So what have Americans got to be thankful for?
Happy Thanksgiving (a bit late, but better late than never),
Commentaries and Controversies
It is natural for men to persuade themselves that their interest coincides with their inclination.Upton Sinclair (quoted by Jonathan Zasloff):
It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.Both of these maxims are correct, insightful, and illuminating. But they are saying somewhat different things.
At my age I can testify that there are at least 13 modes of self- deception. [JW: Only 13?]Correct—and important to recognize.
As for the pursuit of interest, on the political blogs, left and right, the pseudosophisticates always say follow the money, or follow the oil. That is only penetrating the first veil. The second veil is to understand the place of passion, the third honor and shame, the fourth the intrinsically moral, the fifth collective fanaticism, and on.
So much nasty stuff in the world is not due to interest.
The Republican Party has gone on so long waxing hysterical about the debt while refusing any compromise at all to reduce it — even a 10-to-1 ratio of spending cuts to taxes — that the hypocrisy no longer even registers. It's simply a fixed element in the political landscape.His brief treatment of this subject would be difficult to improve upon, so I won't try. See below.
Keep the Iraqi Jews’ Legacy Safe – in AmericaAs Shamash mentions in her piece, Iraq's Ambassador to the US seems to have broached the possibility of a long-term loan arrangement that would allow the archive to remain in the US for a while without the Iraqi government relinquishing its legal claims. This strikes me as a potentially workable pragmatic compromise solution to this problem—not a permanent or ideal solution, but probably the best type of solution, or quasi-solution, that's realistically available. Of course, if such an agreement can be worked out, much would depend on the details. (For more on this development and its possible implications, see here.)
Seventy-five years ago, about 120,000 Jews lived in Iraq. In Baghdad, they were prominent in business and the professions — doctors, lawyers, bankers, professors, musicians, writers, artists, engineers. Last summer, a visitor just back from Iraq told me he could account for only five Iraqi Jews alive in the country. Not 5,000. Not 500. Five. They are too old to leave. When they die, there will be none. [....]
Then, in May 2003, American soldiers searching the flooded basement of Saddam Hussein’s intelligence headquarters for weapons found instead an obviously looted trove of more than 2,700 books and tens of thousands of documents in Hebrew, Arabic, Judeo-Arabic and English. The materials dated as far back as 1540, and as recently as the 1970s; they included scroll fragments, a Babylonian Talmud, hand-illustrated prayer books, Hebrew calendars, school primers, personal and business correspondence, Kabbalist commentaries and a Bible from 1568. Conservationists from the National Archives in Washington went to Baghdad to assess the damage and save the articles. Iraqi representatives agreed that the materials should be flown to America, where they were nursed back to life: freeze-dried, cleaned, categorized, photographed and digitized. [....]
On Friday, an exhibition, “Discovery and Recovery: Preserving Iraqi-Jewish Heritage,” opens at the National Archives. A website has given the world access to the archive. But the collection’s future is uncertain because President George W. Bush’s administration promised that the materials would be returned to Iraq after restoration. That promise’s legality has been contested by Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, and others.
I can understand American sensitivities to accusations of pillaging. During the Iraq war, the United States also removed Baath Party documents, and Iraq is seeking their return, too, on grounds that the Iraqi public can learn from them about their past leaders’ mistakes. But there is a difference between the papers of a murderous dictator and the heritage of an oppressed minority. The Iraqi-Jewish archive never belonged to the Iraqi government; it belonged to the Jews of Iraq.
For me, the Baath Party documents are like the black box from a plane that has crashed: studying them can avert future calamities. The Iraqi-Jewish Archive is more like lost luggage — the treasures of a dispersed people who yearn to reconnect with something, anything, of the life they left behind.
On Thursday, the Iraqi ambassador to the United States suggested a possible loan that would let the material remain in America for some time after the exhibition closes. This may be a first step, but it isn’t a long-term solution.
One hopes that Iraq will know peace and that perhaps Jews can return some day. Maybe then it would make sense to return these materials. But until that distant moment, returning such a vast trove of Jewish heritage to a place where there will soon be no Jews would be perverse — and a failure to acknowledge the devastation caused by anti-Semitism in the Arab world.
"I call upon the US government NOT to return the Jewish archive to Iraq. To do so would compound the injustice done to the Jews of Iraq, whose property it was before they were robbed of it through a deliberate state policy of persecution and ethnic cleansing. The archive should be returned to its rightful owners and assured of proper care and conservation. We suggest it should go to Israel, where the greatest concentration of Jews of Iraqi descent are to be found."Some of the reasons why it would be wrong to return the the Iraqi Jewish Archive to Iraq have been convincingly explained by Lyn Julius (with more at her excellent website Point of No Return) and by Cynthia Kaplan Shamash.
While stressing his country’s ownership of the Jewish artifacts now on display at the National Archives in Washington, Iraq’s ambassador to the United States hinted that his country could be open to discussing a loan agreement which would delay the return of the objects to Baghdad.I reiterate that it would be wrong and unjust to actually send the Iraqi Jewish Archive back to Baghdad. But if the Iraqi government is willing to reach an agreement that leaves the archive safely in the US, under the guise of a long-term loan arrangement, that could be the best pragmatic solution available. So Ambassador Faily's initiative looks promising and encouraging—at least potentially.
Ambassador Lukman Faily said an Iraq government delegation would be discussing the issue of a loan deal with U.S. authorities soon.
“We don’t see that as a problem, but as of now, the agreement is for these artifacts to go back home,” Faily said. [....]
The fate of the objects now on display has mobilized Jewish activists in the United States as well as members of Congress, who are demanding the material remain in the United States despite an agreement signed in 2003 that promises all artifacts are returned to Iraq once the restoration process and the exhibitions are complete. The activists noted that the materials in the Jewish Iraqi archive were seized unlawfully by Saddam and should be returned to their owners. If owners are not found, they are asking to keep the archives in the U.S., because members of the Iraqi Jewish community will not be able to access them in Iraq.
Responding to these arguments Ambassador Faily said: “We appreciate where they are coming from but you also have to appreciate this was an agreement, a legal agreement, agreed with the [Coalition Provisional Authority] back in 2003 and its owned by the Iraqi government.” He added that his government will take good care of the papers when upon their return and will be sensitive to their religious importance to the Jewish community. “We fully appreciate that and we, as Muslims, have a similar perspective regarding the Quran and others, but this is owned by the Iraqi government, it’s a historical agreement we made and we preceding with it.” [....]
Anthony Godfrey, director of the Iraq affairs office at the State Department told the Forward the administration is proceeding with the plan to return the artifacts to Iraq based on the 2003 agreement. “I have to underscore that without this commitment and without the preservation of these documents the materials now known as the Iraqi Jewish archive simply would not have exist,” Godfrey said.
Both the Iraqi ambassador and the U.S. official noted that an efforts is being made to ensure that the archives are well preserved after they are flown back to Baghdad. Two specialists from Iraq are currently undergoing training at the National Archives in Washington in order to make sure no damage is done to the material in Iraq. The conditions under which the Jewish archives will be kept in Iraq, Godfrey said, “will be in conformity with the standards we set here.” [....]
“These artifacts were found in the basement of the intelligence, which meant this was the police state of Saddam Hussein,” Faily added, “We are no longer a police state.”
Iraq’s ambassador, who took part at the kickoff event of the exhibit, said it sends “a message to the world that the new Iraq is accommodating to everyone.” Faily later said in an interview that the Jewish community is welcome to take part in the re-birth or his country. “The Jewish community is an integral part. There is no reason for them not to come back to Iraq and play an important role in our development."When I read those quotations, I couldn't help being reminded of two old sayings—that "an ambassador is an honest gentleman sent to lie abroad for the good of his country" and that "hypocrisy is the homage vice pays to virtue". In the real world, the Jews are not welcome in Iraq, and few members of the Iraqi Jewish diaspora would be crazy enough to take Ambassador Faily's assurances seriously. On the other hand, it would be nice if what he said were true. In the meantime, if the Iraqi government is actually willing to be reasonably "accommodating" with respect to the fate of the Iraqi Jewish Archive, that would be commendable enough.
"I call upon the US government NOT to return the Jewish archive to Iraq. To do so would compound the injustice done to the Jews of Iraq, whose property it was before they were robbed of it through a deliberate state policy of persecution and ethnic cleansing. The archive should be returned to its rightful owners and assured of proper care and conservation. We suggest it should go to Israel, where the greatest concentration of Jews of Iraqi descent are to be found."Further explanation by Lyn Julius is here (with more at her excellent website Point of No Return). See also Bruce Montgomery's article, "Rescue or Return: The Fate of the Iraqi Jewish Archive," in the International Journal of Cultural Property (excerpts here).
Insurance cancelled? Don't blame Obama or the ACA, blame America's insurance companiesYou can read the rest here.
Liar! Pinocchio! Deceiver!
With all the charges flying against President Obama in the on-going effort to stop ObamaCare it’s time for a reality check.
Having failed to kill the Affordable Care Act in Congress by shutting down the government the opposition is currently taking delight in charging the president with lying to the public when he said anyone who likes their current healthcare plan will be able to keep it under the new law.
It turns out that some people in the individual care market – about 5 percent of the overall insurance market -- are having their insurance policies cancelled.
It is estimated that half of those folks will get better coverage for a lower price. Some people will even get subsidies to help them pay the lower price.
But some people losing their current policies [and being offered better coverage] are going to have to pay a higher price. Taking crocodile tears to a new level, ObamaCare opponents are now rushing to their defense and calling the president a liar.
These critics include Republican politicians who did not vote for ObamaCare; these are Republican governors who refuse to set up exchanges to reach their own citizens; these are people oppose expanding Medicaid to help poor people getting better health care; these are people who have never put any proposal on the table as an alternative fix for the nation’s costly health care system that leaves tens of millions with inadequate medical coverage and tens of millions more totally uninsured.
The fact is if you are one of the estimated 2 million Americans whose health insurance plans may have been cancelled this month, you should not be blaming President Obama or the Affordable Care Act.
You should be blaming your insurance company because they have not been providing you with coverage that meets the minimum basic standards for health care.
Let me put it more bluntly: your insurance companies have been taking advantage of you and the Affordable Care Act puts in place consumer protection and tells them to stop abusing people.
The government did not “force” insurance companies to cancel their own substandard policies.The insurance companies chose to do that rather than do what is right and bring the policies up to code.
One of the most popular and important provisions of the Affordable Care Act is setting basic minimum standards of medical insurance coverage. Here are some of those standards:
The American health insurance industry is one of the most profitable in the history of the world. Before the ACA, they made money by finding any excuse, any loophole to deny coverage to the sickest and most vulnerable people in our society.
[JW: Amidst the polemics over health care reform during the past five years or so, you may have seen arguments claiming that US health insurance companies actually have low profit margins. But the numbers offered to support those arguments are generally quite misleading, not least because the "costs" used to calculate those profit margins include executive salaries, marketing, and various other sorts of overhead linked to the fact that they are profit-making enterprises. The only figure that really matters is the so-called Medical Loss Ratio—that is, how much of their revenue do they actually spend on health care. The Affordable Care Act requires them to spend at least 80-85% on health care, with slight variations according to various details, and many companies whined and complained about that. The equivalent figure for Medicare is about 98%. Draw your own conclusions.]
Rather than being vindictive and canceling policies under the pretext of ObamaCare, the insurance companies should be thanking their lucky stars that they do not have to contend with a public option or a single payer system. That is what the law allows in every other modern industrialized democracy.
[JW: Actually, some other successful systems include a role for heavily regulated non-profit insurance companies. But Williams is basically right.]
Way back in 2012, when he was running for president, Ron Paul seemed to some people like a breath of fresh air. Sure, maybe he was a bit of a crank, but at least he didn't sanitize his beliefs in order to avoid offending people. He said what he meant, and he meant what he said.This incident suggests three sorts of reflections:
But, um, maybe not. At least, not based on this look into Paul's libertarian id, delivered last night at a campaign rally in Virginia for Ken Cuccinelli:
"Jefferson obviously was a clear leader on the principle of nullification," the former Texas congressman said of the third president. "I’ve been working on the assumption that nullification is going to come. It’s going to be a de facto nullification. It’s ugly, but pretty soon things are going to get so bad that we’re just going to ignore the feds and live our own lives in our own states."Huh. I don't remember him being willing to deliver harangues quite like this during last year's debates. I guess he was holding back after all, just another mealy-mouthed politician unwilling to buck the polls and tell the people the raw truth. [....]
....He tore into the Constitution’s 17th Amendment. Ratified in 1913, it’s the one that allows for the direct election of U.S. senators by popular vote. "That undermined the principle importance of the states," said Paul.
He criticized the 16th Amendment, which allowed the federal income tax. After the crowd chanted "End the Fed," Paul decried the printing of more money by the Federal Reserve. "We need someone to stand up to the authoritarians," he said. "They’re dictators."
....He stressed that the constitutional "right to keep and bear arms" was not for hunting, but to allow rebellion against tyrannical governments. "The Second Amendment was not there so you could shoot rabbits," he said. "Right now today, we have a great threat to our liberties internally." [JW: those boldings are Kevin Drum's]
This comes via Ed Kilgore, who asks, "Can you imagine a statewide Democratic candidate anywhere, much less in a 'purple state,' associating himself or herself so conspicuously with such ravings? No, you can't." This is what I was talking about yesterday: liberals don't have the equivalent of a tea party because there just aren't very many liberals who hold views this extreme—and the ones who do are pretty marginalized. In the Republican Party, however, this kind of thing barely even lifts any eyebrows.=> Then there's Ron Paul himself. When Kevin Drum pointed out that Ron Paul has "seemed to some people like a breath of fresh air" (not just in 2012, but as far back as his 2007-2008 presidential run, which first brought him widespread attention), my first reaction was: yes, stupid people. But the situation is actually a little more complicated than that. Ron Paul has also attracted indulgence, and even approval, from some ordinarily intelligent and decent people who were beguiled by the fact that he seemed to agree with them on one or another issue they thought was important—legalizing marijuana, neo-isolationism in foreign policy, cutting back military spending, opposing "big government," or whatever. Plus, he did show some disdain for the usual norms of political correctness in presidential politics. A combination of selective attention and wishful thinking led such people to overlook the obvious, unambiguous, and overriding fact that Ron Paul is, and has always been, a poisonously reactionary political troglodyte with consistently demonstrated willingness to use neo-Confederate, racist, and xenophobic appeals.
And the most remarkable part of all this is that the rest of us—centrists, liberals, non-insane Republicans, the press, etc.—are expected to shrug off this kind of thing as nothing more than a sort of boys-will-be-boys stemwinder, not to be taken seriously. Remarkable indeed.
As for Virginia, Cuccinelli’s relatively strong showing suggests to me that the Tea Party is far from dead, and that the prospect of the poor getting health insurance still energizes them enormously. And tonight, I have to say, the respect I had for Ron Paul was obliterated by the following inflammatory rhetoric:Better late than never. But let's not forget that Ron Paul is just one (slightly exaggerated) symptom of a bigger problem. And although his son Rand Paul has tried to cultivate a less "inflammatory" style, fundamentally he's a chip off the old block. How long will he get a pass?
Jefferson obviously was a clear leader on the principle of nullification. I’ve been working on the assumption that nullification is going to come. It’s going to be a de facto nullification. It’s ugly, but pretty soon things are going to get so bad that we’re just going to ignore the feds and live our own lives in our own states.That’s loaded Confederate rhetoric, and when combined with this statement – “The Second Amendment was not there so you could shoot rabbits. Right now today, we have a great threat to our liberties internally” – it crosses the line to promoting sedition. I’m done with him.
"I call upon the US government NOT to return the Jewish archive to Iraq. To do so would compound the injustice done to the Jews of Iraq, whose property it was before they were robbed of it through a deliberate state policy of persecution and ethnic cleansing. The archive should be returned to its rightful owners and assured of proper care and conservation. We suggest it should go to Israel, where the greatest concentration of Jews of Iraqi descent are to be found."Further explanation by Lyn Julius is below (with more at her excellent website Point of No Return). See also Bruce Montgomery's article, "Rescue or Return: The Fate of the Iraqi Jewish Archive," in the International Journal of Cultural Property (excerpts here).
Imagine you are in a taxi and the driver suddenly turns violently and speeds towards a wall, tyres screeching, only to stop at the very last moment, inches from the bricks—and cheerfully informs you that he wants to do the same to you in three months time. Would you be grateful that he has not killed you? Or would you wonder why you chose his cab in the first place?Then the next paragraph slips into a mealy-mouthed evasive formulation that is all too typical, and not only in the Economist.
That is the journey Congress has taken the American people on over the past few weeks (see article). The last-minute deal to raise America’s debt ceiling, avoid a default and reopen the government at least until mid-January, which was signed by the president on October 16th, is welcome only compared with the immediate alternativeNo, it wasn't "Congress" that took the American people—and the world economy—on this scary ride. Blaming these repeated near-crashes (which cause real and accumulating damage) on an undifferentiated "Congress" is not just lazy, but misleading to the point of being outright dishonest. This latest crisis was engineered by the Congressional Republicans, who deliberately chose to use the threat of a government shutdown and an unprecedented US default as tools of political extortion—just as they did with the threat of default during their last debt-ceiling blackmail in 2011. At the last moment, when it became clear that this tactic was backfiring politically, most Republican Senators voted for a bipartisan deal worked out to avoid a crash (though not Rand Paul, John Cornyn, Charles Grassley, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, and some others). But over 60% of House Republicans voted to drive the car into the wall. (Including Paul Ryan, whom many pundits somehow continue to treat as a "responsible" Republican and a serious policy intellectual.)
Look, you think Obamacare is a big enough threat to this country that you need to shut down the government over it? Fine. Own it! Don't fart and point at the dog.The Economist shouldn't point at the dog either. Nor should journalists and pundits trying to sound "even-handed". Instead, let's just face reality: The Republicans are the problem. Trying to pretend otherwise won't make the problem magically go away.
As the second day of the federal shutdown comes to an end, hardline elements within the Republican Party have made it clear that they will not budge until their demands are met. But what exactly are their demands? Republican House member Marlin Stutzman, for one, has no idea.If Congressman Stutzman were just an isolated loon, this would be an amusing but not very significant incident. We all say silly things sometimes. Unfortunately, though Congressman Stutzman may well be a loon (this is the first time I've ever heard of him, so I can't say for sure one way or another), he is definitely not isolated. On the contrary, as this Time Magazine report suggested, his outburst expressed a more broadly held world-view, motivating a significant subculture in American society and politics, that has real and damaging consequences for our political system.
“We’re not going to be disrespected,” said Congressman Stutzman during an interview with the Washington Examiner on Tuesday. “We have to get something out of this. And I don’t know what that even is.”
Democrats keep talking about our refusal to compromise. They don’t realize our compromise is defunding Obamacare. We actually want to repeal it.And the second comes from the enormously influential anti-tax fanatic Grover Norquist: (almost every current Republican member of the Senate and the House of Representatives has signed Norquist's Absolutely-No-New-Taxes pledge, and so did every candidate for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination except John Huntsman):
This is it. Our endgame is to leave the whole thing shut down until the President defunds Obamacare. And if he does not defund Obamacare, we leave the whole thing shut down.
After all, if the government is not spending any money, when we collide with the debt ceiling in two weeks, we should not have to worry since the government is spending so little money. [....]
The administration asking us to raise taxes is not an offer; that’s not a compromise. That’s just losing. I’m in favor of compromise. When we did the $2.5 trillion spending restraint in the BCA [JW: the Budget Control Act passed after the last Republican debt-ceiling extortion in 2011], we wanted $6 trillion. I considered myself very compromised. Overly reasonable.All clear now?
-----------------------------------------------Yours for reality-based & morally serious discourse,
October 18, 2013 — David Hirsh
I am sad to report that Norman Geras, political philosopher and writer of normblog, died this morning.
He wrote with clarity, courage and commitment about contemporary antisemitism. He wrote about lots of other things too.
The most fitting tribute I can think of is to link to things that he wrote:
On Alibi Antisemitism – major piece in Fathom. (Jan 2013)
On Greg Philo’s work which says that Israel’s view of things dominates the media. (Jun 2011)
On Jon Pike’s resignation from UCU. (June 2009)
It doesn’t matter if criticism of and attitudes to Israel are anti-Semitic, so long as they are also anti-Zionist. (April 2009)
On Antony Lerman and the ‘one state solution’. (April 2009)
On Seaumas Milne’s apologetics for Ahmadinejad. (April 2009)
On the Israel-Nazi comparison. (April 2009)
On accusations made against Israel of war crimes. (Feb 2009)
Why a boycott would be antisemitic (in response to Martin Shaw). (Sep 2008) More on Martin Shaw. (September 2008) And more still on Shaw (Oct 2008).
On resigning from UCU. (July 2008)
On Tony Judt. (Feb 2008)
On Norman Finkelstein and academic freedom. (June 2007)
On Steven Rose. (June 2006)
On Jews for Justice for Palestinians. (April 2006) And also here on JFJFP. (August 2006)
On singling out Israel. (June 2005)
----------------------------------------------------------------------I have been a great admirer of Norm's and counted him as a friend, even though we met in person only a few times—we got to know each other through the blogosphere and the on-line polemical debates of the past decade, which sometimes serve as our era's closest approximation to the old 18th-century Republic of Letters. So this news hits me hard, and I'm still processing it. Meanwhile, I will just share the reaction that Shalom Lappin posted on Facebook, since it hits exactly the right notes:
I am very sad to announce that Norm died in Addenbrooke's hospital in Cambridge in the early hours of this morning. Writing this blog, and communicating with all his readers, has brought him an enormous amount of pleasure in the last ten years. I know that since writing here about his illness earlier in the year he received a lot of support from many of you, and that has meant a great deal to him, and to us, his family. The blog and all its archives will remain online.
Jenny Geras (Norm's daughter), 18 October 2013
I was devastated to hear that Norm Geras died today, after a long illness. He was a very good friend. He was also a progressive voice of rationality and profound decency in a difficult period of political turbulence. I will miss him.So will I.