Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Of this...and that

Megan McArdle dubs the winning formula below politics in one easy sentence:

"He's a great speaker ... and I know he likes coal."  West Virginia resident Larry Jones on why Governor Joe Manchin would be the best pick to fill the senate seat left vacant by the death of Robert Byrd. 
 Why does that remind me of a 4-year-old's take on Easter, approvingly cited by C.S. Lewis:

Chocolate eggs and Jesus risen
 Or the plaintive wish of  a mental health patient once under my wife's care:

All I want is a husband and a ballet outfit.
 Something about the yoking of two apparently dissimilar desiderata that somehow go together....

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Rx for Kevin Drum's Obamanemia

Kevin Drum disagrees with the substance of some expressions of left wing disillusion with Obama, but shares the spirit:
Like Rosenberg, I've been feeling pretty schizophrenic about Obama for quite a while. My brain tells me that, given the realities and constraints of American politics, he's done pretty well: a big stimulus package, the Lilly Ledbetter Act, healthcare reform, withdrawal from Iraq seemingly on schedule, a decent start on rationalizing Pentagon procurement, financial reform (maybe), and progress on DADT (hopefully). Even his Afghanistan policy, which I don't agree with, was deeply considered and responsive to the obvious limitations of military action.

There are, of course, things I don't like about Obama's record too...But this isn't why I'm schizophrenic about Obama. I never expected to like everything he did. The reason I'm schizophrenic is that it's almost impossible to get a handle on what he really wants. Did he want a bigger stimulus bill but compromised down because $800 billion was all he could get? Or did he not really want more than that in the first place? Ditto for the public option. Ditto for DADT repeal, which he had to be pushed into supporting this year. And ditto again on financial reform, which is worth passing only because of numerous amendments to the original bill. On all of these issues and more, I don't feel like I ever knew what Obama's real position was. There's a big difference between compromising because politics is what it is and you have no choice, and compromising because the more centrist position is the one you genuinely hold. But Obama never gives me a good sense of which it is with him.

Now, it's a bad idea to look at FDR through rose colored glasses. Plenty of New Deal legislation passed over his objection, and there was nobody better at playing his cards close to his vest. Still, there was seldom any question about where FDR stood on the big issues, and you either loved him or hated him for it. With Obama, I'm left unsure far too often for comfort. Thus my schizophrenia.

I don't know. Maybe my organ of veneration, as the phrenologists (who may be enjoying a renaissance) used to call one imagined bump on the brain, is overdeveloped and I'm a Pollyanna-ish  hero worshipper.  Maybe I read too much Sullivan.  But I feel not this disillusionment deity in my bosom. Afghanistan aside, I am impressed and delighted by what Obama -- or more accurately, the administration in sometimes-rocky partnership with the Democrats in Congress -- has managed to accomplish in the face of relentless, hysterical, deranged and dishonest opposition. I can think of three reasons why Drum's unease with Obama doesn't really grip me:

Newspaper taxes readers' decoding chops

From the Dept. of headlines that tax your ability to sort out nouns from verbs from modifiers, decode this from the WSJ home page, 3:20 ET, 6/29/10 (probably gone before you get there, and not attached to the story itself):

Boxer Targets Fiorina's Palin Tie

Wherein lies my confusion? 1) Boxer, capitalized, does not immediately suggest a particular individual, especially since boxers might commonly be expected to "target" the people they share headlines with, i.e., other boxers; 2) 3 of the 5 words in the headline are proper nouns, two of them effectively modifying the final noun, which is not clearly a noun, and even less clearly an abstract noun; 3) Fiorina has in past news "targeted" Boxer's hair, so some corner of the mind assumes that Boxer's getting snarky about Fiorina's neckwear, presumably festooned with iconic ladies in red; 4) "Palin," as a noun immediately following a possessive, feels like that which belongs to Fiorina until your sort out what the "tie" is; and 5) boxers, as athletes, might be sensed to "tie" other athletes, and "targets" could be a noun, so it's hard to seize the verb.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Michael Oren v. Michael Oren on Israel-US relations

Suffering from a bit of dis-Oren-tation regarding the view of the U.S. from Israel.  From Friday's Jerusalem Post:
In a 90-minute conversation he conducted this week with the editorial board of The Jerusalem Post, one of the key messages Oren the diplomat tried to get across was that relations with the US are not as bad as most people like to think.

True, there was a huge dustup during Vice President Joe Biden’s visit here in March; the US acquiesced in signing off on a UN NPT document that singled out Israel in May; and Washington in June wasn’t as robust in its support of Israel at the UN during the Gaza flotilla episode as some would have liked. But, Oren insisted, the sky over the US-Israeli relationship is not falling.

In fact, he said, running against the grain of conventional wisdom, the Obama administration was “as good if not better” on Israel than “many previous administrations,” and Obama’s chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, often portrayed in the Israeli media as the “bad guy” on Israel issues in the White House, was actually “a great asset.”

“There are disagreements, I’m not going to be Pollyannaish,” the personable and animated Oren said. “But there are two qualifiers you have to attach. One, we have had disagreements with other administrations in the past, and the litmus test with the relationship is not whether there are disagreements, but how you approach the disagreements.”
Now, today's hot tip in Haaretz (via Laura Rozen):

Saturday, June 26, 2010

The messy evolution of the legislative process, cont.

Bulletin from Pollyannasville:  the health care and financial reform bills disappointed purists of all persuasions.  But both came out stronger than most progressives familiar with the legislative process could have hoped.  In both cases, the widely forecast denuding of key provisions by powerful lobbies was largely forestalled.  In both, the process was more open, more closely tracked by interest and public interest groups and media observers of all stripes, than any prior legislation.

I have more than once referred  to the health care bill  postmortem by Andy Stern, ex of SEIU. His first observation below is tactical. But his second makes an historical argument for what has happened to the legislative process:
First, the longer you wait, the harder it gets and the worse it gets. Time for deliberation is appropriate, but indecision and delay are counterproductive to getting something done. The choices don't get easier over time. They get harder.

Second, people have to decide whether people in the same party will use procedural tricks to trip up their teammates. Or whether parties, particularly the Democratic Party, appreciates that the special deals and earmarks that might traditionally have been part of the process no longer work. Politicians used to bring kickbacks home to their district, but now people think the system is corrupt.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Attn, David Brooks: Where the "culture of exposure" came from

Once again today, Times readers are treated to a bit of sanitized cultural history by David Brooks.  Tracing the progress of American media from a "culture of reticence" about the private lives and off-the-record grousing of public figures to a "culture of exposure," Brooks recounts:

Then, after Vietnam, an ethos of exposure swept the culture. The assumption among many journalists was that the establishment may seem upstanding, but there is a secret corruption deep down. It became the task of journalism to expose the underbelly of public life, to hunt for impurity, assuming that the dark hidden lives of public officials were more important than the official performances.

Gee, I wonder where that assumption of "secret corruption deep down" came from?  Rick Perlstein's Nixonland has answers on almost every page, documenting ten years of relentless government lying about Vietnam as well as the pervasive criminality and war criminality of the Nixon White House.

Take, for example, the response of Nixon's henchman to columnist Jack Anderson's exposure of a memo documenting ITT's swap of a $400,000 campaign donation for a promise that the Nixon Justice Department would lay off on antitrust enforcement:

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The well-tempered Presidential anecdote

Okay, who planted this little anecdote in the Times narrative of Obama's decision-making process re McChrystal?

The press secretary, Robert Gibbs, walked a copy of it to the president in the private quarters. After scanning the first few paragraphs — a sarcastic, profanity-laced description of General McChrystal’s disgust at having to dine with a French minister to brief him about the war — Mr. Obama had read enough, a senior administration official said. He ordered his political and national security aides to convene immediately in the Oval Office.

Dissing the French, dissing the job, retorting like a teen to his aide, not a word about any Administration official....highlighting this perfectly emphasizes Obama's keynote:

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

What is a political "argument"?

Questioning whether the Tea Party can be effectively countered by argument, DiA, I think, whittles away its (his?) own premise: intelligent arguments make a difference? I'm trying, and failing, to think of an instance where voters on any side have been persuaded by a reasoned opposition on any issue. It might happen with individual voters on particular issues, largely of the technical variety—if someone sits down to figure out whether they support a bond issue, maybe—but I can't think of a single issue where an argument, however elegantly expressed, has tipped the balance. These, I think, are the methods by which public opinion may be moved:

• A momentous event (9/11, the oil spill, a botched execution)
• The gravitational pull of mounting social change (gay marriage)
• A timely and effective message, repeated ad nauseam ("It's the economy, stupid;" "change")

Nothing against ideas, but their effect seems to come after they trickle down (as in the messaging method described above), or if they have the fortune to hook on to a current event. It does seem that individual politicians can benefit from having lots of good ideas (Barack Obama, Bobby Jindal), but it seems like the political gain from that is, "that guy's smart", rather than "after careful consideration, I agree with the content of his platform.
Sullivan finds these postulates depressing  But do they boil down to much more than "arguments don't occur in a vacuum"?  I don't think that the causes of shifting opinion that DiA outlines suggest that "argument" has no effect.

The Ahmed Karzai Good Governance Award

Quote of the day:
"General McChrystal creates an environment of trust among Afghans."

       - Ahmed Wali Karzai 

That's like Bernie Madoff endorsing a money manager for his probity. Brother Ahmed is widely suspected of being one of Afghanistan's biggest drug warlords.

More generally, the spectacle of the Afghan leadership pulling out all the media stops to weigh in on a U.S. personnel decision is a bit of an eye-rubber. We're so used to the opposite -- public displays alternately of disapproval or "love" for Hamid Karzai, various assessments of various Afghan cabinet members as corrupt (or competent, when they're canned).  Not that we haven't heard before that Karzai likes McChrystal/doesn't like Eikenberry. But especially in light of Karzai's recent very public expressions of mistrust/disgust in the allied effort, it is interesting to see him thus passionately engaged:

“The president of Afghanistan announced his confidence in General Stanley McChrystal, he has been a very effective and very integrated commander of ISAF and NATO,” said Mr. Omar, referring to the International Security Assistance Force.

He added that General McChrystal “has been a great partner of the Afghan people, and he has increased the level of trust between our international partners and the Afghan people. We are at a very sensitive point and any gap in this process will not be helpful.”
UPDATE: I wasn't quite sure what to make of my own cognitive dissonance above. E.J. Dionne provides an interpretation of sorts:

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

This is your brain

Could it be that the 19th century phrenologists, who purported to derive personality traits from the shape of the skull, were not wrong, just early? Scienceblog summarizes a study by Dr. Colin DeYoung published in Psychological Science
Personalities come in all kinds. Now psychological scientists have found that the size of different parts of people’s brains correspond to their personalities; for example, conscientious people tend to have a bigger lateral prefrontal cortex, a region of the brain involved in planning and controlling behavior.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Some green shoots of multipolar leadership?

Like all foreign policies, the Obama administration's more collaborative, less confrontational approach will be judged by its long-term  effects. The administration has certainly had its share of setbacks. Nonetheless, some recent green shoots are worth noting:
  • The Chinese have announced that they will allow modest and gradual yuan appreciation - after signs that the Euro debt crisis might scotch their expected move in this direction. On this front, the administration has been under tremendous pressure to pressure, and has done so with delicacy -- amassing developing world allies in the effort, always placing the issue in the context of global rebalancing, sidestepping a deadline to deem or not deem China a "currency manipulator" -- and most recently, doubtless citing the pressure that Congress has been placing on the administration via threats to pass retaliatory legislation (as well as its own very pointed forbearance to this point).

  • China was also brought on board, seemingly against the odds, for new sanctions against Iran.  While the likely impact of those sanctions is questionable at best, the harnessing of China and Russia seemed unlikely and does indicate progress in the U.S. ability to  choreograph collective action..

  • The Israelis have just announced a significant easing of the Gaza blockade, brokered by Tony Blair but underwritten by the U.S. with an immediate rescheduling of the Netanyahu-Obama meeting that was postponed afer the Mavi Marmora boarding.  From the outset of that crisis, U.S. shielding of Israel from Security Council condemnation was balanced by insistence that the blockade in current form was "unsustainable."

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Turning the lightbulb on the Gaza blockade

The Israeli cabinet has acted on Netanyahu's agreement with Tony Blair last week to alter the terms of the Gaza blockade.  The key difference is that the blockade will be defined by what materials are banned, rather than by what materials are permitted. That is, if the arms blockade is a lightbulb, the Israelis have decided o turn the bulb rather than the stool on which the bulb-changer stands. From Haaretz:
The PMO said that Israel would release "as soon as possible" a detailed list of goods that would not be allowed into the Gaza Strip, which would include all weapons.

"Israel seeks to keep out of Gaza weapons and material that Hamas uses to prepare and carry out terror and rocket attacks toward Israel and its civilians," Netanyahu said. "All other goods will be allowed into Gaza."

Israel's new policy will allow an inflow of construction material into the Gaza Strip for projects approved by the Palestinian Authority or under the auspices of international supervision, including schools, health facilities, water treatment and sanitation, the statement said.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Can electorates walk and chew gum?

Martin Wolf presents a fact-dense, closely argued version of Paul Krugman's argument: that swings toward fiscal austerity in the EU and U.S. risk stopping the global recovery in its tracks and bringing on "cyclical fiscal deficits" - that is, depressed demand which slows growth and keeps tax revenues low.  He then asks:

The best policy is to put together measures that sustain strong growth in demand in the short run, while constraining the huge deficits in the long run. This is walking and chewing gum at the same time. Why should that be so hard?

Jonathan Chait has an answer for that. Citing a Wall Street Journal op-ed lambasting Obama for "hypocrisy" for advocacting precisely Martin Wolf's prescription, which Obama has done since taking office, Chait writes:
Moore and the Republicans think it's "hypocrisy" to be for high deficits during a liquidity crisis but against them during a recovery. Really. The whole Republican message is based on not understanding this distinction.
And why don't they understand?  Because drumming up fear of deficits and loathing of short-term stimulus is working:

Friday, June 18, 2010

Journalistic Judgment

Andrew Sullivan approves of this headline:
Patricia Lesko's bid for Ann Arbor mayor gaining support, despite false campaign messages
No MSM-style equivocation - but a clear factual statement that a candidate has been lying, complete with evidence of her fabrications. Why can't the NYT do this?

It's true that if Times reporters want to highlight manifest lying or absurd posturing they have to do so with a bit more subtlety.  As Isabel Kershner does today, writing of the latest Israeli culture war, a Supreme Court ruling that ultraorthodox Ashkenazi cannot self-segregate their children in a Sephardic majority school:
But on Thursday, most ultra-Orthodox were united in protest against what they see as the state’s meddling in their religious affairs and in their conviction that the religious law of the Torah — or at least their interpretation of it — transcends that of any Israeli court.

Men in black coats and hats filled an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood, blocking main roads and hailing those going to prison as if they were holy martyrs.
As if!  The article, notwithstanding, is scrupulously fair and factual. (As, it would seem, is the article by Ryan Stanton. The comments are many and on balance verify his reporting.)

Barack Krugman warns the G-20

Today, once again, Paul Krugman plays Cassandra as deficit hawks gain traction globally. Again he warns that raising taxes and cutting spending now will stop global recovery in its tracks, again raising the specter of 1937:
Many economists, myself included, regard this turn to austerity as a huge mistake. It raises memories of 1937, when F.D.R.’s premature attempt to balance the budget helped plunge a recovering economy back into severe recession. And here in Germany, a few scholars see parallels to the policies of Heinrich Brüning, the chancellor from 1930 to 1932, whose devotion to financial orthodoxy ended up sealing the doom of the Weimar Republic.

But despite these warnings, the deficit hawks are prevailing in most places — and nowhere more than here, where the government has pledged 80 billion euros, almost $100 billion, in tax increases and spending cuts even though the economy continues to operate far below capacity.
Singing the same tune is Barack Obama, in a June 16 letter to the G-20. Laying down a marker for deficit reduction in the "medium term," Obama stresses the need the continue to boost consumption while the recovery is in midstream: 
Our highest priority in Toronto must be to safeguard and strengthen the recovery. we worked exceptionally hard to restore growth; we cannot let it falter or lose strength now. This means that we should reaffirm our unity of purpose to provide the policy support necessary to keep economic growth strong...

We need to commit to fiscal adjustments that stabilize debt-to-GDP ratios at appropriate levels over the medium term. I am committed to the restoration of fiscal sustainability in the United States and believe that all G-20 countries should put in place credible and growth-friendly plans to restore sustainable public finances. But it is critical that the timing and pace of consolidation in each economy suit the needs of the global economy, the momentum of private sector demand, and national circumstances. We must be flexible in adjusting the pace of consolidation and learn from the consequential mistakes of the past when stimulus was too quickly withdrawn and resulted in renewed economic hardships and recession (my emphasis).

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Netanyahu 1.4?

Good news from Israel has been in short supply, but here's some (Haaretz):
Tony Blair, the Quartet’s envoy to the Middle East, hailed Tuesday the Israeli cabinet’s expected approval of a plan to ease the blockade of the Gaza Strip and allow more aid into the territory as “a very important step.”

Something was missing in Obama's Oval Office speech...

Everything about Obama's oval office speech about the Gulf oil spill tonight was predictable and effective -- except his call for a new energy bill.

This time, for me, his familiar riff about the nation's history of rising to major challenges, mustered in support of action to change our energy consumption and production, rang a bit hollow:
The one answer I will not settle for is the idea that this challenge is too big and too difficult to meet. You see, the same thing was said about our ability to produce enough planes and tanks in World War II. The same thing was said about our ability to harness the science and technology to land a man safely on the surface of the moon. And yet, time and again, we have refused to settle for the paltry limits of conventional wisdom. Instead, what has defined us as a nation since our founding is our capacity to shape our destiny – our determination to fight for the America we want for our children. Even if we're unsure exactly what that looks like. Even if we don't yet know precisely how to get there. We know we'll get there.
It rang hollow because, while the echoes of his advocacy for health care reform were striking,  so was a core difference: he did not lay out the "core elements" of the bill he wanted.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Hillary Clinton, fisher of men

Journalistic image of the day:
When answering, Clinton sometimes opens her eyes wide as she emphasises a phrase; at other moments, seemingly at random, she pulls her hands apart as if demonstrating the size of a fish.
That's from  from Daniel Dombey's long profile of Hillary Clinton, as he watches her interact patiently with 700 Brazilian students. It cracked me up.

It's curious, how Clinton has segued from the punishing Presidential campaign to an "endless campaign" abroad -- and that's not meant in a bad way. When she said, following her upset win in New Hampshire in Feb. '08, "Over the last week, I have listened to you, and in the process I found my own voice," it was true in some fundamental sense -- notwithstanding her workaholic's 5,000+ public appearances as New York's senator, she learned to engage on a whole other level in the last four months of that grueling campaign.  And strange to think that while Bill Clinton was the preternaturally gifted people person in the pair, Hillary has by some measures been on a national-international stage longer than Bill was.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Is health care price transparency possible without price uniformity?

The Times has an article today about fledgling efforts to introduce price transparency into U.S. health care:
But there has been no easy way for consumers to shop for the best deal on a colonoscopy or blood test. A start-up financed by prominent venture capitalists and the Cleveland Clinic, Castlight Health, aims to change that by building a search engine for health care prices. Patients using Castlight could search for doctors that offer a service nearby and find out how much they will charge, depending on their insurance coverage....

Price transparency could significantly change the way health care is bought in the United States. The notion “seems ridiculously simple and obvious, and in any other industry, you would say, ‘Duh, we already have that.’ But in health care, it’s revolutionary,” said Alan M. Garber, a professor of medicine and the director of the center for health policy at Stanford, as well as an investor in Castlight.

Pricing transparency is better than pricing opacity. But you can't have a truly efficient and cost-effective health care system with price uniformity. The most revealing fact in the Times story is this:
But so far, prices have been very difficult to find because health insurance providers and doctors negotiate rates and often agree not to reveal those numbers for competitive reasons. The Cleveland Clinic, for example, has about a hundred different contracts with insurance carriers, each with a different rate for a given procedure.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

(Re)birth and (forecast) death of a genre

Chris Beam's inspired bit of ventriloquism, imagining What if political scientists covered the news?, has swiftly inspired a spinoff spoof by Conor Friedersdorf in which, as Jonathan Chait retitles it, "A Sociologist Covers the News." Chait groans, "I foresee a progressively less-amusing internet trope" -- a preemptive strike against a newborn bloggy genre within a week of its apparent birth.

Not to worry. Every literary birth is a rebirth. Beam's "What if political scientists covered the news?" is good son to Woody Allen's If the impressionists had been dentists" (1978):
Dear Theo
Will life never treat me decently? I am wracked by despair! My head is pounding. Mrs Sol Schwimmer is suing me because I made her bridge as I felt it and not to fit her ridiculous mouth. That's right! I can't work to order like a common tradesman. I decided her bridge should be enormous and billowing and wild, explosive teeth flaring up in every direction like fire! Now she is upset becuase it won't fit in her mouth! She is so bourgeois and stupid, I want to smash her. I tried forcing the false plate in but it sticks out like a star burst chandelier. Still, I find it beautiful. She claims she can't chew! What do I care whether she can chew or not! Theo, I can't go on like this much longer! I asked Cezanne if he would share an office with me but he is old and infirm and unable to hold the instruments and they must be tied to his wrists but then he lacks accuracy and once inside a mouth, he knocks out more teeth than he saves. What to do?

Compare Beam:

Creepy ad watch*

Why am I seeing banner ads ("ads by Google") for co-ops in the place where I was born, raised and went to school? Did I let slip a bit of autobiography here on (Google's) Blogger?  Or did, which I made the mistake of signing up for several years ago, sell the info?

* h/t Sullivan for his running feature of that title.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Turkey walks it back a bit

Hurriyet, an English language Turkish daily, has two articles that indicate second thoughts and crosscurrents in Turkey's rush toward dismantling its ties to Israel.

First, some crosscurrents within the ruling party. In one corner, from the foreign affairs leadership:

The government intends to sever military agreements and other connections with Israel in the wake of its assault on a Turkish aid ship, Justice and Development Party, or AKP, deputy leader Ömer Çelik, who is responsible for foreign affairs, said in an interview late Sunday with the private channel NTV.

Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu also indicated that such relations might be at risk.

“The future of any agreements with Israel depends on Israel’s attitude,” Davutoğlu told reporters early Monday at a joint press conference with his Afghan and Pakistani counterparts in Istanbul. If Israel does not give the green light, and its full cooperation, to an international inquiry into the deadly incident at sea, he added, “Turkish-Israeli relations cannot be normalized.”....
In the other corner, Defense:
 Defense Minister Vecdi Gönül denied there had been any request to cancel military agreements, saying such measures fall under the mandate of the Foreign Ministry.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Israel gulled

There is no doubt that the Israelis set themselves up for a trap by boarding the Mavi Marmara, that they were  foolish in so doing, and that the botched and ill-advised raid has greatly damaged almost all of their foreign policy aims.

But a trap it most assuredly was -- deliberately laid, with planned results perhaps even more violent than those that transpired. The Israeli Defense Force (IDF) has had to walk back (hat tip Sullivan) exaggerated and credibility-eroding claims, such as that the passengers on board the Mavi Marmara who attacked the boarding Israelis were members of al Qaeda.  But elements at least of the IDF's narrative of the planning on board for a confrontation are probably true. Here are those claims as relayed by the Jerusalem Post (distilled and at slight variance from the IDF press release that originally made the al Qaeda claim):

First, do no harm...

It's no secret that Obama is an incremental reformer, given to large vision and small steps, inclined by temperament and a personal theory developed over the course of his working life to move the battleship by degrees.  Under pressure in April 2009 to nationalize some of the nation's largest banks, he voiced as a guiding principle of federal intervention: "First, do no harm." Of the sweeping health care reform law, cast by Republicans as a socialist reengineering, Ezra Klein noted, "it is comprehensive reform with an incremental soul" -- leaving employer-based health insurance largely untouched, building the exchanges on private for-profit insurance, implementing cost control largely by incentive and demonstration project.

Today the Times profiles one of the chief architects of the financial reform legislation now on the brink of passage, Obama appointee to the Fed's board of governors Daniel K. Tarullo.  Tarullo, who far more than Obama speaks in what the Times calls "characteristically professorial tones," helped forge the approach to the megabanks that frustrates so many critics: rein them in (a bit) rather than break them up (for now).  His explanation of that approach strikes me as a kind of distillation of the Obama approach to reform, for good and/or ill:
“I am intellectually open to the proposition that the only way to achieve the optimal balance between financial stability and the efficient intermediation of capital flows might be to break up some of the largest institutions,” Mr. Tarullo said. “But given the uncertainties, I would probably be inclined to begin with other measures, such as more stringent capital and liquidity requirements for the largest, most complex firms.”

Does that mean "save radical reform for the next crisis" or tighten the reins (and wield the carving knife) by degrees?

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Conflict in the Knesset

This Haaretz report of a Knesset exchange sounds a bit like confrontations in the United States Senate in the runup to Civil War:
Tempers flared in the Knesset plenum on Wednesday between Knesset members and MK Hanin Zoabi (Balad), [an Israeli Arab member] after she took part in the Gaza-bound aid flotilla.

Zoabi accused the government during the parliamentary discussion of treating the Israel Navy's bloody raid of a Turkish-flagged ship as a "pirate military operation".... 

Zoabi called on the government to open a national panel of inquiry into the incident, and asked why it was so opposed to international calls for an impartial and external probe.

Meanwhile, MK Miri Regev (Likud) accused Zoabi of being "responsible for a double crime: Joining terrorists, and a moral crime against the state of Israel." Regev then called at her in Arabic: "Go to Gaza, you traitor."

"She sat here over a year ago and pledged allegiance to the state of Israel and its laws," Regev claimed. "I have no intention of stifling free speech, but in the case of MK Zoabi - it is not freedom of speech. The Gaza flotilla was a terrorist flotilla and MK Zoabi needs to be punished. We don't need Trojan horses in the Knesset."

Hadash-Ta'al MK Mohammed Barakeh called the Israeli government "a gang of pirates" during the discussion, saying "you are crazy - you swim against the world and harm your nation, driving it down the drain."

Zoabi had been granted the floor by Knesset speaker Reuven Rivli to make a personal statement. The Jersusalem Post adds:
The invitation to Zuabi, led to a breakout of fierce verbal altercations, resulting in the ejection of Kadima MK Eli Aflalo, Balad MK Jamal Zahalka and Israel Beiteinu MK Anastasia Michaeli.

Several more MKs were ejected during Zuabi's speech. Ironically some of the ejected MKs subsequently returned to the chamber, continuing to cause a commotion and receiving further verbal warnings from Rivlin...

[Zuabi] criticized those attacking her, saying "Who is the criminal?  Did I murder anyone?".

At this point an MK shouted "check if she has a knife" resulting in uproar. 

I am reminded of the results of a recent poll reported by the Jerusalem Post in March:

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Beinert gestures toward "the liberal forces in Israel"

One of the most common criticisms of Peter Beinert's seismic essay taking the United States Jewish community to task for unconditional support of all Israeli government actions was that Beinert selectively surveyed recent Israeli history to present a portrait of the country that overemphasized its rightward swing and alleged growing rejection of liberal democratic values.  Jonathan Chait, for example, wrote:
In the same vein, Peter now paints Israel as falling almost inexorably into the grip of the far right. “The Netanyahu coalition,” he writes, “is the product of frightening, long-term trends in Israeli society.” There is certainly some truth to this – Russian immigration and the higher Orthodox birthrate have altered the face of the Israeli electorate. On the other hand, it was not that long ago that left-of-center parties governed Israel. Demography does not work that rapidly. Though he concedes that Israeli government can move in and out of power quickly, the tone of his essay has the same two-minutes-to-midnight urgency.

I myself wrote, "Beinert overemphasizes the repressive and aggressive elements in Israeli society," adding, "But the one-sidedness of Beinart's characterization of Israel does not negate his argument. His purpose is to warn; his argument is not that Israel is wholly given over to repression and oppression but that it is trending the wrong way, and that the American Jewish establishment is enabling its worst tendencies and so alienating young American Jews...In short, Beinert's is a family argument."

In an interview with Haaretz published today, Beinert seems to acknowledge the point -- that his purpose was, as Chait put it, "to grab the American Jewish leadership by the lapels and shake some sense into it," and that the seizure required a certain selectivity:

Fred Kaplan nails it

Fred Kaplan has the definitive accounting of the full cost -- to Israel -- of the political and military incompetence of the assault on the Mavi Marmara:
Here is how Hamas' interests have been served so far:
  • Under severe pressure, Egypt, which has blockaded Gaza by land for its own political reasons, has opened its borders (at least for now), a move that is likely to facilitate more weapons shipments than the most extreme estimates of potential smuggling from the Mavi Marmara would have supplied.
  • Turkey, the only predominantly Muslim country that regards Israel as an ally, has recalled its ambassador from Tel Aviv amid massive anti-Israeli protests in the streets of Istanbul.
  • Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was on his way to Washington to discuss the resumption of Palestinian peace talks with President Barack Obama, had to go home (for obvious reasons), and the prospect for renewed diplomacy—which had gained much support in the region—has, to say the least, diminished.