Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Torah Study must be a blessing, not a curse.

A recent email newsletter from Hiddush gives a good overview of the problem of Chereidi refusal to work for a living. The email gives permission to be forwarded to all friends so I am taking the liberty of posting it here in its entirety.

Special Israeli Independence Day Report

The dramatic increases in the number of state-funded yeshiva students who neither work nor participate in army or national service undermine the security of the state and threaten to topple the Israeli economy within two decades. As a result, instead of being a blessing, Torah study in Haredi yeshivas has become a real threat to the future of Israel. As we celebrate Israel's 62nd year of independence it is no longer possible to tolerate the surrender of Israeli politicians who repeatedly entrench Israel in this downward spiral by funding a process of self-destruction using precious funds provided by both Israeli tax-payers and Diaspora philanthropy.

Under pressure of the Haredi political swing vote, Israel's leadership allows mass draft evasion, an educational system devoid of essential core curriculum studies [math, sciences, English] and non-participation in the work force. Hiddush encourages multi-faceted Torah study, as well as generous support for the best and brightest young Torah scholars, but just as academic institutions receiving public funding are limited - a cap must be urgently established to limit the number of yeshivas and students eligible to receive state funding. Similarly, a cap must be put on avoiding military or national service. It is immoral and demeans Judaism that Torah is used as an excuse for refusing to share equally in the yoke of national defense.

Rabbi Uri Regev, President & CEO posted April 25, 2010


The draft-deferral arrangement for yeshiva students allows them to avoid enlistment as long as they are enrolled in a yeshiva, until they are eligible for an age-based exemption from IDF service at the age of 41, if not earlier. In 2002, the unofficial arrangement was formalized through the passing of the Tal law. When prime minister, David Ben Gurion, sanctioned the original draft-deferral agreement, the number of yeshiva students receiving deferrals was a mere 400, most of them survivors of the European yeshiva world destroyed in the Holocaust. Since then, the number of deferments has ballooned to 150 times that amount, while the population of Israel during that period has only increased 12 times over...more background

Torah study must be a blessing, not a curse

As Israel begins its 63rd year of statehood, the number of Haredi men avoiding military service and gainful employment has reached alarming levels that threaten both the security and economic sustainability of the Jewish state. In early 2010 the number of young Haredi men who avoid military service by opting to study in state-funded yeshivas reached a record high 60,000 - 150 times more than at the founding of the state and almost double the number just a decade ago.

Ballooning draft exemptions and yeshiva enrollment pose existential threat to national security and economy.

Additional Key 2010 Figures:

* Haredi men enrolled in state-funded yeshivas exceeds 100,000

* Yeshiva enrollment has jumped by 12,000 in the last two years alone - Shas leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef

* Non-employment rate among Haredi men reaches 65%, up from just 21% 30 years ago

* State funding of yeshivas and their students exceeds 1.1 Billion NIS per year

* 80%+ of Israelis support requiring yeshiva students to serve in the army/national service

* 70% of Israelis support limiting/reducing public funding for yeshivas

The number of yeshiva students receiving a deferment from IDF service has reached a record-high 60,000 according to figures presented by Lieutenant Colonel Gil Ben Shaul, commander of the IDF induction and personnel unit "Meitav". Ben Shaul presented these updated figures during a meeting of the Knesset oversight committee for the Tal law, headed by MK Yohanan Plesner (Kadima). It was also reported that of 200 audits conducted by the Ministry of Finance, false claims were found in 1/3 of the students' applications for state funding. Hiddush demands that charges be brought against the offenders.

Haredi Draft Deferement

(Source: Haredim, Ltd., Shahar Ilan & I.D.F)

The Taub Center for Social Policy Studies recently released its annual State of the Nation Report which shines a spotlight on the rapid increase in non-employment amongst Haredi men and the threat this poses to the country's economic well-being. "The state of Israel will find it difficult to sustain itself if current employment patterns of Haredi and Arab populations continue." According to the Taub Center Report, "In 30 years, 78% of Israel's primary school students will be ultra-Orthodox or Arabs and only 14% will be in the non-religious state school system - if the trends of the past decade continue." By stressing this data the Taub Center has echoed recent warnings made by the National Economic Council and the Bank of Israel.

Haredi Non-employment

(Source: Taub Center for Social Policy Research, State of the Nation Report, April 2010)

Additional articles:
"Time to wake up", Yizhar Hess, 22 April 2010, JPost
"Holocaust remembrance barbeque", Shmulik Grossman, 12 April 2010, Ynet News
"The collapse of religious zionism", Shahar Ilan, 21 April 2010, Haaretz

It is important that American Jews support Hiddush in their struggle to secure a viable State of Israel that respects the right of freedom of religious practice for all Jews. If you would like to learn more about Hiddush or give to this important cause, click here. You can also become a fan of Hiddush on Facebook by clicking here.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Take the lid off the garbage.

Look around you, class. Living wage jobs are nearly impossible to find now whereas only one generation ago an average man working an average job could support his family and have a reasonably middle class lifestyle on his wages alone. Now even with two adult incomes and credit, people still are falling to the level of third world countries, slowly but surely, in our standard of living. Why? Because we continue to buy from companies that outsource their labour to places that have no wage and labour laws, no environmental laws, no health and safety laws, and no regard for people's rights or living conditions. The new Robber Barons view people as interchangeable parts, to be replaced or discarded at will. It's grossly unethical and will lead only to the watering down of wage and labour laws in (so-called) first world nations.

The Middle Class Game Is Up: We're Heading to a Slave Labor Planet
By Joe Bageant,
Posted on April 22, 2010, Printed on April 25, 2010

..."Trade is the road to peace. Commerce and business know no national boundaries. They link nations together on productivity, creating jobs and peace across the world."

It sounded good at the time. Who would have thought that the people enjoying all this harmony and peace brought about through globalization would be enjoying it in a one big happy planetary work gulag? And if they are not doing so at the moment, they will be as soon global capitalism, under the watchful solidarity of the rich, bears full fruit.

Thanks to globalization, the American, Australian and European working classes are on their way to extinction, in terms of their traditional rights, and quality of life. Just like the workers being poisoned to death by circuit board toxins in Guiyu, China, their fates will be determined by global capital, either by default or by bitter struggle against it. We are not seeing much of the latter and are not likely to, until it is too late, which it may already be. After all, you cannot put up much of a struggle against global capital when you worship it a creed and are addicted to commodities too...

...There is no way the world's working people can win in the long run, which is getting pretty damned short, or even survive, except by joining the worker struggles, of China, Asia and Africa and India. The idea that American workers are the same as the Asian and Latin American and African working people goes down hard in American gullets.

But for Americans, it does not go down at all. As a people, they'll never ever accept that fact, because they'll never know it for at least two reasons. (1) They are too over worked and undereducated to find out for themselves, and (2) American corporate media machinery will never let them hear of it. Americans are screwed, blued and tattooed...

...There is no way out of our culture manufacturing machinery. We're not in charge. It would be bigger than any one of us because it consists of all of us. It tells us all we are individuals supremely worthy of our silliest notions and desires, thereby making us soft and lazy, infantilized an incapable of truly effective solidarity as a people. Instead, we are fed Tea Party drivel. Even if CNN decided to send Coop to Guiyu to cover the blood poisoned worker women with the deformed children, the result would be the same. The guy in Cedar Rapids would see further proof that "Me live in best place in world. Got Cheetos." Or perhaps a nice Cotes du Rhône if you are a member of the commodity drugged educated faux middle class.

And I wanna say to them: "Not for much longer, buddy. Not much longer. And you can thank Anderson Cooper and a helluva lot of other people like him who do not have a clue, but nevertheless inhabit your very mind, for that."

I think they do have a clue, actually. They know the end results of what they're doing and they don't care - why should they? They already got theirs. All that drivel they spout about it "not being a zero sum game" is hogwash and they know it. There's only so much wealth to go around, and the more they have the less you can do about it, eh? To "sustain" their wealth they HAVE to make sure you don't expand yours. That's a fact, class. A sustainable economy only has so much, an unsustainable one collapses under its own weight. Either way, the already wealthy win, so they don't care which way it goes. Get that through your head, class. There is no more "social contract." There is no more commonwealth. There is only the Haves and the Have-Nots, and the Haves have no intention of giving any of theirs to the Have-Nots.

Go die in the street without jobs, homes or healthcare - that's their message, touted loud and clear by the Teapartiers who, by the way, are not planning to give up their Medicare and Social Security and Disability regardless of how "Socialist" those things really are. Why should they? They've got theirs already. Too bad for you, class.

This country deserves to collapse.

But if you for some strange reason don't want it to, then you have to be subversive - and by that I don't mean getting hauled off by the gestapo, er, homeland security, and bankrupted. No, the government is only a puppet for the Robber Barons. If you want either off your back, you have to stop giving power to the Robber Barons.

How? As was mentioned last post, stop feeding them your hard-earned money, first and foremost. Buy local, buy American, buy First World, or don't buy at all.

Next, don't vote for any political candidate who has received funding from the Robber Barons. They are bought and paid for. If that means you don't vote at all, then don't be guilted into believing that's a bad thing. Votes imply popular support. Further, protest noisily with email, phone calls, and letters regarding government posts filled by ex-employees of the Robber Barons. No more revolving door between Monstanto and the FDA, or any other cozy industry-lobby-government relationship. Make it stink, class - make it stink to high heaven.

And finally, be willing to do for ourselves what the Robber Barons won't do - lobby foreign governments for wage and labour laws, support international unionization initiatives, and work to embarrass and humiliate companies that treat workers like machine parts and slaves. Blog about them, talk to your friends about them, support groups that work against them. And make sure everyone you know KNOWS that these Robber Barons are the reason they are working crappy jobs for crappy wages. Only when these companies are too odious to be tolerated will they change their ways. And only you can make the stink that makes them stink, too.

Friday, April 23, 2010

You, yes you, are causing slavery.

How? Because you're too greedy and too cheap to pay the real costs of goods. You want far more stuff than your own income can reasonably afford, and Western companies oblige by forcing people in third world countries into defacto slavery so you won't have to pay a fair trade price for the products you buy. Who does this? Not just the usual suspects such as Walmart, but also companies that supposedly pride themselves on all the "good" they are doing in the world, such as Microsoft. Things don't look very good for these workers.

UK Daily Mail Online
The image Microsoft doesn't want you to see:
Too tired to stay awake, the Chinese workers earning just 34p an hour
By Liz Hull and Lee Sorrell
Last updated at 12:29 AM on 18th April 2010

Showing Chinese sweatshop workers slumped over their desks with exhaustion, it is an image that Microsoft won't want the world to see.

Employed for gruelling 15-hour shifts, in appalling conditions and 86f heat, many fall asleep on their stations during their meagre ten-minute breaks.

For as little as 34p an hour, the men and women work six or seven days a week, making computer mice and web cams for the American multinational computer company.

...The mostly female workers, aged 18 to 25, work from 7.45am to 10.55pm, sometimes with 1,000 workers crammed into one 105ft by 105ft room.

They are not allowed to talk or listen to music, are forced to eat substandard meals from the factory cafeterias, have no bathroom breaks during their shifts and must clean the toilets as discipline, according to the NLC.

The workers also sleep on site, in factory dormitories, with 14 workers to a room. They must buy their own mattresses and bedding, or else sleep on 28in-wide plywood boards. They 'shower' with a sponge and a bucket...

...Microsoft is not the only company to outsource manufacturing to KYE, but it accounts for about 30 per cent of the factory's work, the NLC said. Companies such as Hewlett-Packard, Samsung, Foxconn, Acer, Logitech and Asus also use KYE Systems...

...One employee told the NLC: 'We are like prisoners. It seems like we live only to work - we do not work to live. We do not live a life, only work.'

...Charles Kernaghan, executive director of the NLC, said: 'It sounded like torture - the frantic pace on the assembly line, same motion over and over for the 12 hours or more of work they did.'

This is the type of working conditions that Americans fought long and hard to pass laws to prevent, because they are immoral, unethical, and are pure and simple exploitation. And this is the type of workers that we ourselves are now having to compete with for jobs, because Microsoft and Walmart and others like them allow these conditions to prevail in places without such laws - indeed, they moved their manufacturing there on purpose specifically to avoid those laws that protect Americans from being treated like machines and like slaves.

It is absolutely wrong for us to turn a blind eye to this injustice. No sabbaths, no religious holidays, paid pennies an hour and forced to work far more than 8 hours a day - unless we ourselves are willing to work under these conditions, we are going to HAVE to fight for these people's rights. Otherwise, neither we nor they will have living wage jobs.

Shame on Microsoft. Shame on Walmart. Your "ethics" are a joke, and your "concern" for the world is a farce. If you want to help the people of the world, give them basic worker's rights, wage and labour laws, and living wages. Anything else is just propaganda.

And shame on us for buying from companies that have offshored their jobs to places that allow working conditions like this to exist. Buy American, class. If you don't, you will have only yourselves to blame when your kids are working in conditions like these poor girls. If you continue to support these practices with your hard earned money, you are subsidizing slave labour and causing wages and working conditions worldwide to fall to the lowest common denominator. Stop it. Buy from first world countries with wage and labour laws firmly in place or don't buy at all.

See also:

Wall Street Journal Online
Blogs: Real Time Economics
Broader U-6 Unemployment Rate Increases to 17.1% in April
By Phil Izzo Updated 05/07/2010

...The comprehensive gauge of labor underutilization, known as the “U-6″ for its data classification by the Labor Department, accounts for people who have stopped looking for work or who can’t find full-time jobs. Though the rate is still 0.3 percentage point below its high of 17.4% in October, its continuing divergence from the official number (the “U-3″ unemployment measure) indicates the job market has a long way to go before growth in the economy translates into relief for workers...

And as we've read elsewhere, it's not actually likely to at all.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Can't make ends meet? Few can.

I had bookmarked this article to look at more closely when I got back to town, and today I have read it carefully. It is essentially similar to an article I wrote a couple of years ago where I gave a breakdown of our personal expenses regarding health insurance and taxes, but on a less personal and more broad scale. This article takes the Median US Income and compares it to Median expenses of various kinds - the result is before the month is over, the median income is out of money and has to rely on credit of some sort to keep going until the next month's paychecks.

A Jewish man, of course, has several expenses above and beyond the Median US fellow. He can only buy food, especially meats, that are kosher certified. In most communities his kids have to attend private dayschool or his family will be outcast by their Rav and neighbors. To live within walking distance of a shul means housing costs are higher than median, also - yet due to the schooling situation most Jewish families have more than one car instead of being able to rely on public transit. Though women make only 65% or so of what a man makes due to maternity leaves and other family responsibilities, many Jewish homes have only a woman's income since their husbands are in kollel, meaning she brings home even less than the US Median income. Those families where both husband and wife work face a higher tax bracket and less eligibility for tuition assistance or reduced lunches, not to mention the other penalties involved in the Two Income Trap (as we have discussed many times previously). In short, things are worse for Jewish families than Mr. Median Income's family.

This is why so many are caught up in terrible credit card debt, second mortgages, equity lines of credit, consumer and auto loans, and high mortgages. Something's got to give, class. This simply can't go on.

Zero Hedge Online
Guest Post: It's Impossible To "Get By" In The US
Submitted by Tyler Durden on 04/12/2010 11:14 -0500

...In 2008, the median US household income was $50,300. Assuming that the person filing is the “head of household” and has two children (dependents), this means a 1040 tax bill of $4,100, which leaves about $45K in income after taxes (we’re not bothering with state taxes). I realize this is a simplistic calculation, but it’s a decent proxy for income in the US in 2008.

Now, $45K in income spread out over 26 pay periods (every two weeks), means a bi-weekly paycheck of $1,730 and monthly income of $3,460. This is the money “Joe America” and his family to live off of in 2008.

Now, in 2008, the median home value was roughly $225K. Assuming our “median” household put down 20% on their home (unlikely, but it used to be considered the norm), this means a $180K mortgage. Using a 5.5% fixed rate 30-year mortgage, this means Joe America’s 2008 monthly mortgage payments were roughly $1,022.

So, right off the bat, Joe’s monthly income is cut to $2,438.

According to the US Department of Agriculture, the average 2008 monthly food bill for a family of four ranged from $512-$986 depending on how “liberal” you are with your purchases. For simplicity’s sake we’ll take the mid-point of this range ($750) as a monthly food bill.

This brings Joe’s monthly income to $1,688.

Now, Joe needs light, energy, heat, and air conditioning to run his home. According to the Energy Information Administration, the average US household used about 920 kilowatt-hours per month in 2008. At a national average price of 11 cents per kilowatt-hour this comes to a monthly electrical bill of $101.20.

Joe’s now down to $1,587.
Now Joe needs to drive to work to make a living. Similarly, he needs to be able to drive to the grocery store, doctor, etc. According to AAA, the average cost per mile of driving a minivan (Joe’s a family man) in 2008 was 57 cents per mile. This cost is based on average fuel consumption, tires, maintenance, insurance, license and registration, and average loan finance charges.

Multiply this cost by 15,000 miles per year and you’ve got an annual driving bill of $8,550. Divide this into months (by 12) and you’ve got a monthly driving bill of $712.

Joe’s now down to $877 (I’m also assuming Joe’s family only has ONE car). Indeed, if Joe’s family has two cars (one minivan and one sedan) he’s already run out of money for the month...

And so most people have. But wait! There's more!

...Now, assuming Joe’s family is one of the lucky ones (depending on your perspective) they’ve got medical insurance. Trying to find an average monthly medical insurance premium for a family in the US is extremely difficult because insurance plans have a wide range in deductibles, premiums, and co-pays. But according to eHealth Insurance, the average monthly premium for family policies in February 2008 was $369.

So if Joe has medical insurance on his family, he’s now down to $508. Throw in cell phone bills, cable TV and Internet bills, and the like, and he’s maybe got $100-200 discretionary income left at the end of the month...

And that certainly isn't going to pay dayschool tuition for 5 kids, or even one for that matter. Nor do I think this writer's figure for health insurance premiums is correct - it probably includes college campus "health plans" at the university clinic, insurance for young singles or couples without kids. Out here in real life land a family with kids pays a minimum of around $700 a month for insurance. We have one of the cruddiest Humana HMO's available and this is now the monthly cost for us - not including co-pays, etc. - and that's at a group rate.

...I also wish to note that my analysis didn’t include real estate taxes and numerous other expenses that most folks have to pay. So even if you are extremely frugal and careful with your money, it is impossible to “get by” in the US without using credit cards, home equity lines of credit or burning through savings. The cost of living is simply TOO high relative to incomes.

This is why there simply cannot be a sustainable recovery in the US economy. Because we outsourced our jobs, incomes fell. Because incomes fell and savers were punished (thanks to abysmal returns on savings rates) we pulled future demand forward by splurging on credit. Because we splurged on credit, prices in every asset under the sun rose in value. Because prices rose while incomes fell, we had to use more credit to cover our costs, which in turn meant taking on more debt (a net drag on incomes).

And on and on...

It is true that even in Jewish communities, many families live beyond their means - feeling that they MUST have amenities that everyone else has, even if they personally cannot afford it. In reality, people don't NEED a lot of the things they buy, it's true. But they think they do. The community standard is simply set too high and the Ravs and leaders in the community do nothing about that. Many actually encourage debt! Something has to give, though. We are all out of money, and things simply cannot go on the way they have been. A lot of time has been spent on this blog making suggestions but the leaders aren't interested. They can't understand that just because things have "always" been a certain way (and in reality, they certainly haven't!), that they can continue now and into the future.

We have to adapt to the newly emerging paradigms, and that means discarding old expectations and living within our means. Lots of things can be done - daycare co-ops, homeschool co-ops, eldercare co-ops, and numerous ways households can downsize, reconfigure, jettison non-essentials, spread out costs over more working adults, and so on and so forth - we've discussed dozens of things here. But right now, people just aren't willing to do anything differently, no matter how insane it is to keep doing the same things over and over again and expect different results. Until people are actually willing to implement such ideas, they are just a ghost in the machine. What will it take to get us to take this problem seriously? I don't know. By the time you're flat broke it's often too late to make meaningful transitions in an orderly and acceptable manner. This goes for communities as well as individual households. But we seem determined to make sure anything we will do in the future will be too little, too late.

I can only shake my head and sigh. You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink - until he's dying of thirst, of course. Then he'll drink anything, even if it's poisonous. That, I'm afraid, is where we are heading.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

It's all in how you ask the questions.

Are those Green Shoots real or just hype? Concerned Jewish communities want to know, because the future depends on the real answers. To answer such questions, we often turn to various mathematical measures of the economy.

But statistics are like prayers - the results you get often depend on the way you word them and frame them. Broad measures of unemployment in general range in the 20-25% of the total US population using the most real-life definitions of "unemployed." No serious economists dispute that figure, but like all statistics it rests on certain assumptions. That measure has as its basis a presumption that you want to know the percentage of unemployed people overall. OK, so far so good. But some jobs are more secure than others - government jobs being the "holy grail" of secure jobs in most people's minds. What happens if you remove government workers from the picture and ask about regular folks whose whole offices can disappear overnight, much moreso their individual jobs. What does the unemployment scenario look like then?

Business Insider Online - The Money Game
Actually, The Unemployment Ratio Is 41%
Joe Weisenthal | Apr. 6, 2010, 9:46 AM

The broadest measure of unemployment is the Civilian Employment-Population Ratio, which is exactly what it sounds like: the ratio of employed civilians to the total population. It stands right around 59%, which is the lowest its been since the early 80s...

Green shoots, anyone? No.

Now, another question: is this really bad? Remember, back in the 50s the only "working women" were teens, divorcees and widows. We appear to be fast returning to that level of employment, where around half the adult civilian population fills a "household economy" role. Economically, the post-WWII years were boom times - and what we see here is that a sustainable level of consumerism only employs about half of all adults, not all of them. A larger percentage of the population at that time was still rural, and even suburban and city women had "victory gardens" long after the War. Localization, slow food, and what globalists now call "protectionism" worked and worked perfectly well - they didn't use those words, of course, but the ideas were still the same. Were they bad ideas? Were the communities such bad places then? I don't think so. Our priorities are screwed up - they had strong and vibrant communities. Will it be so terrible for us to get our priorities straight?

We have to reconfigure our lives to be sustainable at that level of consumerism - which is admittedly greatly reduced from anything the generation x-ers or y-ers have ever seen in their lifetimes. Families will have to stick together instead of being spread all over the place. Kids and parents and grandparents will have to co-exist in the same homes, even - just like the old days. Life will have to be much more simple and much less "convenient." But it can be done. And after it's all said and done, I'll bet we'll have stronger families and stronger communities.

It can be and it will have to be, class, whether we like it or not.

POSTSCRIPT: My husband and I will be traveling next week to attend a wedding and I will probably not be posting during that time. Expect new posts to appear some time after April 20th. In the meantime, I hope you're having a really nice spring and getting your victory garden ready to go! Shalom!