Monday, September 29, 2008

Is it capitalism?

I have heard many opinions expressed about the massive economic bailout of the market in the USA, but perhaps the most ridiculous is that it amounts to "socialism." This has been expressed by right wing conservatives who oppose any Government intervention in the "free" market and left wing socialists who think that it proves that capitalism doesn't work!
First of all, regulation of the market is a highlight of modern capitalism, since it has been recognized, especially since the great market crash of 1929, that unfettered markets are inherently unstable. In fact, it was the great fluctuations in the markets leading to such crashes that justified Karl Marx and his followers to propose that socialism was the cure. However, 70 years of communism in the USSR and many years of socialist governments in Europe have lead to the conclusion that socialism itself does not work.
It was the famous English economist John Maynard Keynes (1883-1946) whose ideas, called Keynsian economics, had a major impact on modern economic and political theory as well as on many governments' fiscal policies. He advocated interventionist government policy, by which the government would use fiscal and monetary measures to mitigate the adverse effects of economic recessions, depressions and booms. He is one of the fathers of modern macroeconomics. Therefore, although fiscal conservatives, such as Pres. Bush, try to avoid such interventions, nevertheless it is a central tenet of modern capitalism that market regulation is both necessary and good.
What has happened in the current crisis, perhaps the worst since the 1929 crash, is that over-provision of liquidity, i.e. too much credit, has enabled Banks and credit institutions, such as mortgage providers, to issue too much unsecured credit (i.e. without sufficient collateral). Both Republicans and Democrats in the USA were responsible for the development of this situation, Republicans by removing some of the prior regulations that had controlled the market and Democrats for demanding more credit for poorer people to enable them to buy houses, etc., when they really did not have the income to afford it. Thus the Democrats established the organization called ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) that dispensed mortgages and loans to poorer people, but also gave loans and funds to Democratic candidates for office, a clear case of conflict of interest! Also, such quasi-public organizations as Fannie May (Federal National Mortgage Association) and Freddie Mac (Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation) that between them owned about 80% of American mortgages, moved from being well-funded corporations to losing 3 billion dollars in three months, and were taken over by the Federal Government recently to prevent them from failing completely. After that, although the US failed to support Lehman Brothers and more recently Washington Mutual Bank, the third largest in the US, they did rescue AIG from bankruptcy, since it too owned too many mortgages to allow it to fail. By estimating the extent of bad ("toxic") debt owned by the largest Wall Street credit institutions the Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson requested b$700 to try to stop the further failing of Banks on Wall Street and thereby to inject liquid cash into the system.
When push came to shove both Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate found fault with the deal that would have left the US Treasury unhindered to pump such a huge sum of money into Wall Street Institutions to prevent further crashes. Both sides wanted more accountability in their own way for the tax payer's money, Democrats wanting to ensure that the Wall Street bankers who caused the situation in the first place would not personally gain by access to this largesse and Republicans wanting to ensure that the debts would not be "bought" by the Treasury on behalf of the American people, but rather insured in some way so that the public debt would not be immensely increased and a refund would be possible.
As of now it has been announced that after several days of negotiations a deal has been agreed upon and this will hopefully be ready as a bill to sign into law within a few more days. We should be happy that today, as a result of experience and knowledge of the workings of the market, the Government is able to intervene to avoid a very serious market crash, and that hopefully noone will jump from high buildings and few if any will lose their life savings and their livelihoods. If the bill that is passed does accomplish this it will be a sign that capitalism (when appropriately regulated) does work.

Obama, McCain, Iran and the UN

Of course, Democrats believe that Obama won the first debate and Republicans believe that McCain won! No surprise there. But, from my perspective McCain looked a more serious candidate for President. Maybe because he's older and more experienced, but also because of the seriousness with which he approached certain issues. This is not to say that Obama was not trying to be serious or that he was flippant about serious issues, but rather that his answers were sometimes glib, seemingly without having been thought through or without previous background.
The most glaring example is that of Iran and Ahmedinejad. Rightly McCain ridiculed the idea of Obama as President meeting with Ahmedinejad without preconditions (on the liberal assumption that we should talk to everyone and that everyone is basically good) and what if he said "we are going to wipe Israel off the map," then what would Obama say, "no, you are not!" This brings extremely serious questions of foreign policy and of life and death down to the level of the playground!
Addressing the UN, Ahmedinejad, while hiding behind a facade of piety, spouted the most abominable anti-Semitic slurs against Jews and Israel that have ever been heard from a public podium. Pres. Peres rebutted him in his own speech the following day, but very little negative comment came from the representatives of other countries (or Israel), including the UN Secty. Gen, who applauded him politely.
Finally, after some consultations with her colleagues, Secty. of State Rice raised the issue at the Security Council and stated that it was unacceptable for one member of the UN to publicly threaten to destroy another member, and she asked for a resolution on the subject. While the Russians apparently support a general statement that reaffirms current sanctions they do not agree to further stronger sanctions against Iran (never let morality get in the way of earnings).
So it looks as if Iran will once again get away with the most damnable slurs against Jews and Israel, and in time we must believe that they will try to back up their rhetoric with action. Given the economic state of the US and the world, and the usual tendency of other countries not to care about the fate of the Jews, it seems that once again we will have to look after ourselves or face another calamity. Sen. McCain was the only one who stated openly we must not allow a "second Holocaust" to occur.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Bold move

Sen. McCain's sudden suspension of his presidential campaign and return to Washington to help deal with the economic crisis was a bold political stroke. It left his rival Sen. Obama sitting in Florida looking somewhat forlorn and complaining that McCain had somehow tricked him. Maybe so, but that's hard-ball politics.
It is amazing to me that Obama, with no experience in dealing with economic crises, is given a higher score in polls on this topic than McCain. The only areas where McCain is ahead is security and foreign affairs. Perhaps McCain's bold move will change some people's perception of him.
Sen Dodd (Dem., Conn) quickly changed his tune, before McCain announced he was coming to Washington to meet with the President and Congressional leaders, Dodd was saying only how difficult it would be to achieve consensus on this emergency legislation. As soon as McCain said he was coming, Dodd made a quick about-turn and in less than 24 hrs announced that a deal had practically been made. I presume this was done so quickly so that McCain himself could not claim credit for it.
Meanwhile Obama made two mistakes, first he said that "if they need me they'll call me," showing a serious passivity in the face of a crisis, as well as failing to act as a Senator (which he still is), and second he announced that as far as he is concerned the Presidential debate in Mississippi should go ahead on Fri night as planned, which makes him seem inflexible and unable to respond with imagination to a rapidly changing situation. It was McCain who took the initiative and who proclaimed a bipartisan effort to resolve the crisis.
Now it appears that under Republican scrutiny the Bush bailout plan of giving b$700 to the Treasury to use as it sees fit has run into serious trouble. Both McCain and Obama have issued a series of conditions they would expect to be minimally put on the use of these funds, many of them the same, such as no payments for Wall Street leaders who themselves have contributed to this financial crisis. But, exactly how much money should be contributed, how it should be made available and what conditions should be put upon it are now being negotiated between Congressional leaders, the two Presidential candidates, and Pres. Bush in theWhite House.
If this results in a "better" plan from the pov of the American people, that will be good for everyone and Sen. McCain will receive plaudits for his actions. If on the other hand this results in a political deadlock and no plan is forthcoming in the short term, and then this causes the market to drop precipitously, there might be economic melt-down, and McCain will be blamed for this outcome, bold move or not.
Meanwhile it does not look like the first Presidential debate scheduled for Mississippi this Friday evening will take place. How this will affect future debates and how this crisis will be resolved at are of the utmost significance.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Pakistan's dilemma

Pakistan is caught on the horns of a dilemma. The new President, Ali Zardari, is the widower of Benazir Bhutto, who sprang to fame mainly because she married him. He is the popular compromise candidate and with the support of other parties managed to engineer the removal of Pres. Musharraf from office.
Bhutto's party, the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) is nationalist and socialist, and it has generally been vaguely pro-Western but also anti-American. Since Musharraf chose to throw his weight as the Army chief behind the Americans, this made the opposition to Musharraf, including Bhutto, even more anti-American. So when US forces in Afghanistan fighting the Taliban cross the border from Afghanistan and enter Pakistani territory, this causes a strong anti-American response that the Pakistan Govt. has expressed.
But, at the same time the Pakistani Army (which is a significant fighting force, sharing a common origin with the Indian Army in their British heritage) is fighting the rebels and the local tribesmen in Waziristan and Bajaur, the lawless north western region of Pakistan that is generally beyond the reach of Pakistani Govt. control. So they are opposing American intervention and at the same time fighting the same enemies.
A few days after Pres. Zardari made his inaugural speech, criticizing the American forces for unauthorized entry into Pakistan where they killed "civilians," there was an enormous explosion in Karachi that destroyed the Marriott Hotel. This was probably carried out by al Qaeda with tribal support in revenge for the Pakistani Army fighting them in the NW region. But, the damage to Pakistan in terms of tourism, business and embarrassment to the Govt. was enormous. About 45 people were killed and although the truck-bomb was unable to reach the Hotel due to a security barrier, there was a huge explosion and a fire that destroyed the Hotel.
That is why Ali Zadari was photographed with Pres. Bush at the White House during his trip to the UN General Assembly. Zadari and Bush know that al Qaeda has managed to survive this long because it is supported by the tribal Muslim peoples on the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. If either side attacks them they simply cross the border in that desolate and mountainous region. What is needed is Pakistani-American coordination. However, there has been friction between Pakistan and Afghanistan, since Pres. Karzai of Afghanistan has criticized Pakistan for allowing Taliban to train in their territory and then cross the border to attack Afghanistani territory. So now that he has suffered this terrible attack, and now that he realizes that Pakistan alone cannot defeat the Islamists who seek to overthrow him, Zadari must start to cooperate with the US in destroying al Qaeda and the Taliban in this remote and dangerous region. Let's hope that he does so.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Here and there

1. US. I am outraged at the cavalier attitude exhibited by the Jewish organizers of the anti-Iran demonstration in NY. Not only should they have criticized Sen. Obama for forcing Sen. Hillary Clinton from backing out of her commitment to speak at the rally, but they definitely should not have disinvited Gov. Palin, the Republican VP candidate. By backing out, Clinton changed the rally from a bipartisan presentation to a partisan one. But, that's the price the Democrats should have paid for forcing Clinton not to participate. The action of the Jewish organizing committee in disinviting Palin, on the grounds that the rally would then be "partisan," was unacceptable, since this shows that they too bowed to Democratic Party censorship tactics. As it is, Gov. Palin's speech, released early, was excellent and to the point in criticizing the Iranian drive to develop nuclear weapons with the intention of "wiping Israel off the map." This is unacceptable in international relations, but has not raised more than a whimper at the UN. This change in plenary speakers shows the enemy that in fact the US is divided in its approach, with Obama and the Churches that have invited Pres. Ahmedinejad to a "conciliatory" dinner, favoring the quiet diplomacy approach, while experience has shown that the Iranians are way beyond that stage, having made fools of the EU negotiators in quiet diplomacy over the past 8 years. Only a strong sanctions regime imposed by the world powers will do any good, but unfortunately Russia has prevented a further UN Security Council resolution on sanctions from being passed for their own political reasons.

2. Israel. Last night an East Jerusalem Arab resident from the village of Jebel Mukaber drove a car into a group of IDF soldiers crossing the road in front of the Jaffa Gate. 17 of them were injured, two seriously, but the terrorist was killed immediately by an officer who opened fire on him as well as by two bystanders who shot him. A report said that he did this because his cousin refused to marry him. In another incident near the settlement of Yizhar north of Jerusalem a youth carrying a Molotov cocktail was observed leaving the nearby Arab village and was challenged by IDF guards, whereupon he threw the bottle and was shot dead. Later it was discovered that he was 14 years old, and was the same person who had entered Yizhar last week and after setting some fires stabbed a 9 year old boy several times and then escaped. He was found to be carrying the same knife used to stab that boy.

3. UK. The Labor Party of the UK is having its annual convention. PM Gordon Brown is struggling to maintain his control against a minor revolt. Many see him as staid and unimaginative and being overcome by events, including the economic crisis. So far 17 Labor MPs have expressed a public desire to have a Party leadership contest. But, that is not enough to unseat him. The favored candidate to replace him, if he should succumb, is FM David Miliband, who is Jewish . Wouldn't it be surprising to have a Jewish PM in the UK. But, you can't count Brown out yet.

Water, water...

For the 70th Birthday of our friend Liora Bernstein we were invited on a tiyul (trip) by bus to a mystery destination. It turned out to be to the source of the Yarkon River, that flows to the sea just north of Tel Aviv.
The Yarkon rises at a place called Rosh Ha'ayin, that means "head of the springs," and turns out to be the place where the waters of the mountain aquifer bubble up from below. We went thru a park on the edge of the town of Rosh Ha'ayin to see the almost still, pure waters of the head of the Yarkon River, filled with water lilies with yellow flowers. Down a dusty lane near the main railway line where no random walk would ever find it, we saw the source of the water, where is bubbles up between the rocks that have been placed over the site. Nearby was a Baptist Village, a settlement founded in 1956 by a group of ardent Baptists.
We also visited the original large underground pumping station run by the Mekorot Company, that controls 80% of the water distributed in Israel thru the National Water Carrier. In 1945, before the State was established, David Ben Gurion realized that Israel needed to be self-sufficient in food, and the only way to do this was to embark on a large-scale irrigation project, that would exploit the large unused area of the northern Negev, where there was land, but insufficient water. He initiated the first pipeline to take water from Rosh Ha'ayin to the northern Negev. Most of the system was buried to avoid sabotage by the Arabs.
Later the NWC was greatly expanded by using most of the water from the Jordan River in a system that takes it south past Tel Aviv to Ashdod and vicinity. Now water can be delivered to any place in Israel by computerized control of pumping stations all over the country.
Originally, the British said that the population could not exceed 650,000 due to insufficient water. Now Israel has 10 times that population. But, because of 4 years of drought, the level of Lake Kinneret, the source of the Jordan River, is now well below the "red line" and there is not enough water for the use of the population. Unfortunately, the Govt. is doing little or nothing to warn the population to stop wasting water, since the politicians are too busy preserving their jobs. Some might say that Israelis will ignore warnings any way. But, one part of a plan to avoid disaster is to build desalination plants all over Israel, using plentiful sea water. So far two have been built along the coast and a third is under construction near Hadera. But, these only supply 5% of Israel's needs. Of course, there are also recycling schemes that use purified sewer water for agricultural needs. A scheme to transfer water from the southern coast of Turkey to Israel has so far not been implemented.
Water is essential for the life and development of the State and means must be found to revitalize the sources of water to satisfy the needs of the growing population.
Happy New Year to all my readers and friends.
May you have a peaceful, prosperous and fruitful year.

Monday, September 22, 2008


Finally, PM Olmert formally tendered his resignation to Pres. Peres on Sunday evening! In doing so he admitted that he is bowing to the public will. He knows that he is very unpopular and that he must go and make place for another less corrupt leader.
But the situation is quite complex. If Tzipi Livni, now the leader of Kadima, can form a stable coalition Govt. along the lines of Olmert's, then she may become PM until the end of 2009. She has 42 days in which to do this. If she cannot then a general election will be called, and unfortunately Olmert may remain as the caretaker PM until the next Govt. is elected, which may not be until next spring!
But, is it the end of an era? I think not, since Livni as well as being FM has been Head of the Israeli delegation to the talks with the PA. Such friends of Israel as Pres. Abbas of the PA have praised Livni for her forthright representation of Israel, by which he means her tendency to make concessions to the Palestinians. She has openly admitted that the only way to acheive an agreement, especially before the end of the year, is to accept the re-division of Jerusalem. But, this is opposed by the vast majority of Israelis as well as Shas, that she needs to form her coalition. Meanwhile, Ehud Barak of Labor, after meeting first with Netanyahu, met with Livni and they have reportedly mended their fences and he has agreed not surprisingly to support her formation of a stable coalition.
Perhaps in order to put pressure on Livni at this critical time, Pres. Abbas of the PA is quoted in the J'sam Post today as saying that more Palestinians are concluding that a "two state solution" to the Israel-Palestine conflict is impossible to achieve, and so they favor a "one state solution." However, in this scenario he refers not to an exclusively Muslim state, as envisaged by Hamas and the extremists, in which there would be no Jews (all having been killed and/or expelled) but to a binational secular state, in which Jews would be accepted. However, this is also a non-starter, since the PLO under Arafat used this scenario as propaganda for years to cover for their continued use of terrorism. No sensible Israeli leader, and Livni is at least we hope sensible, is going to accept this ruse. Another leaf in the wind was a statement from the PA that force may be needed to overcome the Hamas Govt. in Gaza. Of course, in order to do this the PA would need massive Israeli help and support.
Livni is firmly committed to a "two state solution" and her future and that of Kadima's rests upon her at least partially achieving that goal. If she cannot do so in a way acceptable to most Israelis by the end of her coming period in office then it is likely that she and Kadima will be decisively rejected by the electorate at the next election.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

The financial crisis

The financial crisis seems to have gone almost as fast as it came. Last week the Dow Jones fell 500 points and this week it recovered 400 points. The reasons for this are not hard to find.
The economic problems of the US have been gathering steam since the downfall of several large companies due to falsification of balance sheets and sheer criminality. Then came the subprime mortgage crisis, due to many Banks lending mortgages and loans without sufficient collateral (i.e. "subprime" or loans with greater than usual risk) over a period of many years. Starting in late 2006 about 100 lending insititutions failed or declared bankruptcy due to lack of liquid credit, causing many people to lose the mortgages on their houses. This number is now thought to have reached about 5 million! In September 2007, Northern Rock, the fifth largest provider of mortgages in the UK failed, and the crisis became global.
When quasi-public lenders such as "Fannie May" and "Freddie Mac" got into trouble the US Treasury bailed them out by guaranteeing their loans. But, when Lehman Brothers declared bankruptcy last week, the largest failure in US history, the US decided not to bail it out. Then came AIG, the largest private holder of mortgages in the US, and the Treasury was forced to step in to avoid disaster. Finally, the US Govt., represented by Secty. of the Treasury Henry Paulson, came out and declared that the US Govt. would in fact underwrite all bad ("toxic") debts of all major lending institutions, an unprecedented step, especially for a Republican Administration. As Pres. Bush later said, he is against Govt. intervention in the market, except where it is absolutely necessary!
There are now endless debates about who is responsible for this situation and which party/candidate has the best response. As to blame, there is plenty to go around. The Republican party and its previous Presidents, notably Pres. Reagan, was responsible for deregulating the stock market, that allowed some of the bad practices that lead to the current situation. However, the Democratic Congress was certainly responsible for the policies of extending loans to poor and working people who lacked the collateral to cover them, i.e. they were among the many sub-prime borrowers who caused the crisis. But, many financial leaders and institutions made a lot of money out of making these shaky loans, and now have retired from the scene, no doubt with their pockets lined with cash. So the crisis resulted both from the fat cats and the poor, from the Republicans and the Democrats.
In general, an economic crisis usually hurts the party of the incumbant. But, the situation today is so unique that it is difficult to predict what will happen. Pres. Bush is taking a Keynsian policy of underwriting the debts of the major lending institutions to the tune of b$700. This is unprecedented, and requires quick legislative action by the Houses of Congress. However, there is opposition to this step, first by right wing Republicans who resent the Govt. interfering in the market and second by liberal Democrats who regard it as a hand out of American tax dollars to those who have been getting rich and will now get away with it. But, the danger of not acting is too great, and both candidates and both parties have said they will support the legislation. The reaction of both candidates is being watched very carefully by the US public, who are the voters and account holders. How things now work out will determine to a large extent who gets elected in November.
Meanwhile, while the markets have responded very positively to the US bail-out, the systemic problems in the banking system remain to be resolved, and we are far from out of the woods yet.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Judea lives!

We went on a coach trip (tiyul) to Herodion via the settlements of Gush Etzion, with a mixed group of Russian and English speaking immigrants, each with our separate guides. This is the area of Judea, south of Jerusalem, from where the Jews originated in Biblical times. We approached the area thru the valleys of Ayalon and Elah, both of which are mentioned in the Bible and are famous for historic battles, the latter where David slew Goliath.
After the valley of Elah we approached Kfar Etzion thru a desolate landscape. Kfar Etzion is the nucleus for the Gush Etzion cluster of settlements that were originally 4 kibbutzim that began to be settled in 1927 on land largely acquired by the Jewish Agency (Keren Kayemet Leyisrael) for Jewish settlement. The other three settlements were Masuoth Yitzhak, Revidim and Ein Tzurim. Since this area is Judea it was not surprising that Jews should want to re-settle there, nearly 2000 years after it had been captured and they were expelled by the Romans ("Judea est capta"). It was then conquered in turn by the Arabs and eventually by the British in 1918. When the Jews returned, not only did they have to contend with attacks by hostile Arabs, but the soil and conditions were extremely difficult for agriculture. By 1948 there were the four settlements of Gush Etzion, that were named after one of the founders, a Mr. Holtzman (Holtz and Etz mean wood in German and Hebrew, respectively).
In the War of Independence in 1947, when Jerusalem was surrounded and cut-off from the rest of the country, the settlements of Gush Etzion were in turn cut-off from Jerusalem and besieged by a huge Arab majority. Altogether there were several hundred Jewish defenders (most women and all children had been evacuated to Jerusalem) against thousands of irregular Arab fighters and Arab regular forces (Jordanian Arab Legion and some Egyptian soldiers).
On the night of January 15, 1948 a group of 35 Jewish volunteers (the "lamed hey") lead by Danny Maas, left Jerusalem heavily laden with arms and supplies for Kfar Etzion. Unfortunately, due to unforeseen circumstances they left too late and were caught in the dawn just short of Kfar Etzion. They were surrounded and after a fierce 7 hour battle were defeated, massacred and mutilated. Their bodies were retrieved by the British and what was left of them was buried in Kfar Etzion. Subsequently Kfar Etzion itself fell on 13th May, 1948, just before the declaration of Israeli independence, and the 240 defenders were massacred (several were saved by the intervention of Jordanian Legion officers, but the number is hard to confirm). The Arabs obliterated the existence of Kfar Etzion down to the foundations of the buildings, they uprooted all their trees and not a trace of its existence remained.
After 1967, some of the children who had been evacuated to Jerusalem in 1947 returned and resettled Kfar Etzion, and today it is a fluourishing settlement. However it remains remote and surrounded by hostile Arab villages in difficult agricultural terrain. Just over the ridge from Kfar Etzion closer to Jerusalem are the new settlements of Efrat and Alon Shvut. The latter is named after the lone oak tree nearby that the Arabs did not destroy ("Alon Shvut" means "redeemed oak"). Since there are thousands of houses there and many trees, the view is immediately improved. Further west is the settlement of Tekoah and nearby some other smaller ones.
We were taken to the smallest settlement called Sde Bar (wild field), which does not appear on most maps. This unorthodox community was founded about 10 years ago by a group of disaffected teenagers, kids from broken homes and orphans (with some government support and assistance). They set their own rules and their school is open form with no set hours. Everyone is required to work, mostly with goats, and they sell goat cheese. There are now 50-60 members and they seem to be succeeding. They live right in the shadow of Herodion.
Herodian itself is a palace built by Herod in the hills right on the edge of the Judean desert. It's characteristic shape is a cone with the top sliced off, and it can be seen for many miles around (photo). It was built after several attempts on Herod's life. He was hated by his Jewish subjects who regarded him as a Roman vassal, and the revolt against him triggered the Roman invasion. He constructed Herodion as an unscalable fortress by building (using slaves) a mountain around it. What is left today is only the ruins of a once great edifice, and on the surrounding grounds he built another palace with a huge swimming pool, quite a feat in the desert. Of course, in Herodion itself there was a Roman bathhouse as well as other amenities. He also built the city of Casearea and the fortress of Masada. His subjects regarded his building mania as excessive and wasteful and the Romans did not appreciate it when he rebuilt the Temple in Jerusalem on a magnificent scale that rivalled Rome itself.
Inside Herodion there were huge cisterns to collect water, and since the limestone rock was so soft, the later rebels cut tunnels through it, and we descended thru them. The site of Herod's burial has long been a mystery, since one would have expected him to constuct a huge magnificent tomb, and none has been found. Recently a small excavation near the site of the exit of some of the tunnels lead to a find that has now been identified as his tomb. It was hidden in the side of the Herodion cone and was quite modest (Josephus says that he was buried at Herodion). But, the rebels apparently found it long ago and destroyed all evidence of his presence.
The current Israeli Government asserts that it will give 98% of the West Bank to the Palestinians, although it is difficult to see how that would be possible when there are so many settlements and Jews living in Judea. The number now is in the tens of thousands and almost certainly exceeds that of the Arab villagers, although the city of Bethlehem is also nearby. To extricate the Jews from here would be almost impossible, given how difficult it was to remove the Jewish settlements from Gaza when there were only ca. 8,000 settlers there. Note that throughout modern history the Arabs have striven to remove or kill all the Jews from their midst while the Jews, currently with military control, have not disturbed the Arab settlements in this (and other) areas. Such is the difference between us and them, we are prepared to coexist and they are not.
On the way back, we took the new road that bypasses Bethlehem to the south and then enters Jerusalem at the new Har Homa neighborhood. The extent of building is quite impressive and looks as it it could be well defended, as most Israeli buildings do (and need to be).
One final point, our bus driver was named Khaled, of the tribe that lived in Uhm Khaled, that was an Arab village on the site of Netanya. This land was bought by the KKL in the 1920's and the Sheikh of Umm Khaled who sold his land in exchange for money and other land told the Jewish representatives, "we have been expecting you for hundreds of years."

Livni & Mofaz

Tzipi Livni won the Kadima primary on Thursday as predicted, but she won it with a much smaller majority than expected, only 431 votes. Her opponent Shaul Mofaz decided not to contest the victory, and today shocked everyone when he announced his retirement from the Knesset and from politics. We are so used to being cynical that we expected him to turn his near miss into a cabinet post.
Livni is immediately trying to form a new coalition Govt., probably much the same as that of Olmert. So far it is uncertain whether or not Shas (with 12 seats) will join her, they have objected to her role as main negotiator with the Palestinians and her readiness to divide Jerusalem (and the fact that she is a woman). But, given the right price (enough Cabinet positions and funding for their schools) they will probably agree to support her. A similar argument goes for Ehud Barak of Labor, who fears that his party will break up should it not be in the Govt.
Bibi Netanyahu has attacked Livni as being a second rate version of Olmert and not qualified to lead the country and particularly without a mandate since she was not elected by the people but only by a small majority of the Kadima party (0.5%), which makes a mockery of democracy (although Netanyahu was glad to accept small majorities himself in the past). Think of it, a party with only 74,000 members, 12,000 of whom are non-Jews (Arabs, Druse, etc.) of whom only 53% voted, have now determined the future of the country. Is this democracy?
Some people have praised Mofaz for retiring from politics after more than 40 years in public life, including Chief of Staff of the IDF. But, some see it as an even more cynical move, to avoid being involved in a Kadima Govt. that is bound to be criticized and lose support and in the next election probably the Kadima party will be decimated. Then Mofaz can return from the ashes back to Likud and Bibi will be happy to have him.
Meanwhile, the feminist parties are celebrating over Livni's victory, although she has risen very rapidly on the basis of her political connections. She was a protege of PM Sharon, who still clings to life, and so she has legitimacy thru his name. She epitomizes the Kadima party in being prepared to relinquish land to the "moderate" PA and this is what has caused great loss of morale inside Israel, where most people see this as a losing policy. Her greatest asset is that she is not tarred by the corruption that has characterized Olmert's hold on power. However, she opposed the Second Lebanon War, that however poorly it was fought by the IDF and however incompetent the military leaders were, was forced on us by the cross-border Hizbullah raid that killed 8 soldiers and captured 2. The fact that the IDF more or less knew from the beginning that they were likely dead only compounds the failures of the Olmert legacy. The question is can Livni redeem herself or are we in for more of the same.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Our recent trip

Our recent trip was in three distinct parts. First we flew to San Francisco and stayed with our son Simon and his wife Sharon and our beautiful granddaughter Shoshana (photo) at their home in Livermore. We spent a few days recovering from the 15 hr flight and lazing in the pool and then went out to a few places, one where we played Bacche, the Italian ball game, while munching on some Italian delicacies.
We spent a few days in San Francisco seeing some new things. We visited the Contemporary Jewish Museum (photo; that I wrote about separately) and a wonderful exhibit of Chihuli's glass sculptures (photo) at the De Young Museum in Golden Gate Park. Then we went back to Livermore for a special barmitzvah in a new hall in a vinyard.
We then flew to Vancouver and before joining our group going on the Rocky Mountaineer train, we toured the city and visited Stanley Park, where we went to the Aquarium and saw the new baby beluga whale. The next morning we were picked up by a coach and taken to the train. It was a great experience to be in the "bubble car," the transparent topped coach that allowed a 360 degree view of the scenery (photo). We also had the experience of dining in the dining room on the floor below, where the gourmet food was delicious. This train is the only one I've ever been on that slows down for scenic views such as water falls.
At first the train followed the Fraser River through lush green hills and canyons of British Columbia. At Kamloops the scenery changed to a desert since the rain from the coast does not reach that far. From Kamloops some people went by train to Banff, but we continued north to Jasper, Alberta. As we proceeded the scenery became more dramatic and eventually was Alpine, with high, stark mountain peaks with ice and snow and tall fir trees. Unfortunately a small insect has attacked many of the trees and when they have died they become red. In some cases whole mountain sides were covered with these red trees, an amazing sight.
From Jasper we detrained and went by coach down the magnificent Icefields Parkway that runs in the valley thru mountain peaks (photo) to the Athabasca glacier near the Columbia ice field. This was discovered about 120 years ago and water from this ice field feeds rivers that run in each direction, north to the Arctic Ocean, west to the Pacific and east to the Atlantic. We went up on the glacier in specially built buses with huge deflated tires to avoid causing damage to the ice (photo). It was very cold there even in August.
We spent a night at the chateau at Lake Louise, one of the most beautiful lakes we saw on the trip. We then stopped in Banff and on the second morning there it snowed 6 inches (12 cm), what a surprise. And it was cold and snowy when we went on the cable car 2000 ft up the mountain. Couldn't see anything, but the trees were beautiful (photo).
Then we flew from Calgary to Washington DC and with a rental car drove to Bethesda, along a route that is engraved in my memory. We stayed in the Hyatt Regency Hotel in the center of Bethesda on a special deal thru the internet that was nearly half price. We had a wonderful time visiting with old friends and former students. We also visited the Museum of the American Indian that is on the Mall in Washington (photo). It is about 2 years old, and is quite impressive architecturally, and has a very unique restaurant serving native American-style cuisine. However we were disappointed in this museum because it avoids completely a historical approach (perhaps too conventional), but focuses instead on the particular social practices and beliefs of the myriad of distinct Indian tribes (by the way if they can use "Indian" so can I). We had a beautiful Apache woman guide who was very adept at avoiding any controversial questions.
The highlight of this part of the visit was my 70th birthday party in a nice restaurant in Bethesda (photos). It was festooned with blue and white ballons and we had a wonderful meal with great wine and even a champagne toast. We are grateful to my friend Frank Portugal for helping to organize this party, and to Ilene Jacobowitz who invited us to a lovely Firday night dinner as well as other get-togethers. We were also surprised by our friends the Isaacson's driving 500 miles from Vermont to be with us. What a great visit!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Political mess

The position of the Kadima Government of PM Olmert and FM Livni is that Israel should make major concessions to the PA leadership of Pres. Abbas and PM Fayyed by the end of the year. Livni is expected to win the upcoming Kadima Primary in two days and hence to succeed Olmert. This policy of concessions to the Palestinians follows the lead of former PM Sharon, the founder of the Kadima Party. This policy continues notwithstanding the imminent resignation of Olmert and the probable resignation of both Fayyed and Abbas within a year. The problem with any such concessions is not only that the Kadima Govt. does not have the moral authority and mandate to make them, but also to do so to a defunct PA Govt. is self-defeating.
Noone knows what will happen in the PA when Abbas and Fayyed resign at the end of 2008, although Abbas claims that the constitution allows him an extra year in office. Obviously Hamas deny that, and there is likely to be violence between Fatah and Hamas on the West Bank before the situation is resolved. Israel has said it will not intervene in intra-Palestinian violence, but at the same time the IDF is taking anti-Hamas actions, arresting Hamas leaders in the West Bank and killing known terrorists. It is unclear if there is/will be actual cooperation between the Fatah/PA security forces and the IDF. Even if there is, and that might prevent the overthrow of Fatah on the West Bank, there is no guarantee that such a coalition might cause a negative reaction in Fatah forces that might realign themselves with Hamas. So under such circumstances the outcome is unpredictable.
Yesterday Livni, who is in charge of the negotiuations with the PA, announced that she is prepared to share Jerusalem with the PA, while at the same time Olmert denies that such negotiations are ongoing. Today Olmert issued a statement saying that he is prepared to hand over 98.1% of the West Bank to the PA, and he is going to tell Abbas this tomorrow when they meet. There is no doubt that Secty. of State Condy Rice and EU ME coordinator Javier Solana, who is currently visiting here, have been putting pressure on Olmert to resolve the situation by the end of the year. But, at the same time Likud Opposition leader Bibi Netanyahu has openly criticized Olmert and Livni for these statements.
The Kadima Primaries are due in two days, and even if Livni wins, her path to becoming PM may be blocked unless she can form a new coalition Govt. Shas have announced that they will no longer be part of a Kadima Govt. that negotiates on dividing Jerusalem. But, this may be just another tactic in raising the price for their joining the coalition. If no new coalition can be formed then Olmert will remain caretaker PM at least until next April even if elections are called soon. What a mess!

Monday, September 15, 2008

The airplane bombplot

In August, 2006, airline security was suddenly increased around the world, including the prohibition of carrying liquids aboard planes. This resulted from the arrest of 24 Muslims around London who were charged with terrorism, including a plot to blow up seven specific airplanes en route to the USA and Canada from London using liquid bombs. The main sites of arrests were at a flat in Walthamstow, London, and in High Wycombe, where bomb making equipment was found. Arrests were also made in Birmingham and in Pakistan. Eventually 8 men were put on trial in London on a variety of charges.
The counter-terrorism police had been watching two young British-born Muslims, Ahmed Ali and Tanvir Hussein, both of whom had made trips to Pakistan and were suspected of having undergone terrorist training in camps there. The plot thickened when they were joined by a man named Mohammed Gulzar who was known to police and who travelled to the UK on a forged South African passport. The police also observed Mohammed Rauf, a known British-born contact with al Qaeda, who had flown in from Pakistan made contact with the suspects and returned to Pakistan before the British arrests. In fact, Rauf's arrest in Pakistan, probably initiated by the CIA, triggered the British arrests. However, Rauf subsequently managed to escape captivity in Pakistan (!)
Surveillance of these suspects starting in May 2006 lead the police to the actual bomb-maker, Assad Anwar, who was born in and lived in High Wycombe. He was seen touring London buying up small amounts of hydrogen peroxide (HP) in different places and he was observed combining these in a garage and distilling it to make more concentrated HP as the actual explosive.
Meanwhile, the other two main culprits, Ahmed Ali and Tanvir Hussein were observed with hidden cameras to be preparing bottles of Lucozade and other high sugar drinks by drilling holes in the bottom of the bottles removing some liquid with syringes and replacing it with the concentrated HP. It is important to note that the holes were re-sealed and the cap seal had not been broken. By adding dye to the HP it was almost impossible to detect that the bottles had been tampered with. Also, they prepared detonators that would be kept separate, and would be detonated with disposable cameras next to the HP-containing bottles by suicide bombers on the flights. The explosion would have been enough (in tests) to blow a hole in an airliner and cause the deaths of all the passengers. Nothing used for the bombs (drinks, batteries, disposable cameras) would ordinarily arouse suspicion. The suspects were also caught videotaping suicide messages for release after the bombings. If ever there was an airtight case this was it!
Some aspects of this plot are quite sophisticated, and undoubtedly emanated from al Qaeda in Pakistan, and possibly from Osama bin Laden himself and his assistant Abaida al Masri, who is also credited with initiating the 7/7 underground bombings in London. On the other hand, other aspects of the plot were stupid, and the plotters had no idea that they had been detected and were being watched continuously.
The verdicts in the trial were handed down last week. However, incredibly, the jury found one man, Mohammed Gulzar not guilty, because his role in the plot was unclear, and they could not come to a decision on four of the eight men put on trial. Only the three main plotters were found guilty, but on a general charge of conspiracy to murder. The jury was not convinced on the charge of terrorism, since although the plotters downloaded information about specific flights, they had not actually bought tickets. The plotters said they they only planned to use their bombs to protest the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan on non-lethal targets. I suppose the jury wanted the police to wait until they actually blew up at least one airliner.
There were some strange aspects of this trial. The jury requested and got a two week break in the middle of the trial for vacations. Also, because several of them had medical appointments, the deliberations were suspended periodically by the judge. Reporters who attended the trial noted that some of the jurors did not seem to be taking the proceedings very seriously. It was speculated that this might have been as a result of general opposition to the wars and scepticism at the role of the anti-terrorism forces due to the prior fiascos of the arrests in Forest Gate and the murder of Jean Menendez, both of which were unjustified.
The problem is that shouting wolf too often may lead to scepticism when the wolf is actually at the door. The Crown Prosecution Service now has to decide whether or not to retry the suspects.

(This is based partly on the BBC Panorama program "Terror in the skies" at )

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Some reflections on reaching 70

My father met my mother in a movie theater – a cinema – in the East End of London early in the 1930’s when he sat next to her and when the lights went up he asked her for a light for his cigarette. She didn’t smoke, but they got chatting, as people do, and he asked if he could see her again. She agreed and gave him her address – they had no phones then – and one thing lead to another and they got married in 1935 and I was born in 1938, and here I am 70 years later. This event has caused me some ambivalence about being anti-smoking!
Naomi’s parents were Zionists, and when the State of Israel was founded in 1948 they decided to move there from London, which they did in 1949. However, things were difficult then, at first they lived on a kibbutz, but there were problems, so they moved to a small town near Haifa. But, then her father got ill, and the doctor advised them to return to London for treatment and then he promptly bought all their furniture. If they hadn’t returned then I would not have met my wife in London.
I went to Queen Mary College of London University and studied chemistry and read about the then recent discovery of the structure of DNA, and decided to go and do my PhD in Cambridge with Lord Todd who had won the Nobel Prize for his work on DNA in 1957. I was lucky enough to be accepted there and obtained my PhD in 1964 and from there went on to do a post-doc at the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot, Israel.
Sharing my lab in the Isotope Dept. there was Aviva Lapidot and a young man named Brian Silver. He was a very charming fellow, who had done his PhD in London with Professor Gold, and they had published a paper together, “Silver and Gold” – I am not making this up. He had gone to Paris to study and there met a young woman who was going to visit Israel and he went with her, and they decided to stay.
It was Brian Silver who told me about NMR spectroscopy and recommended that I do a post-doc in the US, and he even recommended some specific people. One of them was Oleg Jardetzky. So I wrote to Jardetzky and the letter was forwarded to him in Cambridge, where he was on sabbatical, and he went to see Lord Todd and got a good report about me, and so he accepted me to work with him.
I went to Boston to work with Jardetzky at Harvard Medical School in 1966, but he hadn’t told me that he was leaving there, and so I went with him to Merck Research Labs in New Jersey. Naomi and the kids joined me there and we stayed for 3 years. That’s where we met the Portugals, whose parents were neighbors of our friends the Olarshs in Linden NJ and who became our first friends in Bethesda.
I never got along with Jardetzky, and so I looked around for somewhere else to work. I happened to be invited to a regional Am. Chem. Soc. Conf. In Washington DC by a fellow named Steve Heller, who told me that NIH was looking for someone to do NMR research. So I applied for this job and got it. That’s how I came to NIH in 1969.
This skein of coincidence and chance brought me to meet a lot of people. Of course, when I started at NIH I had no idea that I would stay there for 21 years and eventually I would affect so many lives and be affected in turn. We made some wonderful friends during our 30 years in the Bethesda area, and we are still in touch with many of them.
I remember after I had moved to NCI in 1983 that I was looking for a technician, and I was sitting outside the office of the personnel officer going thru applications, and I heard her interviewing someone and I was impressed by how polite he was, he called her “ma’am” all the time. After he left she gave me his application form, and I called Patrick Faustino to come in for an interview, and he was very polite, calling me “sir” all the time. I accepted him on condition that he stopped calling me “sir.”
I had over the course of my career about 32 post-docs and graduate students, both in the US and Israel. One incident I remember was that I received an application from Pittsburgh from a chemical physicist named Peter van Zijl, who was from Holland and wanted to stay in the US to marry his American girlfriend. His former Thesis advisor had been Professor McClean of Amsterdam University, and since I had met him previously I called him and he highly recommended Peter. So when Peter came to be interviewed he was very surprised when he walked thru the door and I told him immediately that he got the job.
I remember one incident from that time, when I was given a lab on the 6N corridor, but it was in a mess. I applied for it to be painted, but that would take weeks, and we wanted to move in immediately. So one weekend Pat and I sneaked in with paint and brushes and painted the lab. Of course, this was illegal, since it had to be painted by the official painters. When the painters showed up several weeks later we told them it had been a mistake.
After I had done the work on antisense oligonucleotides and got the patent for NIH, I joined Georgetown Medical School in 1990, which was a fateful year because both my children got married that year and I had an operation on my optic nerve that was fully successful. Then I spent two years as co-director of the Biochemistry Program at the Natl. Science Foundation In VA from 1994-1996. I moved on to Israel in 1996 and after a stint as Chief Scientist at the Sheba Medical Center I became a Visiting Professor working with Israel Ringel in the Pharmacology Dept. of Hebrew University in Jerusalem from 2001.
Looking back I don’t regret anything. I started as a poor boy in the East End of London with no prospects. I managed to get a PhD in Cambridge, and I was the first person in my whole extended family to even get a degree. Then I went to the US and became an American, and because of that my son now lives in California. Finally I moved to Israel and ended my career at Hebrew University. I know that I influenced many lives, for the better I hope, and I am grateful that we had a wonderful time together.
Now that I am retired I intend starting the career that I always dreamed of, to be an artist, but this time with no financial constraints, a bourgeois artist.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Life in Israel

We returned to Israel after a month in the US and Canada without hearing any news of Israel, it was as if Israel does not exist. Unless there is something violent it doesn't get reported there. Nothing much has changed in Israel, Olmert is still holding onto power, but three events since we returned less than a week ago have attracted some attention.
First, there was the mafia attack in Netanya. Two men on motorbikes wearing helmets rode up to a restaurant owned by the Abutbul gang and sprayed the restaurant and the cars outside with bullets. The leader of the gang, Charlie Abutbul, and three other members of the public were shot and injured. This shows a callous disregard for public safety, unlike previous professional hits. Needless to say the police are protecting the victim in his hospital bed and are looking for the culprit. Members of the rival Abergil family been been brought in for questioning. This morning a member of a rival gang named Cohen (no relative) was fired at and he and his baby son were injured. To all those whom I told that Netanya is a nice quiet town, an apology.
A headline a few days ago stated that the tax code is going to be dramatically reversed in order to help aliyah, particularly from N. America. Several years ago (in 2003) we immigrants from N. America and elsewhere fought a new tax code that would tax all Israelis, including new immigrants, on their total world-wide income. This of course was a drawback for those making aliyah who had businesses and accounts abroad. After much deliberation it was agreed to allow new immigrants to have a 5 year exemption from these changes. Now, after realizing that such a code reduces aliyah, the Knesset has reversed itself and not only extended the exemption back to 10 years, but also orders the tax authorities to ignore all foreign assets of new immigrants for that period. As a consequence the negative tax consequences to aliyah have been removed.
Finally, a sad story, the body of 4 year old Rose Pizem was found in a suticase on the banks of the Yarkon river in Tel Aviv. She had been missing for about a month and although her grandfather had confessed to her murder, the police could not proceed without the body. Then he reversed himself and said that his former confession was coerced. Nevertheless, it appears that her grandfather and her mother were living together and had two children together and had connived in her murder.
To those who think that the Jewish State is unlike any other, these stories might be a rude awakening.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

American Jewish interests?

Traveling in the USA during convention season, when the two major parties choose their candidates for President, can be a daunting task. Everyone you meet wants to know where you stand, and once you commit yourself then you are either congratulated on your acumen or attacked as simple-minded. Comments vary from "you're absolutely right" to "you're an idiot!" depending upon whether or not the speaker is a liberal or a conservative.
What particularly engages me is the voting pattern of the Jews. While I was enroute a friend in California gave me an article entitled, "On the political stupidity of the Jews," by the well-known neocon Irving Kristol (published in Azure, Autumn 1999). Although I disagree with some of his analysis and I think his attitude is somewhat arrogant, nevertheless there is a kernal of truth in his main point, namely that the Jews do not vote according to their own best interests.
When I was younger I came across the phrase "Jews earn like Presbyterians, but vote like Puerto Ricans," and this aphorism still seems to hold. Although the Jews I met during my trip were predominantly wealthy, and some very wealthy, and none certainly were poor, nevertheless they continue to vote predominantly Democratic and liberal, while all other wealthy groups tend to vote Republican. Polls show that 75% or so of Jews are intending to vote for the Democratic candidate Barack Obama, and the highest proportion of Jews who have ever voted for the Republican candidate is ca. 40%. To understand this phenomenon one must go back in history to the earliest establishment of Jews in the USA and to their prior European history.
In Eastern Europe, where the majority of Ashkenazi Jews came from, there were no conventions, no candidates to choose, and no elections. There were monarchies and/or military dictatorships that were both nationalistic and anti-Semitic. The power structure was automatically against the interests of the Jews, and if they had had the vote they would have voted against it! As the Jews became more secularized, more assimilated and freer, they tended to gravitate towards the opposition groups, towards the liberals, socialists and communists. In the the Russian Social Revolutionary Party, the mensheviks (minority) were predominantly Jewish, particularly with the inclusion of the Jewish Bund party. When Lenin expelled the Bund from the RSRP that was how the bolsheviks (majority) obtained their majority. Needless to say, many of the Jews then joined the Bolsheviks and those that stayed in the Bund or supported the mensheviks for too long (like Trotsky and his followers) were subsequently killed by Stalin. Most of the Russian Jews who emigrated to the West during this period (1880-1930) were predominantly either members of or supporters of these parties. While they had no true understanding of the American system they automatically voted Democrat.
In Germany and other countries, the Jews were over-represented on the left. In Germany alone there was Ferdinand Lascalles, Rosa Luxembourg, Walther Rathenau and of course Karl Marx himself, and they were just the tip of the iceberg of Jewish inviolvement in liberal/leftist anti-State activity. The reaction when it came was extreme and devastating.
But, the Jews who had escaped from the cauldron of Europe to the West, particularly Britain and the USA held to their political convictions. In Britain the only Jews elected to Parliament were Labor supporters (Disraeli of course was brought up Christian) and it was considered a shanda if a Jew openly supported the Conservatives, who were controlled by land-owning aristocrats. That has all changed so dramatically since the Conservative Party was taken over by Margaret Thatcher, the daughter of a grocer, that elicited the phrase that in Margaret Thatcher's cabinet there were "more old Estonians than old Etonians," and now there are more Jewish Conservative MPs than Labor ones.
In the USA, the myth of the "melting pot" did not result in a homogeneous population, each group tended to retain its own culture and voting pattern. This was well established in the iconic book "Beyond the Melting Pot" by Nathan Glazer and Daniel Moynihan (published 1963). So the Jews, while being "upwardly mobile," and increasing their net worth relative to other groups, still continued to vote as if they were poor anti-State Europeans. One might argue that in the early days, when the Jews were still the poor and downtrodden that was appropriate, and one still remembers the millionaire communists, such as Armand Hammer, who despite their wealth supported the extreme left. Today one can quote George Soros, who has funded Obama's run for President and has boasted that he will elect a Black man President. One might also justify this retention of liberal instincts on religious grounds, the residue of Jewish beliefs in social justice trickling down to predominantly secular Jews. But, by now one might expect these old influences to have faded.
It is often said that "all politics is domestic" and if that is true then it is not surprising that the main focus of the current election campaign is the economy, where it is said that the USA is not doing well. Whether or not this is due to high oil prices, the sub-prime mortgage lending scandal or other factors, the fact is that from an economic point of view, most well-off Jews would be better served personally by voting Republican than Democratic. The Democrats traditionally support social welfare programs that require large amounts of funds and hence higher taxes, while the Republicans tend to support business and wealth accumulation. It is arguable whether or not social engineering by redistribution of wealth or the action of market forces is a better means of attaining greater equality of income (if that is what you want), but there is no doubt that Obama favors the former and the majority of Jews are tending to support him.
Seen from a foreign policy perspective, most Jews are bitterly opposed to George W. Bush, they opposed the Iraq War (while justifying the Afghan War) as a waste of American riches and men (Jews abhor suffering) and they extend this to John McCain (dubbed by some "Bush III"). But, they fail to recognize that the US is engaged in a world wide war against the forces of Islamist terrorism, and then the question is, who would be better to safeguard America and the Western world. If one notes that Hamas in Gaza supports Obama, that the Arab world predominantly supports Obama and that the anti-war movement in the US and Europe predominantly supports Obama, then there is not much question about who would be the better candidate in protecting America. Let's face it, the Iraq war is essentially over, and whatever the situation in Afghanistan, the US cannot afford to disengage from that region. McCain with 20 years experience in the military (that some scoff at - why?) and 30 years experience in the Senate, is miles more experienced and competent than any novice with only 3 years in the Senate.
The Jews of Israel, and American Jews living in Israel, have been polled 3 to 1 in favor of McCain. So you might say, well Israel has different interests than American Jews, but the overarching question for Israelis is survival. And this is not an abstract concept as it might be for Americans sitting thousands of miles away from the main threat, Iran. This is a concrete issue, who would support Israel if push comes to shove and the IDF and Israeli Govt. conclude that the Iranians are close to attaining their aim of being able to "wipe Israel off the map." The Jews should consider their interests in this matter, what happens when all the talking ends. The political decisions of large numbers of Jews in Europe in the 1930's was disasterously wrong.
The vast majority of American blacks (who often don't vote in large numbers) are going to vote for Obama, the majority of white Middle West conservatives are going to vote for McCain. But, forget this pattern, the question is what is in the interests of the Jews as a group to vote for, what are their true interests. For me the conclusion is clear, we no longer need to oppose the power of the State, it is not antagonistic to us, we no longer need to vote for the interests of the poor, we are no longer among them, we no longer need to put social justice first as our cause, we have attained our freedom, what matters most is the survival of Western civilization, with America at its head. You must decide who is best qualified to carry this burden today.