Shame on Germany (and the United States)

Germany has joined the United States in expressing support for Israel’s brutal bombing of the Gaza Strip.

It is understandable that Germany wishes to avoid any appearance of anti-Semitism, but its support of Israel in a grossly disproportionate response, killing over 300 Gazans, to rocket attacks which have killed less than 20 Israelis, by bombing prisons, universities, and homes appears to accept an equivalence between the state of Israel and the survival of the Jewish people and clearly privileges Israeli violence over Palestinian violence.

It is important to remember that it is Palestinians who were cast from their homes to make way for the founding of Israel, and that some sixty years later, millions remain homeless, while Israel seeks to preserve its identity as a “Jewish state” by excluding them. It is also important to remember that the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories brutally contravenes numerous UN resolutions and spins crimes against humanity as acts of self-defense. Finally, it is important to remember that it is Israel that has sought to make life in the Gaza Strip intolerable, most recently through a blockade that failed to allow adequate humanitarian supplies through and which has been underscored in bombings of the tunnels that Gazans constructed to bypass the blockade.

While the United States’ support for Israel can be seen in the context of a long suppressed record of human rights violations, both domestically and abroad, we are to understand Germany as a country that has learned painful lessons from the very experience that Israel’s government has relied upon to rationalize its crimes. But rather than demonstrating sympathy for the victims of ethnic cleansing, Germany joins the US in supporting its perpetrators.

It seems that the millions who died in the Holocaust have died in vain.

Arrogance in picking a preacher

Queers answer President-elect Barack Obama’s inclusion of Saddleback pastor Rick Warren to offer an inaugural benediction by saying it leaves them out. And they’re right. Joan Walsh blasts Warren as “a poster boy for kinder, gentler 21st century bigotry.” And she’s right.

But this arrogance runs even deeper. Warren may not reflect Obama’s views on queers, but this choice suggests something far more troubling about Obama himself.

The academic discipline of speech communication includes a subfield called “forensics,” better known as debate. Participation in this form of debate entails arguing, with a partner, against a pair of opponents, for an arbitrarily chosen side of an arbitrarily chosen issue filling precise time slots. It is not required that you be accurate, though errors of fact are fair game for rebuttal.

There are several problems with this style of debate. It is a rules-based contest conducted under strict time limits, with no particular value for truth, but in quest of “points” and “wins.” It thus trivializes often-serious issues in a game-style format. The requirement that you be prepared to argue either side of an issue, for points and for wins, either inherently presumes equal merit to “both” sides of an issue or weighs the contest in favor of the more easily arguable position. The time limits presume that each side can be argued fully and fairly within those limits.

In short, forensics privileges argument over ideas and victory over merit.

I should disclose that as a communication scholar, I have participated in forensics only to the level of an introductory junior-level class in argumentation and debate. The class exposed me to the rules and the format of debates; and I took part in two debates within that class. For the reasons I have stated here, I was not impressed and have been critical of forensics ever since.

Reading several articles about Obama’s law classes, I have the impression he believes strongly in debate. It is not a bad skill for a lawyer. No matter what an offense, justice demands that every side, popular or not, should have an advocate.

The most stigmatized group in the United States is not blacks or poor people. It is certainly not evangelists, who have dominated policymaking since the presidency of Jimmy Carter. Rather, it is the group included by the initials GLBT–gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender.

But it is the evangelists whom Obama invites to the debate rather than the queers. He takes queers for granted just as he does progressives; after all, queers and progressives have no other (major) candidate to vote for. He selects as regressive a team of advisors and cabinet members as we might expect from a Blue Dog Democrat and claims that he’s the one who is responsible for coming up with ideas.

Obama is supposed to be about change we can believe in. He surrounds himself with a widely-touted team of rivals. And drawing all this together, progressives are to envision Obama at the center, hearing all these arguments for the status quo, in some grand debate, perhaps a little less rules-oriented, but with Obama in his vast wisdom meticulously picking apart the arguments, leading everyone to a conclusion that each of these situations demands a new approach.

“Understand where the vision for change comes from, first and foremost,” [Obama] said. “It comes from me. That’s my job, to provide a vision in terms of where we are going and to make sure then that my team is implementing [that vision].”

But lest we think Obama takes upon himself the role of a singular fountainhead of ideas, we have, in which the people will supply what will surely prove to be an unmanageable glut of ideas, while Obama informs us that “promoting science . . . [is] about ensuring that facts and evidence are never twisted or obscured by politics or ideology [and] listening to what our scientists have to say, even when it’s inconvenient—especially when it’s inconvenient.”

Do you get the feeling it’s all a bit much? I sure do. One impediment to communication is–and by now you’re probably way ahead of me on this–information overload. Obama’s crackberry isn’t going to help him on this. What’s far more likely is that he will simply shine on all these ideas; as with forensics, superficiality displaces depth, just like at his inauguration, where “inclusiveness” excludes queers.

And it takes a real arrogance for Obama to think it can be otherwise and a real arrogance for him to seek to lead us to think it is otherwise.

Percent employed lowest since 1986

Due to dubious exclusions from the labor force, I like to look at employment as a proportion of the civilian, non-institutionalized population over 16 years of age. It would be interesting to factor in the incarcerated population, particularly since the US imprisons so many, but I failed to find statistics on that population that I could correlate to the Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers.

We now have a lower percentage (61.44 percent) of people counted as employed than we have had in annual figures since 1986 (60.69 percent). More people, as a proportion of the population, were working in 1986 than ever had before, this year was one in a series of increasing employment among the population which can be attributed to an increasing need for both partners in marriages to work. That need has not gone away, but the jobs have.

Bush leaves as he came in: a job-loss president.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics has counted nearly 1.47 million fewer people as part of the labor force in November 2008 than in November 2007, at least in part due to its methodology of excluding “discouraged workers.” The civilian non-institutionalized population (over 16 years of age) increased by over 2.96 million people. 1.76 million fewer people were employed.

By comparison, in the years 2001-2002, the peak of the dot-com crash and Bush’s first full year in office, the civilian non-institutionalized population increased by 2.48 million, and the labor force increased by 1.13 million, even as 448,000 fewer people were employed, 1.58 million more were unemployed, and 1.35 million fewer were counted as part of the labor force.

But remember, unemployment is “efficiency.”

Safeguarding “the system.”

As bad economic news tumbled out yesterday, the New York Times reported:

“I’m sorry it’s happening, of course,” Mr. Bush said in an interview with ABC’s “World News” on Monday. “Obviously, I don’t like the idea of Americans losing their jobs or being worried about their 401(k)s. On the other hand, the American people got to know that we will safeguard the system.”

The effect of all the maneuverings to “safeguard the system” so far has been that while “the credit markets have been stalled by continued fears among financial institutions about who can be trusted for even short-term transactions, . . . the effects on home loans and other purposes could remain modest.”

That means that people are still left out in the cold, increasingly unemployed and increasingly unable to retire. And Bush is “sorry it’s happening,” but will be retiring himself soon, very comfortably (unless he’s indicted). “[Allen] Sinai of Decision Economics said it was hard to imagine that this downturn would have hit bottom within the next four months, which would make it all but certain to set a new record.”

Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson, Jr., claims the way to fix the economy is to inject liquidity into the financial system. It is becoming hard to distinguish this from the discredited “trickle down” notion of economics that the way to help the poor is to make the rich richer. Banks are lending to each other, but not to anyone else.

Instead, people are losing their jobs. And their wages have been steadily reduced for thirty years. But the powers that be say they’re trying to make it easier to lend to them. An unidentified executive who works in the banking industry points out that “as people begin to lose their jobs, they will not be able to pay their credit card bills either. And the banks will be back for more handouts.” Duh.