Friday, August 29, 2014

Not Perfect, But Much Better Than Good Enough

At a town hall meeting in Hyannis, Massachusetts, Senator Elizabeth Warren responded to a constituent disappointed, in view of the recent Hamas war, that she voted to send an additional $225 million to Israel for the Iron Dome anti-missile system. Cape Cod Times reports

"I think the vote was right, and I'll tell you why I think the vote was right," she said. "America has a very special relationship with Israel. Israel lives in a very dangerous part of the world, and a part of the world where there aren't many liberal democracies and democracies that are controlled by the rule of law. And we very much need an ally in that part of the world."

Warren said Hamas has attacked Israel "indiscriminately," but with the Iron Dome defense system, the missiles have "not had the terrorist effect Hamas hoped for." When pressed by another member of the crowd about civilian casualties from Israel's attacks, Warren said she believes those casualties are the "last thing Israel wants."

"But when Hamas puts its rocket launchers next to hospitals, next to schools, they're using their civilian population to protect their military assets. And I believe Israel has a right, at that point, to defend itself," Warren said, drawing applause.

This kind of talk rankles Glenn Greenwald and some of the commentors on his website, who are miffed that a strong progressive is not charmed by terrorists such as Hamas. To be sure, Greenwald notes also that Warren was cool to the idea of another questioner who supports pressuring Israel to halt its settlements (a somewhat more defensible view), though Greenwald inaccurately complains she "rejected" the suggestion. He also commends "many of (her) domestic views" (and links to this appearance in February, 2013; video below), though sarcastically commenting they have "elevated her to hero status for many progressives."

It is evidently at least a venal sin to contribute to an ally's defense of its population against rocket attacks. (Better to ramp up the death toll.)  More oddly, Greenwald knocks the Senator for what is essentially boilerplate language on her Senate website.  The website, he notes, "still contains statements such as 'it is a moral imperative to support and defend Israel' and 'as a United States Senator, I will work to ensure Israel’s security and success.'"

Greenwald neglects mentioning that therein Warren has gone full-bore militaristic, rattling her sabers by maintaining

I am also a strong proponent of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which I believe to be in the interest of Israel and the United States, with a Jewish, democratic state of Israel and a state for the Palestinian people. The U.S. can and should play an active role in promoting a diplomatic resolution to the conflict that is agreed to by the parties, but I do not believe that a lasting peace can be imposed from the outside or that either party should take unilateral steps - such as the Palestinians' application for UN membership - that move the parties further away from negotiations. 

Notwithstanding Warren largely merely restating the policy of the U.S. government,  Greenwald criticizes the Senator's defense of the Israeli bombing campaign for "echoing Benjamin Nentanyahu." That would be the same Benjamin Netanyahu who recently went to war determined “we don’t get another Gaza in Judea and Samaria” because "I think the Israeli people understand now what I always say: that there cannot be a situation, under any agreement, in which we relinquish security control of the territory west of the River Jordan."

The journalist concludes by snarking  "That, ladies and gentlemen, is your inspiring left-wing icon of the Democratic Party."  Domestic policy typically doesn't capture his attention, allowing him to ooze sarcasm for a Senator who last November

appeared at a congressional event to attack regulators for failing to tackle the problem of financial institutions that are "too big to fail".

"We have got to get back to running this country for American families, not for its largest financial institutions," said Warren, who said the issue was an indictment of how little had changed since the 2008 banking crash.

The four biggest Wall Street banks are 30% larger than before the financial crisis, she said, while the five biggest institutions hold more than half the bank assets in the country.

Warren claimed this amounted to an $83bn-a-year taxpayer subsidy for some Wall Street institutions, because they were so large that they could safely rely on a government bailout in the event of a future crisis, and were therefore able to take bigger risks than rivals. She also cited research suggesting the crash had cost up to $14tn, or $120,000 for each American household.

If there were no Elizabeth Warren, there would be no Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The Massachusetts Senator, recognizing the contribution of the financial sector to the economic catastrophe the country (and world) endured a few years back, also has been a leader in the effort to reform the student loan program.

There is a reason no one has been quoted as saying "The Israeli lobby owns this place." Ditto for organized labor, the insurance industry, the NRA, or reproductive rights supporters or opponents.  It's because no such claim can be legitimately made. But Majority Whip Dick Durbin in 2010 did credibly remark "The banks--hard to believe in a time when we're facing a banking crisis that many of the banks created--are still the most powerful lobby on Capitol Hill. And they frankly own the place."

Elizabeth Warren is mostly, perhaps not completely, right about Israel. But never mind. She is not a member of the Foreign Relations Committee but of the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee and of the Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee.  Fussing about her views about the Middle East, which are fairly standard, would be akin to being obsessed with the views (whatever they are) of Glenn Greenwald on gun control, abortion, or restrictions on genetically- modified ingredients in crops.

However, while the mega-banks have only gotten bigger and more powerful, no congressional Republican, and too few congressional Democrats, have taken them on. One who has is Elizabeth Warren. That is not enough to make her an "icon"- no human being should be- but it ought to make Massachusetts residents proud.

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