Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Gaza War Continues: Where Do We Go From Here?

The latest battle in the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas (Operation Protective Edge) continued without any sign of letup. Israel's military continues ground operations inside Gaza, while Hamas has continued firing rockets and missiles at Israel. Israeli ground forces have taken casualties while Gazan casualties continue to grow.

Thus far, Palestinians living in Gaza have taken the brunt of the fighting. There have been hundreds of casualties and it is still unclear just how many of them are civilians and how many have been Hamas fighters. Media outlets are relying almost exclusively on Hamas and PA sources for casualty counts, and Hamas has been notorious with lying about who was killed and conflating their casualties with civilians.

It is indisputable that Israel has hit civilians, including children in the course of the fighting and trying to hit at Hamas terrorists who are entrenched in urban areas and firing at Israel from within civilian areas. Israel reports that they've killed at least 270 terrorists, while the UN indicates that 479 have been killed overall, including 364 civilians, 76 militants, and 39 who they can't classify. Gaza's Health Ministry puts the tally at 632 killed and nearly 3,800 wounded.

It is also indisputable that Hamas has no problem firing from civilian positions including schools and UN facilities. For the second time in a week, the UNRWA has found rocket caches in one of their facilities.


Hamas has become more brazen in where they're storing their weapons, all while their leaders cower in underground bunkers while Gazans who aren't connected with the leadership and don't have the means to protect themselves are taking the brunt of the damage with no where else to go.

It is also indisputable that but for Hamas firing rockets and missiles at Israel incessantly since even the last ceasefire in 2012 (all but one month had missile/mortar or rocket fire) that Israel would not have needed to invade Gaza once again after the latest rounds of barrages that have landed deep inside Israel, including Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

The FAA may have succeeded in doing what Hamas couldn't do directly. After firing missiles in the direction of Ben Gurion Airport, Delta Airlines and a quick succession of other airlines decided that they didn't want to put their planes in harms' way. The FAA then ordered US airlines to halt flights to and from Israel for 24 hours. Other airlines also followed suit.

The airlines rightfully don’t want to see their gear destroyed by the missiles or rockets, and that’ll be more than enough to keep them away though it is strange that they are not willing to fly into Israel but haven't had issues with flights to/from or over other war zones and conflict regions in recent years, including Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Ukraine (prior to the shoot down of Malaysian Air Flight 17).

The FAA order and its effect on the conflict can play out in one of two ways. It could force Israel to a ceasefire while Israel has not achieved its goals militarily so as to get flights to resume. If the flights remain shut down, it would have the effect of imposing economic harms on Israel (lost tourism/commerce) and indirectly strengthens Hamas’ hand.

However, the concern for Israel's economy is just as likely to move Israel to mount an even larger military campaign into Gaza so as to eliminate the threat to Israel's only international airport and crush Hamas' capabilities once and for all. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netenyahu is likely to opt for the latter, knowing that his country needs the influx of tourists to keep the economy going and a prolonged shutdown would have dire consequences. Israeli public opinion isn't going to take this kind of existential threat to their livelihood and country; they're going to press ahead with rooting out Hamas if it means eliminating the threat to Israel's airport.

Until now, the primary justification for the Israeli ground assault has been to root out the tunnels and bunkers Hamas has used to bring weapons into Gaza from Sinai, store the weapons, and to infiltrate into Israel. The missile attacks near Ben Gurion are the kind of justification that Israel could make to continue its fight inside Gaza - to eliminate the threat to Israel's economy and transportation networks that fighting to clear the tunnels from Gaza didn't. It would potentially provide the open-ended invitation for Israel to remain in Gaza, a region Israel unilaterally withdrew from in 2005 as no nation would ever allow its key transit locations to be under constant threat from missiles and bombs.

Meanwhile, the diplomats are trying to formulate yet another cease fire proposal. It's actually a joke at this point. Everyone knows that the ceasefire agreement is going to end up being the same as all the prior deals between Israel and Hamas. Both sides will promise not to fire on the other beginning at X. Once X plus a given period Y has occurred, Israel will promise Z and Hamas will need to reciprocate with A. The ceasefire deals are essentially fill-in-the-blank and you can substitute the times, dates, and in the end, all that is left are the casualties on both sides to be buried and hospitalized.

It's nice that the diplomats and EU members are calling on Hamas and other terror groups in Gaza to be disarmed, but there's no indication of how or who would do what they propose. Hamas seems to have an answer to that question - they’ll keep firing their munitions until they’ve expended their stockpiles. Israel will continue taking that fire until they have forced Hamas to expend all of its weapons.

Gazans will continue to suffer from Hamas actions and Israeli responses and both Israelis and Gazans will mourn their losses and curse Hamas. And that, unfortunately, is the takeaway.

Cross posted at LGF

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

A Fair Lawn Fireworks Spectacular

Happy early 4th of July to everyone! Fair Lawn did their annual fireworks spectacular yesterday at the Memorial Pool, and it was a rousing success.

All photos were taken with a Canon 60D and Sigma 8-16mm, 4.5-5.6, which I am still getting used to. I've taken shots from a similar vantage point for Fair Lawn fireworks in the past, but this was the first time I didn't have to worry about missing any fireworks that weren't in my potential field of view. Instead of worrying about losing photos, I can now crop the best shots down.

These photos, however, are unretouched and uncropped. No additional processing was done.

Friday, June 27, 2014

New York's Court of Appeals Kills Bloomberg's Soda Ban Legislation

The top court in New York, the Court of Appeals, ruled against the Bloomberg era soda law that limited certain carbonated beverage sizes. The law was convoluted, hard to administer, and ignored that there were entire classes of beverages that delivered the same or greater amounts of sugar but were exempt from the size restriction.


The court properly ruled against the soda size ban both substantively and procedurally. Mayor Bloomberg seems to have targeted those products that he thought he could ban without a stiffer fight - rather than following the science.

“By choosing among competing policy goals, without any legislative delegation or guidance, the Board engaged in law-making and thus infringed upon the legislative jurisdiction of the City Council of New York,” Judge Eugene F. Pigott wrote for the majority in 4-2 decision.

The ruling likely strikes the final legal blow to the controversial policy enacted by Mayor Bloomberg’s administration to ban large sugary beverages over 16 ounces.

Administration officials had argued the policy was necessary to combat the growing problem of obesity.

In arguments before the court earlier this month, city attorney Richard Dearing argued the 2012 regulation was a reasonable and science-based effort to combat obesity.
The ultimate goal was a worthy one, but that doesn't trump fact that the law was poorly written, it didn't follow the science, and infringed on personal rights and choices.

The law was so poorly thought out that it would have added costs to restaurants and businesses selling drinks by the cup, but it wouldn't appear to ban refills, which is yet another way to circumvent the ban on portion size. It ignored those beverages that are sold at places like 7-11 like the Big Gulp, as well as 2-liter beverages sold in grocery stores, but targeted only those beverages sold by the cup in restaurants. That was a restriction unfairly targeting those businesses and put them at a disadvantage. A restaurant couldn't sell a 32 ounce soda beverage, but the 7-11 next door could.

The law also ignored just how many calories were present in fruit juices, coffee products, and other products that are non-carbonated. That meant that sweetened ice tea wasn't restricted, but a soda beverage with the same calorie count per ounce would be restricted. It made no sense until you realize how the law was shaped by the need to get something passed and this was the path of least resistance; it had nothing to do with science.

And, as I've noted before, the soda makers could rebut the empty calories claims by adding vitamins and minerals to the soda products (and we're already starting to see some of that). It also ignores that obesity isn't the product of drinking more soda - if anything consumption of soda has declined, but obesity rates have continued to increase. Even the shift to more sugar-free sodas hasn't reduced the obesity epidemic. It's because people substitute even more calories from other sources when they think that they're not getting calories from soda. They pile on to their plates when they think they're getting a calorie free soda.

Obesity is a product of a sedentary lifestyle and consumption choices. Bloomberg seems to think that hiking the price of soda (which is what the ban on super-sized beverages would have) will result in reduced consumption and lower obesity levels. I expect that people will simply choose other alternatives and continue consumption of all calories at existing levels. Substitution will occur - not reduction.

The problem is that obesity isn't something as simple as cutting out soda. It means reducing overall calories, changing lifestyles, and making better and healthier diet choices.

The soda ban doesn't accomplish any of that. And the Court properly struck it down.


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