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Archive for June, 2011

EU Doesn’t Oppose Palestinian Statehood

I can never quite understand how seemingly intelligent, good-minded people cannot see the difference between good and evil. It seems to be a common problem, especially with politicians. I want to assume (perhaps erroneously) that policy makers are well-informed, which means they should be able to recognize the firefighters from the arsonists. Unfortunately, this typically does not seem to be the case. I suspect it has more to do with being dishonest to the public in order to accomplish some goal. Politicians are gifted with this ability.

Case in point: The Jerusalem Post has an article about the opinions of European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek regarding Palestinian statehood.

He wants to make it clear that the European Union does not oppose a declaration of Palestinian statehood by the UN General Assembly. He just thinks a negotiated solution is preferable, but he obviously supports Palestinian statehood either way regardless of the consequences.

“I never said that I or the European Union opposes a unilateral declaration,” Buzek said. “I said that it is better to negotiate the solution. It is much better to have a dialogue and understanding.”

“Unilateral declarations or decisions are not the best solution, but let me be frank,” he added. “Your [Israel’s] decisions about settlements are also unilateral, and have not been the best decisions. The Palestinians may not be making the best decision, but the settlements have complicated negotiations.”

Back to this old and tired strategy: affordable housing is an obstacle to peace.

The last “rightful owner” of Palestine was Great Britain when it seized the land from the defeated Ottoman Empire. With British approval, the land was divided by the United Nations into two portions: one for the Jews and one for the Arabs. The Jewish portion became Israel which was immediately attacked by the neighboring Arab nations. Israel survived and everyone within the borders of Israel was granted citizenship — Arabs included.

What happened to the other half of Palestine which was destined for the Arabs? It was seized and annexed by Jordan and became “the West Bank” of Jordan. Given this, I suppose it makes sense that those living in the West Bank of Jordan should have been given Jordanian citizenship. The point is that there never was an independent state of Palestine and, after losing the land to Israel in 1967, Jordan officially dissolved its link to the West Bank in 1988. So, exactly how is the land occupied if there is no rightful owner?

The simple truth is that the land is not “occupied” — the correct term is “disputed.” As a result, Israel has just as much right to build on this land as anyone else. In fact, Israel has a greater right.

For a very eloquent legal discourse on this topic, look here.

The fact that the settlements have complicated negotiations is certainly true, but there would have been no need for any negotiations (at any time) if the Arabs were not hell-bent on destroying the Jewish state. This problem exists 100% because of Arab aggression and blood-lust.

Buzek said that in his meeting with the Palestinians on Wednesday, the PA did not say they would recognize Israel as a Jewish state, nor did they discuss possible compromises over the refugee issue.

“We know there is a problem with refugees, and it should be solved in some way, but what is most important is that we should sit down and start negotiating without preconditions,” he said. “Sit down and start, and then we’ll see which problem is most difficult, which to start from, whether it’s the refugees or borders or Jerusalem.”

There is no point negotiating with someone who is not negotiating in good faith. Let’s start with what should be the simplest and easiest point: Israel has a right to exist as a Jewish state. If we cannot agree on this simple concept, then there is no point on additional discussions.

In my view, there is no point in discussing Jerusalem or refugees. Thankfully, Israel legally annexed all of Jerusalem and they are not entitled to any of it. Discussing refugees is really a discussion of allowing Arabs (and their children and their children’s children, etc.) to return to land within Israel. Why would Israel grant citizenship to people who openly express the desire to destroy her? It is a non-starter. Let’s allow the displaced American Indians to return to Manhattan. It sounds ludicrous even though the Indians don’t want to destroy New York, so how much more ludicrous is this? Besides, as I already mentioned, how is there any refugee problem? Everyone who was inside of the borders of Israel was already granted citizenship.

Buzek did not answer a question about the legality of European Parliament members joining the upcoming flotilla to Gaza, calling the humanitarian situation there “a sad story.”

Refusing to answer only means there is no way to spin it into a neutral sounding explanation.

“Observe how people in Gaza live. It looks horrible,” he said. “The humanitarian disaster is terrible; let’s solve it in the best possible way.”

It really is horrible these days in Gaza.  Check it out for yourself.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uy_LVcfmMsY

Gaza has malls and country clubs. Arabs were actually smuggling food out of Gaza and into Egypt several months ago. Give me a break.

The Europeans have a history of not being capable of telling the difference between the good guys and the bad guys. I think I can use two World Wars as evidence (with a third one brewing). Now is the time to put an end to this charade, but the EU will want to delay, and talk, and appease until it is too late.

Of course, the Europeans have their own self-made, Muslim immigration problems and their desire to appease probably has a lot to do with their own immediate safety.

Regardless, I think a UN declaration of Palestinian statehood might be a good thing. Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has some thoughts (perhaps threats) on the topic.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said in a meeting with his EU counterpart Catherine Ashton on Friday that if the Palestinians unilaterally declare statehood, it will bring an end to the Oslo Accords.

“A move like that will be a violation of all the agreements that were signed until today,” Lieberman said. “Israel will no longer be committed to the agreements signed with the Palestinians in the past 18 years.”

All those years of terrible Israeli concessions eliminated in a single stroke.

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The Trip to Germany

The only way to fly

A few weeks ago, I had to go on a business trip to Germany. I’m not really big on “seeing the world”. When I was six (or seven) my parents did the European vacation. I’ve been to Hawaii and I’ve been to the Caribbean, Canada, and Mexico a few times. Otherwise, all my travels have been within the continental United States (which, admittedly is a pretty extensive place.)

Germany.  I’ve already been there and I wasn’t that interested in returning. Besides, Germany gives me the creeps. However, it was a business trip and sometimes you just have to suck it up and do what needs to be done.

It actually was a nice and successful trip. It was a very quick trip.  I think I was away from Israel for only about 36 hours.

The initial security checkpoint

I was dropped off at the airport in Tel-Aviv at about 7 a.m. Airport security is taken very seriously. There is a security checkpoint that all vehicles must pass through to gain access to the airport grounds. The soldier at the checkpoint asked the taxi driver a few questions and then turned to me. Where are you going? How long are you going? Why are you traveling there? Where do you live? How long have you lived there?  Why can’t you speak Hebrew? I think he pretty much just made the questions up on the fly. I don’t think the questions matter. He watched me as I answered and then waved me on. I’m not the typical traveler.  I don’t look Israeli, I don’t speak Hebrew, and I’m traveling alone — I probably warrant a few extra questions (and profiling and investigator intuition are used as effective screening tools).

If I looked suspicious while in the taxi, it had to be worse when I got out. I wanted to bring a small carry-on suitcase, but I don’t own one (yet). As a result, I stuffed everything into my large, notebook-computer backpack. That includes two changes of clothing, tallit, tefillin, notebook computer, accessories, toiletries, etc.

As I approached the main airport entrance, I noticed a metal detector, a table, and a soldier situated about 30 feet from the entrance. It looked like something out of a Monty Python skit — a metal detector in the middle of nowhere. I really wanted to take a picture, but I’m not sure it would have been appreciated and I want to keep my camera.

As soon as I noticed the metal detector, I realized it was there for people just like me.  A guy with a big, overstuffed, backpack traveling alone. The soldier beckoned to me with a serious face and I couldn’t help feeling amused. He started with “the questions” and asked me to open the backpack. He lost interest when he saw the tefillin and didn’t bother checking the rest. A quick trip through the  metal detector and I was on my way…. to the next security checkpoint inside the airport.

Eventually I found myself on the plane. The flight was uneventful and I arrived in Frankfurt at around noon. I was traveling with a work associate named K’fir. We picked up a taxi and went straight to the customer’s facility which was located about a 20 minute drive away.

I’m pretty sure the taxi driver was an Arab. Why do I think this? Well, he just gave me that feeling from his general appearance. However, it was his driving that really convinced me. He drove as if he could become a martyr by taking out two Jews in an automobile accident. It is pretty established that “texting” while driving can be dangerous, but this was ridiculous. He must have been driving 70 miles an hour, weaving through traffic, and then took the off ramp at 50 mph — texting the whole time. We arrived at our destination considerably faster than I originally expected.

Arab driver "texting" at high speed

See the approaching off ramp on the GPS

Dude! Slow down and stop texting!

We stayed until about 7 pm and then headed to the hotel to check-in.  But first, I had to stop at a grocery store to buy some food (I had only brought a few snacks). I really thought finding kosher food at a grocery store (in Germany) would be easy. Aren’t all the products pretty much international? Apparently not. K’fir knew this; he brought his food supplies with him. Then again, I would not have had room in my backpack. Anyway, I bought a lot of fruit and Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream — a great dinner combo!

The hotel was adequate.  The fact that my non-smoking room smelled like cigarettes was irritating, but I slept with the window open and the smoke kept the bugs out.

The next morning we left early for shul and then headed straight to the customer’s facility. I had a quick breakfast (more fruit, yum) and then had a few hours of meetings.

The best option when there is no chocolate spread available

Lunch time was the best part of the whole trip. K’fir was running low on food, but he had enough to make a sandwich — a chocolate sandwich. I started laughing at this sight and he didn’t realize why it was so funny to me.  He explained that he didn’t have any “spread”. I laughed even harder. When he said that he didn’t have any spread, he meant “chocolate spread.” The chocolate spread sandwich is a popular Israeli invention.

I told him that Americans don’t typically put chocolate spread on bread and he was shocked. He was shocked again when I said people put peanut butter and jelly on sandwiches. Quite dreadful sounding to the Israeli ear.

By 5 pm we were back in a taxi heading to the airport.  We made a quick hop to Vienna on Austria Airlines before heading home with El Al.

Categories: Food, Trips, Work Tags: , , , ,

The Currency Crisis

Peter Diamond seems surprised that winning a Nobel Prize in economics for his work on unemployment and the labor market does not instantly make him qualified to serve on the board of the Federal Reserve. He wrote a fascinating article published in the New York Times discussing his thoughts and disappointment that he will not be able to fix the US economy.

He basically blames the Republicans and give this answer to why he isn’t “qualified”:

The easy answer is to point to shortcomings in our confirmation process and to partisan polarization in Washington. The more troubling answer, though, points to a fundamental misunderstanding: a failure to recognize that analysis of unemployment is crucial to conducting monetary policy.

Really? A failure to analyze unemployment is crucial to conducting monetary policy? Obviously said like a true economist with a straight face. Economists always treat economics like a science, and yet they never seem to agree and their ability to predict even short-term events are pathetic.

I don’t know anything about Diamond’s work or why he won the Nobel Prize.  Kasey Dufresne gives commentary on the topic here.  Fine. Whatever.

I just don’t like having yet another economist experimenting and tinkering with the economy. Centralized control of anything makes everyone a victim. He argues that:

But understanding the labor market — and the process by which workers and jobs come together and separate — is critical to devising an effective monetary policy. The financial crisis has led to continuing high unemployment.The Fed has to properly assess the nature of that unemployment to be able to lower it as much as possible while avoiding inflation.

Exactly my point. The new mandate for the Fed is to control monetary policy to avoid inflation and reduce unemployment.  He thinks he can control two outcomes when he won’t even be able to control one.

If much of the unemployment is related to the business cycle — caused by a lack of adequate demand — the Fed can act to reduce it without touching off inflation. If instead the unemployment is primarily structural — caused by mismatches between the skills that companies need and the skills that workers have — aggressive Fed action to reduce it could be misguided.

And what is the solution if the problem is primarily structural? I suppose government-funded training.

[He] concluded that structural unemployment and issues of mismatch were not important in the slow recovery we have been experiencing, and thus not a reason to stop an accommodative monetary policy — a policy of keeping short-term interest rates exceptionally low and buying Treasury securities to keep long-term rates down. Analysis of the labor market is in fact central to monetary policy.

He thinks the Fed should keep doing more of what it has been doing. We were told that the current policy would reduce unemployment. The economists are scratching their heads trying to figure out why it isn’t working and the grand conclusion is that we have to do more of the same for longer.

We are told not to worry about inflation.  The government claims that inflation is very low. Yet the price of everything is going up… worldwide. In the history of the World, long-term debt monetization has always led to disaster.  But they think this time it will be different because the guys holding the steering wheel really understand. Then why does gold keep rising even though economists typically say it is a short-term phase and gold has no intrinsic value? With all the terrible debt-related problems in the European Union, why does the US dollar keep dropping against the Euro? Maybe monetization has something to do with it?  And Diamond thinks we just need more of it.

I did find a bullish article published in the Wall Street Journal called “The Bullish Case for the U.S. Economy.” In the article, Robert Doll has some good news for us:

Credit markets are sound. Money growth is good.

Okay, and why is he bullish? Oh, because…

You could say we’re the best house in a bad neighborhood. We have fewer problems and more solutions than Europe or Japan.”

Now that’s a ringing endorsement. His whole positive outlook is based on the idea that the US population will continue to grow faster than Europe and Japan and, therefore, the US economy will have to grow.

Mr. Doll explains the economics: “The long-term growth rate of any economy is the product of the change in the size of the work force multiplied by the productivity of the work force.” Productivity is very hard to predict, he reports, but demographics is easy. “You count noses.” And that tally shows a very healthy America.

Now I finally understand economics. What else does he say? He thinks half of the 2009 stimulus was wasted (I think he’s being generous here) and that ObamaCare, the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reform law, and the president’s desire for tax increases are all “retardants to growth.” He basically sums it all up like this:

We face formidable long-term structural problems that make the U.S. less attractive than it otherwise might be…. You might say we win by default, which is not a fun way to win.

Here’s the icing on the cake: When asked about long-term investments….

Mr. Doll says that if he were forced to lock up his money in one place for the next 10 or 20 years he would indeed select the developing world and specifically India over China.

Right. Definitely not Japan or Europe,…or the US. This is what passes at the Wall Street Journal for a bullish case on the US economy. Wow. This almost scares me a bit. I’m contrarian by nature. When everyone thinks things can’t get better, I’m bullish. Thankfully, my buddy Joe sent me another article which helped my confidence: Bob Rodriguez: The man who sees another crash.

Yes! Finally! This guy knows what he is talking about. How do I know? Because he says the same things that I have been saying for years about why the US economy is doomed (my words, not his.)

He predicted the last two major stock market crashes (1990 and 2008). After the 2008 financial crisis, he hoped things would be different, that people had learned a lesson.

Sobriety, it seemed, was back. Leverage was out. Frugality was hailed once again as a virtue. It appeared that the world had finally begun to understand risk.

But, only a couple of years later in 2011, he notices that…

almost nothing has changed. Risk taking is back in fashion, and the nation’s debt load, which he believes is the single greatest threat facing investors today, has soared. Now, once again, Rodriguez is sounding the alarm.

And why is the nation’s debt such a problem? Because the government isn’t honest about its balance sheet. Here’s the quote:

Rodriguez argues that the U.S. debt as a percentage of GDP ratio (currently 64%) is massively underreported because it doesn’t count off-balance-sheet entitlements such as Medicare, and debt owed by Fannie and Freddie. If you factor in those liabilities, he says, the actual ratio is greater than 500% and growing. The U.S. must reduce that before 2012, Rodriguez says, because it’s unlikely to accomplish anything during the election year. If nothing changes, he adds, investors will start to get nervous about the amount of debt on the U.S. balance sheet. As lenders balk at buying Treasuries, rates will spike, causing borrowing costs to skyrocket across the financial system. “The financial system is held together with a very thin filament called confidence,” says Rodriguez. “When you clip that, all hell breaks loose.”

Exactly true. As I see it, also inescapable. The US  government can only afford to pay the interest on the debt if interest rates are extremely low. If interest rates rise, the government will not be able to finance rolling-over the debt.  After that, it’s either a default or a massive increase in the money supply and a hopeless spiral into hyperinflation. Choose your poison.

I think things are already well underway and unavoidable. It has been reported that China has dumped 97% of its short-term US government securities. Normally, the Chinese offset decreasing holding of short-term Treasury bills by increasing holding in long-term securities, but not this time. China is also dropping its long-term holdings. It has been mainstream news for quite a while that China wants to stop using the US dollar as the world’s reserve currency. George Soros is busy trying to redesign the world’s financial and monetary system (in his own image). The party is over and the sober people are heading home. The drunks will wait until the cops arrive.

I don’t need a Nobel Prize or a degree in economics to see this.  Anyone smart enough to balance a check book should be able to see this.

And when “all hell breaks loose,” I know exactly where I don’t want to be.

The Ongoing Catastrophe

There is yet another anniversary being celebrated today. This time, it is the anniversary of the Six-Day War and our Muslim neighbors are celebrating with all the excitement, fanfare, and jubilation that we have come to expect.

Last month, it was the annual “Nakba” celebration.  They celebrated with a bit of rioting, driving huge trucks down sidewalks in Tel-Aviv, and storming the Israeli border.  “Nakba” is Arabic for “Catastrophe”. It strikes me as a bit funny.  Over the last few weeks, more than a 1000 people have been killed in Syria by the Syrian government, but that’s not a catastrophe.  Saddam Hussein used to routinely arrest, torture, kill, and gas Iraqi’s, but that’s not a catastrophe.   All of these Muslim countries routinely gun down their own citizenry, but that’s not a catastrophe.  Nope, that’s just business as usual in the Arab and Muslim world.

But a tiny sliver of land controlled by Jews — Holy Akbar Batman! That’s unbelievable.  That’s terrible. How could something like that happen? What a catastrophe.

Of course, after sixty years and several wars, this problem has only gotten worse. The catastrophe was the original 1948 borders.  Later, in 1967, the Arabs lost Judea, Samaria, East Jerusalem, the Golan Heights, the Sinai, and Gaza. So if the founding of Israel is a catastrophe, what do you call the military domination of Israel over Arabs?

I don’t know what they call it, but I call it terrorism. If you can’t beat the military, maybe you can beat the unarmed, the defenseless, the women and children, and the elderly. Admittedly, it is a good plan. They attack the innocent and somehow convince the World that it is all Israel’s fault.

My wife sent me a quote last week in relation to a possible border clash on the 5th of June.  It is a great quote.  I’m not sure where it came from:

A fake people from a fake nation that “mourn” the anniversary of a real nation practicing democracy.  Why is it that middle-eastern countries that deny basic human rights celebrate days marking human destruction and mourn days marking freedom and liberty?

Quite true.  Anyway, the useful idiots, after having a bit of success last month, stormed the Israeli border again.  I guess they don’t realize it is an act of war. Israeli soldiers used loudspeakers to notify the gangs (in Arabic) that crossing the border would result in death. I guess it wasn’t a true statement: 225 people were wounded and only 14 were actually killed.

I suspect that the IDF could have killed all of them, but I guess that’s a job more suited for Muslim soldiers.

I have my own definition for “Nakba”.  I think it is the day that Barack Hussein Obama was elected as president and began a systematic destruction of the greatest country on Earth.  Now that’s a catastrophe!

Categories: Israel Tags: , ,
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