Is the Middle East Closer to Peace?

Conflicts in the Middle East rarely seem to find meaningful and lasting resolutions. As a result, the term “peace in the Middle East” has become a cliche more than a real aspiration. Some say that the two Trump-brokered peace deals between Israel and the UAE and Bahrain respectively, being commemorated today at a ceremony in Washington, have brought this goal back down to earth.

…it is a deal between Israel and two Arab countries with which it had no state of war. So why should it be called a peace agreement? Why should we attribute to it the meaning of a peace agreement? The answer is this: the basis of the Arab-Israel conflict is the notion, embraced for many years by almost all Arab countries, that Israel is an illegitimate entity in the Middle East…

Normalcy is good. It is better than the dreamy fantasies conjured by the word “imagine.”

The decision by two wealthy Gulf countries to recognize Israel doesn’t help the shattered nations of the Middle East, such as Lebanon, Syria, Yemen and Libya. And it doesn’t represent Middle East peace, whatever may be said at the White House next week. But for a region that sometimes seems to be in slow-motion collapse, it’s a building block for a better future.

Friday’s development was framed as a peace agreement, but Bahrain and Israel were never at war. In fact, they had already enjoyed unofficial diplomatic, security and trade relations. While Trump may be looking to score points as a peacemaker for his presidential bid, what he is doing is simply providing the military, financial and diplomatic infrastructure to further repress popular struggles for democracy and freedom in the Middle East.

Is the Electoral College a Broken System?

Recent surveys reveal that Trump may have an advantage over Biden in the electoral college despite Biden being projected to win the popular vote. If these predictions come to pass, it wouldn’t be the first time that Trump lost the popular vote but won the election. Is this a good reason to change the system? More at FiveThirtyEight.

The popular vote loser has become president in two of the last five presidential elections. Nor is this problem likely to fix itself. A recent study by three University of Texas researchers found that a Democrat who wins the presidential popular vote by 3 percentage points still has about a one in six chance of losing the Electoral College.

As the minority population continues to grow (assuming the Republican Party remains the party of whiteness), so does the possibility of a growing mismatch between the popular vote and the outcome in the Electoral College.

Our system for electing the President was carefully crafted by the Framers and has worked successfully for over 200 years, protecting and nurturing our Republic… Every American should be concerned that the Electoral College is under siege by an effort that would radicalize the U.S. political system and marginalize the voices of smaller states.

What Did We Learn from Joe Biden’s J-Street Speech?

Last week, Joe Biden delivered an address to a virtual fundraiser hosted by the left-wing Israel lobby J-Street. Here’s what his speech can tell us about what his Israel policies will be like like if he wins in November:

Biden also used his J Street speech to reiterate his belief that the United States must pressure Israel to make concessions that will enable the creation of a Palestinian state… For those who believe it is America’s job to save Israel from itself, regardless of the will of Israeli voters, Biden is the best choice.

Regarding the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, Biden said, “Like everything else he’s inherited in life, Trump squandered what we left him. So we have to pick up the pieces, and it’s going to be hard. I’ve said that if Iran returns to compliance I will reenter the deal with Iran, and I will move to do that. I’ll work with our allies to make it longer and stronger.”

[Biden] acknowledged that the administration’s brokering of a normalization deal between Israel and the United Arab Emirates was a positive development. “I think Trump is going to accidentally do something positive here, in terms of this issue of… other Arab states” acknowledging Israel, Biden said during a virtual fundraiser organized by the liberal, pro-Israel lobby J Street. The Times of Israel received a recording from the private event.

What’s New in Jewish Thought?

Is Judaism just for believers? What’s God’s role in the world? Do we need a central Jewish authority? Here are three fresh takes with great Jewish ideas:

Judaism is bigger than dogma, more fundamental than metaphysics and more soaring than any articulation of faith. In the Jerusalem Talmud, God says to one of the rabbis, “Would that the Jews abandon me but keep my Torah, its light would bring them back.” If God has to choose between our loving Torah or our believing, God prefers that we engage with the Torah. God is not an egotist. Mitzvot and community matter.

It is important to understand that there are two contrasting attitudes of the Talmudic Sages as to how to understand God’s relationship to our world: there were those who taught that God controls whatever happens, that a leaf doesn’t fall from a tree unless God causes it to fall… Other Sages, however, maintained that the world functions in accord with the arbitrary rules of nature irrespective of human comportment…

Centralized rabbinical authority is a necessity to keep our people on the straight and Torah true path. The Chief Rabbinate was created in order to do just that. In every generation, we must try to strengthen rabbinical authority. Unfortunately, my sense is that the opposite has occurred.

Should America Aim for “One Billion” More Americans?

In “One Billion Americans: The Case for Thinking Bigger,” journalist Matthew Yglesias makes a bold case for majorly increasing the US population through mass immigration. More at Business Insider.

America’s birthrate has slipped to a historic low, and nobody in the political mainstream seems to think we can or should do anything about it. But a three-to-one advantage in population is really hard to overcome. Thankfully, tripling the size of the nation is something that is in our power to achieve. It would just require more immigrants and more programs to support people who want to have additional children.

These sentiments are all unobjectionably true and largely useless, since Yglesias has neither the visionary scope nor the technical expertise to make any of this remotely plausible as a sustained argument, a “case for thinking bigger” if you will, or even as a set of discrete proposals. He has no theory of political power or change, no idea how any of this will come to pass.

I don’t expect to see a billion Americans any time soon, in part because global population trends are pointing toward an ultimately shrinking world. But proactively deciding to support more Americans would better prepare the U.S. for the future.

Who Really Knows Paris Hilton?

We’ve known the Hilton Hotel heiress as a socialite, a model, a reality TV star, and a social media celeb. Now, with the release of a new documentary about her life, fans are learning that they may not know Paris Hilton at all. More at AP.

Turns out that all these years, Paris Hilton has been playing Paris Hilton. In her new YouTube Originals documentary, “This Is Paris,” which debuts on September 14, Hilton talks about creating the character of “Paris Hilton,” in part, to deal with a trauma from her teen years. I’ve watched it, and I have to admit that it was both refreshing and odd to see this side of the socialite.

And the documentary shows her coming to terms with the twinned notions of what it means to be a character and a brand, the quandary within knowing that they are one in the same, that they are who she is – and that may not easily square who she wants to be anymore.

… at the heart of the documentary is trauma, stemming from Ms. Hilton’s years spent in boarding schools for troubled teens. The last one she attended was Provo Canyon School, a psychiatric residential treatment center in Utah, where she would spend 11 months.

Today’s Hot Issues

Is the Middle East Closer to Peace? Is the Electoral College a Broken System? What Did We Learn from Joe Biden’s J-Street Speech? What’s New in Jewish Thought? Should America Aim for “One Billion” More Americans? Who Really Knows Paris Hilton?