The Window is Closing

The author argues that the time for a two state solution in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is quickly running out.

 

Bringing an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict seems to be, at times, an insurmountable task. As time goes on, peace does not get easier, it only becomes more and more difficult. If the bloodshed does not come to a halt soon the situation will only deteriorate further. This puzzle has proven itself an extremely tough one to solve, and as time goes on, the solutions put forward seem to head in one direction. It’s no secret that with continued settlement expansion in the West Bank Israel has made it harder and harder to envision a viable, contiguous, Palestinian state coming into existence there. While it would be difficult, is it in fact too late? Is the only reasonable solution to the Israeli Palestinian conflict, as of right now, either a bi-national state or a single state encompassing all of Mandate Palestine?

To put it simply, no it is not too late. However, if nothing is done soon, there may very well come a time when the only solution is in fact a bi-national or single state. As of now, a two state solution would be difficult for both sides for a variety of reasons but it is in no way a lost cause as some make it out to be. To reach this point, however, concessions need to be made by both parties. The first of those being establishment of borders “based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states.”[1] This is the quote from a speech recently made by President Obama that received backlash from Israel to Canada. In reality anyone who has paid any attention to the matter knows that our previous two Presidents have called for the same starting point. It is obvious that the larger settlements in the West Bank, which are already to the west of the wall built by Israel, would be annexed to Israel. This is where the “with swaps” would come into play. But this is much harder than it sounds as well. Israeli politicians on the far right, such as Avigdor Lieberman, see this issue and feel the only just thing to do is to take predominantly Palestinian/Arab areas of Israel and swap them for the Israeli settlement blocs. While this sounds good to some on paper, the reality of the situation is presented here: “In the debate Pappe drew upon the example of the village of Baqah, East and West…Baqah was left largely unscathed, but like some other villages along the border, it was cut in two by the Green Line…Half of the town…came under Israeli rule while the other half…came under Jordanian rule.”

What happened here is pointed out by Pappe as Zionism’s success. It created two separate identities, those of the Palestinian Arabs who live within Israel’s borders and do not want to be forced to live in a Palestinian state, and the Palestinians who continue to fight for a state of their own. [2] While it may be a point of contention for both sides, land swaps and a serious reworking of the “security barrier” are the only rational way to even out the mangled borders of 1967.

In doing this, Israel would have a fairly large task to carry out as well. There are at least eighty thousand settlers that would need to either move from the West Bank, or wake up the day after peace is reached living as a minority in Palestine. [3]  If Israel were to evict those living in the settlements to the East of the wall, it would be facing an extremely tough task. As we saw in 2010, when Israel removed the settlements in Gaza, there was some resistance, not only toward the forces trying to remove the settlers, but to the Palestinians in Gaza as well. However there is a big difference between the two settler populations. Gaza, while believed by some to formerly be a part of Eretz Israel, is not considered to be holy land. However the West Bank, also referred to as Judea and Samaria, is an area that is referenced in Jewish scripture. To some more hard line, religious Israelis, this gives validity to the claim that the territory historically belongs to Israel which lead to illegal settlements being built deeper in the West Bank. The nature of these settlers could pose a serious problem if Israel tries to remove them, or abandons them and allows the area to come under Palestinian control. As of right now, the task of moving the settlers would be extremely difficult, and would need to be handled very delicately. It is hard to say if this could even be accomplished without violence against Palestinians near the settlements and/or violence toward those trying to remove the settlers. But as time goes on and these settlements continue to grow it will only become harder and harder.

Another issue that is certainly a point of contention is the Palestinian right of return. Some sources claim that the Palestinian refugee population is around 4.2 million. [4] Logically, there is no conceivable way to allow 4.2 million non-Jewish residents to return to Israel, while keeping it a Jewish state. There would need to be an agreement made by the two parties that allowed some form of payment to be made to the refugees. Furthermore, there is the issue of the refugees in the countries they were forced to move to, i.e. Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. The most optimistic outcome here is that with the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, and a great deal of negotiation between all parties, the refugees would receive reparations and would be given a choice; live in the newly formed Palestinian state and leave the other three countries or be given citizenship and/or full civil rights in the country they have resided in since being expelled. Obviously this would be a very hard bargain, but it is not an impossible job. In the case of Syria, there is undoubtedly a solution. The return of the Golan Heights by Israel to Syria would make the rectification of the Palestinian refugee problem in Syria and normalization of Syrian-Israeli diplomacy. Secondly, the same could be said for the normalization of Lebanese-Israeli relations.  A peace agreement, recognition of the sovereignty of Israel in the first two cases exclusively, and citizenship or full civil rights for the displaced Palestinian population, and more than a few incentives to sweeten the deals in all three cases could resolve this issue. Furthermore, an agreement between Israel and Jordan would also solve the issue of what is to happen to the Jordan Valley area in the West Bank. With a peace treaty in place there would be no reason for Israel to keep troops, military outposts and settlements in the area as a safety precaution as it has wished to in the past. If Israel and the United States want to right the wrongs they have committed and supported, respectively, over the past sixty years, this would be a small price to pay for solution to this stalemate.

As noted, it would need to be a joint effort by all neighboring countries and the United States to assure that all issues are sorted out. Over time these issues become harder and harder to rectify. The populations in the territory of Mandate Palestine become more and more intertwined and the refugee populations continue to grow and the world creeps closer and closer to the only solution being that of a single state or a bi-national state. But for now, a two state solution is still a legitimate one. As Israeli President Shimon Perez expressed recently, “I’m concerned that Israel will become a bi-national state. What is happening now is total foot-dragging. We’re about to crash into the wall. We’re galloping at full speed toward a situation where Israel will cease to exist as a Jewish state.” [5] Only time will tell if his analysis of the situation is correct, but with each passing day it looks more and more accurate. If something is not done soon, not only could Israel face backlash from the Arab world for its stalling, but as seen in recent years, it may face backlash from the international community as a whole due to the lack of compassion and urgency to finally come to an agreement.

 

Works Cited

1. “Obama’s Mideast Speech.” New York Times. 19 May 2011. Web. 17 June 2011. <http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/20/world/middleeast/20prexy-text.html.

2. Nusseibeh, Sari. What Is a Palestinian State Worth? Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2011. Print.

3. “Palestine Monitor Factsheet – Israeli Settlements.” Palestine Monitor | Exposing Life under Occupation. 15 Mar. 2010. Web. 17 June 2011. <http://www.palestinemonitor.org/spip/spip.php?article7.

4. Abdelrazek, Adnan. “Palestinian Refugees’ Property in West Jerusalem: A Fortune Up for Grabs.” Palestine-Israel Journal of Politics, Economics & Culture 17.1/2 (2011): 88-95. Academic Search Complete. EBSCO. Web. 17 June 2011.

5. Verter, Yossi. “Peres Warns: Israel in Danger of Ceasing to Exist as Jewish State – Haaretz Daily Newspaper | Israel News.” Israel News – Haaretz Israeli News Source. 17 June 2011. Web. 17 June 2011. <http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/news/peres-warns-israel-in-danger-of-ceasing-to-exist-as-jewish-state-1.368132

 

 

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Arab Spring: A Not-so Twitvolution

Clockwise from top left: Protesters gathering in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt; Demonstrators marching through Habib Bourguib Avenue in Tunis, Tunisia; Political dissidents in Sana'a, Yemen, demanding the resignation of the president; Protests in Douma, Syria. (Photo taken from Wikimedia Commons)

Clockwise from top left: Protesters gathering in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt; Demonstrators marching through Habib Bourguib Avenue in Tunis, Tunisia; Political dissidents in Sana'a, Yemen, demanding the resignation of the president; Protests in Douma, Syria. (Picture taken from Wikimedia Commons)

This article explores how the role of social media in democratic civil unrest has been exaggerated in the wake of the Arab Spring.

The revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia were quick, rapidly changing events that occurred during a a period of widespread access to modern technology. Organizers used contemporary communication techniques by leveraging social media through their own personal computers. Protests and demonstrations spread faster through digital means because of the capacity to be organized quicker and become more sporadic. Thousands of Egyptian youth successfully demonstrated in Tahrir Square by harnessing social media tools, using Facebook and Twitter for planting the seeds of revolution. Young Tunisians collaborated with young Egyptians through online forums; Tunisians would tell their fellow Egyptians, “Put vinegar or onion under your scarf for tear gas.”[1] Even though the digital age has fueled protests and mass mobilization as shown by the tech-savvy generation of restless young Egyptians, the idea that technological social media platforms are providing the foundations for revolution is an immense exaggeration of their true proportional significance on the revolutions.

The widespread protests in the Middle East and Northern Africa have been largely conducted by the disenfranchised youth who are frustrated by the lack of job opportunity, rampant corruption, failed promises in economic reform, and limited political freedom, all attributed to the autocratic regimes throughout the regions. Especially in Egypt and Tunisia, autocratic rulers such as Hosni Mubarak and Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali ruled their countries for over 30 years. The revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt were building up behind the scenes, slowly yet steadily, as if they were waiting to burst out. These revolutions were all propelled by ideas not inspired by new social media, but rather guided by it.

The day Mubarak stepped down, former Google executive and a chief symbol in the revolution Wael Ghonim said the following:

I want to meet Mark Zuckerberg one day and thank him […] I’m talking on behalf of Egypt. […] This revolution started online. This revolution started on Facebook. This revolution started […] in June 2010 when hundreds of thousands of Egyptians started collaborating content. We would post a video on Facebook that would be shared by 60,000 people on their walls within a few hours. I’ve always said that if you want to liberate a society just give them the Internet.[2]

Now here is one of the chief leaders of the revolution, a Google executive, giving thanks to Mark Zuckberg for indirectly starting a revolution in Egypt. The fallacy lies in this idea that Facebook itself spurred the revolution. Revolutions are spurred through ideas and deep-rooted social activism, tied to political, economic and social tensions. It lies in the fact that the media assumes the youth are very technologically savvy and rely on the Internet and other technological means to complete everyday tasks, and therefore our main form of communication in the world now instigates revolutions.

Our generation may be known as “the Facebook generation”, the social media generation where we constantly garner and intake data, but the Internet is just a tool. It is just a new form of communicating with the world insofar it is a faster and easier way to spread ideas. The Internet by itself is ineffective. A user can hit the “like” button on Facebook for Darfur or tweet about curing world poverty, but that is only “slacktivism”[3], wherein people are casually participating to seek social change. Facebook and Twitter themselves do not spur ideas. Social media are tools that facilitate them on a message board, a forum that is opened up and allows for the Arab world’s youth to collaborate with each other to create a more pragmatic and just approach to governance. Before the consumer market emergence of the Internet, older communication technologies, such as TV and radio, provided similar roles in assisting regime change. One revolt, led by the charismatic Ayatollah Khomeini,  took advantage of cassette tapes to spread his message in over 9000 mosques in Iran during the 1979 revolution.

The social media phenomenon has the same effect as Guttenberg’s printing press did during the 1400’s in Europe. It’s allowed for less political oppression and a more open public sphere because acts of tyranny cannot be hidden. The social media phenomenon makes it that much easier for everyday people from Spain to Alaska to see images of what is going on in Egypt. What social media does is provide ground for  “shared awareness” in the political sphere in Egypt as the world saw what happened when the Egyptian people became aware in the public sphere is what often happens in the shadows: a young protester being bullied, bloodied, and beaten to death by law enforcement agencies.

Shared awareness greatly influenced the revolutions in Egypt by allowing the violence to enter the public sphere. The Mubarak regime started to restrict text-messaging services, and inevitably “killed” the Internet by not allowing access to social media services such as Facebook during the protests. Shared awareness leads to the dictator’s dilemma: New media increases public access to speech and assembly; the monopoly on speech that regimes such as Egypt and Tunisia once had on the press were slowly dissipating. This allowed for even more dissent to take place and created a situation where shared awareness led to political outrage. This led the authoritarian regime to underestimate not only the power of social media, but it also led to a series of missteps that have let the Mubarak regime slip on its grip on power within Egypt. Even tools of social media, if properly used, can guide and influence the public sphere as seen in Egypt and Tunisia. They can open up and dismantle authoritarian regime, and have a significant effect on social revolutions.

There is no denying that Facebook and Twitter were ways to mobilize the masses of young protesters who sought immediate change from Mubarakism, but revolutions existed before people had to tweet their thoughts, and will exist after the Arab uprisings. Social media helped a thousand flowers blooms, but is not the seed itself that needs to grow. What revolutions need is organization, funding, and mass appeal.[4] The Egypt and Tunisia uprisings certainly did have these conditions, with the help of social media, but they are only platforms for ideas, the core roots of deep seated activism and causes that need to be stirred as it was done in Egypt and Tunisia. The world is not witnessing a Twitvolution, but rather a revolution that is conducted through new modes of communication that have assisted in the birth pangs of an Arab Spring.

Works Cited

[1]  Sanger David. “Egyptians Tunisians Collaborated to Shake Arab history”. 13 February 2011.  New York Times. <http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/14/world/middleeast/14egypt-tunisia-protests.html?ref=davidesanger>

[2] Smith Catharine. “Egypt’s Wael Ghonim thanks the Social Network”.  11 February 2011. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/02/11/egypt-facebook-revolution-wael-ghonim_n_822078.html>

[3] Shirky Clay. “The Political Power of Social Media”. February 2011. <http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/67038/clay-shirky/the-political-power-of-social-media?page=show>

[4] Noonan Sean. “Social media as a tool of protest”. 3 February 2011. <http://www.cfr.org/democracy-and-human-rights/stratfor-social-media-tool-protest/p23994>

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Socialism for the Few, Free Market Cannibalism for the Many

This article discusses the excesses of free market capitalism in the United States.

 

The rule of law, and the so heralded “invisible hand” of the market seems to apply to everyone in America. That is unless one owns a large corporation, manages a hedge fund, or finds oneself sitting at the top of the food chain wealth wise. Then reality looks something like this:

A company is in trouble because the CEO made bad business decisions? It’s too big to fail and is given billions of taxpayer dollars to avoid bankruptcy. The CEO doesn’t feel like paying taxes this year on the billions made? Hire a team of tax lawyers to find every loophole possible to avoid paying, and still get a return from the government. They don’t feel like hiring the corporate lawyers? Avoid American taxes all together by stashing the money away in another country. Cost of manufacturing any product too high in America due to workers’ rights? Close up shop and head to China where workers are paid a fraction of the American minimum wage and have no rights. They don’t feel like doing any of this? Get a business degree, invest every penny, and pay only a 15% Capital Gains Tax on the return, even though the return would likely be more than a middle class family would make in a year.

This is the reality in modern day America. The interests of the few far outweigh the needs of the many on a despicable scale. There are crumbling bridges and roads, water pipes that haven’t been touched since they were first laid a hundred years ago, and a railroad system that has fallen into disrepair and has been rendered obsolete by other developed nations. Despite this, in the later part of last decade the American government bailed out large banks who made poor business decisions with taxpayer dollars because they were “too big to fail.”

What exactly allowed them to become too big to fail in the first place? The repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act and the implementation of Gramm-Leach Bililey unquestionably played a tremendous role in this. The intermarrying of investment banks, commercial banks and large insurance companies concentrated financial power in the hands of a few, large entities who simply became “too big to fail.”

While this is somewhat understandable, how can it be that the money was handed to these institutions with no demands attached? The least that could have been done was to demand that banks would need to make loans to small businesses more accessible. The money, as pointed out by Senator Bernie Sanders in his historic filibuster on the floor of the Senate on December 10th 2011, should have been given out by the Fed as a way that actually stimulates the economy. “Start providing affordable loans to small businesses [1].” This however, must be un-American or too socialist, so it was not seriously considered. The institutions receiving the bailout could simply spend as they pleased, and as seen in the example of A.I.G, planned on paying out huge bonuses to their employees [2]. Corporate welfare, as seen with the bailouts, is fine and apparently different from social welfare, which is simply labeled “socialism” or a “handout” for people who are “lazy.”

Yes, in a country with both the highest per capita spending on health care and some of the poorest health statistics in the industrialized world, a public option is looked at as a threat to the very fabric of America [3]. Some view Social Security as a drain on the country and would be happier if it were done away with completely. For example, in the budget compromise that is taking place right now, the cuts include “$5.5 billion from labor, education and health and human services budgets, $3 billion from agriculture programs, $1.7 billion from energy and water programs, $784 million from homeland security and $2.62 billion from interior and environmental programs [4].”

Included in this, what seems like the only effort to improve the infrastructure, the High Speed Rail development project that Barak Obama pushed for, has been all but annihilated. Programs that would create jobs such as the Rail development project, as well as others that could improve bridges, tunnels, water services and the like have been decimated while the Bush Era Tax cuts have been extended until 2012.

As Senator Sanders explained in his filibuster speech, the tax cuts looks like they will be extended again when that date rolls around due to it being in the middle of a Presidential election. But don’t worry; Americans will be kept safe from terrorism for another year due to the $5 billion dollar increase the Pentagon will get from the budget deal. What is most absurd is that many Americans see nothing wrong with this situation. Many view progressive taxation as a punishment rather than a duty to ones country. Indoctrinated with the failure of Socialism, educated on the wonders of free market Capitalism and fueled by the American dream from a young age, this system is all Americans know. Perhaps an unsourced quote, often attributed to John Steinbeck, puts it best: Socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat, but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires.”

In any event, the hypocrisy and blatant disregard for the welfare of the average American shown by representatives across the country is startling, deplorable, and shines light on just how out of touch they’ve become. Instead of doing what would be best for the country, they hold on to theories that have been shown so false that they’ve taken on the name once used to criticize them. They threaten to shut down government over funding to abortion clinics and NPR, neither of which would make a dent in the spending of our country, but simply because they disagree with the ideology of the programs. Politics is an understandably dirty game, but the Nation has hit a new low at the start of this century, and the ones who will suffer most are middle class/working class Americans.

 

Works Cited

 

[1] Sanders, Bernard. The Speech: a Historic Filibuster on Corporate Greed and the Decline of Our Middle Class. New York: Nation, 2011. 34. Print.

[2] Andrews, Edmund L., and Peter Banker. “A.I.G. Planning Huge Bonuses After $170 Billion Bailout.” The New York Times. 14 Mar. 2009. Web. 14 Apr. 2011. <http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/15/business/15AIG.html>.

[3] Ryan, Dan, and Thomas O’Rourke. “Opportunities Lost: The Opportunity Costs of U.S. Healthcare.” American Journal of Health Studies 23.1 (2008): 47-53. Academic Search Complete. EBSCO. Web. 14 Apr. 2011.

[4] Lightman, David, Margaret Talev, and William Douglas. “House Approves Full Budget Compromise, but Some Grumble | McClatchy.” McClatchy | Homepage. 14 Apr. 2011. Web. 14 Apr. 2011. <http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2011/04/14/112184/house-approves-full-budget-compromise.html>.


 

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The Big One


This article explores how Japan’s cultural memory will determine the nation’s recovery from the 2011 Tōhoku disaster.

“The Big One” is a term used by those involved in emergency management to describe an inevitable cataclysmic event. A constant denial at a political level hampers efforts to protect lives and infrastructure against the worst imminent catastrophes. These events shape the national consciousness, but are often downplayed before one can truly learn its lessons. The USA’s most recent “Big One” was Hurricane Katrina, which was the costliest natural disaster and among the most deadliest in the history of the United States. At least 1,836 people died in the hurricane and subsequent floods and the total property damage was estimated at $81 billion.

This time, it was Japan that experienced the Big One. The 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami was a 9.0 magnitude earthquake off the Japanese coast followed by a 10 meter (33 ft) tsunami, traveling up to 10 km (6 mi) inland [1]. According to the Japanese National Police Agency, 7,653 have been confirmed dead, 2,583 injured, and 11,746 are still missing [2]. Over 100,000 buildings were damaged or destroyed [3]. The earthquake and tsunami caused extensive damage to infrastructure, such as roads, railways, dams, electric grids, water systems, and nuclear plants. Estimates of the Tōhoku earthquake’s magnitude make it the most powerful known earthquake to hit Japan, and among the five most powerful earthquakes in the world overall since modern record-keeping began in 1900 [4].

Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan said that “in the 65 years after the end of World War II, this is the toughest and the most difficult crisis for Japan.” [5] In his statement, the Prime Minister acknowledges something unique about the Japanese: they are the world’s only post-apocalyptic society. Japan is the only nation to have felt the destruction of the atomic bomb. The nuclear holocaust that rained on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki is seared into the cultural memory just as the shadows burned into the buildings remain. There is no other nation more adept at surviving the worst than one that has seen the worst twice before.

In the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami, there have been extraordinary accounts of resilience, civility, lack of looting, and ability of the Japanese to help each other. This kind of moral courage is simply not found elsewhere. This attitude has been referred to as the Japanese trait of “gaman”, loosely meaning “patience and perseverance.” [6] A reporter for the Canadian Globe and Mail wrote, “As one catastrophe piled on top of another, a very Japanese deference to authority emerged, as well as a national desire to see civility prevail, no matter the circumstances.” [7]

Gaman defines the nation’s ethos. It means to do one’s best in distressed times and to maintain self-control and discipline. It is often taught at at a young age and largely used by older Japanese generations. Showing gaman is seen as a sign of maturity and strength. Before being attributed to those affected by the 2011 Tōhoku disaster, gaman has been attributed to the Japanese-American Issei prisoners while in United States’ internment camps during World War II [8]. Enduring exclusion from society, hardships and humiliation, Japanese-American prisoners used gaman to endure through adversity. Their introverted behavior was often misunderstood by non-Japanese as a lack of initiative.

Gaman is an old Zen Buddhism concept and it is notable that such a way of life has survived in a modern society. This dynamic between traditional values and modern technology is witnessed by the world as 50-70 workers have chosen to remain at the damaged and radiation-emitting Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant despite the severe danger [9]. Their heroism and that of ordinary citizens illustrate a testament to the true strength of a nation. It is the unity of their society in the face of destruction, not the nation’s hegemony. Japan will survive; Japan will recover.

Perhaps America should take this stoicism to heart and recognize that gaman can be a critical component for any recovery from catastrophe. When the United States is once again struck by the Big One, it will be the citizens who will be the first responders. After all, as the playwright Henrik Ibsen once said, “A community is like a ship; everyone ought to be prepared to take the helm.”

Works Cited

Branigan, Tania (13 March 2011). “Tsunami, earthquake, nuclear crisis – now Japan faces power cuts”. The Guardian.

Cubbison, Gene (15 March 2011). “Japan’s Resilience: Recipe for Recovery”. NBC.

Lloyd, Mike (16 March 2011). “Japanese remain calm while dealing with quake aftermath”. National Post.

MacKinnon, Mark (15 March 2011). “National stoicism helps Japan manage disaster recovery”. The Globe and Mail.

Roland Buerk (11 March 2011). “Japan earthquake: Tsunami hits north-east”. BBC News.

Saira Syed (16 March 2011). “Japan quake: Infrastructure damage will delay recovery”. BBC News.

[9] “A nuclear meltdown in Japan? Not if these brave workers can help it.”. Christian Science Monitor. 15 March 2011.

[8] “Art by Japanese-American Detainees During World War Two Shows Their Struggle and Humanity”. VOA News. 18 May 2010.

[6] “Crushed, but true to law of ‘gaman'”. The Australian. 16 March 2011.

[1,2,3] “Damage Situation and Police Countermeasures associated with 2011Tohoku district – off the Pacific Ocean Earthquake”. Japanese National Police Agency. 19 March 2011.

[5] “Japanese PM: ‘Toughest’ crisis since World War II”. CNN International. 13 March 2011.

[4] “New USGS number puts Japan quake at 4th largest”. CBS News. 14 March 2011.

[7] “The Art of Gaman: Enduring the Seemingly Unbearable with Patience and Dignity”. Japanese National American Museum.

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Democratic Double Standards: The Election of Hamas and the Aftermath

The author argues that the United States and Israel are both showing double standards by rejecting the democratic elections in the Palestinian territories that elected Hamas.

In January of 2006, Palestinians took to the voting booths and made their displeasure with Fatah, the former majority party in the Palestinian Authority, known. It was not a mandate from the heavens, but due to the electoral system set up in the Palestinian Territories with around 46% of the popular vote, Hamas won over half of the seats in parliament [1, 2]. This wasn’t due to vote rigging, nor was it due to threats from radical Islamic militants at the polls. A wide array of international organizations determined that the elections had been free and fair. It was due in large part to the ineptitude of Fatah. Many in the West Bank and Gaza had grown tired of the corruption within the party, as well as what was seen as their cooperation with occupation and being in bed with Israel. It wasn’t just Fatah’s faults that led to the defeat though. Hamas, while seen as less corrupt than Fatah, was also more focused on social needs of poorer Palestinians. Their more hands on approach to providing basic social needs to the largely impoverished population resonated well within many communities.

After its victory, Hamas published and stated its political goals very clearly. A far cry from the original Hamas Charter, they called for an end to corruption within the Palestinian government and more transparency, an end to Israeli occupation, negotiations with Israel for an independent Palestinian state to be established in the West Bank and Gaza and the right of return for the 1948 refugees and their descendants. [3.4]. On top of this, they let their hopes for a lasting cease fire with Israel be known countless times. They hoped such a truce could lead to talks on a two state settlement. However this clearly was not enough for Israel and the United States. Almost immediately funds (read: taxes collected for the PA by Israel) were illegally withheld from the PA and sanctions were put in place until Hamas recognized Israel and renounced violence outright. Of course no similar demands were made in relation to Israel, but to anyone who knows even the slightest about this situation; this should not come as a surprise. There was never a clear cut Israel to recognize. No borders for the state have ever been set, so what would Hamas be recognizing? Would it be recognizing Israel up to the ’48 borders set by the U.N.? The ’67 borders which are the general consensus for a two state solution? The ’67 borders plus the ever expanding settlements in the West Bank? This was never clarified and there are still calls, to this day, for Hamas to recognize the state of Israel.

What the sanctioning of the newly, and fairly, elected government in the territories entailed was as follows. Palestinian tax revenues in the hundreds of millions were withheld from the PA and the sanctions caused over 80% of the population in Gaza to rely on humanitarian aid for day to day food. At one point, Israel even cut off the flow of water to Gaza [5]. When there was still no acquiescence from the newly formed Palestinian government, and a national unity government was formed with the help of the Saudi’s, the United States and Israel allowed funds and arms to trickle through to Fatah, in hopes that they could remove Hamas from power with confrontation, or as some would call it, a civil war. This caused violence in Gaza to erupt. Scores of civilians were killed in the fighting, however Hamas was able to hold power in Gaza. The short lived unity government was disbanded and the head of the PA Mahmoud Abbas refused to enter into talks with Hamas at all.

So rather than work with the government that was freely elected in the Palestinian Territories, because the people voted the wrong way, the response was to collectively punish the entire population of Gaza from the results of the elections up until this very day. In the five years of this illegal punishment we have seen the massacre carried out by Israel in December 2008 (after it was Israel who broke the original cease fire to begin with), as well as the flotilla raid that resulted in the deaths of a nine activists from across the world who were simply trying to get aid to the starving people of Gaza [6]. The message that has been sent by the United States and Israel is quite clear; you can have free and fair elections, just make sure you elect people who have the same interests as us, or we’ll starve you until you get it right.

Hamas has not folded in the five years, but they are maneuvering politically to get out of their isolation. Having no other option, Hamas has embraced the use of the “Tunnel Trade.” While the tunnels by no means solve every issue plaguing Gazans, it does help keep them from living in complete misery. However it is impossible to smuggle a power plant or a school through a tunnel, and these are the most vital needs of the people of Gaza. This is just one of the interesting ways Hamas has learned to govern under the pressure of the Israeli blockade [7].

The severe mishandling of this situation has led to a great deal of civilian casualties both at the hands of the Israeli military and due to the growing humanitarian crisis in Gaza. The sooner the United States and the rest of the world realize that Hamas is no longer the terrorist organization that simply wants to push Israel into the sea, and that to reach a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict Hamas must be included in the talks, the sooner the conflict will end and a Palestinian state will emerge.

Works Cited

[2]Carter, Jimmy. “P 182.” Palestine Peace Not Apartheid. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2006. Print.

[5]Chomsky, Noam. “Guillotining Gaza.” Chomsky.info : The Noam Chomsky Website. 30 July 2007. Web. 15 Mar. 2011. <http://www.chomsky.info/articles/20070730.htm>.

[4]”Ei: Hamas’ Political Program.” Ei: The Electronic Intifada. Al Ayyam Newspaper, 17 Mar. 2006. Web. 15 Mar. 2011.<http://electronicintifada.net/bytopic/historicaldocuments/428.shtml>.

[6]Finkelstein, Norman G. “This Time We Went Too Far”: Truth and Consequences of the Gaza Invasion. New York: OR, 2010. Print.

[1]Makdisi, Saree. “Coda, 3 P. 271.” Palestine inside Out: an Everyday Occupation. New York: W.W. Norton, 2008. Print.

[3]Makdisi, Saree. “P 273.” Palestine inside Out: an Everyday Occupation. New York: W.W. Norton, 2008. Print.

[7]Cambanis, Thanassis. “Letter From Gaza: Hamas the Opportunist | Foreign Affairs.” Home | Foreign Affairs. 18 June 2010. Web. 15 Mar. 2011. <http://www.foreignaffairs.com/features/letters-from/letter-from-gaza-hamas-the-opportunist>.

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How the U.S. can Use the Arab Uprisings to its Advantage

The author of this post discusses how the ongoing protests in the Middle East and North Africa provides an opportunity for the U.S. to conduct strategic foreign policy moves in the respective regions.

The entire world anxiously watched as Tunisian and Egyptian presidents, Ben Ali and Hosni Mubarak, were ousted from power by rebellions that were sparked by a combination of high food prices, unemployment, and corrupt governments.  Their demise was a shame as both leaders were staunch American kinsmen, and had a history of promoting cooperation with the U.S. on the global war on terror.  Due to the success of the rebellions in Tunisia and Egypt, violent uprisings have ignited throughout the rest of North Africa and into parts of the Middle East.  It is important that the U.S. stay frosty as many of the countries that have been pulled into this mess are its strategic allies.  Necessity calls for the Obama administration to do its very best to influence the outcomes of at least some of the uprisings that are plaguing allies, and crushing enemies.

A Red, White, and Blue North Africa

Of first and foremost importance is how President Barack Obama handles Egypt. The chances of Egypt transitioning into a constitutional democracy are about as high as Haiti repaying its loans to the IMF and World Bank.  Egyptian people could care less about having a democratic government; the real reason they revolted was because of frustration over economic disparity and skyrocketing food prices.  Currently, the military under Field Marshal Mohamed Tantawi, is in the awkward position of governing Egypt.  It is highly unlikely that Tantawi will give up his position of power all in the name of free and fair elections.  Given that the military currently constitutes the Egyptian government, it means that the military is the sole recipient of all government revenue.  Tantawi would be foolish to give that all up.  The military is also highly integrated into the Egyptian economy; according to leaked online 2008 U.S. embassy cables appearing in the Guardian newspaper, “Contacts told us that military-owned companies, often run by retired generals, are particularly active in the water, olive oil, cement, construction, hotel and gasoline industries.”

Given Egypt’s apparent future of military rule, the Obama administration should start positioning itself as a silent supporter of Tantawi (or whomever he decides to install next).  The bloodshed from an impending Egyptian civil war is on the horizon as civilians and soldiers disagree about the meaning of innate human rights and civil liberties, as well as, how to handle the obscene rise in food prices.  What this means is that the U.S. needs to refrain from criticizing, much less, commenting, on how Tantawi and his military decide to govern Egypt.  The understanding would be that in exchange for Obama’s silence, Tantawi would show his gratitude by cooperating on a host of issues that are important to the U.S..  In a nutshell, the U.S. could use Egypt’s historic leadership role in the Middle East and North Africa for wrangling other Arab nations for cooperation on the war on terror.  More importantly, President Obama may even convince Tantawi (or whoever his military installed successor is) to allow for the American construction of large-scale naval, army, and/or air-force base in the country.  After all, the U.S.’s military presence in the African continent is rather weak and is more than due for a rebuffing.  This would also allow the U.S. to keep a close watch on how diligent Egypt is in sustaining the peace treaty it has with Israel.

The other North African country the U.S. has been, and should continue to focus on, is Libya.  President Obama should be applauded for his sound tactical move of announcing sanctions against Libya’s parasite of a dictator, Muammar Gaddafi.  Similar to the situation in Egypt, the people of Libya are frustrated with their poverty and have translated their anger into a full blown civil war.  It is clear that the outcome of this civil war will lead to the demise of Gaddafi; this is a clear benefit for U.S. foreign policy in North Africa.  However, Obama needs to act decisively in determining what steps the America needs to take to turn Libya into a puppet state.  It is no secret that American oil conglomerates have vast commercial interests in Libyan oil reserves, and could use some help to expand their holdings without facing the prospects of barbarism from rebels.  Also with the combined pocketing of Libya and Egypt, the U.S. can finally establish a cohesive relationship with all of North Africa, perhaps even establishing a U.S.-North African free trade agreement.

The Middle East Does Not Need Democracy

The one country in the Middle East that is facing civil strife, and that the U.S. needs to empathize with, is Bahrain.  Bahrain is a small island country off the coast of Saudi Arabia, ruled by the Al-Khalifa family since the late 1700s.  The issue that is plaguing Bahrain is the animosity between the population dominant Shia Muslims, and the Sunni elite.  Basically, the Shia population constitutes the poverty stricken day laborers, and the minority Sunni population holds all the wealth; the Al-Khalifa family is also Sunni.  Naturally, the Shia population wants both economic and social reforms.  This most likely will not happen until Bahrain becomes a democracy whereby the Shia people actually have a political voice.

President Obama cannot allow the Shia majority to depose the Al-Khalifa family.  The Al-Khalifa family is nothing short of a close American friend, making Bahrain a strategic ally.  Bahrain houses the United States Naval Forces Central Command, which is responsible for carrying out all naval operations in Middle Eastern waters.  The naval base is so important to America that it supports operations related to the war in Afghanistan as well as U.S. and British operations in Iraq.  Needless to say, it is imperative that this base stay clear of problems related to civil war in Bahrain.  Recently, King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa issued a shoot-to-kill command to his security forces on pro-democracy protestors, and the king’s army would be more than happy to fire away.  Problems will certainly become worse and the king will have to take more callous steps to stay in power.  What President Obama can offer to this close friend of America is his own, and his cabinet’s, silence.  American silence with regard to Bahrain’s problems will send a message to Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Yemen, that the United States of America does not forget its friends.

Works Cited

Audi, Nadim. “Security Forces in Bahrain Open Fire on Protestors.” New York Times. New York Times, 18 Feb. 2011. Web. 28 Feb. 2011. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/19/world/middleeast/19bahrain.html?_r=2

“Obama Announces Libya Sanctions.” The Press Association. 25 Feb. 2011. Web. 28 Feb. 2011. http://www.google.com/hostednews/ukpress/article/ALeqM5gJdHadyF2yI8f__w_DQyVgdgaMKQ?docId=N0172481298685461680A

“US Embassy Cables: Egyptian Military’s Influence in Decline, US Told | World News | Guardian.co.uk.” Latest News, Comment and Reviews from the Guardian | Guardian.co.uk. Web. 28 Feb. 2011. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/us-embassy-cables-documents/171176

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The Chimerican Threat

The Chimera on a red-figure Apulian plate, ca 350-340 BCE (Musée du Louvre)

The author explores the unsustainable economic relationship between China and the US.

The People’s Republic of China and the United States have experienced sharp disagreements in economic policies for some time, straining Sino-American relations. Among all, it is the pertinaciously undervalued Renminbi(i) that has drawn much criticism from the developed world. Due to this condition, it is generally believed that China’s economic policy is the main cause of global imbalances in current account positions and that its policy poses a great threat to global economic stability.

In response to the Great Crisis of 2008(ii), a “global saving glut”(iii) theory, postulated by Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke in 2005, emerged as the prominent narrative to explain the major causes of the crisis. The theory maintains that excessively high savings by some countries pushed their savings towards current account surpluses and away from investments. The United States, being the most salient country on the receiving end of the surplus, ran a huge current account deficit while China claimed the largest current account surplus [1]. An effect of this imbalance was the astounding accumulation of dollar reserves held by the Chinese government. The Chinese government in turn redirected most of the reserves into US government securities and agency debts and thereby indirectly flushed the US capital markets with money, depressing interest rates across asset markets. Financial institutions in the US, along with US consumers, gorged themselves on this “easy money.” Wall Street firms channeled these funds into the creation of the subprime mortgage crisis and the formation of a real estate bubble that almost brought down the global financial market.

In Martin Wolf’s book, Fixing Global Finance, he reiterates Bernanke’s supposition by pointing out that China’s “inordinately mercantilist currency policies” have caused an imbalance in current account positions that have invariably led to the biggest financial crisis in modern history. He criticizes China’s export-oriented growth, which depends on the competitiveness of Chinese exports. This competitiveness is maintained by an undervalued Renminbi [2]. Paul Krugman, in recent articles for the New York Times, echoes Wolf’s criticism of China’s distortionary exchange rate policy [3,4]. He even calls for the US Treasury to exert serious pressure on the Chinese government to stop what he claims to be “currency manipulation.” China’s deleterious economic policy is costing the global economy a stable recovery.

There are always two sides to every story. Martin Wolf’s judgment on global imbalance implicitly assumes that it is to China’s benefit to undervalue the Renminbi and sustain an enormous current account surplus. Why else would Beijing pursue such an extreme policy, unless to further its economic interest? Yet data released by the US Treasury show that China’s ballooning foreign reserve portfolio turns out to be a mixed blessing for China. Chinese investments in various forms of US government and quasi-government debt have been suffering from declining returns; the decline has been particularly drastic in recent years. In 1985, a 5-year US Treasury bond yielded a 12% return; in 2008, a bond with same maturity returned a mere 2% [5]. Other US government debts have shown similar levels of falling returns. Since US debt constituted a disproportionately large component of the Chinese foreign reserve portfolio, the losses suffered by Chinese investors in their US debt positions are substantial. In addition to the poor return that US government debts have been yielding, the likely depreciation of the dollar against the Renminbi and the possibility that the US government might effectively expropriate dollar-denominated assets by simply monetizing its debt will only accelerate Chinese investors’ losses.

Just how much has China lost from its Treasury holdings along with its active maintenance of the Renminbi value? A crude calculation based on yields of US Treasury Bonds and the US-China trade balance suggests that this loss may well have exceeded the dollar gain versus the trade surplus (worst case scenario) or wipe out much of the gain that China has earned through its export-oriented growth (best case scenario). This economic exercise does not take into account the employment gains and associated multiplier-driven employment gains, but it is sufficient to say that the economic benefit from the undervalued Renminbi is rather less than most economists from the Global Saving Glut school of thought believe. It should also be noted that Chinese citizens have foregone consumption, adding to the cost to maintain the exchange rate regime needed to fulfill China’s export-led growth.

The idiosyncratic cost/benefit condition of Beijing’s approach to economic growth has fulfilled Niall Ferguson’s prophecy of the Chimerica(iv), a dangerous state of economic symbiosis [6]. Saving by the Chinese and overspending by Americans has led to an incredible period of wealth creation that contributed to the global financial crisis of 2008. China accumulated large currency reserves and channeled them into US government securities for years, keeping nominal and real long-term interest rates artificially low in the United States.

The economic interest of the United States and China are now tightly entwined. There has been a calling for the decoupling of the Chimerica economic regime. After all, the symptoms exhibited by the Chimerica economic system are shared by economies across the globe. Many of the developed countries are running current account deficits while developing countries, such as those in East Asia as well as other major commodity exporting countries, are running surpluses. These two general groups share a similar relationship as China and the United States. As in the resolutions of previous crises, major players in the international financial market need to take leadership roles and determine a way out of the bondage of global imbalance. This is a formidable task. Faced with slow economic recovery, huge fiscal deficit, and many lurking recessionary pressures, the United States is in a poor position to act as the world’s stabilizer. Still, some changes within the US economic structure are warranted. Financial reform in the United States is a good start. Economic redistribution might also be necessary as the prolonged stagnant real wages lead American consumers to binge on debt-financed consumption.

This leaves the other half of the Chimerica to shoulder the burden to create a new order in the global economy. China needs to work through a major change in its institutional framework. Perhaps it should start by answering the call by many economists to reorient its growth from exporting to building domestic demand. This stands true for both Chinese consumers and businesses. Beijing has the power and the incentive to correct the current destabilizing imbalance. Hopefully, with international cooperation, China can lead the formation of a new peaceful and prosperous global economy.

Notes

i. The Renminbi is the official currency of the People’s Republic of China (PRC); the principal unit is the Yuan (¥).

ii. The Great Crisis of 2008 was a financial crisis triggered by a liquidity shortfall in the United States banking system caused by the overvaluation of assets. It has resulted in the collapse of large financial institutions, the bailout of banks by national governments and downturns in stock markets around the world. In many areas, the housing market has also suffered, resulting in numerous evictions, foreclosures and prolonged vacancies. It is considered by many economists to be the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s. It contributed to the failure of key businesses, declines in consumer wealth estimated in the trillions of U.S. dollars, substantial financial commitments incurred by governments, and a significant decline in economic activity.

iii. Global saving glut (or global savings glut) is a term coined by Ben Bernanke in 2005. The term describes a situation in which there are too many savings worldwide with respect to investment opportunities. On a national level a saving glut creates the tendency for savings to finance current account surpluses instead of investments. This can be observed, according to Bernanke (2005), in both developing and industrial countries. The most important receiving country of these export surpluses financed by excess savings, is the United States, which runs a current account deficit.

iv. Chimerica is a neologism coined by Niall Ferguson and Moritz Schularick describing the symbiotic relationship between China and the United States, with incidental reference to the legendary chimera.

Works Cited

[1] Bernanke, Ben. “The Global Savings Glut and the U.S. Current Account Deficit.” The Sandridge Lecture, Virginia Association of Economics. Richmond, Virginia. March 10, 2005.
[6] Ferguson, Niall. The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World. New York, New York. The Penguin Press, 2008.
[5] Historical Yields on U.S. Treasury Bond from 1985 to 2008. St. Louis Fed: Economic Data – FRED. http://research.stlouisfed.org/fred2/data/GS30.txt
[3] Krugman, Paul. “Chinese New Year.” New York Times. 1 Jan. 2010: A29
[4] Krugman, Paul. “Taking on China.” New York Times. 14 Mar. 2010: A23
[2] Wolf, Martin. Fixing Global Finance. Baltimore, Maryland. Johns Hopkins University Press, 2009.

Original Appearances of Visuals and/or Media

The Chimera on a red-figure Apulian plate, ca 350-340 BCE (Musée du Louvre)

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False Consciousness: The Middle Class Illusion

This author entertains Karl Marx’s interpretation of what can be defined as a class of society and explores how the contemporary American middle class may not exist as a political, socio-economic class.

The American middle class is an ambiguously defined social class. The ambiguity stems from the discrepancy in popular opinion and vernacular language use. According to contemporary sociologists, the middle class may constitute anywhere from 25% to 66% of households [1]. Due to this broad categorization, the middle class is sometimes sub-divided into the upper- and lower-middle class. Dante Chinni, senior associate with the Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism, sarcastically wrote: “Everyone wants to believe they are middle class…But this eagerness…has led the definition to be stretched like a bungee cord — used to defend/attack/describe everything…The Drum Major Institute…places the range for middle class at individuals making between $25,000 and $100,000 a year. Ah yes, there’s a group of people bound to run into each other while house-hunting.” [2]

With the middle class squeeze of the current economic conditions, the middle class is becoming increasingly irrelevant as a social class that is economically comfortable and able to weather economic storms. The middle classes are very influential, as they encompass the majority of voters, writers, teachers, journalists, editors, and other roles within the political sphere. Due to this, most societal trends in the US originate within the middle classes. However, the importance of the middle class is mirrored by the destructiveness of its maiming. Some modern theories of political economy consider a large middle class to be beneficial as a stabilizing influence on society because it has neither the possibly explosive revolutionary tendencies of the lower class nor the absolutist tendencies of an entrenched upper class.

As the middle class withers, flakes fall from chipping away at the gilded nationalism known to the 20th century. Will class conflict return in the 21st century? It warrants at least some discussion.

Class conflict refers to the concept of underlying antagonisms which exist in society due to conflicting interests that arise from different social positions [3]. Class conflict can be expressed in both subtle and overt ways.

Political scientists Karl Marx and Max Weber both contributed to the study of class conflict. Marx, in The Communist Manifesto, describes his ideas about class conflict and gives his own interpretation of what can be defined as a class properly so-called. He states that a class is formed when its members achieve class consciousness and solidarity [4]. This largely happens when the members of a class become aware of their exploitation and the conflict with another class. A class will then realize their shared interests and a common identity. According to Marx, a class will then take action against those that are exploiting the lower classes.

Max Weber agrees with the fundamental ideas of Marx about the economy causing class conflict, but Weber disagrees with Marx about the formation of classes [5]. While Marx believes that groups are similar due to their economic status, Weber argues that classes are largely formed by social status. Weber does not believe that communities are formed by economic standing, but by similar social prestige. However, social prestige may no longer provide the social cohesion it once did as many unemployed middle class Americans are now willing to take up work they had considered beneath them. Given that the stratification system is being subverted, Weber’s theory of class formation is inadequate. Unfortunately, applying Marx’s theory of class formation to the modern American middle class yields pessimism.

As previously stated, Marx says that class formation has two requirements: (1) class consciousness and (2) solidarity. Class consciousness is the self-awareness of one’s social class or economic rank in a society. It refers to the self-awareness, or lack therof, of a class in its capacity to act towards its own rational interests and in its implicit historical tasks.

Members of lower classes tend to have a greater class consciousness than do members of the upper class. This is generally true except in societies where class hierarchy is a strict and deeply held tradition.

Class solidarity is stronger at each end of the income spectrum. The lower classes and the upper classes have great solidarity within their classes because one group has something to gain and the other has something to lose. The middle class becomes complacent due to the cognitive bias of system justification. System justification theory (SJT) is a scientific theory within social psychology and political psychology that proposes people have a motivation to defend and bolster the status quo; this is to see it as good, legitimate, and desirable. According to SJT, people not only want to hold favorable attitudes about themselves and their own groups, but they also want to hold favorable attitudes about the overarching social order. A consequence of this tendency is that existing social, economic, and political arrangements tend to be preferred, and alternatives to the status quo are discredited.

In Marx’s view, consciousness was always political because it was always the outcome of politic-economic circumstances. What one thinks of life, power, and self is considered to be a product of ideological forces. For Marx, ideologies appear to explain and justify the current distribution of wealth and power in a society. Ideologies are an expression of SJT. In societies with unequal allocations of wealth and power, Marx claims that ideologies present these inequalities as acceptable, virtuous, inevitable, and so forth. Ideologies thus tend to lead people to accept the status quo. Marx calls this “false consciousness”; conditions of inequality create ideologies that confuse people about their true aspirations, loyalties, and purposes. Thus, Marx claims that the working class is gripped by nationalism, organized religion, and other distractions. These ideological devices, cultural artifacts subject to ideological pressure, keep people from realizing that it is they who produce wealth, who deserve the fruits of the land, and who can prosper.

For Marx, consciousness is a reflection of the political economy. A person’s thoughts tend to be shaped by his or her political and economic circumstances. He famously wrote, “It is not the consciousness of men that determines their being, but, on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness.”

With the steady disintegration of an ambiguously defined middle class, the absence of class consciousness, and the lack of any meaningful sense of solidarity, in what sense can the American middle class be said to exist?

Works Cited

[1] [2] Dante Chinni (2005-05-10). “One more social security quibble: Who is Middle Class?”. Christian Science Monitor. http://www.csmonitor.com/2005/0510/p09s01-codc.html

[5] Sullivan, Robert. entry for Karl Marx. The Victorian Web. Aug 27, 2007. retrieved Aug 06, 2010. http://www.victorianweb.org/philosophy/phil2.html

[4] The Philosophy of Karl Marx, The Radical Academy. May 14, 2009 . retrieved Aug 06, 2010. http://www.radicalacademy.com/philmarx.htm

[3] Marxists.org glossary. March 7, 2010. retrieved Aug 06, 2010.
http://www.marxists.org/glossary/terms/c/o.htm

Karl Marx, The German ideology, Part 1
http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1845/german-ideology/ch01a.htm

Karl Marx, The Communist Manifesto, ch.2.
http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1848/communist-manifesto/ch02.htm

Original Appearances of Visuals and/or Media

Image from Wikimedia.org


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New Age Equilibrium Wage

Visual from The Voice of Small Business in America

The author proposes changes to minimum wage law in the United States.

The study of economics has a tendency to assume consumers, producers, workers, and/or any other agent, has a mechanical nature about them.  With regard to the issue of minimum wage, such an ideological distortion is definitely problematic.  Why is it problematic?    The answer is simple. Firms always look for, or are at least open to, ways to lower costs.  One of those ways is to lower variable costs, which means slashing the compensation of the workers.  There is obviously a flip side to this.  No worker actually wants to receive lower wages because most if not all workers see themselves as worth more than they really are per hour.  However, economics assumes that people will adapt to these market-driven changes in wages or pursue other value producing opportunities.  That is clearly unrealistic, and hence, the existence of labor unions.

It should come as no surprise that consumers (at least rational ones) almost never pay for the toil and trouble that constitutes the engineering of a product or service.  They just pay for the product or service, all the while disregarding the worker.  This naturally affects a firm’s decision making process with regard to the employment of the needed factors of production.  If price is a consumer’s major concern, and in a relatively competitive free market economy, it almost always is, this will affect the wages of a firm’s workers.  If an economy really were this simple, it would be cruel and unfair to firms to mandate minimum wages.  However, it is not that simple.

Competitive free market economies do not exist, just free market economies.  One does not have to look too far to realize there are problems of asymmetric information, oligopolies, monopolies, etc. that prevent economies from being truly competitive.  Naturally, this translates into drastically unequal revenue schedules and profit margins for businesses.  For instance, it is unfair to compare the income of a large multinational corporation, such as McDonald’s, to a mom and pop burger joint.  Technically, they are competitors, but comparing the two firms is ridiculous.  So, is it also unfair that both these firms pay minimum wage to their unskilled labor force given the gap in revenue streams and profit margins?  One of these businesses benefits from economies of scale, and the other is just being pushed around by public economic policy.

Donald J. Boudreaux, chairman of the economics department at George Mason University, and author of the blog Café Hayek, provided an example of the consequences of forcing firms to comply with minimum wage law.  On Café Hayek Professor Boudreaux had posted a letter sent to him by a small business entrepreneur, who in short, had to lay-off many of his low-skilled workers as well as cut hours of those still employed.  The reason was because this entrepreneur was forced to pay his entire staff of workers at least minimum wage, and the collective cost of all these minimum wage salaries was too costly.  His proposed alternative was simply cutting wages below the legal minimum while keeping the jobs intact, but as he explained, this was illegal.

The letter raises an excellent point: Should small and medium-sized businesses have to follow the same wage laws as the McDonald’s-like-megacorporations of the world?  The answer is no, and the laws must be changed.  Firms that can be easily determined by way of appropriate metrics, to have relatively large steady flows economic profit, must bear the burden of minimum wages.  The rationale is that such an imposition is not actually a “burden,” but rather a trimming of economic profit.

Obviously, this is not a proposal for a specific change in legislation.  After all, firms hire lawyers specifically to get around legislation.  The request is a change in mindset about how wage laws affect a firm’s cost of conducting business and the low-skilled workers that actually receive minimum wages.  Only this will allow the letter of the law to be shadowed by the spirit behind it.

Works Cited

Boudreaux, Donald J. “An Entrepreneur and the Minimum-Wage.” Web log post. Cafe Hayek. 29 Apr. 2010. Web. 28 July 2010. http://cafehayek.com/2010/04/an-entrepreneur-and-the-minimum-wage.html

Original Appearances of Visuals and/or Media

Visual from The Voice of Small Business in America

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Israel or Bust!

By Uriel Sinai

This column asserts the depravity of the Obama administration in failing to properly respond to the Turkish flotilla incident involving the Israeli navy on May 31, 2010.  It also provides two reasons for which the United States would do well to wholeheartedly align itself with Israel as an ally.


On May 31, 2010, a Gaza-bound Turkish flotilla intersected Israeli naval ships.  The account of this event differs depending upon which news source you read; either the spiteful Israeli navy savagely brutalized humanitarian relief workers looking to transport goods to Gaza or the demonstrators aboard the Mavi Marma (the Turkish ship) reacted in violence to said navy [1] upon denying a request to dock at the Israeli port of Ashdod, where the Israeli navy hoped to inspect the cargo carried on board.  [Note: if there is any doubt as to the legitimacy of Israel’s actions towards the Turkish flotilla, be sure to take a look at The Naval Warfare Publication regarding The Commander’s Handbook on the Law of Naval Operationsi.]  Instead of orating some concession of affirmation regarding the Israeli navy’s choice of engagement with said Turkish flotilla, the current U.S. administration chose to tote the line carried by the likes of the United Nations – namely neglecting to conduct an in-depth investigation into the matter before severely admonishing Israel’s alleged poor behavior in blindly attacking those aboard the Mavi Marma – and relinquishing the opportunity to demonstrate a proper response to this event.

What goes unsaid is that from the beginning of this present administration up to the present, an enormous vacuum remains unfilled in affirming and pledging commitment to the special relationship that the United States has with Israel.  Even before President Obama was sworn into office, he hesitated to give a definite pledge of support to Israel as a true ally and align itself [the U.S.] with Israel.  There can be many things said about this (mostly to the discredit of President Obama); regardless of one’s personal political persuasion, there are at least three benefits for the U.S. if it chooses to fully ally itself with Israel.

The first and foremost reason why the United States and other similar-minded nations should support Israel correlates with the socio-economic environment that can be found within Israel.  Due to the fact that Israel stands as the most Westernized state in the Middle East region, it stands to reason that Israel pledges itself a tried and true ally of the United States and as such, deposits itself as a faithful help against such threats as terrorism both in that region and around the world.  Needless to say that the underlying understanding in this line of reasoning is that two or more equally democratic (and/or equally socially developed countries) are, more often than not, likely to agree with each other on a host of issues; the foreign policy of both China and North Korea as they relate to each other affirm this belief.

The second reason why the U.S. should support Israel, as alluded to above, is that Israel is a strategic ally to the United States.  There is no other country that maintains such affectionate relations with the U.S. as Israel does; this can primarily be traced through a history of military cooperation, trade relations and a common religious identity between the U.S. and Israel.  The U.S. would be ill served to imperialize every corner of the Earth.  However, its interests are best served if we have true allies in every one of those corners.  With Israel in the Middle East region, keeping tabs on and limiting the destructive acts of such malefactors as Iran and Syria become much easier [2].

If nothing else, then appeal to your intellect.  It cannot be denied that Israel possesses the strongest military within that region.  Moreover, the state of Israel has developed crafty ways to combat terrorism within their own state [3]; the U.S. Department of Defense would do well to continue military training with Israeli counter terrorism operatives instead of damaging Israeli pride through dictating what they did within their own sovereign.


Notes

i.  Section 7.7.4  – “Breach and Attempted Breach of Blockade”

Works Cited

[3] Byman, Daniel L. “How to Be Effective in Counter-Terrorism.” Brookings: Events. Brookings Institute, 15 Apr. 2005. Web. 18 July 2010. http://www.brookings.edu/events/2005/0415terrorism.aspx

Goldman, David P. Why Should America Support Israel? Spengler. First Things, 30 Aug. 2009. Web. 18 July 2010. http://www.firstthings.com/blogs/spengler/2009/08/30/why-should-america-support-israel/

[2] Hanson, Victor Davis. “Why Support Israel?” National Review 4 Feb. 2002: n. pag. Web. 18 July 2010. http://old.nationalreview.com/hanson/hanson020402.shtml

Inhofe, James M. “Peace in the Middel East: Senate Floor Statement by U.S. Sen. James M. Inhofe (R-OK).” U.S. Senate, 4 Mar. 2002. Web. 18 July 2010. http://inhofe.senate.gov/pressreleases/peace.htm

Moscovitch, Ben. “Blind Flotilla Blaming.” Israel. Foreign Policy Blogs, 2 June 2010. Web. 18 July 2010. http://israel.foreignpolicyblogs.com/2010/06/02/blindflotillablaming/

Rettman, Andrew. “EU’s New Foreign Relations Chief Criticises Israel.” EU Observer. N.p., 16 Dec. 2009. Web. 18 July 2010. http://euobserver.com/9/29167

[1] Special Announcements – No. 114. The Middle East Media Ressearch Institute. N.p., 31 May 2010. Web. 18 July 2010. http://www.memri.org/report/en/0/0/0/0/0/0/4249.htm

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Original Appearances of Media

1) Visual by Uriel Sinai

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