Friday, March 27, 2009


Idealism Shouldn't Be Denialism

I used to think this sort of thing was just a matter of the Puritanism I have discussed here before or even the "I'm not anti-Semitic ... I'm a tolerant, open-minded liberal ... I just dislike Zionism" thinking that my more conservative friends claim it is.

But it seems that certain kind of liberal really feels a need to deny that such admittedly distasteful things as mass deportations really do play a role in stabilizing borders and preventing border wars (it isn't just about hating on Israel for creating conditions that drove Palestinians out) -- see the reactions to my admittedly trolling comment here.

Note the misrepresentation of my claim regarding borders: just because a country brutally oppresses and eventually deports "troublesome minorities" doesn't mean it can't later become ethnically heterogeneous. And I never claim otherwise. Indeed, one could argue that successful heterogeneous countries are successful because they devise a common culture for all their peoples by picking on an outgroup and unifying on the basis of "we are all different -- but none of us are [OUTGROUP]".

The world really isn't any different than Middle School. The difference between a conservative and a progressive is that a conservative says trying to make the world grow up and at least enter High School if not College is futile whilst a progressive says that we should try to make the world grow up. But pretending like the sins of the first world have not benefited us is pernicious denialism.

The other interesting aspect of the discussion is the reasoning of "we shouldn't make morally repelent hypotheses regarding historical events". Are we to deny the gross immorality of history, or at least deny the benefits we still have from said immorality, in order to improve the future? AFAIC, the opposite is the case -- if we really want to make positive changes, the first thing we need to do is honestly not only confront the sins of the past but also how we still benefit from them. Perhaps this is what Torah/Joshua/Samuel is getting at by including the not so morally happy parts about how the Hebrews came to control Israel: that we need to confront and engage with what happened in our past rather than deny it? This sort of active reflection and self-critique is something liberals should be encouraging others, especially Zionists, to do rather than engaging in pie-in-the-sky denialism themselves.

Of course the odd thing is that, domestically, these same liberals offer such cogent critiques of "white privilage" and how we melanically challenged types continue to benefit from even past racism. Yet they fail to see how this operates on the world stage (except when it comes to talking about the after effects of colonialism hurt everyone in the third world but magically Israel is a colonial oppressor and not also a victim in all of this? I guess that gets back to the "Puritans deciding who is oppressed and hence elected" critique of mine).

Between this attitude and the sheer incompetence and hassles of the New York DMV (once any legal issues are resolved, remind me to tell you what the DMV is doing to my wife -- these people don't even know what their own paperwork says!) and MTA making me hate on gummint, I just might be driven to the political right!

Sunday, March 22, 2009


The DAS Blog Economic Recovery Plan

I know it's a little late for this ... and hindsight is 20/20. But I'm not being paid to think up these sorts of things! If I could think of this now, how come the best "prognosticators" couldn't think of this when the time was ripe for it?

Now onto the show:

(1) The government should eat what Atrios calls big shitpile. But not in the way they have done so. Instead the purchases should have cut out the fertilizer sales agencies that too many of our banks have become. People (in pension funds, retirement plans, etc.) are loosing their future because they've invested in "oh so safe mortgage backed securities"? Government should buy big shitpile directly from the true owners of said fertilizer tower.

(2) Bail out state and local governments (with the condition that their endemic corruption -- which BTW helps the GOP politically by souring people on government, as I've addressed here and elsewhere -- be curtailed) so we don't have to have service cuts (which translates to even fewer people working and hence even more economic shrinkage) and tax increases when we can least afford them.

(3) Now onto the substantive changes -- deal with the Social Security crisis. No. Not the one manufactured by hucksters trying to get more people to "invest" in a market that, with investors just buying stock from each other without regard to what they get from the stock and with investors buying IPOs from underwear gnomes, has become a Ponzi scheme dwarfing Madoff's scheme. I mean the concept. Bubble collapses have destroyed the economy? Well what fuels these bubbles in the first place? People who figure they need to "invest" in order to have the retirement they've earned. If we had a real system of social security, people would get back to saving for retirement, and we wouldn't have so many bubbles.

(4) For that matter, we really need to bring back the New Deal. Is it any coincidence that, as the GOP has eviscerated the New Deal, we've been sliding back into a pre-FDR economy of business cycles with disastrous panics, depressions and recessions?

(5) If we insist on having mortgages be investments (moving away from the "It's a Wonderful Life" paradigm of "Joe's money is in Suzy's house"), we should, well, make them investments ... with risk! (and, c.f. point #3, people shouldn't be dependent on investments for retirement income.) We should institute mortgages in compliance with Biblical (of course the religious right will support this ... do I hear support from anyone? Warren? anyone?) and Talmudic law -- if the price of the house goes down, the investor eats it and not the homeowner.

(6) Finally (or perhaps I will think of more), we gotta do something about the price of housing. As the price of housing increased faster than the economy as a whole grew, it served as a Ponzi scheme (again dwarfing Madoff's) in which you could borrow against your house, etc., and someone would pay even more money to you to sell it to them. Eventually, the scheme has to collapse leaving a bunch of people owing money in mortgages they can no longer afford because no one will buy the house. Meanwhile, as housing prices increased faster than inflation and wages as a whole, this means that, where in my parents' day, a family of four could afford to live in a three bedroom home, in our day on the equivalent salary, one can only afford a one bedroom apartment!

People say "those borrowers should have limitted themselves to housing they could afford"? What affordable housing? We need to let the housing market really collapse ($300K to live in a floodplain in NJ? I don't care if it's in Wayne). The problem is that if the market collapses, Joe and Jane Homeowner will be left holding the bag. How can we subsidize people who loose big to sell homes for bargain basement prices so housing will become affordable again?

Obama says he wants to restore the American Dream? Well, perhaps he should, to the extent that it is still possible, adopt DAS Blog Plan, and allow people to crawl out from under their debts and into decent, affordable housing with full security and no need to fear anything but fear itself? If Obama wants to be FDR, he's gonna have to ditch the "neo-liberal" Geithners and Summerseses of his admin and start thinking like the real Democrat the GOoPers were afraid he was going to be!

Thursday, March 05, 2009


Is Opposition to Israel a Necessary Component of Liberalism?

A friend of mine disputes my facebook profile in which I label myself very liberal because liberalism requires one to have positions that lean even more pro-Arab than my own positions lean in terms of the Arab-Israeli conflict. While certainly I would imagine that any liberal would have positions "to the left" so to speak of, e.g. my friend Nate, on the Arab/Israeli conflict (and my own positions are indeed more friendlier to Arab concerns than Nate's are, e.g.), I fail to see how the positions identified as "on the left" in any way have anything to do with liberalism or leftist thought.

While there is a strain of liberalism (with which I often do battle) that holds, AFAIC, the position of "we will always listen only to the narratives of the oppressed, and we get to decide who is oppressed and thus worthy of having their narratives heard by us", I fail to see how one must hold such a position, which I would think should be relegated to conservative strawmen versions of liberals rather than to any actual liberals, in order to be considered a liberal. Actually, my friend (immortalized in the blogosphere as Timmy at one point) has very, very good arguments (he says I'd make a good appellate lawyer, but his arguments show that he's a master at the appeal) as to how the liberal position on the Arab/Israeli conflict is to the left of my own position (which includes Israel keeping the Golan Heights, e.g.). But I'd like to hear from all of my readers (all ten of them) about this issue. How is "the left wing view on the Arab/Israeli conflict" in any way a necessary component of left wing thought? How is Zionism (originally a left wing movement) incompatible with liberal/leftish politics?

Relatedly, it does feel very odd that people with whom I agree about everything else should have views so divergent from my own about Israel. Does this mean I am somehow inconsistent or wrong about Israel? Or that I need to reconsider my liberal views about other things (like a good neo-con would)?

One issue of course that gets tossed around a lot in liberal circles is Israel's (debatable) "refusal to comply" with international law. The problem here, however, is a problem in general with any liberal or progressive position (including "neo-liberal economics", e.g. ... which most liberals would actually oppose): liberals/progressives believe in reform of unfair rules and the institution of a fair and just rule of law. However, whenever you change the rules -- even if those changes are in the name of fairness -- it always creates a bit of unfairness.

Under any status quo there are winners and losers. A good liberal (for reasons outlined by Rorty and others) is most concerned about the losers and wishes to changes the rules to make things more fair for the losers (e.g. to level the playing field). The problem comes in that there are not just winners and losers but also agents who are new to the game. When you change the rules, you say to the newbies and even to some of the losers, "those winners may have won under the old rules, but to make things more fair we are changing the rules -- so now you won't lose so badly, but you won't be able to win either". On the one hand it is not fair to ask winners to give up their winnings if they won them fair and square playing by the rules. On the other hand, it is also not fair to say "well, the winners won fair and square by unfair rules, but since those rules were unfair, we won't let you win by them". So what does a liberal do? Maintain an unfair system? Do you deny that the winners actually won via unfair rules and Orwellianly claim the rules were always the newly instituted fair ones?

Consider the case of neo-liberalism and globalization. Though it is denied by neo-liberals, many nations got rich precisely via approaches contrary to the prescriptions of neo-liberalism. But now developing nations are hindered from getting rich because neo-liberalism is ascendent (thanks for keeping it that way Obama ... gag!). Even if neo-liberal free trade is somehow more "fair" -- is it right that the winners of the old system should keep their winnings from that unfair system whilst nations that are developing now have to play by new rules that will prevent them from winning? OTOH, should nations that played by the old rules and did well have to give up anything simply out of fairness?

Similarly it happens with the State of Israel. Under the old rules, so to speak, if you were bullied by other nations, fought back and then ended up winning the war and land with it, de facto if not de jure, you got to keep most, if not all of that land you won. But now we have this system of international law that says nations must return occupied territory. But shouldn't this apply to all nations, even those who managed to win territory under the old laws? Is it fair to ask them to return land they won playing by the rules?

Of course our new system of international laws has been put into place in part to prevent what happened to us Jews from ever happening to anyone again. OTOH, it is awful "convenient" (as the Church Lady might say) that, now that the Jewish State is in a position to benefit from the old rules, the rules are magically changed so that we Jews never win. How is that fair that so many other nations get to continue to benefit from a defunct system while Israel gets condemned for doing things as would be considered normal under that old system.

One could argue that is true of any up and coming new nation. But what happens is that, since all the other up and coming nations realize they can't get the winners under the old rules to give up their winnings, they just pick on Israel instead. Of course as a liberal, I am in theory in favor of a robust system of international laws. But the current system, without any real separation of powers (which is the sine qua non of a fair system of laws as far as liberalism is concerned, IMHO) -- in which a bunch of nations gang up on Israel 'cause nobody can win under the new rules and yet the winners under the old rules cannot be made to give up their winnings, is hardly something any liberal can support, is it?

And yet, according to some, supporting such a system and opposing Israel is a necessary element of liberalism? I still don't quite get that.

Monday, March 02, 2009


A Thought about the Mortgage Crisis

To all those who blame the problems entirely on people buying more home than they can afford -- a thought: when my dad was my age, my family (of four) had a nice, two bedroom house in the 'burbs, in an excellent school district. We could easily afford it on his income. Admittedly, my dad was a solidly upper-middle class professional, but still ... he was toward the beginning of his career, etc.

Meanwhile, my family and I would have to stretch a bit to get a two bedroom apartment. Admittedly, we are in the city (albeit in an outer borough) and I am not as far along in my career as my dad was at this age (it takes a bit longer to become a professor than an optometrist). But still, adjusting for inflation, our family's current income is about the same (if not more) than my dad's (the sole breadwinner by the time he was my age ... my mom stopped working outside the home when she had me). And, if my family and I were to move to Cali, there would be no way we could afford to buy the house I grew up in. Nor could we afford a similar house in Jerz.

I'm not sure what this entirely says about the housing crisis ... but I figured I'd put it out there ... if only on this here blog that only a handful of folks actually read.

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