Conservative Morality In Action

Via Jared Bernstein, we learn about how the sequester has made us a stronger country:

At least two Indiana Head Start programs have resorted to a random drawing to determine which three-dozen preschool students will be removed from the education program for low-income families, a move officials said was necessary to limit the impact of mandatory across-the-board federal spending cuts…

Columbus resident Alice Miller told WTHR-TV that her 4-year-old son, Sage, was one of the children cut from the program. She spoke about how the program has helped her son advance academically and socially…“He loves school,” Miller said. “I don’t know how I’m going to tell him he’s not going back.”

To this, Bernstein responds, “If that doesn’t break your heart, you might want to get to the emergency room to see if it’s still there.”  I part company with him somewhat on this.  This story doesn’t make me heartbroken: it makes me angry.  I am sad for the little boy who now cannot go to school, which he loves.  But I am outraged at those who think that this bears any relationship to justice.  Sage Miller can’t go to school because Republicans think it is more important to protect the carried-interest loophole.  The supposedly religious Christians who think we need to bring God into public policy might want to review the story of Nathan the Prophet after they finish demonizing gays and lesbians.

It also outrages me as a taxpayer.  We are injuring these children, and that will injure our country in the future.  You don’t have to be a bleeding heart, or Nathan the Prophet, to object to this.  You just have to be a patriot.


Who will manage the global commons?

Who will manage the global commons as we move from American dominance to a truly mulipolar world?

Twitter offers the pleasure of knowing what casual acquaintances are doing, and to occasionally catch useful or fun events you wouldn’t otherwise know were happening.

Last week, I was giving a talk at the Washington, DC, VA. I had some unexpected time to kill, and I happened to see that @ezraklein and @edwardGLuce were participating in a very good, albeit sobering Brookings panel discussion concerning Luce’s new book, Time to start thinking: America in the age of descent.

Luce provided an excellent bill of particulars about our education system, our dysfunctional political structures, and the unprecedented economic competition we face from China, Brazil, and elsewhere. It seems to me that the obvious decline of American power, in many forms, is the elephant in the room in many matters of global import. George W. Bush accelerated this decline through tragically misguided policies at home and abroad. Yet the trends go deeper than any one administration, even one as disastous as Bush 43.

Ezra Klein followed Luce’s presentation by asking some basic and challenging questions. Have we really been harmed by our nation’s relative decline in (say) global GDP? Other than the blow to our national ego, it’s not clear we are harmed in any way by the decline of our relative economic preeminence on the world stage. Continue reading “Who will manage the global commons?”

Newt Gingrich is RIGHT about the Palestinians…

…and it doesn’t matter. 

Thoughtful voices across the political spectrum and the world have rightfully been attacking Gingrich for calling the Palestinians an “invented people.”  But let’s be clear on what Gingrich is wrong about.

You don’t need Gingrich to tell you that the idea of a “Palestinian people” is relatively new.  All you need is the foremost historian of the idea, Columbia’s Rashid Khalidi, to confirm it.  In his (very good) book Palestinian Identity: The Construction of Modern National Consciousness, Khalidi puts the crystallization of the idea slightly after 1908, the year of the Young Turk revolt in Istanbul.  That event, Khalidi argues, catalyzed the Arabs in what is now known as Palestine to reconsider their allegiance to Ottoman Sultan (also the holder of the Caliphate), and begin to think in more nationalistic terms.  (For Khalidi, this timing is important because it allows him to argue that Palestinian Identity did not arise simply as a reaction to the Balfour Declaration and the beginnings of mass Jewish migration).

And you know what?  It’s irrelevant as a political or a moral matter.  Millions of Palestinians now sincerely and deeply see themselves as Palestinians.  It genuinely forms part of their identity.  It’s not a pose.  To tell them that they are all living under some form of mass false consciousness and that thus they have no claim to national rights is profoundly unethical.  Gingrich converted to Roman Catholicism just a few years ago, in order to marry his third wife.  (Insert joke here).  No one would dare say that Gingrich’s newfound religion is fake because it is new or because he “invented” it himself.  (They might say that it is false because the man is a massive hypocrite and fraud, but that’s not about timing: that’s about Gingrich).

Before the middle of the 19th century, virtually no Jews were Zionists.  No one seriously entertained the idea of a Jewish state in Palestine, least of all Jews themselves.  You can’t divorce Zionism from the rise of nationalism in the 19th century.  One could easily argue that a majority of global Jewry before the Second World War were not Zionist.  Does that mean that it is “invented”?  Well, maybe, but the point is irrelevant: it is real.  It is true.  It is authentic, and it doesn’t matter when it arose.

In 1782, Thomas Jefferson could call Virginia his “country,” and only a few people in what were formerly the American colonies would have identified themselves nationally as Americans.  So that’s invented, too.  Are we happy now?

All identities are, as Benedict Anderson so clearly pointed out, “imagined.”  These identities are all culturally constructed and none of them is in the least illegitimate because of that.  To properly judge the legitimacy of someone’s identity, we might ask other questions, such as whether they accept others’ definitions of their own identities, how they see their identities developing in the political sphere (i.e. do they want to establish free and just societies — I know, that’s a longer discussion), what are the basic values underlying their collective conception.  But enough of this.

What is really wrong with Gingrich’s position isn’t that he is wrong, or even that he is telling a partial truth, but that he arrogates to himself the right to invent his own identity as well as the right to tell others that their identities are false.  He is, in short, a bigoted elitist.  But you knew that.

What’s the Arabic for ‘chutzpah’ again?

If you’re still collecting evidence that a society built on extractive wealth is liable to moral pathology, put this one in your dossier.  The Saudis are demanding that if we use less of their climate-toxic export, we should pay them (and the other oil-exporting countries) for what we don’t buy.

Let us pause in awe at the nerve of this idea.  The policy-relevant citizens of Gulf oil states [update: Mark points out that these states are not all alike:  Emiratis, for example are few and all pretty comfortable, while Saudi Arabian privilege and comfort is pretty much restricted to a relatively small population of royals, relatives, and wired-in hangers-on and there is a large population of disenfranchised poor]  toil not, neither do they spin, yet Solomon in all his glory was not coddled as one of these privileged lottery winners, swanning around the lobbies of ridiculous hotels and airconditioned shopping centers in spotless white dishdashis, never carrying anything bigger than a cellphone with which to check on the steady inflow of unearned money from a no-work government job, or his brokerage account, or the current price of his pied-a-terre in Mayfair. If something actually needs to be, like, done (cook dinner, build a hotel, look for oil, drill for oil, pump it) they hire expats from around the world and watch. What the government doesn’t pay its men for knowing nothing and doing nothing, it spends to abuse its women, and to spread ignorance, superstition, and savagery through the land and maybe some terror amid the overseas suckers who found, extract, refine, and buy the oil.

They have had more than half a century to accumulate wealth beyond the wildest imagination of people who work for a living, simply because they were struck by underground magic lightning where they happened to have pitched their tents.  That wealth could have made them the most educated, productive, creative, fixed-for-centuries society in the world, but they chose to spend it becoming the most incompetent, dependent, and primitive.  Now these parasites propose that the world owes them this lifestyle even if our taste for oil changes to a taste for planetary survival?

Verily, the mind reels.

Welcome Kosovo ..

Kosovo’s independence, the fruit of Serb victimhood.

– and take a seat at the back.

Unlike the few other bloggers who have responded to Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence, I have actually been there – three times! for several days at a time! and have travelled outside Prishtina, as far as exotic Mitrovica! – which therefore makes me an Expert in the Wa-benzi sense.

Which small knowledge makes me curiously reluctant to comment. Independence was probably inevitable, as visitors could already see in 2000.

Continue reading “Welcome Kosovo ..”