TOBIN TAX ON THE TABLE:
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown surprised just about everyone when he encouraged G-20 finance ministers to consider establishing a global financial transaction tax–sometimes referred to as a "Tobin Tax" out of respect for pioneering proposals advanced by Nobel Prize-winning economist James Tobin–as a means of reducing speculation in global markets and raising resources for social spending. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner immediately rejected the idea of taxing speculators, but Oxfam policy adviser Max Lawson said, "The fact you’ve got Gordon Brown coming out and saying this is a real turning point. It puts the issue on the political map."
Working to keep it on the map, despite what Geithner says, is Oregon Democratic Congressman Peter DeFazio, long an advocate for transaction taxes. DeFazio has found twenty-nine co-sponsors for legislation that would tax speculation in crude oil futures. He’s also attracted thirteen co-sponsors for a more ambitious proposal to tax securities transactions to the extent required to recoup the net cost of the Troubled Asset Relief Program, which is delightfully titled the Let Wall Street Pay for Wall Street’s Bailout Act of 2009. JOHN NICHOLS
IMPASSE IN PALESTINE:
With his decision not to run for re-election in January as pres- ident of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas may be marking the end of an era. The PA, established fifteen years ago after the Oslo Accords, was conceived as a temporary authority, pending a negotiated solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict. But ever since the failure of the 2000 Camp David summit and the eruption of the second intifada, the "peace process" has been on life support. Recent events seem to call for last rites.
The death blow may have been the Obama administration’s acquiescence in Benjamin Netanyahu’s refusal to freeze settlement growth. Abbas and his colleagues could justifiably ask, If this administration–considered too Arab-friendly by many Israelis–won’t stand up to Netanyahu on this issue, what’s the point of continuing? What is there left to negotiate if Israel is allowed to keep swallowing Palestinian land?
This was only the latest insult–Abbas and his cohort had already lost most of the last shreds of credibility when they bowed to US and Israeli pressure to delay endorsement of the UN’s Goldstone Report alleging Israeli and Hamas war crimes in the recent Gaza conflict. The PA’s quick reversal, after a storm of protest, did nothing to regain favor with the Palestinian public. And the decision of the US Congress to condemn the Goldstone Report by a 344-36 margin (the scant opposition included Dennis Kucinich, Jim McGovern, Keith Ellison, John Dingell, Ron Paul and Lynn Woolsey) could not encourage anyone hoping for a change in US policy. All these humiliations were merely the capstone of sixteen years of vain hopes that Oslo-brokered negotiations would lead to independence and Palestinian statehood, rather than rapidly expanded Israeli colonization of the West Bank.
There’s no question that the conflict is at a bleak impasse. But if the PA collapses, there will be one salutary consequence: it will strip off the mask that there is anything in the territories beyond Israeli occupation. Even at its height in the ’90s, Palestinian autonomy was negligible. Now the undeniable fact of near total Israeli control, and the increasing difficulty of pretending that nearly half a century of occupation is temporary, will force some stark decisions on both peoples.
The Palestinians, quite apart from the desperate need to heal the Hamas-Fatah split and reforge a unified leadership, will have to develop a new liberation strategy. Israel, for its part, may seem to be holding all the cards at this point. But as the occupation becomes ever more deeply implanted, it will soon enough become undeniable that, for all practical purposes, there is only one nation between the Jordan and the sea, composed of roughly equal numbers of Palestinians and Jews. Then Israel will "face a South African-style struggle for equal voting rights," former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert warned when he was still in office, "and as soon as that happens, the state of Israel is finished." So Israel will have to confront its own existential dilemma: are the settlements really worth retaining if it means the eventual end of Zionism? ROANE CAREY
WHAT’S IN A NAME?
The horrific November 5 shootings at the Fort Hood Army base in Texas unleashed some predictable Islamophobia, as pundits and politicians leapt from fretting about the alleged crimes of one Muslim to spreading fear about Muslims in general. Within hours of the shootings, when about all that was known was that the gunman had been identified as Army Maj. Malik Nidal Hasan, Fox News anchor Shepard Smith asked Texas Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison on air, "The name tells us a lot, does it not, Senator?" Hutchison responds, "It does. It does, Shepard."
The name told them nothing. Details that would eventually emerge about Hasan’s alleged mental state, fear of being assigned to Afghanistan and extreme religious views provided insights about the man and the incident. But the notion that a name that sounds Arabic or Islamic explains an attack on soldiers is as absurd as the suggestion that a name that sounds Irish and Catholic, or German and Protestant, explains antiabortion violence. Actually, it’s worse, because spreading suspicion about Islam in the military disregards the valiant service of thousands of Muslims whose presence in the US armed forces has been hailed by Army chief of staff Gen. George Casey as diversity that "gives us all strength."
The good news was that groups such as the American Muslim Armed Forces and Veterans Affairs Council (AMAF-VAC) recognized the threat and stepped up to declare, "Islam holds the human soul in high esteem, and considers the attack against innocent human beings a grave sin." Perhaps the next time Shepard Smith wants to talk about what a name means, he’ll invite AMAF-VAC executive director Qaseem Ali Uqdah. "This is a criminal act and we have to treat it like a criminal act, not something to do with religion," says Uqdah, a twenty-one-year veteran of the Marines who worries about the danger of name-checking in the military. "What we don’t need is people downrange sitting in foxholes questioning if you are a Christian, if you are a Muslim or if you are a Jew…. That is not what we need as a nation." JOHN NICHOLS