Obama, Miliband, Tax and State

November 3, 2012

I’ve completely changed my mind, thanks to Peter Watt. I used to agree with Peter’s position, that taxation is a necessary evil, not a automatic right of the state. Then I read his piece, “It’s not our money stupid, it’s theirs”, and I’ve since reversed my position completely.

This is part of a wider debate about whether the state creates private business, that began with a gaff from Obama. “If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.”

It was a gaff, but the rest of the quote made sense of what he meant. “There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business—you didn’t build that”.

The debate re-emerged in this country during the party conference season. Miliband had described a Tory tax-cut with the visual image of David Cameron writing out £40k cheques to his mates. At the Tory conference Cameron responded, “When people earn money, it’s their money. Not the government’s money: their money. Then, the government takes some of it away in tax”.

Previously I was very much in agreement with David Cameron on this one, but reading Peter’s article got me thinking. If it were the case that the state acts as a hindrance to wealth creation, then why do millions of enterprising and ambitious young people, from the developing world, risk their lives to enter the western world every year? Surely if our top heavy state was standing in the way of business, why don’t they stay in their own country and make their fortune there? Read the rest of this entry »


Make Gas Not War

October 29, 2012

As the British question whether they could mount another Falklands war, the sabre-rattling in Buenos Aires intensifies, and spreads to the other Latin American countries.

Mercosur, the South American free trade zone, has closed its ports to ships flying the Falkland Islands flag. Now Argentine President Cristina Fernandez is accusing the British of ‘militarising the South Atlantic, one more time’. David Cameron calls the attitude of the Argentinians ‘colonialism’, but it’s not about that. This is about big business. This is about mineral extraction on a massive scale and the Argentinians are bitter that 3,000 Falkland Islanders should be entitled to the whole prize. Read the rest of this entry »


Make Gas not War!

June 4, 2012

As the British question whether they could mount another Falklands war, the sabre-rattling in Buenos Aires intensifies, and spreads to the other Latin American countries.
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Honour and Shame in Tower Hamlets

December 29, 2011

We used to be proud of spreading our ideas around the world. Now we are confused about how we explain our identity to the people who have settled here.

The problem is that we need to understand their culture and identity, before we can explain to them our own. With 3,000 honour crime complaints to the police last year, maybe this is the issue that we’re failing to comprehend.

It would help to understand what happened in Tower Hamlets last year, when the Labour Party collapsed in on itself over the selection of Lutfur Rahman as candidate for Mayor.

It started out as a conversation about secularism, but we didn’t know it was about secularism, because in school we learn everything there is to know about Martin Luther King, but nothing about Martin Luther. We know about the rights of minorities, but not about the separation of church and state.
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Palestinian Violence will not deliver Peace

February 7, 2011

Malcolm X once told black Americans, “You didn’t land on Plymouth Rock; Plymouth Rock landed on you!”
Millions of people from the developing world have risked their lives to get to the west, while the Palestinians had the western world come to them, in the form of Israel. But where this should have been an opportunity, it was more like a great big rock landing on them. They were simply unable to cope.

The photo above shows the author of this article, in 1986, with one foot in Israel and one foot in Egypt. My anxiety is due to the barbed wire getting caught on my T-shirt. Back then there was no border on the west Bank, never mind a wall. Palestinians were free to come and go across Israel. They worked, they travelled, they engaged in politics. There was violence, but there was also optimism. Then came the suicide bombers.
The word “solution” in the phrase “Two-State-Solution” is quite misleading. It suggests that the problems will end if property and land rights are settled. It doesn’t promise to create jobs or prosperity to the Palestinians, but it does promise to end any further justification for Palestinian violence.
It was a top-down policy, insisted on by the international community. It created trepidation in the West Bank, with graffiti appearing on walls calling for a One-State-Solution. The Palestinians want jobs, but the “solution” seems to promise a permanent partition, with a permanent separation wall. Washington’s policy was never born from reading the writing on the wall.
Where ever I went in Israel, in the 80s, the building sites were full of Arabs. I asked an Israeli if this was somehow racist. He told me that Israelis wanted to get into construction, but the Palestinians wouldn’t let them in. Today, construction workers are imported from Asia, while the technology companies adopt restricted employment policies for “security reasons”. The Israeli economy is being denied to the “ungrateful” Palestinians.
There are still some jobs for Palestinians, but there are also check points which stop them getting to work. A low-ranking soldier can order a check point erected, but only a high ranking soldier can have it removed. This isn’t a conspiracy, it’s just the way that people watch their backs.
Mr Blair understood the need for jobs. As envoy to the Middle-East he pushed the Israelis to pass laws to create economic zones between the West Bank and Israel. The laws were passed but nothing was ever implemented; there simply isn’t the will.
People who used to be left-wingers say, “It’s time for us to worry about ourselves now”, and that’s the most telling quote. To the Israelis, the suburbs to the east of Jerusalem aren’t about politics, they’re just about commuters. People just want to get home in time to put the kids to bed, and to watch their favourite show on TV. The peace process missed an opportunity by failing to trade the removal of the barriers in return for the construction of these suburbs.
The settlements which are far more offensive are the ones along the Jordanian border, placed there following the ’67 war, as a claim to territory and as a defensive shield, but now needing armoured roads across the West Bank to supply them. The fear of invasion by Jordan is now so remote that the justification no longer exists.
There are also ancient Jewish settlements. They’ve been around as long as the Palestinians. Do they have no right to be there by virtue of their race? This makes a difficult question.
And there are the former residents of Gaza who buy a hilltop and turn up in their caravans claiming to be directed by God. If the army knocks down their settlement, they pop up again the next day.
The Palestinians refer to 1967 as “The Disaster”. An economist would say that it was the best thing that ever happened to them. The disaster was Yasser Arafat, and later, Hamas. They’re the ones who believed there was a solution to be found through murder, violence and terror. But you can’t win a political argument through violence.
Only through building an economy will the Palestinians find peace and autonomy and the One-State-Solution is best way to build an economy. The Palestinians want their jobs back, more than wanting politicians to represent them in their hunger. Politics must follow economics not the other way around.
The Palestinians have learnt that tribal bloodshed does not deliver happiness. Getting back to 1967 and getting it right this time, is the best way of getting back to peace.


Israel Through the Looking Glass

November 26, 2009

At the top of the invitation list for any think-tank event on the Middle East these days is that huge great big elephant that likes to sit in the room as everyone think-tanks away. And so it was the other night at the Foreign Policy Centre: “How to Deliver Equality for Israel’s Arab Minorities!” The elephant was the Second Intifada and there was no bitterness from the Israeli speaker and there was no culpability from the Palestinian. Everyone happily agreed that there was no elephant in the room. Even the elephant nodded agreement to that.
The FPC likes to do events with an angle, so this one concerned itself with Israeli Arabs, i.e. Arabic citizens of Israel rather than the occupants of the West Bank and Gaza. Mr. Shmuel Ben-Tovim, an economist of the Israeli Embassy represented the Israelis, while Ms Aida Touma-Sliman of the campaign Women Against Violence represented the Palestinians. He was very cerebral, while she came right to the point and said, “We’re treated like shit!”
I was only 19 when I was on Kibbutz Yagur, near Haifa. I knew nothing of politics, but discovered some when I was sent along to a seminar about the conflict. The Israeli speaker was very cerebral and the Palestinian man came right to the point and said, “We’re treated like shit!” That was 1986. So here I am in the year 2009 and I can’t help feeling a sense of déjà vu. I’ve spent the last twenty years hearing Jews be cerebral and Palestinians be pissed off. The only difference between then and now is that then, the Arabs had jobs, and now, they don’t.
What strikes me is how much physical change has happened in the passing years, as compared to the absence of change in the dialogue. In 1986 the whole of Israel was in a building boom, with Palestinians pouring concrete into shuttering from one end of the country to the other. They had jobs and the Israelis were happy to employ them. But always when people from abroad asked about the conflict, the Israelis would be cerebral and the Palestinians would come right to the point: “We’re treated like shit!” Meanwhile the demon of Palestinian violence bubbled away in the background with the stabbings and bombings not being so frequent as to make Israel any more dangerous than New York of the time, but making the Israelis feel unsafe in their own country; making them regret opening the borders in 1967.
Incrementally, over the years, Palestinian rights were removed from them as Israeli frustration gave way to impatience, and antagonism to hate, and eventually hate gave way to simply ignoring the fact that the Palestinians even exist. Today, the lives of Palestinians are a hell behind concrete walls, while Israel has become the silicon valley of the eastern hemisphere. High tech jobs are denied to the Palestinians on security grounds. Asian builders were brought in during the Second Intifada and have been continuing to come in since. When Palestinians bid for a contract alongside the Asians, the contract is awarded to the foreigners, but the Israelis are telling the truth when they insist that the process was transparent; we can see exactly what’s going on. The Israelis no longer wish to share their economy with the people who suicide bombed them. Arguments of human rights were arguments of the left and the Labor Party barely exists anymore. In the land of the co-operative Kibbutzim, where a nation was built through the passionate belief in the state, there is no longer such as thing as a left-wing movement.
Yet against such a dramatic change in circumstances between these two communities the complete absence of change in the way they speak about each other is striking. To this day, the Israelis are cerebral while the Palestinians come straight to the point: “We’re treated like shit!” Nothing appears to have changed in this regard. I find this to be weird.
Imagine a play by Kafka where two protagonists, in their youth, have their feet cast in unbreakable concrete forcing them to spend the rest of their lives together. The play opens with them having an argument over something or other, then the play jumps forward by forty or fifty years and these two are now old men. The whole world has changed around them but they are still having exactly the same argument, and it hasn’t progressed at all. It is exactly as it was when the play opened and they were teenagers. It’s a haunting and nightmarish idea; perhaps more Alice in Wonderland than Kafka, but it is the situation that exists between these two communities. Dramatic change has happened in the circumstances between these two communities, but zero change has happened in the attitude and dialogue between each other. Very strange.
However, there was one exchange that struck me as insightful, when Mr. Ben-Tovim said that Palestinians get less resources of the Israeli state because they don’t understand the culture of how to apply for it; they don’t know how to speak to westerners to win them over. This caused great offence to Ms Touma-Sliman who then dominated the proceedings for a period to inform the room that, “We are treated like shit!” Mr Ben-Tovim replied that Palestinian parliamentarians in the Knesset call for the destruction of Israel. Ms Touma-Sliman responded by telling us that, “We’re treated like shit!” Was Mr Ben-Tovim trying to tell us that things could change in Israel if the Palestinians simply changed the record? If he was then it’s not the direction that everyone else is going in to pursue a peace deal.
Imagine yourself trying to speak to those two men with their feet cast in concrete. You and I know that the conflict is massively self-destructive, surely it just needs someone to come in from the outside and bang some heads together? Surely this is just an argument about land, so it can be solved if we just mark out who owns what? However, you also know that these two grey-haired old men with their feet cast in concrete have been having the same argument since their youth, without that argument progressing. Is there anything that you could possibly do to change that? And if there’s nothing you can do to change that, then is it the case that the heart of this conflict is not to do with land but to do with dialogue and the lack of any change in the dialogue over the years? If that is the case, then it’s not the direction that everyone else is going in to pursue a peace deal.


The Weight of the World; Comparing Burdens

March 16, 2009

I was pondering one of those confusing moments of indecision that the modern world has foisted on us. I was in the kitchen having just blown my nose and I honestly had no idea what the advice is between swing-bin and recycling. I chose recycling then suffered the disturbing image of a Chinese child on crust removal duty, so fished it out and gave it to the swing-bin. I went back to my TV then suddenly it occurred to me that paper isn’t kept and ironed out to be re-used, it’s simply chucked into a huge hopper and pulped down for future products. Here’s me contributing to the destruction of the rain-forests out of my pure ignorance. I went back to the kitchen and fished it out of the rubbish and gave it to the recycling bin, but then back at my rolling news TV show, I suddenly imagined your cereal box with a tiny bit of me embossed within the… you get the picture. Swing- bin was the final decision.
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