Wednesday, December 29, 2010


What is Zionism?

Yesterday (Tuesday, December 28) I read the letters section in the Op-Ed pages of the Los Angeles Times.  One of the writers commented on the current stand-off between Palestinians and Israelis regarding the negotiations leading to a peace settlement.  This writer alleged that the problem would be solved very quickly if only the Palestinians would agree to the existence of a Zionist state (i.e., Israel) in the region.  Since the Palestinians refuse to agree that Israel has a right to exist, there can be no progress on negotiations.

I've pondered this proposition.  What is meant by a Zionist state?  What are the implications in a right of Israel to exist?  Above all, why is it that the Palestinians, who have lived in the area for two thousand years, are the ones who have to make all the concessions?

Let's consider a few definitions of Zionism.
  1. Zionism means that Jews living anywhere in the world have a right to move to the Biblical land of Israel and live there.  The land was given to them thousands of years ago by God and they have a right to it.  Any non-Jews who happen to be living in the territory will have to make room for any Jews that decide to settle there.
  2. Zionism means that, because of the persistent persecution of Jews in many European countries, a national homeland should be established in areas near Jerusalem where Jews can live and practice their religion in peace.
  3. Zionism means that, in order that Jews may safely practice their religion, a religious state must be established in which Jews can be citizens and elect governments that will protect them.
  4. Zionism is strictly a religious movement and has nothing to do with government.
Israeli leaders seem to operate on the assumption that Zionism is defined by items 1 and 3 above.  Jews have a sacred right to the territory of Biblical Israel and must establish a government of the territory that will protect them from all enemies.

I can't blame the Palestinians from rejecting the Israeli leaders' definition of Zionism.  I can't accept it myself and I am not a Palestinian.  Of the four partial definitions, I can accept only number 2.  The Jews deserve a national homeland.  They do not deserve a religious state.  They certainly do not have a moral right to seize property owned by the Palestinians and expropriate it for their own use.  However, as an American, my moral criticism sounds hypocritical.  My forebearers took land from the indigenous people who lived here and established their own farms, factories, cities, and other features of our civilization.  The indigenous people were killed off by diseases like measles and small pox as well as by frequent wars.  The survivors have been herded into reservations, where they live in poverty for the most part.  The Israelis are simply following our example.

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Monday, December 13, 2010


The Folly of Conceding too much

There is a serious move afoot to challenge the constitutionality of an essential component of the new health care low.  The law requires everyone to purchase health insurance.  A federal judge has ruled that this requirement exceeds the power Congress has under the Interstate Commerce clause.  Congress does not have the power to require every person to engage in a particular contractual obligation.  The matter will be sent on to the Supreme Court for a final ruling.

The basic premise of the law was that health care was to be provided by insurance.  To achieve affordable rates, everyone must participate in the insurance pool.  If not, only the sick and those with probable sickness in the future will buy insurance.  No one will be able to afford the premiums.  The whole structure will fall.

One news commentator noted that if the "public option" had been included in the law, there would be no legal requirement for everyone to buy insurance.  Those who decline to buy insurance would instead join the "publilc option" group and pay into that.  The pool would be filled with a natural mix of healthy and not so healthy individuals.

Mr. Obama may now be wishing that he hadn't caved to the desires of the insurance lobby in discarding the public option.

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Wednesday, December 08, 2010


Morals vs. Logic in Politics

The other day the local PACIFICA radio station aired an interview with George Lakoff.  Professor Lakoff asserted that Conservatives have developed ways of framing and talking about issues that appeal to the average non-political listener.  Conservatives appeal to morality.  Liberals make the mistake of appealing to logic.  The human brain doesn't work that way.  Morality trumps logic.

There is a pair of moral precepts that both Conservatives and Liberals have.  These are "self-reliance" and "helping neighbors."  Extensions of these precepts lead to many of the disagreements between Conservatives and Liberals.

Self reliance leads to the notion that everyone in America should take care of himself or herself.  No one should willingly accept help from the government.  Government payments to the less well-off encourage the abandonment of the spirit of self reliance.  Lazy people let the government take care of them.  Energetic, self-reliant people take care of themselves.  Hence, it is bad public policy to establish programs that automatically take care of the poor and unfortunate.  Such assistance should be given only in the case of natural disasters, like storms, earthquakes, fires, and floods.  Therefore, the government should turn Social Security into a private savings plan where individuals can invest their savings to provide an income for them in retirement.  We should stop talking about universal health care and instead set up medical savings accounts so that individuals can put some of their savings in a fund to pay the bills in medical emergencies.

Helping neighbors leads to an almost opposite set of notions.  Abraham Lincoln said that "government should do for people that which the people can not do for themselves."  It is the government's job to provide retirement pensions (Social Security) and free or low-cost medical care for the sick and injured.  Universal Health Care is a public good and deserves public support.  Individuals should not be forced to depend on the unpredictable swings of the stock market or interest rates to provide them an adequate retirement income.  In our economic system, workers are underpaid.  The value of their work is greater than the value of the pay they receive for it.  It must be that way, otherwise no business would ever make a profit.  Pensions are deferred payments for work done.

No one is ever one hundred percent "Conservative" or "Liberal."  Most Liberals favor Social Security and Universal Health Care but would not willingly spend years of their lives living on welfare.  Even Liberals respect self-reliance.  Most Conservatives favor emergency relief for victims of natural disasters.  They respect the notion of neighbor helping neighbor and many give generously to non-governmental organizations, such as churches, that provide assistance to persons down on their luck.  Many Conservatives argue that public welfare should be replaced by assistance provided by these organizations.

The definitions of "conservative" and "liberal" that apply to our present politics are not the definitions I learned in school nor the definitions provided in dictionaries.  The "conservative" definition of a Conservative is that he or she is a person who resists change.  Things should be left the way they are.  Changes produce unexpected results that may be worse than what we have now.  It's better to stay with the devil you know than the devil you don't know.  The "conservative" definition of a Liberal is that he or she is a person who welcomes social experimentation.  The Liberal wants to take a chance on "the devil you don't know."  The Liberal believes that the present system is intolerable and is becoming worse and something has to be done.  The definitions that relate to our present politics involve the moral issues that Conservatives or Liberals hold dear.  I have given an example: Conservative belief in self-reliance and Liberal belief in helping neighbors.  There are many others.  You are welcome to make up and submit your lists.

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Thursday, December 02, 2010


Those Poor Republicans

Republicans in the Senate - all 42 of them - have announced they will filibuster any legislation or other matter that comes to the Senate unless and until there is a vote to extend the Bush tax cuts for another two years.  For instance, they won't vote on any proposed strategic arms treaty with Russia until the tax question is settled to their satisfaction.  In the recent election we were led to believe that the voters were dissatisfied with

  1. Escessive partisanship and bickering in Washington
  2. Unemployment and the lousy economy
  3. The out-of-control deficit
  4. The stimulus program, viewed by many as a big failure
  5. Inability of the Democrats to pass a simple, effective health care law that did not continue special favors for big pharma and big insurers
Now we see that the partisanship and bickering are still with us in force.  The economy hasn't improved.  Republicans want to continue the deficit by continuing the Bush tax rates.  The stimulus is now recognized by economists as a successful program that prevented the loss of another million jobs.

Individual Republican Senators are not stupid.  At least, most of them are not stupid.  They know that the economy is the big problem and must be dealt with now, not after the election of 2012 when, they hope, the President will be a Republican.  Why are they putting so much importance on the Bush tax rates?

It must be a Republican article of faith, like the belief in the resurrection of Jesus among Christians, that lowering taxes is always the solution.  If the economy is down, lower taxes.  If there is a smallpox epidemic, lower taxes.  Lowering taxes, especially on the richest taxpayers, will enable these fortunate people to have extra money that they will spend on employing more workers in their factories, donating money to provide free smallpox medication to the populace, and other good works.  In the case of the Christian belief, there is no one alive today who witnessed the resurrection and we don't really know exactly what happened, or if indeed anything happened.  So to the case that lowering taxes, especially on wealthy people, stimulates the economy: it may have happened once but there is no one around who actually saw in happen and can explain in detail how it happened and whether it would happen this time.  There have certainly been times when a lowering of taxes coincided with recovery from a recession.  There have also been times that taxes were lowered when there was no recession, and there have been times when a recession leveled out and became a recovery and there was no simultaneous change in tax rates.  Yet, the theory remains an article of faith among Republicans.

When is the Grand Old Party going to come to its senses and become the hard-nosed and realistic party it once was?  When is the Party going to exchange Sarah Palin for a Dwight Eisenhower or an Earl Warren?

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Some Changes of Interest

Until the begining of 2010 I was interested mainly in politics.  I had been a member of one Democratic political club or another since about 1958.  At the end of the year 2009 the club of which I was a member came to an end when no one wanted to be the President.  I've had invitations to join Democratic clubs since then but so far I've not joined one.  Instead I have gotten involved in two other organizations: the Woodland Hills Neighborhood Council and the Warner Ceneter Kiwanis Club.  These two have taken up more than the time I would normally have spent on Democratic club activities except for the extra work done during an election campaign.

I'm still interested in politics, of course.  I was pleased that the Democrats made a clean sweep this year of the State offices.  Steve Cooley, the respected and able District Attorney of Los Angeles County ran for State Attorney General as a Republican.  Previously he had been elected and reelected in Los Angeles County by big margins.  The DA of Los Angeles is a non-partisan office.  When running for office as a Republican, he did not carry Los Angeles County.  He lost the election by a slim margin and would have been elected if Los Angeles County had supported him as it had previously.  It's agreed that the Republican label was an anchor or anvil that sank him.  I don't know how long this distaste for Republicans will stay with the voters but for now we Democrats in California can bask in the pleasant knowledge that our opponents are very unpopular.

Now that I am seeing what a Kiwanis Club or a neighborhood council can do, I have come to believe that I didn't accomplish much in all the years that I was an active Democratic club member.  At best I may have contributed to Democratic victories in close elections in local districts.  We club members helped Brad Sherman win election in a district that had been designed for a Republican in 1996, after Tony Beilenson retired.  We helped Fran Pavley and later Julia Brownley in their election campaigns to represent the 41st Assembly District.  However there were other candidates that we worked for and who didn't prevail.  They were running in districts that had traditioally voted for Republicans.

I've noticed that even though the Democrats made a clean sweep of State offices in the election last month, the make-up of the legislature was almost unchanged.  The Democrats still have a substantial majority in each chamber but the majorities are not great enough to overcome the 2/3 vote requirement that gives the Republicans an absolute veto on all legislation if they hang together.  The only way to get anything done is to offer a few Republicans bribes in the form of projects that benefit their districts.

At any rate, the two organizations that now take up much of my time work on projects or on proposed projects that have an immediate effect.  The Kiwanians work on special projects for children.  Neighborhood councils review and object to bulding plans proposed by the Los Angeles City Council.  Some of these activities may not have an immediate effect, but in general the two organizations to have at least small effects on the actual quality of life of individiuals living in this area.  It's more satisfying to prevent a zoning change for a pawn shop than to see an Assemblyman in a safe district reelected even though I was one of a group that did phoning for him.  He probably would have been elected anyway.  The zoning change would have occurred if the neighborhood council had not intervened and held public meetings at which concerned residents could voice their opposition.

I still think about joining another Democratic club.  So far I haven't found one that appeals to me and also holds meetings reasonably close to where I live.

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