Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Israeli security fence

Some see it as a representation and obvious physical evidence of oppression. Others see it as the solution to a seemingly never ending source of fear and terror. Your viewpoint might largely depend on whether you live somewhere like the West Bank city of Bethlehem or in the Jerusalem neighborhoods of Gilo or Har Homa. There are a myriad of considerations surrounding the security barricade. All things considered the barricade helps the drive towards peace in two fundamental ways; keeping Israelis safe and pushing the Palestinians towards peaceful methods of conciliation.
In September 2000, after months of negotiations between Palestinian Authority Leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak ended in failure, the Second or Al-Aqsa Intifada began. Originating at the Al-Aqsa mosque on the Temple Mount, a wave of Palestinian violence against Israeli forces led to the Israeli decision to implement “separation as a philosophy” and build the security fence that now surrounds all but 9.5% of the West Bank. The security fence has met with mixed reactions.
Time and again, Israel has said that in order for them to accept a final solution there must be insurances of stability. Israelis point to the significant decline each year since 2001 in successful attacks on its citizens as proof that the security fence is working and doing exactly what they hoped it would do. Evidence would seem at least to show a correlation between the introduction and expansion of the wall and the decline in successful attacks. In 2001 there were 7,634 terrorist attacks. In 2002, 5,176. 2003 and 2004 both saw around 4,000 attacks. 2005 and 2006 both hovered around 2,000. In terms of casualties caused by suicide bombers; there were 73 suicide bombings between 2000 and July 2003 with over 2100 injured or killed. But, between August 2003 and December 2006, those casualties were cut to just over 500. This is a significant step towards achieving a breakthrough in the peace process.
The Palestinians point to the fact that the majority of the barricade is on land in the current territory of the West Bank. This is seen as an encroachment on their territory and an attempt by the Israelis to preempt the territorial negotiations that are necessary to the peace process, creating a de facto annexation of lands the Israelis hope to gain in the negotiations (such settlements as Gush Etzion being included on the Israeli side of the barricade). A mere 20% of the barricade is on the Green Line (the negotiated line between Israel and the West Bank). The barricades placement in West Bank territories is seen as a violation of International Law, such as the 4th Geneva Convention agreements because it punitively restricts the movements of the Palestinian people. But my experience in visiting a border crossing gave me more insight into the nature of the crossings.
On my recent trip to Israel I was able to visit the checkpoint at Gilboa. There I learned a little more about the checkpoints at barricade crossings between the two sides. Gilboa is a recently upgraded crossing. In an effort to make the crossing more accessible the Israeli government converted the crossing from a pedestrian only crossing to a vehicular crossing. More than 600 cars a day pass through the crossing at Gilboa. Israel has actually eliminated altogether the checkpoint between Jerusalem and Jericho. Much is done to minimize the pain of crossing, especially in emergency situations. If a Palestinian needs transferred from a Palestinian medical facility to an Israeli medical facility, in order to receive the best of care that is only available in Israel, an ambulance will take a patient to the border crossing where it will meet another ambulance on the other side and the patient will then be transferred between them and rushed to the necessary facility. Is this something the Israelis should have to do? No. With the creation of the Palestinian state in the future, the Palestinians will assume the responsibility for the adequacies and inadequacies of their medical system. For now, the Israelis are willing to take them in to the much more modern, capable, and well-funded hospitals on their side as a demonstration of their desire for humane discourse and interaction with the Palestinians.
The longer Israel remains free from significant terrorist attacks, especially suicide bombers, the more comfortable the Israelis will feel with an ultimate peace process. The Palestinians also lose the ability to implement terror tactics as a means of forcing a final solution as a result of the increased Israeli security. This along with increased access to Israel and the current accompanying economic growth pushes the Palestinians away from violent methods and towards peaceful conciliation. The security barricade is the right thing for Israeli security and the right thing for Palestinian growth and aspirations toward statehood. 

Thursday, October 6, 2011

What do we do about the economic downturn?

Answers are rare. Talking points come in over-abundance. Early this month, President Obama presented what his administration is billing as a bi-partisan approach to the economic problems America is facing. His plan aims to blaze a trail out of the current situation of high unemployment and slow economic growth. Mr. Obama's plan will not solve the core problem facing the American economy because it does not address: the instability of lending markets, inaccessibility of investment capital, or the lack of demand behind business owner's decision not to hire new employees.

President Obama intends to spur hiring and attack unemployment by decreasing payroll taxes by half on the first 5 million dollars of payroll tax, eliminating the payroll tax for employers who will hire new employees or increase the pay of existing employees, and offering incentives of $5,600 for hiring a veteran who has been out of work for more than 6 months or $9,600 for hiring a veteran with a service-related disability. Essentially the President's thinking is that businesses are not hiring because their finances will not allow them to hire another employee. This is not true. Many American corporations are sitting on record levels of savings. Earnings reports are up for companies on Wall Street. If companies have more money why are they not hiring? The answer is that companies are not charities. Companies do not hire people they do not need. Companies hire people when they need more workers to fill the demand created by consumers. The problem with hiring is that consumer confidence and spending levels are low. People are not going out and spending money because they either don't have it or they are pessimistic about the future of the economy and don't want to spend themselves into a hole. With characteristic understatement Federal Reserve Board Chairman Ben Bernanke noted in his testimony before Congress on Tuesday (October 4th) that, "Consumer behavior has both reflected and contributed to the slow pace of the recovery." One would think with that statement that Chairman Bernanke was unaware that not only has the "recovery" stalled but we are in danger of a Bear Market (ie a double dip recession).
So, why the pessimism? Consumers have a lot to be concerned about. There is a very real possibility of a new wave of home foreclosures. And why wouldn't there be? Financial institutions are facing the very real possibility of default by Greece on government held bonds. There is little understanding of what a Greek default will do. Some say that Argentina was able to default on their debt in 2001 and restructure their currency and still achieve growth afterwards. The problem in Greece though is compounded by the fact that Spain, Portugal, Ireland, and most importantly Italy all potentially could default as well. This could essentially wipe lending institutions off the map in those countries. Without lending institutions to finance business operations and personal ventures these economies could face a lost decade much like Japan did in the 90's. This crisis would most likely not remain localized in the European Union.
So what do we need to do to get out of our economic quandary? Well, to start we need to shore up financial institutions. There is a serious crisis in the American lending industry. There are still over 6 million homes in America with delinquent mortgages. We also need to make the financial viability of our own government sure. Economics are based on perceptions and right now a contributing factor to American economic woes is the lack of confidence in the American economic system. People are worried about our debt levels. Congress needs to take a serious look at how to get military spending down and reform social programs such as Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. It is unsustainable to be involved in trillion dollar wars. We should pull out of Iraq and Afghanistan. We hate accepting hopeless situations in America. America is the land of opportunity; the land of hope. But, we need to pay for our wars. Americans are literally not invested in the current wars. With previous wars there were increases in tax levels commensurate with the increases in spending for wars. It is also unsustainable to have social program spending increase faster than GDP when we are already spending more than we are bringing in in taxes. We must modify the Social Security system so it can be a legitimate resource for those who need to supplement their income later in life. Social Security was intended to be a lifeline for those without the means to pay for themselves in their old age. It was not meant to be a program for those with sufficient retirement means. Social Security should implement a form of means testing in order to limit payment to those who take advantage of the system when they do not need it. Also, we should increase the limits on taxable income. If we spend the time to make sure our fiscal future is sound we can then authorize a one time expenditure to sure up our lending institutions. Yes. A bailout. The difference this time is it is a bailout that would not cause America to need it's own bailout.