Corporeality I: The Body Politic and Diplomacy – External Affairs

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Corporeality I: The Body Politic and Diplomacy

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Howard Adelman

“Howard, you’re never going to be a diplomat.”

Not that I had ever aspired to be one, but why? Why not me? When a Canadian ambassador addressed me with this comment, Canada was then gavelling the Multilateral Refugee Working Group (RWG) negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians in the early 1990s before the Oslo peace process unravelled with the collapse of the Camp David and Taba peace talks and the al-Aqsa intifada took their place. (Cf. David Goldberg and Tilly Shames (2004) “The ‘Good-natured Bastard’: Canada and the Middle East refugee question,” Israel Affairs: Special Issue: Israel in the International Arena, 10:1-2, 203-220) Though the focus was on the Palestinian refugees before the millions of Syrian refugees became the poster children for Middle Eastern displacement, the RWG performed another role. It served not simply as the venue for advancing the discussion on the Palestinian refugee issue, but as a front for the bilateral talks and a safe place out of the spotlight to debate hot process issues, such as PLO participation and Palestinian representation and identification as a separate delegation independent of the Jordanian one. I was present as a technical adviser.

Could I not become an ambassador because I was too forthright, because I lacked the smooth etiquette of even a junior in the foreign ministry? Either of these elements would have disqualified me, but that was not the explanation the ambassador offered. “You’ve been educated as a philosopher. Ever since Descartes, philosophers have been trained to think in terms of clear and distinct ideas. However, diplomacy relies upon equivocation. Diplomats have to use language that means different things to the different parties in the negotiations.” He was only being partially satirical.

I would not qualify for a number of reasons. On Friday I wrote about Jethro in the Torah and his meeting with Moses and Aaron as an example of the following characteristics of a diplomat:

  1. Courtesy – Jethro notified his hosts of his arrival to ensure that he was welcome by the leader of the people – something which Netanyahu did not do when Ron Dermer, his American-born Israeli envoy to the U.S., cooked up the scheme with the House of Representatives Republican Majority Leader, John Boehner, to have Netanyahu address a joint session of Congress without informing the President;
  2. Recognition – Moses and Aaron (not Aaron alone) went out to greet Jethro on what was the tarmac at the time and demonstrated that the head of a nation should greet a visiting envoy;
  3. Respect – Moses did so by showing the visiting diplomat the highest regard in both his words and body language;
  4. Jethro was a formidable diplomat because he was a very careful listener and not only heard Moses’ long tale about the Israelite escape from Egypt, but was able to summarize the narrative so that Moses and Aaron could recognize how close Jethro had been listening;
  5. Jethro demonstrated that he also understood the Israeli position by providing an empathetic summary of the Israelite perspective without ever actually endorsing it;
  6. Jethro demonstrably came with only one goal in mind – reconciliation and peace;
  7. The one attitude that was absolutely verboten was arrogance;
  8. Jethro was the exemplar of the refusal to use force or his position of authority to persuade Moses and Aaron, but relied on words alone to influence his son-in-law;
  9. Jethro went further and demonstrated his initiative and creative imagination by sacrificing to the Israelite God for the role He played in freeing the Israelites from Egypt, something which the Israelites themselves had not yet done;
  10. Finally, both Moses and Jethro understood the important role of breaking bread together in a festive meal as a way to cement a relationship.

How do the current parties in Middle East negotiations measure up to these standards? David Remnick, outstanding editor of The New Yorker, in an article on Secretary of State John Kerry in the final double issue for 2015 entitled, “Negotiating the Whirlwind” (pp. 66-77), offered a number of insights into Kerry’s attributes as a negotiator, though the focus was on the possibility of making a break through on Syria rather than Kerry’s role in the last failed effort to get the peace negotiations off the ground in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Kerry is portrayed as having the following characteristics:

  1. He is a man of exemplary courage “undaunted by risk” having won three Purple Hearts and both a Bronze and a Silver Star in the Vietnam War in spite of George W. Bush’s toadies’, the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, attempts to besmirch that military record, the ultimate in irony, for George W. Bush sat out the war stateside as a member of the Texas National Guard;
  2. Though without question a man of the establishment, Kerry demonstrated a different kind of courage in standing up against the received wisdom as a leader of the Vietnam Veterans Against the War  and became for me personally at that time a real hero;
  3. He is unwilling to go for the jugular if the cost might be undermining the whole diplomatic effort;
  4. His overriding character as a negotiator is that he is tireless and doggedly relentless;
  5. He seems to suffer a more serious handicap than being a philosopher dedicated to clear and distinct ideas for he is prone to verbal logorrhea and a propensity to be rhetorically undisciplined;
  6. Further, instead of being a master of equivocation, he is infected with the disease of the wasp establishment in the United Sates and a betrayal of his forgotten Jewish grandfather as he has mastered the precise contradictory trait of using unboundaried rhetoric to describe raw reality, but doing so in “upholstered platitudes ;“
  7. He has an abounding faith in the value of personal relationships;
  8. He believes in the power of persuasion and the importance of influence, though always with the American qualifier of carrying a stick in the other hand;
  9. He contrasts with Barack Obama’s skepticism because he exudes a “sentimental optimism;”
  10. Like Jethro, he does understand and has mastered the art of building trust by both understanding the Other and demonstrating that understanding in dealing with contentious parties.

How do these characteristics fit the attributes most desirous in a diplomat such as the exemplary Benjamin Franklin? Courage is irrelevant, absolutely necessary when it comes to fighting a war, but irrelevant at the negotiating table. Nor does being an angry young man and an anti-establishment warrior qualify one as a diplomat speaking from personal experience. Third, tireless optimism is no substitute for caution and careful analysis, but actually gets in the way of the latter two prerequisites for diplomacy. Being relentless may be necessary for a Churchill, and his bulldog, when fighting a life-and-death war against the Nazis, but is irrelevant in diplomatic negotiations and may, as Remnick writes, be like the car buyer who enters the automobile showroom and lets the salesperson know that he is determined not to leave until he has purchased a car.

Kerry with his weak command of linguistic skills has shown that he lacks mastery of the core tool of a diplomat, absolute proficiency in the use of language which must be clear and concise as well as always coherent and non-contradictory. Equivocation is one thing; padded platitudes are another, especially when, instead of demonstrating being in touch with reality, they reveal detachment from it. When this is compounded with a record of contradictions – supporting Bush’s foolish war in Iraq but then voting against appropriations for reconstruction – this is not an outstanding record of achievement to waltz on the stage of foreign diplomacy. This may be the result of relying too much on advisers. This is not helped when later one avoids responsibility for taking that advice and remains critically bitter about the advice Robert Shrum gave him not to take on and challenge the calumnies of the Swift Boat Veterans.

Personal relationships, as Jethro and Moses demonstrated, are key to foreign relations, but as Kissinger noted, Kerry’s “unbounded faith” in the value of such relationships may be misplaced. However, his belief in the power of persuasion, in spite of carrying a big stick, his belief in putting that big stick behind his back instead of waving it in the air, and his comprehension in demonstrating empathetic understanding are exemplary, though marred somewhat by his sentimental optimism unbecoming of a diplomat.

How do those skills and weaknesses reveal themselves when attacking some of the major diplomatic challenges of our time? Cuba was clearly Obama’s doing, largely due to insistence of the Cubans, but this put Kerry’s nose out of joint. One cannot imagine Aaron being disturbed because Jethro as a foreign diplomat wanted to deal directly with Moses. A second success, certainly in my eyes, was the conclusion of the nuclear arms talks with Iran. Kerry’s persistence, his efforts to build personal relationships, his mastery of the material and the core issues while communicating a complete understanding of the position of the Iranians, his refusal to play the military card, all contributed to his success. But with the Iranians, not with his former colleagues in the Senate who were well aware of his unwillingness to trot out America’s military might, of Kerry’s unwillingness to go for the jugular as revealed in his handling of the election results in his contest with George W. Bush, of his sentimental optimism and his unbounded faith in personal relationships. They may have loved John Kerry as a colleague but they distrusted him as a tough negotiator. Well you can’t please everyone all the time, and perhaps never given the force and irredentism of populist Republicans these days.

A lesser known success was Kerry’s efforts to broker a compromise with the contenders for leadership in Afghanistan. When the election results threatened to undermine the country’s feeble democracy, Kerry negotiated a compromise between Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani stretching personal relationship diplomacy almost to the breaking point, but sufficient to keep the government together, an absolute prerequisite in fighting the war against the Taliban.

But look at the failures – Egypt, Libya, the partial alienation of Saudi Arabia. But these may have had more to do with Barack Obama than with Kerry, a topic which I will take up tomorrow.  The most outstanding failure was the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, but this was not a failure of negotiating skills, but of wasting diplomatic capital on a quixotic effort driven by that sentimental optimism and absolute faith in himself if only he could get both parties into the same room. Here taking huge risks was folly for the probability of a fearful Mahmoud Abbas taking the necessary risks for peace can be compared to that of Arafat whose courage amounted to the sliver of a new moon while Abbas’ willingness to take a risk was hidden behind the moon in eclipse. With Abbas on one side and, a bullying, blustering unreliable bull shitter like Netanyahu on the other (I told you I was unsuited to diplomacy), the chances of getting even the wisp of victory out of the negotiations was even less than the chance of winning over a billion dollars in the recent lottery draw in the United States, especially given the intractable positions on both sides.

But the problem goes even deeper. The late intervention in the Balkans and the Dayton Accords were not, as Kerry claimed, a diplomatic success, except in the eyes of Richard Holbrooke and other Americans for it left the shattered parts of Bosnia-Herzegovina patched together like a smashed teacup with the shards glued back together, but in a form useless as a teacup because it will not hold any hot water for long. And Rwanda was not a failure of America to intervene, but a failure of the Clinton administration to support and allow the UN peacekeepers already there to be reinforced and do their jobs. Kerry may demonstrate a capability in empathetic understanding but it is not matched to the same degree in objective understanding.

With the help of Alex Zisman

Tomorrow: Barack Obama as a Political Leader and Diplomat.

The Structure of the State: Parshat Yitro/Jethro Exodus 18:1 – 20:23

The Structure of the State: Parshat Yitro/Jethro Exodus 18:1 – 20:23

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Howard Adelman

Last week I wrote about political leadership from the perspective of the Torah. This week my subject is the distribution of the various powers of the state dedicated to protecting and serving a nation beginning with the role of foreign affairs and international diplomacy. How should political leaders deal with political leaders from other states? For Jethro is not only Moses’ father-in-law; he is also the high priest of the Midianites. How does a foreign religious leader also emerge as a confidant and critical advisor of Moses in the design of the polity for the Israelites? How and why did a foreign personality presume to do so? Was it simply because he was “family,” that he was mishpacha?

This week’s parsha is not only about Jethro. That is the subject of chapter 18. But chapter 19 is about the Israelites camping in front of Mount Sinai and their encounter with God. Chapter 20 is about Moses receiving the Ten Commandments and Moses’ role to serve as an intermediary between the people and God and, therefore, the defender of the constitution, the basic covenant for a nation. What do these events that follow and historically rival the escape from Egypt have to do with Jethro coming to Sinai with Moses’ wife and two children to meet with Moses and subsequently offer his political advice?

As stated above, Jethro was a Midianite priest. He may also have been a Prince of the Midianites, for he is called a Midian leader in some translations, but given the difficulties and indignities his daughters suffered at the hands of other shepherds at the well where Moses met his future wife, I very much doubt it. But prince or priest, whether he combined the office of political leader as well as religious leader is not the issue for me, for it is his religious leadership that is important.

Recall what Aaron’s role was as High Priest when there was no temple. Aaron’s initial job was to be the intermediary between God and Pharaoh. When Moses demurred from accepting his divine assignment to represent the Israelites in the negotiations with Pharaoh to free the Israelites from Egypt, Aaron was appointed as God’s spokesman. Aaron was made Secretary of State. Aaron had the job of being a light unto the nation with the most symbolic job assigned to a High Priest, lighting the candles on the menorah so that Israel could be the light to other nations, whether in dealing with enemies in pursuit or nations the Israelites would face in front of them. If Moses was the political leader of the Israelites, Aaron, his older brother by three years, was appointed as foreign minister, or, as designated in the United States of America, Secretary of State. It was Aaron who had the job of guiding the ship of state in foreign waters (and in foreign lands). Thus, when we encounter Jethro here and he is called a Midianite priest, we recognize his role as the nation’s chief diplomat.

We know that Moses worked for his father-in-law after he married Zipporah for almost a decade and during that time presented him with two grandsons, Gershom (stranger) and Eliezer (God’s helper). Their names are ironic because it is Jethro who will come as a stranger to the Israelites at Sinai and will serve as God’s helper by being Moses’ helper, not simply, as it is said, because he gave Moses a refuge from the sword of Pharaoh, but in allowing Moses to emerge subsequently as a person worthy of being the intermediary between God and the people of Israel.

When Jethro as a courtesy sent a message that he was arriving at the Israelite camp with Moses’ wife and two sons, Moses himself, not just Aaron, went out of the camp to greet him, bowed down to him in respect and kissed him. The first lesson in statesmanship is that when a foreign minister visits, it is the political head of state who should greet him. Further, not just the leader, but the ambassador from another nation must be welcomed, not as a supplicant, but as one worthy of both love and respect.

Jethro and Moses then returned to Moses’ tent where Moses told his father-in-law everything that had taken place since he left the land of the Midianites on the Gulf of Eilat/Aqaba. He did not tell the story of what he did, but of what God did to Pharaoh as the enemy and how God subsequently saved the Israelites from the hardships they encountered in the desert. In other words, Moses did not raise himself up through what happened, but offered Jethro a detached portrait of the political landscape for which God (or history) was responsible. Jethro responded by summarizing the tale and concluding, “I know that the Lord is greater than all other gods, for he did this to those who had treated Israel arrogantly.”

Arrogance has been considered one of the seven of the worst character defects. Egyptian pharaohs were the epitome of arrogance for they considered themselves to be above other mortals, to be embodied gods. Arrogance is a denial of personal vulnerability. The corollary of raising oneself on a pedestal entails treating others as only worthy of contempt. Pharaoh was overbearing and overestimated his power to an undue degree. Jethro contends that the real and most basic reason God treated Pharaoh so badly was that he was a conceited, self-important prig with a false sense of his own enormous grandiosity.

Contrast those characteristics with those belonging to Moses or Jethro, but our focus here must be on Jethro. First of all, instead of parading his own idolatrous gods as greater than the Israelite god and engaging in a macho contest, Jethro praised YHWH as “greater than all the gods.” He behaved in precisely the opposite way than Pharaoh. In doing so, Jethro did not renounce his idolatrous religion; he merely recognized the God of Israel as the greatest among the gods. Jethro was not a believer in monotheism. Nor is there any suggestion he had himself circumcised and converted to Judaism as suggested by some interpreters.

[Some Talmudists claim that when the text says wa-yihad Yitro (Exodus 18.9), translated as “Jethro rejoiced,” this meant that Jethro self-circumcised, that he felt a stinging in his flesh and when you exchange the ח with a ה to be wa-yihad, then the meaning is that Jethro became a Jew. I think this is farfetched and does not at all fit in with the thrust as well as the details of the story.]

Note also that Jethro paid no attention to the part of the story when God saved the Israelites in the desert and provided water and manna. It was not God as a material provider that interested him. He came as a foreign minister, not as an economic minister focused on material things. His concern was authority and power and how it was to be exercised. Jethro said that God was greater than all the other gods because he protected His people and punished those who would treat them “arrogantly.” That is the function of statesmanship. Jethro then made a sacrifice, brought a burnt offering and joined Moses, Aaron and the elders of Israel in a festive meal. What Jethro did was also a diplomatic reproach to Moses and Aaron, as well as the 600,000 Israelites because, until Jethro arrived and performed his sacrifice, none of the Israelites had deemed recognizing the power of the Other as important.

The next day Jethro observed Moses acting as a judge and welfare officer when his people came to him with requests and the need to resolve disputes. That part of the story reminded me when I was first introduced to Yasser Arafat in Gaza. (He had not yet moved to Ramallah.) It was 9:30 or 10:00 p.m., which I thought was quite late for a political meeting. We were ushered into a very large room with chairs all around the sides. I was totally shocked to see about half the chairs filled. My memory may be exaggerating, but I thought there were twenty-five people waiting. We were told they were waiting to see Arafat. We were then ushered into an anteroom. There were four people waiting there. We were taken past them right into Arafat’s office.

The office was plain and unadorned. We were introduced, but the meeting was perfunctory – evidently just a matter of form. When we left, I asked the person who was our intermediary what all those people were doing so late in the evening waiting to see Arafat. He informed us that it is the same every evening and seven days a week. People go to Arafat to complain about a neighbour’s dog barking (that literally was one of his examples), to ask for funds to bury a relative or help a child get medical help. Arafat dispenses money, rulings and advice sometimes until three in the morning. That is what Jethro saw Moses doing.

13 The next day Moses took his seat to serve as judge for the people, and they stood around him from morning till evening. 14 When his father-in-law saw all that Moses was doing for the people, he said, “What is this you are doing for the people? Why do you alone sit as judge, while all these people stand around you from morning till evening?”

15 Moses answered him, “Because the people come to me to seek God’s will.16 Whenever they have a dispute, it is brought to me, and I decide between the parties and inform them of God’s decrees and instructions.”

17 Moses’ father-in-law replied, “What you are doing is not good. 18 You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out. The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone. 19 Listen now to me and I will give you some advice, and may God be with you. You must be the people’s representative before God and bring their disputes to him. 20 Teach them his decrees and instructions, and show them the way they are to live and how they are to behave. 21 But select capable men from all the people—men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain—and appoint them as officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. 22 Have them serve as judges for the people at all times, but have them bring every difficult case to you; the simple cases they can decide themselves. That will make your load lighter, because they will share it with you. 23 If you do this and God so commands, you will be able to stand the strain, and all these people will go home satisfied.”

24 Moses listened to his father-in-law and did everything he said. 25 He chose capable men from all Israel and made them leaders of the people, officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. 26 They served as judges for the people at all times. The difficult cases they brought to Moses, but the simple ones they decided themselves.

27 Then Moses sent his father-in-law on his way, and Jethro returned to his own country.

If the function of a foreign minister or secretary of state is to represent his nation so that it can be a light unto other nations when dealing with them (not just representing a nation’s interests in Kissinger’s terms of realpolitik), the function of a political leader is to represent his nation in dealing with God, in dealing with history, in dealing with a nation’s destiny, in interpreting its fundamental constitution. The chief political officer is neither the chief law maker nor the judiciary. After separating the functions of statesmanship and diplomacy from being the head of a nation, the judicial functions too must be delegated to others. Thus, we have a different take on the separation of powers – foreign affairs from leader of the state, leader of the state from chief judicial officer. The next lesson will be about the making of laws, but that comes after Jethro leaves.

How did Jethro then prepare for what took place afterward? First, it was Jethro who told Moses that his job was to be an intermediary between his people and God. Second, as we soon learn, Moses is not the prince of his people, is not the lawmaker, but only the receiver of the fundamental constitution for the people, the covenant with God, which is a constitutional set of rules recommended for all nations. Third, Jethro had to go away because the people had to learn two other lessons that could not come from Jethro. For Jethro was an idolater; the Israelites were commanded to put away the worship of all idols.

“You shall not make [images of anything that is] with Me. Gods of silver or gods of gold you shall not make for yourselves.” (Exodus 20:20) This was the culmination of all the commandments the Lord gave to Moses and was a repetition of verse 4: “You shall not make for yourself a graven image or any likeness which is in the heavens above, which is on the earth below, or which is in the water beneath the earth.” The Israelites were not forbidden from making images, but graven images, objects or things worshipped as divine. “Graven” is the right adjective. Don’t make what is dead and treat it in a solemn way.

There was a second reason Jethro had to leave. He came from a hierarchical society. In contrast, God wanted to teach the Israelites obedience to the constitution, the covenant intended to guide all peoples. “And now, if you obey Me and keep My covenant, you shall be to Me a treasure out of all peoples, for Mine is the entire earth.” (Exodus 19:5) But for the Israelites to be a truly holy nation, they had to be a nation of self-legislators, a nation in which every member was a prince, a democratic nation. “And you shall be to Me a kingdom of princes and a holy nation.” (Exodus 19:6)

Jethro could not teach Moses or his people not to be idolaters, nor that the nation must become one in which all were princes, a democratic nation. Thus, in this parsha, we are provided with the framework for the construction of a state that will serve the nation. Separate foreign affairs and diplomacy from the functions of internal rule and make certain attributes characteristic of that role. Secondly, separate executive power from the judiciary. Thirdly, create a constitutional “monarchy,” that is where the function of the head of state was to be bound to upholding the fundamental covenant or the constitution of that state from the exercise of power and make the head of state the embodiment of that covenant and the representative of that covenant to the people. Fourth, make the state a democratic state whereby the powers of making laws, within the boundaries of the constitution or the fundamental covenant of that state, are made by the people who shall all be treated as princes of the state.

With the help of Alex Zisman

SUNDAY: Foreign Affairs, Diplomacy and the Body Politic

UNSCOP and East/West Tectonic Plates

UNSCOP and East/West Tectonic Plates

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Howard Adelman

Below is the long form of the abstract that I submitted to the Israel Studies Association in a much briefer version for presentation of a paper at this June’s conference in Jerusalem. It is really the overview of the book that I never finished and have now resurrected and on which I am currently working. I include it in my blog both to keep readers posted and to invite leads for information or discussion of the topic.

The paper explores one important exogenous influence on the definition of Israel – the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP) that was set up by the United Nations on 15 May 1947 to investigate the causes of the conflict in Palestine and make recommendations, if possible, for a solution. Though UNSCOP’s make-up and deliberations were not only supposed to be impartial but appear to be impartial, the committee only succeeded in fulfilling the latter half of that principle of its mandate. This paper examines the thinking of each of the 11 representatives (alternates are only considered when they have specific relevance such as S.L. Ayteo of Australia), using records of the committee, the majority and minority reports, UN archives, records in the national archives of the different members, as well as other scholarly and biographical sources, in order to assess how each of the members of the committee assessed the different possible solutions to the problem in terms of the extant theories of how to resolve inter-nation and inter-religious conflicts in terms of various conceptions of the state and how this affected their votes in support of or opposition to partition.

This paper argues that the minority (federation) and majority (partition) reports were not ways of resolving the conflict. Most of those intimately knowledgeable about the problem did not expect the recommendations to affect the outcome one way or the other. And neither the UN, using what would become the idea of a peace enforcement force, or the major powers were willing to enforce a solution. The minority report’s recommendations would not have done any better. The two recommendations – federation OR partition with an economic union and Jerusalem under international auspices – were more reflections of two dominant models, and compromise solutions to inter-nation and inter-religious conflicts reflective of what I call Western and Eastern perspectives, both ill-suited to the character of this type of conflict.

This was not simply the case in Palestine, but would prove to be equally unsuitable to resolving conflicts in any area where the Western political tectonic plate rubbed against the Eastern political tectonic plate, whether in Palestine, the Balkans, Iraq, Syria, and, as to be soon demonstrated, in Turkey. Nevertheless, the recommendations set a template that would not only dominate the Israeli-Palestinian problem, but many other conflicts in the Middle East and the Balkans.

In my analysis, the stakes were stacked in favour of partition given the predispositions of the members by 4-3, and needed only the conversion of two other members to constitute a majority report with 6 of the 11 members in support. The majority report received seven votes; the minority report received three votes; there was one abstention. As it turned out, the conversion of John Hood from Australia from opposing the majority recommendation to abstaining proved to be totally fortuitous. Neither he nor Dr. N.S. Blom of the Netherlands were independent thinkers on the committee, but representatives of what were perceived to be their own country’s national interests.

Representation from countries around the world was not intended to represent the specific interests of a country. Rather, the membership was intended to be constitutive of independent individuals coming from countries representative of the membership of the United Nations, excluding the five major powers, especially Great Britain, the mandate of which was under examination. Though drawn from a variety of countries from different regions of the globe, the members of the committee were not there to represent the interests of their countries.

In the case of John Hood of Australia, perhaps representing the interests of Australia is a misleading description. He was there to represent the interests of H.V. Evatt, the then Foreign Minister of Australia. Evatt’s ambition was to become President of the UN National Assembly. When he was thwarted in that ambition, he released John Hood from opposing partition, which he had instructed him to do when the vote came lest he alienate the Arab states whose support he would need to be elected President. Instead, he instructed Hood to abstain as a virtual cover for the equivocation of Hood during the discussions in the committee. Abstention for an obscure reason allowed Hood to save face and later, when the issue of the Presidency was out of the way, to allow Evatt to cast the first vote for partition, thereby becoming a hero to Australian Jews and Israel.

The case of Dr. Blom of the Netherlands is another story. He was also a toady of the Netherlands Foreign Affairs Ministry. The Netherlands, like many waning imperial powers at the time, still wanted to hold onto its overseas colonies, Indonesia in particular. To do that, Netherlands would need the support of other Muslim states, particularly the large number of Arab states. Blom was instructed to oppose partition, cautiously, diplomatically and almost surreptitiously to avoid becoming a spokesperson for the anti-partition faction. However, just weeks before the issue came to a head, the Arab League announced its support for Sukarno, the leader of the Indonesian independence movement. Blom was then instructed to support partition.

The partition side needed only one more member of the committee to support partition. The Peruvian delegation, particularly Dr. Alberto Ulloa Sotomayor, was not on the committee in his own eyes to represent his country’s interests, but rather the interests of all of Christendom, more particularly, the Roman Catholic Church. If the committee voted for a federated state, then Jerusalem would be its natural capital. If the committee voted for partition, then there was a very divisive issue of whether the Arabs or the Jews would gain control of Jerusalem, Given the conditions on the ground, and the contention between the two sides, Sotomayor was able to convince his fellow members of the committee to support making Jerusalem an international city with the Church having a major input into its governance. The conversion of the Peruvian delegation to support partition was a result of a deal to take care of their major concern, Christian power in Jerusalem.

Vladimir Simić of Yugoslavia, given the different ethnicities and the coexistence of Christianity and Islam within his state, was adamantly wedded to a federal solution. He opposed partition. Nasrollah Entezam of Iran and Sir Abdur Rahman a Muslim judge from India, began by favouring a unified state, but what they witnessed and heard, the debate within the committee and the influence of Ivan Rand from the federal state of Canada with two dominant nations each with a different language, persuaded them to support a federal solution as the only realistic option that might gain majority support.

The irony was that Ivan Rand in the end supported partition and became the 7th vote making partition the clear winner. The conversion of Ivan Rand was interesting as a bell-weather since he was a major influence on the members of the Eastern tectonic caucus to adopt a federal rather than a unified state solution. The reasons are complex and cannot be summarized here, but given that Canada is a federal state with two major national groups each then having two different religions for the majority, Canadian support of a federal solution would seem to come naturally. But Rand went on to support partition. The question of why and how that happened is one of the most interesting aspects of the tale.

There are a few side conclusions. On a day after we just memorialized Holocaust Day, contrary to a great deal of mythology, there is little evidence in the historical records that the Holocaust had any noticeable let alone significant influence on the thinking of the various member parties at the time, or, for that matter, the different states that were members of the United Nations and voted to support or oppose the partition recommendation. The issue of refugees, particularly the 250,000 Jewish refugees still in Europe whom no one at the time wanted, did. There are other important challenges to received wisdom, but this is perhaps the most important one.

The study also adumbrates why dealing with refugees, whether Jewish refugees after WWII, Palestinian refugees following the Arab-Jewish War in 1947-8, or waves of refugees from the Balkans, Iraq and Syria, turned out to be so difficult. Most importantly, the analysis has implications for assessing various two-state and one-state models, not only for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but for political solutions to conflicts in the whole region and elsewhere.

The modern period in which the nation-state has emerged supreme has never been able to resolve how that nation-state can be a full democracy representative not only of all of its members, but of all the nations within it. For example, Canada has somewhat succeeded in ensuring a degree of representation for the Francophone nation but not for its aboriginal peoples. And it, relatively speaking, is a great success The study is intended to answer the question, Why? And How? and If? there can be any definitive answer to how inter-nation conflicts can be resolved within the body politic of a single state, and, more particularly, the conflict between Jews and Arabs over Palestine.

The half-thesis as abstracted and abbreviated here with respect to the historical material, rather than the issue of political theory which I have not yet discussed, can be expected to be subject to much revision. The summary above was based on research undertaken a number of years ago. It will need to be updated. Further, since I conduct my research to falsify what I believe rather than looking for evidence to support it, it is difficult to imagine that the final product will resemble what I have written above. But that is the nature of intellectual inquiry.

With the help of Alex Zisman

List of  Representatives on UNSCOP categorized according to the analysis

  1. Floaters

John Hood, Australia

Dr. N.S. Blom, Netherlands

Dr. Alberto Ulloa Sotomayor, Peru

  1. Mediator

Justice Ivan Rand, Canada

  1. Western Tectonic Plate

Karel Lisicky, Czechoslovakia

Justice Emil Sandstrőm, Sweden

Dr. Jorge García Granados, Guatemala

Professor Enrique Rodríguez Fabregat, Uruguay

  1. Eastern Tectonic Plate

Sir Abdur Rahman, India

Vladimir Simić, Yugoslavia

Nasrollah Entezam, Iran

 

Counting Palestinian Refugees Part III

Counting Palestinian Refugees Part III

by

Howard Adelman

Yesterday, I included in my blog Richard Mather’s “Op-Ed: How many Arab refugees were there in 1948? Maybe 300,000 – or less,” (20 January). That meant denying the accuracy of the usual figures used of 650,000 to 711,000. I promised to offer a critical analysis of Mather’s piece. An accurate and responsible figure should range between 650,000 at a minimum and 725,000 as a maximum with, I believe, 711,000 as the most accurate estimate of ethnic Palestinian refugees resulting from the Arab-Israeli War.

There have been efforts to diminish the numbers of Palestinian Arabs living in Mandatory Palestine as well as to decrease the number of Palestinian refugees for political purposes to minimize the claims to the land and for compensation or return for the refugees. The most infamous works along these lines was Joan Peters From Time Immemorial which even a right-wing Zionist like Daniel Pipes agreed used statistics sloppily, ignored any data that might contradict her argument and even distorted quotations. At the same time, there have been efforts to minimize the number of Jews in Mandatory Palestine by excluding so-called “illegal” Jewish immigrants and otherwise playing with figures and statistics. Given the ambiguity of and uncertainties about some of the data, it is even more important that partisan perspectives be bracketed while analyzing data.

Accurate counting should begin by obeying the following guidelines:

  1. Examine all reputable claims in light of the best evidence available;
  2. Demographic counts should be done indifferent to the political and moral claims of contending positions;
  3. The analysis should also be carried out disregarding whether Zionism is a legitimate ideology or whether the Palestinian arguments about colonialism and a nahba have any merit.
  4. The analysis should follow standard demographic norms of determining population figures even when it may be impossible to get a precise figure because of variations in original counts that were not subjected to rigorous verification.
  5. A common definition should be used for who is to be included – in this case, “persons whose normal place of residence was Palestine during the period 1 June 1946 to 15 May 1948, and who lost both home and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 conflict.”
  6. When there are differences among authoritative data, then an effort should be made to reconcile differences and explain discrepancies.

It is clear that Mather followed none of the procedural norms. Below, I include his claims in quotation marks.

  1. “The conventional figure of Palestinian refugees who fled is 650,000.” [Later he cited the figure as 600,500 but I assume this was a typo.]

Response:

  1. The current conventional figure of the total number of refugees in 1948 is 750,000.
  2. The current accepted number of ethnic Palestinian refugees living in camps in 1949 is said to be 711,000. (Many Palestinian scholars and institutions use a figure of 726,000 or more.) The discrepancy between the two figures results from:
  1. The original figure was based not on ethnic Palestinians, but on definition of refugees from Palestine that included about 30,000 Jews who lost their homes in what became known as the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Old City; “Palestine refugee” were defined as both Arabs and Jews whose normal place of residence was in Mandatory Palestine who had lost homes and their livelihoods as a result of the 1948 war;
  2. Just over 1%, that is, up to 9,000 individuals who lost their homes and livelihoods were neither ethnic Palestinians nor Jews.
  1. The figure used in 1950 was 914,000, not 650,000. Mather begins with the discounted figure that was 78% of the original figure and then he discounts again. The main reason for the original overcount was because local residents registered as refugees to obtain access to ration cards. Double counting and not delisting deaths tended to become significant later. By starting with a figure of 650,000, already a bit low, and then discounting that figure again for the very same reasons the original figure of 914,000 was discounted, results in an immediate major problem. Hence the inapplicability of the claim that, “UNRWA (the United Nations Relief and Works Agency), either through incompetence or deliberate manipulation, handed out multiple identity cards to the same persons, some of whom were not refugees at all but permanent residents who took advantage of the aid offered by UNRWA. This is attested by UNRWA officials.” The depiction is accurate, but it applies to the figure of 914,000, and then initially only to the problem of local residents registering as refugees.
  2. “There were fewer than 660,000 Arabs living in the part of Palestine that eventually became Israel.” This was a result of his claim that, “The Statistical Abstract of Palestine in 1944-45 set the figure for the total Arab population living in what would become the Jewish-settled territories at 570,800. Another set of figures based on a census taken in 1944 suggests there were 696,000 Arabs living in what would become Israeli-controlled territory.” This figure is contradicted by the following sources:
  1. Itamar Rabinovitch and Jehuda Reinharz (eds,) (2008) Israel and the Middle East: Documents and Readings on Society, Politics, and Foreign Relations, Pre-1948 to the Present report that there were 543,000 Jews and 1,267,037 non-Jews in Mandatory Palestine. In 1948, there were 716,700 Jews in Israel and only 156,000 non-Jews. Ignoring that the figure of non-Jews included Circassians, Armenian and other Christians who were not Arab, but whose numbers were small, as well as Bedouins who were both difficult to count and often not counted because they were nomadic, if the number Palestinian refugees is considered to be 711,000, then the number of Palestinians in what became the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem totaled just over 400,000 in 1948 before the influx of refugees from the area that became Israel. (1,267,037 – 711,000 – 156,000 = approx. 400,000.) [Note that Itamar Rabinovitch is a very highly regarded Israeli scholar who also served as the negotiator with the Syrians between 1993-1996, was Israeli ambassador to the U.S. and President of Tel Aviv University.]
  2. To obtain the pre-1948 Arab population of the West Bank and Gaza, there is a table included in the Supplement to a Survey of Palestine (pp. 12-13) that excluded nomadic Bedouins providing the population by town and district in 1946 prepared for the United Nations and UNSCOP in 1947. As I will show, an initial analysis might appear to support Richard Mather The key districts of concern which in 1946 were virtually 100% Arab were:

East Jerusalem and Arab parts of the Old City                152,000

Gaza                                                                                  150,540

Hebron                                                                              93,120

Baysan                                                                              24,950

Jenin                                                                                  62,210

Nablus                                                                               98,600

Ramallah                                                                           49,930

 

Total                                                                                  631,350

This is 231,350 more than the resident non-Jewish populations should have been according to the above calculations. So if the 231,350 are subtracted from the 711,000 claimed refugees, then there should have been about 475,000 ethnic Palestinian refugees (more precisely 474,650). This is about half way between Mather’s figure of less than 300,000 and the figure of 650,000 which he claimed to be the generally accepted figure. However, there is a problem. The 231,000 are estimated to be about the number of local residents who registered as refugees to obtain rations. The totals were as follows:

 

 

711,000 actual refugees

30,000 Jewish refugees

231,000 local residents who registered as refugees

972,000 was the total, about 60,000 more than the original figure of 914,000. Double counting and non-recording of deaths would come later. This supports a figure of about 650,000 Palestinian refugees.

  • The Israeli Statistical Abstract from 1941 reported 1,111,398 Arab Palestinians in Mandatory Palestine. Allowing for an increase of 25% by 1947, that would yield 1,389,350 Arab Palestinians in Mandatory Palestine (versus Mather’s figure of 1.2 million). Deduct from that the 631,350 living in the West Bank and Gaza, that would mean the Arab Palestinian population in what became Israel before the war was 758,900. If 156,000 were left after the war, then the refugee population must have been 612,900. This would be a minimum figure because there is a general consensus that the figures inherited from the British Statistical Abstract undercounted both Jews and Arabs. The figures provided are:

 

1941 474,102 1,111,398 1,585,500 29.902%
                   1950 1,203,000 1,172,100 2,375,100 50.650%
  1. The Report of the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry of 1946, which provides the foundation for most estimates, used the British 1945 survey based on both the 1922 and 1931 census data extrapolated by rates of natural increase for the population, without considering that both census figures were most likely undercounts. At the same time, there is a discrepancy between the number of ethnic Palestinian refugees yielded by this calculation (650,000) and the numbers scholars have considered authoritative (711,000). The reason for the difference is attributed to three factors:
  1. undercounting in the 1922 and 1931 census data;
  2. excluding in-migration from Syria and Transjordan resulting from the relative economic boom in Mandatory Palestine, the agricultural revolution underway in Mandatory Palestine both in the Jewish and Arab sectors (new technologies, use of fertilizers and pesticides, drainage of swamps), urbanization and the fact that Arabs in Palestine enjoyed a standard of living double that in Lebanon, Syria and Transjordan;
  3. underreporting of both births and infant deaths;
  4. Adding the Bedouin population that became refugees to the 650,000 figure.

 

In any case, the count of ethnic Palestinian refugees ranged between 650,000 and 711,000.

 

 

 

 

 

 

  1. The British 1945 Survey
Year Source Total Moslems Jews Christians Others
(No.) (%) (No.) (%) (No.) (%) (No.) (%)
1922 Census 752,048 589,177 78.34 83,790 11.14 71,464 9.50 7,617 1.01
1931 Census 1,033,314 759,700 73.52 174,606 16.90 88,907 8.60 10,101 0.98
1937 Estimate 1,383,320 875,947 63.32 386,084 27.91 109,769 7.94 11,520 0.83
1945 Survey2 1,845,560 1,076,780 58.35 608,230 32.96 145,060 7.86 15,490 0.84
19471 Projection 1,955,260 1,135,269 58.06 650,000 33.24 153,621 7.86 16370 0.84

 

    1. Justin McCarthy (1990), The Population of Palestine, Population History and Statistics of the Late Ottoman Period and the Mandate. New York Columbia University Press. (see also his article in Encyclopedia of the Palestinians, Philip Mattar, ed.) who concluded, based on his demographic studies, that of 873,00 ethnic Palestinians residing in what became Israel after the 1948 war with only 155,000 remaining, there were 718,000 Palestinian refugees and fatalities as a result of the war.
    2. Both Walid Khalidi (ed.) (1992) All That Remains: The Palestinian Villages Occupied and Depopulated by Israel in 1948 (Washington, D.C.: Institute for Palestine Studies and Nur Masalha (1992) Expulsion of the Palestinians: The Concept of “Transfer” in Zionist Political Thought, 1882–1948 (Washington, D.C.: Institute for Palestine Studies, insist that the basic figure (they use 726,000 or more) should be increased by Palestinians who were outside Palestine when the 1948 war broke out but were prevented from returning to their homes, as well as those who did not register with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA).
  • Janet L. Abu Lughod (1971) “The Demographic Transformation of Palestine”, in Ibrahim Abu Lughod (ed.) The Transformation of Palestine: Essays on the Origin and Development of the Arab-Israeli Conflict, Northwestern University Press, 139-163, concludes there were 720,000 ethnic Palestinian refugees.
  • Mather cites Dr. Walter Pinner’s 1966 claim that the totals of refugees included both 109,000 who had been resettled in 1948 and 225,000 who subsequently settled elsewhere and became self-supporting to bolster his argument for a 1948 Palestinian refugee population under 300,000. However, the UNRWA definition is based on refugees who lost their homes and livelihoods and, therefore, includes refugees resettled elsewhere and those who became self-supporting; using the UNRWA definition, this would bring the totals back up to over 600,000. Further, given the definition that included those who lost their homes and livelihoods, it should also be noted that the Arab Palestinians (as well as Jewish refugees in Palestine) only had to have lived in Mandatory Palestine for two years. They did not have to be registered permanent residents. There was no requirement that those who settled outside the countries of first asylum ceased being refugees in accordance with the UNRWA definition, a definition which preceded the creation of UNRWA.

 

 

Further, there is a tendency (Mather is an example) of asserting that the inflated figures (originally 916,000) were matters of fraud. This is far too simplistic. In fact, in almost all surveys of refugee camps, the figures are estimated to be inflated by 10%, an inflation that increases to 25% when “military” units control the camps.

Finally, poor scholarship does not help, whatever side one is on, but rather undermines it, in this case, the position of Israel in dealing with the refugees, just as original inflated figures used by UNRWA lost UNRWA credibility in the international sphere in its first decades. In the above I have not cited studies in which I myself was involved, such as the study undertaken by the Centre for Refugee Studies at York University in the nineties of the number of Palestinian refugees. Nor have I cited the work of the Canadian government that gaveled the refugee multilateral talks. Though my figures were initially a bit lower than the 711,000, I subsequently concluded that the 711,000 was more accurate.

Whatever our differences, we should at least learn to count accurately, or as accurately as possible.

With the help of Alex Zisman

Counting Palestinian Refugees – Part II

Counting Palestinian Refugees – Part II

by

Howard Adelman

The following op-ed appeared in the internet version of the Israel National News news@israelnn.com by Richard Mather on 20 January 2016.

Op-Ed: How many Arab refugees were there in 1948? Maybe 300,000 – or less

The inflated numbers of third generation refugees claimed by Arabs and the UN started with an inflated number in 1948.

Most serious students of the history of Palestine would accept that the number of Arab refugees from Israel during and after 1948 claimed by Arab and UN sources—some 600,000 to 750,000—was exaggerated. It is very easy to refute that estimate and many have already done it. – Yehoshua Porath

It is a common misconception that around 650,000 Palestinian refugees were created because of fighting that took place in 1948. But a closer look at both the population data and statements made by UN officials at the time suggest that the true figure is much lower, possibly as low as 270,000.

The conventional figure of 650,000 cannot be true for more than one reason. Firstly, there were fewer than 660,000 Arabs living in the part of Palestine that eventually became Israel; and secondly, UNRWA (the United Nations Relief and Works Agency), either through incompetence or deliberate manipulation, handed out multiple identity cards to the same persons, some of whom were not refugees at all but permanent residents who took advantage of the aid offered by UNRWA. This is attested by UNRWA officials.

Before taking a look at UNRWA’s role in the invention of the Palestinian refugee problem, it is worthwhile examining the population data of Eretz Israel/Palestine prior to the 1948 Arab-Israeli War.

The Statistical Abstract of Palestine in 1944-45 set the figure for the total Arab population living in what would become the Jewish-settled territories at 570,800. Another set of figures based on a census taken in 1944 suggests there were 696,000 Arabs living in what would become Israeli-controlled territory. Tsvi Misinai, an Israeli researcher and historian, believes the figure to even lower. He believes that prior to the 1948 war, there were 390,000 Arabs living in areas that would fall into Israeli hands. (None of these figures include the number of Arab Palestinians residing in east Jerusalem, Gaza and Judea-Samaria. Figures vary, but the number of Arabs in those areas was probably 600,000, which brings the total number of Arabs residing between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea to 1.2 million).

According to Misinai, there were in excess of 120,000 Arabs inside Israel’s borders by the end of the war, although most commentators believe the figure to be 160,000 or 170,000. (The discrepancy becomes less glaring when Israel’s repatriation of 20,000 Palestinian Arab refugees from Jordan is taken into account). This means that the number of Palestinian Arabs displaced from areas that came under Israeli control cannot be higher than 270,000.

Of the 270,000, most had ended up in neighbouring Arab countries, with the rest having fled to Judea-Samaria and Gaza. Around 4,000 had voluntarily moved from west Jerusalem into houses abandoned in east Jerusalem. During the course of the war, 77,000 Arabs (mostly Bedouin) returned to their homes in what would become Israeli territory. As the war went on, another 81,000 Palestinians fled, 24,000 of which had already fled and returned, only to flee again. By the war’s end, there were 270,000 Palestinian Arabs who had lost their homes and/or their land.

At first glance, this seems a rather low figure. A report submitted by the UN mediator Count Folke Bernadotte suggested that the number of Palestinian refugees totalled 330,000. Other contemporary reports put the number at around 424,000. Either way, it is statistically impossible for there to have been more than 430,000 genuine Palestinian Arab refugees from the 1948 war. This is the view of Dr Walter Pinner, who bases his figures on reliable census data carried out in the mid-1940s.

So we have a situation where no less than 270,000 and no more than 430,000 Palestinian refugees were created by the 1948 war. Misinai’s suggestion of 270,000 can be attributed to his rather low starting figure of 390,000 Arabs who resided in pre-state Israel. Perhaps if one takes into account the Arab migrants and citrus farm workers who had gone back to their country of origin, there may be a case for a final figure of 270,000. Plus, a reliable study undertaken in the mid-1960s suggests the figure of 270,000 may be close to the mark (more on this later).

Many books and websites quote a figure of 650,000 when discussing the number of Palestinian refugees created by the 1948 conflict. How did the figure of 650,000 arise?

One explanation is the attested fact that in the aftermath of the conflict, refugees were counted more than once. In order to receive extra funding, many refugees identified themselves twice before UNRWA officials. As a result, they received more than one identity card. One of the camp workers in Lebanon stated, “We try to count them, but they are coming and going all the time; or we count them in Western clothes, then they return in aba and keffiyeh and we count the same ones again.”

This was not the only fraud committed by the refugees. Another was the concealment of natural deaths so that families could continue to collect the deceased person’s food. Births, however, were always registered. In 1951, UNRWA reported that “it is still not possible to give an absolute figure of the true number of refugees as understood by the working definition of the word.” A reason given by UNRWA for the erratic data was that the refugees “eagerly report births and … reluctantly report deaths.” According to the July 23 1955 edition of the Cairo-based Mideast Mirror, “There are refugees who hold as many as 500 ration cards, 499 of them belonging to refugees long dead…. There are dealers in UNRWA food and clothing and ration cards to the highest bidder.”

Fraudulent claims were made regarding the number of dependents. It was alleged that refugees would “hire” children from other families at census time. In 1950, UNRWA director Howard Kennedy said that “fictitious names on the ration lists pertain to refugees in this area […] it is alleged that it is a common practice for refugees to hire children from other families at census time.”

The situation in Jordan was especially difficult because western Jordan was already populated by Arab Palestinians, so distinguishing a refugee from a non-refugee was particularly arduous. An UNRWA official noted that the Jordan ration lists alone “are believed to include 150,000 ineligibles and many persons who have died.” A similar situation arose in Lebanon. In a 1950 report to the UN General Assembly, the director of UNRWA noted that “many Lebanese nationals along the Palestinian frontier habitually worked most of the year on the farms or in the citrus groves of Palestine. With the advent of war they came back across the border and claimed status as refugees.” UNRWA conceded that up to 129,000 Lebanese workers may have falsely claimed Palestinian refugee status.

In fact, this developed into a widespread trend. Because the UNRWA refugee camps were better than standard housing, some non-refugee residents of Judea-Samaria and Gaza declared themselves refugees in order to gain access to food, as well as medical and educational benefits. Many permanent residents of Judea-Samaria and Gaza came to carry both an UNRWA refugee card that had the address of a refugee camp and a regular ID card with their actual identity and address.

Another problem was the unrecorded movement of peoples, especially the Bedouin tribes who moved between Gaza, Israel, Jordan and Lebanon, thereby increasing multiple registrations. Even the UN acknowledged that 15,000 Bedouins were actually non-existent, that they were fictitious persons or people already registered. In the words of UNRWA, the movement of people introduced “a double source of error into any estimates of the number of persons who could have become refugees.”

By 1950, the UN disclosed that it was “not possible to give an absolute figure of the true number of refugees as understood by the working definition.” According to a report, the percentage of error in the UN statistics was “possibly as much as 50 per cent and represents a serious operational difficulty.”

Nonetheless, the UN kept revising its figures upwards because it pursued a maximalist position on who was a refugee, which ranged from a “needy person” who “has lost his home and means of livelihood” to “persons whose normal place of residence was Palestine between June 1946 and May 1948.” Even refugees who still had a house but had lost some or all of their land were considered refugees. In addition, Arabs who had settled in Palestine illegally prior to 1948 were also given refugee status. No wonder the figures were artificially high.

In 1966, Dr. Walter Pinner identified a huge number of fraudulent refugee claims. Basing his findings on  UNRWA’s own reports, he discovered that 484,000 refugees were Arabs from western Jordan and Gaza Strip; another 117,000 were unrecorded deaths; 109,000 were people who had been resettled in 1948 and were no longer refugees; and a further 225,000 had subsequently settled elsewhere and become self-supporting. After subtracting the inauthentic claims, he concluded that there were 115,000 “old and sick” refugees, and 252,000 “other unsettled genuine refugees,” totalling 367,000 legitimate refugees as of 1966.

Once the natural rate of increase between 1948 and 1966 has been subtracted, the number of genuine Palestinian refugees from 1948 cannot be much higher than 300,000. In which case, Tsvi Misinai’s figure of 270,000 may not be far off the mark.

Significantly, UN Secretary General Dag Hammarskjold did not refute Dr Pinner’s findings, nor did he issue any corrections to Dr Pinner’s figures. He did, however, acknowledge receipt of Dr Pinner’s work, so it cannot be claimed that the UN wasn’t aware of his analysis. It is probable that the UN, at least in private, agreed with Dr Pinner’s findings but did not want to admit that UNRWA had been defrauded of millions of dollars.

All told, the conventional figure of 600,500 Palestinian refugees from the 1948 conflict comes from the double counting of refugees, the non-recording of deaths, the vague and expansive use of the term ‘refugee,’ the counting of people who were not refugees, the counting of former refugees who had resettled elsewhere, and the untracked movement of peoples between Jordan, Gaza, Lebanon and Judea-Samaria.

The implication is that many of today’s Palestinian refugees actually derive from people who did not reside in Palestine at the time of the war or had lived there for only two years, which means more than half – possibly even two-thirds – of those who claim to be Palestinian refugees in 2016 are not descended from Palestinian refugees at all. (What is also galling is that the living conditions in the Palestinian refugee camps are much better than the conditions of their non-refugee Arab neighbours who do not receive international aid. Indeed, many of the Palestinian refugee camps are not camps at all, but are fully-functioning neighbourhoods.)

The Arab states themselves have been major players in the refugee fraud. Greed was one motivating factor because UNRWA money was, in effect, free money. In 1961 UNRWA director John H. David admitted that Arab countries overstated their refugee figures in the 1950s to get more funds. But the refugee crisis was useful for another reason: It was a way of exerting international pressure on the State of Israel to repatriate the so-called refugees, thereby demographically destroying the Jewish state. This explains why the Arabs didn’t permanently rehouse the refugees in Judea-Samaria and Gaza, which were under Jordanian and Egyptian control respectively between 1948 and 1967.

The sordid history of the Palestinian refugee situation means the Israeli government must be extremely wary about compensating or repatriating Palestinians who claim to be refugees. Many of them are frauds or the descendants of frauds. If the Israeli government does decide to compensate or repatriate some of the refugees as part of a peace deal, then a detailed investigation needs to be conducted to ensure that only genuine claimants are assisted. In return, a wider compensation package is needed in which the descendants of Jews who lost their homes, savings and livelihoods in Nazi Europe (not just Germany) are compensated, and the Jews forced from Arab lands in the 1940s and 1950s are likewise recompensed. In addition, there needs to be some recognition that many Jews were killed and displaced in the 1948 war – a war instigated by an alliance of several Arabs nations to destroy the Jewish homeland.

Tomorrow: My response and analysis

 

Counting and Miscounting Palestinian Refugees – Part I

Counting and Miscounting Palestinian Refugees – Part I

by

Howard Adelman

Counting is one of the most basic things we learn to do. No sooner does a child learn to recognize mom and dad and to understand he or she has only one of each, than that child learns to count siblings and then cousins. ‘Well the new baby means you now have two brothers.’ ‘Three!‘ ‘No, not three brothers. Anna is your sister. You have two brothers and one sister.’ ‘No, momma has four children, not three. You have to count yourself. I have three boys and one girl.’ And so it continues.

As we grow, we learn to aggregate and differentiate. And we also learn our first lessons in lying and cheating. ‘I told you that you could have three M&Ms, not five.’ ‘But two were broken. They don’t count.’ And when we are mature, we learn to become sloppy in our counting and even deliberately mislead for entertainment or supposedly humanitarian and political purposes. In 1982, just after the Israelis invaded Lebanon, OXFAM Britain published full page ads that claimed 600,000 had been made homeless in southern Lebanon by the Israeli invasion. Israel responded and issued a press release insisting that only 27,000 had been made homeless. The Centre for Refugee Studies (CRS) at York University, then called the Refugee Studies Project, earned its initial international reputation in part by proving its thesis that, even in the midst of conflict, reasonably accurate counts of refugees can be carried out. Based on this and other research, CRS was dubbed a Centre of Excellence and received research funding of $5,600,000 over five years.

The accurate number made homeless by the invasion in South Lebanon was 40,000. That figure was subsequently used by all sides in the conflict. The credibility was earned in the following ways:

·         Demonstrating that the 600,000 figure originated in an ICRC report that 600,000 had been affected, not made homeless, by the invasion

·         That the research on the ground by a highly reputable Israeli academic erred by 10,000 as a result of one unintended addition error and by 3,000 because several pockets of refugees had been missed

·         That the twelve counts on the ground carried out by Palestinian elementary teachers, municipal authorities, the Society for Engineers in Lebanon, and nine other institutions in Lebanon, including the International Red Cross, though varied somewhat, could all be reconciled if the same definition of a refugee was used (not Palestinian homes in camps but Palestinian homes occupied by ethnic Palestinians – many homes had been rented out to itinerant workers in Lebanon from South Asia primarily –that were destroyed by the invasion), the same territory covered and corrections plus allowances taken into account for errors easily made when counting in such difficult circumstances

·         By showing that the International Committee of the Red Cross count, which ICRC only shamefacedly owned up to because the method of counting lacked any rigour, was simply based on its years of experience using only a simple rule of thumb rather than actual counting; ironically, that estimate turned out to be the most accurate – simply count the number of kitchen kits distributed and multiply by three.

One might think that, unlike Lebanon where refugees were simply scattered among the local population, counts of refugees in camps would be easy. The people are all supposedly contained in a given area. When, as part of one study, the Centre for Refugee Studies at York University went to verify the numbers of Somali and a few other types of refugees in Dadaab Camp in Northern Kenya, well before the camp numbers were enormously increased by the most recent continuing conflicts in Southern Somalia, on census day conducted by the UNHCR, over 100 buses and many other vehicles, mostly from Nairobi, had arrived to allow refugees to return so they could be included in the count and ensure their families had adequate rations, which then consisted of only 1,600 calories a day per adult. We could find no accurate method to differentiate between local Northern Kenyan ethnic Somali citizens who had joined the camp population to get cards entitling them to rations, but estimates were arrived at through small samples of very defined areas. From reviews of such counts, we began to adopt a rule of thumb for camps administered and controlled by UNHCR. Discount published census figures by 10% to gain a more accurate estimate of the number of actual refugees living in a camp.

Sometimes miscounting can have horrible consequences. We learned that when the actual control of camps was in the hands of militants, and even worse, defeated soldiers, then the numbers were inflated far more because the militants used ration cards to acquire foodstuffs and sell them on the black market. The monies were used to purchase arms as well as to pay themselves. Then we used as a guide a 25% inflation figure.

For an example of the abuse of refugee figures for both humanitarian and political purposes, the Hutus who fled to Eastern Congo then called Zaire provide an excellent example. Ignore for a moment the large numbers of Rwandan refugees that fled to Tanzania (500,000) and Burundi (200,000). In the Eastern Congo to which the defeated army in Rwanda had fled in the summer of 1994 along with hundreds of thousands of additional Hutu refugees following the genocide of 800,000 Tutsi and moderate Hutu in Rwanda, the reported number of refugees in camps in the Eastern Congo (Zaire) mostly controlled by the ex-FAR (Forces Armée Rwandaises) as well as the interahamwe and impuzamugambi militias, was said to be 1,400,000 out of a total Hutu refugee population of 2.1 million. The definition of refugees excluded soldiers and militants estimated at 50,000. If Hutu civilians who participated in the killing are counted among the genocidaires as well as members of ex-FAR families who accompanied the soldiers into exile, then these along with the soldiers and militia members totaled about 200,000.

Were the over 100,000 Hutu civilians who had participated in the massive slaughter of innocents to be counted as civilians or as militants? What about the members of the families of the soldiers? After all, they were civilians so they should definitely be counted as refugees.

When the camps were broken up by an invasion of Zaire in 1996 by Kagame’s forces, an estimated 800,000 Hutu refugees returned from Zaire to Rwanda. 600,000 Hutu were reported as having fled deeper into Zaire. These included members of the ex-FAR (Forces Armée Rwandaises), their families, the interahamwe and impuzamugambi and other civilians who participated in the killing. The number 600,000 was obtained by subtracting the 800,000 who returned from the estimated number of 1,400,000 in the Zaire camps. But if those numbers were inflated by at least 25% given the military control over the camps, then the figure of the number that fled was inflated by 350,000. Though up to 50,000 of those who fled were estimated to have been killed by Rwandan armed forces under Kagame, including a large number who were civilians, the charge that a second genocide had been committed because the 350,000 phantom refugees were “missing” and presumed dead. So a figure began to be distributed that Kagame’s forces had killed 400,000 to 600,000 in a second genocide rather than the estimated up to 50,000 who had died.

The actual numbers in Zaire were as follows:

Estimated number of refugees (not soldiers or militia members) in camps 1,400,000

Less inflation factors of 25% (-350,000)                                                        1,050,000

Numbers who Hutu refugees who returned to Rwanda from Zaire                 800,000

Numbers of civilians, including civilian genocidaires   100,000

plus family members of militants                        100,000

others                                                                       50,000

Total of Civilians who fled deeper into the Congo                                         250,000

Actual Total Number of Hutu Refugees in Zaire                                     1,050,000

This figure of 600,000 refugees who fled deeper into Zaire included 350,000 phantom refugees. The large number was used to accuse the Rwandan government of committing another genocide of 400,000 to 600,000 Hutu refugees. Thus are inflated imaginary figures used to conduct propaganda wars.

What has this to do with counting Palestinian refugees?

In the next two days, the answer.

llusions, Delusions and Leadership – B’shalach. Exodus 13:17−17:16

Illusions, Delusions and Leadership – B’shalach. Exodus 13:17−17:16

by

Howard Adelman

The story of the Israelites flight from Egypt, crossing the Sea of Reeds, looting the bodies of the drowned Egyptians and making their way across the Sinai is so well known that it requires no rehearsal even for non-Jews and non-Christians. Cecil B. DeMille and Disney took care of that. So I will zero in on only two verses and related items, though I could also discuss Moses’ magic in more detail as when he struck the rock and brought forth water.

The angel of God, who had been going ahead of the Israelite army, now moved and followed behind them; and the pillar of cloud shifted from in front of them and took up a place behind them, and it came between the army of the Egyptians and the army of Israel. Thus there was the cloud and the darkness, and it cast a spell upon the night, so that the one could not come near the other all through the night. (Exodus 14:19-20).

When and why does the angel of leadership shift from the front of the line to the back? What does a cloud of mist, also moving from front to back, tell us about leadership? And the darkness? What is this business about casting a spell on the night? Is that just poetic license or does it have some significance? It seems to have served a very functional purpose – separating the Egyptian army from what is now referred to as the army of Israel. What kind of army is it if the people in that army bear no arms? But, of course, a community of ants is also referred to as an army.

David Brooks also wrote on leadership this past week. (NYT, 19 January 2016, “Time for a Republican Conspiracy!”) For Brooks, neither Trump nor Cruz, the two leading candidates for the presidency, have a chance in hell of winning. Why? First of all, because both are men who would endanger rather than protect their own nation, the latter being the first requirement of leadership. Second, from different vantage points, authoritarian populism (Trump) or Tea Party terrorism (Cruz), solipsism (Trump) or inflated egoism (Cruz), neither has any contact with reality. Trump builds castles in the sky; Cruz destroys structures on the ground.

What did Brooks call on the leadership of the Republican Party to do? First organize – involve the membership in collective action using the internet and community rallies to get behind a single candidate not dedicated to tearing the party and then the country apart. Why have Trump trumped and Cruz cruised? Because less-educated voters are, in Brooks words, “in a tidal-wave of trauma.” For America, it is because labor force participation is dropping, wages are sliding, heroin addiction is rising, faith in American institutions is dissolving. This is simply an elaboration of what Barack Obama in his 2016 State of the Union Address regretted he had not solved, reaching out and overcoming the alienation of these Americans.

But if these factors traumatized Americans, what happened to the Israelites who left both the horror as well as the security of slavery? And then to have your male children killed only to go through a series of plagues and praying you will emerge unscathed. Then fleeing with the whole Egyptian army behind you and escaping by the skin of your teeth as the literal tidal-wave of trauma drowned those Egyptians just as you barely made it to dry land. Talk about trauma! That’s trauma.

But that was just the trauma of the conditions from which they were fleeing. What about the challenges they faced? In flight, they were also being bounced back between hope and despair. They were going to a promised land. And where were they? In a place seemingly without any obvious food and water – in the Sinai desert! So, although God had set the ultimate destination, even if Israelites retained faith in that – and that was far from certain  – could they trust the angel as a navigator, as a strategist, to choose the best path to that goal? So a pillar of cloud separated the column of Israelites and the angel. But they also sank into despair in looking behind, for the army of Pharaoh was pursuing them. So the angel and the cloud pillar shifted from leading from the front to leading from the rear

If you want a leadership challenge, that is it. Candidates for the American presidency have it remarkably easy by comparison. But the story does tell us very clearly the three different types of challenges faced by leaders:

  1. In ordinary times, you lead from the middle. That is when the Mishkan, the Tabernacle, the symbol of God’s leadership for the Israelites must be carried in the midst of the people. But this was not an ordinary time.
  2. In other times, when threats from man or nature have subsided relatively, but the biggest danger is an uncertain future, then you have to balance hope and fear; too much hope and one’s constituency becomes indifferent and insensitive to the fears that lay beneath the ground on which they are walking; too much fear and they are paralyzed. Obama was a leader who overemphasized hope to win the presidency and could never recover and win everyone’s faith that he has a very realistic assessment of the fears underneath and for the future they faced and for which he needed to stir the American fighting spirit.
  1. At still other time a leader deliberately moves to the back as he or she recognizes powerful enemies are preparing to strike at the rear and the leader must give sufficient hope to prevent them falling into despair, but prop up enough fighting spirit to ensure a victory in battle, for the enemies are real and pose a terrible existential danger.

So how does Brook’s recipe for leadership compare to the challenges facing God and Moses? The Israelites faced an existential threat. Americans do not. The country’s largest threat comes from the divisions within, not the mad fanatical terrorists living on the fringes of society and on the fringes of the civilized world. The challenge may have been much greater for the Israelites, but the requirements of leadership may be constant.

As I diagnose the requirements of leadership as put forth in the Torah, the first principle is demarcating what the challenges are that must be faced by the people you lead. Are they everyday challenges which require leadership from the centre when the Mishkan in normal times, is carried in the midst of the people? If there is a tremendous danger, is it one that faces us or one that is coming up our rear?.

Those are the different challenges leaders face and the right leader must be chosen for the challenge at hand. Thus, there is no universal formula for selecting a leader, but the leader must have the following attributes and skills to meet any of these challenges. When Parashat B’shalach opens, God is dividing the Reed Sea to deliver the Israelites from slavery to freedom and drown their enemies. Celebration and exultation are in store.

“The Lord is my strength and might; He has become my deliverance (Exodus 15:2)

This soon gives way to despair as the Israelites recognize they have no food and water sufficient to move forward

“For you have brought us out into this wilderness to starve this whole congregation to death.” (Exodus 16:3)

God delivers manna. Moses does not take the credit for recognizing the cocoon of the parasitic beetle Trehala, manna from which trehalose gets its name. These are cocoons which are found hanging from thorn bushes in the Middle East. God responds by sending manna to earth out of nowhere, as if it came from heaven, the white crystalline carbohydrate made of two glucose molecules joined together and one of a very few naturally occurring molecules that taste sweet. The first obligation of a leader is to be able to understand what is in this earth and how to get at it to provide sufficient food security for his people, sufficient nutritious food and water. Think of both the imagination and the courage required of the natives of Borneo to harvest the nests of sparrows from the walls of the deepest caves in the world, nests made from sparrow saliva that provide the rich and nutritious ingredients of bird’s nest soup found in the finest Chinese restaurants. Manna was “white like coriander seed and tasted like a wafer made with honey.”

“When the fall of dew lifted, there over the surface of the wilderness,
lay a fine and flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground.” (Exodus 16:14)

But it is not enough for a leader to recognize the nourishment this planet provides, but it must be distributed so that there is sufficient for each person to have his or her basic needs filled. The principle for the distribution of the manna was to each according to his needs. (Exodus 16:17-18)

When some thinkers suggest that the requirements of leadership do not depend on the position from which one governs or the different challenges peoples face at different times, they are wrong. True leadership is not simply defined by “the possession of a strong character, a clear vision, flexibility, and an ability to react to a crisis at a moment’s notice.” Rather, it is to be in the right place at the right time and, an important ‘and’, an ability to analyze how to meet the challenge. Some leaders are better at fighting. Other leaders are better at achieving consensus. Still others excel in understanding challenges that face a society and devising the innovations necessary to meet those challenges.

Note further that the cocoon of the parasitic beetle cannot be stored, cannot serve a capitalist economy which depends on accumulating and storing goods to be sold at the right time for the right price when demand is high. For manna within two days waxed hot and melted, rotted and filled with worms. This was fortuitous when a centrally directed polity might have otherwise been necessary to ensure enough food was stored away in good times to meet forthcoming shortages, as in the case of Joseph advising the Pharaoh. What was needed at that time were practices that forged a people into a nation. The manna, the “fine, flake-like thing” like frost and white like coriander seed that the Israelites ground and pounded into cakes and then baked into wafers as if they had been made with honey, was perfect for that time and place.

Invention, innovation and discovery do not only mean uncovering something very original, but also finding new uses for an old product. Thus, manna, tetrahalose, was discovered by Bruce Roser to be excellent as a preservative for antibodies, vaccines, enzymes and blood coagulation that is so beneficial for Third World countries without refrigeration. In its natural condition, manna, however, can last just two days, sufficient to provide for both Friday meals and shabat, but not any longer.

 

And it came to pass that on the sixth day they gathered twice as much bread, two omers for each one; and all the rulers of the congregation came and told Moses. (Exodus 16:22)

This portion of the Torah teaches us another lesson about leadership; it is best carried out by a division of responsibility and a division of power. Power was divided among God; the angel; Moses and Aaron. Aaron was the prophet, the one who delivered the bad news and was the tough cop when dealing with enemies. Moses provided the political leadership for the people, the role generally identified with leadership. But leadership also requires a strategist and the angel served the role of navigator. God provided the vision and ultimate goal. There is one other part of leadership which Obama pointed out in his 2016 State of the Union speech. Leaders cannot lead alone. Leaders cannot lead unless the people follow. And the people need one of them to witness to the truth, like Nachshon ben Aminadav who raced to the front and jumped fearlessly into the sea leading his tribe of Judah to follow him.

When all these ingredients are in place, Amalek, the eternal enemy, can and will be defeated.

So be wary of pieties that insist on only one kind of leadership and one kind of character providing such a leadership – such as restricting leadership to the role of God in the Exodus story, providing goals and values, providing an eternal vision and serving as a protector who neither slumbers nor sleeps. God is insufficient.

So how accurate and perceptive was David Brooks about leadership in the Republican Party?  If the membership and institutional leadership consists only of those who surrender and those who jump on what appears to be the fastest train, there is no chance. However, if the Party has to rely only on tacticians, then a Trump or a Cruz can win because, whatever their destructive propensities, they offer magic and spells. Brooks also wrote that, “What’s needed is a coalition that combines Huey Long, Charles Colson and Theodore Roosevelt: working-class populism, religious compassion and institutional reform.”

Brooks confuses the need for spells and magic with populism. Populism is precisely the inability to differentiate between charms and spells, between fakery and the true magic of discovery and innovation. Brooks is correct that the Party needs concrete policies that serve the people, policies consistent with conservatism, but a conservatism that is also progressive, such as, “ideas to help the working class, like wage subsidies, a higher earned-Income tax credit, increased child tax credits, subsidies for people who wanted to move in search of work and exemption of the first $20,000 in earnings from the Medicaid payroll tax.” These will not be found by fake leaders who offer a pig in a poke in a quasi-authoritarian guise with its central metaphor of a wall rather than a path on solid ground through the tidal waves of stormy waters. Leaders who growl at the world only offer anger and exclusion of the other rather than a leading light and hope with which to march into the future.

I myself think it is probably too late for the Republican Party until the Party encounters an overwhelming defeat, a severe trauma. For the Republicans have been the engineers of their own self-destruction trying to create a polity on a foundation of resentment, which Friedrich Nietzsche pointed out was the key driver of disaster. When a civilized and sensitive Republican, leader like Nikki Haley can only mouth the clichés of the cold and compassionateless right, then it has been infected with a disease that could be immune to any known antibiotic. Any party that denies social science in its attacks on Obamacare, that denies natural science in the attacks against those who recognize the significance of climate change, does not want to govern, but only destroy. It is a party that offers only resentment and divisiveness and is beyond saving itself at this time. For its products are illusions and delusions: cutting taxes, losing jobs and increasing the deficit and the national debt. It is the know-nothing party of our day.

With the help of Alex Zisman

Part III Obama and Haley on Health Policy

Part III Obama and Haley on Health Policy

by

Howard Adelman

Obama boasted that the overseas health policy of his administration had been successful in stopping Ebola in its tracks and significantly reducing the scourge of HIV/AIDS. These were successes, not only in other countries, but were important in keeping Americans safe from these diseases. Obama had now set his regime on the path of eliminating malaria. But the criticisms ignored these successes and focused on the alleged failures of Obamacare (the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act otherwise known as ACA) for raising insurance premiums significantly and eliminating a patient’s choice of his or her physician. Were Haley’s critiques on these two issues warranted? What were other successes and failures of Obamacare? For the major issues were not just the costs of health-care insurance coverage and access to care.

First some disclosure. When I was a medical student in the late fifties and Canadian Medicare [C-M] had not yet been invented in Saskatchewan by Tommy Douglas, I once dared to raise the issue of socialized medicine with our clinician whom our team had taken out to dinner. Two of my fellow students, those on either side, both kicked me under the table. Among the vast majority of doctors, discussing a state-run medical plan with access guaranteed to all was a no-no at that time.

When I lived in the intern quarters at Mt. Sinai Hospital in Toronto (I was not an intern) and worked in radiology, I conducted a number of survey experiments. One was to track the topics of conversations when physicians ate in the cafeteria. I was instructed to sit with them and not the nurses or other health service workers. (After all, this was 1958.) As one result, I found that 53% of conversations by physicians focused on patients who did not pay their bills and the problems of collection.

I offer this background to indicate both my bias and that of many physicians not exposed to some form of Medicare. But more guidance is needed than revealing biases. I use the designation C-M to differentiate the Canadian plan from the American Medicare prior to Obamacare that provided health insurance for seniors. When C-M was introduced, first in Saskatchewan and then eventually across Canada, doctors’ salaries immediately increased. The reason was simple; the problem of delinquent patients as well as the costs of collection had been eliminated in the single-payer system. Though increasing numbers of physicians gradually came around to acknowledge that C-M was an improvement in most ways over the previous system, many continued to gripe about the system nevertheless. Because of my bias, physician bias and the inevitable bias of many, I will refer only to the work of independent analysts.

C-M eliminated the problem of unpaid bills and collection. Obamacare has not. In fact, some evidence indicates that Obamacare has possibly exacerbated the problem. For example, problems of reimbursement to hospitals and physicians were virtually eliminated by C-M. In the U.S., while reimbursement to hospitals has been greatly improved, under Obamacare, physician reimbursement has only improved slightly. In the U.S., citizens have their choice of insurance providers. They can enroll in one of a number of competing plans. But what happens if they do not keep up with paying their premiums? They lose their coverage, perhaps after 90 days of non-payment. However, the insurers are only required to pay the doctors for the first 30-day period of unpaid premiums. Medical services are provided for the remaining 60 days with the understanding that the patients are insured. But they are not. The doctors cannot collect from the insurer and will, in most cases, be unable to collect from the patient. C-M virtually eliminated the problem of collections. Obamacare, on the other hand, seems plagued with doctors’ complaints about the unreliability of reimbursement. In addition to continuing and, perhaps, even increased losses from non-payment, there have been additional bureaucratic expenses. While C-M reduced the costs of electronic record keeping since records had only to conform to the requirements of a single payer, in general, administrative overhead for electronic record keeping as well as for collections has increased for American physicians.

One result is that doctors refuse to join many plans. This forces a patient to try to reconcile the plan he/she is in with the doctor she has selected. The two are often incongruent. That physician may or may not be covered under the plan chosen. The problem becomes a tremendous one in cases of acute health problems; a patient may have to choose between paying for a physician out-of-pocket to get the physician of his/her choice and available, or be forced to find a specialist covered by the insurer.

At the same time, to keep premiums low, insurers have to press to keep payments low. The lower the payments, the fewer the number of doctors willing to be part of the referral list covered by the insurer. Insurers have to walk a fine line between keeping premiums low, and hence payments to doctors low, versus maintaining payments at a high enough level to keep doctors enrolled. In Canada, the tension between keeping premiums low was not set off against keeping doctors enrolled in one insurer versus another, but keeping doctors from migrating to the U.S., where, in many cases, especially for specialists, medicine had been a much more lucrative profession as long as a doctor was not working in a public hospital. In the U.S., the tension has shifted. If reimbursement rates to doctors remain too low under Obamacare, more doctors opt out, thereby giving patients access to insurance but at the cost of limiting access to doctors. This is not just a possibility. 70% of Obamacare plans offer access to fewer hospitals and fewer doctors than employer-sponsored group plans or pre-Obamacare individual market plans.

The Academy of Family Physicians has otherwise lauded Obamacare, because the law offers health insurance for everybody, encourages preventative care, allows children to stay on their parents’ insurance plans until age 26, and delivers insurance for people with pre-existing conditions. The major problem Obamacare addressed was access to health care (the uninsured rate since Obamacare was introduced has dropped below 12%), but the way it was structured through the compromise negotiations meant other problems were accentuated. One major problem is the amount of time an American has to spend shopping around for a suitable plan that offers access to a doctor of his/her choice and at a level of care he/she can afford.

There is another problem. Many private exchanges avoid hospitals that are part of university-based health networks because their costs are higher given their role in research and the fact that they deal with much tougher, more complex and more expensive cases. On the other side, new enrollees are likely to inadequately insure, especially if they are young, to avoid higher cost options.

In addition to the pressure towards lower payments to doctors, another problem common to both C-M and Obamacare is the increased regulation and subjecting doctors to government regulation and oversight, a problem compounded in the U.S. by the addition of non-state insurers which have their own regulatory and service demands.

Both countries face the problem of a shortage of physicians, but the problem is even more acute in the U.S. A study by Paul Howard and Yevgeniy Feyman (“The Obamacare Evaluation Project: Access to Care and the Physician Shortage,” 26 June 2013) projected that, “population growth, demographic changes, and an expansion of insurance spurred by Obamacare will contribute to a significant shortage in primary-care physicians over the coming decade. We project that by 2025, states will experience a shortage of roughly 30,000 primary-care physicians—with about 16.5 percent (4,950 physicians) of this shortage being driven by the expansion of insurance coverage under Obamacare, while the remaining 83.5 percent (25,050 physicians) will be due to population growth, aging, and various demographic shifts.”

This data is crucial, for it means that even if only 16.5% of that physician shortage is due to Obamacare, since the U.S. already fills its current shortages by the import of physicians from abroad (over 25% of physicians in the U.S.), very many of them from poor countries with an already high physician to population ratio, Obamacare could be contributing to a decline in health services in countries which are in most need of enhanced health care. Given the U.S. pattern and extent of training of physicians, one can expect the proportion of imported health professionals, not just physicians, will increase.

Doctors face the threat of deep payment cuts under the application of the U.S. Medicare’s sustainable growth rate (SGR) formula, wherein, the annual growth of Medicare physician payments is subject to an overall ceiling. Seniors covered by Medicare are affected. The competition for doctors serving them has grown as drastic provider payment cuts called for by the SGR also tend to reduce seniors’ access to care. The legislated reductions have been temporarily set aside somewhat as each year Congress overrides SGR through what is called a “doc fix.” Without it, payments to physicians might decline as much as 25%.

The same pressures on physician remuneration have taken place in Medicaid as well. For states that agreed, Medicaid covered individuals earning up to 138% of the federal poverty level, just over $16,000 last year. Numbers were expected to increase as almost 30% of the almost 50 million uninsured Americans, that is, 15 million Americans, were estimated to be eligible. Given that about half the states did not opt to enter into the program, the enrollment of 12 million in Medicaid was viewed as outstanding as the number of uninsured was cut in half. Between October and December 2013 when the program opened up, 6.6 million applications were received directly by the federal government, most of which were applications for more than one person. Many more were received through the State Based Marketplaces (SBMs) and the Federally Facilitated Marketplace (FFM) operating in 36 states, the latter accounting for 2.7 million applications alone. Expanding eligibility, introducing a simplified enrollment process, broadening the outreach and putting a concentrated effort on enrollments all resulted in Obamacare being a tremendous success with respect to access for many who lacked it. But with much lower remuneration rates (almost 60% of regular charges), access has also been limited because 1 in 3 primary care physicians refused to accept new Medicaid patients. On the other hand, although reductions in payments to Medicare Advantage plans enacted under Obamacare were expected to lead to reductions in Medicare Advantage enrollment, enrollment in fact rose, increasing by 50% to 5.6 million.

So Haley was incorrect. Obamacare has not eliminated the choice of physicians, but it has limited that choice to a greater extent than existed previously for most Americans. The benefit is that up to fifty more million Americans will have a choice to access the health care system that they previously lacked. At the same time, insurance premiums have increased as Haley stated, but this was inherent and was bound to be the case if insurers were forced to cover those with pre-existing conditions and give access to many more old people and even young people in poor health. By forbidding denial of coverage to consumers with pre-existing conditions, as well as imposing taxes and fees to fund aspects of the new law, to make up for the costs of Obamacare and still keep premiums low, insurers put pressure on both physicians and hospitals to accept payments discounted by up to 30%. What is even clearer is that, on the issue of choice of physicians or access more generally, or the cost of premiums, the problem cannot be reduced to a sound bite and the hyperbole that the choice of physicians for Americans has been eliminated.

There are many other real problems and merits of Obamacare:

  • To avoid conflicts of interest, doctors were not allowed to refer patients to hospitals in which they had an economic interest, but the cost has been to place many excellent physician-owned, specialty hospitals off limits even though they had a record of providing high-quality patient care and even though this narrowed accessibility
  • The “nonprofit” Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) promises to provide valuable data on the clinical effectiveness of medical treatments, procedures, drugs, and medical devices, but the guidelines will almost inevitably result in further constraints on the ability of the physician to have the final say on treatments and procedures when reimbursements are tied to the results of PCORI
  • Since last year, as an inevitable result of such programs, however organized, reimbursement has been adjusted to reflect performance based on the analysis of data collected, with the concomitant result that the variety of needs of patients and responses of physicians are forced into a cookie-cutter formulation with the inevitable result that an incentive develops for doctors to check the boxes which yield the highest returns for the least amount of time invested
  • Obamacare ignored the issue of medical liability and tort reform, a problem very specific to the U.S.

The reality is that a system that aspires to allow physicians untrammeled control of patient care and the patients to be the key decision makers in the financing of care is a total chimera. This illusionary utopia cannot be achieved for physician decisions, especially as one moved up the ladder of specialization; physician decisions were always subject to checks and balances, including checks imposed by payers that have significantly increased both under a state model and a purely free enterprise model.  The vision of patients being in control of financial decisions was the nonsensical partner to this illusion, for the only real partners were the wealthy who could afford to pay for what they wanted. The middle class had to choose only what they could afford and a whole swath of Americans was denied any choice at all.

With the help of Alex Zisman

IV Haley and Obama – Military and Foreign Policy

 

IV Haley and Obama – Military and Foreign Policy

by

Howard Adelman

On the issue of the role of the military and security of Americans from overseas threats, Haley insisted that the U.S. was facing “the most dangerous terrorist threat since 9/11,” and called for “strengthening the military so when we fight wars we win them.” Obama, based on the intelligence reports he reads every morning, agreed that these are dangerous times, but America faces no dangers from a rival power. America had the most powerful and best military force in history and spent more on its military than the next eight nations combined (four if you calculate based on a percentage of GDP). But the danger comes from failed and failing states, not rival powers. Decrying America’s growing weakness was just so much hot air.

Obama did not denigrate the threat that terrorists posed. His first priority was going after terrorist networks to protect Americans. But that did not make this task WWIII.  Terrorists in the back of pickup trucks and making bombs in a garage do not pose an existential threat to the U.S. Rather than rhetorically building them up, Obama called for rooting out these killers and fanatics, hunting them down and destroying them. Obama claimed that America was on track to do just that, for in concert with its allies, the U.S. was working to cut off ISIL’s financing, disrupt its plots, stop the flow of fighters and stomp out its vicious ideology. He called on the Republican- dominated Congress to formally authorize the use of military force against ISIL.

Does that require an additional carrier group, additional ground combat forces, modernization of America’s nuclear fleet and a host of other enhanced expenditures on the military? If there is indeed a real danger of WWIII, say with China, such an enhancement might be warranted. But if America intends largely to stay out of other country’s civil wars, if America is going to concentrate its military forces in fighting ISIL, then increasing the Pentagon budget by a trillion dollars as Senator Rubio proposed (cf. an analysis by the Cato Institute) is not necessary.

Obama’s proposed military expenditures are more than sufficient both to go after terrorists and provide a cover and help for America’s allies. In going after terrorists, Obama articulated the correct approach. “When you come after Americans, we go after you. It may take time, but we have long memories, and our reach has no limit.”

Not only are American memories long, but its concerns are very broad. Though the immediate focus may be terrorists, the long term threat remains instability because of weak states, ethnic conflict, poverty and even famine. Tough talk and calling for the carpet bombing of civilians will not solve such problems. Nor will assigning America the role of rebuilding every nation that falls into crisis. Effectively, Obama called for managing threats rather than aspiring to a utopian ideal of eliminating them. And then he reiterated the central platform of his foreign policy – building coalitions “with sanctions and principled diplomacy.” The policy applied to China with TPP and climate change agreements. It applied to the re-opening to Cuba. In this pairing of diplomacy with military and economic threats, Obama defined leadership in the world as the “wise application of military power, and rallying the world behind causes that are right.”

What about the main foreign policy issue of Obama’s presidency, preventing a nuclear-armed Iran? Instead of insisting, as Haley did, on only entering into international agreements celebrated in Israel rather than in Iran, Obama insisted that his program combining sanctions with diplomacy had worked. Iran was in the process of deconstructing its nuclear program. The world had avoided another war that would have been the consequence of a military attack against Iran’s nuclear facilities.

On this central foreign policy issue, was Obama correct? Or were his Republican critics? Even though Netanyahu has now acknowledged defeat, many if not most Republicans have not. On Monday (18 January), that is, on Implementation Day of the Iran Nuclear Deal, Fox News published a peace by one of its frequent contributors, Fred Fleitz. (http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2016/01/18/iran-nuclear-agreement-is-national-security-fraud.html)

Fleitz worked for the CIA and various national security agencies for a quarter of a century. When John R. Bolton, the űberhawk in the Republican constellation, was Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security in the George W. Bush administration, Fleitz was his Chief of Staff. Fleitz is the author of Peacekeeping Fiascos of the 1990s: Causes, Solutions and U.S. Interests and currently is senior vice president for policy and programs with the Center for Security Policy (CSP), a Washington, D.C. right wing national security think tank. As Wikipedia described it, “The Center for Security Policy (CSP) is a Washington, D.C.-based national security think tank that has been widely accused of engaging in conspiracy theorizing.”In July of 2011, even before the interim agreement with Iran was agreed upon, in an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal, Fleitz accused leaders of the U.S. intelligence community of being unwilling to conduct a proper assessment of the Iranian nuclear issue at variance even with the Obama White House. Further, he insisted that “liberal professors and scholars from liberal think tanks” had given biased (that is, favourable) reviews of the 2011 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran that was classified at the time.

 

In other words, Fleitz contended that leaders of the U.S. intelligence agencies and liberal intellectuals had been in cahoots in both misleading Americans and, even more strangely, were at odds with the Obama administration. Recall my earlier blogs on the Iran nuclear program: the NIE had concluded that Iran, though it was preparing the ground for a nuclear weapons program, had not yet decided to actually build a nuclear weapon. Fleitz, in contrast, insisted that Iran was on the brink of testing a nuclear device.

In 2002, when he was appointed as an analyst for the House Permanent Select Intelligence Committee by GOP Chairman Pete Hoekstra, Fleitz was one of the leaders in the chorus that insisted that Cuba had under development a biological weapons program, a conclusion he justified not on the basis of an objective collection of facts and analysis, but because all intelligence analysis is political. He also had a reputation of continuing Nixonian practices. He was widely suspected of being involved in releasing the name of Valerie Plame, a covert CIA operative, to the media in retaliation for her husband’s public denial of George Bush’s claims about Iraq’s WMDs. Fleitz has had a stellar record of exaggeration, distortion and hyperbole.

This background is important in understanding Fred Fleitz’s attack on Monday which one of my readers sent to me. It exemplifies some of the wild analysis behind the attacks on the Iran nuclear agreement made by Republicans. One accusation is that Iran “will receive approximately $150 billion in sanctions relief even through Iran is still designated by the United States as a state sponsor of terror.” The latter is true – Iran is designated by most Western countries, with good justification, as a state sponsor of terrorism, though an enemy of ISIS. But it is not true that Iran will receive $150 billion in sanctions relief, monies that it can then use to foster terrorism.

http://www.washingtoninstitute.org/uploads/Documents/other/SzubinTranscript20150916-v2.pdf

The rest of Iran’s reserves are not liquid; they have already been pledged as guarantees for other purposes: $20 billion as collateral for projects with China; tens of billions more to back nonperforming loans to Iran’s energy and banking sectors. Further, of that $50 billion, Iran cannot spend the $50 billion; it needs to hold most of those funds in reserve to defend their currency, the rial, and to finance the pent-up demand for imports. $50 billion is just enough to finance about 5-10 months of Iranian imports and is the buffer that the IMF recommends as a prudent reserve. Further, in President Hassan Rouhani’s economic revitalization program, the government will be torn between taking the lid off the consumer sector and the need of government funds to get out of the deep economic hole Iran fell into as a result of the sanctions. Iran needs $100 billion for unfunded pensions and debts to the domestic banking sector, $100 billion for infrastructure, and $170 billion to once again make the oil and gas sector functional.

Iran has supported the murderous regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Hezbollah, its terrorist proxy. Is this accurate? In previous years, Iran has been supporting Syria to the tune of $4-7 billion per annum, if the value of Iranian oil transfers, lines of credit, military personnel costs and subsidies for weapons for the Syrian government are all taken into account.  Nadim Shehadi, director of the Fares Center for Eastern Mediterranean Studies at Tufts University, claimed that in 2012 and 2013, Iran spent $14-15 billion in military and economic aid to Assad. Tehran is very unlikely to spend significant increased amounts in support of terrorism and destabilizing the Middle East only because it already has been spending plenty. Iran did increase its military support of the Assad regime. In preparation for the October offensive against Aleppo by the Syrian forces, Iran sent in 2,000 Republican Guard troops in addition to Lebanese Hezbollah fighters who fought alongside Assad’s army with Russian air and cruise missile support from its ships in the Caspian Sea.

In contrast, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the U.S. did not even provide the Free Syrian Army (FSA) with advanced military equipment even though the FSA had been significantly debilitated in its continuing battles with ISIS. Nor did the Americans offer to provide a no-fly zone to enable the FSA to resist the Syrian army advance, though the three countries did provide extra military supplies and anti-tank weapons, the latter used to excellent effect to destroy a considerable number of tanks and armoured vehicles. The FSA Brigades (the Thuwar al-Sham Battalions, the Sultan Murad Brigade, the 13th Division, the 101st Division, Suqour al-Jabal, etc.) actually managed to hold off the recapture of Aleppo by the Syrian forces and its allies, though in its retreat back to Aleppo the FSA lost a number of villages and towns on the Ghab Plain – including Tall Qarah, Fafin, Kulliyat al-Mushat, Tall Suwsein Abtin; the desert and mountainous terrain of the Aleppo southern countryside greatly benefitted the Assad regime forces which were armed with heavy weapons.

Thus, as I predicted even while I strongly supported the nuclear deal, Iran could be expected to enhance its backing of terrorism and the Assad regime. As it happens, the enhanced support in Syria took place independently of the Iran nuclear deal. For Iran’s assistance to both terrorist and oppressive allies was based on the principle: “in for a penny, in for a dime,” Further, the implementation of the deal depended on Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei providing continuing support for Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. Instead, Khamenei warned the so-called moderates of American perfidy and accused the U.S. of deceit and treachery. More importantly, Khamenei auspiciously disqualified a number of reformist candidates who applied to run in next month’s elections, including some sitting members.

Fleitz made a number of other accusations.

  1. “When Iranian officials refused to give up their uranium enrichment program, the U.S. said they could keep it.” Wrong! The U.S. and its allies only aimed to dismantle Iran’s nuclear arms enrichment program and not its use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.
  2. “Iran will continue enriching uranium under the nuclear deal with 5,000 uranium centrifuges.” Yes, but at very low grades unsuitable to be converted to very high grade enriched uranium needed for nuclear weapons except through a very lengthy process.
  3. Iran swapped all of its highly enriched uranium, which was shipped to Russia, for an equivalent amount of uranium ore which Iran was free to enrich. True, but the enriched uranium shipped to Russia was enriched above 5% and some of it to almost 20%, whereas it will take months just to convert the uranium ore for which it was swapped to just above 3%.
  4. The Chinese will assist Iran in redesigning and rebuilding its heavy-water Arak plutonium facility after its core was removed. True, but the redesign will not permit the reactor to be used to produce plutonium suitable for a nuclear weapon.
  5. “When Iran balked on including restrictions on ballistic missile tests in the agreement, they were removed.” Wrong! Restrictions on Iran’s missile program were an ambition, but not an expectation. Restrictions were never included in the agreement. (I will comment further on the American continuing effort to limit Iran’s missile program.)
  6. “The Obama administration also took Iran’s sponsorship of terror and its meddling in the Middle East off the table.” They were never on the table, even in the 2012 Interim Agreement.
  7. “The deal drops U.N. and EU sanctions on Iranian terrorist individuals and entities.” U.S. allies and the UN are not colonies or satraps of the U.S.
  8. “The U.S. encouraged Iran to play a more active role in Iraq.” But the tensions between the Shiite government and Iraqi Sunnis were worse before under Maliki who was not Obama’s creation.

The lesson: Republican ideologues cannot be relied upon to discern fact from fiction or offer a reasonable analysis. The reality is that, contrary to Fleitz’s contention, the Iran nuclear deal has not only slowed Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons; it has stopped it altogether. Haley has been too influenced by these hacks.

The reality, as Adam Szubin articulated it so well, is:

  1. JCPOA does not in any way affect American sanctions with respect to Iran’s support to terrorist groups;
  2. It does not touch on Iran’s human rights abuses;
  3. It does not touch on Iran’s support for the Assad regime, nor was it ever intended to;
  4. The Iran nuclear program is the most serious issue of all to the U.S., to its allies, and particularly to Israel and dismantling it should not be made hostage to Iran’s support for terrorism, abuse of human rights or backing for Assad.

The result: on Implementation Day at the beginning of this week, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) certified that Iran had reduced its stockpile of enriched uranium by 98%, the number of centrifuges by two thirds. Iran removed the atomic core of the Arak Reactor so it could not produce plutonium for military purposes. In return, the embargo on Iran’s reserves was removed. What should have been a day of celebration for the whole world was marred by hatred and bitterness of Khamenei, on the one hand, and the belligerent paranoid fantasists in America on the other hand.

Nevertheless, there remains a great deal to be done on non-nuclear issues. There is a need to have Iran own up to its deceitful methods of circumventing the IAEA and hiding its program; as the IAEA reported in December, Iran had failed to fully cooperate and even provided some answers to investigators that were blatantly false. There is Iran’s sponsorship of terrorism. There is Iran’s, not only support for, but military intervention in Syria. There are a plethora of human rights violations. And there is the constant – the Iranian regime’s implacable hatred of Israel. There are no sanctions in place against Iran for the latter evil practice, but sanctions do remain in place by the U.S. and are being enforced for the unsettling and destabilizing practices of Iran in the international arena – its missile development program, its support for terrorism and its intervention in Syria on behalf of Assad against the FSA.

The U.S. embargo on Iran remains almost entirely intact. U.S. investment is still prohibited. Iran and its companies cannot access the American banking system. U.S. sanctions against Iran as well as designated companies and individuals prior to the sanctions imposed against its nuclear program remain in place. Perhapsamore important, secondary sanctions against non-Iranian banks doing business with embargoed individuals, companies and state entities remain in place; non-Iranian businesses working with those Iranian entities will be cut off from using the U.S. banking sector.

For example, those banks cannot do business with: the Qods Force, or any of its officials or subsidiaries such as Bonyad Taavon Sepah; its construction arm, Khatam al-Anbiya; its oil and gas engineering company, Sepanir; Mahan Air; Bank Saderat, one of the largest commercial banks in Iran; key Iranian defense entities, including the Ministry of Defense for Armed Forces Logistics (MODAFL), the Defense Industries Organization, the Aerospace Industries Organization, and other key missile entities, including Shahid Hemmat Industrial Group and Shahid Bakeri Industrial Group; the Tiva Sanat Group which worked to develop the Iranian navy’s fast boat; the Iran Aircraft Manufacturing Company (unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).

With respect to enforcement of the nuclear deal itself, those sanctions are only suspended; the snap-back provisions remain in place in case of violations and can come into force in a few days. This also applies to multilateral sanctions by the United Nations should just one of the P5, the permanent five members of the UNSC, opt to do so. Finally, there are no grandfather clauses in the JCPOA protecting preexisting contracts against snap-back. That is, contracts entered into before the snap-back will also be subject to sanctions.

“The JCPOA is built to eliminate Iran’s nuclear threat and the potential for any of Iran’s proxies or affiliates to acquire a nuclear weapon. Thus far, it offers great promise.” That deal does not diminish the terrorism threat and the threat to regional stability. “Our joint goal—and one we share with our Israeli and Gulf partners—is to ensure that we’re using all of our tools, including sanctions, to combat all of these conventional activities… the JCPOA is a strong deal. It makes the United States and our allies safer by ensuring that the nightmare scenario… (terrorist entities with access to nuclear devices) does not come close to becoming a reality. The deal is not based on trust but on verification and on scrutiny.” (Szubin)

With the help of Alex Zisman

 

Obama and Haley: Part II Economic Policy

Obama and Haley: Part II Economic Policy

by

Howard Adelman

On economic policy, Governor Nikki Haley criticized Barack in six areas: excessive taxation, excessive expenditures, excessive debt, and the failure to provide adequate support for innovation, education and ensuring increasing incomes for average Americans. What did Obama claim about his record on taxes and policies going into the future?

He advocated raising taxes for those who avoided taxes by opening offshore accounts. On the other hand, he also argued that the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) will both make more jobs for Americans, but also cut $18,000 in taxes on products made by Americans. With respect to businesses, Obama argued that his policies were intended to lift up businesses, not oppress them by more taxes, at least those businesses which try to do right by their workers in terms of the rules of the TPP which will recognize the benefits for their shareholders, customers and communities when they did.

Republicans proposed much more extensive slashing of taxes on personal and corporate incomes. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz proposed lowering the rate to 10%, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio proposed eliminating it, while Donald Trump wanted to set capital gains tax rates at 20%.  Who would benefit from a reduction? To a considerable extent, and certainly disproportionately, wealthier Americans! Certainly proposals to cut rates on capital gains and on qualified dividends would as well. After all, almost 80% of federal and state taxes from the latter two sources come from the very wealthy, in fact, the top 1%. Capital gains taxes on assets held for more than a year and then sold, as well as taxes on corporate dividends, in 2003 were reduced to 5% in the lowest two income tax brackets and 15% in other income brackets constituting the vast majority of income from capital gains and dividend taxes. Obama extended these provisions of Bush’s Tax Prevention and Reconciliation Act of 2005 to 2010, but in The American Taxpayer Relief Act (2012) signed in January of 2013, that tax was raised to 20% for those in the highest 39.6% tax bracket. The rich were still entitled to pay 50% of normal income taxes on these two taxes. And the rich were overwhelmingly the beneficiaries of this type of reduction in taxes. (Cf. Thomas Hungerford (2010) The Economic Effects of Capital Gains Taxation.)

If Republicans eliminate estate taxes altogether, federal coffers would be deprived of $30 billion a year. These were figures cited in a New York Times op-ed piece last week by Mike Lofgren, a former Republican staff member who served on both the House and Senate Budget Committees and authored the book, The Deep State: The Fall of the Constitution and the Rise of a Shadow Government. As it is, inherited property is only taxed for capital on the difference between its value at the time the property was inherited and when it was sold at the time it was sold. This means that there is no capital gains tax, that is zero tax, from the time a person acquired the property to the time of his/her death and bequeathing that property to a heir. Hence, the proliferation of “trustee” adults who effectively live as rentiers on the wealth accumulated by the family members who bequeathed them their property.

This supports Obama’s argument that the democratic deficit in American politics is fed by economic distortions and the widening gap between the wealthy and the rest. Cutting taxes is a formula for enhancing the control of money over American democracy, not reducing it. The state would be starved in its ability to do much of anything for the middle and lower classes, quite aside from damaging infrastructure and environmental projects that would benefit all Americans.

In contrast, like the new Liberal government in Ottawa promises to do, Obama did increase taxes on the wealthiest Americans, those earning in excess of $250,000 per year, including decreasing the level of charitable deductions from 35% to 28%. But as he said in a speech when he was first running for election in 2008 (23 October), Obama promised those earning less than a quarter million a year would not pay an additional dime in taxes. That included 98% of small businesses. Joe the plumber would not be affected, only Joe the CEO and Joe the hedge fund manager. In fact, most middle class families saw their income taxes decrease. The typical middle-class family received about $1,000 in tax relief, paying taxes 20% lower than under Ronald Reagan. His original budget gave a tax credit of 6.2% of earned income up to $400 for single workers making less than $75,000 a year and $800 for married couples making less than $150,000 per year.

On the other hand, by eliminating “tax credits that have outlived their usefulness,” closing corporate tax loopholes, and reversing a portion of the tax cuts awarded to the wealthiest 2% of families, the treasury recouped greater revenues overall while cutting income taxes overall, taking a smaller ratio of GDP through income taxes than under Reagan. By reducing net overall taxes at the same time as tax loopholes were closed and tax credits eliminated where they were no longer useful, it is estimated that the government took in or is on the verge of taking in at least 600 billion in extra revenue over the last seven years. Contrast the tax cuts of the Bush administration that distributed twice that amount, about $1.35 trillion over 10 years, mainly to the wealthy, but also families with children. IRS data released showed that the average effective tax rate for the richest 400 Americans rose in 2013, but only to 22.9% compared to 16.7% previously. No wonder the very wealthy and the Republicans that represent those interests have been irate.

What about capital gains taxes, taxes on dividends and estate taxes? On the latter, taxes of 35% on estates and individuals worth over $5 million and on family estates worth over $10 million were restored. Obama when he took office proposed dividend tax rates 39% lower than what George W. Bush proposed in his 2001 budget tax cuts. On capital gains tax, Obama continued the rates set by George W. Bush. It is not clear why since this certainly benefits the wealthy most of all since lower capital gains taxes means a decrease in revenues for the state with no offset whatsoever in economic stimulus though no correlation with decline either. (Cf. Len Burman (2012) “Capital Tax Rates and Economic Growth (or not),” Forbes, 15 March 2012; See also the independent Congressional Research Service (CRS) in its report (subsequently withdrawn under pressure from Senate Republicans), Taxes and the Economy: An Economic Analysis of Top Tax Rates Since 1945 and Small Business and the Expiration of the 2001 Tax Rate Reductions: Economic Issues.)

It would appear that Haley’s criticisms of Obama in this area were simply a repetition of a Republican mantra with little if any basis in fact. What about Haley’s complaints about exploding expenditures under Obama? She certainly has a case for 2009. In seven months, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) led to over an additional $240 billion being poured into the American economy. In total, by the end of March 2011, over $630 billion additional funds were invested in the U.S. economy. These were not expenditures in the normal sense of the term, but capital investments in infrastructure, in bailing out the automobile companies and saving the American economy. Obama has every reason to boast and no reason to regret making those expenditures (investments), though some criticism seems warranted on who received the benefits of those investments.

What about deficits? The budget was last balanced in 1998, with credit going largely to Bill Clinton even though Republicans controlled Congress at the time, for Clinton had fulfilled his promise of reducing the deficit, as had George Bush Sr., his predecessor. As a contrast, the leading Republican contender, Donald Trump, would add a staggering $12 trillion to the deficit. Though his competitors are all far behind in such an extravagance, the average addition to the annual deficit would be $3-4 trillion. George W. Bush inherited a $236 billion budget surplus from Bill Clinton but by the time he left office in 2008, the deficit was $408 billion and the national debt had doubled. As Mike Lofgren, the Republican budget staffer quoted above, opined, the Republican ritual denunciation of deficits is a fraud. As my son, an economic historian at Princeton wrote me, “It’s the worst kept secret of the last 30 years that the Republicans are reckless on the economy, but they still froth about fiscally profligate Democrats…”

Haley may be much more civil than the current Republican candidates for President, but on the economy she sings from the same denial of economic facts that has become the habit of Republicans. Tax cuts, especially those that are erroneously targeted, undercut the government’s abilities to create and maintain infrastructure and support new initiatives. Ever since the Reagan administration using voodoo economics drastically cut taxes while enormously increasing its investment in the military, the result has been huge deficits and enormous increases in the national debt. In contrast, Obama has reduced both. Conrad Black after Obama’s first year as president lamented that a $10-trillion national debt accumulated from 1776 to 2008 had become a $16-trillion debt while leaving 50 million citizens in poverty and the entire middle class living on an economic knife-edge. However, during Obama’s presidency, the debt has been enormously reduced, though he took his base line 2009 rather than 2008 with some justification since he inherited his economic woes from George W. Bush’s gross mis-management of the economy. In the last year of Obama’s term, the American national debt as a percentage of GDP is lower than in 1945 in spite of the enormous debt accumulated in saving the economy during his first term.

What about fostering innovation? Haley spoke of the need to reignite the spirit of innovation among Americans. Did she have an advance copy of Obama’s speech? Obama insisted that America’s best corporate citizens are the most creative, but nevertheless asked, in similar words to Haley’s: “how do we reignite the spirit of innovation to meet our biggest challenges?” for the “spirit of discovery is in our DNA.” Contrary to Haley, however, Obama claimed that his administration over the past seven years had “nurtured that spirit” by ensuring the internet remained open and increasing access to that internet for students and low-income Americans. Obama launched next generation manufacturing hubs and online tools. In other words, government played a significant role in fostering innovation.

Obama, however, insisted the government could do much more and, in the spirit of the space program that he had cited earlier, he named Joe Biden as head of Mission Control to launch a concerted effort to finally conquer cancer once and for all, just as the government had facilitated landing a man on the moon in just twelve years. The one area, other than health Obama cited, was the issue of climate change where a similar order of commitment was needed, a subject which Haley did not mention. For Obama, climate change deniers were relegated to a lonely existence of the margins as America’s military, business leaders, the majority of Americans and almost the entire scientific community as well as 200 nations around the world agreed that climate change was indeed a problem that had to be solved. There was a bonus in such recognition: America’s businesses, led by America’s spirit of innovation, could and should produce and sell the energy of the future. After all, over the past seven years, investments in wind power had now paid off since wind power was now cheaper than conventional power and employs more people than the coal industry. On top of that, America had cut its imports of oil by 60% and cut carbon pollution more than any other country on earth. Obama called for accelerating the transition away from dirty fuel by putting the costs of pollution on the backs of fossil fuel producers and investing in a 21st century transportation system.

So Obama argued that money will be saved, jobs will be created and the planet will be preserved by such measures. Jennifer Rubin, a right wing economic pundit in her op-ed, “Obama’s challenge: Why give a failed president another chance?” (The Washington Post, 3 September 2012) before his second term election, challenged Obama for falling back on failed policies of raising taxes on the upper income group, expanding investments in teachers and education and enhancing infrastructure investments. Ashe Schow, in her article, “President Obama’s Taxpayer-Backed Green Energy Failures,” in The Foundry (18 October 2012) argued that all the eco-companies in which the U.S. had invested large sums had failed in their initiatives: Geothermal ($98.55 million), Babcock and Brown ($178 million), Ener1 ($118.5 million) (Ener1 was sold to a Russian), Johnson Controls ($299 million) while others filed for bankruptcy – Abound Solar ($400 million) (the company actually only received $68 million when the government cut its loan off) and A123 Systems ($279 million) (the Chinese conglomerate, Wanxiang Group, bought A123 for 1% of its share value at its peak evaluation), Solyndra ($535 million). (For example, http://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/nec-snatches-a123-energy-storage-biz-from-wanxiang should be read regarding A123e.) The attacks continued unabated over the last four years paying little or no attention to the data that contradicted their contentions.

After the inaugural address of Obama’s second term, Charles Krauthammer accused Obama of promising “a state-created green energy sector, massively subsidized (even as the state’s regulatory apparatus systematically squeezes fossil fuels, killing coal today, shale gas tomorrow).” (Charles Krauthammer: “Obama Unbound,” Washington Post, 24 January 2013). Capitalists count on most of their investments not paying off but counting on the minority that do. If those government investments are compared to private ones, even though the private sector was far more risk averse, a comparison indicates that government investments, surprisingly, may have been more successful. (World Economic Forum http://www.weforum.org/content/closing-green-investment-gap)

To repeat what I wrote 3 years ago at the time Krauthammer wrote his piece, “The right wing economic critics of Obama’s various economic strategies work by repetition of stock phrases, are selective in their citations, and ignore analyses that might falsify their beliefs. It is possible that their position could be right to some degree. However, they create a caricature. The evidence when weighed does not demonstrate that the economic conservatives are right. Instead the evidence suggests that ideological conviction rather than comparative detailed analyses yield their conclusions.”

Finally, let me add the response to yesterday’s blog before he had a chance to read the above.

I agree Haley deserves credit for being a voice of civility in a party of spoilers.  But she did NOT take responsibility for the GOP being a financially ruinous party.  It is simply untrue that we have runaway spending.  It is simply untrue that the debt is crushing (it is almost back to the pre-2008 levels after a near depression).  It is simply untrue that the US does not innovate.  The world looks to America for the technological and social breakthroughs.  It is simply untrue that “American” taxes are “too high.”  That is utter crap.  What’s America when the top 1% for all intents and purposes pays no tax  anymore?  The New York Times for the past several weeks has been running long investigative articles, backed by peer-reviewed social science research, drawing attention to scale of regressivety of American fiscal (revenue as well as expenditure) policy.

The GOP is not just part of the “Washington syndrome.”  It is the purveyor of a fiction about the nature of the economy that profits from this narrative.  There is an alternative story.  It is this: the US is profoundly innovative and successful.  It is not beset by public debt (it is by private debt — but that’s a separate issue for the moment); it is not crippled by regulations of “Washington bureaucrats” and unions (just to take the example of education which you cite).  Blaming Washington recycles the problem by avoiding it.  The GOP has burnished this anti-Washington message for decades now — ironically, from within the beltway itself.  And the meta-narrative paralyzes by polarizing the very agent we need to be smart and responsive: the state.

So, what’s the problem?  The problem is that the benefits of private sector-driven innovation go to 30% of the population; 30% of the population is struggling to keep above water; 40% is backsliding, some very quickly. The problem is the absence of public goods that distribute the benefits more evenly.  The blame-Washington narrative endorses a view that divests from public goods rather than reframing the social pact for the 21st century.

That’s why America’s cities are in trouble.  That’s why the rich get richer (and contribute less).  That’s why we can be an innovative society while watching the bottom half struggle to keep up and depend on (public) infrastructures from schools to trains that would make a Third World country worry about its future.

Jeremy

 

This blog was prepared with the help of Alex Zisman.