Wednesday, May 18, 2016

A Confederal Approach to Israel/Palestine


Or as Reagan might have said: "Mr. Netanyahu: tear down this wall!"
Earlier this month Dov Waxman and Dahlia Scheindlin published an op-ed in The Guardian proposing a confederal approach to peace in Israel-Palestine. They have a longer version of their argument in the Spring edition of the Washington Quarterly. It can be found HERE. What they outline is a two-state model with open borders and some joint federal structures on regional issues like water, power, communications (radio, tv, phone, internet), joint security, a federal court to uphold guaranteed rights, and the joint securing of an external border.

The key feature of what they outline is that citizens of both states would be able to live anywhere within the open border federal structure, with restrictions to be negotiated. Each state would control its own immigration and foreign policy, with restrictions to be negotiated. It raises the possibility that Palestine could grant a right of return to its refugees and that some of these refugees could live in Israel. It would permit Jewish settlers to remain in West Bank settlements. It would enable some of them to return to Gaza. It would turn all of Israel-Palestine into an open border Schengen area. It would allow Israel to maintain its Jewish character; and it would allow Palestine to maintain its Palestinian character. Guaranteed mutual rights for each society could be negotiated, and for individuals within each society, with a federal court to guarantee those rights.

What Waxman-Scheindlin are proposing is a two state solution with visions of a shared society dancing in our heads instead of divorce. The idea is not new. Bernard Avishai has been speaking of it for years (See e.g. THIS LECTURE on October 28, 2008). Yossi Beilin, who with Ron Pundak and Yair Hershfeld was instrumental in negotiating the 1993 Oslo Accord, said a year ago that the idea of a confederated arrangement animated some of his earliest discussions with Faisal al-Husseini, the lead Palestinian negotiator.

In an article in the New York Times (5/14/15), Beilin said he regrets this confederal path not taken in 1993. After Oslo, he said, "political leaders on both sides adopted the popular assumption that a final peace settlement must resemble a divorce — each side ridding itself of the other." After the break-down of the Oslo process in 2000, and the start of the Second Intifada, this divorce proceeded with acrimony and the construction of the wall. It has achieved radical separation. It has polarized the two societies. It has increased fear of the other.  "In hindsight," said Beilin, "it is clear that we should have been looking all along at confederation — cohabitation, not divorce." Too few opposed building a separation wall.

It's time to revisit confederation. It's time to tear down this wall.

The vision of the BDS movement, to the extent it has a vision, is the creation of one democratic state, with separation of church and state, with equal rights for all between the Jordan river and the sea. Now there's a pipe dream, imply Waxman and Scheindlin... and I think they are right. There is no support among the Jewish majority in Israel to give up on a Jewish state, and there is no consensus among Palestinians to give up on a Palestinian state.

There is support in Israel for a confederated model according to polling conducted by Scheindlin. The large advantage of confederation is it takes the pressure off border negotiations. It means settlements don't have to be evacuated. With open borders and free movement between the two states, the drawing of borders does not have to be dictated by settlement facts on the ground. With open borders and free movement, a shared Jerusalem is not an intractable problem.

But the idea of confederation does require a grass-roots movement in both societies if it is ever to have a chance. This requires rebuilding trust.

In Israel the NGO Sikkuy is working on "shared society" values among Palestinian and Jewish Israelis. They have a small annual budget of ~$1.2 million (2013 numbers). This type of work should be greatly expanded and extended to cover all of Israel-Palestine.

Here is a suggestion to the BDS movement: tie BDS to dismantling of the wall, to fewer and more efficient checkpoints, to freedom of movement across all of Israel-Palestine, to a confederal vision. Work on Hamas to come around to a confederal vision.

Now that would be something.

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Sunday, May 15, 2016

Jefferson's Republican Virtues: Wrong in 1804, Wrong Today.

Brad DeLong has a new book out with Steven Cohen, Concrete Economics: the Hamilton Approach to Economic Growth and Policy. From the Harvard Business Review:
"Concrete Economics" shows how government has repeatedly reshaped the American economy ever since Alexander Hamilton's first, foundational redesign. ... Steve Cohen and Brad DeLong (show) ... how our economy has ... grown and the role government has played in redesigning and reinvigorating it throughout our history. The government not only sets the ground rules for entrepreneurial activity but directs the surges of energy that mark a vibrant economy. This is as true for present-day Silicon Valley as it was for New England manufacturing at the dawn of the nineteenth century. 
The practical technocratic approach to economics that represents the best of today's Democratic Party traces back to Alexander Hamilton. The Republican party's distrust of a powerful central government, its exaltation of the small entrepreneurs and private initiative, it's emphasis on individual hard-work, on private generosity, and on individual (economic) liberty traces back to Thomas Jefferson. In hindsight, we know Hamilton had it right at the nation's founding, and Jefferson had it wrong. The lesson applies to today's politics.

Cardiff Garcia at the Financial Times recently interviewed DeLong about the legacy of Hamiltonian and Jeffersonian economics and politics. The following is an edited version of Brad's comments in the first portion of the interview.  Listen to the whole interview HERE. It's excellent. 

Thomas Jefferson’s Losing Legacy

Jefferson was an ideologue, an agrarian. Above all else, he was scared of corrupt imperial, monarchical, authoritarian, and autocratic London. Although Jefferson was very forward-looking, he viewed London through a particular lens of ancient history—the republican virtues tradition. The republican virtues tradition holds that once upon a time there was a Roman Republic and it was virtuous because it was composed of small farmers who plowed their own land and lived simply and loved freedom and would rebel against kings or foreigners or anyone else who tried to take control of their lives. These small farmers really didn't want to be in government. If the Republic called one of them to command the armies of Rome, he would come and he would command the armies of Rome, but as soon as possible he would return to his farm because that's what he really wanted to do.

This image of republican virtues had a huge influence on America in the generation of it’s founding. George Washington's army officers corps embraced the belief that the revolutionary war was fought to preserve these republican virtues in America by throwing off the yoke of Imperial Britain and to preserve the land for smallholding farmers.

Jefferson looked at 18th century London and he saw Imperial Rome. He looked at London and its growing trade, commerce, and manufacturing, and he saw growing corruption. That is why, in response to relatively minor insults and actions from the British mother country, Jefferson and his co-revolutionaries thought it was a matter of life and death to get out from under this growing imperial structure.

But no sooner did they win independence, Jefferson turns around and looks at New York and Philadelphia, and he looks at Alexander Hamilton, and he perceives that Hamilton is trying to steer the country towards the same growing trade, commerce, manufacturing and high finance that Jefferson thought the revolution was fought to get away from. Jefferson looked at Hamilton and thought: if Hamilton has his way, Philadelphia and New York will be the new London and the revolution will have been for naught. That was his very simple vision of how the world worked.

It is possible this explains why Jefferson was so opposed to the federal government assuming the war debts that were incurred by the states. By assuming those debts the federal government gained prominence and power. Jefferson opposed the formation of a national bank to handle the assumption of those debts. He was opposed to Hamilton’s encouragement of manufacturers, and he was opposed  to Hamilton's plans for a standing army large enough to defend the United States from Britain marching down from Canada. 

With his small landholding republican virtues vision, Jefferson perceived the growth of finance, and especially the growth of banks, as an enormous danger. He viewed the growth of manufacturing and urban workers concentrated in cities working for masters as a great danger. It went contrary to his vision of small self-reliant farmers practicing their republican virtues by working the soil.

With those republican virtues as his lodestone, Jefferson knew exactly what to do in response to every political question that came up: at each turn he exalted the yeoman farmer and challenged the threatened dominance of capital, commerce, manufacturing, and banking interests. 

Alexander Hamilton's Prevailing Legacy

By contrast, Hamilton felt that the federal government had a role to play in bringing about sensible burden sharing. Fair burden sharing suggested the federal government should repay individuals who purchased bonds to support the revolutionary war effort.  Moreover, by demonstrating that the federal government would take on the debts that have been incurred for the common good of the country, even if there was no fundamental legal principle saying that it had to assume these debts, this would reassure investors in the United States and elsewhere that the United States was a good place to invest. This would reassure investors in the United States and elsewhere that the government and the country would stand by promises both explicit and implicit.

In addition, the federal government's assumption of debts assured that the holders of that debt had an interest in the economic success of the country as a whole. It made the upper class of New York who held a lot of this war debt loyal to the American democratic venture. The prospects of the King of England resuming his dominion over the colonies threatened that all of these loans would immediately be repudiated by the King. The United States assumption of this debt automatically made these influential, rich, largely Tory elites into the most aggressively solid advocates of American independence possible.

Hamilton’s economic arguments were also practical.  His favoritism towards manufacturing, by supporting high tariffs to protect the infant manufacturing industry in the US, was simply that it seemed to work out. If you looked around at the world, you found that it was not the case that all virtue came from the countryside. Even leaving aside Monticello and other large-scale slave plantations to one side, all virtue did not come from yeoman farmers. If you looked around, Hamilton saw that an enormous amount of value was created by manufacturing. The commercial operations that he saw in London, that he saw growing in Manchester, that he saw elsewhere seemed to create virtuous economic growth.

Hamilton’s policies, in other words, were based not in small republican virtues, but in the practical realization that if you want to have a prosperous country, people have to be making stuff in a productive way. People have to make stuff valuable. And so Hamilton looked around at what people were doing in the world, not just in the United States, and it seemed to him that rich countries, productive countries, all seemed to have a substantial manufacturing sector. Secondarily, he saw that powerful countries needed to be able to make their own industrial age weapons, and that it was therefore necessary to have iron foundries in order to actually make guns. And, of course, you need guns. And so, as a result, you should look around and say, is there a way we can encourage Americans to enter these particular lines of business that appear to be very necessary for a country to be successful, and that appear to be very valuable, and quite probably more valuable than growing corn and raising pigs on their own farms.

For these reasons, Hamilton felt it was the job of government to support these activities in such a way that they'll succeed. It led him to advocate that government money spent on encouraging manufacturing, and banking, and commerce will actually pay off. Such investments, he felt, will not be poured down some rat hole where it goes to the friends of the politically powerful and then is embezzled away. Hamilton's conclusion was, yes, there are strategic interventions the government can make that will very much pass the cost-benefit test.
Alexander Hamilton (Sec of Treasury) and Aaron Burr (VP)
duel, July 11, 1804


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Thursday, May 12, 2016

The Russian Olympic Program Sold its Soul to the Devil at the Cross-Roads: a Socratic Dialogue



The New York Times continues to do good work covering corruption in professional sports. 

Today they have a detailed article explaining how the Russian Federation managed to find a way to break the supposedly tamper-proof Swiss-made vials that are used for urine testing during international sporting events, and how with the aid of a secret passageway in the Russian built drug testing laboratory at the Sochi Olympics, Russian officials surreptitiously managed to replace contaminated urine samples taken after competition with clean samples taken months earlier.  As many as 100 "dirty" urine samples of winning Russian athletes were expunged, said Dr. Grigory Rodchenko, who was in charge of the lab at Sochi. Over the years leading up to Sochi, Dr. Rodchenko has admitted, he destroyed several thousand positive doping samples of Russian athletes. 

Dr. Rodchenko has no regrets. He described his work at Sochi to the NYT as "the apex of a decade-long effort to perfect Russia’s doping strategy at international competition." By Sochi, Dr. Rodchenko was at the heart of the effort. “We were fully equipped, knowledgeable, experienced and perfectly prepared for Sochi like never before,” he said. “It was working like a Swiss watch.” As a result, Russian athletes managed to win more total medals, and more gold medals than any other country at Sochi. After the Olympics President Putin presented Dr. Rodchenko with a special medal of recognition. 

It all began to unravel last November when the World Anti-Doping Agency ("WADA") released a 323 page report that implicated Russian coaches, athletes, and various state institutions in "likely the most extensive state-sponsored doping program since the notorious East German regime of the 1970s." The fallout has been sordid. Dr. Rodchenkov, was forced to resign. He left Russia, "fearing for his safety," says the Times report. Apparently he had reason: after the scandal broke two colleagues, previous heads of the Russian anti-doping agency mysteriously died. 

So what do we have here?  Athletes cheating, a whole country adopting cheating as a strategy, and once discovered... lying about it. As usual, when the WADA report came out last November, the Russian response was "Cheating? Who, us? These are slanderous accusations! We compete fair and square." Except, of course, they didn't. And did this really lead to murder? Is that what explains the death of Dr. Rodochenko's close colleagues? I'm assuming it did, but who knows. 

Cheating, lying about it to cover up, murder.... and a lack of remorse, all for an increased medal count. "Dr. Rodchenkov boasted about his ability to shield doped athletes from detection," says the Times article. Whether this is discovered or not, what kind of glory is that? 

And, of course, we think of Lance Armstrong who cheated and, for years reaped the benefits, ultimately to be disgraced. We think of Ben Johnson who cheated and was disgraced at the moment of his glory. We think of Florence Griffith Joyner, the fastest woman ever, who almost certainly cheated and, at age 38 may have paid the ultimate price.  We think of Marion Jones

So What of It? A Socratic Dialogue

Bust of Socrates/Vatican
Glaucon: So why should we compete in sports cleanly? Why should we not partake of performance enhancing drugs if they lead to victory and fame? Why should we not lie to hide our cheating so our reputation may be preserved, nay enhanced?  People say that by taking one milligram of steroid mixture with every milliliter of alcohol, and swishing it under the tongue so it properly absorbs, our ability to win is greatly enhanced. And what if we aren't found out? Is this not naturally good?

Socrates: I know that is the general view.  Just think of all those people who cheered on Barry Bonds setting home run records when everyone knew he was on the sauce. Thrasymachus has been saying justice is for the weak and foolish and praising the taking of performance enhancing drugs because, in this day and age, it is the only way you can win. What's more, steroids do lead to great success and fame. But I continue to think we should not cheat and tell the truth for its own sake. It seems I am a slow learner. 

Glaucon: How about we look at what justice and injustice are, and we take account of the rewards and the consequences of each of them? 

Adeimantus: That is an excellent idea. 

Glaucon: Now people say that to cheat with performance enhancing drugs is naturally good, but to compete cleanly and lose to a cheater--to suffer injustice--that is bad. But does not the pain of having talent and training hard for years, but losing to a cheater, does not this pain far exceed the goodness to be derived from cheating? 

Socrates: Tell me more. 

Glaucon: Hence does it not make sense for all competitors to make laws and covenants with each other about what is lawful in competition, and to neither cheat nor to suffer the ignominy of losing to a cheater? That, they say, is the origin and very being of justice. Justice is in between the best and the worst: the best being to cheat (and not be caught) and the worst being to lose to a cheater without being able to take revenge. People love justice, not because it is a good thing, but because they are too weak to do injustice with impunity. 

Thrasymachus: My point exactly! But Putin and his friends at the Russian Federation are not so weak as not to do injustice with impunity. Nay they will not stop even at murder. 

Glaucon: Is it not true that none are so incorruptible but that they will cheat if they know they can win by doing so and not get caught? Isn't that what the devil said about Faust?  No-one believes competing fair and square is a good thing when it is kept private, since whenever either person thinks he can win by cheating and not get caught, he does it. Indeed, all men believe that injustice is far more profitable in itself than justice. 

Thrasymachus: Indeed, just imagine someone not cheating just for the sake of fairness (as opposed to some external benefit like wanting a good reputation for fairness). It's absurd. Must we not imagine this just person as being wrongly accused of cheating (to take the reputation seeking motive off the table) even while he plays by the rules? His reputation is in tatters even as he competes cleanly. He may be a domestique; a bit player. Not widely loved. Now compare this person to someone like Lance Armstrong who for an entire career managed to cheat and win, and win, and win, and, by speaking persuasively, and acting aggressively, fend off challenges to his reputation, because he is courageous and strong and has provided himself with wealth and friends. Look at these two persons after Lance's fifth Tour de France win... and tell me who is the happier. 

Glaucon: Yes, the key is not to compete fairly, but be perceived as competing fairly. And isn't this what the Russians were shooting for? Why should we be critical?

Socrates: Consider, why do we have the Tour de France, why do we have these Olympic games? Do we not need to band together in fellowship to have such competitions? And does not such very fellowship demand of us that we not take short-cuts during the marathon, that we not take one milligram of steroids mixed with one millimeter of alcohol and swish it under our tongue? 

Adeimantus: And some, of course, say that if we take such a short cut for short-term gain and fame and adulation, the gods are watching over us and we will be punished in due course. 

Glaucon: Yes, ill-gotten fame is fleeting. Didn't Robert Johnson sell his soul to the devil at the cross-road in order to become the best guitar player in the world? Didn't Lance Armstrong in his way make a pact with the devil, and didn't the devil come calling soon after his seventh Tour de France championship? And what about poor Marco Pantani?

Thrasymachus: But you are dodging the issue. All fame is fleeting. Besides, the thought experiment is "what if you don't get caught?" Are you telling me justice is just about fear of Dick Pound?

Socrates: Anytime you make a deal with the devil, whether it be at the cross-roads or by swilling a milligram of steroid mixed with a millimeter of alcohol under your tongue, there is uncertainty of what comes next. Wether the devil takes your soul, whether the gods punish you, whether you die of a stroke in your sleep at age 38, whether you are disgraced by WADA and held up for scorn in public, or whether you are never found out, cheating will sour your life. But not just your life, it will sour competition. It will sour the lives of your competitors. It will sour the enjoyment of the fans. It will force your competitors to put their own bodies at risk by perhaps swilling their own cocktails. It will corrupt the youth.  And corrupting the youth.... trust me, that is something I know of.

So to hell with you, Putin and Rodchenko. May the devil take your souls. An in the meantime, let's keep funding WADA. 

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Do We Arrive in this World Pre-Programmed to Make Moral Judgments: A Short Glossary of Moral Reasoning

John Mikhail, Georgetown Professor of Law
In the 1960's Noam Chomsky famously wrote that our human ability to acquire language is innate. Our brains come equipped with a language acquisition device. We are pre-programmed to learn language said Chomsky. 

Analogously, Chomsky also proposed that our capacity for moral reasoning is supported by a universal moral grammar. John Mikhail, a professor of law at Georgetown who writes on constitutional law and moral philosophy, has a chapter  that examines what Chomsky has said over the years about his postulated language acquisition device and the potential that we also come equipped with a universal moral grammar--that we arrive in this world pre-programmed to make moral judgments. 

Just like we grow limbs and don’t learn limbs, says Chomsky, we grow our innate language skills. Similarly, Chomsky suggests that we grow our innate moral sense, we don’t learn our morality. In Chomsky's view, normal adults have moral competence in a way that is analogous to linguistic competence.  Just like we can take our deep, innate language rules and make them applicable in an infinite variety of linguistic applications, we can take our Universal Moral Grammar and apply it in infinite situations that call for moral judgment.

A Desultory Glossary of Moral Reasoning 

In his chapter on Chomsky's Moral Reasoning Mikhail provides us with a useful historical glossary of some moral reasoning terms, albeit not alphabetical or chronological. I found this glossary interesting and trust it will come in handy in future reading: 

Wittgenstein was skeptical about deep language rules. 

Particularism:  Holds moral judgments are made on a case by case basis without support of moral principles or rules.  It says we bring a contentless ability to discern what matters to new situations—our ability to make moral judgments comes from successful moral education. In other words, moral competence has no stable content. The environment and context (and our education) determine everything. 

Plato’s concept of soul: we have a tripartite soul consisting of Reason—Appetite—Emotion. 

Ezekiel (Revelations 4:6-8):  Speaks of four creatures supporting the heavenly throne—Man—Lion—Ox—Eagle. 

Origen (3rd Century): translated Ezekiel to Plato’s soul idea. Man is reason, the Lion is appetite, the Ox emotion, and the Eagle is the conscience or presiding spirit that rules over reason, appetite and emotion. 

Jerome (4th Century): Turned Origen’s “conscience and presiding spirit” and called it syneresis—and he conceived of this as an innate habit or natural instinct of the mind that supplies implicit premises of moral judgments. 

Moral argument, says Mikhail, is a constructive process by which individuals may come to recognize that at least some of their particular moral judgments are inconsistent with their own moral principles. Moral reasoning can shed light on mistaken beliefs, false assumptions, and invalid reasoning. Moral reasoning per Chomsky is modular:  it has elemental parts, like reason, appetite, emotion, and judgment. 

Here are some historical examples of “modular” explanations of moral reasoning: 

Joseph Butler (1692-1752): said a full account of human nature must include “conscience” which partakes of both reason and sentiment. 

David Hume: said moral distinctions have motivational properties; they are not derived from reason, but rather from a moral sense. 

Immanuel Kant: said “ought” expresses a kind of necessity…not found elsewhere in nature. 

Charles Darwin: said moral sense is what differentiates man from lower animals. 

To summarize the history reflected in this glossary, says Mikhail, would be to say that a moral sense is a collection of cognitive, emotional, motivational, and other characteristics, which may be unique to humans. 

Back to Plato. In The Meno Plato said virtue cannot be taught. [We compare Locke and Aristotle who said the human mind comes as a tabula rasa—a blank slate: everything is learned] Leibniz responded to Locke and Aristotle, saying “The mind inherently contains the sources of its various notions and doctrines; external objects and events rouse up these sources on suitable occasions.” 

St. Paul’s letter to the Romans comes into it as well: “both Gentiles and Jews,” he said, “possess a natural law written in their hearts.” 

Cicero (106 BCE-63 BCE) held that the sense of justice is a natural faculty of the mind which commands us to do what ought to be done and forbids us to do the opposite. 

Gaius (130-180) a jurist, used Cicero’s concept of our innate morality to distinguish between jus gentian (law of nations) and jus civil (law of individual states).  

Grotius (Dutch legal scholar 1583-1645) referred to common sense morality enhanced with a technical legal vocabulary. He observed babies helping each other (even before they are taught), and he noted in this a sense of natural law. He said this natural law includes basic moral rules and legal rules, including the rule of abstaining from taking other people’s stuff, returning to the rightful owner what does not belong to us, keeping promises, making reparations for damage done by fault, and the recognition that some actions merit punishment. The foundation of this natural justice, he said, lies in a human moral faculty. And he noted this as a uniquely human faculty. This law would hold true, he said, even without God. 

Hobbes and Locke, says Mikhail, both denied the existence of an innate moral faculty. 

Today, of course, cognitive neurological science is busily exploring what innate moral factors might be found in evolutionary biology. Moral philosophers must reckon with how these new findings will impact, revise, or refute the historical models of our moral reasoning. Along the way they will come up with new models. The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy [at link in this paragraph] calls the work based on Chomsky's idea of a Universal Moral Grammar--including the work of John Mikhail--"perhaps the most influential hybrid model of cultural and hybrid factors in moral judgment research" today.  

What is clear, whatever the findings of science, morality is something we will continue to think about as long as our species survives. 


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Friday, May 6, 2016

The Time to Worry and Be Engaged is Now!

Donald J. Trump at Pinkerton Academy
August 2015
Huckster someone who sells or advertises something 
in an aggressive, dishonest, or annoying way
-- Merriam-Webster dictionary.

Trump, it seems to me, is mainly selling himself and his proposed authoritarian deal-making governing style. There's not much substance. He has told the New York Times that he plans to turn the Oval Office into a corporate board room, empowering military leaders to act with respect to foreign affairs, and continuing to speak harshly about adversaries.

Such a governing style, frets Ilyia Somin, will be European style neo-Fascist. By this Somin means Tump may fashion the Republican party into something modeled after the National Front party in France: “big government welfare statism with protectionism and xenophobia.” Somin is a libertarian small government guy; his fear of “big government welfare statism” strikes no chord with me, but the potential of an authoritarian fascism built around protectionism and xenophobia on our shores is something we ignore at our peril.

Parties tend to rally around their leader, says Somin. The question is, if elected, how far would Trump lead the country in a xenophobic protectionist direction? And how far would the country follow him down that road? How much would Congress cooperate?

Trump has vowed to try to deport millions of immigrants, including hundreds of thousands of children who have never known any other home. Actually making efforts to carry through on such a promise to deport 11 million people (which amounts to 3% of our population) would require police state tactics. As Somin has noted:
Regulating immigration is not just about how people arrive, but about what they do once they have entered a country. It is about controlling how long people stay, where they travel, and what they do. Most of all, it means controlling whether or not and for whom they work (paid or unpaid), what they accept in financial remuneration, and what they must do to remain in employment, for as long as that is permitted. Yet this is not possible without controlling citizens and existing residents, who must be regulated, monitored and policed to make sure that they comply with immigration laws….

Immigrants are not readily discernible from citizens, or from residents with ‘Indefinite Leave to Remain’, especially in a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural society. So any effort to identify and exclude or penalize immigrants will generally require stopping or searching or questioning anyone…. 
Immigration controls are controls on people, and it is difficult to control some people without also controlling others. Sometimes it is because it is not easy to distinguish those over whom control is sought from those who are considered exempt. At other times it may be because it is not possible to restrict particular persons save by coopting others without whose cooperation success would be impossible. And on occasion it may be necessary in order to control a few to put the liberty of almost everyone into abeyance. Immigration controls are not unique in this respect—the logic of human control is everywhere the same.
Trump's wall would require a large scale exercise of eminent domain—taking property from American citizens in order to accommodate construction and operation of the wall. It would be hugely intrusive (See Somin, who is an expert on eminent domain, HERE). Trump has vowed to discriminate against people based on religion by banning all Muslim visitors to the country. Trump has repeatedly advocated extra judicial violence: for example, he said he would deliberately target family members of terrorists for elimination. “You have to take out their families,” he said last December. He has repeatedly advocated for violence among his followers. Such are the building blocks and raw materials for building a fascist movement.

Jim Schutze at the Dallas Observer is not afraid of Trump’s followers. They are wimps, he said: “I don’t see the Olive Garden crowd out in the street getting their heads clocked by the Cleveland cops.” Ultimately, thinks Schutze, Trump is play-acting to an older, white, disaffected GOP primary base. Here he is writing yesterday (May 5, 2016):
The sense of profound psychological and moral dislocation many older white people are feeling now in America feels as if it is related somehow to the surge of popular support for London['s most recent] mayor Boris Johnson and the Brexit campaign and even the rise of a right-wing nativist movement in Poland. They’re not exactly the same, but all of them, very much including Trump, share that powerful tribal element that [Nate] Silver points to. These are bracing times for the old tribes that always used to run things, especially for people whose innermost sense of identity is densely interwoven with ethnicity. And then there’s one more important quality. They haven’t been keeping up.

Old white people like me who have been paying attention might like to tell you — we probably would tell you — that we’ve always been all in, marbles and chalk, for the changes. Maybe. But we’ve also definitely been looking in the mirror most mornings asking ourselves, “What are you going to do about it? Better adjust, Kemosabe. Better adjust.”

The Trump movement is something else. It’s people who didn’t see it coming and can’t adjust. Hence the meltdown. And there is where it all begins to fit together finally. It’s not [Trump's] meltdown we’re looking at. It’s the meltdown of the people voting for him.
What, you think Donald Trump is feeling personally oppressed lately? About what? He’s not rich enough already? While he’s campaigning, he can’t get a new wife? Give me a break. He’s acting out the meltdown for the audience.

Does the audience really believe he can bring back the money and the ethnic privilege? Or do they know he can’t but love him anyway, because he’s rich and he understands them?

He plunges those eerily dancing hands straight into their dark roiling hearts and plucks out the pain. I don’t believe he has any idea himself how he does it, but he’s exactly what Republicans have voted for, because he is exactly what they want. They don’t need no stinking conservative. They need a shaman.
Maybe Schutze is right. Maybe Trump’s voters are just disillusioned old White folks who have failed to adjust. Maybe they are Olive Garden wimps. But give them power, give them a Trump presidency? If that happens will the worst (but capable) sorts rise to the top, egged on and enabled by the Olive Garden crowd? And Trump? Having conjured up these forces, would he run with them? Why did the guy have Hitler speeches on his nightstand?

President Obama assures us the American electorate will ultimately do the right thing. I believe him. Still, Greg Valliere, chief political strategist at Horizon Investments, gives Trump a one in three chance of becoming our next president.

Since 1824 (when they started tracking) no president has been elected with more than 61.05 percent of the popular vote. That high water mark honor goes to Lyndon Johnson. The spread in polling between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton as of this writing is just seven percentage points of the popular vote. According to the Cook Political Report, even in this most dismal of political years, the Republican party starts off with a presumed tally of 190 votes (of 270 needed to win) in the Electoral College. A blow-out in November is not assured. We may be one ill-timed terrorist attack, or one new scandal away from a Trump presidency.

The time to get serious worried is now, because who knows what mischief this man would bring with him to the White House. Maybe the system and inertia would reign him in and nothing untoward would happen. Maybe not. No one should leave this to chance.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

What Would Buber and Heschel Say? An Apologia for Ken Livingstone

Martin Buber, ca 1900
Abraham Joshua Heschel













In Great Britain they will have elections this Thursday and they are having a row over the question “Is anti-Zionist criticism anti-Semitism?” This has initially resulted in the suspension of two prominent Labor members of Parliament, and then it snowballed into a larger purge of more than 50 party members for making allegedly anti-Semitic statements. All this comes on the eve of an election in which Labor is projected to lose as many as 100 seats. It raises questions about what is anti-Semitism, what is Jewish identity, and what is Zionism?

It all started when a political muck-racking site--Guido Fawkes—unearthed a number of 2014 Facebook posts by Labor Party MP Naz Shah that were critical of Israel. Those posts included a map of Israel superimposed on a map of the U.S. with the suggestion that Israel should be moved to the U.S. and riffs relating to this fantasy. Shah was promptly accused of anti-Semitism. She apologized for her postings, noted that they pre-dated her election to Parliament, and professed that they do not reflect her considered views. Nevertheless, political pressure was brought to bear and Shah was suspended from Parliament by Labor Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn pending an investigation.

It bears mentioning that Shah’s Facebook postings were not an actual suggestion. They appear to be ironic commentary on the very close relationship between Israel and the United States. But Shah obviously has negative feelings about the existence of Israel in the Middle East. She is anti-Zionist.

In the meantime, long time Labor Party member and former mayor of London Ken Livingstone came to Shah’s defense. She is not anti-Semitic he said. Although many Labor MP’s have expressed concern for the rights of Palestinians over the years, and they sometimes have said harsh things about Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, Livingstone says he has never heard any Labor Party MP say anything anti-Semitic.

In defending Shah Livingstone said: “Let's remember that when Hitler won the election in 1932, his policy was that Jews should be moved to Israel." This comment immediately made Livingstone the center of the controversy and, in turn, led to Jeremy Corbyn suspending him as well.

Livingstone’s statement has left even his most sympathetic critics scratching their heads. What could he have been thinking? At Mondoweiss Robert Cohen (a Brit) says that, although he does not believe the British Labor party has a problem with anti-Semitism, he implies that the statements by Shah and Livingstone are anti-Semitic, and he counsels critics of Israel to stay away from self-made bear traps like mentioning Hitler and Israel in the same sentence, or questioning Israel’s narrative of national self-determination, or to suggest “Zionist control” of anything (like pointing out Zionist efforts to equate criticism of Zionism with anti-Semitism?)

At +972 Magazine Gilad Halpern (an Israeli) notes that, in addition to Livingstone getting some of the key facts wrong in his sentence—like Hitler did not come to power in the 1932 elections (he was appointed chancellor in January 1933) and Israel did not exist until 1948—there is something mysterious about what relevance Livingstone had in mind:

Livingstone has a "dubious" record of downplaying quasi anti-Semitic statements, says Halpern:
The reason [Livingstone] came under so much fire was the subtext: assuming that issue had some relevance for 2016 Britain, he was talking about the present, not the past. It was his underlying intentions that were called into question. Why on earth would one evoke Hitler’s supposed warming to Zionism in a debate about contemporary politics, if it wasn’t to draw some sort of parallel, as awkward and far-fetched as it may have been, between Zionism and Nazism? And why would he allow himself to be dragged into a debate about the Holocaust at a time when his party is bending over backwards to fend off accusations that it is teeming with anti-Semites? Livingstone, an astute and experienced politician, took a plunge into an empty pool. While all this might have been a slip of a tongue from a politician who’s no stranger to controversies, it is pitted against a dubious backdrop of his consistent effort to downplay positions within his party that could be branded, if not downright anti-Semitic, as bigoted and hateful.

A Search for Relevance

Livingstone, however, has said that he accepts Israel and supports a two-state-solution. He has also said that it would have been better if Britain and the US had opened their doors to Jewish refugees rather than to support the creation of Israel in '48. At minimum, we must acknowledge that a statement that the U.S. and Britain should have thrown open their doors to Jewish refugees from Hitler is manifestly not anti-Semitic.

Here is what Livingstone said on a panel in London on January 2, 2013 (starting @10:21):
Nobody disagrees with the academic concept that the Jews have a right to a state. What they didn’t have a right to was the displacement of the Arab community. We now live in a world where the reality is there is an Israel. I would not have created an Israel, but there is an Israel there. I support the concept of the two-state-solution. I want to see the ending of the wall and the separation, so there is an economic link (inaudible) there now (as) exists between France and Germany.

But it was a travesty. And the main force driving American policy makers in actually getting the UN vote to create the State of Israel is they were too frightened of anti-Semitism in America and Britain to do what we should have done, which is open our doors to the refugees from Hitler and to welcome them into Britain and America; not, because of our fear of anti-Semitism, actually displace an established Arab population who have spent the last 60 years living in degrading conditions and subject to constant violence.
Zionists don’t like to hear such talk (e.g. Jonathan Freedland who did not characterize Livingstone's comments fairly), but it is not anti-Semitic. In the context of the question whether it would have been better to welcome Jewish refugees from Hitler in the U.S. and Britain instead of forming the state of Israel, it is historically relevant to note that the Nazis were cooperating with Zionists in the early 1930's to transfer Jews to British Mandate Palestine.

It is also relevant to note, that German National Socialism was objectionable not only because Hitler wanted to exterminate the Jews, and because Nazi Germany turned into a genocidal war machine; it was also objectionable for its ideology of building a national homeland for the German people at the expense of all competitors to the land. This ideology was about more than extermination of the Jews: it included plans for the mass starvation of 30 million Ukrainians to make room for German settlement. And it’s worth noting that the idea of a Jewish homeland for Jews in Palestine does bear some uncomfortable parallels to this Nazi ideology separate and distinct from the horrors the Nazis committed during the war, and without making any comparison between Nazi atrocities and anything Israel has done or may do.

It is worth recalling, as Livingstone’s observation about Nazi and Zionist collaboration does, that European anti-Semitism helped with the creation of Israel. See, for example THIS article by Siddhartha Shome.

We usually think of this “assistance” as hatred and intolerance of Jews in Europe forcing Jews to create Israel as a Jewish state wherein Jews can take refuge. In other words, anti-Semitism created (and continues to create) the need for a Jewish state and was the impetus for its creation. For the anti-Semitic Western powers (even after the war), voting for the partition of Palestine was a way to rid themselves of Jews living in displaced persons camps in Western Europe.

But there is a flip side to this. “It is the job of Zionism,” declared Ben Gurion, “not to save the remnant of Israel in Europe but rather to save the land of Israel for the Jewish people and the yishuv” (see Shomes article at note 3). The gateway to the Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem has an inscription, in Shome’s translation: “I will put my breath into you and you shall live again, and I will set you upon your own soil.” In other words, Jews living on their own soil: Jewish blood mingling with Jewish soil protected by Jewish power. It’s not a recipe that bodes well for non-Jews living in the land.

Anti-Semitism helped to create the modern state of Israel, but in non-trivial ways, anti-Semitism also  infected the ideology of this project.

A matter of Jewish identity

Chris Cook of the BBC interviewed the prize winning Jewish novelist Howard Jacobsen about the Livingstone flap. Like many, Jacobsen felt personally attacked by Shah’s and Livingstone’s statements. He felt they were being anti-Semitic.

Jacobsen is a Jew living in England. He is a British citizen, a successful novelist; winner of the Mann Booker prize. He doesn’t believe in God and he doesn't go to Shul. But for him, Zionism—a Jewish state in Palestine—is central to his identity as a Jew. So when he hears criticism of Zionism, of the Jewish state, he feels it as a personal attack.

What would Buber and Heschel Say?

The question, of course, is what kind of state? Martin Buber who emigrated to British Mandate Palestine from Germany in 1938 noted that Jewish identity is a unique hybrid between a religious and a national form. His “national form” included a Jewish collective in its own land, but he did not mean  by this a modern nation state. He argued for population parity and a bi-national state. He did not conceive of Jewish identity as requiring a Jewish state run by and for Jews, with Jews having superior rights over everyone else—which is what modern Israel has turned out to be.

From the Stanford Encyclopedia of philosophy:
At the theoretical core of the Zionism advanced by Buber was a conception of Jewish identity being neither a religious nor a national form, but a unique hybrid. ... Buber rejected any state-form for the Jewish people in Palestine. .... Buber embraced Zionism as the self-expression of a particular Jewish collective that could be realized only in its own land, on its soil, and in its language. The modern state, its means and symbols, however, were not genuinely connected to this vision of a Jewish renaissance. While in the writings of the early war years, Buber had characterized the Jews as an oriental type in perpetual motion, in his later writings the Jews represent no type at all. Neither nation nor creed, they uncannily combine what he called national and spiritual elements.

In his letter to Ghandi, Buber insisted on the spatial orientation of Jewish existence and defended the Zionist cause against the critic who saw in it only a form of colonialism. For Buber, space was a necessary but insufficient material condition for the creation of culture based on dialogue. A Gesamtkunstwerk in its own right, the Zionist project was to epitomize the life of dialogue by drawing the two resident nations of Palestine into a perfectible common space free from mutual domination.
Here’s what we coincidentally talked about in Talmud class the other day. The Jewish religion as practiced in Temple days was local. The sacrificial cult could not be exported; you couldn't conquer other lands in its name. After destruction of the Temple, there was a transfer from the land to Torah: the Jews became bound to Torah the way they once were bound to the land.

In creating Judaism, the Rabbi’s made the religion portable. But the religion, of course, maintained a strong metaphoric connection to the land. Most Jewish holidays are metaphorically connected to the land. The creation of the modern state of Israel has mucked up all the metaphors.

The Polish-American theologian and Jewish philosopher Abraham Joshua Heschel also pointed out that Judaism revolves around three sacred entities: God, Torah, Israel. But for Heschel, like Buber, “Israel” doesn’t mean a modern nation state with a Jewish army and police force and courts to enforce Jewish primacy over everyone else in the land. For him, “Israel” is more like peoplehood: the Jewish people past and present and future.

Judaism, says Heschel, is a complex structure. It can be characterized exclusively neither as a theological doctrine, nor as a way of living according to the Law, nor as a community. A religious Jew, according to Heschel is a person committed to God, to his concern and teaching (Torah), who lives as part of a covenant community (Israel).

Howard Jacobsen, like so many Jews today, has neither Torah nor God, but he has Zionism: and by Zionism he means the modern state of Israel with a Jewish army and Jewish police and Jewish courts to privilege Jews over non-Jews and to perpetuate Israel as a “safe haven” for Jews like him to go to (if he ever wanted to).

Rather than God-Torah-Peoplehood, or walking humbly with your God and having some presence in the land, a lot of modern Jewish identity in Britain, the U.S., Canada, Australia revolves around anti-Semitism (the Holocaust) and Zionism (the modern state of Israel). And by Zionism they don’t mean the gentler kinder version of Buber, but the militarized, paranoid, life-boat version of Netanyahu’s Zionism. 

I think Buber and Heschel would say that’s not going to carry the religion through the next millennia.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Might the Voters of Alabama's Fifth Congressional District be Better Served by Promoting Liberal Politics Rather than by Attempting to Drown Government in a Bathtub?

The Alabama Fifth Congressional District is served by one of the most conservative members in Congress. Are they backing the wrong horse?

The U.S. House of Representatives has 435 members, each representing one Congressional district. Congressional districts are redrawn every 10 years following the U.S. census to assure that each district continues to represent one 435th of overall U.S. population (currently about 733,000).  Alabama's Fifth Congressional district is located in the northern part of the state, extending from the Mississippi river on the west, all the way to to the Georgia border and Nickajack Lake.

Nickajack Lake, TN river
From Reconstruction until the 2010 election, the Fifth Congressional District was represented by Democrats. Since 2010, however, the District is represented by Morris Brooks, a Tea Partier.  Brooks endorsed Ted Cruz for president last November and serves as chairman of Cruz's election campaign in Alabama.

District 5 came out strong for Donald Trump on Super Tuesday (March 1, 2016). Is it all on account of a short memory?

Let's Recall: This is A Region that was Benefited by Strong Liberal Programs

Prior to the Great Depression (1933) northern Alabama counties were predominantly white, rural, and poor. The region was hit particularly hard by the Great Depression. In May 1933, Congress chartered the Tennessee Valley Authority to provide navigation, flood control, electricity generation, fertilizer manufacturing, and economic development to the Tennessee Valley, a region that included Alabama's Fifth Congressional District.

The TVA slowly changed the demographics of northern Alabama to include technical and engineering employees. The federal government located space exploration and rocket programs in Huntsville, including the Redstone Arsenal where the first large U.S. ballistic missiles were produced. In the 1960's NASA built its Marshall Space Flight Center in the Huntsville-Decatur area.

Private industry, including manufacturing, followed. A joint venture between Boeing and Lockheed Martin established United Launch Alliance to build space launch vehicles for the U.S. government.

The New York Times this week reported:
As the South industrialized in the second half of the 20th century, poor Alabamians who once toiled on farms were able to secure a toehold in the middle class. In the shadow of Tennessee Valley Authority dams that supplied cheap power, thousands of workers sewed jeans and T-shirts, and could earn upward of $20 an hour in heavily unionized factories.
But not just clothing: the region is blessed with jobs in the automotive industry, the chemicals industry, distribution and logistics, plastics, metal fabrication, food processing, packaging, wood products, and life sciences.

Today the per capita income in Northern Alabama is $40,037/year. The region is still white (77.7%), but it is no longer rural and poor. The area has benefitted greatly from the liberal federal policies that also served to stimulate and attract private industry.

....And Along came NAFTA, China's Entry to WTO, Global Trade, and the Great Recession

More recently, the federal government has promoted free trade policies that may have hurt some in the area. In 1993 the Clinton administration negotiated the North American Free Trade Association agreement (NAFTA) with Mexico and Canada.  In 2001 China became a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO). These agreements exposed U.S. private manufacturers--including those of Alabama's Fifth Congressional District--to competition from countries with an abundant supply of cheap labor.

Manufacturers of clothing, electronics, rubber and plastic goods in places like the Alabama Fifth Congressional District found it difficult to compete with similar goods manufactured at a lower cost in Mexico and China. And free trade competition came from other countries as well.

So whereas the northern Alabama counties were much assisted by U.S. government policies for the 60 years from 1933 to 1993, the free trade policies of the government in the past 20 years appears to have adversely affected some voters in the area. Memories are short.

The overall benefits of free trade for the U.S. economy are much debated and are difficult to quantify. At Working Economics Blog they point out that President Clinton argued that, although NAFTA would result in the loss of U.S. manufacturing jobs in isolated areas, this would be offset by increased high value exports. Twenty-three years later it is still debated whether the promise of NAFTA has been fulfilled.

What is clear is that when China gained entry to the WTO in 2001, it's share of world manufacturing exports tripled from 4.8% to 15.1% in 2010. [See data HERE]  Many areas in the U.S. experienced disruption from this increased China trade, and in pockets (like Alabama's Fifth Congressional District) this disruption was very significant.

The NYT article (above) suggests that "humming factories" in Northern Alabama were battered by Chinese imports. They published photos of empty buildings to drive home the point:
[T]he collapse of the apparel industry here in the first decade of the 21st century, following China’s entry into the World Trade Organization in 2001, reversed that process [of manufacturing growth]. Nearly 10,000 manufacturing jobs disappeared. At 7.4 percent, the regional unemployment rate is well below its peak of 12.8 percent in 2010, but remains far above the national average of 5 percent.
[The civilian labor force for the U.S. is approximately 158,000,000 or approximately 50% of total population.  Meanwhile the labor force participation rate of this work force has ranged from a high of 67% in 2007 to 63% today.  If we look at this at the level of the Fifth Congressional District, this would suggest they have a labor force of ~350,000, with 231,000 employed (at 66% labor force participation). This means a loss of 10,000 manufacturing jobs in Alabama's Fifth Congressional District represents approximately 4.3 % of jobs lost for the area as a result of Chinese competition alone. Any way you look at this, that's a lot; it's enough to put the region under significant economic stress]

The Effect of Economic Stress on our Politics

In a new study, The Electoral Consequences of Rising Trade Exposure, the authors present evidence that exposure to "trade shock" results in a more polarized politics. This means Republicans who are elected are significantly more to the right than their predecessors, and Democrats who are elected are slightly more liberal than their predecessors.  Today, there is no overlap between the parties. The most liberal Republican in Congress is more conservative than the most moderate Democrat. 

The study found that this rightward shift among elected Republicans is especially pronounced in Congressional districts with a majority white voter base, such as Alabama's Fifth Congressional District (77.7% white). Notably, the study found that most Congressional districts throughout the country continue to have a majority white voter base. 

Congressional districts with a dominant minority population have polarized to the left, although polarization was less on the left. 

Would Voters in Alabama's Fifth District be Better Served by More Liberal Policies?

Lawrence Mishel is president of the Economic Policy Institute He has co-authored all 12 editions of The State of Working America, much touted by former U.S. Labor Secretary Robert Reich. Mishel took note of the New York Times article and suggests that their lamenting the polarization of our politics as a result of "trade shocks" is shedding crocodile tears. "Ignoring the losers was deliberate," he says.  Supporting the areas hardest hit with good old fashioned liberal policies would have helped, a lot, but Congress didn't help: 
In 1981, our vigorous trade adjustment assistance (TAA) program was one of the first things Reagan attacked, cutting its weekly compensation payments from a 70 percent replacement rate down to 50 percent. Currently, in a dozen states, unemployment insurance—the most basic safety net for workers—is being unraveled by the elites. Only about one unemployed person in four receives unemployment compensation today. 
... Trade theory tells us that globalization’s impact is much greater on the wages of all non-college grads (... two-thirds (to) three-quarters of the workforce).... The damage is widespread, not concentrated among a few. Trade theory says the result is a permanent, not temporary, lowering of wages of all “unskilled” workers. You can’t adjust a dislocated worker to an equivalent job if good jobs are not being created and wages for the majority are being suppressed. Let’s not pretend.

The winners have never tried to fully compensate the losers, so let’s stop claiming that trade benefits us all. Globalization is one of several policy actions that has suppressed wage growth in recent decades. We would have better been able to weather its impact if we had better overall policies to support wages and workers and their families. .... If free-traders had actually cared about the working class they could have supported a full range of policies to support robust wage growth: full employment, collective bargaining, high labor standards, a robust minimum wage, and so on. They could have strengthened social insurance. And they could have done all that before administering “shocks” by expanding trade with low-wage countries. But they didn’t, and still won’t. Elites on both sides of the aisle have never even sought to restore TAA after the GOP assault. These economists do not really have a clue as to what has damaged working families, nor do they acknowledge the extent these families have been betrayed by a bipartisan elite crowd for which many economists provide intellectual cover.
All these policies for mitigating trade shocks that Mishel describes, of course, are liberal policies.

The NYT article describes how the last Democratic representative from Alabama's Fifth Congressional District, Parker Griffith, sought refuge from the storm by switching parties: he was elected as a moderate Democrat, and he switched parties to save his hide as a moderate Republican.

In 2009-2010 Griffith repeatedly voted against the extension of unemployment benefits, he voted against Obamacare, he voted against mortgage relief for homeowners, he voted against the Dodd-Frank reforms of Wall Street, he voted against increasing the debt ceiling to meet national obligations, he voted against appropriations for infrastructure and transportation programs, and he voted against the Lilly Ledbetter fair pay act. In other words he voted against liberal proposals that might have helped those hardest hit by our free trade policies.

The lesson from the Electoral Consequences study, it seems, is Griffith might have better served himself by turning hard left than by becoming a moderate Republican, and by doing so he might also have better served the voters in the Fifth Congressional District.

TVA map 
h/t to Brad DeLong.

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