Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Israel and Its Liberal 'Friends'

Why don't they apply the same tough love to the Palestinians?

Questions for liberals: What does it mean to be a friend of Israel? What does it mean to be a friend of the Palestinians? And should the same standards of friendship apply to Israelis and Palestinians alike, or is there a double standard here as well?

It has become the predictable refrain among Israel's liberal critics that their criticism is, in fact, the deepest form of friendship. Who but a real friend, after all, is willing to tell Israel the hard truths it will not tell itself? Who will remind Israel that it is now the strong party, and that it cannot continue to play the victim and evade the duties of moral judgment and prudential restraint? Above all, who will remind Israel that it cannot go on denying Palestinians their rights, their dignity, and a country they can call their own?

The answer, say people like Peter Beinart, formerly of the New Republic, is people like . . . Peter Beinart. And now that Israel has found itself in another public relations hole thanks to last week's raid on the Gaza flotilla, Israelis will surely be hearing a lot more from him.

Now consider what it means for liberals to be friends of the Palestinians.

Here, the criticism becomes oddly muted. So Egypt, a country that also once occupied Gaza, enforces precisely the same blockade on the Strip as Israel: Do liberal friends of Palestine urge the Obama administration to get tough on Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak as they urge him to do with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu?

So a bunch of "peace" activists teams up with a Turkish group of virulently anti-Semitic bent and with links both to Hamas and al Qaeda: Does this prompt liberal soul-searching about the moral drift of the pro-Palestinian movement? So Hamas trashes a U.N.-run school, as it did the other week, because it educates girls: Do liberals wag stern fingers at Palestinians for giving up on the dream of a secular, progressive state?

Well, no. And no. And no. Instead, liberal support for Palestinians is now mainly of the no-hard-questions-asked variety. But that is precisely the kind of support that liberals decry as toxic when it comes to Western support for Israel.

I leave it to others to decide whether this is simple hypocrisy or otherwise evidence of how disingenuous claims by certain liberals to friendship with Israel have become. Still, these liberals insist that their remonstrances are necessary because, without them, Israelis won't get the tough love they need.

Really? Consider a sample of recent clippings from the Israeli press. An editorial in Haaretz: "Like a robot lacking judgment . . . that's how the [Israeli] government is behaving in its handling of the aid flotillas to the Gaza Strip." A columnist in the Jerusalem Post: "As evil as these jihadists [aboard the flotilla] are, they were acting in a cause the whole decent, democratic world knows is right: Freedom for Gaza. Freedom for the Palestinians. And end to the occupation. An end to the blockade." A member of Israel's cabinet: "We need to ease the population's conditions and find security-sensitive, worthy alternatives to the embargo."

None of this indicates a society lacking in a capacity for self-criticism. Yet that capacity hardly has any parallel in the closed circle of Palestinian media or politics, a point that ought to bother Western liberals.

It doesn't. One wonders why. Part of the reason surely has to be intellectual confusion, an inability to grasp the difference between national "liberation" and genuine freedom. Ho Chi Minh was not a "freedom fighter," and neither was Yasser Arafat. How many times does the world have to go through this drill for liberals to get the point?

There's also a psychology at work. Harvard's Ruth Wisse calls it "moral solipsism" —obsessive regard for your own moral performance; complete indifference to the performance of those who wish you ill.

Finally there's the fact that liberalism has become a politics of easy targets. Liberals have no trouble taking stands against abstinence educators, Prop 8 supporters or members of the tea party. But when it comes to genuine bigots and religious fanatics —and Hamas has few equals in those categories— liberals have a way of discovering their capacity for cultural nuance and political pragmatism.

Today, by contrast, the task of defending Israel is hard. It's hard because defenders must eschew cliches about "the powerful" and "the powerless." It is hard because it goes against prevailing ideological fashions. And it's hard because it requires an appreciation that the choice of evils that endlessly confronts Israeli policy makers is not something they can simply wash their hands of by "ending the occupation." They tried that before —in Gaza.

Is there a liberalism that is capable of recognizing this? Or are we again at the stage where it has been consumed by its instinct for fellow-traveling? In 1968, Eric Hoffer wrote: "I have a premonition that will not leave me; as it goes with Israel so will it go with all of us. Should Israel perish the holocaust will be upon us." By "us," he meant liberals, too, and maybe most of all.



Self-identified liberals and Democrats do badly on questions of basic economics

Who is better informed about the policy choices facing the country—liberals, conservatives or libertarians? According to a Zogby International survey that I write about in the May issue of Econ Journal Watch, the answer is unequivocal: The left flunks Econ 101.

Zogby researcher Zeljka Buturovic and I considered the 4,835 respondents' (all American adults) answers to eight survey questions about basic economics. We also asked the respondents about their political leanings: progressive/very liberal; liberal; moderate; conservative; very conservative; and libertarian.

Rather than focusing on whether respondents answered a question correctly, we instead looked at whether they answered incorrectly. A response was counted as incorrect only if it was flatly unenlightened.

Consider one of the economic propositions in the December 2008 poll: "Restrictions on housing development make housing less affordable." People were asked if they: 1) strongly agree; 2) somewhat agree; 3) somewhat disagree; 4) strongly disagree; 5) are not sure.

Basic economics acknowledges that whatever redeeming features a restriction may have, it increases the cost of production and exchange, making goods and services less affordable. There may be exceptions to the general case, but they would be atypical.

Therefore, we counted as incorrect responses of "somewhat disagree" and "strongly disagree." This treatment gives leeway for those who think the question is ambiguous or half right and half wrong. They would likely answer "not sure," which we do not count as incorrect.

In this case, percentage of conservatives answering incorrectly was 22.3%, very conservatives 17.6% and libertarians 15.7%. But the percentage of progressive/very liberals answering incorrectly was 67.6% and liberals 60.1%. The pattern was not an anomaly.

The other questions were: 1) Mandatory licensing of professional services increases the prices of those services (unenlightened answer: disagree). 2) Overall, the standard of living is higher today than it was 30 years ago (unenlightened answer: disagree). 3) Rent control leads to housing shortages (unenlightened answer: disagree). 4) A company with the largest market share is a monopoly (unenlightened answer: agree). 5) Third World workers working for American companies overseas are being exploited (unenlightened answer: agree). 6) Free trade leads to unemployment (unenlightened answer: agree). 7) Minimum wage laws raise unemployment (unenlightened answer: disagree).

How did the six ideological groups do overall? Here they are, best to worst, with an average number of incorrect responses from 0 to 8: Very conservative, 1.30; Libertarian, 1.38; Conservative, 1.67; Moderate, 3.67; Liberal, 4.69; Progressive/very liberal, 5.26.

Americans in the first three categories do reasonably well. But the left has trouble squaring economic thinking with their political psychology, morals and aesthetics.

To be sure, none of the eight questions specifically challenge the political sensibilities of conservatives and libertarians. Still, not all of the eight questions are tied directly to left-wing concerns about inequality and redistribution. In particular, the questions about mandatory licensing, the standard of living, the definition of monopoly, and free trade do not specifically challenge leftist sensibilities.

Yet on every question the left did much worse. On the monopoly question, the portion of progressive/very liberals answering incorrectly (31%) was more than twice that of conservatives (13%) and more than four times that of libertarians (7%). On the question about living standards, the portion of progressive/very liberals answering incorrectly (61%) was more than four times that of conservatives (13%) and almost three times that of libertarians (21%).

The survey also asked about party affiliation. Those responding Democratic averaged 4.59 incorrect answers. Republicans averaged 1.61 incorrect, and Libertarians 1.26 incorrect.

Adam Smith described political economy as "a branch of the science of a statesman or legislator." Governmental power joined with wrongheadedness is something terrible, but all too common. Realizing that many of our leaders and their constituents are economically unenlightened sheds light on the troubles that surround us.



New Democrat ethics watchdog bites its creators

When House Speaker Nancy Pelosi first pushed her wary colleagues to set up a new investigative team to beef up ethics enforcement, some watchdogs argued against it. Since ethics investigators would have no subpoena power, critics warned, they'd have no meaningful authority and would simply act as a fig leaf.

But two years later, the Office of Congressional Ethics is making surprising waves in the House.

The OCE's investigation into the PMA Group, a now-defunct defense contractor, turned up some of the most startling evidence to date of the link between campaign donations and congressional earmarks. Its eye-opening report on PMA's dealings with more than half a dozen House members helped prompt the House Appropriations Committee to ban earmarks aimed at for-profit companies. Now the OCE has forwarded its evidence to the Justice Department; PMA is already under FBI investigation. "We felt we had a responsibility to provide this information to an appropriate law enforcement agency," said OCE staff director and chief counsel Leo Wise, a former Justice Department trial attorney.

The OCE's investigation into a corporate-funded Caribbean trip by Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., led the full ethics committee to admonish Rangel, who then stepped aside as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.

But the real evidence that OCE has shaken things up is the angry complaints House members have leveled at the investigative committee, which is chaired by former Reps. David Skaggs, D-Colo., and Porter Goss, R-Fla.

The latest salvo against the House's fledgling investigative arm comes from Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, who's rounded up 19 signatures on a resolution that would strip the OCE of much of its power and bar it from releasing most findings. Among other provisions, the measure would force OCE to seal the records for complaints that the ethics committee dismissed as frivolous or unfounded.

"It's not any attempt to hide anything, it's not any attempt to diminish the committee's authority, it is not in any way an attempt to weaken the ethics process," said Fudge. Rather, she argued, the resolution would "strengthen the process" and improve "fundamental fairness."

But Fudge's resolution has "zero credibility," countered Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21, in part because many of those who signed it have themselves been OCE ethics targets. All 20 lawmakers who signed the Fudge resolution are members of the Congressional Black Caucus, which has more than half a dozen members who have faced or are facing OCE ethics inquiries.

Five CBC members were on the same corporate and lobbyist-sponsored Caribbean trip that got Rangel in hot water. While it did admonish Rangel, the ethics committee rejected the OCE's recommendation that it further investigate the other four lawmakers on the trip.

However, the ethics panel also faulted Dawn Kelly Mobley, who was at that time an aide to then-ethics committee chair Stephanie Tubbs Jones, D-Ohio, for her role in the trip and in the investigation. Mobley is now Fudge's chief of staff.

"This is an attack on the Office of Congressional Ethics for doing its job," said Wertheimer. He added that good-government advocates have long anticipated attacks on the OCE and expect them to continue. The OCE "has done exactly what it was established to do," he added, and "is having a substantial impact in terms of creating accountability in the system."

The status quo before the OCE's creation, he noted, was for the moribund Committee on Standards of Official Conduct to kill, squelch and bury ethics complaints.

In one sense, this hasn't really changed much since the OCE's creation. Though the full ethics committee panel has hired more staff and has a few dozen investigations under way, the panel has brushed aside virtually all of the OCE's recommendations. The OCE has made 13 referrals recommending further review to the full ethics panel. But the committee has taken action (the Rangel admonishment) in only one of those cases; three are still under review.

Interestingly, though, the mere publication of OCE's referrals is changing the House's ethics culture. The OCE may not impose sanctions; its role is simply to vet complaints with preliminary inquiries and to make recommendations to the full ethics panel. But in cases where the ethics committee fails to take action, the panel must explain why and publicly release any referrals from the OCE.

These public disclosures are what have irked Fudge and so many of her colleagues. The real reason House members are targeting OCE, it seems, is because its investigators are finally shedding some light on the once secretive ethics process. Much of Fudge's resolution centers on sealing records, banning public statements and blocking the release of reports.

One signature is conspicuously missing from Fudge's resolution, however: that of House Majority Whip James Clyburn, D-S.C., a prominent CBC member and one of its former chairs. This may signal that other House leaders, including Pelosi, may be reluctant to follow Fudge's lead. Given Pelosi's public pledges to clean up Capitol Hill, she would certainly be ill-advised to let the House ethics process revert to secrecy.



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The Big Lie of the late 20th century was that Nazism was Rightist. It was in fact typical of the Leftism of its day. It was only to the Right of Stalin's Communism. The very word "Nazi" is a German abbreviation for "National Socialist" (Nationalsozialist) and the full name of Hitler's political party (translated) was "The National Socialist German Workers' Party" (In German: Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei)


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