Tag Archives: Halachah

Fragments and Segments

** Some of those adjustable rate mortgages sold to homeowners in what are now Foreclosure Frontrunners (like Las Vegas, NV) were based on the nefarious mix of indexes and margins.  Bankrate.com explains: “When you get an ARM, two main factors determine the rate you pay: the index and the margin. The index is a rate set by market forces and published by a neutral third party. The margin is an agreed-upon number of percentage points that is added to the index to determine your rate.”  One of the most popular spot rate indexes? LIBOR.  (London Interbank Offered Rate)  Just when we might have thought we’d plumbed the depths of the mortgage meltdown muck… Behold! The Department of Justice began investigating LIBOR  as part of  a “criminal probe into whether the world’s biggest banks manipulated a global benchmark rate that is at the heart of a wide range of loans and derivatives, from trillions of dollars of mortgages and bonds to interest rate swaps …” [HuffPo] But wait! There’s more.

There were flaws in banks’ internal controls that allowed traders to manipulate interest rates around the world [Bloomberg] and now after 26 years of association with LIBOR the British Bankers Assn. is trying to put some distance between itself and its creation:

“The British Bankers’ Association, the century-old lobby group that oversees the rate, last week deleted references from its website referring to its role in setting Libor. This week, it met regulators and bank executives to review the future of the benchmark. Under one option, the Bank of England’s proposed Prudential Regulation Authority would take responsibility for policing the rate, said a person with knowledge of the talks who asked to remain anonymous because discussions are private. The BBA says it isn’t seeking to cede oversight to the regulator.” [BusinessWeek]

What’s all the fuss about?  It’s a minor little technical flap? No, because the LIBOR rate underpins about $360 TRILLION — yes, that’s Trillion with a T — in securities globally.  If you want to see what $1 trillion looks like click here, now imagine $360 Trillion.   Continuing the day’s rant — could someone please stop the Financialists from decimating Capitalism, pretty please?

** Must read for the morning: J.P. Coolican’s article in the Las Vegas Sun about the inadequacies of Nevada’s mental health care services. “In Clark County, we have 733 beds, but 127 are set aside for the elderly and 58 for children. We have 298 beds at Rawson-Neal Psychiatric Hospital, but the Legislature only budgeted staff to support 190.”  Any questions?

** The Miami Herald reports that there are brochures being distributed in the Florida Senate demanding that the state legislature ban Sharia law.  Just asking, but didn’t we just get a barrage of poutrage about a requirement that health insurance corporations provide coverage for contraceptive prescriptions which was characterized as “an assault on religious freedom?”  If the assault on Islamic religious law is not an assault on religious freedom, it’s hard to calculate what it would be.  Has anyone amongst the fundie crowd not yet picked up on the fact that if Sharia is vulnerable, then so is the Jewish Halachah? [JTA]  The freedom of religion is not a license to force everyone else to follow one religion’s precepts.

** Speaking of the Catholic vote, it’s not going to über-Catholic Rick Santorum. ” Santorum’s voting base is white evangelical Protestants, a category that happens to overlap significantly with three other demographics where he does well: “very conservative” voters, Tea Party supporters, and voters from rural and exurban areas.” [WashMonthly]

** Those vote suppression identification laws like the ones passed by Tennessee and Ohio appear to be working, if by “working” it means they are preventing people from voting — like the former Tennessee Congressman who was mysteriously removed from voting rolls and was not offered a provisional ballot, and an 86 year old Ohio World War II veteran who couldn’t cast his ballot because a poll worker rejected his VA identification card. [TP]

** Good headline from The Grio, “Limbaugh’s Downfall is no Fluke.”  Another headline looming as Limbaugh continues to bash the Chevy Volt, America’s answer to the Prius?  Really, Mr. Limbaugh, do you WANT American manufacturers to fail?  [TPM] Best Presidential smack down of a ridiculous question from a Faux news flack, click here.  (Video, but with partial transcript thoughtfully provided for those whose hearing isn’t so hot.)

** “Too small to be a republic and too large to be an insane asylum” (James L. Petigru): South Carolina’s Laurens County Republican Party has a pledge for office seekers to sign — “Your spouse cannot be a person of the same gender, and you are not allowed to favor any government action that would allow for civil unions of people of the same sex.” [HRC] There’s more: “You must favor, and live up to, abstinence before marriage.  You must be faithful to your spouse. Your spouse cannot be a person of the same gender, and you are not allowed to favor any government action that would allow for civil unions of people of the same sex. You cannot now, from the moment you sign this pledge, look at pornography.” [CChron]

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Filed under Economy, financial regulation, Mental Health, Vote Suppression, Voting

War Games: Real and Imagined

The NV Rural Democratic Caucus picked up the sounds of Neo-Cons on the March. The Stove-Pipers seem desperate to have another WAR, with someone, anyone, please…”We’ll only look strong if we’re bombing someone.” Perpetual Warmonger John Bolton thinks it’s in our best interest to get directly involved in a conflict between Iran and Israel (assuming, of course, that Israel and Iran want to get into an armed conflict). [MMFA] Yesterday Faux News got its knickers in a twist over U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Rice because of insufficient bellicosity. [Crooks & Liars]

The interesting thing is, that in my experience, the same people who vociferously call for military intervention also tend to be the ones with the least actual military experience. The veterans in my circle of acquaintance are concerned that the U.S intervene directly only after all diplomatic efforts have failed, only after the aims of the operation are clear and precise, and only after due diligence has been performed in which the costs and the casualties are stringently contrasted to the rewards and objectives. They truly understand that war is not a board game like Risk, or an exciting version of a  video game — real people with real families are placed in real peril.

We use the term “war” too often. Perhaps part of the problem evidenced by the free and easy way the word is tossed around is that we use it too often in inappropriate ways.  For example, the “war on drugs” merely describes a system of law enforcement operations designed to reduce domestic consumption and to arrest, try, and convict those apprehended selling and using controlled substances.  For all the governmental agency coordination involved, this isn’t and never has been a real war.

President Lyndon Johnson wanted a war on poverty, but that too was simply a description of coordinated domestic government programs designed to ameliorate the most severe effects of poverty, such as illness, homelessness, and hunger. People die in wars, the concept of Medicare was that life would be prolonged.  However, the war motif makes issues sound every so much more grand.  Thus now we have all manner of little “wars.”

Right wing pundits created a “War On Christmas.” They creatively imagined that retailers wishing their customers “happy holidays” was part of an overarching  effort to secularize the Christmas season.  Not that this “war” stopped the American public from spending some $976 million on real trees, and another $530 million on artificial trees in 2010. [NCTA]  Nor does this “war” tend to depress church attendance during the holiday season (Advent to Christmas).  In fact, for most churches the question is how to get the holiday Christians to show up for more than just the Christmas and Easter services. [TCP]  The real battle appears to be how to get the knaves in the naves when it isn’t Christmas. The artificial fight is about something else entirely.  Sometimes it almost appears as a form of “badge earning” in order to create a specific cultural identity. Consider the following:

“The reason the War on Christmas is being fought isn’t to suppress the private practice of Christianity (at least not yet!). Rather, the intent is to destroy the link between America’s majority religion and its culture. […] Americans have a right to the American holiday of Christmas. It is part of who we are… even though some of us are not Christian. It’s time for us to stand up and reclaim it from the small majority who are trying to take it away from us!” [TWOC]

If this proposition seems not to make any sense, it’s probably because it doesn’t. However, it does hint at the mind-set that informs other culture wars. The author assumes (1) the validity of the “Christian America” perspective, and further assumes (2) that to admit diversity is to sanction tolerance. Indeed, those who do practice intolerance may be justified in believing themselves to be under attack.

How alarming it must be for the intolerant to be told they must allow a mosque or synagogue in their community?  We’ve seen a truly and remarkably preposterous “battle” over a mosque at Ground Zero, which wasn’t a mosque and wasn’t at Ground Zero. [USnews] That newspapers and magazines reported that it wasn’t a mosque and it wasn’t at Ground Zero was perceived in some quarters as a “typical liberal media” attack. These would be the quarters in which any information which does not support and confirm one’s personal perspectives is unwelcome. But, there are other “battles” to be fought.

As of March 2011 at least a dozen state legislatures saw the introduction of legislation to “ban” Sharia law.  One piece of legislation was remarkably fact-free: “A Tennessee bill, S.B. 1028, explicitly defined Sharia law as a “legal-political-military doctrine and system.” It cited the “threat of terrorism” and concern about “the replacement of America’s constitutional republic” by Islamic law.” [EthicsDaily] [ThinkProgress]  Members of the Jewish faith are rightly concerned by this xenophobic atmosphere, and noticed its implications for Judaism:

“If the state legislative initiatives targeting sharia are successful, they would gut a central tenet of American Jewish religious communal life: The ability under U.S. law to resolve differences according to halachah, or Jewish religious law.” More specifically: “A number of recent beit  din arbitrations that were taken by litigants to civil courts — on whether a batch of etrogim met kosher standards; on whether a teacher at a yeshiva was rightfully dismissed; and on the ownership of Torah scrolls — would have no standing under the proposed laws.” [JTA]

Halachah, it would seem, would be just another casualty of the Culture Wars. (In case you were wondering, “etrogim” is a citrus fruit native to Israel.) It is not that the Culture Warriors don’t have some real opposition.

Anti-choice advocates convinced AT&T to cut its charitable contributions to Planned Parenthood back in 1990. Had the Susan G. Komen Foundation leadership paid attention to what happened next they may not have been so quick to announce their decision to cut their funding for the women’s health organization.  [TPM]  All that the SGK Foundation will say for now is that it may consider funding women’s health programs related to Planned Parenthood, but this is no guarantee the organization will actually reverse its recent stand in the Culture Warrior battles. The “war” moves on to contraception.

The Obama Administration announced that health insurance companies would have to cover expenses for contraceptive prescriptions in employer paid health plans.  Catholic bishops moved to earn their badges, but may have missed the target.

This particular battle in the Culture War seems not to have all that many willing participants. Those who are willing to serve in this artificial conflict appear to be among the 26.3% of the population who constitute the white evangelical category.  While their numbers nationwide may be low, their grip on the Republican Party is solid, and this is problematic:

“What’s an even bigger shame is that Republican leaders see the aforementioned poll numbers and continue to court white evangelicals, which means the most bigoted among that pious population have no incentive to change their discriminatory ways, and our nation’s ideals, including inclusion, diversity and religious freedom, will continue to be eroded for years to come.” [D&T]

There’s another iceberg in the water as well.  By assuming the defensive positions sought by those white evangelicals who are motivated by intolerance, fearful of change, and cling to a notion of “white nationalism.” the Party is in peril of shrinking its adherents to a core which is antithetical to the very mainstream it purports to represent.

Meanwhile, American continues to be part of the continent to which Estevanico of Azamor came in 1527, becoming one of the first Muslims to visit Florida, and the first mosque was probably built by Albanian immigrant followers of Islam in Maine in 1915. The first synagogue was dedicated before the Declaration of Independence was written. [Touro] And, the self same country in which Confederate General William Dorsey Pender, advised in 1862 that his wife was unexpectedly pregnant, told her the fetus was ‘God’s will, but sent along a packet of pills the company surgeon was certain would “relieve her.” [London]

There are wars and there are games. The two should not be confused.

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Filed under conservatism, Foreign Policy, Women's Issues, Womens' Rights