Monday, September 27, 2010



In my previous post, written a few hours ago, I expressed pessimism about the possibility of resuming peace talks between the Israeli Likud administration and the Palestinian Authority.  Let us suppose that, contrary to my expectation, the Palestinians are persuaded to return to direct negotiations with the Likud Administration.  I urge that the first item to be discussed and possibly negotiated is the boundary between Israel and Palestine.  There is a boundary that the international community, including the UN, has agreed to.  Israel has not agreed to that boundary.  The big question is, will Israel agree to any boundary?  If Israel is serious about agreeing to a two-state solution, it seems reasonable to believe that Israel is ready to talk about where the boundary should be.

It would be interesting to see whether Israel will agree to discuss a boundary and, if so, where it should be.

I predict that Israel will refuse to discuss the location of the boundary.  In the past, Israel has always insisted that choosing a boundary should be the last item to be negotiated.



Settlement Building Resumes in Israel

The "partial freeze" on settlement building by Israeli fundamentalists has ended and the settlers are gleefully (but quietly) resuming the construction of new living structures.  The goal of the settlers / fundamentalists has never been in doubt.  They aim to recapture all of Biblical Israel to round out the area occupied by the Jewish state.  I have read that although they do not constitute a majority of Jews living in Israel they are an essential part of the coalition government now in power.  Prime Minister Netanyahu fears the loss of his majority in the parliament if he acts to anger the settlers.

As long as settlement activity continues and as long as the settlers themselves are guaranteed residence in and protection by the state of Israel, there is nothing to negotiate with the Palestinians who are slowly being displaced by the settlements except the ultimate date of their departure from Palestine / Israel.  The United States is pretending to try to get negotiations going for a two-state solution.  Mr. Netanyahu may personally believe that a two state solution would be a good one for Israel, but he can not advocate such a solution with serious or meaningful compromises as long as his coalition must depend on the cooperation of the settlers / fundamentalists.

On the other side, the Palestinian leader Abbas can not convincingly engage in any "negotiations" with the Israeli government as long as that government continues to allow the settlers to continue their slow occupation of all of what is left of Palestinian territory.

Both sides would welcome peace.  Neither side can negotiate in a realistic manner.  What is to be done?

The United States has the power of money to cause the settlement activity to cease.  Our contry provides foreign aid to Israel in the amount of several billions of dollars every year.  Some of the money is used to replace money used to build settlements.  Money is fungible.  If we stopped our foreign aid to Israel, Israel would be in desperate straits.  We could force an end to settlement activity as the price for resuming the foreign aid.

Our own government lacks the political will to use the power of money on Israel.  Cutting off the subsidy would anger an important lobby in Washington - the American Israeli Political Action Committee or AIPAC.  No President dares to face down this lobby.  It would cost his party important support in the next election.

Meanwhile, the Palestinians languish in refugee camps or watch helplessly as their farms are isolated by the growth of new Jewish settlements.  Any suggestions?



More about Values

In a previous post I set forth a few of my beliefs that I asserted should qualify as values.  Conservatives keep talking about people voting their values in an election.  I agree.  I vote my values.  It occurred to me that I should write a few lines about what I perceive to be conservative values.  It will clarify the distinction between my voting preferences and those of a conservative.

Like most liberals I believe in health care as a right, not a privilege.  Good health care must be available for all.  That means to me that one doesn't have to pay for it as an individual, any more than I have to pay for police protection as an individual.  I pay for police protection through taxes.  I would pay for health care the same way.

Conservatives simply do not believe that health care should be a right.  Everyone should take care of his or her own health.  If, in spite of a  healthy regime you become seriously ill and can't pay for the medical treatment you need, that's too bad.  As President Carter once said, "life is not fair."  Conservatives do, however, believe that police protection is a right and they have no problem paying the taxes that support our police departments.

I believe that elderly residents, like myself, who have spent their younger years doing work that was useful to society, should have the right of a moderately comfortable life in retirement.  Their standard of living should not depend on the vagaries of the economic system or the fluctuations of the stock market.  Hence, I believe in social security with adjustments for a gradual rise in the cost of living.

Conservatives do not believe that old people have the right of a decent living guaranteed by the public.  One should save money for old age.  If you make a poor investment and lose most of your life savings, too  bad.  "Life is not fair."  No matter that the investment looked very good and sound when you made it and that your loss was not predictable or even foreseeable.  Bad luck is your problem and not something that others should care about.  In addition, providing a guaranteed retirement income tends to subsidize laziness and poor judgment and tendency to make risky investments.

I can make similar arguments about individuals who are unemployed because of the recession.  I think that they are entitled to some minimum standard of living as long as they are unable to find work.  Conservatives believe that providing such is subsidizing laziness.  If the unemployment income is cut off, many of the unemployed will manage to find some kind of employment.  Too bad for the others.

These are a few of my values and the contrasting values of conservatives.  I welcome your comments.


Tuesday, September 21, 2010


Using Sound Bites instead of Thought

The other day a friend asked me, “What is the attraction Sarah Palin has for some voters?” My immediate answer was, “She’s hot and she’s dumb.” By hot I meant “sexy” and by dumb I meant “no intellectual challenge to the average male human.” I compared her with Hillary Clinton who is bright and is perceived by many men to be a serious challenge. I added that another attraction Sarah has for the average man is that she likes to have many children.

I’ve been thinking about the “dumb” adjective. I didn’t mean “dumb” in the sense of being unaware or being stupid or being poorly educated. Ms Palin is aware of her surroundings, she’s not stupid, and she’s at least fairly well educated. I used the term in the sense of “unthinking.” A “dumb” person in that sense doesn’t think about why things are as they are. He or she recognizes that there are things in the environment that are annoying or even stressful. However, the “dumb” person doesn’t devote any original thought to these problems. Instead, the person uses a stock phrase that sums up a simple and usually incorrect assessment of the problem.

Many political junkies use these stock phrases or sound bites as substitutes for original thought. A popular example is that increasing the taxes on the very rich will increase unemployment because the very rich will have less money with which to hire the rest of us to work in factories or offices or farms or whatever. If you give that phrase any thought at all you realize that it’s a bit of nonsense concocted to justify favorite tax treatment for the rich. Rich people don’t invest money in new businesses or new equipment just because they have the money. In fact, a successful enterpriser doesn’t invest his or her own money at all. He or she borrows money from a bank and sells shares to raise the money to start a new business. The bank and the potential stockholders won’t part with their money unless the enterpriser can convince them that there is a market of people with money eager to buy the product. That is, the phrase “make it and they will buy” doesn’t apply. What applies is “if they want it and can afford it, make it and sell it to them.”

Another popular example, propounded by President Reagan, is that increasing the tax rates on the rich discourages them from working hard because they get to keep less of the money that they earn. Again, if you think about this sound bite for a moment you realize how absurd it is. No matter the tax rate, as long as it is less than 100 percent, extra work provides extra income. It may not be as much as you’d like, but it is extra. This is simply another rationale for favored tax treatment of the rich.

I can go on all day with these simple sounding explanations in favor of or against specific policies. Some original and careful thought will convince you that the explanations make no sense as explanations. They make sense only as rationales for certain policies.

I invite you to find your own examples of these sound bites that masquerade as thoughtfulness about politics and economics.

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Saturday, September 18, 2010



Conservatives say that elections should reflect the values of the voters.  To some conservatives, values are more important than economic well-being.  At least it seems that way to me.  I am not a conservative and I have great difficulty in understanding the conservative viewpoint on many issues.  Some of the values that conservatives espouse are "marriage between a man and a woman," "right of the unborn child to life," and "small government that does not interfere in the lives of ordinary people."  There are other values which I'm not going to try to list here.

Anyway, thinking about conservative values and the inference that many conservatives make that liberals have no values led me to thinking about values.  Sure, elections are about values.  I have values.  I'm going to list a few of them here:
The preceding list is not a complete list of my values.  They are important ones.  In my case, not all values have the same importance.

Let the next election be about values.  I will vote my values with pride.


Friday, September 17, 2010


The Tea Party Ideal

When I was very young I had a grandmother. She lived on a farm. Her son, her oldest child, lived with her on the farm and ran it. The farm had a creek, fields, horses, cows, chickens, and maybe even some pigs. I don't recall most details of that farm. I get it confused with the farm of my Aunt Ruth. She and her husband had a farm. She was a grandmother. Her son lived nearby on another farm and he had a wife and several children. Her daughter lived on another nearby farm and she had a daughter. Aunt Ruth and Uncle Ray were grandparents.

They had a nice farm. It was near Boone, Michigan. They had an electric generator powered by a one-cylinder gasoline engine. The generator charged a battery bank. The battery bank supplied electricity to the house to operate lights and an electric refrigerator. There was also a windmill that operated a pump. Some of the water from the pump was stored in a tank in the upper storey of the house. That tank provided water for the kitchen sink. There was a flush toilet also. When my second cousin Eleanor was about five, she went into the toilet, locked the door, did her business, and remembered how to unlock the door to get out. Aunt Ruth marveled at her granddaughter's perspicacity.

I stayed with Aunt Ruth and Uncle Ray one summer. It was 1935, the summer that Will Rogers and Wiley Post died in a plane crash in Alaska. I loved the farm. At the time I didn't, but now I know that I did love pulling the weeds and feeding them to the pigs. The farm was like heaven. I thought that Aunt Ruth and Uncle Ray were very rich, much richer than my own parents who lived in a rented house in a little village near Grand Rapids. In our house we had electricity but no running water and no flush toilet. We had two hand pumps in the kitchen, one for well water to drink and use for cooking and one for cistern water for washing clothes. I knew that when my parents were young they lived on farms. It must have been wonderful for them. Somehow they had lost something and had been forced to move into the village.

If I had done nothing of an intellectual nature since those days, I would now still have the dream that motivates members of the "Tea Party" movement. According to the dream, things were once nearly perfect. People lived on farms and were rich. The took care of themselves and helped their neighbors at harvest time. Government was far, far away and did very little except maintain roads and collect taxes. Nobody thought anything about universal health care. We had universal health care. When you were sick, you went to the doctor and he treated you. He would give you a bill for services and you would pay it whenever you could. If you didn't have money you would give him food - eggs, milk, vegetables, whatever you had that he and his wife could use. When you were old, you would continue to live on your farm and one of your children would take over the farm and work it. When your time came, you would die at home surrounded by your children and some of your grandchildren.

Life was good in those days. Tea Party dreamers would like to have it back, even though those now living probably never experienced life as it was to our grandparents when they were young. My generation, the village children, never lived as our grandparents had lived. We never experienced the hard work of farming. We never experienced the dangers of living and working on a farm. We were never gored by an angry bull or kicked by a frightened horse. We never fell out of the hay loft in the barn and broke our collar bone. We were not taken from a life of very hard work at the youthful age of 64 as my mother's father was. We never experienced typhoid fever epidemics due to burying our sewage in pits and then drinking the water from nearby wells. In our dreams these difficulties didn't exist. Life was full of sunshine, weeds for the pigs, gathering eggs from the chickens, up at daybreak for a hearty breakfast, and so on.

I envy the Tea Party fans their dreams. I wish life could be like the dream. Of course, it can't. In fact, it never was.


Monday, September 13, 2010


"Small Government" pros and cons

Let me make a distinction at the beginning of this little essay. There are two different ideas about what "small government" means. One idea, that of the businessman, is that small government doesn't publish and try to enforce regulations that annoy him or cause him extra expense. The other idea is that any government is liable to be taken over by a tyrant. A tyrannical small government is preferable to a tyrannical big one. Better a Huey Long in one State than a Hitler in an whole country. Personally, I have no patience with the businessman's idea of "small" government. I take seriously the idea of avoiding a large government that becomes tyrannical.

Let us consider an ideal case of "small" government. It is a democracy (or a republic). It interferes as little as possible in the lives of its citizens. It doesn't spend a lot; therefore it doesn't tax a lot. It provides few services. Fire protection is left to individual volunteer fire brigades whose members drop what they're doing and rush to the fire to put it out or, at least, to prevent it from spreading to neighboring buildings. Police protection is provided by private firms that provide guard services for a price. The government does provide an army, mostly of volunteers, who gather to fight off a foreign invader. The government issues money, keeps records of real estate transactions, provides courts to deal with civil suits, and provides some regulation of large enterprises, such as dams for navigation, irrigation, and power.

Would you be happy living with such a government? You might be if you lived two hundred years ago when you were clearing land you had just occupied. All you needed from the government then was an army or a militia to protect you from the indigenous people who formerly occupied the land you now claim.

I think that today you would want government to provide more than the minimum of services it provided two centuries ago. You would certainly want effective police protection and effective response to a fire. You would want government to provide, or cause to be provided, clean drinking water. Other desirable services are adequate electric power, gas for heating and cooking, sewers for draining away waste, and maintained roads and highways. You would want the air you breathe to be as clean as the air you would have breathed 200 years ago. I think that if you thought carefully about the issue of "small" vs. "large," you would incline toward "large" government.

This "large" government that provides all the services you need for living in a large city may or may not be tyrannical. It will certainly be expensive, more expensive than the ideal "small" government. One way or another, this "large" government will collect taxes of various kinds. You will pay a tax on your real estate, your income, the things you buy, your car, etc., etc., etc. If you see the government as tyrannical or even as unrepresentative, you will complain about taxes. City governments tend to be isolated from the citizens of the city simply because of the size of the city and its population. The city may have a representative government, but each elected representative three hundred thousand individuals. It's pretty hard for each of these constituents to have a one-on-one discussion with their representative. Two hundred years ago cities were smaller and representatives had fewer constituents and they were not as isolated from each other as today.

The coming election pits conservative "small government" people against liberal "large government" people. That's an oversimplification to be sure but it does represent at least one category of ideas involved in the election. It might be a good idea if we could agree, once and for all, just what kind of government we want. The next election may decide the matter for a couple of years but not permanently.

Friday, September 10, 2010


The Reverend backs down but saves face

Someone finally got to Terry Jones, the Pentecostal minister in Florida who organized a Qur'an burning for Saturday, September 11. Perhaps it was Bob Gates, our esteemed Secretary of Defence. Perhaps it was his daughter. Someone told him how to climb back off the limb he was on and save face in doing so. Saving face is very important. He stated that the organizers of the plan to build the Islamic Cultural Center near ground zero in New York had agreed to find another location for the center in exchange for him giving up his plan to burn copies of the Qur'an. That claim will go well with his congregation. They have accomplished something big and important to many Americans who were offended - no, angry - at the thought of building anything dedicated to the glory of Islam near the place where a few fanatical Muslims murdered more that 2000 people nine years ago tomorrow.

Of course the backers of the Islamic Cultural Center have denied having any such agreement with the Rev. Terry Jones. By the time the truth of the matter has been sorted out, if it ever is, it will be long after September 11 and no one will be interested any more.


Tuesday, September 07, 2010


Let's cut Israel free

Israel, our firm and persistent ally, has become a drag on our foreign policy. Not a millstone, but certainly a liability on balance. As long as the United States is viewed by the rest of the world as Israel's protector and rich uncle the United States will be unable to engage effectively those countries who regard Israel as a rather dangerous intruder.

Israel is an intruder. The citizens of Israel occupy land that they or their predecessors took by force from the people previously living there. Palestinians have been forcibly removed from their ancestral places of residence and those residences, those farms, are now occupied by immigrant Jews from Russia, United States, and many other countries of Europe.

Israel denies that it is an intruder. The Jewish belief is that The Lord God gave that land to the followers of Moses in perpetuity. All they had to do was to displace the natives who lived there at the time. Today the followers of Moses and Abraham try to repeat ancient history. The fixed, if secret, policy of the Israeli Government is to recreate the Biblical land of Israel. In that land there is no room for anyone but Jews. The continuation of building settlements is evidence of that policy.

What is there that can be negotiated? The Palestinians want at least part of the land that was taken from them. They want to have their own government. They want to have a defined border between their country and this new "Zionist entity" as they call it. They want to be able to live outside of refugee camps. They would like to have some monetary compensation for the properties that have been taken from them.

The idea that there should be no preconditions to a negotiation doesn't get us anywhere. In any negotiation there are preconditions. One is that there is a reasonable possibility that something can be achieved. The result of a good negotiation is not an agreement that satisfies both sides. It's an agreement that each side can grudgingly accept. Why would any rational person think that Palestinians would accept an agreement that does not halt the building of more settlements and does not include a border between the two countries? It is obvious to me that Israel is willing to talk forever as long as it can continue its not so secret policy of gradually squeezing the Palestinians out of Biblical Israel and replacing them with Jews.

Our President believes that an agreement can be reached between Israel and the Palestinians. He has sent his ambassadors to try to get discussions going. I cheer his determination to try to solve an intractable problem, but I think a more successful policy would be to cease attempts to broker a peace agreement and let the two parties duke it out between themselves without any intervention by the United States. That's right. I consider Israel a liability. Let them go alone. Cut off the American subsidy. Discourage our citizens from traveling to that part of the world. Give no more deference to Israel than we do to, say, Portugal.

Am I being anti-Semitic? You judge. Jews have just the same right to live anywhere they choose as I do. If Jews want to live in a country populated mostly by Muslims they should be able to do so. However, I don't want to be involved in forcing the people already living there to accept the new immigrants. We have a policy of limiting immigration. Every other country is entitled to the same policy. Palestinians are entitled to have a policy of limiting immigration to their country. Does that make them anti-Semitic? We have limits on the number of immigrants that can legally enter our country each year from Mexico. Are we anti-Mexican? I don't think so.


Friday, September 03, 2010


Supply side economics

This is not an original critique of the Obama Administration but it's something I feel very strongly about. My complaint about Mr. Obama is that he is trying to solve the economic sickness of the country by using supply side economics. That is, provide the banks with enough funds and they will lend money to aspiring small businesses and these businesses will then have the money to hire more workers and buy more production capacity and produce more goods and everything will be just fine and dandy. Incidentally, provide some tax relief for the rich so that they will have more money to invest in new businesses.

Only, it doesn't work. Pouring money into the top of the economic system doesn't guarantee that it will trickle down and provide more jobs and prosperity again. We can see today that it doesn't work. Banks have loads of money but they're not lending. Why not? Bankers are a little bit smarter than most of us and they can see that the problem is not insufficient capacity to produce but rather insufficient demand for the products. No banker is going to stay rich by lending money to a business that makes widgets if there are no customers waiting and eager to buy widgets. Even potential customers who have good jobs and good incomes are not eager to buy these days. They don't know how secure their own jobs are. They're going to wait another year or two before putting out money for a new car or for painting the house or for taking an expensive cruise.

What we need is an administration that will practice demand side economics. Create the demand for a product and the means to pay for it and banks will lend, businessmen will hire, and products will be built and offered for sale. How do we do it? It's been said before and it's been done before. Think of the great President of the 20th century, Franklin Roosevelt. He had the government borrow money to create many jobs for unemployed workers of all kinds: mathematicians, artists, construction workers, and others. Some of the creations of these workers are still around today. We have today a great need for infrastructure building and repair. We need high speed rail lines. We need improved highways. We need bridges repaired or replaced. We need to improve the transportation on internal waterways. I can go on and on. There is no lack of useful things that could be accomplished by a revival of the WPA or the CCC or the PWA or any of the other projects that were started in the 1930's.



Guavas, etc.

One of my readers complained this morning that I hadn't posted a new article for many days. I replied that I seem to have run out of original comments about politics. Anything that I can think of to say about political matters has already been said or written. So, I decided to write about guavas.

I have a guava bush in my front yard. Today, September 3, 2010 I see that at least one guava has attained its full size. Most of them are about half as big around as they will be when ripe. It seems to me that they are ripening earlier this year than last.

I don't know what to do with all the guavas that are going to fall from that bush later this month and early October. In past years I have canned guavas. I can them, but don't eat them often. I have canned guavas that I canned in 2002. My reader suggested guava jam or jelly. I'll have to find out how to make good guava jam or jelly. I'll start with Google. Perhaps one of my daughters has a recipe.

In 1962 I visited Thailand for the first time. I was part of a US State Department traveling show showing and celebrating the peaceful uses of atomic energy. One Saturday a Thai lady was taking a group of us on a tour. We visited the miniature palace of King Chulalongkorn. We were standing near the lagoon that contains the palace and I was eating a guava. Guavas in Thailand are bigger than the guavas from my front yard bush. It turns out that the word for guava in Thai is farang. It happens that the word for a white-skinned foreigner is also farang. A boy and his mother were near by. The boy pointed at me and exclaimed, "Farang kin farang," which meant that the white foreigner was eating a guava. It caused some amusement among the tour party when the guide explained the pun. The mother of the little boy was embarrassed.

I still don't know what I'm going to do with all the guavas. I don't eat much jelly or jam. I like the guavas raw, but raw guavas won't keep very long. I'll give some to my Iranian neighbor and to several friends. I used to have a friend who loved guavas passionately, but she no longer lives.

I am open to all suggestions.

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