Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Israel bolsters border with Egypt following terror alert

Recent intelligence reveals that an Islamic Jihad terror cell from Gaza is attempting to infiltrate Israel via Sinai. As a result, Israel's navy has sent additional warships to its maritime border with Egypt. Meanwhile, Iran reported yesterday that its warships will make another round in the Red Sea in coming weeks.

Is Michele Bachmann Jewish?

No...but some Republican donors think she is, and it seems to be working in her favor. The New York Post reports:
Some Jewish donors are telling fund-raisers for Romney, a Mormon, that while they like him, they'd rather open their wallets for the "Jewish candidate," who they don't realize is actually a Lutheran, The Post has learned. "It's a real problem," one Romney fund-raiser said. "We're working very hard in the Jewish community because of Obama's Israel problem. This was surprising." Like other Republicans, Romney is trying to capitalize on President Obama's waning support among Jewish voters, who are upset with his administration's policies toward Israel.
Although Bachmann is not Jewish, she spent a summer working on a kibbutz in Israel (albeit as part of ministry work) and is a staunch supporter of the Jewish state. As she told the Weekly Standard earlier this summer:
If you consider what it was like in 1948 and literally watch flowers bloom in a desert over time — I don’t know if any nation has paralleled the rise of Israel since 1948.
By referring to Bachmann as the Jewish candidate, perhaps donors have not so much confused her religious affiliation, but rather have pinpointed her as Israel's strongest supporter among the Republican field. In response to a question on the relationship between America and Israel's security at the Republican Jewish Coalition, Bachmann said the following:
I am convinced in my heart and in my mind that if the United States fails to stand with Israel, that is the end of the United States . . . [W]e have to show that we are inextricably entwined, that as a nation we have been blessed because of our relationship with Israel, and if we reject Israel, then there is a curse that comes into play. And my husband and I are both Christians, and we believe very strongly the verse from Genesis [Genesis 12:3], we believe very strongly that nations also receive blessings as they bless Israel. It is a strong and beautiful principle.
Jewish? No. Honorary Jew? Perhaps.

Monday, August 29, 2011

The redemption will not be monetized

Liberty? (Source: Flickr)
Porter Stansberry of Stansberry's Investments has created a new video presentation on the gloomy future of the dollar and the US economic system as we know it. Stansberry is credited with predicting the crash of many companies in the 2008 economic crisis, yet he claims that the worst is yet to come. According to his predictions, many Americans could soon face skyrocketing prices of basic commodities such as milk, bread and gas, coupled with closed banks, failing credit card companies, and bans on buying gold and foreign currencies.

America's consumption-led way of life led the country to borrow frivolously using short-term loans on which they were unable to pay interest. When major banks collapsed in 2008, debts were absorbed by the U.S. government and other world governments from which it borrows. The reason Americans don't feel these debts to their fullest is because the response of the US monetary system for the past decade has been to print dollars whenever it's in a bind. The US is the only debtor that can print more of the world's reserve currency -- US dollars -- anytime it wants. Because it can always print more dollars, the US can never go broke, since its currency forms the foundation of the world's economic system since World War 2.

The danger of this strategy comes when other countries realize what's going on and start to discount the value of the US dollar. Ever since the US has become accustomed to consuming more than producing, the real value of the dollar has sunk. According to Stansberry, this consumption-led way of life will become impossible to maintain. If other countries begin to price basic commodities in a currency other than dollars, those commodities will become much more expensive to Americans, and the frivolity of US monetary policy of the last decade will be felt rapidly. Rising oil prices would cripple the US economy and way of life, affecting the cost of transporting food, farming, commuting to work, air travel  prices.

Stansberry claims the world's preference for currencies other than the dollar has already begun, even if most Americans find it hard to believe. Robert Fisk recently wrote that Europe and Gulf states are conspiring to end dollar dealings for oil and instead move to a combination of Asian and new currencies to govern the oil market. China has recently been reported as investing more in the Yen than in the dollar. Americans are used to being able to use dollars wherever they travel, but Stansberry claims a major bank in Mexico has refused to accept dollars on the grounds of the weakening of the currency.

You can watch Stansberry's video presentation here. The presentation is long, and there's no way to rewind, fast-forward or pause (as far as I know), but there's a lot of good information in there, the gist of which I've summarized here. Stansberry's warning is intended for investors and those seeking to avoid the hit to their investments and retirement funds. Beyond this, these warnings also serve to herald the decline not only of the dollar, but of the consumption-led lifestyle which has become the universal currency of life in the last several decades. In this week's Haftorah (weekly reading of the Prophets), we read the following:

 חנם נמכרתם ולא בכסף תגאלו

You were sold for nothing, and without money will you be redeemed (Isaiah 52:3)

Today the values of consumerism seem so fundamental to life itself, so much as we can not even accept the basic human rights of a person who does not "work"--a view completely foreign to Torah, in which a poor person is a representation of a loan which God owes that person which we can pay for Him. After spending a week on Rothschild Boulevard, I believe one of the major achievements of Israel's latest protest movement is the introduction of a way of life which aspires to exist outside of the economic system which the government has imported from America. No one knows where it is heading--not even those who are considered its "leaders".

The tyranny of a life led by consumption is crumbling, and in its midst the ground is clearing for the reemergence of the values and dreams that have laid dormant for our two thousand years of exile. We need not rely on the empty promises of anarchy, socialism, or secular democratic utopias imported from states fallen, nor on doctrines of asceticism, minimalism or other dogmas that champion the Greek split between body and soul. After all, our people left Egypt not hungry and miserable, but laden with its stashes of gold and silver. The answers the times seek are ever-bubbling in the overflowing spring of the soul of our people, who throughout two thousand years of exile awaited the pure soil and air of the Land of Israel like a child waiting for its mother to return home, for the place where it can rekindle the spirit of prophecy and the bond between humanity and God for the sake of all of creation.

Friday is Gimmel Elul, the Yartzeit of Rav Kook, who saw these days.

China will support unilateral Palestinian sate bid

China has joined the list of countries who support a unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state in September.

According to Israel's foreign ministry, 130-140 states are expected to vote in favor of a unilateral Palestinian state--independence without formal peace agreement with Israel. Only five countries have promised Israel that they will vote against the Palestinian bid: the U.S., Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and the Czech Republic. Other nations with otherwise "warm" relations are expected to be absent or abstain rather than vote against. Whether the EU's 27 countries with vote in favor, abstain or oppose remains in question.

Palestinians will bring their bid to the UN Security Council on September 20th, but the General Assembly vote, needed to pass with a two thirds majority should the US veto the motion, will take place only in October.

8 injured in Tel Aviv terror attck

On late Sunday night a 20-year-old Nablus resident stabbed a Tel Aviv cab driver, stole his cab, and drove it towards the HaOman 17 nightclub where one thousand high schoolers were celebrating the end of the summer. The man subsequently stepped out of the car, yelled Allah Akbar, and began stabbing people. Luckily, nearly all the teenagers were inside the club at the time of the attack, preventing what could have been a far worse outcome. The man was abruptly tackled to the ground outside the club by Border Police officers, but not before stabbing and injuring eight border police officers and security guards. Police are now trying to figure out how the terrorist knew about the youth party at the nightclub in the first place. 

Aviv Kriyaf, one of the injured security guards, told YNet the following: "I have no doubt that he tried to reach the teenagers. I am scared to think about what could have happened had he succeeded (h"v). There were thousands of children there who by miracle were unharmed." 

21 trapped in upstate NY hotel

Officials are concerned that the Gilboa Dam has been breached after all signals to the dam were lost this morning. Downstream from the dam, twenty-one people are stranded in a hotel threatened by the river's rising levels. Via myFOXNY:
A massive effort was underway Sunday to rescue 21-people, including several children, trapped in a Catskills motel as fast rising storm waters surrounded the building. The motel is in Prattsville, N.Y.  The N.Y. National Guard deployed 129 soldiers and several speed boats to try to get to the Green County motel.
John Esquivel spoke on the phone with Fox 5 News.  He is with his family in the Moore's Motel.  He says, when they woke up this morning, they saw rising water.  By the time they got ready to leave, the entire building was surrounded by a 450 yard wide river.
Everyone in the building rushed up to the second floor.  Brown, debris filled waters rose over the entire first floor of the building.  All power and phone service was lost in the building.
Their main concern was if a dam above the motel were to break.
"If that dam breaks, we're going to be in worse shape," Esquivel said in a phone interview with Fox 5 News...Things got so desperate that the adults starting planning what they were going to do if the build started breaking apart or floating away.  Their plans included tying sheets to each other so they would not be carried apart.  They were worried as several mobile homes and cars rushed by, but did not strike the building they are trapped inside.
Update: 51 People Saved From Upstate Motel

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Irene vs. Katrina

Source: The Weather Channel
Irene in Infrared, August 27th (The Weather Channel)

Irene from space (NASA)

Eye of Storm could pass through NYC

Meteorologists are now saying Irene could make a second of third landfall in New York City itself on Sunday around 10 a.m., after skirting the Jersey Shore Saturday night. According to the city's mayor, effects of Irene on New York may be felt as soon as 9 p.m. Saturday local time. Irene's winds, rain and storm surge could flood lower Manhattan's streets and subway tunnels, and even put JFK underwater.

Friday, August 26, 2011

The Hurricane of Peace

Many are pointing to the irony of the name of the hurricane that stands to threaten over 65 million people this weekend--Irene is derived from the name the Greeks gave to their goddess of peace. The End Times Forecaster points out that the threat of Irene follows pressure by the U.S. on Israel to agree for the first time that a Palestinian state should follow '67 borders earlier this month. Just as the U.S. is guiding Israel down a path of destruction in the guise of 'peace', so it faces an ironically-named whirlwind of destruction, right through its major metropolitan areas.

Moreover, while the world is conspiring to vote in favor of a unilateral Palestinian state on Israeli land on September 20th, Israel's historical ally, the United States, has stood silent. And as Israel continues to be barraged by rocket fire after a triple terrorist attack in the South last week, the U.S. and other Western countries sufficed to call for restraint in the region, rather than differentiate between perpetrator and victim.

The last major hurricane to inflict historical damage on the U.S. was Katrina, which took place almost exactly six years ago, in late August 2005. One week before Katrina hit, Israel evacuated nearly 10,000 people from their homes on the West coast of Israel to clear space for what would become a terror launching pad for Hamas, a move which was made in a large part as a result of U.S. pressure on Israel. A week after Katrina, Rabbi Avraham Shmuel Levin blamed Katrina on U.S. pressure on Israel to concede to Palestinian demands.

Edom can do teshuva, but so long as it guides the apple of Hashem's eye down a road of destruction, it shares the same fate--yet without the promise of eternal, unconditional protection.

NYC subway shutdown scenario

According to the NY Daily News, the New York City subway system could be shut down as early as late Saturday afternoon, ahead of the expected arrival of Irene on Sunday morning. The MTA's hurricane plan describes a "worst possible scenario" in which the hurricane hits south of the city, sending of a wall of water onto New York:
The MTA battle plan, created in 2007, but still valid today, says the worst possible scenario is a hurricane making landfall at Atlantic City, 100 miles south of the city. Hurricanes spin counter-clockwise, so a big storm making landfall to the south would push a wall of ocean water onto New York.

Federal scientists say a Category 2 hurricane could drive a 20-foot storm surge into Manhattan, Queens and Brooklyn. If that is what appears to be looming, the MTA hurricane plan calls for bus service to begin to be curtailed at least 12 hours before landfall.

At least eight hours before landfall, the subways would start shutting down. At "zero hour" - approximately six hours before landfall, when winds reach 39 mph - all rail and bus service would be suspended, the MTA plan says.
See here for the possibility that NYC evacuations will take place on Shabbat and here for a map of potential NYC evacuation zones. You can also call 311 and give your address to check if you are in an area which may be under evacuation on Saturday morning.

NYC Evacuations may take place on Shabbat

As of early morning Friday forecasts, Hurricane Irene is set to hit North Carolina on Saturday morning local time, setting off what will be a predicted 36 hours of "destruction" until weakening to a tropical storm around Boston on late Sunday night.

In New York City, the storm is expected to hit early Sunday morning. According to Yeshiva World News, the call to evacuate low-lying areas may be made as late as Saturday morning, during Shabbat, posing a challenge for observant Jews. NYC Mayor Bloomberg's spokesperson made the following statement to YWN on Thursday:
Right now, we’re encouraging people with family who are shut-ins in low-lying areas like the Rockaways, Coney Island and Manhattan Beach, and the eastern edge of Staten Island to bring them to higher land on Friday. But there’s a possibility that on Saturday morning, the hurricane’s track may require mandatory evacuations of these areas before Shabbos is over. If you have family or friends in a low-lying area, it might not be the worst idea to invite them to you for Shabbos.
...As regards to the general public, we will make a decision about whether to order a mandatory evacuation of Zone A low-lying areas by 8:00 AM Saturday, the day after tomorrow. However, we recommend that people start going to alternative locations if they have them because of potential traffic jams and mass transit limitations on Saturday that Jay Walder is going to discuss in a couple of minutes. So if you live in one of these communities and have a relative or friend you can stay with in a safer, less vulnerable areas, you should think about arranging to stay there until the storm passes.
See here for the map of NYC Hurricane evacuation zones which will take effect should the mayor make the call Friday or Saturday.

Wishing all those in Irene's path a safe Shabbat, preferably on high land.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

New York City Hurricane Evacuation Zones (Tentative)

Current tracks show Hurricane Irene is likely to hit all major US cities along the coast from North Carolina through New England, making it the worst the US has seen since 1821, when a hurricane wreaked havoc from Norfolk to Rhode Island. One scenario (see video above) shows the eye of the storm passing directly through New York city. According to one preparedness expert: "We're talking about something that could be cataclysmic if it goes full-scale."

New York city officials will announce Friday at the earliest whether to evacuate areas of New York City in danger of flooding. New Jersey and Delaware are also preparing for mass evacuations, although the geography of the New York Harbor makes it particularly vulnerable to become the storm's harbor. The city's Office of Emergency Management has prepared the following hurricane contingency plan should the storm's path warrant evacuations (via Business Insider; PDF available here):

  • Residents in Zone A (Orange) face the highest risk of flooding from a hurricane's storm surge. Zone A includes all low-lying coastal areas and other areas that could experience storm surge in ANY hurricane that makes landfall close to New York City. 
  • Residents in Zone B (Yellow) may experience storm surge flooding from a MODERATE (Category 2 or higher) hurricane. 
  • Residents in Zone C (Green) may experience storm surge flooding from a MAJOR hurricane (Category 3 & 4) making landfall just south of New York City. A major hurricane is unlikely in New York City, but not impossible.
An interactive map can be viewed here.

* * 

Are you in Hurricane Irene's path? Be prepared:
  • Stock up on batteries, non-perishable foods, first-aid supplies, drinking water and medications. Get supplies NOW, not later, as streets may be blocked by fallen trees. 
  • Fuel and service your vehicles. 
  • Have cash on hand in case power goes out and ATMs don't work.
  • Park your car indoors if possible 
  • Do not open windows during a hurricane 
Sources: MSNBC, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Hurricane Center. See Long Island's Hurricane Preparedness Guide for more suggestions

* *

The first verse of this week's Haftorah, along with the two verses preceding it, speak of the destructive power of water, as opposed to the unshakable love of God for the Jewish people:

כִּי-מֵי נֹחַ, זֹאת לִי, אֲשֶׁר נִשְׁבַּעְתִּי מֵעֲבֹר מֵי-נֹחַ עוֹד, עַל-הָאָרֶץ--כֵּן נִשְׁבַּעְתִּי מִקְּצֹף עָלַיִךְ, וּמִגְּעָר-בָּךְ

כִּי הֶהָרִים יָמוּשׁוּ, וְהַגְּבָעוֹת תְּמוּטֶינָה--וְחַסְדִּי מֵאִתֵּךְ לֹא-יָמוּשׁ, וּבְרִית שְׁלוֹמִי לֹא תָמוּט, אָמַר מְרַחֲמֵךְ, יְהוָה

עֲנִיָּה סֹעֲרָה, לֹא נֻחָמָה; הִנֵּה אָנֹכִי מַרְבִּיץ בַּפּוּךְ, אֲבָנַיִךְ, וִיסַדְתִּיךְ, בַּסַּפִּירִים

For this is to Me [as] the waters of Noah, as I swore that the waters of Noah shall never again pass over the earth, so have I sworn neither to be wroth with you nor to rebuke you.

For the mountains shall depart and the hills totter, but My kindness shall not depart from you, neither shall the covenant of My peace totter," says the Lord, Who has compassion on you.
O afflicted city, who was not consoled, behold I will set your stones with carbuncle, and I will lay your foundations with sapphires.
* * 

Israel Rising points out that the first US state to feel the storm's hit is North Carolina, where Jonathan Pollard has been held inhumanely for over 25 years.

Thailand: Between Palestinian statehood and terror

On Monday, PLO member Nabil Shaath announced that Thailand will support the recognition of a Palestinian state at the UN on September 20th, following meetings with officials from the Thai foreign ministry in Bangkok.

On Thursday, two people were shot dead and 10 were wounded in a series of attacks by Muslim rebels in a southern Thailand province on the border of Malaysia.

According to BBC, as of August 12th, 122 countries are expected to vote in favor of Palestinian statehood in mid-September. Even if the US vetos the motion, it can still pass with a majority of two-thirds in the general assembly, which would require 128 votes in favor, or 134 if all countries are present.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

US to call for Assad to step down

US officials have given word that Obama will explicitly call for Syrian President Bashar Assad to step down, after weeks of weaker rhetoric against the regime. One official said the announcement may come as early as Thursday.

Earlier this week, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Bahrain withdrew their ambassadors from Damascus. Meanwhile, at the UN, Russia's envoy said Western sanctions have proven ineffective in ending Syria's crackdown on demonstrations.

In the case of Egypt, Obama called for a transition to democracy in Egypt on February 4th, which was considered by many as a call for Mubarak to step down. Mubarak announced his resignation on state TV on the afternoon of February 12th.

UK may shut down social media in times of "disorder"

What is the line between criminality and legitimate social protest? How will the government's response to the London riots affect the country's student protests in the future? European governments are well aware of the difficult economic times that lie ahead, as well as the social unrest that accompanies them. Armed with instant communication apparatuses, protesters are able to convene and organize within hours in large numbers across distances. Once the government has an open channel to tap or pull the plug on social media networks, who will oversee which protests are deemed 'disorderly' enough?

BBC reports:
England riots: Government mulls social media controls
Curbs on social media and texting are being considered by the government 
The government is exploring whether to turn off social networks or stop people texting during times of social unrest. David Cameron said the intelligence services and the police were exploring whether it was "right and possible" to cut off those plotting violence. Texting and Blackberry Messenger are said to have been used by some during this week's riots. Rights groups said such a measure would be abused and hit the civil liberties of people who have done nothing wrong.
The prime minister told MPs the government was exploring the turn-off in a statement made to the House of Commons during an emergency recall of Parliament. Mr Cameron said anyone watching the riots would be "struck by how they were organised via social media". He said the government, using input from the police, intelligence services and industry, was looking at whether there should, or could, be limits on social media if it was being used to spread disorder.
Under social media, Mr Cameron includes Facebook, Twitter and specific technologies such as text messaging. The semi-private BBM messaging system on the Blackberry is said to have been widely used during the riots. Home Secretary Theresa May is believed to be meeting representatives from Facebook, Twitter and RIM (maker of the Blackberry) to talk about their obligations during times of unrest.
 Meanwhile, look out! Your personal phone numbers are now on Facebook.

Estonian Defense Ministry Shooting

On Thursday afternoon around 3:30 p.m. a shooting took place in the Estonian Defense Ministry in Talliinn. Police have entered the building, and additional shots were heard. Eyewitness reports claim a security guard was taken hostage.

Estonia is one of the Baltic states whose independence from Russia was formally recognized in 1991. On Tuesday S&P upgraded Estonia's international credit rating to AA, n response to strong growth figures.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Like Wildfire: Tunis, Tel Aviv and Tottenham

A carpet store burns on Tottenham High Road on Aug 6, 2011
Dec. 17, 2010: Mohammed Bouazizi, a 26-year-old Tunisian vegetable seller set himself on fire after a policewoman confiscated his unlicensed cart and spat on him after he refused to pay a fine. Bouazizi's act and the socioeconomic situation it highlighted spawned anti-government protests across Tunisia, and one month later, the 23-year rule of Tunisia's Ben Ali came to an end. Demonstrations subsequently spread across the Arab world, successfully toppling Egypt's Mubarak, bringing war against Libya's Qaddafi, and an ongoing uprising against Syria's Assad.

July 14, 2011: When 25 year-old film editor Daphni Leef was evicted from her Tel Aviv apartment and found herself unable to find an affordable alternative, she decided to pitch a tent on one of the city's most luxurious boulevards, and invited her friends to do so as well via Facebook. Three weeks later, more than a quarter of a million lower- and middle-class Israelis marched across Israel demanding a new economic order and a reeling back of imported capitalism in favor of the ideals of a welfare state inherent in the nation's historical revival. Nearly one month after the first tent was pitched, thousands of tents have sprung up in improvised tent cities across the country--some inhabited by idealistic students, others by families claiming they have hit rock bottom--a situation no humane government can ignore for long. Plans are underway for a million person march in September--proportionally speaking, the equivalent of 45 million Americans on the streets.

August 4, 2011: Mark Duggan, a 29-year-old father of three, was shot dead by police officers of Scotland Yard's special black-on-black crime unit. Fifteen minutes prior to the shooting, Duggan sent a message from his blackberry saying "the Feds are following me". Two days following the shooting, a group of around 200 of Duggan's relatives and local residents of Broadwater Farm marched to the Tottenham Police station to inquire into the circumstances of the man's death. After waiting hours to speak with a higher-ranking officer, the mob became impatient and set two nearby police cars on fire. Rioting, looting and arson spread throughout London and other cities around England, striking a chord among working-class Britons alienated by a society burdened by budget cuts and lurking xenophobia. In a country once marked for its obsession with order and the rule of law, police across the Kingdom have admitted that they are not able to regain control of Britain's streets in the face of "unprecedented" levels violence.

* * *

What do all three phenomena have in common? All three began with one incident involving a "random" citizen in their 20's whose life circumstances and/or reaction to them incited a generation, a country or a region to radically and abruptly shift the balance of power between people and government. In much of the Arab world, citizens seeking democratic government resorted to violence in the face of a tyrannical ruler with a military backing. In Israel, protests have thus far been peaceful demonstrations aimed at toppling the current government or radically changing the society's priorities. In Britain, the uprising has stemmed from a class of people who fail to find means within the democratic system to voice their grievances.
Secondly, the internet has played a major role in all three social phenomena. One small event takes on larger-than-life proportions with the help of social networks and instant communication and distribution of information, proving that the Facebook generation are only glued to their touch screens until further notice. In response, governments and law force agencies understand they must play the same game in order to suppress/restore order, using tactics such as shutting down internet and cellular networks such as in Egypt and Syria, or pressuring cell phone companies to provide sensitive information on large numbers of customers' call logs, messaging activity and contact lists such as in Britain most recently.

Third, all protests reveal what governments have done their best to hide--no politician, in any part of their term, wants their population to realize that global food prices are rising, regardless of legislation. Europe is facing zero or negative economic growth prospects, and governments across the continent are cutting left and right in an attempt not to lose all. The effect of months and years of government cuts is not sudden but rather gradual--the breeding of generational economic hardship--relative to years past--that lies dormant until the match is lit.

Surely, the context, legitimacy and desirability of these uprisings vary widely, and many will say there is no room for comparison. No one can deny, however, that governments across the world are standing aghast at the power of their populace to mobilize and challenge the conventional rules of the game, with consequences no short of havoc, revolution or prelude to world war. None of the above phenomenon are anywhere near their climax, and none have abated without tossing embers nextdoor. In coming weeks, let us remember that Jerusalem lies not only at the geographical intersection of Europe and Asia but also at the heart of two typologies of uprisings, and that just as what happens globally is bound to ripple in Israel's bays, so Israel's waves can be a beacon for the human spirit seeking the air of freedom and dignity, in any language. 

כי מציון תצא תורה ודבר ה' מירושלים

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