Friday, December 23, 2011

Time for us to revolt against the usurpers, again.

The Conversion Controversies Continue

Received by email Friday, December 23, 2011
The Israeli Chief Rabbinate has recently rejected the applications of several Orthodox Jewish converts who have applied to live in Israel. This rejection has been reported widely in the Jewish media, and has generated much discussion--and anger, frustration, disgust. These cases are being appealed, and we hope that these converts will indeed be allowed to settle in Israel as Jews...

As long time readers of this blog and many others know, the Chief Rabbinate in Israel has the ultimate goal of de-legitimizing all Jews who are not ultra-orthodox and who do not accept ultra-orthodox authority over all Jews, and to de-legitimize all Jewish communities in the Diaspora except the few that give their express allegiance to and completely accept the authority of the ultra-orthodox faction in Israel.  They began waging this war against the other sects of Judaism several years ago, and that war has not even begun to make waves in the diaspora as it should be doing.  Jews in America don't realize the danger.  They think the UO are a minority fringe bunch of quacks that have nothing to do with them.  

...The Chief Rabbinate only accepts Orthodox conversions performed under their jurisdiction and/or with their express approval. Orthodox rabbis who refuse to bend to the will of the Chief Rabbinate are excluded from the Chief Rabbinate's "approved" list.
This policy is problematic on many levels...

This list has been in existence for several years now.  Few non ultra-orthodox American Jews know about it.  The long and short of it is, if you can't secure a letter of confirmation or a conversion certificate from one of these specific ultra-orthodox rabbis proving your Jewish heritage to their satisfaction or a "proper" conversion, then even orthodox American Jews are not considered Jewish by the Rabbinate in Israel.  They want a document showing at least three generations of observant Jews in a woman's family before they will certify her as Jewish.  Who has that after the holocaust?  Very few.  In cases of orthodox Jews, natural born or converts, the Rabbinate then has the authority to deny them the right of return, as has done so countless times in the past five or six years.  

...1. Conversions performed by non-Orthodox rabbis in the diaspora are routinely accepted in Israel as proof of Jewishness for the purposes of the law of return. Such converts are not subject to the authority of the Chief Rabbinate. Only Orthodox converts are under the aegis of the Chief Rabbinate, so only Orthodox converts must suffer the injustices and indignities inflicted upon them by the Chief Rabbinate...

The key phrase above is "for the purpose of the law of return."  Being a non ultra-orthodox Jew will get you into the country.  You can make aliyah.  What you can't do is get married, divorced, buried in a Jewish cemetery, or have any other right or privilege accorded to Jews in Israel because the Chief Rabbinate does not consider anyone who is not ultra-orthodox to be Jewish and they control all civil rights for Jews in Israel. 

...2. Conversions performed by Orthodox rabbis are done in conformity with the requirements of halakha. For the Chief Rabbinate to deny the Jewishness of such converts is a sin of the first magnitude. It causes pain and humiliation to such converts, and thus violates 36 (some say 46) Torah commandments. It also undermines the status of Orthodox rabbis in the diaspora (and in Israel!) who refuse to comply with the most extreme, Hareidi views on conversion...

They don't see it that way, obviously.  To them, they are weeding out "unfit" natural born Jews and "illegitimate" converts (i.e. all those who are not ultra-orthodox to their specifications, which are riddled with stringencies far and above halacha).  And they don't care who it hurts.  Their idea of racial and religious purity is their only concern. 

...3. In rejecting the Jewishness of Orthodox converts, the Chief Rabbinate wittingly or unwittingly turns potential converts away from halakha. It encourages them to prefer non-Orthodox conversions, so as to avoid confrontation with the Chief Rabbinate. Moreover, if Orthodox converts were really to take the Chief Rabbinate seriously, they would feel free to violate halakha--even though they are in fact halakhically Jewish!

Ironic, isn't it?  But again, the Rabbinate says to themselves, "So what if they don't follow halacha?  They shouldn't be pretending to in the first place, since they aren't really Jewish."

...4. The Chief Rabbinate has itself agreed to have Orthodox converts approved by the Jewish Agency, rather than through the Chief Rabbinate. This agreement was reached so that Orthodox converts would have a means of having their Jewishness validated by a body that is familiar with the Orthodox rabbinate worldwide, and that is able to evaluate properly the credentials of the sponsoring rabbis of conversions. Now, the Chief Rabbinate is reneging on its own formal agreement with the Jewish Agency...

Because the Jewish Agency recognizes conversions and lineages of modern orthodox and "orthodox-lite" Jews, which the Rabbinate can't stand any more than they can stand Conservative Jews, not to mention Reform (which they consider to be another religion entirely.  At least Conservatives give lip-service to halacha) . 

...5. The policy of the Chief Rabbinate is detrimental to the interests of the State of Israel. It alienates the very people who have shown great desire to be Jewish and to live in Israel...

Can't argue with that one.   I would love to have my family make aliyah, but I'm not going to subject my kids to the insanity of having to leave the country to get married, or having to go through an ultra-orthodox conversion even though they are natural born Jews just because their grandparents and parents were secular, not observant, for one example.  There are few people in American Jewry who don't have such ancestors hanging about in their family tree, and the Rabbinate considers these things proof a person isn't "really" Jewish.  Who wants to go through such idiocy?    

...6. A person who has undergone a halakhic conversion is 100% Jewish, regardless of anything the Chief Rabbinate says or does. The halakhot of conversion must not be allowed to be held hostage to the misguided and extreme views of the Chief Rabbinate or to the Chief Rabbinate's struggle to maintain power and authority for itself...

Unfortunately, it IS being held hostage by a bunch of extremists who insist on stringencies and practices which are not, and historically have never been, normative halacha.  They have all the power and authority, and that is not likely to change in light of the strange fact that moderate, liberal, conservative, and secular Jewish families don't have many children.  (That's a whole other blog post in itself - Jews are hardly overpopulating the world.)

...7. A great many Jews are rightly outraged by the Chief Rabbinate's egregious sins against converts, and its blatant disregard for the best interests of converts and the State of Israel. Many see this as a rabbinic power grab, not as a righteous way of providing religious leadership...

Yes.  And?  Diaspora Jews have no influence at all on this process, and Israeli Jews are either apathetic or out-manned and out-gunned, so to speak. 

...The Institute for Jewish Ideas and Ideals has been outspoken on behalf of a halakhically valid, compassionate and inclusive policy relating to conversion to Judaism. We have worked with like-minded people in Israel and the diaspora to defend the honor and rights of halakhic converts. At the forefront of these battles in Israel is Rabbi Shaul Farber, who heads an organization known at Itim. He deserves our appreciation and support.

Please stand with and support the work of the Institute for Jewish Ideas and Ideals ( and the work of Itim (, and of other like-minded organizations that fight for an intellectually vibrant, compassionate and inclusive Orthodox Judaism. Together, we can accomplish great things.

Amein, class.  Let us hope that Jews in Israel are accorded the basic human rights to marry and to freedom of religious practice that the democratic government is supposed to guarantee.  Otherwise, more educated, moderate, working class Jews will leave, or stay away in the first place.  Israel can't afford to be intellectually and religiously dis-invested by the majority of Diaspora Jewry, or it can't survive.   If they think otherwise, they are sadly mistaken.  We, the reasonable center of Judaism, need to take back our government from the usurpers, or the nation will fail.  It's that simple.  And quite apropos for this time of year.

Shabbat Shalom and a peaceful Chanukkah to you all.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Support Occupy Wall Street!

I just taped this sign to the back of my car, right in the middle of the back windshield.

REAL INFLATION – 7% a year
REAL WAGES – Stagnant since '70s
(since CEOs only want to pay $1 an hour in places
with no wage, safety or environmental laws)
Down 55% since 1985!
No healthcare, no Soc. Sec., & no unempl. benefits!

Figures above straight from August 2011 charts on Shadow Government Statistics –

There is a protest in my town, in front of the Chase Bank building. It is most active in the afternoons and evenings, and I plan to spend some time there with a copy of this sign mounted on cardboard.

I hope that you will all do the same at your nearest Occupy Wall Street protest, with this or a similar sign. Or, if you aren't near one, there are links online to give money to support those who have camped out in major cities full-time. For more information on protests in major cities, go to this website.  If you are near one, please take some snacks or other food so the protesters can stay in place as long as possible.

It's time TPTB stop ignoring the 99% of us at the bottom of the wealth chart.  The only way we are going to be heard is to stop pretending anyone is listening to our letters to our representatives and complaints to CEOs, because these things are clearly going straight to file 13.

Support Occupy Wall Street!  We need a louder voice!  Speak out!

Or, do nothing.  Then don't be surprised when nothing changes.

Monday, September 26, 2011

A not so happy new year?

With the new year only days away, there seems to be little to celebrate and plenty to worry about. Indefensible Israeli borders forced on us by the UN? An oil embargo when America vetoes the new division of the holy land? A currency collapse when Russia and China decide to drop US dollars as the world reserve currency? A US govt shutdown as bipartisanship tears the fabric of this country apart? (Though it's awfully tempting let it shut Congress down and keep it that way, isn't it? Bunch of slimeballs!)

Still, there are things that the government needs to do, because for-profit companies simply won't do them. It is precisely because they are not "profitable" in the capitali$tic sense, but are profitable to society, that government must impose laws on corporations to protect people from being exploited (and the earth, too) and to provide for the needs of society that should be done in a non-profit manner - and need to be done even if the cost exceeds the revenue.

For example, what will we do when there's no US govt post office? How will the poor (who can't afford internet bill-paying and can't afford gas or time off work to visit everywhere in person) get by? Do the Republicans even care? Jim Kunstler made these comments today:

...Speaking of the constitution, I'm getting a little sick of these corporate CEO knuckleheads who come on CNBC and complain that the US Postal Service is running at a loss, and therefore we should abolish it. There is actually little beyond all those post offices that holds the fabric of small town America together anymore. And anyway, delivering the mail is one of the few actual government services that is spelled out in the US constitution in no uncertain terms in Article One, Section 8. It doesn't say the postal service must run at a profit, by the way. ...Neither does the war in Afghanistan (if you don't count the drug money). Congress runs at a profit, but not in any way that the constitution provides for. Before long, a lot of people are going to want to abolish it.

I don't think even the opium profits are putting a dent in the costs of the war, much less the costs to the ordinary people as Congress continues to serve their real lords & masters and gleefully leaves the average US citizen out on the street, homeless, exploited, and left with no retirement or healthcare.

In case you hadn't heard, the Republicans are just fine with that. Some teapartiers actually cheered at the thought of the elderly and poor dying off. With Christians like these set to run the country, we should worry. If they're willing to let their fellow co-religionists rot in shantytowns and die in the street, I don't think they're going to worry much if Jews do.

Especially since, you know, we secretly control all the world's wealth and we're conspiring with the "new world order" atheists to take over all their banks and steal all their gold - and brand them with microchips called "the mark of the beast" so they can't work, buy or sell unless they're part of our evil economic system.

Yes, a great many teapartiers and republicans really think that. And there's little doubt they intend to have control of the US government, one way or another. What joy!

Not that making aliyah looks to be a better option - the probability is high that Jerusalem will end up in a bloodbath, neighborhood against neighborhood, Muslims, Christians, and Jews - and it's questionable which side some of the chereidi are really on, to boot. A four way free-for-all? Kill them all and let God sort them out? International peacekeepers, anyone? Throw in a little biological or chemical warfare for good measure (they won't use nukes because we'd toast Mecca if they did, I presume). M-A-D!


Or is that "ouch?" Duck and cover! And L'Shana Tova!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

A very sobering video.

You need to watch this video. This is a report by a well-respected investment and economic analyst which basically confirms things we have worried about here for a long time: loss of the American Dollar as the world's reserve currency and the terrible hyperinflationary results that will follow in the US. We've talked about everything he discusses. And he's a very rich and influential guy. Listen to him.

Stansberry's Investment Advisory

Ignore it at your own peril.

Of course, there are some caveats. The author is a right-wing republican, so he blames "taxes on corporations" and "regulations" (meaning health, safety and environmental laws) instead of the elephant in the room: the endless wars and the military industrial complex. (And he does pitch some not-really-free booklets and pitches his investment firm at the end.)

Alternately, if you hate long videos, you can read this article posted today at Market Oracle. The title is, and I quote: Monetary System in Ruin, Signals of Systematic Collapse.

Either way, no matter what we overspent on and what has hindered living wages, the end result will be the same. It's inevitable at this point. We owe far more than what we can pay. How we got here is no longer relevant. The outcome would be the same if we did actually spend all the money on the sick and poor. The fact that we spent it on economic imperialism and warmongering is water under the bridge. The debt itself, no matter how we got here, is now itself a staggering problem.

And the effects of this are going to hit America hard. Believe it.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Look out below!

I have frequently lamented about the unwillingness or inability of Jewish communities in general, and my community in particular, to adapt to the new economic realities. I have been particularly alarmed at the reduction in benefits for the unemployed that are coming down the pipeline, for obvious reasons:

[Hat tip: Shadow Govt Statistics]

Approximately 1/4 of all able-bodied adult persons who need or want a job in this county either can't find one at all or have had their hours and/or wages involuntarily reduced to less than full time status. That is the blue line at the top - real unemployment. As you have heard in several speeches and debates so far, most candidates intend to refuse to extend unemployment benefits any further, and all of the have talked about reducing the benefits that are being offered. Excluding Chereidi communities, which have a much higher poverty rate and unemployment for different reasons, most other Jewish communities are typical of the overall American workforce - meaning about 1/4 of Jewish adults are also un- or under-employed and will be negatively affected by the policies that are coming down the pipeline to eliminate or reduce benefits. What will happen to these Jewish families when their unemployment runs out?

An article last year pointed out that 43% of American workers had less than $10,000 saved for retirement. That's maybe three months of income for someone forced into early retirement who still has a mortgage - six months tops for a mortgage-free household. Again, excluding Chereidi communities, average Jewish communities are in the same boat. Most people have little to no retirement savings. So what happens to these elderly Jews when Social Security benefits are reduced?

As we all have heard ad nauseum, 50+ million people in the US have no health insurance at all, not even Medicare or Medicaid. And those on Medicare and Medicaid can expect benefit reductions also. Where are these Jewish families going to turn to for money when they need healthcare?

On August 4th, if you recall, I posted an blog article I called The Debt Crisis and Jewish Communities. I also submitted a copy of that post to a local Jewish newspaper, changing only a word or two. They declined to print it, of course, saying it needed to be "toned down" because it was too over the top, said the editor after consulting with the editorial committee. They don't want to have the conversation that I pointed out needs to be had - that we do not have resources or programs in place to take care of fellow Jews in those situations, and the need is going to continue to grow by leaps and bounds over the next several years.

Now, mind you, this same article got 5 stars from the editors at JBlog, I presume because they found it well-written, important and timely. [Granted, I have no actual idea how the editors at JBlog rate the posts submitted to them - but I don't have a perfect 5-star rating (click here and scroll down to "Shalom Bayit" to see my overall rating, which was 4.76 for 207 articles, last time I checked.)] At least the JBlog editors thought that particular article was good, as did I - which is why I submitted it to the paper.

This community, not so much.

I must confess at this point I am at a loss. I mentioned in my blog post before last that the leaders in my community just do not believe any of this is real. It seems there is no way to get my community to open their eyes and prepare for the inevitable. There are books and articles, blogs and reports galore, by authors far more famous, well-respected and educated than me. But the community is just not interested in them. No amount of data, sources, or persuasion seems adequate to the task. As I pointed out at the beginning of this year, nothing I do or say seems to make any difference here, and I'm getting tired of even trying.

Sad, but true. I have a saying at my house, when it's time to give up and move on from some misadventure. I tell the boys that I have "reached the I-don't-care portion of this program." I'm just not willing to invest any more emotion or energy into the situation - some moms say "I've had it!" instead, and perhaps literally throw down their towel. This being the internet and all, the effect isn't quite the same, I guess, but you get the idea:

You'll just have to imagine it in a wad on the floor.

Friday, September 09, 2011

9/11 then and now

This was my blog entry for September 11, 2006:

Five years ago today, I slept late. The phone rang. A friend of mine told me turn on the TV. There, on the screen, was the world trade center. One of the towers was burning. My friend was telling me what had happened so far. I was in the front room - the room which would later be our bedroom after our foster son moved in, but at that time it was being used as a TV room. I was standing in the middle of the floor, talking on the phone and halfway listening to the TV, my eyes fixed on the burning figure of the first tower.

And then, there was a plane on the screen.

And my mind went in two different directions at that point. One part said, "Oh, this must be an instant replay." The other said, "Wait a minute, the first tower is still burning."

It seemed like an eternity before my brain could process this information. I could no longer hear what they were saying on the TV, because my mind was furiously trying to make 2 and 2 not equal four. But no, I had just personally witnessed a second tragedy. Another plane. Another burning tower. Now there were two.

I think I said, "Oh, my God." I can't remember what my friend said. Now I began trying to hear what they were saying on the TV. They were, of course, realizing what I was realizing. No accident. No possible accident. On purpose. Terrorism.

I probably mentally arrived at this conclusion before they did, because I follow the news from Israel. Buses and cafes full of kids and old ladies were blowing up on a regular basis there, and always that wonder in the back of your mind: when will terror come to these shores? It's only a matter of time, we always said.

That time was here.

The rest of the day, and for the next several days, I was glued to the television - as were millions of other people. And in the next weeks and months, I waiting to hear what target was hit next - the Sears tower? The Golden Gate Bridge? The Arch of St. Louis? The Space Needle of Seattle? The Statue of Liberty? The Washington Monument? Much of the nation waited with me.

And were were shown pictures on tv, also, of entire Kurdish villages in Iraq where Saddam had lobbed his missiles, test firing them onto his long time ethnic enemies. There were bloated dead bodies of women, children, the elderly, even cattle. Saddam had weapons of mass destruction, obviously, and was trying to develop a missile that would fire all the way to Israel, and to Europe, and even farther. Maybe even to our shores, he hoped. And, he was hosting terrorist training camps on his land, and giving money to terrorist groups - when he wasn't busy slaughtering his own political enemies and firing more deadly chemical and biological weapons at the Kurds. A nasty guy. We should get rid of him.

So we did.

And then things went back to normal.

Now, let me tell you a parable of Y2K. Remember Y2K? A few years before the turn of the century, unix and dos programmers noticed that there was no way to enter the year 2000 into programs that had only a two digit way of calculating the year. When you put in zero-zero for the year, and tried to do basic calculations such as "how much interest has your account earned since last month," and "what amount of electricity needs to be generated today based on the average use for last month," and so on and so on, that the computers malfunctioned. After all, you can't take away 99 from 00. That's an illegal mathematical operation. The programmers were concerned. Just how many banks, utilities, stock brokerages, communications, and business computers out there only used two digits in their year calculations?

Well, class, the answer was, almost all of them.

Oops. So the programmer, my father being one, worked furiously for almost four years to update, rewrite, recompile, and re-test nearly every computer program running every major computer in the entire United States. The deadline was looming. But guess what?

They did it! Every major system was updated on time. And as a result, there was no major malfunctions in the computer backbone of our country's life. And you know what happened then?

People said there was never a problem in the first place. It was just hype.

"WHAT?" The programmers said. "We worked our butts off for years to make sure the problem was fixed and no major disruptions occurred - how can you say the problem never existed?"

For the record, there was one program of mine that I didn't replace. It was my favorite fax-modem program. In it was saved all my important faxes. And sure enough, when I tried to use it after January 1st, 2000, it kept saying I was sending a fax from the year 1739. Why that year, I'll never know. But since faxes need an accurate date/time stamp, I had to reluctantly part with my favorite program. That was my experience with Y2K, because hundreds of programmers had worked themselves countless hours to make sure nothing worse than that happened.

Fast forward to 2006. Now, we have people saying that Saddam was never a problem, terrorism isn't really a threat to us, and this whole thing is a lot of hype. They want to stop all of the hundreds and thousands of people from doing their jobs who are working their butts off to make sure the problem is fixed and no major disruptions occur.

And of course, the people who are doing this job are saying, "WHAT?"

Have we really already forgotten the bloated bodies of people gassed to death in Iraq by chemical and biological weapons? Are we not grateful that the people doing their jobs have stopped plot after plot here in the US, making sure that nothing worse happens here? Do we really think that if those people stop working, we will still be safe?

I hope not, class, because that would be incredibly stupid.

I was wrong about one thing. The time for buses and cafes full of children and old ladies blowing up here on these shores is not yet. It is not yet because of the diligence of the people working countless hours night and day to make sure it doesn't happen. Make no mistake, class, the Muslims want to blow them up. They want America to fall to pieces. They say so ever day in their news, in their children's shows, in their movies, on their radios. And the second we relax our vigilance, we are doomed.

I, being a realist, believe this will in fact happen. It's only a matter of time before bombs start going off in public places here. Even here in our town, our Temple and our Synagogue will most likely be blown to kingdom come. Why? Americans are selfish, lazy, and incredibly short-sighted. Americans think if they just be nice, everyone else will be, too. Americans have no sense of history or reality. They are stupid. So the day will come. And there will be no satisfaction when I say, "I told you so." Your stupidity endangers my children, too.

Baruch Hashem, that day is still not yet here - though they actually took time after the president's jobs speech last night to ignore the teabaggers and other republicans long enough to mention that a credible threat involving car bombs in the US at major 9/11 memorial services did in fact exist, and authorities were working furiously to defuse it.

However, my views on the war have aged along with the war. What should have been a fairly reasonable get-Hussein-and-get-out has turned into a decade long fight for natural resources in Iraq and Afghanistan that has little to nothing to do with 9/11 and a lot to do with opium profits and access to oil reserves. Yes, I do still believe that he had chemical weapons and biological weapons - it's pretty stupid to say he didn't when there is ample footage even yet of the bloated dead bodies of his Kurdish victims. Nonetheless, and I know the brave men and women fighting there in our name may not believe this, but the war has long ceased to be about security and is now solidly a trade of blood for economic imperialism.

I voted for the President Obama because as commander-in-chief of America's armed forces, he could have stopped the wars and brought all our kids home with the stroke of a pen. But he didn't. He could have ordered Guantanomo Bay closed the same way. But he didn't. (I'll leave the topic of national non-profit single payer healthcare for another day.) The military industrial complex has a life of its own, now, and the teapartiers are all for it. Such ignorance disgusts me.

Like Y2K, the results of our war on Islam, er, I mean war on terror are so minimal as to be forgotten by most people. We don't have checkpoints and internal passports. We have annoying scanners at the airport, easily avoided by not flying. That's it. That's our everyday legacy of 9/11 - TSA agents who molest little kids and grandmas so they can appear to be non-discriminatary. But we all know it's a lie. The teabaggers hate Islam with a fervor they will gladly apply to Judaism as soon as they figure out we aren't going to stop believing in the social safety net and the obligation of the government to enforce people's right to life, liberty and happiness by providing non-profit healthcare, old age pensions, unemployment, and stipends for children. As "liberals" and "progressives" we are just as evil as Muslims, in their opinion.

At some point, however, we have to acknowledge that continued cultural and economic warfare against other nations is not really in America's best interests. At this point, some ten years later, we are provoking violence against ourselves, not preventing it. The leaders, including Osama bin Laden, who are responsible for the 9/11 attacks are dead. We are waging war against people who are no threat to these shores. Our vigilant men and women of homeland security make sure of that, and our border patrol, every day. Yet we continue to antagonize people halfway around the world - not for security, but for oil and opium profits. And they have been fighting back - even on these shores, if they can.

Isn't that wonderful? The real result of all this warmongering has been - and will continue to be - an America that is a less safe place.

May the memory of those who died at the Pentagon, on the flight in Pennsylvania, and at the World Trade Center be a blessing for us and for their loved ones.

And may they no longer be used as grist for the war mill.

Monday, September 05, 2011

Facing the New Reality

It turns out I don't have to write a great booklet about the economic future America faces - somebody else beat me to the punch.

Facing the new reality
by Various contributors including Sharon Astyk, Nate Hagens, Richard Heinberg, Dmitry Orlov...

The Community Action Partnership, which is the umbrella organization of Community Action Agencies--which in turn administer the lion's share of anti-poverty programs in the US--has just come out with a report, Facing the New Reality: Preparing Poor America for Harder Times Ahead. Input for the report came from (among others) Nate Hagens, Dmitry Orlov, Sharon Astyk, Dave Room, John Michael Greer, Megan Bachman, and Richard Heinberg.

From the report:

Letter of Introduction

Dear Friends and Colleagues:

The Community Action Partnership presents here an unprecedented and extraordinary report: "Facing the New Reality: Preparing Poor America for Harder Times Ahead." This report is based on the equally extraordinary premise that much of what passes for reality in "the popular narrative" is not based on reality but instead on a collective denial of a genuine reality too difficult for most Americans to fully comprehend or accept.

There are many versions of the popular narrative but it tends to include the following beliefs: the United States will fully recover from a strong but temporary recession; we have access to enough energy from coal, natural gas and nuclear power to meet our needs for decades; our economy will return to growth and keep growing for the foreseeable future; technology will solve our energy and climate problems; conventional agriculture will continue to feed our nation and much of the rest of the world; and American prosperity will solve our collective debt crisis and bring a higher standard of living to all in a promising future.

This report suggests that these beliefs are fictions that serve many special interests while deterring us from facing the real and pressing need to prepare society now for unprecedented hardship, economic turmoil, resource scarcity and greatly increasing ranks of Americans living in poverty...

What is the "New Reality"?

The phrase the "New Reality" is used in this report as shorthand for the near future, a period that we have already entered, projected out over several decades. The report factors in three global mega-trends that the report's authors believe will be the dominant drivers shaping this period. These are: resource depletion, climate change and economic turmoil. While not yet fully developed, these mega-trends will interact in ways that will profoundly affect daily life.

To put it plainly, the movers and shakers in my community simply do not believe this. At all. They are unwilling to commit a single iota of time or resources toward preparing my community for the new reality.

The first two sections of the introduction discuss resource depletion and climate change. I'll skip those here because they've been discussed ad nauseum and people are solidly in one camp or the other: deniers or realists. No amount of further blather will change their minds - only the painful results of reality will sway the deniers (and even then the deniers, who are largely evangelical right-wing Christians, are likely to claim God is punishing America - still denying that climate change is real or that they had anything whatsoever to do with it.) As for resource depletion, a lot of them claim the high prices of natural resources are some sort of evil plot that the "new world order" is using for world domination. For some reason, they can't grok the thought that you can only get so much stuff out of every hole in the ground, and there are only so many holes.

No, it's an international plot to bring America down, they believe. They can't or won't admit that they have brought themselves down with greed and extreme misuse of limited resources. They externalize all the blame, rather like spoiled 4 year olds throwing a tantrum because they ate all the lollipops in the box and it's now empty. Mommy and Daddy are just being mean!

So, let's move on to the section on economics.

...Economic Turmoil: While most agree that the global economy nearly collapsed in the fall of 2008, few acknowledge that nothing has fundamentally changed to prevent this from happening again. Recent bailouts of fragile European economies like Greece, Iceland and Portugal (like the bailouts of American financial institutions) increased the debt that first caused the defaults and likely set the stage for more economic chaos not far down the road.

Also, the bewildering array of derivatives— exotic financial instruments that create money but not real wealth, out of thin air—are now monetarily valued to far exceed the value of real goods and services on the planet. As the hard physical limits to growth begin to appear in the forms noted above, the entire growth-dependent financial system may be headed for a very hard landing. We can expect:

1. High inflation or deflation, either one further contracting the economy.

2. Scarce capital or credit for job-creating development or badly needed infrastructure projects.

3. Dramatic cuts in government services as debt liabilities grow and tax revenues shrink.

4. Growing ranks of the unemployed and families descending into poverty.

5. Possible, some experts say, inevitable, global economic collapse...

Let's take a look at these for a few minutes.

Regarding point one: In my personal opinion, we are reaching the end of the deflationary part of this cycle. Prices of housing may continue to fall due to inability of people to qualify for credit because of income stagnation, but the price of everything else is holding steady or increasing. Food has never deflated in price, actually. It has been plateaued or rising steadily even as housing and some other segments of the economy crash and burn. What will follow is the beginning of an inflation spiral. This ends in only one way - worthless paper money (and that "paper money" includes your electronic banking and direct deposit, class) and prices of everything shooting through the roof.

Again, few believe it can happen here, but there is really no other foreseeable outcome at this point. Nobody is buying US Treasuries except the Federal Reserve - an incestuous accounting practice if there ever was one. Other countries are quietly dumping their dollar reserves and buying gold, or other commodities such as land and oil futures. There is an international move to replace the dollar as the world's reserve currency. Once that happens (and it will, eventually) nobody outside the US will accept dollars for anything and people in the US won't be able to buy imports at anything less than their entire income. That's a problem since we import most of our food, clothing and everyday household items. Even a short-term confidence crisis of the dollar would wreak havoc in main street stores everywhere, as they would not be able to come up with the ridiculously high cash payments wanted by overseas suppliers. Hope you've got a garden going.

Regarding point two: to cite just one example, streets and roads in this country are maintained and paved largely using gasoline tax dollars. More and more people being priced out of gasoline, switching to efficient cars, telecommuting and other such options means less $ in the pot. This has been going on for some time, by the way. There are bridges and overpasses in this country that are in desperate need of replacing or being structurally updated and there are simply no funds to do it. Many counties are simply letting rural roads go back to gravel. More and more toll roads will spring up. And finally, the government will have to switch to taxing you by your mileage every year instead of your gasoline. You will have to pay a big mileage fee when you renew the tags on your car every year. This will simply price people out of the market for cars even faster. Thus the money for road and bridge repairs is disappearing fast, will soon disappear even faster, and will not reappear. That's just one example out of how many government offices?

Regarding point three: The US has sold other countries and our own citizens trillions of dollars worth of bonds that will have to be paid back. And more is added to the total every day - tax revenues aren't coming anywhere near close to paying the debt load. How could it when everyone has been moved to part time mc-wally-wort jobs at low pay and no benefits? These kinds of jobs do not produce adequate tax revenue to run local and state governments, much less the federal government. As these debts mature, more and more tax dollars will have to be spent to pay them. I believe it was Larry Burkett who predicted that the US govt debt payments would equal the entire federal revenue brought in sometime in the 90s or 2000s. He was a few years off, but his prediction was not fundamentally wrong. There will be less and less money available for social services, as I pointed out in my last blog.

Point four: Since there really isn't any combination of agencies or charities out there who can realistically take up that much social need, do you really think the homeless and starving people are going to just quietly lay down and die? I wouldn't count on it. Civil unrest, to put it mildly, will follow.

And finally, the second great depression in the US will take down a lot of other countries with it - countries that get a lot of their own income from exporting stuff to the US. Nobody here will get it, or be able to buy it. A great deal of it will end up stolen, looted, or on the black market. Either way, our "free trade" partners are going to figure out fast that letting the US rape them of their self-sufficiency and steal their resources for pennies on the dollar wasn't such a great strategy after all. So much for globalization.

...For most of you, the future this report depicts is in marked contrast to the future you expect. The authors know this and understand that many of you may be very skeptical of the information and points of view expressed here. Some of you, like most Americans, may consider this report "doomer" nonsense. But it isn't, and we simply can't wait for the "popular narrative" to finally catch up with the facts.

As the New Reality advances, we have the opportunity to help recreate something wonderful that diminished during the age of abundance but will be essential during the age of scarcity: authentic community.

Peter H. Kilde
Third Vice President and Strategic Initiatives Task Force Chair
The Community Action Partnership Board of Directors

I'm not holding my breath on that, though.


Thursday, August 04, 2011

The Debt Crisis and Jewish Communities

As I write this, the stock market has just dropped like a rock, a 500+ plunge, which is the 9th decline in the last 10 days of trading. It has been only a few days since Congress passed the debt ceiling extension. Mitch McConnell et al promised that if this extension was passed without raising taxes and with sufficient spending cuts, that everything would by hunky-dory and our problems would be on their way to being solved. Unfortunately, this fairy tale isn't fooling anybody.

Here's my analogy of the current US economy: Mrs. Silver-Spoon and Mr. Wall-Street used to pay a big chunk of the household expenses in their home – when the marginal tax rate approached 90% for very high income groups, this couple gladly stepped up to the plate and supported their household, and still had plenty of luxuries in their lives. But they are no longer willing.

Also in the household are the couple's aged parents and their own children, Miss Unwed-mother, Mr. Un-or-under-employed, Miss Has-cancer, Mr. Underwater-mortgage, and Miss Still-marginally-middle-class. They have some undocumented household servants, too, who shall remain nameless. But since the 80s in particular, Mrs. Silver-Spoon and Mr. Wall-Street have paid less and less of the household expenses, even putting the family into more debt and quietly dipping into grandma and grandpa's funds, mostly by hiring Uncle Warmonger to send his thugs to intimidate or “take care of” little problems with their overseas “business partners,” or to be a token show for “allies.” They made a pile of money doing this, both for themselves and Uncle Warmonger, but the grandparents and kids have benefited in no real way. In fact, thanks to Dad, the kids now get to compete for jobs with people willing to work for fifty cents an hour.

Now, Mrs. Silver-Spoon or Mr. Wall-Street could easily retire the household debt and give the family a new clean slate and a balanced budget, but they choose not to. Some would argue they have no obligation to do so. Either way, they have announced clearly that they will contribute nothing further to the mess they made. Instead, they expect their kids to take up the slack. Of course, even all five of the kids combined cannot make enough money to cover the household expenses and support grandma and grandpa, much less get out of debt. Mrs. Silver-Spoon and Mr. Wall-Street don't care. In fact, they have hired new legislators to gut all the programs that would help the grandparents and the kids.

Needless to say, this household is careening towards bankruptcy, and their accountants know it – hence the lack of confidence in US currency/treasuries and the declining stock market.

What does this mean for us, in this particular Jewish community? In the past, Jewish communities had organizations that hired their own community doctors, took care of stipends for their own elderly and unemployed, formed co-ops, utilized interest-free loan societies, provided scholarships for young people, etc. But since the “New Deal” we have stopped taking care of our own and expected government to do it. And worse, here in the 21st century, even in the face of declining government social services, JFS offices all over the country rely on other charities, especially Christian ones, to take care of our own. My community is guilty, too.

I have blogged several times in the past that the IMF or World Bank would impose austerity measures on the US eventually. Even if such are self-imposed from within, it is unlikely that the “reformers” intend to cut off Uncle Warmonger et al or protect basic human rights to life (healthcare), etc. – their priorities are just not our priorities. We need to get real about this. Complicate all that with the ongoing issues of the continuing rising costs of goods and of gasoline due to peak oil, and you have a recipe for disaster. G-d forbid we get hyperinflation. Even without that, households will increasingly sink, because they just can't swim in these waters.

“Reformers” intend for already overburdened charities to do what govt. is no longer willing or able to do. But it is not realistic to expect other charities to continue to support people who will not agree with their religious or political philosophies. As the Teapartiers and Republicans gut the govt. social safety net, the need will be overwhelming and charities will all have to pick and choose whom they will serve.

Will they still serve Jews? When push comes to shove (and it will) I fear the answer is likely to be “no.” Of course, this won't happen right away, but it will snowball quickly when it starts. They will be too busy taking care of their own.

That brings us to the next question: Is our community willing to pick up the slack and take care of our own? We have some small bit of time to plan for the future. Is our community willing to put the funds and programs in place to take care of these problems as they careen toward us? What should the Federation's role be? This is the question we have to ask ourselves now. It's a discussion we urgently need to have and we aren't having it.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

American Imperialism is STILL bankrupting us.

This is a stunning little article.

Think Progress
The $113 Billion Hole:
Ten Things America Gave Up This Year To Pay For The War In Afghanistan
By Zaid Jilani on Jun 18, 2011 at 6:45 pm

...Using data from the National Priorities Project, ThinkProgress calculated ten investments America could’ve afforded if it didn’t spend $113 billion — the allotment made in Fiscal Year 2011 — on the war in Afghanistan. Each one of these policy options represents an equivalent $113 billion cost:

– Provide 57.5 Million Children With Low-Income Health Care For 2011

– Provide 23 Million People With Low-Income Health Coverage In 2011

– Give 20.2 Million $5,500 Pell Grants To Students In 2011

– Provide 14.35 million Military Veterans With VA Medical Care In 2011

– Give 14.7 million Children Head Start Funding In 2011

– Give 14.26 Million Scholarships To University Students In 2011

– Employ 1.93 million Firefighters In 2011

– Hire 1.75 Million Elementary School Teachers In 2011

– Hire 1.65 Million Police Officers In 2011

– Equip 67.8 Million Households With The Ability To Use Wind Power In 2011

– Equip 25.39 Million Households With The Ability To Use Solar Photovoltaic Energy In 2011 ...

American cannot afford to give away the millions of dollars being spent on the military-industrial complex, nor can we afford to give away the lives of the national guardsmen and women who should be HERE, policing our own borders and helping our own citizens rebuild after devastating floods and storms.

We simply cannot generate enough federal taxes on mcwally-wort wages.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: Americans are going to have to choose what's important to us. Either we continue attempting to steal resources from other nations at gunpoint, continue to ram unsustainable western economic imperialism down the throats of people in other countries, and continue to earn the enmity of other cultures with our high-handed arrogance...


...we take care of our own citizen's needs.


And the Republicans with their Tea-partier nutcase allies intend to throw children, the disabled, seniors, the poor and the unemployed under the bus to continue with their pipe-dreams of military conquest and continual plunder of the world's resources.

Aside from the fact that it is simply unethical and immoral to continue pretending that the western materialistic consumer mentality is sustainable even for the US, much less the rest of the world, it is unethical and immoral in the extreme to leave US citizens without a functional social safety net so the delusional Robber Barons can continue to exploit people on the cheap.

All the tyrannical despots in the oppressed countries of the third world have to do is WAIT. It's a game of chicken we CAN'T WIN. We will be bankrupt and in our own lovely dysfunction of forced austerity measures before long - due to mostly to runaway military spending over the past two decades, not due to social services. We have borrowed money to fight wars, not to provide unemployment benefits and social security checks to the elderly. That's the ugly truth.

National Priorities Project
The Cost of War
Updates daily

Total Cost of Wars Since 2001:

Cost of War in Iraq:

Cost of War in Afghanistan:

That's a total of One Trillion, Two Hundred Ten Billion, Six Hundred Forty Five Million dollars...PLUS:

The costs of physically building, maintaining and operating all 700+ military bases outside the US...PLUS:

The costs of all the equipment, armaments, etc. at all of these bases...PLUS:

The costs of paying wages and benefits to both the civilian contractors AND the American military forces stationed on those bases...PLUS:

The costs of transportation, fuel, supplies, etc. for all those people on all those bases...PLUS:

The cash/economic aid and "favors" that we PAY some nations to allow us to use the bases...PLUS:

The ill will of the various peoples around the globe who resent our presence, for very good economic and cultural reasons.

And the result of these COSTS are dead young Americans and a grand total of tens of trillions of dollars down the tubes.

WE CANNOT AFFORD IT. We never could, actually, before. But now the situation is dire. Either we take care of our own citizens or we continue to throw tens of trillions of dollars down the military-industrial complex rathole.

When will this stop? When the American people stand up and tell Congress in no uncertain terms that we do not intend to be bankrupted by American imperialism - that we want secure borders and a functional social safety net.

Until then, we will continue to be bled dry by greedy bloodsucking Robber Barons who are the only ones who benefit from the killing and the exploitation we "win" in its wake. Meanwhile, US citizens will die in poverty for lack of basic human necessities, while our tax dollars are used to buy weapons for imperial conquest.

We can't pay for both. Which do you want? Make up your mind now, because if you don't, the Robber Barons will make it up for you. And they're going to choose to enrich themselves, obviously, not take care of you or your parents and children.

America is bankrupt. And like all other bankrupt entities, American now has to decide what is important. To the powers that be, neither your life nor US soldier's lives are important. Only control of resources, profit and power are important - to them.

And to you, apparently, if you say and do nothing to change things.

Thursday, June 16, 2011


Tonight I went to a meeting and one of the topics of conversation that came up was "going green." The context was a brainstorming session for new programs for a certain women's group. A person was mentioned who had participated in a "low carbon diet" team that did a book of exercises about lowing your carbon footprint. Everyone nodded and decided the concept was "overdone" in the news and community lately. So I said something to the effect that we could do a different spin on the topic and talk about peak oil.

Most of the people at the meeting had never heard of peak oil. When I briefly explained about China and India's population becoming middle class combined with declining outputs in oil fields and the fact that the price of gasoline had doubled in five years and would continue doubling, they looked blank. Then one person chimed up: "Well, I heard the local government has ordered some hybrid buses." Everyone nods and smiles and they move on to the next topic.

And I'm sitting there thinking - really? Did they order enough so that the entire metro area population could ride to and from work, school, errands and shopping? No, actually I think it was 2. Two hybrid buses for a population of about 320,000. Do they really think that's going to cut it? Apparently so.

I don't understand how they can not comprehend the seriousness of this problem.

But clearly they don't. And they don't want to hear about it. They can't imagine for one minute that they won't be able to hop in their cars and drive in 15 minutes across town to meetings like that one.

Can ANY of them afford gas when it is $7 a gallon (double what it is right now) in only five years? Or $10 a gallon a couple of years after that? I had lunch with one of the ladies earlier that day who was telling me how tightly they budgeted everything (she's basically on a fixed income, retired). When talking about budgeting for eating out she admits she can hardly afford it, but when you ask about the price of gasoline doubling again she thinks - what?

I don't know.

Does she think the problem will magically go away?

Does she not understand that when (not if) America is reduced to using only our fair share of the world's gasoline (and other resources) that the gas will be so expensive that only the Rockefellers will be able to afford it? How does she think she's going to travel around town in 5 years - with only 2 hybrid buses for what will then probably be even more people living in the city? If they buy 2 more hybrids every year (which is not in the budget, since the money for these two came from a federal grant) that will be a grand total of 12 hybrid buses for 340,000+ people.

Well, that should do it.

Tell me, somebody - what are they thinking?

I honestly can't understand it.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Living the Good Life - Simply

I am reposting this article that I received via email as part of this month's "Jewish Magazine" because it 1) shows that I'm not insane (at least not entirely), and 2) admits that the West simply cannot continue with the materialism and consumption and wasteful use of natural resources, and 3) Torah is not only OK with this, but in fact God wants us to be mindful of the needs of others, and 4) a lifestyle that makes every effort to use only our fair share of the aforementioned resources will necessarily be a much more simple life.

The Jewish Magazine (by email)
Voluntary Simplicity and the Torah Life
June 211
By Heshy Friedman

David Brooks, in a New York Times OP-ED piece, observed that historians, in explaining the rise and fall of many great empires, feel that “Wealth and power lead to affluence and luxury. Affluence and luxury lead to decadence, corruption and decline.” All over the world, the global crisis which has impoverished millions of people throughout the world is being seen as payback for voracious greed, hyper-materialism, and/or capitalism without values.

It is clear that the economic path we are currently on, which has consumers obsessed with hyper-materialism and over-consumption, is leading us to destruction. It is not sustainable and is destroying the environment as well as the true values that result in a healthy and happy society. After the financial meltdown of 2008, it is becoming very obvious that we need a new economics, one that is moral and considers more than profit and growth. The world also needs a strong America to act as a stabilizing influence; the United States cannot be strong if it continues to take on more and more debt and wastes scarce resources.

Consider the fact that developed countries (US, Canada, Western Europe, Japan, and Australia) with a total population of about 1 billion consume 32 times more resources such as oil and plastic than do those in developing countries with a population of 5.5 billion. Approximately 1.4 billion people live below the extreme poverty line of $1.25 per day. These people are hungry for much of the year and are also malnourished. The life expectancy of people living in the wealthier nations is 78 years; it is below 50 years in the poorer nations. Five percent of children living in these poor countries die before the age of 5; that is 27,000 children dying every single day because of poverty. In India today, 43 per cent of children younger than 5 years of age are malnourished and underweight

If the entire world were to consume as much as the developed countries do, this would be the same as if the world population increased to 72 billion. No one believes that the world can support this many people.

This is a point that Americans in particular have incredible trouble understanding. We have 5% of the world's population and use 40% of all the world's natural resources every year. Our fair share is only 5%. That means an ethical society needs to ratchet down our materialism and consumption a great deal - not just a little bit. A lot.

The Torah is replete with precepts that deal with business ethics and has had a profound effect on a countless number of people. It is interesting to see how the Torah looks at materialism. There is no doubt that the Torah would not support the view that greed is good, despite being very much in favor of productive work.

The attitude of the Torah towards wealth is quite positive. One does not have to be an ascetic and disdain owning property. The ideal system is not one in which every individual has exactly the same amount of property; the Torah recognizes that there will be poor as well as wealthy individuals. What matters is how the wealth is used and whether or not one is grateful to God for it. Wealth, peace, and/or long life should be seen as rewards from God for obeying His laws (Leviticus 26:3-13; Deuteronomy 11:13-16; Deuteronomy 25:15; Proverbs 22:4). People, however, have an obligation to use their wealth to help those that are needy. The Psalmist declares (Psalms 82:3): “do justice to the needy and the orphan; deal righteously with the poor and the impoverished; rescue the needy and the destitute and save them from the hand of the wicked.” Isaiah (1:17) also makes this very same point: “learn to do good; seek justice, aid the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.”

The obligation to take care of the orphan, widow, the destitute, and the stranger (one is even obligated to love the stranger) is mentioned numerous times and is a core value of the Torah. Destitute individuals will not have the ability to help the unfortunates of society.

Unfortunate, American economic policy toward the developing world does just the opposite - it CAUSES poverty, it TRAPS people in sub-living wages and unsafe working conditions, it STEALS far more than our fair share of their resources and REFUSES TO PAY a fair price either for the resources or for the damage obtaining them causes. America's economic policy is both immoral and unethical.

The acquisition of wealth through hard work is permitted and encouraged by the Torah; greed and materialism are serious problems. The tenth commandment in Exodus (20:14) states: “You shall not covet your fellow’s house. You shall not covet your fellow’s wife, his manservant, his maidservant, his ox, his donkey, nor anything else that belongs to your fellow.” In Deuteronomy (5:18), the wording is slightly different: “And you shall not covet your fellow’s wife, you shall not desire your fellow’s house, his field, his manservant, his maidservant, his ox, his donkey, nor anything else that belongs to your fellow.” Maimonides (Laws of Stealing 1:9-12) notes the difference in the wording and concludes that “desire leads to coveting and coveting leads to robbery.” Clearly, greed is not good and leads to bigger problems. After the financial meltdown which nearly caused another great depression, many of us would agree with Maimonides.

Materialism is discouraged by the Torah since it can lead one to become arrogant. In fact, the Torah (Deuteronomy 8: 11-18) describes one of its dangers. A successful individual might believe that “my power and the might of my hand has made me all this wealth.” Also, “Jeshurun [Israel] became fat and kicked … And he forsook God who made him.” (Deuteronomy 32: 15). The rebellious son described in the Torah (Deuteronomy 21: 18-21) -- who has become a threat to family and society -- is accused by his parents of being a “glutton and a drunkard.” Overindulgence in the pleasures of the world has contributed to his downfall.

And the American economy - built on the strange notion that other nations will always be required to give us what we want for unfair prices and that resources will never deplete or run out - is going to crash and burn because neither of these presumptions is true. The American economy is built on false assumptions.

And we arrogantly believe that we can force everyone to keep doing things the way we want just because....what? We'll refuse to buy from them? Other markets - big markets like China and India - are opening to the world. They don't need us anymore. We'll take what we want by force? That seems to be the operating theory of the US military industrial complex at the moment, but how long are the up and coming superpowers like China going to put up with that? Not much longer.

Agur asks the Lord not to make him poor or rich. Poverty might make him become dishonest but wealth can cause him to deny God (Proverbs 30: 7-9). Even the king was not permitted to possess too much gold and silver (Deuteronomy 17: 17). It is quite obvious what happens to both a king and country when there is an obsession on acquiring gold rather than on justice and prosperity for all. The prophet Jeremiah (9:22-23) observed that: “Let not the mighty man glory in his might; Let not the rich man glory in his riches.” What matters to the prophet is “lovingkindness, justice, and righteousness in the earth.

One king who was punished for flaunting his wealth was King Hezekiah. He flaunted the great wealth in his treasuries to Merodakh-Baladan, son of Baladan, the King of Babylonia. Isaiah said to Hezekiah (Isaiah 39:6): “Behold, a time is coming when everything in your palace and what your forefathers have accumulated to this day will be carried off to Babylonia; nothing shall remain, says the Lord.” Hezekiah’s sin was in taking too much pride in his worldly possessions and showing them off.

Americans believe this can't happen here. But foreigners already own huge swaths of land, important landmark buildings, and are the de facto owners of a huge percentage of our savings bonds and other monetary instruments, including stocks and bonds. They can and will exert control of their property.

Job described the way a person with means is supposed to live his/her life. Job was a person who treated all with dignity, even his servants (Job 31: 13); Job took care of the poor, the needy, the orphan and the widow (Job 31: 16-21). Job was not materialistic and he declares that he never “made gold my hope” or “rejoiced because my wealth was great” (Job 31: 24-25).

Again, America sticks stubbornly by the myth that we're the "greatest nation on earth" and the "only superpower" and that we have enough wealth to continue to run our military empire around the world to control the earth's resources. It's simply not true. We're due for a serious smackdown.

The Talmud (Babylonian Talmud, Maakot 24a) states that the prophet Micah (6:8) reduced the Torah to three major principles: “What does the Lord require of you: only to do justice, to love acts of kindness, and to walk discreetly before your God.” The Talmud says that ‘walking discreetly’ before God refers to funerals and weddings; “If in matters that are generally not done in private the Torah says that one should ‘walk discreetly,’ how much more so in matters that usually call for modesty should certainly be done so.” The Talmudic sages felt that one should live a life of moderation and not be ostentatious, even when making funerals and weddings.

Instead, the Robber Barons try and convince everyone else on the planet to try and adopt our wasteful and unsustainable lifestyle so they can make more profit. It is physically and mathematically impossible for the developing world to do this, and it is immoral and unethical for the US to continue to live this way ourselves.

The Talmud (Babylonian Talmud, Chullin 84a) also states: “A parent should not accustom his children to eat meat and wine.” It was felt that a luxurious lifestyle could lead one to a life of dishonesty.

And America is dishonest - extremely dishonest, especially when it comes to the trade agreements imposed on the developing world. Basically, we steal their stuff for pennies on the dollar and lobby to make sure workers in those countries DO NOT get the same wages and protections as first world workers. And then we try and erode the first world worker's wages and protections. We do everything possible to avoid paying the real costs of the products we import and we have no intention of implementing fair trade policies. Then we lie to the developing nations and tell them if they do what we say, they can become like us - knowing it's actually impossible for them to do so. But if we adopted a less wasteful, less materialistic, less consumerist lifestyle, there would be enough to go around for everyone.

A similar idea can be seen from the verse (Exodus 16:8): “When the Lord shall give you in the evening meat to eat, and in the morning bread to fill you up.” The Israelites were promised bread (manna), not meat, to fill you up. Rashi, a major medieval commentary, notes that the Torah teaches one to sate himself with simple foods such as bread and eat luxuries such as meat only occasionally. During the forty years of wandering the wilderness, the Israelites had to be satisfied with manna. They were not permitted to hoard it (it would only last for a day); each person was supposed to gather only one omer (Exodus 16). The Israelites were punished severely for grumbling about the manna and demanding meat: “Would that we were given meat to eat!” (Numbers 11). God did send forth a wind to bring the people a huge number of quails from the sea but it did not end well for the people. The place where this incident occurred and resulted in the deaths of many via a plague was called Kibroth-Hattaves (The graves of lust).

Judaism frowns on ostentation. Friedman ( provides three reasons that Jewish law felt that living an ostentatious and showy lifestyle was condemned by Judaism: (1) It arouses the envy of others, including the enemies of the Jewish people; (2) It causes people who are poor to become ashamed of their lack of wealth; and (3) it makes people supercilious. Friedman demonstrates how many customs and laws were modified in order to avoid ostentation. For example, many funeral rituals were modified in order not to embarrass those who lacked means. The dead—from the richest to the poorest-- all had to be buried in the cheapest flaxen shrouds. Till this very day, observant Jews are supposed to bury their dead in a plain pine box.

And jealousy of American lifestyles as portrayed on TV is causing young people around the world to demand the impossible - an American lifestyle that is affordable to everyone. And when they realize we already used up the cheap and accessible resources that made that lifestyle possible, they are not going to be amused. In fact, they already aren't. Soon they will understand that America has squandered the earth's scarce resources and left them with the dredges at exorbitant costs. How are they going to view America - and Jews - then?

The ideal Jewish lifestyle is Histapkut bamuat, being content with less. Ben Zoma’s statement (Babylonian Talmud, Avot 4:1): “Who is wealthy? One who is happy with his lot” succinctly states this philosophy. The following verse in Proverbs (21:17) indicates that a life of luxury can lead to poverty: “One who loves wine and oil shall not be wealthy.” Moreover, the Talmud (Babylonian Talmud, Avot 5:19) states that “Whoever possesses the following three traits is of the disciples of our forefather Abraham: … a good eye [generous], a humble spirit [humility], and a modest soul.” “Modest soul” is translated as one who controls his physical desires even for things that are permitted (Shaarei Teshuva, Shaar 1:34).

In the classic medieval ethics (mussar) work, Orchos Tzadikim (Chapter 14: Jealousy), the author notes that jealousy, a trait which no person can totally escape from, comes from observing what friends own. We become envious of a friend's garment, food, house, and/or wealth and envy leads to coveting. Once a person is overpowered by coveting, he becomes capable of violating each of the Ten Commandments. This is the reason the sages of the past prayed: "let no person's jealousy rise up against me nor my jealousy upon others." Causing others to be envious of oneself is a violation of the Biblical injunction against "placing a stumbling block before the blind person." The Orchos Tzadikim advises men, women, and children not to wear very beautiful and expensive clothing and thereby arouse the envy of others. He also advises moderation with regard to food and other goods for the same reason.

Unfortunately, it's probably too late to reign in the world's envy of the American lifestyle. The only thing that will match the young people's mourning of our theft of their supposed future will be the glee with which they watch us crash and burn because of our greed and decadence.

Many books dealing with Jewish ethics (mussar) recommend histapkut bamuat as an ideal way of living a Torah life. For example, Rabbi Yechiel b. Yekusiel Anav, in his classic thirteenth-century ethics book, Ma'alos Hamiddos, describes 24 important virtues. Virtue 21 is being content with less and he advises people against extravagance. Rabbi Bachya (1255 – 1340), in his classical work on ethics, Chovos Halevavos [Duties of the Heart], devotes an entire chapter to “The Gate of Abstinence.” He makes the point that a lifestyle focused on materialism, luxuries, and overindulgence will turn a person away from God. The Torah attempts to teach the individual the importance of intellect ruling over desires; and not to make the pursuit of pleasure one’s “Torah” and religion.

Rabbi Yisrael Meir (Kagan (1838 – 1933), a very influential scholar known as the Chofetz Chaim (Kuntros Sefat Tamim 5) states:

Our sages, blessed are they, have stated that: ‘Who is wise man? One who sees the consequences of his actions.’ Therefore, a person, even if he is in a strong situation, must always understand that because of the turbulence of our times, which is prevalent because of our many sins, one should behave when it comes to personal expenditures in the middle way, according to the individual and place. And even if God has been kind to him and given him great wealth, he should not wear very expensive embroidered clothing since that will damage his soul because it brings a person to arrogance and also incites the Evil Inclination. In addition, it causes others, who do not have the means to look at him and desire to emulate him. In the end, they will borrow and not repay their loans or rob and cheat. And because of these extravagances, the expenses in our times for clothing for weddings have increased so that many of our daughters are humiliated when it comes time for them to get married. Fathers and mothers cry and wail and no one can help them.

Many Jewish communities including those in Eastern Europe and Yemen passed sumptuary laws — regulations limiting personal expenditures on religious grounds — during the last several centuries. These regulations dealt with such matters as overly flamboyant clothing, expensive foods, ornate weddings, etc. More recently, the Agudah enacted guidelines limiting the size of weddings. The Satmar Rav, Rabbi Aaron Teitelbaum, also instituted strict wedding and sheva berachot guidelines in 2008; they already had guidelines for bar mitzvahs.

Alas, these guidelines are routinely ignored even in ultra-orthodox, chereidi and hassidic communities, much less the rest of the Jewish world. Jewish young people today have very unrealistic expectations, and their parents, grandparents, and communities have failed to disabuse them of these unsustainable notions.

Although Judaism definitely frowns on extravagance, most of the ancient Talmudic sages did not approve of asceticism (Babylonian Talmud, Nedarim 10a; Babylonian Talmud, Nedarim 22a; Babylonian Talmud, Taanit 11a; Jerusalem Talmud, Nedarim 9:1). The prevalent view in Judaism seems to be that asceticism is not admirable (Tamari, 2000: 231-235). In fact, there is a Talmudic view that one will be punished for not indulging in permissible pleasures (Jerusalem Talmud, Kiddushin 4:12).

More to the point, a less consumerist, less materialistic lifestyle only means "going without" if you are so wrapped up in material possessions and conveniences that you can't enjoy ordinary simple pleasures. It certainly doesn't mean you have to starve or have rationed food or clothing or anything ridiculous like that. It does mean you will have to pay the real costs of these items, and cheap imports will be a thing of the past. The fact that most Americans are not going to give up their luxurious standard of living willingly is not in fact relevant. The end of the false "growth forever" economic paradigm, combined with continuing debt problems and the ever-present decline of oil production vis-a-vis rising developing world demand will require these changes to be made whether anyone wants to make them or not. Meanwhile, it would be prudent for everyone to begin the process voluntarily, by cutting back consumption, buying local or at least first world products, learning household economy skills such as gardening and mending and repair, and getting out of debt, first and foremost. Then, learn to enjoy things that don't cost money. It's that simple.

While honestly-obtained wealth is not a problem, ostentation and materialism are seen as inconsistent with biblical values. Both can lead a person astray and therefore an ideal life is based on voluntary simplicity. A person who leads a relatively simple life -- albeit not ascetic – will more easily be able to live a spiritually fulfilling life.

Amein, class.

Heshy Friedman is a Professor and Director of Business Programs, Brooklyn College

Monday, June 13, 2011

If this is fiscal responsibility...

...then I have a bridge I'd like to sell you.

Las Vegas Sun Online
Sun Editorial:
A somber anniversary
At 10 years old, Bush tax cuts continue to hurt the nation’s fiscal future
Saturday, June 11, 2011 | 2:01 a.m.

When President George W. Bush took office in 2001, he was handed quite the gift. The nation had been running a budget surplus, and there was talk that the federal government could be debt free by 2009.

But that wasn’t to be. Instead of using the money to pay down the deficit, Bush pushed for tax cuts, especially for the wealthy. A decade ago this past week, the first piece of the ignominious Bush tax cuts became law.

“We recognize, loud and clear, the surplus is not the government’s money,” Bush said at a bill signing ceremony. “The surplus is the people’s money. And we ought to trust them with their own money.”

Unfortunately, Americans are paying a heavy price for the Bush administration’s economic policies in the form of tremendous debt. While Bush cut taxes, he and Republicans in Congress supported more federal spending.

The Republicans didn’t see fit to pay for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq — which have cost more than $1 trillion — or much of anything else. There was no plan to increase taxes or find other ways to free up federal money to pay for those efforts. As a result, the surplus vanished, the government was back to borrowing and the deficit skyrocketed...

...The Republican leadership in Congress has laughably tried to make itself out to be fiscally responsible with its disingenuous and dangerous plans. They have even tried to blame Democrats and President Barack Obama for the nation’s economic woes, but they should look in the mirror. The GOP’s policies pushed the country into this mess.

Republicans have largely championed trickle-down economics, a theory that argues that tax breaks for the wealthy — like the Bush cuts — stimulate more investment. That is supposed to translate into more jobs and eventually more money in the average person’s pocket.

But it doesn’t work that way. The nation faced an economic downturn during Bush’s first term and it came out of it in the so-called “jobless recovery.” And his second term was marked by the Great Recession, which saw unemployment spike.

The Bush tax cuts over the last 10 years have failed, as have the Republican economic policies, which boil down to no new taxes and tax cuts for the rich...

In case you haven't noticed, both the Republicans and the Tea-Partiers have the same imperialistic military spending above and beyond all other considerations mentality still to this day - and still have no means whatsoever to pay for it except through debt. It isn't social security, unemployment benefits, or medicare/medicaid that has bankrupted this country, it is the military industrial complex, pure and simple.

So why are we still giving free security away? Why do we have bases outside of the US borders at all? If these people are our allies, they will give us space to land and refuel when they need assistance - which, of course, they should pay for to the last penny themselves. And if they want our bases on their soil for "deterrence" purposes, then again they should pay the tab - 100% in full - every month.

And it's clear that our wars of "liberation" are terribly selective - so selective, in fact, that peoples who don't happen to have natural resources coveted by the American Robber Barons need not apply. There is no possible reason for the invasion of Iraq other than to secure the oil, and there is no possible reason for the invasion of Afghanistan other than the rare earth minerals and the poppy income. That should be obvious by now. Every action the US government has taken is clearly targeted not toward "liberating" anyone from oppression but rather to "liberate" third world resources from those who would use them for the good of their own people and with a sustainable future in mind.

US foreign policy has no function except to keep third world peoples in bondage with "free trade" agreements that are in truth nothing more than a race to the bottom for wage and labour laws, safety regulations, environmental protection, and resource management. The leaders of those countries don't dare pass laws to improve their people's lot because then the Robber Barons would pack up and take their factories elsewhere. After all, there's always somebody more desperate.

American workers are finding this out the hard way. With no possible means of providing first world living wage jobs for the 40+ million people who are un-employed and under-employed (i.e. forced into part time jobs, or had their pay and benefits cut, or both), there is no possible way that income taxes will raise enough revenue to get the US out of debt and continue to pay for the US's imperialistic resource wars and military empire around the globe. It's simply not possible.

There is only one real way to solve this problem: tariffs on those products whose wage/labour, environmental, safety, etc., laws are not equivalent to first world standards (by which I mean Europe, not the US - which is in all respects except our military power no longer "first world" on any objective measure). And having done that, military spending will have to be limited only to protecting the US border and providing security only for US states and territories (unless hired by contract, as described above).

There is NO OTHER way to solve this problem. Cutting the social safety net to shreds WILL NOT bring a single person a living wage job in this country. Allowing for-profit insurance companies to drop coverage for sick people, children or students and refuse coverage for those with "pre-existing conditions" WILL NOT bring a single person a living wage job in this country, nor will allowing them to charge exorbitant rates in order to discourage the sick from purchasing a policy benefit job-seekers or society in any possible way. Continually refusing to put tariffs on cheap junk made in dangerous sweatshops WILL CERTAINLY NOT bring a single person a living wage job in this country.

What it will bring - indeed, has already brought, is our entry into the race to the bottom. And eventually, you'll see companies on American shores that have to put netting below their windows to prevent the suicides from splatting on the concrete or on the passers-by on the sidewalk below. After all, it works reasonably well in China. Only a few break through and actually crash into the ground. The rest just break their necks hitting netting. No mess, no fuss, no bother. Scoop them up and throw them away with the rest of the trash. Plenty more desperate job-seekers where those came from.

Is that the future you want? Get involved. Write your Congress-persons and volunteer for a campaign. Sitting around reading blogs will not save US citizens from having our social safety net taken away by greedy Robber Barons and military contractors. Only action counts.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

It's time to get serious about reforming Congress.

I received this email lately and I think it's a good springboard for discussion.

It is time. If you agree send it on. If you disagree, please delete it.

The 26th amendment (granting the right to vote for 18 year-olds) took only 3 months & 8 days to be ratified! Why? Simple! The people demanded it. That was in 1971...before computers, before e-mail, before cell phones, etc.

Of the 27 amendments to the Constitution, seven (7) took 1 year or less to become the law of the land...all because of public pressure.

I'm asking each addressee to forward this email to a minimum of twenty people on their address list; in turn ask each of those to do likewise.

In three days, most people in The United States of America will have the message. This is one idea that really should be passed around.

This should, hopefully, reach more than 20 people.

Congressional Reform Act of 2011

1. Term Limits.

12 years only, one of the possible options below..

A. Two Six-year Senate terms
B. Six Two-year House terms
C. One Six-year Senate term and three Two-Year House terms

This idea has been floated around for ages, and everyone supports it - yet somehow Congress never seems to get around to making it policy or law. Wonder why?

OK, we know why. They get wealth and influence from bribes from lobbyists and Corporate interests (overt and covert) while they're in office. None of them have enough character to give that up willingly.

2. No Tenure / No Pension.

A Congressman collects a salary while in office and receives no pay when they are out of office.

Amen. A term in Congress should not qualify anyone for being a perpetual leech at the taxpayers expense.

3. Congress (past, present & future) participates in Social Security.

All funds in the Congressional retirement fund move to the Social Security system immediately. All future funds flow into the Social Security system, and Congress participates with the American people.

Right now, Congress has exempted themselves from having to participate in Social Security by making their own cushy retirement fund with terms so cushy that they would NEVER, EVER implement them for ordinary Social Security recipients. In this county, there is not supposed to be one law for the peons and a different law for the rulers.

4. Congress can purchase their own retirement plan, just as all Americans do.

One, Congress should not have a separate plan for the ruling elite that is different than those available for ordinary Americans. And two, nobody should be "retiring" from Congress in the first place, since they should have a "real job" and not be perpetual burdens on society.

5. Congress will no longer vote themselves a pay raise. Congressional pay will rise by the lower of CPI or 3%.

Actually, I would say their pay raises must be pegged exactly to what percentage of increase they allot for Social Security cost of living increases each year. If those are the "real" figures, they should be good enough for Congress to live by, too.

6. Congress loses their current health care system and participates in the same health care system as the American people.

This point particularly irks me - and it should anger you, too. Congress have enacted ONLY FOR THEMSELVES a fully publicly funded single-payer healthcare system. We are denied access to this system. It's only for the elite ruling class. And this sort of situation should cause immediate pitchforks and molotov cocktails to be rained down on Congress until either WE get the same healthcare they decided was perfect for themselves, or until they are subject to the same medicare/medicaid/for-profit healthcare insurance scams that we are forced to use.

7. Congress must equally abide by all laws they impose on the American people.

A general proclamation of the above points of interest, this would make sure that Congress can't pass any other programs intended only for themselves as privileged elite and denied to the rest of us. Also, it would make ethics and bookkeeping and tax evasion laws that apply to the rest of us apply to congress, also. No de facto "diplomatic immunity" for them anymore.

8. All contracts with past and present Congressmen are void effective 1/1/12.

The American people did not make this contract with Congressmen. Congressmen made all these contracts for themselves.

Agreed. The American taxpayers have NO OBLIGATION to continue funding perks for Congress as if they were some kind of rarified elite class too good for the programs they stingily mete out for the rest of us.

Serving in Congress is an honor, not a career. The Founding Fathers envisioned citizen legislators, so ours should serve their term(s), then go home and back to work.

If each person contacts a minimum of twenty people then it will only take three days for most people (in the U.S. ) to receive the message. Maybe it is time.

THIS IS HOW YOU FIX CONGRESS!!!!!If you agree with the above, pass it on. If not, just delete

You are one of my 20+. Please keep it going.

I would like to add in a few more suggestions.

One, if Congresspersons want special security details, they should have to pay for it themselves.

Two, Congresspersons should be required to send all their k-12 children to public schools.

Three, travel should be at their own expense. In this day of Skype, activist journalism by every sort of group and organization, and nearly unlimited online resources for doing "research" on various topics, nobody needs to travel to other countries for any "fact finding." The only time travel should be covered is if they are in an actual sign-on-the-dotted-line meeting with a foreign official who has authority to make such agreements. Otherwise, it's a glorified vacation and they should pay all the expenses themselves.

Four, a "zero tolerance" policy for scandals. Anyone caught in any immoral or unethical shenanigans should face automatic dismissal, period.

If all of these things were enacted, America would be a fair and equitable society as it was intended to be, instead of the obviously class-based system of perks and benefits that we have now. In this day and age, there is no place for a ruling class elitism that exempts itself from the laws passed for others. Right now, Congress is no different than Animal Farm - they are "more equal" than others and it needs to stop.

Any Congressperson who fails to vote for a Constitutional Amendment such as this one should automatically considered corrupt and voted out of office. This should be THE litmus test of the next elections - a pass/fail exam. Either they vote for this Amendment, or they're out.

Monday, June 06, 2011

Ach! My eyes!

That blinding flash of the obvious! Quick, somebody hit a Republican with it.

Detroit Free Press Online
New study: You can't live on minimum wage
12:23 AM, May. 31, 2011

...The Basic Economic Security Tables for Michigan, a study that analyzes the cost of essential needs for singles and families across Michigan, found the cost of providing basic necessities -- such as shelter, food and transportation -- far exceeds minimum wage and the paychecks of people working full-time in low-paying job categories.

Among the findings:

• Single Michigan residents without children must earn $12.24 an hour to support themselves.

• A mother with two young children -- like Thomas -- needs $24.49 an hour to house, clothe and feed her children. That's three times the minimum wage...

...although the state's unemployment rate is dropping, the number of requests for food assistance is climbing because many of the new jobs being created are low-paying.

"So if you put $60 worth of gas in your car, you can't buy your kid milk," she said. "With these kinds of salaries, you can't support your kids, you can't buy them clothes, save for college, or have money on hand for a car repair."

..."How do you live on that? When I ask her, she says there aren't any jobs out there. And there aren't. We're seeing a lot of people who are working hard, but not getting very far."

So the solution is to cut social services, right? Get rid of social security, medicare and medicaid, and that will magically make wages go high enough for people to live decently, right?

Is there anyone other than a teapartier out there who is really stupid enough to believe this? (Of course, the teapartiers don't really believe it, but they claim they do - not because they do but because they just don't want to pay taxes, period, and don't care about the consequences to other people or society. They've got theirs, apparently.)

Republicans of all stripes, meanwhile, are doing their best to make sure nobody makes more than minimum wage - and many would like to get rid of the minimum wage. Those guys in third world nations are willing to work 24/7/365 for $.50 an hour - that's why they have the jobs now. CEOs are laughing all the way to the bank, and their employees don't matter to them at all - after all, there are plenty more where the first ones came from. You in the American offices should sit down and shut up.

After all, you're lucky you live in the "best nation on earth," you ungrateful brats. So shut up and find your 3rd part time no benefits minimum wage mcwally-wort job, you lazy bums. It's your own fault you can't get a living wage job. Those are for EXECUTIVES. You're just jealous. As for the old, they should just hurry up and die. They're burdens on society - like poor and minority kids. Who cares if they go hungry or don't get medical care.

(Of course, the Republicans will care when THEIR kids get sick from the diseases mutating and running rampant due to lack of public healthcare - but that's not really a major worry to them, since they don't send their kids to school with "those" types of kids anyway.)

But I digress. This is what FREE TRADE has brought to America - poverty and a society that can no longer function under the burden of wage stagnation. Republicans did this to us, so they could wallow in more luxury and not pay taxes on it. And more of this is what a Republican controlled congress and a Republican president will bring - tax breaks for the rich and increasing poverty for the former middle class who can no longer make living wages no matter how many jobs they hold at once.

Follow up: The vicious cycle caused by low wages: people who aren't paid living wages can't afford the offerings of a "service economy." It takes actual income to be able to afford to pay other people to do your chores or to partake in non-essential services, as some companies are finding out the hard way.

Variety Online
Posted: Tue., May. 31, 2011, 4:00am PT
Poverty a problem for pay TV
Study: More people can't afford services
By Tom Lowry

...Amid the euphoria, however, those execs didn't address what might happen to their bottom lines when consumers could no longer swallow those increasingly larger bills.

They may be facing that reality soon. In a foreboding new report, one analyst concludes that a major risk facing companies like Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Verizon and AT&T is not heated competition from each other, or a fast growing outlier like Netflix, but rather poverty. "The poverty problem provides a new and sobering lens for any serious analysis of the telecom and media sectors," concluded Sanford Bernstein analyst Craig Moffett. "At the low end, customers aren't just choosing between one provider and another. They're often choosing between these services and a third meal." His 96-page report, "U.S. Telecommunications and Cable & Satellite: The Poverty Problem," was released Friday and was certain to have ruined the long Memorial Day weekend for at least a few media execs...

...To underscore his premise, Moffett offered some data that would make any sales force out pushing subscriptions cringe.

• About two-thirds of American families subsist on less than the average after-tax income of $62,000 a year. "We are, sadly, a country where most Americans are below average," Moffett wrote.

• Fifty million Americans are on food stamps.

• Forty-nine million are considered "food insecure," with no confidence where the next meal is coming from.

• Forty-four million Americans now live below the poverty line.

"The picture of an America where 40% of households are essentially bereft of discretionary spending power has incredibly important implications for companies in our coverage," Moffett wrote.

And there's no end in sight of the wage stagnation, as more and more people desperately agree to work for sub-living wages.

CBS News Online
June 5, 2011
Chronic unemployment worse than Great Depression
The unemployed have, on average, remained unemployed longer than in the 1930s; Employers wary of job gaps in resumes
By Ben Tracy

...Summer job bummer: Teen unemployment 24 percent
Nearly 14 million Americans are looking for work...

...About 6.2 million Americans, 45.1 percent of all unemployed workers in this country, have been jobless for more than six months - a higher percentage than during the Great Depression...

...The problem of course is the economy, but some industries, especially certain manufacturing jobs, are not ever expected to come back...

Of course, Peak Oil will make them come back, eventually. But if the Republicans have their way, it won't be before the economy of the continental US is pretty much destroyed by wage stagnation and increasing poverty. Cutting off social services isn't going to make living wages jobs magically re-appear. Only getting rid of ridiculously one-sided "free trade" agreements with steep tariffs and penalties for outsourcing will do that. That should be obvious.