Archive for November 2009
Part of the Obama administration’s plan to get the Israelis and the Palestinians to the negotiating table has been to call on the Israeli government to freeze all settlement building and expansion throughout the occupied West Bank.
Yet despite agreeing to freeze all settlement activity in the 2003 Road Map, the Israelis have continued expansion in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. However, last week, Israeli government ministers approved a measure calling for a 10-month freeze on new building permits and construction of new residential buildings in the West Bank (but exempts East Jerusalem), a move top U.S. Middle East envoy George Mitchell said “falls short of a full settlement freeze, but it is more than any Israeli government has done before, and can help move toward agreement between the parties.”
[Member of the Knesset] Dani Danon organized the meeting after Culture and Sports Minister Limor Livnat (Likud) launched a verbal attack over the matter on U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration, which she branded “terrible.” [...]
While Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu immediately distanced himself from her comments, the activists at Saturday’s conference leveled further criticism at Obama over the moratorium, which Israel undertook to carry out in the wake of tremendous U.S. pressure.
“The Obama administration is an enemy of the Jews and the worst regime there ever was for the State of Israel,” said Yossi Naim, the head of the Beit Aryeh regional council, at the Ra’ana meeting. “I announce to Obama: You won’t be able to stop us.”
Ron Nahman, mayor of the West Bank settlement of Ariel, applauded Livnat’s comments. “You had the public courage to say what most of the public feels ever since Obama came to power,” he said, repeatedly referring to the U.S. President as “Hussein Obama.”
The president has no choice but to keep trying. At some point extremists will try to provoke another war…and the absence of a dialogue will only make things worse. Advancing his own final-status plan for a two-state solution is one high-risk way forward that we think is worth the gamble. Stalemate is unsustainable.
The Wonk Room’s Matt Duss notes that Netanyahu’s refusal to comply with a full settlement freeze “is a huge part of the problem here” and that the Obama administration may have to “stop pretending that Netanyahu is a partner for peace.”
Rep. Bill Shuster (R-PA) is a vocal opponent of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act who not only voted against the stimulus, but goes out of his way to mock it as “going nowhere” and doing “nothing to encourage growth.” Using the “failed” stimulus as his evidence, Shuster has been claiming that the government is incapable of reforming healthcare. But while Shuster tries to gain political points by bashing the stimulus, he has been quietly claiming credit for its benefits in his district, as well as advocating for an expanded role for Recovery Act money in his community:
– Last week, Shuster attended the groundbreaking ceremony for a sewage treatment plant for the Blairsville Municipal Authority. Republican State Senator Don White noted that the project was only possible because of the stimulus, which allowed the state Infrastructure Investment Authority (PENNVEST) to provide a $10.4 million grant and a $3 million low interest loan for construction.
– On November 4, Shuster asked Gov. Ed Rendell (D-PA) to use some of the state’s stimulus money to reopen the Scotland School for Veterans’ Children. Shuster noted that using the Recovery Act money for the school would save 134 full-time jobs.
– In July, Shuster joined 14 Pennsylvania lawmakers — including fellow stimulus-opponents Reps. Glenn Thompson (R-PA), Charlie Dent (R-PA), Jim Gerlach (R-PA), and Todd Platts (R-PA) — in writing a letter asking that stimulus money be used towards public universities.
– In June, Shuster hailed the stimulus-funded initiative to build a high-speed rail line between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. The Post-Gazette quoted Shuster praising the project: “I believe we are about to experience a new era in passenger rail in this country. I want Western Pennsylvania to participate in this new era and to enjoy the benefits of increased and expanded passenger rail service.”
Today, Roll Call reports that Republican lawmakers are planning this week to announce the GOP’s new “December Attack Plan,” which will focus on denigrating President Obama’s stimulus. Presumably, rank-in-file members like Shuster will participate in the attack, even though they have taken credit for the stimulus’ success. And to add to the irony, the attack is being led by Republican Whip Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA), who has now hosted multiple job fairs in his district filled with employers hiring directly because of the stimulus.
It’s very tempting to condemn others for something while excusing ourselves for the same thing—because we understand fully our own reasons, but feel free to impute base motives to other people. I mentioned before that this often happens in the case of abortion: some person opposes abortion over and over, and then a family member (a wife or a daughter, typically) becomes pregnant and the family agrees that, in this case, an abortion is fully warranted. Not a problem unless the abortion opponent has managed to make abortion illegal.
Here’s a wonderful example from the upsurge in food-stamp use and more and more people find that they cannot find any job that pays enough to support themselves. Jason DeParle and Robert Gebeloff have a lengthy article in the NY Times on the increase in the use of food stamps.
Jill, at the blog Feministe, points out those who continue to condemn food-stamp users while they themselves are also using food stamps: their own reasons are perfectly good, of course, unlike those shiftless other people. It’s interesting but also sad to see the degree to which some people always see themselves apart from (and better than) their fellows.
Her post begins:
This article on increasing rates of reliance on food stamps illustrates pretty clearly the right-wing mentality when it comes to social programs — any sort of government aid is a hand-out to the lazy until I need it. Then it’s still a hand-out to the lazy, just not for me.
While Mr. Dawson, the electrician, has kept his job, the drive to distant work sites has doubled his gas bill, food prices rose sharply last year and his health insurance premiums have soared. His monthly expenses have risen by about $400, and the elimination of overtime has cost him $200 a month. Food stamps help fill the gap.
Like many new beneficiaries here, Mr. Dawson argues that people often abuse the program and is quick to say he is different. While some people “choose not to get married, just so they can apply for benefits,” he is a married, churchgoing man who works and owns his home. While “some people put piles of steaks in their carts,” he will not use the government’s money for luxuries like coffee or soda. “To me, that’s just morally wrong,” he said.
He has noticed crowds of midnight shoppers once a month when benefits get renewed. While policy analysts, spotting similar crowds nationwide, have called them a sign of increased hunger, he sees idleness. “Generally, if you’re up at that hour and not working, what are you into?” he said.
I don’t know, sir — but since you’re there too, why don’t you tell us?
Almost as precious is the suggestion that food stamps should come with work requirements, akin to cash welfare benefits: …
Continue reading. And thanks to Jack in Amsterdam for the pointer.
Not only did the 9/11 attacks undermine global security and transform the world view of millions, they also spawned an entire publishing genre dedicated to understanding the minds of terrorists. Almost all these books are built on false premises and conjecture, but here is one based on solid evidence.
In Radical, Religious and Violent, economist Eli Berman uses extensive sociological and economic data to examine the operations and internal dynamics of the few effective and resilient groups that mount attacks on civilians, and what they have in common. Whereas other authors have focused on the obvious but peripheral issue of how religion inspires individual attackers – it is rarely the primary motivation, as many studies have shown – Berman tackles the pertinent question of what makes radical religious organisations so much more deadly than other groups.
His empirical approach leads to some surprising findings. For example, one key measure of the potential effectiveness or lethality of a group – Berman’s examples include Hamas and Hezbollah – is the extent to which it provides social services within its community. It’s worth reading the book just to find out why that is. The only downside is that his focus on organisational structure causes him to skate over some difficult questions about personal motivation, such as how some suicide bombers have become radicalised almost entirely online.
Those whose job is to protect citizens from such attacks should note his conclusion: that the groups behind them are rational operators whose tactics are best countered socially, economically and politically, not with violence.
Interesting article in New Scientist by Andy Coghlan:
God may have created man in his image, but it seems we return the favour. Believers subconsciously endow God with their own beliefs on controversial issues.
"Intuiting God’s beliefs on important issues may not produce an independent guide, but may instead serve as an echo chamber to validate and justify one’s own beliefs," writes a team led by Nicholas Epley of the University of Chicago in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The researchers started by asking volunteers who said they believe in God to give their own views on controversial topics, such as abortion and the death penalty. They also asked what the volunteers thought were the views of God, average Americans and public figures such as Bill Gates. Volunteers’ own beliefs corresponded most strongly with those they attributed to God.
Next, the team asked another group of volunteers to undertake tasks designed to soften their existing views, such as preparing speeches on the death penalty in which they had to take the opposite view to their own. They found that this led to shifts in the beliefs attributed to God, but not in those attributed to other people.
"People may use religious agents as a moral compass, forming impressions and making decisions based on what they presume God as the ultimate moral authority would believe or want," the team write. "The central feature of a compass, however, is that it points north no matter what direction a person is facing. This research suggests that, unlike an actual compass, inferences about God’s beliefs may instead point people further in whatever direction they are already facing."
"The experiments in which we manipulate people’s own beliefs are the most compelling evidence we have to show that people’s own beliefs influence what they think God believes more substantially than it influences what they think other people believe," says Epley.
Finally, the team used fMRI ..
Good outing: All holiday packages and gifts now mailed. Warm coat donated to homeless. Groceries stocked up. Time for a nap.
One of the glorious presents of Christmases past, speaking from my own childhood, was the Chemistry Set. It was always wonderful. First there was a little box of chemicals, test tubes, alcohol lamp, and book of experiments. The next year a bigger one: two shelf units, hinged in the middle to stand free, with more chemicals, more test tubes, litmus paper, and I don’t know what all. Then the big boy: a very wide back shelf unit, and two thick shelf units that were hinged to it and could be folded shut to make a locked box. I believe this guy had an Erlenmeyer flask.