Disaster Strikes

The retirement of Justice Kennedy is an unmitigated disaster.  We are now already virtually guaranteed a very right-wing court for a generation.  Roe v. Wade is toast, in spirit if not in letter.  If Trump or Pence gets to appoint a Ginsburg vacancy….

The Supreme Court is too powerful.  And its great power is combined with this very capricious system of lifetime appointments made at indeterminate times, times at which changing political conditions are all-important.  To my mind, the Court has been very largely discredited an an institution during my lifetime, the idea that the constitution can be applied as would be a translation algorithm that is better than any now in existence is completely preposterous, the Court is a thoroughly political institution.  Originalism is incoherent.  Even if it were coherent, it would be unacceptable politically.

I think the United States needs a new constitution, both as a political and as a legal matter.  There is going to be a very serious mismatch between the economic and social conditions prevailing in the country and the right-wing, plutocratic and oligarchic Supreme Court that is already in view.

It is ironic, to say the least, that the petty gangster occupying the oval office, a man who cares nothing for the rule of law, is going to be credited with reinstituting the strict construction of the constitution.

New French Book on Growing Inequality

It sounds like Thomas Piketty, who is French, has written an important book about the trends of distribution of wealth and income in 20th-21st century economies, primarily in developed economies.  The general story is that the “natural” rate of accumulation of capital is on the order of five-six percent per annum, while the natural rate of overall growth in GDP in advanced economies is 1-1.5 percent annually.   Thus, without major changes in political institutions, inherited private wealth will dominate the societies in advanced economies by virtue of the tendencies inherent in them.

I was alerted to Piketty by this column in the NYT:


Questions that will have to await reading of the book include the following.  (1) How independent is the rate at which private capital accumulates of political institutions?  That is, the implication is that capital will accumulate, over the long run, at five-six percent annually, when redistributive mechanisms are below some threshold.  What is the threshold?  (2) How independent are the rates of capital and GDP growth from the rate of population growth?  This second question is almost certainly not addressed in the book, but, in general, I think that macroeconomics should attempt to incorporate demographic analysis.  More generally, I speculate that those who are interested in reducing inequality of wealth and income should also be interested in reducing the human population, both within advanced economies of larger nation states and globally.

An introduction to the book by Piketty himself on French television can be seen here:


Race far from dead as major issue, the South far from new

Recent Supreme Court décisions occasioned the following excellent contributing editorials from liberals in today’s “New York Times.”

Thomas Edsall on the marginalization of blacks in the South via gerrymandering and “bleaching.”


Linda Greenhouse on Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s dissent in Fisher vs. University of Texas:


All of this gives the lie, in my opinion, to the complacency of the likes of John McWhorter and Glenn Loury (see their recent discussion as regards the status of Afro-Americans in the USA).


No doubt, McWhorter and Loury will place their hopes for Afro-American advancement in the political process.  But the political process is broken, as the US becomes ever more polarized into red and blue states and is weakened by its absurdly outdated federalist system and too-powerful senate, which gives hugely disproportionate power to voters in rural states.  On this, see Robert Reich.

I hope to revive this blog.

Who is Dominique Strauss-Kahn, a pre-primer

I caught a bit of a television program devoted to the Dominique Strauss-Kahn (DSK) affair this morning, and I have done a bit of research on the Internet.

First, this affair is huge in France, newspaper sales have skyrocketed, the news weeklies are devoting 13-20 pages to it this week.  DSK was, prior to this affair, thought to be the frontrunner for the nomination of the Socialist Party to oppose Sarkozy in 2012. DSK is widely thought to be a man of some brilliance in the financial/economic realm, as well as in the political realm.  Despite having to apologize to the IMF quite early in his tenure for an affair he had with a subordinate Hungarian economist, he is regarded as having rescued the IMF from irrelevance and obscurity by orchestrating the bailout of the European banks and the Greek government.

DSK is married to a glamorous former telejournalist, Anne Sinclair, who was one of the most famous media figures in France in the 80’s and 90’s, a Barbara Walters-like figure, but with more substance.  They live together in a Georgetown townhouse.  Sinclair was born of French parents with the name Schwartz and is the granddaughter of the very successful artdealer Paul Rosenberg, who represented Picasso and Matisse, among others.  Sinclair was born in New York, her parents had fled Europe, but went to high school and university in France.  It is thought that DSK might have been able to introduce economic policies that would bring France out of the economic doldrums.  It was this hope, possibly widely shared among the French professional class, which wants only results and cares little about ideology, that made him the frontrunner for the Socialist nomination.

He is a charismatic figure with certain liabilities known best to himself (he rehearsed them recently to a journalist in a published interview):  his Jewishness, his womanizing, his money, much of which comes from his third wife, Sinclair.  DSK reminds me of Helmut Schmidt somewhat.  There was no note whatever in the telecast I saw of complaint about American prudery or about draconian American laws concerning sexual assault or rape.  French journalists are trying not to prejudge the case, and there is no sense that the Americans have somehow overstepped any bounds.  There were prior allegations of abuse in France, one from a 22-year-old novelist, another from a Socialist politician.

As Mideast peace talks recommence…

Here is something I wrote for the bloggingheadstv fora about ten weeks ago, just after the flotilla incident.  The post attracted a certain amount of praise, so I am putting it here also, as I probably should have done at the outset.

The blockade is not just collective punishment. It is collective punishment that may or may not be intended to elicit a particular reaction in the residents of Gaza, namely to oust Hamas, to take collective action to eliminate military and terrorist actions against Israel, and to recognize Israel’s right to exist.

But there are two possibilities here. One is that there is no such intention to elicit reactions, and in this case Israel’s announced desire for peace with the Palestinians and a two-state solution is disingenuous. The other possibility is that it is sincere, but misguided, because who, in his right mind, thinks that the Gazan population is going to be worn down to such an extent by Israel’s blockade and occupation without occupation that the ostensible desired political goals would be achieved? No people with even a minority of committed political actors who wish to retain their human dignity is going to give into this sort of blackmail, and, as I pointed out previously, the Jews of Europe ought to know this as well, or better, than any people. So the policy is either stupid and misguided, or it is dishonest. And my guess is that it is a mixture of these two things, it’s both at once, but that is small comfort to those of us who really want a two-state solution (please, Wonderment, don’t chime in here on cue, I know your views).

However, at the current moment the balance of power in Israel is with those for whom the stated goals of the occupation without occupation are disingenuous. But I’m not too sure, in this instance, what the proponents of the policy are really after. They are going to grind people down militarily until what, exactly? I don’t think even they know. Maybe it’s just a way of temporizing until the world is so overwhelmed by its other incalculably great problems that this festering sore just becomes a minor annoyance. And in this sense, the problem is analogous to America’s historical race problem, because clearly in the early 1960’s there were lots of white Southerners who thought the problem would eventually go away, that there was a legal/military solution that would be in favor of separate but equal.

The Israelis are on the wrong side of history here. Everyone seems to know this, except for the Israelis and the Americans. But the Americans will come to know it, they are coming to know it now.

So as we throw up our hands in despair, and the Eli’s of the world demand that Israel have a serious and reputable partner for peace on the Palestinian side which recognizes Israel’s right to survive as a Jewish state in the region,
the Heathers of the world just reply that, yes, it would be nice to eliminate the most radical elements on the Palestinian side and to be left only with those who are realistic and will accept the continued existence of the Jewish state in their midst, run by descendants of the people who stole their land, but that’s not going to happen, so Israel had better find another way of addressing the problem than the military way.

This problem has been complicated infinitely by Israel’s settlement policy. Every goddam person in the world knows this. Eli talks about the painful steps Israel took to dismantle some settlements in Gaza. That’s not enough, Eli, not nearly enough. The USA has sat by and watched Israel annex ever more land on the West Bank, it has a declared policy of saying that the settlements are either illegal or “unhelpful,” but in the end it does nothing. So if the USA wants peace there, and a two-state solution, it has to try to force Israel to take yet more painful steps, and either start dismantling settlements on the West Bank, instead of expanding them, or make it clear that some of those settlements are coming down in a final disposition of things. It’s that simple. Yes, that will be difficult politically, but tough.

Anyone who doubts the veracity of what I am saying can listen to a recent speech given by James Baker III to the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco, at foratv or on youtube. This is James Baker we’re talking about, not Noam Chomsky.


But hey, what does James Baker know, when compared with Victor Davis Hanson, or Rush Limbaugh, or Eli fucking Lake?

Israel’s strategic error has been to think that it could expand territorially and win its political struggle with the Palestinians militarily. At first, the expansion of settlements was probably thought of as a bargaining chip. Settlements would come down in a final settlement. The problem is that the policy got away from the Israelis, so that now dismantling West Bank settlements is, in fact, going to be extremely painful and difficult for Israel politically. What Israel ought to have done, and must still try to do, is to make it clear that it wants to make amends, that it will accept a final disposition that the EU, for example, would regard as just. It must regain the moral high ground in order to marginalize the Palestinian extremists. It cannot do this by offering a cantonized hodge-podge of territories to the Palestinians, that’s simply impossible. Israel’s entire problem has been that it has come to be dominated by the “peace through strength” crowd, every concession made in advance is regarded as a debilitating sign of weakness. It is true that peace through weakness is not a good strategy. Here, the problem is that peace through strength has been misinterpreted, and Israel cannot possibly win its struggle for survival if it continues on the path it is on. It is simply too small, and will be too isolated in the world, nuclear arsenal or not. The best parallel here is, in fact, South Africa.

California’s same-sex marriage decision

I have now read Judge Walker’s decision in California (documents.nytimes.com/us-district-court-decision-perry-v-schwarzenegger?ref=us), and I think I conceded far too much in a recent online colloquy with someone in the blogginheadstv fora who was opposing same-sex marriage, primarily on the grounds that heterosexual marriage has been the preferred means for achieving the state’s interest in perpetuating or increasing its population.

According to evidence offered in the case, 18% of same-sex couples in California are raising children, a much higher percentage than I had imagined.  The male couple plaintiffs say that they want to be married prior to starting a family.

According to evidence offered by plaintiffs, there is a body of social scientific work that demonstrates that children raised by same-sex couples are as well-adjusted as those raised by heterosexual couples.  The State of CA offered no evidence on this question, and the proponents of Proposition 8 offered only evidence which compared childred raised by two parents of the opposite sex with children raised by single parents or divorced parents, but in no case with children raised by two parents of the same sex.

On the question of whether California’s domestic partnership classification satisfies the desires of same-sex couples to marry, the judge is unequivocal in saying that it does not.  The domestic partnership classification is simply an invidious form of discrimination.

On the question of whether the discrimination felt by gays and lesbians is overstated, not just in the past, but recently (as the entire Proposition 8 campaign apparently demonstrated – I was not in California to witness it), the judge was equally unequivocal in rejecting claims that the extent and degree of such discrimination are overstated, at least in the US.

In his legal conclusions, Walker states that, “Proponents did not, however, advance any reason why the government may use sexual orientation as a proxy for fertility or why the government may need to take into account fertility when legislating.”

No evidence was offered to the effect that same-sex marriage reduces the rate of marriage or the fertility rate among heterosexual couples.  I am myself somewhat skeptical about this lack of evidence, because we know that people have children within heterosexual couples and subsequently become gay or lesbian.  Presumably, some subset of gays and lesbians will eschew the earlier stage of heterosexual relationships entirely, and the bearing of children within them, if same-sex marriage is available to them.  On the other hand, their hypothetical heterosexual partners might find other partners with whom to procreate, and some lesbian couples will bear biological children, so the effect of same-sex marriage on the fertility rate could be minimal.  Looking at the matter of a nation’s fertility rate in an a priori way, an argument can be made that any effect of the introduction of same-sex marriage on a nation’s fertility would be nil or very slight.  In principle, the fertility rate could even increase, for the reasons noted.  The real danger here, the imagined one, is that heterosexuals will be converted to the “gay lifestyle”, that people who would otherwise be expected to marry heterosexually and have children will not, because of the introduction of same-sex marriage.  Another possible danger is that the divorce rate among same-sex couples would exceed that of heterosexual couples and thus further undermine the claim of marriage to contribute to the stability of society and of the way in which the state’s interest in perpetuating its population expresses itself.  But the opposite result is also equally conceivable, that the divorce rate among married same-sex couples will be lower than that among heterosexual couples.  In fact, I would expect this to be the case, at least for some initial period.

The tenor of the decision lends credence to my hypothesis that more children would be adopted, in the aggregate, if same-sex marriage were available.   Plaintiffs, including the City and County of San Francisco, also offered a lot of economic evidence that tends to demonstrate advantages to the state of allowing same-sex marriage.  Reduction of crime is not offered as such a reason, however.

I find it virtually inconceivable that Scalia, Thomas, Alito, or Roberts will vote in favor of same-sex marriage.   Kennedy may be more in play than I have estimated.  It will be interesting to see whether the conservatives emphasize the fertility criterion, and, if they do, how they do so.

A recent CNN poll cited by Frank Rich in his NYT column of August 15, 2010, found that 52% of Americans favor a constitutional right to same-sex marriage.


Judge Walker is very clear, however, that the question before us is not one that can be subjected to plebiscite, but is one of fundamental constitutional rights that can have nothing to do with elections or polls or the absolute number of citizens whose fundamental rights are being denied.  So two things are true for my interlocutor, that the majority opposes same-sex marriage and that there is no widespread discrimination against gays and lesbians.  But the first true thing may not be true and would not be relevant, even if it were true, and the second supposedly true thing is false.

Having read the decision, I am more confident than I had been that none of the four liberal Supreme Court justices will vote against gay marriage.  Therefore, it really is up to Kennedy, in my view.   I don’t know how the conservative justices will frame their opposition, but I am sure that they will find a way.

Is there a risk of a real US-Israel rift?

This op-ed in today’s NYT by a Princeton academic draws an analogy between US-Israel relations today and France-Israel relations 1967.


Generally speaking, people seem to take the rift between Obama and Netanyahu (or between the US and Israel, if one wants to depersonalize things) more seriously than I would have expected them to do. The real problem, as I see it, is that, supposing that Obama were prepared to oppose Israel in the UN and to vote against her, for example, a lot of US Jews who have been reliable Democratic donors and voters, perhaps the majority of such people, switch to the Republicans, putting New York and New Jersey into play, probably ceding Florida, it’s a hugely risky move in terms of domestic national politics. Instead of altering US-Israel relations, one ends up altering the balance of power in US domestic politics. It is almost as though one has to convince neocons that things have to change, that Israel is sailing the US down the river in strategic terms, where “strategic” is just a euphemism for energy supplies. I do not think that David Frum or Charles Krauthammer can be convinced, not ever.


Robert Kagan left a small opening the other day when speaking to Robert Wright about US-Israel relations on bloggingheadstv, but he probably can’t be convinced either.


My sense is that this NYT piece is a fantasy, written because it could be written and published.

My own view is that the US Jewish community is putting world Jewry in a terrible position by virtue of its unflagging support for Israel. It is creating conditions for virulent world-wide anti-Semitism from which Israel will not be able to save the Jews. Jews in France, and there are a lot of us, would be particularly vulnerable. Essentially, the US Jews have bought into the macho Israeli mentality of peace through strength, but it’s a losing long-term strategy, it simply can’t work in the end, given where all the fossil fuels happen to be. It might have worked in a unipolar world completely dominated by the US, but we are not in that world. And it could well be the case that if more US Jews had actually had to fight in a war, instead of just talking about fighting in wars, things would be different.
I can barely imagine Obama confronting his problem with the US Jews in a second term, but it’s not likely. Staunch supporters of Israel will complain about double standards and terrible political conditions in the Arab world. Such complaints are both valid and largely irrelevant. Things are as they are in the world, and are unlikely to change in Israel’s favor. To the contrary, there is every likelihood that the world will turn against Israel before it addresses more important and intractable problems, like climate change. No one forced Israel to embark upon occupation, but she will be forced to end it eventually, one way or the other. It would be better for all concerned if the occupation were ended in a way that had the support of the industrialized world.