Sunday, July 25, 2010

Political update for July, 2010

Two from the wacky world of Israel.

Israel claims it is democratic and that it is a republic. I’ll agree it is a representative democracy, and that it is not a monarchy or a tyranny. But, it is also a theocracy, whether it calls itself one or not. Domestic relations are controlled by religious courts. Jews have different rights than non-Jews, including the right to citizenship no matter where they are from (the Law of Return). This right has been liberally interpreted and even some groups from disparate countries not exactly thought of as Jewish have been permitted to become citizens. Like, from India.

Israel’s legislative body is the Knesset, which has one house. Last week, a committee in the Knesset passed a law which, if it became law, would give a small group of rabbis, usually referred to as orthodox, to determine who is a Jew. Considering that Israel gets much of its worldwide support from America and American Jews, some see it as somewhat amazing that they would risk alienating so many Jews around the world. The group which would have this power does not recognize conservative or reform Jews as Jews.

The PM, Bibi Netanyahu, isn’t an idiot and has come out dead set against it.

No one should be surprised that Israel is in part a theocracy, although I think it is, can’t think of a better world, stupid. After all, it bills itself as the Jewish homeland and it is surrounded by theocracies and dictatorships (that’s the understandable part). Even some European countries like England and France reserve some vestiges of religious rule, however much they have decentralized power. But, Israel is much more of a theocracy than those, which are more a formality.

There has long been a debate in Israel about whether it should be secular or religious. It has, since its creation, been schizophrenic about it. Whatever the percentage of those in Israel who think a theocracy is better than a secular country, but, it can’t be completely secular and maintain its Jewish nature and right of return (while denying same to Palestinians) without it. It can’t become fully theocratic and maintain support from America or even its own people.

This is not the first time that some have tried to consolidate their religious power, mullah like, but it is always sad to see it getting this far through the Knesset. I do not see it going further.

From what I understand, this wildfire has been put in suspended animation by mutual consent for six months. Hopefully, to die.

But, consider this really stupid move, this one by Israel’s secular judiciary. An Arab man, already married, lied to a Jewish girl, telling her he was Jewish and single. It worked and he scored.

Yes, it was lie. Not nice. We all agree. Even inveterate liars usually agree that lying is generally wrong. But, here’s the stupid part. He was prosecuted for and convicted of RAPE because of it. Rape by deception.

The ruling was upheld by Israel’s high court. That means, unless the Knesset passes a new law saying lying can’t be a basis for rape (sure, politicians being known for their courage when it comes to sexual politics), it is the law.

I don’t have to tell you why this ruling must put the fear of Jehovah into every Israeli man who intends to have sex with a woman. Men lie all the time to get girls. They pretend they are rich, they have jobs, they where a uniform, have a nice car, even that they are nice guys. They even say “I love you” and “I’ll marry you.”

Obviously not all guys all the times. But a lot of guys a lot of the time. This is not a secret. Not in Israel, not here, or pretty much anywhere else.  And, girls lie to, although often in different ways.

Hey, I was once told by two women on different occasions that I lied to them by telling the truth because no woman would think I was doing so. On another occasion, however, one told me that men should lie to women to get them in bed because the women know it and it helps them justify it.

I doubt my experiences were unique. The game of sex is one with difficult rules. Arguably, lying is almost required in our and every other society to some degree. Because sexual politics are so difficult, we’ve pretty much de facto decriminalized adultery in this country. You have to be a politician in the wrong place, wrong time, in order to get arrested for it.

The only way I could see a rape by deception being fair is if someone convinced a blind person they were their husband, or something like that. That's more likely in a movie than in real life.

In Israel, the defendant has complained that this was just racial prejudice, given the social disapproval among Jews of intermingling with Arabs. Some suggest this will be an aberration in the law. Maybe so. Whatever it is, it’s stupid.

Which is dumber, the Who’s a Jew proposal that passed the Knesset committee or this ruling by the high court? I’m going to go with the Who’s a Jew proposal, even though it’s not law yet, because it will affect more people if it is ever passed. Tear the country apart as the PM says.

But, they were both stupid.

Don’t they get tired of it?

Now, I’m not picking on Harry Reid right now. He’s an accomplished politician, but he is paying the penalty for activities in getting the health care reforms into law. A long time incumbent, he should be having less of a problem with the newbie, Sharron Angle. Right now, he’s closing the gap, only 3% behind her in the latest Rasmussen poll. However, he also has about a 10% higher favorable but also unfavorable rating. That might just mean a lot of people don’t know her. But, according to Rasmussen, at this point, you look at the unfavorable rating.

What caught my attention a few weeks ago was a statement he made, which cable tv cut down to a few seconds. It went like this, if I have the quote right – “They're betting on failure. They think that the worse the economy is come November, the better they are going to do election-wise."

At risk of being insolent, may I say – “d’uh!”

Naturally Republicans are betting on failure. I’m sure they remember that around the middle of September, ’08 Sen. McCain was running almost even with Sen. Obama when the economy collapsed and so did his campaign. Republican politicians’ jobs, like their Democratic counterparts, is to get elected, obtain power and doll out favors to friends and supporters.

In order to do so they have to get people to identify with them, excuse their incompetence and corruption and like them. How are they going to do that if the economy is going well. Of course they hope the economy doesn’t work.

To be fair, I’m sure a good Republican would tell you – “If the economy does well right now it will be a fluke or cyclical and it means the liberals will be encouraged to continue their tax and spend policies and drive us to ruin.”

Naturally, Democrats were delighted when the economy collapsed last year just before the election. It meant they were going to win and take power.

Also to be fair, I’m sure a good Democrat would tell you – “If the economy did well in 2008 it would have only been because Bush was having the fed prop it up, and it would have meant the conservatives would have been encouraged to continue their tax cuts for the rich and support for the big guy over the little.”

My point is, of course, neither side really cares about the economy when they aren’t in power. If it fails they will have a better chance of controlling things and “saving the day.” It’s like when the citizens of one city get excited because a ballplayer on another city’s team gets hurt, so their team will win. How many people think, too bad, it will be a less competitive game?

Reid, of course, couldn’t wait to get on the floor of the Senate and announce that we had lost the Iraq War. I have never heard him say “Oops” about that. I’m sure he had convinced himself that it was true and he was not only grateful, he wanted voters to know it.

Neither side ever seems to get tired of pretending it’s only the other side that does this. It isn’t going to do Harry Reid any good to say it, just as it didn’t do any good for conservatives to say the Democrats want us to fail in Iraq (also, in my opinion, true at that time).

The real question is, why don’t we ever get tired of it?

The whole black, black, black, etc., thing.

Years ago I was at Thanksgiving dinner with my family at a restaurant. Excepting my daughter, they are extremely racially sensitive.  The mention of an ethnic group, even innocuously, makes them embarrassed and uncomfortable. The mention of the color black at all makes them squirm.

At one point during dinner, I referred to someone who was a black guy as a “black guy”. I forget the reason I felt the color tag was helpful, because I can’t remember the actual story I was telling. I can’t really remember their exact reaction either, but it was generally one of heightened embarrassment, looking around, and I believe genuine fear. What if a black person heard me refer to a black person as black? 

Now, we have a sort tit for tat in my family. They like to greatly exaggerate stories to make me sound  horribly racist (they’ve actually started to admit this lately, which is gratifying and surprising) and I like to torture them about their racial squemishness. So, I looked around at them, gathered their attention, and said loud enough for other tables to hear - “BLACK, BLACK, BLACK, BLACK, BLACK”.

I know you are thinking "So?," but they nearly died. Great moment for me in the family annals.

If you are wondering if there is a point to this, we are going through somewhat of the same thing in our country now. The mere mention of race or someone’s ethnic identity in public is enough to make people crazy.

Few politically active people will deny that race is still a problem in America. The liberals tend to believe we must be very conscious of race, that slavery and racism is America’s great shame, that we should not mention or show a minority in any bad light, always give their opinions credence, never forget slavery, never forget Jim Crow, never forget lynchings, and give minorities advantages now so as to make compensation for the past. Even though we are a country filled with post-Civil War immigrants, we can't apologize enough and we must tip the legal scales in favor of minorities.

The conservatives feel that we are past our most racist past, that we should celebrate the strides we have made, that Western civilization ended slavery, that the best way to get rid of racial vestiges is to ignore it and judge people on their merit, and not give anyone advantages in law as a way to make up for the bad acts of our ancestors or governments.

I see both sides as having some truth or right on their side (does that surprise anyone – I’m a fence sitter). Race is both our greatest shame and the source of our greatest triumphs. It is still a difficult problem and no one can see the end of it. I don’t want to act as if there is no racism, but I don’t want someone to have an advantage in law because of their skin color either. Race means something, but it doesn’t mean everything.

But, I have no secrets to success which I can offer. One day a few years ago, when I was teaching a constitutional law class, we were discussing the fighting words doctrine, that because the government has an interest in preventing violence they may violate free speech rights in order to prevent fighting words.

During the class, one young black woman (I obviously don’t prefer the term African-American, as I believe it is illogical, divisive and dishonest) used the dreaded N-word, unabbreviated and un-hyphenated, but I thought in an appropriate way. Then, a young white man used it, also, I thought, in an appropriate way. Unfortunately, he happened to be the class wise guy and that might have made the difference. Maybe not though.

Another black woman looked at me and said loudly, pointing at him, that someone has to tell him to “Shut up.” Let me tell you, I wasn’t prepared for this. All I could think to say was something like “Well, I can’t solve this problem, but, it does show us how painful some words can be and why we have the fighting words doctrine.”

Later, the white kid came up to me when I was talking to some other students after class and asked what he had done wrong. He was clearly embarrassed and saddened. I said that I didn’t think he had done anything wrong, but he had to understand that in our culture, if he, a white man, was going to use that word, many blacks and some others would get angry at him. It was his decision.

I was teaching a class, not running for office and I wanted peaceful, motivated discussion; not a race war. A few white students later told me they thought I handled it really well. But, I noticed that an unusual number of the black students decided not to come to the next class. Naturally, I can’t say for sure if it was related. But, maybe I handled it well from a white viewpoint, but not a black one. No black student came up to discuss it with me. Although I wish I had handled it better, had something wise to say so all the students would sigh and say, "Oh, okay," I still don’t know how else I could have managed it. I’ll never have the moment back anyway. I doubt there was a solution.

I look at my own experience as a metaphor for the whole racial situation in America. We don’t know how to handle it and are slowly feeling our way forward. Some people are satisfied and others not. I can say for sure that I know it is a lot better than when I was a kid. Then again, when I once ventured that opinion in another class, one student at least couldn’t hear it and seemed to think I was saying there is no racism. That’s a problem when anyone discusses racism. People hear it through a very cloudy filter. Perceived code words often overwhelm actual words.

In the last couple of months we’ve had an outbreak of media events surrounding race. I am not sure of the order, and it’s not really important, but I believe the Arizona immigration issue was first. During the Civil War, supposedly fought over economic or political reasons, everyone knew it was fought over slavery. And, even though the federal lawsuit against Arizona (in my opinion a borderline frivolous one) is not about race at all, but about federal pre-emption, we all know it is both about ethnicity and/or votes.

Then there was the NCAAP flap, where their convention passed a resolution accusing the tea parties of racism, wanting to smear the movement with for the statements of a handful. There was also the letter from tea party leader Mark Williams which satirized the NCAAP and its leader in such a way that every media figure and progressive/liberal could easily call him a racist and his own party, not trusting that people could recognize obvious satire when they saw it, and he was trying to suggest that it was the NCAAP that saw blacks this way, through him under the bus. There is no honor among partisans.

The New Black Panthers were a scandal that shouldn’t go away, but probably will while we have a Democratic controlled congress. If the Republicans take over a house, and there aren’t more pressing issues, there might be one.* There, a long time white Justice Department lawyer retired after he learned that his bosses had dropped the easiest case he ever prosecuted, one against a couple of New Black Panthers who stood in front of a polling place intimidating whites. The administration claims that the voluntary injunction they obtained not to intimidate voters until after the 2012 election was satisfactory. Personally, it is an insult to all of our intelligence. Somehow, I don’t think I would have gotten off so easy had I tried to intimidate anyone.

Andrew Breitbart’s website,, recently posted an excerpted speech by a black USDA official, Shirley Sherrod, in which it seemed as if she was bragging about not helping a white farmer. It went viral and she was fired. Sure enough, it turned out when you listened to the whole speech, she was talking about how she learned to get past her own racism. It takes a certain amount of courage to do that if you have a job where you must be politically correct.

Of course, let’s not give anyone too much credit. The administration fired her without a thought, not bothering to listen to the speech because they could care less about what happens to her. They were out for themselves. When they offered her a job back after apologizing, they were doing the same. And, Mr. Breitbart, a conservative blogger, either deliberately edited the speech or was grossly negligent. Either way, he didn’t care that he might be slandering someone as long as he could score a political point. The right wing is busy protecting him right now – he was “set up,” according to Ann Coulter, but, it's only because he’s on their team. The really interesting thing is watching how both parties and ideologues are using the episode to insist that the other side is racist. Yet we vote for these people.

Perhaps last is Tucker Carlson’s revelation of emails from a progressive group called Journolists (the “o” was for Obama) who formed their own invitation only social network where they could rant about conservatives and help each other target anyone who disagreed with Obama. One of these ways was to accuse conservatives or people on Fox (Fred Barnes and Karl Rove come to mind) as being racist. Sad, but that is the state of journalism today. It's why I hardly bother anymore.

After each sentence above I could have written - this is what partisans do. It’s rarely about us. Unfortunately, most Americans have from birth been indoctrinated into one side or the other and we give these partisan leaders credibility, as if there really are only two sides to each issue and the ideologues own all of them.

You can read about these mini-scandals anywhere and that’s why I just touched upon them. The larger point is this: the idea that we are a “post racial nation” is certainly untrue. It is better here now than at any time in our history, and as we can see, a black man can even become president. Despite the fact that liberals are sure conservatives are racist and visa versa, I feel assured that if Republicans ran Clarence Thomas, an extremely high majority of conservatives would vote gleefully vote for him and an extremely high percentage of liberals adamantly against him, regardless of his color. Ideology is the new colored.

Amazing as it sounds, the partisans on both sides have managed to warp and reinvigorate racism as it slowly dies out. They’ve pretty much eclipsed it with "race shenanigans". It is now a weapon each side wields against the other. I’m not suggesting that there is no real racism, just that false or exaggerated accusations of it have become more of a focus for the partisans and the media than the actuality of it. No one cares if any of the people mentioned above are really racist – they care if they can make a claim that someone on the other side is racist and whether it will have legs.

Ah, once again I show my ability to turn almost any topic into a rant against partisanship. It never gets old for me (maybe you, but that’s your problem).
My suggested definition for partisans: “A group of people so profligate, so mired in their priorities, and so amoral in believing the success of their country is synonymous with the success of their political party or ideology, that they could turn a tradition as old and discredited as racism into a spear point for their own ends; they are neither fit to mind the government, never mind disseminate knowledge and opinions to us. Alas, they have a lock on all of it.”

*Post note - I don’t have the best record predicting what scandals will stick, but I’m not sure anyone does. It depends on who controls congress and what else is happening at the time. If the Republicans end up controlling the House, they might decide to look into it as well as the Sestak affair. However, the Democrats will still likely control the Senate and they might decide, in response, to re-investigate Bush era issues like torture and wire-tapping. It might just suggest to everyone that they calm down.


  1. I'm pretty sure under any standard I won't qualify as Jewish. I would have said as a "Jew" but that might be "fighting words".

    Have to say I'm in large agreement with you on this one. Although I probably would have handled the class situation in what would be considered a more hevy handed manner. But you probably handled it as well as it could be handled.

  2. No, I'm pretty sure by the way that you wrote "Jewish" that makes me suspect you are an anti-semite.


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I started this blog in September, 2006. Mostly, it is where I can talk about things that interest me, which I otherwise don't get to do all that much, about some remarkable people who should not be forgotten, philosophy and theories (like Don Foster's on who wrote A Visit From St. Nicholas and my own on whether Santa is mostly derived from a Norse god) and analysis of issues that concern me. Often it is about books. I try to quote accurately and to say when I am paraphrasing (more and more). Sometimes I blow the first name of even very famous people, often entertainers. I'm much better at history, but once in a while I see I have written something I later learned was not true. Sometimes I fix them, sometimes not. My worst mistake was writing that Beethoven went blind, when he actually went deaf. Feel free to point out an error. I either leave in the mistake, or, if I clean it up, the comment pointing it out. From time to time I do clean up grammar in old posts as, over time I have become more conventional in my grammar, and I very often write these when I am falling asleep and just make dumb mistakes. It be nice to have an editor, but . . . .