The Future of Palestine: Righteous Jews vs. the New Afrikaners

 

“The Future of Palestine:

Righteous Jews vs. the New Afrikaners”

By Professor John J. Mearsheimer

Talk presented on 29 April 2010 – The Palestine Center – Washington, DC

Posted May 02, 2010 –  Transcript Below

 

It is a great honor to be here at the Palestine Center to give the Sharabi Memorial Lecture.  I would like to thank Yousef Munayyer, the executive director of the Jerusalem Fund, for inviting me, and all of you for coming out to hear me speak this afternoon.

My topic is the future of Palestine, and by that I mean the future of the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, or what was long ago called Mandatory Palestine.  As you all know, that land is now broken into two parts: Israel proper or what is sometime called “Green Line” Israel and the Occupied Territories, which include the West Bank and Gaza.  In essence, my talk is about the future relationship between Israel and the Occupied Territories.

Of course, I am not just talking about the fate of those lands; I am also talking about the future of the people who live there.  I am talking about the future of the Jews and the Palestinians who are Israeli citizens, as well as the Palestinians who live in the Occupied Territories.

The story I will tell is straightforward.  Contrary to the wishes of the Obama administration and most Americans – to include many American Jews – Israel is not going to allow the Palestinians to have a viable state of their own in Gaza and the West Bank.  Regrettably, the two-state solution is now a fantasy.  Instead, those territories will be incorporated into a “Greater Israel,” which will be an apartheid state bearing a marked resemblance to white-ruled South Africa.  Nevertheless, a Jewish apartheid state is not politically viable over the long term.  In the end, it will become a democratic bi-national state, whose politics will be dominated by its Palestinian citizens.  In other words, it will cease being a Jewish state, which will mean the end of the Zionist dream.

Let me explain how I reached these conclusions.

Given present circumstances there are four possible futures for Palestine.

The outcome that gets the most attention these days is the two-state solution, which was described in broad outline by President Clinton in late December 2000.  It would obviously involve creating a Palestinian state living side-by-side with Israel.  To be viable, that Palestine state would have to control 95 percent or more of the West Bank and all of Gaza.  There would also have to be territorial swaps to compensate the Palestinians for those small pieces of West Bank territory that Israel got to keep in the final agreement.  East Jerusalem would be the capital of the new Palestinian state.  The Clinton Parameters envisioned certain restrictions on the new state’s military capabilities, but it would control the water beneath it, the air space above it, and its own borders – to include the Jordan River Valley.

There are three possible alternatives to a two-state solution, all of which involve creating a Greater Israel – an Israel that effectively controls the West Bank and Gaza.

In the first scenario, Greater Israel would become a democratic bi-national state in which Palestinians and Jews enjoy equal political rights.  This solution has been suggested by a handful of Jews and a growing number of Palestinians.  However, it would mean abandoning the original Zionist vision of a Jewish state, since the Palestinians would eventually outnumber the Jews in Greater Israel.

Second, Israel could expel most of the Palestinians from Greater Israel, thereby preserving its Jewish character through an overt act of ethnic cleansing.  This is what happened in 1948 when the Zionists drove roughly 700,000 Palestinians out of the territory that became the new state of Israel, and then prevented them from returning to their homes.  Following the Six Day War in 1967, Israel expelled between 100,000 and 260,000 Palestinians from the newly conquered West Bank and drove 80,000 Syrians from the Golan Heights.  The scale of the expulsion, however, would have to be even greater this time, because there are about 5.5 million Palestinians living between the Jordan and the Mediterranean.

The final alternative to a two-state solution is some form of apartheid, whereby Israel increases its control over the Occupied Territories, but allows the Palestinians to exercise limited autonomy in a set of disconnected and economically crippled enclaves.

It seems clear to me that the two-state solution is the best of these alternative futures.  This is not to say that it is an ideal solution, because it is not; but it is by far the best outcome for both the Israelis and the Palestinians, as well as the United States.  That is why the Obama administration is intensely committed to pushing it.

Nevertheless, the Palestinians are not going to get their own state anytime soon.  They are instead going to end up living in an apartheid state dominated by Israeli Jews.

The main reason that a two-state solution is no longer a serious option is that most Israelis are opposed to making the sacrifices that would be necessary to create a viable Palestinian state, and there is little reason to expect them to have an epiphany on this issue.  For starters, there are now about 480,000 settlers in the Occupied Territories and a huge infrastructure of connector and bypass roads, not to mention settlements.  Much of that infrastructure and large numbers of those settlers would have to be removed to create a Palestinian state.  Many of those settlers however, would fiercely resist any attempt to rollback the settlement enterprise.  Earlier this month, Ha’aretz reported that a Hebrew University poll found that 21 percent of the settlers believe that “all means must be employed to resist the evacuation of most West Bank settlements, including the use of arms.”  In addition, the study found that 54 percent of those 480,000 settlers “do not recognize the government’s authority to evacuate settlements”; and even if there was a referendum sanctioning a withdrawal, 36 percent of the settlers said they would not accept it.

Those settlers, however, do not have to worry about the present government trying to remove them.  Prime Minister Netanyahu is committed to expanding the settlements in East Jerusalem and indeed throughout the West Bank.  Of course, he and virtually everyone in his cabinet are opposed to giving the Palestinians a viable state of their own.  Larry Derfner, a columnist for the Jerusalem Post, succinctly summed up Netanyahu’s thinking about these matters in a recent column: “For him to divide the land, to divide Jerusalem, to give up Hebron, to send 100,000 settlers packing – that would be treason in his eyes.  That would be moral suicide.  His heart isn’t in it; everything in him rebels at the idea.  Our prime minister is constitutionally incapable of leading the nation out of the Palestinians’ midst, of fighting the settlers and the Right in a virtual or literal civil war, of persuading Israelis to admit that on the crucial endeavor of their national life for the past 43 years, they were wrong and the world was right.”

One might argue that there are prominent Israelis like former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert who openly disagree with Netanyahu and advocate a two-state solution.  While this is true, it is by no means clear that either of them would be willing or able to make the concessions that would be necessary to create a legitimate Palestinian state.  Certainly Olmert did not do so when he was prime minister.

But even if they were, it is unlikely that either of those leaders, or anyone else for that matter, could get enough of their fellow citizens to back an effective two-state solution.  The political center of gravity in Israel has shifted sharply to the right over the past decade and there is no sizable pro-peace political party or movement that they could turn to for help.  Probably the best single indicator of how far to the right Israel has moved in recent years is the shocking fact that Avigdor Lieberman is employed as its foreign minister.  Even Martin Peretz of the New Republic, who is well known for his unyielding support for Israel, describes Lieberman as “a neo-fascist,” and equates him with the late Austrian fascist Jorg Haider.  And there are other individuals in Netanyahu’s cabinet who share many of Lieberman’s views about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; they just happen to be less outspoken than the foreign minister.

But even if someone like Livni or Olmert was able to cobble together a coalition of interest groups and political parties that favored giving the Palestinians a real state of their own, they would still face fierce resistance from the sizeable forces that stand behind Netanyahu today.  It is even possible, which is not to say likely, that Israel would be engulfed by civil war if some future leader made a serious attempt to implement a two-state solution.  An individual with the stature of David Ben-Gurion or Ariel Sharon – or even Yitzhak Rabin – might be able to stand up to those naysayers and push forward a two-state solution, but there is nobody with that kind of standing in Israeli politics today.

In addition to these practical political obstacles to creating a Palestinian state, there is an important ideological barrier.  From the start, Zionism envisioned an Israeli state that controlled all of Mandatory Palestine.  There was no place for a Palestinian state in the original Zionist vision of Israel.  Even Yitzhak Rabin, who was determined to make the Oslo peace process work, never spoke about creating a Palestinian state.  He was merely interested in granting the Palestinians some form of limited autonomy, what he called “an entity which is less than a state.”  Plus, he insisted that Israel should maintain control over the Jordan River Valley and that a united Jerusalem should be the capital of Israel.  Also remember that in the spring of 1998 when Hillary Clinton was First Lady, she was sharply criticized for saying that “it would be in the long-term interests of peace in the Middle East for there to be a state of Palestine, a functioning modern state on the same footing as other states.”

It was not until after Ehud Barak became prime minister in 1999 that Israeli leaders began to speak openly about the possibility of a Palestinian state.  But even then, not all of them thought it was a good idea and hardly any of them were enthusiastic about it.  Even Barak, who seriously flirted with the idea of creating a Palestinian state at Camp David in July 2000, initially opposed the Oslo Accords.  Furthermore, he has been willing to serve as Netanyahu’s defense minister, knowing full well that the prime minister and his allies are opposed to creating an independent Palestine.  All of this is to say that Zionism’s core beliefs are deeply hostile to the very notion of a Palestinian state, and this makes it difficult for many Israelis to embrace the two-state solution.

In short, it is difficult to imagine any Israeli government having the political will, much less the ability, to dismantle a substantial portion of its vast settlement enterprise and create a Palestinian state in virtually all of the Occupied Territories, including East Jerusalem.

Many advocates of a two-state solution recognize this problem, but think that there is a way to solve it: the Obama administration can put significant pressure on Israel to allow the Palestinians to have their own state.  The United States, after all, is the most powerful country in the world and it should have great leverage over Israel because it gives the Jewish state so much diplomatic and material support.  Furthermore, President Obama and all of his principal foreign policy advisors are dedicated to establishing a viable Palestinian state living side-by-side with Israel.

But this is not going to happen, because no American president can put meaningful pressure on Israel to force it to change its policies toward the Palestinians.  The main reason is the Israel lobby, a remarkably powerful interest group that has a profound influence on U.S. Middle East policy.  Alan Dershowitz was spot on when he said, “My generation of Jews … became part of what is perhaps the most effective lobbying and fund-raising effort in the history of democracy.”  That lobby, of course, makes it impossible for any president to play hardball with Israel, especially on the issue of settlements.

Let’s look at the historical record.  Every American president since 1967 has opposed settlement building in the Occupied Territories.  Yet no president has been able to put serious pressure on Israel to stop building settlements, much less dismantle them.  Perhaps the best evidence of America’s impotence is what happened in the 1990s during the Oslo peace process.  Between 1993 and 2000, Israel confiscated 40,000 acres of Palestinian land, constructed 250 miles of connector and bypass roads, doubled the number of settlers, and built 30 new settlements. President Clinton did hardly anything to halt this expansion.  Indeed, the United States continued to give Israel billions of dollars in foreign aid each year and to protect it at every turn on the diplomatic front.

One might think that Obama is different from his predecessors, but there is little evidence to support that belief.  Consider that during the 2008 presidential campaign, Obama responded to charges that he was “soft” on Israel by pandering to the lobby and repeatedly praising the special relationship.  In the month before he took office, he was silent during the Gaza massacre – when Israel was being criticized around the world for its brutal assault on that densely populated enclave.

After taking office in January 2009, President Obama and his principal foreign policy advisors began demanding that Israel stop all settlement building in the Occupied Territories, to include East Jerusalem, so that serious peace negotiations with the Palestinians could begin.  After calling for “two states for two peoples” in his Cairo speech in June 2009, President Obama declared, “it is time for these settlements to stop.”  Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had made the same point one month earlier when she said, “We want to see a stop to settlement construction, additions, natural growth – any kind of settlement activity. That is what the President has called for.”  George Mitchell, the president’s special envoy for the Middle East, conveyed this straightforward message to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his lieutenants on numerous occasions.

In response, Netanyahu made it equally clear that Israel intended to continue building settlements and that he and almost everyone in his ruling coalition opposed a two-state solution.  He made but a single reference to “two states” in his own speech at Bar Ilan University in June 2009, and the conditions he attached to it made it clear that he was talking about giving the Palestinians a handful of disconnected, apartheid-style Bantustans, not a fully sovereign state.

Netanyahu, of course, won this fight. The Israeli prime minister not only refused to stop building the 2500 housing units that were under construction in the West Bank, but just to make it clear to Obama who was boss, in late June 2009, he authorized the building of 300 new homes in the West Bank.  Netanyahu refused to even countenance any limits on settlement building in East Jerusalem, which is supposed to be the capital of a Palestinian state.  By the end of September 2009, Obama publicly conceded that Netanyahu had beaten him in their fight over the settlements.  The president falsely denied that freezing settlement construction had ever been a precondition for resuming the peace process, and instead he meekly asked Israel to please exercise restraint while it continued colonizing the West Bank.  Fully aware of his triumph, Netanyahu said on September 23, “I am pleased that President Obama has accepted my approach that there should be no preconditions.”

Indeed, his victory was so complete that the Israeli media was full of stories describing how their prime minister had bested Obama and greatly improved his shaky political position at home.  For example, Gideon Samet wrote in Ma’ariv: “In the past weeks, it has become clear with what ease an Israeli prime minister can succeed in thwarting an American initiative.”

Perhaps the best American response to Netanyahu’s victory came from the widely read author and blogger, Andrew Sullivan, who wrote that this sad episode should “remind Obama of a cardinal rule of American politics: no pressure on Israel ever.  Just keep giving them money and they will give the US the finger in return. The only permitted position is to say you oppose settlements in the West Bank, while doing everything you can to keep them growing and advancing.”

The Obama administration was engaged in a second round of fighting over settlements last month, when the Netanyahu government embarrassed Vice President Biden during his visit to Israel by announcing plans to build 1600 new housing units in East Jerusalem.  While that crisis was important because it clearly revealed that Israel’s brutal policies toward the Palestinians are seriously damaging American interests in the Middle East, Netanyahu rejected President Obama’s request to stop building settlements in East Jerusalem.  “As far as we are concerned,” he said on March 21, “building in Jerusalem is like building in Tel Aviv. Our policy on Jerusalem is like the policy in the past 42 years.”  One day later at the annual AIPAC Conference he said: “The Jewish people were building Jerusalem 3,000 years ago, and the Jewish people are building Jerusalem today. Jerusalem is not a settlement; it’s our capital.”  And just last week, he said “there will be no freeze in Jerusalem,” although it does appear that Israel is not building in East Jerusalem for the moment.  Meanwhile, back in the United States, AIPAC got 333 congressmen and 76 senators to sign letters to Secretary of State Clinton reaffirming their unyielding support for Israel and urging the administration to keep future disagreements behind closed doors.

In short President Obama is no match for the lobby.  The best he can hope for is to re-start the so-called peace process, but most people understand that these negotiations are a charade.  The two sides engage in endless talks while Israel continues to colonize Palestinian lands.  Henry Siegman got it right when he called these fruitless talks “The Greater Middle East Peace Process Scam.”

There are two other reasons why there is not going to be a two-state solution.  The Palestinians are badly divided among themselves and not in a good position to make a deal with Israel and then stick to it.  That problem is fixable with time and help from Israel and the United States.  But time has run out and neither Jerusalem nor Washington is likely to provide a helping hand.  Then there are the Christian Zionists, who are a powerful political force in the United States, especially on Capitol Hill.  They are adamantly opposed to a two-state solution because they want Israel to control every square millimeter of Palestine, a situation they believe heralds the “Second Coming” of Christ.

What this all means is that there is going to be a Greater Israel between the Jordan and the Mediterranean.  In fact, I would argue that it already exists.  But who will live there and what kind of political system will it have?

It is not going to be a democratic bi-national state, at least in the near future. An overwhelming majority of Israel’s Jews have no interest in living in a state that would be dominated by the Palestinians.  And that includes young Israeli Jews, many of whom hold clearly racist views toward the Palestinians in their midst.  Furthermore, few of Israel’s supporters in the United States are interested in this outcome, at least at this point in time.  Most Palestinians, of course, would accept a democratic bi-national state without hesitation if it could be achieved quickly.  But that is not going to happen, although as I will argue shortly, it is likely to come to pass down the road.

Then there is ethnic cleansing, which would certainly mean that Greater Israel would have a Jewish majority.  But that murderous strategy seems unlikely, because it would do enormous damage to Israel’s moral fabric, its relationship with Jews in the Diaspora, and to its international standing.  Israel and its supporters would be treated harshly by history, and it would poison relations with Israel’s neighbors for years to come.  No genuine friend of Israel could support this policy, which would clearly be a crime against humanity.  It also seems unlikely, because most of the 5.5 million Palestinians living between the Jordan and the Mediterranean would put up fierce resistance if Israel tried to expel them from their homes.

Nevertheless, there is reason to worry that Israelis might adopt this solution as the demographic balance shifts against them and they fear for the survival of the Jewish state.  Given the right circumstances – say a war involving Israel that is accompanied by serious Palestinian unrest – Israeli leaders might conclude that they can expel massive numbers of Palestinians from Greater Israel and depend on the lobby to protect them from international criticism and especially from sanctions.

We should not underestimate Israel’s willingness to employ such a horrific strategy if the opportunity presents itself.  It is apparent from public opinion surveys and everyday discourse that many Israelis hold racist views of Palestinians and the Gaza massacre makes clear that they have few qualms about killing Palestinian civilians.  It is difficult to disagree with Jimmy Carter’s comment earlier this year that “the citizens of Palestine are treated more like animals than like human beings.”  A century of conflict and four decades of occupation will do that to a people.

Furthermore, a substantial number of Israeli Jews – some 40 percent or more – believe that the Arab citizens of Israel should be “encouraged” to leave by the government.  Indeed, former foreign minister Tzipi Livni has said that if there is a two-state solution, she expected Israel’s Palestinian citizens to leave and settle in the new Palestinian state.  And then there is the recent military order issued by the IDF that is aimed at “preventing infiltration” into the West Bank.  In fact, it enables Israel to deport tens of thousands of Palestinians from the West Bank should it choose to do so.  And, of course, the Israelis engaged in a massive cleansing of the Palestinians in 1948 and again in 1967.  Still, I do not believe Israel will resort to this horrible course of action.

The most likely outcome in the absence of a two-state solution is that Greater Israel will become a full-fledged apartheid state.  As anyone who has spent time in the Occupied Territories knows, it is already an incipient apartheid state with separate laws, separate roads, and separate housing for Israelis and Palestinians, who are essentially confined to impoverished enclaves that they can leave and enter only with great difficulty.

Israelis and their American supporters invariably bristle at the comparison to white rule in South Africa, but that is their future if they create a Greater Israel while denying full political rights to an Arab population that will soon outnumber the Jewish population in the entirety of the land.  Indeed, two former Israeli prime ministers have made this very point.  Ehud Olmert, who was Netanyahu’s predecessor, said in late November 2007 that if “the two-state solution collapses,” Israel will “face a South-African-style struggle.”  He went so far as to argue that, “as soon as that happens, the state of Israel is finished.”  Former Prime Minister Ehud Barak, who is now Israel’s defense minister, said in early February of this year that, “As long as in this territory west of the Jordan River there is only one political entity called Israel it is going to be either non-Jewish, or non-democratic.  If this bloc of millions of Palestinians cannot vote, that will be an apartheid state.”

Other Israelis, as well as Jimmy Carter and Bishop Desmond Tutu, have warned that if Israel does not pull out of the Occupied Territories it will become an apartheid state like white-ruled South Africa.  But if I am right, the occupation is not going to end and there will not be a two-state solution.  That means Israel will complete its transformation into a full-blown apartheid state over the next decade.

In the long run, however, Israel will not be able to maintain itself as an apartheid state.  Like racist South Africa, it will eventually evolve into a democratic bi-national state whose politics will be dominated by the more numerous Palestinians.  Of course, this means that Israel faces a bleak future as a Jewish state.  Let me explain why.

For starters, the discrimination and repression that is the essence of apartheid will be increasingly visible to people all around the world.  Israel and its supporters have been able to do a good job of keeping the mainstream media in the United States from telling the truth about what Israel is doing to the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories.  But the Internet is a game changer.  It not only makes it easy for the opponents of apartheid to get the real story out to the world, but it also allows Americans to learn the story that the New York Times and the Washington Post have been hiding from them.  Over time, this situation may even force these two media institutions to cover the story more accurately themselves.

The growing visibility of this issue is not just a function of the Internet.  It is also due to the fact that the plight of the Palestinians matters greatly to people all across the Arab and Islamic world, and they constantly raise the issue with Westerners.  It also matters very much to the influential human rights community, which is naturally going to be critical of Israel’s harsh treatment of the Palestinians.  It is not surprising that hardline Israelis and their American supporters are now waging a vicious smear campaign against those human rights organizations that criticize Israel.

The main problem that Israel’s defenders face, however, is that it is impossible to defend apartheid, because it is antithetical to core Western values.  How does one make a moral case for apartheid, especially in the United States, where democracy is venerated and segregation and racism are routinely condemned?  It is hard to imagine the United States having a special relationship with an apartheid state.  Indeed, it is hard to imagine the United States having much sympathy for one.  It is much easier to imagine the United States strongly opposing that racist state’s political system and working hard to change it.  Of course, many other countries around the globe would follow suit.  This is surely why former Prime Minister Olmert said that going down the apartheid road would be suicidal for Israel.

Apartheid is not only morally reprehensible, but it also guarantees that Israel will remain a strategic liability for the United States.  The recent comments of President Obama, Vice President Biden and General David Petraeus make clear that Israel’s colonization of the Occupied Territories is doing serious damage to American interests in the Middle East and surrounding areas.  As Biden told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in March, “This is starting to get dangerous for us.  What you’re doing here undermines the security of our troops who are fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.  That endangers us, and it endangers regional peace.”  This situation will only get worse as Israel becomes a full-fledged apartheid state.  And as that becomes clear to more and more Americans, there is likely to be a serious erosion of support for the Jewish state on strategic grounds alone.

Hardline Israelis and their American supporters are aware of these problems, but they are betting that the lobby will defend Israel no matter what, and that its support will be sufficient to allow apartheid Israel to survive.  It might seem like a safe bet, since the lobby has played a key role in shielding Israel from American pressure up to now.  In fact, one could argue that Israel could not have gotten as far down the apartheid road as it has without the help of organizations like AIPAC and the Anti-Defamation League.  But that strategy is not likely to work over the long run.

The problem with depending on the lobby for protection is that most American Jews will not back Israel if it becomes a full-fledged apartheid state.  Indeed, many of them are likely to criticize Israel and support calls for making Greater Israel a legitimate democracy.  That is obviously not the case now, but there are good reasons to think that a marked shift in the American Jewish community’s thinking about Israel is in the offing.  This is not to deny that there will be some diehards who defend apartheid Israel; but their ranks will be thin and it will be widely apparent that they are out of step with core American values.

Let me elaborate.

American Jews who care deeply about Israel can be divided into three broad categories.  The first two are what I call “righteous Jews” and the “new Afrikaners,” which are clearly definable groups that think about Israel and where it is headed in fundamentally different ways.  The third and largest group is comprised of those Jews who care a lot about Israel, but do not have clear-cut views on how to think about Greater Israel and apartheid.  Let us call this group the “great ambivalent middle.”

Righteous Jews have a powerful attachment to core liberal values.  They believe that individual rights matter greatly and that they are universal, which means they apply equally to Jews and Palestinians.  They could never support an apartheid Israel.  They also understand that the Palestinians paid an enormous price to make it possible to create Israel in 1948.  Moreover, they recognize the pain and suffering that Israel has inflicted on the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories since 1967.   Finally, most righteous Jews believe that the Palestinians deserve a viable state of their own, just as the Jews deserve their own state.  In essence, they believe that self-determination applies to Palestinians as well as Jews, and that the two-state solution is the best way to achieve that end.  Some righteous Jews, however, favor a democratic bi-national state over the two-state solution.

To give you a better sense of what I mean when I use the term righteous Jews, let me give you some names of people and organizations that I would put in this category.   The list would include Noam Chomsky, Roger Cohen, Richard Falk, Norman Finkelstein, Tony Judt, Tony Karon, Naomi Klein, MJ Rosenberg, Sara Roy, and Philip Weiss of Mondoweiss fame, just to name a few.  I would also include many of the individuals associated with J Street and everyone associated with Jewish Voice for Peace, as well as distinguished international figures such as Judge Richard Goldstone.  Furthermore, I would apply the label to the many American Jews who work for different human rights organizations, such as Kenneth Roth of Human Rights Watch.

On the other side we have the new Afrikaners, who will support Israel even if it is an apartheid state.  These are individuals who will back Israel no matter what it does, because they have blind loyalty to the Jewish state.  This is not to say that the new Afrikaners think that apartheid is an attractive or desirable political system, because I am sure that many of them do not.  Surely some of them favor a two-state solution and some of them probably have a serious commitment to liberal values.  The key point, however, is that they have an even deeper commitment to supporting Israel unreservedly.  The new Afrikaners will of course try to come up with clever arguments to convince themselves and others that Israel is really not an apartheid state, and that those who say it is are anti-Semites.  We are all familiar with this strategy.

I would classify most of the individuals who head the Israel lobby’s major organizations as new Afrikaners.  That list would include Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League, David Harris of the American Jewish Committee, Malcolm Hoenlein of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Ronald Lauder of the World Jewish Congress, and Morton Klein of the Zionist Organization of America, just to name some of the more prominent ones.  I would also include businessmen like Sheldon Adelson, Lester Crown, and Mortimer Zuckerman as well as media personalities like Fred Hiatt and Charles Krauthammer of the Washington Post, Bret Stephens of the Wall Street Journal, and Martin Peretz of the New Republic.  It would be easy to add more names to this list.

The key to determining whether the lobby can protect apartheid Israel over the long run is whether the great ambivalent middle sides with the new Afrikaners or the righteous Jews.  The new Afrikaners have to win that fight decisively for Greater Israel to survive as a racist state.

There is no question that the present balance of power favors the new Afrikaners.  When push comes to shove on issues relating to Israel, the hardliners invariably get most of those American Jews who care a lot about Israel to side with them.  The righteous Jews, on the other hand, hold considerably less sway with the great ambivalent middle, at least at this point in time.  This situation is due in good part to the fact that most American Jews – especially the elders in the community – have little understanding of how far down the apartheid road Israel has travelled and where it is ultimately headed.  They think that the two-state solution is still a viable option and that Israel remains committed to allowing the Palestinians to have their own state.  These false beliefs allow them to act as if there is little danger of Israel becoming South Africa, which makes it easy for them to side with the new Afrikaners.

This situation, however, is unsustainable over time.  Once it is widely recognized that the two-state solution is dead and Greater Israel is a reality, the righteous Jews will have two choices: support apartheid or work to help create a democratic bi-national state.  I believe that almost all of them will opt for the latter option, in large part because of their deep-seated commitment to liberal values, which renders any apartheid state abhorrent to them.  Of course, the new Afrikaners will fiercely defend apartheid Israel, because their commitment to Israel is so unconditional that it overrides any commitment they might have to liberal values.

The critical question, however, is: what will happen to those Jews who comprise the great ambivalent middle once it is clear to them that Israel is a full-fledged apartheid state and that facts on the ground have made a two state solution impossible?  Will they side with the new Afrikaners and defend apartheid Israel, or will they ally with the righteous Jews and call for making Greater Israel a true democracy?  Or will they sit silently on the sidelines?

I believe that most of the Jews in the great ambivalent middle will not defend apartheid Israel but will either keep quiet or side with the righteous Jews against the new Afrikaners, who will become increasingly marginalized over time.  And once that happens, the lobby will be unable to provide cover for Israel’s racist policies toward the Palestinians in the way it has in the past.

There are a number of reasons why there is not likely to be much support for Israel inside the American Jewish community as it looks more and more like white-ruled South Africa.  For starters, apartheid is a despicable political system and it is fundamentally at odds with basic American values as well as core Jewish values.  This is why the new Afrikaners will defend Israel on the grounds that it is not an apartheid state, and that security concerns explain why Israel has to discriminate against and oppress the Palestinians.  But again, we are rapidly reaching the point where it will be hard to miss the fact that Greater Israel is becoming a full-fledged apartheid state and that those who claim otherwise are either delusional or disingenuous.  Simply put, not many American Jews are likely to be fooled by the new Afrikaners’ arguments.

Furthermore, survey data shows that younger American Jews feel less attachment to Israel than their elders.  This is surely due to the fact that the younger generations were born after the Holocaust and after anti-Semitism had largely been eliminated from American life.  Also, Jews have been seamlessly integrated into the American mainstream, to the point where many community leaders worry that rampant inter-marriage will lead to the disappearance of American Jewry over time.  Not surprisingly, younger Jews are less disposed to see Israel as a safe haven should the goyim go on another anti-Semitic rampage, because they recognize that this is simply not going to happen here in the United States. That perspective makes them less inclined than their elders to defend Israel no matter what it does.

There is another reason why American Jews are likely to feel less connected to Israel in the years ahead.  Important changes are taking place in the demographic make-up of Israel that will make it more difficult for many of them to identify closely with the Jewish state.  When Israel was created in 1948, few ultra-orthodox Jews lived there.  In fact, ultra-orthodox Jews were deeply hostile to Zionism, which they viewed as an affront to Judaism.  Secular Jews dominated Israeli life at its founding and they still do, but their influence has been waning and is likely to decline much more in the decades ahead.  The main reason is that the ultra-orthodox are a rapidly growing percentage of the population, because of their stunningly high birthrates.  It is estimated that the average ultra-orthodox woman has 7.8 babies.  As many of you know, the Jewish areas of Jerusalem are increasingly dominated by the ultra-orthodox.  In fact, in the 2008 mayoral election in Jerusalem, an ultra-orthodox candidate boasted, “In another 15 years there will not be a secular mayor in any city in Israel.”  Of course, he was exaggerating, but his boast is indicative of the growing power of the ultra-orthodox in Israel.  One final piece of data: about one half of Israeli school children in first grade this year are either Palestinian or ultra-orthodox.  Given the high birthrates of the ultra-orthodox and the Palestinians, their percentage of the first-graders – and ultimately the population at large – will grow steadily with time.

Varying birthrates among Israel’s different communities are not the only factor that is changing the makeup of Israeli society.  There is another dynamic at play: large numbers of Israelis have left the country to live abroad and most of them are not expected to return home.  Several recent estimates suggest that between 750,000 and one million Israelis reside in other countries, and most of them are secular.  On top of that, public opinion surveys indicate that many Israelis would like to move to another country.  This situation is likely to get worse over time, because many secular Jews will not want to live in an apartheid state whose politics and daily life are increasingly shaped by the ultra-orthodox.

All of this is to say that Israel’s secular Jewish identity – which has been so powerful from the start – is slowly eroding and promises to continue eroding over time as the ultra-orthodox grow in number and influence.  That important development will make it more difficult in the years ahead for secular American Jews – who make up the bulk of the Jewish community here in the United States – to identify closely with Israel and be willing to defend it when it becomes a full-blown apartheid state. Of course, that reluctance to back Israel will be further strengthened by the fact that American Jews are among the staunchest defenders of traditional liberal values.

The bottom line is that Israel will not be able to maintain itself as an apartheid state over the long term, because it will not be able to depend on the American Jewish community to defend its loathsome policies toward the Palestinians.   And without that protection, Israel is doomed, because public opinion in the West will turn decisively against Israel, as it turns itself into a full-fledged apartheid state.

Thus, I believe that Greater Israel will eventually become a democratic bi-national state, and the Palestinians will dominate its politics, because they will outnumber the Jews in the land between the Jordan and the Mediterranean.

What is truly remarkable about this situation is that the Israel lobby is effectively helping Israel commit national suicide.  Israel, after all, is turning itself into an apartheid state, which, as Ehud Olmert has pointed out, is not sustainable in the modern era.  What makes this situation even more astonishing is that there is an alternative outcome which would be relatively easy to achieve and is clearly in Israel’s best interests: the two-state solution.  It is hard to understand why Israel and its American supporters are not working overtime to create a viable Palestinian state in the Occupied Territories and why instead they are moving full-speed ahead to build Greater Israel, which will be an apartheid state.  It makes no sense from either a moral or a strategic perspective.  Indeed, it is an exceptionally foolish policy.

What about the Palestinians?  I believe that the two-state solution is the best outcome for them as well as the Israelis.  However, the Palestinians have little say in whether there will be two states living side-by-side, because they are presently at the mercy of the Israelis, who are the lords of the land.  This means that the Palestinians are going to end up living in Greater Israel, which will be an apartheid state.  Again, one might even argue that they have already reached that point.  Regardless, the Palestinians will obviously have a vested interest in moving away from apartheid and toward democracy as quickly and painlessly as possible.  Of course, that will not be easy, but there are better and worse ways to achieve that end.

Let me conclude with a few words of advice to the Palestinians about how they should go about turning Greater Israel into a democratic bi-national state.

First, it is essential to recognize that the Palestinians and the Israelis are engaged in a war of ideas.  To be more specific, this is a war about two competing visions of the Middle East: a Greater Israel that is an apartheid state and one that is a democracy.  There is no question that the Palestinians have the easier case to make, as it is impossible to sell apartheid in the modern world.

Second, to win this war the Palestinians will have to adopt the South Africa strategy, which is to say that they will have to get world opinion on their side and use it to put enormous pressure on Israel to abandon apartheid and adopt democracy.  This task will not be easy because the new Afrikaners will re-double their efforts to defend Israel’s heinous policies.  Fortunately, their ability to do this is likely to diminish over time.

Third, the Palestinians most formidable weapon in this war of ideas will be the Internet, which will make it easy for them to document what Israel is doing and to get their message out to the wider world.

Fourth, the Palestinians will need to build a stable of articulate spokespersons who can connect with Western audiences and make a compelling case against apartheid.  In other words, they will need more Mustafa Barghoutis.  The Palestinians will also need allies, and not only from the Arab and Islamic world, but from countries in the West as well.   Many of the Palestinians best allies will surely be righteous Jews, who will play a key role in the fight against apartheid in Israel as they did in South Africa.

Fifth, it is essential that the Palestinians make clear that they do not intend to seek revenge against the Israeli Jews for their past crimes, but instead are deeply committed to creating a bi-national democracy in which Jews and Palestinians can live together peacefully.  The Palestinians do not want to treat the Jews the way the Jews have treated them.

Finally, the Palestinians should definitely not employ violence to defeat apartheid.  They should resist mightily for sure, but their strategy should privilege non-violent resistance.  The appropriate model is Gandhi not Mao. Violence is counter-productive because if it gets intense enough, the Israelis might think that they can expel large numbers of Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza.  The Palestinians must never underestimate the danger of mass expulsion.  Furthermore, a violent new Intifada would undermine support for the Palestinian cause in the West, which is essential for winning the war of ideas, which is ultimately the battleground on which Palestine’s future will be determined.

In sum, there are great dangers ahead for the Palestinians, who will continue to suffer terribly at the hands of the Israelis for some years to come. But it does look like the Palestinians will eventually get their own state, mainly because Israel seems bent on self-destruction.  Thank you.

Professor John J. Mearsheimer is the R. Wendell Harrison Distinguished Service Professor of Political Science and the co-director of the Program on International Security Policy at the University of Chicago.

This transcript may be used without permission but with proper attribution to The Palestine Center. The speaker’s views do not necessarily reflect the views of The Jerusalem Fund.

Attention Deficit Democracy

Attention Deficit Democracy

A society not alert to signs of its own decay, because its ideology is a continuing myth of progress, separates itself from reality and envelops illusion.

One yardstick by which to measure the decay in our country’s political, economic, and cultural life, is the answer to this question: Do the forces of power, which have demonstrably failed, become stronger after their widely perceived damage is common knowledge?

Economic decay is all around. Poverty, unemployment, foreclosures, job export, consumer debt, pension attrition, and crumbling infrastructure are well documented. The self-destruction of the Wall Street financial giants, with their looting and draining of trillions of other people’s money, have been headlines for two years. During and after their gigantic taxpayer bailouts from Washington, DC, the banks, et al, are still the most powerful force in determining the nature of proposed corrective legislation.


“The banks own this place,” says Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL), evoking the opinion of many members of a supine Congress ready to pass weak consumer and investor protection legislation while leaving dominant fewer and larger banks.


Who hasn’t felt the ripoffs and one-sided fine print of the credit card industry? A reform bill finally has passed after years of delay, again weak and incomplete. Shameless over their gouges, the companies have their attorneys already at work to design around the law’s modest strictures.


The drug and health insurance industry, swarming with thousands of lobbyists, got pretty much what they wanted in the new health law. Insurers got millions of new customers subsidized by hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars with very little regulation. The drug companies got their dream—no reimportation of cheaper identical drugs, no authority for Uncle Sam to bargain for discount prices, and a very profitable extension of monopoly patent protection for biologic drugs against cheaper, generic drug competition.


For all their gouges, for all their exclusions, their denial of claims and restrictions of benefits, for all their horrendous price increases, the two industries have come out stronger than ever politically and economically. Small wonder their stocks are rising even in a recession.


The junk food processing industry—on the defensive lately due to some excellent documentaries and exposes—are still the most influential of powers on Capitol Hill when it becomes to delaying for years a decent food safety bill, using tax dollars to pump fat, sugar and salt into the stomachs of our children, and fighting adequate inspections. Over seven thousand lives are lost due to contaminated food yearly in the US and many millions of illnesses.


The oil, gas, coal and nuclear power companies are fleecing consumers and taxpayers, depleting and imperiling the environment, yet they continue to block rational energy legislation in Congress to replace carbon and uranium with energy efficiency technology and renewables.


Still, even now after years of cost over-runs and lack of permanent storage for radioactive wastes, the nuclear industry has President Obama, and George W. Bush before him, pushing for many tens of billions of dollars in taxpayer loan guarantees for new nukes. Wall Street won’t finance such a risky technology without you, the taxpayers, guaranteeing against any accident or default.


Both Democrats and Republicans are passing on these outrageous financial and safety risks to taxpayers.


Congress, which receives the brunt of this corporate lobbying—the carrot of money and the stick of financing incumbent challengers—is more of an obstacle to change than ever. In the past after major failures of industry and commerce, there was a higher likelihood of Congressional action. Recall, the Wall Street and banking collapse in the early 1930s. Congress and Franklin Delano Roosevelt produced legislation that saved the banks, peoples’ savings and regulated the stock markets.


From the time of my book, Unsafe at Any Speed’s publication in late November 1965, it took just nine months to federally regulate the powerful auto industry for safety and fuel efficiency.


Contrast the two-year delay after the Bear Stearns collapse and still no reform legislation, and what is pending is weak.


Yet the entrenched members of Congress, responsible for this astonishing gridlock, are almost impossible to dislodge even though polls have Congress at its lowest repute ever. It is a place where the majority is terrified of the corporations and the minority can block even the most anemic legislative efforts with archaic rules, especially in the Senate.


Culturally, the canaries in the coal mine are the children. Childhood has been commercialized by the giant marketers reaching them hour by hour with junk food, violent programming, video games and bad medicine. The result—record obesity, child diabetes and other ailments.


While the companies undermine parental authority, they laugh all the way to the bank, using our public airwaves, among other media, for their lucre. They can be called electronic child molesters.


We published a book in 1996 called Children First!: A Parent’s Guide to Fighting Corporate Predators in the Media. This book is an understatement of the problem compared to the worsening of child manipulation today.


In a 24/7 entertained society frenetic with sound bites, Blackberries, iPods, text messages and emails, there is a deep need for reflection and introspection. We have to discuss face to face in living rooms, school auditoriums, village squares and town meetings what is happening to us and our diminishing democratic processes by the pressures and controls of the insatiable corporate state.


And what needs to be done from the home to the public arenas and marketplaces with old and new superior models, new accountabilities and new thinking.


For our history has shown that whenever the people get more engaged and more serious, they live better on all fronts.

 

Ralph Nader

 

30 March,2010

Nader.org

An American Attack On Iran Would Lead To US Collapse Says Top Russian General

An American Attack On Iran Would Lead To US Collapse Says Top Russian General

By Juan Cole

It appears that, the International Atomic Energy Agency is at least allowing for the possibility that documents allegedly found on a laptop some years ago –but discounted by the US Central Intelligence Agency and the Defense Intelligence Agency as of dubious provenance and incompatible with other intelligence gathered in Iran — point to a nuclear weapons program that no one has been able to locate. Some close observers have concluded that the laptop documents are forgeries. A new IAEA report that declines to dismiss the alleged documents will certainly cause the war lobby in the United States to redouble its efforts to get up an attack on Iran.

Forged documents on the supposed purchase of yellowcake uranium by Iraq from Niger were used by George W. Bush to promote a war on Iraq. It was at that time the Intelligence and Research division of the Department of State that attempted to throw cold water on these “documents,” but was ignored by the president. Then head of the IAEA, Mohammed Elbaradei, was able to show them false in one afternoon.

The UN inspectors have a right to be frustrated with Iran, which has allowed inspections of its Natanz nuclear enrichment site, but which has not been completely transparent or adhered to the letter of its obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. But the sum of those frustrations does not point to a nuclear weapons program, unlike the disputed laptop documents. In statements to the press this fall, US intelligence officials have said that they stand behind the conclusions first reached in 2007, that Iran has no nuclear weapons program.

The Obama administration wants stricter sanctions on Iran, and the Sarah Palin/ Daniel Pipes lunatic fringe wants a military attack on Iran.

But Russia’s General of the Army Nikolay Makarov, Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, warned that an American attack on Iran now, when the US is bogged down in two wars, might well lead to the collapse of the United States. He said that such an attack would roil the region and have negative consequences for Russia (a neighbor of Iran via the Caspian Sea). And, he said, the Russian military is taking steps to forestall such an American strike on Iran. Makarov made the remarks in Vzglyad on Friday, February 19, 2010, and they were translated or paraphrased by the USG Open Source Center:

‘Makarov also commented on the recent rumors about the possibility of an attack upon Iran by the United States. In his opinion, this would be complete madness on the part of the American military. He said: “Admiral Michael McMullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, recently said that, in the United States, there is a plan for carrying out strikes against Iran but the United States clearly understands that now, when it is conducting two military campaigns, one in Iraq and the other in Afghanistan, a third campaign against Iran would simply lead to a collapse. It would not be able to withstand the strain.”

Nevertheless, in proportion to the winding down of the campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, (the plan for) a war with the Islamic Republic of Iran, in the opinion of General Makarov, may again come out to the foreground.

General Makarov, Chief of the General Staff, said: “The consequences of such an attack will be terrible not only for the region but also for us. Iran is our neighbor and we are very carefully following this situation. The leadership of our country is undertaking all measures in order not to allow such a (military) development of events.” ‘

 

The less potentially catastrophic path, tougher United Nations Security Council sanctions, however, depend on Russia and China going along. Despite Washington’s optimism that Russia is softening toward the idea of stricter sanctions, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov cast the severest doubts on that idea on Friday.

In a radio interview on Friday with Ekho Moskvy Radio, which was translated by the USG Open Source Center, Lavrov was asked, “What is the situation with Iran’s foreign policy today? And is it true that we now have as a whole a united position with the United States on Iran?”

The foreign minister replied, “I don’t think that we have a united position.” He said that both Washington and Moscow agree on the importance of not allowing “a violation of the regime of nonproliferation of nuclear weapons.” He said the two countries have the same position on this issue, “although we do not coincide 100 per cent in methods of implementing it.”

So what Lavrov is saying is that the US and Russia do not actually have a common position or agree on really tough sanctions. They just both have a vague similar position that proliferation is bad.

Lavrov said that Moscow’s independent stance toward Iran is rooted in the two countries’ historical relationship as well as in Russian desire to get Iranian cooperation on such issues as the disposition of resources in the Caspian Sea. (For a quick overview of Russian-Iranian relations, see N.M. Mamedova, who also mentions Iran’s tacit support for Russia against Georgia in the Caucasus.) Lavrov said:

‘ But Iran for us, unlike the US, is a close neighbour, a country with which we have had a very long, historically conditioned relationship, a country with which we cooperate in the economic, humanitarian and military-technology fields alike and, let me note this particularly, a country that is our partner in the Caspian along with three other Caspian littoral states.

Therefore, we are not at all indifferent to what happens in Iran and around it. This applies to our economic interests and our security interests alike. This also applies . . . to the task of early settlement of the legal status of the Caspian Sea, which is not an easy task and in the approaches to which the Iranian position is close enough to ours.

Therefore, speaking of the proliferation threats, yes, we are concerned about Iran’s reaction. ‘

Lavrov is less convinced there is anything sinister about Iran’s civilian nuclear research, though he admits that questions remain:

‘ in the process of work, questions arose both from the IAEA’s inspectors themselves and on the basis of the intelligence which the IAEA obtains from various countries. They were questions that aroused suspicion as to whether there might in reality be some military aspects to Iran’s nuclear programme.

These questions were presented to the Iranians, as required by the procedures applicable in such cases. And, some time ago, Iran answered most of them. In principle, its answers were satisfactory, in a way that was considered by the professionals in Vienna normal. However, some of the questions are still on the table. ‘

So Lavrov thinks Iran’s answers are largely ‘satisfactory,’ though there remain small areas of uncertainty.

 

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was in Moscow earlier this week calling for ‘crippling sanctions on Iran.’ Lavrov’s remarks clearly indicated that Moscow disagreed that that situation was so perilous as to call for such a step.

But just to be sure there was no misunderstanding, Lavrov sent out his own deputy foreign minister, Sergei Ryabkov, to denounce any such talk.

Ryabkov said, according to Xinhua, “The term ‘crippling sanctions’ on Iran is totally unacceptable to us. The sanctions should aim at strengthening the regime of non- proliferation . . . We certainly cannot talk about sanctions that could be interpreted as punishment on the whole country and its people for some actions or inaction . . . ” He said that Russia sought to settle differences with Iran through dialogue and engagement. He also pledged that Russia would honor its deal to provide Iran S-300 air defense systems. He said, “There is a contract to supply these systems to Iran and we will fulfil it. The delays are linked to technical problems with adjusting these systems . . . “

So on Friday, even as the hawks in Washington watered at the mouth at the prospect of being able to use the new IAEA report as a basis for belligerency against Iran, Russia’s foreign policy establishment was engaged in a whirlwind of activity aimed at challenging the notion that Moscow is was in Washington’s back pocket on Iran sanctions. The chief of staff predicted American collapse in an Iran conflagration, and vowed in any case to try to block any such attack. The foreign minister pronounced himself largely but not completely satisfied with Iran’s answers concerning its nuclear activities, and underlined that Russia needs Iran because of Caspian issues (and he could have added, because of Caucasus and Central Asian ones). And then the deputy foreign minister was enlisted to slap Netanyahu around a little, presumably on the theory that it would sting less coming from someone with ‘deputy’ in his title.

Those who have argued that Russia’s increasing willingness to acquiesce in tougher UNSC sanctions might influence China to go along, too, should rethink. Russia doesn’t seem all that aboard with a brutal sanctions regime. China not only has its own reasons not to want its own deals with Iran to be declared illegal, but its leaders doubt Iran has the capacity to construct a nuclear warhead anytime soon.

Postscript: The head of Iran’s nuclear program, interviewed on Aljazeera, warns the US against pressuring Iran.

21 February, 2010

Juancole.com

In Port-au-Prince, Life Goes On, As Does Suffering

In Port-au-Prince, Life Goes On, As Does Suffering

By Tanya Golash-Boza

03 February, 2010
Dissident Voice

I have crossed many borders in my life, and crossing the border from the Dominican Republic to Haiti on Monday, January 25, 2010 was one of the easiest I have seen. We were forewarned that the border is heavily militarized, that we had to provide evidence of vaccinations, and even that we had to give 24-hour notice before crossing the border.

However, crossing the border into Haiti was simply a matter of asking the person who was about to close the gate to leave it open for us. We were waved through and no one asked for our passports, our vaccination cards, the reason for our trip, or how long we planned to stay in the country. Crossing was so easy that we were not sure we were in Haiti until we saw two Haitian police officers standing outside the UN building in Malpasse.

We made it to the border a lot quicker than we thought we would. It took less than five hours to get to Jimani from Santo Domingo, and, an hour later we were at Croix-de-Bouquet, a town just outside Port-au-Prince. It was there we encountered our first problem — a major traffic jam. Aid trucks and vans coming in and out were blocking the way, and traffic was completely deadlocked.

We did not see any evidence that people are hijacking cars on the roads and stealing provisions, as we had been warned. Instead, we found many friendly people who guided us to our destination. We arranged to meet with our contacts in Croix-de-Bouquet.

In Croix-de-Bouquet, we began to see some of the destruction caused by the earthquake. Many houses were left standing, yet many others had been demolished. In general, however, life seemed to go on as usual. People were selling telephone cards, food, drinks, and other sundry items on the street.

Young men from the Dominican Civil Defense and police officers were trying to direct traffic in Croix-de-Bouquet, without much success. Finally, we were able to get through by going down a side road, and we made our way towards Port-au-Prince.

Driving along, we saw many destroyed buildings, and a lot of people in need. Relief efforts are underway, but they are not enough. Even if they were enough, there are little signs of how the city will begin to rebuild itself. People cannot live off of handouts of rice and beans forever, nor should they.

What’s more, the earth continues to tremble, keeping people in fear. In one day, there were three noticeable tremors. Each one shows the earth’s power and validates people’s fear that another terrible quake will occur. Geologists have confirmed that the earth has not finished settling and that another quake is likely.

Nevertheless, to the extent possible, people in Port-au-Prince continue with their daily routine. People with roadside stands set up shop where they can; police officers show up to work. However, many others are idle. Many businesses have been shut down because the building has been destroyed or rendered unusable. Schools are not operational because of damage. Many people are not going to work because their place of employment is not there any more.

At the same time, there is a lot of work to be done in Haiti. Some people are coordinating rescue efforts and cleaning up buildings and sweeping streets. Others are providing security for those who must sleep on the streets or in tent cities. Others are rebuilding walls or salvaging bricks from destroyed buildings.

The future of Port-au-Prince and of Haiti remain uncertain. Port-au-Prince needs not only to be rebuilt, but also to be built better. The poor building construction is one of the main reasons for the high mortality in the aftermath of the quake. There is much more work to be done, and, as yet, no clear plan for how it will be accomplished. There are many destroyed buildings and little organization in place for a plan to rebuild the city.

With the national palace and many important government buildings in ruins, there is barely a functioning government in Haiti. This makes organization difficult.

With many problems in providing relief, many people in Haiti continue to live with little food and in unsanitary conditions. On Wednesday, we saw a dead body lying by the side of the road, full of flies. Two weeks after the earthquake and no one had taken this corpse to the morgue or even to one of the many mass graves.

That is one image I can’t get out of my mind. Another is a destroyed school. It was a seven story building. During the earthquake, it shook so hard that it completely crumbled. The walls disintegrated and each floor fell on top of the other. People say that there was a room full of students in the basement, and that they likely have died slowly of thirst and hunger, as no one came to clear the building and rescue them.

The loss of life in that one school is a clear example of the fact that many lives were lost, not just because the earth shook, but because Haiti is a poor country. The incredibly poor quality of the seven story building meant that the walls crumbled under the weight of the ceilings. The lack of sufficient heavy machinery meant that there were not enough trucks to come and remove the rubble and potentially save the lives of the children and teachers in the basement.

The accumulated human suffering in Haiti is unfathomable to me. Although I have now left Haiti, images of destruction run like a slideshow through my mind. The fact that many of these deaths were preventable makes it worse. For these reasons, I am committed to doing what I can to ensure that this destruction does not reoccur. For that to happen, we cannot turn our eyes away from Haiti once the cameras are gone and the blood dries up. We must work to build a better Haiti and a better world — one in which people do not die because of poverty and inequality.

Tanya Golash-Boza is on the faculty at the University of Kansas

Source: http://dissidentvoice.org/2010/02/in-port-au-prince-life-goes-on-as-does-suffering/

 

A matter of Interest

Islamic Financial Management

A matter of Interest

The Rationale of Islam’s Anti-Interest Stance

Dr. M. Umer Chapra

 

The contention that the charging of interest was prohibited mainly because of the injustice it inflicts upon the poor does not go far enough towards the full rationale. During the prophet’s time [May the peace and blessings of God be upon him] borrowing was primarily undertaken not by the poor but by tribes and rich traders who operated as large partnership companies to conduct large-scale trade. This was necessitated by the prevailing circumstances. The difficult terrain, the harsh climate, and the slow means of communication made the task of trade caravans difficult and time consuming.

 

It was just not possible to make several business trips to the east and the west in a given year.

 

Funds remained blocked for a long time. Hence, it was necessary for the caravans to muster all available financial resources to purchase the local exportable products, sell them abroad, and bring back the entire needs of their society for imports during a specific period.

 

Before Islam, such resources were mobilized on the basis of interest. Islam abolished the interest-based nature of the financier-entrepreneur relationship and reorganized it on a profit and loss sharing basis. This still enabled the financier to have a just share in the enterprise, but the entrepreneur was not crushed by adverse conditions such as the caravan being waylaid on the journey.

 

This demonstrates that although the extension of meaningful help to the poor carries a high priority in the Islamic value system, it is not the only reason for the proscription of interest. The primary reason is the realization of overall socio economic justice, which is declared by the Qur’an to be the main mission of all God’s messengers [57:25].

 

Justice, however, is not a hollow term. It has several implications, the most important of which is that the resources provided by God to mankind must by utilized in such a manner that the universally cherished humanitarian goals of general need fulfillment, full employment; equitable distribution of income and wealth, and economic stability, are realized.

 

It is the contention here that these humanitarian goals cannot be realized without a humanitarian strategy. An important, though not the only, element of such a strategy is the abolition of interest. This would necessitate the reorganization of financial intermediation on the basis-of equity and profit and loss sharing; thus making the financier share in the risks as well as the rewards of business, and not assuring him of a predetermined rate of return irrespective of the ultimate outcome of business.

1. Need fulfillment

Financial intermediation on the basis of interest tends to allocate financial resources among borrowers on the criteria of their ability to provide acceptable collateral to guarantee the repayment of principal, and sufficient cash flow to service the debt. End use of financial resources does not constitute the main criterion. Hence, financial resources go to the rich, who fulfill both the criteria, and also to governments, who, it is assumed, will never go bankrupt.

 

However, the rich borrow not only for investment but also for conspicuous consumption and speculation, while governments borrow not only for development and public well-being, but also for chauvinistic defense build up and white elephant projects. This contributes to a rapid expansion in unproductive and wasteful spending and, besides accentuating macroeconomic and external imbalances, squeezes resources available for need fulfillment and development.

 

This explains why even the richest countries in the world, like the United States, have been unable to fulfill the essential needs of all their people in spite of abundant resources at their disposal.

 

2. Full employment

The unproductive and wasteful spending which the collateral linked, interest based financial intermediation has the tendency to promote, has led to a decline in savings in almost all countries around the world. Even in the industrial countries, net national saving as a percentage of national income declined by almost 4 per cent between the 1960s and the 1980s3. The world saving shortfall has been responsible for persistently high levels of real interest rates. This has led to lower rates of rise in investment, economic growth and employment. Unemployment has hence become one of the most intractable problems for all countries, including the rich industrial world.

 

Unemployment stood at 8.6 per cent in OECD Europe in 1988-90, three times its level of 2.9 per cent in 1971-734. It is not expected to fall significantly below this level in the near future because a real rate of economic growth of 3.5 per cent is required to prevent unemployment from rising, and European growth has been below this benchmark since 1976.

 

Even more worrying is the higher than average rate of youth unemployment because it hurts their pride, dampens their faith in the future, increases their hostility towards society and damages their personal capacities and potential contribution.

 

Given the budgetary constraints, the ever-looming threat of inflation, and the prospect of low growth rates continuing in the foreseeable future, the possibility of attaining full employment in the western world is not very bright, a decline in wasteful spending and a rise in savings and investment would be very helpful. But this is not possible when the value system encourages both the public and the private sectors to live beyond their means and the interest based financial intermediation makes this possible by making credit easily available without due regard to its end use. If, however, interest is prohibited and banks are required to share in the risk and rewards of financing, they will be more careful in lending, wasteful spending will decline and more resources will become available for productive investment and development. This will lead to higher growth, a rise in employment opportunities, and a gradual decline in unemployment.

 

3. Equitable distribution

The inequitable allocation of financial resources in the conventional interest based financial system is not widely recognized. According to Arne Bigsten, ‘the distribution of capital is even more unequal than that of land,’ and ‘the banking system tends to reinforce the unequal distribution of capital5.’ The reason, as already indicated, is that interest- based financial intermediation relies heavily on collateral, giving inadequate consideration to the strength of the project or the ultimate use of financing. Thus, while deposits come from a cross section of society. Their benefit goes mainly to the rich.

 

As Mishan so rightly pointed out: ‘Given that differences in wealth are substantial, it would be irrational for the lender to be willing to lend much to the impecunious as to the richer members of society, or to lend the same amounts on the same terms to each6.’ The Morgan guarantee trust company, sixth largest bank in the US, has admitted that the banking system has failed to ‘finance either maturing smaller companies or venture capitalists,’ and ‘though awash with funds, is not encouraged to deliver competitively priced funding to any but the largest, most cash-rich companies7.’

 

The Islamic financial system can be more conducive to the realization of equity. Risk / reward sharing would compel the financier to give due consideration to the strength of the project, thus making it possible for even the poor but competent entrepreneurs to get financing if they have worthwhile projects.

 

A large number of small and medium enterprises would thus be able to get financing from financial institutions without being able to offer the collateral. This should enable society to harness the pool of entrepreneurial ability from even among the poor. The rich contribution that such entrepreneurs can make to output, employment and need fulfillment could thus be tapped.

 

There is no reason to be unduly apprehensive about loan losses from such financing. The experience of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) is that credit provided to the most enterprising of the poor is quickly repaid by them from their higher earnings8. Other small loan programmers have yielded similar results in several countries.

4. Economic stability

The rate of interest has become one of the most important destabilizing factors in the present day world economy. Milton Friedman, a Nobel Laureate, attributed the unprecedentedly erratic behavior of the US economy to the erratic behavior of interest rates9. The high degree of interest rate volatility injects great uncertainty into the investment market. It makes the share of interest in the total return on invested capital (interest+profit) continually fluctuate. This makes it difficult to take long-term investment decisions with confidence. It drives borrowers and lenders alike into the shorter end of the financial market, thus bringing about a shift in the short and long-term commitment of funds and between equity and loan financing.

 

Fluctuating interest rates also create gyratic shifts in financial resources between users, sectors of the economy and countries, causing erratic movements in loan-based investment, commodity and stock prices, and exchange rates. With every rise in the rate of interest in  a floating rate system in a short ended  market, there is a rise in the rate of business failures, not because of any inefficiency or slackness on the part of the proprietor, but because of the sudden decline in profit, which is the entrepreneur’s share in the total return on capital. Business failures mean not only personal financial losses to proprietors and stock holders, but also a decline in employment, output, investment and productive capacity losses which take longer, and are more difficult to make up. All these factors have, no doubt, serious implications for economic activity and stability.

 

In a wholly equity based system, the entrepreneur’s share in the total return on capital would depend on the profit-sharing ratio and the ultimate outcome of the business. The profit-sharing ratio between the entrepreneur and the financier cannot fluctuate from day to day or even month to month like the rate of interest because it would be determined by  custom and considerations of justice and remain  contractually stable throughout the  duration of the financing agreement. Since the ultimate outcome of business depends on a number of factors which do not change erratically, an equity-based economy would therefore tend to be more stable than a loan-based economy. This has been recognized by a number of prominent western economists, including Henry Simons, Hyman Minsky and  Joan Robinson10.

 

Conclusion

Thus it may be seen that the prohibition of interest has to be an indispensable part of the strategy of any system, which believes in the brotherhood of mankind and wishes to to actualize the humanitarian goals of need fulfillment, full employment, equitable distribution of income and wealth, and economic stability. The reason why capitalism has not been able to realize these goals is that there is a conflict between its goals and its strategy. The goals are humanitarian, originating from its religious past, while the strategy is social-Darwinist, based on the concept of the survival of the fittest.

 

For the allocation of scarce financial resources, capitalism relies primarily on the rate of interest, which gives an edge to the rich and leads not only to a concentration of wealth but also a rise in conspicuous and wasteful consumption. This hurts the goal of need fulfillment and contributes to a slower growth in saving, investment, employment and output, thus frustrating the realization of overall human well being.

 

References

 

1. James Hastings, Encyclopedia of religion and ethics (NewYork): Charles Scribner’s Sons n. d.). Vol. 12, pp.555. See also john Noonan, the scholastic analysis of usury (Cambridge, mass: Harvard Univ. press, 1957), p.20.

2. See: the bible-Ezekiel, 18:8, 13,7; 22:12. See also Exodus, 22:25-27; Leviticus, 25:36-38; Deuteronomy, 23:19; Luke, 6:35.

3. See: Bank for International Settlements 61st Annual Report,1 April 1990-31 march 991, Basle 10 June 1991, p.32. See also OECD Economic Outlook, December 1991, p.21.

4. OECD Economic Outlook. December 1991, Tab. 2,p.7.

5. Arne Bigsten, ‘Poverty, Inequality and Development, in Norman Gemell, Surveys in Development Economics (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1987). P. 156.

6. E.S. Mishan, Cost Benefit Analysis: An Introduction (New York: Praeger, 1971),p. 205.

7. Morgan Guarantee Trust Co. of New York, World Financial Markets , January 1987, p.7.

8. See: The Economist, 16 February 1985, p.15.

9. Milton Friedman, ‘The Yo-Yo US Economy’, Newsweek, 15 February 1982,p.4.

10. Henry Simons Economic Policy for a Free Society (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1948), p. 320.

Hyman Minsky, John Maynard Keynes (New York: Columbia Univ. Press 1975). See also: Summary of Minsky’s argument cited by Joan Robinson in ‘what are the Questions?’, Journal of Economic Literature. December 1977. p. 1331. The quotation on the instability of credit is from C.P. Kindleberger, Manias, Panics, and Crashes (London: Macmillan, 1978). p.16.  Joan Robinson, op.cit.p.1331

Dr. Chapra is the Senior Economic Advisor to the

Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency (SAMA)

He is well known for his contributions to Islamic economics over more than two decades-contributions which earned him two international awards in 1989: the King Faysal International Award in Islamic Studies and the Islamic Development Bank Award in Islamic Economics.

 

Saving And Sharing Food

Saving And Sharing Food

By Devinder Sharma

26 November 2011

@ Ground Reality

World produces enough food for the year 2050. The problem is access and distribution

With the world population crosses 7 billion, feeding the teeming population is becoming a major concern. At times of diminishing land resources, and in an era of climate change, ensuring food security is the biggest challenge.

All efforts are aimed at increasing food production. Somehow an impression has been created that the world needs to increase crop production manifold if it has to meet the food requirement for the year 2050. The global population would then be 9 billion. What is however deliberately being glossed over is that there is at present no shortage of food. It is not production, but access and distribution that need immediate attention.

At present, the total quantity of food that is produced globally is good enough to meet the daily needs of 11.5 billion people. If every individual were to get his daily food requirement as per the WHO norms, there would be abundant food supplies. In terms of calories, against the average per capita requirement of 2,300, what is available is a little more than 4,500 calories. In other words, the world is already producing more food than what would be required in 2050. So where is the need to panic?

Why then is the world faced with hunger? Simply put, one part of the world is eating more and the other is left to starve. Hunger has grown over the years because of gross food mismanagement. Let me explain. At the 1996 World Food Summit, political leaders had pledged to pull out half the world’s hungry (at that time the figure was somewhere around 840 million) by the years 2015. In other words, by 2010, the world should have removed at least 300 million people from the hunger list.

Instead it has added another 85 million to raise the hunger tally to 925 million. In my understanding, this too is a gross understatement. The horrendous face of hunger is being kept deliberately hidden. But nevertheless, let’s again go back to the question we posed earlier: If there is no shortage of food than why the growing pangs of hunger?

Consider this. An average American consumes about 125 kg of meat, including 46 kg of poultry meat. While the Indians are still lagging behind, the Chinese are fast catching up with the American lifestyle. The Chinese consume about 70 kg of meat on average each year, inclusive of 8.7 kg of poultry meat. The Indian average is around 3.5 kg of meat, much of it (2.1 kg) coming from poultry. If you put all this together, the Chinese are the biggest meat eaters, and for obvious reasons – devouring close to 100 million tonnes every year. America is not far behind, consuming about 35 million tonnes of meat in a year.

When I said earlier that one part of the world is eating more, this is what I meant. Six times more grain is required to provide the proteins that are consumed by the meat-eaters. Changing the dietary habits therefore assumes importance. But still worse, Americans throw away as much as 30 percent of their food, worth $ 48.3 billion. Why only blame the Americans, walk into any marriage ceremony in India and you would be aghast to see the quantity of food that goes waste.

Food wastage has therefore become our right.

Considering FAO’s projections of the number of people succumbing to hunger and malnutrition at around 24,000 a day, I had calculated that by the year 2015, the 20 years time limit that World Food Summit had decided to work on to pull out half the hungry, 172 million people would die of hunger. These people are succumbing to hunger because both at the household and at the national level, we have allowed food to go waste.

In America, for instance, hunger has broken a 14-year record and one in every ten Americans lives in hunger. In Europe, 40 million people are hungry, almost equivalent to the population of Spain. In India, nearly 320 million people live in hunger. The International Institute for Food Policy’s Global Hunger Index 2011 ranks India 67th among 81 countries. While India ranks lower than Rwanda, what is still more shocking is that Punjab – the food bowl – ranks below Sudan and Honduras in ensuring food security.

 

Is it so difficult to remove hunger? The answer is No.

A simple act of saving and sharing food is the best way to fight hunger. It can begin at the household level, at the community level and of course at the regional and national levels. If every household were to ensure that no food is wasted, and then organise the left over to be delivered to the poor and needy, much of the hunger that we see around can be taken care of. A small initiative in Rewari town in Haryana has galvanised the township into saving and sharing food. If it can happen in Rewari, it can happen in your neighbourhood too. Try it, and you will see you too can make a difference.

Devinder Sharma is a food and agriculture policy analyst. His writings focus on the links between biotechnology, intellectual property rights, food trade and poverty. His blog is Ground Reality

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why We Need A Financial Transaction Tax: A Proposal For The G20

Why We Need A Financial Transaction Tax: A Proposal For The G20

By Kavaljit Singh

30 October, 2011
Countercurrents.org

At the forthcoming G20 Summit (Cannes, 3-4 November 2011), the summit leaders are expected to address several policy issues concerning world economy and financial markets, many of which remained unresolved since the Toronto Summit in June 2010. Against the backdrop of a weak global economy and the ongoing eurozone sovereign debt crisis, G20 leaders will have to take some hard decisions. Failure to do so would undermine the effectiveness and credibility of G20 as the “premium forum” for international economic cooperation.

One of the key policy issues to be tackled at the Cannes Summit is the introduction of a global financial transaction tax (FTT). The Interim Report of the G-20 on Fair and Substantial Contribution by the Financial Sector (2010) had proposed a flat rate levy on all financial institutions and “financial activities tax” on profits and remuneration in order to pay for future financial clean-ups and reduce systemic risk. But the proposal got diluted at the G-20 meeting held at Busan in June 2010, which called for implementation of the levy taking into account individual country’s circumstances and options.

The policy objectives for a FTT are essentially two-fold: to raise revenue; and to restore stability and integrity in the financial markets. According to estimates made by Bill Gates (founder of Microsoft) in a forthcoming report to the G20 on new sources of finance for development, a tax on financial transactions could generate about $50 billion from G20 member-countries. Some other estimates claim that a global financial transaction tax could generate as much as $250 billion if a wide range of transactions are included. The resources raised through FTT could be better utilized to support programs to fight hunger and poverty, and pay for climate mitigation and adaptation costs.

 

The European Tax Proposal

On 28 September 2011, European Commission President José Manuel Barroso announced the adoption of an EC proposal to implement a FTT in all 27 member-states of the European Union. He also underlined the need for Europe to collectively push for a global FTT at the Cannes Summit.

The European proposal consists of a 0.1 percent tax on trading bonds and shares and a 0.01 percent tax on derivatives trading. These are minimum tax rates and member-states can impose higher rates if they wish. According to the official statement, the tax would be levied on all transactions on financial instruments between financial institutions when at least one party to the transaction is located in the EU.

It is estimated that the proposed tax could generate around $78 billion a year. If unanimously approved by all member-states, the EU-wide tax will come into force on January 1, 2014. Despite resistance from powerful financial services lobby, the proposed European tax transpired in response to growing public anger against the massive bailouts and costly public recapitalizations of banks and financial institutions since 2008.

The proposed tax enjoys considerable public support within Europe. Germany and France have strongly backed the EU proposal while the UK insists that it would only back a financial transaction tax if it were applied globally. The City of London, lobby groups (such as European Banking Federation) and conservative think-tanks (such as Adam Smith Institute) have strongly opposed the European tax proposal. The critics argue that the proposed tax would trigger a liquidity squeeze and increase the costs of trading for financial institutions and other market participants. The UK’s support to the EU-wide tax proposal is vital as City of London is the world’s leading financial center. There are apprehensions that the UK could mobilize other European countries, particularly Sweden and Ireland, against the proposed tax in the coming months.

 

The Growing Opposition

At G20, the idea of a global FTT has been strongly resisted by Canada, US and Australia. In particular, Canada has been a vocal critic of a global FTT for many years. During the Toronto Summit, the Canadian leadership did not encourage any serious discussions on the FTT.

Canada is opposed to the tax on the grounds that its banking system remained strong during the global financial crisis and no bailouts were sought. Canada also perceives that the FTT would be counterproductive during the weak economic conditions. “We will continue leading that charge against a transactions tax and I am confident that our allies on this point, who are the emerging economies, will stay with us and join us in opposing what we view as a counterproductive tax,” said Mr. Jim Flaherty (Canada’s Finance Minister) in a speech to the US financial industry in response to the European proposal. “I am actually confident that we have enough of them in the G20 that we will be successful on that initiative,” he further added.

With the tactical backing of US, Australia, China and India, Canada could generate enough political support within G20 against a global STT at the Cannes Summit.

India’s Position on FTT

At the G-20 Ministerial Meeting at Busan (June 2010), India expressed its reservations against a global FTT on the grounds that there was need for better and well-placed regulations rather than imposing taxes on the banks and financial transactions.

India also pointed out that its conservative approach towards banking regulation helped in protecting national banking system. There is no denying that India’s regulatory framework (often criticized as “outdated” and “inward looking”) acted as a key factor in protecting the domestic banking system from the global financial crisis, yet India’s official position on FTT at the G20 is questionable on three counts.

Firstly, transaction taxes are an integral part of the armoury that policymakers deploy to regulate the financial sector. No one has claimed that transactions taxes are a substitute to well-placed regulatory and supervisory measures. Rather taxation and regulations are complimentary tools used by policymakers to address externalities.

Secondly, not long ago, India had strongly argued in favor of a global financial transaction tax to meet social and developmental needs of the poor countries at various international forums. While addressing the Non-Aligned Movement Business Forum in Kuala Lumpur (2003), the then India’s Prime Minister, Mr. Atal Bihari Vajpayee stated, “I believe there is another initiative, which NAM can spearhead for the reform of the international financial architecture. We know that unstable capital flows can severely disrupt developing economies. There is less ready acceptance of the idea that such flows should be regulated by an international levy. I believe this is a reform whose time has come.”

Thirdly, India itself introduced a Securities Transaction Tax more than six years ago with the twin objectives of raising additional revenue and maintaining market integrity. By not lending support to the idea of a global FTT at G20, India has lost an opportunity to build tactical alliances with the poor countries and global civil society to reforms the financial markets.

Securities Transaction Tax in India

In 2004, India introduced a Securities Transaction Tax (STT) in equity markets. Currently, STT is charged at the rate of 0.125 percent on a delivery-based buy and sell transactions and 0.025 percent on non delivery-based sale transactions. The rate is 0.017 percent on F&O sale transactions. Imposed on both foreign and domestic investors, the STT is collected by the stock exchanges from the brokers and passed on to the exchequer, thereby enabling the authorities to raise revenue in a neat and efficient manner.

Termed as “Terminator Tax,” the STT was strongly opposed by a lobby of speculators, day traders, arbitrageurs, and “noise traders.” Many of them had predicted that the introduction of STT would bring Indian financial markets to a standstill and would dry up liquidity.

Since its implementation, all apprehensions related to STT have proved erroneous. The fact that there is too much liquidity in the Indian markets is also admitted by the critics of STT. The implementation of STT has also reduced some loopholes in the existing tax regime. For instance, foreign investors who used to take undue advantage of the bilateral direct tax avoidance treaties (such as India-Mauritius tax treaty) are now taxed under the STT regime.

Since 2004, Indian authorities have collected sizeable revenue from the STT. During the fiscal year 2009-10, the government’s revenue from STT was Rs. 59940 million ($1.3 billion), a substantial amount in the present times when tax revenues are under severe pressure. The tax authorities have set a target of Rs. 75000 million ($1.6 billion) for the fiscal year 2011-12. However, the trading trends reveal that the STT did not help much in reducing the volatility in the Indian equity markets, as anticipated by many proponents.

Rather than further widening the scope of STT, Finance Ministry is planning a complete or phased withdrawal of it with the expectation that it may substantially increase market turnover.

The Rationale behind FTT

Apart from revenue potential, there are several other justifications for the adoption of a global transaction tax. Such a tax could facilitate the monitoring of international financial flows by providing a centralized database on such flows, which is the need of the hour. This could be particularly valuable to the poor and developing countries where large information gaps exist.

Unlike many other services, no value added tax (VAT) is imposed on financial transactions in many jurisdictions. By taxing diverse financial transactions, a strong message would be conveyed that private banks and financiers must share the costs of the global financial crisis.

Given the fact that majority of transactions carried out by speculators and high frequency traders are short-term and speculative, this tax can curb speculative tendencies that induce excessive volatility and fragility in the financial markets. While a small tax is unlikely to discourage long-term investors such as pension funds. The argument that the FTT would trigger a liquidity squeeze in financial markets lacks evidence. As argued by Avinash Persaud (in a recent article at Vox.EU), “During calm times, when markets are already liquid, high-frequency traders are contrarian and support liquidity, but during times of crisis, they try to run ahead of the trend, draining liquidity just when it is needed most, as we saw with the Flash Crash on 6 May 2010. If a transaction tax limits high-frequency trading it may even provide a bonus in improving systemic resilience.”

Is a FTT Feasible?

Much of the criticism of the FTT is centered on the question of its practicability and technical feasibility. It is often argued that the imposition of such a tax is a difficult proposition since the volumes traded are too high. If the modern electronic system can enable large-scale financial transactions within and across borders, why can’t the same technology be used to collect taxes?

Critics also argue it is almost impossible to get all the countries to agree on a common global tax. Nevertheless, a beginning can be made with a few countries coming together on this issue even if a strong consensus across territories is not possible immediately. Europe can take the lead and introduce the FTT at the European level. The G20 member-countries could also impose such a tax unilaterally or collectively. An agreement among the leading financial centers could also contain the threat of relocation of financial activities to other places.

The issues raised by FTT are more political than technical. Its adoption requires strong political will, particularly among the G20 member-countries. The recent experience (for instance, money laundering related to drug trafficking) shows that international cooperation among countries is possible if there is a political will. A similar cooperative initiative is required to address myriad implementation issues related to FTT.

Another common criticism of FTT is related to evasion. All taxes (e.g., income tax and property tax), for that matter, are open to evasion but this is not sound enough reason for not having them. Concerted efforts should be made to check loopholes, as no policy measure can be foolproof.

While supporting the case for a global financial transaction tax, no one argues that all problems related to global financial markets would be resolved. In the present times, no single policy instrument alone can fix global finance. Nevertheless, such a tax could serve as a first step towards building international cooperation on global financial reforms. If it is used in conjunction with other policy instruments (for instance, capital controls), FTT does offer an attractive mechanism to reform the global financial markets.

Kavaljit Singh is the Director of Madhyam, New Delhi (www.madhyam.org.in). This article is based on a recent Briefing Paper brought out by Madhyam in close collaboration with SOMO (Amsterdam).

 

 

Everybody’s Son

 

Everybody’s Son

By Uri Avnery

 

22 October 2011

 

THE MOST sensible – I almost wrote “the only sensible” – sentence uttered this week sprang from the lips of a 5-year old boy.

 

After the prisoner swap, one of those smart-aleck TV reporters asked him: “Why did we release 1027 Arabs for one Israeli soldier?” He expected, of course, the usual answer: because one Israeli is worth a thousand Arabs.

 

The little boy replied: “Because we caught many of them and they caught only one.”

 

 

FOR MORE than a week, the whole of Israel was in a state of intoxication. Gilad Shalit indeed ruled the country (Shalit means “ruler”). His pictures were plastered all over the place like those of Comrade Kim in North Korea.

 

It was one of those rare moments, when Israelis could be proud of themselves. Few countries, if any, would have been prepared to exchange 1027 prisoners for one. In most places, including the USA, it would have been politically impossible for a leader to make such a decision.

 

In a way it is a continuation of the Jewish ghetto tradition. The “Redemption of Prisoners” is a sacred religious duty, born of the circumstances of a persecuted and scattered community. If a Jew from Marseilles was captured by Muslim corsairs to be sold on the market of Alexandria, it was the duty of Jews in Cairo to pay the ransom and “redeem” him.

 

As the ancient saying goes: “All Israel are guarantors for each other”.

 

Israelis could (and did) look in the mirror and say “aren’t we wonderful?”

 

 

IMMEDIATELY AFTER the Oslo agreement, Gush Shalom, the peace movement to which I belong, proposed releasing all Palestinian prisoners at once. They are prisoners-of-war, we said, and when the fighting ends, PoWs are sent home. This would transmit a powerful human message of peace to every Palestinian town and village. We organized a joint demonstration with the late Jerusalemite Arab leader, Feisal Husseini, in front of Jeneid prison near Nablus. More than ten thousand Palestinians and Israelis took part.

 

But Israel has never recognized these Palestinians as prisoners-of-war. They are considered common criminals, only worse.

 

This week, the released prisoners were never referred to as “Palestinian fighters”, or “militants”’ or just “Palestinians”. Every single newspaper and TV program, from the elitist Haaretz to the most primitive tabloid, referred to them exclusively as “murderers”, or, for good measure, “vile murderers”.

 

One of the worst tyrannies on earth is the tyranny of words. Once a word becomes entrenched, it directs thought and action. As the Bible has it: “Death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Proverbs 18:21). Releasing a thousand enemy fighters is one thing, releasing a thousand vile murderers is something else.

 

Some of these prisoners have assisted suicide bombers in killing a lot of people. Some have committed really atrocious acts – like the pretty young Palestinian woman who used the internet to lure a love-sick Israeli boy of 15 into a trap, where he was riddled with bullets. But others were sentenced to life for belonging to an “illegal organization” and possessing arms, or for throwing an ineffectual home made bomb at a bus hurting nobody.

 

Almost all of them were convicted by military courts. As has been said, military courts have the same relation to real courts as military music does to real music.

 

All of these prisoners, in Israeli parlance, have “blood on their hands”. But which of us Israelis has no blood on his hands? Sure, a young woman soldier remotely controlling a drone that kills a Palestinian suspect and his entire family has no sticky blood on her hands. Neither has a pilot who drops a bomb on a residential neighborhood and feels only “a slight bump on the wing”, as a former Chief of Staff put it. (A Palestinian once told me: “Give me a tank or a fighter plane, and I shall give up terrorism immediately.”)

 

The main argument against the swap was that, according to Security Service statistics, 15% of prisoners thus released become active “terrorists” again. Perhaps. But the majority of them become active supporters of peace. Practically all of my Palestinian friends are former prisoners, some of whom were behind bars for 12 years and more. They learned Hebrew in prison, became acquainted with Israeli life by watching television and even began to admire some aspects of Israel, such as our parliamentary democracy. Most prisoners just want to go home, settle down and found a family.

 

But during the endless hours of waiting for Gilad’s return, all our TV stations showed scenes of the killings in which the prisoners-to-be-released had been involved, such as the young woman who drove a bomber to his destination. It was a continuous tirade of hatred. Our warm admiration for our own virtue was mingled with the chilling feeling that we are again the victims, compelled to release vile murderers who are going to try and kill us again.

 

Yet all these prisoners fervently believed that they had served their people in its struggle for liberation. Like the famous song: “Shoot me as an Irish soldier / Do not hang me like a dog / For I fought for Ireland’s freedom…” Nelson Mandela, it should be remembered, was an active terrorist who languished in prison for 28 years because he refused to sign a statement condemning terrorism.

 

Israelis (probably like most peoples) are quite unable to put themselves into the shoes of their adversaries. This makes it practically impossible to pursue an intelligent policy, particularly on this issue.

 

HOW WAS Binyamin Netanyahu brought to bend?

 

The hero of the campaign is Noam Shalit, the father. An introverted person, withdrawn and shy of publicity, he came out and fought for his son every single day during these five years and four months. So did the mother. They literally saved his life. They succeeded in raising a mass movement without precedent in the annals of the state.

 

It helped that Gilad looks like everybody’s son. He is a shy young man with an engaging smile that could be seen on each of the stills and videos from before the capture. He was youngish looking, thin and unassuming. Five years later, this week, he still looked the same, only very pale.

 

If our intelligence services had been able to locate him, they would have undoubtedly tried to liberate him by force. This could well have been his death sentence, as happened so often in the past. The fact that they could not find him, despite their hundreds of agents in the Gaza Strip, is a remarkable achievement for Hamas. It explains why he was kept in strict isolation and was not allowed to meet anyone.

 

Israelis were relieved to discover, on his release, that he seemed to be in good condition, healthy and alert. From the few sentences he voiced on his way in Egypt, he had been provided with radio and TV and knew about his parents’ efforts.

 

From the moment he set foot on Israeli soil, almost nothing about the way he was treated was allowed to come out. Where was he kept? How was the food? Did his captors talk with him? What did he think about them? Did he learn Arabic? Up to now, not a word about that, probably because it might throw some positive light on Hamas. He will certainly be thoroughly briefed before being allowed to speak.

 

FOREIGN CORRESPONDENTS repeatedly asked me this week whether the deal had opened the way to a new peace process. As far as the public mood is concerned, the very opposite is true.

 

The same journalists asked me if Binyamin Netanyahu had not been disturbed by the fact that the swap was bound to strengthen Hamas and deal a grievous blow to Mahmoud Abbas. They were flabbergasted by my answer: that this was one of its main purposes, if not the main one.

 

The master stroke was a stroke against Abbas.

 

Abbas’ moves in the UN have profoundly disturbed our right-wing government. Even if the only practical outcome is a resolution of the General Assembly to recognize the State of Palestine as an observer state, it will be a major step towards a real Palestinian state.

 

This government, like all our governments since the foundation of Israel – only more so – is dead set against Palestinian statehood. It would put an end to the dream of a Greater Israel up to the Jordan River, compel us to give back a great chunk of the Land-God-Promised-Us and evacuate scores of settlements.

 

For Netanyahu and Co. this is the real danger. Hamas poses no danger at all. What can they do? Launch a few rockets, kill a few people – so what? In no year has “terrorism” killed as many as half the people dying on our roads. Israel can deal with that. The Hamas regime would probably not be running the Gaza Strip in the first place if Israel had not cut the Strip off from the West Bank, contrary to its solemn undertaking in Oslo to create four safe passages. None was ever opened.

 

That, by the way, also explains the timing. Why did Netanyahu agree now to something he has violently opposed all his life? Because Abbas, the featherless chicken, has suddenly turned into an eagle.

 

On the day of the swap, Abbas made a speech. It sounded rather flat. For the average Palestinian, the case was quite simple: Abbas, with all his Israeli and American friends, has got no one released for years. Hamas, using force, has released more than a thousand, including Fatah members. Ergo: “Israel understands only the language of force”.

 

 

THE VAST majority of Israelis supported the deal, though convinced that the vile murderers will try again to kill us.

 

Never were the lines of division as clear as this time: some 25% opposed it. These included all the extreme right-wing, all the settlers and almost all the national-religious. All the others – the huge camp of the center and left, the secular, liberal and moderate religious – supported it.

 

This is the Israeli mainstream on which the hopes for the future are resting. If Netanyahu had proposed a peace agreement with the Palestinians this week, and if he had been supported by the chiefs of the army, the Mossad and the Security Service (as he was this week), the same majority would have supported him.

 

As for the prisoners – another 4000 are still held in Israeli prisons, and this number is liable to grow again. The opponents of the deal are quite right in saying that it will provide Palestinian organizations with a strong incentive to renew their efforts to capture Israeli soldiers in order to get more prisoners released.

 

If all of Israel is drunk with emotion because one boy has been returned to his family – what about 4000 families on the other side? Unfortunately, ordinary Israelis don’t put the question this way. They have got used to seeing the Palestinian prisoners only as bargaining chips.

 

How to thwart the efforts to capture more soldiers? There is only one alternative: to open a credible way to have them released by agreement.

 

Such as by peace, if you can excuse the expression.

 

 

 

 

The Economy Must Function Within Nature’s Limits

The Economy Must Function Within Nature’s Limits

The economic theories are the present reference base that global capitalism validates its economic policies, which is a circular validation. That’s why, whatever measure we propose to reduce our carbon emission and manage the planet’s depleting resources, economist evaluate it within the hybrid-laissez-faire capitalism’s requirement of growth for a successful economy. To keep the economy growing governments presently manipulate the market by using the taxation system and use taxpayer’s money to give a competitive advantage to industries that maximise growth, for the profit of corporations.

The part that competition plays as a subset of capitalist economic system is as the control-medium for the economy, but its much more than that, it also acts as a decision maker for government, corporations, and individuals. That’s why the economy has to maximise production of goods and services resulting in extraction to depletion all useful minerals and living things. In addition, it forces the maximum extortion from working people in an insidious way; and with the advertisers, shops pressure-sells to every one to attain or maintain sales leadership. Furthermore and as detrimental is the widening discrepancy of power between governments, and between people due to competition. The purpose of competition is to separate people into categories.

Measures that are essential for our survival would stem from different datum; they are, from science-based measurements, observation of our planet’s mineral resources, its biosphere, and particularly our human needs. Those observations states, how much we can take from our environment, what and how much we can dump, and what sort of requirement we need to maximise our wellbeing. Bearing in mind, that we want our descendants to have the best possible life we can leave for them.

Our primary consideration should be to manage the economy in a way we can maintain life as long as the solar system allows us. Presently we disregard the damage we are doing to the planet and the biosphere, because our leaders have to give priority to the economy, that’s for the wealthy to increase their wealth and power. The worst aspect of ignoring our dependence on a healthy environment is that we are an inseparable part of that environment; therefore, damage to the environment will harm us in many ways. Unfortunately, a small damage or just a local damage to the environment we hardly notice and as we progressively damage it, over time, we still don’t notice it. When we do become aware of problem, we think that with our incredible technology and scientific knowledge, we will surmount all obstacles but the scientific community are much more pessimistic of our ability to overcome those dangers. Its likely to end up with the dilemma, that regardless of any decision we may take, the ecosystem and of course that’s us also will keep declining as the planet keeps on warming.

The difference between businesses as usual instead of gradually moving to a no carbon economy is, with business as usual, the corporation will maintain their increasing profits for a short time but unfortunately most of us will fair badly and later we will all be annihilate by our pollutions and depleting resources. However if we stop burning carbon, life may be nearly as difficult at first as we also have to reduce the carbon already in the atmosphere to pre-industrial levels. Nevertheless, we would then gradually improve our lifestyle, the ecology, and attain sustainability.

To stop our carbon emissions and use resources in a sustainable way, we will have to start from the present market economy. The first step should be to change from where and whom government levy their tax. Because we need to reduce and then stop burning fossil fuels, our reliance on mining minerals, and destroying forests etc, we must have an increasing tax and charges on those items. In addition, we must have full employment; we can achieve that if we reduce and then remove all taxes and charges on employing labour and on wages from work. Shifting the taxes levied from the use of labour and the earning from labour to the extraction or use of all minerals, using land, infrastructures, and on company profits. Those changes will also simplify and reduce cost of small business, which employs the major part of the labour force and are less dependent on energy. Removing taxes on labour will also remove the headache that wage earned usually go through working out their superannuation and relatively small tax. Those changes must start small, but increased quickly until we stop polluting and everyone that’s able to work can.

We also must change to a very low carbon economy in a way that we lose only our affluence but gain a better quality of life. Standard of life is different from the quality of life one represents quantity and brand of stuff, while the other, the quality of our life, which includes nutritious food, safe and comfortable living space, and above all happiness, which is largely the result of secure, pleasant, safe, reliable relation with one another and the rest of nature.

It’s easy to reduce and then stop carbon emissions; all we have to do is to stop burning the stuff. When we stop burning carbon and achieve full employment with the tax changes stated above, we will not be able to produce so many things that we have to throw out because they are so cheap there not worth fixing and labour is too expensive due to the taxes and charges on it. We will be able to repair the products bolstering small businesses, which will create interesting and worthwhile jobs. We also won’t be able to afford food grown on the other side of the world or from broad acre and feedlots farming, but local family farmers will provide fresher food and become financially viable. We won’t be able to deplete the ocean of fish and turn forests into woodchip. We will then be able to obey nature’s requirement.

This means that, in future, our need for energy will have to be compatible with the ability of nature to provide it in a sustainable way, not determent by the need of a growing economy. There will be less available energy than we have now, and it may not be on tap exactly when we like to have it. To live within that constrain we will only be able to produce the goods and service that will enhance our lives and not have the surplus to overproduce or take part in activities that are destructive such as wars or simply to increase the wealth of the wealthy. How we produce and share those goods to fulfil our needs, will determine the style of life our children’s can have and even their ability to survive.

Nothing can replace fossil fuels; its flexibility, its enormous quantity, and its energy compactness, all of which has enable capitalism to provide the affluence in the industrialised countries. However, it produced the pollution, global warming, and the reason for many wars that are likely to increase as the fossil fuels run out. Oil powered machines have the ability to remove most of the world resources in a lifetime, it’s even the means to find the oil, extract, and transport it. Oil is also essential to clear fell and woodchip world forests, mine minerals without a thought for future generation, deplete most of what we find useful in the ocean.

We cannot rely on a more efficient use of energy, since this will produce cheaper products enabling a greater quantity of goods, which will use more resources, increasing demand of fossil fuels to top up renewable energy. It will defeat any idea of reducing the use of resources. Wikipedea- “In 1980 (Khazzoom-Brookes postulate) illustrated this well and early in the industrial revolution Jevons showed this phenomena.” “This idea is a more modern analysis of a phenomenon known as the Jevons Paradox. In 1865, William Stanley Jevons observed that England’s consumption of coal increased considerably after James Watt introduced his improvements to the steam engine. Jevons argued that increased efficiency in the use of coal would tend to increase the demand for coal, and would not reduce the rate at which England’s deposits of coal were running out.”

Machines didn’t cause the environmental degradation by running wild, however the competition has dictated the type of machines we made, the way we have to use them and with that system of control, better and more efficient machines will speed up the wreckage of the planet. The reason for the increase use of energy and resources is partly due to the intensity of the competition, our controlling factor. The present competitiveness will ensure that with increase efficiency, we will extract increasing quantity of stuff from the planet and have to tip more in landfill; we will end up emitting more pollutants.

Competition, especially for a very social being like us is similar to a virus infection; it’s an alien introduction into a cooperative social group. Competition is in direct opposition to cooperation; therefore, as a prerequisite for social existence, there must be some cooperation otherwise its chaos, furthermore, societies function best when there’s the most cooperation and the least competition. Maybe that is why Margaret Thatcher said “There is no such thing as society: there are individual men and women, and there are families.” That was as far as Thatcher would allow cooperation. However, humans are genetically very social. This competitive ideology has removed most of society’s control from people to an antisocial way of interacting, where businesses are competing against each other, or dishonestly colluding. Individuals have to compete against each other and against corporation. Competition occurs in nature when there’s a shortage of food or shelter, which can bring on competition, also herd animals especially the males compete for sex. Not all primates compete, as the mating is in many cases a mutual decision. No living things seek competition, but today we use this, desperate survival technique, as a universal decision-making and control method. There’s probably more cooperation than competition in life, if we are rational, it’s better and safer not to compete, and even only few people, would compete against friends to survive during food scarcity.

In this competitive capitalist milieu, scientist evaluations are easily relegate to be less valid than opinions of political, reviewer, shock jock, and economist commentators particularly when it may have an effect on economic growth, that’s, corporation’s profits verses resources depletion and climate change. Politicians are influence and rely on common understanding derived from the Media to convey their message. This gives those people an advantage over scientist as politicians when they are talking to the public, who are also inform by the same organisation, are therefore reassured and it makes sense. While scientist, whose job is to observe, measure, experiment, and test the state of the world have made a very different assessment that contradicts the established understanding that the public have derived from the Media and, as the Media is a prior knowledge, it has a competitive advantage.

Governments world over are giving primacy to the needs of the capitalist growth economy, over future generation’s welfare, while scientist’s reports, which the governments employ to be informed of the health of the biosphere, are shelfed. Politician will make life very difficult for everyone within a few decades, regardless of the directions we then take because due to a time lag the oceans take to warm to a new stable level, it will then probably be to late and the planet will be unliveable. Business as usual could give the wealthy people in the industrial countries continuing lavish life for a short time, maybe a decade or two, until the economy collapses due to lack of resources and a more violent climate. In the ensuing chaos, money and what were the most valuable assets might become worthless while other basic resources might become priceless; it could even leave our powerful billionaires powerless, which might expose them to unpleasant retribution from their angry victims.

People expect the damage we are now doing to the planet can be fixed by our science-based technology as if its miracle -based. By the time it becomes obvious that we have depleted the planet of its vital resources and damaged the ecosystem, we will have a paralysed capitalist economy; the climate will become unbearable. Those changes will start to trigger off a chain of adjustment that is largely unpredictable and could be increasingly severe. That frightful outlook would be due to the tardiness we are expressing now to reduce our consumption, emissions of carbon, and deal with increasing population, all of which would have been an easy task two to three decades ago, but a difficult one now, and an impossible one if we leave it for a decade or two. The use of those resources has changed the ecology and the physical state of the planet, from the outer part of the atmosphere to the bottom of the deepest oceans and this is still in process.

We have two-reference point for people, the primary one is our human need of survival, security, and happiness, the other one is our external dependency on the environment and that takes in a combination of living things, the ecosystem, couple to the non-living component of the planet. Our survival requirements are; the physical one, food, water, and shelter, the other is our psychological needs. They are as vital for our wellbeing and as we are probably the most social of all living things we need company that is compassionate, and cooperative, and with our affinity for others, we experience, satisfaction, pleasure, and happiness when we cooperate and help each other.

The sun gave the biosphere practically all its energy and inturn the biosphere has provided all our subsistence until the industrial revolution. From then on fossil energy replaced the biosphere for most of our dependence for energy. That fossil energy allowed us to grow, expand our extraction of minerals, intensify the use of land, created artificial climate in gigantic buildings etc, but we are now dependent on fossil fuels like a drug. The fossil fuels will run out leaving us with infrastructures that can only function effectively with those fuels, we will then need different infrastructure but we won’t have the surplus energy we had in the pass. We’re on that dead end road.
We ignore the damage or change we are inflicting on the biosphere and how much stress we impose on ourselves because we are powerless to do much about it, while competition controls the economy and the economy adds to the controls of the world societies and its people. It should be obvious that competition prevents people from living within nature’s ability to sustain us and to interact with one another in a way that can give us security and contentment. This is because to stay viable in the economy, one must give precedence to the demands made by competition over those of nature and our longing for security.

People are psychologically very tough and can withstand extreme physical, mental strains, but the strain we exsert on the ecosystem are beyond its capacity to bear much longer, and without a healthy vibrant ecology, the climate looses its major regulator. To get to that fatal stage the economy demands more sacrifice and hard work from people to maintain the growing wealth for the corporations. Life can be easier if we reduce our wasteful and useless needs that the present faulty economy demands.

Like every one else, the intense competitive environment also controls the information Medias. Media proprietors have to maximise the number of people who use their services to maximise the income from advertisers and minimise cost for customers, if possible to nothing. The dire consequence of that financial arrangement is it gives the advertisers, the most competitive section of the economy, an undue power over the Media all through a cascade of competitive control. Competition for the Media has an added danger because it’s so intensive that we sacrificed honesty, public knowledge, and our feelings for others. The tendency to dumb down, to achieve a two-fold benefit, it reduces people’s critical ability and it’s an easy way to increase circulation. The Murdoch News Empire became a victim of that; it sacrificed its integrity. It achieved the greatest spread of ignorance and confusion of any media in the last fifty years. Murdoch thought he was in control, but the competition controlled him, as we all are, but to far less degree for most of us. Competition breeds dishonesty and even Murdoch’s News Media and his children need honesty if they are to survive.

By Lionel Anet

31 July, 2011

Countercurrents.org

Lionel Anet is a writer from Australia.

 

 

War on terror’ set to surpass cost of Second World War

‘War on terror’ set to surpass cost of Second World War

By Rupert Cornwell in Washington

Thursday, 30 June 2011

The total cost to America of its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, plus the related military operations in Pakistan, is set to exceed $4 trillion – more than three times the sum so far authorised by Congress in the decade since the 9/11 attacks.

This staggering sum emerges from a new study by academics at the Ivy-league Brown University that reveals the $1.3 trillion officially appropriated on Capitol Hill is the tip of a spending iceberg. If other Pentagon outlays, interest payments on money borrowed to finance the wars, and the $400bn estimated to have been spent on the domestic “war on terror”, the total cost is already somewhere between $2.3 and $2.7 trillion.

And even though the wars are now winding down, add in future military spending and above all the cost of looking after veterans, disabled and otherwise and the total bill will be somewhere between $3.7 trillion and $4.4 trillion.

The report by Brown’s Watson Institute for International Studies is not the first time such astronomical figures have been cited; a 2008 study co-authored by the Harvard economist Linda Bilmes and Joseph Stiglitz, a former Nobel economics laureate, reckoned the wars would end up costing over $3 trillion. The difference is that America’s financial position has worsened considerably in the meantime, with a brutal recession and a federal budget deficit running at some $1.5 trillion annually, while healthcare and social security spending is set to soar as the population ages and the baby boomer generation enters retirement.

Unlike most of America’s previous conflicts moreover, Iraq and Afghanistan have been financed almost entirely by borrowed money that sooner or later must be repaid.

The human misery is commensurate. The report concludes that in all, between 225,000 and 258,000 people have died as a result of the wars. Of that total, US soldiers killed on the battlefield represent a small fraction, some 6,100. The civilian death toll in Iraq is put at 125,000 (rather less than some other estimates) and at up to 14,000 in Afghanistan. For Pakistan, no reliable calculation can be made.

Even these figures however only scratch the surface of the suffering, in terms of people injured and maimed, or those who have died from malnutrition or lack of treatment. “When the fighting stops, the indirect dying continues,” Neta Crawford, a co-director of the Brown study, said. Not least, the wars may have created some 7.8 million refugees, roughly equal to the population of Scotland and Wales.

What America achieved by such outlays is also more than questionable. Two brutal regimes, those of the Taliban and Saddam Hussein, have been overturned while al-Qa’ida, the terrorist group that carried out 9/11, by all accounts has been largely destroyed – but in neither Iraq nor Afghanistan is democracy exactly flourishing, while the biggest winner from the Iraq war has been America’s arch-foe Iran.

Osama bin Laden and his henchmen probably spent the pittance of just $500,000 on organising the September 2001 attacks, which killed 3,000 people and directly cost the US economy an estimated $50bn to $100bn. In 2003, President George W Bush proclaimed that the Iraq war would cost $50bn to $60bn. Governments that go to war invariably underestimate the cost – but rarely on such an epic scale.

If the Brown study is correct, the wars that flowed from 9/11 will not only have been the longest in US history. At $4 trillion and counting, their combined cost is approaching that of the Second World War, put at some $4.1 trillion in today’s prices by the Congressional Budget Office