When it comes to trickle-down economics, everyone’s got a right to their own opinion but not their own facts

Source: WashPost

Author: jared Bernstein

(Jared Bernstein, a former chief economist to Vice President Biden, is a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and author of “Crunch: Why Do I Feel So Squeezed?” among other books.)

Emphasis Mine

When evaluating economic policies, the value of fact-based argument cannot be overstated. If we’re arguing about our favorite film or restaurant, by all means, let’s hear your opinions. But if we’re evaluating the impact of Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback’s deep tax cuts on economic outcomes in the state, it’s critical to get the facts right.

That’s why parts of this radio show debate on the “To the Point” show last week were intensely frustrating. Myself, my CBPP colleagues and various journalists/editorialists have looked at the claims that Brownback’s strong pivot to trickle-down tax cuts have benefited the state and found them wanting.

So I was struck by this exchange on the show between guests Amity Shlaes and Thomas Frank.

Shlaes: [referencing BLS data] “Kansas has unusually low unemployment – its neighbors have higher unemployment. That’s a good sign – it says there’s some sun shining in Kansas.”

Frank, responding: “I’m at my desk looking at [presumably] the same BLS page … and Missouri has growth year over year ending in August of 1.6% and Kansas only 1.1%.”

The moderator then pivots to whether Brownback can garner support on cultural issues, leaving listeners in that all too familiar position of having no idea who’s right about an important fact: Is there or is there not evidence that the Kansas tax cuts boosted their employment outcomes?

A moment’s thought should lead one to reject the unemployment level cited by Shlaes as not relevant. Listeners don’t know whether that level is higher or lower than that which prevailed before the cuts were in place, and, more importantly, how the Kansan unemployment trend compares to that of neighboring states that share similar economic trends but didn’t pursue the same tax-cutting agenda. In fact, since the tax cuts went into effect, unemployment is down 0.7 percentage points (ppts) in Kansas (since the cuts went into effect in January 2013, this comparison is from December 2012 until the most recent data point, August of this year). Looking at surrounding states, that’s the same decline as Oklahoma, worse than Colorado, and a little better than Missouri and Nebraska. Combining those four states that surround Kansas, unemployment fell 1.1 ppts compared to Kansas’s 0.7. The national decline over this period was 1.8 ppts.

In other words, unemployment fell less in Kansas than in the combined neighboring states, and a lot less than in the nation.

Employment growth over this period has been 1.8 percent in Kansas, 2.9 percent in the surrounding states, the latter of which is about the same for the nation — 3.1 percent — suggesting Kansas to be a negative outlier.

And nobody, including Shlaes, denies that tax revenue is down sharply in the state as the result of the tax cuts, both in absolute terms and relative to other states, as shown in the figure below.

In regard to the state’s revenue losses, Shlaes argued that it takes time for an experiment like this to work. What went unmentioned was that states have to balance their budget deficits every year, meaning they have to cut services, most notably education, while waiting for the experiment to bear fruit. And based on the history of supply-side, trickle-down tax cuts, Kansans are likely to be waiting a long time for the bars in the above figure to realign.

That’s not the extent of the false claims that went unanswered during the show. Steve Moore from the Heritage Foundation, after noting that it was he and Art Laffer who lobbied Brownback to try this experiment, argued that state tax cuts were a good way to lure people to move to your state: “You’re seeing a pretty massive change in migration, especially the states like Texas and Tennessee and Florida and other states that have low taxes … and that’s kind of the pitch we made to Sam Brownback, and he bought into it.”

Again, my CBPP colleagues have taken a deep, substantive dive into this question, and found little relationship between tax cuts and migration. Mike Mazerov concludes, for example, that “differences in tax levels among states have little to no effect on whether and where people move, contrary to claims by some conservative economists and elected officials.” In fact, using the same data on which Moore and Laffer base their claims, Mazerov finds that “the raw data — confirmed by a series of careful academic studies — show that for the vast majority of people — including the vast majority of the rich — tax levels are a minor consideration [in relocation decisions] or completely irrelevant.”

This makes sense if you think about the Kansas case for a moment. As Frank notes in the interview, many Kansans highly value their system of public education, and as the revenue losses are felt in the schools, they’re expressing great discontent with the trickle-down experiment. Mazerov’s findings likely stem from the fact that there are many people

who don’t want to move to places with deteriorating public services.

Full disclosure: I’ve been on the “To the Point” show and it’s usually a smart and engaging discussion. And a good debate requires the representation of different viewpoints. Moreover, aside from the revenue results which really are dispositive, I’m not claiming that these differences in employment outcomes over relatively short periods are the final word.

They are, however, relevant factoids to add to the debate, and it is essential to get them right. The punchline here goes well beyond one show where a few numbers were abused. When, regarding hard facts, listeners hear one person say “A” and the other say “not A,” and the difference remains unresolved, they justly conclude, “Oh well, who knows? I might as well make my political choices based on stuff that doesn’t involve an intermediary, like: Would this be someone with whom I’d like to go out for a beer?”

What can be done? Newspapers have fact checkers. While they, too, make mistakes, on net they’ve been a real positive when it comes to these sorts of straightforward claims. Of course, neither radio hosts nor their staffs can do real time fact-checking.

So I’ve got a proposal. When there’s a disagreement about a basic fact, like the one regarding job growth between Frank and Shlaes, the moderator should flag it and tell listeners that they’ll check the sources and post the result on their Web site shortly after the show.

Furthermore, if someone is a serial offender who constantly makes up “facts” to support their case, it should be noted that they won’t be invited back. We all make mistakes, myself at the top of the list, so I’m not suggesting the banishment of anyone who cites an incorrect number on occasion. I talking about those who consistently reveal a disregard for facts.

My strong sense is that while this will require some time and resources — though less than you’d think as it’s not that often that you have such clear-cut, factual disagreements — it will pay off in a boost in credibility that will benefit these shows and maybe even grow their audience.

And I’m sure it will help our other big experiment, the one involving democracy.

 

See:http://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2014/10/13/when-it-comes-to-trickle-down-economics-everyones-got-a-right-to-their-own-opinion-but-not-their-own-facts/?tid=hybrid_1.0_strip_2

 

Lies My Teacher Told Me About Christopher Columbus: Here’s What Your History Books Got Wrong

An example of modern American Civilization
An example of modern American Civilization

Source: The New Press, via AlterNet

Author: James W. Loewen

Emphasis Mine

The following is an excerpt from James W. Loewen’s book, Lies My Teacher Told Me About Christopher Columbus: What Your History Books Got Wrong (The New Press, 2014). Reprinted here with permission.

Somebody Was Already Living Here

Every textbook tells that people lived in the Americas before Christopher Columbus landed. However, when authors swing into what they see as their main story—  the settlement of the Americas by Europeans—Native Americans pretty much drop out of some books. The omissions begin with their presentations of Columbus. American Indians play bit parts in the Columbus story textbooks tell.The 2005 edition of A History of the United States, by Daniel Boorstin, former Librarian of Congress, and Brooks Mather Kelley, former chief archivist at Yale University, devotes almost two thousand words to the story of Columbus’s four voyages to America. This is the longest account in any of the 22 books I surveyed. Yet in this account, Native Americans get only five words: “The natives called it Guanahani, and Columbus named it San Salvador.”

Boorstin and Kelley do go on to allot their next two pages of text, one page of photos, and a map to American Indians. This small section of 1,250 words tries to cover 40,000 years and more than 400 societies, from Peru to the Arctic, in less space than Columbus gets!

Several books do much better. Five books devote their first chapter to Native Americans. The American Adventure gives three chapters—40 pages—to “The Earliest Immigrants.” Nine books, including five of the six newest, also supply interesting information on Native Americans in the twentieth century. They show that the issues that Columbus raised are not yet settled.

Were American Indians Primitive or Civilized?

Our history books not only imply that few people lived 7 here, they also picture most of those who did as primitive. American Adventures describes Columbus’s arrival this way: “Who were these people who greeted them on the shore? They were practically naked. They were not dressed in fancy silk robes and jewelry.” Adventures is right that the Natives were practically naked. Today many Europeans in Haiti are also practically naked Club Med vacationers. It’s a warm country. Being naked doesn’t mean one lacks sophistication or culture.

Some recent textbooks maintain this “primitive” stereotype. Boorstin and Kelley, for example, put down all Native Americans because they “never invented the wheel,” “had no iron tools,” “had not built ships to cross the ocean,” and generally “ceased to progress.” “North of Mexico,” in particular, “most of the people lived in wandering tribes and led a simple life.” They were “mainly hunters and gatherers of wild food. An exceptional few— in Arizona and New Mexico—settled in one place and became farmers.” Actually, we shall see that most Natives in what is now the United States farmed, until Europeans forced many of them to become nomadic.

American History by John Garraty indulges in the most open use of the primitive-to-civilized division. “With historical imagination it is not hard to see the Spanish conquerors as the first Americans must have seen them. Here were gods come from heaven to rule them,” Garraty writes. “These gods looked down at frail canoes from enormous floating fortresses. How strong they seemed in their shining clothing, how rich in color.”

See:http://www.alternet.org/books/lies-my-teacher-told-me-about-christopher-columbus-heres-what-your-history-books-got-wrong?akid=12351.123424.Qy0wTJ&rd=1&src=newsletter1022930&t=11

Voodoo Economics, the Next Generation

Source:NY Times

Author: Paul Krugman

Emphasis Mine

Even if Republicans take the Senate this year, gaining control of both houses of Congress, they won’t gain much in conventional terms: They’re already able to block legislation, and they still won’t be able to pass anything over the president’s veto. One thing they will be able to do, however, is impose their will on the Congressional Budget Office, heretofore a nonpartisan referee on policy proposals.

As a result, we may soon find ourselves in deep voodoo.

During his failed bid for the 1980 Republican presidential nomination George H. W. Bush famously described Ronald Reagan’s “supply side” doctrine — the claim that cutting taxes on high incomes would lead to spectacular economic growth, so that tax cuts would pay for themselves — as “voodoo economic policy.” Bush was right. Even the rapid recovery from the 1981-82 recession was driven by interest-rate cuts, not tax cuts. Still, for a time the voodoo faithful claimed vindication.

The 1990s, however, were bad news for voodoo. Conservatives confidently predicted economic disaster after Bill Clinton’s 1993 tax hike. What happened instead was a boom that surpassed the Reagan expansion in every dimension: G.D.P., jobs, wages and family incomes.

And while there was never any admission by the usual suspects that their god had failed, it’s noteworthy that the Bush II administration — never shy about selling its policies on false pretenses — didn’t try to justify its tax cuts with extravagant claims about their economic payoff. George W. Bush’s economists didn’t believe in supply-side hype, and more important, his political handlers believed that such hype would play badly with the public. And we should also note that the Bush-era Congressional Budget Office behaved well, sticking to its nonpartisan mandate.

But now it looks as if voodoo is making a comeback. At the state level, Republican governors — and Gov. Sam Brownback of Kansas, in particular — have been going all in on tax cuts despite troubled budgets, with confident assertions that growth will solve all problems. It’s not happening, and in Kansas a rebellion by moderates may deliver the state to Democrats. But the true believers show no sign of wavering.

Meanwhile, in Congress Paul Ryan, the chairman of the House Budget Committee, is dropping broad hints that after the election he and his colleagues will do what the Bushies never did, try to push the budget office into adopting “dynamic scoring,” that is, assuming a big economic payoff from tax cuts.

So why is this happening now? It’s not because voodoo economics has become any more credible. True, recovery from the 2007-9 recession has been sluggish, but it has actually been a bit faster than the typical recovery from financial crisis, despite unprecedented cuts in government spending and employment. In fact, the recovery in private-sector employment has been faster than it was during the “Bush boom” last decade. At the same time, researchers at the International Monetary Fund, surveying cross-country evidence, have found that redistribution of income from the affluent to the poor, which conservatives insist kills growth, actually seems to boost economies.

But facts won’t stop the voodoo comeback, for two main reasons.

First, voodoo economics has dominated the conservative movement for so long that it has become an inward-looking cult, whose members know what they know and are impervious to contrary evidence. Fifteen years ago leading Republicans may have been aware that the Clinton boom posed a problem for their ideology. Today someone like Senator Rand Paul can say: “When is the last time in our country we created millions of jobs? It was under Ronald Reagan.” Clinton who?

Second, the nature of the budget debate means that Republican leaders need to believe in the ways of magic. For years people like Mr. Ryan have posed as champions of fiscal discipline even while advocating huge tax cuts for wealthy individuals and corporations. They have also called for savage cuts in aid to the poor, but these have never been big enough to offset the revenue loss. So how can they make things add up?

Well, for years they have relied on magic asterisks — claims that they will make up for lost revenue by closing loopholes and slashing spending, details to follow. But this dodge has been losing effectiveness as the years go by and the specifics keep not coming. Inevitably, then, they’re feeling the pull of that old black magic — and if they take the Senate, they’ll be able to infuse voodoo into supposedly neutral analysis.

Would they actually do it? It would destroy the credibility of a very important institution, one that has served the country well. But have you seen any evidence that the modern conservative movement cares about such things?

See: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/06/opinion/paul-krugman-voodoo-economics-the-next-generation.html?_r=0

Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism

Source: Counter Punch

Author: Charles Lawson

Emphasis Mine

During the 1930s, the WPA sent out workers to interview men and women who had been slaves before the Emancipation Proclamation. It was 72 years after slavery had been abolished and the interviewees were old but their memories were still vivid. When probed by an interviewee, Lorenzo Ivy responded, “Truly, son, the half has never been told.” After the Civil War, black life during slavery was sanitized, deodorized and, above all, reported by Caucasians—not by the people who had toiled under the murderous system. To a certain extent, that one-sided view has persisted. Historians of the South—largely while men—continued the subterfuge. And even recent attempts to set the record straight have followed in the steps of their predecessors: a chapter on families, one on women, etc., looking at groups instead of individuals.

Hence, the need for Edward E. Baptist’s monumental examination of slavery, presented in an entirely new way, extensively through the voices of the slaves themselves.  Baptist has not simply read the WPA interviews but, apparently, every other account of what happened, particularly the many slave narratives published before and after the end of slavery. And, then—what is most original here—he has organized his own account by using parts of the body; for slavery was, above all, an affront to the basic dignity of the corporal body. These are the chapter titles: “Feet,” “Heads,” “Right Hand,” “Left Hand,” “Tongues,” “Breath,” “Seed,” “Blood,” “Backs,” and “Arms”—largely parts of the body. The Introduction (“The Heart”) and the Afterword (“The Corpse”) complete the picture.

The first chapter (“Feet”) begins,

“Not long after they heard the first clink of iron, the boys and girls in the cornfield would have been able to smell the grownups’ bodies, perhaps even before they saw the double line coming around the bend. Hurrying in locked step, the thirty-old men came down the dirt road like a giant machine. Each hauled twenty pounds of iron, chains that draped from neck to neck and wrist-to-wrist, binding them all together. Ragged strips flapped stiffly from their clothes like dead-air pennants. On the men’s heads, hair stood out in growing dreads or lay in dust-caked mats. As they moved, some looked down like catatonics. Others stared at something a thousand yards ahead. And now, behind the clanking men, followed a marching crowd of women loosely roped, the same vacancy in their expressions, endurance standing out in the rigid strings of muscle that had replaced their calves in the weeks since they left Maryland. Behind them all swayed a white man on a gray walking horse.”

The men (often with a thousand pounds of iron connecting them) were part of a coffle, enslaved migrants walking seven or eight hundred miles, chattel property, being moved from the north to the south because the profits when they were sold to their new owners were one hundred percent. The slave trade in Africa no longer mattered because slaves in the more northern states (Virginia, especially, but also Maryland) were reproducing so quickly that they created an entire new source of labor. Baptist gives the year as 1805, and states that eventually a million slaves were herded this way to the South. Tobacco farming in the North was less profitable than cotton farming in the South. “The coffle chained the early American republic together.” Slaves walked and walked for five or six weeks, performing their ablutions as they moved. There wasn’t an iota of dignity for the men. Baptist refers to the entire procedure as a “pattern of political compromise” between the North and the South and notes that eight of the first twelve Presidents of the United States were slave owners.

The movement of such huge numbers of slaves to the part of the country that could more productively use them was a “forced migration” grounded on “forced separations, violence, and new kinds of labor.” Equally disturbing—and this is the thesis of Baptist’s magnificent book—“all northern whites had benefited from the deepened exploitation of enslaved people.” Thus, there are no chapters on the African slave trade or the Middle Passage here, but a focus instead on what might be called the second stage of slavery in America. The movement to the deep South would continue for years because of increased productivity of the slaves themselves. In the North, one hand usually sufficed for their work (the dominant hand) but cotton picking required the complicated dexterity of both hands working together.

Moreover, as the country expanded, Southerners made certain that many of the new states further west became slave states where cotton production could continue. So Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and Georgia were soon augmented by Texas, Arkansas, and eventually Oklahoma, New Mexico and Arizona, Union territories permitting slavery. It was a nasty balance but it permitted the growth of cotton plantations across the country as well as the steadily increasing cotton industry throughout the entire world (“massive profits from textile manufacturing”—not just in the United States.) Cotton became the “global economy’s most important raw material.”

The plantation owners developed something known as the “pushing system,” forcing the cotton pickers to increase productivity. There were quotas and severe punishments for those who failed, and if a slave had a day when he (or she) picked more than any other day, that became his (or her) new daily quota. Torture for failed quotas was endemic.  All white people in the country benefitted, even though some northerners insisted they were no part of it.

Baptist is not afraid to refer to the entire system as “stealing.”  “If you want to rule a person, steal the person. Steal him from his people and steal him from his own right hand, from everything he has grown up knowing. Take her to a place where you can steal everything else from her: her future, her creativity, her womb.” In such a system there can be no good slave owners, only bad ones. “Stealing can never be an orderly system undergirded by property rights, cushioned by family-like relationships. There is no balance between contradictory elements. There is only chaos and violence.”

Fortunately, by the 1820s, there were increasing pronouncements from white Americans that slavery had to end. And there were increasing narratives published by slaves who had escaped that showed their limited number of readers just how appalling the entire system was.  As I said earlier, Baptist relies on these accounts extensively, plus the isolated reports of a number of attempted revolts such as Nat Turner’s. Christianity was also added to the fray, both as a justification of slavery, by some, and hope for many slaves who had been converted.

In spite of the enormous profits from cotton, it was not an uninterrupted trajectory of economic stability. Banks often lent out more money than they should have, using slaves as collateral. There was often economic turmoil. By the late 1830s, “In response to these clear incentives, enslavers created still more ways to leverage slaves into still more leverage. They mortgaged the same collateral from multiple lenders. They used slaves bought with long-term mortgages to bluff lenders into granting unsecured commercial loans. Above all, they kept buying more slaves on credit. Even if they ran into problems, they figured they would still win, because they could sell their assets. For the slave prices were still rising.”

Inevitably there were panics, collapses, including one that began in Texas, in 1837. Then things bounced back again. Half of the country’s economic activity was related to slavery. By 1850, there were three million slaves in the country. There were years of bitter arguments in Congress about the viability of the entire system. The Compromise of 1850 (another further balancing of slave areas with non-slave areas) simply continued the precarious holding pattern. There were major compromises over runaway slaves, the famous Lincoln/Douglas Debates, John Brown’s execution—dark days for the country. Then in 1860, Lincoln won the election and southern states began to secede. Baptist remarks, “The South did not believe that the North would fight.”

Most of the rest of the story is familiar, as grim as what happened before the end of the Civil War. Black soldiers had pushed the balance. “Their service in battle had saved the nation,” though not necessarily to the benefit they had anticipated. It wasn’t long before the South began imposing major restrictions on black people, the insidious “Jim Crow” laws. Other than a brief period immediately after the war, almost all black people were “shut out of the political system.” Baptist observes, “Slavery and its expansion had built enduring patterns of poverty and exploitation. This legacy was certainly crystal clear in [the] early twentieth-century South. African-American households had virtually no wealth, for instance, while a substantial portion of the wealth held by white households, even after emancipation, could be traced to revenue generated by enslaved labor and financing leveraged out of their bodies before 1861.”

When you consider the long-term effects of slavery, reaching into our world today, it is possible to say that the lives of African-Americans are substantially better than they have ever been before, but when you examine the actual economics impacting black people’s lives, you see a much different picture. Numerous articles in the press during the past few years provide a bleak picture of black people’s living situations. The gap among races widened during the recent economic recession. According to an article in The New York Times in August of this year, “The net worth of the average black household in the United States is $6,314, compared with $110,500 for the average white household, according to 2011 census data. The gap has worsened in the last decade, and the United States now has a greater wealth gap by race than South Africa did during apartheid.” That’s as damning an indictment of the long-term results of slavery in America as possible and something to consider when reflecting on the half-assed analyses of the recent riots in Ferguson, Missouri.

Edward E. Baptist’s brilliant book, The Half Has Never Been Told, soars because of the author’s decision to root his analysis in the human dimension. The book transcends anything that has previously been written about slavery. Dozens of individual slaves are named in the study and their lives successfully worked into the lengthy narration of the legacy of slavery in our country. In short, Baptist has humanized the lives of American slaves, liberated them from one of the most inhumane systems mankind ever devised.  The entire country needs to do the same.

Edward E. Baptist: The Half  Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism

Basic Books, 498 pp., $35.00

Charles R. Larson is Emeritus Professor of Literature at American University in Washington, D.C.  Email: clarson@american.edu.

 

Noam Chomsky: The Real Reason Israel “Mows the Lawn” in Gaza

Source: TomDispatch via AlterNet

Author: Noam Chomsky

Emphasis Mine

To stay on top of important articles like these, sign up to receive the latest updates from TomDispatch.com  here. 

On August 26th, Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) both accepted a ceasefire agreement after a 50-day Israeli assault on Gaza that left 2,100 Palestinians dead and vast landscapes of destruction behind. The agreement calls for an end to military action by both Israel and Hamas, as well as an easing of the Israeli siege that has strangled Gaza for many years.

This is, however, just the most recent of a series of ceasefire agreements reached after each of Israel’s periodic escalations of its unremitting assault on Gaza. Throughout this period, the terms of these agreements remain essentially the same.  The regular pattern is for Israel, then, to disregard whatever agreement is in place, while Hamas observes it — as Israel has officially recognized — until a sharp increase in Israeli violence elicits a Hamas response, followed by even fiercer brutality. These escalations, which amount to shooting fish in a pond, are called “mowing the lawn” in Israeli parlance. The most recent was more accurately described as “removing the topsoil” by a senior U.S. military officer, appalled by the practices of the self-described “most moral army in the world.”

The first of this series was the Agreement on Movement and Access Between Israel and the Palestinian Authority in November 2005.  It called for “a crossing between Gaza and Egypt at Rafah for the export of goods and the transit of people, continuous operation of crossings between Israel and Gaza for the import/export of goods, and the transit of people, reduction of obstacles to movement within the West Bank, bus and truck convoys between the West Bank and Gaza, the building of a seaport in Gaza, [and the] re-opening of the airport in Gaza” that Israeli bombing had demolished.

That agreement was reached shortly after Israel withdrew its settlers and military forces from Gaza.  The motive for the disengagement was explained by Dov Weissglass, a confidant of then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who was in charge of negotiating and implementing it. “The significance of the disengagement plan is the freezing of the peace process,” Weissglass informed the Israeli press. “And when you freeze that process, you prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state, and you prevent a discussion on the refugees, the borders, and Jerusalem. Effectively, this whole package called the Palestinian state, with all that it entails, has been removed indefinitely from our agenda. And all this with authority and permission. All with a [U.S.] presidential blessing and the ratification of both houses of Congress.” True enough.

“The disengagement is actually formaldehyde,” Weissglass added. “It supplies the amount of formaldehyde that is necessary so there will not be a political process with the Palestinians.”  Israeli hawks also recognized that instead of investing substantial resources in maintaining a few thousand settlers in illegal communities in devastated Gaza, it made more sense to transfer them to illegal subsidized communities in areas of the West Bank that Israel intended to keep.

The disengagement was depicted as a noble effort to pursue peace, but the reality was quite different.  Israel never relinquished control of Gaza and is, accordingly, recognized as the occupying power by the United Nations, the U.S., and other states (Israel apart, of course).  In their comprehensive history of Israeli settlement in the occupied territories, Israeli scholars Idith Zertal and Akiva Eldar describe what actually happened when that country disengaged: the ruined territory was not released “for even a single day from Israel’s military grip or from the price of the occupation that the inhabitants pay every day.” After the disengagement, “Israel left behind scorched earth, devastated services, and people with neither a present nor a future.  The settlements were destroyed in an ungenerous move by an unenlightened occupier, which in fact continues to control the territory and kill and harass its inhabitants by means of its formidable military might.”

Operations Cast Lead and Pillar of Defense 

Israel soon had a pretext for violating the November Agreement more severely. In January 2006, the Palestinians committed a serious crime.  They voted “the wrong way” in carefully monitored free elections, placing the parliament in the hands of Hamas.  Israel and the United States immediately imposed harsh sanctions, telling the world very clearly what they mean by “democracy promotion.” Europe, to its shame, went along as well.

The U.S. and Israel soon began planning a military coup to overthrow the unacceptable elected government, a familiar procedure. When Hamas pre-empted the coup in 2007, the siege of Gaza became far more severe, along with regular Israeli military attacks.  Voting the wrong way in a free election was bad enough, but preempting a U.S.-planned military coup proved to be an unpardonable offense.

A new ceasefire agreement was reached in June 2008.  It again called for opening the border crossings to “allow the transfer of all goods that were banned and restricted to go into Gaza.” Israel formally agreed to this, but immediately announced that it would not abide by the agreement and open the borders until Hamas released Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier held by Hamas.

Israel itself has a long history of kidnapping civilians in Lebanon and on the high seas and holding them for lengthy periods without credible charge, sometimes as hostages.  Of course, imprisoning civilians on dubious charges, or none, is a regular practice in the territories Israel controls.  But the standard western distinction between people and “unpeople” (in Orwell’s useful phrase) renders all this insignificant.

Israel not only maintained the siege in violation of the June 2008 ceasefire agreement but did so with extreme rigor, even preventing the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, which cares for the huge number of official refugees in Gaza, from replenishing its stocks.

On November 4th, while the media were focused on the U.S. presidential election, Israeli troops entered Gaza and killed half a dozen Hamas militants.  That elicited a Hamas missile response and an exchange of fire.  (All the deaths were Palestinian.)  In late December, Hamas offered to renew the ceasefire.  Israel considered the offer, but rejected it, preferring instead to launch Operation Cast Lead, a three-week incursion of the full power of the Israeli military into the Gaza strip, resulting in shocking atrocities well documented by international and Israeli human rights organizations.

On January 8, 2009, while Cast Lead was in full fury, the U.N. Security Council passed a unanimous resolution (with the U.S. abstaining) calling for “an immediate ceasefire leading to a full Israeli withdrawal, unimpeded provision through Gaza of food, fuel, and medical treatment, and intensified international arrangements to prevent arms and ammunition smuggling.”

A new ceasefire agreement was indeed reached, but the terms, similar to the previous ones, were again never observed and broke down completely with the next major mowing-the-lawn episode in November 2012, Operation Pillar of Defense.  What happened in the interim can be illustrated by the casualty figures from January 2012 to the launching of that operation: one Israeli was killed by fire from Gaza while 78 Palestinians were killed by Israeli fire.

The first act of Operation Pillar of Defense was the murder of Ahmed Jabari, a high official of the military wing of Hamas.  Aluf Benn, editor-in-chief of Israel’s leading newspaper Haaretz, described Jabari as Israel’s “subcontractor” in Gaza, who enforced relative quiet there for more than five years.  As always, there was a pretext for the assassination, but the likely reason was provided by Israeli peace activist Gershon Baskin.  He had been involved in direct negotiations with Jabari for years and reported that, hours before he was assassinated, Jabari “received the draft of a permanent truce agreement with Israel, which included mechanisms for maintaining the ceasefire in the case of a flare-up between Israel and the factions in the Gaza Strip.”

There is a long record of Israeli actions designed to deter the threat of a diplomatic settlement.  After this exercise of mowing the lawn, a ceasefire agreement was reached yet again.  Repeating the now-standard terms, it called for a cessation of military action by both sides and the effective ending of the siege of Gaza with Israel “opening the crossings and facilitating the movements of people and transfer of goods, and refraining from restricting residents’ free movements and targeting residents in border areas.”

What happened next was reviewed by Nathan Thrall, senior Middle East analyst of the International Crisis Group.  Israeli intelligence recognized that Hamas was observing the terms of the ceasefire. “Israel,” Thrall wrote, “therefore saw little incentive in upholding its end of the deal. In the three months following the ceasefire, its forces made regular incursions into Gaza, strafed Palestinian farmers and those collecting scrap and rubble across the border, and fired at boats, preventing fishermen from accessing the majority of Gaza’s waters.” In other words, the siege never ended. “Crossings were repeatedly shut.  So-called buffer zones inside Gaza [from which Palestinians are barred, and which include a third or more of the strip’s limited arable land] were reinstated.  Imports declined, exports were blocked, and fewer Gazans were given exit permits to Israel and the West Bank.”

Operation Protective Edge 

So matters continued until April 2014, when an important event took place.  The two major Palestinian groupings, Gaza-based Hamas and the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority in the West Bank signed a unity agreement.  Hamas made major concessions. The unity government contained none of its members or allies.  In substantial measure, as Nathan Thrall observes, Hamas turned over governance of Gaza to the PA.  Several thousand PA security forces were sent there and the PA placed its guards at borders and crossings, with no reciprocal positions for Hamas in the West Bank security apparatus.  Finally, the unity government accepted the three conditions that Washington and the European Union had long demanded: non-violence, adherence to past agreements, and the recognition of Israel.

Israel was infuriated.  Its government declared at once that it would refuse to deal with the unity government and cancelled negotiations.  Its fury mounted when the U.S., along with most of the world, signaled support for the unity government.

There are good reasons why Israel opposes the unification of Palestinians.  One is that the Hamas-Fatah conflict has provided a useful pretext for refusing to engage in serious negotiations.  How can one negotiate with a divided entity?  More significantly, for more than 20 years, Israel has been committed to separating Gaza from the West Bank in violation of the Oslo Accords it signed in 1993, which declare Gaza and the West Bank to be an inseparable territorial unity.

A look at a map explains the rationale.  Separated from Gaza, any West Bank enclaves left to Palestinians have no access to the outside world. They are contained by two hostile powers, Israel and Jordan, both close U.S. allies — and contrary to illusions, the U.S. is very far from a neutral “honest broker.”

Furthermore, Israel has been systematically taking over the Jordan Valley, driving out Palestinians, establishing settlements, sinking wells, and otherwise ensuring that the region — about one-third of the West Bank, with much of its arable land — will ultimately be integrated into Israel along with the other regions that country is taking over.  Hence remaining Palestinian cantons will be completely imprisoned.  Unification with Gaza would interfere with these plans, which trace back to the early days of the occupation and have had steady support from the major political blocs, including figures usually portrayed as doves like former president Shimon Peres, who was one of the architects of settlement deep in the West Bank.

As usual, a pretext was needed to move on to the next escalation.  Such an occasion arose when three Israeli boys from the settler community in the West Bank were brutally murdered.  The Israeli government evidently quickly realized that they were dead, but pretended otherwise, which provided the opportunity to launch a “rescue operation” — actually a rampage primarily targeting Hamas.  The Netanyahu government has claimed from the start that it knew Hamas was responsible, but has made no effort to present evidence.

One of Israel’s leading authorities on Hamas, Shlomi Eldar, reported almost at once that the killers very likely came from a dissident clan in Hebron that has long been a thorn in the side of the Hamas leadership.  He added, “I’m sure they didn’t get any green light from the leadership of Hamas, they just thought it was the right time to act.”

The Israeli police have since been searching for and arresting members of the clan, still claiming, without evidence, that they are “Hamas terrorists.” On September 2nd, Haaretz reported that, after very intensive interrogations, the Israeli security services concluded the abduction of the teenagers “was carried out by an independent cell” with no known direct links to Hamas.

The 18-day rampage by the Israeli Defense Forces succeeded in undermining the feared unity government.  According to Israeli military sources, its soldiers arrested 419 Palestinians, including 335 affiliated with Hamas, and killed six, while searching thousands of locations and confiscating $350,000.  Israel also conducted dozens of attacks in Gaza, killing five Hamas members on July 7th.

Hamas finally reacted with its first rockets in 18 months, Israeli officials reported, providing Israel with the pretext to launch Operation Protective Edge on July 8th.  The 50-day assault proved the most extreme exercise in mowing the lawn — so far.

Operation [Still to Be Named]

Israel is in a fine position today to reverse its decades-old policy of separating Gaza from the West Bank in violation of its solemn agreements and to observe a major ceasefire agreement for the first time.  At least temporarily, the threat of democracy in neighboring Egypt has been diminished, and the brutal Egyptian military dictatorship of General Abdul Fattah al-Sisi is a welcome ally for Israel in maintaining control over Gaza.

The Palestinian unity government, as noted earlier, is placing the U.S.-trained forces of the Palestinian Authority in control of Gaza’s borders, and governance may be shifting into the hands of the PA, which depends on Israel for its survival, as well as for its finances.  Israel might feel that its takeover of Palestinian territory in the West Bank has proceeded so far that there is little to fear from some limited form of autonomy for the enclaves that remain to Palestinians.

There is also some truth to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s observation: “Many elements in the region understand today that, in the struggle in which they are threatened, Israel is not an enemy but a partner.” Akiva Eldar, Israel’s leading diplomatic correspondent, adds, however, that “all those ‘many elements in the region’ also understand that there is no brave and comprehensive diplomatic move on the horizon without an agreement on the establishment of a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders and a just, agreed-upon solution to the refugee problem.” That is not on Israel’s agenda, he points out, and is in fact in direct conflict with the 1999 electoral program of the governing Likud coalition, never rescinded, which “flatly rejects the establishment of a Palestinian Arab state west of the Jordan river.”

Some knowledgeable Israeli commentators, notably columnist Danny Rubinstein, believe that Israel is poised to reverse course and relax its stranglehold on Gaza.

We’ll see.

The record of these past years suggests otherwise and the first signs are not auspicious.  As Operation Protective Edge ended, Israel announced its largest appropriation of West Bank land in 30 years, almost 1,000 acres.  Israel Radio reported that the takeover was in response to the killing of the three Jewish teenagers by “Hamas militants.” A Palestinian boy was burned to death in retaliation for the murder, but no Israeli land was handed to Palestinians, nor was there any reaction when an Israeli soldier murdered 10-year-old Khalil Anati on a quiet street in a refugee camp near Hebron on August 10th, while the most moral army in the world was smashing Gaza to bits, and then drove away in his jeep as the child bled to death.

Anati was one the 23 Palestinians (including three children) killed by Israeli occupation forces in the West Bank during the Gaza onslaught, according to U.N. statistics, along with more than 2,000 wounded, 38% by live fire. “None of those killed were endangering soldiers’ lives,” Israeli journalist Gideon Levy reported.  To none of this is there any reaction, just as there was no reaction while Israel killed, on average, more than two Palestinian children a week for the past 14 years.  Unpeople, after all.

It is commonly claimed on all sides that, if the two-state settlement is dead as a result of Israel’s takeover of Palestinian lands, then the outcome will be one state West of the Jordan.  Some Palestinians welcome this outcome, anticipating that they can then conduct a civil rights struggle for equal rights on the model of South Africa under apartheid.  Many Israeli commentators warn that the resulting “demographic problem” of more Arab than Jewish births and diminishing Jewish immigration will undermine their hope for a “democratic Jewish state.”

But these widespread beliefs are dubious.

The realistic alternative to a two-state settlement is that Israel will continue to carry forward the plans it has been implementing for years, taking over whatever is of value to it in the West Bank, while avoiding Palestinian population concentrations and removing Palestinians from the areas it is integrating into Israel.  That should avoid the dreaded “demographic problem.”

The areas being integrated into Israel include a vastly expanded Greater Jerusalem, the area within the illegal “Separation Wall,” corridors cutting through the regions to the East, and will probably also encompass the Jordan Valley.  Gaza will likely remain under its usual harsh siege, separated from the West Bank.  And the Syrian Golan Heights — like Jerusalem, annexed in violation of Security Council orders — will quietly become part of Greater Israel.  In the meantime, West Bank Palestinians will be contained in unviable cantons, with special accommodation for elites in standard neocolonial style.

These basic policies have been underway since the 1967 conquest, following a principle enunciated by then-Defense Minister Moshe Dayan, one of the Israeli leaders most sympathetic to the Palestinians.  He informed his cabinet colleagues that they should tell Palestinian refugees in the West Bank, “We have no solution, you shall continue to live like dogs, and whoever wishes may leave, and we will see where this process leads.”

The suggestion was natural within the overriding conception articulated in 1972 by future president Haim Herzog: “I do not deny the Palestinians a place or stand or opinion on every matter… But certainly I am not prepared to consider them as partners in any respect in a land that has been consecrated in the hands of our nation for thousands of years.  For the Jews of this land there cannot be any partner.” Dayan also called for Israel’s “permanent rule” (“memshelet keva”) over the occupied territories.  When Netanyahu expresses the same stand today, he is not breaking new ground.

Like other states, Israel pleads “security” as justification for its aggressive and violent actions.  But knowledgeable Israelis know better.  Their recognition of reality was articulated clearly in 1972 by Air Force Commander (and later president) Ezer Weizmann.  He explained that there would be no security problem if Israel were to accept the international call to withdraw from the territories it conquered in 1967, but the country would not then be able to “exist according to the scale, spirit, and quality she now embodies.”

See:http://www.alternet.org/noam-chomsky-real-reason-israel-mows-lawn-gaza

For a century, the Zionist colonization of Palestine has proceeded primarily on the pragmatic principle of the quiet establishment of facts on the ground, which the world was to ultimately come to accept.  It has been a highly successful policy.  There is every reason to expect it to persist as long as the United States provides the necessary military, economic, diplomatic, and ideological support.  For those concerned with the rights of the brutalized Palestinians, there can be no higher priority than working to change U.S. policies, not an idle dream by any means.

Noam Chomsky is Institute Professor emeritus in the Department of Linguistics and Philosophy at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Among his recent books are Hegemony or Survival, Failed StatesPower Systems,Occupy, and Hopes and Prospects. His latest book, Masters of Mankind, will be published this week by Harmarket Books, which is also reissuing 12 of his classic books in new editions over the coming year. His work is regularly posted at TomDispatch.com.  His website is www.chomsky.info.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook and Tumblr. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Rebecca Solnit’s Men Explain Things to Me.

Copyright 2014 Noam Chomsky

Noam Chomsky is a professor of linguistics and philosophy at MIT.

 

Leonard Pitts Jr.: If GOP is so right, why are red states so far behind?

Source: McClatchy

Author: Leonard Pitts Jr.

Emphasis Mine

I have a question for my Republican friends.

Yes, that sounds like the setup for a smackdown, but though the question is pointed, it is also in earnest. I’d seriously like to know:

If Republican fiscal policies really are the key to prosperity, if the GOP formula of low taxes and little regulation really does unleash economic growth, then why has the country fared better under Democratic presidents than Republican ones and why are red states the poorest states in the country?

You may recall that Bill Clinton touched on this at the 2012 Democratic Convention. He claimed that, of all the private sector jobs created since 1961, 24 million had come under Republican presidents and a whopping 42 million under Democrats. After Clinton said that, I waited for PolitiFact, the nonpartisan fact-checking organization, to knock down what I assumed was an obvious exaggeration.

But PolitiFact rated the statement true. Moreover, it rated as “mostly true” a recent claim by Occupy Democrats, a left-wing advocacy group, that nine of the 10 poorest states are red ones. The same group earned the same rating for a claim that 97 of the 100 poorest counties are in red states. And then there’s a recent study by Princeton economists Alan Binder and Mark Watson that finds the economy has grown faster under Democratic presidents than Republican ones. Under the likes of Nixon, Reagan and Bush they say we averaged an annual growth rate of 2.54 percent. Under the likes of Kennedy, Clinton and Obama? 4.35 percent.

Yours truly is no expert in economics, so you won’t read any grand theories here as to why all this is. You also won’t read any endorsement of Democratic economic policy.

Instead, let me point out a few things in the interest of fairness.

The first is that people who actually are economic experts say the ability of any given president to affect the economy – for good or for ill – tends to be vastly overstated. Even Binder and Watson caution that the data in their study do not support the idea that Democratic policies are responsible for the greater economic performance under Democratic presidents.

It is also worth noting that PolitiFact’s endorsements of Occupy Democrats’ claims come with multiple caveats. In evaluating the statement about 97 of the 100 poorest counties being red, for instance, PolitiFact reminds us that red states tend to have more rural counties and rural counties tend to have lower costs of living. It also points out that a modest income in rural Texas may actually give you greater spending power than the same income in Detroit. So comparisons can be misleading.

Duly noted. But the starkness and sheer preponderance of the numbers are hard to ignore. As of 2010, according to the Census Bureau, Connecticut, which has not awarded its electoral votes to a Republican presidential candidate since 1988, had a per capita income of $56,000, best in the country, while Mississippi, which hasn’t gone Democrat since 1976, came in at under $32,000 – worst in the country. At the very least, stats like these should call into question GOP claims of superior economic policy.

Yet, every election season the party nevertheless makes those claims. It will surely do so again this fall. So it seems fair to ask: Where are the numbers that support the assertion? Why is Texas only middling in terms of per capita income? Why is Mississippi not a roaring engine of economic growth? How are liberal Connecticut and Massachusetts doing so well?

It seems to suggest Republican claims are, at best, overblown. If that’s not the case, I’d appreciate it if some Republican would explain why. Otherwise, I have another earnest, but pointed question for my Democratic friends:

How in the world do they get away with this?

NOTE: In a recent column, I pegged the indictment of Texas Gov. Rick Perry to his “Democratic opponents.” Though the indictment did come out of Austin, which is a blue island in the red sea that is Texas, I should have noted that the judge who assigned a special prosecutor in the case is a Republican appointee and the prosecutor he chose has, according to PolitiFact, ties to both parties.

ABOUT THE WRITER

Leonard Pitts Jr., winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a columnist for the Miami Herald, 3511 N.W. 91 Avenue, Doral, Fla. 33172. Readers may write to him via email at lpitts@miamiherald.com.

See:http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2014/09/03/238428_leonard-pitts-jr-if-gop-is-so.html?rh=1

Awful: Wages Dropped for Almost All American Workers in First Half of 2014

Source: AlterNet

Author: Lynn Stewart Paramore

Emphasis Mine

 Think your money’s not going very far this year? It’s not your imagination. According to new research by the Economic Policy Institute, real hourly wages declined for almost everybody in the U.S. workforce in the first half of 2014. Thanks, so-called recovery.

Economist Elise Gould pored over data from the government’s Current Population Survey and determined that workers at the 20th, 30th, 40th, 50th, 60th, 70th, 80th, 90th, and 95th percentiles all saw declines in their real wages in the first half of 2014 compared with the same period last year. This was true whether you had no high school degree, a high school diploma, some college, a college degree, or an advanced degree. In fact, people with advanced degrees saw the biggest drop (2.7 percent).

EPI reveals this isn’t just a blip. Real wages dropped 4.9 percent for workers with a high school degree and 2.5 percent for workers with a college degree from the first half of 2007 to the first half of this year.

Gould explains in the report that “the last year has been a poor one for American workers’ wages.” She states that “on the whole, the broad wage trends by education level over the last decade and a half make clear that wage inequality cannot be readily explained by stories about educational credentials and technology; wage inequality has increased steadily, yet even those with a college diploma or advanced degree have experienced lackluster wage growth.”

Gould adds, “It’s an indication of the fact that no one — not even educated workers — is able to bargain for anything.” Employers have the power and they are using it to pay their workers less.

The only workers who saw real wages go up over the past year were workers at the10th percentile of income, but only two cents an hour, from $8.36 an hour to $8.38. Two pennies! Don’t spend it all in one place. That paltry increase happened because of minimum wage increases in 13 states. The lack of wage growth harms society and the economy in a whole host of ways. When workers don’t have enough money in their pockets to spend on goods and services, businesses can’t hire and they fail, which increases unemployment. Unable to keep up with the growing expenses of things like healthcare and college tuition, the middle class shrinks. For those less well off, life becomes a daily struggle for survival. The increasing gap between the very rich and everyone else produces a wide range of social ills, from mental illness to addiction to chronic diseases. The social fabric becomes unraveled.

Not a very promising reflection for Labor Day, is it?

Lynn Parramore is an AlterNet senior editor. She is cofounder of Recessionwire, founding editor of New Deal 2.0, and author of “Reading the Sphinx: Ancient Egypt in Nineteenth-Century Literary Culture.” She received her Ph.D. in English and cultural theory from NYU. She is the director of AlterNet’s New Economic Dialogue Project. Follow her on Twitter @LynnParramore.

 

See:http://www.alternet.org/labor/awful-wages-dropped-almost-all-american-workers-first-half-2014?akid=12191.123424.yk2XIo&rd=1&src=newsletter1017648&t=4