Sunday, April 30, 2006

The Equally Inevitable Yom HaAtzmaut Post

For the uninitiated, Yom HaAtzmaut is Israeli independence day, Hebrew-calendar style. The American Jewish community makes a really big deal out of it, which is odd to me since we're, um, not Israeli. I mean, we don't all go around celebrating Bastille Day.

I guess most Jewish Americans are still under the impression that Israel is a Jewish state. You probably are, too. It's a common misconception, fueled by the whole "law of return" thing and the gigantic Magen David on their flag. And sure, it's run by Jews and it exists for the purpose of giving Jews a place where it can be guaranteed that they won't be picked on for once. In that sense, it's very valuable to the Jewish community, so I guess I can see why its independence is celebrated. History tells us that even when things seem really good for the Jews in a Diaspora country, we're just one rabble-rouser away from widespread bullshit. (See Germany circa 1933.)

And yet, I cannot consider Israel a Jewish state.

Why? Because its government discriminates against the significant Arab minority living within its borders. Because it has sought nuclear weapons. Because its policies seem unconcerned with the poverty of their Palestinian neighbors. Because its foreign policy is guided by the cold, amoral directives of realpolitik that function only to maintain power. All of these are contrary to Jewish teaching, and no Jewish state would freely engage in such activities.

It's not that Israel conducts itself any worse than any other country. Certainly it would be folly to say that Israel is surrounded by morally superior foes; indeed, Israel is far better governed than your average Middle Eastern state. Furthermore, I don't think anyone with any sort of moral compass could support the violent assholes who murder civilians in order to make a point. And Israel's done some naughty things foreign-policy-wise (Guatemala, anyone?), but as I mentioned on Yom HaShoah, try to find me a government that hasn't. Indeed, the criticism levied upon Israel for being amoral and power-seeking often comes from those who are themselves amoral and power-seeking. Indeed, give even the staunchest anti-Zionist a choice between Israel and Iran, and he'll be on the next plane for Tel Aviv.

While I resent the hypocritical moralizations of anti-Israel governments, simply being better than the other guy isn't good enough. We are Jews; we are supposed to hold ourselves to the highest standards of morality. The prophet Amos remarked, "You alone have I singled out from among the nations of the earth; that is why I call you to account for all your iniquities." Racism towards Arabs, disconcern with the poverty of Israel's neighbors, a power-seeking, amoral foreign policy: these are Israel's iniquities. Any Jewish state would be seeking to purge themselves of these sins, and would be seeking to elevate itself to the moral level dictated by Torah and Jewish law. And until Israel demonstrates its willingness to forgo the sins born of power-seeking and fear and holds itself to Jewish morality, I will not consider it a Jewish state, and I will not celebrate it nor feel a connection to it.

So happy Yom HaAtzmaut, American Jews. Maybe one day we'll be celebrating state that truly represents Jewish values.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Smell My Fumes, America

I'll treat you to my opinions on the gas-price debate once I formulate them. In the meantime, amuse yourself with Dana Milbank's brilliant Senatorial smackdown. It's very rare that a Post article makes me laugh out loud, but this one managed.

Update: Al Kamen joins the fun.

The Mushroom Cloud Formerly Known As My Mind

So it's now official - the Iranian Jewish community supports Iran's nuclear program, or at least the Iranian parliamentary representative of the Jewish community does. I guess they think it's actually for power production and not for bomb-making. Well, I guess it's natural to support the country you live in...

Wait. Iranian Jews?

The Iranian parliamentary representative of the Jewish community?

Whoa. Dude. Once I track down the wayward pieces of my skull, I'll learn more about these Iranian Jews...

Oh, and here's my favorite line from the article: "But [Jewish parliamentary representative] Motamed differed from Iranian President Ahmadinejad on the subject of the Holocaust. While Ahmadinejad has repeatedly denied the historical truth of the Holocaust, calling it a 'myth,' Motamed believes that the murder of six million Jews and other minorities did actually take place."

Leave it to a news organization to temper the most surprising revelations with a heavy dose of the blindingly obvious.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Horatio Alger Is Officially Full Of It

The Center for American Progress brings you this study demonstrating that someone who grew up poor is far less likely to become rich later in life than someone who was born with money. In other news, the Center for American Progress is renaming itself the Center for the Insanely Obvious.

Everlast said it best: "You know, where it ends, well, it usually depends upon where you start."

So to all those out there who still think that we live in a classless society and that people are to blame for their own poverty, you may officially shut up.

Now, of course, there will be a decent amount of debate regarding what to do about our appalling lack of upward mobility. This isn't a victory for liberal economics so much as a definite statement of a problem that most people know about but like to ignore. What I'd be interested to know is how this statistic functioned historically - for example, if this was still the case during the era of '50s and '60s moderately liberal economic policy. Or in the 1890s era of ultra-conservative economics. Of course, there are other factors that could contribute to those historical differences, but it'd still shed more light on this problem and possibly point us to solutions.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

The Inevitable Yom HaShoah post

Today was Yom HaShoah - the day on which Jews mourn those who were killed in the Holocaust, and where we gather together to say "never again."

And when we say "never again," we mean never for all peoples, not just Jews - for while Jews took the brunt of Hitler's wrath, there were still many others who suffered under his rule. And so we must not only concentrate on anti-Semitic loonies like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad but also on other genocidal, repressive regimes like Sudan and Burma.

We must work not only to eradicate such regimes but to make it inconceivable that a government or a people could support genocide or mass murders. It is noteworthy that no government in this world is free from the sin of supporting genocide. (Okay, maybe Tuvalu. Or Tonga.) Even Israel - who one would expect to be especially sensitive to the issue - has blood on its hands, having supported genocidal regimes in 1970s-80s Guatemala. And every enabler gives an excuse to try to make it more palatable. How many unsavory regimes did the U.S. support under the banner of stopping Communism? And how many maniacs are supported by us and other countries under the banner of maintaining an important alliance? Or stabilizing a region? Or "protecting" a certain set of values?

It is upon the citizens of the world to take their governments to task, since leaders are often so blinded by the power games of world politics that they fail to grasp the human consequences of their actions. Let us then add to our Yom HaShoah mantra:

Never again. No excuses.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Control Freak-Out

I don't usually have a particularly sensitive bullshit meter. However, in the debate over Rumsfeld, there's one thing that's making it blare like an air-raid siren during the Blitz. And that is the claim that the retired generals, by criticizing the secretary of defense, are undermining the principle of civilian control of the military.

This is nonsense for several reasons. First, they're retired generals. Which means that they are civilians now. So basically, one group of civilians is calling for the ouster of the civilian leadership. They knew that they couldn't do that as members of the military, since that would have been insubordination and therefore a big no-no. That's why they waited until they retired to speak out.

Second, the generals are not questioning the idea that the SecDef should be the one ultimately making the decisions. They are accusing Rumsfeld of a) making the wrong decisions, and b) not listening to the advice of his underlings. I know of very few successful managers who routinely ignore their underlings' suggestions. Sure, they might not follow all of them, but they at least take them into consideration.

The point is that when a manager screws up, he/she should be held accountable. Especially when the manager could have avoided screwing up by listening to those under his/her command. So it is with Rumsfeld. He made some obvious blunders: not committing enough troops, overdoing the de-Baathification to the point of creating chaos, underestimating the insurgency, etc. Therefore the question at hand is whether Rumsfeld committed a fireable offense. Obviously the former generals believe so. Since they are no longer in the military, it is their right to say so.

This whole thing about "civilian control over the military" is a smokescreen aimed at protecting Rumsfeld from legitimate criticism and accountability. Indeed, these generals followed the orders that they were given while they were in the service, and those that they claim to speak for currently in the military continue to follow orders. No one's saying that SecDef shouldn't be the one making decisions. They're just saying that when SecDef makes the wrong decisions consistently out of sheer arrogance, he should be held accountable. What's wrong with that?

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Define Irony...

No, it's not a bunch of idiots dancing on a plane to a song made famous by a group that died in a plane crash, it's this. So this is what Mr. Sensenbrenner and Mr. Tancredo want to turn us into. Nice.

In other news, perhaps Mr. Fox should stop hounding us to treat our immigrants fairly and concentrate on his own problems, hm?

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Holy Waters

I was bored this afternoon and started watching C-SPAN. Congresswoman Maxine Waters of California was questioning AG Alberto Gonzales.

I figured that if I knew anything about Maxine Waters, this was to be one of the rare times that C-SPAN wouldn't put me to sleep. I wasn't disappointed.

Waters was like a mother scolding her child. She chided Gonzales for showing up in her district to install surveillance cameras without notifying her so she could prepare her constituency, a courtesy generally extended to most congresspeople. Gonzales had nothing to say beyond "yes, that would have been polite." She then pointed out the Justice Department's failure to enforce its own immigration laws - seems that federal contractors in New Orleans are hiring illegal immigrants and paying them sub-poverty wages. This was news to me - and apparently to Gonzales, who could only recite some mantra about how "we are enforcing the law" (which, apparently, he's not, as Waters proceeded to point out). It was truly one of the more impressive bullshit calls I've seen all year - even better than Jon Stewart's upbraiding of John McCain for making nice with Jerry Falwell.

(When I think about it, I don't know why this hasn't been covered more, especially with the current shitstorm surrounding illegal immigration. It adds a whole new dimension to the debate. To the enforcement-only crowd - how do you expect laws that do not address the status of our current illegal immigrants to be effective when even our own government benefits from exploiting illegal immigrants?)

For her troubles, the next questioner (some guy named Franks from AZ) accuses her of "impertinence." Oh yeah, I forgot - accusing a Republican of making a mistake is impertinent.

Update: I returned to the TV while the even more passionate Robert Wexler (D-FL) was talking about a creepy-sounding Pentagon program that gathers intelligence on "credible threats" - including innocuous anti-war protests. Read a Newsweek article on it here (warning: Newsweek has a habit of overhyping, and this article is no different). Here's the Post's William Arkin's take (and here's another one). And enjoy some Freedom of Information Act requests and acquisitions courtesy of the ACLU. And here's MSNBC's copy of a partial list of threats. If you want to learn more about it, just google "pentagon talon program" or "credible threat list" or something like that. It's more than a little disturbing. Apparently there were a few reports on it back in December and January, but it's since died down - kudos to Wexler for bringing it up again, if only to the limited C-SPAN audience.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Miniature Opinions

Here's some cute little opinions you can take home with you and place on your mantle. Batteries not included. Some assembly required. (Actually, I think it'd be funny if a columnist with nothing better to write created a "some assembly required" column - a bunch of random words followed by a few commas, periods, semicolons, etc.)

Tom DeLay: Any Washingtonians remember the time when former NC Senator and D.C. torturer Lauch Faircloth lost to John Edwards, and Marion Barry gave a speech in which he said "Goodbye, Faircloth" jubilantly, like, eighty times? That's kinda how I feel right now. Except without the high-on-crack thing.

Campaign Finance: Post reports that new campaign finance laws restricting 527s have passed. Both parties are talking out of both sides of their mouths here. Democrats are usually for finance reforms, but not in this case where it hits them hardest. Republicans usually want to liberalize campaign financing, but any opportunity to screw over Democrats, right? Personally, I think campaign finance reform is going to be useless without some sort of public financing to defray the usefulness of big contributors to winning elections - Woodhead's Fourth ("build a better wall...") definitely applies here.

Moussaoui: I agree with Ben and Richard Cohen: don't kill the guy. That's what he wants.

Jesus: Seriously, who funds this kind of research? Can I get a grant to devise a chemical reaction to turn water into wine? How about to make water come out of a rock by smacking it with a stick? Or maybe I could combine the two and make wine come out of a rock...

Though this is kinda cool.

France: Launching massive protest over labor law tweaking that would barely make noise here is a rite of passage for French people. Grab a glass of Bordeaux and enjoy the show.