Category Archives: Uncategorized

Offensive? Stupid? Both and Worse

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Definitely offensive and a stupid thing to say. Romney, as a financial whiz, is supposed to understand that two very different cohorts (people who do not pay income tax and Democratic voters) who happen share the same numerical value (47 percent) are not equivalent. But here he is making this dumb argument. I don’t mean stupid politically (which it is), but just plain clueless.  In fact, as I am writing, Jonathan Podhoretz penned an op-ed “Feckless Versus Clueless“. In case it isn’t clear, given the choices, he’s voting for the idiot. That’s fine for the base, I suppose. But Romney also needs to worry about voters who are less rabidly anti-Obama.

The core argument Romney is making is a grand old one that has been stated by aristocrats for centuries: the poor, greedy, undeserving people–the underclass–are taking your money. But it’s hard to go there in the 21st century, especially when you are a billionaire. Plus the actual percentage of federal money spent on the poor is relatively small. So they added an industrial-era corollary, public employees are taking all your money. And to make it a little more contemporary, students are taking all of your money. And who pays for this? The first question is who doesn’t? The answer: 47% of the adult population. And these government dependent zombies are supposedly Obama’s base.

On the one hand, I agree that 47% of the electorate—if not more—will vote for Obama. I also accept Romney’s estimate of 47% of the electorate as not paying income taxes for the sake of argument. But it is a huge leap of logic in assuming the totality of this latter group will vote for Obama. It does not make any sense. There are lots of poor people in red states, many of whom are white, many of whom are Republicans, who do not pay income taxes. They are part of Romney’s base. Plus there are a lot of retirees who do not make enough to have to pay in. Most of them receive at least some of their income from Social Security and they paid into that system already.

There is an entire conglomeration–a mob, really–of people who make up this mythic 47%. When you break it down it includes everyone from the despised underclass to a grandma living on Social Security and whatever savings she has managed to hold onto through the recession. This comment at the American Conservative was great:

My 82 year-old mother is among the 47% who don’t pay federal income taxes. Yet, I guarantee she’ll vote for Romney. One of life’s ironies. She lives on Social Security benefits of $1300 per month, and about 1% interest on $250k in savings (which used to be $400k savings, a lot of money in her day, but she’s been spending it down in this chronic low interest rate environment). Out of that, she pays about $100/mo. in Medicare premiums, and another $90/mo. for a gap policy. The remainder, what there is of it, pays the rest of her bills. Meaning, she lives modestly, and is always worrying about money. My point being, can someone tell me where I can sign her up for the Overly Generous Elderly Benefits? I’m sure she’d sleep much better at night on that plan.

Setting aside the specifics about who is receiving what from the government, the entire foundation of this perspective needs to challenged. I am referring here to the idea that government assistance leads one to vote Democratic. There is no social science or other research available to support this assertion.

In fact, the vast majority of evidence we (social scientists and human beings in general) have accumulated points towards the relationship between government dependence (public housing, food stamps, etc.) and a lack of participation in politics. In other words, most poor folks, with the exception of the elderly, vote at incredibly low rates.

I am not troubled that Romney made an idiotic comment–politicians make them all the time–or even necessarily by the offensiveness of his remarks. It is the promotion of this myth that people dependent on government largesse form a huge base of voters for the Democrats. What about the people pulling in the really big money? I hate to harp on military contractors but what is the percentage of those folks who vote D? I would guess not many. Or how about other businesspeople who are dependent on the Pentagon and other federal bureaucracies to sell their wares?

The bottom line is most poor people do not vote. We have known this for a long time. There used to be an idea in the US, promoted by elites, that an uneducated and ignorant population, a rabble, an underclass estranged from civic life was not only dangerous for law and order but it prevented our full development as a people, as Americans. In other words, general political and civic education were seen as necessary for our prosperity and well-being. What happened?

How politicians, pundits and journalists–to say nothing of academics–can get away with this sort of rhetoric in the twenty-first century is astounding. And, yes, I was greatly perturbed by President Obama’s “clinging to religion and guns” comment as well. Our political class, which is just an extension of our managerial class, is out of touch with everyday Americans and this will only get more evident as we approach election day.

Local News (dated) and Regular Reads

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Local News (meant to post this a little over a week ago):

About two weeks ago, a tornado missed our home by a block. It was the mildest form of tornado (category 1? Or zero?). The damage was worse in my old neighborhood.

I know it was nothing compared to the twisters they get in place like Kansas and Oklahoma but it was pretty eerie. The sky turned from gray to black so quickly and then buckets or rain started falling down.

Regular Reads:

After much time away from my regular reads (over a month!) I finally had an opportunity to take a look around. Here is a sample of what I found:

Bob discusses Influential Left-Wingers. I wonder why he didn’t tag me?

Congratulations to Flesh is Grass for placing number 14 on top political blogs in the Green category.

Martin discuses left-wing antisemitism. I’ll have to take a look at the earlier post he mentions.

Mod on EDL violence.

Noga on Hitch on the Flotilla.

Roland is back in the mix! Here is a post on state-building in Iraq.

Over at Contentions, there is the usual mix of great stuff but Abe Greenwald’s “A Class War or War?” had me scratching my head in confusion. Not this part, which is undeniable:

On the same day that the president gave his academic instruction on the roots of religious scapegoating among the American working class, the Bipartisan Policy Center released a report titled “Assessing the Terrorist Threat,” which stated, “Last year was a watershed in terrorist attacks and plots in the United States, with a record total of 11 jihadist attacks, jihadist-inspired plots, or efforts by Americans to travel overseas to obtain terrorist training.” Most gruesome among them was the attack at Fort Hood, Texas, which killed 13 people…

And I somewhat agree when Greenwald notes:

The declarations of President Obama and of the Bipartisan Policy Center are the poles between which American national security now vacillates. We go from the real world, where gunmen scream “Allahu Akbar” and kill Americans, to the classroom, where Islamist terrorism does not exist and all conflict can be explained as a function of economic struggle.

However, the notion that “the classroom” (by which I presume he means academia) explains terrorism as a function of economics is simply false. Academics focus on everything from the political roots of terrorism to terrorism based on ethnic, national, and religious conflicts. Most do not trace terrorism to poverty. Yes, there are some academics, journalists and activists who take this position but it has largely been discredited in the scholarly community that actually focuses on terrorism.

But by the end of the post where Greenwald proclaims:

The classroom explanation is an insult to public intelligence. So too is the concomitant disclaimer that “the majority of Muslims are peace-loving people.” Not because it is false (it is not), but because no sane person has ever asserted the counterclaim.

I found myself sighing, “if that were only so.” There is a vocal contingent on the conservative end of the political spectrum that views Islam, the religion (not Islamism, the ideology) as the primary threat facing the U.S.

I would never suggest that the writers at Contentions think this way, but all one has to do is read the work of authors like Robert Spencer and others who have a significant following on the right to see there people who many conservatives would consider sane promoting some very batty stuff.

Then there was Jennifer Rubin’s “Liberals Versus Conservatives in Defeat.” Rubin is among my least favored writers over at Contentions. Here she compares the difference in perception between liberals and conservatives:

When things go wrong for the left, it blames the people; when things go wrong for the right, it blames the governing elites. It is not in the nature of conservatives to demean and attack fellow citizens. To the contrary, conservatives’ vision is grounded in the belief that Americans are competent, decent, and hardworking, and it is the heavy hand of government that threatens to squelch American virtues.

This is simply not the case. There is a strong tendency in classical conservatism to distrust “the masses” and place trust in governing elites. In fact, the history of conservatism in Europe can largely be traced to reactions against democratization and influence of the popular classes on the political and economic structures which influence their lives.

In the American context, libertarians, traditionalists, and other conservatives have long promoted variations of the concept of the remnant, a minority in any given society that was conscious and aware, while the majority of the population remained largely ignorant. One exemplar of this tendency was Albert J. Nock. Bernard Iddings Bell held similar beliefs.

American liberalism and American conservatism contain elitist and populist tendencies and influences, both sides have their establishment and their grassroots. The conflicts between these two groups within parties are occasionally more divisive than the conflict between parties. We are witnessing this in the current election cycle with the insurgent tea-party movement.

Yet the tea partiers are a larger and more diverse group than simply an element of the Republican grassroots. They include independents, swing voters and a significant number of people who are generally angered by out of control federal government spending. More on them later.

Back to the Blog, Again

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[Black pepper crab]

It has been about a month since I posted anything here. My excuse? Finishing my dissertation and starting a new teaching position. Both of these tasks have kept me occupied and away from my blog.

I also spent a week in Northern California visiting family and friends.  As usual, here is a short restaurant report:

First stop was Taki Sushi in El Cerito. Sushi chef and proprietor Thomas, a protege of Yuzo Sasaki, provided a succulent selection of cuts. We started with a sashimi platter of hamachi (yellow tail), shiro maguro (albacore tuna), and scallops with fresh wasabi. We continued with nigiri sushi,  more hamachi, scallop and shiro maguro, ama ebi (sweet shrimp) and katsuo (bonito) which was my least favorite. We concluded the meal with nigiri unagi (freshwater eel).

I also hit Lee Hou, a dim sum spot on Clement St. in S.F. Had the har gao (shrimp dumplings) and har gao with cilantro, black pepper crab, salt-baked squid and other yummy stuff.

After my fave Thai restaurant shut down I have been on the search for a replacement. I’m glad to have found Ruen Pair in El Cerrito. It’s incredibly fresh and very delicious. It’s also spicy, exactly the way Thai food is meant to be. Unfortunately, the pla tod (deep fried whole fish with tamarind chili sauce), usually on of my faves, was not so great. But the rest of the meal was so good I went back again, twice.

Sadly, I did not get the opportunity to fill my Mexican seafood craving. I used to hit this place on the regular, but heard it has gone downhill over the years. Too bad…

Is the American Jewish Establishment Failing? No. Liberal American Jewish Parents Are Failing.

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[I realize things have been extremely slow here since my return from Los Angeles last month. Family matters and dissertation writing are taking up most of my time.]

Peter Beinart is one of my favorite journalists. When I subscribed to the New Republic I always looked forward to reading his articles and opinions, even when I disagreed with him. However, in the weeks and months since Beinart left TNR he appears to be abandoning the vital center liberalism he used to champion.

Case in point, a recently penned article for the New York Review of Books. In “The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment,” Beinart repeats the sorts of claims about the Zionist movement that are incredibly common among the segment of lefty Jewry that supports J-Street, Peace Now, and the like.

The article begins by addressing an interesting question: why is support for Israel decreasing among young, liberal Jews? The answer provided is, to paraphrase, Zionism has been hijacked by the Orthodox who repulse young liberal Jews away from supporting Israel:

Among American Jews today, there are a great many Zionists, especially in the Orthodox world, people deeply devoted to the State of Israel. And there are a great many liberals, especially in the secular Jewish world, people deeply devoted to human rights for all people, Palestinians included. But the two groups are increasingly distinct. Particularly in the younger generations, fewer and fewer American Jewish liberals are Zionists; fewer and fewer American Jewish Zionists are liberal. One reason is that the leading institutions of American Jewry have refused to foster—indeed, have actively opposed—a Zionism that challenges Israel’s behavior in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and toward its own Arab citizens. For several decades, the Jewish establishment has asked American Jews to check their liberalism at Zionism’s door, and now, to their horror, they are finding that many young Jews have checked their Zionism instead.

I think the idea that universalist concepts (whether Beinart’s liberalism, utilitarianism, a faith in class struggle and class solidarity, or whathaveyou) trump a strong identification and connection with co-religionists or ethnic kin is not supported by history.  In the vast majority of cases, the particular takes precedence over the universal. Nevertheless, even if we accept Beinart’s contention that many young American Jews actually hold these opinions the question is why? It is not due to the increasing influence of the Orthodox or the domination of the “right-wingers” Beinart despises.

Entirely missing–besides a short  statement about the proclivity of his children to support Israel–is the role of liberal Jewish parents, or, really, parenting in general. Whether we like it or not, a large measure of our worldview, values, sense of right and wrong and so forth comes from our parents, parent or whoever raised us.

Today, many Jewish parents with the exception of the Orthodox are not involved in Jewish institutions. They do not attend synagogues. They do not send their children to Jewish schools. Part of the reason for this is economic. As Jack Wertheimer notes (and I mentioned in a previous post), it costs a lot of money to raise Jewish children.

Another aspect concerns assimilation. Many Jewish families fought hard for their children to assimilate. In far too many cases, assimilation meant less emphasis on Judaism. In some cases, abandoning Judaism altogether. Today we have a situation where many liberal American Jews are more liberal and American than they are Jewish. Their connection to Jewish identity is tenuous at best.  Some refer to themselves as “cultural Jews” but it is not at all clear what this actually means.

It is this lack of involvement and connection with the local Jewish community in their towns and cities of residence that leads to a larger disconnect from world Jewry and Zionism. After all, if they are unable to connect with Jews in their own neighborhood, why should we expect them to feel a connection with Jews in Israel?

I realize this is not the case in all instances. I know liberal Jews who are involved in their synagogues and make an effort for their children to get a Jewish education but we are far and away in the minority. Simply stated, if Beinart wants younger generations of liberal Jews to affiliate with the Zionist movement, liberal Jewish parents need to place much more emphasis on Jewish education, religion and identity when raising their children.

Instead of looking at where these connections start, in the family, Beinart places all of his focus on large organizations. He writes:

Morally, American Zionism is in a downward spiral. If the leaders of groups like AIPAC and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations do not change course, they will wake up one day to find a younger, Orthodox-dominated, Zionist leadership whose naked hostility to Arabs and Palestinians scares even them, and a mass of secular American Jews who range from apathetic to appalled. Saving liberal Zionism in the United States—so that American Jews can help save liberal Zionism in Israel—is the great American Jewish challenge of our age. And it starts where Luntz’s students wanted it to start: by talking frankly about Israel’s current government, by no longer averting our eyes.

I am not sure how Beinart thinks liberal American Jews are the ones who will “save liberal Zionism in Israel” when liberal American Jews appear unable to keep liberal Judaism from declining here at home.

Another strange element of this formulation concerns the agency of Israeli Jews, especially when you read Beinart’s reply to ADL head Abe Foxman. Foxman brings up the intransigence of Palestinian leaders as a large reason for the rise of the right in Israel and Beinart contends “there is a strange lack of Israeli agency in Foxman’s story.”

Yet Beinart does precisely the same thing by aruing if liberal Zionism is to be saved, it will have to be saved by liberal American Jews. Liberal American Jews have a role to play but the real heavy and important political work must be done in Israel. Is that not obvious?

I think the reason Beinart places so much emphasis on liberal Jews in the United States is he realizes the liberal-left position he and his allies advocate is now on the margins of political discourse in Israel. I agree there is an ideological divide in Israel, especially between religous and secular, but it is not, as Beinart claims, “among the widest on earth.” While the religious and the secular disagree on many things, the vast majority of Israelis have one thing in common: the notion that Israel is defined as a democratic and Jewish state. There was also overwhelming support for Israel’s actions in Gaza.

The article makes it clear that Beinart loathes the Israeli right, in particular PM Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Lieberman. But he fails to mention that Leiberman is a secularist and has criticized the religious right on numerous occasions. When it comes to Netanyahu’s ideas and beliefs, Beinart refers to a book Bibi wrote seventeen years ago! Surely he realizes that Bibi’s ideas, like Beinart’s, have changed over the years. And when he asks “what concessions?” Israel has made, well, Gaza comes to mind and we can see what that “land for peace” offering got Israel. A Hamas government that wants to see Israel destroyed. Not an “end to the occupation” but the end of Israel. Sometimes I wonder if the people who write these sorts of things live on the same planet as the rest of us.

Beinart also promotes the ultra-lib line that Im Tirtzu is a “right-wing” group, when the organization has repeatedly claimed it is centrist. His main concern is Im Tirtzu and others have been calling for a closer regulation of foreign funded NGOs. I wonder why? I guess I should just be glad he did not call them fascist.

Besides conservative politicians and Im Tirtzu, Beinart’s real bogey men are the “ultra-Orthodox population” that are having too many babies in his estimation, a “settler-movement that is growing more radical” and, even worse, finding representation in the army and political bureaucracy and lastly, a “Russian immigrant community” that hates Arabs.

Perhaps most indicative of Beinart’s lean way over to the left is his contention that “the world’s most respected human rights groups” such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have been targeted by American Jewish organizations. Respected by who? Beinart’s loony left friends? Human Rights Watch has a long history of singling out Israel while Amnesty International compared Gitmo to the Soviet Gulag where tens of millions were murdered. These organizations have very little credibility at this point, especially among Israelis.

He is also critical of Jewish organizations supposedly “patroling public discourse” and preventing criticism of Israel. Is this really the case? Not in the places I have studied or taught. Not in the lefty political organizations I have participated in. Being anti-Israel is a politically correct prejudice in many liberal circles, including Jewish ones. In fact, it is conservative Zionists who are prevented from speaking on college campuses these days. As Noah Pollak notes:

Beinart’s imputation that critics of Israel within the Jewish community and elsewhere have been rendered mute and ineffective by the power of politically conservative Jews and the Washington lobby they supposedly control. Beinart suggests a great burden to bear in becoming an Israel critic: “The hardest thing I’ve ever written,” he said in announcing his essay on his Twitter feed.

Please. As the astonishingly polite reaction to his article over the past week has demonstrated, there are few postures today from which it is more comfortable and advantageous to call out one’s anguish and concern than as a Jewish critic of Israel. The ranks are full of people who have made careers out of being contemporary prophets, traveling the land to warn the Israelites that their arrogance and sin is inviting catastrophe. The key difference is that the biblical prophets were often despised and persecuted figures, whereas the prophets of today enjoy the embrace of a vast array of institutions, foundations, and publications.

How hard it must be for Beinart to ally with his employer, the New America Foundation, and Haaretz, Americans for Peace Now, the Israel Policy Forum, the New York Review of Books, the Nation magazine, the New York Times editorial and op-ed pages, Time magazine, the American Conservative, the American Prospect, Mother Jones, the entirety of the British and European media, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, B’tselem, J Street, J Call, the New Israel Fund, Richard Goldstone, the UN Human Rights Council, the UN General Assembly, the European Union, the British Foreign Office, the European Council, scores of NGOs, Walt and Mearsheimer, Tom Segev, Avi Shlaim, Tony Judt, Tel Aviv University, every Middle East Studies department, George Soros, the Ford Foundation, Brent Scowcroft, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Jimmy Carter, Andrew Sullivan, Noam Chomsky, Mondoweiss, and … well, you get the picture.

The sad truth is that Peter Beinart isn’t any kind of trailblazer or whistleblower, and he most certainly has not earned himself any trouble by coming out as an Israel-basher. He is someone who has rather belatedly fallen completely and predictably into line with the demands his ideological compatriots make for orthodoxy when it comes to their increasingly passionate interest in assaulting Israel and championing the Palestinian cause. In Beinart’s work, we are not witnessing an act of courage but rather a spectacle of conformity.

I agree with Pollak and am tempted to take it a step further. When I first read the reactions to Beinart’s NYRB piece I thought his change of heart reflected a real shift in his worldview. Fine. I might disagree with his perspective but these sorts of shifts happen all the time. Heck, my political positions have changed over the years as well. But the cynic in me sees he has a new book to promote, The Icarus Syndrome: A History of American Hubris, leading me to beleive his new found uber liberal pose is just that. A political repositioning for the purpose of selling more books to his target audience.

Michael Weiss (The New Criterion) has this to say.

One last comment, Beinart’s idea that conservatives view Jews–and by extension Israel–as “permanent victims” is way off the mark. In fact, most conservative Jews are happy and gracious for the opportunity to attain success that America has offered to the Jewish people and the military and economic power of Israel. Obsession with the powerless and the notion that being a victim makes you a “good guy” is a trait associated with the left, not the right.

What do you think? I am interested in your opinions.