Saturday, December 31, 2011

Sic Transit Gloria Meehan: Delusions of grandeur from a New Jersey Republican vigilante

Everyone knows that it is more fun to comment on the posts of a well-regarded blogger who draws a good deal of attention. What's the point of sticking to your own site when nobody bothers to read it? Rod Dreher's pages at The American Conservative magazine is one of the more popular and highly regarded. But sometimes a discussion can spin out of control. Like a raging argument between two invited guests at a dinner party, it needs to be removed from the premises, to the corner bar, or the driveway of one of the antagonists.

An aging vigilante living on fantasies of past glory, going by the name of Thomas O. Meehan, takes perverse enjoyment in finding blogs populated by those he characterizes as "all manner of fantasists, humbugs and inadequates." Those are his own words, and by his own words, he seems to fit all three descriptions himself. It is not, otherwise, clear why he cares to waste his time engaging with fantasists, humbugs and inadequates.

Dreher posted some doubts that requiring photo ID to vote is racist. Although few offering comments directly thought is was racist, many challenged the wisdom, propriety, and necessity, of imposing such a condition on the exercise of the franchise.

Very late in a lengthy discussion, Meehan began hinting that he had been part of a glorious effort to document and curtail voter fraud, a great citizen uprising which had single-handedly paved the way for a Republican to be elected governor of New Jersey. Pressed for details, Meehan slowly and begrudgingly offered something approximating a factoid or two, of gradually increasing specificity. Hard pressed, he eventually was even gracious enough to identify the year of the election, and the candidates.

Sorting out claims of fact from a matrix of bombastic rhetoric, Meehan would have anyone who read his account believe that:

In 1982, an unelected, voluntary organization styling itself the "Ballot Security Task Force" mailed post cards to registered voters in Newark and Trenton, New Jersey. It is not clearly whether he claims that 45,000 of a much larger sample, or 100% of 45,000 cards mailed, were returned marked with some variation on "No such person at this address." This task force, Meehan boasts "brought good government to New Jersey in the person of Thomas Kean."

How did this happen? Meehan offers various versions, but the more cutting edge claim is "We forced a recount that threw out enough bogus votes to elect an honest governor." More emphatically, "We challenged them at the polls and we had more than enough legal grounds to force a recount based on State Law." Meehan further specified "The purpose of the recount was to prove that the contested votes (lists) were indeed invalid." The recount, he insists, "succeeded in challenging more than enough of those fraudulent votes to form a government."

Further pressed, Meehan offered a series of suggested Google search terms, and later, specific links to news coverage. What searches and links revealed was a very different story.

The post cards were sent to addresses from a voter list that was several years out of date, not the list actually in use for elections in 1982. Naturally, many voters registered in past years had moved, and were no longer at these addresses. Because the list used was out of date, the commissioners of registration declined to investigate the loudly trumpeted "results." It is not clear whether an out-of-date list was used BECAUSE many voters would have moved, providing the desired appearance of fraudulent registration, or whether the task force was simply careless or negligent.

The task force then paid squads of visibly armed men to congregate around voting places, intimidating voters with the unsubstantiated allegation that they were not qualified to vote, and might be arrested if they tried. In the 19th century, Democrats shot Republican poll workers for challenging the exclusion of black voters — the goon squad Meehan boasts of being part of did not actually shoot anyone, but appears to have taken up the same cause, in the name of the Republican party.

There was indeed a recount, but not one initiated by the self-styled "Ballot Security Task Force." Votes were recounted because the inital margin of victory, for the Republican candidate, Thomas Kean, was so tiny, that the Democratic incumbent, James Florio, wanted a recount. The recount did NOT result in massive numbers of ballots being discounted as fraudulent. It did NOT change the result of the initial vote tally: both in the initial count, and the recount, Kean won.

There was a court case AFTER the election: The result was that Republican defendants promised to cease and desist from intimidating likely Democratic voters, while admitting no wrongdoing. There was no court case that disqualified one or one thousand voters, nor any court case that reversed the outcome of an election.

Perhaps Meehan's real motive lies in the off-hand remark, "readers who wish to purchase the few remaining signs in my possession can contact me at my web address above. Be warned, they’re not cheap." Perhaps not now, but one is left with the impression that a buyer today, at Meehan's price, will find that his investment depreciates in value as the truth dawns upon the population of potential buyers.

It is only fair to note, for the hypothetical reader (if any) who cares to examine this matter closely, that Meehan made a few follow-up remarks in the midst of another discussion at Dreher's site, a retrospective on "The Red Dean," William Hewlett. Meehan's reputation for either accuracy or probity having fallen under the principle "Falsum in unum, falsum in omnibus," he felt impelled to defend himself, however ineffectually, one last time.

Meehan is invited to attempt to rehabilitate himself in the posting box.

Politically Libertarian, Economically Socialist, Culturally Conservative

An independent voter, who prefers "None of the Above" as a descriptive label, could do a lot worse than to try to weave together the best of the libertarian, socialist and conservative principles winding their way through human thought and history.

There are implacable cynics and ideologues who claim this is impossible, that the three are mutually repulsive philosophies. This would be true, if anyone attempted to apply all three simultaneously to every aspect of life, politics, and culture. But looking for the best hope of human happiness, rather than the Correct Party Line, it seems each of these philosophies has their place and their proper use.

Most people are by nature libertarian, at least concerning their own individual choices and preferences in life. We all want to be left alone by society when it comes to how we will live our life. Conservative columnist Rod Dreher, author of the celebrated and denounced book, Crunchy Cons, provided a good example in accusing the federal government of communist tendencies for messing with raw oysters in New Orleans. (The article appears to be irretrievable).

There are of course points of tension between any principles that are, respectively, individual, communal, and judgemental. When it comes to gay rights, should a libertarian impulse to live and let live yield to conservative denunciation? The answer to that question could put a citizen on either side of the Supreme Court decision, Lawrence v. Texas.

How about Roe v. Wade? A consistent libertarian would want government to stay out of a private, intimate, personal decision. A rigid conservative would ask whether murder of a five year old is also a valid private decision. From a socialist point of view, it might be deemed either good for the community to reduce the surplus population, or a duty to the state to produce more children.

The truth is, almost everyone is inconsistent in such matters. That is why the media pundits are always having to distinguish between "social liberals" who are "fiscal conservatives" and "social conservatives" who are "economically liberal." Getting into what ornery, unique individuals REALLY think would be much more complex.

Nothing enrages a narrow-minded ideologue more than the thought that libertarian and socialist thoughts could lurk in the same mind. But any semblance of justice requires both. A handy rule of thumb might be, the larger and more powerful the enterprise, the more government regulation is required to "promote the general welfare and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity."

There are limits even to that. A small local butcher shop is not entitled to sell rancid meat kept in sloppy, unsanitary conditions, inflicting salmonella and other infectious illnesses on its customers, merely because "I'm a small business, leave me alone." However, it is possible to keep the necessary inspections and licensing streamlined and inexpensive.

It is companies with supply lines extending around the world, who pay millions of dollars a year to lobbyists and high-powered law firms, who bear watching. There is almost no way that an individual citizen, consumer, or employee can exercise effective control, supervision, or "free choice" over such behemoths. We The People need OUR government to do that on our behalf, forcefully if necessary.

But, any measure of regulation, licensing, control, or direct intervention, should leave room for the hapless local craftsman carving children's toys in a small rural community by the side of a well-traveled road. Such a craftsman should not have to pay thousands of dollars for lab testing and certification, merely because chain stores have been importing toys from China decorated with lead-based paints. Those chain stores, having demonstrated their gross irresponsibility, DO need to be tightly regulated, and pay for the costs. If this raises the price of the net product, perhaps they should re-think whether extending the supply chain to China is really such a great cost saving.

The dividing line between the three spheres comes down to the old principle, your right to swing your fist stops where the next man's nose begins. Cultural conservatism, in this sense, can really be a libertarian expression. The State should, perhaps, not regulate your choice to read sexually explicit novels, but, I have a right not to have your prurient interests graphically shoved in front of my eyes. Ditto, you may not impose your tastes on innocent children in order to gratify your desires. What about THEIR liberty?

What color I paint my house, and what God or gods I believe in, affect nobody but myself. What portion of the revenue from any given commercial enterprise goes to those who labor on the floor, what portion goes to stockholders, and what portion goes to executive management, is a matter of vast concern to all of the above, and to the health of the entire economy.

Businesses may complain about the Environmental Protection Agency, in glowing libertarian language, but what they really seek is a subsidy of the cost of doing business by those who are down wind or down stream. If the full cost of particulate pollution, from the homeowners who have to repaint more often, to the medical costs (and funeral expenses, lost wages, etc.) of those who breath the particles, were fully monetized and charged to the account of the polluter, why every business would be rushing to install extensive controls, or reorganize the process of production. It would take regulation and inspection to implement even such a "free market" approach to pollution control.

So, contrary to the infatuation of the busybody nanny state conservative, individuals should be free to make individual choices about any matter than does not infringe the rights of their neighbors. (This will also offend that species of socialist who assumes that EVERY aspect of human life is a manifestation of class struggle, requiring a Party Line on each detail imaginable).

Contrary to the sordid greed of "Kerr-McGee libertarianism," decisions about economy and production which effect the lives and welfare of all require some degree of collective regulation and even policy and priority decisions through the political process. Corporations only exist by license of the state, and are properly subject to regulation for the common good. If you don't want social accountability, then you must give up the privilege of limited liability, facing the prospect that those you harm can sue you for ALL you are worth, and then some.

Contrary to the facile and flagrant exhibitionism of the "anything goes" crowd, I don't have to applaud, appreciate, celebrate, participate in, or even watch and listen to, your own exercise of your own personal choices. That is where cultural conservatism has some value. Some level of sex education is healthy, but it does not, and should not, extend to detailed advice on techniques and preferences. Leave that to each individual's own libertarian choices.

Obviously, there are points of tension on which reasonable people may differ. That is why we have public debate and political process. But in general, the power of the state should be regarded with skepticism, applied to individual citizens. It should be judiciously deployed, with regard to large institutional decisions that DO have a coercive effect on individuals, whether made by private or public sector bureaucrats. Culturally, we really don't have to "let it all hang out." That should be a sound basis for achieving a workable consensus that all but the most venal can live with.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

All Faiths Carry Totalitarian Seeds, yet one may be true

It is inherent in every religion which claims to be the One True Faith, or the last and final, the highest and ultimate revelation from God, that some portion of its adherents will lay claim to special privileges, or to domination over those not of the same faith.

The logic is inexorable: we are God's elect. We have higher morals, better judgement, the favor of the Almighty. The Others should conduct themselves subordinate to our laws. The Others, if suffered to live among us, should be our servants.

Furthermore, as the teachings of our faith are THE means of salvation for all humanity, we must be free to bring these teachings TO all of humanity, and none must be allowed to get in our way. Other teachings, being false, should not be allowed in the public square.

Taken to its extreme possibilities, this logic could justify simply exterminating those who refuse The Truth, resist the True Faith, those who are so ungrateful as to spurn so precious a gift.

All these strands of thought can be found, at various times and places, in the history of Christianity and Islam. They are less present in Judaism, for two reasons: Judaism is not an evangelical faith, as Christianity and Islam are, and, until the middle of the 20th century, Jews had been without effective political domination of any place on earth for over one thousand years.

Jews do not seek to bring all gentiles into their mode of worship, nor their polity. They are the Chosen People, others are free to worship their own gods, so long as they do not seduce Jews to worship pagan idols. There have been times when Jewish kingdoms have subjugated or slaughtered pagan peoples, but not lately. The conquest and forced conversion of the Idumeans was a disaster, visiting the Idumean, Herod, upon them as the Roman puppet king. There is basis in the Tanach (aka the "Old Testament") to believe that Jews subjected non-Jews to servitude from which Jews were formally exempt, when Jews were politically dominant.

Buddhism, where politically dominant, has its totalitarian strains, just as Christianity and Islam do, even without the core belief in a creator Deity. Hinduism, although not evangelical, is triumphalist, founded on the Aryan conquest of the ancestors of the Dalit. Based strictly on its literature, and traditional culture, Hinduism is the most implacably racist faith on the face of the earth.

To stop short of its totalitarian implications, a religion must either finesse its claims to superiority, OR it must abandon its claim to a uniquely correct approach to salvation.

When multiple religious faiths coexist within the same political entity, there is either a suppressed, low-level conflict, or there is a relaxed attitude that each has its own legitimate path to God. The former contains the seeds of renewed bids for domination. The latter offends the understanding that, e.g., "I am the way, the truth and the life, no-one comes to the Father but through me," or, on the other hand, "There is no God but The God, and Muhammed is his prophet."

The most sophisticated, and well-balanced, answer to any bid for political domination by any religion is, salvation belongs to God, not to the governments of this world. The state, however well-intentioned, is not competent to judge which faith is the true faith. God will act in his own way, as he sees fit, without any need for the assistance of the state.

There is no such thing as a Christian Nation, nor, for that matter, a Muslim Nation. The first Caliphate, like the Holy Roman Empire, besmirched the name of its faith by indulging in decidedly un-Islamic (or un-Christian) pursuits. The Umayyads are particularly blamed for that within the Muslim world, Sunni and well as Shia, but the Abassids committed many of the same sins, and the Arabs ended up in open revolt against the Turkish Sultans, who were in fact the direct successors to the Caliphate.

The most pious rejection of religious freedom is, in a [NAME YOUR PREFERRED FAITH] there will be no conflict between your personal life, your family life, your civic life, your spiritual life, and your political participation. All will be in harmony. (Not mentioned is that rivers of blood would have to be shed to bring that about).

There remain, within every faith in the world, advocates of carnal political dominion, and advocates of either toleration, or outright political equality. Whether the advocates of dominion are a real hazard to others (within as well as without their own faith) depends on how much political room they have to act on their rhetoric, and whether any sizeable number of their co-religionists are actually prepared to take up arms for a doctrine. The potential exists everywhere.

The reason the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America bars Establishment of Religion, is that many in the original 13 states feared efforts to use the machinery of the new federal government to do exactly that. The reason the next clause protects the Free Exercise thereof, is that many feared efforts to infringe individual choice of worship.

That a faith cannot be imposed at the point of a sword, or by means of statute book, police, and prison, says nothing about whether it is, after all the One True Faith, or a true faith, or a complete delusion. Those who really trust in God need not lay their hands on the machinery of the state, to coerce their fellow citizens. God, after all, is omnipotent, and will do what he chooses, in his own good time.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Case for Israel... in spite of all it's done lately...

It is difficult to support Israel these days. The little nation has long since lost its underdog status. It is not a valiant collection of socialist cooperatives, fending off the armies of three kingdoms and assorted feudal principalities. It is the militarily dominant power of its immediate region, swaggering with confidence that it doesn't have to offer its neighbors anything. Like any power acting with such arrogance, it will eventually come to a long fall, just as Mubarak and Qaddafi did. But there are reasons it is worth saving.

Approximately eight million people live in Israel, a majority of them Jewish. One can argue about whether they should be there in the first place. That argument doesn't have any clear-cut resolution. Anyway, there is no feasible place to ship them off to. It is a little like Argentina's historical claim to the Falkland Islands. The people living on the islands are not longing for liberation; they are British by descent and culture. The living descendants of the one-time Argentine occupants have made other lives for themselves for many generations.

The Israelis are there. They do not have family roots or estates to return to when they get tired of being in the Middle East, as French and British estate holders in the Caribbean islands did. Since there are those who would like to dominate them or push them out, even exterminate them, they have a right to self-defence.

The Jewish population of Israel is no longer dominated by European immigrants. A large portion are immigrants from North Africa, the Tigris-Euphrates valley, and other places where well established Jewish populations had lived for many centuries. An unfortunate side effect of the creation of Israel is that these Jewish communities became persona non grata to their neighbors, who were mostly, although not entirely, Muslim, and somewhat Arab, although Berbers and Chaldeans are not Arabs.

King Abdullah of Jordan, in his 1947 address to the people of the United States, asserted that the long-established Jewish communities in the Arabic-speaking countries had no interest in the project of European Jews who wished to settle in Palestine. He said these Jewish communities had an honored and respected place where they were. Perhaps so. If that place had continued to be honored, the argument for Israel might be a bit more precarious. But it was not. Those Jews were forced to flee to Israel, where their descendants now live.

Unless all their former homelands welcome them with sincere open arms and restore their property to them, this counts in favor of leaving Israel be. The claim of Arabs forced out of their homes by Israeli occupation is at least partly balanced by the fact that the land of Israel is providing a home to Jews forced out of their homes by Arabic-speaking people.

The United Nations voted in 1947 to partition the former British Mandate of Palestine. This may not have been the best solution, but it is the solution the world voted for. Perhaps the territory should not have been a British Mandate in the first place -- anyone who has watched the movie "Lawrence of Arabia" can see injustice in this decision. But by 1947, that was a moot point. It had been a Mandate, the Mandate was ending, a large Jewish population was there, and the territory was partitioned.

But that partition, which is the legal basis for Israel to exist as a nation, was a partition, not a transfer of the entire territory. Israel is the size and shape it is today, not because of the partition boundary, but because various Arab armies elected to challenge the partition militarily. They lost. Fortunes of war. The land that can reasonably be considered the territory of a Palestinian state is all the territory of the former British Mandate that was not Israel when the war was settled in 1948.

If Israel cares about its own survival, more than enjoying the next few years in a state of indifferent comfort, it should be facilitating the development of a peaceful, prosperous Palestinian state in that territory, principally, the West Bank and Gaza. There is no basis in either justice or international law to push the Jews into the sea. Neither is there any basis in justice or international law to keep the rest of the former British Mandate of Palestine in a state of limbo, semi-occupied by the Israeli Defense Forces, semi-autonomous, and incapable of long-term development or investment.

Israel remains to this day a heavily subsidized entity. It needs to learn to cut the apron strings, and live by its own means. It needs to stop relying on its history as a tail that can wag the dog of international power, no matter how irresponsible the policies of its own government. But when the dust settles, Israel should still be on the map. If Israel doesn't wise up in a hurry, perhaps it will not be. That would be a shame.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Roe v. Wade: A sound conservative ruling

The Supreme Court ruling in Roe v. Wade was a sound, conservative application of well-established law to a new set of facts, never before presented to the court.

I've said that many times, on many Catholic blogs, all of them conservative, and on a few other conservative blogs, which are not Catholic. The most coherent, thoughtful, response I've gotten is "Your description of Roe v. Wade is rejected by most liberal jurists nowadays. They think it's bad law."

The first and most obvious response I can offer is, that's what you get for asking liberal jurists. Like liberals in general, they are a spineless bunch of cretins for the most part. Perhaps that is why they are ducking the tomatoes instead of standing up with dignity and examining the law.

But it remains incumbent upon me to sustain my own argument, even if nobody has offered a significant challenge. So, after re-reading for the umpteenth time the actual content of Justice Harry Blackmun's opinion, delivered for a 7-2 majority, and therefore, the decision "of the court," here is my case that this was a sound, conservative application of well-established law.

I will not, at this time, address the issues of standing. These have not been at the heart of intellectual challenges to Justice Blackmun's reasoning.

Perhaps the first relevant point is "It is undisputed that, at common law, abortion performed before "quickening" -- the first recognizable movement of the fetus in utero, appearing usually from the 16th to the 18th week of pregnancy -- was not an indictable offense." This is sustained by a series of standard legal texts, listed in Footnote 21.

That is important, because the common law was already in effect in all thirteen British colonies at the time of independence, and is generally considered by all state and federal courts to have remained good law in the United States, except where a specific provision of federal or state constitutions said otherwise.

A review of American law found that until the mid-19th century, all but a few states followed pre-existing English common law. Connecticut was the first state to enact abortion legislation, in 1821, which applied only to a woman "quick with child." Abortion before quickening was made a crime only in 1860.

What really remains in controversy is the third reason for adopting criminal statutes examined by the court: "the State's interest -- some phrase it in terms of duty -- in protecting prenatal life. Some of the argument for this justification rests on the theory that a new human life is present from the moment of conception."

It is worth reproducing at length the legal precedent on which the court began its disposition of the case:

The Constitution does not explicitly mention any right of privacy. In a line of decisions, however, going back perhaps as far as Union Pacific R. Co. v. Botsford, 141 U. S. 250, 141 U. S. 251 (1891), the Court has recognized that a right of personal privacy, or a guarantee of certain areas or zones of privacy, does exist under the Constitution. In varying contexts, the Court or individual Justices have, indeed, found at least the roots of that right in the First Amendment, Stanley v. Georgia, 394 U. S. 557, 394 U. S. 564 (1969); in the Fourth and Fifth Amendments, Terry v. Ohio, 392 U. S. 1, 392 U. S. 8-9 (1968), Katz v. United States, 389 U. S. 347, 389 U. S. 350 (1967), Boyd v. United States, 116 U. S. 616 (1886), see Olmstead v. United States, 277 U. S. 438, 277 U. S. 478 (1928) (Brandeis, J., dissenting); in the penumbras of the Bill of Rights, Griswold v. Connecticut, 381 U.S. at 381 U. S. 484-485; in the Ninth Amendment, id. at 381 U. S. 486 (Goldberg, J., concurring); or in the concept of liberty guaranteed by the first section of the Fourteenth Amendment, see Meyer v. Nebraska, 262 U. S. 390, 262 U. S. 399 (1923). These decisions make it clear that only personal rights that can be deemed "fundamental" or "implicit in the concept of ordered liberty," Palko v. Connecticut, 302 U. S. 319, 302 U. S. 325 (1937), are included in this guarantee of personal privacy. They also make it clear that the right has some extension to activities relating to marriage, Loving v. Virginia, 388 U. S. 1, 388 U. S. 12 (1967); procreation, Skinner v. Oklahoma, 316 U. S. 535, 316 U. S. 541-542 (1942); contraception, Eisenstadt v. Baird, 405 U.S. at 405 U. S. 453-454; id. at 405 U. S. 460, 405 U. S. 463-465 (WHITE, J., concurring in result); family relationships, Prince v. Massachusetts, 321 U. S. 158, 321 U. S. 166 (1944); and childrearing and education, Pierce v. Society of Sisters, 268 U. S. 510, 268 U. S. 535 (1925), Meyer v. Nebraska, supra.

This right of privacy, whether it be founded in the Fourteenth Amendment's concept of personal liberty and restrictions upon state action, as we feel it is, or, as the District Court determined, in the Ninth Amendment's reservation of rights to the people, is broad enough to encompass a woman's decision whether or not to terminate her pregnancy.

However, the court rejected the argument that the woman's right is absolute, that she is entitled to terminate her pregnancy at whatever time, in whatever way, and for whatever reason she alone chooses.

In fact, it is not clear to us that the claim asserted by some amici that one has an unlimited right to do with one's body as one pleases bears a close relationship to the right of privacy previously articulated in the Court's decisions. The Court has refused to recognize an unlimited right of this kind in the past. Jacobson v. Massachusetts, 197 U. S. 11 (1905) (vaccination); Buck v. Bell, 274 U. S. 200 (1927) ( sterilization).

We, therefore, conclude that the right of personal privacy includes the abortion decision, but that this right is not unqualified, and must be considered against important state interests in regulation.

The court reviewed a long series of recent lower federal court and state supreme court decisions - which is almost mandatory before the court takes it upon itself to resolve a question on which lower courts are divided.

The court then carefully considered the argument "that the fetus is a 'person within the language and meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment." Justice Blackmun's opinon explicitly acknowledged that "If this suggestion of personhood is established, the appellant's case, of course, collapses, for the fetus' right to life would then be guaranteed specifically by the Amendment."

But "Wade" and those arguing the "Wade" side of the argument "conceded on reargument that no case could be cited that holds that a fetus is a person within the meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment." Accordingly, although Justice Blackmun did not say this in so many words, it would have been flagrant judicial activism to have made up a new and novel holding for which there was no precedent whatsoever.

The Constitution does not define "person" in so many words, and Blackmun said so. Section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment uses the word three times. One defines citizens as "persons born of naturalized in the United States." In every place where the word appears, "the use of the word is such that it has application only post-natally. None indicates, with any assurance, that it has any possible pre-natal application."

The court meticulously reviewed the few questions in which lower courts had considered whether the word "person" as used in the constitution applies to "the unborn." Each of these few cases were in accord with the view that it did and does not.

The court further conservatively refrained from entering into speculation about matters beyond its competence:

Texas urges that, apart from the Fourteenth Amendment, life begins at conception and is present throughout pregnancy, and that, therefore, the State has a compelling interest in protecting that life from and after conception. We need not resolve the difficult question of when life begins. When those trained in the respective disciplines of medicine, philosophy, and theology are unable to arrive at any consensus, the judiciary, at this point in the development of man's knowledge, is not in a position to speculate as to the answer.

Having explicitly rejected the argument that the state had no power to interfere for the entire nine months of pregnancy, the court adopted the medical standard of "quickening" as the point at which "the State's important and legitimate interest in potential life," becomes compelling.

While advances in medical technology and knowledge between 1973 and 2011 may have superceded the understanding of "quickening" on which the court relied, that was a boundary with well established legal standing, rooted in centuries of common law, and even in many, although not all, of the early criminal abortion statutes adopted in the 19th century.

To say that the decision is a conservative application of well established law is not to say that abortion is a good choice, a wise choice, or that it is a morally right choice to make. But, given the language of the Constitution, which is the supreme law of the land, given the court's own precedents, and after carefully examining the prior decisions of lower courts, and the common law, there was little or no basis to make any other decision.

The court made a ruling on the constitutional boundary between the powers of the state, and the liberty of the individual. It made no ruling on the wisdom of seeking or performing an abortion. If "liberal jurists" can't figure that out, perhaps they need to take a Continuing Education in the Bar seminar to learn how to apply mandatory and persuasive law to arrive at a reasoned decision.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

How a witch strengthened the faith of an Anglo-Catholic, and how a Wycliffe-Arminian Heterodox Protestant saw it

The first half of the title for this post concerns Hector, who posted How a witch strengthened my faith at the Aleksandreia site. The second half refers to my seldom-humble self, more or less a Christian who refrains from heresy by welcoming schism.

Those who are conversant in ancient Greek have observed that the term Paul used when he wrote of heresy has connotations of party or faction. Thus, I suspect that heresy is the act of seeking domination of the body of Christ for one's own party or faction. The orthodox are merely the heresy in power. The sin, if it can be called one, is the arrogance of believing that I, or my group, understand God better than any other individual or group within the faith, who has a slightly different idea of exactly what God is trying to tell us.

Hector lists a number of well-known miracles as the foundation or his faith. I have no objection. I frankly don't give much thought to whether these miracles did or did not occur. More often than not, my comment on such debates is "Don't mess with the stories." They are there for a reason. Perhaps they are there because some will recognize God through these accounts of miracles. Others may not, but may find the stories moving in some sense. Yet others may be put off by the improbability of such events - for them, no doubt, God has other ways of calling.

What ways? Well, as an avid reader of science, although not professionally competent, two of my favorites are the fact that the universe we live in began with a tremendous burst of electro-magnetic energy some thirteen billion years ago, and the fact that the foundations of evolutionary biology can be discerned in the first two chapters of Genesis. For the most part, human culture only discovered the first point in the mid-20th century, but somehow Moses knew all about it some 3500 years before the Hubble Space Telescope or the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe. The second escaped human knowledge until well after Darwin; before Darwin, we didn't have the empirical knowledge to recognize what the text was talking about, so our ancestors became infatuated with much simpler interpretations.

But these little pieces show a congruence between science - the empirical knowledge of our world - and monotheistic revealed faith, not enough to uphold any given prophet or savior, but enough to suggest that there is a God who created all that is, seen and unseen, a deity who occasionally has reason to communicate to us as best we can understand.

Whether I believe in specific miracles really truly happened is, to me, rather irrelevant. They may well have, without setting aside science. There is no question that our universe runs in accordance with patterns that science can and has explored with some accuracy. But, if there is anything transcendent, it would be roughly like a larger Venn diagram enclosing our universe as a subset, represented by a smaller Venn diagram. A transcendent God could intervene whenever he chose, and obviously chooses to do so rather seldom. Indeed, if there were no consistent scientific basis to the universe, miracles would not be particularly extraordinary. They would be commonplace random events in an unpredictable chaos.

So we come to the White Witch, a devout member of a schismatic Anglican church which insists on restricting the priesthood to males, relying strictly on the King James Version of the Bible, and presumably also on denying the validity of same-sex couples or marriages. She had an out of body experience, as a child, while clinically dead, before doctors noticed a restored heart beat and breathing. The experience was two minutes of conversation with Jesus Christ.

Do I find this credible? Not in the sense that it restores my faith, but I wouldn't presume to deny that it could not have happened. The fact that this happened to her as a child, that she had no religious training from her parents, provides a veneer of credibility. Onthe other hand, the fact that she later attended a Roman Catholic School, after that practiced some version of Wicca for twenty years, and only after that became an Anglican Christian, suggests that the conversation with Jesus had not made much of an immediate impression on her. For a skeptic, there is plenty of cause to doubt.

Again, I don't much care. The vision is for her, if for anyone. There is no way to test whether it is genuine. Therefore, I doubt that it is of great significance for me.

This former Wiccan "found her thirst for a particularly feminine spirituality slaked in a newfound devotion to the person of the Ever-Virgin Mary, Mother of God." Here is another conundrum for an Arminian raised in the attenuated Calvinism of the late 20th century Presbyterian Church USA. Do I believe that Mary, the physical human mother of "the carpenter's son," was taken body and soul into heaven? No, my faith does not rest on what many denominations, including the Roman, Greek, and Anglican churches, reverence as "the Assumption."

Frankly, I find the Jewish teaching quite credible, that it is no coincidence that the first Christian church dedicated to veneration of Mary as Virgin Mother of God was built in Ephesus. Those Ephesians darn well needed a female spirituality, and if they couldn't have Diana, they were going to have Mary. Besides, it gave the silversmiths a new theme for profitable images to sell. But, I don't write it all off as idol worship.

One of the unique features of Christianity is a God who so loved the world that he became human, lived our experience, has a specific desire to reach out to us. Much as I respect the Jewish foundation for monotheism, and the piety of Islam, these offer a more austere and remote version of God. Of course, if there is only one God, there are not Jewish and Christian and Muslim godlings out in space fighting proxy wars with each other through their earthly adherents. There is only one. But we ornery humans are incapable of having one comprehensive understanding or relationship.

So if some women, and some men, need a "feminine spirituality," I'm sure God is quite happy to let them find that in his mother - albeit Muhammed made sense when he denied that a transcendent God could have had either a mother or a son. I am informed that the formal name within those orthodoxies that declare anathema on thinking like mine is "modalism." Well, so be it. I don't suggest that God, per se, is modal in nature, but that God is transcendent, and happy to let us humans venerate any mode that brings us closer to a transcendent unitary God - or even to let us worship a triune image of God.

Having had little direct sense of divine presence - the kind received with fear and trembling - I have been known to say that I sense to presence of God when I see it reflected on the face of someone in a praise team, as sunlight is reflected on the face of the moon. I seldom sense any DIRECT response to my prayers - I always have the dry spell Hector has been experiencing of late. But I don't sense that I'm getting a busy signal. I think C.S. Lewis wrote that "men's prayers today are one of the innumerable cordinates with which the Enemy [as Screwtape references God] harmonizes the weather of tomorrow."

A Roman Catholic blogging as Roland de Chanson interjects into discussion the assertion that "God speaks the Truth to whom He chooses. And His Incarnate Son established a Church to teach that Truth." The first sentence is inarguable, except by denying that there is a God (singular). The second defines the boundary between adherents of the Roman Catholic church and all other Christian denominations. In my mind, the vast bureaucracy in the Vatican City, and its subordinate institutions throughout the world, are merely one more heresy, no better and no worse than those it persecuted when it had the carnal power to do so. The significance claimed for the words "thou are Cephas" is strictly an ex post facto intepretation of convenience, which might have been presented earlier except that the ink had not yet dried.

Roland also speculates, what if this Anglo-Catholic formerly Wiccan women who had a conjectural conversation with Jesus Christ is "an agent of the Evil One intent upon your soul’s perdition?" I for one don't worry much about such things, because I don't seek for signs and wonders to sustain my faith. The Evil One, if there is such a Manischean graft onto the teachings of the Tanach (aka Old Testament) may send me any number of people relating glorious visions, but I put little stock in such things.

I believe in part because, if I don't construct edifices of detailed explanations of the unexplainable, it makes sense. Further, I can look back on my life and see connections made with a significance I could never have forseen. If someone had not very subtlely (as Albert Einstein used to say) been watching out for me, by all the statistical criteria of a cold indifferent universe and a corporate capitalist regimented economy, I should certainly have been homeless long since.

(Note: Hector, please invite John E. and Franklin, and even Roland, to comment here after you've read it). And you might want to look at this discussion with Eulogos.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Distributing the Wealth and Income

The question of "redistributing" wealth and income pops up in many debates, some related to the value of a strong labor movement, some motivated by other points of concern.

When workers demand "More," which was Samuel Gompers's bottom line, there are two ways to deliver it.

One is increased productivity. However, as the high unemployment rate and depressed wages since the crash of 2008 have shown improved productivity does NOT necessarily deliver a higher standard of living to the working class. It may simply be absorbed by those who own the capital, as they continue to take advantage of the productivity of their employees by laying off a portion of them.

The other is to reset what portion of revenue goes to the employees of employers, and what portion goes to the employers of employees. Employers always balk at that, and scream about "the free market," but there is nothing "free" about the transaction between the owner of capital and a person who desperately needs a job.

It is of course true that the share allocated to labor cannot exceed 100% of revenue on a long term basis. A good part of revenue must be reinvested even in maintaining the plant so it can operate productively, much less expansion. Failure to recognize this has been a prime failing of eager young socialist governments. The oil industry in Venezuela right now is ailing because the government takes too much of the revenue for various social projects (and military purchases), without allocating enough to maintain the goose that lays the golden eggs.

Looking at what remains, anyone who invests their savings in an enterprise expects a return, to compensate them for the deferred gratification. Finally, if the business can only meet the demands of its employees, organized together in the form of a union, by going into debt, then eventually the enterprise will fold.

So, the fundamental question is not one of "redistribution" but of a fair and appropriate DISTRIBUTION of the product of labor.

In a sole proprietorship, with no employees, all increases in productivity are personally delivered by the sole owner and sole worker, who receives all the benefits. When the roles of owner of capital, and employee who has no capital (thus, the need to "find a job"), have been separated, they have partially different and opposite interests. Karl Marx called this "alienation of labor," and it is real, whether Karl Marx said it or not.

This "alienation" is even explicitly expressed by the defenders of an employer's unlimited right to do what he pleases, without reference to the best interests of the employees and their families. A sole proprietor not only reaps all the benefits, but pays all the prices. The employer can say "the benefits are mine, because I invested the capital, it is the job of the employees to pay the prices."

Suppose we were to plan that out of the average revenue over a ten year period, 47 percent should be allocated to capital maintenance and expansion. Another 47 percent would go to labor. That includes the labor performed for necessary and essential management functions. Managers would be paid somewhat more, but probably no more than ten times what the lowest paid employee earns. (New janitor trainee, $20,000 a year, top CEO, $200,000 a year).

Then the investors who put up the capital can get six percent of the revenue as dividends on their investment. This might be more or less than 6 percent RETURN on investment, depending on how wisely their capital was managed, and the ratio of business revenue to capital invested.

That is not REDISTRIBUTION, except by comparison to the present rapacious status quo. It is merely a fair distribution of the revenue generated by a complex collective enterprise. Yes, it IS a collective enterprise. Everybody contributes to its success. Everyone is ESSENTIAL to its success.

What we, as a society, need to do for the disabled, the elderly, the unlucky through no fault of their own, the children impoverished by the bad judgement of their parents, are all separate questions. They are worth looking at, but they are different from the distribution of revenue to those who put their labor into a productive enterprise.

Unfortunately, under our current laws and power relationships, its not so simple. It plays out like this, and this. So until we have better laws, and more sensible ways of doing business that "promote the common welfare" while allowing everyone a reasonable return for what they actually put in, we still have to "Roll the Union On!"

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

American morals in a secular republic

Red Cardigan recently posted a July Fourth essay entitled Oh America at her acclaimed site, "and sometimes tea". Out of sheer preference for having a relaxed holiday with her family, rather than have to police who said what, she shut down comments the moment she posted it. Accordingly, I will post the thoughts her essay inspired in my muddled mind here, and graciously absorb whatever anyone wanted to say about it, trolls and all. (Caution, we eat trolls for breakfast here).

I have no reason to doubt that the quotes she refers to are accurate and properly attributed. Yes, John Adams believed in the essential values of morality and religion. Abraham Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address had more "profound theological content" (as Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan described it) than even the words attributed to him in Red's essay. George Washington certainly believed in security for property, for reputation, for life, and the sense of religious obligation that made oaths to tell the truth binding.

But all of these individuals had seen the horrific results of trying to impose an institutional morality by close cooperation of The State with an Established Church. Adams and Washington, and their contemporaries had had the experience of delegates from thirteen different colonies with far from homogenous cultures trying to form a federal union. They knew that, in the words of James Madison, the better part of showing respect for the sacred name of Jesus was NOT to insert it into a legislative enactment. They inaugurated a Constitution that, again turning to Madison, protected religion from the profane hand of the civil magistrate.

It didn't happen all at once. Most of the original thirteen states had state-supported churches at the time of the Revolution. In New England, all but Rhode Island were Congregational. In Virginia, the Carolinas, and Georgia, it was Anglican. New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania were too polyglot to have a single official church, even though a Quaker elite dominated Pennsylvania. Maryland, established as a refuge for Roman Catholics, had long since, rather bloodily, been taken over by Puritans from Virginia.

Baptists and Methodists were running amuck in most of these places, to the scandal of the more established clergy. Together with the Presbyterians, they made sure that the new states entering the union were firmly committed to no established church. Virginia, among the original 13, let the way in providing for complete religious liberty. When the Fourteenth Amendment laid the groundwork for making religious liberty an individual right, which could be asserted against any state, most states took it as a matter of course.

It is true that some Roman Catholic immigrants to America fled persecution for their Roman Catholic beliefs... mostly the Irish, who were oppressed by the English. But Italians, Portuguese, southern Germans, Belgians, hardly fled from lands where their church was oppressed as such. The Czar didn't try to make Poles convert to Russian Orthodox either, nor did the (Catholic) emperors of Austria.

And it is equally true that the founders of the USA had, or heard from their recent ancestors of, Roman Catholic oppression of Protestants, for their faith. French Huguenots, central European Baptists, not to mention the cruel wars between England and Spain. But the framework for putting all that behind us, once and for all, extended full religious freedom to Roman Catholics as much as to any Protestant sect, or indeed any faith, including Jews, most immediately, and Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, implicitly, when immigration made any of these faiths a practical consideration.

Is the price of not killing each other in mass slaughter over competing religious doctrine that we abandon all sense of morality, or all foundation for morality in religious teaching? I don't think so.

Where our CULTURE has gone wrong, is the notion that if it is legal, it's got to be good, and if it's bad, there oughta be a law against it.

We can see that, for example, in the abortion debate. The Supreme Court ruling in Roe v. Wade was a sound, conservative application of well-established law to a new set of facts, never before presented to the court. But the response on the streets was, in many ways, obscene.

Justice Harry Blackmun wrote a sober decision protecting the right of an individual woman to make a medical decision in consultation with her primary care physician and/or her gynecologist. What we were treated to was a loud public scream "It's legal, have one any time! Kids are a drag! Biology is not destiny!"

I'm sorry Virginia, biology IS destiny. We may tamper with it a bit, but we are what we are. I, born a male, can never carry a child in my abdominal cavity, and a woman can never impregnate anyone. If some women don't have children, all questions about how human society should be organized will soon be moot. Quite naturally, many women find child-bearing fulfilling.

But getting back to morality. The founders of our nation, and the framers of our Constitution (not identical statistical universes), relied on morality to be inculcated by voluntary insitutions and associations independent of the state, because no state can impose morality without hopelessly corrupting every vestige of moral standards.

One might argue that our culture is weak on this point right now. I agree. I am as culturally conservative in my tastes as I am libertarian in my politics and socialist in my economic views. But both the amoral and oppressively moral factions in our nation rely on the same faulted premise: that morality only exists to the extent it is established by law.

The most passionate profusions of religious faith in history have spread in direct opposition to the existing state (e.g., the early Christians vs. the Roman Empire, the Protestant Reformation vs. the feudal order in which the Pope was nominally superior to kings and emperors, the Great Awakening vs. the Congregational and Anglican establishments). All these faiths became corrupt as they acquired some sort of state power, or conventional acceptance that translated into political influence.

If the constitution is the framework of our republic, one might draw an anology to the outer walls of a biological cell. By this analogy, morality is part of the rich fluid of complex chemicals which fill the cell and make it a vital, living, organism. If the cell wall is breached, the essential chemistry is scattered, and life ceases to exist. If the fluids all dry up, then the cell also dies.

Don't aim for triumphalism, either moral or amoral. Sustain the equilibrium.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

De Trinitate: A Response to Hector

Hector is, as far as I understand, an Anglican Christian who embraces most Roman Catholic liturgy, and his ethnicity is Indian, as in, the Indian subcontinent, not Native American. He has recently posted at Alexandria a long piece on The Trinity and the terrible heresy of "modalism," a heresy of which he has accused me in the past. I cannot respond to him there, being at present banished from the pond by the Ruler of All He Surveys whose divine majesty I offended some months ago. So I will do so here - albeit this may be a little confusing for anyone else trying to follow the debate.

I should note, when I say that Hector "accused" me, that this was done in a friendly and mutually respectful manner. Hector takes doctrine seriously, although by some lights he is a bit unorthodox. For instance, he's not at all sure that homosexuality is a sin. Hector and I generally agree on economic issues. We both favor some sort of socialist policies which more equably divide the fruits of labor among ALL who produce it, without, I think, violating the principle that "those who work will eat," provided an opportunity to labor is indeed available to everyone.

Hector is deeply devoted to the Trinity. I am at best indifferent to it. If it brings you closer to God to think of God as a Trinity, I am not so militant a lower-case unitarian that I need to argue you out of it. Ultimately, God is a mystery, and must be taken on faith, so anyone who wants to be purely rational about it can easily argue their way to atheism.

Hector has now argued that the concept of God as Trinity "is a persistent and permanent affront with those rationalists who would do away with mystery, with miracle, and with the supernatural." I see this entire question from the opposite end of the same telescope. Insistence that the Trinity IS an accurate and essential understanding of what God IS, rests on a kind of rationalism, which is an affront to the ultimate mystery of God.

Yes, the notion that God is one divine essence in three divine persons does defy rational thought, so much so that it easily leads the unwary into tritheism, which Hector explicitly rejects. Whenever anyone tries to defend the Trinity in a rational or logical argument, they always end up invoking the explanation, "It's a mystery." My point is simply, since it IS a mystery, why pretend that we know the answer? Just leave it at that: what is the nature of God? It's a mystery. Period.

Indeed "human reason was not designed, nor is it capable, of comprehending the essence of the Trinity. We cannot understand it." But that being the case, and there being no divine revelation to guide us, why should we "acknowledge it." What does it add or detract from our sense of what God requires of us? (One verse of Micah, and three in the Gospels, suffices to tell us what God requires of us. Hmmm... one and three. If I were into numerology, I would concede the argument, but I'm not.)

I have been known to suggest that the Trinity is like three blind men feeling an elephant: some feel a trunk, some feel a leg, some feel a flank, and all believe they know the essence of what the elephant IS. They are all part right, and terribly wrong. But if they put these three perceptions together, without recognizing that these are simply appendages, if they said the elephant is a symbiosis of three different persons, they would also be wrong. Hector calls this "Modalism."

I won't repeat at length what Hector says about the error of "Modalism." It is all available at the link provided in the first paragraph. Hector sees Modalism "as a knife pointed at the heart of the Christian Faith, for if Modalism is true, then Christianity is a farce and a lie, and Christ was simply a sham, a cosmic joker."

I can't imagine why. If God really doesn't have three persons, Christianity is a farce and a lie? How so? The shock and horror have leapt far ahead of any logical progression from premise to conclusion. True, logic is a poor foundation for faith, which is why I hardly see that such doctrines matter in the slightest.

"You can see right away why this doctrine is so appealing to the modern West. It fits perfectly with the gospel of postmodernism, by which perception is reality, and by which each person’s worldview and opinion is equally valid." Hmmmm... I place little stock in postmodernism, especially since "modern" is itself a relative notion. In every generation people have announced that "modern times have arrived," and every decade or two, a new modern takes the stage. I am perfectly certain that there is an absolute Truth to the universe in which I live, and that it is what it is, regardless of what I think of it.

I have pointed out many times that the first two clauses of the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America neither establish nor imply that all worldviews and opinions are equally valid. The First Amendment proceeds from the understanding that the instruments of human governance are incompetent to declare which, if any, religion is the True Faith, and all humans must be free to pursue this truth for themselves as best they can, without interference by the blunt instrument of the law.

But what does the Trinity have to do with any of this? If God is One and not Three, then there is no absolute truth to Creation? How in the Name of God does THAT follow? The supposed horror is offered to spice up the argument, without ever establishing causality.

I would certainly agree that the "prospect of Jews, Muslims and Christians coming together and sharing a common understanding of God, is very appealing." I adhere to the statement by El-Hajj Malik el-Shabbaz, upon return from Mecca with that name (he was previously known as Malcolm X), "The God we worship is the one who created the universe. Isn't that the same God you worship?" Of course it is. And THAT is what is important. The shape of that God, the nature of that God, which are indeed unknowable to us, is of no particular importance. It could even be described as hubris to attempt to write doctrines on the subject.

Beyond that, for now, I will say only that many paragraphs of the essay I linked to above, and have responded to here, are pure tautology. IF God is a Trinity, then it is an insult to his divine majesty to deny it. The premise is the preordained conclusion, which logically proves that if A is true then A is true, without ever establishing anything else, or indeed, any foundation for the truth of A. That is the nature of all defence of the Trinity, passionate or logical.

The bottom line is, "De Trinitate" advocates belief in the doctrine that God is a Trinity, because it would make God a better god, or because it would help to undermine the appeal of secular Western culture, or for any reason except, because it is true. There being little evidence, or possibility of evidence, as to the truth or falsehood of the doctrine, it becomes a matter of conjecture and personal preference what to believe. Does it really matter to God how well we understand the details of what we are incapable of knowing?

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Tax policy should reward merit: raise taxes on money nobody could earn or merit

On April 24, the "liberal" Washington Post published a high profile article by economist Arthur C. Brooks, arguing that "Obama is wrong when he says it's 'fair' to tax the wealthy." Most of the so-called "liberal media" bend over backwards to showcase conservative opinion, and to highlight any political current of hostility to perceived "liberalism." The Post is no exception. Whether this is fairness or political masochism remains open to debate.

Brooks offers an erudite, eloquent, emotionally appealing argument. No doubt he has sincerely convinced himself. The only flaw in his presentation is the facts on the ground that he conveniently omits.

Brooks offers several game-playing experiments - popular in many academic fields that try to understand human behavior. In one, a person is issued $10 - unearned, as Brooks emphasizes. They are asked to make an offer to split the $10 with a second person. If they can't agree, neither gets any money. Generally, the second person will accept an offer for $4, but anything less will be rejected as "unfair."

Then Brooks turns to a survey about buying beer. It seems people tend to tell research assistants they would be willing to pay more money to buy the same beer from a fine hotel than from a run-down grocery store. Seventy-percent of people, say the latest surveys. Then Brooks jumps to his eagerly-anticipated conclusion: "The $10 game involves redistributive fairness; the beach-beer experiment reveals meritocratic fairness."

Meritocratic? There is NO difference in the "merit" of the beer. No research assistant seems to have offered the option of paying more for a luxurious room at a fine hotel, because that is worth it, but paying what the beer is worth when buying beer, rather than paying more because it is sitting on a shelf in a fine hotel.

But that is a better way of talking about fairness in our tax system. Nobody likes paying taxes, but if there are no taxes, there will be no government: no police protection (unless you can afford to hire your own private security), no traffic lights, no street cleaning, no military defense, no coast guard, nobody inspecting our food to make sure it is free of mouse droppings and salmonella...

There is no greater merit in beer bought at a fine hotel. The consumer is not paying more for a better quality product. The vendor is charging the customer more simply because they can. Brooks runs on at some length about whether a secretary who is "quicker, more efficient and more reliable" should be paid more than one who is slower, less efficient, and less reliable. Almost nobody would deny the better secretary better pay.

Unfortunately, among those who wouldn't bother to pay the more skilled and reliable secretary more, are a large proportion of those who do the hiring, firing, and setting pay levels in American businesses, particularly at the corporate level. They are too busy paying themselves huge packages. Then they cry "merit" when the president attempts to at least give the hard-working secretary a tax break.

There are stratospheric compensation packages which have nothing to do with "merit." The difference between an entry-level job paying $20,000 a year and a responsible position paying $60,000 a year may well be demonstrated ability, invaluable experience, and skill. The difference between $100,000 a year and $1,000,000 a year may indeed by the drive, acumen, and long work days over many years that build a successful business from scratch.

But what about the difference between $1,000,000 and $30,000,000 a year? Are there enough hours in the day for a corporate CEO to work thirty times harder than the self-made entrepreneur? One might argue the opposite. On pure merit, it is the woman or man who builds a business from scratch who should be making the bigger money. The corporate CEO is stepping into a business built by others before his father was born.

How much more is a top-earner worth, on merit, than the secretary in the local branch office, the janitor who cleans the building, the window-washer, the local salesman, the newest graphic artists in the advertising department? Thirty times as much? One hundred times as much?

Try this out for "fairness" and "merit." Add to the existing minimum wage laws a provision that the lowest paid employee of any enterprise shall be paid no less than one percent of the total compensation package of the highest paid executive. One percent. A penny for every dollar. Oh dear, $700,000 a year entry-level janitors!

In the long run, perhaps CEO compensation would come down to $7,000,000 a year (what a harsh penalty for being entrepreneurial). That would bring the janitor down to $70,000 a year, which, frankly, a good, hard-working, skilled janitor is worth. We all want our bathrooms clean, but none of us want to clean them ourselves.

The laborer is worthy of his hire. Where would all the revenue go that is no longer funding outsize executive packages? It might go into new investment, which might actually create some of the new jobs corporate executives pretend to create. Or, it might go into lower prices, so the rest of us could manage to live on what we earn.

In the meantime, nobody, in any income bracket, is going to be robbed of the rewards for their labor by paying a few more percentage points on their highest tax bracket. Like all of us, the wealthiest in the land can take the Standard Deducation, tax free. Usually, they file a Schedule A to take much larger deductions. They pay only 10% on the first bracket of taxable income, after all the income that is tax free. By any tax proposal on the table, they get to keep 65 percent of the income in the highest tax bracket.

Frankly, business derives a large part of the benefits of government operations, as much or more so than do those who depend on government programs such as Medicaid for their survival. There is no reason that large business incomes should not bear a higher share of the costs.

Let's try a different analogy. I'm researching a biography. It is not likely to be a best seller - few biographies are. I need to consult at least three archives at universities and historical societies. None of them charge admission.

It is good, and right, that they don't charge admission. It would be an unconscionable infringement on the free market of ideas, on diligent inquiry, to require payment for access to our common history. But, it does take money to run these archives. Someone does the work of sorting, filing, categorizing, typing up finding aids and indexes. Someone unlocks the doors and supervises and pulls the boxes.

On the rare occasions that someone who has used these archives has a best seller, they darn well ought to share a chunk of the revenue with the archives. Yes, the author put a lot of hard work into writing a best seller, and they deserve to profit by it. But, many no less deserving or hard working are not so fortunate. Without the archives, and all the work and costs to sustain them, the best-seller could never have been written.

Why shouldn't those who make a lot of money be the ones expected to give a lot back? Not everything, not even fifty percent, but a substantial sum. Those who didn't make money don't have money to give.

When it comes to taxes, we all get to keep most of what we need for basic survival, ALL of us, even the wealthiest. We pay a bit more on the income over and above our most basic survival needs. And we pay a bigger chunk, but much less than half, of the money that is way beyond what anyone "needs." That is as it should be.

This is going to stifle entrepreneurial initiative? Nonsense. Nobody ever walked away from $1 million, because they would only get to spend $720,000 of it. The highest compensation packages aren't for entrepreneurial intiative anyway. They are paid out by well established corporations to people who simply move money around in well established channels, making darn sure they really ARE "too big too fail" so that when they blow it, taxpayers HAVE to bail them out to avoid a full-blown Depression.

Anyone who is serious about eliminating the deficit, and paying down the national debt, MUST face the fact that tax revenues are what we pay these down with. It is unfortunate that George W. Bush and his minions doubled our national debt during good times, when we should have been saving for a rainy day. But they did, and they did it in our name, after promising that we could have our cake and eat it too. Now it's time to pay for the mistake of believing them.

Let those who make far more than they "need," far more than anyone's "merit" could explain, pay more. It is the least they can do for their country and their generous fellow citizens. Give the real entrepreneurs, and those whose work has real merit, a well-earned and long-overdue break.

Monday, April 11, 2011

The sole proprietor as yardstick for class struggle

The working class and the employing class have nothing in common. There can be no peace so long as hunger and want are found among millions of working people and the few, who make up the employing class, have all the good things of life.

Between these two classes a struggle must go on until the workers of the world organize as a class, take possession of the earth and the machinery of production, and abolish the wage system.

----- Preamble of the Industrial Workers of the World

History has not exactly sustained the premise that the working class and the employing class have nothing in common. The working class and the employing class are each collections of fractious individuals who, for a variety of motives, are all over the political map, and seldom agree as a whole on much of anything.

But there is antagonism built into the relationship of employer to employee. There is no better way to identify why, than to examine the very different situation of an individual sole proprietor, who owns their own business and does all the work to make the business prosper.

"My own business"

If a sole proprietor decides that growing the business requires putting in extra hours, they and their family personally suffer the costs of that decision. The same individual and family reap the benefits, in the form of increased business from increasingly loyal customers impressed with the ever-increasing quality of the product or service the business delivers.

If a sole proprietor takes time off, there is no "paid vacation." Either the business owner shuts down the business for a time, foregoing the revenue that could have been made, or, hires at her or his own expense a temporary employee to keep the business open and operating. If the owner takes no vacation, they personally pay the social and emotional price of disappointing the family, or of sending the family off on vacation while remaining at home to work.

If the business fails, the proprietor, and their family, are the ones who pay the price. The proprietor made the decisions, and lives with the consequences of their own decisions.

At the end of a long life building a business, making sacrifices in the short term to prosper in the long term, the sole proprietor can look forward to a well provided-for retirement, either selling the business for a lump sum, providing a nice nest egg, or turning it over to a successor in return for monthly payments.

The employer and employee divide up the costs and benefits in a very different way.

Wage Slavery

In the absence of labor protection laws or a union contracts, if an employer decides that an employee at will should work extra hours, the employer reaps the benefits, but the employee and the employee's family pay the costs. If an employee is ill, or their child is sick, and the employer insists they must come to work, the employer reaps the benefits of attendance, but the employee's health, or family life, suffer the pains which are the price of showing up for work.

In the absence of a pension plan, an employee receives only their weekly or bi-weekly paycheck. One of the effects of "market forces" is that this paycheck allows little for savings, being just enough to pay living expenses, paycheck to paycheck. Employers do not, unless strict laws or powerful unions require it, set aside a portion of the revenue from an enterprise to insure that EVERYONE who makes the company's prosperity possible is provided for in their old age.

If the stockholders and managers made bad decisions, not only do they lose, but a substantial work force which had no part in making disastrous choices is out of work.

It is entirely understandable human nature that a business owner would put the business first. They are not suffering the pains that their employee(s) suffer. It is equally understandable human nature that an employee would resent the high-handed behavior of the boss.

Thus, in any enterprise where the functions of owner and manager, are divorced from worker and employee, the result is class struggle. It is as natural as breathing. Costs and benefits fall differently on each class of persons. This, and this alone, all members of a given class share in common.

Failures of socialist construction

One of the failures of socialist construction to date, starting with the Soviet Union, but including India, Tanzania, and many other socialist experiments, is the fact that state administrators in practice feel the pressures of managers, but not the pressures of employees. A sole proprieter personally feels and pays all the prices, and reaps all the rewards. The manager of a socialized state enterprise does not, any more than the manager of a private capitalist enterprise.

Alternatives such as worker self-management or cooperatives are unsteady, because most of the working class, most of the time, don't really want to be bothered with devoting time and effort to administration.

The reason there is leadership in trade unions is that the number of people with ambition to lead and skill at organizing is only a minority of the total union membership. The reason there is political conflict within unions is that the number of people with ambition to lead and skill at organizing is somewhat greater than the total number of leadership positions available.

All ideologies are either utopian abstractions or blatant hypocrisy. The most rabid advocates of the "free market" party line (yes, it IS a party line) are first in line for government subsidies, loan guarantees and tax credits. Likewise, the working class hero who lives only to sacrifice for their brothers, a sterling champion of justice, is a figment of intellectual daydreaming.

Working class heroes

There are working class heroes, but like everyone, they act on motives. They may be high-minded enough to rise with the ranks, not from the ranks, but they do want to rise. Union officers who are on call 24/7, and work sixty to eighty hour weeks, sooner or later desire to be reasonably well paid for it.

Progress is seldom achieved by reasonable men and women sitting down to work out reasonable solutions. Progress more often emerges from the clash of opposing forces, each motivated to get the best deal for themselves. But a stable, lasting solution, one that isn't undone then redone every time a political balance shifts, requires some thought.

More important, it requires some real attention to the over-used slogan "People before profit." A sole proprietor absolutely needs to profit from their labor, and their investment of capital to improve the productivity of their labor. But it is all theirs. It is all done for their own person and their own family.

The purpose of economic activity is to provide for human life. The purpose of human life is not to provide a motive power for economic activity, as an abstract good in itself. If the working class as a body cannot literally take control of the means of production, then a rebalancing of the costs and benefits of production is the minimum necessary concession to the reality of class struggle.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Rewriting history: the middle east in 1947 and 1967

An anonymous comment on a previous article, What Really Happened in Palestine has posed the question, what would you have done in 1947?

I'm not sure I can answer that, but let me start by working backward from 1967. I can't blame anyone for not recognizing, in the heat of the moment in 1967, what seems evident now with 20 / 20 hindsight, from a comfortable desktop in mid-America. But the last half century could have worked out so much better.

In 1967, there was no question that Israel was under attack from at least three nations, backed by the resources of at least a few more. Israel moved pre-emptively, but only when it was blatantly obvious that armies were mobilizing for all out war in Egypt, Jordan and Syria. Israel won, hands down. It was the last time in history when Israel could credibly present itself as a scrappy underdog acting in pure self-defense.

Among the territories Israel militarily occupied were the Gaza strip, illegally seized by Egypt in 1948, and the west bank of the Jordan River, illegally seized by the Hashemite monarchy of Jordan in 1948. Both territories had been part of the British Mandate of Palestine, and therefore, if not part of Israel, should have been the land of an indpendent Arab state in Palestine. That's what the UN resolution to partition the mandate had directed.

So, Israel could, at that moment in 1967, have proclaimed itself the liberator of an independent Arab Palestine, in conformance with the UN resolution, from illegal occupation by neighboring kingdoms. The national socialist Arab successors to some of those monarchies would have howled, infiltrated saboteurs, etc. of course. But, if a truly independent self-government had been rapidly developed behind the protection of the victorious Israeli army, the feudal monarchies and national socialist republics might have had to move on to some other pretext for demagoguery.

A Talmudic scholar who fought in the 1967 war, and now lives in America, has suggested that Israel should have outright annexed the entire territory. His personal experience was that Arab civilians told him they were looking forward to Israeli citizenship, after experiencing the Hashemite monarchy and its minions. That would have raised howls of protest at the UN. But, if Israel moved quickly, dissolved the stinking refugee camps, moved the population onto available land or into available industrial work, when feasible even returned traditional family homesteads (where that did not displace people who had been improving the land for themelves for over 20 years), it might have drained the abcess of "resistance" politics.

Either solution would have been better than the stalemate of the last forty-four years, keeping "Palestinians" in limbo, breeding various forms of protest and terror.

Could anything better have been done in 1947? The British had no will at all to do this, but if control had passed to a power that did, it would have been good to delay partition, keeping the entity of Palestine intact. It would also have been good to develop a highly trained military strike force to exterminate the Grand Mufti's most loyal forces, especially the Nazi-trained legions (and kill the Nazi refugee trainers), then either remove or isolate the man himself. Balance would have required taking out the Stern Gang also, and possibly the Irgun.

Then, a period of testing out what worked, slowly and painfully, might have involved dividing the territory into rather small political units of at least five varieties. In places where Jewish Kibbutzim and Arab villages led by Muktars had been getting along, combine them into regional cantons, leaving local self-government unimpaired, with cooperation only on larger projects, like water and irrigation. Were there such valleys? Leon Uris wrote about that in different ways, in Exodus and The Hajj. Absent the Grand Mufti and his allies, either one could have been worked with.

There would also have been overwhelmingly Arab areas, to be left alone and excluded from Jewish settlement, and overwhelmingly Jewish areas, to be administered as such, and open to additional Jewish settlement. There would be some area where various populations were intermixed, and happy to be so. And there would have been vacant lands, which would be designated for development by people from various adjacent areas. Some, but not all, would have been available for Jewish settlement.

Major cities and religious shrines would have had to be handled to provide general access, if that could be done while preserving public order and security. Hard work? Yes. Impossible? Maybe not. The British didn't care to even try. It would have been worth pointing out that, when the mosque on the Temple Mount was built, the rashidun caliphs went to great lengths to assemble as many pieces of the Second Temple as they could find, on the site where the Romans smashed the entire complex, and incorporated them reverently into the walls of the mosque.

In ten or twenty years time, decisions could have been made to partition the territory into two, or three, independent states, or a federation with a common national defense policy. All this assumes that British mishandling set off a racial and religious war that didn't need to happen at all.

Or, perhaps it was inevitable. If enough Arabs were willing to kill all Jews, and all Arabs who didn't join in the campaign, if enough Jews were willing to kill Arabs indiscriminately, then perhaps open bloodletting to set boundaries was unavoidable, however sad. In that case, the next opportunity would have been 1967.

Friday, April 08, 2011

What really happened in Palestine / Israel

If the plain facts surrounding Jewish settlement in the Holy Land were set forth, it would dispel the most blatant self-serving claims of those who chant "From the river to the sea, Palestine shall be free." It would also dispel the convoluted claims put forth in response by American Zionists and their confused Christian cohorts.

Accordingly, a brief summary is hereby set forth. In response to coherent questions, I will fill in relevant source material as needed.

When the European Jews active in the Zionist movement first began settling in the Holy Land, they arrived by permission of the government of the Ottoman Empire. At one time, the Ottoman Turks had struck fear into the heart of Europe, conquering Constantinople (thereafter, Istanbul), ruling most of the Balkans, barely stopped at the gates of Vienna in the 17th century. But, by the late 19th century, the empire was known as the sick old man of Europe, heavily dependent on German technical and military assistance, which eventually brought it into World War I as one of the Central Powers.

Why did the Ottoman Sultans, successors (however remote) to the Caliphs who had once ruled Bagdhad, choose to permit Jewish immigration? Jews had lived in the empire for its entire history, and some had held high office, including Admiral of the Ottoman navy. The Abassid caliphate in Bagdhad had also nurtured a prosperous Jewish population.

There was a fair amount of unused land. Educated Jews from Europe brought badly needed technical expertise, and the empire could only be a little richer for it. Local feudal landowners sold them land nobody else wanted, next to impossible to work. The Jews who came were mostly some kind of socialist - the more bourgeois Jews cheerfully stayed in Europe to build their fortunes. Those who came to Ottoman lands built their little kibbutzim, and found ways to grow a good crop. A nation or a political entity they were not. But, in a land where every Arab village was ruled more by its own Muktar than by the distant Sultan, Jewish villages too found plenty of autonomy.

During World War I, an enterprising British officer named T.E. Lawrence, later glamorized as "Lawrence of Arabia," agitated a number of Arab tribal leaders and princelings to wage war, more or less under his direction, against the Ottomans. It was a cheap investment by the British Empire, and paid reasonably good dividends.

The Arabs generally hated the Turks, would just as soon be relieved of taxes to the Sultan, and had no hestitation about fighting fellow-Muslims. The Arabs who ruled Mecca and Medina, cheefully fought the empire built by those who had moved out of the Arabian peninsula, now ruled by the descendants of hired mercenaries from central Asia. This tied up some Ottoman forces and resources, and cost the Sultan most of the territory from Arabia and Egypt north to Damascus.

After the war ended, the British came in as imperial masters, rather than grateful allies, treating the Arab leaders with insulting paternalism. The Ottoman Empire was no more. Mustafa Kemal Attaturk invented a Turkish national identity on what land he could hang onto. The British invited the French to join them in sharing the spoils. Of course Britain and France couldn't simply annex the land, as both had done in Africa.

They had just snookered the USA into saving their butts from the German Wehrmacht by calling their fight "a war for democracy" so that "small nations might be free." (No Irish need apply, but they did anyway, in their own war for a small nation to be free). There was now a League of Nations, which could grant "mandates" to administer lands whose people were deemed unready for self-government.

So, the British Mandate of Palestine came to include the territory within which a number of Jewish settlements were interspersed with a number of older Arab communities, some Christian, some Muslims of various branches, including Sunni, Shia, Druze, Sufi, etc. There were even a few Jewish communities which had been there since Roman times.

For reasons related to British home politics, and the exigencies of war in Europe, a letter had been written on 2 Nov 1917 by Arthur James Lord Balfour, summarizing discussions in the British cabinet, to the effect that,

"His Majesty's Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country. "

However, the British establishment generally looked down their noses at Jews, particularly those who had not become thoroughly British, and actual policy in the Mandate did not live up to that commitment for very long. It may be presumed that the Balfour Declaration was not communicated to the forces organized by Lawrence.

There was, naturally and unnaturally, some friction over the matter with the Arabic-speaking population within the boundaries of the Mandate. Naturally, introduction of a new population almost always produces some friction with long-settled inhabitants of any land. In the USA, this has occured with waves of Irish, German, Polish, Italian, east European, and Jewish immigration, to name only a few. It is rumored that the Pequot, the Passamaquody and the Powhattan confederacy had some objections to English settlement also.

Unnaturally, there was a deliberate effort by feudal lords of various ranks and claims to preserve their faithful, illiterate peasant retainers from contamination by the technical expertise, literacy, and other blessings the Jewish kibbutzim had to offer, which might distract loyal subjects from obedience to the will and whim of their masters.

The immigrant Jews, after all, were European in culture. The Jews who left in various waves of the Diaspora dressed, spoke, and ate very much as the non-Jewish Aramaic-speaking population they left behind. There is a reason that salaam and shalom sound so much alike. But the Jews who came in the 19th and 20th century had a very different culture, acquired in exile. The many Jewish communities in Arabic lands had no desire to pull up stakes and head to Palestine until after 1948.

Throughout human history, on all continents except Antarctica, the most effective way to make an oppressed underclass accomplices in their own subjugation is to inflame passions for some irrational reason against the object which threatens to offer some small degree of liberation and enlightenment. Thus, a series of organized and incited riots in 1929 were set in motion by the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini.

Religious fanaticism is generally in the covert service of politics, even when convenient rhetoric suggests otherwise. After a series of mob actions which left 83 Jews dead, and communities in Hebron and elsewhere, which predated the Zionist movement, chased out, Jewish communities developed the rather natural idea that they needed an effective mechanism for self-defense, and a defined, defensible territory.

The British authorities, although eventually motivated to kill some Arabs, just to show who was in charge, had shown no particular concern for saving Jews. Jewish defense organizations were persecuted by British authorities, who also restricted further Jewish immigration.

This was a time when Britain and the United States imposed an international embargo on arms to combatants in the Spanish Civil War - which meant Germany and Italy armed Franco's fascists, while everyone else scrupulously honored the embargo by refusing to sell arms to the elected government of the Republic. In Palestine, the British similarly confiscated Jewish arsenals, quite aware that they were unable or unwilling to prevent the Mufti and neighboring kingdoms from acquiring much larger arsenals.

Then Adolf Hitler perpetrated his "final solution" of "the Jewish question," and those who survived it were in large numbers motivated to leave Europe for the Holy Land.

That brought in several times as many Jews, more than anyone, Jewish, Arab or British, had ever anticipated before. It raised tensions considerably. In some respects, this was not unlike many other migration in human history. One powerful tribe overwhelms another, which flees, taking what land they need from whoever happens to be in the way. The Chinese chased out the Hsiung Nu, and a hundred years later, the Huns came thundering into Europe.

But in 1945, half the world had a sense of guilt about the Jewish population of Europe, and rightly so. The Arabs did not, and with occasional exceptions, like the Grand Mufti, who spent WW II in Berlin, most Arabs had no reason to feel responsible. They had neither been military allies of Germany, nor gassing thousands of Jews a day and burning them in crematoria. It was a choice between a semi-socialist democracy with high literacy standards and extremely equal rights for women, vs. a collection of feudal despots.

The net result was a UN plan for partition of the British Mandate of Palestine into Jewish and Arab territories. Partition was a popular solution to ethnic friction during that decade. Britain tried it in India. The result was one or two million civilians dead, a Pakistani state that today would have Muhammed Ali Jinnah spinning in his grave, and more Muslims living in India than Pakistan, most of them better off too, although occasional pogroms by Hindu nationalists remain a hazard.

Jewish and Arab settlements were scattered in patterns that denied anyone defensible borders, but the UN hadn't considered that there might be fighting. This was supposed to be an amicable administrative solution. The British, embarrassed by the UN vote, threw a temper tantrum, said if they weren't in charge any more they didn't care what happened, but continued to confiscate Jewish arsenals.

There was fighting, and the indefensible borders were far more to the Jewish settlements' disadvantage, since there were several Arab armies preparing to march in. The Jewish forces won the 1948 war for the oldest reason in the world: they were fighting for their lives, the Arab armies were only fighting for their dinner.

Who were the Arab forces? The Grand Mufti was one, but only one. A lot of feudal lords wanted to be some kind of top dog or king of the hill. The corrupt Egyptian monarchy, under Farouk, sent in an army, as did the Hashemite monarchy in Jordan, some forces from Iraq, and some freebooting mercenaries.

A word about the Hashemite monarchy. At the time of Lawrence's exploits against the Ottomans, the Hashemites were lodged in the western Arabian peninsula, the Hejaz,ruling Mecca and Medina. They were at least distantly descended from the Banu Hashim, a sub-clan of the Quraysh, who had ruled Mecca in the days of idolatry.

Muhammed died of pleurisy within a couple of years after the capitulation of Mecca to his Muslim army, and the more senior branches of the Quraysh saw that this Muslim movement was going places, so they immediately took control. The Banu Hashim did not produce any of his successors, or caliphs in Arabic. Many remained in Arabia, while the Ummayads went forth to consolidate the new Caliphate, and were eventually supplanted by the Abbasids.

After WW I, a rival monarch from further east, one Ibn Saud, chased the Hashemites out of the Hejaz, in 1922, with British acquiescence. Thus, Saudi Arabia was born. The Hashemites fled north, arriving in what are now Jordan and Iraq, to announce "We've come to be your leader."

The British facilitated both moves, with Feisal on the throne of Iraq, Abdullah in what was then called TransJordan. The last Hashemite king of Iraq, the young Feisal Jr., was killed during a coup d'etat in 1958 led by Karim Qasim, who was overthrown by the Ba'ath Party in 1963, eventually leading to the presidency of one Hussein al-Takriti, who grandiosly retitled himself "Saddam Hussein."

Meantime, in Jordan, King Abdullah apparently thought the Jews would make useful subjects, once he established military control and expanded his kingdom. The Jews had other plans, and in any case, the Grand Mufti was eager to literally drive them all into the sea. When general war breaks out, as it did in 1948, the borders established in the course of the fighting generally supercede those previously drawn by diplomacy.

When the dust cleared, the borders of Israel were markedly different than previously drawn. A UN diplomat named Ralph Bunche worked out an armistice, and everyone settled down in seething hostility to wait for the next war. There were some Arab residents remaining in Israel, but they had been transformed by partition from equals to an ethnic and religious minority in what had indeed been their own land.

There were a large number of Arabs, Christian as well as Muslim, who had been displaced. Many had been told to get out of the way by various Arab armies. When the Jews were defeated, they could go back home. The Jews were not defeated, and weren't about to accept a mass of people who would include infiltration of hostile forces back into their newly won defense perimeter. Arab countries declined to absort the displaced population, scrupulously herding them into refugee camps, where they were to remain "until Palestine is liberated."

As intended by the Arab feudal despots, the refugee camps became permanent breeding grounds for warriors against Israel. When modernizing army officers overthrew King Farouk, they might have said, that stupid old king dragged us into this pointless war with Israel. Let's focus on building Egypt. Instead, Gamal Abdal Nasser said, we officers fought honorably but the corrupt monarchy kept us from defeating the Jews, and kept his nation focused on the futile task. Jordan and Iraq sort of went along, as did Syria.

Jewish communities in North Africa and Mesopotamia, resident since Roman times or before, suddenly found themselves viewed as a fifth column, because Israel, the new Jewish State, had become The Enemy. It wasn't exactly their idea - it was a minority of European Jews who had started the Zionist movement. The position of Arabic Jews was not unlike that of North American communists, who thought they were fighting for the liberation of the working class, and had not anticipated that the Soviet Union would become the primay military rival of the United States in 1946, thus casting communists as potential spies.

Israel was built by disciplined socialists in the European tradition, but it was now inundated with conservative polygamous patriarchal North African Jews, and conservative religiously observant Orthodox eastern European Jews. It's politics changed over thirty years or so. It won wars in 1967 and 1973, again because Israel was fighting for its life, while various Arabic armies were fighting for their dinner. But it ceased to be the underdog.

Israel came to possess many of the qualifications of an oppressor. It had a large, well-equipped army, an entrenched officer corps, a semi-covert alliance with the Republic of South Africa in development of military hardware. After 1967, Jews who felt entitled to do so began settling in what had been the West Bank of the Jordan River valley, annexed by the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan in 1948, although by the terms of the UN partition, it should have been the independent Arab portion of the former British mandate of Palestine.

The various nongovernmental forces that sustained themselves by making occasional terror attacks on Israel generally claimed some sort of leftist or pseudo-communist rhetoric. One, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, even aimed to overthrow the Hashemite monarchy in Jordan, but that hope was crushed by the military action known as Black September. With the kind of rhetorical flourish typical of this arena of conflict, the organization known as "Black September" specialized in attacks in Israel, not on the monarchy.

During the 1980s and 1990s, as the Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China both lost prestige, and the U.S. committed itself to supporting Salafist Islam against the splintered communist parties of Afghanistan, the conflicts surrounding Israel took on a religious tinge, and emerged in the early 21st century appropriating the banner of Islam.

In fact, this created a wholly different confrontation, having little in common with the earlier Palestinian causes. One difference is that the enemy has much more become "the Jews" rather than "the Zionist entity." Hoary incidents from ancient history have been dredged up as symbols, like the minor skirmish in the Arabian desert around Khaybar, fought for mainly political and economic reasons.

Thus, the entire conflict has become a muddle mess. Anyone with any sense at all, Arab, European, African, or Asian, Muslim, Jewish, Christian, or atheist, should be motivated to step back, take a deep breath, and ask "What in the name of God are we doing?"

Israel needs to turn loose the West Bank, let Arabic leadership develop a functional economy, while of course keeping an alert military force on its borders. If that is a success, people in Gaza will get rid of Hamas - which they only elected because the kleptocratic PLO factions were so burdensome.

Hezb-i-ul-Lah in Lebanon will wither away when it no longer has a cause to rally around. Yeah, yeah, Nasrallah, but Israel is still there, and everyone in Palestine is taking vacations by the seashore, and we have better things to do. The theocracy in Tehran can rail all it wants, it doesn't have a border with Israel. Ironically, Pakistan will probably become the world center of terror in the name of Islam. Blame that one on the British too.

When world history is rewritten one more time, Jews and Muslims and Hindus, Arabs and Israelis, should all be able to agree on this: blame it all on the British. What stupid, pig-headed, muddled colonial bunglers they were. Even when they turned loose of their empire, they managed to do it in way that killed millions of civilians in pointless wars that lasted more than half a century. Now, let's get on with living.