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Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Israel Bibi Netanyahu and The USA

In all the debate around defence and security in Israel it appears that we too often forget the reason behind Israel’s need for security.

Even neutral nations must have national service and strong military establishments. Japan and Germany call theirs “Self Defence Services”.   The Swiss Armed Forces are viewed as being essential to the maintenance of Swiss neutrality. But an army and an air-force remain instruments of war even when they are labelled as being for self-defence. Pacifism only works when all nations are equally committed to adhering to its principles, otherwise sadly, to demonstrably persuade a potential enemy against interference and hostile intent one must possess deterrence and the stronger the force the greater that deterrence.

Israel is a country at war. It has been ‘at war’ for a longer period than England, which fought the War of the Roses (32 years) and perhaps for not quite as long as the Hundred Years War was fought (118 years).

Security trumps all other topics and for good reason.

But the security debate too often inoculates the political establishment against substantive examination of issues that normally bind politicians to a party and allegiances to a political ideology.  Differences between Parties become blurred by national life and death security issues.  A lack of opportunity means it is easier to leave Israel than it is to stay and neither ‘The Left’ nor ‘The Right’ has the courage to tackle this issue. I put these political terms in inverted commas because in the absence of peace, the differences between the two poles are often ill-defined. To exchange allegiances one simply relegates ideology to an indeterminate and distant future.

A democratic state exists by the principle that only it has the legal right to engage in organised violence. Only the state and its elected officials can adopt a hostile position towards a perceived enemy. When Society becomes polarised and politicians encourage violence the extremists act as proxies to the mainstream and create allegiances between the periphery and the centre. This works to undermine democracy.

Security issues help politicians such as Bibi Netanyahu to blind the people to their faults and Bibi’s biggest fault may well be that he is a fiscal conservative and a champion of the free market. He is convinced that ‘The American Way’ is right also for Israel. For a man of intelligence, his dedication to non-interference, whether it is in education or health, housing, religious affairs or energy is his greatest failure as a leader. In a country that is not America and never can be this is a failure of intellect.

Let me explain why.

The USA is a country rich in natural resources. It is 3.8 million square miles in area (9.8 million km2) and some 7% of its total area is waterways and lakes.  It has between 310 and 320 million inhabitants and is therefore a massive internal market in its own right. Israel has few natural resources. It is 8 thousand square miles in area (21 thousand km2), of which some 2% is water.  Israel has almost 8 million inhabitants. One could place some 500 States of the size of Israel into America.

Israel has a substantial minority that refuses to work (the Ultra-Orthodox), many of whom are financially supported by the State. It also has a substantial fifth column that refuses to recognise its right to exist. Israel is surrounded by enemies that are theologically hostile and intractable in denying the basic right to self-determination of any minority in their midst.

Equality is not just a basic right to life. It is also a right to live without fear of derision, ridicule or persecution. Fundamentalist Islam is predicated on discrimination as a witness to theological superiority. Israel lives in an unforgiving neighbourhood.

No other country on this Earth is denied its legitimacy or its right to self determination by a global community that creatively interprets and then writes its own imaginatively dissolute and disingenuous history of the conflict (between Israel and Palestine) based on a wholly prejudiced agenda and then demands that we trust the good intentions of that same prejudiced international community.

Israel is a country born in fear and threatened with annihilation even by those nations with which it has formally signed Treaties of Peace.

In the absence of a free market Israel has a large non-working population, the constant threat of war, and a hostile fifth column that is supported by nations that even within there own societies provide for unrelenting waves of hate against Israel and that spills over into a religiously inspired hatred of Jews in their own countries while they simultaneously demand that with undeserved faith we trust them implicitly.

So Israel is not the USA nor, can it ever be so.

All this in the absence of a free market because the economy is controlled by a few immensely wealthy families whose support for politicians of both the left and the right means they never have to say ‘sorry’ (but more about that later).

And so to return to Bibi who is not so different to any other Israeli political leaders in ignoring the issues that hurt most Israelis. He is a free market politician and that means he does not care to interfere in the ‘free’ market despite the damage it may cause to the majority of his electorate. His insularity towards those less well off than himself is supported by a belief that only those who succeed deserve his attention and the rest merit subservience.  It is as uncompromising as it is lacking in empathy but it is a basic conservative belief that is only tempered by the need to appear to be caring so that the party and therefore the leader remain electable.

The issues that have been much in the news of late are education, health and housing.

The university budget has been reducing for two decades while class sizes have been increasing at all levels of education excepting within the ultra-orthodox sector which rejects teaching the core subjects required by a modern nation but is left unsupervised.  Israel is living off the huge Russian immigration bonanza of the early 1990’s and has failed to reinforce the wealth of opportunity that came with it either culturally or educationally to create a better, more equal society. According to Professor Manuel Trachtenberg, some 25% of Israeli researchers work abroad and the average age of the faculty in Israel is 55 (compared to 43 in Britain). A ratio of 1:20 faculty to students characterizes those universities rated 50 and lower in the world. 1:10 is the ratio required to maintain the position of being in the top ten universities in the world. In Israel the ratio of faculty to students is 1:24 and it is becoming progressively worse.

In the early 1990’s there was not only more medical doctors than the State required, there was also talk (a fantasy perhaps) of constructing a medical ship manned by doctors and nurses that would sail the globe assisting countries where it was needed and offering emergency care as required. A fine ideal, it never happened. Israel squandered the opportunity to build on the talent it possessed. Instead, hospitals have reached a crisis point because its doctors work too long and compared to their European and American colleagues, are paid poorly. Some years ago in order to alleviate the worsening crisis it was mooted that Israel invest $4bil in a medical university to be located in the Galilee. Of course it also never happened. It seems that Bibi is happy as his predecessors before him to bully those who refuse to bow to government pressure not to strike while never offering a solution that provides anything  but a band-aid to a systemic problem.

Of course Israelis can take private health care, they can seek medical attention overseas but the issue is that most Israelis cannot nor should they have to contemplate either of these choices.

And housing; the struggle the young have, to try to bring down the choking prices of rent and mortgage opportunities makes Israel increasingly, a country to retire to but unaffordable for anyone else.

In Japan between the Meiji Restoration and the end of World War 2 the Zaibatsu exercised de facto control over the Japanese economy.  The Zaibatsu were large family controlled vertical monopolies. Israel has a similar network of controlling families. In competing overseas for market share there is no principled reason that they cannot continue to exist but a mechanism must be found to disempower them within the State.

Whether we learn the lessons of Japan or the ruling families of the Italian renaissance city states; both being examples of abusive economic control, ultimately, uncontrolled, unelected power destroys the society within which it moves.

Health and Education empower the people but they are expensive and a life long investment. The return on investment cannot easily be measured with comparative financial ratios nor do the rich receive an immediately quantifiable benefit.  Perhaps this is the best reason that societies fail their citizens.

A government for the people is a government by the people and not a coterie of super wealthy men and women dictating to the political leadership when to bark and when to bite and when to withdraw and when to make cosmetic concessions.  But it is the lack of an across the board, coherent political vision that squanders the human capital of the nation.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Lewis Carroll, the BBC, and the Business Secretary

On the 13th of November 2011 the BBC began its daily news roundup with a very important news story. The wife of the heir to the British throne (The Duchess of Cambridge) had been spotted wearing the same hat her mother (or sister) had recently worn.   There was no suggestion that any of the Middleton family was suffering from lice or some other socially disagreeable condition. It did however warrant five minutes in every half hour on the national news program.  OK, it was Haute couture, and some hats are more expensive than others, but please, a hat is a hat.  Was there nothing better happening in our world that this ‘national’ news item, with its subsequent analysis by a dedicated, publicly paid, BBC reporter, warranted a five minute slot in every thirty minutes on our national news? A court correspondent pointed out to every one of us that even the Royal Family were “doing their bit” during this period of national austerity (by sharing their hats).

And on the following day, the Liberal Democrat Business Secretary was heard to express the sentiment that “I feel your pain over recession”.  With the greatest of disrespect to the Honourable Mr Vince Cable, words are cheap and feelings meaningless unless they are followed through with action that ameliorates our plight. No government can ‘feel my pain or yours’.

Can you tell me when we fell down Lewis Carroll’s rabbit’s hole? Society does appear to have descended into a theatre of the absurd.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Greece and Apocalypse Now

Greece joined the Euro when it became a local currency in 2001. The immediate impact on the Greek economy according to ‘Stratfor’ (see was that the differential cost of borrowing between Germany and Greece fell by 18%, achieving parity on borrowing, between the two nations.

All nations are thankfully, not alike. It is the national character that defines a nation’s uniqueness; that enables us to celebrate diversity.

Many years ago, in response to the perception that heavy alcohol consumption was viewed as positive the Australian Government ran a nationwide advertising campaign whose intent it was to demonstrate the Neanderthal behaviour of those who drank to excess and thus, to discourage this worrying attitude. The campaign backfired. Australians are a relaxed lot, they like their leisure activities. Sans alcoholic overindulgence, it is not a fault but an enviable part of the Australian character.

To complete this comparison, America and Germany are nations for which making money is embraced with enthusiasm. At least in theory, everyone choosing to thrive has the opportunity to do so.  Their societies are driven by a work ethic that is different to that of Australia, or Greece.

The EC was created because the Americans were looking for a way to stop the European propensity for slaughtering one another and the negative impact this militant imperial provincialism had on the rest of humanity.

Greece, even with its 18% reduction in cost of borrowing can not, at this time in its history, compete with Germany. Although it has been a member of the European Community since 1981 perhaps it never will be as competitive as Germany is. Nor should it have to be. But any economic system that is not based on the ability of the participants to repay their loans within mutually acceptable periods of time is based on charity.

Charities grow for three reasons. The first is self-identification, the second legitimately occurs because of need.  Its end goal must be self-extinction or it becomes a self-perpetuating parasite, living off the living flesh of its victims.  To those people who will be offended by this analogy, some parasites exist within a symbiotic relationship with their host. Most do not.

No nation should be a charity case and those that are, are defined by their corruption, their greed and the excessive degree to which they victimise their own people.

Prime Minister George Papandreou has two choices.  He can lead Greece into default, in which case all its outstanding international loans become worthless to its owners; or it will have no choice other than acquiescence to decades of recovery.

Both Germany and France, as its two main creditors profited from their relationship with Greece. It is not the Global banking system that failed us all, this time.  If Greece does default the repercussions for Global growth will be significant.  For far too long the relentless drive to increased profitability has been achieved at the expense of society and its unrealisable expectations for unlimited Consumerism.

We may be entering a period of sustained economic stagnation.  Perhaps the volatility of markets with its cyclical boom and bust will finally be brought under unintentional control.

The greatest threat to Global stability is uncertainty. It leads to fear. Bad governments create crises to deflect criticism from them-selves. Military insecurity increases the possibility for war. Migration collapses and population transfers cease to occur except by ethnic cleansing and expulsion.  This in its turn accelerates the destabilisation of nations.  Societies are forced to cope with the finite resources at their immediate national disposal.

The clash of civilisations may be realised as isolationism, fear and extremism catapults the fundamentalists everywhere into positions that protect their own communities.

If the party is over, it is possible for a more equitable society to emerge from the debris. If nations can develop humility as a counterweight to ambition and greed it may be worth the hangover.