Friday, March 26, 2010

The Banshee Wail

The oldwomanshuffle—no speed
to write of, really...

The rest of the poem here on Outdoor Poetry Season

Journalist misses truth about Israeli occupation

Quelle surpris!

this is my umpteenth letter to the Washington Post about how often their columnists ignore the basic truths about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict--like the fact that Israel is an occupying power and, under international law, is barred from appropriating occupied territory, which is an actual war crime--and Jackson Diehl is a decision maker at the Post, routinely deciding what should run and what shouldn't, and he should know better than to pretend that the problem here is the Palestinian leadership or the Obama administration.

Assuming that the U.S. really wants to midwife worthwhile negotiations between the two parties, rather than merely give the appearance of working hard, the Obama administration ought to be far more concerned with naming Israeli transgressions (subsidized by U.S. aid) than with affirming Israeli-U.S. friendship. No true friend would spend so much time enabling dysfunctional behavior. Anyway, here's the letter:


President Obama has made “flagrant mistakes” in dealing with the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, says Deputy Editorial Page Editor Jackson Diehl (“A Mideast obstacle, ignored,” Mar. 22). Diehl asserts that the Bush administration’s handling of Israel would be a better model for managing the many obstacles that crop up on the path to a negotiated settlement, a claim that has me scratching my head.

Outside of Diehl, AIPAC and partisan Republican observers, I’m hard put to identify another source for such a high opinion of Bush administration statecraft in the Middle East. This should not be surprising considering that there were no negotiations, at all, between Israel and the Palestinians for seven years after the end of peace talks in 2001. At the time Bush administration Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice managed to restart talks, the Israeli government was led by the relatively moderate Ehud Olmert, not by the likes of hardliner Binyamin Netanyahu, a distinction that Diehl acknowledges while dismissing its significance.

Historically, the United States has been the most important guarantor of Israel’s existence as a Jewish state. The U.S. has also subsidized Israel with almost $1 trillion since the founding of the state. Accordingly, the Obama administration reacted critically to the recent announcement that Israel would build an additional 1,600 housing units in Arab East Jerusalem. That criticism was leavened, as all U.S. criticism has been, by repeated affirmations of the unique and “special” relationship between the two countries. Diehl, however, says the current White House “went ballistic.” I think “ballistic” would be a better description of what Israel “went” last year in Gaza.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Columnist Kathleen Parker Says Stupak Was Betrayed

A bad column concludes with a loaded image

Bart Stupak, the pro-life congressman from Michigan's Upper Peninsula is taking a lot of fire for his role in passing the healthcare reform bill on Sunday. A Catholic, Stupak has been a hardliner in his opposition to the use of federal funds to pay for abortion. But, "when all the power of the moment was in his frail human hands, he dropped the baby," wrote Parker in a Washington Post column, "Stupak's original sin."

Parker goes on to argue that in becoming one of the few Democrats who originally voted against the bill to change his vote and enable passage, Stupak proved to be "weak and overwhelmed by raw political power." Worse, perhaps, he was deceived by the obvious fraud of an "utterly useless" executive order, which falsely promised "that no federal funds will be used for abortion."

Stupak, Parker says, knew he was being deceived; after all "the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops explained to him...the only way to prevent public funding for abortion was for his amendment to be added to the Senate bill." Besides, even Obama "is well aware of the uselessness of his promise," wrote the apparently omniscient Parker.

Of course, all this is actually contested terrain and Parker, a usually more reasonable, if also right-wing, observer of Washington politics, should know this. Yes, the Catholic bishops claimed that the bill would expand federal funding for abortion, but a very influential association of catholic hospitals said that the bill would not do so.

Further, executive orders do matter, as Parker likely also knows. They may not be a matter of law, but they guide how federal employees interpret and implement laws. And, in this particular instance, Obama's executive order has been blasted by pro-choice groups who feel betrayed by the president's action. In "Order on abortion angers core backers," Nancy Northrup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights is quoted blasting the executive order, which has created a new "obstacle to abortion," she said.

But Parker may very well think that Northrup is crying crocodile tears, pretending to disappointment in order to further the liberal conspiracy advancing the cause of big government against the wishes of the American people. Indeed, Parker has caught the symbolism of a gesture that the rest of us may have missed--Stupak has been betrayed.

"After the Sunday vote, a group of Democrats, including Stupak, gathered in a pub to celebrate. In a biblical moment, New York Rep. Anthony Weiner was spotted planting a big kiss on Stupak's cheek.

"To a Catholic man well versed in the Gospel, this is not a comforting gesture," Parker wrote.

Though the phrase resists linear interpretation, Parker's meaning is clear. Stupak is hardly the Christ, but Parker judges him betrayed--his betrayal more properly understood if one recognizes that Weiner is the Judas figure, the betrayer in Parker's passion play. Parker has chosen here to speak directly to the good Christian commie-hunters mobilized in tea parties. Talk about original sin.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Today's Healthcare Reform Is Not Enough

The right-wing wants change to come hard, or not at all

Yesterday, 14 Republican state attorneys general sued the federal government to block implementation of the healthcare reform law that President Obama had signed just minutes earlier. Though their legal arguments against the law are unlikely to prevail, the attorneys general, and Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, in particular, have found an expensive, time-consuming way to mainstream the anti-government grievances of the extreme right. This is one of the many Catch-22s of democracy; one or many can access numerous institutional forums designed to facilitate democratic expression and use those forums to broadcast an ideology that opposes the funding and efficient operation of those forums.

This should come as no surprise to anyone. After all, up to 1952 the platform of the Republican party called for the repeal of Social Security. The initial Republican argument against Social Security was based on the frame that it taxed younger workers in order to pay older ones not to work, ignoring the obvious point that until older workers got out of the way, younger workers couldn't find employment. When they did finally get jobs, the social security tax was an initial condition for young workers, a relatively light tax shared across the board.

Now, more than 70 years later, the original premise of social security, tweaked occasionally to maintain the viability of the fund, still works. It would work better, however, if social security payments were more generous and healthcare was more comprehensive, more universally accessible and more affordable for retired workers. If these conditions were met, more good-paying jobs would open up for younger workers.

But we have not yet arrived at that happy state. The political struggle to make small improvements in healthcare, social security and other important social programs must continue in the face of tactics that stall implementation of good social policy (e.g., filibusters by Republican senators), and impose higher costs on government (e.g., lawsuits by Republican state attorneys general).

While Ken Cuccinelli's deputies were filing his lawsuit against healthcare reform, a friend of mine was combing the phone directory, looking for a D.C.-area dentist who would pull the two impacted wisdom teeth that were causing her great pain. She was doing her searching and her phone calling while she worked her job as a cashier at a local health food store. She has no regular dentist because she has no health coverage of any kind. She has lived, for years, in the constant hope that she would continue her lucky streak of no major health problems.

Of course, all lucky streaks come to an end and, in the case of postponed health and dental care, generally with severe consequences. Unfortunately for Lakeisa, she couldn't just walk into an emergency room and get her teeth pulled. And, though she could pay several hundred dollars in cash if that was what it would cost her, no dentist would take her. I hung around the store for over an hour trying to encourage her, but I should have gone home to get my car and offered to drive her anywhere she needed to go. When I left, she was near tears and feeling desperate, but still working. As far as I could tell, most people she waited on had no idea that she was in pain.

It strikes me that Lakeisa is one of millions of Americans who can legitimately hope that one day the government will expand the effort to make health and dental care so accessible and so affordable that she won't have to suffer through a day like yesterday. But nothing in the healthcare bill President Obama signed into law is going to help her anytime soon. The thing is, if Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli has his way, the government of the United States will never help her.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Political Courage

I received an e-mail from nephew Abraham about Sunday's historic vote on health reform. I think it bears repeating, so here it is.

Hi friends and family,

Last night, Congress made history by passing the most comprehensive health care reform in nearly 50 years. For some representatives, a "yes" vote meant they were standing up for 32 million uninsured Americans in the face of a tough re-election fight. Health Care Reform was passed with only 3 votes to spare, which means every single one of those votes was essential - but it could cost these representatives their jobs.

They did the right thing anyway, and that's exactly why they need to be sent back to Congress for another term. We can help make that happen, by giving just a few dollars to any or all of them - they're going to need every penny. No matter how little you can afford to give, it'll make a difference by showing them, their constituents and the media that this was the right thing to do. Their opponents are going to make literally millions of dollars in contributions off of these gutsy votes. Let's get their backs, like they just got ours.

Here's the list of the most vulnerable Democrats to vote yes, from (list was compiled before the vote; Space voted no). And here's the roll call vote from last night.

Donation pages for the 20 most vulnerable Democrats voting Yes on Health Care Reform:

Betsy Markey - CO 4th
Suzanne Kosmas - FL 24th
Earl Pomeroy - ND At Large
Brad Ellsworth - IN 5th
Tom Perriello - VA 5th
Baron Hill - IN 9th
John Spratt - SC 5th
Mark Schauer - MI 7th
Chris Carney - PA 10th
John Boccieri - OH 16th
Alan Grayson - FL 8th
Kendrick Meek - FL 17th, running for Senate
Mary Jo Kilroy - OH 15th
Paul Hodes - NH 2nd, running for Senate
Harry Mitchell - AZ 5th
Carol Shea-Porter - NH 1st
Allen Boyd - FL 2nd
Joe Sestak - PA 7th, running for Senate
John Salazar - CO 3rd, running for Senate
Bill Foster - IL 14th

Thanks for reading this far. Even if you can only spare a dollar, pick a candidate (from the top, ideally) and show your support!


Of course, this is my blog, so I get to add a postscript. There's two more members of the House of Representatives who aren't on this list who ought to get a serious nod. They are Nancy Pelosi and Bart Stupak. Though a vote in which 219 people vote on the winning side is clearly a collective process during which many had to vote principles rather than politics, some individuals seem more heroic than others.

Pelosi's leadership was indispensable to the outcome. She was clear all along that Democratic members of the House could not simply pass the Senate version of healthcare reform. She led the way to Sunday's two-part vote, and she led with grace and persistence. It seems likely that most of the speakers who preceded her could not have won passage of the bill.

It's not often that I praise pro-life politicians, Stupak is perhaps the first. In general, I distrust pro-life politicians. Sure, opposition to abortion may be a personal choice consistent with individual religious beliefs, but I don't believe that makes a pro-life position an appropriate political choice; pro-life politicians seem to me to be doing a politically expedient thing. That's my bias and I'm sticking to it. All the more surprising then that Stupak's choice, to bargain for a presidential order maintaining the status quo prohibition against federal funding of abortions in exchange for his vote for healthcare reform, struck me as profile in courage.

For Stupak, sticking to his pro-life position would have been the politically expedient thing. It probably would not have hurt him in his district, at all. Bargaining with the president, who is also the leader of the pro-choice party, was a nervy decision, also. And as the author of an amendment that would have forbidden any interpretation of the bill that would have relaxed the ban against federal funding of abortion, Stupak's vote for healthcare reform carried much more weight than the votes of other pro-life Democrats. Arguably, the bill would not have passed without Stupak.


Friday, March 19, 2010

Memories of What Will Matter Most

Brendan’s short sleeve school shirts...

More here on Outdoor Poetry Season

Ultimately, credit is due to health care reformers who stayed in the fight

Now, the political fight that matters is the next one.

Steven Pearlstein's column in today's Washington Post ("Finally in reach, health-care reform could help mend Washington, too") speaks my mind. The column also outlines some things that had not occurred to me, as well, but Pearlstein's central argument, that the imminent passage of the health care bill in Congress is both a positive, important step and nowhere near the frightening government takeover depicted by opponents, is a point worth echoing.

Passage of the bill, Pearlstein says, "would finally have the United States join the rest of the industrialized world in offering health insurance to all its citizens." The qualifiers implicit in his statement, like health insurance, not health care, and offering, not providing, are a good, if inexact, indication of how far health care reform in this country has to go, but this baby-step compromise is huge, nonetheless.

But regarding that point, Pearlstein makes a further helpful, albeit, disputable observation:
"Over the past year, anyone following the health-care drama has been tempted to question the judgment and leadership of President Obama, his staff and the Democratic leaders in Congress. Should they succeed this weekend, however, there is no disputing that it will be a remarkable political achievement, the result of a combination of focus, determination and flexibility not seen since the early Reagan years."

Of course, there is more than one way to frame what has happened so far. So, yes, Steven, there might be some "disputing." But Pearlstein's perspective is useful. Close up, and even at a distance, the whole process has been ugly. But Republicans in Congress did deliberately set out to sabotage the process. At no time did they seem to be proceeding as though they believed that all Americans should be covered and that there is a way to get to that goal.

In such an environment, it was easy for conservative hunters to harass the pack, picking out the lame and the old and the weak. It was savage politics, but when Democrats explained that Republicans were simply the "party of no," Democrats looked like whiners and, with a little bit of this for Louisiana and a little bit of that for Nebraska, also looked like opportunists. Sometimes Obama looked weak, sometimes he looked like he was merely stylin,' but there was no way to pass this bill without some Democratic cleverness, without some presidential resolve, without solidarity among the vast majority of Democrats. The fact of the bill's passage will demonstrate that those qualities were also a factor in the long process, even if it will take a team of historians a generation to identify precisely who brought those characteristics to the fight.

There is also this to say about the fights that come next: The bill's passing will come as a relief to many who are not prepared at this time to acknowledge that feeling. But they are voters who will show up at the polls in November and will not punish Democrats for the long legislative agony. They will care much more about the economy and who is working and who is not. And they will want to know, what their representative did with his or her summer. Did they roll up their sleeves and get back to work on other pressing matters, like education and financial reform? Or did they slink away to lick wounds from a battle that's over, leaving the field to others?

Now is the time for all good legislators to press forward.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Wake-Up Call

On the way from one spot to another,
walking briskly on a fine, fine day,
I added this little loop-around...
(more at Wake-Up Call on Outdoor Poetry Season)

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Writing for a Reason

Is this transparent, or is it as opaque as the darkness at midnight?

I don't really have an explicit agenda to guide what I write, today. But for some reason, it seems getting something, anything, written right now is very important. Why should that be? Marrianne has a good job, I'm collecting Social Security. I don't have to work. I don't even have to pretend to look for a job. By some standards that would make doing nothing, at all, make sense.

But where does that set of facts place me in our society? Without a way of making a meaningful contribution to our collective effort?

Whoa. I'm pursuing a tangent here. Maybe, I should explore that point, too, but the question with which I began--why should I feel like I must write something--that's the topic that needs the first look.

And here's part of the answer: Writing is sometimes a very rewarding thing to do, it's almost as if the activity releases endorphins, soothing the brain, like running, steady, easy, far, doses the brain and body with a biochemical bath that comforts and arouses.

But it can't be the whole answer, because sometimes writing is pure torture. I'm not going to go into detail about the way that feels because, you know, mostly I don't tough those moments out. It's too painful to suffer when you're only trying to do the thing that you've wanted to do most in your life. Does that sound sad? Or, merely melodramatic? No matter, it is what I feel and I can almost bring myself to tears thinking about it.

But not quite. The way I can move myself that much, that far, is not by thinking about how I feel, but by writing about how I feel. And that brings me back to the thought that I need to write something, today, anything, because today, writing will give me more than it takes away. Don't ask me how I know that, I just do.

I wish I felt that way every day. If I did, I would write and write and write.

But you can also write yourself into a spot that you would have been better off not going to, at all. I think I may have done just that during an e-mail correspondence with a friend about charter schools.

She's passionately opposed to them, and though I do think I understand and even viscerally resonate with the notion that charter schools are a weapon to undermine teacher's unions and throw one more group of professionals into the ever-expanding swamp of permanently underemployed people, I don't agree.

I'm not going to detail our opposing opinions (though I suppose there is a very good chance that I may blog about that later). I'll just say that throughout our exchange, I probably wrote 10 words for every one she wrote. That's not bragging; I have the time, she doesn't. She works.

No, I'm saying that writing run-on sentences, and pounding the same point over and over, and piling on facts, real or imagined, isn't communicating. It's turning an exchange into a swordfight.

I know, I know. The pen is mightier than the sword, words can liberate, and that's a good thing. But it's also always been true that words can be worse than sticks and stones. Words can bruise and words can bully, and writing 10 words for every one your friend has the time to write is writing yourself into a spot that you shouldn't have gone to in the first place.

So, I'm sorry.

But I'm writing here, now, because, I guess, through all the ups and downs, today I am a writer. And though writers should have readers to share the thought, to bear a share of the load of the thought, writing is where I'll start today, writing is the way I'll go today.

And I can't bully anybody, because nobody has to read this. And, if I write hard enough and long enough I might write myself an answer to that other question: How do I make a meaningful contribution to our collective effort?

Monday, March 15, 2010

Pass the Health Care Bill and Move On

Time's a-wasting and the economy, education reform and other action that could help the Democrats in November are hanging fire.

The health-care bill before Congress now will have to be approved in the Senate by reconciliation, the process that requires only 51 votes. Of course, Democrats are running scared in the House, also; finding 216 votes there to approve President Obama's health care plan is apparently no sure thing, says majority whip James Clyburn (see the Washington Post story, "Democrats upbeat on health-care bill," here).

The urgency and anxiety Democratic members of Congress feel about voting for the health care bill are provoked by fears that voters will punish them at the polls in November. Republicans, says House minority leader John Boehner are doing "everything we can to make it difficult, if not impossible, to pass the bill." Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) has an opinion piece in today's Post that excoriates Democrats for using reconciliation to "achieve political victory" by passing legislation that will drive up insurance premiums, federalize "the regulation of insurance, [narrow] consumer options and [reduce]competition among providers."

Ryan uses Congressional Budget Office estimates to support his claim that insurance premiums will rise. But, he fails to mention that the CBO also estimates that the CBO also estimates that the bill will reduce the budget deficit by an amount somewhere between $920 billion and $1.7 trillion between now and 2030. Given the projected escalation of the deficit over the period, the estimated reduction is a tiny piece of the puzzle, but a critique that uses CBO estimates without acknowledging that the proposed reform does begin to reduce the deficit undermines Ryan's claim to objectivity in the matter. Further, when Ryan, as part of a House majority, had an opportunity in 2003 to control health care costs by allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices with pharmaceutical companies, he voted with the majority in the House to pass the Medicare Modernization Act, which blocked Medicare from doing so. That action has already added billions to the deficit. Of course Republicans argued at the time that the act was aimed at controlling the expansion of government, but its real consequences were to protect the profits of pharmaceutical companies.

Washington Post columnist Robert Samuelson also says that the health-care bill is a cost-control illusion, but his piece depends on the false hypothesis that the bill is only about covering the uninsured. On his way to pointing out that covering more people is hardly a cost-control effort, Samuelson completely ignores the many features of the bill, like state insurance exchanges, policing of medicare overpayments and initiating movement towards value-based Medicare payments rather than fee for service that are aimed at controlling and reducing health care costs.

In a column in the Wall Street Journal, "Health Reform Passes the Cost Test," Harvard professor David Cutler, an Obama health care advisor, reviews ten potential cost-control measures and scores the health-care bill based on the degree to which the bill relies on each measure. Cutler concludes that the potential savings over the next 20 years from passing this bill now are 10 times greater than CBO estimates.

Rounding up votes for the bill in the House is also made more difficult by resistance from anti-abortion Democrats, but even the Catholic Health Association, a group representing Catholic hospitals that do not provide abortion, has indicated support for the bill. At this point it should be obvious that controlling health care costs is perhaps the most critical long-term variable in reducing the deficit to manageable levels. It should also be clear that no single bill will ever achieve that goal and that passing this bill now is a defensible part of a sustained effort to establish health care justice in this country and avoid ruinous deficits in the future. Democrats frightened by the prospect of facing angry voters in November should recognize three things:

1. Failing to pass this health care bill will not soothe angry voters, either, but it will help to define a Republican attack on timid, ineffectual Democrats.

2. Passing this health care bill now will create a space in which Democrats can force Republicans to vote against financial regulation and confront the failures of the No Child Left Behind Act. Let Republicans defend the indefensible.

Finally, the notion that political life should somehow be made risk-free is the real illusion, the equivalent of staying home and barring the door against all dangers, only to starve to death. The true glory of politics is that it sometimes requires courage.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Israel "embarrasses" Biden

The truth is that the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory is an American occupation

"After spending most of Tuesday celebrating what he called the "unshakable" bond between the United States and Israel, Vice President Biden ended the day strongly condemning the longtime U.S. ally for approving 1,600 new housing units in disputed east Jerusalem -- an awkwardly timed move that threatened to kill a new push for Mideast peace by the Obama administration," wrote Washington Post reprorter Janine Zacharia, yesterday (find the story here). Reportedly, Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu,were "embarassed" by the timing of the announcement, occurring during Biden's visit.

But the drama implied here is mere kabuki. The notion that Israel is a free and independent actor that must be assiduously courted as part of a peace process brokered by an earnest U.S. is part of the make-believe that thwarts peace.

In substantial ways, beginning with economic and military aid, the U.S. has established itself as Israel's godfather. Barring U.S. foreign aid to Israel, which by conservative estimates totaled almost $120 billion from 1948, the year of Israel's founding, through 2009, the Israeli economy would be bankrupt. A portion of U.S. aid has been invested each year in the development of an Israeli defense industry, which sells arms worth more than $4 billion annually to foreign countries. The sales account for 2.5 percent of Israel's gross domestic product. It is very likely that private American Jewish charitable giving to Israel exceeds $1 billion annually.

Further, U.S. government and private aid played a key role in resettling Soviet Jews in Israel, providing the largest number of Jewish immigrants to Israel since its founding, and replacing Palestinian workers from the West Bank and Gaza, who have largely been barred from employment in Israel. Thus, Vice-President Biden reaffirms "U.S. support for Israel's security," while plaintively urging Israeli concessions to advance a "peace" process. The terrible truth is that calls for concessions from Israel while the United States is also subsidizing the Israeli economy and the occupation of Palestinian territory are part of the play that hides the reality; the United States is directly responsible for Palestinian suffering.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Outdoor Poetry Season Begins

There are rhythms to life--rhythms of effort, periods of inspiration, patterns of accident. I know mine are there. I just don't understand them as well as I'd like. But it's still a relief to know that what goes away comes back again.

It has been spring here in D.C. for awhile. There's been a lot more sun, on the average, and the days have been growing longer and warmer. I haven't noticed much of anything budding, but I might notice tomorrow. Today, at least, I noticed it was spring. It was also the first day since sometime last fall that I walked over to Otis and Georgia Ave. to pick Brendan up at school.

On the way, I'm thinking it's about time for outdoor poetry season to begin. And then, I stopped, sat down on the concrete capstone of a low brick wall and wrote my first poem since I don't know when. I don't usually post poems right after I write them, they need too much work--not that I'm claiming that my revisions actually make them passable--but I'm going to post this one here, on In and Out, now.

And then I'm going to post it on another blog I'm starting up called Outdoor Poetry Season. And after this other poems will go on Outdoor Poetry Season. Posting them here on In and Out is too confusing. I mean, what is In and Out about? Cutting military spending? Railing against the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza? It doesn't matter, really. It's just that from now on I'm going to put poetry on OPS and I'm going to put everything else on I & O.

There, I'm glad that's settled.

The Rush of Life

Thinking like rivers
meander, I can say
there will be no further
stunning breakthroughs

There once were, you know,
the river, young and raving,
tumbled boulders, leapt recklessly,
pushed ahead

But there will be progress—
not so it would show—
but you could still feel it,
the rush of blood

Arteries, veins pulsing potent remains
of original intentions, or,
as Alan has put it, the rush of life
through the universe. Bang.

The Budget Deficit and the National Debt Are Not the Problem

We all need more schooling on economic issues

and I say it ought to happen outside the classroom. My professors of choice? Dean Baker and Mark Weisbrot, the estimable co-directors of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR). But I begin today's self-taught lesson with a quick look at "Smart Debt, Dumb Debt -- There's a Difference," a column by E.J. Dionne in today's Washington Post.

"Because we never face up to how much we need government to do, there is a pathetic quality to our discussion of big deficits," writes Dionne. I have no particular quarrel with this statement or most of the rest of his column. But I am acutely aware that any discussion of the federal budget, the national debt and huge and vital programs like Social Security are extremely contested terrain. And when we get on that ground, most of us get quite emotional.

The debt, we hear, is a direct squandering of our children's future. Similarly, extended unemployment benefits, deficit spending, even social security, are transfers of wealth from hardworking people to irresponsible spendthrifts. Universal health coverage under Obama, it is said, is a trojan horse that will expand the socialist takeover of the country. Of course, most readers of this blog do not share such extreme perspectives, but they have their doubts, I am sure. These doubts are more often expressed in the form of a belief that social security will not be there when the gen-x and millenial generations need it. Or expressed as a belief that maybe the stimulus package didn't work or, perhaps, the amount of debt held by foreign investors is dangerously high.

Such doubts make a thorough discussion of federal spending difficult at any level. They may not move moderate Democrats and independents to sign up for tea parties, but they do undermine faith in a liberal understanding of government activism, and that uncertainty is channelled by Blue Dog Democrats who turn resistance to government initiatives into a political program, which in turn contributes to the apparent futility of Congress. So when E.J. Dionne calls us to a more rational discussion of government economics, I start looking for ways to ground the debate in a broader understanding of economic reality and government alternatives; I start looking at what Dean, Mark and CEPR can tell us. Here's some of what I found during today's search:

In "America's Public Debt: The Least of Our Worries," Weisbrot observes that the 2009 stimulus package (about $1 trillion) was far too small. Even the best estimates suggest that it has saved less than one-quarter of the 8.5 million jobs we've lost since the Great Recession began. Under the circumstances, deficit spending shouldn't be an issue, he writes:
"It is clear that there is no short-term problem with running large deficits in a weak economy: investors are buying up even long-term U.S. Treasury bonds at remarkably low real interest rates. Clearly the markets do not perceive that our government is heading into risky territory with its debt. Interest payments on the debt are currently just 1.4 percent of GDP."

In fact, more deficit spending is necessary, says Baker, in "The Budget Deficit Crisis Puzzle." More aggressive government action is the only way to create the jobs we need and stabilize the economy, Baker writes, putting to rest the notion that huge current deficits will permanently cripple the economy:
"...larger deficits will put many of our children's parents back to work. Larger deficits will increase the likelihood that parents can keep their homes and provide their children with the health care, clothing, and other necessities for a decent upbringing...
In spite of the deficit hawks' whining, history and financial markets tell us that the deficit and debt levels that we are currently seeing are not a serious problem. The current projections show that, even ten years out on our current course, the ratio of debt to GDP will be just over 90 percent. The ratio of debt to GDP was over 110 percent after World War II. Instead of impoverishing the children of that era, the three decades following World War II saw the most rapid increase in living standards in the country's history."

Elsewhere, Baker argues that the millenial generation will not be harmed by paying higher taxes to support baby boomer retirees. They face other problems, he writes:
"The projections from the Congressional Budget Office, the Fed and all other standard sources show that before-tax compensation will rise on average at the rate of about 1.4 percent a year. This means that after 20 years their compensation will be more than 30 percent higher than what workers get today. This means that even if they pay substantially higher taxes than workers today, they will still have substantially higher living standards.

The retirement of the baby boomers is likely to help millennials. It will reduce the supply of labor -- creating opening higher up on career ladders -- thereby allowing millennials to get better jobs with higher pay.

The real threat to millennial living standards are:

1) inequality -- the continuation of the recent trend where more money goes to the top of the income distribution;
2) a broken health care system -- protectionists in control of policy want workers to give all their money to insurers, drug companies, medical supply companies and highly paid specialists;
3) ecological problems -- if the people in Bangladesh can make our children pay for the damage we have done to their land and lives through global warming, then our kids may be in trouble;
4) incompetent economic policy -- if geniuses like Alan Greenspan and Ben Bernanke continue to control economic policy, then they may be able to create poverty even in a world of enormous potential affluence."

I could go on, but that likely would be a cruelty to those of you who have actually read this far. But I will end by suggesting that a full discussion of how to restructure federal spending is impossible without putting military spending on the table. I've written about militarism and military spending quite a lot. The dollars involved are huge, highly wasteful in terms of job creation, and encourage destructive interventions and even more wasteful expenditures to support those interventions. In the next decade the U.S. will spend at least $1.5 to $2 trillion to pay interest on that portion of the national debt that is directly caused by past military spending. Only those people who actually believe that the North Vietnamese attacked U.S. warships in the Tonkin Gulf with gunboats, or that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, or that billions of dollars in military subsidies to Israel have enhanced national security, can sincerely argue that we ought to keep spending more than $1 trillion on our military every year.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Climate Change and Political Will

Abe and Jeff debate the need to act and how to do it

My nephew Abraham and I recently exchanged a few e-mails about climate change. How bad is it going to be? Where will the political power and courage to do the right thing come from? The result is the post below. It's over 4,000 words, so maybe readers should consider other ways to kill time. However, Abe and I would certainly like to hear other opinions. We've all got a big stake in this stuff.

Dear Abe,

As you know well, I sometimes get frustrated when you seem to casually dismiss my feelings that unless political change happens profoundly and soon, your generation and the ones that follow will live in some sort of post-apocalyptic future that I will avoid on account of shuffling off this mortal coil before the sky falls. I'm not actually accusing you of something here. It's just when I say that absent a progressive mass movement realities like an inequitable and inadequate global economic system and catastrophic climate change will permanently and adversely alter the world you will inherit, you sometimes respond with a sort of confidence that your generation will successfully address the issues that previous generations wouldn't even tackle, let alone fix.

Now, along comes a Pew Research Center survey of "millennials," your cohort of 18 to 29 year olds, that shows you guys are the best educated Americans yet, trust people over 30, but see yourselves as more tolerant, more open to change and more likely to see government as part of the solution than the generations that came before you. There's also a lot of you, more millennials than baby boomers; combining that with what appears to be a deeply rooted optimism suggests that maybe you think realistic things about the problem-solving ability of your generation that elude me.

In this morning's Washington Post, there's a story about Maryland AG Douglas Gansler issuing an opinion about gay marriage that will certainly advance that struggle for equal rights a good bit, and, perhaps, also shows a public official going beyond the usual political limits to accomplish real change. Gansler may be a little old for a millennial, but it seems possible that he is displaying individually a sort of political optimism that is widespread in your generation. There's lots of AGs who could have done what Gansler did, but what he did first may be characteristic of what we can expect to happen more frequently as your generation moves into political leadership.

I'd sure like to think so; but finding progressive politicians who have the courage of their convictions has not been an easy task this last decade or two. If they are going to come along more frequently in the future than in the past, I will be celebrating. But we also know that charismatic leaders aren't enough to get some of the most difficult jobs done. Obama, who admittedly is more smart-guy, let's-do-what-makes-sense than he is progressive, is still a very good example of how disappointing it can be to rely on individuals to make change we can believe in.

That's why I'm always going on about building a progressive movement. The tea party phenomenon isn't progressive, of course, but it's also not really a movement. It is, I think, a genuine expression of populist anger that has been amplified by institutional forces, the Republican party, for instance, which seek to tap tea party energy to advance different agendas. Widespread anger and disillusion can create a populist upsurge, but it isn't enough for a movement because it isn't for anything; aspirations, like peace or equal rights, are fundamental for movement-building.

Of course, if I really knew how to build a progressive movement for the 21st Century, I would have shared that information widely already. But I don't, which fact may also hurt my credibility with you and your cohort. But here's the thing: the 21st Century belongs to you guys and whoever comes next, and if the world blows away in high seas and big storms, or withers in hunger and drought, there will be little point in figuring out which generations gets most of the blame. But if the future blossoms in some sort of golden age of stability, equality, stewardship and creativity, it will be because you millennials figured out how to convert your optimism into a movement with an agenda for change that will knock my socks off.

So, what are you waiting for?

Uncle Jeff

Dear Jeff,

Let's do this!

I'm having trouble deciding where to start, but I think it's first important to define the world in which my generation is growing up:

We've never fought any of the battles you describe as so disheartening above. In many ways, my generation is now engaging for the first time with politics, and generations are defined by the leaders of their early days: The 60s (it could be argued) by Kennedy, the 70s by Nixon, the 80s by Reagan, the 90s by Clinton, the 00s by Bush, the 10s by Obama. Bush was absolutely despised by so many of us - I have met only a glancing number of people my age who didn't think he was the devil or worse, and most of those folks were in College Republicans - that he has turned my generation away from Republicans. Obama, by contrast, was and is beloved, actually beloved, and so it's hard to imagine my generation taking power and not moving dramatically left of what is currently considered the center.

The young never turn out. We may make a lot of noise, but our true electoral effect always waits for us to hit 30, and we're only now starting to do that. And we've already elected a black President! Our confidence is high.

It's easy for us to wave away past defeats as irrelevant. Perhaps this is always easy, but the world pre-Internet looks so different from this one that we can't help but think that the same rules no longer apply.

Finally, you note that the world may be destroyed before we can inherit it. Well, yeah. But of course this prediction too can be ignored if one chooses - in the 1910s they thought that another war like they had just seen would either be the end of humanity or utterly impossible; in the 40s we saw even worse atrocities at mass scale, and then we capped it all off with nuclear war, so the world looked pretty bleak; for the next 50 years the world could have ended at any minute if a weather satellite was launched at the wrong time (this almost happened, more than once); in the 70s they thought there wasn't going to be enough food to feed the world. Recently it appears that we've fucked up our climate beyond repair, but we've thought the world would end so many times in our history, and always with a righteous conviction, so who's to say the scientists are right today? I believe they probably are, but I don't feel like they are...

You say we need to build a movement, and you're absolutely right. Today, it's easier than ever to mass large groups of people behind a given cause, but this has resulted in a proliferation of superficial attempts to do exactly that - witness the flash mob phenomenon (briefly died out and now resurgent, somewhat). The currency of the mass of people behind a given idea has been devalued, both by the ease of generating it (Oh look, another Facebook announcement for a rally on the quad about saving hamsters from grade-school classrooms) and by the difficulty of spending it meaningfully (many of my generation marched against invading Iraq, and look how well that worked out.)

I don't quite know where this gets us. And it's important to point out that my lived experience is wildly atypical, so any observations I make based on that experience ought to be regarded skeptically. I've been incredibly fortunate, but one of the other defining characteristics of this generation is that it's entering the workforce during the worst economy since the Great Depression, so how that will impact our future is an important and totally unanswered question.


Dear Abe,

I'm not sure what battles I described as disheartening, though I do describe the global political challenges ahead as daunting; I will get to back to those challenges below; but first I'd like to suggest that some of the historical references you make don't mean to me what they mean to you.

In many ways it is convenient to use presidents to symbolize eras, or at least to convey something fundamental about past decades. But I don't think of the '60s and '70s as the Kennedy, Johnson or Nixon decades. They didn't tower over those eras as Reagan towered over the '80s, I think. Martin Luther King, for instance, makes a far better symbol of the '60s and, used for that purpose, provokes a whole different set of ideas and images. The '60s, in fact, were contested terrain in a way that no decade since has been. That's why the '60s are also the decade of the Civil Rights movement, and the Peace movement, and the decline of McCarthyism.

It's true that author Rick Perlstein's Nixonland uses Nixon in his title to suggest that Nixon more profoundly shaped the period from virtually the mid-'50s to the mid-'70s than others did, but the title is misleading, I think. Perlstein's book is interesting and helpful, but like the period it covers, it is about much more than Nixon. The period beginning in the early '60s is much more usefully understood, I think, as the time when various popular movements--civil rights, peace, feminist, labor and others (Native American and gay pride, for instance)--dramatically advanced their causes or positioned themselves on the political map.

Nixon and Ford, though not necessarily the architects of the establishment counterattack aimed at rolling back some of those democratic gains, certainly led the charge. Ronald Reagan works as metaphor for the '80s works decently well, primarily because he turned out to be a great leader of those reactionary forces, was able to define a set of values that defined the argument against those popular movements, and helped reestablish the political and cultural hegemony of large corporations and the wealthy (which, I would argue, was a comfortable outcome so far as he was concerned, never mind his deification as a man of the people).

The '90s, essentially, were a floundering search for a new democratic direction for a country and a government suffering from a tax burden that had been significantly transferred onto the backs of working people; a country suffering also from reduced investment in public education, mass transit and other public goods; from rapidly disappearing union and manufacturing jobs; from shrinking real wages and dramatic increases in the number of households with two parents working because they had to (and the social upheaval that accompanied that change), and marginalized progressive ideals. Thinking of that decade in terms of Bush the First and Clinton only works if it is understood that their limited successes and limited efforts reasonably symbolize our collective national futility. The high tech bubble and the real estate bubble are about the only things of consequence that got built during the period, and look where those achievements got us.

This brings us to the current decade, a mixed bag if there ever was one: The virtual theft of a presidential election and the anti-democratic intervention of the Supreme Court (a series of events that we would call a coup if something like it happened in, say, a Latin American country other than Honduras), then came September 11, the beginning of the war in Afghanistan, the unprecedented mobilization of worldwide opposition to war in Iraq, the deceitful campaign to go to war, anyhow, and the launching of the invasion of Iraq, the pivotal fraud in a second presidential election, the collapse of the American and global economy, and the uplifting election of Barack Obama. Certainly, a hard period to define.

But let me also quarrel with the use of history to suggest that a focus on the potentially catastrophic effects of climate change is about as credible as the apocalyptic fears of earlier generations. Certainly the fears of a great war to surpass all previous wars were finally realized with World War II. That event may have come 40 or even 50 years later than predicted, but when it did arrive an estimated 50 to 70 million people died, enough in some instances to decimate countries and wipe out communities. Some countries were wiped off the map. Arguably, some communities and nations are still recovering, some might never recover.

But the fear of a war to end all wars was a political, not a scientific, projection. And though World War II was a "world" war, it was not so global as climate change will be and, indeed, already is. In other words, in 1939 a war something like the worst imaginable did in fact begin.

It may be hysteria on my part to claim that in the case of climate change the sky really is falling, but it accomplishes little to assure me that my fears put one in mind of Malthus or other doomsayers. What comes next may not be an apocalypse, but it seems likely that Bangladesh and certain island countries will disappear, and Katrina-like events with New Orleans-like consequences will become more frequent.

Only a few things will actually reassure me, and they are related: What is being done now that will actually mitigate, perhaps even roll back, the worst effects of climate change? We do know that there are people hard at work developing alternative energy sources and renewable energy technologies, but how many is that and what will it take to get more people involved (a mass movement forcing government action)? And what is being done, overall, to organize larger numbers of people to support those initiatives? I'm not actually suggesting that it's up to you to provide answers. I'm just saying those are three of the questions we both need to understand better.

You suggest that another really important question is what's going to happen to the millenials, your generation, the largest generation in American history, who will bear the brunt of the Great Recession. That's actually something I feel more sanguine about. Easy for me to talk, isn't it? I'm not starting a career here. But here's my thinking:

First, your generation (see the earlier referenced Pew survey) is the most optimistic, tolerant and flexible cohort to come along in quite a while, perhaps ever. Millenials will respond to the sustained national economic crisis with creativity and initiative. A higher percentage of new jobs will be created in small businesses and new businesses than in the past. Millenials will find a way to maintain, maybe even improve, quality of life by establishing new cultural institutions and expanding employment for cultural workers.

This, incidentally, has always been a good, if underutilized idea. Employing more people in work doing what they would prefer to do increases job satisfaction and overall health, and increases the likelihood that people will find their quality of life improved, even if their income is lower. These benefits will multiply in the neighborhoods and communities in which they live and do their work.

How widespread would these alternative employment opportunities and lifestyles need to be in order to build a stable economy that creates good jobs at a reasonable pace? I probably should make an effort to quantify my argument, but whatever the numbers say, obviously more cultural workers making decent wages won't be enough. Cities need to become better places to live in the process; there needs to be more neighborhood-based employment and more neighborhood services, especially in the poorest neighborhoods. And government will have to do a better job maintaining and expanding the infrastructure of quality schools and mass transit that people ought to be able to depend on. These, of course, are political questions, but they won't be adequately addressed without the progressive movement I keep wishing for.

Of course, if you Millennials do address some of these issues--redefine what matters most in life; spread culture and creativity, not war; strengthen neighborhoods and improve public education and mass transit; boost the green economy--you will also be improving the national response to climate change. Talk about win-win.

I ended my earlier letter to you this way:

"But if the future blossoms in some sort of golden age of stability, equality, stewardship and creativity, it will be because you millennials figured out how to convert your optimism into a movement with an agenda for change that will knock my socks off.

So, what are you waiting for?"

Maybe, I need to rephrase that to be something like this: Do you and your friends and colleagues recognize how much of what you are already doing is part of the solution we both wish to see?

There is also the Gandhi formulation of that thought: You must be the change you wish to see in the world.

Personally, if it were easy to do that, I might already have done so, but I prefer to leave the hard work to you millenials.


Hi Jeff,

I've mentioned before my basic optimism surrounding climate change. I don't mean to deny in any way the magnitude of the challenges this phenomenon will pose; perhaps my overall attitude is more a function of something innate in my personality that prevents me from being pessimistic about anything, than it is a sober assessment of the road ahead.

But I do think the climate problem is basically tractable. First, because I hear in the alarmed words of our best scientists echoes of Malthus, and of every preacher or visionary of the last several thousand years. (At some point, of course, one of these predictions will be right; maybe it's this one.) Second, because the problem we face is one of political will only. We have the technology to produce potable water from seawater, to power the grid without emitting much pollution at all, to drive to work without emitting any CO2. We can cool the Earth if we need to, and hack the planet in a thousand different ways to reverse the worst effects of climate change.

The only reason we don't do these things is because the cost of doing them currently outweighs the cost of inaction. But as my generation, the most ecologically-aware in human history (not that I have any data for that whatsoever), takes over, we'll start to move in that direction. And if the seas rise, the ice caps melt and the world warms, we'll eventually reach a point at which we decide OK, yes, put reflective particles in the atmosphere, build massive solar arrays in New Mexico and charge $50 for a gallon of gasoline.

The great problem with all this is that climate change is a global issue. And while the millenial generation in America may be ready to make these sacrifices, our counterparts in India and China may not be. And if they don't change their behavior, it won't matter so much what we do. I think once the effects of climate change make themselves felt more fully, attitudes across the planet will change, but such effects imply the death of thousands, at least, and that's a high price to pay. And China and India both have been reasonably comfortable with a level of environmental devastation that we find appalling: my snot was black after one day in New Delhi. So it may take more to motivate them to act.

I have less to say concerning your interpretation of history. You seem to be right, and I think I have more productive and interesting things to say about the present and the future, so I'll be quiet there, with your blessing.

I wonder more broadly about this notion of a movement. I'm not sure that one unified progressive movement is necessary, likely or even desirable. The linkages between "civil" rights, women's rights, gay rights, the rights of the poor, the Black and the planet exist, sure, but they're increasingly tenuous. And on each issue, a different group of people agree.

Every segment of American life is becoming more fragmented and personalized, and I think the same thing will happen to our politics. Advocacy groups working on each of these issues can partner, share data and pool resources as needed, and achieve most of the benefits of one central "movement" without the slowness, inflexibility and baggage that would come from being lumped together under the same banner.

I think this means that the already-outmoded 2-party system will become even more creaky and strained in the near future, as well. And this is to me the biggest and most puzzling obstacle facing progressive change: how will our governments get better? Will we reform or abolish the Senate? Create meaningful restraints on campaign spending? Create actual accountability at every level? Allow for the existence of a more nimble, intelligent, cacophonous political class composed of multiple parties representing sane district boundaries? And etc.

Unusually for me, I'm rather pessimistic about all of the above. And I think the inability of our governance to improve during the coming tumult could become our biggest problem, holding us back in every conceivable area of human endeavor. I hope I'm wrong about this.


Dear Abraham,

I do appreciate your efforts to calm me down, even as I find myself arguing with much of what you have to say. Your list of technological developments that might end up part of a strategy to address climate change is reassuring. It’s just that it is not enough.

I think it is a reasonable observation, not myth-making, to suggest that climate change already underway will kill hundreds of thousands, not “mere” thousands. And, yes, as you say, addressing climate change is more a political question than it is a scientific challenge. That means India and China will be such important players, ultimately, that others might rationalize sitting on their hands until those two countries, who will be the largest generators of greenhouse gasses going forward, take a more important leadership role.

But this can’t be a question of simultaneity. The US is historically the largest generator of human-made greenhouse gasses, which suggests that climate change already underway is a major US responsibility. So it follows, I think, that leadership on climate change ought to begin here.

Unfortunately, as you note, the American political system seems so damaged and so dysfunctional that progress on anything remotely controversial appears almost unachievable. There is no better example, of course, than a political climate in which a bad health care bill might not even pass comes only a year after a better bill seemed a genuine possibility.

But that is not what matters most. If a compromise health care bill that leaves out a public option and leaves private insurers in substantial control is difficult to pass, how much harder would it be to change the two-party system we think is to blame for much of the dysfunction? Impossible? Maybe, but here’s the thing:

It doesn’t matter. It’s what we’ve got to work with at the moment. And it won’t do to sit back and wait for changes. Young people like you really don’t have time to wait on others to act. Like you, a number of millenials are already experienced in local, state and national campaigns. Personally, I think you guys, anticipating that the Obama administration would have an easier go at getting things done, were sitting back waiting for the fun to begin.

But the fun, in the form of progressive legislative action, hasn’t happened, at all. It’s time for the millenials to step forward and claim leadership. It may be early for such a generational claim, but personally I think it’s getting late. Absent the involvement of your generation progressive changes will come later than they should. It’s time for the movement of the millenials, time for a permanent populist campaign focused on something big: like justice and peace.

P.S. Yes, we should keep this exchange going, but how about a new focus? Say, militarism and military spending or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? How about Social Security, realities and myths? Maybe something about new lifestyles for the 21st Century and more equitable distribution of wealth and resources? What do you think?

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Painful Truth: Israeli Apartheid

This isn't 20th century South Africa; it's 21st century Israel, and it's worse

than South Africa. After all, globally, we are much more sensitized to human rights abuses and collective punishment than we were just a few decades ago. Though a thoroughgoing and explicit system of racial domination in South Africa was not imposed until after World War II, apartheid was rooted in the racist policies and attitudes of the British colonial regime and white settlers. It can be argued, therefore, that the global argument in favor of human rights and against genocide, colonialism and racism (articulated by, for example, the United Nations, the Nuremburg Trials, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights) was not potent enough by 1950 to prevent the establishment of the apartheid regime in South Africa or, for that matter, to stop the creation of a theocratic Jewish state in Palestine.

But the Holocaust made a settler state in Palestine possible. After World War II no people in the world, other than European Jews, would have been endorsed by the United Nations in their desire to establish a national state on territory already occupied by an indigenous community. There are those who argue that there was a Jewish presence in Palestine that was at least as continuous as that of the Arabs. There may be some truth to this, but it is not relevant to the central point that Palestinians living on the land did not assent to the establishment of the state of Israel and that tens of thousands of Palestinians were displaced in a process that resembles in every detail other colonial expropriations of land.

It may also be true that some Palestinians were not rooted in a specific spot, but a nomadic existence in a territory does not weaken a people's claim to their land. Neither does it make any practical difference that Palestinians were hardly a coherent political community at the time of the establishment of the Jewish state; such a description suggests that European Jewish leaders were simply better positioned to manipulate major world powers than were the leaders of Palestinian clans and groups. More relevant is the point that South African apartheid is gone, defeated both by native African resistance and international pressure, while Israel, denying that it maintains a system of religious, political and cultural domination and separation, forcefully expands its grip on Palestinian territory, while resisting international pressure and a relatively impotent U.S.

Certainly there is a linguistic argument against the use of the word "apartheid" to describe the regime maintained by the theocratic Jewish state of Israel, but the argument is trite. In Apartheid? Not Israel, Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen argues that Israel is not an apartheid state "where political and civil rights are withheld on the basis of race and race alone." Israeli Arabs, Cohen writes, "have the same civil and political rights as do Israeli Jews."

But this statement is a gloss on a reality in which Arabs in Israel live as second-class citizens. Public schools in Arab neighborhoods are underfunded and are clearly a case of "separate and unequal;" the same reality exists in regard to health care, development funding and other government services. Israel also allows Jews from anywhere in the world to come to Israel and assume all the rights of Israeli citizenship, an implicitly clear statement on the differing status of Jewish and non-Jewish citizens.

Meanwhile, many Palestinians, displaced during the creation of Israel, have no rights to citizenship and no way to claim damages for their displacement or for their continuing exile from their homes. They live in de facto bantustans, and are subject to punitive raids by the Israeli armed forces, collective punishment, house demolitions, further expropriation of territory, extra-legal arrest, detention and imprisonment, and regulated access to most essential requirements and services, such as employment, education, health care, sanitation and, even, water. If the Palestinians living in the occupied territories were included in calculations of the Arab population in Israel, the result would reflect the forceful domination by a minority of a distinctly and separately defined majority population. Because it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it is apartheid.

But if anything defines the difference between the South African and Israeli apartheid states, it is that the South African version named itself. Israeli apartheid is the apartheid that dare not speak its name. It is understandable that large numbers of American Jews cannot concede this truth, Richard Cohen among them. Israel was created at a moment of celebration and hope for Jews around the world. Freshly scarred by the Holocaust, and still fearful that history might repeat itself, Jews were inclined not to notice that their joy might be the occasion for the suffering of others.

In this way, Israel, became "a beacon of hope," entering the mythology of American Jews and, eventually, becoming the driving force in the creation of a specific American Jewish ideological argument supporting the Israeli state in its current form. The power of that idealizing of Israel pushed me to celebrate Israeli victories in the Six Day War in 1967 and the Yom Kippur War in 1973. Despite the fact of my anti-Vietnam War activism and the continuing displacement of Palestinians, I easily convinced myself that Israel's cause was simply self-defense. It would be many years before I would be willing to judge Israel's founding and expansion in Palestine with the same critical perspective that I routinely applied to the foreign adventures of the United States.

But Cohen doesn't want to hear it. Those who name Israeli apartheid, who assert that zionism is racism, "have made Israel tone-deaf to legitimate criticism and exasperated with any attempt to find fault," he writes. "Israel has its faults (don't get me started), but it is not motivated by racism. That's more than can be said for many of its critics."

But Cohen "will never get started." Neither he, nor most American Jews, feel comfortable with criticisms of even the most minimal and obvious nature, like, say, the suggestion that continuing Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza is an absolute violation of international law. Cohen is as guilty of slamming the door shut on dialogue as are the critics whom he calls "tone deaf." They batter on the door, shout to be heard, and quite frankly are no longer speaking to Cohen or to the garrison state of Israel. Their accusations are aimed at a shrinking group of neutral observers, who may not believe that Israel is a racist or apartheid state, but are not inclined to believe that the name-calling is the problem. The world is watching and losing patience with an Israel that perpetrates continuing injustice.