This is how things could be in the new year. The population of the country, Jews and Arabs, will live in peace and tolerance, work the land together and sit and share meals in the shade of the grapevine and the fig tree. Men and women will fall in love and start families without being concerned about the boundaries of language and religion.
In the kitchen, they will cook together, using the fruits of the orchard and the herbs that grow on the mountainside. They will drink the wine harvested in the vineyards and on weekends and holidays will open their homes and serve the produce of the good land to the visitors and vacationers who come en masse.
That’s how things can be. I know, because that’s what I already saw with my own eyes when I visited the Majda restaurant. It is situated in the village of Ein Rafa outside Jerusalem, where Michal Baranes and Yakub Barhum built their blue house up on the hill. It’s also where, four years ago, they opened a restaurant on the ground floor of the house, which is surrounded by an orchard.
Michal is Jewish, born in a Tripolitan home in Netanya; Yakub is Muslim, the youngest of 10 children of the Barhum family from Ein Rafa. Everything else about their story is exactly like that of any young couple who fall in love and decide to live together.
Read more at Haaretz.com.
The first and most obvious reversal, of course, is the notion that Secretary of State Kerry was “naïve,” “ham-handed” (מגושם) to try bringing the Israelis and Palestinians back together.
Up to 1:38.
The Bible says that the sins of the parents will be punished on the children, yea unto the seventh generation. The “sins” we are committing are embodied in the ever-mounting debt that our generation is incurring that will have to be paid off by our kids and their kids and so on and on. The debt is accumulating at an incredible rate.
Official sources inform us that the cost of our war in Iraq comes to $528 billion. There will be a projected $70 billion more for 2009.
Contrast this with the situation when Clinton left office. The budget was almost in balance. Actually, it was in balance if the so-called “off budget” budget was added to the “on budget budget.” The “off budget” budgets are the Social Security Trust Fund and the Postal Department that are independent entities whose surpluses may not be used to defray ordinary expenses.
Our present backbreaking deficits were brought on by two persistent policies of the Bush administration. The first policy was the sharp reduction on taxes from wealthy individuals and corporations. The reasoning of the Bush administration was that by enriching the rich, the beneficiaries would have the money to employ more people and startup or expand existing businesses.
If this “drip down” theory of the way the economy works were valid, the American economy should now be flourishing — which it isn’t. To make matters worse, the Bushies decided to declare war against Iraq, with imulti-billion dollars in additional expenses.
And now the sins of the fathers are about to be visited on their children and children’s generation for who knows how long.
The American economy is in trouble. It is not the first time. In the 1930s, the American economy sank into a depression. As a candidate for president, Franklin D. Roosevelt described the situation with “one third of the nation ill fed, ill clothed, ill-housed.” He took steps to revive the economy by creating jobs. They were jobs that needed doing but were not being done because, at the time, the private sector of the economy did not find them profitable.
There were forests that needed attention. They had been wiped out by forest fires or by depletion for civilian purposes like wood and paper. Under the New Deal, Roosevelt created the Civilian Conservation Corps. It was their job to restore the woodlands, serving a double purpose. It met a national need and also created jobs.
As a young college student, I got a job under the National Youth Act. My job was to go from tenement house to tenement house to find out whether they had internal toilet facilities. This led to a federal housing program that provided millions of jobs.
Right now there are all sorts of national needs. Almost daily we hear of still another bridge that collapsed. School buildings are dilapidated and in danger. The medical needs of children lack proper attention. Put bluntly, there are endless needs that go unattended.
Yet, at this very hour, reports The New York Times, (March 16) “the Fed announced a $200 billion lending program for investment banks and a $100 billion credit line for banks and thrifts.”
“I have acted in a way that violates my obligations to my family and that violates my — or any — sense of right and wrong,” Eliot Spitzer said.
The obvious question is just why or how a highly intelligent man like Spitzer worked his way into such a situation.
What follows is my own highly speculative attempt to explain Spitzer’s strange conduct: We begin with the fact that Spitzer is not only a highly intelligent man but also a highly emotional bull of a man. He is devoted to his family, although obviously his wife is not fully able to satisfy his sexual needs.
He might have found himself a girlfriend on the side. But she would have to understand that a marriage was not in the works. How long would a worthwhile woman put up with such a lopsided arrangement?
As a practical-minded man, Spitzer probably decided that a realistic outlet for his emotional needs could be satisfied by a professional prostitute or two who would allow him to vent his libido without any further obligations.
Is there a political future for Spitzer? The old saw says, “To err is human, To forgive is divine.”
The latest trend among tourists is the Arctic Circle. Why? The answer may perhaps be found in a quatrain we recall from childhood.
Man’s a fool.
When it’s hot he wants it cool.
When it’s cool he wants it hot
Always wanting what is not.
This strange behavior is not hard to understand. Novelty, as they say, is the “spice of life.”
But this shift of tourist interest in the Arctic Circle is a real reversal of trends that characterized our behavior in the past. Generally, the idea was to get out of the ice and snow of northern winters. “California, here I come,” was a national slogan. Florida was and still is a magnet for northerners from the Atlantic Coast to the northern areas of the Midwest.
But a reversal of the historic trend from traditional climates to the Arctic Circle seemed unlikely. The reason is the much discussed “global warming.” In the past the Arctic Circle was a great big glacier or two. It was impenetrable by humans with the exception of a few incredible explorers. But, now, thanks to global warming, glaciers turn to icebergs and icebergs turn to floating pieces of ice.
But before we call for three cheers for global warming, we had better be warned about the global impact of rising oceans fed by melting glaciers that lift the level of oceans so that one day not so far distant Manhattan Island will be turned into a swimming pool spiked with skyscrapers.
Once upon a time when the sun never set on the British Empire, the crown jewel in the imperial crown was a country called India. There were many agricultural products that the empire derived from India, including opium. When the power loom for weaving textiles made its appearance, the native Indians started up a lively business. To the British Empire this was a direct threat to their textile trade. So the Brits proceeded to destroy the power looms.
The native Indians (not to be confused with the American Indians) turned to knitting textiles by hand. The British imperialists were not deterred. They cut off the thumbs of the native Indians so they could not knit textiles.
Time marches on. British textile corporations are closing down their mills in the United Kingdom to get their work done in India.
Four simultaneous technologic revolutions made it possible for British textile manufacturers to get their work done in distant lands where labor is cheap These are revolutions in communications, transportation, materials handling and computerized management. In a matter of seconds, highly skilled technicians in the British home office could see exactly what was happening in their plants in India, They could instantaneously communicate corrections. In short, modern technologies had turned the world into a global village.
But, regrettably, the “village” has no government to check the outrages of the corporations. The answer lies in a sort of global government where the World Trade Organization is obliged to live by the labor standards code developed by the International Labor Organization.
If and when this ever happens perhaps some savvy historian will call it The Tyler Plan.
For many years, Uncle Sam was the big buyer in the world market. In part this was due to a “strong dollar ” A big buck could buy foreign goods inexpensively. It was also due to the outsourcing of production in countries with cheap labor. The finished product found a heavy market in the United States.
But now, it appears, that the American dollar is weak in global trade. The Wall Street Journal reports, “The U.S. dollar has grown weaker against the Euro, the British pound and other currencies.” This month the Euro rose to $1.39 cents.
But, irony of ironies, our weak dollar has its own strength. The weak dollar finds that imports from countries that have a stronger currency have become quite expensive. So, we import less. And vice versa. Buyers in other countries with strong currencies find American products a real bargain. So we sell more. The balance of trade turns in our favor.
Foreign producers have also opened factories in the U.S. Although the wages paid are high, they are not as costly as they seem because the foreign currency is able to lay its hands on U.S. dollars inexpensively.
To paraphrase Gilbert and Sullivan: “ Things are seldom what they seem. A weaker buck may rule supreme.”
Ever since mankind discovered that the Earth is round, daring souls have attempted to get to the east by going west and vice versa. Columbus was one of them. When in 1492, he sailed the ocean blue, he was looking for a western route to India. There was a lively trade between Europe and India, especially in luxury items like silks and spices. If Columbus could find a western route to India by water, he would have revolutionized the trade between Europe and the East.
When in his bumping into the landmass of the Western hemisphere, he apparently must have thought that he had reached India. Indeed, he called the natives Indians. He did and we still continue to do so.
In the centuries between 1492 and 2007, there have been repeated attempts by daring souls to find a northwest passage to Asia. The chief obstacle has been icebergs and floating chunks of icebergs that have wrecked the crafts of many an adventurous sailor.
But things have been changing, thanks to — of all things — global warming. The icebergs and the chips of floating ice are melting in the rising heat. History was made this summer by Roger Swanson, an Englishman who started out from northern Canada and then into Alaska and — surprise — within spitting distance of Russia.
Yes. The earth is shrinking. And soon, everybody on the face of the Earth will be our next-door neighbor.
Circumcision has a long and fascinating history. The latest chapter is being written in Africa. The Wall Street Journal reports “circumcision dramatically reduces the risk of contracting HIV.”
In some areas, such as Kenya, the circumcision rate is a high 80%. While Kenya is an exception, there is good reason to believe that ultimately the practice of circumcision will spread.
In the history of circumcision one of the most intriguing stories involves Moses, the patriarch who led the Jews out of Egyptian slavery. Moses was married to an Ethiopian woman named Ziporah. Moses’ sister Miriam and his brother Aaron were unhappy about the marriage and said so openly.
Moses’ wife gave birth to a son. Naturally, the question of circumcision arose. Moses was not particularly interested. Moses himself had not been circumcised. The reason was his parent’s attempt to save him from an Egyptian edict that Jewish male children were to be exterminated — an early attempt at what we now call genocide. His parents put him in a little floating tub and dropped it in a stream adjoining the pharaoh’s estate. One of pharaoh’s daughters fell in love with the infant and he grew to manhood in the royal palace.
While Moses was not interested in circumcision, his wife was. With a sharp instrument, she circumcised the child and then smeared some blood on Moses’ toes.
Another fascinating story is the tale of Jews at the time that the Greek despot Antiochus Epiphones ruled Israel. Some upper-class Jews converted to the Greek religion. To avoid any misunderstanding they underwent a most painful bit of surgery to restore the foreskin.
In the last national election in 2006, the Democrats captured control of both houses of Congress. Their margin of victory, however, was insufficient to override a presidential veto that requires a two-thirds vote. Which means that the Republican Party really was still in control of legislation.
Despite this, the present Congress did enact a raise in the federal minimum wage. But the GOP extracted a price for its support by attaching a rider to the bill that would provide a tax reduction for small business.
All of which poses the question of whether the Democrats will carry both the presidential and legislative elections in 2008.That may come to pass but the legislative victory of the Democrats in 2006 is not an indicator of a presidential and legislative victory in 2008. Here’s why:
In a mid-term election where the president is not up for election, the party in the White House is likely to lose seats in the legislature. The reason is super-simple although irrational. Millions of voters who favor the party in the White House figure that so long as their president is in power they have no reason to worry. So they don’t bother to vote.
A striking example of how this works occurred in the Roosevelt years in the White House. He was elected in 1932. In 1934 the Democratic delegation, in an exception to the rule, increased its strength in Congress. Voters were still voting against the Republicans and the Great Depression. But by 1938, when things began to settle down and America was returning to normalcy, the party of FDR lost seats in Congress.
All of which means that the Democratic Party can’t assume that the Democratic gain in Congressional seats in 2006 is a guarantee of victory in both Congress and the presidency in 2008. Remember on Election Day every vote counts!
In mankind’s struggle to head off the use of fossil fuels, the U.S., as well as other countries, have turned to the use of energy derived from plants. In the U.S., we have turned to ethanol, a corn derivative. Needless to say, the supply lags far behind the demand.
But now there is a new plant that may go a long way toward meeting mankind’s need for non-fossil fuels. Its name is Jatropha. It grows wild in India. It is an ugly plant. About the size of a golf ball, its seeds contain a yellowish liquid that can be converted into biodiesel.
O.P. Singh, a horticulturist for India’s ministry of railways, bubbles over with enthusiasm. The Wall Street Journal quotes him as saying, “This plant will save humanity. I tell you. Someday every house will have Jatropha.”
If and when the miracle happens, it will be another milestone in man’s progress on earth. Of all the creatures on earth, homo sapiens are the only creatures that know how to make tools to enable them to develop civilizations that thrive in the icy Arctic zones and in the deserts of Arabia.
In a wrestling match with a bear, I would put my money on the bear. But when a man is equipped with a tool called a gun he is the sure winner.
The Romans used to refer to man as homo sapiens — the human with a brain.
We do best when we use the brain as, in this instance — when we cultivate jatropha.
In our economy that some call free enterprise and others call capitalism, the concentration of ownership in which fewer and fewer own more and more took a giant step forward in late August when Bank of America Corp. acquired a $2 billion equity stake in Countrywide Financial Corp. The meaning of this move, as reported in The Wall Street Journal, “is to dispel a crisis of confidence among creditors and investors in the nation’s largest home mortgage lender.”
But, there is a deeper meaning behind this move in terms of what is happening in the world of mortgages. As the Journal notes, “The move illustrates how among the current shake out among mortgage lenders, some financial heavyweights — including Bank of America and Wells Fargo & Co. — are gaining a firmer grip on the home mortgage business. Even as smaller rivals with less secure financing and capital bases fall by the wayside or are forced to retrench.”
The concentration of ownership in the home lending business means that a handful of lenders will be in a position to dictate the terms of future mortgages. Once more, our nation will be engulfed in a struggle between those who earn more than they own and those who own more than they earn. Karl Marx called it “the class struggle.”
But how can workers call a strike against a company that gets its work done in a factory on the other side of the globe?
The world economy is in a dangerous state. In no small measure it is due to the outsourcing of jobs by the leading nations, including the United States. When jobs are outsourced they are moved out of the mother country to lands where cheap, child and even slave labor are available.
What can be done about this? A solution lies in bringing together two international institutions: They are the International Labor Organization and the World Trade Organization. The ILO’s name is misleading. Offhand it can be mistaken as an international organization of unions. But it is not.
The ILO was born as part of the League of Nations, very much at the insistence of our own President Woodrow Wilson who held that there should be an international agency that should protect and promote the conditions of the working people globally. When the League of Nations was replaced by the United Nations, the ILO became part of the U.N.
The way in which the ILO operates is intriguing. Every affiliate country has four representatives, regardless of population. Of the four, two represent their government, one represents the business community and one represents labor. Over the years, the ILO has elaborated a code of conduct covering the right of workers to organize unions, the abolition of slave labor, limits on work hours and on child labor, et al.
The central weakness of the ILO is that it has no power to enforce its proposed policies. What is needed is joint action between the ILO and the WTO because the latter has the power to apply sanctions to any country in violation of the rules of the game.
The ILO will write the rules and the WTO will enforce them.