Wednesday, December 12, 2007


By Barry Rubin

My favorite sentence of the week is this one: "Asking for record $5.8 billion in aid through 2010, Palestinians promise fiscal reform." Karen Laub wrote on this subject for the AP, December 5, 2007. The request came from "Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas" to double projected aid to the Palestinian Authority (PA).

What is funny about that opening sentence is that the PA has received so much money before and squandered it. Reform promises have been made and broken for more than 13 years. It is hard to remember the PA has existed that long with so little positive achievement. If Palestinians have such a bad economy it is not due to the "occupation" or to Israel but to their own leaders' greed, incompetence, failure to end violence, inability to present an attractive investment climate, and unwillingness to impose stability on their own lands.

So how does an AP story deal with the unintentional humor of the idea that pouring more money into the PA will lead to any diplomatic progress or that this regime will make better use of the funds? Remember that to a very large extent the United States and European governments are basing their whole Middle East policy on this mistaken idea. Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair has turned this into a second career.

This is such an extremely important story that it is worth examining in detail. According to the PA's own plan: "Seventy percent of the aid is to go for budget support, including $120 million a month to pay wages for the bloated public sector, and 30 percent is to be spent on development projects."

The article at least uses the word "bloated." Budget support is not development aid but simply pays the bill for those unable or unwilling to pay for themselves. But the article does not tell readers this nor that the public sector's "bloated" nature is due to corruption, patronage for buying political support, and a hugely disproportionate military/police apparatus. Staying on a war footing with Israel is the main factor in the PA's employment pattern. These security agencies are certainly not used to stop terrorism against Israelis and they certainly proved ineffective with Hamas. Individual police have often been involved in attacks. In large part, then, the aid would subsidize the Palestinian battle against Israel.

There is also another point here not mentioned in the article. The PA collects fees but has never instituted a comprehensive tax system. It has acted as if it is the job of foreigners, which mostly means the West, to pay its bills. This is not psychologically healthy nor does it encourage politically responsible action. Economic leverage certainly has not been used to press the PA toward peace, much less to nudge it toward fighting terrorism or ending incitement to anti-Israel violence.

The article, then, certainly does not blame the Palestinians' economic problems on themselves. While it does not bash Israel, the responsibility is put mainly on Israel, if only because PA officials are allowed to make statements to that effect without contradiction. Thus, Palestinian Planning Minister Samir Abdullah says he is aiming for a balanced budget within six years, the story continues--and this is not a direct quote from him--"perhaps even sooner if Israel moves quickly to lift crippling restrictions on trade and travel." How about these alternative phrases:

* perhaps even sooner if the PA wages a war on corruption.

* perhaps even sooner if the PA tries to round up terrorists and elements that keep life unstable and extorts money from its own citizen on the guise of being patriotic organization.

* perhaps even sooner if the PA really makes compromises so as to reach a peace agreement with Israel.

* And so on.

Instead, the article continues, "However, the Palestinians are submitting a steep aid request at a time of considerable `donor fatigue.'" But why are the donors getting tired of giving money. According to Laub: "Since the mid-1990s, the international community, led by Europe, has sent billions of dollars to the Palestinian territories to support peace efforts, but gains were largely wiped out in Israeli-Palestinian fighting. Critics also charge that large sums were siphoned off by corrupt officials in previous regimes."

This is simply not honest. Do the donors say that they are happy to give money but "gains" were wiped out because of the fighting? No, they say: why should we give money when it is just stolen or misused. It isn't just critics charging corruption, as if they are a few loudmouths talking off the top of their head. Could AP find anyone to deny this charge? How about writing: Everybody says that corrupt officials have stolen a very high percentage of the aid. Is this really a point that is controversial? One on which there are two sides?

In addition, gains--and there weren't many gains--weren't just wiped out in Israeli-Palestinian fighting as if some uncontrollable war broke out and swept over the countryside. The problem was that Yasir Arafat and his colleagues decided to launch a five-year-long war on Israel (whether or not Arafat planned it in advance or initiated it, he certainly kept it going and made it his strategy). That conflict, which brought absolutely no gain to the Palestinians, destroyed their infrastructure.

But the icing on the cake is the phrase "previous regimes" being responsible for corruption as if the current leadership has nothing to do with it. The current prime minister, a professional economist, may not be corrupt but the PA regime today is a continuation of all the ones before. Personnel have not changed very much. Who licensed AP to give a full pardon to all those PA officials who have been stealing for years and are still in office?

Basically, then, the rules of the game seem to be like this: Israel can be blamed but the Palestinians cannot be blamed. Nor are donors accorded common sense for refusing to throw their money down a pit which ultimately ends in the personal bank accounts of PA officials. After all, the article claims: "The international community's decision to impose sanctions after the militant Islamic group Hamas' parliamentary election victory in 2006 caused further economic decline, as money was shifted from development projects to welfare payments."

Consider the ultimate mendacity of that statement. Of course, the sanctions caused further economic decline but guess what:

* The Palestinians elected Hamas, after all.

* If Hamas behaves in an extremist and terrorist way than it was not the international community's decision to impose sanctions but rather Hamas's decision to follow radical policies that caused further economic decline.

* It is a fantasy to think that the money used to go to "development projects" but now had to go to "welfare payments." It always--and this includes budgetary subsidies--went for welfare payments.

* But here's the worst point of all. The money was cut off before not after the Hamas victory. More than two months earlier the Europeans stopped the aid because of PA corruption. It was the PA, not Hamas, which turned off the donors. This is a matter of public record.

* And finally, there is an interesting question that the article does not really explore. After all, why does the PA need twice as much money when it is governing only about half as many people? The Gaza Strip, after all, is under Hamas.

The article does point out: "It's not clear to what extent Gaza would benefit from foreign aid. The three-year plan only commits to providing humanitarian assistance and basic services until Gaza's borders reopen , presumably once Hamas is no longer in power there. "Under the current arrangement, Abbas' government pays the salaries of 31,000 civil servants in Gaza who do not cooperate with Hamas, and covers Gaza's utility bills."

Nevertheless, the article does not explicitly point out that the PA is basically asking for an increase in the already high--among the highest per capita foreign aid in history--aid donations by a factor of what amounts to 400 percent for the West Bank.

The rest of the article is comprised of the PA's fantasies, which it is allowed to present without contradiction, about its glorious three-year plan. Yet in this material Israel is blamed--again without any balance--for all the PA's economic problems not once but three times: "We are determined to bring an end to internal chaos and poverty, and the (Israeli) occupation that continues to aggravate this situation," the report said. "We are determined to reverse the impact of decades of conflict and 'de-development.'" "Economic growth will be closely linked to a lifting of West Bank barriers and trade restrictions, the report said. Israel imposed the restrictions, starting in 2000, to try to prevent attacks by Palestinian militants. "However, if the occupation regime remains at the status quo, the economic outlook is poor," the report said, adding that such a scenario would lead Abbas' government "to the point of institutional and fiscal collapse."

In short, Israel is blamed four times and Western donors twice for the bad Palestinian economic situation. The Palestinian side is not attributed any responsibility whatsoever. There are thus three problems with this article as with so much press coverage of Middle East issues:

* It is neither fair nor balanced.

* It increases the readers' misunderstanding rather than understanding of the issues.

* It sabotages attempts to fix problems since if the PA and Palestinians are divested of any responsibility they, and those trying to help the situation, can hardly find solutions since no one focuses on what is really wrong.


Conventional (Un)Wisdom

There is no better place to look for the Conventional Wisdom, which more often than not is both unwise and wrong, than the editorial pages of the mainstream media, and the editorials there are usually at their most conventional (which is to say, most unwise and most wrong) when they are written by members of the papers' editorial boards. A good example is this editorial, "M.J. Andersen: A place for affirmative action," in today's Providence Journal, just sent to me by a reader. M.J. Andersen is a member of the ProJo's editorial board who commits this sort of stuff with some frequency. It begins:

AFFIRMATIVE ACTION was conceived as an exact approach to an inexact problem. How, in a nation dedicated to equal opportunity, were we to chip away at racial discrimination? In its evolving guises, affirmative action would be a methodical attempt to ensure that minorities had a fair shot, and over time, would enter all strata of society. The question that always hovered, though, was "how long?" When could race-conscious policies be abandoned? What state of affairs was going to be good enough?

"How long?" I'm tempted myself to ask. "How long, O Lord, must we put up with this sort of sanctimonious, uninformed moralizing?" Whatever can be said about affirmative action - and, as you all know better than most, much has been said about it, and, as you will not be surprised to hear here, there's much still to say - one of the few things that can't possibly be said about it is that it is an "exact approach" to anything. Nor for that matter is the version of it championed by Andersen et. al. (which is the opposite of the version that was created by two presidential executive orders that I've quoted many times [such as here and here]) an "inexact problem." The problem to which Andersen believe affirmative action the solution is quite exact: not enough minorities where Andersen et. al. think they should be. Their's is a true hue and cry: they object to what they regard as a mismatch between the hue of people in various institutions or settings and the collective hue of America as a whole, and so they cry for racial preferences as a correction.

Typical of this view is a recent comment of Jon Butler, Dean of the Graduate School at Yale (HatTip to Ed Chin), who said

"Virtually everybody has a serious commitment to trying to make graduate schools more like America. We would like for our graduate school to look much like the population with whom we live."

Who knew that graduate education has so much to do with what people look like.

Andersen's piece is also typical in its use of euphemism. Its argument is that "race conscious policies" were necessary "to ensure that minorities had a fair shot," but in practice "affirmative action" requires much more than "race conscious policies." Think about it: a person or institution can be acutely "race conscious," design policies based on that consciousness, and still refuses to countenance anything that smacks of racial preference. "Affirmative action," for the Andersens, requires giving preferences based on race. As such, it does not seek to promote "a fair shot" at success. "Fair shot" is a pretty good stand in for "non-discriminatory equal opportunity," but that's the opposite of what "affirmative action" in its current guise seems to promote.

The best answer to Andersen's question of "how long" we must continue placing the government's thumb on the racial scale was given by Chief Justice Roberts in his opinion in the Seattle/Louisville school case: "the way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race."

Sticking with the euphemism Andersen relies on the Bok & Bowen paen to affirmative action (devastatingly criticized here) to laud the "race sensitive" admissions policies of elite schools. One of the defenses of those policies offered is that race preferences (the operational arm of race "sensitivity") did not "displace significant numbers of whites or Asians." Significant to whom, and how many (if I can modify Andersen's "how long?") is significant? How much racial discrimination is too much?

Unable to escape beating around the bush, Andersen almost gets one thing right: "Americans are uncomfortable emphasizing race." It's not that "emphasizing" race makes many Americans "uncomfortable," but rather that benefitting some and burdening others because of it makes many of us angry, sad, and disgusted, and disappointed that so many people in positions of respect and responsibility are so far removed from profoundly principled popular opinion on this subject.


Netherlands Government Pledges 2.5 m. Euros to Crack Down on Religious Dissent from "Gay Rights"

Dutch citizens who "follow a more orthodox religious lifestyle" to be targeted

The Netherlands has led the world in the introduction of the homosexual political movement. Now it is going to be leading the way to cracking down on dissent from the officially "tolerant" position on homosexuality, particularly among those Dutch citizens who "follow a more orthodox religious lifestyle". The coalition government has agreed to earmark 2.5 million euros from 2008 to 2011 to promote homosexuality as normal in social areas. The government said that the money will be spent on programmes specifically targeting young Muslims in schools, sport clubs or neighbourhood associations.

Ronald Plasterk, minister of education admitted that Dutch homosexuals enjoy the same rights as everyone else, "socially the acceptance is not automatic among certain ethnic minorities or people who follow a more orthodox religious lifestyle." The Netherlands was the first country in the world to institute same-sex "marriage" and allow homosexual partners to adopt children.

The policy will extend, in as-yet undisclosed programmes, to Dutch foreign aid donations. Development Cooperation Minister Bert Koenders told Parliament, "The Netherlands will promote equal rights for gays as much as possible. We will not avoid awkward discussions about this." The government told its ambassadors to developing countries to increase pressure on those nations to decriminalize homosexuality.

But it is not merely "religiously orthodox" people who retain at least subconscious objections to public displays of homosexuality. Gay activist Frank van Dalen, president of the Dutch national homosexual lobbyists, Federation of Dutch Associations for Integration of Homosexuality, (COC), complained that a recent poll showed that 48 per cent of the population is shocked by two men kissing and the number goes up to 75 per cent of recent immigrants.

Dutch homosexual activists are powerful at the European Union where pressure is mounting on Poland to adopt the Charter of Fundamental Rights that is seen as a crucial instrument in installing the full programme of gay activism. The EU gay activist group ILGA-Europe praised the increase of pressure to normalize homosexuality by the EU Commission on candidate countries such as Turkey and Serbia.

An ILGA-Europe spokesman said the group "appreciates" such efforts and praised the "clearly positive development in the progress reports as the human rights of LGBT people are explicitly mentioned in a larger number of the eight reports than last year."


One feminist thinks Christians have got a point

If the radical religious zealots of the world needed any confirmation that the West is going to hell in a handbasket, the suburban dance school concert would do the trick. Gyrating bodies, thrusting breasts and pelvises, sultry stares - and all from dancers still eligible for child concession cards.

I am not a prudish person. I would describe myself as broadminded. As an academic, it goes with the territory. As a mother, I'm relaxed. My primary school-aged daughters wear mini-skirts and watch The Family Guy. However, I viewed half of my daughter's end-of-year dance concert (I could only stomach half) with increasing horror. It is hard to know which is more disturbing: innocent eight-year-olds thrusting their non-existent and barely covered breasts at the audience or inexperienced 16-year-olds thrusting their ample, barely covered bosoms. There was not a jazz routine in the show that did not feature repeated hip-grinding, bum-slapping and pelvic thrusts. Lots of the little girls mouth the words to the songs as they dance. It really helps the pole-dancing atmosphere when they are singing:

"They want my treasure so they get their pleasures from my photo,

You can see me, you can't squeeze me,

I ain't easy, I ain't sleazy,

I got reasons why I tease 'em,

Boys just come and go like seasons."

The dance moves wouldn't be so confronting if the girls' bodies were covered, but many of the routines featured midriffs, leaving torsos completely exposed. Again, it is hard to know what is worse; the skinny little eight-year-olds looking vulnerable or the teenagers who are frankly too old to be gyrating that much of their uncovered bodies in a hall full of strange men. For the girls who are a bit plump, the midriff is plain humiliating.

Maybe I am being too analytical but I particularly hate the habit of costuming through cliches in porn. Last year we had "nurses" in white PVC mini-dresses up to their bottoms. This year it was airline hostesses in mini-dresses (or were they just shirts?). As one of my friends asked, "What's next? French maids?"

I wonder what the dance teachers are thinking or if they think about these things at all. If they do not, they need to. I don't care how important flexibility is in dancing, it is never acceptable to make children wobble on stage, holding one ankle to their ear. It should be obvious that even clothed, there are some parts of a child's body that should not be displayed in public. Exactly the same degree of flexibility can be demonstrated by doing the splits with your underwear on the floor. And that's the point: it is possible to show creativity and skill in dance without being blatantly sexual. Human beings have been doing it for centuries.

The NSW Schools Spectacular, which my daughter also performed in that weekend, is a perfect example. Hundreds of children and teenagers dancing and there was not a single slutty costume or movement in sight. And it was truly spectacular. (The highlights will be rebroadcast on ABC2 on December 19.)

There is no doubt that dancing can be sexual. Bellydancing, some Latin dancing, pole dancing, video-clip dancing, are all sensual or sexual. However, like all sexual activities, these dance styles are appropriate for consenting adults, not children. If Shakira wants to shake her barely covered booty for the world, that's great. She's being paid to do so and she is 30. She's old enough to have sex and dance however she wants.

None of the children dancing in suburban dance concerts is old enough to be having sex, thus making them dance in sexual ways is at best thoughtless and at worst exploitative.



Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.

American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, SOCIALIZED MEDICINE, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here. For times when is playing up, there are mirrors of this site here and here.


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