What really prevents us from making 20 thousand NIS a month?

Those days there is a commotion in Israel due to a speech by Yair Lapid, the new Finance Minister, about Riki Cohen who earns 20 thousand NIS a month but cannot make ends meet due to various expenses of living in Israel.

Several Israelis do not reach income of 20 thousand NIS a month. Some of them nevertheless manage to make ends meet but their monthly savings are not enough to buy an apartment at reasonable time. Others do not succeed in making ends meet.

I propose that instead of being angry at Yair Lapid for his failure to know the situation of the lower socioeconomic classes in Israel – each one is to think, check and inquire what really prevents him from making 20 thousand NIS a month.

Usually the reason is a low-paying profession, and the blocking factor is the absence of ability to convert to another, better paying profession. But there are several other blocking factors, and it would be a swell idea if someone is to run a survey so that we’ll know why most Israelis cannot make 20 thousand NIS a month.

Several possible reasons:

  • No funds or time for vocational change course, or the course is held in a place which requires 3 hours commutation from home to course and back each day.
  • During high school years, I could not study, and after army service, while I can study, there is no time or appropriate organization.
  • The rabbi or ADMO”R forbade me from studying “secular studies” lest I sin and deviate from the way of the Holy Torah.
  • I am screwed because I am an Arab.
  • There is a good job in my profession but there is no reasonable public transportation from my home to the workplace, and I cannot move to live near the workplace.
  • My vocation is important for the community but due to some reason has a low pay (examples: primary school teacher, social worker, nurse, caregiver).
  • I have children who need to be taken care of but the regular work hours in my vocation are crazy so I cannot work in my well-paying profession.
  • I have a disability which causes employers not to want to give me a job even though I can do it well.
  • I have a medical problem which prevents me from working.

All this – under the assumption that we are speaking about industrious people, who want to honorably support themselves, rather than be parasites living off at the public expense. This assumption is correct for most people, but we still need to filter out the parasites.

Few thoughts about the American constitutional right to bear arms

After the Connecticut elementary school massacre, there’ll be several calls for repealing the constitutional right to bear arms.

This article points out several aspects of this issue.  I do not have answers, yet.

On one hand, the right to bear arms is important for making it more difficult for an oppressive government to gain power.  On the other hand, this right is abused by insane people, who then commit massacres.  Common criminals are not part of the equation, because a group of armed criminals can always be countered by a bigger group of equally armed law abiding citizens.

One aspect, which seems to be overlooked by both sides of the argument, is the impact of technological advances.  Technological advances mean that arms are no longer the only means by which people and governments can hurt other people.  Such advances can be heavy armory (cannons, tanks, even A-bombs), cyberspace warfare (breaking into computers and cloud accounts, hacking one’s reputation in social networks), advanced radioactive/chemical/biological poisons, “smart dust” programmed to damage people it encounters, and nominally non-lethal weapons such as tasers.

Another aspect is the practicality of enforcing any bans on weapons.  The 3D printing technology will eventually make it impossible to control the spread of advanced weapons by controlling their points of manufacture.

The constitutional right to bear such advanced arms is not as clear-cut.  Neither is it clear whether constitutionally protected arms are effective against the new weapons.

WARNING: Israel will need too long time to recover from the effects of a major earthquake

I am publicizing the following as a cautionary tale for Israel, which is faced with earthquake threat any time now, as the last serious earthquake was at 1927 and such earthquakes repeat each 80-100 years.

A week ago, the government of Israel carried out a large scale exercise to simulate the effects of a big earthquake with a tsunami.  The exercise revealed several problems in preparations for the disaster.  The exercise was not intended to, and it did not address long-term disaster recovery needs.

Turns out that in New Zealand, they have a big problem recovering from the earthquakes which struck Christchurch at 4 September 2010 and later dates.  Some of the culprits are the various insurance organizations, which were paid premiums over the years in order to help people recover from such natural disasters.

It made me very worried because if even the developed and well-managed country of New Zealand does not do good work recovering from natural disasters, what hope do we have in Israel?  Especially as the various insurance bodies in Israel are as bad in settling claims as their New Zealand counterparts.

The following account was written by Bob.  He is from Christchurch, New Zealand.  The account was taken, with his permission, from an E-mail message which he sent to an international mailing list to which I am subscribed as well.

The account starts here:

It’s very slow Alan. The council had a zone system setup after the main shocks, in which buildings are red-stickered, white-stickered, green… etc.  Just a day ago – more than 2 years after the September 2010 quake – they
have finally decided what the last few houses are to be zoned as.

The council, as well as the EQC (earthquake commission) and CERA (Christchurch Earthquake Recovery Authority) have cooked up a grand recovery plan, with new buildings to be placed in  certain areas designated as the port zone, culture zone  etc.  Some of the areas contain perfectly fine buildings (one is brand new) and yet are to be pulled down to suit the plan.

The EQC is a govt agency, and if you have building insurance an extra charge is compulsorily added to your premium for disaster recovery insurance. Everyone has been paying this for years, but now we discover that the premium is way too low to pay for much of it. The Government was warned years ago about that, but the finance Minister (same one we’ve got now, Bill English) ignored the warnings.

After the major disaster, this tiny govt department (all they’ve done for years is collect our money and do a poor job of investing it) then had to recruit many new people, such as ex-cops from Australia or unemployed , to go around inspecting homes and buildings to decide what the damage was.  Most of these people are NOT builders and had no experience in building work, so they gave them a checklist and iPods, along with dopey assistants, and sent them off.

Our home, only lightly damaged, had to wait over a year for the first inspection, which was followed up by 2 more because the first was lost in the paperwork. One set of inspectors only walked around the outside – didn’t bother to check the inside at all.

A single commercial company, Fletchers, was appointed as the master repair company and they hired contractors to do the repairs. Some contractors have been fiddling the books, and I’ve heard more than a few crims were taken on (very little checking done) as ‘specified repairers’ who had ulterior motives i.e. checking out homes for valuables so they can send burglars in later (armed with a handy floor-plan and details of where stuff was to be found).

The insurers are the worst bunch of crooks ever. Lots of people are still waiting for payouts for damage to their unlivable homes, while they still have to pay rates and mortgages on and cant sell up, while at the same time having to move into rental accommodation (increasingly in short supply) with rents going up and up so that landlords can grab their share of the money to be had.

For everyone who has house insurance, I suggest you check the fine print and see if there is a time limit by which claims have to be settled by the insurers.

AIG in particular is getting a lot of flack for not responding to claims. You insure your house, and expect to get paid out for repairs when it’s damaged – but what if the insurer takes your claim, then just ignores you – for months, years even?

It will be next year (3 years after the first quake) before the repairs start to ramp up.  We’ve had people from the UK come out to help (builders, tradesmen etc) then gone home again because there was nothing for them to do yet (if they wanted to get paid that is).

All in all, while the quakes made a real mess of the city, the ‘repair’ system is a major disaster in itself – no-one seems to know what’s happening. Roads are still a mess, it sometimes takes an hour to get across what is just a small city after all.

Its very depressing, and no wonder that loads of people have said ‘Enough’ and left the city for good.


A dose of the strongman medicine for USA? No, political education is better

USA is facing the serious problems of runaway public debt, overstretched army, and especially political machinery which is unable to effectively deal with the above problems.

Some countries and empires, at this stage of their evolution, got to be led by a strongman (dictator).  The dictator was either someone who rose inside them or someone who invaded the country (like Genghis Khan’s invasion of China).

In today’s world, the primary means of invasion is economic/political rather than by army force.  Army actions are now blocked by the existence of the devastating nuclear option, and by public opinion.  Soldiers, after all, are part of the public, and won’t fight unless there is enough public opinion backing war.

How would USA get out of the present crisis?

At 1985, Israel was going to have an economic collapse, of the kind that leads to dictatorship.  There were calls for a strongman to come to power and put matters to order.  Somehow, enough people of power were persuaded that something must be done and a new economic order was put in place and since then the economic situation improved in a big way (I am not sure that Dafny Leef and her cohorts would agree with me).

I do not see indications for such a political consensus in USA. What would then be a possible route to improvement in USA?  The two-party system is notoriously bad at allowing real leaders to rise to the top.  They must have all kinds of irrelevant qualifications, the inevitable skeletons must be well hidden in closets, they must be good looking and not be obese.  They must be excellent orators as well, and not start their adult career in an unacceptable profession (Ronald Reagan withstanding).

There is, however, another route to power in USA.  One makes a lot of money and leverages it for power in big Wall Street banks and other investment institutions.  That person (man or woman) would then be able to pull the strings behind the stage and push for the right kind of political changes.

A difficulty exists.  That person’s route to richness and power needs to leave him/her free of any commitments to take care of his/her Wall Street colleagues.  So that person would not be obligated to cater to Wall Street’s special interests.

Of course, since such a person would not gain power by democratic means, it is impossible to have an assurance that he/she would in fact operate for the good of the public rather than for any group of special interests. For such an assurance, the political process needs to work properly – and this failure is the underlying cause behind the present problems.

George Soros, anyone?

A better and safer alternative would be a massive educational process, which educate the populace about political processes, how they function, how they are supposed to function, how to wisely choose leaders, how to properly balance relatively minor improprieties vs. major leadership and management failures, how to tell legitimate criticism apart from propaganda by special interest groups, whose interests are damaged by a good leader’s efforts.

Prophet ahead of his time?

The following subject caused me to feel like a prophet who came before his time.  Some time after the upheavals in Israel started, I tried to interest several people in my economic ideas (links appear below).  I even joined a promising Facebook group of people, who want to preserve the sanity of economics in Israel.

However, it turned out that the leaders of that Facebook group have their own agenda, which is incompatible with discussions of novel economic ideas.  As a consequence, they asked me to stop posting there, and I left the group.  So I decided to just summarize links in a blog article and just refer any comers to it.

The subject of sane economics has been interesting me for several years.  Actually, it was the reason why I started to write this blog on May 2004.  As time passed, I switched to writing about other topics.  However, now, due to the upheavals in countries like Israel, USA, or England, it is necessary to develop a new way of thinking about economics.

I would like to solve problems like the following (in no particular order of importance):

  1. Environmental pollution due to over-consumerism.
  2. Joblessness in USA and several European countries (happily not a serious problem in Israel, at the moment).
  3. Cost of living for the middle and lower classes (a problem in Israel).
  4. Feeling of youths that no matter how much you try, you won’t be able to get ahead in life.

Following are links to relevant articles:

May 13, 2018 update: I published a booklet of short stories illustrating life in an utopia which solves the problems discussed above. The booklet is currently available only in Hebrew: סיפורי עושר מדרגה שלישית (Stories about Third Level Wealth).

The son of Cast Lead operation and Gilad Shalit

Once the Israeli Cast Lead like military action against Gaza Strip starts, it is necessary to organize daily demonstrations next to the White House to get Obama to support the Israeli military operation and not to call for stopping it until the Hamas free Gilad Shalit in exchange for ceasefire and nothing else.

The demonstrators there should be all those silly crazies who demonstrate today next to the Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu’s house with the demand to release Gilad Shalit at the price of humiliating surrender to the Hamas.

הבן של מבצע עופרת יצוקה וגלעד שליט

ברגע שתתחיל הפעולה הצבאית הישראלית, בסגנון עופרת יצוקה, נגד רצועת עזה, יש לארגן הפגנות יומיות ליד הבית הלבן כדי לשכנע את אובמה לתמוך בפעולה הצבאית הישראלית ולהימנע מלדרוש מישראל להפסיקה באמצע עד שהחמאס ישחררו את גלעד שליט תמורת לכל היותר הפסקת אש.

מי שאמורים להפגין שם זה כל הטיפשים המשוגעים שהיום מפגינים ליד ביתו של ראש הממשלה ביבי נתניהו בתביעה שהוא ישחרר את גלעד שליט תמורת כניעה משפילה לחמאס.

Fourth stage of Zionism

אחת מהתיזות של סטף ורטהימר היא שהציונות נמצאת כעת בשלב השלישי שלה.  השלב הראשון היה הקמת החקלאות בארץ ישראל, והשלב השני הדגיש את הבטחון.  השלב השלישי, שפנחס ספיר וסטף ורטהימר היו בין מקדמיו, הינו תיעוש ישראל.  שלב זה עדיין לא הסתיים למרות שישראל זכתה כבר בעצמאות כלכלית.

עם זאת, נראה לי שכבר כדאי לחשוב על השלב הבא.  השלב הבא אמור לתת אתגר לצעירים ולמנוע התנוונות של מדינה שבעה גם אחרי שישראל תהיה בין המדינות העשירות ביותר בעולם.

השלב שאני מציע הינו פיתוח החלל, ויכלול הקמת תחנות חלל שיהוו מושבות ישראליות.

על פני כדור הארץ, ישראל תיהפך לתחנת מעבר.  פליטים מכל העולם ייכנסו לישראל, ישתקעו בה, ילדיהם יקבלו חינוך והכשרה ובסוף יהגרו לתחנות חלל.  בצורה כזו, ישראל תוכל לקלוט פליטים מכל העולם ובכל זאת על ידי מדיניות תיעדוף מתאימה, לשמר על רוב יהודי בטריטוריה שנמצאת על פני כדור הארץ ולמלא את תפקידה כמקלט לעם היהודי.

Resettle Sudanese refugees in Gaza Strip

I do not understand how come I never saw any suggestion to solve the Sudanese refugees problem by resettling them in Gaza Strip.

I think it’s a simple idea with several advantages.

First of all, next time Hamas launch missiles at Israel, Israel will have the pretext to re-enter Gaza Strip and re-seize a part of it.

Then, the Sudanese refugees will be resettled in that part of Gaza Strip.  Plans for settling them will have been prepared beforehand.  Probably by rebuilding the Jewish settlements and following the same plans – even to the extent of building greenhouses to provide a living for the refugees.

Even if there are some subversive elements among them, most of the refugees probably just want to make a living and will be industrious workers – no need for Thai laborers there.  Therefore, it should be matter of a year or so before they are self-sufficient and after few years, they’ll be persperous enough to expose the lies of the Palestinian Authority and the Hamas that the Palestinians need a lot of economic aid just to survive.  It may be possible to adopt a rotating door policy, which will allow Sudanese refugees to stay for few years, get persperous and then qualify by being persperous for immigration into other developed countries.

Another factor is that once the Palestinians see that the more genocide the Sudanese government commits, the more refugees from Sudan will arrive at Gaza strip and the more they’ll be squeezed out of parts of Gaza Strip, they’ll influence the Sudanese government to stop persecuting minorities in Sudan.

Once the Gaza Strip is full of Sudanese, it is possible to start settling them also in the West Bank and start squeezing Palestinians out of it.

And the best of all – the idea will eliminate the moral problem that we, as Israelis and descendants of Holocaust survivors, have with throwing out refugees from genocide.

תרגום לעברית נוסף בתאריך 1.1.2011:

אינני מבין איך זה שלא ראיתי אף הצעה לפתרון בעית הפליטים הסודניים על ידי יישובם-מחדש ברצועת עזה.

אני חושב שזה רעיון פשוט עם יתרונות רבים.

קודם כל, בפעם הבאה שהחמאס ישגרו טילים לישראל, יהיה לישראל תרוץ להכנס מחדש לרצועת עזה ולתפוס שליטה בחלק ממנה.

ואז יהיה אפשר ליישב מחדש את הפליטים הסודניים באותו חלק של רצועת עזה.  התוכניות ליישובם מחדש יהיו מוכנות מקודם.  קרוב לוודאי על ידי בנייה מחדש של היישובים היהודיים תוך שימוש באותן התוכניות – כולל בנייה מחדש של החממות כדי לפרנס את הפליטים.

אפילו אם יהיו אלמנטים חתרניים ביניהם, קרוב לוודאי שרובם רוצים פשוט לקיים את עצמם ויהיו עובדים חרוצים – אין צורך בעובדים תאילנדיים שם.  לכן בערך שנה אמורה להספיק עד שהם יוכלו לפרנס את עצמם ולאחר כמה שנים, הם ישגשגו די הצורך כדי לחשוף את השקרים של הרשות הפלשתינאית ושל החמאס, שהפלשתינאים זקוקים לסיוע כלכלי מסיבי רק כדי לשרוד.

גורם נוסף זה שברגע שהפלשתינאים יראו שככל שהממשלה הסודנית מבצעת יותר טבח עם, יותר פליטים מסודן יבואו לרצועת עזה ויותר פלשתינאים יידחקו מחלקים מרצועת עזה, הם ישפיעו על הממשלה הסודנית להפסיק לדרוף מיעוטים בסודן.

כשרצועת עזה תתמלא בפליטים סודניים, ניתן להתחיל ליישב אותם מחדש גם בגדה המערבית ולהתחיל לדחוק פלשתינאים משם.

והכי טוב – הרעיון ימנע את הבעיה המוסרית שיש לנו, בתור ישראלים וצאצאים של ניצולי השואה, עם גירוש פליטי ג’יינוסיד.

How is the Left in Israel undermining efforts to release Gilad Shalit and why?

During the last several months, I noticed that the strongest voices in favor of accepting Hamas’ terms for release of Gilad Shalit, and against tough negotiations – belong to the Left.

The question, then is:  why does the Left press Bibi Netanyahu to surrender to Hamas in the negotiations over Gilad Shalit?

The Leftist movements in Israel, such as Peace Now, have an agenda of demonstrating against the Israeli leaders whenever they try to play tough in peace negotiations with the Arabs, as if playing tough is equivalent to wish for war – rather than wish for peace from better position.  They throw to the winds the maxim that negotiations which end in satisfactory results – start with tough-looking bargaining positions.

In the case of negotiations for Gilad Shalit’s release, I suspect that the Left knows that the key for Gilad Shalit’s release is to act tough and even be cruel toward Hamas activists in Israeli prisons.  However they do not want that the Israeli public be exposed to the experience of tough negotiations with successful outcome.

Therefore, the Leftists would sabotage the process of negotiations by blaming the Israeli leaders for “abandoning” Gilad Shalit only because they try to play tougher in negotiations with Hamas.  Nevermind the fact that true abandonment means that no one is giving attention to the abandoned person; rather than having to do with the specific kind of attention being given.  The Leftists demonstrate – not against Hamas or the International Red Cross – but against Bibi Netanyahu and the other Israeli leaders.  They try to persuade Netanyahu to release dangerous terrorists, whose release is sure to lead to tens and hundreds of Israeli victims.

Seems that for the Left, it is better to keep the Gilad Shalit problem unsolved, rather than risk the lesson that playing tough in negotiations pays huge dividends.

The Salvor Hardin plan for Syrian-Israeli peace

According to Michael J. Totten, the ruling class of Syria can never make peace with Israel on their own, as they are Alawites – a minority in Syria. If they make peace with Israel, they’ll be considered as traitors and the Sunni majority would revolt and drown the Alawites in blood.

In the following I’ll try to formulate how Salvor Hardin would have dealt with the problem of getting Bashar al-Assad to make peace with Israel.

Since it is Salvor Hardin, the following principles are relevant:

  • “Never let your sense of morals prevent you from doing what is right”
  • “Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent”

The key is to save Assad’s face and convince the Sunni in Syria that by making peace with Israel, Assad really does them good rather than being a traitor.

The plan would be as follows.

  1. A pretext for starting hostilities against Syria could be its hosting and supporting the Hamas leaders, who are opposed to release of Gilad Shalit for free.
  2. Hostile action would be to demonstrate power and ruthlessness by bombing some critical infrastructure, such as irrigation dams or key bridges. However, the hostilities are to be sufficiently surgical that there’ll be no casualties or bodily harm to people.
  3. The next step would be to prevent reconstruction of the destroyed infrastructure as long as there is state of war between Syria and Israel.
  4. Once Syria capitulates and agrees to make peace with Israel and has accepted the humiliation of peace without the Golan Heights returned to it, Israel would extend economic aid to Syria in order to repair and upgrade the infrastructure destroyed during the hostilities. See below.

The biggest problem in carrying out the above plan is international public opinion. One way to counter it is to earmark few billion dollars for rebuilding Syria once there is peace, and arrange for those companies (presumably, French ones) which currently have construction contracts in Syria and are in position to get reconstruction contracts (for rebuilding Syria) to pull ropes and arrange for public relations so that there’ll be support for Israel’s actions.