Beyond Labels

A 360° Discussion of Foreign, National and Local Policy Issues

The current conflict between Israel and the Palestinians

We decided last week to discuss the current war between Israel and Hamas on Monday. I’m sure there will be plenty to talk about, but I thought it might be useful to provide links to various views about the origins of the current conflict, US policy toward Israel and the Palestinians, some information about the recent history of relations between Israel and the Palestinians, and the relevant international law that, in theory if not often in practice, governs the conduct of war, including the current one.

  1. What the laws of war say about forced displacement and “human shields”, NYTimes, 19 October (https://www.nytimes.com/2023/10/19/world/europe/interpreter-laws-human-shields-forced-displacement.html?smid=em-share)
  2. Overview of the history of the establishment of the State of Israel, the conflicts surrounding its establishment, and attempts to end those conflicts. Beinin and Hajjar, “Palestine, Israel, and the Arab-Israeli Conflict: A Primer.” (Washington, DC: Middle East Research and Information Project, 2014) (https://merip.org/palestine-israel-primer/). This is a fairly long piece, but might be useful background. Much of the discussion I’ve heard recently, in the media and elsewhere, about the current war is based on nearly complete (sometimes willful) ignorance of this history.
  3. Postwar planning for Gaza. Thomas Warrick, “I Saw What Happened to America’s Postwar Plans for Iraq. Here’s How Israel Should Plan for Gaza”, NYTimes, 16 October (https://www.nytimes.com/2023/10/16/opinion/israel-gaza-iraq-iran.html?action=click&module=RelatedLinks&pgtype=Article)
  4. An 18 October panel discussion on al-Jazeera about why the US supports Israel, posted the day after the rocket attack that destroyed al-Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza City. I think it’s fair to say that the panelists’ opinions are not often heard on mainstream media in the US. (https://www.aljazeera.com/program/inside-story/2023/10/18/why-has-the-us-consistently-backed-israel)
  5. An essay from the Council on Foreign Relations on US policy on the Israel-Palestinian conflict, posted on 12 July and therefore now possibly out-of-date. I think this represents the views of the US foreign policy establishment. (https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/what-us-policy-israeli-palestinian-conflict?utm_medium=social_share&utm_source=emailfwd)
  6. Another take on the background of the current war, from Prager University Foundation (https://www.tiktok.com/@stormbreakerak7/video/7289020777712602399?_r=1&_t=8ghOwRBV70w) which, according to its website, “offers a free alternative to the dominant left-wing ideology in culture, media, and education.” However, its presenters include some of the most notorious far right-wing commentators in the US (see  https://www.prageru.com/presenters). The commentator on this particular video is David Brog, Executive Director of the Maccabee Task Force. According to its website:

“The Maccabee Task Force was created in 2015 to combat the disturbing spread of Antisemitism on college campuses. We believe the BDS movement is at the forefront of this troubling trend. We maintain that BDS is an Antisemitic movement that crosses the line from legitimate criticism of Israel into the dangerous demonization of Israel and its supporters. We are determined to help students combat this hate by bringing them the strategies and resources they need to tell the truth about Israel. These attacks on Israel and its supporters won’t be going away any time soon. Neither will we.”

Pine Tree Power

We decided to discuss at our next (16 October) meeting the possibe pros and cons of Pine Tree Power, the proposed consumer-owned electric utility that will be the subject of a referendum question on the Maine ballot in November.

When we chose this topic at the end of yesrerday’s meeting, some of us felt that the public discussion so far about Pine Tree Power has been remarkably fact-free and that we need to do some research ahead of time to try try find some relevant facts.

I suggest some of the relevant questions about this issue include, for example, the following (in no particular order):

How are Versant Power and Central Maine Power currently financed? Would the component of the cost of elecricity to consumers.attributable to financing go up, go down, or stay the same if Pine Tree Power acquires their assets?

Some advertisements opposing Pine Tree Power assert that the take-over would “cost Mainers” something over $13 billion. What’s the basis for that claim? How would the cost of acquiring the assets of Versant/CMP actually be determined? What “cost” does the $13 billion figure represent? Who are the “Mainers” who will bear the acquisition cost, whatever it ends up being?

Would Pine Tree Power be a “consumer-owned utility”? If so, in what sense? If not, why not?

What has been the experience with consumer-owned electric utilities in Maine and elsewhere in the US? Has service and/or reliabilty improved? Have rates gone up or down compared to nearby inverstor-owned utilities with similar (in size and in any other relevant ways) customer bases and the condition of their infrastructure?

Will the economic incentives and advantages (e.g. bargaining power in purchasing electricity or other goods and services) or disadvantages be different for Pine Tree Power as a consumer-owned electric utility than they are for Versant/CMP as investor-owned utilities? If so, how?

How will Pine Tree Power be managed? Who would choose its directors and how? How much control will consumers have over Pine Tree Power policies (e.g., energy souces, choice of operator, system upgrades, etc.)? How much control do consumers now have over similar policies of Versant/CMP? Would more consumer control of such policies be a good thing or a bad thing? Why?

Will the role of the Public Utilites Commission change if Pine Tree Power takes over Versant/CMP? If so, how?

Will the role of the state (i.e., the legislative and executive branches) change with respect to the operation of the electric grid if Pine Tree Power takes over Versant/CMP? If so, how?

Aside from the issues raised above, is there any independent principled reason to prefer an investor-owned or a consumer-owned electric utility? If so, what principle and what option would it support?

Who is backing the advertising campaigns supporting or opposing Pine Tree Power? Which politicians are backing or opposing Pine Tree Power? Why do they say they’re taking that position? What are their likely (publicly) unstated reasons, if any, for taking that position?

if, at the beginning of the discussion, you support or oppose Pine Tree Power, why? If you change your mind at the end of the discussion, why? If not, is there anything that might cause you to change your mind? If so, what?

Here’s a link to the Pine Tree power web site (https://ourpowermaine.org/faq/) that adresses some of these issues from Pine Tree Power’s perspective. I’ll look for something similar from the perspective of Versant/CMP.

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