Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.
--Daniel Patrick Moynihan

November 23, 2011

In Search of Thanksgiving

By David K. Shipler

The Monday before Thanksgiving, the head of Georgetown Day School in Washington, D.C., urged an assembly of high school students to mark the holiday by giving thanks, by reflecting on the people in their lives who had contributed to their well-being. The act of expressing gratitude in itself, he said, had been shown to improve well-being.

Then he introduced me as the morning’s speaker, and I flipped the question around. What did they want to be thankful for? What would they like our generation to leave them in this world that would deserve their gratitude?

November 14, 2011

Tortured Republicans

By David K. Shipler

A flicker of discomfort crossed Herman Cain’s face in last Saturday’s debate as he was asked about torture. He appeared to be considering the question. For a moment that lasted only as long as his first two sentences, he seemed about to take the high road: “I do not agree with torture, period.” Then he came up with an idea suitable for a banana republic: Leave it to “our military leaders to determine what is torture and what is not torture.” Yet in a final twist, he took a position different from military leaders’ by endorsing waterboarding, which (he may not have known) the Army Field Manual explicitly forbids. He said it wasn't torture. Michele Bachmann followed suit. Rick Santorum had already announced last May that John McCain, who was tortured for five years as a P.O.W. in North Vietnam, doesn’t understand the issue.

Behind this spectacle is an unpleasant truth: Republicans who can’t kick the addiction to torture have been enabled by President Obama and the Democratic leadership in Congress, who could have created an investigative commission to nail down the facts, expose them to public scrutiny, and puncture the myth that reliable information is obtained by abusing prisoners.

November 8, 2011

The Blurry Poverty Line

By David K. Shipler

Now that the Census Bureau has offered a more realistic way of calculating poverty, the outdated method should be discarded instead of retained as the “Official Poverty Measure” used to determine eligibility for government benefits. It was designed in the 1960s, when the average family spent about one-third of its budget on food, a proportion that has fallen to one-seventh as housing and other costs have soared. So it makes no sense to take the price tag of a minimum food basket and multiply it by three. But that will continue to happen unless Congress and the administration act—a hard act to perform with federal and state governments in fiscal straits.

November 2, 2011

Palestine: The Theoretical State

By David K. Shipler

Finally the Palestinians have gained complete, uncontested control over a piece of territory: several comfortable chairs in the hall at Unesco’s Paris headquarters. If their quest for national recognition continues along this path, the Palestinian state will expand to similar furniture in various exquisite meeting rooms in Geneva and New York, rendering Palestine the first country to exist in committee but not in reality.

There is something terribly sad about this spectacle.

November 1, 2011

Can Israel Survive?

By David K. Shipler
(Published in the Nov./Dec. 2011 issue of Moment)

The Anatomy of Israel’s Survival
Hirsh Goodman
2011, $26.99, pp. 288

 “Can Israel survive? The question used to infuriate me,” Hirsh Goodman begins in The Anatomy of Israel’s Survival. “Does someone wake up in Britain, or America, or even Burundi, and ask themselves whether their country can survive?”

No, not yet. But nobody asked that question about the Soviet Union either, except for the dissident Andrei Amalrik, in his aptly titled Will the Soviet Union Survive Until 1984? It did, but only seven years past the date he chose as a sardonic nod to Orwell. Add Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia and now Sudan, and throw in the non-state actors—al Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah, which have the leverage to ignite war and shape international politics—and the world order of nation states seems stricken by impermanence. It’s a wonder that the Palestinians want the United Nations to grant them a status so precarious.