Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

Archive for the tag “Jerusalem”

Robin Hood Politics Pt. 2

On Wednesday I discussed the Robin Hood Tax initiative where I praised those, especially the rich people who are embracing the idea.

I portrayed the Obama administration as being against, primarily out of fear that investors would go abroad with their money. The case is not so clearly defined. According to one administration official, there is actually support precisely to curb the risky activities that led the crises in the first place.

“The president is sympathetic to the goals that a financial transactions tax is trying to achieve and he is pushing for a financial crisis responsibility fee and closing other Wall Street loopholes as the best and most feasible way to achieve those goals,” the administration official said.

Labor unions and groups are supportive and organizing demonstrations in favor, They envisage the taxes levied to help finance job creation programs.

“The tax is a good idea because banks are where the money is. It’s the same reason Jesse James robbed banks,” said Rose Ann DeMoro, executive director of National Nurses United, which recently held demonstrations at the offices of 60 members of Congress in support of the levy. “The thing about the financial transactions tax is it’s stunning how quickly people get it and how fast they embrace it.”

I got the impression that Bill Gates and President Sarkozy envisaged using the money to help development in the worst areas of poverty, which I assume mean in Africa and Asia. Other political leaders are probably imagining using this as revenue to help plug government deficits.

We should not forget that this is a tiny tax for the individual. The EEC proposed a tax of $10 for $10,000 worth of transactions throughout the European Union which could raise $77 billion a year just in Europe.

An American version of this bill (imposing a $3 tax  per $10,000 of transactions) might raise $350 billion over the next decade. Kudos for some rare bi-partisan cooperation to Representative Peter DeFazio, an Oregon Democrat, and Senator Tom Harkin, an Iowa Democrat.

Mr. DeFazio envisaged the tax could “raise money to invest in the real economy,” but even he and his partner are skeptical the Republican caucus in Washington would accept any form of new taxes.

The opposition is already gathering, citing a fear that people will slow their investment rates. Kenneth E. Bentsen Jr., executive vice president for public policy at the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association, released a statement saying:

“At a time when we face a slow economic recovery, such a tax will impede the efficiency of markets and impair depth and liquidity as well as raise costs to the issuers, pensions and investors who help drive economic growth,”

The British Chancellor of the Exchequers, George Osborne, called the proposed tax “economic suicide.” In this time of economic crisis, he said, the European Union “should be coming forward with new ideas to promote growth, not undermine it.”

Opposition on this side of the pond comes from Glenn Hubbard, past chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers under President George W. Bush. He described the Robin Hood tax is a “monstrously bad idea.”

“Such a tax isn’t really going to get at the banks,” added Hubbard. “It’s going to hit the people who own the assets that are traded,” like investors.

If you think Hubbard is just crying from the political bleachers, think again. He is currently an adviser to Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

Ironically Britain, Hong Kong and Singapore (the latter two can be proud of the growth of their financial markets) all have such a tax in place.  In fact, and please don’t tell the Republicans, the US had imposed a tiny tax on stock trades between the years1914 – 1966. Socialists!

Finally, let’s remember why this tax is being proposed in the first place. There are too many people in this world who are starving, denied medicine and clean water, suffering from diseases that can be cured. And, as the British actor Bill Nighy, has described it, this is “a beautiful idea.”

“It would raise enough money to solve problems at home and overseas, and it could do it without hurting ordinary people,” Mr. Nighy said.

So simple. So true. So possible.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/ and on Twitter (@alonshalevsf).

Robin Hood Politics Pt. 1

I grew up in England’s green and somewhat socialist land hearing stories and watching movies about one Robin Hood, who lived in Sherwood Forest and robbed from the despotic rich to give to the poor. When King Richard the Lionheart came home from the Crusades having either liberated or massacred everyone in the name of freedom (freedom to be a Christian), and forgave Robin, restoring him as a member of the English aristocracy and letting him marry the king’s niece. Trust me, the movies tell it much better.

Oh Kevin - your aim if not your accent was true!

However, Robin of Loxley’s name is now being associated with a new tax idea: a seemingly insignificant levy on trades in the financial markets which would take money from the banks (the despotic rich) and give to the world’s poor. This would apparently be a tax on trades of stocks, bonds, and similar financial tools of investment.

The reality is that most of this support stems from our anger and frustration at how the world economy collapsed without the rich taking a significant hit. Right now we would happily hang the bank and monetary institutions heads in the village square, or at least stick them in the stockades and throw rotten dividends and pink slips at them.

Sir Robin (who was originally a member of the landed class – the top 1%) has attracted an exciting band of merry men (and women): the leaders of France and Germany, the billionaire philanthropists Bill Gates and George Soros, former Vice President Al Gore, the consumer activist Ralph Nader, Pope Benedict XVI and the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Now personally I am suspicious that the Pope would associate with Robin Hood, given the latter’s allegiance to the Church of England, but perhaps the Pope is being more strategic than his predecessors.

German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, who I began to trust when she got annoyed at President Bush trying to give her a public massage, told the German Parliament that “We all agree that a financial transaction tax would be the right signal to show that we have understood that financial markets have to contribute their share to the recovery of economies.”

The Italian Prime Minister, Mario Monti, has jumped enthusiastically into the foray by announcing his plans to impose such a tax as one part of a broad plan to fix his country’s ailing economy. He further invited other European countries to endorse the initiative.

Other European leaders seem are not so enthusiastic which seems a shame given that a number of analysts believe a broad agreement could create such a tax while keeping the financial markets (or rather those who are making tons of money from it) relatively calm. 

Simon Tilford, chief economist of the Center for European Reform in London claims that “There is some momentum behind this…If they keep the show on the road, they probably will attempt to run with this.”

As the Occupy Wall Street movement seems to wind down, I believe this can be a rallying cry with a practical, measurable outcome. I have written previously about my desire for the Occupy movement to become more strategic (see here and here). Members of the Occupy movement were already sporting bows and arrows, along with green and brown Robin Hood outfits (I used to have one, but would never wear the tights – part of my repressed British childhood, I guess) at the G20 Nations summit last month.

Frederic Nebinger/Getty Images -Demonstrators in Nice, France, last month urged the leaders of the Group of 20 nations to do more to help the poor.

At the summit, Bill Gates, who as we know is quite well off actually presented a plan similar to the goals of the Robin Hood movement, including a modest tax on trades of financial instruments that could generate $48 billion or more annually from the G-20 countries. I want to take this moment and, with the greatest respect, doff my green cap and feather to Mr. Gates. He is a member of the 1% who really cares.

Charles Dharapak/Associated Press – Bill Gates talked with Nicolas Sarkozy about a tax on trades of financial instruments.

His proposal garnered support from Ms. Merkel and France’s president, Nicolas Sarkozy, There are, of course, those who oppose the tax initiative, not surprisingly from the rich and their minions in the seats of power of the UK and USA. Britain’s prime minister, David Cameron, expressed serious reservations, saying “Britain would embrace it only if it were adopted globally.” This stems from a fear that if England was to adopt such a tax, investors would simply take their business from the London Stock Exchange and head elsewhere to countries who have not adopted this tax initiative.

This sentiment is supported here in the US by the Obama administration who fear that unless it is global, driving trading overseas would hurt pension funds and individual investors as well as financial institutions.

More on this on Friday.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/ and on Twitter (@alonshalevsf).

 

From Stabbing to Soccer

Tomorrow is September 20th, a day billed with controversy as the Palestinians seek a statehood via the United Nations. Those in favor recognize that the Palestinians need a state of their own and are frustrated by the lack of negotiations with Israel. Those against say that a sustainable solution has to come from negotiations between the two sides.

It all looks very depressing as both sides dig in and intransigence seems the order of the day. Perhaps it is best to focus on those organizations that are trying to bring Israelis and Palestinians together in dialog and the creation of relationships. I have already written about One Voice, still one of the most outstanding examples in my opinion.

So it was encouraging to see this article by Dan Goldberg about co-founder and director of the Al-Quds Association for Democracy and Dialogue, Sulaiman Khatib who went to Australia with Tami Hay, director of the Sport Department of Israel’s Peres Center for Peace. They  led a team of 24 Israelis and Palestinians in a unique bridge-building exercise: to compete in an international competition of Australian-rules football. We shall leave  the intricacies of the game, a mix of soccer, rugby, with Gaelic roots, for another time.

Twenty-four Israelis and Palestinians came together as a "Peace Team" to play Australian-rules football. (Jonathan Davis)

Khatib has an amazing personal story. He was born in the West Bank near Jerusalem, and grew up “throwing stones and preparing Molotov cocktails” at the Israeli army.

In 1986, at the age of just 14, he was arrested and sentenced to 10 years in prison for stabbing an Israeli soldier. While in prison, Khatib was exposed to the writings of the Mahatma Ghandi and Nelson Mandela. He learned both Hebrew and English and studied history, in particular other conflicts around the world. This provided Khatib with the basis for what became his philosophy.

“I believe there is no military solution to the conflict,” Khatib, 39, said of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in an interview with JTA while still in Melbourne. “I believe nonviolence is the best way for our struggle, for our freedom and for peace on both sides.”

For the story of how the team came together and became a cooperative group, I would suggest reading the article. The Palestinians who participated were admonished and even threatened, with many seeing them as collaborators. The bravery of these people should be applauded.

One Palestinian participant said: “Many people I know are opposed to my participation in activities with the Israeli side. They do not believe that it can improve the situation or lead to peace. I try to portray the positive things as much as possible.”

Nimrod Vromen, an Israeli player, told one media agency: “For me it’s easy. For the Palestinians, they actually have their lives threatened playing in this team.”

Tanya Oziel, Executive Director of the Australian branch of the Peres Center for Peace, knew there would be massive hurdles when she conceived of the idea of a joint team in 2007. A Sephardic Jew with Iraqi origins, Oziel knew that the Peres Center already had an Israeli-Palestinian soccer team, so she adapted the idea for Australian football and first brought a joint team to Australia in 2008.

“I think because of the power of the story and the impossibility of the story it actually gave me more motivation to make it happen,” Oziel said.

Some of the Palestinian team members are still worried about a backlash once they return home, but Sulaiman Khatib hopes his life experience will help his friends and himself weather such opposition.

“I’ve been in an Israeli jail for 10 years. I do things I believe in and I’m ready to risk my life,” he said. “So I’m not really worried about me.”

During a week when all eyes are on the United Nations, it helps to know that seeds of real peace are still being sown in the Middle East and the real heroes don’t make meaningless speeches but follow a dream. Sulaiman Khatib and his team are heroes.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

Don’t Let The Extremists Control The Agenda

I recently shared my optimism that with the various demonstrations and upheavals in the Middle East, and specifically in Gaza and the West Bank, we were nearing a stage whereby the moderate Palestinians and Israelis were moving closer towards a shared agenda of a sustainable peace treaty.

Tragically, terrorist attacks in Jerusalem and Itamar, multiple launches of bombs from Gaza towards populated areas of Israel and the anticipated military response of Israel, suddenly makes my blog post look, at best, wildly optimistic.

Anti-missile protection deployed for the city of Beersheva

But this is where we need to step back and gain perspective. Why did Palestinian extremists decide to up the ante now? Did they think the world wasn’t distracted enough by the upheaval in the Middle East, or the natural and nuclear catastrophe in Japan? Hardly makes any sense.

Perhaps they actually felt threatened by the peaceful demonstrations in their own backyard? Faced with the possibility that the majority of people, Palestinian and Israeli, were calling for a diplomatic solution, these extremists decided that the best way to prevent such progress was to blow it up in their faces – literally. They could count on cooperation from the Israeli right, who would immediately demand revenge and retribution.

It is easier to destroy than build bridges of peace and trust. It takes a single spark to ignite the powder keg that is the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

Many say that when there is violence, we should be strong and not talk peace. I admit that I have felt this way in the past. But however painful it is when we see the pictures of victims, this is precisely the time to understand that there can only be one sustainable solution to the conflict. This must be the assertion of the moderates on both sides – that they will not tolerate their leaders straying from paths that will bring us closer to a permanent peace.

Egypt & Israel sign a peace treaty

Now more than ever, we need to be out in the streets, banging the drums of peace.

IT CAN BE ACHIEVED!

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

 

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