Archive for October, 2013

Ideological Disaster – An Analysis (20 October 2013) by Lawrence Davidson



Part I – Going Backward


In the eighteenth century the West shifted from mercantilism to capitalism. Mercantilism was an economic system that gave governments wide-ranging regulatory powers over commerce, mostly to ensure a positive balance of trade. It also allowed for strong guild structures and protection for domestic industries. However, the Industrial Revolution ended mercantilism and brought to power a business class that wanted to be free to operate without government oversight. 


As the capitalist worldview evolved, it made a fetish out of the “free market” and viewed government as, at best, a necessary evil. Any sort of regulation was seen as the equivalent of slavery, and the proper role of officialdom was reduced to maintaining internal order (police), defending the realm (military) and enforcing contracts (the courts). Any government involvement in social welfare was disapproved of because it allegedly promoted laziness among the poor, but this was just a convenient myth. The real reason for keeping government activity to an absolute minimum was the rising business class’s fear and loathing of taxes.


In Europe the rationalizations for capitalism remained primarily secular, looking to the maximization of efficiency for the sake of profit. In the United States, however, where little good happens that is not ascribed to an overseeing God, secular rationalizations were soon complemented with the notion of divine will. God wanted unregulated economic freedom and minimalist government to prevail.


This religious view continues to exist. Today’s struggle to return us all to minimalist government and maximum economic “freedom” is led by a collection of fundamentalist Christian right-wingers and Tea Party mad hatters. Chris Hedges lays out a worst-case scenario of the drive for power by the Christian right in his recent article “The Radical Christian Right and the War on the Government.” He tells us that “the public face” of this political force is “on display in the House of Representatives” and its main ideological aim is to “shut down the government.” Hedges also points to Texas SenatorTed Cruz as the archetypal fundamentalist politician leading the charge against big government. Hedges thinks this is just the first step toward the real goal of men like Cruz, which is to make the U.S. a Christian fundamentalist nation.


Part II – The Ensuing Struggle


In the struggle that has ensued, the radical conservatives’ enemy is the Democratic (or “big government”) Party in general and President Obama in particular. As an indication of just how isolating and distorting ideology can be, focus groups of conservative Republicans have revealed a deeply held conspiracy theory. According the researchers who conducted this study, “What drives the Republican base . . . [is] a genuine belief that Obama has a secret agenda to drive the country in a socialist direction.” They also believe that he is the head of a cabal. He seems to be a politician who “came from nowhere” and therefore is “propelled by some secret forces.” The focus groups revealed  this belief to be held by “two out of every three self identified Republicans.” 


In the 2010 election a combination of gerrymandering of voting districts to help elect Republicans and a high conservative turnout gave Republican Party control of the House of Representatives. It also brought a strong plurality of radical right-wing conservatives into the House. Both these radical politicians and many of their constituents shunned the sort of compromise that is, or should be, at the heart of democracy. For the radicals principle was more important than compromise. That attitude led to the recent political confrontation with its shutdown of the federal government and the near default on the public debt. 


Within days of the shutdown, moderate Republicans began deserting the radical conservatives and expressed their willingness to end demands for such things as the defunding of federally subsidized health care, popularly known as “Obamacare,” the elimination of the government deficit, and a radical reduction in government programs and regulatory power. However, it was only when Republican majority leader John Boehner finally allowed a vote on the floor of the House that these moderate Republicans could join their Senate colleagues on a resolution which restored the flow of funds that reopened the government and saved the nation from default. In so doing the moderates split the Republican Party in two. 


Part III – Victory Denied


What the moderate Republicans did was deny the radical conservatives their victory. For that was what a shutdown of the federal government and a default on the debt represented to the conservatives. Ideologically the goal of these radicals is to reduce government’s role in society to a minimum. They hoped the ability to shut down the entire federal operation would position them for negotiating its eventual minimization. Second, the campaign to reduce federal taxes to a minimum through the creation of a bare- bones balanced budget was to be aided by their ability to push the Treasury Department to the brink of default. All the conservative Republicans had to do was sustain these two tactics long enough to make the Democrats concede. That was what they could not do, thanks in good part to the desertion of the moderate Republicans.  


The battle is not over. The resolution supported by the moderate Republicans opens the federal government through December 2013 and allows sufficient funding of the debt through February 2014. So we may well face a second round of disruptive confrontation.  


In the long run, however, things do not look good for the Republican Party. Many radical conservatives have come to see their moderate compatriots as worse than any liberal Democrat. They see them as traitors to principle – as politicians who ran scared in the face of the Obama’s “socialist” agenda. Under these circumstances most of the party’s energies might well be taken up with self-destructive infighting. The Republican Party now runs the risk of shrinking down to its radical base while its moderates are defeated in primaries, flee to the Democratic Party, or stake out positions as independents. Democratic voters may now be motivated by the recent spectacle of disruption to turn out in higher numbers to win back the House from the Republicans. If that happens, the Republican Party will be hard put to stay alive as a single entity.  


Part IV – Conclusion


Ideology is a form of debilitating shortsightedness. It replaces reality with an idealized version that usually has too little to do with the real world to be workable. The economic aspect of radical conservative ideology is fatally anachronistic. Earlier, in the nineteenth century, it led to devastating business cycles of boom and bust and left much of the population without basic services. The Great Depression should have been its death knell. As to the size of government and range of its activities, we must keep in mind that there are nearly 317 million people in the USA. Going back to a pre-Great Depression (much less an eighteenth- century) government structure would undermine social stability by withdrawing all the protections that keep destitution at bay and unleashing all the prejudices that present federal law discourages. Ignore these facts and eventually you will have real revolution on your hands. The radical conservatives are stubbornly blind to these problems because they call in doubt their “principles.”  


All such shortsighted ideologies, be they of the right or the left, have proven unrealistic, and so have failed. Unfortunately, they have wreaked havoc in the meantime. We have only seen a shadow of the potential for damage of the present ideological challenge. Let’s hope we can avoid its full force. 

Still Staying Sober – An Analysis (14 October 2013) by Lawrence Davidson



Part I – Good News 


On 22 May 2013 I wrote an analysis titled “Staying Sober.” It recounted two news stories that drew many hopeful comments from progressives. One was about the New York-based federal judge who placed an injunction on the U.S. government’s practice of indefinite detention. The other was the momentary success of Palestinian hunger strikers in Israeli prisons at attaining some relief from their intolerable conditions. They too were protesting, among other things, that country’s version of indefinite detention. 


I noted that these were battles won and precedents to take heart from. They showed what was possible through determined opposition against unjust state practices. However, winning battles is not equivalent to winning wars, so it would be wise to celebrate soberly, knowing the struggles were not over. As it turned out, that was good advice. The New York judge’s injunction was overturned on appeal and the behavior of the Israelis quickly reverted to the status quo ante. 


Today we are in a similar situation. Again we have two news stories that have raised the hopes of progressives. The first is the decision of U.S. President Obama and Iranian President Rouhani to engage diplomatically, a step which represents a setback for the influence of the Zionist lobby. The second report is about a poll indicating that a near majority of American Jews think the Israeli government is not serious about peace with the Palestinians. Again, while both developments show movement in the right direction – movement that progressives can help sustain – it would be wise to stay sober.


Part II – The Diplomatic Approach to Iran


The most immediately uplifting event was President Obama’s diplomatic approach to Iran. I was quite impressed with the president’s move in this direction and said so in an analysis posted on 5 October 2013. However, others have seen this move as a possible “radical reforging of American foreign policy.”  While a delightful thought, I think this is highly unlikely. Consider the following:  


— One of the things that makes this move so surprising and welcome to progressives is that it defies very powerful opposition. But of course that opposition will not simply give up. The neocons and Zionist devotees are still out there and are working overtime to sabotage this rare act of sanity in foreign policy. What really stands in their way is the publicly recognized popular opposition to another war, particularly in the Middle East. That’s great. However, progressives will have to continue to work hard to keep it that way because the public is fickle and vulnerable to media propaganda.


— It is one thing to get to the negotiating table and another to have the political wherewithal and courage to make the reasonable compromises necessary for a successful settlement. The Iranians want their rights recognized and sanctions lifted. Getting Congress to go along with that will take visible public demand. Progressives will have to find a way to help realize that demand. 


Part III – American Jewish Attitude Toward Israel


recent Pew Research Center poll of American Jews found that nearly half (48 percent) “do not think that the current Israeli government is making a sincere effort to bring about a peace settlement.” Forty-four percent agree that “the continued building of Jewish settlements in the West Bank hurts Israel’s security.” Actually, given the obvious nature of these facts, it is a wonder that the percentages aren’t much higher. Nonetheless, questionable conclusions have been drawn from this poll by both Zionists and those critical of Zionist behavior. Consider the following:


— Abe Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League (an avid Zionist organization), tends to exaggerate the negative message (as he sees it) of the poll. He dismissed this near majority of critical Jews as those who “do not care” about Israel. He declared that they are not his constituency. Only those who “do care” – that is, the Israel right or wrong crowd – are the ones he will pay attention to. Well, that is convenient for Foxman. He will only listen to those who agree with him and, so, he can go blissfully into the future guided by the logical fallacy of confirmation bias.  


Of course, this is a gamble on Foxman’s part. The number of American Jews (which, by the way, includes an increasing number of Israeli expatriates) who are more or less alienated from Israeli policy is growing. Groups that seek to co-opt this process, like J Street and Taglit-Birthright, might slow it but they cannot stop it, much less reverse it, as long as Israel remains a racist and expansionist country. On the other hand, as long as those “who care” have the money to fund the Zionist lobby sufficiently to buy the support of Congress, Foxman’s narrow worldview of Israel uber alles (Israel “more than anything else”) will not wholly collapse.  


— Those who see great positive significance in the Pew poll might also be off the mark. For instance, Juan Cole, a Middle East historian and well-known blogger whose opinions are usually very accurate, tends to exaggerate the positive importance of the Pew results. In Cole’s opinion the Zionist-oriented American Jewish establishment no longer represents most of the country’s Jews. Here, I think, Cole is correct. However, his conclusion that the Zionist lobby can therefore “most often be safely defied” by politicians and other policy makers is probably incorrect. Cole’s proposition would be true if counting Jewish voters was the sole antidote for fear and trembling induced by the Zionist lobby. 


However, those Jewish voters critical of Israel are not organized into a lobby that can compete with the Zionists. There is no indication that they are ready to punish politicians who support racist Israel by denying them their votes.  And they are not so rich as to be able to help others compete with the Zionists in buying Congressional votes. In other words, the Jewish opinions reflected in the Pew poll offer insufficient cover for those politicians who want to defy Zionist lobby power. 


It is only when these critical Jews are joined by millions of non-Jewish voters that the potential of overcoming the Zionist lobby becomes real. That is what happened in the cases of Syria and Iran, when public opposition to hostile action and war gave politicians the cover they needed to defy Zionist political clout. 


Part IV – Staying Sober


At the end of my May 2013 analysis, I drew the following conclusion: “On the up side, the news stories analyzed here demonstrate that battles against even the most entrenched and powerful of foes can be won. To win wars, however, is another thing altogether. … It should sober us all to realize that it will take staying power – the sort of staying power that has already kept many other struggles for rights and justice going for decades if not generations.”


The power of special interests and their abilities to turn politicians and government bureaucracies to their own purposes is probably as old as civilization itself. We have to face that and be prepared to fight not just the current battle, but recurrent battles into the indefinite future. We must train our children to fight those battles.  The British parliamentarian Barbara Castle put it this way: “I will fight for what I believe in until I drop dead. And that’s what keeps me alive.”


Zionism versus Diplomacy and Peace – An Analysis (5 October 2013) by Lawrence Davidson


 Hassan Rouhani


Part I – Moderate Iran


Iran’s new and more moderate President Hassan Rouhani came to the United Nations at the end of September. Amidst numerous interviews and diplomatic discussions, his message was clear: no, Iran will not give up its legal right to enrich uranium and no, Iran will not develop nuclear weapons. According to Rouhani, Iran is willing to prove this second point by “ensuring full transparency [of its nuclear program] under international law.” In exchange for doing so, Iran will demand “a total lifting” of international sanctions. In truth, this has been the position of the Iranian government for years. As far back as 2005 Iran’s supreme leader Ali Khamenei declared that nuclear weapons violated Islamic law and Iran would not construct them. It primarily has been due to pressure from the Israelis and their Zionist lobby in Washington that U.S. politicians have refused to believe these Iranian assertions. 


To overcome this lobby-induced skepticism, President Rouhani has switched from the in-your-face behavior that characterized his predecessor, Mahmoud Amadinejad, to a more tactful, forthcoming approach. At least for now this shift has borne fruit. There was the recent historic fifteen-minute phone call between him and President Obama, as well as a brief meeting between Secretary of State Kerry and his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif. According to Kerry, Zarif “put some possibilities on the table,” and this has led to a scheduled round of “substantive talks” between Iran and the main Western nations in Geneva on October 15-16.


Part II – A Favorable White House Response


What has loosened the grip of lobby power and allowed the Obama administration to meet the Iranian initiative favorably? Certainly Rouhani’s so-called charm offensive helped, but it can’t be the only reason. More fundamentally, the likelihood that a U.S attack on Syria would end in a debacle and the overwhelming popular opinion against such action set the scene for this latest turn toward diplomacy with Iran. According to a Washington Post opinion poll, 85% of Americans want better relations with Iran. That is the type of political ammunition that can do successful battle with selfish special interest pressure.  


As politician and president, Obama has been caught between a desire to avoid war with Iran, a war that would almost certainly harm the Western world’s economy, and the political pressure of the powerful American Zionist lobby. The Zionists ultimately seek to ensure that U.S. policy falls in line with Israel’s desires to see Iran destroyed. This Zionist position reflects the distorted view of Israeli interests held by its ideologically myopic, militaristic elite, but it conflicts with the long-term interests of the United States. If nothing else, the disastrous foreign policy of the George W. Bush administration demonstrated that American interests cannot possibly be served by starting a war with dangerous and unpredictable consequences against a country that has never been a direct threat to the U.S. Obama knows this and, occasional rhetoric aside, has been hesitant and cautious in his approach to Iran.  


The fact that he does not have to face reelection has positioned Obama to better separate out Israeli and American interests when it comes to Iran. American public opinion, first in the case of the Syrian episode and now in the case of Iran, has encouraged him to do so. 


However, not all U.S. politicians enjoy this position. As M. J. Rosenberg tells us in a piece entitled “Will AIPAC Defeat Obama on Iran?” many in Congress still stand exposed to Zionist pressure. Rosenberg asserts that “the Netanyahu government and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) are both determined to end the process [toward settlement with Iran] and have the ability to do it.” How so? “They intend to use the United States Congress [to] pass resolutions that will cause Rouhani to walk away by making it clear that Congress will accept nothing short of Iranian surrender on nuclear issues.” And indeed, the usual suspects in Congress, such as Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ), who in a more rational world would be recognized as part-time agents of a foreign power (Israel), are already formulating resolutions and legislation to promote war. 


Rosenberg notes that, ultimately, it is money that suborns the Congress. Why, he asks, would any in Congress pass measures that go against the interests of their own country and risk involvement in yet another Middle Eastern war? “The answer is simply that the midterm elections are coming up and that means members of Congress need campaign cash. And AIPAC provides it.” Fortunately, there is a catch to this rather corrupt process. The alliance between the politicians and the Zionist lobby depends on a passive citizenry that does not threaten electoral defeat of politicians who promote special interest wars when the voters want peace. Right now, the voters do not seem very passive.  


Part III – Zionist Blindness 


The American Zionists take their marching orders from Israel’s leaders and  seem oblivious to this development. In his speech to the UN, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu showed no interest in compromise with Iran. He dismissed President Rouhani’s diplomatic efforts as deceitful, interpreted every Iranian defensive military move as an offensive threat, and let it be known that Israel wants sanctions to continue and to be backed with threats of hostile action.  


The prime minister insists that he takes this stance to protect the interests of Israel. However, Netanyahu seems to have never considered the fact that by having the Zionist lobby pressure Washington to do his military dirty work, he makes the whole affair the interest of every American citizen. Insofar as the Israelis and their Zionist agents increase the likelihood of yet more wars, they expose their allies in the Congress to a political reaction that risks their defeat the first moment they have an opponent willing to follow the public’s demand for diplomacy and peace.


Part IV – Conclusion


Political Zionists are ideologues, and therefore if something does not happen to call into question their ideology, they will go on believing they are in the right even up to and through the gates of Hell. This blinkered mindset is sometimes called “motivated reasoning,” or more broadly “confirmation bias.” As explained by author Michael Shermer,  people who think this way refuse to consider or give any credit to data that does not “fit their creed.” That describes Benjamin Netanyahu perfectly.


Members of Congress who consistently support the political Zionist position are usually motivated by something other than ideology. They are motivated by money. That does not necessarily make them bad people, it just makes them slaves to a bad political system. The ability to call into question their financial allegiance to the Zionists is readily possible when a publicly recognized difference evolves between the desires of the voters who put them in office and the desires of this particular special interest. That now seems to be happening in the case of U.S. foreign policy toward Iran. 


Of course, the Zionists did this to themselves. They pushed and pushed for U.S. hostilities against Iran and assumed that they had no real opposition except a weakling president. They were wrong. Their opposition was nationwide, but they were blinded to it by their “motivated reasoning” and their hubris. As for President Obama, he seems to have finally found his courage amidst popular demands for peace and diplomacy. Let’s hope this all too rare condition of sanity lasts.