I sent out my Rosh Hashana e-card with the message “May the New Year bring a year of peace to Israel, America, and the world.”
It is a hope but, given recent events, the probability of its coming true is very small. Internationally, threats abound and the state of the U.S. economy is still weak.
Moreover, there seems to be more that divides us than unites us. The current PBS series on the Roosevelts illustrates the fact that divisions seem to be an ingrained characteristic of Americans, and the increasingly interconnected and co-dependent world seems to magnify these divisions.
The recent vote on the secession of Scotland from the United Kingdom makes the point. As the balloting drew closer, polls were indicating a close vote with the pro-secession side slightly ahead. Pundits speculated what the world with an independent Scotland would look like.
Although most Scots said “no” to independence, the referendum is being regarded as a model for other ethnic groups seeking to revise their current affiliations. Catalans looking to break free from Spain were most often mentioned.
Then there was a Reuters/Ipsos poll — which did not get much attention — that found that almost a quarter of Americans are open to their states leaving the union, a feeling that cuts across party lines and regions. One hundred and fifty years ago we fought a war on this very point.
The Roosevelts series documented that both TR and FDR were in office during times of economic duress. Comparisons with our current situation abound, and concentration of economic power was and is a common element. But our current challenges seem more like those that faced FDR.
Unemployment is a major issue, but the unemployment rate is deceptive. One of the reasons that unemployment seems to be dropping into the “reasonable zone” is that the labor participation rate also has dropped — that is, more would-be workers have dropped out of the labor market. Since fewer people are actively seeking employment, the unemployment rate has dropped; this is the “new normal.”
FDR railed against “economic royalists,” leading to the complaint that he was foisting class warfare. Today, we hear the call for “income equality.”
Globalization plays a part. Like an electric current, global businesses seek the path of least resistance, seeking to go where operating costs are lowest. This means that manufacturing and service enterprises will establish themselves where there are comparatively low labor costs and taxes. The latter has led to the new practice of “inversion,” where U.S.-based corporations will reestablish themselves — like Burger King’s proposed merger with the Canada-based Tim Hortons coffee-and-doughnuts chain — in other countries to benefit from lower taxes. Rather than consider the onerous burden of our own tax system, the president has called such inversions “unpatriotic.”
America is also losing its leadership in the world economy, as illustrated by the recent Alibaba IPO. Alibaba is a Chinese Internet retailer like Amazon. On its first day of public trading, Alibaba’s market value exceeded that of Facebook. It seems that the Chinese communists have learned a few things about capitalism that we are forgetting.
In foreign relations, we again are hearing the word “war,” a term relegated to the dustbin by the administration in favor or “kinetic military action.” After all, victory was declared in the War Against Terror.
ISIS is on the offensive. In videos, its leaders and fighters threaten the American homeland. The U.S. administration assiduously avoids the appearance of “boots on the ground,” something that just about every military expert says is necessary, leading to an apparent schism between the White House and its military advisers. Since the administration does not seem to want to put its soldiers in harm’s way, neither do members of the so-called anti-ISIS “coalition” that the administration is trying to assemble.
There seems to be one possible exception — Iran. ISIS, a Sunni sect, poses a threat to Shi’ite-dominated Iran; as a result, Iran seems to be willing to go after ISIS on the ground. But at what cost to the West? The P5+1 group is still negotiating with Iran over its nuclear program. Reports say that its price for “sandals in the sand” is the easing of economic sanctions on Iran and leniency for its nuclear program. This will have a ripple effect, eventually reaching Israel.
Speaking of which, the world seems hell-bent on going after Israel for alleged war crimes related to Operation Protective Edge, while ignoring Hamas provocations and acts. Related are the growing open expressions of anti-Semitism that are surfacing around the world.
The Middle East is not the only global hot spot. China and Russia seem to be circling like wolves around what they think is a weakened United States. In a cold war-type provocation, last week Russian strategic nuclear bombers carried out air defense zone incursions near Alaska and across northern Europe.
This is a very pessimistic view of the New Year, and I have barely started to catalogue my fears for the coming year. I would love to write at this time next year that my pessimism was unfounded and that the world is a more stable and better place.
We dip apples into honey to symbolize our desire for a sweet year. Would that it were so. I would like to wish you all a happy and sweet New Year. L’shana tova tikateivu.