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Archive for June, 2010

Why the Hell Are We Allied with Israel? The Sequel                           

Back in January 2009, during Israel’s bombing of Gaza, I wrote an article asking why the United States was allied with Israel.  After all, countries act on their instinct to survive and not for any higher moral purposes.  Thus, if Israel possessed a vital natural resource essential to America’s well-being the current relationship between the two countries would be justified.  If Israel’s geographic location was critical to the security of a trade route or a convenient military outpost I would have no problem with the relationship as it currently exists.  But Israel possesses neither of the aforementioned benefits for the United States.  No, according to official Washington our support of Israel is a moral obligation because it is one of only two democracies (the other being Iraq) in the region and democracies must stick together.

Of course, this is a crock.  What good is sticking together when it makes your citizens vulnerable to terrorist attacks?  911 was blowback for American bombing of Muslim land in Iraq in the 1990s and our unconditional support of Israel in general.  The real reasons our elected officials in Washington sell us out on a continuous basis by supporting Israel no matter what are because they don’t want to be labeled anti-Semitic and they receive huge support from the American Jewish lobby and Evangelical Christian groups at election time.   

Don’t believe me?  The recent abrupt firing of media legend Helen Thomas is a testament to the power of the pro-Israeli forces in American politics.  After 57 years in journalism her, “tell them to get the hell out of Palestine” comment was considered unacceptable and led to her professional demise.  Was it reasonable that this one remark should end a career that included coverage of every president since Kennedy, various awards, and 30 honorary degrees?  Even her previous comments made during the Bush years where she stated, “I’m covering the worst president in American history” and “The day Dick Cheney is going to run for president, I’ll kill myself. All we need is another liar… I think he’d like to run, but it would be a sad day for the country if he does”, didn’t get her in nearly as much trouble. 

Helen Thomas is just one example of what happens when the wrath of pro-Israel forces are riled.  Even though he stated time and again his support for Israel and before he made his comments on the 1964 Civil Rights Act, Kentucky Republican senatorial candidate Rand Paul drew opposition in his primary battle against Trey Grayson from the Republican Jewish Coalition.  Seems they didn’t like his non-interventionist foreign policy views and how they would affect Israel.

Examples of pro-Israel wrath aside, recent events are indicative of America’s absolute, yet nonsensical support of Israel.  In January of 2009, Israeli bombers blew up an American International School in Gaza as part of Israel’s siege on that occupied territory.  Not only was there no condemnation from Washington, there was no coverage by the mainstream media in the U.S.! 

Then there was Vice President Biden’s trip to Israel when Netanyahu’s government announced new settlements would be built in East Jerusalem.  A real slap in the face to the visiting American delegation since East Jerusalem is an important component to Middle East peace.  Washington did voice outrage at Israel but little else happened and Israel still maintains it right to build settlements in the disputed area.

Lastly, of course, there was Israel’s military raid on the aid vessel headed for Gaza.  The attack on the Turkish vessel in international waters, where nine Turkish humanitarian workers were killed, was a violation of international law and nothing short of an act of piracy.  Israel claims it was done in self-defense to prevent weapons from reaching Hamas in Gaza.  But no weapons were found and let’s not forget the crux of the matter:  Israel continues to imprison Palestinians in Gaza – an area of land too small to support the population and prone to being sealed off from the rest of the world by Israel at any time.  Now, if we support Israel because it is a democracy, how democratic are its actions with regards to Gaza?  At the end of the day, instead of outrage from Washington over Israel’s warlike act, Republican Senator John Cornyn introduced a resolution supporting Israel’s military action as an act of self-defense.  Just another example of America’s unconditional support for Israel no matter what the Jewish state does.

Unbelievably, given these recent actions of Israel, Congress this summer will debate President Obama’s proposal to increase U.S. aid to Israel.  A 2007 agreement between the two countries grants Israel $30 billion in military aid over a ten year period.  After all of the actions of Israel mentioned above, the president wants to increase aid to her?  What has to happen for Washington to consider cutting all aid to Israel?

And that is what should happen – a complete end to all American aid to Israel.  We don’t have the money anyway.  But it is just as wrong for the United States to support Israel’s apartheid as it was when we supported South Africa’s.  Most of all, aid should be abolished because it puts America at risk of future terrorist attacks.  Voting to end aid to Israel would certainly cost many members of Congress their jobs, but it would ultimately save American lives.  Isn’t that more important to members of Congress?     

Article first published as Why the Hell Are We Allied with Israel? The Sequel on Blogcritics.

Kenn Jacobine teaches internationally and maintains a summer residence in North Carolina

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Crony Capitalism Strikes Again

The explosion of the BP oil rig on April 20 and the subsequent saturation of the Gulf of Mexico with oil will go down as the biggest environmental catastrophe of all time.  We still don’t know what caused the initial blast that took the lives of eleven workers, but there is one important lesson we have learned from the incident.  Crony capitalism is the culprit once again.

Our old friend, crony capitalism, unlike free market capitalism, is that mutation of the latter caused by unconstitutional reaches of government.  As discussed in previous editions of this column, the most egregious example of cronyism in our economic system is the financial cartel run by the Federal Reserve Bank.  We are all familiar with the way banks are permitted to inflate our money supply through fractional reserve banking ensuring huge profits for them and higher prices for the rest of us.  Of course, when the banks overstretch their lending and run into trouble the Fed is there to bail them out with more of our money.

Besides an endless stream of money to bail out fraudulent banking practices, crony capitalism has attempted to remedy union induced bankruptcies in the auto industry and has also provided cash subsidies to wheat farmers and price supports to dairy farmers to keep their products’ prices artificially high and our purchasing power artificially low.  Then there are the hidden cronyisms in our system.  One of them has been exposed with the current crisis in the Gulf.

Under current law, it turns out that BP is responsible to pay for 100 percent of the cost of the clean-up of oil.  Beyond that, the company’s liability for economic damages is limited to $75 million.  This means that BP must pay to clean up their mess but all the fisherman, crabbers, restaurateurs, hotel owners, and others that rely on the gulf for their livelihood will have to split the $75 million pot.  Clearly, the losses suffered by the locals on the coasts of Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, and Florida will far exceed $75 million.  Given that BP earns multibillions every year, a $75 million cap on damages is a pittance of what they should be paying to make lives whole.  Perhaps BP wouldn’t have taken such risks by drilling in deep water, if faced with catastrophic losses or they would have at the very least put in place more precautionary measures.

But it’s the same old story – crony capitalism.  BP and other oil companies grease the palms (no pun intended) of members of Congress and in return receive special protections in the law.  At the end of the day, the taxpayers will foot the bill for this malfeasance.

Of course, it is all about perception, not reality in Washington.  On a recent trip to the Gulf, President Obama spoke of BP’s responsibility, “I don’t want them to nickel and diming people down here.  I don’t want somebody else bearing the costs of those risks that they took.  I want to make sure that they’re paying for it.”  This is nothing more than tough talk to make the president seem righteous to the voters since he has no legal authority to make it happen.  Naturally, there is talk now in Congress to either raise or eliminate altogether the liability cap.  There is even talk of changing the law and making it apply to BP’s current disaster.  But, as readers of the U.S. Constitutional know this is what is known as an ex post facto law or after the fact law which is unconstitutional.  Washington is not allowed to hold a party to a law that didn’t exist when the action took place.  In the long run, I suppose it will take another violation of the Constitution to right the first wrong.

If we had a true free market capitalist system, the accident may not have happened in the first place.  If it did BP would be responsible for every penny of damage it caused.  There would be no protectionist laws that put others (other businesses, taxpayers) at risk.  If it bankrupted the corporation then so be it.  The market would be rid of a major polluter; its assets would be sold to pay off the damaged parties and utilized by another provider alleviating the possibility of an oil shortage.  If criminal activity was found, the perpetrators would be punished further.  The Minerals Management Service would not exist to bilk taxpayers while its bureaucrats participated in conflicts of interest, illegal drug use, and elicit sex with the very people they were supposed to be regulating.  Lastly, and this is currently happening, BP’s stock would take a dive opening the company up to takeover bids. 

Yes, crony capitalism has its fingerprints all over the Gulf oil catastrophe.  It may not have happened without it and the taxpayers will be on the hook because of it.  Members of Congress and the president can squirm and rant and rave about how they are going to go after BP all they want.  As usual they are a day late and billions of dollars short.  The best thing they can do is immediately eliminate all laws that protect corporate America at the expense of the rest of us.  Naturally, that won’t happen since corporate America finances their reelection campaigns.

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British Petroleum went a mile down to the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico, to sink an oil pipe two more miles beneath the earth’s crust. It released an unimaginable amount of pressure from inside the earth, so much pressure that the weight of all that water is nothing by comparison. The disaster is six weeks old now, six weeks of oil gushing out into the Gulf. We all have to hope that the pressure underneath the crust begins to diminish a bit. What a reminder of the wisdom that urges caution: don’t mess with Mother Nature.

We all want the leak to end. If the leak won’t stop, at least we can indulge our indignation: we can blame big oil, one of our favorite targets in the pantheon of multinational corporations that have a bad reputation:

“BP now stands for ‘Bad Partner,’ “ Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), chairman of the House energy and environment subcommittee, said Monday. “I think that BP has not demonstrated a level of competence or trustworthiness that merits having the U.S. government standing next to it at press conferences.”

Have a look at Markey’s words. He compares the United States government’s competence and trustworthiness with British Petroleum’s, and says “We’re too good for you.”  Have you ever heard anything more absurd? I’m not talking about the performance of either the government or BP in response to the Deepwater Horizon disaster. I’m talking about the overall reputation of the two organizations. Can you think of an organization in the West with a more consistent record of incompetence and dishonesty than the federal government? I can’t.

I’m not talking about individual units of the government, either. We have civil servants who serve honorably. Members of the armed forces do their jobs courageously and well. We have political leaders who have good intentions. The government’s overall record of malfeasance, though, is astonishing. Who but someone on the inside looking out, like Congressman Markey, could possibly utter a condescending snub like that? He might ask how many people think Congress demonstrates his smug level of competence and trustworthiness. Would you want to stand next to Rep. Markey at a press conference?

The U. S. government completely depends on British Petroleum to plug that leak, but how does it behave? It behaves like a bully and a jerk. Instead of attending a memorial service with the families of the workers who lost their lives on the Deepwater Horizon, President Obama goes to Louisiana to warn British Petroleum, “we’re going to keep our boot on your neck.” Interior Secretary Salazar boasts, “We have them by the neck.” There’s something about BP’s neck that has Washington in thrall. Meantime, BP does what it can to stop the leak. Don’t count on DC for moral support, though.

The significant thing is that the government seems all too ready to turn even an environmental disaster of this scale into just another game of political hardball. Did someone say the dread word Katrina? We have to get out ahead of this one! Did someone ironically quote the previous president’s famous words, “Heckuva job, Brownie”? Put a lid on it! Don’t let that happen to us.  We’re not going to let this disaster make us look bad!

I’ll give you a clue, you jerks. Your efforts to keep from looking bad are making you look bad. You want to look like you’re in charge, but all you can do right now is help out the best you can. You use manly images to look good at British Petroleum’s expense, but you don’t look good at all. You should be helping out; instead you deliver impotent threats that just make you look overbearing and incongruously silly.

British Petroleum has unequivocally taken ownership of the gusher and its consequences. Its people are doing difficult, dangerous work to contain the disaster. We, through our government, can offer them encouragement and some material help. What’s the point of going to Louisiana to humiliate them and assert dominance? Does acting like that stop the leak faster? Of course not. Does acting to intimidate give you hope that you won’t suffer a Katrina-like political disaster? That may be your aim, but trying to protect your reputation by acting like an overbearing blowhard just makes your reputation worse.

Let’s say you come upon an accident where someone is bleeding badly. The first order of business is to stop the blood. Deciding whether and where to place blame for the accident comes later. Here we have an accident where the earth itself is bleeding, an outflow poisonous for aquatic creatures. Everyone should respond to the emergency with one thought: find the best way to stop the effluent. Placing blame, threatening legal consequences, acting pushy and officious – these all amount to distractions. Two heads are better than one, and many heads with proper, positive leadership are better than two. First aid must remain the only priority until the emergency ends. First aid means help that comes before anything else.

Let’s turn off the web cam at the bottom of the sea. Let’s stop arguing about how many barrels of effluent flow out of that riser every day. Does anyone think that British Petroleum will slack off if we stop making humiliating threats? Does anyone think that humiliating threats work better than actual help in an emergency like this? Stop squabbling and hand wringing, threatening and bullying, finger pointing and finger wagging, tongue wagging and tongue lashing. Let’s just help British Petroleum stop the leak. Help them do the job the best they can.

We’ll have ample time to analyze what went wrong later.

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