Beauty of Gray

Friday, April 19, 2002

Collaborators or wreckers?

I found this article on the fighting in Jenin via Sgt. Stryker. It’s a good article to read before you accept too uncritically the accounts which blame Israel for wantonly destroying the camp; it's obvious that the fighting there was very fierce, and fierce fighting involves things getting destroyed.

But what really struck me was this quote from a bomb maker, Omar:

According to Omar, everyone in the camp, including the children, knew where the explosives were located so that there was no danger of civilians being injured. It was the one weakness in the plan.

"We were betrayed by the spies among us," he says. The wires to more than a third of the bombs were cut by soldiers accompanied by collaborators. "If it hadn't been for the spies, the soldiers would never have been able to enter the camp. Once they penetrated the camp, it was much harder to defend."

There has been a fair amount of coverage, in the blogosphere at least, of the many executions of supposed collaborators carried out by the Palestinians. You’ve probably seen the gruesome photo of one of the victims who had been shot, dragged behind a truck, and then hung by his feet as an example.

While these acts are barbaric, that is pretty much par for the course for the Palestinians, so I didn’t think too much of them. From reports, the Israelis do have many spies scattered throughout the West Bank, so I assumed the Palestinian actions were simply a wild and violent over-reaction to this problem. But the quote above throws it in a whole new light.

The Palestinians lost their battles recently. And the Israelis frequently are able to pull off raids into Palestinian territory or attacks against terrorist leaders. In the US, it’s simply an accepted fact that the IDF is one of the best, most effective, and highly trained militaries in the world. But this fact is inconvenient for the Palestinians, who are animated by their hatred of the Jews. Admitting it would be admitting their inferiority in this area, and would mean accepting some measure of blame or responsibility for the failures against the IDF.

In fact, one of the main points of scapegoating the Jews, and the numerous insane conspiracy theories throughout the Arab world, is to pin the blame for their own shortcomings on the Jews or on someone, anyone besides themselves. The regimes do it out of cynicism, to distract attention from their own oppression. But this mindset trickles down and is accepted by the populace, who also look outside for explanations of failure.

This blame-shifting game reminds me of nothing so much as the situation in early Communist Russia. When industry or farming failed to meet the targets for a five year plan, the fault couldn’t possibly be with the plan itself or with the Communist regime. Instead, a mysterious class of wreckers, hostile to the regime, was invented. It must be through their acts of sabotage that the plans failed. So they were blamed in propaganda, and the security apparatus dutifully rounded up a group of suspects who could be blamed, put up in the docket for show trials, and then executed or shipped off to the camps to be worked to death.

Similarly, for the Palestinains, and for Omar in the above quote, the fact that the Israelis were able to invade Jenin, and the fact that their booby-trap plan didn’t work, couldn’t possibly be due to flaws in the plan, or its execution, or the capability of the IDF. Instead, a class of perpetrators must be found, only here they call them collaborators rather than wreckers. But it’s the same mindset.

Link posted by Doug Turnbull at 7:51 AM

Wednesday, April 17, 2002
US Weapons?

One common complaint against the United States made by Arab countries to justify their hostility to the United States is the scenes they see of “US weapons” being used by the Israelis against the Palestinians. Now, on the face of it, this is absurd—the US might have sold them the weapons, but that doesn’t make us responsible for how they are used. (This is similar to the ridiculous case some people were trying to bring against gun manufacturers claiming they had liability for crimes committed with those guns.) And, of course, if the US didn’t sell Israel weapons, the Russians or Chinese would have been more than happy to.

But the problem with this complaint goes beyond the moral confusion. The US is a major arms exporter—we sell weapons to lots and lots of countries. And, in particular, we sell a lot of weapons to Arab countries. So singling out the US weapons used by Israel is rather hypocritical—their real complaint has nothing to do with US arms shipments, it has to do with Israel.

Anyway, I was curious about the underlying hypocrisy of this Arab complaint, so I did a quick search. Via this neat website, I was able to get numbers for the US direct arms sales and export license agreements to countries in the region. I’m quoting the numbers from 1990-2001, combined arms sales and equipment license values (go to their site for details on the subtleties in these numbers and their accuracy.) The major recipients are:

Bahrain $1.7 billion
Egypt $15.2 billion
Israel $18.1 billion
Jordan $0.8 billion
Kuwait $5.1 billion
Saudi Arabia $42 billion
United Arab Emirates $9.5 billion

So, while Israel is a major recipient of US arms sales, it’s not really out of line with other states in the region. And, in fact, the big player in the area is Saudi Arabia, with arms purchases from the US equal to the next 3 closest competitors combined. Remember that the next time you read anything from a Saudi Source complaining about “US weapons.” They love US weapons, they just don’t love it when the Jews have them.

Link posted by Doug Turnbull at 10:25 AM

Monday, April 15, 2002
Flat Tax

Today is tax day, which often brings to the forefront people’s frustration with and dislike of the current tax system. One solution which has been proposed is to introduce a flat tax. And one of the main arguments made for it, one which has particular resonance this time of year when everyone has just finished filling out their tax forms, is that a flat tax would be much simpler than the current system. But this argument doesn’t make any sense.

In theory, a flat tax is slightly simpler than the current graduated tax rate system. But in practice, a flat tax would be exactly as complex as the current system. The difference between a flat tax and a graduated tax is in how, given a certain taxable income, you compute the amount of income tax owed. But that is the last, and simplest step in the tax filing process. One hundred percent of the complexity in the current system is in determining what your taxable income is. Once you have that number, you simply use the look-up tables to figure out what your income tax is. The only thing a flat tax would do would be to change the numbers in that look-up table.

To be sure, a flat tax proposal might be packaged with other reforms aimed at simplifying the deduction system, removing many of the complexities and loopholes there. But that is logically separate from the flat vs. graduated tax rate argument. It’s like those old breakfast cereal commercials that would tout Frosted Flakes as being “part of this balanced and nutritious breakfast.” Of course, the balanced nutrition wasn’t coming from the frosted flakes. Similarly, any streamlining of the tax process in a flat tax proposal is coming from ancillary parts of the proposal and not from the flat tax itself.

There might be other, economic considerations in favor of a flat tax (paging Megan McCardle), but anyone who tries to claim that a flat tax is inherently much simpler than a graduated tax is either confused or dissembling.

Link posted by Doug Turnbull at 5:08 PM

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