is the bottom line.

If the newspapers or others seek to make inflammatory remarks and to say that this is an attack on Israel, or an attack on Jews, or an upsurge of anti-Semitism, or an act that displays insensitivity toward the feelings of some of our students, then there is really only one answer that you can provide, as I see it. Do we let ourselves be intimidated into not standing up for what is right? It is simply unethical for UC to invest in such companies when they profit from the killing of civilians under conditions of a sustained military occupation that is manifestly illegal according to international law. The killing of civilians is a war crime. By voting yes, you say that you do not want the funds of this university to be invested in war crimes, and that you hold to this principle regardless of who commits the war crime or against whom it is committed.

Of course, you should clearly ask whether you would apply the same standards to any other occupation or destructive military situation where war crimes occur. And I note that the bill before you is committed to developing a policy that would divest from all companies engaged in war crimes. In this way, it contains within it both a universal claim and a universalizing trajectory. It recommends explicitly “additional divestment policies to keep university investments out of companies aiding war crimes throughout the world, such as those taking place in Morocco, the Congo, and other places as determined by the resolutions of the United Nations and other leading human rights organizations.” Israel is not singled out. It is, if anything, the occupation that is singled out, and there are many Israelis who would tell you that Israel must be separated from its illegal occupation. This is clearly why the divestment call is selective: it does not call for divestment from any and every Israeli company; on the contrary, it calls for divestment from two corporations where the links to war crimes are well-documented.

Let this then be a precedent for a more robust policy of ethical investment that would be applied to any company in which UC invests. This is the beginning of a sequence, one that both sides to this dispute clearly want. Israel is not to be singled out as a nation to be boycotted–and let us note that Israel itself is not boycotted by this resolution. But neither is Israel’s occupation to be held exempt from international standards. If you want to say that the historical understanding of Israel’s genesis gives it an exceptional standing in the world, then you disagree with those early Zionist thinkers, Martin Buber and Judah Magnes among them, who thought that Israel must not only live in equality with other nations, but must also exemplify principles of equality and social justice in its actions and policies. There is nothing about the history of Israel or of the Jewish people that sanctions war crimes or asks us to suspend our judgment about war crimes in this instance. We can argue about the occupation at length, but I am not sure we can ever find a justification on the basis of international law for the deprivation of millions of people of their right to self-determination and their lack of protection against police and military harassment and destructiveness. But again, we can have that discussion, and we do not have to conclude it here in order to understand the specific choice that we face. You don’t have to give a final view on the occupation in order to agree that investing in companies that commit war crimes is absolutely wrong, and that in saying this, you join Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Christians and so many other peoples from diverse religious and secular traditions who believe that international governance, justice and peace demand compliance with international law and human rights and the opposition to war crimes. You say that you do not want our money going into bombs and helicopters and military materiel that destroys civilian life. You do not want it in this context, and you do not want it in any context.

Part of me wants to joke–where would international human rights be without the Jews! We helped to make those rights, at Nuremberg and again in Jerusalem, so what does it mean that there are those who tell you that it is insensitive to Jewishness to come out in favor of international law and human rights? It is a lie–and what a monstrous view of what it means to be Jewish. It disgraces the profound traditions of social justice that have emerged from the struggle against fascism and the struggles against racism; it effaces the tradition of ta-ayush, living together, the ethical relation to the non-Jew which is the substance of Jewish ethics, and it effaces the value that is given to life no matter the religion or race of those who live. You do not need to establish that the struggle against this occupation is the same as the historical struggle against apartheid to know that each struggle has its dignity and its absolute value, and that oppression in its myriad forms do not have to be absolutely identical to be equally wrong. For the record, the occupation and apartheid constitute two different versions of settler colonialism, but we do not need a full understanding of this convergence and divergence to settle the question before us today. Nothing in the bill before you depends on the seamless character of that analogy. In voting for this resolution, you stand with progressive Jews everywhere and with broad principles of social justice, which means, that you stand with those who wish to stand not just with their own kind but with all of humanity, and who do this, in part, both because of the religious and non-religious values they follow.

Lastly, let me say this. You may feel fear in voting for this resolution. I was frightened coming here this evening. You may fear that you will seem anti-Semitic, that you cannot handle the appearance of being insensitive to Israel’s needs for self-defense, insensitive to the history of Jewish suffering. Perhaps it is best to remember the words of Primo Levi who survived a brutal internment at Auschwitz when he had the courage to oppose the Israeli bombings of southern Lebanon in the early 1980s. He openly criticized Menachem Begin, who directed the bombing of civilian centers, and he received letters asking him whether he cared at all about the spilling of Jewish blood. He wrote:

I reply that the blood spilled pains me just as much as the blood spilled by all other human beings. But there are still harrowing letters. And I am tormented by them, because I know that Israel was founded by people like me, only less fortunate than me. Men with a number from Auschwitz tattooed on their arms, with no home nor homeland, escaping from the horrors of the Second World War who found in Israel a home and a homeland. I know all this. But I also know that this is Begin’s favourite defence. And I deny any validity to this defence.

As the Israeli historian Idith Zertal makes clear, do not use this most atrocious historical suffering to legitimate military destructiveness–it is a cruel and twisted use of the history of suffering to defend the affliction of suffering on others.

To struggle against fear in the name of social justice is part of a long and venerable Jewish tradition; it is non-nationalist, that is true, and it is committed not just to my freedom, but to all of our freedoms. So let us remember that there is no one Jew, not even one Israel, and that those who say that there are seek to intimidate or contain your powers of criticism. By voting for this resolution, you are entering a debate that is already underway, that is crucial for the materialization of justice, one which involves having the courage to speak out against injustice, something I learned as a young person, but something we each have to learn time and again. I understand that it is not easy to speak out in this way. But if you struggle against voicelessness to speak out for what is right, then you are in the middle of that struggle against oppression and for freedom, a struggle that knows that there is no freedom for one until there is freedom for all. There are those who will surely accuse you of hatred, but perhaps those accusations are the enactment of hatred. The point is not to enter that cycle of threat and fear and hatred–that is the hellish cycle of war itself. The point is to leave the discourse of war and to affirm what is right. You will not be alone. You will be speaking in unison with others, and you will, actually, be making a step toward the realization of peace–the principles of non-violence and co-habitation that alone can serve as the foundation of peace. You will have the support of a growing and dynamic movement, inter-generational and global, by speaking against the military destruction of innocent lives and against the corporate profit that depends on that destruction. You will stand with us, and we will most surely stand with you.

The consumer goods Killer App -KILLED

A consumer goods bar code scannerFinally a real KILLER APP. A free iPhone application called the Good Guide lets you scan the barcodes of (eventually) every consumer good to learn immediately its goodness rating on a scale of 0-10. No more Consumer Report printouts, mental notes or improvisational evaluation. The Good Guide score is the synthesis of three criteria, the ratings for which are also shown: health, environment and social. How healthy is this item? How environmentally friendly? And how socially-responsible is the producer? Notably missing is a ranking for price, sidestepping the inescapable real world cost vs. benefit compromise.
 

UPDATE: FALSE HOPE ALARM. So far the products itemized by the GoodGuide are the General Mills variety, all of them rank highly. There’s a sugared cinnamon cereal that gets a 10 for health. Hoho.

According to an article in Grist, GoodGuide emerged from a project called TAO IT, created by Dara O’Rourke, associate professor at UC Berkeley’s Department of Environmental Science, Management and Policy. Goodguide’s aim sounds like a watchdog function better administrated by a regulatory agency. I can already see industry lobbyists setting up offices to influence the GoodGuide analysts.

A lot will depend on the transparency of the GoodGuide benchmarks and the objective distance they can keep from market interests. For example, the PR budget of one conglomerate alone could create a faux ratings mechanism to usurp GoogGuide as consumers-aid du jour. A recent processed food industry Smart Choices badge comes to mind.

The GoodGuide evaluation policies do give a good impression.

GoodGuide aggregates and analyzes data on both product and company performance. We employ a range of scientific methods – health hazard assessment, environmental impact assessment, and social impact assessment – to identify major impacts to human health, the environment, and society. Each of these categories is then further analyzed within specific issue areas, such as climate change policies, labor concerns, and product toxicity. Currently, GoodGuide’s database has over 600 base criteria by which we evaluate products and companies.

Health Performance
As an example, for health performance, GoodGuide’s system takes into account both the impacts of a company’s operations on its workers and local communities, and the impacts of using a specific product on your health. Our team has gathered data on important health hazards such as:

• Cancer risks
• Reproductive health hazards
• Mutagenicity
• Endocrine disruption
• Respiratory hazards
• Skin and eye irritation

Our research currently uses a simplified health hazard assessment process that allows us to rate thousands of products along standard criteria. It should be noted that while these ratings are not risk assessments of products or chemicals, they do highlight potential hazards associated with the use of these products.

Environmental Performance
For environmental performance, GoodGuide is aggregating data on the life-cycle impacts of products, from manufacturing to transportation to use to final disposal. For companies, impact categories include:

• Environmental emissions and their impacts on air, water, land, and climate
• Natural resource impacts
• Environmental management programs

GoodGuide uses these categories to generate overall environmental performance ratings for companies.

Social Performance
For social issues, GoodGuide aggregates data on the social impacts companies have on their employees:

• Compensation
• Labor and human rights practices
• Diversity policies
• Working conditions

In addition to impacts on employees, Social Performance ratings consider impact on consumers and communities. The social scoring system also brings together information on corporate governance, disclosure policies, and overall practices.

OUR RATINGS

Types of Information
Different types of information flow into GoodGuide’s system: absolute measures, relative measures, and binary measures. Absolute measures describe measurable activities of a company or product. For example, the pounds of toxic air emissions released per year, the CEO’s salary, or the amount of money a company donated to charity. Relative measures are scores, such as a numerical grade of “6.5 out of 10” or a textual grade of “bad” to “excellent.” Binary (or Yes/No) measures indicate whether a product or company does or does not have specific characteristics. For example, a product may or may not have earned an environmental certification, or a company may or may not test its products on animals.

The GoodGuide Rating
These measures are then used to create GoodGuide’s ratings. To calculate a single rating for a product or company, we convert all of the existing measures into a 0 to 10 score. In GoodGuide’s system, a score of 10 is the best and a score of 0 is the worst. Products and companies are rated relative to the performance of similar products or companies in the same industry.

The initial ratings are based on a set of selected criteria from a broad pool of data available within the GoodGuide database. We think these criteria are some of the most representative and understandable. As this is the first time all of this data has ever been aggregated in the same place, we are currently working to assess the consistency and comparability of measures across our many data sources. We would love to hear your suggestions on the relative importance of these various measures of product and company performance.

GoodGuide recognizes that even the most quantitative assessment of environmental, health, or social issues requires value judgments about the relative importance of various issues. For example, rational people can disagree over the relative importance of animal testing in evaluating a product or company. We have used our best scientific judgment in building our current ratings, and in future versions we will flag issues where personal values and preferences are particularly relevant. We will then enable people to create personalized ratings based on their own concerns.

In order to facilitate your ability to assess the data, we will also be providing an assessment of data uncertainty, completeness, and quality. These assessments can be used to weight the existing data within the GoodGuide database.

Incomplete Data
In some cases data is unavailable for a company or a product. This may be because we have not yet identified a credible data source for a given issue or topic. It may also be that the data is not publicly available because companies have not disclosed critical information. One goal of this project is to work collaboratively with key stakeholders around the world, including government agencies, non-profit organizations, private research firms, and companies to promote the quantity and quality of disclosure of important data to the public.

Learn more about GoodGuide’s methodology.

I protest UC students self interest

UC students are occupying campus buildings, in scenes gloriously reminiscent of the 60s. Debbie Downers have foretold that an antiwar movement would not catch the interest of youth until there was a military draft to affect them. They are right. We’ve seen marches and rallies for peace, but it took a tuition hike to light a fire under these selfish tight asses. The students are right to be enraged by a 30% tuition rise, but have they a case to justify civil disobedience? They’re rebelling against the result of an economy going bust, of the middle class losing the privilege to educated its kids. Rise up, protest, but make it look like more than about your entitlement to a post-highschool social life.

People’s Republic of Higher Education

Fair enough, the Berkeley City Council is being asked to reconsider whether it really meant to tell US Marine Corps recruiters to go fuck themselves. I hope it’s just a chance to say it again.

Maybe the People’s Republic of Berkeley is due for a new honor. Keeper of the Flame of Freedom. The United States of Berkeley. It used to be the joke to send the Statue of Liberty back to the French, because America wasn’t using it. How about we install Lady Liberty off the shores of Berkeley? They’re showing the temerity to claim her. Berkeley is standing up for everything America used to. What do you make of the vociferous accusations of treason being leveled at Berkeley in the name of patriotism? What fault can you find with the clear headed resolutions being pronounced by their City Council?

The only thing which differentiates Berkley from the rest of the country is level of education. I wouldn’t want to be caught poking fun at, much less belittling, someone smarter than me, especially for taking a more principled stand than I -err- me. You can tease them about inarticulate athletic ability, but the last thing you’d want to do is to presume to correct a grammarian.

How are dumbfuck Americans like Move Forward America so easily goaded to speak derisively of their own who know better? It’s one thing to question authority, another even to be skeptical in general. But Berkeley isn’t filled with the social engineers who’ve got a boot on your throat, it’s full of students, your children, who you sent to acquire an education. Not your education in fact, a better education. A world view beyond your own, a comprehension you were not afforded. That’s Berkeley.

Berkeley is not unique, though perhaps it has the highest visibility. Regionally there are other college towns that fit the leftist stereotype. Boulder and Ann Arbor for example. These are home to progressive populations, teachers, students and alumni which color the demographics significantly to affect the local politics. Why are better educated people always leftists? A dolt could only hope to chance upon the inspiration to ask himself such a doozy.

This dolt would ask the reverse: AS left EQUALS education, SO less-left MUST EQUAL less-education.

Why aren’t more college campuses like Berkeley? What’s going on that our educational institutions are producing idiots to mock the product of real education? It’s a terrible portent.