Category Archives: Current Events

The Irony of “Buy Nothing Day”

There is an event/group on Facebook calling itself “Buy Nothing Day”, in regards to Black Friday. The idea is to, well, not partake in the rampant consumerism that characterizes the day after Thanksgiving. Of course, as should be obvious, the majority of people participating in this event are leftist college students. They rage against the mindless individualism and greedy consumerism of modern day capitalism. The very idea of spending money on cheap foreign products makes them sick.

So, to combat the capitalist machine, they will all refrain from spending money whilst wearing their Che shirts and waving the Communist Manifesto proudly through the air. The irony, of course, is that these capitalist-hating individuals have implicitly rejected today’s dominant leftist economic theory which states that consumer spending is what drives the economy and leads to our high-standard of living. The typical narrative goes something like this: “Consumer spending makes up 70% of our GDP! The only way to get out of the recession is to increase spending, which puts money into businesses, who then ramp of production, which requires them to hire more workers, and suddenly the economy is back on track!” Now, as Dr. Robert Higgs points out here, consumer spending has not been the problem. Consumer spending only fell a few percentage points since the recession began back in 2008. It’s investment that really took the hit.

In more formal economic terms, many economists today (those calling themselves Keynesians) believe the problem with the economy today is that aggregate demand has fallen and, in order to get the economy back on track, aggregate demand has to be boosted. There are two ways this could be done: Government spending, and consumer spending. If consumers would only go out and began spending once again, businesses would hire more people and the economy would right itself. Unfortunately, this doesn’t happen because consumers fear uncertainty, and so begin saving. This increased savings (non-consumption) further depresses the economy. At this point, government is supposed to pick up the extra slack in the economy and spend enough to get businesses hiring again.

If the Keynesian theory is to be believed, “Buy Nothing Day” can only further deteriorate the state of the economy. At any rate, it certainly won’t help. These people’s decision to not consume is going to contribute to lower wages, more unemployment, and further depressed housing prices. Not good, right?

I would argue, however, that there is nothing economically harmful when it comes to “Buy Nothing Day”. Indeed, I don’t believe the problem is with a lack of aggregate demand. Spending does not drive the economy, savings does. One cannot consume oneself into prosperity. Prosperity and rising living standards require that some people putting aside some consumption today in order to consume more tomorrow. If we imagine a man, alone, on an island with some fruit trees, we know that he can either consumer all of the fruit on the trees, or he can consume some of the fruit and plant more fruit trees for the future. If he consumes all of the fruit today he will certainly be well off for a short period of time. Perhaps until the next evening, or so. But after that he will have nothing left to eat until the trees grow more fruit. Clearly, if this man wants to have something to eat for the future he will engage in some non-consumption in order to consume more later.

To the extent that “Buy Nothing Day” leads to less consumption today (savings) and more consumption later, I think it will be a good thing. I doubt it will have much effect on the economy, but in principle it sounds right. The economy needs more savings to finance greater output in the future. The irony with this whole thing, however, is that the people participating in this event are probably the same people calling on the government to spend more money in order to get us out of the recession. Is spending the problem, or is spending the solution? Which is it, guys?

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Election Day News and Tidbits…

As usual, it has been nearly forever since I last posted anything. I want to say that in the future I will post more, but I think I will only be deceiving myself. So I will say this: We shall see what happens. For now, here are some general election day reactions from yours truly…

1) It appears as though California’s Proposition 19 is going to fail. Bummer. As far as I’m concerned, the War on Drugs has been a monumental failure of the most epic proportions. Not only does it cost us billions of dollars a year, it diverts law enforcement from actually cracking down on REAL crimes, and it has gotten us to the point where we have the largest prison population on the planet (as a percentage of the population and in the actual amount of bodies in prison). As a country claiming to be the “land of the free”, I find that to be more than a little disturbing. Prop 19, had it passed, would have gone a long way towards eventually getting the entire War on Drugs abolished, or at least incredibly toned down (against soft drugs). California- you disappoint me.

2) Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is still in office. How dreadfully depressing. It isn’t that I thought Sharon Angle was anything special, it’s just that Reid is one of those obnoxious and established politicians that annoy me so much. I think it would have been healthy to his ego to have gotten the boot from Nevada voters. Next time…next time.

3) The good news: Democrats have lost the House of Representatives. The bad news? Republicans have gained the House of Representatives. I find this to be both depressing and a bit heartwarming at the same time. I dislike both parties about equally, but incumbent parties tend to be more annoying than challenger parties, so it’s always nice to see the smug looks wiped off the faces of the incumbents. Of course, now that the Republicans are back (mostly back, anyways), it will be interesting to see what, if anything, they actually attempt to do.

4)  In the end, the government won this election. It always does, and it probably will continue to do so for a very long time. Not much will change. The governments response to the economy certainly won’t. If things get any worse (and, sadly, I think they might), all those small government loving Republicans will probably end up voting for another stimulus package like they did the first time around.

Depressing.

Corporatism abides…

Somehow this slipped right past me, but thanks to Glenn Greenwald’s ever insightful blog the evidence has become pretty clear that Obama killed the public option basically from the start. Surprised? I’m not. For decades this government has run on a fairly consistent corporatist policy, where the two dominant centers of power in society (corporations and the government) have led a largely symbiotic relationship with each propping up the other. Some progressives seemed to see the corporatism within the Bush administration but have fallen strangely silent when it comes to Obama and his crew.

Maybe the most important phrase one can apply to politics is cui bono– who benefits? Always follow the money. Turns out the health care lobby was heavily favoring Obama above McCain in 2008. Obama simply returned the favor by pushing a couple of million new customers right into the hands of large corporations. What a perfectly delightful system, eh?

Are Members of the Flotilla Terrorists?

The New York Times has a good article today on the IHH (Insani Yardim Vakfi), one of the organizations involved with funding the Free Gaza movement. Although it runs numerous charities worldwide, it is alleged to have close connections to Hamas and possibly other terrorist organizations. If the article is correct, it sounds as though it clearly played a pretty big role in funding this operation.

It is important, however, to keep in mind that this was not a Turkish operation, or an Arab operation, or anything of that nature. It was, indeed, an international coalition made up of over 600 people from all parts of the world. I heard a great interview today on NPR’s Morning Edition with Edward Peck, a retired American diplomat who was aboard one of the ships in the flotilla. The interview can be heard here, and I highly recommend listening to it in full. I just want to comment on a few of the things he said.

As he notes, this mission was made up of 30 countries and he calls it a “European mission.” He admits that he wouldn’t be at all surprised if there were indeed Hamas sympathizers aboard the flotilla, but makes the point that the intent of the group was not to somehow support or bolster Hamas. The fact that there may have been some individuals or organizations aboard the flotilla that had some connection with the enemies of Israel is entirely irrelevant. The mission of the flotilla was humanitarian and that is what needs to be focused on. They weren’t carrying weapons as even the Israeli military has admitted.

The charge that the members of the flotilla are “terrorists” is false and needs to stop. There are bigger questions that need answering at this time.

The Drama Continues…

Not surprisingly, I think, Israel is claiming that at least 50 captives taken from the flotilla have been identified as having possible terrorist connections.

As I pointed out here, it shouldn’t be surprising that in a group of 600 or more people some will have connections to organizations or individuals Israel isn’t too fond of. Remember the whole 6-degrees of separation theory? The Middle-East is chalk full of terrorist organizations. The fact that a few were on board  doesn’t surprise me and it shouldn’t be a big deal (and, again, let’s remember that Israel is only alleging these people may have terrorist connections). This is hardly proof of malicious intent.

In another interesting development, the Jewish human-rights organization Gisha was given some information regarding a Freedom of Information Act they filled against Israel concerning its policy on allowing food into the Gaza strip. A number of interesting details have emerged…

  • In a court submission, the State of Israel admits that, contrary to its previous claims, it does indeed possess documents related to its policy on the transfer of goods into the Gaza Strip, including a list of “permitted” goods.
  • However, the State claims for the first time that it can not reveal the documents, out of concern that allowing the public to review them would harm Israel’s national security and foreign relations.
  • Israel admits the existence of a “Red Lines” document that establishes the minimum nutritional requirements for residents of Gaza, but refuses to reveal it.

The rest can be read here.

The existence of a document establishing minimum nutritional requirements for the Palestinians should be sent to each and every columnist who disdainfully whines about how the Palestinians don’t need aid and other supplies because trustworthy Israel is making sure all their needs are met. Considering that a high percentage of people in Gaza are dangerously close to lacking sufficient resources on a day-to-day basis you can bet that Israel established this sustenance level diet and is doing all it can to make sure they don’t get anymore than that.

Israel and the flotilla of peace-activists (*Updated below*)

Unless you have been living under a rock for the past 20 hours you will be aware of a troubling international incident that has much of the world up in arms. Early this morning, a group of six boats containing a number of international peace-activists carrying food and other supplies destined for Gaza were intercepted by the Israeli military. The end result is a number activists dead and wounded. It’s what happened between the beginning and the end that things become a bit more complicated.

While still around 40 miles off the coast of Gaza, Israeli ships (and apparently a helicopter) approached the flotilla and demanded they turn back. When the ships refused, Israeli soldiers begin boarding via zip line from the helicopter. According to one report from Haaretz, the activists immediately attacked the soldiers with knives and metal sticks. The Israeli military is saying the activists had guns as well and used them, although Turkey is disputing that. At this point IDF soldiers were given the okay to fire back resulting in the deaths of 19 activists (although Israel is claiming 9). The ships and activists were than taken into Israeli custody.

Israel released a video of the attack allegedly showing that activists were the first to begin the provocations. The video can be seen below.

However, a video taken by an Al-Jezeera cameraman aboard the first ship boarded by the IDF appears to tell a different story. According to this video, Israel began firing upon the ship before Israeli soldiers were physically upon it. They fired both tear gas and stun grenades which injured a number of people. This video can be seen below.

Once Israel begin firing upon the ship the activists raised a white flag but live fire continued regardless, although the chronology of the events is hard to pin down exactly. From the sound of the second video it would appear the white flag went up before the IDF dropped upon the ship, although this is impossible to prove without better information and video footage. Clearly, activists attacked IDF personnel, although whether in self-defense or overt aggression is hard to say. The two videos certainly appear to paint a very different story.

Clearly, what we know for sure is that we don’t know much. People should refrain from immediately placing the blame on either Israel or the flotilla. A good case in point of how not to report on the situation is from a Wall Street Times’ article by Max Boot, ever the exuberant cheerleader of Israel. In the article Boot comes off about as callous as a rock when he states that

The so-called Gaza flotilla, comprising eight ships and roughly 800 participants, was not put together by peace-loving humanitarians primarily worried about relieving the suffering of Gaza residents. The people of Gaza already have access to food, medicine and other relief supplies provided by both Egypt and Israel.

That’s a comforting little thought, isn’t it? Basically he’s saying the world can rest assured that the Palestinians have access to all the amenities they desire, thanks to their mortal enemies and an authoritarian regime. This is, of course, a load of poppycock. As detailed here

  • “61% of people in the Gaza Strip are … food insecure”, of which “65% are children under 18 years”. (UN FAO)
  • since June 2007, “the number of Palestine refugees unable to access food and lacking the means to purchase even the most basic items, such as soap, school stationery and safe drinking water, has tripled”. (UNRWA)
  • “in February 2009, the level of anemia in babies (9-12 months) was as high as 65.5%” (UN FAO)
  • “water resources in the Gaza Strip are critically insufficient” (UN FAO)
  • “the blockade has been a major obstacle to repairing the damage done by Israeli air attacks and destruction. Nearly none of the 3,425 homes destroyed during Cast Lead have been reconstructed, displacing around 20,000 people. Only 17.5% of the value of the damages to educational facilities has been repaired … [T]he infrastructure which remains unrepaired is often that which is most essential to the basic needs and well-being of the Gaza population.” (UNDP)

Contrary to Boot’s cavalier attitude towards the Palestinian situation it’s clear that most Palestinians in the Gaza strip are suffering and fully at the hands of Israel. It is, of course, quite likely that the peace activists were in the wrong here and attacked first (although, to be fair, any smart protester is going to be on-edge considering what Israel routinely does to peaceful activists). But that is no justification for ignoring the humanitarian disaster that has been unfolding in Gaza since 2007.

Boot ends his article pondering the ways Israel could have avoided this incident in the first place.

One wonders if it wouldn’t have been possible for Israeli agents to sabotage the ships before they left port so that this incident would never have occurred?

To the best of anyone’s knowledge the ships were carrying aid material and nothing more. In fact, as I write this the Israeli military has begun turning loose some of the captives and they have made no mention of having found any weapons or other illegal goods. Surely if they had found them they would have advertised it. Boot simply assumes these people had malicious motives and leaves it at that.

We can only work with the information available to us, much of which is muddled, confusing, and ambiguous. No doubt we’ll know more in the coming days and weeks.

UPDATE 1 – 9am 01/10

I’m unable to get to a computer that allows me to have open more than one window open at a time, but it looks like the unofficial “official” number of deaths is 9, not 19 as reported by some organizations. A large number of activists are still being detained and Egypt appears to be relaxing its entry into Gaza in order to allow a bit more aid to get through. More later.

UPDATE 2- 11:30am 01/10

Megan McArdle takes a sympathetic view towards the flotilla in the Atlantic today. She makes an important point- one being ignored by many- that the flotilla was stopped and boarded in international waters where Israel has no jurisdiction. This fact undercuts any view of the situation that rests on who started clubbing and shooting each other first. She writes

This morning a bunch of people are trying to defend Israel by saying that the protesters attacked first.  No, they didn’t.  Boarding someone’s ship in international waters is an attack.

That’s a great point. Unfortunately, many commentators seem to be ignoring this by assuming that Israel had some “right” to board a group of ships in international waters. A good case in point is a short post at the American Spectator by John Tabin who writes

…[Israel’s] kid-glove approach (which, to be fair, did succeed at bloodlessly intercepting five of the six ships in the flotilla) earned Israel exactly no credit in the eyes of her critics, for whom Israel is ipso facto in the wrong whenever she defends herself.

This is backed up by Philip Klein, also at the American Spectator, who asserts that

Following up on John’s excellent post on the Israeli flotilla incident, I’d just like to add that this is yet another example of how Israel gets itself into trouble when it tries to play nice and goes out of its way to appease the international community. In this case, terrorist-linked extremists posing as a human rights workers were seeking to prevent Israel from enforcing a Naval blockade that is in place to stop a terrorist group dedicated to Israel’s destruction from importing weapons.

Tabin’s logic is incredibly convoluted. How on earth he comes to the conclusion that a group of ships carrying humanitarian aid constitutes a threat to Israel (especially on international waters) is beyond me. It would be far more accurate to say that in the eye’s of Israel’s most devoted fans any use of force is ipso facto considered a legitimate self-defense action.

And what of the charges that the flotilla was simply a front for radical extremists? Virtually baseless. Marjorie Cohn, at CounterPunch, lists some of the members on this flotilla.

The convoy was comprised of 700 people from 50 nationalities and included a Nobel laureate, members of parliament from Ireland, Germany, Sweden, Turkey and Malaysia, as well as Palestinian members of the Israeli Knesset and a Holocaust survivor.

That hardly sounds like a troop of Islamic extremists, right? Not according to Caroline Glick, who expresses shock that people from different parts of the world could be drawn together by anything other than pure hatred for Israel.

The listed organizations hail from the four corners of the earth. They include Jewish anti-Israel groups as well as Christian, Islamic and non-religious anti-Israel groups. It is hard to think of any cause other than Israel-bashing that could unite such disparate forces.

In such a large group it seems to me almost unavoidable that some members may have affiliations with terrorist networks in the Middle-East. The IHH, a Turkish humanitarian group, was a part of the flotilla and may, indeed, have links to Hamas and other terrorist groups in Palestine and other places. Although this may be troubling, we have to remember that this is Palestine we’re talking about. Those sorts of terrorist groups do abound and inevitably someone is going to know someone who probably knows someone affiliated with them. This shouldn’t be shocking or surprising, nor should it detract from realizing the group’s singular goal: deliver aid to the Gaza strip.

Egypt, it seems, has decided to open its border with Gaza for a few days to allow humanitarian needs to be met. Not surprisingly, every time Egypt does this large numbers of Palestinians come pouring out of Gaza which would seem to belie Max Boot’s lofty assertion that the Palestinians, you know, have food and medicine and all of that good stuff. I mean, clearly there would be no reason to leave the blockaded Gaza strip, right? Those Palestinians are probably just greedy.