Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Culture? You Mean the Kind in Yogurt, Surely

A Brit, a Jew, and a Polish guy all walk into the bar and say, "Holy crap, Romney is a douche."
---Andy Borowitz
Is it too much to ask Mitt Romney to maintain a position for at least 24 hours? His flip-flopping has recently taken on such a head-spinning speed that someone is bound to get hurt just trying to keep up. 
 On Sunday in Israel, the GOP candidate for President was quoted as saying
"As you come here and you see the GDP per capita, for instance, in Israel which is about $21,000 dollars, and compare that with the GDP per capita just across the areas managed by the Palestinian Authority, which is more like $10,000 per capita, you notice such a dramatically stark difference in economic vitality.... Culture makes all the difference."
Understandably, the Palestinians pointed out, as has Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, that to truly evaluate the Palestinian economy, let alone their culture, you need to appreciate that they have faced (in Netanyahu's words) "hundreds of barriers and roadblocks to the free flow of goods and people." Also understandably, the implied insult to Palestinian culture in Romney's statement upset them. The Daily News quoted one Palestinian official echoing a sentiment Romney had stirred up in the London leg of his journey as well:
"What is this man doing here?" said Saeb Erekat, a top Palestinian official. "Yesterday, he destroyed negotiations by saying Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, and today he is saying Israeli culture is more advanced than Palestinian culture. Isn't this racism?"
The fact that the Palestinians were upset made it back to Romney, though, and by Tuesday he was declaring he had been misunderstood:
Under fire from Palestinian leaders for recent comments suggesting that Israel's economic success is borne out of its "culture," Mitt Romney on Tuesday attempted to clarify his remarks, telling Fox News that he had not talked about "the Palestinian culture or the decisions made in their economy."
"I'm not speaking about it, did not speak about the Palestinian culture," Romney told Fox's Carl Cameron, in an interview taped before the candidate's departure from Poland.
But, you see, his departure from Poland and his subsequent itinerary must have distracted Romney, because he seemed to have missed that many right-wing Americans actually agreed with his insulting assessment of Palestinian culture:
Romney, while not exactly retracting his initial statement, insisted on Tuesday that he didn’t mean to put down Palestinian culture or imply that they were inferior to Israelis. But high-profile neoconservative Republicans immediately claimed Romney’s speech was exactly what it sounded like to Palestinians — a tough condemnation of their values.
In one awkward example, Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin praised the candidate’s speech as proof that Romney was not the “calculating” politician his critics alleged, and in fact “blunt and thoughtful,” giving the Palestinians a dose of hard truth about the importance of capitalism. “If this is the Romney we’re going to see during the balance of the campaign Obama is in deep trouble,” Rubin wrote. “This Romney is unapologetic.”
Almost immediately after her post went up, Romney told FOX News that he “did not speak about the Palestinian culture or the decisions made in their economy” and that “I certainly don’t intend to address that during my campaign.”
Less than 24 hours later, though, Romney must have gotten word that his initial statement was popular with his base because, yes, he flip-flopped yet again:
On Sunday, Mitt Romney boldly declared that Israel’s economic superiority over the Palestinians was due to its culture. On Tuesday morning, he dismissed any notion that he had even discussed Palestinian culture. On Tuesday night, Romney reversed himself yet again, in an op-ed entitled “Culture Does Matter.”
“During my recent trip to Israel, I had suggested that the choices a society makes about its culture play a role in creating prosperity, and that the significant disparity between Israeli and Palestinian living standards was powerfully influenced by it,” Romney wrote in the National Review. “In some quarters, that comment became the subject of controversy. But what exactly accounts for prosperity if not culture?”
In an interview earlier the very same day with FOX News, Romney told interviewer Carl Cameron that he “did not speak about the Palestinian culture or the decisions made in their economy” and that he “certainly [doesn’t] intend to address that during my campaign.”
That interview appeared to be directly at odds with Romney’s original speech, in which he directly compared the per capita GDP of Israel and the Palestinian territories and attributed Israel’s comparative strength to “culture” and the “hand of providence.” It also directly contradicts the first paragraph of his National Review op-ed, in which he explicitly says he was comparing the two economies and cultures.
It's hard to retrace all this in order to know where to agree or disagree with the candidate, even if you support him. One must assume the latest opinion, as offered in the op-ed, is the one we're supposed to assume he believes, but his history would suggest any criticism of that text would cause him to declare he was misunderstood, until his base insists "no, we like that opinion," in which case he'll embrace it again. 
But to his point about culture, ironically, one of the commenters who supports Romney's op-ed highlighted the point made by noted economist Hernando de Soto that the single most important factor in whether a nation is economically successful is not culture, but rather property rights:
"In most developing countries, the vast majority of people live outside the legal economy," said de Soto. "Because they lack property rights, they cannot access capital or credit, so they cannot grow their businesses. Without a legal framework, the market system fails."
Who has the right to what property in Israel is undeniably a hot-button issue (see this example and this op-ed), and one that I am poorly equipped to do justice to, but let's just say that Romney's insistence that the Palestinian economic situation is a result mostly of their culture is a grotesque oversimplification at best and, indeed, racist at worst. 
Why it's popular with his base speaks volumes as well.


Blogger Brent said...

The biggest impediment to Palestinian economic growth is the fact they are occupied and essentially under siege with severe restrictions on capital formation, income potential, trade as well as political self determination. This is all imposed by an outside power and not themselves. We will have no idea how well they would work as an economy until that stops.

Also it is important to realize that Israel has had the benefit of trillions of dollars of capital pouring in from all corners of the world - as well as millions of immigrants from all corners of the world who had education and technical skills. And even then it took 50 years of concerted deliberate effort for Israel to have a GNP per capital approaching the developed world.

I wince as an American every time I hear someone put their foot in it. And Mitt was a wincefest on his 3 nation tour - I truly think he has a better then even chance of becoming President, and cringe at the thought of the amount of damage he might do to our foreign relations...

8/01/2012 10:06:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Random Thoughts.

Mittens is a bit of a stiff , sorta like a Ronald Reagan without the would think a hedge fund guy would be the smartest dude in the room. Maybe alzheimers is setting in.

You know we got zillions of beautiful desert acres out here in the southwest my mid-east peace plan has always been moving Israel to America. great jobs program.

Did Bob Costas get a face lift ?

My Olympic Connection :: when i was a kid I knew Jesse Owens I use to wash his Cadillac I worked at a car wash owned by three jewish brothers . They were good guys , They got out there and worked on the line like everybody else. Jesse Owens all ways wore a suit it could be 120 degrees out and he would be in a suit .

We would get pro ball players, local celebrities , local goverment hacks. No one cared when they came in.

But when Jesse Owens came in the place would go nuts, time would stop.

8/01/2012 02:21:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Is it too much to ask Mitt Romney to maintain a position for at least 24 hours?"

What about a President who imposes more sanctions on a country less than 24 hours after a candidate criticizes him for not doing enough to strong-arm the country?

8/02/2012 04:05:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

What about staying on topic?

If you'd like to discuss other issues, by all means, set up another blog (blogger is free) and do so.

The issue here is whether or not Romney really believes it all comes down to culture or whether, like so many times before, he's pandering to his base in such a transparent way it's impossible to know what he believes.

8/02/2012 08:11:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

42 straight months of unemployment over 8% and all you have to offer is this weak tea over perceived slights by those who make the same arguments as Romney in other settings. Our long national nightmare will soon end. This cannot be comforting to you, so you deflect attention from the car wreck administration.

8/12/2012 02:43:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

By "Our long national nightmare," I truly wish YOU meant the descent into oligarchical rule and what I fear is a near total dismantling of the checks and balances the fore fathers worked so hard to gift to us that the ludicrously transparent (and therefore morally indefensible) voodoo economics and anti-democracy deregulation initiated by Reagan and brought to its extreme and clearly dangerous epitome by Bush have enabled in the US, but I fear it's not. I suspect you're attempting to blame the great recession that has caused record unemployment around the world, and which was the direct result of the same irresponsible deregulation noted above, on the President who I personally credit with having carefully steered us away from the cliff of utter economic destruction.

As to the idea that the end of "our long national nightmare" would not be comforting to me, I assure you notching could be further from the truth.

I hope with all my heart the potential future we'd see under Romney and Ryan goes down in flames and we all wake up to a government that can set us back onto the balanced approach we saw as recently as Clinton that both promised a reduction of our debt AND progress against social inequalities.

8/12/2012 07:35:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I hope with all my heart the potential future we'd see under Romney and Ryan goes down in flames..."

I don't blame you for channeling Rush Limbaugh, however, the failure that surrounds us will be inherited by someone else this time just as the previous failure was inherited by Obama. Funny how those complaints can be recycled.

8/12/2012 09:34:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Because you're smart, you know that President Clinton was greatly aided by the Republican legislature that pushed him toward balancing the budget, which he resisted, and the internet revolution that was a money funnel for tax revenue. Clinton also promised to reform the welfare system, but it was the Republican legislature that forced his hand, much to the consternation of Democrats. As a result Clinton campaigned for his second term with the promise to fix the welfare legislation. He never did, resulting in massive savings. Putting the economy on Clinton's back is amusing fiction.

8/12/2012 09:44:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

And because you're smart you know the surplus Bush inherited was foolish to throw away, knowing, as he did, he had every intention of invading Iraq one way or the other. If you're looking for an economic scapegoat, look no further than the president who started two wars despite having no intention of paying for them.

8/12/2012 10:24:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

We agree, Bush has much to be blamed for. We went to war in Afghanistan and Iraq without paying for it as it went along. Both wars are off budget as has every war since WWII. But ask yourself, if you believe that is wrong, and you support Obama (who whole-heartedly supported the war in Afghanistan, then why aren't you complaining about Obama's war payment scheme--which is the very same as was for Bush? As for me, I have long supported the Biden plan to remove troops except for a small number on a remote base in Afghanistan. I also support the Ron Paul plan of steeply cutting the defense budget and only defending our borders. The threat to our government as we know it is the government as we know it.

8/13/2012 07:05:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

The threat to our government as we know it is the government as we know it.

Catchy phrase, but let me be clear about Bush and correct your history here; what he did was immoral financially speaking and unprecedented:

As Robert Hormats explains in his 2007 book, The Price of Liberty: Paying for America's Wars, "During most of America's wars, parochial desires--such as tax breaks for favored groups or generous spending for influential constituencies--have been sacrificed to the greater good. The president and both parties in Congress have come together … to cut nonessential spending and increase taxes.". [...] In 1950 and 1951 Congress increased taxes by close to 4% of GDP to pay for the Korean War, even though the high World War II tax rates were still largely in effect. In 1968, a 10% surtax was imposed to pay for the Vietnam War, which raised revenue by about 1% of GDP. And there was conscription during both wars, which can be viewed as a kind of tax that was largely paid by the poor and middle class--young men from wealthy families largely escaped its effects through college deferments.

As for Obama, as you'll recall, he took over as the world was descending into the worst economic turmoil it had seen since the Great Depression. New taxes then would have made matters worse. Then he ended the Iraq war and has us on the path to ending can quibble about dates and budgets, but the over-arching difference in philosophy is clear. Bush was unforgivably reckless...and Romney's hawkish position on Iran combined with his Norquistian pledge to never raise taxes is actually worse, given the anemic recovery.

8/13/2012 07:55:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Raise all the taxes you want on everyone making over $250,000. Tax corporations within an inch of their life and still you end up not balancing next year's budget. We need to cut drastically. Obama has acknowledged this.

Lyndon Johnson indeed raised taxes, but he also established ruinous welfare programs under his guns and butter policies.

I accept your acknowledgement of my military service during the Vietnam war. That war served to remind us, along with Afghanistan and Iraq, that the US continually pisses away trillions for nonsense. As long as we continue doing this behavior we will bankrupt the country over and over.

This applies equally to Obama, Romney and Bush and anyone else you might wish to reach out to for an excuse for our pathetic decline.

8/14/2012 03:28:00 AM  

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