Links for Sunday

Since a July 25 op-ed in the New York Times, Danny Dayan, the public face of the Israeli settlement movement, has been more in the news than usual.  He’s a particularly interesting character because, like Israeli foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman, his Zionism is of the staunchly secular variety even though he leads a group often thought of, more or less correctly, as fundamentalist or even messianic.  Reading an excellent interview with Dayan gave me, really for the first time, a good idea of what a secular defense of the settlement movement might look like, and what the differences might be between the movement’s assumptions and those of the two-state “mainstream.” The first thing that sticks out is that Dayan believes his approach is more, not less, pragmatic than the two-state approach: that the settlers recognize the facts on the ground and the diplomats are the ones with their heads in the clouds.  And to a certain extent that’s true–but it’s sneakily true.  The settlers recognize the facts on the ground–but, more than that, they create them.  They understand a lot better than most American supporters of the Israeli government–perhaps better than Netanyahu himself–that the settlements really are the biggest barrier to peace.  But unlike the Palestinians and their advocates, who believe the same thing at least as strongly, they embrace this: Dayan says the settlers settle in order that the two-state solution might die, because they believe the two-state solution would make Israel and the region less peaceful, less safe, and less prosperous.

Where do I stand?  I share the Israeli right’s belief that an independent Palestine will not result in a marked improvement in Israeli security, the Israeli left’s belief that a wall of separation has no place in an ostensibly free and democratic society, and the Palestinians’ belief that an equitable settlement must include a right of Palestinian return to the homeland they were forced out of.  If it comes down to a demographic question–if the State of Israel becomes majority-Palestinian–I would prefer the preservation of democracy over the preservation of Jewish control, and renewed aliyah (Jewish immigration) over both.  I also don’t believe that those statements and preferences constitute any sort of solution–but they’re consistent with a future for Israel that I think is possible, if at the moment unlikely, and a future for Israel that I might even want to live in.

On Amtrak trains, passengers are a captive audience: Amtrak has a monopoly on, among other things, selling them food.   But somehow they’ve still managed to lose hundreds of millions of dollars selling food on their trains–in violation of a 30-year-old law.  Republicans are attacking them over this, with one representative using a particularly creative press conference.  To me, though, the outrageous part isn’t the money–it’s the fact that Democrats are now defending the loss, and attacking the Republicans’ plans for privatizing Amtrak concessions, by viewing food service on Amtrak as a jobs program, and efficiency improvements as job losses.  It’s true that the more inefficiently a government program provides a given service, the more jobs that program will support.  But the money to support the unnecessary workers is not free, and would if left in the private economy or spent by a different government agency support a similar number of jobs elsewhere–leaving the overall economy better off because more useful services get performed or more products get made.

In Egypt, the new interior minister announces a hard-line policy on protests and demonstrations.  Optimistic reformists note that the relative lack of diversity in Morsi/Qandil’s cabinet–a mixture of Ikhwan (Muslim Brotherhood) and felool (old regime) is not diversity!–is the result of revolutionaries’ refusal to accept appointments at least as much as Qandil’s refusal to issue them.  In other news, President Morsi continues to tread a very fine line in his foreign policy by, first, either sending or not sending a letter to Israeli president Shimon Peres and, second, maybe possibly staying away from a controversial Non-Aligned Movement summit in Iran that Israel would very much like him not to attend.

If the Free Syrian Army can secure complete control of Halaab (Aleppo), the civil war there will finally fit into the comfortable western paradigm of city-hopping (the way Libya did), rather than the much scarier (to western officials) asymmetric insurgency conflict which it remains at present, and military aid might be considerably more forthcoming.

The Democratic candidate for Tennessee’s Senate seat is a terrible person and they should probably have tried harder to enable non-terrible people to win even if it won’t matter in November.  Less astoundingly, a Republican candidate for Montana state representative is a similarly terrible person.

Speaking of terrible people, Larry Craig

Ever wonder how political polls have dealt with the rather drastic decline of people who pick up phones and answer political polls?  Now you know

So there was a jobs report on Friday.  This is what Romney has to say about it.  This is what Obama’s team has to say.  Note the use of four significant figures…

In Somalia, there are so many drones in the skies that they are becoming dangerous for ordinary aircraft…

In Greece, the Golden Dawn party continues to disgust all reasonable people…

James Hansen continues to be right

Henry Kissinger continues to be wrong