Bad GOP Strategy

March 16, 2012

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The Tietanic

March 16, 2012

This image has been posted with express written permission. This cartoon was originally published at Town Hall.


World attention remains fixed on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict but a distinct, albeit related, conflict smoulders within Israel itself. It might be no less perilous. Jewish-Arab domestic relations have deteriorated steadily for a decade. More and more, the Jewish majority views the Palestinian minority as subversive, disloyal and – due to its birth rates – a demographic threat. Palestinian citizens are politically marginalised, economically underprivileged, ever more unwilling to accept systemic inequality and ever more willing to confront the status quo. Interaction with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict further complicates matters as negotiations bump against a core issue – whether Palestinians will recognise Israel’s Jewish character – that further inflames communal relations. There is no easy or quick fix. In the near term, Israel should take practical steps to defuse tensions with its Arab minority and integrate it into the civic order. In the longer run, the challenge to Israeli Jews and the Palestinian national movement is to come to terms with the most basic questions: what is the character of the state of Israel, and what rights should its Arab citizens enjoy?

For over six decades, Israel’s Palestinian citizens have had a unique experience: they are a Palestinian national minority in a Jewish state locked in conflict with its Arab neighbours but they also constitute an Israeli minority enjoying the benefits of citizenship in a state that prizes democracy. This has translated into ambivalent relations with both the state of Israel and Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza and beyond. They feel solidarity with their brethren elsewhere, yet many Arabs study in Israeli universities, work side-by-side with Jews and speak Hebrew fluently – a degree of familiarity that has only made the discrimination and alienation from which they suffer seem more acute and demands for equality more insistent.

Since 2000, a series of dramatic events have both poisoned Jewish-Arab relations in Israel and reinvigorated its Palestinian minority. The collapse of the peace process and ensuing intifada harmed Israel’s relations with not only Palestinians in the occupied territories but also its own Palestinian minority. As Palestinians in Israel organised rallies in solidarity with Gazans and West Bankers, Israeli Jews grew ever more suspicious of their loyalty. Palestinian citizens’ trust in the state plummeted after Israeli security forces killed thirteen of their own during protests in October 2000. A rapid succession of confrontations – the 2006 war in Lebanon; 2008-2009 Gaza war; and 2010 bloody Israeli raid on the aid flotilla to Gaza – further deepened mistrust, galvanising the perception among Israeli Jews that Palestinian citizens had embraced their sworn adversaries. Among Arabs, it reinforced the sense that they had no place in Israel. Several have been arrested on charges of abetting terrorist activity. Meanwhile, the crisis of the Palestinian national movement – divided, adrift and in search of a new strategy – has opened up political space for Israel’s Arab minority.

As a consequence, Palestinian citizens began to look outside – to surrounding Arab states and the wider international community – for moral sustenance and political leverage. They have come to emphasise their Palestinian identity and increasingly dissociate themselves from formal Israeli politics. The result has been steadily declining Arab turnout for national elections and, among those who still bother to vote, a shift from Jewish Zionist to Arab parties. Palestinians invest more energy in political activity taking place beyond the reach of official institutions. Unsurprisingly, Sheikh Raed Salah – the leader of the northernbranch of the Islamic Movement in Israel, which refuses to engage with the country’s political institutions – has become the highest-profile Arab politician.

Yet Palestinian citizens’ conflicting experiences has meant that such reactions go hand-in-hand with others: continual demands for achieving their rights withinIsrael; persistent criticism of Israel’s democratic shortcomings; and the absence of any visible interest or willingness to relocate to an eventual Palestinian state. They undoubtedly feel deeply Palestinian. But they also take their Israeli citizenship seriously.

Simultaneous Arab marginalisation and revitalisation also has manifested itself in initial efforts by its leadership to define the community’s political aspirations. The so-called “Vision Documents” advocate full Jewish-Arab equality, adamantly reject the notion of a Jewish state and call instead for a “binational state” – in essence, challenging Israel’s current self-definition. This, for many Jews, is tantamount to a declaration of war.

For its part, Israel’s Jewish majority – confronted by an internal minority developing alliances outside the state and seeming to display solidarity with its foes – has grown ever more suspicious of a community it views as a potential fifth column. It has shunned Palestinians, enacted legislation to strengthen the state’s Jewish identity and sought to ban certain Arab parties and parliamentarians. Today, what for most Palestinian citizens is a principled struggle for equal rights is perceived by many Israeli Jews as a dangerous denial of Jewish nationhood. What for most Jews is akin to complicity with their enemies is viewed by Palestinian citizens as an expression of affinity for their brethren.

This is taking place against the backdrop of a peace process in which very little is happening – and what is happening only makes matters worse. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insists that the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) accept Israel as a Jewish nation-state in the context of a final status agreement. That request resonates widely with Israel’s Jews, but raises all sorts of red flags for its Palestinian citizens, who have vigorously pressed the PLO to reject it. They might not have a veto, yet President Mahmoud Abbas cannot easily dismiss their views on such matters and has shown no inclination to do so. All of which has only elevated the centrality of the demand, making it all the more important for Israel’s government and all the more unacceptable to its Palestinian minority.

Add to this the idea, floated by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s party, of “populated land swaps” – under which certain Arab-majority areas of Israel would be swapped for some of the so-called West Bank settlement blocks. Alarmed that they could twice pay the price for a two-state settlement – through acquiescence in their state’s “Jewishness” and through forcible loss of their citizenship – Israel’s Palestinian minority is making it ever clearer that peace deal or no peace deal, there will be no end to Palestinian claims until their demands also are met. To which Israel’s response is: Why pay the hefty price of an agreement with the PLO if it leaves behind an open wound right in our heart?

It was not meant to be so. Originally, the notion was that progress in the peace process would help improve Arab-Jewish relations in Israel. Instead, simultaneous deterioration on both fronts has turned a presumably virtuous circle into a dreadfully vicious one. Neither the State of Israel nor its Arab minority will be willing to reach a historic understanding before the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been settled; and settling that conflict will be near-impossible without addressing the question of Israel’s nature – which itself cannot be done without the acquiescence of Israel’s Arab citizens…

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The Atlantic:

THERE ARE SOME THINGS money can’t buy—but these days, not many. Almost everything is up for sale. For example:

• A prison-cell upgrade: $90 a night. In Santa Ana, California, and some other cities, nonviolent offenders can pay for a clean, quiet jail cell, without any non-paying prisoners to disturb them.

• Access to the carpool lane while driving solo: $8. Minneapolis, San Diego, Houston, Seattle, and other cities have sought to ease traffic congestion by letting solo drivers pay to drive in carpool lanes, at rates that vary according to traffic.

• The services of an Indian surrogate mother: $8,000. Western couples seeking surrogates increasingly outsource the job to India, and the price is less than one-third the going rate in the United States.

• The right to shoot an endangered black rhino: $250,000. South Africa has begun letting some ranchers sell hunters the right to kill a limited number of rhinos, to give the ranchers an incentive to raise and protect the endangered species.

• Your doctor’s cellphone number: $1,500 and up per year. A growing number of “concierge” doctors offer cellphone access and same-day appointments for patients willing to pay annual fees ranging from $1,500 to $25,000.

• The right to emit a metric ton of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere: $10.50. The European Union runs a carbon-dioxide-emissions market that enables companies to buy and sell the right to pollute.

• The right to immigrate to the United States: $500,000. Foreigners who invest $500,000 and create at least 10 full-time jobs in an area of high unemployment are eligible for a green card that entitles them to permanent residency.

NOT EVERYONE CAN AFFORD to buy these things. But today there are lots of new ways to make money. If you need to earn some extra cash, here are some novel possibilities:

• Sell space on your forehead to display commercial advertising: $10,000. A single mother in Utah who needed money for her son’s education was paid $10,000 by an online casino to install a permanent tattoo of the casino’s Web address on her forehead. Temporary tattoo ads earn less.

• Serve as a human guinea pig in a drug-safety trial for a pharmaceutical company: $7,500. The pay can be higher or lower, depending on the invasiveness of the procedure used to test the drug’s effect and the discomfort involved.

• Fight in Somalia or Afghanistan for a private military contractor: up to $1,000 a day. The pay varies according to qualifications, experience, and nationality.

• Stand in line overnight on Capitol Hill to hold a place for a lobbyist who wants to attend a congressional hearing: $15–$20 an hour. Lobbyists pay line-standing companies, who hire homeless people and others to queue up.

• If you are a second-grader in an underachieving Dallas school, read a book: $2. To encourage reading, schools pay kids for each book they read.

WE LIVE IN A TIME when almost everything can be bought and sold. Over the past three decades, markets—and market values—have come to govern our lives as never before. We did not arrive at this condition through any deliberate choice. It is almost as if it came upon us.

As the Cold War ended, markets and market thinking enjoyed unrivaled prestige, and understandably so. No other mechanism for organizing the production and distribution of goods had proved as successful at generating affluence and prosperity. And yet even as growing numbers of countries around the world embraced market mechanisms in the operation of their economies, something else was happening. Market values were coming to play a greater and greater role in social life. Economics was becoming an imperial domain. Today, the logic of buying and selling no longer applies to material goods alone. It increasingly governs the whole of life.

The years leading up to the financial crisis of 2008 were a heady time of market faith and deregulation—an era of market triumphalism. The era began in the early 1980s, when Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher proclaimed their conviction that markets, not government, held the key to prosperity and freedom. And it continued into the 1990s with the market-friendly liberalism of Bill Clinton and Tony Blair, who moderated but consolidated the faith that markets are the primary means for achieving the public good.

Today, that faith is in question. The financial crisis did more than cast doubt on the ability of markets to allocate risk efficiently. It also prompted a widespread sense that markets have become detached from morals, and that we need to somehow reconnect the two. But it’s not obvious what this would mean, or how we should go about it.

Some say the moral failing at the heart of market triumphalism was greed, which led to irresponsible risk-taking. The solution, according to this view, is to rein in greed, insist on greater integrity and responsibility among bankers and Wall Street executives, and enact sensible regulations to prevent a similar crisis from happening again.

This is, at best, a partial diagnosis. While it is certainly true that greed played a role in the financial crisis, something bigger was and is at stake. The most fateful change that unfolded during the past three decades was not an increase in greed. It was the reach of markets, and of market values, into spheres of life traditionally governed by nonmarket norms. To contend with this condition, we need to do more than inveigh against greed; we need to have a public debate about where markets belong—and where they don’t.

Consider, for example, the proliferation of for-profit schools, hospitals, and prisons, and the outsourcing of war to private military contractors. (In Iraq and Afghanistan, private contractors have actually outnumbered U.S. military troops.) Consider the eclipse of public police forces by private security firms—especially in the U.S. and the U.K., where the number of private guards is almost twice the number of public police officers.

Or consider the pharmaceutical companies’ aggressive marketing of prescription drugs directly to consumers, a practice now prevalent in the U.S. but prohibited in most other countries. (If you’ve ever seen the television commercials on the evening news, you could be forgiven for thinking that the greatest health crisis in the world is not malaria or river blindness or sleeping sickness but an epidemic of erectile dysfunction.)

Consider too the reach of commercial advertising into public schools, from buses to corridors to cafeterias; the sale of “naming rights” to parks and civic spaces; the blurred boundaries, within journalism, between news and advertising, likely to blur further as newspapers and magazines struggle to survive; the marketing of “designer” eggs and sperm for assisted reproduction; the buying and selling, by companies and countries, of the right to pollute; a system of campaign finance in the U.S. that comes close to permitting the buying and selling of elections.

These uses of markets to allocate health, education, public safety, national security, criminal justice, environmental protection, recreation, procreation, and other social goods were for the most part unheard-of 30 years ago. Today, we take them largely for granted.

Why worry that we are moving toward a society in which everything is up for sale?…

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Cameron Bets on Obama

March 16, 2012

Foreign Policy:

The British prime minister is a lot more like the American president than you think. And he clearly believes Barack is headed for victory in November.

Barack Obama and David Cameron, who have been meeting in Washington this week, are two leaders who owe their present positions, in part, to the backlash of the post-9/11 era. But both the U.S. president and British prime minister have also demonstrated surprising continuities with their interventionist predecessors while in office.

Obama, of course, rose to prominence as a critic of George W. Bush’s “dumb war” in Iraq. Cameron, in addition to his pledges to cut spending and get Britain’s fiscal house in order, took special effort after rising to leader of the opposition in 2005 to distance himself from the interventionism of Tony Blair.

While Blair’s position in British politics had once been unassailable — he had completely overhauled a Labour Party that was hostile to capitalism and committed to unilateral nuclear disarmament and won three successive general elections in the process — he paid a heavy political price for the support he gave to U.S. policy after the 9/11 attacks and in particular for committing British forces to the overthrow of Iraq’s Saddam Hussein.

Cameron took full advantage. On the fifth anniversary of 9/11, Cameron gave a speech on foreign policy in which he described himself as a liberal conservative rather than a neoconservative. Echoing the Augustinian realism of Reinhold Niebuhr, Cameron decried a simplistic vision of a world order divided between the forces of light and the forces of darkness, and he expounded the virtues of humility and patience.

However, just as Obama’s presidency has surprisingly come to be defined by drone war, special operations raids, and a troop surge in Afghanistan, Cameron in government is more interventionist than his statements in opposition suggested he would be. And his relations with Obama are warmer than observers of both men’s political records might have predicted.

Cameron’s Blair-like tendencies have been much greater than the continuities in foreign policy between Cameron and John Major, the Conservative prime minister from 1990 to 1997. To the despair of Margaret Thatcher, whom he succeeded in Downing Street, Major presided over the greatest catastrophe in British foreign policy since the 1956 Suez crisis: Western inaction in the Balkans. Major completely misinterpreted the war in Bosnia as a recrudescence of intractable ancient hatreds. Possessed not by realism but an amoral conservative quietism, Major’s government not only urged no-intervention but actively obstructed the efforts of its NATO and European Union allies to counter Serbian aggression.

In 1999, two years after his first landslide election victory and at the height of the Kosovo crisis, Blair gave a notable speech on foreign policy in Chicago. He cited both Serbia’s Slobodan Milosevic and Iraq’s Saddam Hussein as threats to international stability. The emphasis of that speech refutes the absurd and insulting charge that after 9/11 Blair acted as “Bush’s poodle.” In reality, Blair was arguing a case for the responsibility to protect threatened populations while Bush, then governor of Texas and an aspiring presidential nominee, was opposing the Bill Clinton administration’s supposed entanglements in the Balkans.

Cameron was elected to Parliament only in 2001. He voted for military action in Iraq, yet three years later controversially joined with anti-war separatist parties and left-wing Labour MPs in calling for an inquiry into the decision to commit British forces. My own newspaper, the Times, declared on that occasion that Cameron should not have aligned himself with political eccentrics.

It was a fair reading of Cameron’s comments on foreign policy, as well as those of William Hague, now foreign secretary, that the Conservatives thought that the disasters of postwar planning in Iraq and Afghanistan were inherent to a hubristic project to establish Western-style constitutional democracies. It was widely expected that Cameron would pivot away from the foreign-policy adventurism of the Blair era.

But from Afghanistan to Libya to Syria, Cameron’s foreign policy has been quite different from the modest, Major-like attitude that was expected of him. Interestingly, Cameron’s seeming political weakness on domestic issues has given him some room to maneuver abroad. Cameron is the first British prime minister to lead a coalition government in peacetime since the 1930s. Many commentators assumed that the inconclusive result of the 2010 general election, in which the Conservatives won most seats but failed to secure a parliamentary majority, would hamper him. In practice, it has worked to his political advantage, allowing him a freer hand than if he had been elected head of a government comprising only Conservatives.

It was also expected that the Anglo-American relationship would not be as strong under Cameron and Obama as it had been in the days when Bush and Blair bonded over Ben Stiller movies at the ranch in Crawford. British politicians frequently and smugly refer to the “special relationship” between the United States and the United Kingdom. And though there are obvious historical and linguistic ties between the two countries, this is a historically dubious notion. For much of the postwar era, relations between the United States and Germany have been closer and more consequential than the Anglo-American alliance.

The famously warm regard between Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, as well as between Blair and Bush, was historically unusual. In a fundamental misstep in foreign policy, Thatcher (unlike President George H.W. Bush) failed to see that German unification after the fall of the Berlin Wall was inevitable and desirable. Major’s Balkans policy was not only catastrophic for Bosnia, but it also caused a serious fissure in Anglo-American relations. There was every prospect that the Obama-Cameron relationship would be, if not of that order, at least cordial and muted rather than enthusiastic. Some British commentators also expected Obama, on grounds of his family history and justified criticisms of British colonial rule, to be less receptive to the Anglo-American alliance than were his immediate predecessors.

None of this has been borne out by experience. In the face of international crises, the transatlantic alliance has been notably strong — in the closeness of Anglo-American relations, and, more surprisingly, in the participation of France in an interventionist consensus…

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GOP Gothic

March 16, 2012



March 16, 2012

This image has been posted with express written permission. This cartoon was originally published at Town Hall.


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