Monday, June 20, 2011

History Lessons from the Middle East

by Gordon Cooper

From Broader View Weekly, June 9,

When a smoldering ember is infused with a fresh breath of oxygen, it usually results in bright flame that can spread to a full-fledged fire if the source of that oxygen remains. It is one of the paradoxical qualities of fire, that it can be a force of warmth, comfort, beauty and useful for preparing food and/or other vital products, and it can also become a scorching, fearsome destructive force that can take lives and wreak havoc.

When President Obama said the “pre-1967 borders” between Israel and Palestine should be considered, when discussing the possibility of peace in that region, he blew a fresh breath of proverbial oxygen onto a smoldering ember of hatred and resentment toward the Jewish state. This simple remark – juxtaposed as it was on the eve of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s visit to our Capital and the White House – ignited a flame that, if not quenched by more reasoned words, could potentially lead to a very destructive conflagration.

When one hears of the “pre-1967” borders, one should look into what exactly those borders were and determine the cause of why those borders changed.

The history of the Arab-Israeli conflict, literally, goes back to Old Testament book of Genesis and the prophetic statement made by Yahweh; that the family feud between Isaac’s offspring (Israel) and the offspring of Ishmael (Arab nations) – both sons of Abraham – would continue forever (Genesis chapters 22 – 25). I do not intend to go back that far but I do believe we should at least go back as far as 1967 and revisit the events that led to the alteration of the political landscape that summer.

Egyptian forces were encamped along Israel’s southern borders, Jordanian troops were also poised for attack from the west and north, Syrian forces accompanied by Pakistani aircraft were ready and joined the Egyptians as willing partners, along with the freshly formed and virulently hateful Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO). The aim of this coalition of Arab nations was total annihilation of the infant state of Israel.

When Egypt’s Nassar shut down the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping in the last week of May, 1967, it was, in essence, an act of war. Israel responded with a pre-emptive strike and an historic military campaign that stands alone in world history as one of the most brilliant and well-conducted operations ever mounted in a nation’s self defense against hostile forces. Within six days (June 5 – June 10) Israel had captured all of the Sinai Peninsula and extended her borders into Jordan, Palestine and Syria.
Most of the lands and territories captured during those days in early June of 1967 have since been relinquished by the Israelis in exchange for promises of peaceful coexistence. However, the aim of those in Palestine who are, to this day, still sending rockets and sniper fire into Israel, continues to be the annihilation of – not the peaceful coexistence with – the nation of Israel.
The PLO and Hamas (the terrorist organization recognized as a legitimate political party in Palestine) still refuse to recognize the statehood of Israel and until that recognition is established, it matters little what President Obama says or how eloquently he says it. Peace will not come to that area, even if Israel reverts back to pre-1948 borders.

We should bear in mind that this conflict is not about territories or settlements. It is about the right to exist without fear of sniper bullets or suicide bombers or rocket fire. Israel faces these fears each and every day. Many Arabs live and move freely within the borders of Israel. No acts of hatred and violence threaten their commerce or sleep. However, very few Jews dare to risk their lives by moving into Palestine.

President Obama was right to say: “For decades, the conflict between Israelis and Arabs has cast a shadow over the region. For Israelis, it has meant living with the fear that their children could be blown up on a bus or by rockets fired at their homes, as well as the pain of knowing that other children in the region are taught to hate them.” (

However, he was wrong – or misled – when he said, in the same speech: “I’m convinced that the majority of Israelis and Palestinians would rather look to the future than be trapped in the past.” (ibid)

Current events (the evidence of Iranian support for Hamas’ continued terrorist activity aimed at Israel) and the fact that Palestinian Prime Minister, Mahmoud Abbas has made several public statements that he does not recognize the state of Israel as legitimate, prove that the majority of Palestinians are indeed looking to the past. “I will never allow a single Israeli to live among us on Palestinian land,” Abbas declared in a recent interview. Israel is home to a sizable proportion of Arab citizens, who have the vote and are represented by Arab parties in the Knesset. (

President Obama should know the Palestinian authorities are not merely looking back to 1967, they seek to return to 1947, when there was no official state of Israel.

Perspective is Everything

by Keith Cooper

From Broader View Weekly, June 9, 2011

When judging President Barack Obama’s policy toward the continuing unrest between Israel and Palestine, it is important to approach the situation with an honest perspective. It’s true that a historical context is helpful, but it is dangerous to focus on biblical prophecy, especially when two Abrahamic religions claim the same territorial birthright. It is also dangerous to view Israel as an innocent victim of Palestinian aggression.

Furthermore, it is counterproductive to mischaracterize Obama’s speech as a betrayal of an ally while ignoring important points.

The president chastised Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas for attempting to persuade the United Nations to recognize Palestine while delegitimizing Israel. He said “symbolic actions to isolate Israel at the United Nations in September won’t create an independent state. Palestinian leaders will not achieve peace or prosperity if Hamas insists on a path of terror and rejection. And Palestinians will never realize their independence by denying the right of Israel to exist.” Still, the right-wing of conservative punditry called the speech a slap in Israel’s face and a giveaway to Palestine.

The right also treated Obama’s two-state solution as an unprecedented stance. The fact of the matter is that it was not a ground-breaking departure from U.S. policy with regards to the region. In fact, the Washington Institute think tank has already published maps outlining swaps in an effort to resolve the Israel/Palestine conflict.

Oddly enough, Obama’s predecessor had proposed similar concessions years before. In a speech in June of 2002 Bush said, “Ultimately, Israelis and Palestinians must address the core issues that divide them if there is to be a real peace, resolving all claims and ending the conflict between them. This means that the Israeli occupation that began in 1967 will be ended through a settlement negotiated between the parties, based on U.N. Resolutions 242 and 338, with Israeli withdrawal to secure and recognize borders.”

To me that sounds an awful lot like Obama’s statement: “The United States believes that negotiations should result in two states, with permanent Palestinian borders with Israel, Jordan, and Egypt, and permanent Israeli borders with Palestine. We believe the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states.”

It may be true that religious hostility is at the core of the conflict. However, resigning to a prophetic impasse is not only an impediment to viable solutions, it reinforces a mindset that continues to mire the Middle East in the perils of jihad and holy war. And, since certain Christian fundamentalist sects believe that a sovereign nation of Israel is a prerequisite for end-times events, a large number of Americans (including many in military and governmental leadership positions) have an unrealistic perspective of the conflict.

History doesn’t show Israel as an innocent victim of Arab aggression, seeking only its self-defense. The timeline is peppered with pre-emptive strikes on Arab states, denial of rights and humanitarian aid to the Palestinians, and violence. Indeed, last month over a dozen Palestinian protestors (commemorating the war of 1967) were gunned down, and another handful were killed in demonstrations last weekend. Scores more were wounded in the incidents. Ignoring Israel’s aggressions and painting Palestinians as wholly responsible for the unrest is dangerous.

These recent protests illustrate the urgency of the situation, and provide important context for Obama’s treatment of the conflict in his Middle East speech. The Arab spring which is waxing into the Arab summer has changed the dynamic in the region. Israelis and Palestinians find themselves in the center of a swelling thirst for liberty and freedom. My brother Gordon has implied that Obama is fanning the flames of resentment, but other risks are certain. As the fire of self-determination sends sparks scattering across the desert plains, a sense of futility about the prospect of peace and resolution can be incendiary.

Obama brought this perspective into his speech. “At a time when the people of the Middle East and North Africa are casting off the burdens of the past, the drive for a lasting peace that ends the conflict and resolves all claims is more urgent than ever,” he said, adding “…The fact is, a growing number of Palestinians live west of the Jordan River. Technology will make it harder for Israel to defend itself. A region undergoing profound change will lead to populism in which millions of people – not just one or two leaders – must believe peace is possible. The international community is tired of an endless process that never produces an outcome. The dream of a Jewish and democratic state cannot be fulfilled with permanent occupation.”

Resolution of the Israel/Palestine conflict is vital to any hope of peace in the Middle East. I have always been critical of the dysfunctional alliance the U.S. and Israel enjoy, but I fully recognize that the United States can be an agent to facilitate resolution. However, our perspective of the situation must be grounded in honest reality, along with the historical context.

Socialism for Corporate Wealth?

by Keith Cooper

From Broader View Weekly, May 26, 2011

Last week, the Senate voted down a bill that would dramatically reduce the federal subsidies that oil corporations receive. This followed a hearing the week before in which CEOs from the big five U.S. oil corporations testified about being treated unfairly and pressured Congress to keep the tax breaks in place.

The subsidies would add about $2 billion to the insane profits big oil has been earning over the past few years. The oil execs claimed to have little effect over gas prices, but the rising prices at the pump have been very good for the oil industry. The industry’s profits in the last decade totaled more than $902 billion. Exxon-Mobil alone has seen profits of $10.7 billion in the first quarter of 2011 (their share of $32 billion industry wide).

There is nothing wrong with earning a profit in the American model of capitalism. However, when we commit federal funds and tax revenue to any industry we should do so responsibly, especially at a time when the focus is on national debt and budget deficits. Not only are Democrats in Congress saying these subsidies are not needed, but oil industry leaders have echoed the sentiment in the past. In February, former president of Shell Oil John Hofmeister said in light of gas prices it was clear that the industry didn’t need incentives in the form of subsidies. Conoco-Phillips CEO Jim Mulva testified specifically in 2005 that with respect to oil and gas production “we do not need incentives.” Of course, Mr. Mulva changed his tune a bit a couple of weeks ago. His company may not need incentives to drill, but it sure wants the added income.

The fact of the matter is that oil companies will explore and drill where the oil supply is. This is as it always has been and always will be. The same is true of all energy-related industry. Locally, we see state and municipal officials pushing for subsidies and provisions for natural gas exploration even as it is clear that the companies are coming. They will explore and drill and hydrofracture where the supply is, regardless of incentives. So if the net result is the same without the subsidies as with them, then the lost revenue is merely a government handout to companies that can do just fine without it.

This type of big government federal spending is abhorrent to conservatives when it benefits the poor or the working class. Entitlements meant to help those struggling day-to-day in a depressed economy that has left many financially strapped or downsized out of a job is seen as socialism. Interestingly, the corporate wealthy who are riding high on a wave of prosperity brought about by high gas prices are seen as needy by those same conservatives.

Talk radio host Rush Limbaugh, who has wrongly accused President Barack Obama and his administration of being socialist and anti-business (look at Obama’s record regarding corporate America, as well as his pick of General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt to head his council on Jobs and Competitiveness), has defended oil subsidies. When the bill to end the handouts was introduced, Limbaugh danced verbally around the subject trying to make the case that since the oil industry had to spend billions of dollars in investments in exploration and preparation before drilling and production can begin, the subsidies were merely a way to recoup that cost. Every corporation in every industry has such expenditure in research and development of method, process or operation. These operation costs are not offset by federal handouts and shouldn’t be offset for the oil industry either.

The flip-flop on big oil is a remarkable contrast to Limbaugh’s sentiment regarding corporate stimulus and measures intended to ease the financial crisis, or the impact of the recession on the automobile industry. Limbaugh still calls General Motors a government-owned entity (despite its recent public stock offerings) and ignores the relative success GM has seen over the last couple of years. At least the stimulus funds are being repaid to the government and can be applied to the deficit.

Rush is not alone in contradiction to conservative values. Tea Party candidates who ran on reducing government spending and the national debt seem to be happy to give away the farm to the oil industry. It is becoming increasingly clear that the concerns of the working class, grass roots movement that propelled these candidates in the elections of 2010 take a back seat to the concerns of corporate America and the wealthiest two percent (who have seen their tax breaks protected regardless of budget shortfalls).

Paying $4 per gallon at the gas station is painful enough for most of us. When we see the giants of the oil industry profiting from our misery, it inspires rage against those powerful companies. But that’s not the reason why subsidies must end.

A pragmatic approach to the situation reveals that eliminating those subsidies will have little impact on gas prices. Market speculation, industry collusion and price control will continue to be the factors that set pump prices. However, the elimination of subsidies will not impact the drilling and production of oil in the United States. If we espouse free market values as part of our capitalist model we must be consistent to those values.

What are the facts about those oil “subsidies”?

by Gordon Cooper

From Broader View Weekly, May 26, 2011

It is always interesting to me when I see inconsistencies in a person’s philosophy and selective outrage in their responses to certain issues. Apparently my fellow columnist finds inconsistencies just as interesting. However, a more careful reading of Keith’s column would reveal that the “inconsistencies” in the conservative ranks as it regards the issue of subsidies to the oil industry are not inconsistent at all and are, in fact, aligned with the overall tenets of free market capitalism as Keith suggests we should be in his final sentence.

Before I address Keith’s final sentence, I believe I should address some facts that are not being clearly reported by our media (surprise?) in the coverage of government subsidies in general and the oil industry in particular.

First of all, the bill produced by the Senate, which the sponsors knew would be nothing more than a political exercise to cast a shiny lure toward a fish-brained public who seem too eager to swallow any half-truth about the current bogeyman of the left, was never intended to limit government spending or to lower the price of gas at the pumps. Even some of their own party members realized the bill would have been counterproductive to growing our economy.

“Why are we harming an industry — five large oil and gas companies that work internationally, that employ 9.2 million people in the United States directly?” asked Senator Mary L. Landrieu, Democrat of Louisiana. “Why are we doing it?”

The narrow application – it was only aimed at the big five oil companies, namely: BP, Exxon-Mobil, Shell, Chevron and Conoco-Phillips – would have amounted to singling out one specific industry for elimination of tax deductions (they are not really subsidies) that all other manufacturers and industries enjoy.

For example, the bill would have taken away the Domestic Manufacturing Tax Deduction – something every industry receives in an effort to keep factories and jobs in the US. It would have also eliminated the Foreign Tax Credit – again, a tax credit every other company –and individual – receives when they pay taxes to foreign countries, in essence, it would be paying taxes on taxes.

These and the other tax deductions would have only netted $21 Billion to the Federal budget over TEN YEARS – essentially less than the $2 Billion/year President Obama is willing to loan to another oil company to SUBSIDIZE OFFSHORE DRILLING. Yes, that is correct! Obama is proposing that taxpayers subsidize (truly) the oil exploration and drilling off the coast of…BRAZIL! By sending money to a state-owned oil company – Petrobras in Brazil - we see a true subsidy and a true inconsistency!

Now, while we are dealing with facts, I believe it is worthwhile to expose a few forgotten or underreported realities about the oil industry in particular and free market economics in general.

I have long held the opinion that the use of government subsidies – not merely offering tax deductions or tax credits – is a clumsy and inefficient means to regulate the economy. By its very makeup – it must try to portray itself as objective and equitable in its assistance - the government is forced to create a bureaucratic monstrosity and convoluted pathway that sucks the life out of every dollar it distributes, making it a weakened - and sometimes even a diseased - source of revenue for the recipient.

Another reason to oppose subsidies is that industries, like people, will become dependent upon the artificial source of income and once dependent, like the animals in a zoo, they will become incapable of procuring necessary nutrition on their own. We have seen this in agricultural subsidies, educational subsidies and other price and/or market controls.

When we pull up to the gas pumps and watch those dollars fly by a rate four times faster than the gallons it is easy to aim our anger toward the name of the big oil company on the sign. So, what should we do about it?

Well, I suppose we could start our own oil company. Of course, that would take a lot of money. Just to get the permits and weave our way through the jungle of environmental regulations would require a team of lawyers and engineers working around the clock, then we would have equipment costs and research and development and I suppose we would eventually have to hire employees and supply them with incentives such as health care and after all that we would need to spend some money on advertising and then we would finally have to pay more than our fair share of corporate taxes - oil companies pay an average (as a share of net income before taxes) of 41.1% compared to 26.5% for other S&P industries – and then we would have to pay royalties and lease payments to the federal government or private landowners – oil companies have paid more than $100 Billion to the federal government since 2000, or over $85 Million/day!

Or we could just pay the $4.00/gallon and be thankful we have a free market system (for now) that keeps us away from the price paid by drivers in London or Germany (well over $8/gallon) where the governments try to manipulate more people to depend on the public transportation treadmill and take away consumer choice.