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September 20, 2014 / 25 Elul, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘society’

Parshat Nitzavim

Thursday, September 13th, 2012

Colin Powell, despite reaching the pinnacle of power, has never forgotten his simple roots in the Bronx. This proud connection to his past manifests itself in many ways, ranging from his work ethic to his love of hotdogs. It also manifests itself in his appreciation of what the “regular guy” brings to the table in every organization. All too often people focus on the leaders and big players who are on everybody’s radar. But in a certain sense, it is the people in the trenches—the ones nobody knows—who are the real heroes; the people who really drive society forward.

One of the responsibilities of a leader is to articulate a vision and sense of purpose for the organization. This includes ensuring that every member of the organization understands the vision, buys into the vision, and appreciates his personal role in actualizing the vision. To illustrate this point Powell relates an interesting anecdote in his new book, It Worked for Me: In Life and Leadership (2012). He was once watching a documentary about the Empire State Building. Most of the documentary focused on the building’s history, architecture and construction. But towards the end the camera showed a large room filled with hundreds of filled and tied black garbage bags. Deep beneath the powerful offices, majestic lobbies and observation deck was the trash room. Although it was obvious what the room’s function was and what the jobs of the men working there were the narrator nonetheless asked one of the workers, “What’s your job?” The man looked back, smiled and said, “Our job is to make sure that tomorrow morning when people from all over the world come to this wonderful building, it shines, it is clean, and it looks great” (p.24). Powell explains that this man got it. He was not merely a custodian. He was a key cast member of the Empire State Building.

I always wonder when I read stories like this if the writer truly believes what he’s writing or is just writing what he thinks sounds good. However, in this particular case Divine providence provided me an answer. The week before I read this book I had visited a private school in Manhattan to discuss curriculum issues. Amid our discussion the headmaster related that his daughter worked for the State Department; she had been initially hired by Colin Powell who was then secretary of state. Though she was a Democrat and Powell a republican there were a number of things that convinced her to take the job; what clinched it however, was this: at the conclusion of the interview, Powell showed her around the Department of State. Entering a hallway, they encountered one of the custodians cleaning the floor. Powell stopped, and addressing him by name asked how he was doing and how his wife’s doctor’s visit had gone. The man responded in kind. She saw how Powell genuinely cared about this person and viewed him as a valued player in the State Department. The headmaster told me that his daughter decided right there that Powell was the kind of person she wanted to work with.

The necessity for leaders to articulate a clear vision, explain it to the masses and inspire them to believe that they all have a role in its realization is underscored by the Torah at the beginning of this week’s Parsha. The Torah describes (29:9-11) how all of Bnei Yisrael were assembled in front of G-d to make a covenant with Him. The assemblage included the chieftains, constables, children, women, and converts – the full strata of Israelite society, from its leadership to its physical laborers. Nobody was excluded. The commentators discuss the Torah’s careful delineation of all the different categories of people present that day.

The Alshich comments that the Torah wanted to emphasize that in truth it is impossible to determine who is more important than whom. While it may seem evident to our earthly senses that person A is more distinguished and honorable than person B, the Heavenly perspective might be very different. The person who seems honorable to us might in fact have played a less significant role in the progress of history than the person who seems simpler. When Moshe assembled all of Bnei Yisrael that day as one group, people realized that they would each be accorded equal respect and attention.

Markets, Politics, And The True Legacy Of Adam Smith

Thursday, September 13th, 2012

We wonder about the endlessly volatile markets and also (not often enough) about plainly unequal distributions of national wealth, but are the nation’s official policy responses based on correct views of classical economic theory? In particular, what about Adam Smith and his oft-quoted arguments for “free market capitalism”? More than any other classical theorist, Smith has been embraced by conservatives.

In brief, Smith reasoned, always capably and persuasively, that a system of private property, though naturally unequal, could still permit the poor to live tolerably. Rejecting Jean Jacques Rousseau’s contrary position that in commerce, “the privileged few…gorge themselves with superfluities, while the starving multitude are in want of the bare necessities of life,” Smith saw in capitalism not only an enviably rising productivity, but also the ultimate prerequisite for political liberty.

Adam Smith published his Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations in 1776. A revolutionary book, Wealth did not aim to support the interests of any one class over another, but rather the overall well being of an entire nation. He discovered, as we all know, “an invisible hand,” an unsought convergence whereby “the private interests and passions of men” will lead to “that which is most agreeable to the interest of a whole society.”

Through capitalistic modes of production and exchange, reasoned Smith, an inextinguishable social inequality might still be reconciled with broad human progress.

Significantly, however, today’s conservative defenders of Smith usually ignore, either deliberately or unwittingly, the full depth of his relentlessly complex thought. A system of “perfect liberty,” as Smith called it, could never be based upon any encouragements of needless consumption. Instead, he argued, the laws of the market, driven by competition and a consequent “self-regulation,” strongly demanded a principled disdain for all vanity-driven consumption. “Conspicuous consumption,” a phrase that would be used far more effectively later on by Thorsten Veblen, could therefore never become the proper motor of economic or social improvement.

Adam Smith understood the dynamics of conspicuous consumption, but he disliked them altogether. For him, it was only reasonable that the market regulate both the price and quantity of goods according to the final arbiter of public demand. Yet, he continued, this market ought never to be manipulated by any avaricious interferers. More precisely, Smith excoriated all who would artificially create or encourage contrived demand as mischievously vain meddlers of a “mean rapacity.”

Today, of course, with engineered demand and hyper-Consumption as both permanent and allegedly desirable market features, we have lost all sight of Smith’s “natural liberty.” As a result, we try, foolishly and interminably, to construct our economic recovery and vitality on sand. Below the surface, we still fail to recognize, lurks a truly fundamental problem that is not political, economic, fiscal or financial. Instead, as Adam Smith would have us understand, it is a plainly psychological or human dilemma, one we should acknowledge can never be resolved by either Barack Obama or Mitt Romney.

Wall Street’s persisting fragility is largely a mirror image of Main Street’s insatiable drive toward hyper-consumption. This manipulated drive, so execrable to Adam Smith, has already prompted certain learned economists to warn repeatedly against saving too much. Could any advice be more ironic?

Whether Democrats or Republicans, all voters believe our national economic effort must always be oriented toward buying more. No one seems to ask, Exactly what sort of society can we expect from an economic system based on imitation and conformance?

Contrived demand has not always been a basic driver of our economy. Before television, and before our latest social networking gadgets, such demand could not have had any such overwhelming power and effect.

Writing in the middle of the nineteenth century, the American Transcendentalist philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson spoke presciently of “self-reliance.” Foolish “reliance upon property,” Emerson had understood, is the unwanted result of “a want of self‑reliance.”

Now, living apprehensively amid a literally delirious collectivism, the ever-fearful American wants, more or less desperately, to project a “successful” image. This projection, in turn, remains founded upon material acquisition of “all the right things.”

In the final analysis, as Adam Smith himself would have understood, it will be the relentlessly conformist call of American mass society that critically undermines our core economy.

Universal Education or Universal Competence?

Sunday, September 9th, 2012

Education was the defining paradigm of the 20th Century model of social progress, particularly the scientific education distributed through cells and classes where trained educators teach from prepared texts imparting the same knowledge to every students through the same methods.

Our educational system is nothing if not extensive. We, collectively and individually, spend fortunes on it. The average cost of a four year degree is approaching 100,000 dollars and that isn’t counting textbooks (1,100 per year) and the astronomical rates of interest on student loans. Total student loan debt has doubled in the last seven years and is approaching 300 billion dollars. The average student under 30 owes around 20,000 dollars as education has become the new mortgage.

Senior citizens who came of age in the age when college became universalized are having their social security payments reduced to cover their student loan debts proving that a college education really does last for a lifetime.

The individual expenses for an education are trivial compared to the collective burden. The budget for New York City’s Department of Education is 24.4 billion dollars. That is nearly the GDP of Vermont being expended on the schools of a single city. It’s the GDP of 60 percent of the countries on the planet being shoveled into a single school system of 1.1 million children under the banner of “Children First” that amounts to 40 percent of the city budget.

New York spends 11,572 dollars per pupil. For now the home of Wall Street can afford this kind of insane waste, closing the budget shortfall by finding a way to impose a 300 million or 500 million dollar fine on a major bank or brokerage. Most other places can’t. Across the river, New Jersey’s disastrous schools are bleeding taxpayers dry with murderous property taxes to fund failing schools.

The same story is repeated across the nation where homeowners are bled to fund swollen pension funds and failing urban schools. Gimmicks such as “weighed student funding” are used to divert as much money as possible from successful local schools to unsuccessful urban schools. People are losing their homes so that another high school in Newark can roll out more afterschool programs and Michelle Obama’s idea of nutritious lunches.

Politicians take for granted that education is the road to empowerment and equality. Obama has read poems off his teleprompter about the wonders of education as the only means of ensuring “our” children’s future. There is nothing revolutionary about that. Every politician takes it for granted that education means empowerment. But does it really?

Universal education was the panacea of every socialist state. By NEA rankings the Soviet Union had a better education system than we do. Its system routed as much of the population as possible through higher education and degree mills making it better educated, on paper, than the Yankee running dogs of the decadent West. And yet the USSR was behind the United States in every possible area of life.

The more you universalize education, the lower the value of that education becomes. When the goal of education is not to teach, but to graduate, then the educational system becomes a cattle run which exists only to move students through the system and then out the door through classroom promotion. The High School education of today is inferior to the Elementary School education of yesterday and the four year college graduate of today couldn’t even begin to match wits with a high school graduate from 1946. College has become the new High School. Graduate school is the new college. If we keep following the European model, then two decades from now, everyone will be encouraged to get a Master’s Degree which will be the prerequisite for most jobs and also be completely worthless.

The current model is that the more education you have, the better you are and the better that the society you live in will be. Everyone is expected to finish High School and as many as possible are encouraged to go to college, even if they’ll die before they pay off the student debt and even if more people go bankrupt subsidizing other people’s education. And at some point when everyone has six years of higher education, we’ll have a utopia of flying cars, glowing sidewalks in the sky and 5 minute tours of the moon.

Where’s the Shame? U.S. Tax Dollars Funding Palestinian Fiscal Incompetence & Terror

Tuesday, September 4th, 2012

The economy presided over by the Palestinian Authority and its head Mahmoud Abbas is a peculiar thing.

A year ago, the New York Times reported that the PA had managed to run up a deficit of more than half a billion US dollars in 2011 alone, and was borrowing heavily from unspecified banks. The financial crisis, according to PA prime minister and famed economist Salam Fayyad, was due to the failure of the PA’s sovereign friends to make good on their pledges. “Of the $971 million pledged by donors for this year, $330 million of it has been paid so far,” said the July 2011 report, quickly adding that “Fayyad said the current financial crisis had no bearing on the Palestinians’ readiness for independence.”

Ready for independence or not, the PA has now managed to run up an electricity tab of more than NIS 700 million. That’s how much they owed the Israel Electric Company as of September 1, 2012. Israel’s minister for energy Uzi Landau said yesterday that he will be instructing the IEC “to take all necessary steps to collect these debts, with all the implications that may arise.” Does he mean to turn off the power to the Abbas regime? Maybe.

The Times of Israel noted that:

“The accumulated electricity debt is another sign of the Palestinian Authority’s mounting cash crunch, which it largely blames on a sharp reduction in foreign aid since 2011.”

In tough economic times, you make tough economic decisions. Unless you’re the Palestinian Authority. Contemplate yesterday‘s report from Israel’s Channel 2, that the Palestinian Authority is spending $4.5 million a month paying salaries to  Palestinians in Israeli jails and to their families.

According to the report, the amount the Palestinians receives depends on  how long he is sentenced to (or in other words, how severe the crimes of the terrorist were).  Pursuant to a 2003 Palestinian Authority law, getting sentenced up to five years in prison earns NIS 1,000 ($250) per month. A life sentence earns NIS 4,000 ($1,000).  That amount increased further in 2011, under Fayyad’s stewardship, by an average of 300%.

And these terror-salaries and family benefits are not restricted to the members of the so-called “moderate” Palestinian factions like Fatah. They include Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

The report goes on to say that murderers get paid even more, the longer their incarceration. To illustrate, the Channel 2 report brings the case of the multiple murderer Abdullah Barghouti, sentenced in 2004 to 67 life sentences – one for each of the lives he snuffed out. He’s also the man who built the bomb that murdered Malki Roth (the daughter of the authors of this article). As a convicted murderer on behalf of the Palestinian Arabs, he qualifies for a monthly stipend of NIS 4,000 ($1,000). This will rise automatically next year to NIS 6,000.

(Here’s the original Channel 2 news report in Hebrew; and the Times of Israel‘s English version).

According to the U.S. Institute of Peace as well as the Congressional Research Service, Palestinians in Judea and Samaria (“West Bank”) and the Gaza Strip, are “the largest per capita recipients of international development assistance in the world.”

Who makes available the funding that allows the PA to conduct its unconscionable, terror-encouraging financial policies? Well, quite a number of people, if you’re asking. And some that may be quite close to where you live.

In an article for Algeminier, Arsen Ostrovsky, a fellow at the American Center for Democracy, wrote that:

In the last five years, the U.S. government has poured at least $4 billion in aid to the Palestinians, with very little to show in return – except more terror and corruption.Since 2008, annual U.S. bilateral assistance to the PA has averaged over $600 million, including $513 million for the current budgetary year.Time has now long come to ask whether the U.S. should continue funding at all.

Ostrovsky notes that when this past April, Congresswomen Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fl), as chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee put a hold on $59 million destined to the Palestinian Authority, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton released them anyway on the grounds that the funds ” provided critical support to the Palestinian people and those leaders seeking to combat extremism within their society and build a more stable future.”

Living With The Past, Not In It

Wednesday, August 29th, 2012

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness…” (Dr. Martin Luther King).

“I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense that once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain” (James Arthur Baldwin).

There is a verse in Ki Teitzei momentous in its implications. It is easy to miss, appearing as it does in the midst of a series of miscellaneous laws about inheritance, rebellious sons, overladen oxen, marriage violations and escaping slaves. Without any special emphasis or preamble, Moses delivers a command so counterintuitive that we have to read it twice to make sure we have heard it correctly:

“Do not hate an Edomite, because he is your brother.”

“Do not hate an Egyptian, because you were a stranger in his land” (Deuteronomy 23:8).

What does this mean in its biblical context? The Egyptians of Moses’s day had enslaved the Israelites, “embittered their lives,” subjected them to a ruthless regime of hard labor, and forced them to eat the bread of affliction. They had embarked on a program of attempted genocide, Pharaoh commanding his people to throw “every male [Israelite] child born, into the river” (Exodus 1:22).

Now, forty years later, Moses speaks as if none of this had happened, as if the Israelites owed the Egyptians a debt of gratitude for their hospitality. Yet he and the people were where they were only because they were escaping from Egyptian persecution. Nor did he want the people to forget it. To the contrary, he told them to recite the story of the exodus every year, as we still do on Passover, reenacting it with bitter herbs and unleavened bread so that the memory would be passed on to all future generations. If you want to preserve freedom, he implies, never forget what it feels like to lose it. Yet here, on the banks of the Jordan, addressing the next generation, he tells the people, “Do not hate an Egyptian.” What is going on in this verse?

To be free, you have to let go of hate; that is what Moses is saying. If they continued to hate their erstwhile enemies, Moses would have taken the Israelites out of Egypt, but he would not have taken Egypt out of the Israelites. Mentally, they would still be there, slaves to the past. They would still be in chains, not of metal but of the mind – and chains of the mind are the most constricting of all.

You cannot create a free society on the basis of hate. Resentment, rage, humiliation, a sense of injustice, the desire to restore honor by inflicting injury on your former persecutors – these are conditions of a profound lack of freedom. You must live with the past, implies Moses, but not in the past. Those who are held captive by anger against their former persecutors are captive still. Those who let their enemies define who they are have not yet achieved liberty.

The Mosaic books refer time and again to the exodus and the imperative of memory: “you shall remember that you were slaves in Egypt.” Yet never is this invoked as a reason for hatred, retaliation or revenge. Always it appears as part of the logic of the just and compassionate society the Israelites are commanded to create: the alternative order, the antithesis of Egypt. The implicit message is this: limit slavery, at least as far as your own people are concerned. Don’t subject them to hard labor. Give them rest and freedom every seventh day. Release them every seventh year. Recognize them as like you, not ontologically inferior. No one is born to be a slave.

Give generously to the poor. Let them eat from the leftovers of the harvest. Leave them a corner of the field. Share your blessings with others. Don’t deprive people of their livelihood. The entire structure of biblical law is rooted in the experience of slavery in Egypt, as if to say: you know in your heart what it feels like to be the victim of persecution; therefore do not persecute others.

Starving Amidst Plenty

Monday, August 27th, 2012

There are two types of societies, production societies and rationing societies. The production society is concerned with taking more territory, exploiting that territory to the best of its ability and then discovering new techniques for producing even more. The rationing society is concerned with consolidating control over all existing resources and rationing them out to the people.

The production society values innovation because it is the only means of sustaining its forward momentum. If the production society ceases to be innovative, it will collapse and default to a rationing society. The rationing society however is threatened by innovation because innovation threatens its control over production.

Socialist or capitalist monopolies lead to rationing societies where production is restrained and innovation is discouraged. The difference between the two is that a capitalist monopoly can be overcome. A socialist monopoly however is insurmountable because it carries with it the full weight of the authorities and the ideology that is inculcated into every man, woman and child in the country.

We have become a rationing society. Our industries and our people are literally starving in the midst of plenty. Farmers are kept from farming, factories are kept from producing and businessmen are kept from creating new companies and jobs. This is done in the name of a variety of moral arguments, ranging from caring for the less fortunate to saving the planet. But rhetoric is only the lubricant of power. The real goal of power is always power. Consolidating production allows for total control through the moral argument of rationing, whether through resource redistribution or cap and trade.

The politicians of a rationing society may blather on endlessly about increasing production, but it’s so much noise, whether it’s a Soviet Five Year Plan or an Obama State of the Union Address. When they talk about innovation and production, what they mean is the planned production and innovation that they have decided should happen on their schedule. And that never works.

You can ration production, but that’s just another word for poverty. You can’t ration innovation, which is why the aggressive attempts to put low mileage cars on the road have failed. As the Soviet Union discovered, you can have rationing or innovation, but you can’t have both at the same time. The total control exerted by a monolithic entity, whether governmental or commercial, does not mix well with innovation.

The rationing society is a poverty generator because not only does it discourage growth, its rationing mechanisms impoverish existing production with massive overhead. The process of rationing existing production requires a bureaucracy for planning, collecting and distributing that production that begins at a ratio of the production and then increases without regard to the limitations of that production.

Paradoxically the rationing infrastructure increases in direct proportion to the falloff of production as lower production requires even greater rationing. This is what we are seeing now in the United States, in a weak economy, there is greater justification for the expansion of rationing mechanisms. And the worse the economy becomes, the bigger government will become to “compensate” for the problems of the economy.

In a production society, the role of government is to expand the territories of exploitation and to protect those territories. In a rationing society, the role of government is to control the available quantities of production with a view to distributing them fairly. Naturally, the rationers, as always, get the best rations. In a production society, government is a means of protecting everyone’s ability to produce. In a rationing society, government prevents the bigger from grabbing the rations of the smaller and protects everyone from grabbing all the rations at once and starving to death.

The sort of society we have is fit for passengers adrift at sea on a lifeboat parceling out their last crackers. It is an emergency society for the lost and the starving. And perversely we are starving amidst plenty.

The rationing society discourages people from farming and encourages them to peer in each other’s mouths to see who is eating more than his fair share. In the rationing society everyone is certain that they are not getting their fair share and eager to sign on to initiatives to get their group’s fair share. In a rationing society everyone is an informer because everyone’s livelihood depends on informing on others.

What Would it Take to Make You as Happy as This Woman?

Monday, August 20th, 2012

http://thisongoingwar.blogspot.co.il/2012/08/20-aug-12-it-was-great-you-could-sense.html

Please spend two minutes and 46 seconds in watching the edited extract of a television  interview with the woman who planned and executed a massacre of innocent civilians, most of them children, eleven years ago. Following the killings, she went to her place of work which happens to have been a television studio, and calmly read the evening news bulletin, starting with a report of the massacre that she herself had perpetrated some hours earlier.

After an intense criminal investigation, she was arrested less than two months later and charged with the murders of fifteen people, along with a host of other felonies. She was convicted and sentenced to sixteen terms of life imprisonment. But as a result of a controversial and cynical political deal, she was freed (not pardoned) in October 2011 and released to the land of her birth where she has become a major celebrity. Her recent wedding to her cousin, another unjustly freed murderer, received live television coverage and extensive media attention. Not only a celebrity but a hero.

Watch how the woman’s face radiates the joy that comes from recounting how the death toll grew steadily in the hour or so that she spent fleeing the scene via public transport, unhindered by the police. Absorb the message of how members of the public, unaware the murderer was seated beside them, expressed happiness at the deaths of anonymous children.

Imagine the feelings of the families of the innocents murdered by a person like this as they see her achievements celebrated and honored, as they listen to the prideful boasting of an unrepentant killer whose only regret is that she did not manage to kill more. She has confessed over and again since being allowed out of captivity. There can be absolutely no doubt that her deeds are an inspiration to countless others seeking the glory and vindication that her society has delivered to her.

The video, which went to air in July and has just been translated and edited by MEMRI, is here.

 

 

 

 

Ahlam Tamimi, a very happy person, lives in complete and unfettered freedom in the Kingdom of Jordan from where she has traveled several times in the ten months since her release to such places as Tunisia, Lebanon and Qatar to give public speeches. She hosts a television program of her own that is broadcast by satellite throughout the Arabic-speaking world. She married her cousin in June.

Among the fifteen people murdered by her on August 9, 2001 is our daughter Malki who was fifteen years old. A sixteenth victim, the young mother of a two year old child, has remained in a vegetative state since being injured in the attack.

What should a civilized society do in the wake of this woman’s story?

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/blogs/this-ongoing-war/what-would-it-take-to-make-you-as-happy-as-this-woman/2012/08/20/

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