David Wessell wrote an article recently about a meeting of former CBO directors, former White House budget Directors, a former House, Ways and Mean's Committee staffer and the Heritage Foundation's point person on domestic economics. The purpose was to discuss what needs to be done about our government's fiscal problems.
The first step they proposed was that Congress needs to get serious about Social Security and Medicare and Medicade which now sops up 42% of spending. Currently these programs are on automatic pilot. The group proposed enforceable 30 year-long limits on growth. The theory being Congress would have to respond if spending exceeded the established limits. They could not agree on the size of the limit - oh well.
They also discussed the fact that a faster growing economy is not the solution even if you eliminated all government waste and improved efficiency which, by definition, is oxymoronic. Government, by definition means waste and inefficiency.
They concluded a wiser government would have prepared for what we now face but that too begs the question. Social Security is dwarfed by the problem our aging population portends.
Even though the Bush tax cut has expanded revenue beyond the most pessimistic estimate lifting taxes , they conclude, would be dangerous considering our current problems. Though they agree reducing future benefits to current tax levels is possible it is also politically impossible because voters would not stand for it.
The key is to reduce spending but the bottom population get their goodies through spending and the top through tax breaks and which favor higher brackets.
Tackling benefits without tackling the tax code is considered unwise so the meeting ended without much accomplished beyond identifying the problems. The participants aren't running for office either.
Wessel gave them an "A' for effort and "C" for results but at least, I am sure, they ate well.
A friend sent me this speech by a Baltimore Rabbi who does not agree with Rev Wright and believes Sen. Obama made a huge mistake in accepting Wright's moral equivalency argument.
I, myself, have railed against the Liberal concept that there is no right and wrong and that everything is simply a matter of relevancy. No wonder our nation's morality is in decline - when all else fails lower your standards. A pitiful approach. (See a1 below.)
Syrian troops not being mobilized. (See 2 below.)
IDF begins removing roadblocks to appease Sec. Rice , who in turn, needs to appease Abbas. Pass the appease please. (See 3 below.)
Britain's Ambassador to Israel takes issue with Professor Wistrich. British do not countenance anti-Semitism. I guess their Amb. has been in Israel to long. (See 4 below.)
Iran presses forward with its nuclear program according to diplomats. How can that be? (See 5 below.)
1) Sen. Obama … Wright or Wrong
By RABBI MITCHELL WOHLBERG
In light of recent events, I don’t think it unreasonable of me to expect that all of you who are members of Beth Tfiloh to wake up every morning and after saying the Modeh Ani prayer, thanking God for keeping you alive, you add a little prayer thanking God for bringing Rabbi Mitchell Wohlberg into your lives. I know that for some of you who are not members that might sound a little smug and self-centered on my part. But in light of recent events, the members of Beth Tfiloh should express gratitude to God for my being their rabbi. After all, it’s a lot better than having the Rev. Jeremiah Wright as your pastor … as did the congregants at Chicago’s Trinity United Church of Christ … where Sen. Barack Obama is an active member!
The controversy that erupted over Rev. Wright’s hate-filled, anti-American sermons not only put Sen. Obama in an awkward position, it put every member of a church or synagogue in an awkward position as well. Are you to be held responsible for what I say from the pulpit? And what happens if you disagree? And what are you to do? And is it possible, after being a member of a congregation for twenty years, you really don’t know your rabbi, pastor or priest’s position on some of the most challenging subjects of the day?
Sen. Obama knew that he had to respond to these questions, and he did it in an eloquent address. His speech on the subject - one which I stayed home to watch on television; something I hardly ever do - was truly thought provoking, something rare for a political speech. The talk covered a lot of territory and it answered many questions … but it raised a few others.
What did Sen. Obama learn from his relationship with his pastor? Did he learn to refer to the United States as the “U.S. of KKK-A” as Rev. Wright did? Did he learn to refer to our country with the words, “God damn America” as Rev. Wright did? Did he learn to believe that the AIDS virus is part of a government plot to get rid of black people, as Rev. Wright claimed?
The answer is: No, no no! Anyone who questions Sen. Obama’s patriotism is wrong, wrong, wrong! Those sending around emails claiming that Sen. Obama is really a Muslim are wrong, wrong, wrong! Those who take some sort of perverted pleasure in underscoring that his middle name is Hussein should remember how we felt when Rev. Jesse Jackson referred to New York as “Hymie town.” To hold Sen. Obama accountable for everything his pastor said, to think that he believes everything his pastor says, would mean that you have to be held accountable for everything I say! And even I do not always feel comfortable doing that!
Unfortunately, Sen. Obama’s otherwise eloquent speech did indicate that there is a
certain ‘something’ that he did learn from his pastor. And that’s a dangerous ‘something’ … and the ‘something’ is: the concept of moral equivalence. The phrase “moral equivalence” is not a new one. Some attribute it to William James who wrote an essay in 1910 entitled, “The Moral Equivalent of War.” Others attribute its
popularity to Jean Kilpatrick, who served as the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations during the Reagan administration. “Moral equivalence” has become a popular phrase in our time. What it means is: a blurring of differences, a blurring of all distinctions. It’s like saying there is no difference between an ice cube and boiling water … it’s just a matter of degrees! It means that in every conflict, there is no real right and wrong … it’s just two sides of the same coin. Rev. Jeremiah Wright showed this way of thinking when, in a sermon he delivered on Sept. 16, 2001;
he said the United States had brought the death and destruction of 9/11 on itself. In his words, “It was chickens coming home to roost.” And he went on to say, “We nuked far more than the thousands in New York and the Pentagon and we never batted an eye … we have supported state terrorism against the Palestinians and black South Africans and now we are indignant because the stuff we have done overseas is now brought right back to our own front yards.”
Do you understand what that means? That what Osama bin Laden did on 9/11 was no different than what the U.S. did to Japan. That what bin Laden did on 9/11 was no different than what Israel is doing to the Palestinians. And he said this while the bodies were still being pulled out of the wreckage of the Twin Towers. That people in his church didn’t find this offensive perhaps is not surprising, because others were saying much the same thing. Noam Chomsky and many other so-called ‘enlightened
thinkers’ in America were saying the same things. We got what we deserve! They may be guilty but so are we! Leave it to the great thinker Woody Allen to express it best. In an interview in Der Spiegel, Germany’s most important magazine, Mr. Allen dismissed the events of 9/11 in the following manner: “The history of the world is like: he kills me, I kill him … only with different cosmetics and different castings.
So in 2001, some fanatics killed some Americans and now some Americans are killing some Iraqis. And in my childhood, some Nazis killed Jews and now some Jewish people and some Palestinians are killing each other.” You see? It’s all the same! A bestseller in Germany claims the actions of the Allies was no different than the atrocities of the Nazis. It’s all morally equivalent! And you know what? There are some Jewish religious leaders who have fallen into this same trap of moral
equivalence. The Reconstructionist movement in Judaism is the smallest Jewish movement in merica, but it has always been at the forefront of change. It was the first to have a Bat Mitzvah, the first to have women rabbis, the first to sanctify gay marriages. And here is another first: a few years back the Reconstructionist movement printed a new Haggadah which includes a reading on behalf of the “dispossessed” Palestinian people, a reading that was written by
Raymonda Tawil, who had been arrested several times by Israeli authorities. She also happens to be the mother-in-law of Yassir Arafat. The editors of the Haggadah felt the reading was appropriate in the Haggadah because the plight of the Palestinians today is comparable to the plight of the Jews in Egypt in ancient times. That’s like saying that what Churchill did and what Hitler did is the same. Indeed, that’s exactly what Mahatma Gandhi said! It’s a moral equivalency that is dangerous and downright wrong.
The plight of the Palestinians is a sad and tragic one. But let it be remembered that the plight of the Palestinians took place because in 1947 the Arabs refused a two state solution that would have given both the Jews and the Palestinians a homeland. And let’s keep in mind that it is Palestinians who are responsible for the most despicable terrorist attacks. They are the ones who blow up the buses and stores and
schools, killing countless innocent Israeli citizens. And while Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians has at times been harsh, it’s been much more benevolent than any other occupied nation has ever exhibited and it is disgraceful to cast it as equivalent to how the Egyptians treated the Jews. And to this day, while Israel seeks to make peace with the Palestinians, 86% of the Palestinian people were in favor of the recent terrorist attack that killed eight Yeshiva students in Jerusalem … 86%!
Don’t put them in my Haggadah! Their story is not the moral equivalent to
our people’s story.
Moral equivalency is wrong, and it is dangerous. And that is why we have the Jewish
dietary laws found in this morning’s Torah portion. There are few things that underscore the uniqueness of the Jewish people than our laws of kashrut … certain animals you can eat, and certain animals you can’t eat. But the truth of the matter is, according to many commentators, when God created the world He intended that no animals should be eaten. If you look in the story of Creation you will see that Adam was told to eat from the herbs of the fields, from the vegetation. There is no mention of eating animals. It’s only after the flood that God tells Noah
that animals can be killed and eaten. What happened? Why the change? The rabbis explain that when mankind was told that both man should not be killed and the animals should not be killed, mankind made the mistake of thinking: well, if that’s the case they are morally equivalent. There s no difference between a man and an animal. And indeed, there are some people who feel that way today. And what is so terrible about that? Well, to early mankind if both man and animal were equivalent - if you could not kill one, then you couldn’t kill the other - then you know what? If you could make love to one … you could make love to the other! And that’s just what
humanity started to do! Only then did God say “No!” … man and animal are different … one can be killed and one cannot. They are not morally equivalent.
Sen. Barack Obama fell into the trap of his pastor and mentor in expressing a moral
equivalence in his speech when he said, “I can no more disown [Rev. Wright] than I can my white grandmother.” That’s a moral equivalency that holds no water! His grandmother expressed a fear of black men who passed by her on the street; something that Jesse Jackson has said he understands. Rev. Wright accused the U.S. of being guilty of, amongst other things, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and giving drugs to blacks, and spreading AIDS through the black community. That’s morally equivalent? Is it morally equivalent to compare what your grandmother says in private to what a religious leader says in public … to a cheering crowd?
And you know what else Sen. Obama? Your pastor and your grandmother are not
morally equivalent! How does it go … you can pick your friends, but you can’t pick your family! Well, that’s very true. We don’t get too many grandmothers during the course of a lifetime. We don’t get too many members of a family during the course of a lifetime. When it comes to family, “It is what it is!” You can’t throw a member of your family out with the trash, even if their talk is trash! But when it comes to your rabbi, pastor, minister or priest … you can vote with your feet. In fact, according to a recent survey, 45% of the American people have switched their religious affiliation. I know of no one who has switched their grandmother! It’s
not the same!
And it’s not the same to claim, as Sen. Obama has done, that Rev. Wright is like “An old uncle who says things I don’t always agree with.” That’s a moral equivalency that has no basis in reality. We all may have had a crazy uncle who said the most outrageous things, but everyone in the family knew he was crazy and no one took him seriously. No one is saying that Rev. Wright is crazy … he was the minister of 8000 members, and people took very seriously his hate-filled words that were being passed on to a new generation that should know better, that must know better. Rev. Wright is not a crazy man. Rev. Wright is a dangerous man; because he is not just someone’s crazy uncle … he is thousands of peoples Reverend.
In our Torah portion this morning we read of the tragic sudden death of Nadav and
Avihu, the two sons of Aaron the High Priest. They were killed while performing the Temple service. They were reverent, serving the Lord, and yet what they did found disfavor in the eyes of God. And what was it that they did? From the Torah it doesn’t seem as if they did much … they brought an “eish zarah” – a strange fire – to the altar. What was so strange about the fire they brought? Not much … according to some sages the only thing that made it strange was the fact that it was not from the altar. According to other sages the only thing that made it strange
was the fact that they hadn’t been commanded to do it. Okay! But what’s so terrible about this? What was so terrible was that they were leaders in the Temple, and everyone was watching what they were doing. And even the slightest incorrect step could not be allowed … could not go unpunished, because everyone else would feel free to do the same.
A religious leader has a special responsibility, a religious leader has to be held to a higher standard, because his behavior influences others and he must answer to a higher authority.
And here is another place where Barack Obama fell into the trap of moral equivalency.
In speaking of Rev. Wright, he said, “Did I strongly disagree with many of his political views? Absolutely – just as I’m sure many of you have heard remarks from your pastors, priests or rabbis with which you strongly disagreed.” Sure, religious leaders of every persuasion have said foolish things, stupid things, controversial things, with which their congregants have disagreed.
And I’m sure that is true of the members of Beth Tfiloh! I know some of you have disagreed with my positions on President Bush and Christian evangelicals and intermarriage and many other things. It is impossible for an entire congregation to agree with everything their spiritual leader says. Indeed, truth to tell, I’ve disagreed with some of the things I’ve said! But let me tell you something … nothing I – or any other religious leader I know - said is comparable to what Rev. Wright has said! It’s one thing to disagree with the positions of your spiritual leader. It is
quite another to have a spiritual leader like Rev. Wright who preaches hatred, racism and disloyalty. It is Rev. Wright who calls Louis Farrakhan “a 20th and 21st century giant.” That’s the Farrakhan who has called Jews “bloodsuckers” and Judaism a “gutter religion.” It is Rev. Wright who traveled with Farrakhan to Libya in 1985 to visit Col Qadahfi; this at a time when Qadahfi was considered the chief financier of international terrorism, including the Munich Olympics massacre … this at a time when America had banned Libyan oil imports and branded Libya a “rogue state.” It is Rev. Wright who used his church bulletin to reproduce articles from Hamas, a sworn enemy of Israel and the U.S.
I can’t speak for priests or pastors, but I can tell you that I don’t know of a single rabbi who ever stood in the pulpit and delivered a sermon proclaiming: “God damn America!” as Rev. Wright did. No rabbi would say it, and no congregation, no synagogue would tolerate it! We Jews have known from persecution! No … our American experience cannot be compared to the slavery and lynching, the pain and
degradation of the black experience. But nothing was handed to us on a silver platter. Many of us American Jews share an experience no different than that of the man Mark Steyn wrote of in the New York Sun. He was born and raised in Siberia until the Cossacks came and ravaged his village. His family came to the U.S. and he grew up in the poverty of New York’s Lower East Side. He made it big, but he still suffered slights as a Jew. When he married a Park Avenue heiress, she was expelled from the Social Register. And in the ‘30’s her sister moved in with a Nazi diplomat and proudly flaunted a diamond swastika to him. But that didn’t stop Irving Berlin from proudly and unashamedly writing, “God bless America, land that I love …”
I am sure Barack Obama, who spent his childhood in Indonesia and ended up a graduate
of Harvard, shares those sentiments as well. Is it not asking too much to not only expect every political leader in our country to feel the same, but every religious leader as well. Barack Obama represents the American experience at its best … Rev. Wright at its worst.
Barack Obama should be worshiping at a religious institution like ours. When members from the Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago are asked what their pastor preached that morning, they have to say, “God damn America.” If anyone asks you what Rabbi Wohlberg preached this morning, you can tell them, “Oh, just … God bless America!
2) Intel sources: Syria hasn't called up reserve forces
By Yuval Azoulay, Haaretz Correspondent
Syria has not mobilized its reserve forces, Military Intelligence officials said Thursday at a defense briefing.
No irregular moves had taken place in recent days on the Syrian side of the border, the officials added, despite press reports to the contrary.
The officials said that according to the current analysis, there has not been any exceptional activity on the other side of the border.
This estimate contradicts media reports of a recent Syrian deployment of three armored divisions, which was considered as likely to have stemmed from concerns in Damascus about an Israeli strike in response to an attack by Hezbollah.
Hezbollah has threatened to attack Israel as revenge for what it claims is Jerusalem's responsibility in the assassination of terrorist mastermind Imad Mughniyah in February.
Intelligence officials did say, however, that there were signs of "nervousness" and alertness on the Syrian Golan Heights signs that also appeared last spring and continued into the summer. Defense officials attributed the Syrian alertness in the sector to widespread training exercises planned by the Israel Defense Forces for the near future.
Israeli military officials believe the Syrian army is continuing to train intensively, as it has since the Second Lebanon War, and that Iran continues to provide arms to both Syria and Hezbollah.
Defense sources had earlier said on Wednesday that Israel is concerned that recent actions by the Syrian armed forces are a possible preamble for a Hezbollah operation against the northern border and a broader conflagration.
Also Wednesday, Major-General Dan Harel, the Deputy Chief of Staff, warned Wednesday that Israel will respond with a heavy hand against anyone trying to target Israel.
In a further sign that tensions were mounting along the Israel-Syrian border, Defense Minister Ehud Barak canceled a scheduled visit to Germany.
3)Until Israelis are murdered]IDF says removed 10 West Bank roadblocks
Israel Radio reports this evening that security officials say the roadblocks will be returned if and when the Palestinians manage to murder some Israelis thanks to the removed roadblocks.
Cynics say that if the Olmert team has apparently decided to let some
Israelis be murdered to please Secretary of State Rice, then it is hoped
that the attack takes place on a slow news day in the U.S. so that it gets
IDF says removed 10 West Bank roadblocks
Roadblocks near Nablus, Tulkarem, Qalqiliya removed as gesture to Abbas.
'Removal of roadblocks will make it easier on terrorists to carry out
attacks,' says Israeli security official.
The IDF said in a statement Thursday that it took down 10 manned roadblocks
near the West Bank towns of Nablus, Tulkarem and Qalqiliya to ease
restrictions on the movement of Palestinians, in keeping with the
commitments Israel made to US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice during her
visit to the region earlier this week. However, none of the points are major
Israel promised Rice it would remove 50 roadblocks to ease restrictions on
Palestinians. Israel says the obstacles are needed to keep Palestinian
assailants out, but the Jewish state also wants to boost moderate
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas by easing restrictions on his people, as
peace negotiations proceed.
"There is no doubt that the removal of the roadblocks will make it easier on
terrorists to carry out attacks and then escape back to the territories, but
the decision was made at government level," an Israeli security official
Jericho checkpoints also removed
A Palestinian security official refuted the report, saying "not one
roadblock has been removed. Maybe the IDF removed roadblocks in its own
bases, but not in the Palestinian Authority and certainly not in the West
On Monday, Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki said Israel removed two
checkpoints in Jericho in addition to evacuating the Rimonim checkpoint near
Ramallah. Yesha leaders claimed that the IDF's plan to remove the Modiin
roadblock in the Binyamin area, which is in the vicinity of Jerusalem, was
canceled after settlers said they would man the roadblock themselves if
The settlers said the Modiin roadblock was crucial, adding that in the past
an Israeli woman was killed because it had been removed.
Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad said recently that Israel was not
living up to its commitment to freeze settlement construction and ease
Palestinian movement in the West Bank.
A report published last year by Peace Now stated that there are 93 manned
checkpoints throughout the West Bank, in addition to 467 roadblocks, such as
gates, ditches and sand mounds.
4) British Jews are free from fear
I should like to register my strong disagreement with Prof Robert S. Wistrich's assertion that the UK has become the epicenter for anti-Semitic trends in Europe ("UK has become European center of anti-Semitism, historian says," April 1, 2008).
The UK deeply values its strong and vibrant Jewish community. Indeed, I find it impossible to imagine a Britain without its Jewish community. For over 350 years now, the world of arts, science, literature, trade etc have all benefited from the invaluable contribution of Britain's Jewish community.
As part of my preparations to come out to Israel as ambassador in the summer of 2006, I spent as much time as I could meeting members of that community. This was at the time that my country was celebrating the 350th anniversary of the re-establishment of the UK's Jewish community. If this community is relatively small in terms of numbers, it is strikingly impressive in terms of quality.
I do not deny that Britain has been the scene of some worrying anti-Semitic incidents. As part of its response to the 2007 All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into anti-Semitism, my government pledged to step up action to eradicate anti-Semitism. The response forms part of a comprehensive cross-government strategy to tackle faith and race hate crime.
I cannot stress enough that my government has a zero-tolerance approach to anti-Semitism. We are committed to tackling all forms of hate crime and racial intolerance wherever they exist. British Jews like all communities must be able to live their lives free from fear of verbal or physical attack. We have one of the strongest legal frameworks in the world for protecting people from discrimination or persecution on the basis of race or faith and this has been significantly tightened in recent years.
The measures announced last year seek to improve recording and reporting of anti-Semitic incidents; review and strengthen the prosecution process; accelerate work to confront extremist groups who spread hate; promote community cohesion through education about different faiths and prevent any manifestation of racial or religious intolerance on university campuses.
I should also like to highlight my government's efforts concerning Holocaust education. In February of this year, Schools Minister Jim Knight announced £4.65 million in extra funding to the Holocaust Educational trust to enable two pupils from every sixth form and college in the country to visit Auschwitz and learn about the Holocaust. Also at that time, Ed Balls, Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, put out a statement to "end once and for all to the myth that the Holocaust is not being taught in schools or is being removed from the curriculum."
I understand that many people in Israel feel that their country gets an unfair press in the UK. I should explain that though the BBC receives some government funding, we cannot and would not want to dictate content. Britain, like Israel, prides itself on a free press. The BBC has been very critical of the British government over issues such as Iraq.
In addition, I would like to point out that Prime Minister Gordon Brown has repeatedly expressed his commitment to the Middle East Peace Process, and paid tribute to the UK's Jewish community. For example by saying: "I commit that never again will the Jewish community have to fight anti-Semitism alone, the Jewish community do not cause anti-Semitism and it must not fall on them to have to defeat
5) Iran assembles advanced centrifuges'
Diplomats say Iran has assembled hundreds of advanced machines in an attempt to speed up a process in its nuclear program that can produce both fuel for power plants and the fissile core of nuclear warheads.
The diplomats say more than 300 of the centrifuges have been linked up in two separate units and a third unit is being worked on. They spoke on condition of anonymity because their information is confidential.
But they say the work is preliminary, with none of the machines running and none installed in Iran's main underground uranium enrichment plant.
Two of the diplomats talked to The Associated Press earlier this week and a third on Thursday, fleshing out details divulged by the other two.